The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

907781  The Bluest Eye is Nobel Prize winning author Toni Morrison’s first novel.  What stands out here  is the richness of the language and the depth of emotion that this language evokes in the reader.  Toni Morrison in later years has expressed some criticism of this novel, but it remains a powerful work.  The themes of self-hatred (not accepting one’s self),  of poverty, of equating whiteness with beauty and cleanliness but also sterility, of invisibility versus being seen differently, and of sexuality linked to humiliation and abuse in a cycle of despair, are all powerfully conveyed and relevant.

The novel concerns an 11-year-old girl Pecola, who wishes for blue eyes, in order to attain a white standard of beauty.  She sees this as an escape from the horrors of her abusive home life and her own “ugliness”.  Although the novel follows her story, the main narrator is her friend Claudia MacTeer, which gives the reader a sense of distance to  observe what is happening to Pecola and at the same time see how the community is reacting.  The prologue foreshadows the events of the novel with the imagery of the marigold seeds that will not grow and also with explicit details about Pecola.    Claudia’s narration provides a clear voice, that shows regret tempered by inevitability and human weakness.

Not a book I would say that I enjoyed reading because the subject matter is devastating and but an excellent read 5 out of 5 stars.

 

 

The Girl Before by JP Delaney

28016509  I have been on the waiting list for a while for The Girl Before against all my better instincts about reading another book with the word “girl” in the title, obviously trying to ride that money train.   I picked it up this morning and bumped it to the top of my reading pile because other people are still waiting for it.

The book follows two timelines, then with Emma and now with Jane, so essentially there two girls in the book.  The chapters alternate between the two women as their stories run in parallel centered around them both signing an extremely controlling  restrictive lease to live in an uber minimalistic  technologically advanced Architectural Digest type home in London for minimal rent.  Obviously no one told either of these women the old adage “if something seems too good to be true…” .

The house that anchors the story was built and designed by the narcissistic controlling, Fifty Shades of Grey style character, Edward Monkford.  Both women seem attracted to his particular brand of paternalistic bullshiz but at the same time seem surprised by it.  Seriously, I am amazed that either one of them could walk and chew gum at the same time.  THat is my biggest issue with the book.  The protagonists, particularly Jane just made the reader want to smack her upside the head to wake her up and that is within the first 15 pages or so.

There are some plot holes in regards to the technology use and the investigation of Emma’s death.  I think that was a weakness that needed to be addressed and wasn’t.  The Transitions from Jane (present) to Emma (past) were clear and easy to follow.  I didn’t like dropping the punctuation for dialog in Emma’s chapter.  It made it annoying to read.  The pacing was good for a thriller, the story kept moving forward. There was no lagging or filler chapters.  Every conversation had a purpose in moving the plot forward and filling in details for reader.

Major themes addressed here are obsession and control.  Technology is used as a tool of control.  It is interesting that it is men wielding technology against women, while women use emotional/sexual manipulation against the men.

Two out of five stars.

Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch

28186095  I just finished Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch.  I loved The Dinner, which was the first book I ever read by Mr. Koch and so I was really excited to finally get this from the library.

Dear Mr. M  mainly concerns a writer, Mr M,  whose star is waning and  his neighbor who has a connection to his past success. Mr. M wrote his best-selling book based on a real crime that had occurred.  He then fictionalized the outcome.  His neighbor. now living quietly below him has a connection to the original crime and Mr. M’s book.  The neighbor takes an interest in Mr M, his life, his career, and his wife, much in the same way Mr. M had taken an interest in the neighbor’s life when he was in the  media spotlight.

The novel switches perspectives among the characters, and shifts time between when the original crime occurred and the present day.  There is an overall sense of tension and foreboding as the reader waits for story of these, for the most part unlikable, characters to unfold.

The book  is so much more than a thriller and more than all the latest books that have blurbs somewhere on the cover “for fans of Gone…”  There are themes of revenge, mediocrity, connectedness and disconnectedness, respect, and obsession.  The writing is top-notch.  Five out of five stars, highly recommended.

Snowblind by Ragnar Jonasson

29939301  Snowblind is listed as a thriller and Icelandic Noir, but it reads in many ways as a Golden Age mystery with a Noir atmosphere.  Ari Thor is newly assigned to a far northern town in Iceland, just barely below the Arctic circle. It is his first posting as a new police officer and he still has a lot to learn.  Right from the start he is not sure if he has made the right choice in accepting the post.  His girlfriend in Reykjavik doesn’t seem to think so and he wonders how much experience he will really gain in this town where no one locks their doors.

The sense of place  is so well done here, voiced in Ari’s sense of claustrophobia as he experiences it in this village penned in by the sea, the mountains, the snow and ice and also by the descriptions of the scenery and the isolation as the villagers are trapped in their community by an avalanche.  The mystery itself is written more in the style of a classic Golden Age whodunnit than a thriller.  On the whole, this is very well done and an enjoyable read.

Three Mystery Reads

These are three of my latest reads.  The Loving Husband was a book mentioned in The English Kindle Mystery Group, it probably falls most closely into the domestic thriller category and is meant to lean on the popularity of the bestsellers of that genre.  The opening was good, the wife finding her husband’s body at their farmhouse in the isolated fens while an unidentified man looks on.  The home is not being described as a “charming farmhouse” but instead gives a feeling of desolation and decrepitude lending to the atmosphere of the novel.

The mystery was intriguing and I just had to know what happened, who killed the husband and why, what were his secrets, why did all this come about.  That was primarily what pushed me through the book.  I had an issue  with the protagonist, Fran.  She just seemed willfully ignorant of anything to do with her husband.  It didn’t even seem like her husband had to try very hard to keep his secrets.  She was a difficult protagonist to feel empathy for, even though obviously, she has been done wrong by her husband and is now being treated horribly by the police. At the end her husband’s “secret” was difficult to buy into, but the book did wrap up all the plot points.  I gave this 3 out of 5 stars, because of atmosphere and the fact it did keep me turning the pages.

Dear Daughter is along the lines of That Night by Chevy Stevens.  Dear Daughter concerns a celebrity who has just been released from prison on a technicality.  She had been serving a long sentence for the brutal murder of her mother.  She decides that she will always have the murder of her mother hanging over her head until she who her mother really was before she was a celebrity,  who really killed her and why her mother implicated her with her dying actions.  A well done mystery with Janie Jenkins following coded clues from her dead mother, uncovering secrets from years long gone by and secrets that are following her around in the present day.  My only issue with this book is the  ending.  It made no sense to me and it is the resolution of Janie’s story, so now I feel that I have no closure for Janie. sigh

Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart is a historical fiction based on a real event, in the sense it was inspired by a news article titled Girl Waits with Gun.  A local mystery book club is reading this for April because it takes place in New Jersey and mentions recognizable places.  I was skeptical that I would enjoy this because I’m not a big historical fiction reader and it is not really a mystery.  The reader knows from the start who did what, Miss Kopp just has to set out to prove it and get the law to take her seriously and press charges.

There is a lot humorous elements here, which make it quite enjoyable to read and the Kopp sisters are great characters, brave, loyal and intelligent.  Determined to be independent of men at a time that was not such an easy thing to do.  It took me a little while to get into the book, but once I did I read the rest in one sitting.    The power that factory owners wielded at that time was well illustrated with discussions of the terrorizing strikers, company owned housing, blacklisting, etc.   The ending of the book lends itself to the start of a series in great way and I would be interested in reading another book featuring Constance Kopp.

 

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King

18465508  I just finished The Beekeeper’s Apprentice for a new mystery book club I am trying out.  It would not be a book that I would normally have read, it is shown in some publications but not all as YA. It was reviewed by the School Library Journal and the protagonist is a 15 year old orphan.  On top of that, it is historical fiction from the WWI time period, which is not a genre I usually read.

I enjoyed the idea of the book, a precocious 15 year old meeting Sherlock Holmes and becoming his assistant.  I liked the portrayal of Holmes himself and Watson, for the little attention he  receives. Mary Russell is that stereotypical perfect female orphan character that we see often, and refer to as a Mary Sue.  The mysteries themselves and the culminating resolution are interesting and tie together nicely.  I think this is a decent read for 5th – 7th grade mystery fans, especially given the lack of mystery fiction for that age group.

Snowy Pi Day Reads

Today was Pi day and a snow day thanks to winter storm Stella.  In between baking our Pi day dinner, a Pork, Sun Dried Tomato and Asparagus Pie from Luis Troyano’s cookbook, I read these two that I had checked out from the library.

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami is the book that propelled Haruki Murakami to superstardom as an author so having read other books of his I really wanted to read this one.  It is basically a coming of age/first romance book with themes of suicide and mental illness intertwined and personally I don’t see it as his best work.  The musical themes are strongly played with throughout, with Naoko and Reiko both being musicians, hence the title.  Other than that the female characters are really just used to facilitate action for Toru Watanabe, who is immature and self absorbed throughout the story arc.

As in all Murakami’s books, the writing is beautiful. I just find the story here is less than I would typically expect.  I am still glad that I read it simply because it is an important piece in his catalog of work.

Jane and Prudence is a book by Barbara Pym an author that I really enjoy and this book is no exception.  Jane and Prudence are two friends who are rather unlike in many ways and yet are still good friends.  Jane is a vicar’s wife, although not the completely competent “Excellent Women” type, she’s a little too scattered for that.  She has too many opinions and is perhaps too open with them.  She might not be as domestic as she should be nor as motherly, however she is trying hard and now settled in a new village she is trying to play matchmaker for Prudence.  Prudence has never married and has had many romantic dalliances, including an unrequited crush on her employer.

Lots of gossip, slices of village and town life, unrequited love, festivals, and of course tea and cake to go around all served up in gently humourous detail.  A charming read from an author that I feel is under appreciated.