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Summer Reading – The Space Between Before and After

Posted by Kathy Torrence on Jul 14, 2008 in Books I'm Reading

I just finished another summer read – The Space Between Before and After by Jean Reynolds Page.

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This book followed the life of Holli (formerly known as Hollyanne) from her childhood days to her current life as a divorced mother of a college-dropout son. When she was a child, Hollyanne’s mother died in an accident while pregnant with a nearly-full term baby. The accident took place minutes after it was revealed that Hollyanne’s father had been having an affair with a neighbor, Georgia, and that Georgia was also pregnant with her father’s child.

After her mother’s death, Hollyanne is sent to live with her grandmother and is not allowed to be involved in the life of her new baby half-sister. She is not able to forgive her father until just before his death, and still struggles with forgiving her stepmother for excluding her from their life.

These events are described intermittently with Holli’s present life – her son has dropped out of school to live with his terminally ill girlfriend – who also reveals that she is pregnant (lots of pregnant women in this book!).

This is a complex tale of mistakes people make and the prices they pay for those mistakes. I wish the author would have worked a little bit more on developing the supporting characters – we have a good idea of who Holli is, but there are so many other characters and small plot-lines that remain hanging. For instance, Holli’s son Conner has a night of drunken intimacy with a girl on campus – totally out of character with everything we know about him. Afterward, he runs away thinking that the girl is going to claim that she was raped – which she never does.

Throw the terminally ill girlfriend’s aunt into the mix (her parents died on a water-rafting trip when she was a teenager); Holli’s half-sister, Tina, who works on a dude-ranch in Texas; Holli’s ex-husband, Harrison – the nerdy professor who lives in his own little technical world; the grandmother, Raine, who hears voices from beyond…it’s a lot of characters and a lot of story – I feel like only the surface was skimmed on most of these.

But this was a pretty good summer read overall – not exactly the next modern classic novel, but a nice book with which to curl up in the sand…

 
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More Summer Reading – Life of Pi

Posted by Kathy Torrence on Jul 7, 2008 in Books I'm Reading

While I was stuck at the campsite this weekend, I finished another summer book – Life of Pi by Yann Martel.

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This is my second attempt to read this book – I actually purchased this book a few years ago and started to read it, but never got through more than the first few chapters.

Now that I have finished it, I think the book was fantastic. But I must say that I thought the beginning of the story was just a bit slow. The author spends the first few chapters focusing on the life of the main character, Pi, a teenage boy growing up with parents that own a zoo in a small town in India. I think that’s where I lost interest the first time I tried to read this book. I love animals, but the amount of detail that is spent describing them and their habits just didn’t hold my attention, I’m afraid.

Eventually, Pi’s parents decide to sell the zoo animals and move to Canada. Pi, his family and many of the animals are loaded onto a Japanese cargo ship headed for North America when the ship suddenly sinks. This is where the story picks up and becomes an enthralling read.

Pi manages to get on board a lifeboat along with an orangutan, an injured zebra, a hyena and a 450-lb Bengal tiger as shipmates.

The rest of the book follows Pi through his treacherous journey through the Pacific. Not only does he have to deal with the loss of his family and the challenge of surviving on a lifeboat in the vast Pacific Ocean, he also has to avoid being eaten by his OWN shipmates!

In the end, Pi survives his almost 7-month-long journey and we are challenged to wonder whether Pi’s story is indeed true as told – or if each of the characters represents something else in his actual, even more harrowing real experience.

If you decide to read this book (and I would highly recommend doing so), hang in there through the first few chapters – your patience will be rewarded with a wonderful tale.

 
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Some More Summer Reads

Posted by Kathy Torrence on Jun 29, 2008 in Books I'm Reading

I must be a really quick reader – while we were away this week, I finished 2 complete novels and am 3/4 of the way through a third! – I have always been one to blow through books quickly – especially those that are well written and keep my interest. I had some time to read while we were on the beach and while the kids were at the waterpark and the pool…

By the way, Emily learned to swim underwater while we were on vacation! She’d been afraid to try, but she finally got her courage up and now she’s swimming like an old pro!

But back to the books – the first one I finished was Happiness Sold Separately by Lolly Winston.

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I thought this was going to be a light, funny read. But instead, it was more of a portrait of the breakdown of a marriage. It follows the story of Elinor Mackey – a corporate lawyer and her husband Ted, a podiatrist. Elinor and Ted spend their thirties focused on their careers and then when they decide to try and start a family, they have to endure failed fertility treatments and face a life together without children.

After all the hormone treatments, Elinor becomes impossible to live with and Ted ends up having an affair with Gina, his personal trainer. I think the author tried to present the book in a such a way that you side with no individual character. The story is told from the point of view of each person and so you are able understand and sympathize with the feelings of Ted, Gina and Elinor.

The book was good – but not the lighthearted story I had hoped for. But it was a nice read that accurately reflects the difficulties faced by many people in their marriages – there are no ‘good guys’ or ‘bad guys’ – just people trying to do the best they can.

The next book I read, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, was TOTALLY outside my normal type of book. I’m not even sure exactly why I picked it up – probably because it was previously an Oprah’s Book Club selection.

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Talk about the opposite of a light read! The Road follows a man and his son trying to continue to exist after some sort of an apocalypse that leaves the world lifeless, gray and hopeless. They are on the east coast headed south for more warmth after the sun is covered with nothing but dark, gray skies. All plants are dead – everything is covered with ash – and the remaining starving people are driven to do unthinkable things to survive.

The book is written in an odd style – small paragraphs, short dialogue (with no apostrophes) and poetic language. You never find out the name of the man or the boy – and you never find out exactly what caused the apocalypse. But you can almost feel the rain, the hopelessness, the fear and depression – the story is so well written.

I read this entire book from cover to cover in about 3 hours – in spite of its subject matter and frank images, you can’t help but keep reading. Again, this is not normally my kind of book, but I’m glad I read it. And I was VERY happy to look up and see bright blue skies and lots of happy people on the beach after I finished!

The third book that I have almost finished is The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold.

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I picked up this book after having read another book by Sebold, The Lovely Bones, and after having heard an interview with her on NPR about The Almost Moon.

This book follows the story of Helen Knightly, a woman who kills her mother in the opening chapter. Helen’s mother, Clair, is in her late 80s and is suffering from dementia. Helen helps to care for her mother and in a moment of panic, suffocates her mother while attempting to clean her up after a bowel accident.

The rest of the book goes on to describe Clair’s mental illness and Helen’s childhood growing up with a mother who is, in her words, ‘crazy’. Her mother reaches a point where she will no longer leave the house when Helen is just a young child. Her father tries to deal with her mother as best he can, but he himself commits suicide. And Helen has a failed marriage and two grown children of her own.

I still have a few more pages to go, but I think this is an interesting portrayal of a child growing up with a mother who is mentally ill. In some ways, I think anyone with a less-than-ideal childhood can relate to some of what Helen goes through. I am, however, having problems understanding how she handles herself after her mother’s death – she becomes intimate with her best friend’s son, calls her ex-husband for advice, cuts off her mother’s braid to keep in her purse and puts her mother in the basement freezer. Maybe the author’s intent is to show a bit of mental illness in Helen herself – I’ll have to read the remainder of the book and see how the story ends.

At this rate, I’m going to have to start getting my books from the library and not from the bookstore…not sure the library looks kindly upon sand and water on their books, though…

 
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My First Book of the Summer

Posted by Kathy Torrence on Jun 15, 2008 in Books I'm Reading

Now that summer’s here, I’ll finally have a chance to catch up on some reading. I have a stack of books that have been calling my name, waiting to be read while sitting in a beach chair by the lake and pool.

And I just finished my first summer book – Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.

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This is one of those books that is extremely disturbing but that you can’t stop reading all at the same time.

The book follows the life of Amir, the son of a wealthy businessman in Afghanistan. As a child, Amir lives in a peaceful Afghanistan and spends his days playing with Hassan, the son of his father’s servant. I loved reading about Afghanistan during this time period – in my eyes, I’ve always associated the country with war and destruction, not with persimmon trees and kite tournaments. After reading the first half of the book, I could vision Afghanistan as the beautiful place that it was.

The wonderful thing about this book is that the author not only describes the political situation in Afghanistan in a very graphic, eye-opening way, but he also gets you emotionally connected with these characters at the same time. You feel invested in Amir and Hassan’s future and can feel their pain and struggles.

Amir considers himself a coward and when tested, he is unable to stand up for his friend as his friend did for him. This haunts him for years and affects the rest of his life – the guilt and shame of what he did (and didn’t do) when he was just a teenager.

As an adult, he has a chance to make things right and comes face-to-face with some demons from the past – and what demons they are. Hosseini described the Taliban’s ferocious methods of punishing those who oppose them in a detail that chilled me to the bone.

I have to say that I was just a little disappointed in the ending. I had hoped that after reading through all the horrible scenes of rape and murder that the author could just throw us a bone and give us a happy end to the story. But I guess that’s how real life works – happy endings are not guaranteed – especially for those living in that part of the world.

Still, I would recommend this book – just be prepared for a story that will challenge you.

 
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Hello from Alaska!

Posted by Kathy Torrence on Apr 8, 2008 in Books I'm Reading, Uncategorized

I’m writing this post from very cold Anchorage, Alaska at 6 in the morning AK time.  Why am I up at 6 in the morning posting to my blog?  Because I am still suffering from the dreaded “jet lag” and have not adjusted to the time difference yet.   I’m finding out that I’m not as young as I used to be – I’m a little bit slower to bounce back than I used to be now that I’m almost 40!!!!!

But I’m still glad to be here – we really needed to come on this trip to help define Alaska’s needs for their new system.  A lot of people have asked me exactly what I’m doing in my new job and why I needed to come here…I’m basically trying to further specify the details of some of the functions they need for their new FAA system. 

It’s kind of like this – Alaska wrote that they wanted…let’s say…apples (for an analogy).  Just a very high level need.

So…I had to try to expand on that and wrote that they I think they want green apples.

This was presented to Alaska to see if that’s really what they wanted.  They came back that what they really need is applesauce made from green apples.

So I write up another piece that says I think they want applesauce made from green apples with cinnamon served in a jar.

They read this and come back that what they actually need is applesauce made from green apples with cinnamon made by Mott’s served in a portable snack pack.

See how that goes?  Just substitute flight plans and weather for apples and you get the idea.  It’s my job to get the Alaska folks started and help them explain what they really need – and they need so much that we needed to meet face-to-face to get the ideas across in discussions and pictures.  Then I try to capture it in written words and we keep refining the ideas until we think we have it right.

Anyway…the flight up here was very long (two 5-6 hour legs – think flying cross-country and then cross-country again all in the same day) and on the first leg, I was stuck in a window seat…and I am slightly claustrophobic.  And the rather large man in the middle seat  kept invading my personal space by hogging the entire armrest and crossing his leg in front of my seat – it was a LONG 6 hours to say the least.

But during the flight, I managed to finish a book I’m reading – “Eat Pray Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert (not the girl who was in Little House on the Prairie).  I LOVED this book!  I feel like I had so much in common with the author.  We are both control freaks and our writing style is very similar.  In this book, she is just coming from a divorce and failed relationship (this we do NOT have in common – I’m in a great marriage!  But I can relate because I also went through a divorce when I was about the same age as the author) and decides to spend a year in Italy, India and Indonesia to try to find balance in her life using prayer and love.  If I have time later, I’ll post again with some of my favorite lines from the book – it really moved me.

On my second leg, I met a young man who is an ‘extreme’ skier – he was coming up here to be dropped onto a mountain by helicopter and ski down while being filmed for a documentary.  Wow.  I can’t even imagine doing something like that!  That idea together with the book I read made me take a look at my life and the types of things I do and the types of things I would never dream of doing…I’ll post more on that idea later. 

Right now, I have to go shower and get ready to go to work – one more quick thing. I didn’t have a chance to mention how absolutely breathtakingly beautiful it is up here.  I have a fabulous view of the snow-covered mountains from my room – that more than makes up for the long flight!

I wish I could post some photos, but I forgot the cable for my camera…it’ll have to wait until I get back…

 
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Two Books

Posted by Kathy Torrence on Oct 15, 2007 in Books I'm Reading

Although I missed my book club meeting last week (I was scheduled to be in three places at one time on Thursday night and surprisingly, I could only physically be in one!), I did finish the book selection – The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards. 

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The ‘memory keeper’ refers to a camera – and the daughter is the baby girl with Down’s Syndrome that was given away at birth by the baby’s father.  The baby was one of a set of boy/girl twins that was delivered by the father during a snowstorm.  The boy was delivered healthy – the mother was told that the daughter had died.  The nurse was ordered to take the baby girl, Phoebe, away to an institution for the ‘mentally feeble’, but the nurse couldn’t do leave here there and then raises the child as her own.

I know that this book has received some really good reviews and I’m certainly no literary expert, but I didn’t really enjoy it.  First, I just could NOT get over what the father had done.  I know that the author tried to make us sympathetic toward him (he had a terminally ill sister that died when he was young), but I just couldn’t forgive him or understand not only how he could give that baby away, but also how he could keep it from his wife.

Plus, the book seemed extremely lopsided to me.  The beginning was full of extreme, minute detail (a little too flowery for my taste – I’d rather have a story with substance) and then at the end, everything sped up and we were left with few details.  It’s like Ms. Edwards realized that the book was going to be too long, so she just compressed the end.  All of a sudden and without any detail or information, the father dies.  You think that would be worth more detail than the look of the sand and sky on the beach when the mother cheats on him (oops – now I’ve given some of the story away – I wouldn’t recommend reading the book anyway… :).

This was not the worst book I’ve ever read, but certainly not the best.  I had to force myself to read the second half of the book – I didn’t care, quite frankly, what happened to any of the characters after that point.

Okay, so now that I’ve finished that book (and that was just my opinion, mind you), I’ve started reading the next book club selection – March by Geraldine Brooks.

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This book follows the absentee father of the March family from Little Women while he is away fighting the Civil War.  I haven’t read much yet, but so far, some of the war scenes have been quite gory (but I suppose that’s what war is, isn’t it?).  I’ll let you know what I think when I’m finished…

 
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My Latest Summer Read

Posted by Kathy Torrence on Aug 5, 2007 in Books I'm Reading

I managed to finish another book this weekend while lounging at the pool at Knoebels (plus, since there was no cable TV at the campground, I had plenty of time to read while we were waiting for a small rain shower to pass).

I read The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani, a new book that just came out last month.

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It follows the story of a young girl in 17th century Iran who has a string of unfortunate events in her life. Her father dies before she is to be married and she and her mother must take desperate measures to survive. They are dependent upon the kindness of some VERY distant relatives who exploit them for personal and financial gains. It seems that the young girl is a very talented rug-maker and fine tunes her craft while living with these relatives (her uncle is a master rug designer), but since she is a woman, the first priority in her life is to find a suitable husband.

The language in the book is so descriptive – especially when describing foods, colors and smells. It isn’t hard at all to create a mental picture of the city of Isfahan and its treasures. And even though this is historical fiction, the details of the time are secondary to the story itself.

The main character is never named directly – something the author did purposefully to pay tribute to the many anonymous artisans in Iran. I also enjoyed reading the author’s notes in the back of the book where she shares the inspirations for many parts of the story.

Definitely a good read and a great escape!

 
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Love Walked In

Posted by Kathy Torrence on Jul 29, 2007 in Books I'm Reading

I finished another book this week – Love Walked In by Merisa de los Santos.  I picked it up on a whim when I bought a bunch of other books.  The other books I purchased that day were more serious with heavier topics – this one I thought would be a nice, light read.

And that’s pretty much what it was, but different from most books where it’s just a boy-meets-girl, boy-and-girl-fall-in-love, something-keeps-boy-and-girl-from-getting-together, love-wins-out-in-the-end story.

Love Walked In is about a single, working woman named Cornelia who is looking for love and thinks she finds it in Martin, a sophisticated, witty man.  But when she finds out that Martin has a daughter, Clare, that he hasn’t told her about…and when Clare’s mom has basically a nervous breakdown and abandons Clare, Cornelia steps in as a mother figure and uses maternal instincts that she didn’t know she had. 

It’s a pretty good story, but…why is it whenever there is a man and a woman in a story who are good friends, they have to end up falling in love with each other in the end?  Why can’t they just stay friends?  In this book, Cornelia ends up falling in love with a childhood friend (who also happens to be her sister’s husband) and I wish she didn’t. 

Other than that, this was a nice summer read.

 
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Finished The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Posted by Kathy Torrence on Jul 21, 2007 in Books I'm Reading

Well…yesterday I read The Reluctant Fundamentalist for my book club – I read the entire book in one day. It’s only 184 pages long (and did I mention that I’m a fast reader? Never took the Evelyn Wood speedreading class, but I’m quick nonetheless).

While it was interesting enough to keep my attention, I think I was hoping for some sort of different ending. I kept thinking that the book was going to wrap up into some sort of definite answer about who are the good guys and who are the bad guys, but given the world we live in, it’s not that clear cut who is who anyway.

The book is about a Pakistani man named Changez who was educated in the US at Princeton and who takes a prestigious job in New York City after he graduates. He is working for the New York firm when 9/11 happens and he notices the changes toward him from the people around him. He also begins to worry about his homeland, and expresses anger at the US for not providing protection for Pakistan.

The entire book is written in a weird sort of dialogue – Changez is talking to an American in a cafe in Pakistan. The American never speaks and the dialogue is told as though Changez is telling his story to the American. Kind of a weird way to tell the story. It had to be short – the format grows tiring after a while.

There’s also a side story about Changez and a lovely American woman named Erica. Erica is already on a downward mental spiral after the death of her boyfriend and 9/11 only intensifies her confusion. This story could probably be left out entirely without changing the book too much.

I felt like I never really got to know Changez or Erica – perhaps because the book was so short. Or maybe it was the way the story was told…while I’m glad I read the book, but I don’t know if I would recommend it for others to read.

 
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Summer Reading

Posted by Kathy Torrence on Jul 16, 2007 in Books I'm Reading

So…as I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m starting to read again this summer.  Not that I forgot HOW to read, mind you – I just haven’t had time to dedicate myself to long reading endeavors.  Small magazine articles – yes.  Five hundred page novels – not quite.

But spending so much time at the lake this summer has given me more time to just relax and read.

So far…I’ve read:

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See.  A great book about relationships between women in China in the 1800’s.  I do have to say that the foot-binding passages did make me quite nauseous – I guess that’s the sign of a great writer.  I had to put the book down for a few days before I could get through that section.  I really enjoyed the detailed descriptions of the customs of the time – and I realized that we still go through painful customs for beauty even today.

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant.  Another good read that follows the story of Dinah in the book of Genesis in the Old Testament.  It imagines what would have happened if Dinah had not, in fact, been cpatured and raped by the son of the king, but instead had been madly in love with him.  It really got me thinking about other Bible passages and the possible stories behind them.

She’s All That by Kristin Billerbeck.  This book was a gift from my friend Linda (Hi, Linda!!!!) and I FINALLY got a chance to read it.  Fun, fun, fun – a nice, light beach read about three friends in their early 30s.  This is also a Christian chick-lit book, so it was nice to see faith worked into the story.  I think I’m going to get the next book in the Spa Girls series – I want to see what’s going to happen next with Lilly and her friends.

And I’m currently reading Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides.  This is a BIG book – over 500 pages – and I’m only on page 384.  But I’ve read those 384 pages in just three days – it’s a book that really keeps your attention.  This is much different than the books I’ve read so far – in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like it.  It focuses on three generations of a Greek family living in this century.  The modern-day family member happens to be a hermaphrodite that lived as a girl for the first 14 years of his life.  But that’s not really the focus of most of the story – it’s about family life, immigration, living in Detroit during the race riots…it really covers a lot of ground in those 500 pages!

And next on my reading list…The Reluctant Fundamentalist by  Mohsin Hamid.  This book was chosen by my new book club – The Ladies of Lake Avenue.  Looks like a political thriller – again – not what I would normally read on my own.  I’ll let you know what I think when I’ve finished it…

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