Monday, January 31, 2011

CR Review #6: The Gunslinger

The Gunslinger is the first of seven Dark Tower novels written by Stephen King. Along with the 7 books, there are also countless SK short stories and novels that either tie directly (The Stand, Salem's Lot, Hearts in Atlantis, Eye of the Dragon) or indirectly (The Mist, It, The Talisman, Rose Madder) to the plot of this massive tale. And yet, when I talk to most people who enjoy reading King's novels, I only know one other person who has read all 7 of these. Too bad. This is a great, epic story (say what you will about the final reveal of book 7...many were disappointed, or even angry about it, but I thought it was the right ending).

The Gunslinger sets the basics for the massive story to come. It tells the tale of Roland Deschain, last of the gunslingers from the Kingdom of Gilead (akin to a knight of the round table), and his quest for the "man in black," the one person who can tell him what he needs to know in order to continue his journey to find the Dark Tower -- which holds the key to all the questions/answers of the universe.

While Roland chases the man in black, we learn a bit about his past (how he grew up, how he "came into manhood", what happened to his home, etc.) and about his world in general. While similarities to our world exist (the song Hey Jude, Amoco gas pumps, subways), there are enough differences that we aren't sure if this is the future or an alternate world.

Along the way, Roland encounters a boy named Jake Chambers, from New York City. Jake tells Roland that he died by being pushed into the road (by a man in a black cloak) and run over by a big Cadillac, and then suddenly found himself alone in this strange land. The two become traveling partners and Roland comes to love the boy as his own.

And then Roland finds out that in order to find the man in black he'll have to choose between the boy and the Tower.

This book is mostly a set up for the second in the series (the excellent Drawing of the Three), but sets a good pace and draws a detailed picture of our hero (or I guess, anti-hero).

I've read this book at least three or four times, but this is the first time I've read it since finishing the entire series. I was surprised at how many "clues" there were to the ultimate reveal of the story (note, this is the updated version, not the original version published in the 1980s).

Looking forward to getting through the rest of the books before seeing The Dark Tower movie that's been talked about so much recently. Right now I'm trying to see Javier Bardem as Roland...not quite working for me yet, but we'll see...

Monday, January 24, 2011

CR Review #5: Never Let Me Go

I love novels and movies that can be described as "period pieces". Jane Austen. The Forsyte Saga. Merchant Ivory movies starring a beautiful Helena Bonham Carter. Brideshead Revisited.

However, like Elaine Benes, I hated The English Patient. Hated, hated, hated it.

I also hated The Remains of the Day. Lots of my friends and relatives were surprised by my hatred for these beautiful, award winning films. Earlier this year I saw a preview for the movie Never Let Me Go. It looked interesting until I saw that it was based on the book by Kazuo Ishiguro, author of the Remains of the Day. But I asked a few friends and they all recommended the book, saying it was a great story with a huge surprise twist ending. And I love little Carey Mulligan, so I thought I'd give the book a try and then see the movie.

So I gave in and read it. And now I can add this to my list of disappointments.

As eloquently detailed by many CBR-ers before me, Never Let Me Go is the story of Ruth, Kathy and Tommy, three young friends who grow up together in an alt-version of England. They go to boarding school together in the idyllic British countryside, where they are encouraged to be artistic. They become friends, they fight, they flirt, they fall in and out of love, they "come of age".

And all throughout, we learn about what their true purpose in the world is, and what the future holds for them. But I wasn't all that shocked or surprised by the ending, and honestly, I didn't really care. The book itself is beautifully written. Ishiguro truly has a way with describing the beauty of England. However, I just didn't connect with any of the characters (especially Ruth, which I suppose is how I'm supposed to feel) and didn't really feel anything when their destinies were revealed.

Friday, January 14, 2011

CR Review #4: Room

Seems like everyone is reading Room these days. And like everyone else, I have to say, this is an extremely well-written, mesmerizing tale that I did not particularly enjoy.

As many CBR reviewers have already explained, Room is the story of "Ma" and "Jack", a mother and her 5 year old son who are being held captive in a small, 11x11 shed out in the backyard of a man called "Old Nick". The story is told from the perspective of Jack, who has never known any life other than that of Room. Halfway through the book, Jack and Ma escape (not a spoiler) from Room and then have to struggle with their adjustment to the real world.

While in Room, Ma and Jack fill their days with exercise, arts & crafts, baths, reading, and games. Jack is allowed to watch a little tv (he loves Dora!) and his bed is inside an old wardrobe (so he doesn't have to see Old Nick when he comes to visit Ma at night). Jack thinks he has a pretty good life with Ma inside Room, until one day Ma decides to tell him that there is a whole world outside and that they need to be a part of it.

What I really liked about the book was the voice of Jack. At first I thought it was going to annoy me to no end, but it really worked. As a parent, I was amazed at the never-ending list of games and activities that Ma had dreamed up for Jack. However, ultimately I found the story somewhat upsetting (again, probably because I am a parent), especially when the book described some of Ma's decisions once they had been rescued.

While I didn't really "enjoy" reading Room, I think I would feel comfortable recommending it. A fascinating story told in a unique way.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

CR Review #3: The Help

There is a short list of books that I've read over the years that have made me cry: Persuasion, A Heartbreaking Word of Staggering Genius, Cold Mountain...and recent addition One Day. Now tonight, I can add The Help to the list.

My book club read this last year, but I had a new baby and didn't have a chance to read it or go to the meeting and hear what people had to say about it. So it sat on my bedside table all year, collecting dust. Until Thursday night, when I picked it up on a whim.

For those who don't know, The Help takes place in the early 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi and gives a fictionalized account of what life was like there during the early days of the civil rights movement. It tells the story of Aibileen and Minny, two black maids working for white families, and Skeeter, a white girl who wants to be a writer and gets the idea to interview the maids and their friends and turn their stories -- both the good and the bad -- into a book.

For those who have read it, what got me tearing up was the final scene between Aibileen and poor little Mae Mobely. Maybe I've gone soft since having kids, but I had a really hard time getting through those pages. Absolutely heartbreaking.

The Help is Kathryn Stockett's debut novel, and I look forward to reading more from her.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

CR Review #2: A Weekend with Mr. Darcy

I got this book for Christmas from my aunt, who had bought it on a recent trip to London. I'm a big fan of Jane Austen, and sometimes like silly, throwaway reads by Brit authors like Sophie Kinsella or Anna Maxted. Ridiculous plots and characters? Yes. But often a fun way to pass a day (they rarely take longer than a few hours to get through).

This one was about a Jane Austen conference at a large Hampshire estate that takes place one weekend in October. Characters include an Oxford professor of Austen literature, a young Jane Austen fan who can't distinguish real life from fiction, and a Judi Dench-like actress who stars in lots of BBC Austen adaptations. And lots of references to a shirtless Colin Firth rising from the waters of Pemberly in the BBC Pride & Prejudice.

Nothing earth shattering here, but not complete trash either. A lot of historical references to the life of Jane Austen, and reading this definitely got me thinking about pulling out my copies of Persuasion, Emma, etc.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

CR Review #1: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

I know, I'm the last person in the world to be reading these. I've had this book on my Kindle for way over two years and am just getting around to reading it because its up next on my book club list.

I had read a lot about whether or not this book was pro-women or anti-women, with its descriptive violence against different young women in the book. I think my take on it was that it was pro-women, and anti-violence, but that's just my opinion.

I'd read a good about of Henning Mankel books (the Wallender series, in particular) that are of a similar style -- mysteries out in the wilds of Sweden. But what this book has that the Mankel books lack is Lisbeth Salander, who really made the book fly for me. Kurt Wallender is a great character, but like a John Rebus or a James Ellroy detective, he isn't really anyone that you would want to know more about in real life. A good cop with a screwed up life. But Salander was more interesting, and I look forward to finding out more about her in the next two stories.

I really liked the writing style and pace of the book. Will definitely be reading the two follow ups and am sorry that we will never have anything new from this talented writer.

However, I could have done without the endless descriptions of coffee and sandwiches. It just made me hungry.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Cannonball Read

I just signed up for an online book reading challenge for charity. The premise -- read 52 books in a year and post reviews of each one. I'd like to think that I'm up for the challenge, but realistically? I'm guessing I might finish and review about 26. But I'm going to try and get through one book a week.

First up, for my book club, finally getting around to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Will report back later this week...
Wish me luck!

Ugh, another ear infection...

Your baby has had a cold and been stuffed up for a few days, and today you see her tugging at her ear. Your busy toddler won’t eat dinner and can’t fall asleep. He says he has a headache...Uh-oh. Looks like another ear infection!

The majority of children under age six--kids under two in particular--get an ear infection at some point (and many unfortunate kids seem to get them again and again). Ear infections are caused by a blockage in the ear tubes that does not allow any fluid in the ear canal to drain properly.

Clues that your child might have an ear infection might include:
Loss of appetite;
Inability to fall asleep (or to stay asleep);
Ear pain (this is when you might see tugging on the ear);
Fluid draining from the ear; or
Trouble hearing.

More and more doctors are holding off on prescribing antibiotics for ear infections these days, as the majority of infections will clear themselves up over the course of a few days. However, its important to let your doctor know if you suspect your child may have an ear infection. You and the doctor can monitor your child’s progress and determine if and when treatment is needed.

Often, the infection will go away on its own over time. Doctors will likely recommend some of the following “home remedies” to help soothe your child:
Pain relievers (acetaminophen or ibuprofen, NOT aspirin);
Over-the-counter ear drops with benzocaine;
Sitting and sleeping in an upright position; or
Warm washcloth (or even a heating pad on low heat) over the ear.

If, over the next few days, your child’s infection does not seem to be improving, you and your doctor can re-asses the situation and if antibiotics are necessary. If your child is under six months of age, or if he or she seems to be getting worse, antibiotics will most likely be prescribed. If your child seems to frequently get ear infections, your doctor may recommend a visit with an ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat Specialist), who can discuss options for the future with you (e.g., surgical insertion of ear tubes, removal of adenoids).