Becky’s Two Hundred and Twenty-Second Book Review: “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee

I remember reading “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee in school and wondering what the big deal was. It was a book and it was okay. It didn’t blow me away. At least not when I first read it. When “To Kill a Mockingbird” was chosen as the Wall Street Journal’s Book Club pick this summer I had the perfect excuse to pick up the classic tale as an adult and give it another go. I have to say – I totally get it. The second time around you just have such a better appreciation of the time that Harper Lee was able to grasp in the novel, and the way she was able to capture the challenges a white lawyer would face representing a black guy that had been accused of raping a white girl in an otherwise quiet southern town. And the way that the book was told through a child’s eye – that just gave such an amazing touch to her novel. It is no wonder “To Kill a Mockingbird” is such a classic.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” takes place during the summer when Atticus Finch defends Tom Robinson, which Scout remembers as the summer that Dill wanted to try to make Boo Radley come out of his house. “People moved slowly then. They ambled across the square, shuffled in and out of the stores around it, took their time about everything. A day was twenty-four hours long but seemed longer. There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County. But it was a time of vague optimism for some of the people: Maycomb County had recently been told that it had nothing to fear but fear itself.” (To Kill a Mockingbird, pg 5/6) I liked this quote. It sets the time period well without going into too much detail. It gives the reader a good foundation of the feel of Maycomb County.

I really enjoyed how Harper Lee wrote from Scout’s perspective. She’s insightful for a child, but also has the occasional philosophical moment where her logic is clearly that of a child. “Mr. Avery said it was written on the Rosetta Stone that when children disobeyed their parents, smoked cigarettes and made war on each other, the seasons would change: Jem and I were burdened with the guilt of contributing to the aberrations of nature, thereby causing unhappiness to our neighbors and discomfort to ourselves.” (To Kill a Mockingbird, pg 63). I remember being that young and having that same blind faith in everything I was told.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely – especially if you read it as a child and thought it was only okay. I am so glad that I went back to it as an adult. It’s not an especially difficult read, but it tackles a lot of issues and does it well. Scout is a very relatable character and that is part of the fun. I almost wish I hadn’t been forced to read it when I was younger, because it was so much harder to appreciate a good book when it is given as homework. That being said, I am very glad I picked this up again and I highly recommend you do the same!

Becky’s Two Hundred and Twenty-First Book Review: “Brooke” by V.C. Andrews

“Brooke” is the third book in the Orphan miniseries by V.C. Andrews. I enjoyed this one more than the first two books, Butterfly and Crystal. I think that has largely to do with Brooke herself as a character.

Brooke is tough as nails – and she doesn’t lose that. When Brooke is brought into Pamela and Peter’s home she is grateful, but she spends time reflecting about how unnecessary everything is that they have, and how their things and their ways don’t really fit her. Although she is dropped into the lap of luxury, Brooke doesn’t let the riches around her go to her head. The challenge she faces is trying to follow her own interests, while at the same time having her ultimate wish fulfilled. “But what choice did I have? A foster child who was soon to be legally adopted was like someone without any rights or even feelings. If I wanted parents and a home and a name, I had to be obedient. Pamela talked about my auditioning for the pageant, but what I was really doing was auditioning to be her daughter.” (Brooke, pg 121)

Pamela wanted Brooke because of her looks, because she wanted a beautiful daughter without the trouble of rearing one. Instead of trying to get to know Brooke as a person, Pamela ignores her desires and accomplishments and just tries to fit her into the mold of a perfect pageant daughter, which of course does not work out. “People who lie to themselves have a hard time looking at other people directly. They are afraid that their eyes will reveal the self-deceptions.” (Brooke, pg 160). I really liked this quote. It is a powerful observation, and that is part of what I liked about Brooke as a character. She is strong willed.

Would I recommend this book? Probably, it was enjoyable enough. I think the nice thing about the miniseries is that these are novellas and it isn’t a huge time investment to read. There are deeper issues that Andrews tries to tackle in these books, but it isn’t quite as prominent and there wasn’t any incest either, so that’s a plus. I already have pulled the fourth book from its spot on my shelf and plan to start it in the very near future.

Becky’s Two Hundred and Twentieth Book Review: “Swerve” by Vicki Pettersson

“Swerve” by Vicki Pettersson is a book that I received directly from the author per a recommendation by Taylor Stevens who writes the Vanessa Michael Munroe series. Since I tend to avoid reading the back cover of books, all I knew going into this book was that Taylor Stevens gave her endorsement and that it is similar to Dean Koontz’s thrillers but with a female protagonist. That was enough for me.

The novel starts out with Kristine and her fiancé Daniel driving to his parent’s house in California. After spilling her iced coffee all over the place, Daniel pulls over at a rest stop so Kristine can change her clothes. Within minutes her world is turned upside down when she is attacked and Daniel is taken. Kristine is left with a treasure map of instructions she has to follow to get Daniel back alive. I found myself hooked from the beginning. We knew only bits and pieces about Kristine and as the book progressed the layers of her past were peeled away, hinting at something terrible.

“…I can’t even imagine what I could have done to deserve this. / Okay, maybe except for that. That one thing. / But that’s long past, and besides, everyone has something in their history that makes them flinch. My memories just happen to spring up like poisonous mushrooms, mealy and rotted and contaminated by my mother’s voice.” (Swerve, pg 55). I loved this quote. I think it is a great example of the texture that Vicki Pettersson’s writing takes on. Her words come to life on the page.

I think that Kristine is a very intriguing character. At the beginning she is just a frazzled woman on a drive to see her fiancé’s mother, whom Kristine knows disapproves of her. Then she is thrown into this impossible situation, where being disapproved of is the last thing on her mind. She needs to pull from deep within her and find the strength the save those she most cares about. Throughout this rollercoaster of a thriller, Kristine is pulled in so many different directions and needs to continue to dig for that strength to get through the horrible challenges she is currently facing. Despite the helplessness that she feels, and the weakness, she keeps fighting. “I feel the old anger well up inside of me, a flash flood of roiling heat, and for a moment I don’t stop it. Instead of fighting the situation – the man in front of me and my helplessness and my anger at both – I let myself feel it, fury so primal it burns everything from existence. I can live in this white space without pain. I can hate everything with a completeness that flattens meaning into dust, and I know I’ll be safe. I’ve lived here before.” (Swerve, pg 259).

Would I recommend this book? Yes – but not to everyone. I was warned by the author beforehand that it is a violent book and the violence was intense, even for me. It is not a book for everyone. “Swerve” is the first thriller that Pettersson has written, however she has two book series that she wrote before this novel. I am definitely intrigued by her writing and plan on reading her other works and would most certainly pick up another thriller by her.

Becky’s Two Hundred and Nineteenth Book Review: “Flowers in the Attic” by V.C. Andrews

“Flowers in the Attic” by V. C. Andrews is the first book in the Dollanganger series and probably V.C. Andrews’ best-known series. I wanted to read this book partly because it is so well known I feel like I should, and also because I am purging my personal library but I don’t want to get rid of books that I haven’t read yet. Seeing as how I wasn’t impressed with the Casteel Family Series (Heaven, Dark Angel, Fallen Hearts, Gates of Paradise, Web of Dreams) and the Cutler Family Series (Dawn, Secrets of the Morning, Twilight’s Child, Midnight Whispers, Darkest Hour) that I read by V.C. Andrews, her collected works are on my short list to get read and get off my bookshelves.

Like her other books, “Flowers in the Attic” starts off with a tragedy – the father dies in a car accident and everyone’s lives are turned upside down. “From all that I heard, and overheard, fate was a grim reaper, never kind, with little respect for who was loved and needed.” (Flowers in the Attic, pg 22). The oldest girl, Cathy, is the narrator in “Flowers in the Attic”. Cathy’s mother becomes stagnant after learning of her husband’s death, and Cathy and her older brother Chris step up to care for the twins amongst the grief they too are feeling. She is forced to grow up much too quickly and has to accept not only the fact that her father is dead, but that their family is broke. It is this financial distress that causes Cathy’s mother to attempt to reconcile with her parents. We soon learn why Cathy’s mother left her parents behind.

SPOILER ALERT!

Cathy, Chris, the twins, and their mother leave the home they knew and loved in the middle of the night to arrive at a new home that will become their prison. The children learn that they were the product of incest. Their mother married her half-uncle and because she did this she was disowned by her parents. Upon return to her childhood home, Cathy’s mother says that she needs to regain the affections of her father and in order to do that her children need to stay out of sight. The four children are shown to a room high up in the mansion that has a staircase into the attic and are given strict rules by the grandmother they meet and immediately dislike. “…nor will you allow your eyes to meet with mine; nor will you seek to show signs of affection toward me, nor hope to gain my friendship, nor my pity, nor my love, nor my compassion. All of them is impossible. Neither your grandfather nor myself can allow ourselves to feel anything for what is not wholesome.” (Flowers in the Attic, pg 61).

The grandmother was very easy to hate. It was clear from the beginning that she was a terrible person, the kind of person that will blame children for where they came from rather than embrace family. Despite the grandmother’s harsh words, Cathy and Chris work hard to keep hope alive, even when the effort seems fruitless. I enjoyed observing the different characters growing and evolving throughout the novel. It kept things interesting. “Evil was dark, crooked, crouched and small – it didn’t stand straight and smile at you with clear sky-blue eyes that never lied.” (Flowers in the Attic, pg 124).

Would I recommend this book? Surprisingly, yes. I was impressed with how well written it was, for a number of reasons. I feel like “Flowers in the Attic” is almost infamous in our culture, and I also have read other works by V.C. Andrews and was not impressed. So I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it, and I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

Becky’s Two Hundred and Eighteenth Book Review: “Money” by Martin Amis

“Money” by Martin Amis was a Wall Street Journal book club pick months ago. I have renewed this book from the library thirteen times. You are able to renew a book online ten times. Once I called and renewed it over the phone because I was at the limit for renewing it online. Then I physically went to the library to return and immediately checkout the book. And I also renewed it online again. Why do I keep renewing this book? Well, I don’t like to give up on books. Even if I’m not enjoying them, even if I’ve been trying to get through the book for months, even if everyone who knows me has encouraged me to give up on the book, I will still push through. But there are so many books out there, so many books in my personal collection that I haven’t read, and so many books on my amazon wish list… I have finally concluded that I don’t need to force myself to finish a book that I’ve been working on for almost a year. It’s just an unpleasant reading experience and there is no reason to put myself through that.

This book follows John Self – a director making his first movie in New York City and spending all of his time in self-destruct-mode. He is out late drinking, partying, doing drugs, having sex with anything that moves, etc. It is just a run-on prose following this guy, which I found completely uninteresting. “Money” is supposed to be a suicide note. I’m not sure if he kills himself in the end, because I did not finish the novel. Halfway through the novel, which is as far as I made it, he has certainly tried his best to kill himself through his behaviors and poor life decisions. But he was not a character that I cared about at all.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely not! When I can’t make it through a book that is saying something. The novel is about 350 pages and I couldn’t bring myself to read the last hundred pages. It’s just so bad and I couldn’t care less about any of the characters. I don’t understand why this book was picked for the Wall Street Journal book club, I found nothing appealing or insightful about this book. The author that picked this for the WSJ book club is Carl Hiaasen and after trying so hard to read “Money” I have no intention of every picking up one of his works either. The entire experience left a bad taste in my mouth. That is the tossup when you follow a book club – sometimes the selections are not good. That was certainly the case with “Money” by Martin Amis.