Ashes, Ashes by Joe Treggiari

The end of the word has come and gone with a series of epidemics, floods, droughts (and the resulting violence and chaos) leaving 16 year old Lucy as one of the few survivors. She is alone, foraging for food with the help of her father’s old pocket knife and a survival guide she swiped from a high-end Manhattan sporting goods store.

The combination of a tsunami and an attack by wild dogs leads Lucy to leave her solitary camp in Central Park seek help and company with a group of survivors, including handsome and friendly Aiden. We are introduced to a very different Manhattan, a new social structure, and the real truth about the epidemics that wiped out most of human civilization. We also quickly dicvoer there is something special about Lucy.

Ashes, Ashes starts out strong. Lucy on her own is a fascinating character. I enjoyed reading through her thought processes and problem solving. She is smart, capable, and independent, all nice to see in a young female heroine. After joining Aiden and his group of survivors, she suddenly seems so passive and unsure of herself, it is disappointing. Realistic perhaps after so much time alone, but disappointing nonetheless.

A good read, great for summer days on the beach.


Read-along: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Let’s try something new.

Anna Karenina is on my 2011 TBR list, and after spending months trying to get through Moby Dick, I have been stalling on starting this one. So to get me over that hump, I have recruited friends from across the country (and a few out of country) to read it with me. Onebookperweek.ca is now hosting its first read along.

How this Works
The novel was originally published in eight installments, and is thus conveniently divided into eight parts. For each part there will be an update/discussion post right here every Monday (or thereabouts – I am moving in early September which I suspect may require some flexibility). Participants are asked to comment, share thoughts, and/or share links to their own blog posts. Of course, no one has to blog or comment. There are no obligations of any kind. Join in the conversation if you wish, or read and follow the conversation if you prefer.

Discussion Schedule (every Monday):

  • September 12 – discussion of Part I
  • September 19 – discussion of Part II
  • September 26 – discussion of Part III
  • October 3 – discussion of Part IV
  • October 10 – discussion of Part V
  • October 17 – discussion of Part VI
  • October 24 – discussion of Part VII
  • October 31 – discussion of Part VII

Each section of the book is composed of roughly 18-35 chapters. Don’t let this scare you. Many of the chapters are only a few pages long.

If you join late or fall behind – no worries. Come back to the discussion post when you are ready to avoid spoilers. I intend to start reading early, as I know I will struggle to find time to read while moving and want a head start. I’ll just take good notes to ensure I am discussing the right chapters at the right time.

To Sign-up

  • Please comment below if you would like to participate.
  • If you have a blog and intend writing posts on your progress through the novel, provide a link to your blog. I will compile and post a link.

Remember: You do not have to be a blogger to take part in this read-along. Even if you are, you do not have to blog about it. All are welcome to read-along together and comment on the discussion posts. 


The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards

A rare Kentucky snowstorm in early 1964 strands Dr. David Henry and his wife Norah at his clinic, where he delivers his twins with the sole assistance of a devoted nurse. His son Paul is born strong and healthy, but an unexpected daughter Phoebe follows and he quickly recognizes the signs of Down’s Syndrome. Presuming she will never be accepted in society and will likely suffer numerous health complications, the doctor decided to “spare his wife the pain” and tell her her daughter died.

Dr. Henry sends Caroline, the nurse, to deliver the child to an institution, changing all their lives forever — and so begins The Memory Keeper’s Daughter. Caroline cannot leave the child behind, so runs away to raise her as her own daughter. David never shakes the guilt of his lie, withdraws from his marriage and never fully enjoys his son as he should. Norah struggles to deal with her daughter’s death and her husband’s emotional distance.

While certainly an interesting read, I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I expected to. It quickly set up as a morality tale. David’s poor decision meant he and everyone connected to him would suffer forever. Caroline’s selfless choice blessed her with luck: finding the perfect job, inheriting a house and stumbling into a loving and devoted husband. I’ve never been a fan of morality tales. Life is not that clear-cut.

Yes, what the doctor did was deplorable. I don’t have trouble believing that such a decision would haunt him forever. I do find it a stretch that it would ruin the lives of everyone around him. So many times I put the book down in frustration wishing the characters would just move on and get out of their own way. Or in Caroline’s case, just once if something didn’t work out sunshine-y. (The baby was not hers. Yes, there was the convenient incomplete birth certificate, but how did no one ever question this!)

That said, the story and characters are interesting and the premise is unique. In fact, if the novel had ended a few chapters earlier I might have liked it much more. I simply grew tired of the same lesson repeated over and over.

Paperback: 448 pages

Publisher: Penguin; Reprint edition (July 1 2006)

ISBN-10: 0143037145

ISBN-13: 978-0143037149

 


A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin

The saga continues, and I am way late in reviewing it.

As the story picks up, Cersei is now essentially ruling the Seven Kingdoms while her son actually reigns, and like most who lust for power, she is completely inept once she attains it, leading the kingdom deeper into debt, destroying alliances, and approaching ruin.

More kings have died than even existed when the series began – and while it may seem that would make the war for the throne easier to decide, all it has done is open up an other series of claims. This one’s son, that one’s nephew, another one’s daughter.

What’s interesting about this episode is that in writing it, Martin found it was too long, and too complex (he can self edit? who knew?) and so split what was planned as one book into two.  A Feast for Crows focuses on Westeros, King’s Landing, the riverlands, Dorne, and the Iron Islands, and the following novel, A Dance with Dragons, covers events in the east (Daenerys and the Night’s Watch) and north. Better for continuity, yes. But aside from the Jamie/Brienne plotline, and Arya (whose story just gets stranger here), he removed most of my favourite characters from the story.

Good points: Samwell Tarly comes into his own. Somewhat. And slowly. But I have high hopes for him. Interesting background details in Dorne will prove important in later developments.

Paperback: 784 pages

Publisher: Bantam (October 30, 2007)

ISBN-10: 0553582038

ISBN-13: 978-0553582031

 


Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

Olive Kitteridge is the old woman none of us want to be, and are ashamed to admit we already are (even those of us who aren’t old yet). There is something beautiful about a character who you hate while loving her, empathize with despite believing she got exactly what she deserved, and miss when the story is over.

Olive’s story is told not through a continuous chronological narrative, but through a series of short stories, connected by location (most of the time) and by the one character everyone knew – Mrs. Kitteridge, the local junior high math teacher whom everyone is afraid of. Occasionally Olive narrates a story herself, but more often she is a character, often minor and sometimes only mentioned in passing.

A teacher and the wife of the pharmacist in a small town in Maine, Olive knows everyone, and has had some influence, large or small, good or bad, in the lives of everyone. The stories are about her, but not. Above all, they are about relationships, the connectedness of people, and what makes us feel important and connected. It is a heartbreaking yet hopeful story, beautifully told, and at the risk of sounding sentimental and cliché, it will change the way you think about the people in your life. Faults are just faults, we all have them, and they don’t appear out of nowhere.

There is a bit of Olive in all of us I believe (and more in some if us than others, for sure). We need to keep it in check, but also embrace it.

Paperback: 304 pages

Publisher: Random House

ISBN-10: 0812971833

ISBN-13: 978-0812971835

*Winner of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.


Light Lifting by Alexander MacLeod

I don’t even know how to begin reviewing this book. So excuse me if I ramble.

I don’t read short stories. I think the only other short story collection I read start to finish was by Alistair MacLeod. Short stories have never really spoken to me the way a novel does. I read for escape more than anything, and I need to be wrapped up in a story, consumed by it, to really enjoy it. So I struggled at first to read this.

Admittedly, the first story, Miracle Mile, didn’t really speak to me. Adolescent boys. Athletes. Risk takers. I bunch of things I never was. Then the next story, Wonder About Parents, spoke to me a little too well. I was in tears. And I am not a parent. So I put the book aside for a while, not picking it up again for almost two months. At which point I read the title story, Light Lifting, and was absolutely blown away. Funny how that can happen. It just got better from there. Adult Beginner I made me extremely happy merely for not ending the way I cynically thought it would. The Loop was absolutely brilliant, and Good Kids, also fabulous, reminded me of my days in a large family, one of the “good kids” (but not always living up to it) and the expectations that came with that. Even The Number Three, whose conclusion I wasn’t happy with, was so well set up I can’t say I didn’t like it.

What I remember about this collection is not so much the stories, but the characters. The people stand out – their fears, their choices and their regrets.

MacLeod has a gift for creating characters. Within a few pages, you know them. They are as familiar as your uncle, your neighbour, your coworker. Your heart breaks for them – because I must say, these are not happy stories. Happy stories are nice for family story time, but past the age of ten, does anyone really enjoy or believe them? Not really. (I’m not that much of a cynic, really. But life is difficult. Part of being happy is realizing and accepting that, no?)

I won’t bore you with descriptions of plots. I will just tell you to buy the book. Keep it on a side table in your most comfortable room. Pick it up once or twice a week until you’ve read it through. You won’t be sorry.

Paperback: 224 pages

Publisher: Biblioasis; Reprint edition (April 5, 2011)

ISBN-10: 1897231946

ISBN-13: 978-1897231944

* Short listed for the 2010 Giller Prize.