Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Secret Life of Bees

Title: The Secret Life of Bees
Author: Sue Monk Kidd
Date Finished: November 24, 2008
Pags: 336

I know that this book was recently made into a movie, but I have this thing about trying not to see movies until I have read the book. This has kept me from seeing some movies that I really want to see, but I have just found over time that I enjoy the book more if I allow my mind to create the characters, instead of seeing whomever was cast in that particular role. Since I am trying to cut down my book buying, I borrowed this book from a friend and could not put it down.

The story of Lily is a very powerful one. Granted she's only fourteen, and how much can a fourteen year old really know about life... but her courage and determination is so powerful and motivating, and you just want to wrap her up in a hug and tell her that everything will be okay. The images she has of her mothers last day on earth, just break my heart. No really understanding what happened, but knowing there is a chance she was the one holding the gun eats at her as she gets older. She refers to her father as T. Ray instead of "Dad, Daddy, or Father," and this holds a great deal of significance. She does not see him as a father figure, just someone who is there, that punishes her and is always yelling at her.

Her friendship and love for Rosaleen allows her the courage to do crazy things, like break Rosaleen out of jail to keep her from being killed by the white man whose shoes she spit on. Sue Monk Kidd does a wonderful job of showing how segregated the whites and blacks were during this time period. Even though blacks were given the right to vote, it did not stop whites from protesting and doing anything in their power to keep them from registering. What really pushed Lily over the edge was her father telling her that her mother never really loved her, and that she was running away from her, which causes Lily to run away from him. On her way out of town she heists Rosaleen from the jail and they set off to Tiburon, South Carolina. What significance this town holds is yet to be known, but Lily found it on the back of a picture of a Black Madonna with her mother's items she keeps hidden in the pasture.

Upon arrival in Tiburon, Lily enters a store to buy some food and sees that very same Black Madonna on a bottle of honey. After inquiring about it from the store owner, Lily and Rosaleen head off towards the pink house in town that is the residence of May, June and August Boatwright. The "calendar sisters" take Lily and Roasleen in with very few questions and the story begins to unfold. You get the impression that August knows Lily is lying to her about having no family and heading to Virginia to stay with an aunt, but she lets her open up in her own time.

Lily becomes friends with Zach, who helps August with the bees. They struggle with their feelings for each other and the feelings that soceity says they shouldn't have. Him being a black man and her being a white woman is frowned upon. Both of them realize this and have several talks about it, but Zach wants to be a lawyer when he grows up and he promises Lily that when he's made a palce for himself and they have worked through this color issue, they will be together. Watching their relationship blossom makes for a beautiful love story. Being there for each other as their story unfolds is a true testament to friendship outside of skin pigment.

I loved this book and feel like it really had a big impact on me as I was reading it. I felt for the characters and the tragedies they experienced along the way. I'm not sure how much people remember from their younger days, and how unanswered questions can haunt someone as they get older. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a story about friendship, compassion, and the path to finding the truth.

I cannot wait to see the movie and have heard some really great things about it. Like most books that become movies, I'm sure there will be things that are left out, but I know this story will stay with me for a while. It has also made me a little more interested in bees.


Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Art of Racing in the Rain

Title: The Art of Racing in the Rain
Author: Garth Stein
Date Finished: November 8, 2008
Pages: 321

This book was the November pick for my IRL book club. I can honestly say that if this book was not picked for me, it would have probably taken me a while to pick it up on my own. Don't get my wrong, I would have eventually picked it up, but not so quickly. I tend to shy away from books that are about animals. They often a)make me sad; b)make me want another animal; and c)turn me into a blubbering mess complete with the red nose and tissues strewn all about.

This book was no exception, there were tears in the first chapter, which prompted me to call up my friend that picked this book and ask her if I was going to be able to read this at the office on my lunch break, or if this was something I should just read in the privacy of my own home! She assured me that I would be okay until the last chapter or so, and that I should really try to save that for home. So, I kept reading.

Garth Stein does a great job of making this book unique. The point of view in this book is that of the dog, Enzo. (Side note: I'm really liking books lately where the point of view is that of an unobvious character... like The Book Thief.) Enzo is a lab, who believes that some terrier is mixed into him, that was picked up as a puppy and adopted by Denny Swift. Denny is a race car driver trying to make a place for himself in the racing world.

"Very gently. Like there are eggshells on your pedals, Denny always says, and you don't want to break them. That's how you drive in the rain." (p.13).

From the very beginning Denny talks about racing with Enzo and explains all the life lessons that he has learned from the track. He even leaves the t.v. on for Enzo while he is at work, but only if he will not just lay in front of the t.v. all day, but be responsible and only watch for a while. Enzo's world changes a little with the addition of Eve and then later on Zoe. Enzo immediately feels protective of Zoe and would do anything for her.

"Gestures are all that I have; sometimes they must be grand in nature. And while I occasionally step over the line and into the world of the melodramatic, it is what I must do in order to communicate clearly and effectively" (p.1).

Enzo, after watching so much t.v. realizes that he is a unique dog, who is ready to leave his dog shell and come back as a human. He wants so badly to communicate, especially as Denny's world falls in around him. He wants to be able to tell Zoe that something is wrong with her, but cannot. He understands how important it is to have thumbs.

Through Denny's hard times, Enzo is always there by his side, listening to what he says. He points out that as humans, we often do not listen to each other, but are always interrupting to tell our own versions of stories. We never stop and really listen to each other. Being a dog, Enzo is always listening and even though he cannot answer out loud, he does the best he can with gestures.

The hard times that Denny falls on started to become a little overwhelming for me, it seemed like the poor guy was never going to catch a break. I know that people fall on hard times, but it was one thing after another. Luckily during all of his trials and tribulations, he had Enzo by his side. Although I am not a big racing fan, I really appreciated all of the racing/real life analogies.

Garth Stein did a wonderful job with this book, and I would recommend it to others. You do not have to be an animal lover or racing fan to enjoy this book. I think the heart of this story is very captivating and will really make you wonder if you do have pets, what it is that they really understand or are thinking.

I myself have a cat, and often times find myself talking to him like he's a person. When I have a bad day, or just want to chat, he's always there to listen and even though he can't speak back, it's nice to know he's there. Does this make me crazy? Maybe! But I'm okay with that. I've noticed that when I'm sick or sad, he's always by my side and very cuddly, which says to me that on some level they understand, whether by actions or tone of voice what we are feeling. I will leave you with these words from Enzo...

"I know this much about racing in the rain. I know it is about balance. It is about anticipation and patience. I know all of the driving skills that are necessary for one to be successful in the rain. But racing in the rain is also about the mind! It is about owning one's own body. About believing that one's car is merely an extension of one's body. About believing that the track is an extension of the car, and the rain is an extension of the track, and the sky is an extension of the rain. It is about believing that you are not you; you are everything. And everything is you" (p. 314).

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Book of the Dead & A Venfeful Longing

Title: Book of the Dead
Author: Patrica Cornwell
Date Finished: November 5, 2008
Pages: 528

Kay Scarpetta is one of my favorite fictional characters, and she "won the 1999 Sherlock Award for the best detective created by an American author" (from the back flap). I have read several of Patricia Cornwell's books and have really enjoyed watching the characters in her Kay Scarpetta novels experience so much in the realm of emotions and experiences. All main characters will go through trials and tribulations, but this book really changes my perception of one of her main characters and I'm not sure I like that.

The book opens with a scene in Rome where a young girl is being tortured in a bathtub of cold water. Her captor is asking questions and having her drink from a tumbler filled with vodka. Once her body is discovered, Kay and Benton are called to Rome to help solve the case, since the victim is sixteen year old American tennis star, Drew Martin. Several questions come up at this point, such as, why was a sixteen year old in Rome unchaperoned, why did she leave the states when she should have been preparing for her next tennis match, and was she an intentional target or just an unfortunate soul?

As the story unfolds, there are several other deaths, and Kay beings to wonder if they are all connected. Granted they do not all happen in Rome, but the circumstances behind them cause them to intertwine. This is the first book of hers that seemed to really jump all over the place. She has three locations where deaths happen and at times, it was hard to keep the different inspectors from those locations correct. Cornwell still provides a very entertaining murder mystery to solve, but something was missing.

The ending was left as a cliff-hanger, which does make me want to read the next one, just to figure out the unanswered questions.

Title: A Vengeful Longing
Author: R.N. Morris
Date Finished: November 12, 2008
Pages: 316

I found this new author in my typical way of roaming through the library and seeing what titles caught my attention. I had big expectations of this book after reading the short synopsis on the front flap.

"In the middle of a hot, dusty St. Petersburg summer in the late 1860s. A doctor brings home a fancy box of chocolates for his wife and son - a strange gift on a scorching Saturday afternoon. Within an hour, both mother and child die an excruciating death, and the doctor is immediately arrested, suspected of poisoning. As investigator Profiry Petrovich concedes, in such cases the obvious solution often turns out to be the correct solution. And in the city's sweltering, oppressive atmosphere, even he lacks the energy to delve any deeper.

But when further, apparently unconnected, murders occur on the other side of town, a subtle and surprising pattern starts to emerge. Porfiry is forced to reassess his assumptions and follow a tenuous, uncertain trail that takes him into the hidden, squalid heart of the city and brings him face-to-face with incomprehensible horror and cruelty." (front flap)

After reading that, I was hooked. However, I was kind of disappointed in the actual unfolding of the story line. As always, I enjoyed trying to figure out the answer before it was actually presented, but it was not a book I loved. There were parts of it that were very capturing and others where I just wanted to skip ahead. I don't know if it's a combination of being busy at work and trying to prepare for the upcoming holidays or if this really is an author I will not enjoy. I may try to read something else by him, but it will probably be quite a while.