Friday, June 22, 2012

Review: Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote

I love the movie Breakfast at Tiffany's and I enjoyed the movie Capote with Philip Seymour Hoffman. So, I figured I needed to read Capote's novella that inspired Breakfast at Tiffany's. And I loved it. If you need a plot summary click here.

Fantastic prose. First person narration doesn't really describe it. It's chock full of conversation which is not what I tend to associate with "literature." But this is the good stuff. The conversations are interesting because they reveal the way Holly's world works -- the way she works, the way 1950s New York society works and how people perceive other people. Also, they're funny conversations -- unusual and witty.

How people perceive other people... I think this is why I enjoyed "Fred's" narration so much. He's not really telling us a story about himself like most first person narrators do. He doesn't droll on about his own feelings (interesting though they are). He's telling us Holly's story -- she's the main character and "Fred" is just the one to tell us about her. The fact that we never know "Fred's" real name drives home this point for me. "Fred's" perspective is limited to his direct and indirect encounters with Holly and information passed through the grape vine. As a result, Holly is something more than a character in a book. She's that person we all knew once or maybe catch glimpses of in ourselves. "Fred's" narration makes me wonder: Am I who I think I am or, am I who others think am I? Which is the truer perspective? The narration works well in establishing both "Fred" and Holly's characters and their relationship and is a technique I haven't really encountered before (or noticed if I have).

On the surface, Breakfast at Tiffany's is about a quirky girl who obeys her own ambiguous set of rules. But I found this book is really about getting to know someone -- encountering a person who is special, unusual and magnetizing but also evanescent, elusive and fragile. That's Holly Golightly. The reader goes through this social experience with "Fred," getting to know Holly with him.

I'll leave you with one of my favorite passages with O.J. and "Fred" talking, O.J. speaking first...

"So," he said, "what do you think: is she or ain't she?"
"Ain't she what?"
"A phony."
"I wouldn't have thought so."
"You're wrong. She is a phony. But on the other hand you're right. She isn't a phony because she's a real phony. She believes all this crap she believes" (28-29).

Publisher: Modern Library, 1994 (originally, 1958)     Pages: 3-105 (of 161)
Full Title: Breakfast at Tiffany's: A Short Novel and Three Stories
Rating: 5 Stars     Source: Public Library

Friday, June 15, 2012

Review: Deadlocked by Charlaine Harris

I discovered the Sookie Stackhouse series (Southern Vampire Mysteries) last fall and whizzed through 11 of the novels. They were pure fun to read and not my usual fare. I recall I was in "the curve" of the semester, where the newness had worn off, and I needed a mental snack break. The Sookie Stackhouse series was just the pick-me-up I needed.

Heretofore, the mystery in each story has held my attention. But in Deadlocked the mystery lagged a bit. The who-done-it was obvious and the suspense of watching the culprit outed wasn't as suspenseful as I'd liked. Sookie's relationship status didn't help much either. She's waiting for him to commit. He's waiting for her to commit. Lots of distrust. The novel is aptly named -- Deadlocked. Everyone is waiting for someone else to make the first move.

Several story lines fizzle out in this novel which makes for a downer read. Many of my favorite characters do put in appearances so that was nice. And Harris' writing style is fluid and makes for an easy, fun reading experience. There were answers in this novel but few conclusions...I guess that's why it's a series!

If you like Southern Vampire stories I recommend the series. Neither romance nor mystery are my usual reading choices but I have enjoyed Harris' characters and sense of humor and have picked up a few books  from her other mystery series (non-vampire related) to read.

Publisher: Ace, 2012     Pages: 336
Rating: 3 Stars     Source: public library

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Review: A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix

Taken from his parents as a toddler, Khemri was groomed to be a Prince of the Empire -- a biologically, technologically and psychologically upgraded human, one of thousands who rule the Empire, governed only by the Imperial Mind. Having come of age, Khemri is elated to take a post as Prince. But the Empire is a more dangerous place than he was lead to believe and power and glory more elusive and less thrilling than he expected.

The book begins with a great hook: “I have died three times, and three times been reborn...” (1). Nix quickly introduces the technologically advanced world via Khemri’s voice. He tells his story of transformation from an obnoxious and egotistical teen (an gross exaggeration of teenagers generally?) to a more thoughtful, mature adult. As with Nix’s Abhorsen series, I enjoyed how the protagonist deals with real coming-of-age issues, albeit in a sci-fi setting here. Khemri’s transformation is that of many teens’. While Khemri may fight his battles in a spaceship, his transformation from identity/thrill-seeking teen to a more mature adult is relatable.

I was excited to read A Confusion of Princes as I am a fan of Nix’s Abhorsen/Old Kingdom series. I’m re-listening to Lirael now. I enjoyed the hierarchy within the Empire with its unique system of mental communication. Yet, the novel could have used another hundred pages. The plot moved too swiftly and didn’t leave time to explore this interesting world and its characters. As a survival story, A Confusion of Princes did not disappoint. But more character development was needed.

On an aside, Khemri’s character is repeatedly defined as being brown-skinned with dark eyes. Yet, the character on the cover, though hard to see clearly, looks to be white. I like the cover on its own but would have liked it more if the guy on the cover clearly represented the character in the book.

Nix fans won’t want to miss A Confusion of Princes with its unique, technologically advanced world. Khemri’s story will please teens who enjoy Star Wars, space operas and survival stories. Overall, I think I’m more of a fantasy fan than science fiction fan but I still enjoyed this story. This book counts towards the POC Challenge. Favorite Quote: "'There is always a choice,' said Morojal. 'Even if the alternatives don't appear to be equal'" (134). Publisher: HarperCollins, 2012 Pages: 337 Rating: 3 Stars Source: Public Library

Friday, June 8, 2012

Review: Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

For a book about a kid being grounded all summer, Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos, is surprisingly touching and funny. Jack Gantos’ character in the book (yes, he writes about himself), while mischievous, maintained an honest voice throughout the novel, enduring him to me, making me laugh.

Jack helps his elderly neighbor, Miss Volker, write obituaries as she is physically incapable of doing so. An unlikely relationship forms between them. Having an older person in a child’s life is such a gift. Though Jack is skeptical of Miss Volker at first, he comes to realize his great fortune at having her for a mentor. Miss Volker shows Jack what he’s truly capable of and what it means to be a friend.  

Somewhat tedious are the history lessons that accompany the obits Jack and Miss Volker write. It wasn’t that the histories weren’t interesting but I wanted to get back to the story and having so many obits written so closely got slow. The history lessons felt like just that -- history lessons. As a kid, I probably wouldn’t have finished the book because of these history bits.

As an adult, I forged through the histories and was rewarded with a satisfying if somewhat far-fetched ending. I enjoyed the caught-in-the-middle relationship Jack has with his parents. He can’t please one without getting in serious trouble with the other. One sympathizes. The town's citizens were colorful and Jack's interactions with them humorous. I laughed out loud several times and recommend this book be read aloud (as it was to me to my great enjoyment).

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011     Pages: 352
Rating: 4 Stars     Source: Public Library

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Review: North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

I recently re-watched BBC’s North and South miniseries (2004) and liked it so well I downloaded the book to my kindle and began reading. This is one of the few times I felt the film adaptation was better than the book.

North and South tells the story of the Margaret Hale whose father, because of his conscience, leaves the ministry and relocates his family to the northern manufacturing town of Milton. Margaret languishes in Milton’s smog, missing friends while caring for an ailing parent. The only society to be found is with Milton’s elite tradesmen of whom Margaret thinks little. Meanwhile, Milton’s workmen go on strike (relatively novel in the mid 1800s as factory work was fairly new), causing trouble and unrest for the entire town.

Where Gaskell lost me is with the general characterization of Margaret. She’s too perfect. For instance, she tells one lie (to ensure someone’s safety) and, because she was caught in her lie by the man she cares about, she hates herself. With 20/20 hindsight, Margaret feels her lie was unnecessary and totally wrong and can’t get over the fact that her love interest thinks ill of her because he knows she lied. The self-loathing went on for far too many pages (and months in the story). Margaret: Girl, an innocent life was at stake so you told a lie. So what if that guy knows you lied. If he doesn’t care to understand the whole story, and you can’t bare to tell him, then move on.

Margaret Hale: misunderstood angel. Blah.

Where the novel was interesting was in the class conflict. Interactions between Margaret’s (demoted) family, the elite tradesmen and the workmen fueled the plot. I enjoyed the fiery conversations between Mr. Thornton (factory owner/love interest) and Margaret. I liked her spunk in speaking her opinion about the treatment of workmen as well as Mr. Thornton’s personal story. I’m not sure if they ever agree completely but they do influence each other enough to consider the other’s point of view.

Despite my frequent frustration with Margaret, I enjoyed Gaskell’s writing and her ability to weave a multi-layered story. It has a recognizable pattern (romance) but creates enough tension between characters to keep one reading to see their reactions. Though a friend of Charlotte Bronte’s, Gaskell’s writing lacks the darker shades of her friend’s writing. North and South does not explore the power struggle between Margaret and Mr. Thornton as well as it could have and like we see between Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester. Yet, North and South was not a light book as it took the manufacturing strike seriously. There was really no humor at all (missing Jane Austen’s wit) and so this novel fizzled out for me.

Give me passion and action or at least some intelligent humor (shoot, any humor) but not  this “oh, no. He thinks me a fallen woman!” crap. The miniseries is excellent. The book is for die-hard Victorian novel lovers who, like myself, will find some level of enjoyment in the cultural aspect of the story as much or more than the supposed romance. It was a struggle to finish but I’m glad I did.

Have you seen the movie or read the book? Both? What do think?

Publisher: Kindle Edition, 2009 (First published: 1855)     Pages: 499
Rating: 3 Stars     Source: free on Amazon