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Friday, July 30, 2010

The Stranger by Albert Camus~★★★★

Author: Albert Camus
Title: The Stranger
Release Date: First released in French in 1942, English in 1943; this edition from 1993
Publisher: First published by Libraire Gallimard ; this edition published by Everyman's Library
Genre: Fiction


Book Description: "Albert Camus' spare, laconic masterpiece about a Frenchman who murders an Arab in Algeria is famous for having diagnosed , with a clarity almost scientific, that condition of reckless alienation and spiritual exhaustion which characterizes so much of twentieth-century life. Possessing both the force of a parable and the sentence-by-sentence excitement  of a perfectly executed thriller, The Stranger is the work of one of the most engaged and intellectually alert of our century's writers."

Taryn's Review: This is a very unique book. I'm not a person who knows much about existentialism, so I won't pretend I do and I'll just present the book as I understood it.

Mersault was a man who didn't seem to be very emotional. He was very matter-of-fact in his answers. He showed no emotion when his mother suddenly passed away. The after her death, Mersault resumed his life activities as normal. He became involved with a girl whom he told he would marry simply because it would make her happy, but also noted he couldn't say if he honestly loved her. Mersault ended up killing a man and afterward, he treated the situation the same way he had everything else in life...bluntly.

The book is written in short sentences, but each one still held a huge burst of interest for me. It was very hard to relate to someone like Mersault, but I found myself not wanting to put this book down. In the end, Mersault spoke about the absurdity of man and justice in relation to his trial.

This book really gets the old wheels turning. Pick it up and give it a shot. It's very readable and Mersault is not someone you are likely to forget anytime soon.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent~★★★★1/2

Author: Kathleen Kent
Title: The Heretic's Daughter
Release Date: September 3rd, 2008
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Genre: Historical Fiction

Book Jacket: "In 1752, Sarah Carrier Chapman, confined to her home and weak with infirmity, writes a letter to her granddaughter, revealing the secret she has guarded closely for six decades. It is a haunting account of the horrors that enveloped a New England town called Salem, and compelled Sarah, then just a young girl, to make a decision that would change her life forever.
A little more than a year before the with trials will begin, Sarah and her family arrive in nearby Andover to face a community gripped by superstition and fear. With the increase in Indian raids and the spread of the plague, the Puritans come to believe that heretics in their midst are responsible for their misfortune. Based the accusations of a dozen young girls, neighbor is pitted against neighbor, friend against friend, and the hysteria escalates, sweeping more than two hundred men, women, and children into prison on charges of witchcraft---Sarah's mother, Martha Carrier, among them. Often at odds with each other, mother and daughter must now stand defiantly together in the face of imprisonment, torture, and even death. Out of love for her children, Martha asks Sarah to commit an act of heresy---a lie that will most surely condemn Martha even as it will save her daughter."

Taryn's Review: What a fantastic book. It was so great to pick up a book that once I started reading, I didn't want to put down!

Kathleen Kent is a beautiful writer. Her words elegantly embrace you and the story she chose to tell was a haunting one. The Salem Witch Trials are known of by many, but few really know or think about the horrors of such proceedings. Kent highlighted the story of her ancestor, Martha Carrier, and her unfair accusation of being a witch along with other accused family members. Martha's daughter, Sarah, was the storyteller for Martha.

I have read a few sources on this event and it was so sad that people were killed because of lies. It really was a horrifying situation and one that leaves you stunned. My only reason for not giving the book 5 stars was because I was on the edge of my seat wanting to know what was in the red book Martha gave to Sarah. I never found out because it was never revealed! That would have wrapped up the story, at least for me, but now I'm left wondering for always! Kent focused a lot of time on Sarah's imprisonment and while it was awful, I wish less of the story had been dedicated to that and a bit more to the life of Sarah and her family after she was released and the aftermath for the Carrier family.

Overall, this is a stunning debut novel by Kathleen Kent and I most definitely look forward to more of her books!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

My Summer of Southern Discomfort by Stephanie Gayle~★★1/2

Author: Stephanie Gayle
Title: My Summer of Southern Discomfort
Release Date: June 26th, 2007
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre: Southern Fiction

Book Jacket: "Convicting arsonists and thieves in Macon, Georgia, was never Harvard Law grad Natalie Goldberg's dream. The pay is abysmal, the work is exhausting, and the humidity is hell for a woman with curly hair. But when a steamy romance with her high-powered New York boss went bad, Natalie jumped at the first job offered, packed her bags, and headed south. 
Natalie's leftist Yankee background brands her a conspicuous outsider in this insular community. Her father, a famous civil rights lawyer, refuses to accept her career change---or talk to her. Her best friend begs her to come back home, and Natalie keeps thinking she sees her former lover everywhere. 
But Natalie's not completely alone. There are a garden-obsessed neighbor, a former beauty queen-turned-defense lawyer, and a handsome colleague who has a nervous tic whenever she gets near. And then there's a capital case that has her eating antacids by the truckload. Yep, it's going to be one heckuva long, hot summer..." 

Taryn's Review: When conditions outside are so hot that the weather advisory tells people to stay inside, you should, but balance out the AC with a fun summer read! When I went to the library last week, I did a quick browse to find something that screamed summer fun to me. I picked up this book based on the summery-cover, as well as the fact that I love a good Southern fiction book.

I was really disappointed with this book for a long while. I debated quitting it multiple times. I felt like Gayle was over-describing some really mundane things. Part of a really good fiction book is to get images into the readers mind without having to explicitly spell them out, and at times Gayle was pouring out all this imagery without it being part of the dialogue and wasn't flowing seamlessly from the pages. 

The other issue was that the main character, Natalie, was boring and kind of a Debbie Downer. I think this book would have really benefited from a narrative switch for a few chapters so we could see Natalie from another perspective, especially since Natalie was the outsider in the community.

There were set-up scenarios that were so obvious that a blind man could have spotted them a mile away. The book felt like a very Freshman effort, especially compared to the Southern fiction books that I've read that really sweep you away. This book was very forgettable and, for me, not written from the best perspective. I myself love a good fluffy read now and then, but this book was lacking both in entertainment and character growth. Unfortunately, I'd have to recommend passing on this one.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Seven Levels of Intimacy by Matthew Kelly~★★★★★

Author: Matthew Kelly
Title: The Seven Levels of Intimacy: The Art of Loving and the Joy of Being Loved
Release Date: January 9th, 2007
Publisher: Fireside
Genre: Non-Fiction Self-Help

Book Cover: "We all crave the heartwarming, incomparable connection of intimacy. But oftentimes, this complete, unrestrained sharing of ourselves is too daunting a task. Now, in The Seven Levels of Intimacy, Matthew Kelly explains step by step how to move beyond our fears and experience the power of true intimacy. By achieving each of Kelly's seven levels, we can understand and gain confidence in our partners and ourselves until we are fully able to experience love, commitment, trust, and happiness. 
With profound insight and the use of powerful and relatable examples, The Seven Levels of Intimacy redefines the most important relationships in our lives and how we view our interactions with one another. By finally comprehending and experiencing the great depths of intimacy, we can create the strong connections, deep joy, and lasting bonds that we all long for in our lives."  

Taryn's Review: Sometimes I think self-help books have a stigma about them and that stigma is that no one wants to be seen reading one or checking one out from the library or even *gasp* buying one in the book store! Remember that scene in Sex in the City when Charlotte was embarrassed to buy a self-help book after her divorce? Yeah, I think we all have those feelings at some point. Especially in a society where we are all expected to drive the perfect car, live in the perfect house, have perfect kids, and be in perfect relationships...who wants to admit that maybe things aren't so perfect?

Luckily for me, I don't have an issue admitting that my relationships maybe aren't where I want them to be and this book was an excellent, excellent choice. Matthew Kelly's ideas aren't necessarily "revolutionary," but they are thoughts and actions that we overlook in our daily lives, especially with those people that we love the most (not just significant others, but in all relationships you have).

Kelly began by going over some topics and getting the reader ready for the Seven Levels. I really enjoyed Kelly's writing style. He was incredibly personable in his writing and his words were straightforward, precise, and moving.

The Seven Levels were a huge eye-opener for me. Again, nothing that I couldn't have realized on my own had I really dedicated time to it, but Kelly took the guesswork out of it and you can identify your issues and say, "Okay, that is definitely something I can relate to," or you can recognize some of the behaviors in your own relationships.

Kelly offered help and ideas on how to get past the obstacles that are looming over your relationship and inspired confidence so that you can open up, if not for the relationship, then to make you a better-version-of-yourself (his words).

I would highly recommend this book to anyone, whether single, coupled, engaged, or married. The tips can applied to most relationships, help you analyze yourself, and cause you to ask yourself some tough questions. I would love to buy this book to go back and highlight some of my favorite passages. And the end maybe sappy, but I loved it and even teared up a little! Most definitely consider this book if you feel like you have a relationship (or a few) that could use work or even if you feel like you could use a little perspective.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald~★★★★★

Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Title: The Great Gatsby
Release Date: Originally published April 10th, 1925 by Charles Scribner's Sons; this edition published June 1996 
Publisher: Scribner Classics
Genre: Classic Fiction 

Book Jacket: "The exemplary novel of the Jazz Age, F. Scott Fitzgerald's third book, The Great Gatsby (1925), stands as the supreme achievement of his career. T.S. Eliot read it three times and saw it as the 'first step' American fiction had taken since Henry James; H.L. Mencken praised 'the charm and beauty of the writing,' as well as Fitzgerald's sharp social sense; and Thomas Wolfe hailed it as Fitzgerald's 'best work' thus far. The story of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, of lavish parties on Long Island at a time when, The New York Times remarked, "gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession,' it is an exquisitely crafted tale of America in the 1920s that resonates with the power of magic, romance, and mysticism, The Great Gatsby is one of the great classics of twentieth-century literature.
This is the definitive, textually accurate edition of The Great Gatsby, edited by Michael J. Bruccoli and authorized by the estate of F. Scott Fitzgerald. The first edition of The Great Gatsby contained many errors resulting from Fitzgerald's extensive revisions and a rushed production schedule, and subsequent editions introduced further departures from the author's intentions. This critical edition draws on the manuscript and surviving proofs of the novel, along with Fitzgerald's later revisions and corrections, to restore the text to its original form. It is The Great Gatsby as Fitzgerald intended it. 

Taryn's Review: A long time ago, I read The Great Gatsby. I remember not really liking it. Now that I'm older and have read the book (and am much more well-read than I was back then), I found myself in admiration of the book. 

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in such way that reminded me of having a butterscotch in my mouth; his words are silky smooth and had an aftertaste that left me desiring more. I love that he told the story from Nick Carraway's point-of-view rather than from Gatsby's or Daisy's or Tom's. To be in that love triangle would have been such a skewed perspective, but Fitzgerald's choice-of-view was perfect. 

The deception, the hope, the greed, the lust (or maybe love?) was fantastic. It was hard for me to understand the upper-society side of the book and Gatsby's change from his old self to his wealthy, elite self. It's something to think about.

Overall, I'm so glad I revisited this book. The twist was quite the ride, and I do agree this this book is a fantastic representation of great American fiction.