Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Book Fourteen - Shopgirl

Shopgirl by Steve Martin is about a bored 20 something woman, Mirabelle, who suffers from depression and works at a mind numbing counter job. It centers around her relationships with two men, one is an older wealthy man and one is a younger man who is still trying to find his way in the world. I was not sure what to expect from Martin, but the buzz was all favorable going in so I was pretty sure that I would enjoy the read. However, I found myself distracted wondering about the film version throughout the book.

I waited to watch the movie unitl after I had read the book, I am still on the fence about which order is best in these circumstances. I think that no matter what you do, it can ruin both the movie and the book. I watched the movie right after finishing the book and I was irritated by minor changes (why change that, it makes no difference) and major changes that I think could have been handled fine within the movie with a bit of effort.

However, this is a review of the book. I really enjoyed Martin's writing tone throughout and I liked the way he addressed communication gaps in relationships. It is very apt that one party can make their needs an limitations very clear, and the other party hears what they want to hear.

Martin has very good insights into realtionships and how things work. At one point he mentions that the Ray, the older boyfriend, is just passing time with Mirabelle and is waiting for the right one to come along. I have seen this happen first hand to friends of mine.

Overall I really loved this book, and I would enjoy reading more of Martin's writing in the future.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Book Thirteen - Last Seen Leaving

Last Seen Leaving by Kelly Braffet was quite an enjoyable read. It is a story of a mother searching for her "missing" daughter. In reality the daughter is just a bit of a vagabond, always searching for something different. This is revealed to us right from the start, and the novel is told from both of their perspectives, interspersed with flashbacks to their past.

The past story deals with the father in their family. He was a pilot working for some kind of dodgy government company. He was reported to be dead when the daughter was 8 years old and the mother never recovered from it. She moved across the country and became a new age type. She tried to get answers about her husband's death from the company but they were not forthcoming and so she dealt with things the best way that she could, but the daughter was not really considered properly in her grief.

The two became more and more distant over the years, and after the daughter moves out of the house she often does not return the mother's calls. However, when the daughter moves, she always sends her mother a postcard to let her know of her whereabouts. When we meet them in the beginning of the novel, the daughter has taken off with a stranger that she meets after a car accident, and the mother is trying to reach her daughter and fails to do so.

The mother then goes back across the country to the city that they lived in when the father was still alive. She searches for her daughter, thinking that she has been killed, talking to her friends, coworkers and police. Most of them think that it is not that unusual for her to be missing as she seems to move on quite a lot.

I thought that having the novel being read from both perspectives was a good way of making the story interesting and the author executed it well. You are left wondering if something bad is in fact going to befall the daughter at some point. There is lots revealed within the book and I was only mildly unsatisfied with the ending. But I am difficult to please with endings. This book really sucked me in, I didn't want to put it down and I even would read as I walked around cooking dinner. I would definitely recommend it.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Book Twelve - Lost Girls and Love Hotels

I don't know exactly what I was expecting with this novel, but I was pleasantly surprised with what I found within this book. Lost Girls and Love Hotels by Catherine Hanraham was a great book for me and the pages just flew by. I had a great time reading it today. It rekindled my younger self's Japanophilia. Growing up, my mother taught English to Japanese exchange students and I was always fascinated by all things Japanese.

Lost Girls and Love Hotels gives us a glimpse into the life of Margaret, a young woman living in Japan, interspersed with vignettes of various times in her young adulthood back in Canada. Margaret is an English coach at a flight attendant school, and in her spare time she is a bit of a lush and so forth. At one point she meets a Japanese gangster type and they begin a relationship, meeting mostly in love hotels. I had never heard of these before, but the book's description of them is quite interesting. All the theme rooms that you could want, charged by the hour or for the night, or for rest or for stay.

I very much enjoyed the window into the life of a young Canadian woman living in Japan. How tempting it is for us all to think of just leaving it all behind to be anonymous in another part of the world. When asked, Margaret said that she came to Japan to be alone, her counterpart was surprised to hear that such a populated place would be somewhere that she felt alone.

The vignettes into the past are mainly her dealing with various traumatic events, and the descent of her brother into an unnamed mental illness. They were an appropriate length, so as not to take away from the main story, and yet were detailed enough to let us get to know the protagonist better.

It was a great diversion for the day, and the book rekindled my desire to visit Japan. And now that I am older, I have yet another place I want to visit when I go there. Now all I have to worry about is which room to choose (and about the cleaning procedures).

Book Eleven - Joyland

Joyland By Emily Schultz, with illustrations by Nate Powell is a coming of age type novel, set in the end of the arcade days of the 80s. The titular "Joyland" is an arcade in a small Ontario town, the type where teens spend many a day trying to beat high scores, or just to flirt and waste away some time in a town with not a lot else going on.

At the beginning of the novel, Joyland closes down and we follow the aftermath throughout the summer for our two protagonists, identified within the chapters as player one and player two. Player one is the older brother 14 year old Chris, with player two being the younger sister 11 year old Tammy. Having two narrators can be confusing, but the separation into two "players" is both helpful to the reader and clever within the framework of the novel. The chapters are also named after different video games, which is also a nice touch.

There is not a lot in major plot until quite near the end, and I almost wish that the author had left it that way. Schultz is an excellent descriptor, she has a real way with words, and I would have been happy just to have a look into this world, where nothing of note really happens. I think that this novel could just be about growing up and not have to have some kind of big third act tragedy. Said tragedy seemed tacked on towards the end, maybe Schultz was not confident enough to just leave it as it was.

Overall, Joyland was a good novel. I would recommend it for just the descriptive writing alone. It is a good take on a coming of age tale and I enjoyed reading it.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Book Ten - Impossible Motherhood

I found this book at the library and had to pick it up, it fascinated me that someone would publicly admit to having 15 abortions in 17 years and I wondered how they could possibly sway me to empathize with them.

Impossible Motherhood by Irene Vilar is a biography of sorts, but mainly deals with her "addiction" to abortions. Personally I have not been through that experience myself, but at a certain age I often found myself often being worried about being pregnant and what I would do should that happen. I am pro-choice and I consider myself to be fairly open minded so I tried to understand why someone would undergo this again and again.

It is rather disturbing to think that someone could continually become pregnant as a means of exercising control over their life and body. More disturbing is that she did view the fetuses as possible children, even going as far as putting clothing on layaway for them. She has reasons aplenty for her behavior, but in my opinion they are really not good enough.

Having said all of this, Vilar is a very talented writer and the book was a smooth read. The other parts of her life are easier for me to empathize with, her mother committed suicide when Vilar was 8 years old, she left home at a young age as well and again left for college at 15 years old only to be preyed upon by an older professor that she later married and whom she allowed to control many aspects of her life.

It is easy to sit from afar and judge someone as we have not lived their life. However, it is difficult not to be appalled at her experiences. She is now a mother and admits in the book that she considered a late term abortion for her first daughter, even going as far as describing photos that she has hanging up and that the ultrasound was taken at a point where she could have aborted her daughter. Imagine the grown up daughter someday reading this.

I think that this book is a form of therapy for Vilar, and a cautionary tale for women finding themselves in a similar situation. I came out of it with respect for Vilar as a writer, but an extreme contempt for her as a person. She seems to be to be selfish to the extreme. She describes, late in the book, caring for her dying dog. She seems to think that caring for this animal at the end of her life, is some kind of redemption. But seeing as I have worked as a veterinary assistant, I know that all she did was cause extreme suffering and pain to her animal, and has again been extremely selfish and cannot see past her own needs. Even after her daughter is born, she is more concerned with the separation anxiety than being pleased with the growth and development of her child.

Like it or hate it, this book did inspire a lot of emotion in me. Vilar is a powerful writer and I would enjoy reading more of her writing. I didn't expect to be on her side and that is how I felt after reading it. I have never read a book where I hated the protagonist as much as I did here, biography or not. I would recommend reading it, but only if you can handle feeling quite a bit of emotion, as it will be sure to provoke a lot.