Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis

I am one of those crazy women who used to read every Oprah Book Club pick there was. I have to say I loved most of them. So, when Oprah started her 2.0 club, I had to pick this one up. As per most of Oprah's choices, it is the story of a strong woman with a hard life, in this case Hattie Shepherd. It is also the story of her twelve children.

Each chapter is devoted to the life of one of Hattie's "tribe." They are quite a mix of struggling, searching kids who all resent their mother for some reason or the other, even while she gives up everything in her own life to raise them with next to nothing and a cheating, womanizing husband. Their lives encompass the issues of race, religion, wealth, social status, sexual orientation, and psychological issues. The reader wants to love and hate them in all their splendid glory. But it is Hattie who saves them all, in her way. While not a very "loving" or demonstrative person, she nevertheless gives them the spirit to survive despite what life throws at them, and in the end, she is still their savior.

Hattie's life is the quintessential question mark in most middle-aged women's lives. Is it ever going to be enough? Can I give up all of myself for them, my children and my family? Or must I save a piece of me for me? You'll love finding out what Hattie decides for herself. Don't shy away from the power of Oprah. :) Take a look at this one. You'll be glad.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

Since my introduction to British television in the forms of "Downton Abbey," "Upstairs Downstairs", and "Being Human", I was really looking forward to this English story of love, prejudice, family disputes, and middle age. The novel, however, is really not like any of these.

Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired) has lost his wife, and now he has also lost his beloved brother. But more pressingly, he may lose his brother's hunting rifle, which is one half of the matched pair that Pettigrew's father bequeathed the brothers. The father's wish was to have the pair, more valuable when together, be reunited at some point. But when the Major tries to bring them together, his sister-in-law and son are more interested in the money that could be had from their sale than an old man's dying wish and family tradition.

Through a series of events and the Major's interesting friendship with the neighboring shop keeper, Mrs. Ali, Major Pettigrew and his family must come to terms with their relationships, their circumstances, and their sense of what's important in life. It is the woman and outsider in this case, Mrs. Ali, who is the only one who really seems to understand who she is and what's important. It's not race, or religion, or possessions that make life worth living. It is only our love of others that really matters. When put to the test, what would you be willing to give up for the ones you love? This is what Major Pettigrew learns about himself. It, in the end, is not a very hard decision after all.

The characters in this novel are wonderful and the descriptions vivid. And while some of the plot is very interesting and brings up all kinds of thought-provoking issues, there really just wasn't a lot happening in there. The pace of the whole novel is so slow, that I had to really commit to moving on with it. I am glad I did, as the ending is very satisfying, but it was difficult at times. Give it a try, and tell me what you think.

The Passage by Justin Cronin

When I got interested in this new series by Justin Cronin, I didn't really know what it was all about. I saw a review for the 2nd book called The Twelve, and it sounded mesmerizing. So, I thought I better read the first one first,The Passage, and when I got into it, it was very different than I thought. But it grabbed me from the first page and held me there for a long time.

So here is what it really is about, and you have to promise not to laugh or go to the next blog post. The plot sounds pretty bizarre, even to me, but like I said, it's mesmerizing. The world, and more precisely in this book, the United States, has been taken over by a race of "virals" which are essentially vampires. But these vampires are not your beautiful, Edward and Bella type vamps. They were "created" through a secret government experiment which injected death-row inmates with a "virus." This virus brought about a vampire-like change in the original twelve inmates, making them into blood-thirsty, killing machines, which the government thought perhaps could be a great, next-gen weapon. But when the virals escape, they begin to systematically take over the States, killing or creating virals by the millions. Virtually unstoppable.

Cronin's story details this scenario while also delving into some very interesting human characters who are fighting to survive with the few humans that are left in the world. They finally decide that they can no longer stay inside a protected, lighted compound, but need to seek out other survivors to pool resources and fight.

And then there is Amy. Amy 's story to me is what drives the book. She is a small girl of 12 or 13 who was also injected with the virus. But instead of becoming a horrible creature, she became the one soul who can see inside the beasts, feel their pain, and help them to whatever lies on the other side of their lives and deaths. In the end, the Twelve original virals understand her power and try to destroy it. But Amy has a band of very reliable teens defending and protecting her, even as they themselves are discovering her power.

So, yeah, it's pretty weird. And also pretty amazing. If you need a little sci-fi in your life mixed in with some good innocent romance, supernatural spirituality, and a fast-moving plot, then pick this one up. I can't wait to read The Twelve - new at the library!

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan

Serena Frome is a college student with a pretty normal life aside from an affair with a much older man. She reads a lot of books and doesn't expect a lot of excitement from her life. But this older man becomes the starting point for her new life - as a spy for MI5.

Serena's love of books, her willingness to learn from her father-figure lover, and her inner need for excitement make her say yes to being part of an MI5 operation called "Sweet Tooth" in which she is to groom a little-known writer to put out work in line with the government's current agenda. The writer, of course, does not know he will be working for the government, and he begins to trust Serena. And she begins to fall for him. The question is, can she lie to everyone, including herself, about her hidden agendas?

Now, I am a big fan of spy-thriller books and movies. As you probably know if you read this blog, I love Daniel Silva, and my still-favorite TV show of all time is "Alias." So when I picked up this book billed as an interesting, complicated spy story with a female lead, I said, "Yeah, right up my alley." What I got with this novel was more than that - and less. The writing is brilliant, thoughtful, complex, and everything you'd expect from Atonement author McEwan. But the story itself is a more psychological character study than spy thriller. So, the story is rich and characters interesting, but fast-paced and thrilling, it simply isn't.

So, if you love McEwan's literary style, good characters, and a thoughtful plot you'll like this book a lot. If you want your characters to also shoot at bad guys, blow stuff up, and engage in races against time, you probably should try again. It's all what you want and what you like. Let me know what you think!