Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Mennoninte in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home by Rhoda Janzen

October's selection for the Flower Library Book club is a memoir by Rhoda Janzen. Raised in a Mennonite family in California, she has distanced herself from many of the tenets of her religion and the church, but she does still embrace the spirituality of the life. Her father was the former head of the North American Mennonite Conference for Canada and the U.S. and her mother the glue that kept the family together as she and her sister and two brothers were growing up.

Janzen's return home to the safety of her parents' home is precipitated by a series of unfortunate events: a hysterectomy that went bad, the dissolution of her marriage when her bipolar husband finds true love with a man named Bob from, and the inability to continue to pay the mortgage on her new lake front home. Add to this a horrendous car accident that leaves her with many broken bones.

The book is really a series of essays that retrace many of the events of her childhood, her career, and the relationship with her husband. The reader is treated to family situations that are humorous and poignant. The recounting of the family camping trip in a van was especially funny as she and her sister tried to escape the wrath of killer mosquitoes. A discussion of typical Mennonite food ensues after Janzen describes the lunches and thermoses that the kids take to school. Cabbage and borscht are stables as is the "Cotletten-and-Ketchup Sandwich."

As Janzen details the relationship with her husband, it is a completely different feeling. Their relationship was on again, off again and quite stormy. She endured the verbal abuse and temper outbursts due to the bipolar disease. She watches him spend money that they don't have and suffers the indignity of losing him to "Bob the guy from" These passages are cathartic and are some of the most powerful in the book. It's one thing to lose your husband to another woman, but to find that he is more interested in men is devastating. The fact that she finds some happy times with a man who is seventeen years younger than she is just rewards.

I enjoyed this book, but at times felt disconnected from it. I am glad that Janzen included the history of the Mennonites, but I wanted more. The vignettes and parade of characters seemed perfunctory and formulaic. And where was the black dress?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

The final book in the Hunger Games trilogy, Mockingjay, is an intense action adventure filled with violence, twists, politics, and propaganda.

“Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has survived the Hunger Games twice. But now that she’s made it out of the bloody arena alive, she’s still not safe. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge. Who do they think should pay for the unrest? Katniss. And what’s worse, President Snow has made it clear that no one else is safe either. Not Katniss’s family, not her friends, not the people of District 12.” [Publisher's Summary]

It is especially hard to review this book without giving away most of the plot and characterization. I had a hard time warming up to this book. I loved The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, but I liked Mockingjay.

There is still the tension carried over from the first two novels in the series between Katniss, Peeta and Gale. At times I was in the Gale camp, but really secretly hope that she and Peeta would overcome immense obstacles and become the couple.
One thing is for certain, Mockingjay speaks loudly and clearly against war. Kat is a pawn who will do the bidding of those controlling her. The role of the media and its part in creating or compromising reality is fascinating and a reminder to us to look through and beyond what we see and hear bombarding us on television, radio and the Internet.

As in many series, we can expect characters whom we love to die. Mockingjay was not dead and that he would come back to the story. Toward the end of the book, I wasn't sure that I could root for was no exception. I wasn't surprised at these deaths, but they hurt just the same. I did want to believe that CinnaKatniss unequivocally. I was stunned at some of her thoughts and actions. I do think Collins tried to tidy up the ending much too quickly or had prolonged the rebellion too much that the ending seemed hurried. Upon finishing the book, I really didn't know what to think. However, after some pondering, I can understand the reasoning behind her words.

War and its ramifications are despicable. What is real? This trilogy will allow you some insight and definitely a worthwhile read.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

I finished this book nearly a week ago but have not written my thoughts because I have been nursing a broken ankle and because I am really not sure what I want to write. (Is that the percocet influence?) I was engrossed in this first novel of Larsson's trilogy and often wondered where the next turn was going to take the reader. Although it was a long read, it wasn't onerous.

The novel has a number of plots and subplots. It opens with the delivery of a framed flower to an aging Henrik Vanger which sets the stage for the first of the subplots. Vanger, an industrialist and financier, is uncle to Harriet Vanger who disappeared 36 years ago. Was it a result of an abduction, murder, or an escape on the young girl's part? Mikael Blomkvist, a financial journalist for Millennium Magazine, has recently written an exposé that results in him being charged with libel, convicted to a future prison term. Lisbeth Salander ( why did I keep reading salamander?) is the girl with the dragon tattoo and an incredible computer wizard and investigator. Add her to my list of wannabee likes - Abby from NCIS, and Penelope from Criminal Minds. Salander is hired to do a background check on Blomkvist by Vanger and as a result the paths become intertwined.

The novel is superbly crafted by Larsson. There are just enough hints to allow the reader an insight into the mysteries and investigation and more than enough twist to keep one from feeling comfortable in playing detective. The violence in the book is more than disturbing as are some of the situations in which Salander finds herself. I am not sure that the way she handled the encounters with her guardian was in the best interest for her or the guardian who was completely despicable. I had a hard time picturing the romantic interest between her and Blomkvist. Maybe I am just not as enlightened to the times as I should be. After the mystery has been solved, the revelation of the resolution fills nearly 100 pages. It was shocking and disturbing. Do business interests and "the bottom line" really trump morals and ethics? I am sure they do, but disturbing, none the less.

I look forward to reading the other 2 books in this trilogy. They have certainly maintained sales and readership throughout the summer of 2010.