Sunday, February 18, 2007

Genre Challenge: Romance

I finished the first book in my Genre Challenge. I read Crazy for You by Jennifer Crusie to count as a Romance novel. Let me tell you, it was quite a challenge to get through the book. I must say, it was one of the worst books I have ever read. I thought that the characters were very flat and stereotypical. At first it was difficult to keep all the characters straight because none really stood out to me. Plus they all had one syllable names- Bill, Joe, Max, Nick. The first couple of times that the characters Max and Nick were mentioned, I thought they were the same person because they were so similar. I later found out after further reading that they were brothers. I even reread a couple of pages to see if I had missed something.

I found the dialogue between the characters to be pretty awkward and found myself asking several times- do people really talk that way to each other? Because in none of my relationships or friendships has anyone ever talked to each other so one dimensionally and clich├ęd.

I feel really bad that I didn’t like this book. I know that Jennifer Crusie is a very popular author in the chick lit arena and her books do well. I have also heard that her books are very funny. Not once did I laugh out loud or even chuckle to myself. Perhaps her later work is better. This one was written in 1999. The only thing that I liked remotely was the story between Bill and Quinn. He was the stalker ex-boyfriend who just couldn’t get the fact that Quinn had broken up with him.

Another problem that I had with the book was the small town mentality. Everyone in the town thought that the coach, Bill, was the be all and end all of the town. I have never lived in a small town, so I have no reference to this, but it was difficult for me to think that people may actually behave like this.

So needless to say, my foray into the romance genre was not a success. I would stick to Nora Roberts and Sandra Brown, even though their later novels are classified more as romantic suspense. Better yet- I’ll stick with a classic Bronte the next time I want to read a true romance.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Snow Falling on Cedars

The novel Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson is a literary novel that takes place on the fictional island of San Piedro in the Puget Sound area in 1954. The novel explores how events that happened in the past play such a vital role in the future. The novel’s distinguishing features are the author’s descriptions of island life and the portrayal of the prejudice that exists toward Japanese Americans during and after World War Two.

The story begins with Kabuo Miyamoto on trial for the murder of a fellow fisherman, Carl Heine, Jr. Carl was found tangled up in his own fishing net with a wound to his head. It turns out that Kabuo may have a motive for murdering Carl Heine.
Two major conflicts exist in this novel that makes for a riveting read. One of the conflicts as stated by the defense attorney Nels Gudmundsson is whether Kabuo Miyamoto will be found guilty of a crime just because he is Japanese. Another conflict that exists is between local island news reporter, Ishmael Chambers, and Kabuo’s wife, Hatsue. Ishmael has never been able to get over his pre-war relationship with Hatsue, whereas she has moved on, married and had children.

Over the course of the next several chapters, the relationship of Ishmael and Hatsue is revealed in a series of flashbacks. The two were childhood friends, spending a great deal of time together, though they never acknowledged each other at school because of the unspoken rules of prejudice. The two met in secret in a hollowed out cedar tree where their love began to blossom. Eventually, Hatsue begins to feel that their relationship is wrong and tells Ishmael that they need to stop seeing each other, though they never really make any effort to do this. What eventually pulls them apart is the fact that all Japanese Americans are deported to internment camps. It is from there that Hatsue writes to Ishmael, breaking off their relationship.

The novel continues in revealing the past in flashbacks and alternating to the present to cover the trial of Hatsue’s husband, Kabuo Miyamoto. Throughout the course of the trial, several pieces of evidence are introduced that are not in Kabuo’s favor. After the jury begins its deliberation, Ishmael goes home to reflect in his father’s study. He rereads the letter that Hatsue had written to him years before, ending their relationship. He goes to their cedar tree and realizes that his past is over and that he must move on. Finally, Ishmael makes a decision that will change the lives of everyone involved in the trial.

This novel had everything that a reader could ask for: romance, a gripping plot, and a mystery to solve. Snow Falling on Cedars is an excellent example of a novel that shows prejudice will exist everywhere, even in quiet little island towns, and the only way to overcome it is by one person at a time listening to their heart and doing what is just and right.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

The Short Life of Sophie Scholl

The Short Life of Sophie Scholl by Hermann Vinke is by far one of my favorite history books. I first discovered it when I was a child visiting my local public library. I spent hours there during the long, scorching hot Phoenix summers, selecting each book carefully. I came across it by chance as I was flipping through the worn yellowed entry cards in the old card catalog. There it was, something about the title caught by eye, and I read on- a short description about the White Rose followed the bibliographic information which I quickly jotted down on a scrap of paper. The White Rose? I questioned. I had never heard of this before, so my interest was piqued. I hurried over to the stacks and scanned the shelves until I located the book. I held it in my hands and was immediately intrigued by its cover. Starring back at me was a black and white photo of a young woman with intense eyes and a commanding look. At that moment I felt as if I had just uncovered a great treasure that no one else knew about. As soon as I got home, I curled up on couch and stayed up far into the night. Her story compelled me, and I could not stop reading until I was done. I closed the book and felt a sense of satisfaction come over me. I truly had discovered a great book that had affected me as none ever had before.

One of the reasons why I love this book is because I can relate to Sophie Scholl. As a member of the Nazi resistance group the White Rose, she along with her brother and his friends, reached out to others, and she rebelled in her own quiet way by distributing anti-Nazi pamphlets against what had become the standard in Nazi Germany. She was doing what she believed in by pointing out the wrongs and injustices of the Nazi party. Here was a young woman risking her life and the lives of her family members because of something she believed in. It was worth it to her. I admired her strength, her will power, her love of nature, and her spirituality.

The writer, Hermann Vinke, conveys Sophie’s passion for life by including some of her diary entries, letters, and interviews with her surviving sister, Inge. One gets a true sense of who Sophie really was; a young girl trying to make the world a better place. This book might be obscure and not read as often as it should be, it can be easily obtained through your public library's InterLibrary Loan service. Nonetheless I recommend it because it is a powerful reminder that one is never too small or young or insignificant to stand up and make a difference. It is something that I have kept with me my whole life, and it has truly made a difference to me.