Book Review: Two Books With Strange Titles

“The Elegance of the Hedgehog” by Muriel Barbery is a collection of essays about beauty, art, life and movement wrapped around a heartbreakingly bittersweet story of acceptance, love and grace.

In order to keep up her “expected” role as the dowdy, stupid concierge at an upper-class apartment building in Paris, the uber-intelligent Renee hides her love of music, art and literature. Her wealthy and snobby neighbors look at her with disdain, if they look at all.

Paloma, a 12-year-old genius living in Renee’s building, has decided to burn down her apartment and kill herself on her 13th birthday. She sees nothing to look forward to as an adult. (Paloma’s observations on the hypocrisy in society can be downright hilarious.)

Enter a wealthy Japanese man who sees both of these women for who they truly are–and changes their lives forever.

If you like a mindless read–this isn’t it. The writing is elegant, well-crafted and describes what makes life beautiful; what gives life meaning.

It took me a while to get into this book because I REALLY had to pay attention, but about 70 pages into it, I was hooked. This story will break your heart, so have some tissues handy.

4 1/2 stars out of 5. (I would have given it 5 stars but the ending pissed me off.)

SO worth reading.

Kate Atkinson’s “Started Early, Took My Dog” is a collection of happenings revolving around 3 main characters. When Tracie Waterhouse sees a mother abusing her daughter in public, she decides to buy the girl and take her home. This choice escalates into a series of adventures in Tracie’s previously unexciting life.

Jackson is a private investigator who witnesses a man abusing a dog in public. He rescues the dog and takes him home. Jackson is trying to find a woman’s biological parents: but nothing adds up. He encounters a mystery almost 40 years old and makes a few enemies.

Telly is an aging actress with dementia who just landed a part in a TV series. Very good (and sad) depiction of a character who is literally losing her mind.

These characters wind in and out of each other’s lives, never quite connecting, but still affecting each other immensely.

Sometimes the story was hard to follow because it jumps back and forth between characters, and in time, but then sometimes I find the nightly news hard to follow.

3 1/2 stars out of 5

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Book Reviews: Boys Behaving Badly and a Lonely Old Woman

At any given time, I am involved in a novel. If I’m not reading something, you should probably check for a pulse.

During the last few weeks, I’ve read two books I thought I’d share with you–if only as a warning for the fainthearted.

The first book is SO well-written that it’s worth reading just for the author’s skill. “Skippy Dies” by Paul Murray is a brutal look at boys at a boarding school in Ireland and, as the title implies, Skippy dies. This is not a spoiler, it’s the title of the book and the boy dies in the first chapter–so don’t freak out on me. The rest of the story retraces the months before his death and the events leading up to that fateful day. It’s really long and took me a while to get into but it’s an interesting look at the choices we make and the consequences of those choices. With at least one dozen different perspectives, “Skippy Dies” covers every possible personality.

Skippy falls in love, his roommate is obsessed with multiple universes, a drug-dealing freako is out to get him and his history teacher is experiencing a mid-life crisis–in his early twenties. From Irish folklore to quantum physics, the novel is interesting and brilliant.

“Skippy Dies” is NOT for anyone easily offended. Graphic scenes detail the horrible things teens do to themselves and each other. Sex, drugs, psychopath characters and pedophile priests: It’s all in there. SO BE WARNED. But if our modern society has numbed you to lurid descriptions, then you might enjoy “Skippy Dies.” I gave it 3 1/2 starts (out of 5).

If you are afraid of getting old and living alone with your dog while your children live out-of-state and rarely visit, this book might not be for you. “Emily, Alone” by Stewart O’nan is a melancholy depiction of an elderly woman’s life and all the tiny details that make up her existence. She LIVES for phone calls from her kids and grandkids. An outing to the breakfast buffet each week with her sister-in-law is one thing she looks forward to. Her husband has been dead for years and she frequently attends funerals for her friends.

Regrets, fears, past experiences and frustrations make up most of Emily’s days. She’s basically waiting to die. Or waiting for her dog to die. Or waiting for her friends to die. Or eating waffles. Quite depressing (death–not waffles).

The author is really good at getting into the mind of an older woman, describing the things she worries about (getting rid of her husband’s luggage, not getting thank-you cards from her grandkids) and the book is well-written–just a little bit of a downer.

I think I’ll go look at cemetery plots. (3 stars)

If you’re reading something good (NOT Mary Higgins Clark, Danielle Steele or other serial authors), drop me a line and let me know!