March 19, 2009

The Shack - Wm. Paul Young

This book has had a lot of buzz recently - near the top of best-seller lists for months now, and lots of "word on the street".  The interesting thing is that if you go to a site like Chapters-Indigo and look at the reviews for this book, people either love it or hate it.  It is a very polarizing book.

Well, I am going to buck that trend, and come down in the middle.  If I were rating it, I would probably give it 3 out of 5 stars.  A good middle-of-the-road rating.  But the reasoning behind that rating is thus - I loved the story, but the writing style (or lack thereof) got in the way.  So if I were rating the story, I would probably give it the full 5 stars (or at least 4 1/2).  But when evaluated against great works of literature that have stood the test of time, I would have to give it 1 star in terms of style.  And that is unfortunate.  I would be reading along, and loving the story, and laughing out loud (and even crying at one point - in the middle of an airplane!), but then I would come across an ill-written sentence or paragraph, and I would be jolted out of that world, and reminded that it is only a book.

The story is an allegory - a man suffers a great tragedy, and spends a weekend in a shack in the middle of the mountains, in the company of all 3 members of the Trinity, Father (aka Papa), Son (Jesus) and Holy Spirit (aka Sarayu).  Each chapter centers around a conversation or interaction with one of the Trinity, and an important spiritual lesson is being taught to the man (and also to the reader).  But unfortunately, the writing style gets in the way, and I was never able to forget that I was being taught a lesson in each chapter.

There were moments of pure brilliance - my favourite was when Jesus was trying to persuade the man to walk on water - but then there would come a sentence or paragraph that is supposed to be part of a conversation, that I could never see anyone actually saying out loud.  The book could have used some serious editing by a better writer.

So, as I said, 3 stars.  I enjoyed reading it, and I'm glad that I did.  I may even re-read it in the future.  But it will not make my top-10 list for the year.  Unfortunately, because I really did want to like the book.

March 8, 2009

Heart and Soul - Maeve Binchy

Opening up a Maeve Binchy book is like curling up under a blanket with a steaming mug of tea - comforting.

This book lived up to all of my expectations.  There is no dramatic plot, but the pages are full of characters that could be my next-door neighbour, or the person in line next to me at the shop, or sitting next to me in the office.

The book centres around a cardiac rehab clinic in Dublin, and reads like a collection of related short stories that are not told sequentially, but are rather are intertwined with each other.  There is some mild drama - a few accidents, a wedding that almost doesn't happen, allegations of impropriety made against a priest - but of course it all works out in the end.  The typical "Binchy bad-guys" make an appearance - the selfish and self-centered boyfriend, the haughty mother-in-law - but most of the characters are sympathetic.

True Binchy fans (like myself!) will recognise characters from some of her other books popping up in this one, usually in a secondary character role.  Aidan and Nora Dunn (Evening Class), Tom and Cathy Feather and the twins (Scarlet Feather), and Fiona and the gang (Nights of Rain and Stars) all pop up in this book.  It is almost as if she has created her own city (which I call Maeve Binchy's Dublin), populated with real people who, of course, will run into each other and interact with each other.

Finishing 2 books in 2 days is a record, even for me, but I was about 2/3 of the way through this book when I got the e-mail saying that Scarpetta was waiting at the library for me, so I really can't brag!

March 7, 2009

Scarpetta - Patricia Cornwell

I was part-way through another book when I received an e-mail from the library telling me that a book that I had placed a hold on was available to pick up.  Now when there is a waiting list for a book, the rule is that you only get it for a week, so I had to put the other book aside and devote the past week to reading the latest Patricia Cornwell book.  What a hardship :-)  I finished it just under the wire today, and managed to get it back to the library 15 minutes before closing time.

Spoiler alert - if you follow the series but haven't read this book yet, some details may be revealed below.

I have followed the adventures (and mis-adventures) of Kay Scarpetta for the past several years, and this book did not disappoint.  Several loose ends from the end of the last book were cleared up, and more so that some of her other books, there was a happy ending.  I finished the book with a smile on my face, rather than biting my nails wanting another one right away.  Now with a successful series, that may be a mixed blessing.  After the ambiguous ending of her last book, I had my name on the waiting list at the library as soon as this book came out, but I don't feel quite the same urgency to get my hands on the next book (whenever it is written).

The standard cast of characters made an appearance - Kay and Benton, Lucy, Marino - and some old faces make a comeback, including Berger.  There is a tentative reconciliation between Marino (who isn't dead) and the others, and we learn about the death of Rose, shortly after the end of the previous book.

The central mystery itself was conventional and a bit disappointing - nothing too complex, and it seemed designed to further the story of the cast of characters.

I don't think that Patricia Cornwell has ever written a bad book.  This one isn't one of my favourites in terms of the mystery to be solved, but I did enjoy the focus on her characters that I have been following for years.  And it was no challenge to get through the 500 pages in a week - the pages just flew by.

Now back to finish up the book that was interrupted...