Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Settings

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by the ladies at The Broke and the Bookish.  This week's list theme is favorite settings.  This one was a pretty easy one for me because I'm all about a good setting...I need to feel a story...and nothing gets me involved than being able to imagine being there with the characters.  Here are my 10 favorites this week:

1.  Mitford - When I was first introduced to Jan Karon's Mitford series it was the setting that captured me immediately...I actually fell more in love with Mitford itself rather than any one character in the series.  A small, quaint, mostly quiet, eccentric little town...with each new edition to the story, I didn't just read the words; I was there.

2.  Natchez, MS as portrayed in Greg Isles Turning Angel - My entire life I've lived only a few hours from Natchez, but I didn't really appreciate what the state of my birth had to offer until I left it and was able to return.  Natchez is a place where history meets progress...new technology within an antique desk if you will.  The Turning Angel monument actually exists and during the cemetery scenes in the novel, I felt like I was standing right there.

3.  Hogwarts dining hall - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - The boarding school education idea is hard for me to "get."..I can't imagine sending my children off to school at the beginning of a semester and only seeing them a few months later.  I realize this is the way it's done in other countries....it's just different from what I know.  The dining hall scenes are my absolute favorites though where all the children and the professors are gathered together for meals...making it seem more like a great big giant family hall rather than a "cafeteria."  My favorite favorites are the holiday scenes, with Halloween in the top spot.

4.  Tuscanny, Italy - Under the Tuscan Sun - How anyone could have read this uber descriptive book and then watched the follow-up movie and still not want to travel to Tuscanny is beyond me.  I cannot even image the serenity of waking up early in the morning and drinking my coffee on the porch of this beautiful farmhouse in Tuscanny and watching the sun rise or set in the evenings.  And, the entire notion of re-inventing myself within completely different, new and magical surroundings...ahhhh

5.  Bon Temps - Sookie Stackhouse series - Bon Temps is not home to me but it's close.  The little country town where everybody knows everybody and of course everybody's business is the community culture with which I am most accustomed.  I forgot my checkbook once at the grocery store and the manager told me to just take my groceries on home and bring him a check the next day...that's how close knit I'm talking about. 

6.  Eat Pray Love - India - The idea of spending a few months in a spiritual place where you concentrate on your own self and peace, no talking, no interruptions, only reading and meditating.  Are you kidding me??? Can I go right now?? Today?? This minute??

7. Guernsey Island - a part of history of which I was completely oblivious is all I need as an impetus for even more reading.  Once I read  Shaffer's book, I wanted to know everything there was to find out about the past of Guernsey Island.  I would love to go there and just explore...I enjoy historical places and imagining what people years ago did on the very spaces I stand.  That's just plain cool.

8.  Chincoteague Island - I've never owned a horse; the closest I've ever come was when my family and I babysat two of our friends' horses.  What a responsibility that was.  An awing responsibility no doubt, but a responsibility.  Horses are incredible creatures...a lot bigger and stronger than one thinks...I always felt a little sorry for them though.  All these two horses had was each other, a small barn and the same pasture to run around in all day everyday.  (Yes, I'm one of those people who can't even enjoy the zoo because I worry about the animals :/ and yes, I bawled my eyes out at the end of Black Beauty :(
as a young girl I loved reading Marguerite Henry's stories about the horses who ran free on Chincoteague Island in Virgina...and I WILL visit there someday!

9. Washington State - Twilight

I've never really wanted to visit Washington...I'm a Grey's Anatomy fan and I don't even really want to visit Seattle...because I'll just want to nap through the rain :(  But, to read about the natural beauty that is hidden in this area of the world...so bare and unmolested by tourists (well, maybe not now) and the Native American legends and traditions that are honored there makes me want to check it out.  Imagine a place where there is city, deep forests, mountainous areas and beaches all together...I love nature, don't you?

10. A Painted House by John Grisham -

This Grisham is my favorite...and it has nothing to do with a courtroom; it has to do with a rural community, dirt floors, barefoot kids and a cotton field.  This one reminds me of home but more because of stories I've heard my parents and grandparents tell rather than my own childhood.  Generations of my family worked by the sweat of their brow and did what they could every single day just to get by.  Kids worked and pitched in as soon as they were old enough.  The yearly calendar revolved around the crop seasons...when the crop came in that was all that mattered...sunup to sundown the crop was reaped.  The years when there was no crop because of drought, or some bug infestation were hungry years...everybody pitched in to help everybody as much as they possibly could...just to survive.  Sometimes I wonder...

Monday, June 6, 2011

Book Review - Affinity

Affinity by Sarah Waters
Riverhead Books, 1999
Oversized Paperback, 402 pages

What Now?  Donating to the library
Golden Lines:

I wish that Pa was with me now.  I would ask him how he would start to write the story  I have embarked upon to-day.  I would ask him how he would neatly tell the story of a prison - of Millbank Prison - which has so many separate lives in it, and is so curious a shape, and must be approached, so darkly, through so many gates and twisting passages. pg. 8

One time, two years ago, I took a draught of morphia, meaning to end my life.  My mother found me before the life was ended, the doctor drew the poison from my stomach with a syringe, and when I woke, it was to the sound of my own weeping.  For I had hoped to open my eyes on Heaven, where my father was; and they had only pulled me back to Hell.  'You were careless with your life,' Selina said to me a month ago, ' but now I have it." - I knew then what I had been saved for.  pg. 321


After Margaret Pryor's father's death, she had what seemed to be a nervous breakdown and attempted suicide. Her mother saved her at the last minute.  Margaret's mother, her brother Stephen and his wife Helen (who also used to be a very close friend to Margaret), and her childish sister Pris who is busy with wedding preparations all try to go on with their lives as if nothing has ever happened.  Margaret receives "a dose" each evening from her mother to help her forget "all her old griefs."  Margaret begins a community service project service of sorts, visiting Millbank Prison in London...specifically visiting and talking with the women prisoners there in the hopes that they will pick up some of the "goodness" of a woman of Margaret's class.  At Millbank Margaret meets an inmate spiritualist named Selina Dawes who works at peeling away the layers of Margaret's fragile mind. 

My Personal Response:

I so wanted to like this one.  This was my first Sarah Waters and maybe I just started in the wrong place :(  I will try another...I really will...but I will choose it wisely.  I swear I was depressed by the end of this book...really and truly this story messed with my head.  Don't get me wrong...I don't have to have a happy ending...but I don't want to be completely and totally frustrated at the end either...I swear I couldn't tell you WHY this story was written.

What I Liked:

The setting...the time period, the old homes and the prison...I toured Alcatraz a couple of years ago at sunset and I kept picturing the dark, spooky hallways and cells as I read.

Selina as friend or foe?  I never could guess and was totally stunned at the end.

The descriptions are so vivid...I could see Margaret's surroundings, her bedroom, her mother, the difference between the house when it was full of people and when it was empty, the prison matrons, and the prison administration as well as London at night. 

What I Didn't Like:

Part of the reason it's taken me so long to write this review is that I've been trying to figure out exactly what it was about this book that I just couldn't go along with.  I don't know much historically about the women in prison thing during this timeframe and that might help me put together some of the pieces.

At best this story is depressing...and maybe it's supposed to be...when I finished this book I felt the same way I felt at the end of the movie Unfaithful with Richard Gere and Diana Lane...thinking I would have been just fine to have missed this boat.  

SPOILER ALERT: I finally decided that this story is about Margaret Pryor's descent into madness.  That's all I can figure out.  If that's the premise, the book was done well because as the reader I slid right into madness with Margaret trying to figure out at times what the heck was going on.

The point of view switches...I didn't see the point? I got the connection between Selina and Margaret by the end...but all the back and forth did was confuse me before I knew there would be a connection.  Is the book about Margaret...or Selina...how the heck is the reader supposed to know.  If you pick the wrong character to care about, you'll be screwed in the end.  I swear I felt like tossing this book across the room when I finally finished it.

The "ghost" Peter Quick...yeah, yeah I understand why Selina uses him...I just didn't like him.

There were times when Selina's plight reminded me of one of my favorite heroines of all time, Edna from The Awakening.  However, even though both Edna and Margaret were overwhelmed with their lives and the world around them and could not find a place for themselves within the world where they're trapped, I never saw Edna as a victim.  I really didn't.  I felt sorry for Margaret from pg. 1 and just kept feeling sorry for her.  How many times can a person be victimized? 

My Overall Recommendation:

Obviously fans of Sarah Walters will want to read this book...others who might enjoy this might be those who enjoy psychological mysteries where the lines between real and imaginary are not clearly drawn; thus, the full culmination is never really reached...or is it?