Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Rave, A Miss, and One That's Hard to Classify: The Shoemaker's Wife (Trigiani), Waiting for Sunrise (Boyd), and Heroes for My Daughter (Meltzer)

I confess....I'm trying to write this post outside.  It is a struggle to be out of bed but MM is insisting I need to try to enjoy some of the lovely weather.  He's right, but it is hard to enjoy the early Spring when it feel like there's a knife in your spine.

These reviews feel like an odd rave, one that I struggled to finish, and one that's just a bit hard to classify.

I was nervous when I started this one (provided to me by the publisher).  I'd just come off a book that reminded me that I'm just not a romance novel book and I thought I might be heading in to another.  I was pleasantly surprised to find what was my favorite read in some time.

The novel opens in the Italian Alps in the late 1800s.  Ciro is left, along with his older brother, in the care of a group of nuns when their recently widowed mother feels overwhelmed by the task of parenting amid her grief.  In a neighboring village, Enza is growing up as the eldest daughter in a poor but loving family where she assumes a great deal of family responsibility from a very young age.  She is heart-broken when her beloved youngest sister dies suddenly but she finds herself quite taken with Ciro when he is hired to help dig the girl's grave.  Shortly after their meeting, Ciro is banished from the convent and seeks refuge by fleeing to America.  He is unable to tell Enza of his move but they are destined to meet many times more in the wake of Enza's own move to the US where she travels to work and diligently sends money back to her family.  Both characters work hard as they try to find success in America while still honoring their roots.

I loved this book and have no doubt it will be re-read more than once.  There is a love story, but it is primarily the story of two immigrants struggling to make their way.  The stories are vividly written and filled with details that can be both beautiful and heart-wrenching.  Enza and Ciro are two of my favorite protagonists in recent memory and I was cheering for them both throughout the read.  Their journeys are hard but they both persevere through poverty with strong spirits and the help of both family and friends.  The writing is beautiful and Trigiani created a world I loved to visit.  A strong 4.5 stars...Enza felt a little too perfect for the full five outright but I'll happily round up. 

There's a lot going on in this novel (provided to me by the folks at Harper), which opens with Lysander Rief's time in Vienna in 1913.   Rief is a British actor who has come to Vienna to tackle a sexual problem with the help of a Freudian analyst.  During his stay, he meets and has an intense affair with Hettie Bull.  It is Hettie's false claim of rape that leaves Rief in debt to the English government and sets up his subsequent involvement investigating a case of wartime espionage, the plot that forms the basis of much of the story.  Family, love affairs, and the psychological concept of "parallelism" cross frequently into the tale.

I feel like I missed something here.  I simply did not enjoy Boyd's writing style.  It felt very cold and detached and I never developed any involvement into the story.  Boyd seems to have many devoted fans but I just can't count myself as one of them.  It felt like he threw too much into the book and that detracted from my experience.  I was most interested in the psychoanalysis plot line but that compromised a fairly small portion of the story.  I found the plot convoluted and I had trouble keeping all the players straight.  I seem to be in the minority among early readers, although it may be that other advance copies went to Boyd devotees.  For me, two stars. 

I was intrigued by this book and opted to receive an advance reader's edition from Harper because I liked the concept.  Meltzer provides a series of short biographies of men and women that he hopes will serve as heroes and impart life lessons to his young daughter.  The writing is very simple and I can see it being a book that a parent shares with a young child by reading a couple of sections each night.  Meltzer chooses interesting and varied heroes, many of them will be familiar to the reader although they are not always chosen for the reasons the reader would initially expect. 

It is tough to put a rating on this book simply because it isn't a typical style and it doesn't have a typical mission.  The writing felt a bit simplistic but I think that's done with reason so don't feel like it should be a source of penalty.  I think it could have had some more unfamiliar characters but it is an admirable concept and there are some wonderful profiles included.  For the sake of the review sites, I'll mark it at four stars.  I think it does a good job of conveying its message, I'm just not the intended audience.

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