August 19, 2012

Book Reviews and a Giveway

(photo from Amazon.com)


The Coffins of Little Hope, by Timothy Schaffert. I think it must be very challenging for a male author to write a female narrator, because I so rarely find one I can tolerate to read for more than a few pages. This one was a success. The narrator is an elderly lady who writes obituaries, and she's not at all creaky, or silly-accented, or full of phrases that are meant to remind you constantly how old she is.

There's a big fuss in her town when a young girl is kidnapped---WAIT, no don't turn away yet, if that's the kind of plot you usually avoid. I usually can't stand it either, but it wasn't bad. The main reason is that it's uncertain if the girl ever existed: there's no sign of her in the entire house she allegedly lived in: no toys, no clothes, no skin cells or hair strands. The bigger plot is about another family (the elderly woman narrator, her grandson and granddaughter and great-granddaughter) and how they and their town respond to (and exploit) the maybe-yes-maybe-no tragedy and the resulting national fuss.

...I'm making it sound very DRAMATIC, but it's a laid-back novel, full of interesting little remarks and good dialogue. It reminded me a little of the Muriel Spark books I've read. I do wish the ending had been a little clearer, but I nearly ALWAYS wish an ending would be a little clearer, and it wasn't RANKLINGLY unclear.


(photo from Amazon.com)
 
The Green Mile, by Stephen King. I periodically re-read the Stephen King short story collections, but I don't usually re-read the novels. I have two exceptions: The Stand, and The Green Mile. I have been known to read a Stephen King book and wish someone, ANYONE, had the courage to EDIT him a little for the love of trees, but those two books make me shut my mouth. Sometimes I think of his books as the scary equivalent of romance novels: entertaining fluff, that's all. But again: these two novels make me shut my mouth. Some of his books ARE entertaining fluff---and others show he's got a couple of different quality levels available to him. I have a feeling he writes some for fun, and some for serious.

The Green Mile is a great one for a good therapeutic cry. I completely dampened two handkerchiefs at the end there, and felt very happy to be doing so. It's NOT a horror novel; it's more like a fairy tale, or a parable, or someone's real-life testimony of a strange series of events they lived through. There are some bad crimes in it; some are particularly hard to read, but I found them manageable: we mostly hear a summarized report of the crimes from the prison guard narrator, rather than having to read along as the crimes are occurring.

Have you read or seen The Shawshank Redemption (Netflix link)? That's the only Stephen King movie I've ever seen (I didn't realize it was a Stephen King movie until I read the short story years later), and The Green Mile is similar in many ways: a prison story, this time told from the point of view of a guard instead of a prisoner. I'm tempted to see the movie version of The Green Mile, but I'm also scared to.


(photo from Amazon.com)

Shutter Island, by Dennis LeHane.  I'd already seen the movie, so I knew the plot secrets, so it's hard to know what I would have thought of the book if I hadn't. I think it's a book/movie pairing where I'm glad I saw the movie first, so that then I could read the book without skimming too fast just to get to the answer. One thing that was better about the book was the absence of visual flashes of upsetting child-danger imagery---and of course the absence of Leonardo DiCaprio's "New England accent."

Shutter Island is about a pair of federal agents who go to a mental institution to investigate a missing patient who can't possibly have escaped. From there it's a "What's REALLY going on??? Tell me quick or I'm skipping to the last page!!" book. There is a very upsetting part involving drowned children; it's recounted to us by someone remembering it, but it's still very upsetting. It makes me uncertain about recommending it.


(photo from Amazon.com)

Getting It Right, by Elizabeth Jane Howard. My mom and I both really enjoyed The Cazalet Chronicles, but our library system doesn't have anything else by this author, and most of her books are out of print. So for my mom's birthday, I had the idea of ordering a selection of used copies online. Then _I_ would get to read them too! Bonus!

So, the book photo above is the one I ordered. And this is the version that arrived:


Yes. Does it or does it not look like every single videotape in the 1980s? (But no, the actual VHS looks like this:

(photo from Amazon.com)

I'm pretty sure I ACTUALLY remember seeing that cover on one of my main high-school-aged trips to the video rental store. But in those days so MANY videotape covers included a woman's leg.)

Anyway, the paperback cover calls it a "delightful sexual comedy." My mother opened this gift while my attention was elsewhere, and then I heard, "Um. Swistle?" Explanation was required.

HOWEVER. We both read the book, and we both really really liked it. It's this skimpy-looking little paperback, but it's DENSE. It is NOT a sexy-sexy book, as you might think. I would not at all call it a romp. It is a "sexual comedy" if "sexual" means "pertaining to the sexes": that is, it's about relationships and about men and about women, not about S-E-X. (There is ONE scene of S-E-X.)

My mom and I both love Maeve Binchy, and we've seen many, many lists of "If you like Maeve Binchy, you'll like..." books that always turn out to be silly blicky romance novels that leave us thinking "Huh? That's NOTHING LIKE Maeve Binchy!" But this author, THIS author, reminds me of Maeve Binchy. She also reminds me a little of Muriel Spark: the quiet little interesting insightful remarks. I liked this book a lot, and really wanted to know what would happen to all the characters.

My only complaint was that it seemed like the end suddenly accelerated---like, a deadline or page cut-off was reached. It was like la la la insight, la la la plot furtherance, la la la insight, la la la plot furtherance, la la la OKAY DONE!

********

I'm still in the mood for book evangelism, so let's do another giveaway like before. You can leave a regular comment without being automatically entered; if you'd LIKE to enter, mention which of the books you'd like me to send you a copy of. If you choose Getting It Right, it's out of print so it'll be a used copy; the cover...could vary. U.S. mailing addresses only; I'll pick a winner on Wednesday, August 22.


[Edit: Winner is No Whey, Mama! I'll email you!]

58 comments:

Erin said...

I'd love a copy of "The Coffins of Little Hope"; that one sounds really interesting.

And you SHOULD see the movie of "The Green Mile". It was one of the few instances ever where I thought the movie held up to (or even surpassed) the book.

Lyndsey said...

I'm also going with The Coffins of Little Hope. I'm not familiar with the author and I like to try new people out from time to time!

Becky said...

The Coffins of Little Hope sounds awesome. I'd love a copy.
I read the Green Mile when it first came out, although I did wait a little bit so that I could read more than one of the small books at a time. It's so good. It reminds me of The Body (Stand by Me is the movie's name), because it's more a relationship story instead of a horror story.

Anonymous said...

if you liked the cazalet chronicles, you MUST read the williamsburg series by elswyth thane. in order: dawn's early light, yankee stranger, ever after, the light heart, kissing kin,this was tomorrow, and homing. some are better than others (dawn's early light and homing are rather slow), but this series has always been a favorite in my family. hope you enjoy :)

Swistle said...

Anonymous 9:09- Thanks, I'll try it!

Beth said...

I haven't read The Green Mile but it is an excellent movie. Yes - there are some gruesome parts and I'm not a huge fantasy/science fiction fan so the supernormal aspect wasn't my favourite part. However - it is so well done and Tom Hanks is excellent. Bring tissues.

Also, I read that Maeve Binchy died a couple of weeks ago and I immediately thought of you as I remembered she is one of your favourite authors. I hope you had already heard so that I'm not being the bearer of bad news. Last year, I took your tip, and re-read "This Year It Will All Be Different" at Christmas. She was a wonderful storyteller.

I don't need to be entered in the draw.

H said...

I would like to try The Coffin of Little Hope, thank you. (Wednesday is my daughter's birthday and 22 is a lucky number in this family...so we will put it to the test!)

I love Stephen King (agree about the editing) and have The Green Mile on my list of books to read. Also, Shutter Island and I wondered how the movie compared to the book. Thank you for this post!

Misty said...

Coffin of Little Hope, please. Also, you know that I am the biggest movie-wimp of all time, limiting myself to squishy RomComs and Disney flicks. But I watched the Green Mile and enjoyed it. I think you could take it since your reading is also more adventurous than mine.

I want to read a post about Maeve Binchy and Muriel Spark. Like, your fave books by them.

Kate said...

I would like to read The Green Mile. Try the movie! It is delightful

Thanks!

Life of a Doctor's Wife said...

Oooh The Coffins of Little Hope sounds right up my alley!

Have you read any of the Sophie Hannah mysteries? The crime parts are a little gruesome, but they are usually pretty quickly gotten through and they are also very odd and interesting crimes. And there's a LOT of little interesting psychological commentary and insightful remarks and some enjoyable (well, to me) British-style humor. I think Little Face is the first one, and it's got some rough sections (like, put-the-book-in-the-freezer sections) but I still think I recommend it.

Kristin said...

I am definitely going to try Howard based on your recommendations, but for now I'm going to say that I'm most intrigued to read The Coffins of Little Hope.

Kimberly said...

The Coffins of Little Hope is an intriguing title! Thanks, Swistle!

Eva said...

I have a hard time stomaching Steven King. I still have disturbing thoughts from some short stories of his I half-read...
I would like "Getting it right". Sounds nice.

Donna said...

Coffins, please!

I lurve your reviews because they are so genuine. If I've read the book already, I find myself thinking, 'Exactly! Swistle nailed it!' more times than not.

Have you read 'Started Early, Took My Dog' by Kate Atkinson? I read it last week and bits of it keep churning through my mind. It's a mystery, sort of, but also very involved with family: parents, children, adoption, loss. I don't think it's as grim as I made it sound, but it really got under my skin.

Anyway, thanks for the chance to win.

Swistle said...

Beth- Yes, I'd heard about Maeve Binchy. So sad that there won't be any more books!

Charleen said...

I'd like to enter for "The Coffins of Little Hope."


I haven't read a ton of King, but I actually didn't care for The Stand. I mean, I didn't hate it. But I recently read Misery and liked that one a lot better. Normally I like books with a huge cast of characters and world-shattering consequences, but with King I think I can appreciate his writing more if it's a smaller-scale book.

Oh, and The Shawshank Redemption is a great movie. Never read it though.

Swistle said...

Life of a Doctor's Wife- I don't THINK I have, although it seems like there are one (1) million different detective series, so I MIGHT have!

Boy, is "Sophie Hannah" an on-trend name/pseudonym or what?

Swistle said...

Donna- Added to library list! I read one Kate Atkinson I LOVED, one I HATED, and then I remember there was one I didn't read because of the plot. So I'll be interested to try another!

Nicole said...

I'm not entering because I'm not in the US, but I have to know - is the Green Mile really a good read? Because I haven't seen the movie and I'm famously sensitive about DISTURBING things. Is it disturbing? I made it through Room on your recommendation and I really liked it. So, I'm trusting you! The Shawshank Redemption, I've watched that movie, but hid my face through much of it.

sarabean said...

I also would like to read The Coffins of Little Hope. And also think you should see The Green Mile. It is a good movie.

Swistle said...

Nicole- There are definitely disturbing PARTS. It's so hard to call it: I've read books that other people found FINE and I've found them BEYOND UPSETTING, and vice versa. The book takes place in a prison, so hearing about the crimes is upsetting. There are several really evil characters: some classically evil (i.e., crime-committing) and some the twisted under-the-radar evil (taking pleasure from being mean to weaker people, but technically obeying the law). There is an upsetting electric-chair-gone-wrong execution. There's a woman dying of a brain tumor who is not in control of her brain/mouth connection anymore and makes us all scared of that happening to us.

But overall, even though I consider myself easily upset, I found the book was readable/tolerable---and SO GOOD in so many ways. Like, I can stand some disturbing if it's WORTH IT, and this book seemed worth it to me. (And I let my eyes skip lightly over some of the more upsetting scenes.)

MomQueenBee said...

Hmmm...they all sound wonderful. Coffins of Little Hope, I think. And I'm putting them all on my library list.

Cayt said...

I love your book review posts! I've read some Muriel Spark (and I think it's Muriel with an 'e' and not Murial with an 'a') and her books are so creepy and cosy. They remind me of my ballet teacher which says nothing good, I think, about my ballet teacher. For cosy stories with an edge, you could do a lot worse than Paula Morris's short story collection Forbidden Cities which I loved.

Swistle said...

Cayt- Fixed it, thanks.

vanessa said...

OOOOOO I want the Coffin of Little Hope, and I would really like it, because I am at the beach for 14 days but I didnt quite bring 14 books!

Linda said...

Love your book reviews!

Can I enter for all the books? They all sound interesting. Otherwise, I'll choose Getting It Right, regardless of the cover.

Kate said...

I would love to read the Coffins of Little Hope book, it sounds facinating!

Gigi said...

As a huge Stephen King fan how did I NOT know this about the Shawshank Redemption? Was it a short story? If so that might be why. I don't usually read short stories.

Yes, you MUST see the Green Mile. It was a great movie....and you will need tissues. I can't recall if I've read the book or not.

Also, Maeve Binchy? LOVE her.

For kicks and giggles, throw my name into the ring. If I should be lucky enough to win, I'll let you surprise me. Because win or lose, I've written down all these books on my Must Read list.

Jennifer B said...

I'd like to try the Coffins of Little Hope, please!

amyunicorn said...

Just thought I'd let you know (and forgive me if it's been said above), that The Green Mile was originally written and released as a mini-series (one part published weeks apart from each other), and the movie is one of THE BEST book-to-movie adaptions I have ever seen, honestly (and I am extremely critical of movie adaptations of books). :)

phancymama said...

I'd like to enter for Coffins of Little Hope. I love these book reviews that you do, and all the suggestions in the comments. There is nothing more satisfying than gleefully adding books to my to-read wish list.

Swistle said...

Gigi- He has some books that are like four novellas in one, and The Shawshank Redemption (called "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption") is in one of those volumes, called Different Seasons, which also has "The Body" (made into the movie Stand by Me).

twisterfish said...

Love Maeve Binchy, so I'd love a copy of Getting it Right.

p.s. If you like Maeve Binchy... have you read Rosamund Pilcher? My favorite is The Blue Bedroom & Other Stories.

Emily said...

Lots of good-sounding books this time. I think I'd like The Coffins of Little Hope.

I love The Green Mile movie. It's almost as good as Shawshank Redemption. I've never read either book, though (and I'm not sure why, now that I think about it).

Swistle said...

twisterfish- I tried a Rosamund Pilcher (it was called something with September in the title, I'm pretty sure), and it was okay, and I read the whole thing, but not QUITE my thing.

Wendy said...

Thank you so much for posting all your book reviews. I love to read, but I am an anxious person and for the last few years I haven't been reading for fear of getting into something upsetting.

Your reviews have allowed me to start reading again. I can't tell you how much it means to me!

No need to enter me in the drawing, just wanted to say thanks. :)

kris (lower case) said...

i have been a stephen king fan for years.. i love his short story books and am currently re-reading parts of skeleton crew.. i have read the stand 15 or so times.. i even bought the 2nd version of it where he added back parts that had been edited. i bought the green mile when it first came out as a series over a few months period.

Daycare Girl said...

I'd love to try Coffins of Little Hope. Have you read Stephen King's memoir 'On Writing'? I think it's my favorite book of his and has made me feel so much more personable toward reading all his stuff. You're absolutely right about him being aware of his audience. :)

Alicia said...

Please, oh please watch The Green Mile. It's a wonderful movie.

Thea said...

I've heard fantastic things about The Green Mile but haven't ever read it nor have I seen the movie. Thanks, Swistle!

Nowheymama said...

Like Twisterfish, I recommend certain Rosamund Pilcher novels. Especially Coming Home and The Shell Seekers. September is a sort-of sequel to the Shell Seekers, so I don't know how it would read as a stand alone book.

Also, I love all of Dennis Lehane's books *except* Shutter Island. Go figure.

I would choose Getting it Right, although the first one sounds good, too.


Saly said...

I love your book reviews! I'd like to read The Coffins of Little Hope--it sounds like my kind of book.

I remember the "Getting it Right" cover box from the days when I worked in video stores. And you are right--many boxes of the 80's featured legs!

Jessica said...

That first book sounds exactly like my kind of book. I'm about ready to buy it myself!

marilyn c. cole said...

Getting It Right sounds like something I'd love. If I don't win, I will still see what I get with the cover lottery!

Anonymous said...

I think I would enjoy Coffins of Little Hope most. But, like many others, Getting it Right also sounds great! I saw Shutter Island (the movie) and did not like it at all! Thanks for all your book reviews!

Christy said...

I think that I'm most interested in the Coffins of Little Hope.

I must confess that I didn't know The Green Mile was based on a Stephen King novella. Then you totally blew my mind with the Shawshank Redemption. I had NO IDEA it was Stephen King and I really LOVE that movie. So maybe I'm more into Stephen King than I thought, although I did find parts of the The Green Mile movie upsetting. The same parts that you mentioned in your comment, mostly. That stuff is just so much worse (for me) when it's visual. At least you know what's coming and you can fast-forward through any part that you know will be bad.

Anonymous said...

The Green Mile is a must see and must cry your face off kind of movie. You have to watch is Swistle and especially since you read the book.

That is all.

Nimble said...

The Coffins of Little Hope sounds great, that'd be my pick. Right now I am reading some great fantasy. I just finished Robin Hobb's Fool's Errand. It was the first book of hers I've read and it was so satisfying (despite the cheesy epic fantasy cover art). Now I'm halfway through The Magicians by Lev Grossman. Good stuff.

Deanna said...

I really enjoy your book reviews, Swistle!

I'd like to read Shutter Island. I didn't think it was something I was interested in (book or movie), but based on your review, I think I might like it. Thanks!

Sarah said...

I'd love to read The Coffins of Little Hope. It sounds like a book that both MY mom and I would enjoy :)

lucidkim said...

I'd like to read The Green Mile. :)

Katie said...

Id like Shutter Island. I didnt even know it was a book, but I LOVE the movie.

Tina said...

I would love to read The Coffins of Little Hope and am bummed my local library doesn't have it. Thanks for the opportunity to win it!! I'm excited to find out you enjoyed The Green Mile and will have to read it. My husband and I love the movie, so I can't wait to try the book!

Brittany said...

I'd love Coffins! Haven't read Green Mile, but it's one of my favorite movies. Never watched without crying. I seem to have a higher tolerance for disturbing scenes, if they are worth it and further the plot. I'd love to recommend you watch it, especially since you'll know what's coming. Thank you for your delightful reviews, suggestions and a chance to win.

Farrell said...

I would love to win coffins of hope or shutter island
But first I want to say I LOVE when you do book reviews because I'm ALWAYS looking for books to read.
I JUST recently read "the green mile" and then saw the movie and I just can't believe I waited this long. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE. Don't be scared to see the movie but of course the book is always better. You will still cry though. And also? Shawshank Redemption is The. Best. Movie. Ever. Made. Ever. Period. (IMO). If anyone reading this HASN'T seen it, I recommend they do so RIGHT NOW. I own the movie and have watched it 8 billion times and ALWAYS love it just as much as the first time.

Farrell said...

BTW, are you on goodreads? Can we be friends?

Swistle said...

Farrell- I'm not on Goodreads...yet. I suspect it'll be like Twitter, where I go for AGES not interested, and then one day impulsively sign up, and then wonder why I waited so long!

Shelly said...

Oh, I definitely recommend that you see both The Green Mile and Shawshank Redemption immediately! They are two of the very few cases in which I think the movie is better than the book. Bear with me here - I usually think the book is better, but in these cases the movies have some real strengths over the books. The only thing wrong with the novel The Green Mile is that it was written as a serial and because of that, it jumps around in time a lot. The movie puts everything in order (with flashbacks to the crimes and such), which I thought makes a lot more sense. And Shawshank. Man, that is SUCH a good movie. They change some of the plot points from the story, but in a good way, and they add A LOT more. It's a lot more satisfying than the story. Shawshank is one of those movies that once I start it, I cannot stop it, no matter what. I really, really love it.

Also, if you like Dennis Lehane, you should check out his Kenzie and Gennaro novels. They are more violent than Shutter Island, but the love story between Kenzie and Gennaro is awesome.

ALSO also! Someone above recommended Started Early, Took My Dog, which is an awesome book, but I wanted to point out that it is also the fourth novel in the Jackson Brodie series. If you're like me and want to read every series FROM THE BEGINNING, then you should start with Case Histories, which is the first and in my opinion, best in the Brodie series.

Ahem, anyway, sorry to rattle on forever and ever, but you know how I am about books. *grin*