It is just nuts how far behind I’ve gotten in my book reviews, so I’m going to knock off a few in my new beloved mini-review format.
The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosley
Publisher: Riverhead, 2010
Where I Got It: Bought it for my Kindle
My Rating: 4 stars
Brief Description: Ptolemy Grey is a 91-year-old man living in a dirty apartment in Los Angeles. He’s been steadily falling into dementia and forgetfulness, and his world falls to pieces when one of his few links to the present, his great-nephew Reggie, is murdered and unable to help him with his few meager errands. Distraught and confused, Ptolemy spends more time in the past with his long-dead friend Coydog than he does in the present. At Reggie’s wake, he forms an instant connection with a young woman named Robyn, who comes to take care of Ptolemy. When Ptolemy is offered a way to dispel his dementia through an experimental medical procedure, he decides the costly side effects are worth it as it is the only way he can salvage his family and get his affairs in order.
My Thoughts: The book is narrated by Ptolemy and I thought Mosley did a brilliant job of capturing Ptolemy’s confusion and dementia while also giving the reader the story of what is going on in Ptolemy’s life. It is a tricky balancing act, and I think Mosley pulled it off wonderfully. Although this was often a difficult read as Ptolemy’s thoughts are often fragmented and mixed up (as it would be in person with dementia), I found it very affecting and felt as if I was inhabiting Ptolemy’s decaying brain. In some ways, the book reminded me of Flowers For Algernon as the experimental medical procedure gives Ptolemy his memory and wits back to him … but only for a brief period of time. As the procedure begins to exact its steep price, I found myself filled with sorrow for both Ptolemy and Robyn. A lovely and interesting look at aging, love and the end of life.
Strange But True by John Searles
Publisher: Harper Perennial, 2005
Where I Got It: Bought it
My Rating: 4 stars
Brief Description: Philip Chase has moved back home with his mother Charlene after suffering a fall from his New York apartment. Charlene, who never really recovered from the death of her youngest son Ronnie five years earlier, has turned into a bitter overeater—filled with anger at Ronnie’s death and her divorce from her husband Richard (who is now remarried). When Ronnie’s old girlfriend, Melissa Moody, shows up unexpectedly and tells Philip and Charlene that she is pregnant and she thinks Ronnie is the father, it sets into motion a series of events that take us into the past and into a rather strange and unexpected present.
My Thoughts: I didn’t really expect much from this book (which I picked up for the Take A Chance challenge) and was pleasantly surprised to find it to be an engrossing and affecting read that surprised me midway with a major U-turn that was unexpected but thrilling. I know the plot might sound a bit weird/paranormalish, but the book is fully grounded in reality and deals more with lost souls and desperate, lonely people than with the paranormal. As I got to know Philip, Charlene and Melissa, I wanted all of them to find the happy ending that they deserved. I was surprised how much I got involved in their stories, and Searles does a wonderful job of developing these characters so that they feel real and lived-in. And, as I mentioned, the book takes a rather strange turn in the middle, which I found both shocking but oddly pleasing in its weirdness. If you’re looking for a different read that will both surprise you and affect you emotionally, try this book. It was an unexpected delight.
The Virgin of Small Plains by Nancy Pickard
Publisher: Ballantine Books, 2007
Where I Got It: Paperback Swap
My Rating: 3 stars
Brief Description: During a blizzard in a small Kansas town in January 1987, the body of a naked young woman is discovered. No one knows her identity, and she is buried in a simple grave. Over the years, she becomes known as the “Virgin of Small Plains,” and legend has it that visiting her grave can heal the sick. Long-time Small Plains resident Abby has never really questioned the story of the Virgin; she was more affected by the mysterious disappearance of her boyfriend Mitch Newquist on the same night in January 1987. So, seventeen years later, when Mitch reappears in Small Plains, the past comes back to life and the mystery of who the Virgin is and what happened to her starts to come out, despite the best efforts of other members of the town.
My Thoughts: I’ll just say it right out: I thought this book was pretty blah. The characters never felt developed, the big mystery felt overwrought and the whole “miracles” of the Virgin just seemed tacked on for reasons that were never clear to me. Throughout the whole book, I kept thinking “Why the heck did NONE of these people speak up or question what was going on around them?” This was another book that I read for the Take A Chance Challenge, and (unlike Strange But True) it was a big disappointment. Honestly, if I didn’t have it on my list for the challenge, I would have stopped reading it.
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