Saturday, July 16, 2011

Atonement -- Ian McEwan ------------------------ 4.5 Stars

It was incredibly strange to read a great novel with a twist for an ending after already having seen the movie, but, in an unexpected but certainly welcome surprise, it ended up making the book ever better.

I saw the movie Atonement a couple of years ago. I was going in not expecting much, I mean it didn't sound like my type of flavor: English, love story, set 60 years ago... sounds like a recipe for disaster but, alas, it was pretty good. I mean not bad. Then on a whim last week, I thought I should maybe read the book Atonement as I had heard it was a pretty good novel, and I was fairly familiar with the story. Well, I was absolutely shocked by how good it was and how much I enjoyed it.

I really couldn't put it down and read it in a week, which is the most critical element when I review a it captivating?. It was a truly remarkable and probably a perfect novel. The only thing that took a way a .5 star was that I personally just didn't like the ending (bad reason to lose a .5 star, but I write the blog).

I don't feel like there is any need to go through the plot as most people have seen the movie or know in general what it's about so I'd rather just continue to gush about how much I liked the novel. First, I love the way McEwan writes. His prose is just phenomenal and a joy to read. It's almost like poetry how well it flows. He also has a knack for using some fairly obtuse vocabulary, but it seemed liked every word he used actually fit the sentence or paragraph and was never forced. Second, the characters he created seemed so real. Perhaps it was because I had seen the movie and could better picture them but they were so cleanly and fully developed it added so much to the novel to really feel like I 'knew' these people. Third, the story is so intricately and delicately developed that it really is quite genius... truly nothing is overlooked. Fourth, and though I hate to say it, it's a really nice love story. Normally not something I really find that exciting, this one was told so well that but you can't help but love it.

Overall, it really is a perfect novel and one I would recommend wholeheartedly to anyone who has not yet read it (I am a little behind as it came out like 10 years ago). For me, what added to it's enjoyability was the fact that I quasi-remembered parts of it from seeing the movie a few years ago. I remembered just enough to know who the characters were and the basic novel twists but not enough detail where I found it repetitive. Quite the opposite, because I remembered just enough of the story, I better appreciated and enjoyed seeing how it was developed through the written word.

So, if you have the choice, I would say definitely read the book right now if you saw the movie a while ago. Or you could go the route of watching the movie right now and then waiting like 3 years to read it but that takes some real patience.... the choice is yours.

" I Heard You Paint Houses" -- Charles Brandt -------------------- 4 Stars

Before I begin the review of "I Heard you Paint Houses", I have to recognize the accomplishment that is this review: #50! Much like Derek Jeter's 3,000 hit, I have reached a milestone; this is my 50th review of a book on my blog. Who would have thunk that in a short 2.5 years I would have notched 50 book reviews? Not I.... Anyway, let's get started and find out who killed Jimmy Hoffa.

Jimmy Hoffa. When you hear the name, what do you think? Probably, like most, you think about how he was never found. Well, you don't need to worry about that anymore if you read this book. It's got the answers; all of them. What happened to him, how he was killed, where his body went... this book's spills it all.

First, a little background on the title; "I Heard you Paint Houses" is not really about painting houses (you already guessed that?) If you paint houses, you kill people... see, the blood splatters on the wall and that's the paint (yeah, there's some solid violence in this one). Basically, this book is about a mobster named Frank Sheeran. He died some years ago and prior to passing, told most of his life story to the author. Included in this story is what happened to Jimmy Hoffa.

Although you find out much about Sheeran's life, this book's major focus if Jimmy Hoffa. If you don't know alot of about Jimmy Hoffa's life, this book is worth the read just for that. His influence on unions in this country and rivalry with Bobby Kennedy is historic. This book goes into a great deal about his life and Frank Sheeran's close relationship to Hoffa and other major mobsters during the 60s and 70s.

I am not sure what it is about mob and gangster things that make the same interesting. From the Godfather to Sopranos, I consistently fall in love with gangster stories. This one was no different. Although a bit slow in spots and not as excitingly written as other books (which is why it only garners 4 stars), this gangster tale is as good as any others. It's got it all, blood, violence, trickery, deception... all the fun stuff.

If nothing else, it's worth reading the book just for the chapter that explains Hoffa's demise. If you've seen the movie Hoffa, they depict his death at the end of that film.... that movie was made before the book and they got it wrong. There is no doubt in my mind what is described in this book is how Hoffa was really killed. And frankly, the chapter and pages that intimately describe how it went down were memorable. I was actually becoming nervous and sweating as it was going down while I was reading; it's rare for a book to do that to me but the buildup had been coming.

If you like gangster stories, are interested in Hoffa, or just want to read a great true crime novel, do check out "I Heard You Paint Houses" but do me a favor and don't actually paint any houses (you know what I mean).