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Tuesday, September 6, 2011


The Last Song
Nicholas Sparks
Grand Central Publishing
237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017
9780446547567 $24.99
"The Last Song " is another remarkable work by Nicholas Sparks.  Veronica "Ronnie" Miller is a 17 year old rebellious teenager from New York City who travels to Wilmington, North Carolina with her brother Jonah to spend the summer with her dad, Steve. Ronnie has a lot of built up anger and resentment against her father. They have not spoken over the past three years. Ever since her parents divorced she blamed her father for leaving her and family.

Steve is a retired concert pianist and teacher. Music is his passion, and it used to be Ronnie's as well. As a child she sat by his side, always learning from him. However, she dwelled on her anger so much that she gave up playing the piano altogether. She didn't even want to look at a piano. She started hanging out with a rough crowd, going to clubs, and subsequently got into some trouble with the law.

In the beginning of the novel, Ronnie gives the impression of a spoiled, childish and unappreciative deviant. However, as her character builds throughout the novel, she grows. The depth and richness of Ronnie's character unfolds as you are taken along her summer journey in this coming of age novel.

As love runs into Ronnie at the most unsuspecting time, many truths unfold as the summer progresses. Her dad and Jonah are actively pursuing the work of constructing a stained glass window for a new church building. Ronnie's relationship with her father progresses as well as her relationship with her new found love. Many circumstances surrounding events that caused Ronnie's anger in the past as well as the present, resurface and she is confronted with a host of problems that she must face as her eighteenth birthday approaches.

Sparks is very crafty in his choice of character names. He displays his writing skill so eloquently by threading themes throughout the book, expanding on characters and their personalities and so innocently portraying the love of God in the life of humans. You develop a sincere interest for the characters. You have empathy for their feelings. The powerful emotions that Sparks brings to the reader, is so moving it brings one to tears. It is truly a very fluent and expressive work of the human heart and brought a joy to me as a reader that I have not felt in quite some time.

Familiar with his work, Miley Cyrus sought to work with Nicholas Sparks. As a result, the screenplay is currently being filmed and will be released in January 2010, starring Miley Cyrus as Ronnie, Greg Kinnear, Kelly Preston, and Liam Helmsworth. Other works by Sparks that went from books to movies are: A Walk to Remember, A Night in Rodanthe, The Notebook, and Message in a Bottle.

A Change in Altitude
Anita Shreve
Little, Brown & Company
237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017
9780316020701 $26.99

A Change in Altitude is not only descriptive of the actual story, but also a metaphor for what happens to Margaret, the protagonist of this story.

Patrick is a physician doing research in Africa on equatorial diseases. Accompanied by his wife Margaret, a photographer, they decide to venture off and go hiking. The goal is to climb Mount Kenya and reach the summit, as the view from atop this mountain is known to be remarkable. The couple sets forth on this expedition with a small group of friends. Although this novel has a bit of a slow start, once they begin climbing the mountain, you cannot put this book down.

Anita Shreve touches on many themes in this intricate, yet simple story. As Margaret enjoys the attentions of another man, which inadvertently leads to a tragic accident, Shreve expresses the consequences of dabbling in seemingly innocent flirting, the consequences of over reacting when controlled solely by our emotions and how a single event in life can change everything. Thematically, Shreve also explores comparable concepts by paralleling fidelity and emotion and what drives ones actions, with the love of photography and what drives a person to put themselves in danger due to the feelings one is experiencing at that time. The nature of forgiveness is also explored.

Similarly, Shreve eloquently uses the theme of altitude to express the growth of Margaret's character, while simultaneously writing a story about cultural diversity and feelings of displacement outside one's "natural" environment. Shreve additionally explores the very depths of a relationship through expressing that a fine line exists between emotional fidelity and physical fidelity, and the place its serves within a marriage. This novel illustrates that crossing such a fine line can put a break in the strength of a marriage, and ultimately lead to a Change in Altitude.

Shreve's novel is exceptional, particularly in her use of Margaret's character and her struggles to reach the top of this mountain. The use of supplemental characters is additionally instrumental throughout this story. The characters are rich, as well as the descriptive scenery of Africa depicted by Shreve, who lived and worked in Africa as journalist in the past. Shreve is very successful in drawing readers into her story and her vivid descriptions allow the reader to feel like they are there with the characters. She easily achieves credibility. Moreover, those who enjoy philosophical debates will undoubtedly devour the themes woven throughout this novel. A Change in Altitude is good read.

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much
Allison Hoover Bartlett
Riverhead Books (Penguin Group)
375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014
9781594488717 $24.95

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much, by Allison Hoover Bartlett is a fun, refreshing and quick read. From the prologue to the afterword, Bartlett successfully keeps the reader intrigued with her story.

Bartlett, a journalist, apparently comes across a four hundred year old book. As with most avid readers and collectors, her curiosity leads her journalistic instincts to investigate this book, and with the help of a librarian finds out that it is a rare German book about plants, The Kreuterbuch. Further investigative research leads her to numerous references to rare books and book theft. The trail continues as she comes across the name of Ken Sanders, a detective set on capturing John Gilkey, one of the most well known successful book thieves. This book is the goose chase of Sanders and his many attempts to catch Gilkey, and how Bartlett befriends both persons, seeking to find the story of what it is exactly that drives a person to put it all on the line for an object as seemingly simple as a book.

What I found interesting in Bartlett's quest was her learning experience of covering this story as a journalist. The story itself caused her to reflect on her past reading experiences and brought out some very important truths. For instance, she speaks of her daughter retrieving a book after dropping it in a creek and how she could not bear to part with it writing "This book's body is inextricably linked to her experience reading it". Furthermore, she states that "A book is much more than a delivery vehicle for its contents...". Bartlett refers to books as "historical artifacts" and "repositories for memories". I would have to agree with her. People develop an emotional attachment or bond with the memories linked to the physicality of the book. It becomes sentimental, something of value (even if it is not a rare expensive collectible). It is what makes a person want to collect books, write stories, and is the drive and inspiration of book lovers. Her philosophical reflections throughout the book lend character to the author's honesty and credibility. At one point she mentally debates whether the technology of today will lose that which is captured in having the physical book in one's hands.

Other interesting factors that contribute to the brilliance of this book is Bartlett's reference to Freud and the psychological profile of a collector, and how the bookshelf becomes a reflection of who the person is as a person. It defines them. Bartlett continues to seek after her story, attempting to understand the difference in how both Sanders and Gilkey live their lives, but yet how their lives become intermingled and both showing characteristics of the same madness. One set on stealing books, the other set on capturing the thief, both risking it all in the process.

Bartlett achieves everything a true storyteller hopes to achieve. There is love, suspense, truth, passion, and inquisitiveness. This book is truly an enjoyable read.

Mr. Langshaw's Square Piano
Madeline Goold
Blue Bridge (USA)
240 West 35th Street, N.Y, N.Y. 10001
9781933346212 $24.95

Mr. Langshaw's Square Piano is an eloquent anecdotal story of how a formerly unrecognized and unnoticed organist in the 1700's had his hand in shaping our modern culture and society by the distribution of what we now know as the piano.

The author, Madeline Goold had bought an antique piano. After finding a handwritten inscription on the piano, she began to investigate. Her investigation brought her on a long journey as she discovered the historical account of the piano. Hence, this is the background for this extraordinary story.

In Britian, John Broadwood (1732-1812) was the first to produce and distribute the square piano in large numbers. Broadwood was known for meticulous record keeping and his sales records and archives are still intact till today. John Langshaw (1763-1832) became acquainted with the square piano by Broadwood, and later formed a business relationship with him. Through an unusual chain of events, John Langshaw actually ended up training under Reverend Charles Wesley (brother of John Wesley, founder of the Methodists).

The interesting thing I discovered reading this wonderful story by Goold, was how Mr. Langshaw had such an impact on history, although he was seemingly forgotten. Through Langshaw's business dealings with Broadwood, he had an instrumental impact on Northern England with the social changes that accompanied the piano. Even more interesting was to see how the piano was looked upon socially. I never realized the importance this instrument had in society. As Britian led the world in piano making, the piano was looked upon very prestigiously. It not only reflected the highest quality of furniture, but later became a commercial commodity. It was also considered a defining attribute of a lady. As the story progresses, we see how changes in musical taste reflected the social order, and how rapidly the square piano became a status symbol.

This is an intriguing story. It is also heartwarming to see the relationship between Langshaw's father and Wesley's father. Apparently Langshaw resided and trained with the Wesley's for years, while the father's communicated back and forth through handwritten letters. The love that both father's displayed for their children, and the respect and love they had for each other as friends, truly transcends time. The story of Ms. Goold's antique piano number 10651 a/k/a Mr. Langshaw's Square Piano will remain a part of history for those who are willing to take the journey. Goold does an exceptional job in relating the historical facts and the story of her antique piano interestingly makes for a remarkable read!