Sunday, June 17, 2007

Kathy Little Bird by Benedict and Nancy Freedman

Kathy Little Bird
The Berkley Publishing Group
362 pages
Copyright 2004

For the first time I had a glimpse of what was happening when music took hold of me. It was like my soul was pouring out through all these notes and their combinations. No wonder I liked it better without words. Pure sound is pure emotion. Octaves, cool. Twelfths and fifths, lonely. Thirds and sixths, sexy. Seconds, trouble. Sevenths, freaked out. Ninths and elevenths, fury. Diminished sevenths, tears. The unison, death.

I finished Kathy Little Bird almost a week ago and have put off reviewing it, although it took some time to figure out why. Disappointment, maybe? The book began with huge promise and, in the end, I found myself skimming in the hope of getting it over with just a bit sooner. Yet, there were moments that I understood or related to, like that in the quote above. I can identify with the power of music upon emotion.

I'm going to take the easy way out and copy the cover blurb because I think it's accurate:

All her life, Kathy Little Bird has heard stories of her grandmother, Mrs. Mike, from her own mother, a Cree Indian nurse who married a wounded Austrian soldier during the waning years of World War II. Living with her mother and stepfather on the plains of St. Alban's, Kathy takes the tradition of Cree music to heart - "singing" the wilderness and the people she knows so well.

But Kathy longs for freedom from her sheltered life and takes her first chance to get away, marrying a charming con artist who promises her the world - and leaving behind her childhood sweetheart. Staying in seedy hotels and singing in run-down clubs, she slowly finds the fame she craves. But screaming fans and hit songs cannot fill the hole within her heart - the aching need she has for the native people she left behind, the father she never knew, and a love that will calm her restless soul . . .

Kathy Little Bird is the third in a fictional series. I have not read the first two "Mrs. Mike" books. Sometimes I felt like the book stood well on its own. But, there were enough "What the heck is Kathy referring to?" moments that I wouldn't recommend diving into the middle of this particular series of novels.

The opening of Kathy Little Bird was a grabber, full of emotion and with an interesting variety of characters. So, what one has to wonder is "What happened? Where did the co-authors lose this reader and why?" I think I'd have to say that I became most frustrated at a point that I can't describe because it's a spoiler. Let me say this much: Kathy allowed her con-man husband, Jack, to do something that I absolutely cannot fathom allowing without moving heaven and earth to undo it. It was that huge. When Kathy moved on and justified Jack's ridiculous action, the whole tone of the book changed, at least for me. During the remainder of the book, I saw Kathy as a different kind of person, selfish and clueless. For the next hundred pages, I felt as if I was holding my breath, waiting for Kathy to realize what needed to be done, get in the car, and just take care of it, for crying out loud.

This is sounding too vague, so I'm going to post a spoiler.

***SPOILER WARNING!!!!! Skip this paragraph if you intend to read the book!!

Kathy's husband, Jack, told her to get dressed and hurry out of the hospital after she gave birth. She dressed and left, without insisting that they pick up her baby or even simply demanding Jack inform her where the baby happened to be. Eventually, Jack told Kathy that he'd given their child to the childless couple Jack and Kathy been staying with and convinced Kathy that they'd return for the baby when they had the money to raise the child and pay off medical bills. Kathy accepted Jack's explanation and logic; and, when Jack later told Kathy that their daughter had been informed her birth mother died, Kathy used her Cree heritage ("If she thinks I'm dead, then I am dead to her, forever") as justification for never contacting her child.

***END SPOILER!!!! We now return to our regularly scheduled programming***

Since Kathy never did make the decision to do what this reader considered "the right thing", at least on the issue I considered most important, the character was not one I really enjoyed following, after that crucial turning point in the novel. Toward the end, in fact, Kathy mulled another tremendously selfish move, proving that she hadn't learned a thing.

If you intend to read this book, be prepared to read about a frustrating character who is so hell-bent on becoming a famous singer that everything else falls by the wayside. The writing is good, but I simply don't feel like I can recommend a book with a protagonist that I found so annoying I wanted to step into the novel and give her a good kick in the shins and a lecture.


Incidentally, the cover must have been a disappointment to the authors, as Kathy is part Cree but she doesn't look it; she is blonde with only deep black eyes as a clue to the native side of her ancestry.

Also finished: Whose Number is Up, Anyway? by Stevi Mittman. Review forthcoming.

Still reading: Held at a Distance by Rebecca Haile

Back to: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. And, this time I'm getting somewhere. I'm scrambling to squeeze it in before the end of the Chunkster Challenge, since Great Expectations was the one book I most wanted to get around to reading and completing for the Chunkster.

Considering: Ditching the rest of the challenges because either they're not really challenging or I'm having trouble squeezing specific titles in, between all the advanced readers that have recently shown up. I noticed that at least two bloggers I occasionally visit have decided to declare themselves "challenge free".

There's good and bad to both sides to the issue of participating in or dropping challenges, in my humble opinion. A challenge is not a great thing if it simply ends up being one more reason to feel distraught, to think yourself a screw-up or to kick yourself around the room. However, if you really feel like a challenge helps motivate you to read something you desire to read (but might not get around to, otherwise), then it's a positive thing. I didn't want anyone who participated in the Chunkster Challenge to end up feeling like a loser; hence, the decision not to make the final drawing dependent upon successful completion of the challenge. In my mind, if you managed to read anything at all that you hoped to, you're a success. If you really, really tried and decided a book was far too overwhelming . . . you're still a success for having attempted the book and for reaching the point at which you were able to decide, "This is not the book for me." Not every book is worth the time it takes to read from cover to cover. We all probably know that horrible feeling - closing a book and thinking, "So, why did I bother spending so many hours reading this?"

Which leads to my current review book. It's been enjoyable, at times, for the history. But, when I stalled at about the halfway point, there was good reason. I still feel the same way about that first half as I did when I closed the book and thought, "I'll read the rest later." Now, I'm struggling to get through it because it's a review book and it would be wrong not to finish. I'm well aware that the reason I became frustrated with the first section (there are two parts to the book) has to do with my personal experience. The book is a memoir; it's about a woman's return to her birth country after a 25-year absence. She whines about her years of poverty, but doesn't describe them in any detail. She complains about not growing up near her relatives, but it doesn't occur to her that she is fortunate to find them alive, upon her return. All of my grandparents were gone by the time I turned 26 and the author returned to her home soil around the age of 35. It's very difficult seeing the author's complaints as anything but pure, silly whining.

So, the question is . . . Can I finish this book and truly review it objectively? Is it possible to remain 100% objective, or do we all inject a little of ourselves into our reading material? Certainly, Kathy Little Bird was a frustrating book because the character made a choice that I found incomprehensible. But, I've read other novels with annoying characters and ended up liking them in spite of bad choices - sometimes even because of their flaws. I've read memoirs - heartbreaking at times - and not felt that I had any reason to challenge the author's reflections as whiny or insignificant in any way.

In other words, there's a lot to think about, before I send in a review of Held at a Distance.

End of babble . . . here's the photo of the week. Tell me if this gives you that "Big Brother is Watching Me" feeling (in this case, "Big Flutter is Watching"):

Happy Father's Day to the daddies!


  1. I hope beyond hope that you send this GEM to that Parade photo contest I told you about. A-maz-ing!


  2. Oh, gee, I didn't even think of that, Andi. I thought it was kind of a freaky-looking shot, myself!

  3. That is one creepy looking moth. I don't like the way it was looking at you, either (check your pockets).

    About challenges, I frequently go around telling people how overbooked (pun intended) I am, and how I'm drowning in challenges, but the truth is I feel close enough to my fellow bloggers that if I failed to complete their challenge, I wouldn't actually feel that bad.

    I like having a set list to read, and a real motivation to read them, and I know that my blogging buddies would be the last ones to come down on me if I didn't finish them all. That's a nice feeling.

    That being said, I think I'll draw the line at six...for my own piece of mind.

  4. Kookie,

    I'll go rustle through my pockets, in a minute.

    Overbooked!! I love it!

    Okay, so see . . . I'm the opposite. I hate having a set reading list. I'm a mood-driven reader and I know it; so, a challenge list only works for me if I build in some flexibility (meaning I may write down 10 books that are possibilities, but if I'm doing a fantasy book challenge I still consider any other fantasy title fair game) or the books I've listed just happen to fit my needs during the time of the challenge.

    And, six challenges would be enough to convince me lawn-mowing is more fun than reading. So, hmm, maybe I should go challenge free. I'm going to give this one a lot of thought. I don't have any concern that other bloggers will frown at my lack of success or that challenge hosts will jump on me.

  5. What a horrible book...well ok, I don't know if the book was horrible but that character sounds awful!

    Your totally right about the challenges. I don't thing challenges should be meant to be stressful and they seem like they can be at times. The banned books challenge sort of got that way for me. I think that in the future, I'm going to stick to challenges that will help me get books OFF of my TBR stacks. I actually had to buy MORE books for the Banned Books Challenge. That's why you should do the chunkster challenge again ;) so that I can get these big ass books to stop staring at me from the TBR piles!

  6. Chris,

    It was actually quite well written, but the character was so darn frustrating that I just couldn't bear to give the book a high score. Writing alone is pretty worthless if you end up hating the story.

    So far, I've only participated in challenges that I think will help me get the books off the shelves. Yeah, I think it would be a problem having to go out and buy books for a challenge - at least for those of us who already have enough to last a few decades. :)

    What chunksters do you have on the shelves?

  7. Looking right now..the ones that stick out obviously are Orson Scott Card's Saints, Orson Scott Card's Maps in a Mirror, Charles de Lint's Widdershins, Charles de Lint's Someplace to be Flying, Charles de Lint's Tapping the Dream Tree, Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian, and Anne Rice's The Witching Hour (which is back on the TBR pile as a re-read). So not too many, but definitely enough for a challenge ;) I'm sure a few more would qualify, but these all OBVIOUSLY qualify!

  8. Chris,

    I'm only familiar with The Historian, but now I recall seeing a few of those pictured at your blog. Yep, sounds like you could stand a chunkster challenge. I'm not sure I'll do it, again . . . we'll see. I've got a few months to consider, but you'll be among the first to know. :)

    BTW, I'm just dying to read DeLint and it is, of course, all your fault. ;)

  9. :/ I really hope you like him...Now I feel like I built him up too much for you. Oh no! lol....

  10. Naaah. I'll judge him on his own merits, when I get around to reading. I do like Orson Scott Card. So far, I'm only so-so on Neil Gaiman, but I've only read Coraline. I'm working on expanding my horizons a bit; Carl's R.I.P. challenge was a great starting point, but I feel like you're helping me decide where exactly I should go to branch out a little further. :)

  11. That little guy gives me the jiblies. It is pretty cool though.

  12. Hi Bookfool ~ I have really enjoyed doing the challenges, but had decided that I wasn't going to do anymore and do what I could to finish the ones I already joined. I joined them all for different reasons and still want to complete them. (Except one, it goes through June 2008 and when I joined I said I didn't know if I'd follow through.) However, I then thought that what I really wanted to read was another book by a new author I had discovered throughout the year...hence the creation of the 2nds Challenge. I felt like they needed to be "scheduled in" in order for me to read them. (That's sad.) I put it through December so when I'm done with that...I'm done with Challenges for a while. No commitments, no must reads, no time schedules...pure freedom! :)

    This Year of the Challenges has been a lot of fun, but I'm ready for just pleasure reading with nothing attached.

  13. Nik,

    I thought that look was kind of creepy, myself. :)


    I know exactly how you feel. I've seen the "seconds" thing, but not really taken the time to read it. The funny thing is that I decided this year I wasn't going to join in on group reads, for exactly the same reason. I don't want to have the feeling that everything I read is dictated and scheduled. So, I think I may stop being a joiner, for a while, and just see where my reading takes me, once I've finished the two in my sidebar. I'm not even trying to squeeze in the last two for the Spring Reading Thing.

  14. I loved reading Mrs. Mike, and enjoyed The Search for Joyful, so I probably should try reading Kathy Little Bird. However, I'll bet I'd find the Kathy character really irritating, too!

  15. If the challenges are stressing you out then that's not good. I've found that they really help me to get books read that I've had sitting here for a while. I specifically think about what's on my shelves though before I decide to join any specific challenge so it fits in with books I've been wanting to read. I am finding that I do like it when they are more flexible, in that as long as they're on topic, the actual book choices can be chosen or changed according to my mood. You should do what's right for you!

    As for your question about our personal experiences influencing our opinions on what we read, I think our experiences often play a big part in how we relate to a book. I don't think you can escape it. Maybe the only way to review it honestly is to just state what you have a problem with and let others decide if they have the same problem. Of course this isn't always easy without giving away spoilers.

  16. Nancy, that is one awesome shot! You have such a great eye! And I agree with Andi, you really should enter that in a contest. That should be framed!

  17. Robin,

    I loved the writing; I just got really irritated with the character and her focus on becoming a famous singer. Maybe I should at least read about the first two books. I'd hate to judge the co-authors just on this book because it did have an awfully good beginning and there was another character I adored - and I still wish he'd had a larger role!


    I do the same thing, but my mood changes so fast that I don't know whether I'll still be interested in the same books from one day to the next. It doesn't stress me out, though. I substitute indiscriminately to fit my needs. I've just been thinking that my reading isn't changing any. I'm always a moody reader and I often dig through old shelves or piles to find whatever fits my mood. So, I might just opt out of challenges for a time and see whether I think there's any difference - except for the cozy challenge at Not Enough Books. I have a shelf of cozies I need to get through.

    I think you're right; we can't help injecting a little of ourselves into what we read, but we can do our best to be objective and state what we find bothersome in general terms. I think that's what I'll try to do. Assuming I can drag my way through the rest of the book. I'm really enjoying Great Expectations so much that I don't want to touch Held at a Distance, right now!


    Goodness, thank you. :) Hubby wants to get a dozen frames and plaster one whole wall with my nature photos in matching frames. Isn't he sweet?

  18. I am also a moody reader as you say, and do not like having a plan. It seems too much like work then. Having said that, I did join the non-fiction five challenge just to see how I would feel being a part of it. I'm enjoying being part of the group, but it doesn't bother me to be outside the group, so unless a challenge really catches my eye for some reason, I won't be joining more in the near future.

  19. Oh sure, Mr Go to Italy without you is very sweet. Yeah, yeah, work yada yada yada. ;)

    Very cool pic though. That moth looks positively appraising. Bank manager in Bugland?

    Overbooked! Kookiejar is a genius.

    I read pretty much the same way you do, and that's why I think I'm going to go challenge free, it's all starting to feel like homework. All the challenges sounded like much fun and that's why I signed up, but the actual doing it has been less fun.

    And I'm still hoping to finish the ONE book I picked out for the Chunkster challenge by the end of the month - although I do have other (finished) contenders.

  20. Oh my goodness, I had completely forgotten about Mrs. Mike, a book I read when I was a kid. I remember it being really, really sad, and fascinating to me because of the setting, and the hardships the character faced. Too bad this sequel seems to be a disappointment. The character sounds really unappealing. If I read Mrs. Mike again, I wonder if it would hold up?

  21. Tara,

    I think you and Carrie have figured it out; I hadn't thought in such terms, but it does feel a little like challenges are akin to homework - assigned reading, in spite of being the reader's choice. And, yet . . . sometimes they really do help get a few older titles off the shelves. I'm probably just fussing because I'm about to flunk the Spring Reading Thing, but I do think I'll go Challenge Light, for a while. :)


    He's about to be Mr. Go to Australia Without Her. Argh! You can imagine how sweet the husband has suddenly become. He's planning to cook loads of food before he goes (I hate cooking) and I asked, "Are you trying to come home to a fatter wife, or what?" He said, "I'm just hoping I'll come home and find a wife still here." Perceptive, eh?

    Okay, you had me laughing about the "appraising" moth comment. You guys are too funny!

    Kookiejar is an excellent combination of genius and nut, my absolute favorite. :)

    I'm glad to find I'm not the only person who has grown weary of challenges. I'm working on my last chunkster; fortunately, it's a good one, Great Expectations. Earlier today, I told the youngster I'd just gotten to the part where Pip found out he had great expectations and was to go to the tailor for a suit. Kiddo said, "Pip was really kind of annoying, sometimes." Love it when the kid can talk to me about the books I'm reading. :)

  22. Gentle Reader,

    Okay, now you've piqued my interest in Mrs. Mike. :) I like revisiting particular books that I've read several times, but there have been a few that didn't hold up to my memories. You just never know, do you? I thought Kathy Little Bird started out so beautifully that I think that was a part of the disappointment. There's definitely a part of me that would like to give those authors a second chance, merely because of the book's opening.

  23. I'll chime in with the comments on the original Mrs. Mike. I don't remember anything about it specifically, but I do know I read it many moons ago (probably as a teenager?) and really loved it at the time. :)

    I'm kind of a latecomer to the whole reading challenge concept. Carl's fantasy challenge was my first one...I liked it because it got some much craved fantasy books back on my TBR stack. But one challenge at a time is PLENTY for me, thank you very much. Now that I've finished with the fantasy list, I've signed up for the Newbery, and that will probably be it for quite awhile. I want lots of time to make other choices too.

    The reason that I value the "assigned reading" concept, whether it's challenges or bookgroups, is because it exposes me to books I would *never* have chosen otherwise. Left to my own devices, I have a tendency to stay with the eminently comfortable, the same kinda stuff I always read. Challenges and groups make me get outside my box. *grin*

  24. cdnreader,

    I may eventually give Mrs. Mike a go, but there's no reason to go running out to look for it. I have books everywhere. Thanks for chiming in. :)

    I think one challenge at a time sounds good. I haven't fared well on things like group reads; most of them have ended up being books I considered a waste of time, so I'd already decided to ditch group reads at the beginning of the year. And, then, I joined Our Coffee Rings and read The Year of Magical Thinking. Silly me. I couldn't wait to get that book out the door.

    That's an interesting thought - that you'd stay with comfy genres and not break the mold, if not for "assigned" reading. That's not usually a problem for me. There are certain genres I tend to avoid (like horror - I'm prone to nightmares), but I crave variety and can't imagine myself sticking to a safe genre or two, as many people do. Maybe that's another selling point for doing without more than one challenge at a time - and making certain it's a very challenging challenge. I'm pretty sure I'll do the Cozy Mystery Challenge (at Not Enough Books) because I have a shelf of cozies I'm not touching. Seems like that's a reasonable use for a challenge - to knock out one shelf of unread books.

  25. I never finished one of the challenges I wanted to do so I am trying not to add too many more. :) I have the chunkster where I didn't read enough of my own books. Oh, well. I have the non-fiction five, which I have only read one book and it was not even one on my list. I have the banned books which I ma getting through. And then the cozy mystery one and that is good enough for now. :)

  26. Krista,

    The Non-fiction Five goes on forever, so you've still got plenty of time on that one, but I do the same. I'm always substituting and changing out titles based on whatever strikes my fancy at the moment. I've got to do the Cozy Mystery Challenge, though, or I'll never get those cozies off the shelf!! They're just not my favorite thing, so I keep thinking, "Later, later."

  27. I feel for you with your delimma about the review book you are not enjoying. Have you decided what to do? I always worry that I will have that problem with a book I'm expected to review. Do I muddle through? Do I just tell whoever I'm reviewing it for that the book and I are not a good fit? Sometimes the second is the best way to go. And the most honest. You shouldn't force yourself to read anything that you aren't enjoying--especially if you aren't getting paid for it (thinking of all the reports I HAVE to read for work-ugh).

    I agree with your about the Chunkster Challenge. I think it should be counted as a success if someone gives it a go.

    Okay, it's time to get dressed so we can all pile in the car and head for Discovery Kingdom (which in my mind will always be Marine World). Enjoy the rest of your week, Nancy!

  28. Wendy,

    I've mulled a bunch and I think what I'll do is reread the entire book and just try to stay as objective as possible when I turn in the review. Andi doesn't mind a negative review, but I want to try to separate my own experience from the reading, as much as possible - and since I set it aside for so long, I'm going to revisit the first part. Maybe I'll feel a little less annoyed on a second reading. If not, I'll just be honest and say I think it's whiny. :)

    Discovery Kingdom is the new name for Marine World? That seems kind of odd! Hope you have a terrific time!!

  29. Great post! I have been considering tackling Great Expectations.

  30. myutopia,

    Thanks. And, I highly recommend Great Expectations. I'm a little more than halfway finished. It's a fat one and Dickens did have the capacity to write the occasional convoluted sentence, but it's a much faster and more humorous read than I'd anticipated. I think Great Expectations is about to land on my all-time favorites list. :)


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