Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Great and Terrible Beauty

A Great and Terrible Beauty
by Libba Bray

Sometimes catching up on books I've owned for a long time simply means purchasing more books in the end. This book is the first of a trilogy and of course now I must read the other two, right?

When I purchased this book I was not aware of the supernatural aspect of the story, even though it refers to it on the back jacket. Silly me. I was expecting a period piece about a young girl in a British boarding school in the late 1800's. I thought the visions and powers referred to were about social power and status. I was a little put off when I realized the book was indeed of the fantasy/sci-fi genre. However, I carried on and discovered a story I very much enjoyed.

Gemma has been raised in India her entire life and very much wants to go to England to school. When her mother commits suicide she sadly gets her wish only to discover it's not the perfect life she'd been dreaming of.

She finds herself at Spence, a school for young ladies, and feeling much out of place. She tentatively makes friends with some of the girls and together they delve into the supernatural, visiting a realm, another world, of beauty and peace where Gemma finds her mother alive and the forgiveness she seeks.

But of course what appears to be wonderful on the surface has dark and evil currents below and Gemma and her friends are soon in danger.

I was thoroughly entertained by this story and particularly enjoyed the time period it takes place in. This book is found in the young adult section, where I find many enjoyable books. I'm ether young at heart or just never matured into full blown adulthood.

Sundays at Tiffany's

Sundays at Tiffany's
by James Patterson

Another book that has been in my inventory for quite some time. Yes, I am finally trying to work my way through some of those books I've owned since my days as a Barnes & Noble bookseller before I invest in more. I'm only being partially successful, as I still frequent the bookstore and continue to purchase books, but even "partially successful" is better than just letting them sit on my bookshelves unread forever.

Excuse me while I pat myself on the back.

This book was featured as a Lifetime made for TV movie this month. That was my impetus for getting it out and reading it. I very much dislike watching a movie if there is a book to be read first. Books offer so much more insight into the characters. And I will also know if the screenwriter butchered the book or not.

In this case I didn't feel there was too much of a book to be butchered. I'm all for some light fluff in my library, but this was so fluffy it lost most substance. I think the movie version, although quite different in some significant ways, was probably a better story, although I felt the book did a better job of defining an imaginary friend.

As an adult, Jane Margaux becomes reacquainted to the man who was her imaginary friend as a child. The premise of the story is quite fun as we discover the realm and rules of imaginary friends. But the story is totally predictable, which I wouldn't really mind, if it wasn't so full of the same questions repeated over and over again.

It's a quick read and could have been lots of fun, but I don't really recommend it unless you just don't have another book anywhere on hand that interests you.

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

I finished reading Edgar Sawtelle quite some time ago - 2 full books ago actually. I was so mad when I finished this book, I couldn't write a review. Now I hope I still recall enough of it to do so.

I glanced at some (non-spoiler) reviews prior to reading the book and one that stuck in my head in particular referred to the book as one people either hate or love... or have a love/hate relationship with it. That definitely sums up my feelings.

I started Edgar with a lot of hope and enthusiasm. The author writes beautifully and drew such wonderful pictures in my mind. I don't have patience for a lot of detail usually, but I was drawn in by the author and could clearly see the landscape of his book. It was almost like watching a movie and thoroughly enjoyable.

Edgar Sawtelle, the main character of this book is a young mute boy growing up on a rural farm breeding dogs. The dogs they breed are extraordinary. Much of the story revolves around their history and evolution and sometimes does bog down on the details of these mystical dogs.

Edgar, although young has a maturity about him and his role on the farm. He takes his responsibilities very seriously. Tragedy strikes and we watch him deal with his father's death and his mother's subsequent depression. The events that follow kept me cheering on Edgar, worrying for him & his dogs and desperate with curiosity of how it would all be resolved. Edgar is the hero, the champion of his dogs and his mother and I knew he would expose the evil and resolve the issues.

***Spoiler Alert***

It doesn't happen that way. With all the emotion I invested into Edgar's odyssey, he loses the fight. Not only does he lose, everyone loses. There are no winners at the end of this book. Right up until the end I loved the book. Honestly, I hated the ending so much I almost wish I hadn't invested all the time in the first 500 pages.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

I put off buying this book for a quite a while because I kept hearing so many poor reviews of it. "Not as good as her first book" (The Time Traveler's Wife) is inevitably written where ever I looked. That alone was not enough to deter me since a follow-up to TTTW would be very hard to match. But the reviews went further than that and I wondered if I really wanted to read this novel at all. But the synopsis had me hooked and I decided I finally must find out for myself.

The story centers around the lives of twin girls, themselves the daughters of a twin girl. It begins with the death of their aunt (Mother's twin) who they've never met, nor heard of. The twins inherit their aunt's estate and must move from Chicago to London to live in their aunt's flat for a year.

It is in London where the story develops amid the people who were formerly part of the aunt's life. This is a love story, a ghost story, a story of secrets and betrayal. There are some turns and twists, some expected, some maybe not.

Niffenegger's style is very readable and enjoyable. What I get most from other reviews is that readers had enjoyed the first half of the book but not the second half. One was a little more specific and said the first 2/3 as opposed to the last third. I mention the 2/3 vs 1/3 ratio because I believe that is likely the point where most dissenters fell out of the story.

As in TTTW, Niffenegger asks her reader to suspend belief and follow a story that is supernatural in nature. It's not too difficult to do in the beginning when the ghost character is introduced to the story, in fact the introduction of the ghost is quite charming as she discovers what it is to be a ghost. But further developments in the story require the reader to go outside the normal (?) boundaries of suspension of belief. The elements of the story seem no longer feasible or likely, even supernaturally.

I found myself falling down that same rabbit hole, thinking, "Nah, couldn't happen." But in an effort to really continue enjoying Niffenegger, I decided to suspend my beliefs just a bit further and go with it. If skepticism was to destroy my enjoyment of the tale, I should have let it take over much sooner. As long as I had come along this far, why stop now? I decided to play along and go for the entire ride.

I am glad I did. The story didn't play out how I wished it would but that was never the author's intention. It did, however, keep me thinking about the characters and their lives (or deaths) even after I closed the final page.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Me & Emma

Me & Emma by Elizabeth Flock

This story is told through the voice of an eight year old girl, Caroline (Carrie), growing up in a poor family in North Carolina. She and her little sister Emma are taunted for their unkempt appearances and Carrie in particular for her wandering mind. Carrie loves and admires her tough little sister who always seems to rise above the taunts.

Before the story begins, these girls have lost their father. He was the victim of a murder which Emma witnessed. Their mother has remarried a cruel alcoholic drifter. Their lives are full of violence which causes these girls to try to stay as unobtrusive in their home as possible as they watch out for each other. Carrie often drifts back in thought to the happier days when their father was alive.

The book is as easy as talking to an eight year old but as difficult as interviewing the victims of abuse. This book will make you angry and sad. Unfortunately, there is no fairy tale ending.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Night by Elie Wiesel

Night by Elie Wiesel

There is not a lot I can say about this book. It's a holocaust survivor story from a man who was 16 when he was liberated from the camps.

It's horrific. It's terrifying. It's simply stated.

The fact that any man, woman or child had to endure such atrocities is beyond comprehension and probably explains more than anything why the book was written.

It's required reading in many high schools now and I highly recommend it. It seems more pertinent in today's world than ever. Where there is so much hatred toward groups of people, it's so very frightening to see what can happen.

This story differs somewhat from others I have read in that Wiesel expresses more hopeful thinking toward the beginning of his town's eventual evacuation of Jews. If it was reality or his youthful opinion, at each step of narrowing down their world, from complete freedom to living in ghettos, he talks about the Jews thinking things weren't so bad. They had heard and had been warned, but in the beginning they more or less accepted the German invasion and their moves as signs of protection.

There are a few places in the story where Wiesel and his family or father can make some choices. It's particularly heartbreaking when the realization hits of how differently things could have turned out if only the other choice had been made.

The book ends with Wiesel's liberation, leaving me with questions about the females of his family, if his mother or sisters made it through the camps or if he ever heard of their fate.

Eat Pray Love - Elizabeth Gilbert

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

I finished this book over a week ago and I just couldn't bring myself to review it. I loved the book, much more than I ever anticipated I would, but I don't know how to share it.

Gilbert shares a year of her life and whatever background necessary to understand it. The year is spend in Italy, India and Indonesia. The months in Italy are about pleasure, her love of all things Italian and especially the language and food. In India she lives in an Ashram searching for her inner peace. Indonesia, Bali in particular, she "studies" with a medicine man and falls in love.

That's the simple version.

My reluctance to ever start this book was that it just didn't sound interesting. Not only that, but I was a little worried about it being preachy as well.

Not to worry.

The book is completely and totally about Gilbert and her experience. And Gilbert writes in a totally entertaining manner.

What I came away with instead was a desire to travel and immerse myself in another culture. She writes so easily and humorously about her experiences, I wanted to be there, or at least in the country of my own desire having my own experiences.

Each section of her book has it's own personality. "Eat" is about letting herself follow her nose and enjoy everything around her, each and every experience. "Pray" becomes more somber as Gilbert faces her own demons and tries to get herself out of her own way to overcome her life's obstacles. I have to say there were many times in this part of the book I simply wanted to shake her. But I also wanted to experience real mediation and what it could bring to me. "Pray" was so much more informational than "Eat" and I loved the education she gave me. "Love" I have to describe as the afterglow. Gilbert had come a long ways personally when she arrived in Bali and her story was more relaxed. Different from "Eat" in that she didn't seem to be pursuing pleasure as much as just letting her life and her learning be pleasurable.

This book is truly a vicarious pleasure. It left me wanting more in my own life, particularly spiritually. My only peeve about the book? The chapter breaks.

This is going to sound silly and petty but....

Each chapter has a big black dot at the beginning of it, representing a bead. There is a particular symbolism to this and I understand the meaning, it's explained at the beginning of the book. However, where the chapters are particularly short there may be as many as 3 of these "beads" on a page and they jump around.


Maybe it's my astigmatism, or not. But those "beads" flashed at me, black & white and jumped all over the pages. I had to physically cover them with my hand to continue reading.

And that is my only complaint.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

The entire time I spent reading this book one thought kept floating throughout my brain: "Harry Potter goes to College." Although this "college" is hidden away by magic, like Hogwarts, it's more comparable to the real world.

The story's hero, Quentin, is lured to Brakesbill College where only the brightest and most talented are schooled. He is tested and passes the entrance exams with flying colors and thus begins his post high school secondary education. The program is a five year program which Quentin and 2 others are advanced to complete in 4 years.

You may wonder what a magician does after he graduates and is returned to the "real" world. Their secondary education wasn't in the usual studies but their studies do allow them to have or be anything they want. Life is boring and dismal and drugs, alcohol and sex are their main interests. I found this very interesting and also very probable.

Throughout the story there are references to Fillory, a mystical land of which several children's books were written years ago. Quention loved the books of Fillory and has read them so often he knows them backwards and forwards. He and his close Brakebills friends discover that Fillory is real and they set out to have their own adventures in the land they only dreamed of as children. However, the "adventure" in Fillory turns out disastrous and lives are lost.

I am at a loss to say if I would recommend "The Magicians" or not. I thought the author did a good job of looking beyond the magic and evolving the characters as they faced a world that no longer seemed to belong to them. He looks at the question of self worth and self importance from several angles and perspectives. He's made the ability to do magic not only appealing but terrifying as well, if only in terms of questioning what to do with and how to use such a power.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

I don't believe I have reviewed the mystery/crime genre before and I don't really know how to go about it. The emotions evoked by this genre are entirely different than romance, historical, biographical or other genres. There is no crying and no social appall at the actions of the villains. There are villains, of course, but the emotion is of a sharper sort. There is seldom a middle ground, a place where you contemplate if the villain is ignorant and/or misguided, or whether you yourself could conceivably be in the same place if not for the grace of God. No, the villains in this type of a novel are simply evil.

Stieg Larsson created a fascinating tale around the disappearance of a young woman in 1966. It is the first of a series of which he wrote three novels. He had considered these novels his "retirement" fund planning on writing ten. Unfortunately, for us as well as himself, he died prior to completing the series.

Blomkvist is an investigative journalist and has recently been found guilty of libel. His desire is to distance himself from his magazine to allow it to recover as he prepares for his jail time. It's during this period of time he is hired to solve the murder of Harriett Vanger nearly 40 years earlier.

Larsson introduces his audience to a wonderfully entertaining cast of characters. They are complex and well developed. They are people I came to care about or to dislike, making me happy or on edge each time the story came back around to them.

This is not a story that reveals itself too easily. As the mystery comes unravelled I experienced my "Oh-My-God!!" moments but I also had the satisfaction of an occasional "I knew it!" moment, too. If you are a fan of a well written mystery I think you will enjoy Larsson's book, and mourn that he had only written three.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Certain Girls by Jennifer Weiner

"Certain Girls" by Jennifer Weiner

I recently referred to Jennifer Weiner as one of my favorite chic lit authors. I think I did her a disservice. Her novels are filled with themes and issues that are certainly of interest to women but they are nowhere as light as chic lit. I find them a bit meatier.

"Certain Girls" is a sequel to "Good in Bed" picking up Cannie's life several years later. She is now happily married and her daughter, Joy, is a young teen. Joy is aware that she was conceived out of wedlock and her father isn't the man she calls her Dad. After "Good in Bed" left off Cannie became a minor celebrity with publication of a novel that was a fictionalized autobiography, written in anger. Joy decides it's time to covertly read the novel her mother wrote years before and takes it as truth.

Certain Girls is written from both Cannie's and Joy's voices. It looks at adolescence from the confused perspective of a child struggling with too many questions, wondering if her mother truly didn't want her, why her birth father disappeared, who her mother really is - the woman in the novel? - and much more. She is a daring and brave young girl with too many misconceptions. It also looks at the bewilderment of a mother who couldn't love her daughter more as she is excluded from a life she wants desperately to protect.

Unlike chic lit, Jennifer Weiner doesn't tie up her novel with a pretty ribbon and give us the perfect ending to a perfect story. The ending is satisfying but as in real life, lacks happily ever after.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman

"Saving CeeCee Honeycutt" by Beth Hoffman

I picked this up on audio at the library for listening to in my car. Unfortunately, I just don't travel alone in my car often enough... I had to bring it inside and listen while I crafted. It was a good choice.

CeeCee Honeycutt is a young girl with a mentally ill mother and a father who has quite successfully distanced himself from a bad situation through his sales job. Caring for her mother has fallen to her with all it's problems and embarrassments. When her mother dies in an unfortunately "accident" CeeCee's father chooses to send her off to Savannah to live with her great aunt. Poor CeeCee hating her dead mother for her illness and hating her father for not wanting her, bravely ventures forth into her new life.

The story reminds me of the writing of Fanny Flagg, full of wonderful quirky characters brought to life on each page and endearing themselves to us and CeeCee who eventually realizes the truth in her father's words, "Someday you'll thank me for this." Indeed, through the summer following her mother's death, CeeCee meets a charming variety of new friends who become her "family" and comes to trust that loving the present as well as the past is good.

CeeCee Honeycutt gets a thumbs up from me.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Super by Jim Lehrer

"Super" by Jim Lehrer

I am a listener of NPR and often attracted to the author interviews and book reviews. That is how I stumbled upon "Super." Listening to Jim Lehrer talk of the old time trains that were luxury land yachts seemed quite fascinating and I really wanted to read about them. The book itself though was less than fascinating.

The Super Chief train from Chicago to LA was considered the train of the stars. The story is based on an actual train and movie types that rode it in it's hey day. But the timing of the story is nearing the end of the train's hey day. The mystery presented in the story is short and quickly solved with little fan fare.

I am happy it was a short book and I invested only a little time. I think the story could have been richer but really fell short.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Pact, by Jodi Picoult

The Pact, by Jodi Picoult

I finished this book a week or two ago and I still don't know how to review it.

The pact refers to a suicide pact by two teens who have known each other literally all their lives. Emily was born shortly after Chris. Their families were neighbors and good friends. The two children were always together and essentially raised together. The families hoped they would fall in love and marry as adults.

The book starts with the suicide, which only takes the life of Emily and leaves Chris alive. The reader is taken through the horrible moments when the parents discover their children have been hurt or killed and the confusion that surrounds the situation. Soon Chris is charged with Emily's "murder" and goes to trial.

We move back and forth between the present and the past. In the past we glimpse bits and pieces of Emily and Chris's relationship, as carefree children growing into young adults. We learn of secrets that are never revealed to anyone, not even between the closest of friends. We also come to know what secrets or feelings are just too scary to share even with the person you love the most.

In the present we follow the anguish of the families and the torture Chris feels. It's not long before the reader realizes there was no suicide pact and begins to draw her/his own conclusions, or fear what may unbelievably be true.

There is no happy ending in this kind of book. How could there ever be unless the characters can be raised from the dead? Picoult is a good writer and takes the reader through all sorts of probable emotions that would be associated with this story. And through her telling of it, we see the best of people and the worst of people and find hope that eventually alludes us. It's a very sad story but worth reading.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Loose Girl: A Memoir of Promiscuity

The title pretty much says it all. I had briefly looked at this book at Target a while back and rejected it. Soon after that a friend of mine sent it to me and at a time that I was having difficulty picking out my next book, I found myself starting it.

Reading Ms. Cohen's story is rather like reading someone's personal diary... you know you shouldn't and you really want to put it down but you keep on reading. Even so, you feel a little tainted and disturbed with yourself as much as the author.

Ms. Cohen dives right in with her first tentative experiences with sex. She continues with her adolescent views of her dysfunctional family: a distant mother, both literally and figuratively, an emo uncommunicative suicidal sister, and a 'hip, I do drugs and party along with my daughter' father. Her young life is consumed with drugs, parties, finding boys and having no rules.

Not much changes through her high school years, college years and post grad years. When she does find men who love her she eventually destroys the relationship.

Probably the most disappointing thing about reading this memoir was Ms. Cohen's apparent decision that she was simply done with it. Not just the book, but the lifestyle as well. Although she participated in counselling for many years, she seems to just one day decide that she doesn't need men to define her or complete her any longer and she stops. Somehow she figures it all out, gets married and..... The End. Epilogue: Mom & sister weren't the evil people she always thought they were and Dad is actually pretty pathetic.

It was an easy, unsettling read and I was compelled keep reading, but my final feeling was simply that this book lacked real substance. It pretty clearly outlined a troubled life, but the happy ending came rather suddenly and unexpectedly.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Girl Who Chased the Moon

The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen
I love Sarah Addison Allen. I fell in love with her style of writing with her very first book, Garden Spells. Her whimsical magical style carried through into The Sugar Queen. I waited and waited and waited for The Girl Who Chased the Moon to be published with great anticipation.

I enjoyed TGWCTM, but not with the same enthusiasm I read my way through her first two books. Some of the magical was just right. Some was too much. The town she created was delightful, I'd visit in a heartbeat. But the townspeople were not well developed. The personalities did not grow to overcome their oddness. In this respect I felt let down. I felt the author pushed too hard in one direction, just right in another, and not enough in a third.

The story is about a young girl, Emily, who comes to this town to live with a grandfather she never knew she had. He is a giant of a man. He's either shy or reclusive, I am not sure which, although he does go out for breakfast every day. The awkwardness between him and his newly found granddaughter plays out just a little too well, as I never felt comfortable with the character myself.

Emily soon discovers that the townspeople hated her mother. Their hate was based on her youth as a selfish and cruel young girl. They believed her actions led to the suicide of a young man from one of the town's finest families. However, the mother Emily knew was involved in every cause possible to make the world a better place. The two personalities of one woman did not mesh.

The secrets of the town and the mystery of her mother's past are uncovered as the story progresses. The whimsical touches that endear me to this author are of a character who can see the sweet smell of baking as a flowy, glittery breeze.

The other main character of the story is a woman who returns to the town to settle her father's estate and pay off his debts. Her plan is to leave the town again when she's accomplished this. She also has secrets and a past to be discovered as her own history is revealed.

I am not saying I didn't enjoy The Girl Who Chased the Moon, but I will say my expectations were higher.

Friday, March 5, 2010

"The Help" by Kathryn Stockett

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Set in the early 1960's in Jackson, Mississippi this novel deals with the culture of southern white people and their attitudes toward blacks, many of whom are their domestic help. The central figure, Skeeter, is a young college graduate looking for more out of life than what is expected of her, marriage, children, charity work, tennis, etc. She knows she is different from her friends who have married and started their families and are on their way to becoming the next generation of the women their mothers were.

Skeeter is challenged to find a topic that inspires passion in her to write about. She eventually decides to write the stories of the town's domestic help, exposing what it is like to be a second class citizen, thought to be less intelligent and carry diseases that would harm white people. Finding women who will tell their stories is just the first challenge. The south at this time is a violent, unsafe place for any colored person who does not know his place and behave accordingly.

Skeeter herself was raised by a black woman for whom she holds very strong affection. When she returns home from college this woman she loves is gone, no longer working for her family, and no one will tell her why she left. She begins to see the dichotomy of hiring people who her class thinks of as "dirty" to clean their homes, prepare their meals and even raise their children. And worse, the love the children and domestic help feel for each other slips away as the children in turn fill the roles of the parents and assume the same attitudes toward the help.

Skeeter's project becomes a reality and a way is established for the help and Skeeter to come together to record their stories. Tension builds through the book with events such as the slaying of Medgar Evers, local violence and the constant worry of the eventual affect of the published book.

Stockett tells the story through the voice of Skeeter and two black women, Aibilene and Minny. I felt she did a good job portraying each of these women, not only in their different skins, but their different cultures, both socially and personally. As much as the story dealt with the race issue, it also explored a culture that can only exist as long as all minds think alike and the ostracisim that must take place of a diverse view.

I loved the book and it's story. I experienced a wide variety of emotions, crying for pain and joy, laughing, cheering and jeering. The characters were convincing and believable. The ending was both sad and hopeful and I find myself wandering back into that world and wondering what they are all doing now.

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Reliable Wife

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick

This was a very interesting read. Sometimes disturbing in content sometimes too repetitive in emotional descriptions, but captivating nonetheless.

The story is told in three parts. The time is winter 1906. The main location is frozen, barren Wisconsin. The "feel" is England, circa "Oliver Twist."

Mr. Truitt, a wealthy widower consumed with his loneliness, mistakes of the past, and his abhorrent sexuality, advertises for a reliable wife. Catherine, an aging courtesan, responds to his ad representing herself as a simple and honest woman. It's obvious at once when they meet that she is not who she pretends to be, but she carries out the charade, marries him and plans his death so she can inherit his fortune.

Mr. Truitt reveals his ugly secrets to Catherine and makes her an implicit part of trying to amend his past. He sends her off to St. Louis to bring his lost son home to him.

There are some nice twists in the story and despite my annoyance at the repetitive nature of some of the writing, I think it ultimately provides the feel the author wants the reader to experience of the desperation of the characters. Through the twists and turns I felt hopeful for these characters, despite their ugly pasts. I found myself wishing for the happy fairy tale ending and then feeling it too far gone to be reached. The author ultimately brought to life characters that have worked their magic on me and made me care for them and continue to think of them long after the last pages have been devoured.

Monday, February 15, 2010

My Dilemma

So many books so little time!

I started "Merle's Door" and then got sidetracked away by a book a group of us decided to read together, "Wench." When I finished "Wench" I went back to "Merle's Door." In the meantime I decided I wanted to read a finance book I heard an interview about on NPR. Also picked up some books on nutrition and after my Mom passed away last week a friend suggested "Loving What Is" by Byron Katie.

As if that were not enough, I stopped in at Borders with my brother, sister-in-law and Alyssa to pick up birthday presents and visit Krissy. Silly me, I asked Krissy what books they are 'pushing' right now and she showed me. One, "The Lost City of Z, A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon" immediately appealed to me after having just read "The River of Doubt." I had to have it! The other is "A Reliable Wife." I had to have that one, too!!

I am currently overwhelmed by my book obsession. I had to return "Loving What Is" since I found it already on my book shelf and rather than just take a cash refund I purchased "The Help" which has been recommended by the group that read "Wench."

I don't know where to start but I think I'll drop "Merle" off the list for now. I'm just not finding him quite exciting enough to keep me entertained. Thank goodness I am becoming snowed in. Perhaps I'll find time for them all!

Friday, February 5, 2010


"Wench" by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

This book was suggested by an online friend who had listened to the author's interview on NPR. Several of us got copies and decided to do an online discussion. I just finished the book this evening. The discussion is still pending. I wasn't sure if I wanted to review it before or after the discussion, but obviously I have chosen "before."

The story occurs in 1850's Ohio at a resort called Tawawa. Southern "Gentlemen" rent out the cottages at this resort in order to keep their slave entourages with them. As Ohio was a free state only their most trusted slaves accompanied the men to Tawawa each summer. The main hotel is filled with northern guests who find the Southern men with their slaves distasteful.

Lizzie, Reenie, Sweet & Mawu are the female slaves/sexual property of four of the southern men. Each of these women has a similar yet very different relationship with her master. Lizzie is the youngest and most naive. It's through her eyes we see the story. She believes her love for her master is reciprocated by him. She has born his only two children and she lives an awkward but relatively comfortable life in his home. Reenie is the oldest of the four and had only one child who was sold off. Her master is not kind. Sweet is pregnant with her fifth child at Tawawa. Her other children are still together on the plantation, not taken from her and sold off. Her master seems mostly indifferent to her as a person, being neither exceptionally kind, nor cruel. Mawu had four children, three of which had been sold off by her master. Her master was violent and cruel and seemed to want her only because she hated him so much.

Being in a free state, the slaves consider running, except for Lizzie who feels security in her position and cannot fathom never seeing her young children again, let alone never knowing what could happen to them as a result of her running.

Three summers of visits are recounted in the novel displaying the interactions between the slaves, their masters and their desires. The book is an easy read, both fascinating and disturbing. It's easy to imagine the emotional turmoil the women have been through and fear recurring as well as the physical violence that wreaks havoc at a moment's notice.

This novel is well worth your time. Thumbs up.
Afterthought: I would be interested to hear from anyone that has read this novel as to their take on the jacket photo. I felt it was misleading about what was to expect. Anyone have any ideas how it ties in?

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The River of Doubt by Candice Millard

"The River of Doubt Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey" by Candice Millard

I absolutely loved this book. It is well written and riveting.

The author brings the characters to life with histories and background information on each throughout the book, allowing us to get to know each of them as if we were travelling the River of Doubt along with them.

This glimpse into Roosevelt's life has inspired me to pick up "Mornings on Horseback" by David McCullough to learn more. He is a fascinating central character in this book, but is portrayed as a man who was truly liked and loved by most all who met him. Although full of self confidence and bigger than life, he did not hold himself up as someone who is unapproachable or above those he travelled with.

The Amazon was described in fantastic detail, bringing the vegetation and it's human & animal inhabitants to life in beautiful and terrifying vividness. Steven King could not have imagined or created more terrifying scenes or creatures. The river full of flesh eating fish & cayman, millions of insects and flies carrying untold potential for disease, the jungle of millions of species of floral & fauna that seems to exist as a single organism. Descriptions and truths that make the readers' skin crawl.

The story is told beginning with the failed run for a 3rd term as President, presenting Roosevelt's frame of mind as the trip to South America presents itself and the potential for adventure and exploration. We are introduced to the main characters and the serious flaws in planning. After the trip down the River of Doubt the author continues with short synopsis of each main character quite nicely wrapping it all up with a bow.

I highly recommend this book. It's a good read taking you to a place you may never had been before.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


"Rumors" by Anna Godbersen

"Rumors" is the second in a series of teen romance novels set in 1899 Manhattan. The women are beautiful, rich & young, the darlings of the social scene.

We follow the lives of the same characters presented to us in book one, Penelope, nuveau rich and cunning. Diana, from an old family but on the verge of destitution, Elizabeth, secretly living with her former servant/lover in California after faking her death, Carolina, a servant girl with aspirations of granduer, and Henry, the male figure that in one way or another unites them all.

I didn't care for the style of the first few chapters which, being the burden of the second novel in a series, revisited many of the events of book one to bring the uninitiated reader up to date. Somehow I think this needs to be avoided to the extent it was used. If a reader were to pick up this book without first reading "Luxe" then they simply need to read "Luxe" to get up to speed and the author can stop boring me with repetitous details.

The other fault I find with the writing of this story, both in book one and book two, is the time frame of the events. On one had the author will refer to events "several months" in the past and yet in reality is refering to October while it's currently Christmas time, barely two months. And being Christmas time, even the current events are much too swiftly occuring to be believable.

Putting my peeves aside, the book was a fun read, however a bit drawn out. I surely thought the character of Carolina would have been more substantial for the effort of writing her into the story. Maybe time will tell with her story in book three. As for this book, she was the servant girl in love with the servant boy, Will, who ran away with Elizabeth. She thought her only failure in capturing his interest was in being less than Elizabeth was in her social standing. But once she felt she could honestly call herself a lady, she decided being with Will would be a step backwards after all.

Henry is the pivot for which Diana and Penelope revolve around. He seems to have finally fallen in love (rather than lust) and desires a real relationship with Diana. His previous engagement to Diana's sister Elizabeth, who is believed to be dead, prevents their love. Meanwhile, Penelope has always desired Henry and helped Elizabeth fake her death to be with Will and freeing Henry up for herself. Who will win? Will it be the sweet love of Henry & Diana or will it be the cunning of Penelope? One of these two ladies is married to Henry by the end of the book.

For me, I am moving away from Gossip Girl circa 1899 for a while and partaking in some non-fiction. Next up - "The River of Doubt" by Candice Millard

Sunday, January 10, 2010

What I've Already Read & Reviewed (prior to 2013)

This is simply the list of books by title that I have read and reviewed through this blog site. If you wish to see what I had to say, including any comments of my followers, just click on the book title.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

My Wish List of Reading

Not so much a blog, this one, but a list of books I've either seen, heard about or have been recommended to me. I have zero memory so this is my go to place when I am stuck for a good read... like that'd ever happen!

The list will change over time as I add more and subtract the ones I've read. Please feel free to leave comments to offer up your own suggestions or your opinions of books you see here. I'd love the feed back!

There is so much more, but that is my start for now. Please feel free to offer suggestions based on what you've enjoyed.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Missed the Mark?

I was waiting for my daughter to check out while purchasing her text books and noticed a literary magazine with a subtitle, "A Strong Cup of Coffee and a Good Book" or something like that.

I immediately coveted those words!!

Now I want to change the title of this blog. I doubt I can change the url, but I am not happy with the title. I'm thinking of "The Caffeinated Reader." Not quite ready to commit to it, though.

Offer me some more ideas... there could be a gift card involved if I choose a title you submit.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

I Can Hardly Wait!

March 16, 2010.

That's the release date of The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen. I loved her first two books and I can hardly wait for this, her 3rd.

Wish I was still working where I could get a hold of those advance reader copies!