In 1842, Phineas T. Barnum purchased the Scudder Natural History Museum in New York City with plans to make it into a showcase of the world's wonders. Filling the building with treasures and curiosities in order to fascinate and marvel the general population becomes his passion.
Ana Swift, the world's only giantess, moves into the apartments on the 5th floor of the museum as one of Barnum's employees. Her job is simply to walk among the visiting crowds each day in the museum.
Guillaudeu is the aging taxidermist who has spent his career in Scudder's museum and balks at the transformation of the museum under the new ownership.
Stacy Carlson's new novel Among the Wonderful is the story of Barnum's museum, the curiosities and the people who work and live inside it's walls. With gracious and fine writing, Carlson opens up and displays Barnum's spiraling and mysterious museum with it's hidden galleries and human treasures. While the people who inhabit it are what the world called "freaks" and Barnum called "wonders", a hirsute woman, Siamese twins, albinos, natives, dwarfs, and giants, Carlson writes of them with a profound human touch, turning the reader from the voyeuristic tourist to the sympathetic and accepting soul.
The characters are richly developed and vastly different from the stereotypes that inhabit most stories about carnivals, fairs and circuses. Ana, the giantess, is so lovingly portrayed in all her heartache, hope and pain that she will be a literary character I will not soon forget. Guillaudeau, too, is a timeless character dealing with the very universal human emotions of aging, loss and dealing with change. His own metamorphosis is interesting to watch even as he bemoans the vast and sweeping changes in the museum.
With skill and style, Carlson takes a foot note of history and works it into a lovely and sweeping novel. Carlson excells as a story teller but proves herself, even more, as a compassionate and thoughtful observer of the human condition.
It took me longer than I expected to read The Butterfly Cabinet by Bernie McGill. I had trouble getting into it and then I had trouble finishing it. I'm also having trouble finishing the review. This is my third and hopefully final attempt.
The Butterfly Cabinet is a novel based on a true crime in Ireland from the late 1800's. A child is locked in a closet as a punishment and dies. Her mother is sentenced to prison for murder. The basic plot intrigued me immediately.
The novel alternates between two narrators--the mother's prison journal and the house maid's recollections to the granddaughter of the murderer, neither of which I particularly cared much for.
The author uses language to her benefit. She has a lovely way of describing the situation and excels at exposing the secrets, fears, and thoughts of two very different women. There are multiple sentences so lyrical that I had to stop and read them again. The prose is delicate and kind while revealing the darker parts of a person's life.
The novel delves deeply into the themes of motherhood and marriage. There is much to think about regarding a mother's love and the line between abuse and punishment.
However, this novel was less than enthralling for me. The suspense fell flat and I was disappointed by the ending that didn't seem to fully fit with the mother's earlier persona and actions.
It was the title of the book that initially caught my attention. Ellis Island and the stories of the immigrants that came through it's doors hoping for a better life has always intrigued me. Each one of the millions of immigrants has his or her own story and author Kate Kerrigan tells the tale of just one Irish girl and her motivation for leaving her home country to come to the United States of America.
Ellis Island a novel by Kate Kerrigan is the story of Ellie Hogan, a smart and determined young woman who sets of to America after her beloved husband is injured as a soldier in the Irish Republican Army. Since John is unable to walk and in need of an expensive surgery, Ellie emigrates to America to work as a maid for a rich socialite. She sends nearly every penny home to her family in Ireland.
Devoted to her family, Ellie also becomes enamored with her new life and comforts in New York City. She further educates herself, finds a new job and is on the verge of living the American Dream. To complicate matters, a wealthy young man falls for Ellie and offers her every luxury she could ever imagine. Where does Ellie belong? In her new comfortable life in America or in Ireland with the ones she loves?
Ellie is a likable yet very real character. She is smart and not easily swindled. She stands up for herself yet walks the line of propriety standard for the period. She has personal integrity and yet she is also human and vulnerable to temptation. Kate Kerrigan has created a very empathetic and believable character. I found myself moved by Ellie's plight and rooting for her throughout the novel.
The plot is well paced and structured. Kerrigan's descriptions of the both rural Ireland and New York City in the 1920's paint a detailed picture of the period. She equally well describes the poverty and the glamour while staying true to Ellie's character and the story.
Well written, Ellis Island by Kate Kerrigan is one to add to your to-read list if you enjoy period dramas and character-driven novels. ...more
I am pleased to introduce a guest blogger/reviewer today. Neal, my ten year old son, is willingly writing this review to earn a later bedtime (because I'm cruel like that).
My mom read The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick to us in the car while we were going on trips this summer. It is a book about a twelve-year-old boy trying to save his brother who was recruited to fight for the Union in the Civil War when he was underage. Homer has many adventures. At one point he's trapped in a pen of pigs and becomes part of a small traveling circus as the "Amazing Pig Boy". Homer likes Professor Fleabottom, who runs the circus, but he might not be who he says he is. He escapes in a silk reconnaissance balloon only to discover that he's landed on the wrong side of the war.
This is a very interesting and funny book. I learned a lot about the Civil War. Homer is a daring and brave kid. He and his brother are orphans so his brother is the only family he's got. He is very good about getting out of scary situations. He thinks quickly on his feet and he can sure tell a whopper. Homer is also very smart.
I recommend this book to anyone from 10 to 95 years old. Actually my five-year-old brother liked it too.
In history class we learn of the importance and influence the Supreme Court decision on Dred Scott's case had on the United States of America and Lincoln. Eventually the country would resort to war.
Years earlier, in the 1830's, a free black woman living in Pennsylvania with her free husband and free children was kidnapped by a bounty hunter, taken to Maryland and sold into slavery. Margaret Morgan's life would never be the same. She would taste and know all the bitterness and evil associated with slavery.
All Different Kinds of Free, a novel by Jessica McCann tells Margaret Morgan's story for the first time. Who was this woman who dared to stand up for her own rights and take her case to court?
The case Prigg vs. Pennsylvania would go to the Supreme Court. It's decision flamed the fire of hostility between the free and slave states. The case gets barely a mention in history and I had never even heard of Margaret Morgan before. In this novel, McCann brings the courageous Margaret Morgan and her personal misery to life. In doing so, McCann tells the passionate and desperate story of every slave and the dream for freedom.
McCann writes well. She is especially effective of drawing out the emotion and the feeling of absolute helplessness and hopelessness in the reader. Yet Margaret Morgan refuses to give in to this feeling. Her strength of character is refreshing and admirable. The story is captivating and enthralling and enlightening. It was a dark period in the nation's history and McCann writes to remind us.
All Different Kinds of Free is a powerful, well written novel that tells the story of a truly remarkable woman. ...more
Several years ago my brother-in-law suggested that I read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. I added it to my to-read list which is approximately 400 books long at present. It wasn't until the last few weeks when I fell in love with Lisa See's books Shanghai Sisters and Dreams of Joy, that I knew I would have to read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan very, very soon. My friend, who has also recently become a fan of Lisa See, and I conspired together to read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan for our neighborhood book club. That would give me an excuse to buy it and bump it up on my to-read-immediately list.
Lily and Snow Flower are just small girls living in nineteenth century China when they are bound together as laotongs or "old sames" by an influential Match Maker. Contractually, they will be closer than best friends for their entire lives. They begin the process of having their feet bound on the same day. Their relationship and love for each other continues to grow as they prepare their dowries together and look forward to marriage. Even following their marriages, the two women will be closer to each other than to anyone else. They love each other intensely, until a misunderstanding drives a bitter and heartbreaking wedge between them.
I already knew Lisa See was a fabulous writer and so I wasn't surprised how fully developed the characters are in the this novel. I likewise was not surprised by the powerful emotions evoked while reading this story. Lisa See is gifted at making the reader care and care deeply. I believe even the most cynical person could not resist becoming emotionally involved in this story.
While I read the sections about the feet binding process, I cringed as I read of the young girl's agony and I imagined my own daughters' perfect feet. How could a mother do this? And yet not do it knowing the consequences? I practically ran to the computer to Google "Foot Binding" and found websites that documented the stories of women who had the feet bound when they were children.
While the Chinese historical and cultural aspects of this novel are absolutely fascinating, there are many other powerful and still pertinent aspects of human nature within the story that beg to be discussed, such as Mother Love, friendship, loyalty and betrayal.
Originally published in 2005 and intensely popular, I'm sure that Snow Flower and the Secret Fan has already been read by many book clubs. I'm definitely looking forward to discussing it with mine. A movie based on the book is releasing in select theaters very soon, so I'm sure we will see another surge of popularity for this novel. It really is fantastic. Get it. Read it. Soon.
My father-in-law has a simple note pinned to the door that leads to his garage. It reads : THINK. The simple word is meant to help him remember the things he needs to take with him when he leaves the house to run errands. One final reminder to check to make sure he didn't forget the checks he needs to deposit at the bank or the the books he means to return to the library.
Lisa Bloom's recently published book Think : Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in A Dumbed-Down World is a reminder for women to use our brains. Quite simply, to think.
You probably already know Lisa Bloom. I didn't. I don't watch television and so I haven't seen her as a legal analyst on shows like The Early Show and Dr. Phil's or on CNN. I just got acquainted with her in this book. Ms. Bloom and I are on opposite sides of the political spectrum. We don't see eye-to-eye on many issues. However, on a few very important things we absolutely agree.
First, we both agree that women are smart. Women have amazing brains and are capable of doing most everything. Unfortunately, so many of us fail to use our brains to think. As Bloom points out in her book, too many women become overly enmeshed and concerned with pop culture. We know everything about the personal lives of celebrities, yet ignore the crises and horrors taking place around the world. We are too focused and spend too much time and money on our appearance, even risking our lives and health for dangerous procedures and the perfect tan. And many women think it is actually better to be "hot" than "smart". One third of the population won't read a single book after graduating from high school. SAY IT ISN'T SO!
As Bloom writes in her hard-hitting, honest style, it's hard not to be defensive. Really. Even so, her arguments ring true and even though I think I use my brain quite a bit, I know there are always ways I can use it more. Obviously.
In spite of our political differences, by the time I got to the section about books (hello! read more good books, people), I felt like Lisa Bloom and I were old friends chatting about our favorites. She and I also have similar parenting styles or at least a style I am attempting to apply in my home. Bloom even mentions my personal favorite parenting expert Wendy Mogel. (Read my review of her fabulous book The Blessing of a Skinned Knee.)
Lisa Bloom is funny. She points out the obvious with a wicked wit. I chuckled out loud several times and then read whole sections aloud for Utah Dad's enjoyment and enlightenment.
Bloom's advice is brilliant and simple and frankly rather straight forward if you think about it. Following her suggestions and using your brain more will help you be happier, smarter and will even help the world be a better place. You have a brain. Use it.
Nia is destined to be queen someday even though no one, including herself, wants her to wear the crown. Full of self-doubt, Nia struggles against theNia is destined to be queen someday even though no one, including herself, wants her to wear the crown. Full of self-doubt, Nia struggles against the plots and intrigue in her land. At least, she has one true supporter - Garreth, who has sworn an oath to protect Nia.
The tale is creative and promising. There were some surprises within the story. However, the characters seemed to lack any real dimension and the relationships were unbelievable. There is nothing within the story to back the intense love that Nia supposedly has for her fiance Andras.
The book would have benefitted from careful editing, deeper character development and a tighter plot. This is the author's first novel and I'm sure she will continue to hone and improve her skill as a writer....more
Henry Bright has survived World War I with the special help of an angel that he takes home with him after the war. The angel tells Bright what to do and Bright obeys. Now, Bright is the father of a newborn son. His dear wife is dead and his revengeful father-in-law is chasing him through the woods of West Virginia. But the angel has a plan.
Song-writer turned novelist, Josh Ritter writes a captivating and beautiful story with unique characters and a touch of the super-natural in his first novel Bright's Passage. I imagine that as a song-writer, Ritter has honed his skills with lyrics. Writing a song, one is limited by length and must choose the perfect few words to create all the emotion and meaning of a song. With these skills, Ritter has created a story that is succinct and yet not diminutive. In fact, his use of the language is stirring and lovely.
Often humorous, Bright's Passage is also mysterious. Ritter gives the reader just enough information to keep the reader turning the pages in suspense and anxiety. He builds the palpable tension through brief yet effective scenes of the past and the dogged pursuit and flight of Henry Bright and his tiny son. However, the ending feels incomplete and some of the questions and mysteries are left unanswered.
Bright's Passage is also a novel that has left me a bit perplexed and it is completely possible that my views and opinions of the novel will change as I have more time to reflect on the characters, plot and themes. The novel is short enough that I may have to read it again.
One thing remains, Josh Ritter has a way with words and this compelling novel is a standard to his extreme talent.
I received a beautiful, hardbound, colorfully illustrated copy of Heidi (Children's Classics) when I was just a girl. I had broken my hip in an accideI received a beautiful, hardbound, colorfully illustrated copy of Heidi (Children's Classics) when I was just a girl. I had broken my hip in an accident with my horse and my great-aunt sent it to me to read while I recovered. Unfortunately, I never read it then. But I cherished the book and packed it with me every time I moved.
Now, as a mother to three young girls, we chose Heidi as our bedtime read the last few months. We all enjoyed every word as I read this delightful and inspiring tale aloud to my girls. I was pleasantly surprised by the simplicity and sweetness of Heidi and the goodness of the characters throughout the book. The idea that one little girl can touch so many hearts, is a lovely reminder of the goodness of children.
I also liked the frequent mention and gratitude for a loving Heavenly Father and the blessings He gives. I'm glad that I finally took the time to read this story. ...more
Let me just start out by saying that I LOVED Dean Hughes's Children of Promise series. I've read them several times. I've made Utah Dad read them and my parents. They're really really good.
So, I had high hopes for Midway to Heaven, my neighborhood book club pick for May. After all, they made it into a movie.
I read the first chapter while I waited for Neal to get his bottom braces on at the orthodontist's office last week. And then I put it aside and read Slaughterhouse-Five instead. I really didn't think I would ever pick it up again. But my friend wanted to borrow it and I figured I should give it one more chance before I passed it on to her.
Ned is still grieving his wife's early death, when his daughter brings home a "friend" for the Thanksgiving holiday. It is quickly apparent that David is more than a friend. Ned is immediately wary of David. He's too cute. Too smart. Too good at everything. Too good to be true. And definitely not good enough for Ned's daughter Liz.
I had to skim through this book. It was a cute story but it just didn't deserve this much and the conversations Ned carries on with his dead wife are too weird and repetitive--we get it, Ned' wife thinks he should marry again and she likes David. I ended up skipping them completely. I realize dads go through some of these emotions when their daughters are getting married (some more than others) but this dad is just too kooky. The conversations and relationships are unbelievable and forced.
True to form, this book is squeaky clean and it will probably make you feel warm and fuzzy.
For years my only association with Kurt Vonnegut was from the Rodney Dangerfield movie Back to School. In case your husband hasn't forced you to watch it numerous times (help me!), I'll give you a quick synopsis. Dangerfield plays the part of a successful and rich business owner who goes back to college to help support his wimpy and struggling son. Only, Dangerfield discovers that he prefers college-style partying to studying so he pays Vonnegut (playing himself in the movie) to come and write a paper about himself for his English course. He fails the assignment because as the professor (and love interest) claims, obviously Dangerfield didn't write the paper himself and whoever did write the paper didn't understand the first thing about Vonnegut.
My long-distance book club that I maintain with former college roommates added Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five to our reading list last summer, but we fizzled out and didn't get to it. So we decided to try it again this year. I didn't know what to expect. Honestly, because of the title, I have confused it with Sinclair's The Jungle for years. Surely it has something to do with our meat industry. Right?
It's not like that. At all.
Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five is funny and irreverent and shocking and hysterical and moving and poignant and seriously disturbing. I enjoyed every minute.
And just so you know, Vonnegut is a creative genius nutcase. Oh and he swears. A lot.
Will Allison's second novel Long Drive Home is the story of one bad decision. One second. One reaction. And the many consequences that follow.
It could happen to any one of us and perhaps that is what makes this novel so powerful. Get behind the wheel of a car and suddenly many of us seem to forget that there are other real people driving the other cars on the road. The dangerous driver speeding and weaving in and out of traffic on the freeway without a care for the safety of others can make us angry. How do you react?
In Long Drive Home, Glen gives in to his road rage. He only means to scare the reckless driver. His one quick action will cause a deadly reaction by the teenage driver and set in motion a series of events and decisions that will drastically change Glen and his family's lives.
Will Allison writes well and has the gift of brevity, which is nice for a change. His style is simple yet brilliant and he has a deep understanding of the human mind and conscience. It is a powerful, frightening and riveting tale.
In this novel, Allison created believable and realistic characters and puts them in a situation where one man's ethics, responsibility and honesty will be tested to the limits. A person's true character and values emerge in the crisis and the natural instincts to place blame, to escape, and to hide the truth can unfortunately replace a person's integrity. A person's actions have consequences that affect others.
Honestly, it was at times a painful novel to read but it did inspire a lot of thought about how I hope I would handle a similar situation. I've been talking with my husband about the various issues brought up in the book and because of the various topics to discuss, including roles and loyalty in marriage, Long Drive Home would be an excellent choice for a book club.
For those who care, this novel is also refreshingly free of possibly offensive material such as foul language and intimate scenes.
By the way, the cover of this book uses the same picture that a recently published YA novel used. Don't be confused.
I received a free copy of the book from the publishers in return for my honest review. I received no additional compensation. ...more
I heard the quick and familiar knock on the door a few weeks ago. The UPS delivery man was already walking back to his truck when I opened the front dI heard the quick and familiar knock on the door a few weeks ago. The UPS delivery man was already walking back to his truck when I opened the front door and found another package on my porch. I opened the package to discover an absolutely beautiful book. The cover was red and the simple title in white caught my eye -- MOM.
How could I resist this book? The answer is simple. I couldn't.
MOM : A Celebration of Mothers from StoryCorps edited by Dave Isay is a delightful collection of interviews about mothers.
I rarely listen to NPR so I was unfamiliar with StoryCorps. According to the introduction in the book, several years ago StoryCorps set up a small recording studio in Grand Central Station and then in other public places around the country. They were hoping that people would venture inside, interview each other and share their personal stories. The project was remarkably successful.
This book is a collection of thoughts, feelings and stories about moms that were gleaned from these interviews. When I first received the book, I read a quick story here and there when I had a spare moment. Today, I planned to do the same. Read a few stories. I became so engrossed and emotionally involved that I read the entire book from cover to cover. I became choked up at several of the stories and the words of love for their children and for their mothers really touched my heart. The book is also filled with simple words of wisdom.
Pam and Dan Pisner talk to their daughter about the decision to continue with the pregnancy after learning that Pam, using fertility treatments, was carrying quintuplets. Dan says:
"And then after you babies were born we were very busy, but we weren't doing any of those other things, and in fact could not even remember what those things were. But it wasn't important to us. What was important to us now was just being with you guys. Those other things must have been time fillers--because this is the real deal!"(pg. 75)
Tia Casciato Smallwood tells her daughter about her feeling of ending her cherished career to be at home with her young children. She says:
"...I don't think I learned how to be a real human being until I was with my children and suffered with them and watched what they go through. You would give up anything for them. You would give up your life, your career, and your home. You unconditionally love them, and I think that is what made my life complete. So I never regretted it." (pg. 84)
Roselyn Payne Epps, a pediatrician, talks with her daughter, also a pediatrician. Roselyn says:
"You all have done very well. But I take no credit and I take no blame. People say, 'Aren't you proud?' My mother always said, 'Don't be proud; just be thankful.' So when you were coming along, I said 'I won't take credit because I'm not going to take blame either!'" (pg. 42)
Sisters express their love and memories for their mother who recently passed away after a battle with cancer. A birth mother tells her son the story of his adoption. A mother talks with her two daughters - one adopted and the other biological - about how she loves them both dearly. A son expresses his relief that he and his mother were reconciled before her death. A mother talks about her son who gave his life as a soldier.
The stories tap honest and deep emotion because they are true. As the people pour out their deepest feelings to family members that they trust, one can read into their very souls.
MOM : A Celebration of Mothers from StoryCorps would make a perfect gift and is in every way an expression of the amazing and tender emotions that mothers have for their children and children for their mothers.
StoryCorps also reminds us to take the time to interview and record for posterity the memories, thoughts and words of wisdome of our family members. The book includes questions that can initiate conversation, such as "What was the happiest time in your life?" or "How has your life been different than you imagined it?"
My grandfather was a storyteller. As a child, I loved to sit at his knee as he spun the yarns of his exciting life (some were probably slightly exaggerated). When I was in college, I bought dozens of blank tapes with the intent of recording his stories. But he was too sick by then to talk for long periods. The coughing would wear him out. He gave me a notebook that he had filled with his handwritten tales that I treasure but it is not the same thing as hearing his voice. And then he passed away.
In the words of Dave Isay, the editor, "Don't wait." ...more
As soon as I finished reading Shanghai Girls by Lisa See last week I was anxious to start reading the sequel Dreams of Joy. The ending of the first novel would have been frustrating if I didn't already know that there was a second book. And fortunately, it was already waiting on my night stand.
I've been hearing the buzz about Lisa See's novels (especially Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, which I hope to read very soon) for years but these are the first of her novels that I have had the privilege to read. I have definitely become a fan.
Dreams of Joy picks up right where Shanghai Girls ends. Joy, deeply upset by the family secrets and a new believer in The New China, she sets off to China. Pearl, determined to find and save her naive but determined daughter, returns to her homeland.
It's been nearly twenty years since Pearl escaped the Japanese invaders of China and immigrated to the United States of America. Since then, China has undergone vast changes. Now under the leadership of Chairman Mao Tse Dung and a Communist country, it is hardly the home she left. Yet, Pearl only wants Joy to be happy and safe and she'll try her best to assimilate in this new world. Pearl will renew old friendships and find love.
Reading of the rule of Chairman Mao, Communism and the socialistic changes in China, reminded me of the popular dystopian novels. However, this is all too real and painful. Millions suffered and starved under this rule. The important and essential family unit was broken. Pearl and Joy are determined not to have their free spirits destroyed. Reading of their brave struggles and harrowing trials in China, also made me even more grateful for the freedoms I enjoy in America.
Lisa See's characters are richly developed. Each has his or her own flaws and strengths. While I found myself frustrated with Joy and her decisions, I also admired her determination and personal strength. The plot moves along steadily. The history and details of Communist China are vastly important but are woven into the plot so expertly that they do not detract from the characters and the story. See's style is effortless and readable while maintaining an almost conversational tone between the main characters and the readers.
Powerful and compelling, Dreams of Joy is a novel that surpassed the first. It is a valuable and enlightening piece of literature. ...more
Even though we didn't discuss the assigned book at our book club meeting last night, we did, of course, talk about books. One friend and I shared our mutual love and affection for the book I just finished last week -- Shanghai Girls by Lisa See.
Sisters Pearl and May are "beautiful girls" in 1930's Shanghai, meaning they pose regularly for the popular advertisements depicting beautiful girls using a variety of products. They are from the upper classes and have enjoyed a fun and spoiled life in the "Paris of Asia". But their lives are drastically changed by their father's financial demise and the invasion of China by the Japanese. Eventually, Pearl and May will immigrate to the United States, carefully guarding their secrets.
Shanghai is a fascinating setting. I was enthralled. Pearl and May are devoted and loving sisters, in spite of being very different personalities. Together and separately, they do what they must to survive in frightening and dangerous times. While the threats are different once they arrive in the US, they still live in constant fear. So much of their circumstances is beyond their control, but the sisters' contrasting reactions and beliefs are very interesting.
The plot moves along frantically through the first half of the book. I could hardly put it down. Later, the plot does slow and time begins to move in large segments. I felt the book lost some of it's early momentum at this point, but it is still compelling.
The ending would have upset me if I didn't already know that there is a sequel, Dreams of Joy. I've already started reading it.
Bringing up powerful topics of war, survival, immigration, motherhood, family devotion, and sacrifice, Shanghai Girls is a truly rich novel.
Reading Daisy Goodwin's novel American Heiress was a bit like reading a tabloid magazine. Cora Cash is one of the wealthiest American young women in the 1890's--the gilded age. Cora is already worth a fortune but her status-seeking mother schemes to marry her off to a titled but money-troubled English gentleman. Cora is OK with that plan if it means that she can escape her mother's control. The press and the admiring young fans crowd the streets for a glimpse of Cora at her elaborate wedding to Duke Wareham. Cora thrives on the attention but her wedding day is even more perfect because she has married for love.
However, is this highly educated and groomed young woman really ready for the stuffy and proper English gentility? And did her duke marry for love or money?
Goodwin's novel is a very entertaining read. I had a hard time putting it down to go to sleep each night this week. Reminding me of Edith Wharton's Age of Innocence with it's decadence and moral themes, this novel is full of fresh plot twists and elegant but ultimately self-serving characters. Cora, while narcissistic and conceited, is so young and naive that I couldn't help but hope the best for her as she stumbles her way through the English protocol and the intrigue that awaits in her new life.
By turns romantic and tragic, American Heiress lured me in with details of the extravagant lifestyles of the extremely wealthy but captured and held my attention with a well-paced plot and fabulously delicious and devious characters. It's a "guilty pleasure" but not too guilty, because Goodwin is pretty good at keeping the details of the "bedroom" scenes brief and discreet.
Polish immigrant Janusz has established a home at 22 Britannia Road in Ipswich and he eagerly waits to be joined by his wife Sylvana and young son Aurek who have survived World War II by hiding in the forests of Poland. Thus begins the story in Amanda Hodgkinson's new novel 22 Britannia Road.
Janusz, Sylvana and Aurek are survivors. They are anxious to begin their lives again. But peacetime does not erase all the memories and theya all have scars and secrets that threaten to tear them apart when they've just reunited.
Aurek, who doesn't remember his father and has just spent the last six years alone with his mother, is jealous of his father as he takes his rightful place in his mother's bed. The jealousy and attempts at rebuilding a relationship, remind me of Frank O'Connor's short story by the appropriate title of "My Oedipus Complex".
22 Britannia Road is a powerful family drama full of betrayals, suffering yet ultimately forgiveness and redemption. Hodgkinson writes with wisdom and with a skill that makes her style completely disappear and the story and characters take over. Her characters are painfully human. As with other well written books about the fall-out from war, 22 Britannia Road is emotionally stirring and a compelling read.
I received a free copy of the book through the Amazon Vine program but this is my honest review and I received no additional compensation. ...more
Because of several recommendations, I ordered and decided to read The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. It was long--just over 600 pages--but the promise of an exciting tale involving Dracula sounded so intriguing, I figured it would still be a quick read. Besides, I rarely shy away from a long book.
It was really long. I started reading the book before Easter and just finished it last week. There was just enough exciting plot development to keep me interested and I kept reading. I have to be completely fair and say that my malfunctioning brain (lack of thyroid medication--I'll write more about that later) probably played a large role in my frustration with the book. Also, I was reading a hardback copy of the book and it was very happy. I love an actual book but I think this is a time when a electronic reader might have made the reading experience more pleasurable.
After finding a mysterious ancient book in her father's study, a young woman learns more about her father's studies of Dracula, the very famous and apparently very real vampire. Then, her father disappears and despite the very real peril, she sets out to find him.
Elizabeth Kostova is a talented and brilliant writer and this book is jammed packed with historical information and legend regarding the undead. Every detail is fully described. Much of the information is told through letters, documents and second-hand tales which slows down the action but is realistic as to an academic study of a subject. Every now and then something exciting and/or frightening would actually happen as the characters had a brush with a vampire and it would compel me to continue reading the book. The last 200 or so pages of the book were especially exciting and made the entire book worth reading. When I only had 75 pages left to go, I had to wonder how everything could actually be resolved in such a short space, but the ending is absolutely satisfactory.
I am not a fan of the current genre of vampire books, as you know, but I really did end up enjoying The Historian. Dracula is a terrifying creature in life and in death. Now, I'm inspired to get my hands on a copy of Bram Stoker's Dracula. ...more
Nicknamed the Ms. Bradwells by a professor during their first year in law school, the four women become fast friends. For the next thirty years they wNicknamed the Ms. Bradwells by a professor during their first year in law school, the four women become fast friends. For the next thirty years they will be there for each other through thick and thin. Bett needs their support now. She has been nominated for a vacant seat on the Supreme Court. During the confirmation hearings, an anonymous blog post turns up a scandal involving the Ms. Bradwells during their college days--a mysterious death. Now, thirty some years after law school, the women must pull together to help their friend and themselves.
Exploring the ideas of friendship, secrets, and the rights of women, not to mention the relationships between mothers and daughters, The Four Ms. Bradwells by Meg Waite Clayton will keep you reading late into the night. Clayton is skilled at creating believable and fascinating women characters. Each of the four women is unique and yet it made sense that their shared experiences during college would bind them as lasting friends. The conversations shared by the women, while much more dramatic, reminded me of the bantering that sometimes goes on between my own friends from college and me. And just like my friends even though we are so close, these friends do keep secrets from each other.
Each chapter of the story is told from the point of view of a different woman. While it was initially confusing for me, I caught on quickly and the style was really an ingenious way to tell the story. Each woman knew different things and had various perspectives about the other women and their history. As a reader, it was interesting to learn things from one character and then read from another character who didn't have a knowledge of these things and see how her reality was skewed because of a lack of the entire truth. So very realistic.
The plot is also well crafted. The women's history unfolds slowly but with enough mystery and emotion to keep the reader and even the Ms. Bradwells guessing and doubting each other until the very end.
If your book club does not mind excessive swearing (which unfortunately is quite prevalent in some sections--not used simply as filler, these swears pack a punch in a very emotional and dramatic scene), there will be plenty of ideas to discuss about this book. Not the least of which, is the consequences we must eventually face for our choices and actions and the choices and actions of others with whom we are close.
Ms. Clayton obviously has a deep understanding of human nature and relationships. She weaves this gift into her characters and tells a most fascinating story full of pain, drama, emotion and ultimately redemption. Well done.
I received a free copy of this book through the Amazon Vine program in exchange for my honest opinion. No additional compensation was received. ...more
Harriet Brown's daughter Kitty is fourteen years old when she and her husband realize that something is very wrong. Kitty refuses to eat and is losingHarriet Brown's daughter Kitty is fourteen years old when she and her husband realize that something is very wrong. Kitty refuses to eat and is losing weight rapidly. When Kitty ends up in ICU, they understand that the problem is severe and Kitty is diagnosed with anorexia.
Instead of sending Kitty to a live-in rehabilitation center, Harriet and her husband decide to try Family Based Therapy (FBT) also known as the Maudsley approach to help Kitty overcome the anorexia demon that has taken over.
Brown has thoroughly researched eating disorders and includes all the current medical understanding of the disease. Using scientific evidence and her own experiences with anorexia, she details how Family Based Therapy, (essentially putting the parents in charge of refeeding the sick child) can have positive effects on the recovery of the child. In several instances of the book I was reminded of one of the basic truths of parenting -- that children (even teenagers) desire and need parents to set strong rules and boundaries for their children. Parents love their children and should be trusted more to make the right choices in regards to their children's health.
Though the fight is hard and Kitty has relapses, they are successful in helping Kitty gain weight and lead a productive life.
This memoir is well written and very readable. It can be a valuable resource for families struggling under the grips of this horrible disease. It offers what they need most -- hope....more
During all the craziness last week, The Violets of March by Sarah Jio was my escape. IThis review originally posted on my blog : http://bit.ly/mzbQlh
During all the craziness last week, The Violets of March by Sarah Jio was my escape. Instead of laying in the hotel bed worrying about all the mess and stress, I just opened the pages of this book and lost myself in the story.
I must admit that I went to great lengths to get a copy of this book. For some reason when I read an early review and heard that it would be released in May, I just knew I wanted to read it. Perhaps it was because my dear, dear college friend grew up on Bainbridge Island, WA and the island is the setting for this story. Or maybe I was just drawn in by the promise of a buried secret discovered in a long-forgotten diary. I'm a sucker for those kinds of stories.
Emily, the protagonist, is a gorgeous and best-selling author who is suffering from writer's block and her husband just left her for another woman. Hoping to heal, she escapes to her great aunt's home on Bainbridge Island. On this beautiful island, Emily discovers the old diary containing a mystery that inspires her to write. And of course, she just might find love again. Ultimately, it is a story of forgiveness.
There's nothing especially new or earth shattering in The Violets of March. It's a typical healing-from-life story with some romance and ancestral mystery on the side. It could have been a little longer. The story would have benefited from more character development. But also, I didn't want it to end because I liked it. I like it a lot.
Jio writes well. It is easy to get wrapped up in Emily's story and the story in the journal. I could barely put the book down until I finished the last sentence. Jio uses the setting to her advantage in building the plot. While Emily's story is rather predictable, Jio is successful at writing enough twists and turns into the story contained in the diary to keep the reader guessing until the end.
The Violets of March is a perfect book for the beach (in spite of the cold and wet, I believe summer is coming), to read on an airplane or at the hotel while you're house is being cleaned up after a flood. If you're going on a trip, grab a copy and throw it in your suitcase. You won't regret it.
Maybe I can talk my college friend into taking a trip with me to Bainbridge Island this summer. I'll just make her read this book. It will probably be more difficult/impossible to convince my husband.
After some mild begging, I received a free copy of this book from the publishers. However, this is my honest review and I have received no compensation. ...more
A little over fifty years ago, author John Steinbeck sets out on a journey across the United States with his faithful dog Charley. As he views the incA little over fifty years ago, author John Steinbeck sets out on a journey across the United States with his faithful dog Charley. As he views the incredible and changing landscape of the continent, Steinbeck offers details and insights into the people he meets and places he sees in his book Travels with Charley in Search of America: (Centennial Edition).
I am a fan of Steinbeck, who is a trained observer and is also wise in his interpretations of the places, people and situations he encounters on his trip. He has a delightful way of writing and I found myself reading a great many passages aloud to my husband.
His descriptions of his time in Deer Isle, Maine had me instantly craving lobster and checking flight pricing to Maine. My husband, who was born in Wisconsin, loved the glowing reports of his birth state. We both dreamed of moving to Montana. I felt the rebuke and the truth in the story of the very compassionate but evil looking man from Oregon. I reminisced on my own short but pleasurable trip to Carmel, California. I chuckled at his insights into Texas and the unique and devoted people that inhabit that land. And I ached at the racial struggle Steinbeck encountered in the deep south.
Steinbeck took me along for his journey. His writing is so beautiful and descriptive that I felt I was sharing the seat with his loyal but aging friend Charley. His sentiments ring so true and honest that they are still relevant fifty some years after his adventures.
I am so ready for a road trip. Too bad the gas prices make it impossible right now. ...more
When my brother-in-law Pete recommends a book, I really try to read it. He has impeccable literary tastes. Several years ago, Pete suggested that I read The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. I enjoyed every moment of that entertaining, enlightening and disturbing book. I've since encouraged my book club to read and Utah Dad. I loaned my copy to my brother because I knew he would like it. He's had it for awhile now. Hint. Hint.
I read Thunderstruck by Erik Larson while I was in labor with my fourth baby. While I did enjoy it, I didn't find it as amazing as The Devil in the White City. Even so, I am definitely a fan of Larson's work and when I saw that he had published a new work, I was anxious to read it and thrilled to receive/win a copy from Goodreads.
In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson is a historical work about William E. Dodd, an unlikely choice for Ambassador to Germany in 1933. When Dodd and his family arrive in Germany, he discovers a beautiful place that has been rejuvenated since the First World War. American tourists didn't notice anything but the beauty and friendly people. However, Hitler and the Nazis have risen to power but hunger for complete control. During this year, Hitler will seize complete power and it will become the tipping point for this history of Germany and the world.
Dodd's family accompanied him on his mission in Germany, including his daughter, Martha. Martha's many liaisons with powerful men in the Nazi party, Gestapo, and French and Soviet embassies become an integral and intriguing part of the story.
While most people did not fully recognize the dangers of Hitler's regime and even Dodd was a bit awestruck at first, Dodd eventually has his eyes open to the horrible ideologies and actions of the Nazis. It is unfortunate that very few believed Dodd.
The history of this book is absolutely fascinating, frightening and sobering. I simply could not put it down and read late into the night to finish it. Larson's skills as a writer are superb. He especially excels at allowing the characters to live on the pages. Both their flaws and attributes are included as Larson uses documentation from fans and foes. While Larson writes as an objective observer, the evil and depravity of the Nazi Party and Hitler are clearly revealed.
This evil is, of course, not a surprise. We all know of the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust. What I found especially interesting about this particular book is just how Hitler gained the power he needed to commit the atrocities and how the other nations essentially turned a blind eye to the early warning signs in the name of maintaining peace. Knowing the ultimate end and consequences, makes reading this book much more powerful and alarming.
Because The Devil in the White City alternates between the two story lines of a twisted serial killer and the building of the 1893 World Fair in Chicago, there are equal moments of evil and beauty. However, In the Garden of Beasts is darker and more sinister. This, of course, isn't surprising, since Hitler and his Nazis caused unmeasurable destruction, fear, and sorrow for the entire world.
Once again, Larson has written a very readable and completely fascinating and disturbing book of history.
Art, a Catholic priest in South Boston is just one of the many accused of molesting a young boy. This priest, like the others, has a family--mother, sArt, a Catholic priest in South Boston is just one of the many accused of molesting a young boy. This priest, like the others, has a family--mother, step-father, brother, sister, nephews and cousins. His sister Sheila tells the story of how the accusation effects the entire family and her own search to understand and forgive her older brother. She wants desperately to believe in his innocence and is frustrated by his unwillingness to defend himself.
I read Jennifer Haigh's book with my heart in my throat. With each page, I read with the constant fear that Sheila would uncover the evidence to convict her brother of these horrible crimes against an innocent boy. Haigh writes with an honesty and skill that creates a story that is overhwelmingly real, frightening and yet ultimately redemptive. There are no missteps in this novel. Haigh has mastered her craft.
Haigh creates memorable and believable characters--from the priest to his victim and all their relatives--that are well-developed and complex while being completely realistic. Haigh treats them each with dignity as she uncovers their pasts, fears, sins and desires.
Faith is ultimately an emotional and beautiful, though harrowing, journey about the human desire to find love and companionship.
While I loved this novel, I didn't enjoy the crude language throughout. However, I am willing to concede that some of the characters would very likely/almost definitely speak that way (I did live in the Northeast for three years).
I received a complimentary copy of Faith through the Amazon Vine program in exchange for my honest opinion and I received no additional compensation....more
A woman is found dead and frozen in her bathtub by her neighbors in a sleepy and cold seaside town. She has slit her wrists and at first it appears to be a suicide. However, the forensic teams conclude from the evidence that it is not suicide. She has been murdered.
Thus begins the murder mystery novel The Ice Princess by Swedish author Camilla Lackberg. Lackberg is intensely popular in Sweden. She has sold over 3.5 million copies of her book there. That might not seem like much until you realize that there are just over 9 million people living in Sweden. The mystery has been translated into English by Steven T. Murphy and will soon be available in paperback from FreePress.
On the cover, Lackberg's book is compared to the extremely popular Swedish mysteries written by Stieg Larsson. I haven't actually read his work yet but I've heard some good things.
I don't often read murder mysteries but I do enjoy a well developed one. I started The Ice Princess last week. I read the first 100 pages in a few hours. It got off to a great and exciting start. If I hadn't been so exhausted, I felt sure that I could have finished it that night.
However, I got bogged down in the middle section. There was too much side-story that didn't involve the investigation. While the characters of Patrick, the police detective and Erica, the discoverer of the body are well developed and their budding romance is fun, it distracted from the mystery. Apparently this book is the beginning of a series starring Patrick and Erica, so I understand the need to have more of their story.
The ending wasn't entirely satisfactory either and the truth simply spills out without much difficulty in the last few pages. For guarding a disturbing secret so carefully for so long, everyone gives it up too easily with just a little questioning.
Camilla Lackberg does create interesting and believable characters. She has a great understanding of even the so-called "dregs of society" and writes of them with compassion and sympathy. Each one of the characters in the story, no matter how minor, earns a good description with plenty of back story.
The Ice Princess is a fairly good mystery. It's certainly not the best one that I've ever read and I must admit some disappointment. I expected better.
I received a free copy of The Ice Princess from the publishers in exchange for an honest review. No additional compensation was given.
I bought a used copy of Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston at the Salt Lake Library Book Sale last year. It's been on my to-read shelf for awhile so my friends and I decided to read it for our long-distance book discussion group this month.
Published in 1937, Hurston writes of the love story of an African American woman in Florida during the early decades of the Twentieth Century. It is a powerful and moving tale of love and gaining ones freedom through personal choice. It is also a haunting and horrifying tale of loss.
Janie has been doing what every body else wants her to do for years. Now, her second husband is dead. She is a middle-aged, beautiful widow of means. Tea Cake, a young and handsome gambler has caught her eye and woos her with promises of love. For the first time, she is falling in love. Ignoring the cultural "rules" and throwing caution to the wind, Janie follows Tea Cake to Florida.
Initially, I had trouble getting into this novel. The main problem was that as a used book someone else had underlined and made notes in it. It's a risk one takes with used books but these notes were especially distracting (we certainly were not thinking alike). Fortunately, the first reader (obviously a student) either tired of the book or got so involved in the story that the notes stopped around page 42.
The second hindrance was the Hurston's use of the local dialect. She wrote as the people spoke. ("Naw, Nanny, no ma'am! Is dat whut he been hangin' round here for? He look like some ole skullhead in de grave yard." p.13.) She was an anthropologist and a folklorist and writing the tales of her subjects verbatim is part of the trade. I got used to it and by the end of the novel it was no longer a problem.
Hurston's use of language is simply beautiful. She is at her best when describing about nature and especially the power of the 1928 Okechobee Hurricane (resulted in the lake breaching the dikes--thousands were killed).
As an anthropologist, Hurston also understands people and the social rules that bind people and tie them down. Janie is a complex character and I enjoyed watching her grow into herself in this novel.
This novel is a true American classic and deserves a place with the works of Steinbeck, James and Faulkner.
It was appropriate that I spent St. Patrick's Day reading Matched by Ally Condie because the cover is just so green. To be honest, it was the cover thIt was appropriate that I spent St. Patrick's Day reading Matched by Ally Condie because the cover is just so green. To be honest, it was the cover that initially sparked my desire to read the novel. It's just so interesting and unique and once you read the book, you'll know that the design and colors of the cover are so very appropriate. My kids were also intrigued by the girl in the glass ball and they've been asking me all kinds of questions about the book.
My friend Annika, a die-hard lover of the YA dystopian genre, also read the book, wrote a positive review and had a copy I could borrow. She didn't happen to mention that it's a trilogy and the second book won't be available until November, but I'll forgive her.
I haven't read much in this genre, beyond the Hunger Games trilogy and the first in the Uglies series. However, I've enjoyed what I've read so far. I have to wonder if the surge of popularity for this new genre is a result of a generation of students who studied Orwell's 1984 in high school English. But it is also eerily appropriate as the government has grown and increased it's control over the years with various issues such as the Patriot Act, regulating the toilets we put in our homes and universal health care.
Sorry. I'll cease to be political and move on to a review of Matched.
Keeping to the dystopian formula, Ally Condie creates a "Society" where all decisions are made for the citizens by analyzing the data and giving them what is necessary for each person to live the most optimal life. For example, each person gets a prepared meal with just the right nutrients and calories for them. It arrives in a foil package at your home at the ideal time to eat. I might be willing to sign up for that part. The Society promises a healthy, long life but it also allows for limited individuality and personal choice--things that most of us hold sacred.
However, the Society also chooses, based on all the data and the person's genetic make up, who they will be matched with. At the age of seventeen, the citizens of the Society are told their match at a banquet and for the next three years the couple will have an organized and observed courtship.
Cassia is anxious and excited for her Match Banquet and thrilled when her match turns out to be Xander, her best friend. But once she gets home it is another face that she sees on her datapod. And that makes her wonder. Wondering is not conducive to the success of the society, just so you know.
I liked the novel. It's a quick read intended for young adults, so it's not exceptionally literary but it is well written for the intended audience. (Now days it seems we're all included in the young adult category--I don't know about you per se, but I'm young at heart at least. So, I guess it works.) The plot is well formed and not entirely predictable.
The novel is clean and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to one of my teen aged friends. It's lighter and less violent than some of its counterparts and deals more with the teenage love story. But love is a powerful force, even and especially for teenagers, and the character needs some impetus (other than just being a teenager) to rebel against the Society that she has been taught to revere and obey.
The author, Ally Condie, is from Utah and I loved the few subtle homages to her home state--the smell of sage and the idea that the sego lily bulb is edible and could sustain people (everyone that took 4th grade Utah history knows that).
I enjoyed the book. I really did and I look forward to reading the next one this fall.
It was my nine year old son's turn to pick the book I would read aloud to the kids. He chose An American Plague : The True and Terrifying Story of theIt was my nine year old son's turn to pick the book I would read aloud to the kids. He chose An American Plague : The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793. I bought the book from a book order a couple of years ago. It's just been sitting on my shelf since then. It was about time we read it. For the past week I have been reading (and dreaming) about a horrible plague illness wiping out large chunks of the population.
In the late summer of 1793, Philadelphia, then the nations capital, was hit by a horrifying epidemic. Hundreds of people were falling ill to yellow fever. There was no cure and at the time the cause of the disease was also unknown. Wealthy citizens and most of the national, state, and city government fled the city to avoid the fever. Those who remained struggled to care for the sick and dying while maintaining order in an abandoned city. In a city of 30,000 people (the largest city in the US at the time) between 3000 and 5000 people eventually died of the yellow fever that year.
It would be over a hundred years before doctors finally discovered the way the fever was spread (a type of mosquito, of course) and it was the mid-twentieth century before scientists created a vaccine for the yellow fever. There is still no known cure.
The book, written by Jim Murphy, is fascinating, thoroughly researched and well written. While intended for young readers, it is written in an academic style. It is not for those with a weak stomach. Neal and I enjoyed it.