Flora loves comic books, hates her mother's romance novels, and is a little bit lonely. She is delighted when she resuscitates a squirrel her neighbor...moreFlora loves comic books, hates her mother's romance novels, and is a little bit lonely. She is delighted when she resuscitates a squirrel her neighbor accidentally vacuumed, and finds that the brush with death has changed said squirrel into a superhero. The two go forth, vanquishing foes (like snotty mothers and stupid lamps and bad poetry and loneliness) and making new friends in unexpected quarters.
I started off thinking this book was too clever for its own good, but by the end of it, I was giggling at the ridiculousness of it and my heart was genuinely warmed by the end. I think this is an adorable story, and I'm sure my daughter will enjoy it immensely in a few years.(less)
Ivoe Williams, growing up in the early twentieth century in Texas, dreams of a better future for herself, her family, and all African Americans. She i...moreIvoe Williams, growing up in the early twentieth century in Texas, dreams of a better future for herself, her family, and all African Americans. She is intelligent and bookish, and her family sacrifices a lot to send her to college. There she discovers her love of writing and journalism as well as the key to her sexuality. After college, she sticks with her family through increasingly hard times before she finally convinces them to move to Kansas City for better opportunities. There she is finally able to re-unite with the love of her life and start her own newspaper focused on African American issues.
I wanted to love this book. It has so many things that I love in a good story - a fight against racism, strong female characters and strong family relationships, an earnest bookish girl pursuing her dream... But ultimately, I found the constantly shifting perspectives too distracting (one paragraph in one character's voice, the next in another), and the story itself too meandering to win my heart. The novel is titled for the newspaper that Ivoe eventually starts in Kansas City - which happens with just 50 pages left in the story. It seems too late in the book for the seminal event to occur. With a strong editorial hand, this book could be great; as it is, it's just OK.(less)
Aaaaand Craig Thompson has bowled me over once again. Habibi is the story of Dodola and Zam, two orphans who find each other in childhood and decide t...moreAaaaand Craig Thompson has bowled me over once again. Habibi is the story of Dodola and Zam, two orphans who find each other in childhood and decide to be each other's family, and whose lives are intertwined into adulthood in a fictional Islamic society. I don't want to give away major plot points, but suffice it to say that this is an absolutely beautifully written and drawn story. It's complex and moves fluidly between religious texts and the books main storyline. It addresses numerous women's issues (childhood marriage to middle-aged men, rape, prostitution, life in a harem, motherhood) as well as some interesting race issues (in this setting, the difference between black and olive skin rather than black and white). Both female and male sexuality are significant factors in the story, as is the interplay between the religious stories from Islam and from Christianity, how they are similar and where they differ. Writing and words and ink and the Arabic language are important motifs, and so is environmentalism and industrial waste. And ultimately, slavery and freedom, compulsion and free choice, are the primary themes of the book. It is a love story, and a story of family, and a story of finding your own path. I just finished it last night and have not remotely had enough time to process it all. I will be thinking about this book for a long, long time to come.(less)
Jessie Beckett, a script girl in 1920s Hollywood, finds herself at the center of a rash of murders. A big-name director is killed, followed in short o...moreJessie Beckett, a script girl in 1920s Hollywood, finds herself at the center of a rash of murders. A big-name director is killed, followed in short order by a former vaudeville actress she knows and two movie stars. In order to find out what happened to her friend - and do her boss a solid by keeping public opinion of the film industry up - she sets out to find the murderer...or murderers...with the help of her ex-mobster ex-boyfriend and the only honest cop in LA.
So, the story is pretty implausible. Jessie is far more forward and independent that I think was likely even the case in Hollywood in the '20s, and the motivation for the murders - especially the final two - is sort of weak. That said, the writing was engaging and the mystery was good fun. I had a good time reading the book and it went quickly.
Two brothers growing up in Calcutta in the '50s and '60s go in two different directions - one becomes a Communist activist and the other moves to the...moreTwo brothers growing up in Calcutta in the '50s and '60s go in two different directions - one becomes a Communist activist and the other moves to the US for a doctoral program. The book explores the complexities of their family relationships over several decades in both India and the US.
As lame as that description sounds, I really, really enjoyed this book. I see some people disliked it because they didn't find the characters likable, but since when is that a criteria for a book to be good? Besides which, I did like some of them. I enjoyed the shifting perspectives and the emotional depths explored in the main characters. This was my first Lahiri, and I will definitely read more of her work.(less)
This is the story of a white family in Charlottesville, VA, and their black maid and her family. It is set right at the cusp of the beginning of the c...moreThis is the story of a white family in Charlottesville, VA, and their black maid and her family. It is set right at the cusp of the beginning of the civil rights movement. The family is starting to fall apart; Ethel (the maid) is sometimes the glue that keeps them together. She has some intense history with the mother of the family, who sounds like she was a lot more fun in her youth than she is now. The father liked Ethel and tried to befriend her in a spirit of equality the minute he met her, which made Ethel uncomfortable (knowing as she did what some white folks would do to her if they observed a friendship like that). I think the point of the story is supposed to be about love and friendship crossing race boundaries, and possibly also about how the South wasn't "all bad" before civil rights, that there were still some meaningful relationships across racial divides, particularly between white children and their black caregivers.
I was skeptical from the moment I saw the cover, which has a blurb from Sissy Spacek comparing the book to both To Kill a Mockingbird and The Help. First, why is an actress, even one I like, blurbing a book? She's not a writer, reviewer, or publisher to my knowledge. Second, WHO IN THE WORLD puts those two books on the same level?!?!?!? Compared to my skepticism there, I liked the book more than I thought I would.
If I didn't feel in a hurry to get this book back to the VA Festival of the Book office because I've had it for a week, I would have finished it. The fact that I didn't finish it in a week - the first novel for which that has been the case this summer when reading/reviewing books for the Festival - may tell you something about how lukewarm I felt about it. The writing was solid - good even - but even after half of the book, I didn't have much investment in the characters and had little feel for what the author was trying to say with the book. Also, I'm so very tired of reading White Ladies Have Feelings About Racism books. There are enough of them out there to have their own genre. Why are there so many? I am certain that there are plenty of books about racism and civil rights written by black people; why doesn't the publishing industry publish and/or market many of them? That seems a much more valuable point of view on the topic. Don't get me wrong - all perspectives have a right to be heard, and I know lots of people love books like Apron Strings. My mom would like this book a lot, I think. But there are just SO MANY popular books on race relations written by Southern white ladies and SO FEW written by any people of color that I have grown weary of the former.(less)
The cover is not much to look at. The fact that this is basically an advice column collected in a book will turn a lot of people off. But those people...moreThe cover is not much to look at. The fact that this is basically an advice column collected in a book will turn a lot of people off. But those people are wrong, because this is one of the most affecting books I have ever read. Would that I could give this book more stars. MORE.
I have read WILD by Cheryl Strayed. I thought it was OK, but only OK. It didn't knock my socks off. Then a book person I respect said on a podcast that she felt the same way about WILD and was totally blown away by TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS. It went on my to-read list and languished there until I was in the mood for nonfiction a few weeks ago and browsing the Overdrive audiobooks that were available from my library. It was there, available, on my to-read list, so I checked it out. And from the very first letter, which ripped my heart out and stomped on it and put it back together again a little bit better, I was captivated.
Dear Sugar, for those who don't know, was an advice column on the website The Rumpus. It was a very popular column, particularly because Sugar was so honest and raw and nurturing in her responses to the heartbreak, jealousy, self-doubt, depression, anger, and confusion that people sent her in their letters. She shared deeply personal things about her own life in responding to their deeply personal letters. In other words, she gave real, true, honest and loving advice. She wrote an advice column that was actually worth reading. And she was as anonymous as her letter writers for the length of the column. The day The Rumpus shared her identity (because the column had ended and this book was being announced) shook some of the underpinnings of the internet. I remember that day, I remember the whispers that echoed from Twitter to Reddit and beyond - and I had never heard of The Rumpus or Dear Sugar at that point. It was such a big thing that it still made an impression on me, even though I had no clue what people were talking about.
In this book, Strayed tackles everything from childhood abuse to substance abuse to career problems to everyday broken hearts. She talks to people about underestimating themselves and overestimating themselves. She does not brook hubris or self-righteousness; she gently shares real caring and concern with fundamentally broken people. She has an incredible talent for getting immediately to the heart of an issue - even if the heart is not evident in the question the person actually articulates. And most importantly, she never forgets and even honors and empathizes with the humanity in every person who writes to her, even the ones who others may think don't deserve such kindness. The questions are universal and her answers are similarly universal.
Strayed talks a lot about striving to be "your best possible self." And I think that is what she is showing in this book, both as a writer and as a human being - her best possible self. I honestly think the world would be a far better place if everyone in it read this book and took it to heart.(less)
I want to give this 2.5 stars, but I always give the author the benefit of the doubt and round up when that happens. I believe this is intended to be...moreI want to give this 2.5 stars, but I always give the author the benefit of the doubt and round up when that happens. I believe this is intended to be the first book in a series. Jack Prine is a former reporter and former soldier who is trying to find his next career path in the Big Easy when he stumbles across a body in the street. He calls in the police and would have been happy to let them handle it, except (for some reason) the police give his phone number to the dead man's sister and she calls him. He (for some reason) agrees to meet up with her and gets involved in the whole crazy drug-dealing, mafia-involved, raping, etc. etc. etc. business.
So, pretty standard hard-boiled mystery stuff. There's little to no art to the writing, though, and the author has some habits that annoyed me. For example, the frequent need to point out unnecessary details. Things like, "They got dressed, then brushed their teeth. They walked out the door and locked it behind them, then climbed into a red Dodge Charger." (Not an exact quote, just that there are lines similar to that in the book.) Near the end, there's a scene in the church that involves the janitor interrupting and the preacher telling him gently to go clean another part of the church. No reason for it. Just a weird interruption. Things like that bug me. And then there was the overemphasis on the main character and the woman he fell for being "an interracial couple." Dude. It's 2014. It's okay to say that he's white and she's black, but it is totally unnecessary to point it out over and over and over again. Anyway. It was OK. I got sucked into the drama about halfway through. But it wasn't great. Just OK.(less)
A young woman, who was born with wings (her parents had them surgically removed upon her birth), meets her grandparents for the first time when she is...moreA young woman, who was born with wings (her parents had them surgically removed upon her birth), meets her grandparents for the first time when she is 16 and learns a great deal about her family's sad Lithuanian history. She also forms a bond with her grandparents, especially her grandfather, that helps her become the woman she wants to be. In addition to the story of Prudence, the primary protagonist of the story, there are significant portions of the novel that are written from her grandfather's and her great-aunt's points of view, largely in the past. There is a lot of Lithuanian history from the past 100 years or so. And I will freely admit that I have something of a bias there - grandfather's family is Lithuanian. Chet (my grandfather) was born in 1914, and his parents immigrated to the US when he was 2 years old. I never really wondered why they would have moved, and I didn't know much Lithuanian history (though I do know some of the culture), but now I see that they were likely fleeing the country as Stalin squished it under his thumb. Besides all of that, though, I was caught up in the story of the women with wings in the Vilkas family and felt very invested in seeing the Old Man and his youngest sister reunited when they each thought the other was dead. The story was not woven together exactly to my liking, but it was still very good and I enjoyed reading it very much.(less)
Tom Putnam is an English professor at a small college in Virginia (whose name is unspecified, but I have a guess which one it is supposed to be). His...moreTom Putnam is an English professor at a small college in Virginia (whose name is unspecified, but I have a guess which one it is supposed to be). His wife has been plagued her entire life by extreme anxiety and neuroses, which were pushed beyond the pale when she found out he'd had a brief affair 10 years before the book begins. She's largely housebound and does not typically talk to anyone at all other than her husband, her mother (who lives with them to help care for her), and her therapist. So Tom is shocked when, one day while they are at the college bookstore, she meets the new community builder at the bookstore (Rose) and not only talks to her relatively normally, but invites her to come to dinner later in the week. Later that evening, Tom receives a letter, apparently from his partner in his only extramarital affair, informing him that he has a son who is on his way to Tom's house to stay with him for a while. Together, Rose and Henry shake up not only the Putnam household but the entire college campus in all kinds of good ways.
If I'm being completely honest with myself, I think this book was a bit trite and the writing was good, but not very good or excellent. In the first 50 pages, the character of Tom has an affectation of thinking of lines of Shakespeare instead of thinking his own thoughts, and the author calls out that it's Shakespeare every time, and it frankly drove me nuts (luckily that didn't continue throughout the book). I couldn't help but fall for the characters, though. It took me 2 chapters to start cheering for them all to find and follow the best path for them, and the book has a gratifying happy resolution for all parties. It's a light, fun summer read that would be good for anyone who likes the "you make your own family out of people who suit you" message and particularly for book lovers, English majors, and academics. I probably should have given the book 3 stars, but I liked the characters so well and was so delighted to finally get a happy ending this summer that it gets 4.(less)
The Silent Sister is told primarily by Riley, a young woman who has to go clean out her father's house after his death (her mother died years earlier)...moreThe Silent Sister is told primarily by Riley, a young woman who has to go clean out her father's house after his death (her mother died years earlier). She knows she once had an older sister who committed suicide when Riley was 2 (so she doesn't remember her at all), and she also has a brother who loves her but suffers from serious PTSD from a stint in the military as well as mountains of anger and resentment toward their parents for reasons Riley doesn't entirely understand. In cleaning out her father's house, she learns about secret upon secret upon secret that her parents kept hidden from her - including a 20-year-old murder mystery and the possibility that her older sister did not actually kill herself but is somewhere out there in the world living under an assumed identity.
This book grabbed my interest from the start and held it to the end. I wanted very much to know what was going to happen, so the plot was obviously compelling. The characters and their motivations were not always so clear to me. I never did entirely get a handle on Danny, the brother, and why he was so very angry. She tries to explain it in the text, but I never really bought the reasons given with the level of anger he exhibits - they seemed out of proportion to me. I had the same issue with some of the other emotional reactions of the characters. And the writing was not bad, but not amazing either. It was adequate. If you're looking for an interesting family-centric mystery, it was definitely good for that, though!(less)