When her mother becomes physically unable to work, Ruby drops out of school to work in a meat packinghouse to support the family. She hates her job, a...moreWhen her mother becomes physically unable to work, Ruby drops out of school to work in a meat packinghouse to support the family. She hates her job, and the poverty her family is forced to live in. When she learns about a place where she can earn a lot more money as a dance instructor, she jumps at the chance. Only when she starts her job as a taxi dancer, she quickly discovers that she’s expected to do a lot more than teach men to dance.
Ten Cents a Dance is a historical fiction novel that tackles Chicago in the 1940s. It sheds light on taxi dancers, or women paid to dance with men, a topic that I was completely unaware of before picking up this book. Fletcher does a fantastic job of immersing us in the time period through the use of her main characters voice, music, clothing, slang, and historical events.
One of the things that surprised me the most about the book was the fact that Fletcher has taken such a different view of certain romantic trends that are often glamorized in young adult literature. The concept of forbidden love, the nice girl falling in love with the bad boy, and the reality behind falling head over heels in love at sixteen, are seen through a very realistic lens, and not one of fantasy. In fact, there’s nothing close to fantasy in this book. Ten Cents a Dance is not a glamorized tale of the noble poor working to support her family. Behind the glitzy ball gowns and after parties, it is the story of one teenage girl struggling to find her place in the world at the crossroads between childhood and adulthood. Ruby is a great narrator, with a voice that grabs the reader from the start, but she is a very young narrator. One of the things I struggled with the most of this book is, watching Ruby make bad decision after bad decision. I’m not saying that the author did a poor job of explaining why she made these choices. Considering the life she was forced into, and her lack of experience, they actually would make sense to her. Still, being twenty-four and after having seen many people make similarly poor decisions, I often read this book with a feeling of dread in my stomach, knowing what was going to happen next.
The book is not perfect. In fact it does end up dragging quite a bit in the middle chapters. But when it’s good, it’s really good. I’m really happy I picked up Ten Cents a Dance. The characters were nuanced and interesting, and the setting fully realized. I also enjoyed reading the notes from the author, and found the story behind the book to be almost fascinating as the book itself. This will not be the last book I pick up by Christine Fletcher.(less)
Dana is a modern black woman who is frequently pulled back in time to the pre-Civil War south against her will. Each time she is called upon to save t...moreDana is a modern black woman who is frequently pulled back in time to the pre-Civil War south against her will. Each time she is called upon to save the life of Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner and as she soon learns, her ancestor. The only thing that can bring her back to the present is the fear that her own life is about to end. As Dana meets Rufus several times throughout his lifetime, there is no way that she can predict what effects that the time period will have on him, or on herself.
My first experience with Kindred was in a college class on women and fiction (it was an interesting class- we also read Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber). At the time we had about two or three weeks to read the book. I ended up reading it in just two or three days. I'm happy to say that I enjoyed it just as much this time around, while reading it for pleasure. One thing I find interesting about Kindred, is that although there are sci-fi elements (the time traveling) involved, it's really not a science fiction novel. It's more of a piece of historical fiction, and quite an effective one at that. Good historical fiction to me has the ability to take something foreign and long ago, and make it easy for us to connect with. Butler does a fantastic job of that here with Dana, who interprets the past for us through her modern eyes. The novel delves deeply into the psychology of what it means to truly be a slave, and shows that even a strong, heroic woman can be pulled into that mindset if it means her own survival.
I was once again very impressed with the characterization of this novel, as there are truly no “good” or “bad” characters, although some more bad than others. Dana is very much the hero of the novel, but as she struggles for survival, she ends up doing things that are very morally gray. Another example of great characterization can be seen in Rufus himself, who we watch grow from an innocent boy to a man very much influenced by the times he grows up in.
I also enjoyed how the novel was able to feel current, despite the fact that it was written over thirty years ago. Kindred is still a complicated novel that forces the reader to look at a violent and difficult time, and study the impact that it has on it's characters. When I first read this five years ago, I found it impossible not to read Dana's story without asking myself, what would I do if I was in her shoes? Would I make the same choices? How would I find a way to survive? I'm still not sure I have the answers.(less)
Note- I originally read this book (and wrote the following review) in June of 2009. Now that I've re-read it in 2014, I can honestly say that the book...moreNote- I originally read this book (and wrote the following review) in June of 2009. Now that I've re-read it in 2014, I can honestly say that the book is still as strong of a read as ever.
In 1914, Regret leaves her family behind in Korea to become a “picture bride” and marry a man who she has only seen in photographs Promised that her new husband is wealthy, Regret travels across the ocean to Hawai’i with hopes of being able to peruse an education. Only when she arrives, she discovers that the man that is to be her husband is not only much older than the photo suggests, but poor as well. Regret finds herself living in a tiny home on a labor camp, where Mr. Noh (her husband) is employed. Regret is denied the education she desires, and lives in fear of Mr. Noh, who takes out his frustrations on his new wife, at times in a violent way. When he commits the unforgivable, Regret runs away to the blossoming city of Honolulu where she changes her name to Jin, and begins a new life.
Honolulu came highly recommended to me by a friend who has similar tastes in books. I’m really happy that she did because I’m not sure I would have found out about this recently published book on my own. When I pick up a historical fiction book, I’m looking for two things. I’m looking for a good story that immerses the reader in the past, and I’m looking to learn about the time period that it takes place in. Honolulu succeeds with both. Jin’s story, which touches on her childhood and Korea and then covers more than twenty years in Hawai’i, is quite a page turner. It was fascinating to watch her grow from a nervous adolescent, to a more confident adult, and the challenges that she faces. One theme I always enjoy reading about is the American Dream, the idea that you can go from almost nothing to a prosperous existence just by hard work and persistence, and this novel has aspects of that as well.
Brennert does a fantastic job in immersing the reader in early twentieth century Honolulu through the use of language, food, and real life events. Jin manages to find herself in the middle, or on the fringes of a lot of the major events that take place in Hawai’i during this time (she even plays a hand in the creation of the famous Hawaiian shirt) so the reader gets to learn a lot about the history of Hawai’i. From the authors notes, it’s obvious that Brennert has does his research, as his lists dozens of sources he drew on for inspiration. One thing I found very interesting was his accounts of the racial tension between the white upper class, and the immigrants and native Hawaiians.
I was quite happy with the story presented in Honolulu and look forward to reading other works by this author (Note: Apparently along with historical fiction, this guy has written comics, sci-fi, and nebula award winning short stories, as well as being a Emmy winning TV writer for L.A. Law. Nice range.)(less)
Fifteen-year-old Evie Spooner lives in post World War II New York with her mother, step-father, and grumpy grandmother. She’s in a hurry to grow up, d...moreFifteen-year-old Evie Spooner lives in post World War II New York with her mother, step-father, and grumpy grandmother. She’s in a hurry to grow up, dreaming of days when she can smoke, wear lipstick and date boys. When her step-father, Joe Spooner, receives a mysterious phone call, he shocks the family by announcing a sudden trip to Palm Beach, FL. The next thing Evie and her mother know they’re in their car and heading south for an extended vacation. Evie longs for a life of glamour like in the Hollywood movies, and it’s here that she finds it. What she also finds is secrets. Secrets about her parents, secrets about the friends they make, and secrets about Peter Coleridge, the mysterious young man she meets and falls in love with.
What I Saw and How I Lied is Judy Blundell’s first novel not written under a pen name (she writes Star Wars Novels under the name Jude Watson), and it’s a strong debut. The novel has already won honors and awards, Including the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, for its suspenseful tale of a young woman rushing headlong into adulthood and the horrors she fines there. From the start Blundell does a very good job of crafting a strong narrative voice. She writes in a very minimal manner, as if all of the fat has been trimmed away leaving nothing but the essentials behind. This not only makes for a quick read, but an enjoyable one as well. As a narrator, Evie does some pretty silly things, but most of her poor decisions are made because of her innocence. As a result, I found myself feeling bad for her, while another narrator would have frustrated me. I enjoyed watching her growth from a naive girl to a woman with purpose. One of the things I liked the most about the book was the end when Evie… well I don’t want to spoil it.
After reading What I Saw and How I Lied, I found it quite deserving of the praise that’s it’s received from both the public and literary community. It’s bare style, strong characters, and suspenseful plot, was quite fun to read. One thing I cannot comment on is the accuracy of the historical fiction aspect, as my knowledge of the late 1940s is not that strong, but I’ve heard no complaints. I think this book has some crossover appeal. It should appeal to more than just young adult readers.(less)
Sarah Dunant’s In the Company of a Courtesan was one of my favorite reads of 2008. From the moment I picked it up I was hooked by the unique/flawed na...moreSarah Dunant’s In the Company of a Courtesan was one of my favorite reads of 2008. From the moment I picked it up I was hooked by the unique/flawed narrator, the foreign location, and the wonderfully crafted storyline. I had not at that time read The Birth of Venus, which she is better known for. There was a part of me that was terrified that it would not live up to the high stakes set by Courtesan. Recently, I have been in the mood of art fiction and decided it was time to give it a chance. I’m happy to say that it lived up to my expectations.
The Birth of Venus takes place in Florence in the late 1400s. At this time, the city is going through both political and religious turmoil. Our narrator is an adolescent girl named Alessandra Cecchi, the daughter of a wealthy textile merchant. Alessandra is intelligent and headstrong, wishing nothing more than to be able to paint, but that is not the role that woman play in this society. When a young artist is brought to paint frescoes in her father’s chapel, she can’t help but be drawn to the sulky, strange boy that grew up among monks. But Alessandra will have little time to get to know him. With an invasion forthcoming, it is well known that any unmarried woman will end up as prey to the incoming French. As a result, Alessandra is to be married off to a quiet, learned, older man named Cristoforo Langella, a man with secrets.
There are a lot of layers to The Birth of Venus. On one hand, it’s the story of a young, often bratty girl maturing into a mature woman, and of artistic and intelligent women who do not fit the roles set for them. It’s also a story about the changing role of the church in Florence, especially under the control of conservative priest Girolamo Savonarola. It’s also about a series of murders, and the role of art. Sarah Dunant deals with these multiple plotlines and themes very well, crafting a wonderfully complex world. Alessandra is an interesting heroine, capable of both great kindness, and cruelty. I often wonder what kind of life she would have lived if she were allowed to live, paint, learn, love, and worship as she desired.
The Birth of Venus was a very satisfying read. I suspect that this will not be the last Sarah Dunant book that I read.(less)
Peony is a fifteen-year-old girl living in seventeenth century China. Like many young women of the time, she becomes interested in the romantic opera...morePeony is a fifteen-year-old girl living in seventeenth century China. Like many young women of the time, she becomes interested in the romantic opera The Peony Pavilion. She’s is thrilled when her father decides to stage a performance of the opera for her birthday. During a particularly emotional scene, Peony has to step away from the production. It’s here that she happens to run into a young poet. In a society where women are scene as commodities and a burden, Peony is touched and surprised when he values her for both her beauty and her mind. The two fall in love at first sight. The only problem is Peony is already arranged to marry someone else. As her mother prepares her for her wedding day, drilling female duties such as embroidery and foot binding into her head, Peony finds solace in The Peony Pavilion, her interest during into a dangerous obsession. Turning away food and water, her body grows thin and frail and she eventually passes away.
At that point, the book gets really interesting.
Peony in Love is a deceptive book. When you begin to read the story and immerse yourself into its beautiful writing, you expect to read a love story. In truth, the love story aspect as only one small piece of this at times rather dark novel. Much like Lisa See’s previous novel Snow Flower in the Secret Fan, Peony in Love is a book about what it means to be a woman living in China, the importance of writing (especially women’s writing), and relationships between woman. Unlike Snow Flower in the Secret Fan, Peony in Love also has a supernatural twist, as Peony narrates the majority of it as a ghost. This gives the reader a unique look into what the Chinese believed about death and the afterlife. All of these threads, combined with the setting of China during a difficult regime change, make the novel rather complex at time. This complexity has gained it quite a few mediocre reviews, but I could not disagree more. Peony in Love is a fascinating book and I loved it just as much as I love Snow Flower and Secret Fan. I recently discovered that Lisa See has another historical fiction novel set in China, called Shanghai Girls, which takes place in the 1930s. This will be coming up next month. I hope to be able to read it.(less)
It is difficult to write a good summary of The Blind Assassin, but I will do my best. The Blind Assassin is about Iris Chase, the daughter of an influ...moreIt is difficult to write a good summary of The Blind Assassin, but I will do my best. The Blind Assassin is about Iris Chase, the daughter of an influential family in Port Ticonderoga, Canada, growing up in the early 20th Century with her unique sister Laura. It is also the story of Iris's present day life as an elderly woman, reflecting on the past. Much has changed in the past several decades. Laura has died of apparent suicide, and has posthumously become a important (albeit scandalous) author a novel also known as The Blind Assassin (which is printed here in its entirety). As Iris writes down the story of her childhood and times as a young woman, shocking truths about Laura and her past come to light.
The Blind Assassin is a unique Jewel of a novel that would have failed utterly if not written by an author as skilled as Margaret Atwood. What makes it so interesting is how well she interweaves no less than four different stories. To begin with, there is the story of Iris as an old woman. Then the story of Iris as a young woman. Thirdly, there is Laura's novel The Blind Assassin. Within this novel-within-a- novel, one of the characters tells a science fiction story to his lover. These four stories represent a great mixing of genres (contemporary fiction, historical fiction, science fiction, as well as some mystery elements), resulting in a unique whole. I also enjoyed how the stories themselves are far form stand alone. You learn things in the-novel-within-a-novel that impact your opinion on the characters just as much as Iris's past impacts her present.
Also worth mentioning is just how beautiful and multilayered Atwood's prose is here. I found myself, several times, reading passages over and over so I could appreciate them more fully. The characters found here are equally as beautiful and multilayered, especially the female characters. Iris is a really likable narrator. As an old woman, I enjoyed her feisty attitude, which occasionally resulted in some laugh out loud moments. As a young woman, I occasionally became frustrated with her for her passive nature, but ultimately understood her and sympathized with her.
I read The Blind Assassin as part of a unique experience, 1book140 (formerlly known as 1book1twitter), a large twitter-based book club with participants around the world. I found the format, which stretched the reading of the book out over a month (although not always great for my poor memory), suited this novel quite well. It forced me to slow down my normally race-car fast method of consuming books, and truly appreciate Atwood's writing. The twitter format, although not the best for longer discussion, was a great opportunity to reflect on the beauty of the prose, the air of mystery that permeated the earlier chapters, and the readers reactions to certain events. I would certainly participate in a similar book club again. I would also love to read more books by Atwood. (less)
Kivrin wants nothing more then to visit the middle ages, and given that she's a time traveling historian, she's about to get her wish granted. After m...moreKivrin wants nothing more then to visit the middle ages, and given that she's a time traveling historian, she's about to get her wish granted. After months of careful preparations, Kivrin is sent back in time and immediately falls terribly ill. In the present day, a similar plague begins to spread across Oxford, even striking the technician that set up Kivrin's trip to the past. Now Mr. Dunworthy, Kivrin's mentor, finds himself in a panic, as there is no way to find out if Kivrin has arrived safely. Thus begins Doomsday Book, a novel about illness, and how it impacts us across the ages.
Doomsday Book is the second book I've read by science fiction author Connie Willis, the first being To Say Nothing of the Dog. Like To Say Nothing of the Dog, Doomsday Book is completely standalone and can be read without any prior knowledge of this universe of time traveling historians. Unlike To Say Nothing of the Dog, Doomsday Book is not a comedy adventure but a tragedy. Yes it possesses some lighthearted moments early on, but they taper off as the book becomes darker. If I were to compare the two books, I would have to say that I prefer To Say Nothing of the Dog, which was a much more consistent read in my options. Still, despite it's faults, Doomsday Book certainly has it's high points.
Doomsday Book ends up covering two story lines, Kivrin's story in the middle ages, and Mr. Dunworthy's story in the present(ish) day. I personally found Kivrin's story to be absolutely fascinating. Willis's attention to historical detail is what I've come to expect form a well-written historical fiction book, never mind a science fiction novel. I liked the fact that despite all of her precautions, Kivrin still found herself completely unprepared for the past. It was easy for me to believe that there's some information on the middle ages that has been completely lost over time. I also like the fact that the author gives the reader a lot of time to get to know the people that Kivrin meets in the past. As a result, we fall in love with Kivrin's new friends and family just as she does, which makes later events more effective. On the other hand, I was less than fond of Mr. Dunworthy's adventures in Oxford. Yes, it was interesting to observe the number of parallels that emerge between the two story lines, but where I liked the fact that Willis took it slow in the past, I was less fond of it here. I just really wanted to get back to the middle ages and Kivrin. If I had to witness another scene of Mr. Dunworthy trying to coax information out of the sickened technician that sent Kivrin to the past, or his continued misadventures with the American bell ringers, I would have through my tablet across the room.
Thoughts on the Audiobook: To be honest, I wasn't hugely fond of Jenny Sterlin's narration at first, but she really grew on me by the end of the book. I especially think she did a great job creating voices for the two children Kivrin comes to take care of in the past.
Final Thoughts: There are times when Doomsday Book can drag, but it is really worth you patience. Willis has the ability to really make you care about her characters, and this can truly be scene in Kivrin's story in the middle ages, which had me tearing up more than once. This book is recommended to anyone looking for a good time travel book, as well as fans of historical fiction set in the middle ages. (less)
In 1928, the Ku Klux Klan settled in a town in Vermont. Witness shows how certain members of the the town reacted, including a young Jewish girl, an A...moreIn 1928, the Ku Klux Klan settled in a town in Vermont. Witness shows how certain members of the the town reacted, including a young Jewish girl, an African American adolescent, and a racist minister. Witness, narrated from multiple view points, is told in verse form instead of prose. This gives the reader the unique experience of getting to see inside the minds of eleven different people living in one town. To assist the reader, the author has provided pictures at the beginning of the book of each character with their name and age. While reading the book, if you need to remind yourself who a certain character is, you can always flip back to that page and see their picture. Children should be able to relate the most to the younger children, especially twelve year old Leona Sutter. Most of the cast are actually adults. Hess does not hold back on the racism present in the community, such as with Merlin Van Tornhout and Johnny Reeves, both who use racist slang that people may not see as appropriate for young children. One of the benefit of the use of such language is it makes the characters much more believable, giving the time frame. The arrival of the Ku Klux Klan is not the only thing going on in Witness. Hess does a great job establishing the time period by having characters, such as newspaper editor Reynard Alexander, comment on related current events of the late 1920s. Time is also spent developing important relationships between characters, such as Sara Chickering and the young Ester Hirsh, as well as Leona Sutter and the elderly Mr. Field. It's these more gentle, positive moments of the book that make it more than a commentary on racism, but a peek into the lives of eleven very different individuals. Witness is a fascinating book that gets more enjoyable with every read. Recommended Grade Level- 4-6(less)