Kathryn Stockett’s debut novel has been such a hit all spring that I finally put myself on the request list for the audio version of it. Almost immedi...moreKathryn Stockett’s debut novel has been such a hit all spring that I finally put myself on the request list for the audio version of it. Almost immediately after the first disk started playing I fell in love with this book. The Help is performed by a cast, so different actresses portray different characters throughout the book.
In a way, The Help reads like short series – it is written as a series of glimpses into the lives of women living in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960s, at the cusp of the Civil Rights movement there. As the book unfolds, we are introduced to Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan, a white farmer’s daughter with a passion for writing who has just returned home from college to a much changed household, Aibileen, a black maid who has been raising other people’s white children for most of her life, and her best friend Minny, a sassy woman and fabulous cook whose mouth gets her fired more often than she would like.
As Skeeter searches for something to fill her long days other than the Junior League, she begins to see a web of stories, both good and bad, connecting the black maids in Jackson. Skeeter, with Aibileen’s help, slowly develops relationships with the women and begins to take down their stories in the form of a book. Her obvious civil rights sympathies estrange her friends and old schoolmates, but Skeeter’s own personal troubles take a back seat as her eyes are opened to the lives of the kind of people who have cared for her, cooked her meals, and cleaned her clothes, but whom she had never really known.(less)
This isn’t the type of book that I would normally have picked up based on the cover alone, but I fell in love with another one of Denis Johnson’s book...moreThis isn’t the type of book that I would normally have picked up based on the cover alone, but I fell in love with another one of Denis Johnson’s books when a friend recommended it. That book, unfortunately, isn’t available in our library system (so I’m not going to even mention its title) but you should read this one instead. His style is a little gritty, a lot of noir, and very character-centric.
Jimmy Luntz is a total loser – figuratively and literally. He’s in a barbershop chorus, has little luck with the ladies, and owes a chunk of money due to a bit of a problem with horserace betting. Juarez is your typical underworld baddie, and he wants his cash; not tomorrow or next week as Jimmy might like, but today, or really, yesterday. Gambol is the go-between who needs to get Jimmy (and the money) to Juarez, but he hadn’t planned on Jimmy shooting him in the leg during the transportation process. And then there’s Anita, who is involved in, and being charged with, an embezzling scheme that would make her a millionaire, if only she could get her hands on the money.
This novel is short (I read it in a day) and it’s funny. Johnson has a knack for bringing characters to life, and making you like even the bad ones. The book was originally written to be serialized for Playboy, hence it’s brevity. Don’t let the fact that it’s a skinny crime novel get you down – it’s clever and a very good read.(less)
I should preface this post by stating that I’m a huge John Irving fan. If it takes place in New England and/or Austria and involves any combination of...moreI should preface this post by stating that I’m a huge John Irving fan. If it takes place in New England and/or Austria and involves any combination of these elements; a bear, wrestling, prep schools, and death or dismemberment, I am hooked. There’s something about how Irving brings these topics together (in seemingly every book he’s written) that brings me back for more every time. So, when Irving’s 16th book came out late last year, I was one of the first on the wait list.
Last Night in Twisted River is the story of a father and son living in Twisted River, a logging town in Northern Massachusetts. When a tragic accident forces Dominic and young Danny to leave the town and their lives behind, a circuitous whirlwind of a story begins with multiple last name and location changes; the novel chases the two throughout the country (and finally into Canada) as they attempt to avoid their pasts catching up with them.
Danny grows up quickly after leaving Twisted River, and begins writing semi-autobiographical stories from an early age. As an adult, his successful writing career allows Danny (or, at this point, Daniel) to support his own son (whose mother has left them) as well as his father.
The book spans the course of 51 years and follows the arc of Danny’s life. Although rambling and somewhat long-winded at times, Last Night in Twisted River is a great glimpse of very Irving-esque writing. While perhaps not his best (I prefer Irving’s earlier works, and A Prayer for Owen Meany is my all-time favorite), this is a good read if you enjoy his style.(less)
Although at times overly pedantic, Marisha Pessl’s debut novel is a great read. Blue van Meer is the daughter of an academic who hops from university...moreAlthough at times overly pedantic, Marisha Pessl’s debut novel is a great read. Blue van Meer is the daughter of an academic who hops from university to university, traversing the country with his daughter and never setting down real roots. In her senior year of high school, Blue’s father promises her that they will remain in a small town in the North Carolina mountains throughout the school year to allow the two of them to have an uninterrupted last year together.
Although previously devoted to her father, life begins to change for Blue when she gets in clique of five students who call themselves the Bluebloods. Each Sunday, they meet at the home of their film teacher, Hannah Schneider, for conversation and dinner. Secrets abound about the group, but also within the group, and both the reader and Blue herself often feel left out of the lives of the group. By the end of the book (and I promise I’m not ruining anything here – this is mentioned in the first chapter), Hannah will be found dead, hanging from a tree in the woods. Although categorized as a suicide, Blue spends the rest of the book attempting to prove that her teacher and mentor was, in fact, murdered.
I was originally attracted to this book due to its similarity to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, which I would strongly recommend (and stay tuned tomorrow, when I’ll be blogging about another of Tartt’s books!) Another tale of mystery and intrigue surrounding privileged students is The Lake of Dead Languages by Carol Goodman. Check them out!(less)
Last spring, my husband and I took a trip to Chicago to visit some old friends. With so much to see in and around the city, and five people with diffe...moreLast spring, my husband and I took a trip to Chicago to visit some old friends. With so much to see in and around the city, and five people with different opinions on where to go, it was difficult to narrow down our options on what to do. One thing all of us agreed on, though, was that we had to visit the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in Oak Park, Illinois, a short drive from Chicago. I was completely inspired by being inside Wright’s home and seeing firsthand how he allowed nature to help dictate his design aesthetic.
Also on the tour was a book club group who had just finished reading Nancy Horan’s then brand new book, Loving Frank. Although the tour guide emphasized that this is absolutely a work of fiction and recommended other books on Wright that are more historically accurate, my interest was piqued.
Loving Frank is the story of Frank Lloyd Wright’s life told from the point of view of his lover, Mamah Borthwick Cheney. Wright’s genius and his narcissism are carefully developed throughout the story, giving a portrayal of both his strengths and his weaknesses as an architect, husband, father, and man. Although developed in the media as little more than a scandal, Horan weaves a love story between Wright and Mamah leading to their eventual flight from Chicago to avoid persecution and to allow Wright to design and build a new home in the plains of Wisconsin.
The story led me to develop an interest in Frank Lloyd Wright, so I followed it up with several non-fiction titles to learn more about the “official” story of his life and work.
For a first novel, especially, Horan’s book is a must read.(less)
I had read Tartt’s debut novel, The Secret History, several years ago and absolutely loved it, so every time I walked by a copy of The Little Friend,...moreI had read Tartt’s debut novel, The Secret History, several years ago and absolutely loved it, so every time I walked by a copy of The Little Friend, the creepy doll head on the cover beckoned me to read it. Although vastly different from her first work (and nearly ten years after the fact) Tartt is still able to pull the reader into a very specific setting; this time in a small town in 1970s Mississippi.
Harriet, a tom-boyish, stubborn, and precocious 12 year old, has grown up in the shadow of her brother’s murder. When Harriet was just a baby, Robin was found hanging from a tree in the family’s front yard. No clues were left and the killer was never apprehended. The murder destroyed the family, and Harriet has been left mostly to her own devices while her mother fights depression and her older sister withdraws more and more. Over the course of a long and hot summer, Harriet and her best friend Hely take matters into their own hands to solve the 12 year old murder and bring resolution to the family.
The book is at times funny, often dark, and beautifully written throughout. Tartt paints an unmistakable impression of the 1970s South, weaving a tale of family, revenge, pride, and heritage.(less)