One rainy night, elderly widow Martha answers a knock at the farmhouse door to find an unusual couple there: a deaf African-American man and a beautif...moreOne rainy night, elderly widow Martha answers a knock at the farmhouse door to find an unusual couple there: a deaf African-American man and a beautiful, mentally handicapped young woman. The woman has a newborn in her arms. The pair, Martha realizes, have come from the nearby institution for the developmentally disabled. The institution is a brutal, secretive place: many staff members are abusive or neglectful, the facilities are squalid, families don’t visit, and once a young woman like Lynnie is placed at this “school”, they receive very little educational opportunities to develop their skills. Even without knowing much about the institution, Martha is filled with compassion and takes in the couple.
School officials find the couple and take them back, but not before the young mother tells Martha to hide the baby. Martha does, and the lives of all four people—and others—are changed forever. It follows the widow and baby, the young mother, and the deaf man over several decades, as each seeks to survive and thrive in difficult circumstances, including their own limitations.
The book reminded me a bit of The Memory Keeper’s Daughter (by Kim Edwards) because of the subject matter of the treatment of the mentally disabled, but the tone and ending are very different. There was a lot of darkness in this book, but also hope and joy and love. It moved me in a way that few books do. I read this in September and have since read several dozen more books, yet I still think about Simon’s characters and remember more about them than some in more recently-read novels. For that reason, I'm giving a rare 5 star review. (less)
If you don’t know that “the weird sisters” is a reference to the witches in Macbeth, please read this book and then read some Shakespeare. It’s a grea...moreIf you don’t know that “the weird sisters” is a reference to the witches in Macbeth, please read this book and then read some Shakespeare. It’s a great read even if you’re not terribly familiar with the Bard, but it’s much more fun if you are.
It’s the story of three grown sisters who, for one reason or another, are living at home with their Shakespearean professor father and mother. Their entire lives are defined by the books they read—there’s no problem a book can’t solve—and their relationship with each other. Rose (short for Rosalind) debates marrying her ideal man and leaving their small college town, while Bean (Bianca) and Cordy (Cordelia) have returned home for reasons they deliberately keep vague about. They love each other but liking each other is a different story. (Notice that they are all named after Shakespearean heroines, and be thankful, like they are, that their father wasn’t an expert on Sophocles or Aeschulus.)
I had writer-envy when I read this novel. This is the type of book that makes me drool: the prose flows effortlessly, the characters are intriguing, the plot is smart, and the voice is amazing. It’s written in the first person plural, from the point of view of the three sisters, and occasionally dips into one woman’s head for a particular scene. And it is to Brown’s credit as a writer that this works; most authors couldn’t pull this off half as effectively.
I'm one of the contributors to this collection, so I don't think I can really write an unbiased review. But thanks to everyone who has read this book...moreI'm one of the contributors to this collection, so I don't think I can really write an unbiased review. But thanks to everyone who has read this book and recommended it to others. (less)
I first heard of The Stormchasers while researching comparative titles for my book proposal. (No, I’m not published, but I still needed to know what o...moreI first heard of The Stormchasers while researching comparative titles for my book proposal. (No, I’m not published, but I still needed to know what other novels dealt with similar subject matter.) So I picked up a copy from the library and devoured it in a few days.
Karena, a 38-year-old news reporter, has been searching for her missing bipolar twin brother for over two decades. When she gets word that he has been hospitalized, she is both relieved (at last, she’ll see him!) and fearful (has he tried to kill himself again?). But by the time she makes it to the hospital, Charles has disappeared again. Karena believes that he may be with a group of stormchasers, people who “chase” severe weather in search of tornadoes. So she joins a stormchasing tour, chasing after her missing (and unmedicated) brother, and soon finds love, bad weather, and the truth about her darkest secret, the one that only she and Charles know.
I really enjoyed this book. The portrayal of Charles’ bipolar disorder is accurate, and having been on lithium myself, I can appreciate his hatred for the side effects of his medications. Having been a friend to an unmedicated bipolar person, I can appreciate Karena’s dilemma, too: Charles being medicated is hell for him, Charles being unmedicated is hell for everyone else. It’s frustrating and scary. The book is worth reading. (less)
Lia and Cassie were best friends, bonded by the secrets of their eating disorders. Now Cassie has died. Lia is left alone, descending ever more surely...moreLia and Cassie were best friends, bonded by the secrets of their eating disorders. Now Cassie has died. Lia is left alone, descending ever more surely into the clutches of anorexia. Her divorced parents fight over how to help her, her stepmother is well-intentioned but clueless, and no one seems to understand the mental anguish in Lia’s head. Will she die, just like her former best friend?
Wintergirls was a difficult read for me. As a college student, I was bulimic and borderline anorexic. Being in Lia’s head reminded me of my own thought patterns during that time, sometimes too much. (One scene two-thirds of the way through the book made me tear up because I did exactly what Lia did.) For that reason, I wouldn’t recommend that people strugging with eating disorders read this book; it’s too likely to be a trigger.
However, for their parents, friends and other loved ones, this is a great resource for beginning to understand what is going on in an eating disordered person’s mind. I stress “beginning” because no two ED people are exactly alike. For example, I was never hooked on a number on the scale like Lia is. It’s worth wading through some of the stylistic quirks of the text to understand. (less)
Maisie Dobbs, private investigator and careful observer of people, returns in the 8th novel of this series. It's 1932, and the growing tensions in Eur...moreMaisie Dobbs, private investigator and careful observer of people, returns in the 8th novel of this series. It's 1932, and the growing tensions in Europe have cast shadows over England. Dobbs is asked to take a teaching position at the College of St. Francis, devoted to the study of peace, and observe the comings and goings of its students and professors. Is there anything that is not in the best interests of the Crown?
No sooner has Maisie arrived than the founder of the college is murdered. Though Maisie is ordered not to investigate, she does.
I have heard good things about this series. I enjoyed the book. Maisie is compassionate, observant and wise. The Crown and the chief investigators may dismiss the growing Nazi movement, but Maisie doesn't.
My problem was this: there were numerous people and relationships that have obviously been explored in the previous novels. Unfortunately, I had no idea who was who, so I often flipped back and forth trying to discern what Maisie's relationship with the Comptons was. In all fairness, Winspear tries to explain, but I think it would've been easier if I had read the first seven novels.
Also, there were lots of characters, especially once Maisie arrives at the college. It became hard for me to keep track of them all. There were also some subplots that I thought might have tied more directly to the main plot, but didn't seem to.
Still, an enjoyable book. I'll read some of the earlier books and learn what has happened to Maisie in previous novels (less)
In the late 15th century, a wealthy nobleman commissions a set of woven tapestries for his home. The designer, a portraitist known for his miniatures...moreIn the late 15th century, a wealthy nobleman commissions a set of woven tapestries for his home. The designer, a portraitist known for his miniatures of court ladies and his seductions of the aforesaid ladies, creates designs of a lady seducing a unicorn. He also wreaks havoc among the female members of the household. Once the designs are approved, he moves north to supervise the weaving of the tapestries, where he also manages to wreak havoc of a different sort.
The book is well written. Chevalier, best known for Girl with a Pearl Earring, has recreated the 15th century and created memorable characters. She uses several different viewpoints to tell the story: the designer, the daughter and wife of the nobleman, the weaver, his wife and his daughter, and the cartoonist who works for the weaver.
I was especially moved by Alienor, the blind daughter of the weaver, who is trapped by the choice of a detestable husband and being dependant on the charity of her father and her brother. This is a character-driven novel, and though the seven different first person point of views could be confusing, it wasn’t, IMO.
Definitely an imaginative and memorable work that interprets these famous tapestries in a new way. (less)
O’Connor is not for the faint of heart. Her stories delve into the ugly side of life, exploring faith and human nature in a variety of often bizarre s...moreO’Connor is not for the faint of heart. Her stories delve into the ugly side of life, exploring faith and human nature in a variety of often bizarre scenarios. They can be violent, disconcerting and hard to understand, and please, don’t read the entire set of short stories in one sitting.
The characters are often unsympathetic. When I finish one of her stories, I feel gutted, as if someone took out my insides and showed me the ugliness in my heart and how I am no so different from the murderers and misfits in her tales. But I also sense that I now have something to grapple with, that she has explored my religion (Christianity) in a penetrating way that I can’t ignore.
It’s impossible to say that this is an enjoyable short story collection. But if you’re willing to wrestle with the questions and imagery and ideas in it, read it. (less)
Deliverance from Evil revolves around George Burroughs, a minister who is swept up in the Salem witchcraft trials. I've read several books, fiction an...moreDeliverance from Evil revolves around George Burroughs, a minister who is swept up in the Salem witchcraft trials. I've read several books, fiction and non-fiction, about the trials, and was interested in what Hill had to say. She's written scholarly works about the trials. Unfortunately, I just couldn't finish the novel.
First, though, it's obvious that Hill is an expert on the subject. The period details are wonderful and I did get a great sense of what was going on with the young women who began the accusations of witchcraft. (I had never heard what happened to certain of them, so this was interesting.) I also learned about the political climate of the time, which was fascinating.
But I never fully engaged with Burroughs or any of the other characters, and I really don't know why. I also never really figured out why the other ministers/political authorities didn't like Burroughs, aside from his unpuritan stances and behavior, and friendships with Indians. Was that really motivation enough for their actions? In real life, I guess so; in fiction, I want something more (even if it goes against the historical record). I wondered if Hill's expertise started to work against the story; too much adherence to historical fact might hamper the author's ability to flesh out characters and such.
I stopped mid-way through the book and flipped to the end. After the sensational drama of the trials and hysteria, the epilogue felt anticlimactic and flat.
Still, if you like historical novels, try this one and see what you think. The writing is very good and you may have a different response to the novel than I did. (less)
Gaius Petreius Ruso serves as a military doctor during the Roman occupation of Britannia, dealing with his over-meticulous hospital administrator, his...moreGaius Petreius Ruso serves as a military doctor during the Roman occupation of Britannia, dealing with his over-meticulous hospital administrator, his wounded and mangled patients, and an unclaimed dead body washed to shore. And not just a dead body but a murdered body. During a moment of sleep-deprived vulnerability, he manages to pick up a half-dead slave girl who won't talk and can't cook, and winds up investigating the mysterious deaths of several prostitutes.
Ruso is a grumpy, tactless and utterly likeable sleuth. The banter between he and his roommate/rival/fellow doctor is funny, as are his encounters with the hospital administrator, who believes that protocol must be followed even when it makes no sense whatsoever. (Anyone who has dealt with these types of officials will understand Ruso's desire to throttle the man.) I often found myself laughing aloud. Not the usual sort of murder mystery fare. Fans of historical mysteries will enjoy this. (less)
I'll admit it; I'm a sucker for historical fiction, especially when the book has fabulous writing, vivid characters and manages to surprise me even wh...moreI'll admit it; I'm a sucker for historical fiction, especially when the book has fabulous writing, vivid characters and manages to surprise me even when I know the ending. Such is the case with Naslund's Abundance, a novel of Marie Antoinette.
We all know her fate. There's no need to put spoiler alerts on a book when we know that the protagonist will be executed by the guillotine by blood-thirsty revolutionaries during the Reign of Terror. And most of us know her as the cruel and callous queen who said, "Let them eat cake." Actually, she didn't say this. (It was Louis XIV's wife who did.) She is sympathetic, really, because she wants to identify with the French people. She often says that she wants to live a simple life, like the common people, though she doesn't truly understand what drives the people to embrace the revolutionaries.
Naslund plays with the concept of abundance so subtly that it might be easy to miss. I didn't catch on until halfway through the novel. She has included actual letters between Marie Antoinette and her mother, the empress of Austria, which include her mother's admonishment to please the king, consummate her long-unconsummated marriage, stop gambling and choose wise companions. A fascinating look at how politics influenced marriages between royals.
A beautifully written book. Well worth reading for people interested in the time period and who don't mind 500+ page novels. (less)
Kim is a spoiled but well-intentioned Christian teenager. She sets off to Mexico, planning to do street evangelism; instead, she winds up in rural (an...moreKim is a spoiled but well-intentioned Christian teenager. She sets off to Mexico, planning to do street evangelism; instead, she winds up in rural (and we are talking off-the-map, findable only by GPS type of rural) Mexico doing construction work for a village devastated by a natural disaster. Construction work? So much for the manicure she got at the airport before realizing that she was several hours late for her flight. No electricity? Farewell to the special hairdryer she packed in one of her three suitcases. Evangelism? No villager speaks English; no team member speaks Spanish. Oops.
In spite of her spoiled nature, Kim is likeable. She’s funny and thoughtful and earnestly desires to help the people of the village. She struggles with swearing and verbal clumsiness, which endeared her to me, a verbally clumsy person who manages to put both feet in my mouth far too often. As the two-week trip progresses, Kim changes and learns to trust God in new ways. The ending left me teary-eyed.
The book is targeted to YA Christian teens and there’s a lot of “God-talk”, so if you’re not a Christian, this probably isn’t the book for you. But if you’re a Christian teen girl, then you might enjoy reading about Kim. If you’ve ever been on a mission trip (especially one that took an expected turn), check this out. This is what really endeared me to Kim. My one mission trip, taken while I was 7 weeks pregnant with my first child (and struck by horrible morning sickness), was a disaster, so I completely sympathized with her emotional ups-and-downs on her journey.
Bruner was inspired by a mission trip his daughter took in her teenage years. (She’s listed as co-author.) The second book in the series will come out in Fall 2011. Check out his website at http://www.rogerbruner.com/ (less)