Saturday, April 30, 2011

Book Review: A Far Country

I picked up this book by Daniel Mason on a whim at the library, based really on the cover and the possibilities described on the jacket. I'm glad I did. This isn't a cheery novel. It has somewhat of a post-apocalyptic feel to it, although it certainly isn't post-apocalyptic.

Isabel and her family live in an unknown third world country in an unknown time, which gives the book its post-apocalyptic feel, and they are desperately poor. Their country is ravaged by droughts. Isabel's beloved older brother Isaias sets off for the city to find work. The next year, Isabel's parents send her off to the city to take care of her cousin's baby. At 14, she is terrified but determined: her only goal is to find Isaias. Over the course of the next several months, she drags the baby over the city in search of Isaias. All she knows is that Isaias, a musician, plays in a band, somewhere.

Mason's description of life among the poor in the Settlements, the slums of the city, is vivid and heartwrenching. Isabel is desperate to find her brother, yet she begins to make a life for herself in the Settlements. She has no hopes of ever getting out of the slums, and she seems content with her place in life—if only she can find Isaias.

Will she find him? I'm not telling. Read the book. Mason's writing is beautiful, and while the novel isn't the slightest bit happy, the journey with Isabel is worth taking.

Other Reviews
Life Wordsmith
The Observer
Powell's Books

Friday, April 22, 2011

Book Review: March (Geraldine Brooks)

Geraldine Brooks continues to amaze me: Year of Wonders, People of the Book, and now March. I am so happy that I have her newest, Caleb's Crossing, to look forward to.

I must admit I wasn't terribly enthused about the idea of March. I knew that the story was about Mr. March, father of Little Women's Meg, Jo, Amy, and Beth. Somehow that just didn't excite me, perhaps because I was a huge Little Women fan as a girl. But March jumped out at me on my last library visit, so I grabbed it.

I loved it. Recently I reviewed Chris Bohjalian's The Double Bind, which I really liked largely because he wove a contemporary story in with the fictional The Great Gatsby, treating the characters in Gatsby as if they had actually lived. Although March isn't a contemporary story, Brooks uses the same device of expanding on a famous novel by giving marginal characters new life in their own story.

I haven't read Little Women in its entirety in probably 30 years, although I have read an abridged version and watched both the movie and a play in the past five years or so. But I read it multiple times as a tween/teen, and the story is quite vivid for me. But Mr. March was always a shadowy character, the father-at-war.

In March, we read his side of the story: the ugliness of war, the devastation, horror, and degradation he faces, all while putting on a pretty face in his letters back home. We also hear about his youth and courtship with Mrs. March, which includes some wonderful scenes with Emerson and Thoreau. These scenes are based on the journals and letters of Bronson Alcott, Louisa May's father, and brilliantly done.

Who is the real Mr. March? A devout minister, a coward, an adulterer, a doting father? Ultimately he is not the man his wife or daughters think he is, but he's also not the man he thinks he is.

There's a reason Geraldine Brooks won the Pulitzer for March. Highly recommended, even if you've never read Little Women. But you'll probably want to when you finish.

Other Bloggers Review March
Scrappy Cat
Fat Books and Thin Women
One Librarian's Book Reviews
The Blue Bookcase

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Book Review: Murder on the Orient Express

When I was a teenager—probably around 14—I remember a summer that mostly involved sitting in a beach chair by the lake in my backyard, reading Agatha Christie novels and taking a swim or a sail every now and then. I had a great tan that summer, and I remember the satisfaction of finishing one mystery and picking up the next one immediately.

I've been telling my 13-year-old daughter about that idyllic Agatha Christie summer, so I picked up Murder on the Orient Express to see if the mystery still satisfied me. There was my old friend with the awkward name, Hercule Poirot, given the task of finding a murderer. (I read the books before I took French, so I can only imagine how I pronounced that name in my head.) And the mystery unfolded with layer after layer of lies and deceit, mixed with coincidences—or not. Of course I didn't have any recollection of how the whole thing turned out, since my last reading was 30 years ago. That was a nice surprise.

So am I going to go on another Agatha Christie reading spree? Nah. I might pick up another couple sometime when I need a break between heavy reading, but that's probably about it. But I do think I'll encourage my daughter to give Christie a try this summer. Too bad we don't live on a lake.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Sunday Salon: March in Review

March was a fantastic month for reading. The books were many and for the most part really good. I hope this bodes well for the rest of the year!

Books Read in March

(Click for review)
The Diary by Eileen Goudge
The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian
New Stories from the South, 2010
Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen
Born Under a Lucky Moon by Dana Precious
Tangerine by Edward Bloor (for a literature circle class, middle school)

Favorite Book of the Month
Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen. I laughed so much.

Books Read to the Kids
The Horse and His Boy by CS Lewis
The Last Battle by CS Lewis

Started and Stopped
The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. B-o-r-i-n-g.

Currently Reading
March by Geraldine Brooks. Love it so far.

Up Next
Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
A Far Country by Daniel Mason
Pride and Prejudice (re-read)
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (re-read)

Added to my TBR List
Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks (Reviewed at Bookworm's Dinner)
Look Me in the Eye
by John Elder Robison
The Postmistress by Sarah Blake (recommended by Books and Movies)
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Book Review: The Diary by Eileen Goudge

I read this little book by Eileen Goudge one afternoon in March and forgot to record/review it. It was such a short little happy book, not filled with any profound truths or passionate writing. Just a nice Saturday afternoon book, one that makes you feel that all is right with the world.

The story goes that two adult sisters are going through their mother's things, after having moved her into a nursing home, and find a diary. They read it, of course, and find out all kinds of surprising things about her and their father. One can't help but wonder while reading this: how well do we really know our parents? What secret stories do they share, and what do they keep from one another?

This is a sweet love story, and I very much needed a light, happy book at that time.I haven't read any other Eileen Goudge books but I will keep her in mind for those in-between reads.

Other Reviews of The Diary
Lesa's Book Critiques
Simply Stacie
The Time Traveller's Weblog