Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Sunday Salon: July in Review

Books Read in July
The Little Giant of Aberdeen County: LOVED
The Wednesday Sisters: Nah.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot: Fabulous
Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne: Pretty good.
The Secret Daughter: LOVED!

Read in May/June but Reviewed Finally in July
Climbing the Stairs: enjoyable!
A Room with a View: lovely
Nanny Returns: Nope.
My Name Is Mary Sutter: Read it, NOW!

Favorite Book of the Month
Oh boy. Must I pick? Secret Daughter, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and The Little Giant of Aberdeen County were all fantastic. I can't choose.

Mid-Year Review
See my favorite books of the year thus far!

Currently Reading
Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich. Dark and disturbing thus far.

Added to My Ever-Growing TBR List
*Dry Grass of August by Anna Jean Mayhew
*Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton (reviewed at Redlady's Reading Room)
*Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
*Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
*The Soldier's Wife by Margaret Leroy (reviewed at Polishing Mud Balls)
* The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht

Books-to-Movies Watched
Eat, Pray, Love. B-o-r-i-n-g. Watched the movie before I read the book; therefore, crossed the book off my TBR list.

Coming Up
How To Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas Foster
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (re-read)
The German Woman by Paul Griner
The Queen's Daughter by Susan Coventry
Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen by Susan Gregg Gilmore
The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes by Diane Chamberlain
The Judas Field by Howard Bahr

Top 3 Most Visited Reviews This Month on SmallWorld Reads
Snowflower and the Secret Fan
The Postmistress

Thanks to the Top 3 Referring Blogs
Rebecca Reads
Cindy's Book Club

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Book Review: The Little Giant of Aberdeen County

The Little Giant of Aberdeen County was an impulse check-out at the library, and somehow I always score well when I have the rare opportunity to peruse the to-be-shelved (i.e., just returned) books. I don't know why this book never made it to my TBR list, but I'm glad I stumbled upon it! Tiffany Baker is a wonderful writer, and this novel is full of surprises.

Truly starts life out in a big way—so big, in fact, that her mother dies in childbirth. Truly grows at a tremendous rate (turns out to be a pituitary gland glitch) and soon outgrows her older sister, the beautiful Serena. They go through childhood as the beauty and the beast, for Truly is as ugly as she is big.

Eventually they are orphaned and split up: Truly goes to live with an impoverished family in the country, and Serena lives a privileged life in town. Woven into the story of Truly and Serena is the doctor, Robert Morgan and his son, also Dr. Robert Morgan, and their great-great grandmother, Tabitha, the witch doctor.

This novel has everything in it: mystery, romance, magic, and a fantastic story line.

Other reviews of The Little Giant of Aberdeen County:
The Book Lady's Blog
Caribous Mom
Planet Books
Maw Books

Monday, July 25, 2011

Book Review: The Wednesday Sisters

I put this book on my TBR list because I guess some blogger really liked it and gave it a resounding review. Yep, so, I'm glad somebody really liked it. Oh, it wasn't terrible. There was one part that even brought a tear to my eye. But mostly I just found the particular narrative style of the novel hokey, unbelievable, and therefore faintly irritating.

So The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton is about a group of moms who find each other and become lifelong friends. There is a stereotype for each mom: the jock, the southern belle, the brain, the depressed, the unfulfilled. And the setting is fraught with potential: 1968 in Palo Alto, California. So somehow these women manage to somehow be privy to, whether via TV or in real life, every huge event that happens in the 60s and 70s. You name it, they experience it: women's rights, war protests, assassination of the Robert Kennedy, man walking on the moon, the beginning of the computer era. They witness way too much. And tragedies of all kinds happen to them, as well: infidelity, infertility, cancer, squashed dreams.

To top it all off, they all decide to be writers. A couple of them even have best sellers. I don't know. The novel just felt so very contrived, and I just couldn't get past that they all shared these huge historical moments together as young mothers and had deep philosophical discussions about the events. Seriously? I don't know how that works.

You might want to use this book as a filler between heavier books. Once you start reading it, you will want to know what happens to the characters and why one of them wears white gloves all the time, so you'll probably keep reading it. Afterwards, you'll might wonder why you kept reading it— or maybe that's just me.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Book Review: A Room with a View

Ah, what's to be said about this E.M. Forster classic that hasn't been said already? Published in 1908, Forster paints the painfully restrictive, often silly middle-class English life of Lucy Honeychurch. Lucy wants more than what is expected of her, more than what the social mores of the time allow. She wants a life with a view.

Forster presents the Honeychurches and their community as pillars of all that is good and noble among Englishmen, and he presents the Emmersons, the unconventional, erratic foils to the Honeychurhces. Lucy is doomed to shake loose of convention from the moment George Emmerson kisses her. It just takes her awhile.

Satire, wit, romance: it's all here. It's been 25 years or more since I last read A Room with a View, and now I'm going to get comfy, pull up Netflix, and watch the movie again. Sometimes 1908 is a much, much better place to be.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Sunday Salon: Mid-year Review

So far this year I've read 23 books and have (thus far) reviewed 19 of them. I've also read another half-dozen or so juvenile fiction books with the kids and/or for literature classes I teach.

Here are my reviews so far:

There have been some really, really good ones in the first half of 2011. My Top 5 (not in any particular order) are:

My Name Is Mary Sutter (Robin Oliveira)
Bloodroot (Amy Greene)
March (Geraldine Brooks)
Remains of the Day (Kazuo Ishiguro)
Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)

There are some other contenders for the Top 10 list among the books I've read so far this year, but perhaps those other spots will go to books to be read in the next six months.

What's at the top of your list so far for 2011?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Book Review: Climbing the Stairs

Padma Venkatraman offers yet another perspective on World War II in Climbing the Stairs— that of an Indian family whose lives are forever altered during the Indian struggle for independence.

Vidya is a 15-year-old girl who wants to further her education rather than following the traditional route of arranged marriage. Her mother is resistant but her father agrees that she should go to college. Before anything can be formally arranged, however, her father is permanently brain damaged during a riot. Vidya and her family must move into her grandfather's home, where they are treated little better than servants.

Ultimately Vidya's grandfather allows her a bit of freedom, and Vidya can occasionally escape the oppressive life of a woman in a strict Brahmin family. In some ways, this book reminded me of Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis. A strange comparison, I know, but the protagonists in the novels have such similar personalities and drives.

Climbing the Stairs ends satisfactorily, which I like. I highly recommend adding this to any World War 2 era reading list. You can see my WWII list here and visit War Through the Generations for many more.

(Thanks to S. Krishna's Books for the initial recommendation.)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Book Review: My Name Is Mary Sutter

As Robin Oliveira's first novel, My Name Is Mary Sutter has set the standard high for the author. This novel set during the Civil War was so fabulous, so compelling that I mourned when I had finished it. I mean, not like sobbing uncontrollably or anything like that, but I was bummed. I wanted more.

Mary Sutter is a strong young woman who has a singular focus: to be a surgeon. During Civil War times, this was considered outrageous. Women were nurses, not physicians. Mary futilely attempts to intern with a few surgeons, but they all refuse her. Ultimately, she escapes from her privileged home in Albany, New York and heads to Washington, DC, where she is thrown into a gritty world of amputations, pain, exhaustion, and constant heartache. In a rundown hotel-made-hospital, she becomes a surgeon.

I have nothing but praise for Oliveira. Her writing is delicious. Her characters are vivid and memorable; the dialogue is excellent; the historical perspective fascinating. I will wait with expectation for her next novel and hope it can be even half as good as Mary Sutter.

A great companion to this novel is March, by Geraldine Brooks, which I reviewed recently. The two together depict a side of the Civil War that doesn't get as much attention as the battles and lives of soldiers.

Thanks to Wisteria at Bookworm's Dinner for the initial recommendation of this novel!

Other Reviews of My Name Is Mary Sutter
Fiction Writers Review: "Mary herself is a symbol of what women have historically brought to the American experiment, showing incredible tenacity in the face of injustice and patient nurture in the aftermath of violence."
ReadSpace: "Combine that with real people and events from history, a set of very human characters who give perspective to what is happening, and even a love story and this book moves beyond just a Civil War story."
CaribousMom: "In the pages of her novel, Oliveira captures the chaos, death, and trauma of under supplied hospitals and overwhelmed doctors and nurses…bringing to life the amazing stamina and courage of those who filled those roles."
My Friend Amy: "…should appeal to readers interested in the history ofmedicine, war-time medicine, the advancement of women's rights, and the Civil War."
Take Me Away Reading: "his was truly a powerful book with a strong female lead."

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Sunday Salon: June in Review

I don't know what's happened to my reading life; I really don't! I somehow cannot get caught up on my book reviews or make much progress in reading. It seems like just days since I wrote this April and May in Review post, and I still haven't written most of those reviews. But here goes…

Books Read in June
Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatramen
A Room with a View by E.M. Forster

Favorite Book of the Month
A Room with a View. I surely read this before years ago, although I don't actually recall it. I do remember the movie and plan to watch it again. I read it in consideration for a British Lit class that I'll be teaching in the fall, but I don't think we'll read it. Maybe.

Currently Reading
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne

Added to My TBR List
Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me by Ian Morgan Cron (reviewed at Rachel Held Evans)
Judas Field: A Novel of the Civil War by Howard Bahr (reviewed at Bookworm's Dinner)
Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin (reviewed at Reader Buzz)

Coming Up
How To Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas Foster
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (re-read)
…and hopefully a lot more this month!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Book Review: Nanny Returns

Year and years ago I read The Nanny Diaries by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, and I loved the book. It was funny, sharp, poignant, and scary. About a decade later, McLaughlin and Kraus check back in with Nanny, Mr. and Mrs. X, and Grayer (now 16) in Nanny Returns.

They probably should have let that cast of characters stay where they were. This book was too jumbled. Too much was going on. I couldn't figure out why Nan's Harvard hottie husband was gone for weeks at a time or why the whole sub-plot about Nan and her new job at an upscale private school had to be in the book at all.

The voice of Nan that as so endearing a decade ago fell flat this time. Maybe she should have been a different person by now. Maybe we should have heard her grown-up voice. Or maybe she just should have never resurfaced.

Nanny Returns wasn't horrible. It was mostly messy with a few good moments. If you loved The Nanny Diaries and want to know how things turned out for Grayer, you might want to read it. Or wait for the movie.