Saturday, March 24, 2012

Book Review: Brooklyn

I’ve had this book by Colm Toibin on my TBR list for a few years, but it really jumped out at me as I was searching the library shelves for books to take with me on our trip to NYC. The timing was perfect. I read this immigrant’s story while staying in Chelsea, just a couple blocks away from the subway stop where the main character disembarks, leading to one memorable scene.

Eilis is the youngest sibling in an Irish family, and her sister and brothers come up with the funds to send her to Brooklyn, hoping that she will be able to have a better life there. Eilis seems powerless to refuse and is swept along with their plans, although she really has no desire to relocate to America. She is a girl who hasn’t yet found herself, having always been under the shadow of her vivacious, beautiful and compassionate sister, Rose.

Once in Brooklyn, Eilis becomes more solid. She has a sharp mind for bookkeeping and begins taking classes at Brooklyn College while working full time. She handles her new life with careful study and composure, figuring out the best way to navigate this surprising new world.

She balances waves of homesickness with determination to succeed in America. Eventually she meets Tony, an Italian, and comes to the proverbial fork in the road.

That’s the story in a nutshell, but Toibin is a graceful, unhurried storyteller. He takes time to consider the small details in Eilis’s life and those of other characters without necessarily drawing everything into the main story. So much that happens serves to round out Eilis’s character, and we are part of her growing process.  There are small “a-ha” moments, times when Eilis reflects on the way the world works and how she fits into it.

Brooklyn is a coming-of-age story, a romance, a slice of life, an immigrant’s story, all rolled into a tightly written but luxurious novel.

Linked up with Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books

Friday, March 16, 2012

Book Review: The Lost Book of Mala R.

In The Lost Book of Mala R., Rose MacDowell introduces Mala, a gypsy girl in Texas in the 1940s, who is kicked out of her clan for causing disaster. She was like a bad luck charm to her people, and they wanted her gone. She hitchhikes to California to find the woman who had helped raise her for a short time, who had provided her with enough education that she could write a journal. She fills her journal with spells, recipes, predictions, and a jumble of thoughts.

Half a century later, the journal shows up in a yard sale and finds its way into the lives of three suburban wives, all struggling with identity and marriage. Linda must face a summer with her 10-year-old spoiled step-daughter; Christine, after struggling with years of infertility, finds out she is pregnant at the same time her husband is suspected of murder; and Audrey, whose husband has become a health-nut, falls into an affair that gives her life new meaning. Mala's journal speaks to each woman in a different way, and they all try a spell to solve a problem in their lives.

Woven in with the present-day story of the three women is Mala's own story, which I really loved. I wasn't quite as involved in the stories of the three suburbanites, as their characters weren't as developed, but Mala's story was fabulous. I wanted much more of her story! But the three modern-day women did have intriguing stories, and I read eagerly each night for the resolution of each.

I really enjoyed this book, although now that I think about it, the Mala story didn't really add to the stories of the three ladies, nor did their story really heighten her story. I'm not sure either needed the other; they were only marginally intertwined. That said, I'm not bothered that the two fed off each other somewhat. I was completely engrossed in the book, wondering what would happen with all the stories. MacDowell is a wonderful writer, lyrical and detailed, with memorable scenes.

Linked up with Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Sunday Salon: February in Review

Books Read in February
(click for my reviews)
  • A Secret Kept by Tatiana de Rosnay: "I had such high hopes for this newest novel by Tatiana de Rosnay, author of Sarah's Key, which I absolutely loved."
  • The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien: "What words can I use to describe the book? Haunting. Terrifying. Heartbreaking. Beautiful. Brilliant. It's a war story, a love story, a study of lives stopped and started again but never the same. Please, please read it."
  • The Escape Artist by Diane Chamberlain: "I'm occasionally a sucker for total drama, and somehow Diane Chamberlain sucks me in every time."
  • She Walks These Hills by Sharyn McCrumb: I haven't reviewed this one yet. It was our March book club book, and a re-read for me. For once, I think everyone in book club loved the book! In fact, five of us drove through a crazy storm with tornadoes reported all around us so that we wouldn't miss the discussion of this book! OK, it's actually because we love book club itself, but whatever. The book is great.

Best Book of February
The Things They Carried. Absolutely stunning.

Books Read Aloud (with 11-year-old)
Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan
House of 60 Fathers by Meindert de Jong.

Added to My Ever-Growing TBR List
The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer

Currently Reading
The Lost Book of Mala by Rose MacDowell
Pride and Prejudice (re-read, for British Lit)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Book Review: The Escape Artist

For some people it's Nicholas Sparks or Jodi Picoult, but Diane Chamberlain is my guilty pleasure. Her books are full of coincidences and crazy events, but somehow I just love them. The Escape Artist is my third Chamberlain novel. I loved The Midwife's Confession and The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes (see, even the titles are telltale cheese), and I liked this one just as well. They're just good, satisfying tales of improbable events.

The Escape Artist tells the tale of Susanna Miller, who takes her baby and runs when she loses custody of him to her ex-husband and his new wife. She travels across the country to reinvent herself. Of course she is always terrified that she'll be caught, but she also misses her boyfriend. She eventually meets another guy and tries to start a new life, but of course the story can't be as simple as that.

I can't help it. I'm occasionally a sucker for total drama, and somehow Diane Chamberlain sucks me in every time. Seriously, if you need books that you can't put down, are full of a range of coincidences that you somehow don't even roll your eyes at, and have these fantastic characters, get a stack of Chamberlain's novels. You might feel a little sheepish, but it'll be worth it.