Saturday, November 17, 2012

Book Review: The Bungalow

I had great hopes for my next foray into Sarah Jio's writing after reading The Violets of March. I really liked my first encounter with Jio with Violets of March. The Bungalow was enjoyable but lacked the excellent writing in Violets of March.

The story follows Anne, who narrates the story, beginning in 1942, to her granddaughter. Anne's an a upper-class girl who decides to postpone her engagement to a boy she's known all her life in order to join the Army Nurse Corps in Bora Bora during WWII. In Bora Bora, she soon falls in love with Westry. Through a series of miscommunications and interferences, they ultimately end up apart. Seventy years later, Anne goes back to Bora Bora to figure out what really happened between her and Westry.

This was a nice in-between read. I felt like parts of the story were missing or not told particularly well, but Jio does an excellent job of drawing rich and memorable characters. I'll read more of her novels.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Book Review: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

In this wonderfully warm debut novel, Helen Simonson introduces Ernest Pettigrew, a perfectly stuffy English gentleman. As the novel opens, Major Pettigrew has had a shock: his brother dies, and suddenly the Major, a widower, is terribly aware that he is alone in the world. His grown son is spoiled and selfish. Although he has always been proud of his own sense of duty, honor, tradition, and decorum, his life seems drab and predictable. And he can't seem to get Jasmina Ali, the Pakistani shopkeeper, out of his mind.

He finds himself going out of his way to see Mrs. Ali, who is a widow, first by sharing snippets of books and then sharing rides and walks. But as the villagers sense what is going on, they are shocked and talk quietly amongst themselves. The Major, one of their own, with a foreigner? And a shopkeeper at that?

For Major Pettigrew, being honorable is not a facade. He is appalled by the people that he considered his friends and neighbors, and his son's selfishness fills him with a mixture of despair and disgust. As various events and side stories unfold, the Major again and again chooses what is right, both for himself and for society.
This was a beautifully written, lovely novel. Simonson paints the Major and Mrs. Ali so clearly that I can perfectly imagine them. I highly recommend this witty and thought-provoking debut novel! This was our book club's November read, and everyone absolutely loved it.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Sunday Salon: October in Review

Books Read in October
The Tea-Olive Birdwatching Society: From my review: "I want to either love a book club book, or I want to hate it. Either way makes for great discussion. But this one? I don't really have a lot to say about it, certainly nothing passionate."
The Violets of March: From my review: "This is just a lovely little book with all the right ingredients: family secrets, a mystery, romance, and great writing."
True Sisters: From my review: "Sandra Dallas has once again written a fascinating tale woven around a unique piece of American history."
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. (Multiple re-read.)
The Boy Who Stole the Leopard's Spots by Tamar Myers. (Not yet reviewed.)
Frankenstein. (Abridged version with 11-year-old.)

Best Book of the Month:
I really enjoyed both The Violets of March and True Sisters, but Violets wins by a bit.

Currently Reading
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson (LOVE!)
Ethan Frome (multiple re-read, teaching for American Lit class)
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (re-read, teaching for literature circle class)

Added to My Ever-Growing TBR List 
Years of Grace by Margaret Ayer Barnes 
Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio
The Bungalow by Sarah Jio.
Deadline by Randy Alcorn
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey.
The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker
Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman
The Rebel Wife by Taylor Folite
The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton.
What Alice Forgot by Liane Mortiarty. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Book Review: True Sisters

In True Sisters Sandra Dallas has once again written a fascinating tale woven around a unique piece of American history. This time her subject matter takes us out of Colorado mining country to the Mormon Trail in the mid-1800s.

This group of Mormon converts, including four women whose stories are told in alternating chapters, is anxious to get to the Promised Land: Salt Lake City. They set off from Iowa City for the 1,300 mile journey, and under the instruction of Brigham Young, take their few belongings (17 lbs per person) in handcarts rather than wagons.

The Martin Handcart Company is headed for disaster. They are led by an arrogant, self-righteous man, Thales Tanner, who insists that anyone who decides not to make the journey is a heretic. Although many of the people believe that they should wait until spring to make the journey, they follow him anyway, terrified that their faith would be questioned.

The people face incredible hardships on their four-month journey. The novel centers around the stories of these four women and their struggles and ultimate triumph. They lose spouses, children, health, and all their possessions, but they make it to Utah ultimately. They also lose their idea of marriage and face plural marriages, and I really liked the way Dallas handled this.

I don't love reading straight history necessarily, so I tremendously appreciate Dallas's presentation of snippets of American history told in narrative form. As always, I look forward to her next novel. Below are the ones I have read and reviewed thus far: