Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Book Review: The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb

Like most kids, I was fascinated with the Guinness Book of World Records, especially the editions with the medical anomalies: the Chinese conjoined twin brothers who were married to sisters, the "caterpillar" man, the lady with half a twin coming out of her belly, the tallest man in the world, and the smallest couple ever, General and Mrs. Tom Thumb. I think a part of me, as a child, never really believed those people to be real—they must be some trick of Guinness's.

But Mercy Lavinia Warren Bump—Vinnie—was a real person, and The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin is her fictionalized story, based on Vinnie's journals, various historical documents, and lots of imagination.

You've probably see photos of the tiny famous couple, General and Mrs. Tom Thumb. They were tiny humans (she was 2 feet, 8 inches tall), born with a form of proportionate dwarfism, touted by the great P.T. Barnum himself as "perfectly formed people in miniature." This is Vinnie's story, one of defying the odds and become first a schoolteacher and then a worldwide star, known as the "Little Queen of Beauty," who dined with royalty and attended parties with the Astors and other society kings and queens. It's also the story of a young woman torn by her love for his sister and her love for a man she can't have, a woman who can't seem to find her own real identity.

I absolutely loved this novel. Melanie Benjamin is a fabulous storyteller; Vinnie's voice comes through loud and clear. Vinnie is pragmatic, courageous, and terribly smart. I loved the friendship formed between Vinnie and Barnum, as well as the relationship—especially the moments that almost happen— with her husband, Charles Stratton (AKA, Tom Thumb).

I think Vinnie would love to know her story has been told, fictionalized though it is, and I suspect the great P.T. Barnum himself might find it amusing—and partly true. Really excellent read!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Sunday Salon: My Ever-Growing TBR List (2013)

In 2012 I added 38 books to my TBR list and marked off 19. Some year perhaps I'll challenge myself to only reading books from my TBR list so I can actually make some progress! I've adjusted my 2012 list for 2013 by marking off those books I read last year.

If you've reviewed any of these books on your blog, feel free to post a comment with the link and I'll add it to my list.
*Indicates books added in 2013

*41 False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers by Janet Malcolm
An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor
*And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini (read and reviewed 7/13)
Annie's Ghosts: A Journey into a Family Secret by Steve Luxenberg.
Aprons on a Clothesline by T. DePree
Arctic Dreams
by Barry Lopez
The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker
Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead: The Frank Meeink Story as Told by Jody M. Roy, Ph.D. (reviewed at Musings of a Bookish Kitty)
The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin (read and reviewed 2/13)
*Autobiography of Us by Aria Beth Sloss (read and reviewed 10/13)
*The Baker's Daughter by Sarah McCoy 
Barefoot in Baghdad by Manal M. Omar (reviewed at Bookworm's Dinner)
Before the Storm by Diane Chamberlain
The Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler
Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo (read and reviewed 3/14)
Behind the Burqa by Sulima and Hala (reviewed by Semicolon)
Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio
Blood Hollow by W. Krueger
Blood of Flowers
by A. Amirrezvani
Blood Work
by M Connelly
Book of a Thousand Days by S. Hale (reviewed on Semicolon and Maw Books)
Book of Lost Things by J. Connelly
Bootletter’s Daughter by M. Maron
Born on a Blue Day by D. Tammet (reviewed on Sam’s Book Blog)
Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote (read and reviewed 6/13)
*Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee. 
City of Thieves by David Benioff (read and reviewed 3/13)
*Clair de Lune by Jetta Carleton 
Close Your Eyes by Amanda Eye Ward
Coming Up for Air by Patti Callahan Henry
Commoner by J.B. Schwarz
Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman
A Country Doctor’s Casebook by R. MacDonald
The Dawning of the Day: A Jerusalem Tale by Haim Sabato
Deadline by Randy Alcorn
Departed, The by K. Mackel
Digging to America by Anne Tyler
Dinner with a Perfect Stranger by D. Gregory
Dough: A Memoir by Mort Zachter (reviewed by Lisa at 5 Minutes for Books)
The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman (read and reviewed 4/13)
Dry Grass of August by Anna Jean Mayhew (read and reviewed 3/14) 
Every Last One by Anna Quindlen (Reviewed at S. Krishna's Books)
Executioner's Song by Mailer
Expecting Adam by Martha Beck (read and reviewed 3/13)
Extraordinary Journey of a Desert Nomad by Waris Darie (reviewed at Maw Books)
Far to Go by Alison Pick (Reviewed by Kristina at The Book Keeper)
Family Nobody Wanted by Doss
Fatal Vision by J. McGinnis
Father, Mother, God: My Journey Out of Christian Science by Lucia Greenhouse
First Wife by Emily Barr (recommended by Fleur Fisher)
Flowers by D. Gilb
Fortune Cookie Chronicles by J. Lee
Franklin and Lucy by Joseph Persico
Gentle Rain by Deborah Smith (reviewed by Leah at Good Reads)
Ghost Map
by S. Jackson
* Ghost Moth by Michele Forbes 
 Ghost Writer, The by J. Harwood
The Girl in the Italian Bakery by Kenneth Tingle
The Girls by Lori Lansens
Giving Up the Ghost by Hilary Mantel
Glimpses of the Moon by Edith Wharton
Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry
Hava: The Story of Eve by Tosca Lee (added 1/09; reviewed by My Friend Amy)
by R. Alcorn
The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent (reviewed by Gautami at Reading Room)
High House, The
by James Stoddard
by John Hershey
Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow by Susan C. Bartoletti (reviewed by Natasha at Maw Books)
Hot Zone by R. Preston (reviewed by Semicolon)
How Reading Changed My Life by Anna Quindlen (mentioned by The Magic Lasso)
Human Cargo by C. Moorehead
*A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams.
I Am Scout by Charles J. Shields (reviewed by Becky)
In Country by Bobbie Ann Mason
*In My Father's Country by Saima Wahab 
Introverts in the Church by Adam McHugh 
Iris and Ruby by Rosie Thomas
by E. Southwark
Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me
by Ian Morgan Cron (reviewed at Rachel Held Evans)
*The Keeper of Secrets by Julie Thomas (read and reviewed 12/13)

Keeping the House by E. Baker
Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones (reviewed by Bookeywookey)
Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger (reviewed at Thoughts of Joy)
Last Storyteller by D. Noble
Leave it to Claire
by T. Bateman
Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading by Maureen Corrigan (reviewed by Literary Feline)
Left To Tell by Immaculee Ilibagiza (reviewed at Maw Books and Just a Reading Fool)
Liar’s Diary by P. Francis (reviewed by Semicolon)
Life Among Savages
by Shirley Jackson (reviewed at Dwell in Possibility)
Life Is So Good
by R. Glaubman
Little Altars Everywhere
by R. Wells
Living End
by L. Samson
Look Me in the Eye
by John Elder Robison
A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True by Brigid Pasulka (reviewed at The Lost Entwife)
* Losing Julia by Jonathan Hull 
Lost Children of Wilder by N. Bernstein
Love Anthony by Lisa Genova
Loving Frank by N. Horan
Mad Girls in Love by M. West
Man without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut
Many Sleepless Nights
by Lee Gutkind
Mariner's Compass
by E. Fowler
The Memory Palace by Mira Bartok
Mercy Falls by WK Krueger
Minding the South
by J. Reed
by A. Brennert
Monique and the Mango Rains by Kris Holloway (Reviewed at The Bluestocking Society)
The Moonflower Vine by Jetta Carleton (read and reviewed 2/13)

Murder in the Name of Honor by Rana Husseini (Reviewed at Reading Through Life)
My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier (Reviewed by Reading to Know)
Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian
The Ninth Wife by Amy Stolls
Noah's Compass
by Anne Tyler (read 2013)
Not without My Daughter
by B. Mahmoody
Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote (read and reviewed 6/13)
Papua New Guinea: Notes from a Spinning Planet
by M. Carlson (reviewed by Clean Reads)
Perfect Example by John Porcellino (reviewed at The Hidden Side of the Leaf)
Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin (reviewed at Reader Buzz)
Prairie Tale by Melissa Gilbert
Promise Not To Tell by Jennifer McMahon (reviewed at Missy's Book Nook)
Proof of Heaven by Mary Curran Hackett
Property by Valerie Martin (reviewed by The Magic Lasso)
Quaker Summer
by Lisa Samson
Quilter’s Apprentice
by J. Chiaverini
The Quilt Walk by Sandra Dallas
Raising Demons by Shirley Jackson
Reading Lolita in Tehran by
Azar Nafisi
Refuge on Crescent Hill by Melanie Dobson (Reviewed at Reading to Know)
The Reservoir by John Milliken Thompson
*Riding the Bus with My Sister by Rachel Simon.
Rise and Shine by Anna Quindlen
Rises the Night
by C. Gleason
*The Round House by Louise Erdrich
Ruined by Reading: A Life in Books by Lynne Schwartz (reviewed on Shelf Life)
by Shactman
Rush Home Road by Lori Lansens
Russian Concubine by Kate Furnivall
Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins (reviewed by Just a Reading Fool)
Same Kind of Different As Me
by Ron Hall and Denver Moore (recommended by Stray Thoughts)
Saving Levi Left to Die
by Lisa Bently
*Secret Keeper by Kate Morton (read 2013)
Secret Keeper by Mitali Perkins (Reviewed by Word Lily)
Secrets of Eden by Chris Bohjalian (Reviewed at In the Pages)Sentimental, Heartbroken Rednecks by Greg Bottoms (Reviewed by Sage)
Seven Loves by Trueblood
She Got Up Off the Couch: And Other Heroic Acts from Mooreland, Indiana by Haven Kimmel
The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani (read 2013)
*The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls (read 2013)
Slaves, Women & Homosexuals by William J. Webb 
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (read 2013)
 So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell
The Soldier's Wife by Margaret Leroy (reviewed at Polishing Mud Balls)
Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill
Someone Named Eva by Joan M. Wolf (reviewed at Maw Books)
Some Girls by Jillian Lauren (reviewed by Book Club Classics)
Song of the Cuckoo Bird by Amulya Malladi
Song Yet Sung
by James McBride
Songs for the Missing by Stewart O'Nan
*Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford
Soon to Be a Major Motion Picture by Donna Partow
State of Wonder
by Ann Patchett (read and reviewed 9/1/13)
by William Weld
by John Williams (suggested by JoAnn at Every Day Matters)
The Story of  Beautiful Girl
by Rachel Simon (read and reviewed 2/13)
The Strange Case of the Broad Street Pump by Sandra Hempel
Summer Crossing by Truman Capote (reviewed by CaribousMom)
by M. Cabon
Teahouse Fire, The
by Ellis Avery
Stones Cry Out
by M Szymusiak
Testament of Youth
by Vera Brittain (recommended at Musings)
There Are No Children Here
by A. Kotlowitz
Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself
by Alan Alda
This Boy's Life
by Tobias Wolff
Thousand Years of Good Prayers
by Yiyun Li
The Threadbare Heart
by Jenny Nash (reviewed at Maw Books)
Three Cups of Tea
by G. Mortenson
The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht
Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum
Thousand Lives by Julia Scheeres
Time Between by Mary Duenas
To My Senses by A. Weis (reviewed by J. Kaye)
Tomorrow, the River by D. Gray
Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur
by D. Hari (reviewed by CaribousMom and Maw Books)
Trauma and Ghost Town by P. McGrath
Unbearable Lightness of Being by Kundera
Uprising by Margaret Haddix (reviewed by Semicolon)
Undress me in the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman (reviewed by Book Zombie)
Very Valentine by Adriana Trigiani
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
Well and the Mine, The by Gin Phillips (reviewed by Semicolon)
Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
What I Though I Knew by Alice Eve Cohen
What Is What by D. Eggers (reviewed at Maw Books)
What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day by Pearl Cleage
What Peace There May Be by Susanna Brarlow
What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn (Reviewed at Big A, Little A)
When I Lay My Isaac Down by C. Kent
When She Woke by Hillary Jordan (read and reviewed 1/14
When We Were Strangers by Pamela Schoenewalt
Wherever you Go by Joan Leegant (reviewed by Bibliophiliac)
Whistling in the Dark by L. Kagen
Who Killed My Daughter by Lois Duncan (Reviewed at Nonfiction Lover)
Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah
Winter Seeking by V. Wright
Winter Walk
by L. Cox
Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (recommended at Rebecca Reads)
Women of the Silk by G. Tsuriyama
Year of Living Biblically
by AJ Jacobs (reviewed by Andi Lit)
Years of Grace by Margaret Ayer Barnes  
The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls  by Anton Disclafani.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Book Review: The Moonflower Vine

I put Jetta Carleton's The Moonflower Vine on my TBR list because it was listed on The Neglected Books Page and sounded like something I would love. My book club thought it sounded so good that it made the list of 2013 books to read. The good news is: I loved it. The bad news: Jetta Carleton only wrote one other novel, Clair de Lune, which I quickly added to my TBR list.

The Moonflower Vine opens from the point of view of Mary Jo, the youngest of four daughters, as the family reunites for its annual two week vacation on the old homestead. The sisters are grown and have their own lives 11 months of the year, but for this short time, the ties of family ground them, bind them, and comfort them. The novel then backtracks to tell each family member's story in his or her own voice.

Matthew Soames is the father, a school teacher and farmer who falls in love too easily. His wife Callie is illiterate and content to be so, which frustrates Matthew. Their four daughters just don't turn out the way they imagined they would, and much of the book is about how they cope with the ups and downs of growing children who inevitably go away, whether physically or emotionally or both.

Each section tells a portion of a family member's life, a slice of something life-changing for him or her, and offers a secret that each member keeps. The stories were thoroughly engrossing and beautifully told. I wanted to savor this book, to make it last for evening after evening. Carleton is a lyrical, poetic writer who beautifully captures the smells, tastes, textures, and emotions of being a parent, a daughter, a teenager, a woman. She reminds me in many ways of Willa Cather, although this novel is less melancholy and wistful than Cather's novels.

I am definitely going to check out more of the lesser known classics on the Neglected Books Page. Who knows what other treasures await?

Friday, February 1, 2013

Book Review: Blue Shoe

I pretty much love Anne Lamott. Actually, this is only the second novel of hers that I've read (Imperfect Birds was my first), but I think I can safely say that I love her (in a reader kind of way) after reading interviews and snippets of essays and these two novels. She's just has such an uncanny sense of recording those ordinary thoughts and fears that most of us have but don't really want to express.

Blue Shoe is Mattie Ryder's story. She's in her late 30s and had finally found the courage to leave her cheating, jerk husband, who almost immediately moves in with his girlfriend. She's really just trying to keep herself together for the first part of the book. That sounds kind of tedious, I know, but this is where Lamott is so amazing for me. I like details. I love Mattie's thought process, for example, about her daughter's nail-biting habits. Mattie remembers how traumatized she was as a girl when her parents called her out and humiliated her; she refuses to do this to her daughter and instead looks for other ways to break her habit. I loved this telling of good parenting. Blue Shoe is filled with moments like this.

As Mattie moves through the first year of her divorce, she starts slowly building a new life. Part of that includes discovering things about her past. Through bits and pieces of conversation, she learns that her father was not who she thought he was. She begins wondering what was really going on in the adult world when she was a child. I know that feeling so well as an adult—looking back and wondering, "what was really going on?" That part of the story was not my favorite part, but it was still intriguing.

And running through the whole novel is the struggle of the sandwich generation. How do we care for our young kids and our aging parents? How do we navigate being a good mother and a good daughter? I love the moments when Mattie looks in the mirror and tries to really see herself, wonders who she is, what others see.

This isn't a novel that reveals great mysteries or holds a series of dramatic events. It's just a novel of an ordinary woman who is pulled in a dozen different directions, who picks herself up and moves on after heartbreak, and who loves those around her deeply. Lamott is an insightful, lyrical writer, and I will be continuing on my pursuit of reading all her books.