Wednesday, April 29, 2009

What's On Your Nightstand April 2009

Hosted by 5MinutesforBooks.

In April I read:
Guernsey Literary and Potatoe Peel Pie Society,
Midwife of the Blue Ridge,
Club Dead,
Belong to Me,
The Birth of Venus

Sadly, only one of those was on my list to read last month, The Birth of Venus.  Which is cool I guess, except that I specifically said I wanted to read three on my pile to consider it a victory.  Oh well.  Guess I failed!

Last night I caved and after probably 5 weeks without, I went and bought books.  I bought the new Nora Roberts and a series by Mary Balogh.  So those will take me however long and then I'll move on to something that actually requires thought.  Or not ... I told Megan I'd read the Queen of Babble books and then send them back to her.  So ...

For May, I plan to read:
The Queen of Babble
The Queen of Babble in the Big City
Vision in White
Friday Night Knitting Club
and perchance, finishing The Tea Rose, which I like, but it's such a big book it does not lend itself well to being in the purse.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society , by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Juliet Ashton is a writer in WWII London.  During the war, she wrote a successful, humorus column that was later published as a book that sold well too.  She receives a letter from a resident of Guernsey, an island off the coast of England, asking for her opinion on author Charles Lamb.  She begins a friendship over letters between him and the other residents of Guernsey who make up the Literary society, and learns about how the channel islands endured the German occupation during the war.

This may be the best book I've read all year (and I've read 19).  It was funny, heart breaking, and warming.  The greatness of the human spirit and how kindness and love took people (and still do) through the most trying times.

The novel is a succession of letters between Juliet, her publisher, her dear school friend, and the locals of Guernsey, and it was really wonderful.  I felt more involved, like I was reading part of a living conversation or reading through a relatives hidden letters.  There are so many complexities going on here, the characters inherent sadness over what's happened to their beloved island and country, the displacement of friends and relatives, loss of the same, and the sudden reapparance of food and freedom in their lives.  And then the relationships between them all!

When we were in Germany, it was amazing to think about ... but all of Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt ... they are less than 50 years old.  While that's true of much of Texas, it's not because of a crushing war, but because of newly inhabited frontier.  And one of the quotes in the book struck me too, that the Americans were affected but not as haunted by the war, by the sadness.  There's not blame laid in that statement, it's more like an observation.

Another blessing laid at our feets ... we are far enough away (usually) to avoid trouble.  How will life change when that is no longer true?  What would it be like to have Mexican Federalis (HA!) walking through Dallas and enforcing curfews?  Stealing our bread?

And this book totally made me want to go back through my old letters.  From my husband, Grandmother, cards from friends overseas ... I've kept them all.  I still have a few errant pen pals ... but I wish the art of letter writing wasn't a dying thing.

Honestly I had stayed away from this novel because of the funny name and rather bleek looking cover.  But it's beyond wonderful.  I got it from the library but I'm going to have to own it.  Definitely worth a read.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Midwife of the Blue Ridge, by Christine Blevins

Midwife of the Blue Ridge, by Christine Blevins

Maggie Duncan is the sole survivor when her Scottish village is ransacked.  She is adopted by a midwife, who teaches her everything she knows.  When the midwife dies, Maggie goes as an indentured servant to Virginia and the American colonies.  Her contract is bought by another Scotts man, Seth Martin, to help with the chores as his wife is ill with child.

Maggie learns about new plants and medical techniques in the new world, and her and her new family deal with the uncertain life on the frontier.

I really liked this.  Blevins has another novel out this year, The Tory Widow, and I read this first as it's her first novel.  It's light, it's quick, and I liked reading about Kenta-ke and some of the other "funny" names that gave us the names we still call our states and cities.  It was nice to read historical fiction about my own continent too, even if the characters were fictitious.  And her second book (obviously) is from this time period or just later so that makes me happy too.

The book is divided into three parts, and really I flew through the thing.  The beginning two parts were better than the last, but I liked the characters, and while the plotline was predictable, it was enjoyable.

Parts are graphic (I skipped those) and she spends a lot of time on plants and herbs and medicine.  And the accent took some getting used to (Scottish).  But it was great.

Worth a read.  I'll definitely be picking up her second book.

Monday, April 13, 2009

What's in a Name Challenge: Club Dead

To fulfill the "medical condition" of my What's in a Name challenge ... Club Dead, by Charlaine Harris

In our third Sookie Stackhouse novel, Sookie and Bill are home from their scary trip to Dallas, and settled into a routine.  But then Bill start retreating from her, and then suddenly disappears.  She is informed by Eric and Pam that Bill has been kidnapped and taken to Jackson, Mississippi, and he may or may not be shacking up with his former hottie vampire girlfriend.

Sookie sets off with a werewolf, Alcide, to try and find her betraying boyfriend and save him - or kill him - however the mood strikes.

The new characters introduced are interesting, but after 3 books it is getting to be a bit much keeping up with them all.  The author seems to have a lot of fun just inventing new people and it's not hard to fall in and like them with her.  Though Tara showing up at the bar in Mississippi kind of threw me, and I wasn't sure how or why that fit?  And since this is fiction / fantasy I understand why a heroine is desired by everyone and just thought to be so beautiful ... that's what the author wants.  But it's not realistic.  Since we're talking about telepaths and werewolves and vamps, I think it's pretty easy to let this one slide.  Though it's a major complaint from reviews I've read.

These are 300 pages of campy drama fun.  It's mindless, thoughtless and most of the time it's not that scary.  The great thing about books though ... you can skip the scary parts and not have nightmares.  The same is not true about HBO TV shows that took a great series and made it ... well completely different.  The books are definitely worth picking up from the library or used book store.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Belong to Me

Belong to Me, Marisa de los Santos

Sigh.  You know when you're reading a good book and you are equal parts riveted, moved and entertained?  That is the writing of Marisa de los Santos.  At least for me.  I was so sad when this one ended.

I loved, Loved Walked In.  Belong to Me is the continuation of those main characters - Cornelia, Teo, and Claire's - story.  Though one doesn't necessarily have to go with the other.

Cornelia and Teo are married and moving into the suburbs.  She runs into the "HOA lady" (my phrasing, not hers - no mention of HOA in this novel) and it doesn't go well, and then we have Dev, the 13 year old boy-genius who is being raised by a single mother.  The novel is told from these three narrators perspectives.  And I think what makes this work for Santos and crash and burn for others, is that each of these three has an individual story line that is independent of the others, but also intertwines.  Piper (HOA lady) is dealing with her best friend's fatal cancer, and that's really just all her.  But in the background Cornelia will watch the kids from time to time for her, so she's there, but she's not part of the main action.  For Dev, he has a huge crush on Claire, who stays with Cornelia from time to time, but she's not involved in his exact story, just the peripheral edges.

And each voice is unique.  Cornelia is ... well Cornelia.  I can't explain her she is too complex.  Piper is the perfect housewife who is holding her world together by a thread, and everything isn't all that perfect. Dev is a 13 year old wonder-kid who loves science and to learn.  They are all very cool.

What did get old - and this is such a minor thing it's almost not worth mentioning - Cornelia and Teo always say the perfect things, for every situation they are completely in tune, always in sync always making everyone feel at ease.  While I have no doubt that there probably is someone out there like that ... I've never met them.

What I LOVED about this novel was the main character (Cornelia) doesn't have man trouble.  So often in novels where women are the main character the central thesis is my husband is this, or my boyfriend did that, or we can't get married, my parents hate him ... what have you.  This is not true here.

Teo is in the background for most of the novel as this completley supportive, giving, working husband, while Claire sorts out life in the burbs.  Now at the end conflict does strike, but even then the cruxt of it isn't life threatening, it's just a hurdle.  And the main purpose of the novel isn't conflict, but the relationships that we have in our lives, and how we all belong.

I was hooked to this book from the word go.  The first chapter could have been my first week in my new house, could have been me talking to the neighbors.  Neighbor at front door:  "Hi!  Welcome to the neighborhood!  Do you have any children?"  Me, with a bright smile: "Hi!  Thank you!  No we don't."  Neighbor frowns,  "Too bad."  And turns to leave.  I stand slack jawed.  This happened more than once. And was funniest when the neighborhood kids (all dozen or so of them) showed up at our front door demanding to know where the kids we had were hiding.  The moans when I informed them of their absence from existence were defeaning.

I loved this book.  Loved, loved, loved.  It's just so good.  Heartache, loss, joy, love, surprise twist, everything.  It's a great story.  And I related to all of it - which is probably why I loved it so much.  And Santos is just a great writer.  I hope to hear she has something new out soon.

And yet again ... doesn't help me with any challenges.  But I did mention it on my books to read for April!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Birth of Venus

The Birth of Venus, by Sarah Dunant

The novel takes place in 15th century Florence and a family that is once wealthy from the sale of fabrics to wealthy and opulent Florentine's.  Alessandra Checci is 14 years old and is a virgin in Florence with limited freedom and no hope of a future outside of marriage.  And all she wants to do is paint.  Then, a  fundamentalist monk begins preaching on the evils that he feels are overtaking the city, and she is forced into a marriage that is not what she expected.

The first 20 pages of this book almost lost me, and it really took me like two days to get through the first 20 pages.  But after that it was a quick, sharp succession of events that kept me interested, and I finished it relatively quickly (a plane flight to Wisconsin helped with that).

The middle of this novel is really great.  The begging is eh and the end is eh.  I don't understand why it ended the way it did.  It just seemed, odd.  The ending is part fairy tale and part gothic horror story, and I just didn't understand it.  I don't want to ruin it for anyone that is planning on reading it, because I do recommend the book.  It was interesting and the familiar and definitely female themes were captivating.  I've read complaints about the quality of the writing, and I can agree as the novel gets toward the conclusion.  But mostly it was good.

So I would say overall, definitely worth the read, and a good book.  Worth the half price I paid at the used book store.  I'd be happier if it fit one of my challenges.  But alas ... at least it's on my TBR pile and on my list of to-reads for April!