Saturday, July 25, 2015

Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar

Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar

OK.  I'm going to fess up right off the bat.  I didn't finish this book.  The counter on my Kindle said 51%.  For me not to finish a book, even if I dislike it, is an extremely rare occurrence.  I like to see things through to the end no matter the cost.  But in this case I just couldn't.

Vanessa and Her Sister is the story of Vanessa Bell and her sister, Virginia Woolf. These are two creative and talented women who lived at the turn of the twentieth century.  One paints, the other writes. They were part of a larger creative group called the Bloomsbury Set who all believed in the importance of the arts.  People after my own heart, don't you think?

I should have liked these people. I'm fascinated by creative types of all kinds.  However, this book was written in a diary format.  Pretty much Vanessa wrote about trying to paint during the day, getting ready for the Thursday night group to arrive, never being able to tell the housekeeper how many might be coming, and flopping into bed around 3 am.  The same routine became documented over and over. Then she came up with the Friday night gathering.  Nothing much happened on Thursday and Friday was more of the same.  I tired of it. 

I gave Vanessa and Her Sister my best shot.  But it just wasn't for me.  I had to let it go and move on. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee

Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee

With so much hype about Go Set A Watchman, I'm going to get right to the point.  It's been years since I read To Kill a Mockingbird, and I remember it fondly.  But please forgive me if I don't recall every minute detail of the story.  For that reason I can read Go Set A Watchman how it was intended, as the first novel.

Jean Louise Finch has left Maycomb County and moved to New York City.  She returns home to visit her aging and arthritic father, Atticus.  What she finds is a slow, Southern way of life, so different from what she's become used to.  Scout always loved home but this time she sees it without the benefit of rose colored glasses.

There's a line in the novel about Atticus, and I'm paraphrasing,  that he made everyone feel like his friend.  He's a highly respected man, living in the south where the roots of segregation run deep.  He knew how to play the game.  Jean Louise uncovered a side of him, he'd never chosen to reveal to his children.  It's called growing up.

I loved this book.  Harper Lee's prose glides across the page effortlessly.  I could feel the hot humid days, snicker at Aunt Alexandra's disgust at Scout's modern ways and sit uncomfortably on the hard church pew.  Jean Louise and Atticus are both strong, vivid characters with or without To Kill a Mockingbird.  The world has waited for more from Miss Lee for decades.  Here it is and in my mind, it was worth waiting for.  

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Tears of Dark Water by Corban Addison

The Tears of Dark Water by Corban Addison

Daniel Parker sets in motion a long standing dream to sail around the world, in an attempt to bond with his troubled son, Quentin.  He leaves his wife, Vanessa and their failing marriage at home, hoping somehow the journey will lead them both toward mending their differences. 

After a rest in the Seychelles, Daniel and Quentin discuss sailing into the vast Indian Ocean, a playground for Somali pirates.  Quentin, who in Daniel's eyes has grown so much while at sea, refuses to give in to fear.  Daniel feels proud of the man his son has become and agrees to set sail into the unknown.  During the night, Ismail and his band of pirates board The Renaissance, taking Daniel and Quentin hostage. 

Paul, the government's top negotiator is called into action.  From an aircraft carrier, the communication to save the Americans begins.  Each chapter of this novel is told from the point of view of a different character, Daniel, Vanessa, and Paul.  As the story progresses, we hear from Ismail, his sister Yazmin, and Paul's sister Megan, a high powered lawyer who defends Ismail in the American courts. 

The Tears of Dark Water is a beautifully and expertly constructed story. This is not the kind of book I would normally have selected on my own, so I am grateful for the ARC I received.  I could not put this book down. It has everything I look for in a good book, suspense, tension, and emotion.  The Tears of Dark Water is intense to say the least.  It's not an easy beach read.  It requires an investment of heart and commitment.  The pages turn quickly as the novel taps into all that makes us human, grabs our hearts and refuses to let go.  I loved it.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Beans of Egypt, Maine by Carolyn Chute

The Beans of Egypt, Maine by Carolyn Chute

Somewhere, a long time ago, a writing instructor spoke of this book as a lesson in characterization.  It stuck in the back of my mind and was only recently resurrected by my desire to write a great novel and of course my love of Maine.  I must have been missing eating a lobster roll by the waterfall in Camden, Maine when the title came back to me.

The Beans of Egypt, Maine tells the story of a mismatched and dysfunctional family living in rural Maine far from the rocky coast of the state I love.  Reuben is an alcoholic who spends most of his time in jail, Roberta is tall and perpetually pregnant, and Beal is a gentle man with a large beard that seems to have a life all its own.  Beal marries Earlene, the pious neighbor next door.  They manage to have two equally unusual children.

The Beals are poor, yet taking any government assistance would say to the world that they had failed.  How they live is given to the reader in such poignant detail, it's impossible to turn away.  Ms. Chute's use of her toolbox of literary devices is extraordinary.  I became totally immersed in a way of life I do not know, yet I felt each character's view of the world as if I saw it through my own eyes. 

The Beans of Egypt, Maine is sometimes difficult and repulsive to read.  But it's real and it's filled with emotion.  I can't remember the teacher who told me about them, but the Beans will now remain in the back of my mind because the author did a brilliant job of creating them.  And they are from Maine.  A perfect combination.

Monday, July 6, 2015

China Dolls by Lisa See

China Dolls by Lisa See

Helen, Ruby and Grace are Chinese American women who meet in a pre-WWII San Francisco.  They immediately become fast friends in spite of their differences.  Helen is from a traditional Chinese family, who all live together in a compound.  Her brother must escort her everywhere she goes.  Grace has run away from a small Ohio town and an abusive father, in search of her dream as a dancer.  Ruby keeps the details of her background a secret. 

I'm a huge fan of Lisa See.  Peony in Love and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan are two of my absolute favorites.  Shanghai Girls and Dreams of Joy are right up there too.  I'm fascinated by See's stories of the Chinese way of life.  But I have to say China Dolls fell far short. 

I felt as if the author rushed through.  The pacing was way off and writing, choppy and juvenile in parts.  At first I wondered if See had even written this. I checked the publication date, thinking possibly it was something she'd written long ago before perfecting her craft.  It was released in 2015.  So much for that theory. 

Lisa See is a wonderful writer, China Dolls however was not her best effort.  I'd skip this one in favor of her other works which are far more enjoyable.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant

The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant

Addie Baum is the daughter of Jewish immigrant parents trying to adjust to life in America around the turn of the 20th century.  The family settled in Boston and struggle to fit in.  The premise of The Boston Girl is that Addie is telling the story of her life to her granddaughter.

She starts at the very beginning describing the tiny tenement apartment in the North End. Her father spends all his free time at shul.  Her mother, who never learned to speak English, insists everything, all the way down to the potatoes, which they ate often because they were cheap, was better in the old country.  Addie saw the wealth of opportunity in Boston when her parents could not, often hiding where she was going and what she was doing for fear of being told no. Addie found other mentors and friends who took her away from the stifling family life she dreaded at home.  She had an adventurous spirit yet was often naive about the world.  I loved Addie.  She never took no for an answer. 

What I didn't like about The Boston Girl was that I never felt grounded in the setting for Addie's story.  I've read many books about immigrants in this same time period.  Usually they are set in New York.  I was excited to hear of one set in a different place and I hoped I would learn something new.  But I often found myself drifting into thinking Addie was in New York and had to pull myself back into the Boston mindset.  I often wished there was more of a thread between Addie and the granddaughter who was listening to the story.  When it did pop in, which wasn't very often,  again I had to pull myself back into that part of the storyline.

The Boston Girl has a great character in Addie Baum.  She told her own story of a fascinating life.  According to the title, there is a secondary character, Boston who I never felt attached to.  Her story could have been taking place almost anywhere.  I really wanted it to be in Boston.

City of Thieves by David Benioff

City of Thieves by David Benioff It's World War II in Leningrad, Russia.  17 year old Lev elected to stay behind in the city when h...