Thursday, June 30, 2011

Jemima J

a novel about ugly ducklings and swans
by Jane Green


But did I expect to learn anything from this book? No. Did I expect it to change my life? No. You get what you pay for. (Except I didn't pay for this book, I picked it up among the library paperbacks.) I did enjoy reading it though. Despite the fact that I could have come up with this story myself, I liked reading it. I think a small does of chick-lit is healthy now and again.

However, the narration is dreadful. It switches from first person Jemima to first person Ben to third person to third person omniscient; it's schizophrenic! It almost reads like a script rather than a novel. Pick one point of view and stick with it.

Also, I really hate Jemima's name. I couldn't decide just how to pronounce it, so I gave up and just called her Jemma (which I think is a much better name).

But all in all, I found myself wanting to read this book and having a good time at that.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Fiction Class

by Susan Breen

This book is similar to The School of Essential Ingredients, in that Arabella is a teacher and her class is a random assortment of people who learn and grow together. But The Fiction Class focuses more on Arabella and her life as opposed to the lives of her students.

I find Arabella very likable and sympathetic. I like how cerebral she is. Breen created fairly pedestrian, typical student characters who I initially wrote off as being a little stereotypical, but who turned out to be completely unexpected as Arabella got to know them.

I really enjoyed this story, and couldn't help but try my hand at a few of the writing exercises, some of which I thought were particularly creative and intriguing (the prompts, not my writing). I do wish, though, that Breen had included the student's evaluations at the end, maybe as a epilogue, but I guess having them enroll in Arabella's next class was sufficient. I did not especially like Vera's story, "Fortune," but I did like how it brought her and Arabella together just when they both needed it most.

This is a good read for people who like to write. It's also a good read for people who like well-crafted stories with a touch of sadness.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The School of Essential Ingredients

by Erica Bauermeister

I don't know if I'm still riding the risidual waves of love from the Sisterhood, but I found myself loving this book. Bauermeister created Lillian to be a wonderful, magical foodie fairy godmother. She seeks out those who most needed her expertise and draws out the best in them.

I can't help myself when it comes to books about food. I want to go to Lillian's restaurant, which sounds cozy and beautiful, and I want to take her cooking class.

This book is more like a series of short stories cleverly woven together. I love the way each recipe reflects each individual's particular story, almost mirrors them in a way. That was a nice touch. Tom's story broke my heart, as did Isabelle's, in different ways, but they were both beautiful. I love how everyone in the class came together, not only to cook.

The School of Essential Ingredients is a really nice book to read. It's cute and cozy, but it will make you hungry.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Sisterhood Everlasting

by Ann Brashares

I didn't want to read this book. But I read The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, The Second Summer of the Sisterhood, Girls in Pants: The Third Summer of the Sisterhood, and Forever in Blue: The Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood when I was in high school, so when Sisterhood Everlasting came in at the library, I had no choice.

I forgot how much I love these four girls, these four woman. I devoured this book. That's the thing about the Sisterhood books: I just couldn't consume them fast enough.

Ann Brashares is not a particularly great writer. Her style is difficult for me to sink into. There's not enough flow, no real finesse. For the first hundred pages or so, reading her is like driving a standard when you're accustomed to driving an automatic: every gear shift is jarring and you occasionally stall out just as you're gaining momentum. But I just love these girls. Carmen was never and still is not my favorite. I was disappointed by how much she changed, but was happy to see she found herself again. I used to beg for the story to hurry along so I could read more about Bee's life, although initially in this book I couldn't stand her and her transient ways; luckily she found her much-needed roots. Lena I have always loved and felt a kinship with, and I was thriled with her story. And Tibby, well you'll have to read the book.

I had a cynical moment of "What is this?? P.S. I Love You???" But it worked. Everything about this story worked (though I will admit, the initial mourning period for them all started to feel a little too drawn out). This book, and the previous four books, makes my heart feel full to bursting. I just can't explain it. I encountered the Sisterhood books at the perfect age, and my love for them was rekindled, not instantly, it took a hundred pages or so, but it was revived.

I will say I wasn't happy about how the Sisterhood came to be reunited in this book, but I got over it and everything about how the story developed was beautiful. After finishing the book, all I could do was sit back, smile and sigh.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

22 Britannia Road

by Amanda Hodgkinson

Of course I couldn't resist another WWII book. I actually gravitated to this book because of the cover (again), because it looks similar to the cover of "Suite Francaise." Though both books are about WWII, they are vastly different. "Suite Francaise" is a much better book.

I didn't dislike "22 Britannia Road." It's a good book. I just wasn't expecting it to be so much of a love story/love triangle book. At times it was too much; it wasn't what I was looking for in a WWII book. To be honest, there wasn't enough about Janusz and Silvana's lives during the war for my taste. I wanted to hear more about Silvana trying to survive with Aurek in the woods for years. I wasn't as interested in Januz's travels and his French love affair. It seemed like Janusz didn't do much of anything in the war actually. It was Silvana who had the worse of it, and I would have liked to hear more of her story. The book basically glosses over their 6 years apart. I understand the book is about their reuniting, trying to move beyond their past and become a family. In that respect, the book is successful. It just wasn't to my taste.

I did however like the unexpected plot twists (one of which I suspected all along). The men in this book, though, on the whole, are not very likable. I found myself disliking Janusz because he was trying to hard to be a good English citizen, however, he does eventually understand Silvana and his son and do what he can, or feels he has to, to accommodate them. Tony I didn't particularly care for either, and I don't quite understand what Silvana saw in him. Gilbert is basically just note-quite-always drunk and impotent. I loved hating Doris, the epitome of the nosey, gossiping next-door neighbor, though, she's great.

If this book had focused solely on Silvana's years in the woods with Aurek, I would have loved it. As it is, it is a good book, an honest look at difficult reconciliations, but not one of my favorites.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Thirteenth Tale

by Diane Setterfield

I loved this book. It is the perfect book to curl up with on a rainy day with a cup of tea (or cocoa). I didn't know what to expect when I plucked this book from a bag of paperback donations at the library, but something about the cover intrigued me (I know, 'Don't judge a book by it's cover,' but let's be honest, we all do it, it's human nature). Within reading the first chapter, I was hooked.

"The Thirteenth Tale" feels old and musky and musty and dusty. It's mysterious atmosphere is all-encompassing. Immediately the tone is set, and I was ready to be absorbed by this story. The way Vida Winter descries her life, through a series of stories feels authentic and intimate. I wanted to know everything about her and uncover the mystery of her life. Sad and shadowed, her life unfolds itself in pieces to explain the woman she has become. It is storytelling at its best.

My one issue with the book is Margaret's obsession with her dead twin and the ridiculous "Postscriptum." I understand twins have a inexplicable connection, but Margaret's seeing her twin's ghost and then being visited by her (shouldn't Moira have still been a baby, by the way?) didn't really add anything to the story; I think it was largely unnecessary. But don't let that deter you; this book is absolutely worth reading.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Namesake

by Jhumpa Lahiri

I have mixed feelings about this book. The first I knew about it (that I remember) was from seeing a trailer for the movie. Naturally I thought, Well I should read the book before I go ahead a order the movie. And I did just that. But the movie trailer gave me a very different impression of the book.

First of all, this book is slow. There is something about Lahiri's writing that feels very measured and controlled and deliberate. Because of that, the book feels very slow-paced. The story, for me, didn't really pick up until after Gogol's father died. And even then Lahiri put on the breaks quickly thereafter. The emotional highs and lows of the book feel very restrained. It feels as though Lahiri puts a vast distance between herself and her writing.

Gogol's parents didn't seem all that upset by his and his sister's "American" life choices. And when they were, it felt a little out of place, because they had so encouraged their children to assimilate, even celebrating Christmas. I thought there would have been stronger conflict.

All in all, I wasn't too impressed by this book. I didn't find anything too remarkable about it. It is telling of first generation Americans and their relationship to their parents and the conflict of cultures, but, for me, it just didn't push far enough, didn't go deep enough emotionally. It left me feeling pretty lukewarm.