Thursday, May 31, 2012

Winter Wheat by Mildred Walker

Let me first say that some of the charm of this book for me was not only that it was published in 1944 (during WWII), but that the copy I had in my hands actually dated from that time and included a note in the front stating “This book is manufactured under wartime conditions in conformity with all government regulations controlling the use of paper and other materials.”

Ellen Webb is a 18 year-old woman leaving her family’s dry-land wheat farm in Montana for the first time to attend college in Minneapolis.  When she returns at the end of the school year she begins to see her beloved farm, parents and town through different eyes.  She thinks that what she is seeing is the ‘truth’, but is it, or is it she that has changed.

 Some quotes from the book. This is about the end of harvest:

"like a quiet day after a whole week of wind. I mean that wind that blows dirt into your eyes and hair and between your teeth and roars in your ears after you've gone inside."

"I hadn't meant to fall in love so soon, but there's nothing you can do about it. It's like planning to seed in April and then having it come off so warm in March that the earth is ready."

“We get mad, sure! Like ice an' snow an' thunder an' lightning storm, but they don't hurt the wheat down in the ground any.”

“The words came so fast they seemed to roll down hill. Nobody ever calls it all that; it's just spring wheat, but I like the words. They heap up and make a picture of a spring that's slow to come, when the ground stays frozen late into March and the air is raw, and the skies are sulky and dark”

It is a lovely story of learning that one’s parents are human, of having one’s heart broken, of other’s judgments and being disappointed with what life has to hand to you but making the best of it.  And the symbolism of the winter wheat!  Sigh!  eautiful!
Loved it!  A must read!

5 stars (Rated PG – just a few adult-ish situations)

The Last Life by Claire Messud

This is a coming-of-age tale about 15 year-old Sagesse LaBasse, who lives in the south of France with her French father and American mother.  Her father’s family lived in Algeria during the French occupation and would love to be there still if they hadn’t been forced out.  Her grandmother laments:

"Every morning, I wake up and look out my window at the Mediterranean sea, vast and creeping, and I smell the pines and the heat on the breeze, rising up the cliff top, and I'm in Algiers again. I live, still, in my heart, in Algeria."

Her grandparents run a hotel and dominate her parents.  Sagesse (along with her parents) are searching for their own identity. One night her grandfather shoots a rifle at a group of noisy teenagers in the hotel pool.  No one is seriously injured, but this incident puts the family’s livelihood at risk and long-simmering resentments come to the surface.  Sagesse finds herself quite alone and friendless. 

The story is a bit meandering but it kept me reading.  Ms. Messud forte is in her prose.  She is a beautiful wordsmith.  Here she witnesses the market:

"There were vegetable men and fruit women and stalls selling both, blushing mounds of peaches alongside plump and purple eggplants...pale, splayed organs of fennel pressing their ridged tubes and feathered ends up against the sugar-speckled, wrinkled carcasses of North African dates...the fishmongers sold their bullet-eyed, silver-skinned, slippery catch, blood-streaked fillets and orbed, scored steaks, milky scallops and encrusted oysters...."

And here, a painting of the Bay of Algiers:

"its apron of azure sea, erratically white-capped, broken by the sandstone finger of the port...the white rise of the city, a thousand precise terraces and roofs climbing into the sunlit sky, the European curlicues and the higgledy-piggledy casbah, all their outlines drawn as if with a single hair, interspersed with delicate little palms and cypresses and other trees of variegated greens, and with broad, brown avenues like branches."
Here is a partial list of some new words I learned from the book: panoply (wide-ranging, impressive array); chevelure (head of hair); intransigence (inflexibility); polyphonous (different sounds from the same letter or group of letters); limn (to portray in words or drawing).

It is a story where I would stop and re-read paragraphs just for the beauty of it.  All in all, if you like a book that will push your vocabulary and will make you think, give it a try.  If you want an easy read this is not the one.

4 stars – actually I would give it 3 stars for plot, but 5 for beauty of language, so I average that out to 4  (rated PG-13 for sex talk and adult situations)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

Alice Love is twenty-nine years old, madly in love with her husband and pregnant with her first child (or so she thinks).  She in shocked when she comes to after a fall in the gym and discovers that she is actually thirty-nine, has three children and is in the middle of a messy, nasty divorce.

As she works through the confusion of who she is and what she has become we get to enjoy the mess and antics of this confused woman.  The relationship between Alice and her sister is a sweet storyline.

Ms. Moriarty is an Australian and comes from a family of writers.  I will definitely find and read another of her books.  Loved it!  Fun chick lit!

4 stars (Rated PG-13 for adult situation and sex talk)

This Will Be Difficult to Explain: And Other Stories by Johanna Skibsrud

I love to read short stories.  To me they are a lovely step between novels and poetry.  They tell little tidbits of stories with a whammy of message.  This book did not live up to my expectations.

The stories were varied yet connected.  A young American maid at a hotel in France meets a man who asks her to sit for a portrait, only to find out later he is not who she thinks he is.  A father lets his thirteen-year-old nearly estranged daughter take the wheel of his car, realizing too late that it was a bad decision. A Canadian girl and her French host stumble on the one story that transcends their language barrier.

All the stories were entertaining; however, the ‘whammies’ never came.  I felt like what the author was trying to say was so nebulous as to be out of my reach.  Sometimes when I feel that way I wonder if it’s just a matter of my being too obtuse or uneducated to understand, but the other review I read of this book backed me up.  It’s nice to know you’re not the only one that felt that way.  I also read that the author has had great success as a poet.  That lead me to think that maybe she didn’t realize that with prose one needs a bit more guiding to get the point. 

2 stars (Rated PG for adult situations)

The Beach House by Jane Green

Known in Nantucket as the crazy woman who lives in the rambling house atop the bluff, Nan doesn’t care what people think. At sixty-five-years old, her husband died twenty years ago, her beauty has faded, and her family has flown. If her neighbors are away, why shouldn’t she skinny dip in their swimming pools and help herself to their flowers? But when she discovers the money she thought would last forever is dwindling and she could lose her beloved house, Nan knows she has to make drastic changes.

So Nan takes out an ad: Rooms to rent for the summer in a beautiful old Nantucket home with water views and direct access to the beach. Slowly, people start moving into the house, filling it with noise, with laughter, and with tears. As the house comes alive again, Nan finds her family expanding. Her son comes home for the summer, and then an unexpected visitor turns all their lives upside-down.

At first there seemed to be too many characters, but you soon catch up and become attached to all of them.  There was a bit too much sex for me and to frequent use of the F-word. But it has a twist at the end that surprised me and overall I did enjoy the book.

4 stars (Rated R for sex and profanity)

Same Kind of Different as Me: A Modern-day Slave, an International Art Dealer and the Unlikely Woman Who Bound Them Together by Ron Hall & Denver Moore

...moreMeet Denver, a man raised under plantation-style slavery in Louisiana in the 1960s; a man who escaped, hopping a train to wander, homeless, for eighteen years on the streets of Dallas, Texas. No longer a slave, Denver's life was still hopeless-until God moved. First came a godly woman who prayed, listened, and obeyed. And then came her husband, Ron, an international arts dealer at home in a world of Armani-suited millionaires. And then they all came together.

But slavery takes many forms. Deborah discovers that she has cancer. In the face of possible death, she charges her husband to rescue Denver. Who will be saved, and who will be lost? What is the future for these unlikely three? What is God doing?

Same Kind of Different As Me is the emotional tale of their story: a telling of pain and laughter, doubt and tears, dug out between the bondages of this earth and the free possibility of heaven. No reader or listener will ever forget it.

4 stars (Rated PG – for adult situations)

Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table by Ruth Reichl

Ruth Reichl grew up to be the food critic for The New York Times.  This book is about how her relationship with food started.  She grew up with a mother that was “The Queen of Mold” how several times gave houseguests food poisoning.  As Ruth grew up she realized the power that good food had and developed a love of food and cooking.  If you like food and reading about food you will love this story.

4 stars (Rated PG – for some adult situations)

The Laying on of Hands: Stories by Alan Bennett

Alan Bennett is playwright and screenwriter that has done quite a bit for BBC and most notably wrote ‘The Madness of King George’ which won him an Academy Award.

This was an odd little book.  It consists of three short stories. The writing was amusing and witty; however, when done reading there was nothing there.  I could see no purpose to or lesson to be learned from the writing.  The stories were just there, no plot.  Not worth it.

2 stars (Rated R – bawdy humor)

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Here on Earth by Alice Hoffman

Why, oh why do I even bother with an “Oprah’s Book Club” book?  This one has been on my shelf for many years, so I decided to give it a try.  The big “O” on the front means awful, horrible, and demented. 

March Murray returns to her New England hometown after living in California for nineteen years.  She brings along her sixteen year-old daughter.  She meets Hollis—the man she loved so desperately as a teenager.  He has gone from a homeless teenager to a man who owns half the town and demands respect from everyone he meets.  Can they make love work this time (despite March’s husband who remains in California)? 

Appalling themes exists in this book…abuse in the name of love, greed, revenge, knowingly helping someone ruin their life, not to mention the sexual relationship that goes unnoticed between March’s daughter and her first cousin.  I found no redeeming value in this book. Why did I keep reading?  I couldn’t believe that a book with that many accolades couldn’t have some redeeming value. Don’t bother.
1 Star (Rated R for language, sex and violence)