Saturday, July 30, 2011

Book 41 (2011): The Zookeeper's Wife

The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story by Diane Ackerman is not my favorite wife tale, of late. It was billed as a story of a couple who ran the Warsaw, Poland Zoo before WWII and then they used the zoo grounds to hide Jews. That was the big thrust in all the blurbs written about this book. But...!

And yes, it is about that, to a certain degree. But Ackerman's writing style and tone shift and change so much throughout this book, it was hard for me to get a reading rhythm, and hard for me to read, period. She shifts from storytelling style with beautiful descriptions, choked full of emotions into a no- nonsense telling with lots of statistics and details about the war, lots of detailed history, did I mention LOTS of detailed history about all things surrounding the war, persons involved, events during and leading up to the war... Often times there was so much history interjected into this tale, that the story of Antontia and Jan (the zookeepers) seemed to be lost, or at least an after thought.

There is a grand cast of characters: people who work at the zoo, the Underground, the people being hidden, family members.

While it was interesting, it wasn't what I was expecting. (342 pages)


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Book 40 (2011): The Paris Wife

Hemingway is a real asshole, and I've really known that, but it was more apparent in this story, this historical fiction tome, maybe because it seemed like Hadley was telling this story. And I know he's dead and I know he was a brilliant writer, and part of the Lost Generation (blah, fricking rah rah blah) but it doesn't change the fact that he was a horror to his first wife. Probably why he had 4 of them.

The Paris Wife is the fictional account of his first marriage, to Hadley, to his one true love, she being 9 years old than he. They married and moved to Paris where he wrote and they lived, and they "experienced" where they hung out with the likes of Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott, and many others. It seemed like a wonderful and true romance. Until, of course, Hemingway, screwed it all up.

It's an obvious testament to the powerful writing of author Paula McLain that though this is historical fiction, she wove such a grand and moving tale. I did a bit of research myself to see what I could discern fact from fiction and of course the emotions, the tone, the voice are works of fiction, from the creative and innovative author's mind, but the story is that of Hemingway and Hadley- the love, the happiness, the tears, the betrayal- warts and all, are true.

And while I love the lives of real people, especially my beloved authors, taken into a fictional setting, and I loved this book, I still think Hemingway was an ass. (314 pages)


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Book 39 (2011): A Reliable Wife

I'm not sure what to make of this story. There's lots and lots of sex, in act and deed, in word and thought, almost as an obsession. And the story of rich Ralph getting a mail order bride, and the twist of her past and the sadness of Ralph's past intertwining is really a good story.

Set against the stark, cold, desolate Wisconsin winter of 1908 adds to the darkness of the story; there's no happiness and light in this novel.

I do recommend it, if for nothing else than I'd like to hear what others think. (293 pages)


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Book 38 (2011): Gatsby's Girl

I have a fondness for novels about real people. I LOVE them. Lucy, about Lucy Mercer and FDR is one of my favorite books, for example! So, I was very excited about Gatsby's Girl because 1) it's a fictional story about real people; 2) it's about F. Scott who is one of my all time favorite authors; 3) and it's tied to The Great Gatsby, one of my favorite books (though I have a love- hate relationship with this novel. In 2011, Year of our Lord, I have a "love" relationship, apparently!)

This novel chronicles the romance between young Scott, age 19 and struggling his way through Princeton, and young boarding school girl Ginevra Perry (who is based on the real life love interest Ginevra King). Ginevra is spoiled and self- centered. Scott is intense and brooding.

They meet at a party one Christmas and the relationship blooms through letters. Then there's a secret meeting in the City to see a play and then more letters, around which time that Ginevra is becoming board with the young F. Scott. Then he arrives at her home for a visit- she a wealth spoiled girl with snobby parents and he a poor lad who aspires to be a writer.

Ginevra casts him off and burns his letters. The latter part of the novel then focuses on Ginevra's marriage and her adult life, how boring it is and how tired she is. Then, through several unexpected twists, Ginevra meets Scott again, later in life, hoping to romance again, but to no avail.

This is, loosely, based on real events. Many of the details of the love affair, if you can call it that, between these two took place mostly through letters, and the ones that survived were Ginevra's, but Scott has always claimed she was his greatest love and most of his central female characters are based on her, especially that of the infamous Daisy Buchanan.

And since this the year I have a love affair of my own, with all things Gatsby, I'm also pleased to say it's the second fictional Gatsby tie in; I read The Double Bind earlier this year and LOVED it as well!

A good book, fun, lots of speculation! (320 pages)


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Book 37 (2011): Life Sentences

Sort of a drama/ mystery thing going here, with lots of character development... but I really wasn't a fan of Life Sentences by Laura Lippman. I really, really wanted to like this book because I heard great things about it and about author Lippman but I just didn't enjoy it. And I can't put my finger on exactly why.

Almost 50 year old writer Cassandra Fallows garnered quite a bit of success with her memoirs of growing up in Baltimore in the 1960s and a second book that dealt with her marriages and affairs and her lovers. She then dives into fiction, without much success.

She decides to explore her childhood friends and goes back to Baltimore to examine these friendships and a possible book idea- back into her successful fiction realm- when she learns of a childhood classmate's legal issues. Calliope Jenkins is accused of murdering her infant son. Jenkins spent seven years in prison refusing to answer any questions about the disappearance and possible death of her child. Fallows tries to reconnect with three of her former friends to compare memories of. She used this as research for her story but to also help her re-asses her own childhood memories and the true-ness of such.

This book weaves the complex stories of race (Cassandra is white and her friends, including Calliope, were black), relationships, love and allowed for lots of self examination.

I think I'm the only person who wasn't personally thrilled with this novel and again, I can't quite place my finger on why. Too real? Should be a memoir itself but it's really a work of fiction? Lack of likable characters? I'm not sure of why it garnered such displeasure from me, but it did. And because I feel like I'm trained to say something positive- well, I like her use of vocabulary. (352 pages)


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Book 36 (2011): Red Hook Road

I think I liked this book. I liked the premise, most certainly, and I'm not giving anything away here: a young couple dies in a car wreck after leaving their wedding ceremony and are en-route to the reception. The rest of the novel is how the families are left to cope. What a morbid yet fascinating story!

The other thing that makes me say I think I liked it is that I didn't really like many of the characters, certainly not the mothers of the deceased and that's who this story primarily focuses. It does shift from character to character: the groom's brother, the bride's father, sister and grandfather, a prodigy niece... the story goes between all these but the central focus is on the moms, neither whom I liked.

But I do like that the story takes place over 5 summers, in Maine, and I like to see the evolution of the characters, or at least the evolution of their private grief.

Not what you would call light reading, but it certainly does move along. I hate to say it, but I found it to be a page turner. (343 pages)


Monday, July 11, 2011

Book 35 (2011): Friendship Bread

Friendship Bread made me hungry! And wanting to cook! And made me want to have my bed and breakfast dram come true.

It's a beautiful story of an unlikely friendship between 3 women- Madeline, Hannah and Julia, who've all come together over a personal tragedy, and Amish Friendship Bread.

Julia receives a starter and a plate of bread and then it takes off. She makes the bread, out of duty to her 5 year old daughter, and then it gets passed and thus begins the unfolding of all three women. After unfolding their stories, are also the stories of Edie and Livvy.

It's a beautiful story, and it's also full of wonderful recipes. It's a good beach read, and in some ways it's reminiscent of The Friday Night Knitting Club. This novel too, is a simple story of the power of women's friendships and their strength. (400 pages)


Thursday, July 7, 2011

Book 34 (2011): The Peach Keepers

The Peach Keeper is part Southern magic, part mystery, part love story...

Willa Jackson came home to Walls of Water, North Carolina. She was a wild teenager but a quiet and sedate adult, single, living quietly, visiting her grandmother, and missing her dead father. She runs a sporting good store and has a coffe bar in the corner run by quirky Rachel, who sells yummy baked goods.

Then re- construction of the Blue ridge Madam, a mansion that was once in Willa's family but was sold in the middle of a 1930's scandal, is almost done, bringing ghosts that Willa knew and didn't back home. A boy who's now a man that was once a crush, a girl who's now a perfect woman who wasn't a friend in high school but is in and out of Willa's adult life but not by either woman's choice, and other ghosts she didn't know about.

Willa finds friends and secrets in strange places, and also finds a new part of herself.

This was a good read, and I always like a bit of the Southern magic- not fairies or monsters, but the illusion of Southern women's traditions and beliefs, of their sayings, some of the magic that comes from a bright moon, a scent of peaches in the air, or of a soft breeze on a still day... I love this story! (pages 272)


Monday, July 4, 2011

Book 33 (2011): Sisterhood Everlasting

Sisterhood Everlasting is the 5th installment of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series. Though I'm almost 40 years old, I had to read this. I'm not sure why, when I was 30, I even read the first book in the series since it's for young adults, but I did and have been hooked. Since we have the other 4 in our school library, I embraced this 5th novel and immediately squired it away for my holiday read.

This time we meet the 'sisters' as they are all ready to turn 30: Bee living with Eric in California, Carmen the actress in NYC, Lena teaching art in Rhode Island, and Tibby living in Australia with Brian. All four of them are living their own lives as adults.

On the verge of being 30, Tibby comes up with a plan to bring them all together in Greece. They all arrive and while there tragedy strikes. The story continues on, following how each of the girls (women now, I guess) deals with the blow that struck them all.

When I hit around page 100 I was sickened at what author Ann Brashares had done to the characters, to her readers, to me. I couldn't fathom how the rest of this story was going to play out. It was an excellent read for those who are fans of the Pants series, and it certainly strikes a chord.

I don't want to spoil anything, so I'll suffice it to say that the grown up Sisterhood is just as good as, or maybe even better, than the teenagers we met 10 years ago. (349 pages)


Saturday, July 2, 2011

Book 32 (2011): Save Me

Save Me by Lisa Scottoline is a wanna be Jodi Picoult book, only minus the trial and add a mystery. And the emotional roller coaster is down played into something a bit more... light and fluffy.

I enjoyed the book and it's a quick, summer beach read, for sure. Rose volunteers as a lunch mom when her 3rd grade daughter is being bullied by another girl in her class. Then at lunch one day, tragedy strikes and Rose is forced to make a decision that no mother must have to make. In one quick thinking moment, Rose make a choice that will haunt her for the rest of her life, or at least the rest of the novel.

It's a good read for the summer... (384 pages)