Friday, April 27, 2012

Book Review -- Clair de Lune

Clair de Lune: A Novel
Clair de Lune: A Novel by Jetta Carleton
My enjoyment rating: 4 of 5 stars
Book source: Public library
Genre: Literary fiction
Objectionable material: One F bomb

Miss Allen Liles has recently accepted a position to teach at a local junior college, located in the foothills of the Ozarks. On the eve of WWII, positions are scarce – especially when you are a woman. Luckily, Miss Liles is an instant favorite with her students, because of her love of poetry and exuberance towards literature. But her position is put in jeopardy when a more than friendly relationship develops between her and 2 of her students – George and Toby. Will the gossip and innuendo that begins to circulate on campus, threaten Allen’s future as a professor? Will her dreams of moving to New York City outweigh her need to stay and defend her reputation? Only Allen’s fortitude will determine her future.

Ms. Carleton has seemingly taken a simple story line, with few and simple characters and turned it into an emotionally charged, feminist treatise on the life of a single woman trying to make a living in the 1940s and maintain her integrity.

It is brimming with tension and subtle complexity – with a gaggle of “ladies,” as Allen calls her female colleagues, as they disassociate from her after the rumors begin to circulate; a brilliant, but na├»ve dean, who makes ill-advised advances towards her; a stodgy Board member who starts the whole mess; and two innocent, but brilliant students with whom Allen befriends.

I loved The Moonflower Vine, Ms. Carleton’s “rediscovered” classic. This, although not as complex as her first novel, is equally well written.

I only wish she had written MORE novels! I could devour every word!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Book Review -- Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight

Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight

My enjoyment rating: 4 of 5 stars
Book source:  Personal copy
Genre:  Memoir
Objectionable material:  Language

Living with obstacles worthy of the Old Testament – drought, frogs that escape through the plumbing, snakes that inhabit the kitchen, more vermin than one can count, insects the size of small rodents, filth, and illness, – Alexandra Fuller and her family don’t necessarily make an Exodus through the Red Sea, but they do transverse three African countries as her father works as an African ranch manager.

In Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, Alexandra (Bobo to her family) recounts her nontraditional childhood spent in civil war ravaged Zimbabwe (as well as Malawi and Zambia) – from helping her mother herd wild cattle, to protecting the family home from rebels and terrorists, to nearly dying from contaminated water – it’s remarkable that she and her sister (Vanessa) survived to tell the tale. In fact, life was so dangerous 4 of her siblings (3 referred to by name, one just by birth date), do not survive – all so tragic that with each death, her mother is nearly physically and mentally destroyed.

In comparison to a similar survival story, Jeanette Walls’ The Glass Castle, what made Alexandra’s story more engaging, was that Alexandra’s parents weren’t intentionally trying to harm her – or living an illegal life – they just happened to choose a very difficult career in a very dangerous, remote area.

This was an astounding and well written story – I was amazed at her endurance and grit.

Ms. Fuller has written a sequel, Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness, which tells in more detail her parents' story and her mother's mental breakdown.  I am eager to continue the Fuller's story.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

April Book Group & Book Review -- Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind

Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind (Miss Julia, #1)
Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind by Ann B. Ross
My enjoyment rating: 3 of 5 stars
Book source: Library copy
Genre: Fiction -- Southern
Objectionable material: None
April Book Club choice

Julia Springer’s life has been turned upside down – she’s a recent widow who has been left a sizeable estate, thanks to the financial planning by her late husband. However, when a young boy is dropped off on her doorstep and she is told, “This here is Wesley Lloyd Jr…I got to leave him with you,” by one Hazel Marie Puckett, the boy’s mother, Miss Julia has no idea how topsy turvy it will all end up.

Miss Julia was a delightful, whimsical novel, full of over the top characters and plot lines: newly discovered mistress, crazy televangelist, selfish pastor, loyal maid, and a misplaced little boy. Who all end up in Miss Julia’s living room, much like a Mel Brooks movie.

This was our book club selection for April. The group, overall, thought it was a hilarious book. However, it lacked significantly on discussion merit – to the point that I questioned why our local library has this designated as one of their “book club kits.” Our only real discussion centered on questions like, “what did you think was the funniest antic?” Luckily, there was a lot of good food to enjoy.

This was a nice change of pace…but I doubt I will continue on with the series (and there are A LOT of them!)

Product Details

Our May selection:
The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield (AR author, and recent attendee at the Arkansas Literary Festival)

SummaryEvery first Sunday in June, members of the Moses clan gather for an annual reunion at a sprawling hundred-acre farm in Arkansas. And every year, Samuel Lake, a vibrant and committed young preacher, brings his beloved wife, Willadee Moses, and their three children back for the festivities. In the midst of it all, Samuel and Willadee’s outspoken eleven-year-old daughter, Swan, is a bright light. Her high spirits and fearlessness have alternately seduced and bedeviled three generations of the family. But just as the reunion is getting under way, tragedy strikes, jolting the family to their core and setting the stage for a summer of crisis and profound change. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

April Mother Daughter Book Group -- Mackenzie Blue Friends Forever?

Friends Forever? (Mackenzie Blue, #3)
Friends Forever? by Tina Wells
Mother/Daughter book club enjoyment rating: 4 of 5 stars
(I did not finish this book)
Book source:  Public library
Genre:  Juvenile fiction

Mackenzie Blue is hitting the trails
It's time for Brookdale Academy's camping field trip, but Zee has much more to deal with than a lesson about nature. . . .
1. My BFF, Ally, is visiting all the way from Paris Ooh la la
2. My friends and I are so going to win the environmental scavenger hunt
1. We have to stay in teeny-tiny log cabins. How will we all fit?
2. The legendary (and terrifying) Mountain Man . . .

This was a delightful choice for our April mother daughter book club. The girls really enjoyed discussing the relationships between all the friends – and especially – the existence of the mythical Mountain Man! They all had various plots/ploys for how they would retaliate against the boys – they are a clever bunch!

I did not finish this book due to time.  Based on the first 95 pages that I finished, it was fairly formulaic for a ‘tween read:  Angst over girlfriends and boyfriends, and gasp – starting your period!  And it bugged me that her nickname was "Zee" -- even though the last three letters of her name are spelled "zie."  Just a personal quirk.  But, I can’t give it a fair review due to it being incomplete.

But based on the girls reaction – it was a high 4 stars!

May book choice (and last choice of the year!):
The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine

The Lions of Little Rock

View all my reviews

Monday, April 16, 2012

Book Review -- The Flight of Gemma Hardy

The Flight of Gemma HardyThe Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey
My enjoyment rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Book source:  Public library
Genre:  Literary fiction
Objectionable material: none

Jane Eyre – poor orphaned girl, living with uncaring relatives, shipped off to a miserable boarding school, her best friend dies, eventually finds a position as a governess, meets Mr. Rochester, leaves Mr. Rochester, finds Mr. Rochester again.

In The Flight of Gemma Hardy, Margot Livesey’s re-telling of Jane Eyre, Gemma travels much the same road – however one paved with asphalt: – poor orphaned girl from Iceland, living with uncaring relatives in Scotland, shipped off to a miserable boarding school, her best friend dies, eventually finds a position as a teacher at Blackbird Hall, meets Mr. Sinclair, leaves Mr. Sinclair, wanders Scotland, finds her remaining family in Iceland, meets Mr. Sinclair again.

I loved Jane Eyre – and I loved Gemma Hardy: her story is as tragic and bleak and moody as the original. It is epic as Gemma traverses what seems the whole of Scotland, finding those who abandon her as well has save her. Ms. Livesey’s descriptions are vivid and stark, and although I’ve never stepped foot in Scotland or Iceland, I felt like I’d crossed through every town and village with Gemma.

I loved Jane Eyre until the very last page. I loved Gemma Hardy until – the end crashed and burned. The reunion one would expect, considering how closely Ms. Livesey’s follows the Jane Eyre formula, was shortened to 2 pages and ended on an airplane. I felt robbed! Cheated! It was such a great story that I could have read for another 40-50 pages!

So disappointed.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Book Review -- The House at Tyneford

The House at Tyneford: A Novel
My enjoyment rating: 2.75 of 5 stars
Book source:  Personal copy
Genre:  Historical fiction
Recommended for:  Downton Abbey fans

Elise Landau is not accustomed to taking care of herself, let alone an entire estate. But on the eve of WWII, she has been sent by her family to England to work as domestic servant, in an attempt to secure her safety against the advancing German army into her homeland of Austria.

Natasha Solomons has written the “perfect” novel for Downton Abbey enthusiasts. She so completely captures the life of a servant in a manor house, you expect Mr. Carson to be ironing the paper or Mrs. Patmore to be barking orders in the kitchen.

Her descriptions of the estate, gardens, farm, and coast could be scripted directly from a Home & Garden magazine – they were luscious and vivid – I expected to walk out my front door into an English fishing village.

However, that seems to be all that is perfect about this novel. She spends so much time trying to capture the “feel” of country living, the rest of the story is all but forgotten. I was expecting a very multi-layered storyline (much like The Forgotten Garden) but all I got was a very nice, predictable, linear love story, with a beautiful backdrop.

There are so many gems waiting to be explored – a novel hidden in a viola, a sister overseas, parents missing in the midst of war – all of them mostly ignored until the final pages. And although the ending was satisfying, by then…I didn’t really care anymore.

Ultimately, it was a beautifully written book, but a one-deminsional story.