Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Healing by Jonathan Odell

Just finished this one and had to write about it.  A lot of places compare it to The Help, but really it is pretty darn far from that.

The Healing by Jonathan Odell is a richly written novel about Granada, also known as Gran Gran, who is the narrator of this tale of growing up as a slave on a plantation in Mississippi before the Civil War.  Granada's tale is told from an old woman who's lived a very long time in one place.  Gran Gran starts her story in the 1930's, as an old woman living in what used to be the kitchen to the plantation, but is now her home.  The plantation is in ruins, and old slave cabins are now a small town  populated by the people who work for the rich white folks in town, and Gran Gran has lost her vision into the "weave" of people who surround her.  

Gran Gran's story is mesmerizing. A young girl, Violet, and her dying mother are  delivered to her cabin late one night, and after the mother quickly dies from a botched abortion attempt, she's left to care for Violet, who is so grief stricken she can't speak and won't let Gran Gran touch her.  Gran Gran begins to tell Violet stories about the people she knew when she was a child, and most importantly, Polly Shine.  Benjamin Satterfield, the owner of the plantation, has purchased Polly for $5,000 in gold to heal his swamp slaves from a horrible disease that is killing them (and costing him a lot of money).  Granada has been living the life of a house slave, with the off-kilter Amanda Satterfield dressing Granada up in her dead daughter's dresses on special occasions in order to punish her husband for not sending for help while their daughter was dying of cholera.  Benjamin did not want his friends and associates to find out his daughter was dying of a "slave disease", and this cost him his daughter and the permanent hatred of his wife.  Granada is her way of embarrassing him in front of everyone, and a constant reminder that he failed to save his own daughter.

Granada soon catches the eye of Polly, who announces that Granada has the "healing", and must be her apprentice.  Granada is forced into working with Polly, who eventually becomes the most important person in Granada's life.  But not without a lot of belligerent attitude from Granada and actual foot stomping.  She's a young girl, after all, and does not understand her position on the plantation.  

There is so much to this tale, I can't possibly talk about every character and their impact on Granada's life.  I forgot a man wrote this novel, he did such a wonderful job of putting the reader on that plantation.  Life was unspeakably harsh for slaves; even they had a hierarchy on the plantation.  Polly was both feared and admired for her healing skills.  Some thought she was a "hoodoo" practitioner; others devoted themselves to her.  She's a powerful character that you will not forget--and neither will Granada.  She is the guiding force in Granada's life even when's she old and near the end of her life.

I loved this book.  Well written, powerful characters, excellent descriptions, and scenes that make your heart break.  When you read it, you will understand how the circle remains unbroken.  

Thanks to Net Galley for a preview ebook of this!  

Rating:  5/5:  Excellent all around; the women who populate this novel are unforgettable.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

I've Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella

Sometimes I need a mental break in my reading.  Sophie Kinsella is just the author to put a smile on your face and the sun back in the day.  Her latest, I've Got Your Number is a fun read about Poppy Wyatt, a young physical therapist, who's happily engaged to a hot hot man--Magnus.  He's given her a beautiful emerald engagement ring that's a family heirloom, and she's happily looking forward to their upcoming marriage.

And then she loses the ring.  Just a few days before Magnus' parents--two extremely smart people who intimidate Poppy to no end--are coming back to London from an overseas trip.  Oh crap.  

This begins Poppy's desperate attempt to find the ring in a hotel ballroom, have her phone stolen while looking for the ring, and finding a phone pitched in a garbage can in said hotel.  She picks up the phone and thus begins a relationship with Sam Roxton.  Sam's assistant suddenly quit, tossed her phone, and now Sam's desperately trying to save a business deal.  Poppy and Sam begin a correspondence of emails, texts, and phone calls on this phone that Poppy will not give up--until she gets a phone call that someone has found her ring.  Meanwhile, Poppy plots to keep Magnus and his parents from finding out the ring is missing, and Sam's workplace is soon the center of a scandal.  Can the key be Poppy?

It's a fun novel about thinking you know what you want, but realizing maybe it's not.  Meeting someone because of a lost phone is probably not real high on the reality scale, but Kinsella does manage to make it seem plausible.  Will Poppy marry Magnus, or will her growing phone relationship with Sam interrupt her plans for happily ever after?  I liked Sam a lot.  Poppy seemed kinda like a ditz.  There were times where she could have just confessed to the lost ring, but that would have made the story pretty darn short.  

Rating:  3/5; a fun frolic for an afternoon, but predictable.  

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

You know how it is when you are really enjoying a book, but it still seems to take forever to finish it?  That's how it went with The Weird Sisters for me.  I really really liked it, but somehow it took me almost a week to read something that usually would only take me a few days.

I've been pondering this, and I can only think that it's because not much happens in the novel action-wise.  But a lot happens internally to the three sisters:  Rose, Bean, and Cordy.  Their mother is suffering from breast cancer, and while Rose has already come home and moved in with her parents, Bean and Cordy slowly make their way back, hiding the real reasons why they've come back.  Bean has been fired from her job in NYC for embezzling, and Cordy has become pregnant while out wandering the country.  Each of the sisters is so much alike, yet very different, and I found this something that felt very familiar to me--I have four sisters of my own.  We are all similar and yet different on so many levels.

Some reviews I've read hated the narrator.  It took me a little bit to get used to, but in the end I found I loved the way the author wrote this book.  It's almost as if there is a fourth sister (there's not), because the narrator talks in the "we" mode, and in doing so, enables the reader to get in the heads of all the sisters and see everything.  I found it a refreshing new way of narration, and made the story more intimate rather than having it written in first or third person.

Anyway--the three sisters both love and loathe each other because, as sisters do, each feels the others are just a wee bit better than themselves.  Ah yes.  This is the way of sisters round the world!  But each has to figure out what to do with their lives, as all have reached a place where major life decisions have to be made: Does Rose go to England to be with her fiancĂ©, thus giving up her career as a professor?  Does Bean finally stop sleeping around, forgive herself, and stay in Barnwell?  And does Cordy stop roaming, and keep her baby?

All of this is wrapped with ribbons of Shakespearean quotes, as the sisters' father is a professor of Shakespeare at the local college and pretty much lives his life through the plays.  There are so many wonderful passages in this book I even marked a few.  Here's one of my favorites:

"Oh, she knew he was not the most handsome man in the world, not the one whom women would pause on the street to watch walking by, but to her, he was the only light in the sky."

I would recommend reading The Weird Sisters.  I hope Eleanor Brown keeps writing; I found this book a lovely read and a nice break from all of the doom and gloom I've been reading lately.  This would make a good book club book.

Rating:  3/5; writing is wonderful, and I loved the point of view, but still can't figure out why it took me so long to read this one.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Invisible Ones by Stef Penney

I absolutely adored Stef Penney's first novel, The Tenderness of Wolves.  It has probably the best few sentences I have read in many years, and they still can make me cry just thinking about them.

So I expected a lot from her second novel, The Invisible Ones.  This novel is very different from Wolves; it takes place in the 1980's in England, where Wolves  takes place in the Canadian wilderness in the late 1800's.  

The novel is told through two characters:  Ray Lovell, a private detective, and JJ, a 14 year old boy who lives with his family in trailers.  Why?  Because they are Romany  aka Gypsies.  Ray is also half Romany, and because of this, he is called by a father who's looking for his daughter, Rose, who went missing 7 years previously.  Rose was married briefly to Ivo, a young man who is also Romany, and the cousin of JJ.  She had a child, Christo, who has inherited the Jenko family mysterious disease which kills the male children before they can reach adulthood.  All except Ivo, who was taken to Lourdes for a miracle, and recovered from the disease to reach adulthood, marry Rose, and have Christo.  But there's more to this story.  It is a tangled web of lies, and deception.

What happened to Rose?  That question is what this novel pivots around.  Ray has really nothing to go on; the Gypsy lifestyle means people move around constantly, don't see family for months or years, and is very closed off to gorjio- non-Gypsy people.  They are a very secret society, and it seems that Ray will never crack this case.  

There's a lot going on in this novel, although I felt at times it did drag a bit.  Ray is going through a divorce, he's drinking, and he's lost.  He's attracted to Lulu, JJ's Great Aunt, and a Gypsy who has left the trailer life and is living in "bricks" and holds down a job as a caretaker.  She's the only one who will talk to Ray on a regular basis.  And JJ.  He's a smart kid, and he's always left out of family discussions--he knows there are secrets to be told, but Tene, his Great Uncle, and the father of Ivo, will not tell.  

What did I think of this novel?  I liked it.  Not as much as her first effort, which was spectacular.  I did enjoy reading about the Romany life in England.  It's hard to get the whole picture when you've only read very little about it, and watched all the episodes of My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. A good history novel about the Romany would certainly add to your reading experience. This novel's atmosphere is dark, dreary, full of secrets, and just plain sad.  Sad for a way of life that's slowly disappearing, sad for a family that holds onto secrets for too long, and sad for Ray, who's struggle with building a life after his marriage ends is painful to watch.  

The writing is beautiful, and the end leaves you with a few questions.  But that, I believe, is intentional.  Certainly something that will keep a book discussion going for awhile.  

My rating:  3/5 Writing is amazing, the subject is fascinating.  A little long, though.

Monday, February 13, 2012

New Podcast: Picks For Valentine's Day

Yes, I know.  You want chocolate or some really romantic gift for Valentine's Day. I think receiving a book specially picked out by your sweetie would make a wonderful gift.  So here's my latest podcast, featuring three books with romantic themes that any woman would love.  If you've read any of them, let me know what you thought of them.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Reading Off The Shelves: How Am I Doing?

I'm starting month two of my Read Off The Shelves Challenge.  How am I doing?  

Okay.  I've been a bad person.  I've bought more books.  

But! I have been reading books off my shelves, just not as many as I had hoped. Why do authors keep producing books I want to read?!  What have I read off the shelves lately?

Blood on the Table  (a book about the history of the New York City Office of the Medical Examiner)

This Dark Endeavor (a teen book about Victor Frankenstein as a teenager)

Bloodline ( a teen novel about Dracula's family)

I've been picking away at my ARC pile, too.  I've finished the delightfully fun and frothy I've Got Your Number
This one comes out this month!

And finally finished an entertaining novel about Ancient Egypt, a modern struggle in Tibet, and a mysterious perfume that triggers past life memories:
Loved this!  I'll post a longer review in an upcoming post.  This book will be out in the bookstores and as an e-book in March.

So you see, I have been doing a bit of both reading off the shelves, and reading books on the floor and on my Nook.  Two more months to go on my challenge.  I see empty spots on my bookcases, which won't be hard to fill--trust me.  There are still many many more books to read and pass on to others.  I'd better get busy and start another one....hmmmm....what should I read next?

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Thorn and the Blossom by Theodora Goss

This book I discovered purely by accident at work.  I was taking care of our daily "shop" at the store (where we order books that are selling well for us) and I noticed this title, and the fact that we had sold out of it.  Curious, I checked out the book information, and was immediately hooked.  Now I just had to wait a few days to get the book back into the store, so I could buy it and rush home to read it.  

And that's exactly what I did.  I bought it Friday night, and read it today.  It's a very short book, but magical.  It's in a slipcase, and when you take the book out, it's in an accordion-fold binding.  This means it has no spine, but both a front and back hardcover, and when you open the book, it opens like an accordion.  This story has two ways to read it:  you can start with Evelyn's story, or you can flip the book and start with Brendan's story.  Each story is about Evelyn and Brendan, their meeting in Cornwall, and how their story intertwines with the story of Sir Gwain and the Green Knight, in  which Gwain comes to the rescue of Queen Elowen to defeat the giants who are destroying the countryside.  They fall in love, but Elowen uses her magical powers to finally turn the giants into stone, with devastating results:  Elowen is dying.  They pledge their love to each other, but the evil Morva has also fallen in love with Gwain, and curses them to never be together for a thousand years.  

Are Evelyn and Brendan finally Gwain and Elowen together after all this time?  It's a wonderfully romantic story, told from both sides.  The end of both stories makes you sigh.  It has certainly woken an interest in me to read some epic poetry. And go to Cornwall.  Really.  I want to go to Cornwall.

If you're looking for a really quick read, or a great Valentine's present for someone you love, pick up this book.  It's beautifully presented in an elegant slip case, and the story makes you linger over the pages.  

My rating:  4/5 for originality and just a story that makes your heart go pitty-pat.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Divergent by Vernoica Roth

Alright.  I read this book because I had a few friends recommend it, telling me it was really really good.  I tackled it, and my golly I did not find it particularly fantastic.  In fact, I had a heck of a time getting into this novel, and I can't pinpoint why.

In Divergent, it's the future, and Chicago is a ruin.  There are five separate groups of people who live in Chicago:  Candor, Abnegation, Amity, Dauntless, and Erudite.  Every child reaches the age of 16, undergoes a test to determine their talent, and picks which group they will join for life.  Oftentimes they pick one that is not the group they were born in, and it means leaving their family for good  and undergoing a rigorous initiation.  If they don't make initiation, they are tossed out and doomed to live as a "factionless" outcast--people who live on the fringe, depending on the people of Abnegation to feed and clothe them.  

Beatrice is a Divergent, and that could mean her death.  Divergent means she doesn't fit neatly into any one group; she can join any one.  It makes her dangerous--no one must know--and you find out why towards the end of the book.  Beatrice chooses Dauntless, which are the fearless group.  They jump onto trains, leap off buildings, and pretty much show no fear.  Beatrice changes her name to Tris, and soon is overwhelmed by the initiation into Dauntless.  She's put through a brutal physical test which soon shows her who her enemies are and who her friends are in what is a vicious group of people.  She's drawn to Four, one of the trainers, and horrified of Eric, who's a nasty piece of work.  He's the new Dauntless.  

I found the book to be very slow moving, up until the last 50 pages.  I couldn't keep my focus, as Tris annoyed me.  I had a hard time with the pace of the book, and the ongoing dragged out initiation process.  I don't know--it just did not keep me glued to the pages.  I have read many reviews on this book, and it seems that it's a love or hate book.  I didn't hate it, just was a bit let down.  I don't know if I'll read the next in the trilogy.  I am so bummed when I'm disappointed by a book that got such buzz.  It really only showed promise towards the end, when the shit hits the fan and Tris finally shakes off her ennui and takes charge.  That part was great; the first 240 pages were not.

Rating:  3/5; had promise, but just not til the end.  People will either love it, or not.  Read it yourself and find out!