Category Archives: Adult Fiction

My Summer of Southern Discomfort (Stephanie Gayle) – Review

My summer of southern discomfortMy Summer of Southern Discomfort by Stephanie Gayle
Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: William Morrow, 2007
ISBN: 9780061236297
244 pages

After her relationship with her married boss turned sour, Harvard law graduate Natalie Goldberg finds herself working as a district attorney in Macon, Georgia, a far cry from her life as a corporate lawyer in New York . Her civil rights activist/lawyer father cannot fathom the sudden change in his daughter’s life, and Natalie’s friends are hard-pressed to understand the move. Now Natalie is forced with trying to find a place to just fit-in and find a community that she can call her own.

When I first began reading this book, two things popped into my head. 1: CHICK LIT and 2: Law Puns & cliché jokes. While those two elements are present in the book, I did find myself really enjoying the narrative and I did develop a sympathy for Natalie. Although the book had all the elements of being a cheesy chick-lit novel, Gayle managed to keep the attention focused on Natalie’s  internal and mental growth in Georgia with her new surroundings and a new culture to adapt to. I like that the author didn’t stick the main character into any overtly obvious romantic situation as part of the healing process. I did find that the book had a lot of happy endings and all loose strings were neatly tied up in the end, but sometimes a book that cleans up nicely is a perfect read for a listless weekend.

I do have to say that the librarian in me loved Natalie’s organizational habits. The Birthday Card Tickler? Genius. Her packing methods of numbering each box and making individual lists for the contents of each box…also genius. I really liked Natalie’s character. I found her to be tough yet vulnerable, bratty yet humble. Confusing and erred like a normal human being. One thing that did strike me as odd was Natalie’s father’s reaction to her career choice. How a civil rights attorney is OK with his daughter working for corporate big-wigs, but abhors the idea of her putting away the bad guys just didn’t sit well with me.

This book was read as part of the Southern Belles Reading Challenge for September.

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Book 42 of 2011

 

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The Borrower (Rebecca Makkai) – Review

The borrower : a novelThe Borrower by Rebecca Makkai
Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction
Source: LibraryThing Early Reviewers
Format: Audio CD
Publisher: Highbridge Audio, 2011
10.25 Hours, 8 Discs

Recent college graduate Lucy Halls works as a children’s library for a small town called Hannibal Missouri. Although she dislikes most things about her job, the one element of joy in her life is the spirited ten-year-old borrower, Ian Drake. He is the son of over religious and over-protective parents, and Lucy does her best to funnel books to Ian that his parents would most likely not approve of. One day, when Lucy finds Ian hiding in the library, having run away and spent the night in the building, the two set off on an adventure that takes them through state-lines, past the boundaries of librarian-borrower and changes their lives forever.

I can really only explain my review of this book in bullet points. I did not enjoy this book.

  • Lucy is a children’s librarian. I am a children’s librarian.
  • Lucy believes in the good of books and their abilities to change lives. I believe in books, and have seen them change lives.
  • Lucy is obnoxious, preachy, whiny and self indulgent.
  • Ian is likewise obnoxious, bratty, and very annoying.

That about sums up my feelings for this book. I found it to be much too preachy for my taste. I understand the value of books, but I felt it thumped over my head a million times through Lucy’s self-righteous rants. The only saving grace of this book was the narrator, who added a sympathy to Lucy that would have been lost in print.  

The entire book felt forced. Forced issues of censorship, forced issues of parental failures, forced issues of religious malfeasance. A forced story about a grown woman who can’t put her foot down and take accountability for her actions. It took me over a month to get through the audio book, mostly because I didn’t care to finish it. I didn’t care about the characters, or who Lucy hurt with her selfishness. I would have probably given up on the book. 

I hate to write a negative review like this. I was really excited for this book and the premise. I’m a librarian, this book should have been completely copacetic with me, but it wasn’t. It was too full of issues that should have been toned down.

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Book 40 of 2011
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September Southern Belle Challenge

Well, I’m only 1 week into September and I finally figured out the books I want to read this month & movies I want to watch for the September Southern Belle Challenge.

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Books I have previously read that fit the challenge (turns out I’ve read more Southern books than I had thought…curious how that always happens…)

  1. The Help
  2. The Secret Life of Bees
  3. A Confederacy of Dunces (New Orleans counts right??)
  4. A Mercy
  5. Sookie Stackhouse series – Dead Until Dark, Living Dead in Dallas, Club Dead

Books I want to read this month

  1. Collected Works – Flannery O’Conner (I LOVED A Good Man is Hard To Find…time to read more of her short stories!)
  2. Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man – Fannie Flagg
  3. Fannie Flagg’s Original Whiste Stop Cafe Cookbook -Fannie Flagg
  4. My Summer of Southern Discomfort – Stephanie Gayle

Movies to Watch

  1. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe (I LOVE this movie)
  2. The Help
  3. Southern Belles

August Recap

I honestly cannot believe that August is over already. This just floated by in the blink of an eye. I didn’t do too much reading this month. I spent a good deal of my focus on children’s picture books and easy readers for my other blog Library Crossing. I was also quite oddly music obsessed this month, cycling through the same three cds over and over again. I find it an interesting overlap of how some of the most ardent music fans are avid readers, and vice versa. Music and literature are not exclusive as one would think.

My August:

READ & REVIEWED

1. French Lessons by Ellen Sussman 

Parisians : an adventure history of Paris 2. Parisians by Grahan Robb

The lantern : a novel 3. The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson

Ms. Hempel chronicles 4. Ms. Hempel Chronicles by Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum

The help 5. The Help by Kathryn Stockett

READ & UNREVIEWED
Sin in the Second City : madams, ministers, playboys, and the battle for America's soul Sin in the Second City by Karen Abbott
First kill The Slayer Chronicles: First Kill by Heather Brewer
Maman's homesick pie : a Persian heart in an American kitchen Maman’s Homesick Pie by Donia Bijan
French women for all seasons : a year of secrets, recipes & pleasure French Women for All Seasons: Mirelle Guiliano
MUSIC

 Phoenix: Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix 

 Walk The Moon: I Want! I Want! 

Half Read Books

Books I picked up and soon regretted.

1. The Taste of Salt by Martha Southgate
Source: Publisher

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Although the premise of this book was incredibly intriguing (about a young woman dealing with alcoholism in her family in the form of her father and brother), I found the characters to be flat, the plot to be sparse and the narration to be dry. I don’t understand why the author chose to tell stories of the other characters through the daughter’s voice, rather than giving each character his/her own voice and perspective. I read a little more than half of the book before setting it aside and moving on to something else. There was too much background and not enough plot to keep me interested.

2. The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
Source: NetGalley

Rules of civility

I actually got into this book when I first started reading it. I read about a good 100+ pages in the first sitting. It’s an e-book, so its downloaded onto the computer. For some reason, I never wanted to pick the book up from where I had left it. Although I am curious to see what happens to the characters, I don’t feel partial towards any of them, and just feel as if they are listless and bored. Not boring, but just bored with their own lives, set in the early 20th Century New York. Towles writes beautifully and this is a good period piece of American history. I just don’t care enough about the characters to want to finish their stories.

French Lessons (Ellen Sussman) – Review

French Lessons by Ellen SussmanFrench Lessons by Ellen Sussman
Age: Adult
Genre: Chick-lit
Format: AudioCD – 6 discs Random House Audio, 2011
Publisher: Ballantine Books, 2011

Three French tutors spend a day with their American students, sight-seeing and rediscovering what it means to be in love.

The story is told through the perspective of the three American students, each in France for their own reasons for their despair and frustration with their lives. Josie is the first narrator. She is in France grieving for the loss of her love, the father of one of French class students in the Bay Area. She spends the day with her tutor, Nico, trying to forget the reasons for her sadness. The second narrator, Riley, is a frustrated housewife living in France with her husband and two children. Feeling friendless and alone, Riley is frustrated with all things French, especially her tutor Francois. The third narrator is Jeremy, the husband of a famous American actress filming a movie in Paris. He develops a crush on his tutor, Chantal, and begins to question his love for his wife.

Within each of the three sexually charged narratives, there are questions of happiness, love, romance, home, infidelity, and feelings of belonging. All of these issues are brought up to light through the sexuality and sexual interactions of the characters. All six characters think about sex, love, sex and more sex. Although the stories were well paced, I found Riley’s character to be the most annoying and obnoxious of the set. I’m not exactly sure what it is, but something about this novel felt off.  At times the dialog felt unrealistic, overly floral and descriptive. Kathe Mazur reads the book  and times the French accent sounded more Middle Eastern then French. I think I would have enjoyed the text format of this book over the audio-cd, but there are a number of holds on both formats my library, and the audio-cd had fewer holds.

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Book 38 of 2011soundbytes picture


Ms. Hempel Chronicles (Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum) – Review

Ms. Hempel chroniclesMs. Hempel Chronicles by Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum
Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction/short story collection
Publisher: Mariner Books, 2008
193 Pages
Pen/Faulkner Award for Fiction Finalist
 
 
 

Ms. Beatrice Hempel, teacher of seventh grade, is new — new to teaching, new to the school, newly engaged, and newly bereft of her devoted father. Overwhelmed by her newness, she struggles to figure out what is expected of her in life and at work. Is it acceptable to introduce swear words in the English curriculum, enlist students to write their own report cards, or bring up personal experiences while teaching a sex-education class?

Madeleine is sleepingI found this book in the sale section of Powell’s bookstore last week and immediately snatched it from the shelves with eager hands. I read and loved Bynum’s first novel, Madeleine is Sleeping, and hadn’t realized that Bynum had a second book out in stores already. I read it immediately, and was able to finish it in a couple of days.

I could readily identify with the character of Ms. Hempel. We’re the same age, starting anew in traditional educational careers, and still wary of each step we take and each word we utter to minors in our presence. Granted, my biggest fear is not being abducted by a van of crazed clowns.

Bynum has a very unique writing style. Its a mix of snarky, subtle, youthful, naive and insightful. Two chapters into the Ms. Hempel Chronicles and I knew I could not in any way compare it to Madeleine is Sleeping. The story, characters, setting are vastly different. The Ms. Hempel Chronicles is aptly named, as many of the chapters were published as short stories in various literary magazines before being compiled into this book. That makes for choppy transitions between chapters. It feels more like a series of vignettes than a linear account of Ms. Hempel’s time as a teacher. Overall, I think this is a great book for someone in their late 20’s, particularly new teachers of middle schoolers.

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Book 35 of 2011

The Help (Kathryn Stockett) – Review

The helpThe Help by Kathryn Stockett
Age: Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Penguin Books, 2009
444 Pages
 

Told through the voices of 22 year old Skeeter,recently returned home from college, and two maids, Aibileen and Minny, author Kathryn Stockett weaves a tale of segregated Jackson Missouri during the 1960s. With a degree and interest in writing, Skeeter picks up a position at a local newspaper writing for Miss Myrna column about house-cleaning and house-keeping for housewives. Feeling restless and bored with her work, Skeeter decides to take on one of the biggest challenges she can find. That of chronicling the tales of the African-American maids that work for the wife housewives in Jackson. Through the riots, protests, police brutality and indirectly effects all of the characters, Stockett weaves a tale of housewives, maids, children and everyday life in the 1960s.

A close family friend lent me this book, and I have seen it constantly checked out at the library as well as discussed heavily on the blog-o-sphere through the past year. Now that the movie was just released, I was able to find time to sit down and read this book.

I love the setting of the book. I just finished catching up with Mad Men on Netflix, and this book is an incredibly read-along with the TV show. It covers the same time-frame and many of the same themes of feminism, racism, and integration of society. I think Skeeter is an incredibly character, although I felt that much of presence petered out at the end of the book. In fact, I think that this book was a lot of talk, with very little action, and most of the climax petered out at the end. I was a little disappointed with the ending, I was hoping for more conflict than Miss Hilly’s petty revenge schemes. However, I do think that the main intent of this book was to induce more talk more than anything else.

Through the three characters, we see three distinct personalities and accounts of many of the same scenes, and the same characters. From the evil that lurks in Miss Hilly, to the generous naïvete of Miss Celia (one of my absolute favorite characters). The 1960s is a decade rich in  social and technological progress, social and political change, as well as a number of civil rights movements that my generations often takes for granted.

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Book 34 of 2011

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb (Melanie Benjamin) – Review

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb A Novel.The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin
Age: Adult
Genre: Historical 
Publication date: July 27th, 2011
Publisher Delacorte Press, 2011
ISBN: 9780385344159
448 pages

Back cover synopsis:

A two-foot, eight-inch tall dynamo, Mercy Lavinia Warren Bump lived a remarkable life that reaches out t us more than a century later. Taken under the wing of the immortal impresario P.T. Barnum, married to the tiny superstar General Tom Thumb in the wedding of the century, she charmed riverboat gamblers and bewitched the rich and powerful.

Although I hate using the back cover synopsis for my reviews, I felt I had to in this case. There is so much going on in this book, that its hard to think of a way to sum it all up. To say its about Mercy Lavinia’s life (Vinnie was her preferred nickname), is an understatement. It takes us back to a time forgotten in American history. Vinnie’s life story guides us before, during and after the civil war. I thought the author did an effortless job weaving in moments of history throughout the course of the novel. Vinnie interacts with different dignitaries and notable names throughout the course of her career and life with P.T. Barnum’s traveling show.

I did sob at certain points in the book, and I did feel terrible that Vinnie could never let her guard down, even with her husband. Keeping people at arm’s length was her biggest source of protection. At times it made her a very harsh and cold person. It was hard to see her vulnerabilities because she would never let herself think of them. She was incredibly strong-willed and was not afraid to speak her mind.

Its taken me a month to review this book because the final image of General Tom Thumb, Vinnie’s sister Minnie, and the entire life that she lived left me feeling very…melancholic. Winnie deserved a life filled with love, but she always kept her guard up and strong.

This is a wonderful book of American history, of the unknown and forgotten celebrities of an era only remembered by injustice, violence and war. This book is a  reminder of why America is so unique, and that even if you are less than 3-feet tall, its still possible to have dreams big enough to take you across the ocean onto a world tour.

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Book 33 of 2011

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Fire in Blood (Irène Némirovsky) – Review

Fire in the bloodFire in Blood by Irène Némirovsky
Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction
Location: France
Publisher: Random House Audio; Unabridged edition
ISBN: 978-0739357767
3 CDs
Format: Audio Book

Set in the indiscreet countryside of France, Nemirovsky weaves a tale of infidelity and the bonds of family. The story is narrated by Silvio, an elderly uncle watching the events unfold as tragedy and betrayal engulfs his niece Collette and surrounding neighbors.

The story is very subtle, and parts of it reminded me strongly of Anna Karenina and her dissatisfaction with her life. The story is very slowly paced, so I’m lucky I had the audio book to keep my attention. I don’t think I would have been so lucky or attentive with the print. The characters are very nuanced and Nemirovsky has a great eye for detailing the simple things in life.

The short novel is about a number of things; age v. youth, solitude v. society, passion v. complacency. As the narrator, Silvio is old and jaded. He wasted his youth and now tries to live below the radar of society, minding his own business. His family, is not so lucky. Younger and with more to learn, they experience the pain of love and betrayal in front of Silvio’s eyes. This often lead to many introspective thoughts by Silivio. Those internal monologues I enjoyed the most. I didn’t particularly care for any of the characters other than Silvio. I found then somewhat vapid.

This is my first introduction to Nemirovsky, but will not be the last. Her short life ended tragically in a concentration camp during World World II. As a result, her only other novel Suite Francaise was found in two parts and was carefully pieced together and highly edited. I can only image what great works she would have continued to pen had she lived.

Book 26 of 2011

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