Friday, April 30, 2010

Book Review: Thaw by Fiona Robyn

Thaw by Fiona Robyn
Snow Books (February 1, 2010)
Paperback, 350 pages
Source:  Personal Copy Synopsis:
Ruth is thirty two years old and doesn't know if she wants to be thirty three. Her meticulously-ordered lonely life as a microbiologist is starved of pleasure and devoid of meaning. She decides to give herself three months to decide whether or not to end her life, and we read her daily diary as she struggles to make sense of her past and grapples with the pain of the present. "Thaw" explores what makes any of our lives worth living. Can Red, the eccentric Russian artist Ruth commissions to paint her portrait, find a way to warm her frozen heart?

My Thoughts:
I participated in the Blogsplash for this novel beginning in March.  Prior to the release of Thaw, I read Robyn's The Blue Handbag (reviewed here) and enjoyed the writing immensely.

Thaw was a powerful and emotional journey.  The story that Ruth told the reader through her private journal was so real that I almost felt as if I was invading her privacy.  She was a deeply depressed character, and at first the premise that she was spending three months trying to decide if she would end her life was troubling for me.  However, after reading several days worth of her thoughts, I was caught up in her life and her thoughts of why she might want to end it.

Fiona Robyn created a haunting picture of Ruth's character and all of the individuals in Ruth's life that helped to support her and cause her pain.  I especially enjoyed how Ruth shared three memories that haunted her so much that she was reluctant to share them, even in her private journal.  I had to keep reminding myself that I was reading fiction, because the journal seemed so much like a memoir - like I had glimpses of the struggles and thoughts of a real person.

Ruth's character was very real and the journey that she took was very moving.  I felt that she challenged herself to make the most out of the three months:  she included additional people in her life, she attempted to mend severed relationships, and she pursued new adventures - all to see if she would come to feel that her life was worth it.

I enjoyed Thaw very much and felt that I came to know Ruth, and maybe even a few things about myself that I didn't know before.  Robyn's writing is powerful and emotional and she has a true gift for creating genuine and believable characters.

I recommend this novel for lovers of women's fiction and memoirs as well.

If you are interested in reading more about the book or Fiona Robyn, please visit the Thaw site

Blog Note: I am an Amazon Associate. I will make a small profit if you purchase a book after following one of the links in this post. Profits will be used to support giveaways and site maintenance.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Anna Karenina Read Along: Part Three

Mari at Bookworm with a View is hosting a Read Along of Anna Karenina.  We are reading one of the novel's eight parts each month.  Here are links to my thoughts and feedback for Parts One and Two.

Mari posted discussion questions for this Part Three on her site.  Feel free to jump in with us and participate in the Read Along!

Part Three Synopsis (Wikipedia):
Levin continues his work on his large country estate, a setting closely tied to his spiritual thoughts and struggles. Levin wrestles with the idea of falseness, wondering how he should go about ridding himself of it, and criticising what he feels is falseness in others. He develops ideas relating to agriculture and the unique relationship between the agricultural labourer and his native land and culture. He believes that the agricultural reforms of Europe will not work in Russia because of the unique culture and personality of the Russian peasant.

Levin pays Dolly a visit, and she attempts to understand what happened between him and Kitty and to explain Kitty's behaviour to him. Levin is very agitated by Dolly's talk about Kitty, and he begins to feel distant from her as he perceives her behaviour towards her children as false. Levin resolves to forget Kitty and contemplates the possibility of marriage to a peasant woman. However, a chance sighting of Kitty in her carriage as she travels to Dolly's house makes Levin realise he still loves her.

Karenin crushes Anna by refusing to separate from her. He insists that their relationship remain as it was and threatens to take away their son Seryozha if she continues to pursue her affair with Vronsky.

My Thoughts:
I was happy that Part Three of Anna Karenina dove back into the love story between Anna and Vronsky.  Anna's husband is frustrating - I want to yell at him to fight for her, but his only concern seems to be for his position in society, and how others may view his decision to handle Anna's affair. 

A brief spark of possibility for Lenin and Kitty is also intriguing - I wonder whether Lenin's pride will keep him from seeing her again.  Learning that she had returned to Moscow without Lenin having visited her was disappointing.   

You would think that this Political Science major would be just as happy with all of the discussion about farming and the farmer/peasant/worker dynamic, but it is not really what I want in a novel.  While I understand the importance of Lenin's thoughts on farming and his relationship with the workers toward establishing the setting for Russia in that day, I find it a bit tiring sometimes.
Discussion Questions (from
- What do you think about the fact that Karenin considers and rejects the possibility of a duel with Vronsky for Anna? Do you think the fact that he initially decides on divorce instead is reasonable? 

I think that Karenin is more concerned with public propriety and the impact to his career than his feelings for Anna.  Instead of being hurt by her admission of affair, it seems as if he is trying to see the most logical path to assuring his place in society.  I don't think that there was ever a circumstance where Karenin would have chosen a duel with Vronsky - Karenin even thinks of the risk to his own life when considering his opinion.

- Trace the ways Anna has thought of her affair with Vronsky up to this point. Discuss what Anna says makes her happy and unhappy about her situation. Do you think she is being realistic or naive?

I think that Anna has found herself in a position where she lacks control.  She fell in love with Vronsky and is now pregnant with his child.  I believe that she thought that admitting her affair to her husband would lead to freedom to be with Vronsky and live the life that she wants.  While I enjoy the love story between Anna and Vronsky, I do believe that she is being naive - she almost wants to have her cake and eat it too.  She wants Vronsky to offer to take her away, to risk everything as a sign of his love for her, but it is not something that I see he is willing to give her. 
- Do you feel Anna's relationship with her brother and his wife Dolly is a good one? Discuss this dynamic and how you think it may play out as the book progresses.

As I remember it, the only examples of Anna's relationship with her brother and Dolly were in Part One.  Up to this point, Anna was very protective of her brother and came to his rescue when he and Dolly were separated due to his affair.  Anna and Dolly seemed to be very close friends and Dolly respected Anna's opinion.  I wonder whether Dolly will play a role in Anna's life in the rest of the book, now that Anna is a woman having an affair.

Looking forward to Part Four - almost halfway there!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Book Review: This One is Mine by Maria Semple

This One is Mine by Maria Semple
Bay Back Books (March 24, 2010)
320 pages

Violet Parry is living the quintessential life of luxury in the Hollywood Hills with David, her rock-and-roll manager husband, and her darling toddler, Dot. She has the perfect life--except that she's deeply unhappy. David expects the world of Violet but gives little of himself in return. When she meets Teddy, a roguish small-time bass player, Violet comes alive, and soon she's risking everything for the chance to find herself again. Also in the picture are David's hilariously high-strung sister, Sally, on the prowl for a successful husband, and Jeremy, the ESPN sportscaster savant who falls into her trap. For all their recklessness, Violet and Sally will discover that David and Jeremy have a few surprises of their own. This One is Mine is a compassionate and wickedly funny satire about our need for more--and the often disastrous choices we make in the name of happiness.

My Thoughts:
This One is Mine struck me as a quick, chick-lit read.  I was entertained by the story line and found myself laughing a bit at how some of the characters were a bit over-the-top in their actions. 

The character Violet was stuck in a rut of depression and is the perfect example of how money does not buy happiness.  Her obsession with junkie, music player, would-be golfer Teddy was a mid-life crisis in the extreme.  Descriptions of her brief affair with Teddy were pretty racy and not for those who are easy to blush!

Violet's husband David is a powerful music executive, who quite obviously likes to have control.  I enjoyed the scene where he was at a yoga retreat in a sweat lodge - his emotions traveled from disgust with Violet at the affair he believed that she was having, through anger at how everyone perceived him to be an "asshole," through remembrance of falling in love with Violet, back to being in love and wanting to do anything to save his marriage.  It was quite a trip.

David sister Sally, a diabetic, former ballerina turned gold-digger was the most frustrating for me.  Her scheming to find a rich husband was so orchestrated that it was scary.  The book described her thoughts in such detail - each plan, each alternative, each anticipated outcome of her actions - each choice bringing her farther down the path of destruction.

For all of the depression, crisis and manipulation that occurred in This One is Mine, it was a light and entertaining read.  It was a perfect choice for my morning on the beach - relaxing and not too brain-intensive.  Lovers of chick lit will enjoy This One is Mine.  I'm looking forward to seeing what other participants of the April Book Club hosted by Everyday I Write the Book will think about the novel.

I received a copy of this book from Hachette Book Group to review as part of the April Book Club hosted by Everyday I Write the Book.

Blog Note: I am an Amazon Associate. I will make a small profit if you purchase a book after following one of the links in this post. Profits will be used to support giveaways and site maintenance.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Book Review: The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam (February 10, 2009)
Hardcover, 451 pages
Source:  Audiobook from the Library

Three ordinary women are about to take one extraordinary step.

Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.

Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.

Minny, Aibileen’s best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody’s business, but she can’t mind her tongue, so she’s lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.

Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.

My Thoughts:
I have heard wonderful reviews about The Help for so long, and have wanted the opportunity to read it. In the library last week, I took the opportunity to snatch up an audio version and listened to the voices of Minny, Aibileen and Skeeter in any available moment.

I finished The Help three days ago, and I have been feeling a sense of loss and mourning ever since:  I did not want the book to end.  I felt such a strong connection to the characters and the book spoke to me in a way that was so much different than any other book that I have ever read.  The Help was a book that moved me to think about the world that I live in and how very different it is than the world that existed just 50 years ago.  The story was powerful and thought-provoking, entertaining and enlightening.

I am inspired by Skeeter who risked lifelong friendships, love, the relationship with her mother, and even her life to tell the stories that she felt needed to be told.  She was first motivated to impress Elaine Stein, a powerful book editor in New York, but Skeeter's research and storytelling became her only focus in life.  The bravery that ran deep in every character was so moving.  I don't feel like I have had any personal experience in my life that can match the courage that these women showed, when faced with such astonishing risks.
Rarely do I find myself telling every person that I know about a book, but I have wanted to share my feelings and my love for The Help with everyone.  I cannot recommend this book enough - for the history, the story, the strong women, and the overwhelming desire to rise above and be more than the prejudice and hate that ran so deep in Jackson, Mississippi. 

Read it!

Other Reviews:
Age 30+... A Lifetime of Books
The Literate Housewife Review
The Book Lady's Blog

Monday, April 12, 2010

Book Review: The Yellow House by Patricia Falvey

The Yellow House
by Patricia Falvey
Center Street (February 15, 2010)
352 pages

Publisher's Description: 
The Yellow House delves into the passion and politics of Northern Ireland at the beginning of the 20 century. Eileen O'Neill's family is torn apart by religious intolerance and secrets from the past. Determined to reclaim her ancestral home and reunite her family, Eileen begins working at the local mill, saving her money and holding fast to her dream. As war is declared on a local and global scale, Eileen cannot separate the politics from the very personal impact the conflict has had on her own life. She is soon torn between two men, each drawing her to one extreme. One is a charismatic and passionate political activist determined to win Irish independence from Great Britain at any cost, who appeals to her warrior's soul. The other is the wealthy and handsome black sheep of the pacifist family who owns the mill where she works, and whose persistent attention becomes impossible for her to ignore.

My Thoughts:
I was brought up surrounded by family who spoke of our Irish heritage.  One of my most treasured possessions is a shamrock charm that my grandfather picked out for me when I was a teenager - I still make sure to wear it proudly every St. Patrick's Day and on days when I'm feeling especially sentimental.  The Yellow House offered a spectacular view of Northern Ireland in the early 1900's, while the country was in the midst of The Troubles:  when Catholics and Protestants were divided between a desire for an independent Ireland and British rule.  I feel as if I have a little more insight into the history of my family after having read the book.

Eileen O'Neill was brought up by her father to be a warrior, having been instilled with the stories of how her great-grandfather took back their home from the Sheridan family.  The book described horrible circumstances under which Eileen had to pick herself up and ensure that the family that remained was able to stay together and was provided for.   Her strength and spirit wer admirable - I loved the character that Falvey created.

The Yellow House was a story of love, perseverance and fighting for what you believe in, regardless of how others may speak of you, or of risks to your life.  I was impressed how Falvey successfully wove Irish history into such a personal family story.  Eileen O'Neill Conlon was a warrior in her own family, but she also symbolized many warriors throughout Ireland.

The contrasts between characters Owen Sheridan and James Conlon were remarkable.  Each was on the opposite side of the political spectrum, each chose a different way to fight for what they believed in, and most importantly each man pulled Eileen's heart and soul in a different direction.  I enjoyed the love triangle that was created between Eileen and the two men, but I believe more importantly that the historical backdrop of the novel would not have been successful had it not been for the ideological struggle between the men.

The Yellow House was a well written novel - from the first page I could hear the lilt of the Irish brogue ringing through the dialogue.  I highly recommend the book to lovers of historical fiction, lovers of Ireland, and lovers of strong women characters.

Other Reviews:
The Crowded Leaf

I received a copy of this book from Hachette Book Group to review as part of the Manic Mommies Book Club.

Blog Note: I am an Amazon Associate. I will make a small profit if you purchase a book after following one of the links in this post. Profits will be used to support giveaways and site maintenance.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Book Review: The Longbridge Decision by Robert M. Brown, Jr.

by Robert M. Brown, Jr.
Great Little Books, LLC (May 1, 2010)
530 pages Summary:
The sudden, inexplicable death of a senior partner at Wall Street's oldest and most prestigious law firm sparks an improbable chain reaction that rapidly includes the framing of a murder suspect, a relentless national manhunt, a shocking attempt to gain control of the U.S. Supreme Court and the uncovering of a covert labyrinth of deadly political decisions along the way.

Set against a fermenting backdrop of political and moral corruption that starts beneath the lone star of the Texas capitol building and stretches all the way to the office of the President of the United States itself, Robert M. Brown Jr.'s frighteningly plausible, lightning-paced thriller reveals an alarming and chilling vision of a theocratic United States of America that is just one decision short of becoming reality. One disturbing question remains, however - whose decision will it be?

My Thoughts:
It has been a long time since I took the opportunity to read a political and legal thriller and I was not disappointed by The Longbridge Decision.  Brown created a smart and exciting read, that offered a broad range of authentic characters - some that you could cheer for and some that you despised. 

The storyline was reminiscent of John Grisham's Pelican Brief and The Firm, but it had its own unique twist that made it very enjoyable.  I was particularly impressed with the development of character Tyler Wadill - a rich, smart, good looking, All-American from Virginia with enough political connections to secure a clerkship with a Supreme Court Justice, and then end up at one of New York's most successful legal firms.  It was his past however that was the most intriguing part of the story.  I enjoyed the way that the author wove Tyler's memories of Kara into the novel and used them to shape the way that Tyler related to Mayson.

The motivations of the politically-connected Seth Harrington, who was the religious leader of an organization aimed at sparking a Renaissance of faith in the United States, were drastic, scary and as the description noted "frighteningly plausible."  I only hope that the machine of politics in Washington would never allow a conspiracy similar to the one that was described in The Longbridge Decision.

I recommend this book for anyone who likes a good thriller with a touch of the legal system and politics mingled in.

I received a copy of this book for review from the Publisher via Bostick Communications

Blog Note:  I am an Amazon Associate.  I will make a small profit if you purchase a book after following one of the links in this post.  Profits will be used to support giveaways and site maintenance.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Book Review: The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O'Connor McNees

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott
by Kelly O'Connor McNees
Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam (April 1, 2010)
352 pages

I read The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott as part of the Reading Series hosted by Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin'?

From the Author's Website:
Millions of readers across generations have laughed and cried with the March sisters—Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy—of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel, Little Women. And there has never been a more beloved heroine in the history of American letters than Jo March, Louisa’s alter ego and an iconic figure of independent spirit and big dreams. But as Louisa knew all too well, big dreams often come at a cost.

In her debut novel, The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, Kelly O’Connor McNees deftly mixes fact and fiction as she imagines a summer lost to history, carefully purged from Louisa’s letters and journals, a summer that would change the course of Louisa’s writing career—and inspire the story of love and heartbreak between Jo and Teddy “Laurie” Laurence, Jo’s devoted neighbor and kindred spirit.

In the summer of 1855, Walt Whitman’s controversial Leaves of Grass has just been released, and the notion of making a living as a writer is still a far-off dream for Louisa. She is twenty-two years old, vivacious, and bursting with a desire to be free of her family and societal constraints so she can do what she loves the most—write. The Alcott family, destitute, as usual, moves to a generous uncle’s empty house in Walpole, New Hampshire, for the summer. Here, a striking but pensive Louisa meets the fictional Joseph Singer. Louisa is initially unimpressed by Joseph’s charms. But just as Louisa begins to open her heart, she learns that Joseph may not be free to give his away. Their new found love carries a steep price, and Louisa fears she may pay with the independence she has fought so hard to protect.

My Thoughts:
In a sentence:  I adored this book!

I can still remember sitting in the back seat of my parents' car when I was twelve years old, driving to North Carolina for my first look at snow.  I was consumed with Little Women - I knew from that moment that I would always love reading.  Jo's character was so admirable to me:  strong, smart, focused, independent.  She was everything that I could see myself wanting to be. 

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott provided a spectacular glimpse at the author that brought me Jo.   The view of Alcott's hometown, the family that shaped her life, and an opportunity to move away and become the writer that she wanted to be was breathtakingly real.  I enjoyed the way that the author provided background to Alcott's home life, including her father's transcendentalist lifestyle to which he dedicated all of his focus, despite the ill effects that it may have on his family.

Louisa's relationship with Joseph Singer was stunning and heartbreaking.  Louisa's character was so strong and determined to follow her dreams of writing that she was not looking for the love that she found with Joseph.  The descriptions of their romance were lovely and real.  I felt as if I was reading a novel from the 19th or early 20th century and liked how McNees did not feel the need to give in your face descriptions of the love affair, but provided just enough to let your heart imagine their affection.

I highly recommend The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott.  McNees has created a wonderful love story and an empowering story for women that was worthy of Louisa May Alcott's life.

Please take a few minutes to visit the other participants of The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott Reading Series.

Source: A special thank you for the ARC that was provided by Riverhead Books