December 23, 2009

January 2010: The Help

"The Help" by Kathryn Stockett

What perfect timing for this optimistic, uplifting debut novel (and maiden publication of Amy Einhorn's new imprint) set during the nascent civil rights movement in Jackson, Miss., where black women were trusted to raise white children but not to polish the household silver. Eugenia Skeeter Phelan is just home from college in 1962, and, anxious to become a writer, is advised to hone her chops by writing about what disturbs you. The budding social activist begins to collect the stories of the black women on whom the country club sets relies and mistrusts enlisting the help of Aibileen, a maid who's raised 17 children, and Aibileen's best friend Minny, who's found herself unemployed more than a few times after mouthing off to her white employers. The book Skeeter puts together based on their stories is scathing and shocking, bringing pride and hope to the black community, while giving Skeeter the courage to break down her personal boundaries and pursue her dreams. Assured and layered, full of heart and history, this one has bestseller written all over it. -- Publishers Weekly

Jerilyn: An excellent book that provides real insight into the life and experiences of 1940 southern black mammies and really makes you think about if and how things have changed since then. There’s definitely a good reason this is a top seller!

Kerry: The Help was a fast read with endearing characters. When it was over, I wanted to be able to pull up a chair in the kitchen and talk to the characters some more. I learned a lot about life in 1960s Mississippi and I am glad that I did not live during that period! I would not have fit in...

Aday: Brilliant. Why can't all books be this good?

Shannon: I loved the book!

Holly: A book everyone actually read!

Jen S.: A great read! I felt like I was there, sharing in the conversation and fearing the worst.

Stephanie: The Help was a great read and an interesting look into the lives of people who were actually part of the start of the civil rights struggles in the early 60s. Well done, quick read and thought provoking!

Amanda: Touching, funny, and relevant--I loved this book!

Becca: An excellent, quick read. It stays with you long after you finish the book.

Chari: Loved this story and hope she writes a sequel. I miss the characters!

October 20, 2009

November 2009: Water for Elephants

"Water for Elephants" by Sara Gruen

As a young man, Jacob Jankowski was tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. It was the early part of the great Depression, and for Jacob, now ninety, the circus world he remembers was both his salvation and a living hell. A veterinary student just shy of a degree, he was put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It was there that he met Marlena, the beautiful equestrian star married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. And he met Rosie, an untrainable elephant who was the great gray hope for this third-rate traveling show. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and, ultimately, it was their only hope for survival. -- From the Publisher

Linsy: I found this story to be a touching and unexpected look into the dark world of circus life. It is not a topic I am inclined to enjoy reading about, but the author did a great job of researching the history of the traveling circus in America and developed great characters that really made the story work.

Aday: A beautiful story.

Kelly: Very slow developing and felt no desire to connect with the main character.

Jen S.: Thumbs down.

Holly: I was hoping for more circus freaks, less love story.

September 20, 2009

October 2009: The Haunting of Hill House

"The Haunting of Hill House" by Shirley Jackson

First published in 1959, Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House has been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror. It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a "haunting"; Theodora, his lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.

Jen S.: Classic ghost story. An appropriate read for the month of October.

Stephanie: I wasn't thrilled with the ending but overall, I thought it was a decent read.

Amanda: Don't let the name fool ya---not too scary!

Holly: It seemed like I was reading a play. I wish I could've gone to BC to discuss. And have some wine.

Aday: Perfectly eerie from the very beginning. I had to read it with all of the lights on. I also related to the characters so much I cast them while reading the book: Cate Blanchett for Theodora, Michael Cane for the Dr., Rupert Everett for Luke, Meryl Streep for the Dr.'s wife, and Jennifer Goodwin playing Eleanor. Is that weird?

August 21, 2009

September 2009: The Devil in the White City

"The Devil in the White City" by Erik Larson

The bestselling author of Isaac's Storm returns with a gripping tale about two men -- one a creative genius, the other a mass murderer -- who turned the 1893 Chicago World's Fair into their playground. Set against the dazzle of a dream city whose technological marvels presaged the coming century, this real-life drama of good and evil unfolds with all the narrative tension of a fictional thriller. -- Barnes & Noble

Great read--would recommend to both architecture and "true crime" buffs!

Jen S.: Interesting read. I'm thankful for building codes and building inspectors, utilities such as sewage and clean water, and for a system that identifies and catches bad guys. I'm also thankful for the influence the World's Fair had on Walt Disney and Frank Lloyd Wright.

Linsy: I enjoyed how the author told these two stories as one and found the book full of insight into a very influential event in the evolution of America that I knew it almost nothing about prior to the book.

Stephanie: Interesting book with great history and detail. Not a page-turner for me but overall, I thought it was a good read.

Kerry: This book was so good! I read it on the plane yesterday to and from Pittsburgh for my Grandpap's funeral. I learned so many things!!! It seems like many of the modern conveniences that we enjoy today were created for the world's fair! And seriously, isn't it suspicious that the murderous castle mysteriously burned down? Great read!

Chari: Found both story lines interesting and enjoyed learning about the process of building the structures for the world's fair. And glad I wasn't a single lady back then with a crazy killer on the loose!

Mary: I'm torn--I thought the architecture story was interesting though it could have been more concise. I thought the murderer's story was too concise and should have been more interesting. Generally, the book wasn't terrible, but it was definitely overrated.

Aday: What Mary said.

Holly: Watch out for the blue eyed boys.

August 2009: The Painter from Shanghai

"The Painter from Shanghai"
by Jennifer Cody Epstein

A work of fiction -- but based on the life and work of a real artist -- The Painter from Shanghai transports readers to early-20th-century China, a culture marked by oppression. Epstein has proven herself a shining talent in this first novel, tackling such weighty questions as: How does a talented artist blossom, even under repressive conditions? What is art, and what is love? What makes a life well lived? The answers form a mesmerizing portrait of one young woman's journey to find herself and to nourish her creative talents despite appreciable odds. -- Barnes & Noble

Jerilyn: A good “autobiographical fiction” depicting the struggles of a girl trying to find herself and stay true to who she is throughout her life. A little slow to start, but the history and changing of the times kept me going.

Chari: I really enjoyed reading about her life and getting a glimpse of what the art world in Shanghai was like at that time. Amazing what Yuliang overcame with her background and the role of women in China.

Kerry: How could you not admire this woman who had prevailed over circumstances beyond her control? And every time I read about foot binding, I cringed!

Shannon: I love historical fiction and art history so I enjoyed learning about this time in Shanghai. It became more interesting to me after Jen Sowders pointed out that it was based on a true story.

Jen S.: Good, but not great. I enjoyed it more after learning that the book was based off a real person.

Aday: I really struggled getting to the last page, and would have been fine calling it quits halfway. Looking back, I wish I had.

Kelly: It sounds like I didn't miss much by not reading the book.

June 23, 2009

What Should Shannon Read On Her Beach Vacation?

Shannon: Hey bc girls, I am in need of some beach reads and would love some suggestions!

Aday: Twilight!!

Stephanie: Agree - Twilight series definitely. I never thought I'd get so into them but I started the first one on the flight home from my vacation last week and was hooked. I was wishing I'd started it earlier on my vacation and just read that and maybe the second one while I was there - they would be great beach reads.

Becca: Definitely Shannon--Twilight series is the perfect beach read.

Aday: C'mon Shannon, fall in love with the Vampires like the rest of us.

Jen S.: Ditto! Twilight is the perfect vacation read!

Story developing...

May 22, 2009

June 2009: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" by Stieg Larsson

Combine the chilly Swedish backdrop and moody psychodrama of a Bergman movie with the grisly pyrotechnics of a serial-killer thriller, then add an angry punk heroine and a down-on-his-luck investigative journalist, and you have the ingredients of Stieg Larsson's first novel…It's Mr. Larsson's two protagonists—Carl Mikael Blomkvist, a reporter filling the role of detective, and his sidekick, Lisbeth Salander, a k a the girl with the dragon tattoo—who make this novel more than your run-of-the-mill mystery: they're both compelling, conflicted, complicated people, idiosyncratic in the extreme. -- Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

Kasey: Loved it! Can't wait for the second book in the series.

Shannon: I really enjoyed it and am looking forward to the next one as well.

Amanda: I LOVED this book--it had everything-action, romance, mystery, family drama---the works!

Jen S.: A nice change of pace from our other reads. I learned that I do NOT want to be a ward of the state in Sweden.

Becca: Great read--entertaining, suspenseful, and intelligent (but a little slow at the start so hang in there).

Chari: I loved the different story line and learning a few details about life in Sweden then and now. Lots of interesting characters and overall a great read.

Holly: Great read, different than our normal selections. And it made me ponder giving my baby all sorts of Swedish names.

Aday: A clever who dunnit once you get past the first 100 pages or so, and then there’s no turning back.

Linsy: Loved the book. The combination of mystery/suspense with romance was irresistible and the characters were very intriguing. I didn't want to put it down.

April 24, 2009

May 2009: Reading Lolita in Tehran

"Reading Lolita in Tehran" by Azar Nafisi

Reading Lolita in Tehran, "a memoir in books," is an inspiring account of an insatiable desire for intellectual freedom in Iran before, during and after the 1979 revolution that brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power and began a period of fervent anti-Americanism in the country. The eight years of the Iran-Iraq war also are vividly recounted. — Stephen J. Lyons, USA Today

Jerilyn: Too much detail for not enough story.

Jen S.: Pedantic, boring and missed the mark.

Amanda: Insufferable. I need a story, not an English Lit. lecture.

Barb: Time would be better spent re-reading 'Lolita', in Dallas.

Kasey: If I had not been confined to a hospital bed I would not have read the whole book.

Trisha: If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything all, but I did only read the first 155 pages.

Aday: I couldn't get past page 10.

Holly: I couldn't get past page 8.

Becca: Ummmm...Twilight was awesome???!!

March 24, 2009

April 2009: A Long Way Gone

"A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier" by Ishmael Beah

Everyone in the world should read this book. Not just because it contains an amazing story, or because it's our moral, bleeding-heart duty, or because it's clearly written. We should read it to learn about the world and about what it means to be human. --The Washington Post Review

Holly: Just say no to brown brown.

Jen: It's no Hotel Rwanda or Last King of Scotland.

Stephanie: I thought this was a good but sad story. Quick read so I would definitely recommend to anyone!

Jerilyn: Very fast paced, quick and easy read depicts the terrible journey from normal childhood to boy soldiers and rebels through rehab back to "normal" life. Would have been nice to have a little more detail of the soldiers and their recovery, but definitely worth the read!

Becca: Informative and quick read that I enjoyed more than I expected.

Chari: I really enjoyed the memoir and the insight to what it was like being a boy soldier in a war torn country. I feel badly he missed out on a normal childhood and lost his family. I would like him to write more about what happened when came to live in America and continued his education.

Aday: You would think that such a short book about such an interesting subject would be an easy and fulfilling read, but I couldn’t wait for it to be over.

February 21, 2009

March 2009: East of Eden

"East of Eden" by John Steinbeck

This sprawling and often brutal novel, set in the rich farmlands of California's Salinas Valley, follows the intertwined destinies of two families--the Trasks and the Hamiltons--whose generations helplessly reenact the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel. "A strange and original work of art."--New York Times Book Review.

Jen: Loved it!

Holly: I likey.

Stephanie: I enjoyed it and it was different from most of what I tend to read. What I really enjoyed was the struggle between Caleb and Aron, trying not to repeat the pattern, and the realization that everything wasn't exactly as it seemed from the outside or on the surface.

Jerilyn: Extreme evil and extreme love all in one book – amazing story of how one man could go through so much.

Aday: Steinbeck is a genius at character development and classic storytelling. Definitely one of my top 10.

Shannon: I have read this book twice now and it was better the second time. I love this book!!

Linsy: I loved this story and was very intrigued by the characters in the novel. They all had very different approaches to life and Steinbeck did an incredible job of bringing them each to life. Great book and a true classic.

January 26, 2009

February 2009: The Reader

For the month of February, we saw the Oscar nominated film "The Reader".

When he falls ill on his way home from school, 15 year-old Michael Berg is rescued by Hanna, a woman twice his age. The two begin an unexpected and passionate affair only for Hanna to suddenly and inexplicably disappear. Eight years later, Michael , now a young law student observing Nazi war trials, meets his former lover again, under very different circumstances. Hanna is on trial for a hideous crime, and as she refuses to defend herself, Michael gradually realizes his boyhood love may be guarding a secret she considers to be more shameful than murder.

Nominated for five academy awards:
  • Best Motion Picture of the Year
  • Achievement in Directing
  • Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
  • Adapted Screenplay
  • Achievement in Cinematography

I loved it but it was sad.

Barb: A thought-provoking, emotionally wrought, bleak film with incredible acting.

Jen: December to May romances are hot, but I still prefer Revolutionary Road.

Stephanie: I thought this was a great film. It would have been very difficult to be an actor in this film due to the amount of internal, non-dialogued conflict and struggle that had to be portrayed. But I thought Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes and David Kross all did a wonderful job. I wish I had read the book prior to seeing it, though, so I would know how it compares!

The performances in The Reader were extremely moving and believable to where I felt very sad and lonely for the characters afterwards. However, unlike the other Oscar nominated films of 2008, I have no desire to see this one twice.

Linsy: I really enjoyed the movie. I think it was well done and stayed true to the book. I do wonder if I would have enjoyed it even more if I had not read the book and didn't already know the story??