Thursday, April 4, 2013

WHEN SHE WOKE


              When She Woke is, in its simplest terms, a futuristic retelling of The Scarlet Letter. This sophomore novel from Mudbound author Hillary Jordan takes Hawthorne's classic several steps further, turning it into a pointed, blunt warning about the consequences of an America run by the church, not the state. Hannah Payne is sentenced to sixteen years of melachroming for aborting her child. Instead of bearing a scarlet "A" like Hester, Hannah's pigment is dyed a stop sign red, leading her to endure an ostracizing societal punishment as well.  Jordan seamlessly interweaves the back story of Hannah’s relationship with her unborn child's father; their relationship is sudden, passionate and the short interspersed flashbacks enhance the story and Hannah's spontaneous personality. While she stumbles through rebuilding her life, her sudden decisions in moments of trouble are made with confidence and determination. Jordan purposefully makes the story about Hannah's journey by keeping her secondary characters exactly that - secondary. Although they may guide and assist Hannah on her path, the decisions, character-building, and strength all come from within. Hannah is ultimately responsible for her future and she takes full responsibility for her past. While some readers may balk at Jordan's political and religious messages, the story of owning our decisions and actions is the focus of this engaging tale of redemption.”  (Goodreads)

 While I have never read The Scarlett Letter, I know the general story and did watch the movie starring Demi Moore.  This was indeed a retelling of that story from a modern viewpoint.  I was captured from page one.  While I disagreed with some of the theology and worldviews presented, the whole concept of our sins being visible to the world simply by our skin color was something to think about. I actually read this before reading Mudbound and actually enjoyed it the most of the two.
My Rating:  4.5 stars


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend


BUDO is a good friend to eight-year-old Max. When the woman who works with Max in the learning centre is about to do something terrible, Budo is the only one who can save him.
But even though he narrates this eccentric novel, Budo is not real. He is imaginary. And Max is the only person who can see him.
           Max may have Asperger's Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder characterized by problems with social interaction and sometimes intense interests in mechanical things. Dicks shows us through Budo what it's like for a young boy who lives in  his head. More than anything, Max likes to be alone and he loves his Lego and toy soldiers. His parents argue constantly about how to deal with him.
             Memoirs is told from Budo's point of view. This is a little challenging because readers must find a way to wrap their heads around the concept that the story is being told by someone who does not really exist.  On the other hand, because Max isolates himself from people and lives mostly inside his own head, having Budo tell the tale seems appropriate and clever."

I remember my imaginary friend.  The premise that they really exist and can interact with each other grabbed my imagination.  Budo helps Max learn to deal with life.  This was a fast read and an enjoyable one for me.  Like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time it was interesting to get inside the mind of someone with Asperger’s/Autism. I have since read all the other books by Matthew Dicks.  Imaginary Friend is not my favorite but he is now one of my favorite authors.            
My Rating:  4 stars



Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Blue Asylum


Amid the mayhem of the Civil War, Virginia plantation wife Iris Dunleavy is put on trial and convicted of madness. It is the only reasonable explanation the court can see for her willful behavior, so she is sent away to Sanibel Asylum to be restored to a good, compliant woman. Iris knows, though, that her husband is the true criminal; she is no lunatic, only guilty of disagreeing with him on notions of justice, cruelty, and property.
On this remote Florida island, cut off by swamps and seas and military blockades, Iris meets a wonderful collection of residents--some seemingly sane, some
dangerously unstable.  Which of these is Ambrose Weller, the war-haunted Confederate soldier whose memories terrorize him into wild fits that can only be calmed by the color blue, but whose gentleness and dark eyes beckon to Iris.
           The institution calls itself modern, but Iris is skeptical of its methods, particularly the dreaded "water treatment." She must escape, but she has found new hope and love with Ambrose. Can she take him with her? If they make it out, will the war have left anything for them to make a life from, back home?”
From Goodreads

 I was hesitant to read this one at first simply because I think I have read everything I every wanted to about the Civil War. The Insanity angle intrigued  however and I downloaded a sample.  By the time I finished the sample I knew I would have to get the entire book. 
             We rarely see anything about the male dominant culture of the South. Plantation owners are either portrayed as loving father figures with lovely southern wives or evil slave beaters whose wives stand by in approval.  How many times was there dissension over slaver between a couple?  What could happen to a woman who disagreed with her powerful husband?
 My rating:  3.75 stars


Monday, March 25, 2013

The Dry Grass of August


“On a scorching day in August 1954, thirteen-year-old Jubie Watts leaves Charlotte, North Carolina, with her family for a Florida vacation. Crammed into the Packard along with Jubie are her three siblings, her mother, and the family's black maid, Mary Luther. For as long as Jubie can remember, Mary has been there - cooking, cleaning, compensating for her father's rages and her mother's benign neglect, and loving Jubie unconditionally. Bright and curious, Jubie takes note of the anti-integration signs they pass and of the racial tension that pass, and of the racial tension that builds as they journey further south. But she could never have predicted the shocking turn their trip will take. Now, in the wake of tragedy, Jubie must confront her parents' failings and limitations, decide where her own convictions lie, and make the tumultuous leap to independence...Infused with the intensity of a changing time, here is a story of hope, heartbreak, and the love and courage that can transform us - from child to adult, from wounded to indomitable.”
(Barnes & Noble)


I enjoyed reading The Help, which also explores the south during the beginnings of civil rights.  However, I enjoyed The Dry Grass of August even more.  Perhaps it was the frankness of the  narrator as she observes what happens as her family travels south.  My generation never experienced the prejudice and ‘normality’ of segregation in every walk of life.  People younger than me are even more ignorant of how ‘it used to be’.  I think this book helps us to see how unfairly blacks were treated.  While we need to move on, and for the most part, young people are blind to color, I do think we should be aware of the injustices of our past. 
 My rating:  4 stars

Monday, August 20, 2012

Alias Grace

Still working on this one.  I'm having a hard time getting into it.  My hope is that it will be one of those books that if you just keep plugging away you find yourself involved in the story.  Meanwhile, I've read two YA books!  Keep watching, and you'll hear about both of them eventually.

Between Shades of Gray

A Lithuanian family torn from their home and sent to the Russian Steppes during WWII is the basic story.  I enjoyed reading the book but it was eerily similar the The Endless Steppe by Esther Hautzig.
Both books describe the horrific treatment of Jews and political prisoners by both Germans and Russians.  Both of the main characters are young girls who are from wealthy families and 'almost' understand what is happening.
Soldiers beat on the door and give the family five minutes to pack what they can. Then they are taken and crammed with other 'criminals' onto waiting cattle cars where they wait. And wait.  The conditions are beyond belief with no provision for any privacy for even the most basic bodily functions.  Eventually the train leaves and they travel days upon days without knowing where they are going.
When the train finally stops they are in the Russian steppes.
Based on true stories, Between Shades of Gray was an educational read. Because I had read the autobiographical The Endless Steppe some of it seemed hauntingly familiar even though one family is Polish and the other Lithuanian.  Both are worth reading.  The Endless Steppe is probably hard to come by these days but if you ever see it, pick it up.  Meanwhile, read Between Shades of Gray and appreciate the country and freedoms you have in America.  I hope we don't forget the past and the lessons we learned.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

CITY OF WOMEN

I enjoyed this book tremendously.  Gillham takes the reader into Berlin during WWII.  Bombings, death, loss of sons, husbands, and brothers are all there.  All the men have been conscripted into the army leaving the city to women and old men.
What I enjoyed most is the fact that we don't usually think about the enemy as people.  Sigrid lives with her mother-in-law, has a secretarial job in the city and her husband is away in the army.  She thought she loved him when she married him but now she isn't so sure.
When the Nazis came into power she and many of her friends and neighbors didn't really have a political opinion.  As the situation in Germany escalated and Hitler began to persecute the Jews she and many others didn't agree but also didn't do anything.  They just kept on living their lives.  Sigrid finds herself forced to become involved in the controversy when a young nanny in her building turns to her for help.  She then becomes part of a group that hides political prisoners from the Gestapo.
I found myself wondering about what I would do.  I am not politically active.  I lead a busy life.  If seriously, morally wrong crimes were being committed by those in charge of government, would I stand up and take action?  If I am truly honest I have to doubt that I would.  We are so quick to judge the Germans but would we be any different?  I hope so.