Saturday, May 31, 2014

Book Review - Labor Day

Labor Day 
by Joyce Maynard 
Joyce Maynard is an author of nearly four decades and a teacher of writing. She tells her students that “the world of literature would be a lot less interesting if the characters in novels always behaved in a totally sensible, prudent fashion…..I remind my students that if a story is going to unfold in a compelling manner, you’d better get your characters into a challenging situation, if only to get them out of it eventually.”

Labor Day is true to the author’s words. The story begins with the agoraphobic, single parent Adele taking Henry, her shy and lonely thirteen-year-old year shopping for school clothes. While at the store, a man whose leg is bleeding and a thick line of blood clots in his hair asks Henry if he can go home with him and his mom, the “good-looking woman.” 

The man is Frank Chambers, a man with a past. In the next five days he will dramatically affect the lives of Adele, Henry, and himself in ways which alter all three lives in both the present and future. There are silk scarves, pie-making, baseball, Friday dinners at Friendly’s, and the reminder that growing up can be messy, scary, and confusing, especially if a friendship destroys other relationships.

The characters in Labor Day do not always behave in a totally sensible, prudent fashion. This reader is glad they did not as their impulsiveness creates a story which may not be likely but will engross you on a lazy summer afternoon. 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Book Review - Last Letters from Attu

by Mary Breu

There are some stories which must be told.

The true story of Etta Jones is one of those stories. In 1922, at the age of 42, Etta Schureman left a busy life in Pittsburgh to vacation just one year in Alaska. She met and married her soulmate, Charles Foster Jones. Together, for the next 20 years, they became one with the Alaskan people. Etta was a teacher and Foster was always there lending his practical skills and first-hand knowledge of Alaska.

In August, 1941, Etta and Foster accepted positions to Attu, the last island in the Aleutian chain. All 45 people-half of them children-lived in this isolated, wind-swept island continuing the life lived by their ancestors for centuries. Tensions between America and Russia were of little concern to the Attu people or to Etta and Foster.

On June 6, 1942, Attu was invaded by 2,000 Japanese soldiers and Etta became a Japanese prisoner of war. She experienced physical deprivation, mental abuse, and emotional trauma in different Japanese camps where she was supervised by those relentless in their degradation of prisoners of war.

Etta Jones was a letter-writer. For this, we are grateful because Mary Breu, the grand-niece of Etta Jones, took these letters combined them with government documents and archival pictures to make right the story of Etta Jones as a Japanese prisoner-of-war.

Hattie’s Book Club was privileged to have Mary Breu as their guest speaker for the March meeting. Writing about a family member who experienced the horrors of war was not easy, but it needed to be done. 

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Book Review - The Forgotten Garden

The Forgotten Garden
by Kate Morton

There is an abundance of information about The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton. Google the title and read frequently asked questions answered by the author.

By doing so, you will find that The Forgotten Garden is based on a true event in Kate Morton’s family which determined in Ms. Morton’s own words that “…one day I would write a story about someone who experienced a similar life-changing confession.” Ms. Morton childhood readings included The Faraway Tree, Anne of Green Gables, and numerous fairy tales. She reflects that these books sparked in her “…a lifetime love of English countryside, dark, creepy woods, and hidden mysteries.”  The 19th century gothic conventions like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights also impacted her as a writer. 

Take all these literary influences and you have a frame for The Forgotten Garden. It is a mystery of a child abandoned on a ship headed for Australia in 1913. The youngster does not know her name or why she is on the ship. Eventually “Nell” begins a journey to discover herself and her elusive past. Cassandra, her granddaughter, continues the journey to find that families have secrets which destroy some people while binding others in surprising ways. There are love stories on multiple levels with different motivations for each relationship that cause lovers to questions their feelings and ponder how to cope with their own emotions. 

It is maybe helpful to make a diagram while reading The Forgotten Garden as the character’s relationships can become a bit of a maze, both literally and figuratively. Ms. Morton takes 3 women in 3 different times and intertwines their lives in such a way that the reader wants to keep turning the pages to solve the mystery.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Book Review - True Grit (Brunswick's Big Read 2014)

True Grit is THE BIG READ for 2014

by Charles Portis

In the years following the Civil War, the American West, specifically Fort Smith, Arkansas, was a place of savagery and chaos. Hangings were public. Beyond Fort Smith was the expansive Indian Territory where those who wanted to avoid the law did so with little effort. Growing up came quickly, brutally and without sentimentality. 

The 3 major characters of True Grit were part of that environment. First, we meet Mattie Ross, age 14, of Dardanelle, Arkansas.  Mattie leaves her home to go to Fort Smith with the mission of finding Roger Chaney who shot her unarmed father. Mattie hires Rooster Cogburn to apprehend Chaney. Her plan is complicated by the appearance of Texan LeBoeuf who is also tracking Chaney for a shooting involving a judge. Cogburn and LeBewoulf finally accept Mattie’s determination to find Roger Chaney. Together, this unlikely trio, enter the Indian Territory where true grit is survival. 

It is the tension between Mattie, a supremely confident teen-ager, and the older, male characters which provides humor in the book. Mattie is naive but smart enough to realize she needs the experience and true grit found in Rooster Cogburn. Her straight forward no-nonsense talk leaves no doubt of her intentions or her feelings. Both male characters must deal with this fearless and focused young whippersnapper who reminds them more than once who she is and from where she comes.

There is a reason True Grit was on the New York Times best seller list for 22 weeks. It is part history, part coming-of-age, and part comedy. It is just good reading.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Book Review - The Madonnas of Leningrad

By Debra Dean
In the fall of 1941, the German army begins what would become the 900 day siege of Leningrad, Russia. Leningrad, also known as St. Petersburg, is home of the Hermitage Museum. It is up to staff members of the Museum, such as a young Marina, to save the numerous masterpieces from the Nazi forces. She, along with thousands of other workers, endure incessant German bombing, constant hunger, frigid temperatures, and daily exhaustion to successfully resist Hitler’s directive No. 1601 ordering that “St. Petersburg must be erased from the face of the Earth.” 
Fast forward to some sixty years later when Marina is attending  her granddaughter’s wedding. Marina is confused as to the present but “Her distant past is preserved, better than preserved. Moments that occurred in Leningrad sixty-some years ago reappear, vivid, plump, and perfumed.”
How Marina remembers the paintings of the Madonnas of Leningrad is an integral part of the book. The juxtaposition of Marina’s confusion to the present and Marina’ vivid memory of the past is another important aspect of the book. Debra Dean’s meticulous research allows the reader to see the Hermitage’s paintings in great detail. The author’s depiction of those with Alzheimer’s is told with beauty and with unexpected humor.
In the end, The Madonnas of Leningrad, is a book about how we remember and how those memories serve us. Her words remind us that memory is precious and can make us cry and laugh in ways we might never predict.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Now in Paperback - January 2014

Life After Life
by Kate Atkinson

"One of the best novels I've read this century. Kate Atkinson is a marvel. There aren't enough breathless adjectives to describe LIFE AFTER LIFE: Dazzling, witty, moving, joyful, mournful, profound." Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl

Love Water Memory
by Jennie Shortridge

"A wonderful book; lovely....just perfect."
Garth Stein, New York Times bestselling author of The Art of Racing in the Rain

A Tale for the Time Being
by Ruth Ozeki
“Nao, a suicidal Japanese girl, postpones her death as she grows closer to her 104-year-old great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun. Ruth, an American author with writer's block, discovers a diary washed ashore on her remote island in the Pacific Northwest. Ruth becomes obsessed with Nao and her diary, and readers will be drawn in as their stories intertwine. Ozeki's creatively constructed novel, complete with footnotes, Japanese characters, and appendices, will have readers marveling at the leaps in time and connection that bring the two women together in this witty, daring, and thoughtful novel.” Cheryl Krocker McKeon, Book Passage, San Francisco, CA

Tenth of December
by George Saunders

“Saunders' stories stretch the boundaries of reality, but his characters are often defined by their limits. He is a master satirist in top form with this collection, but his occasionally outlandish settings never overshadow the humanity of the men, women, and children struggling through each tale. These stories do all the things we hope good fiction will do: blow your mind and break your heart, make you laugh and make you think. They are the kind of stories I feel grateful for, that stick in my head and heart and make me want to be a better person.”  Jessica Stockton Bagnulo, Greenlight Bookstore, Brooklyn, NY