Monday, May 31, 2010

Week 21: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan - Lisa See (269 pages)

This project has introduced me to many great new books and this week, I will say that it also introduced me to some new technology. I read this book on the Kindle, by Amazon My good friend Claudia let me test-drive her Kindle to see if it was something that I might want to purchase. I must say that I enjoyed the book more than I enjoyed the device that I used to read it. 

This book takes place in 19th century China, in the inner realm of the women of the country. The story focuses primarily on Lily and Snow Flower, two young ladies from the Hunan province. The story takes us from their lives as young children to the mothers that they become.

This is an interesting book because it deals very little with men. This story took us into the brutal world of foot binding. It taught us about the secret language, Nu Shu, that women used to communicate with their female relatives and friends once they were married out to their husband's homes and this book also spotlights the laotong friendship between girls. The laotong is a lifelong friendship that is sometimes even more sacred and special than a marriage. 

The author made this story of fiction read as if it were the events of an actual woman's life. Lily, our narrator, is so real - you feel as if you can Google her or look her up on Wikipedia and this whole story would be corroborated. The conditions for women were brutal and they weren't expected to live past the age of 40. Women we told that they were useless and that the best that they could do was to marry out to someone respectable and bring in gifts and money for their family.

I found that, though Lily had a tough life, I sometimes didn't like her. I understood her reaction to many situations, but her intense need to be loved put her in precarious situations and in the end lead to a miscommunication. I am never a fan of 'the miscommunication' as a plot point, but LISA SEE handled this miscommunication relatively well. 

This is an excellent novel, if you enjoy the Kindle - check it out on that medium. I will go back to the old standard for next week's offering.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Week 20: The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald (180 pages)

The fun thing about this project is that I can re whatever I want to. I am not in a book club, so I don't have books that I am required to read - but I have many friends that give me great suggestions. I also have a bookcase full of favorite books that have made an impression on me over my lifetime  of reading. One such book is THE GREAT GATSBY. This was required reading in my sophomore or junior year in high school. I don't remember the paper that I wrote or the grade that I got on the test, but these characters resonated with me years after my initial discovery of them.

I chose to re-read this classic to see if the story stood up and to see if it affected me the same way as it had those 20 plus years ago. F. Scott Fitzgerald is a genius and the way that he used words and a turn of phrase to draw the reader in was brilliant. Jay Gatsby, Tom and Daisy Buchanan, and Nick Carraway are just as pretentious and elusively slick as ever. Reading again, I thought that I might want to skip bits that weren't exciting - but I didn't. From page one, I was sucked in to the showy world that is a facade for a world much darker than it appears. 

This is a book about deception, but I am not telling a lie when I said that this was a great book to re-visit. If you haven't picked up this book since high school, it may be time to check it out again. I don't think you will regret it.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Week 19: Living Dead In Dallas - Charlaine Harris (320 pages)

This is the second in the Sookie Stackhouse series. I find that these books are easy and fun vampire tales that will be nice to read in the spring and summer nights. This is by no means a literary marvel, but not everything we read has to be. Reading is fundamental, but reading should also be fun!

This second novel finds Sookie and Bill being sent to Dallas to use Sookie's telepathic talent to find out what happened to a missing vampire. Not as well-written as the first novel, but it was a clever read. I cannot say that it was predictable either, the book managed to surprise me a few times. 

If you are a fan of the paranormal - this is a great series. But if you enjoyed the relative "chastity" of the Twilight series, this is not the series for you. Charlaine Harris delves deeply into sexuality between vampires and other paranormal entities! Proceed with caution if you are particularly sensitive.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Week 18: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Flavia de Luce #1) - Alan Bradley (370 pages)

Set in England in 1950, we are introduced to Flavia de Luce. Flavia is a precocious young girl, aged 11, who is fascinated with Chemistry. Flave (as she is called by family) is the youngest of three children. Older sisters Ophelia (Feely) and Daphne (Daffy) tend to pick on or ignore Flave and her eccentricities. 

Mysteries are not generally a genre that I enjoy, but this book was quite the exception. Flavia is an engaging character and her curiosity gets her in and out of scrapes. The mystery at the center of this novel involves a body found in the garden of Buckshaw (Flavia's family home). Flavia, being the fearless and strong-willed person that she is, goes forth in solving the murder. Flavia confounds the local police and has a helper in the family "jack of all trades" Dogger. 

So as not to spoil the story, I will forgo anymore plot points. I will say that this is a great debut novel by Alan Bradley. Bradley is 70 years old and has five books planned with Flavia as the protagonist. He was about 11 years old in 1950 and the book may be a bit autobiographical - whatever the circumstance, this was an engaging novel and I am looking forward to picking up #2, The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag. I highly suggest this book, especially if mysteries aren't your thing - you may find yourself rooting out loud for Flavia!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Week 17: Girls in Trucks - Katie Crouch (256 pages)

I must admit that I had a tough time getting into this book, actually, I had a tough time getting into any book this week. This was the third book that I picked up! What I love about this project is excitement of picking up a new book and learning something new or meeting new characters, what makes the project difficult is that sometimes, I just don't care! It felt like this week was going to fall into the "don't care" category. I must say, though - I am glad that this book finally caught my attention.

Following the main character Sarah Walters from the age of 9 through the age of 35 - we learn about the "rules" of cotillion society and what it means to be a Southern lady. The book opens on Sarah and her friends going to "Cotillion Training School" where they learn all of the proper dances young ladies will need to have under their belt for their cotillion ball. I thought that it was funny that the ball that they were training for didn't happen until after they graduated from high school. It seemed a little absurd to me that they spent all of this time between fourth and seventh grades for an event that didn't happen until after twelfth grade.

I found that sometimes the story meandered and I was a little unaware of where we were or who was speaking. Most of the story is told from Sarah's point of view, but a couple of times different characters from the book had a chapter to themselves. Mostly though, the story is told through the progression of men in Sarah's life, from her first kiss through the many, inappropriate others.

I feel that Crouch was trying to comment on the old Southern tradition and debs, touching on the fact that once you were a deb (in this case - a Camellia) always a deb. No matter where Sarah or her friends went away for college (most went to New York or Boston) they were still good Southern girls with strong connections to their family, friends and traditions. 

There were some unexpected twists in the story and this book didn't have a perfect, tied up happy ending. It is an interesting story and it is a nice Saturday afternoon read.