Usually, I am a bit leery for Oprah's Book Club books. I cannot tell you why, but I typically try to stay away from them. Even though numerous people told me that this book is exceptional, I still refrained. However, when I heard the author speak at a function recently I was so taken away with his poise, insight, and humor that I picked up a copy. I was astounded by the story and ashamed that it took me this long! This book is beautiful in every way possible and I firmly believe that someday my children will be reading it in their English Literature classes as an example of "modern literature during the 1990s".
Connie Danforth is a typical teenaged girl with a best friend, a boyfriend, and a close knit family. Yet, there is one thing about Connie that is not typical...her mother is on trial for murder. Sybil Danforth, Connie's mother, is a midwife and has delivered hundreds of babies before the fateful night when one of her patients died during childbirth. While the community of local midwives rally around Sybil and her family, the rest of their quaint town turns against the Danforth's. When Sybil is brought to trial for manslaughter, she finds herself not only defending herself but also midwifery.
The aspect that truly makes this novel is Connie's voice which is completely spot on. The author moves back and forth in time between Connie as a teenager during the trial to her life as an adult living with the trial's repercussions. Some readers have found this confusing, but I think it shows how expertly Bohjalian is able to write not only in a female voice but in an adolescent female voice as well as an adult female voice. It is an enormous feat and he conquers it! Though the plot may appear simple, the characters are incredibly complex and at times shocking. In many ways, it reminded me of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD which one could say has a very basic plot in which a man is put on trial for a crime that he didn't commit. However, this is not a John Grisham novel in which the satisfaction of the book is in finding out "who dun it" or who is going to be punished. MIDWIVES is much more like TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD in that the true action is the development of the characters and their community; the trial is just a catalyst for that development.
I can continue to rave about this novel but it won't do any good until you read it for yourself. Savor it because there are few books out there like this one.
Friday, May 13, 2011
This is a work of nonfiction that follows four girls who are in sororities at an anonymous university in Texas. They don't exactly fit into their sororities for various reasons including being homesick, in a relationship with someone who is not in Greek Life, or lack of finances. Due to their identities as outsiders within their own sororities, these girls seem to have a love-hate relationship with their houses. Robbins follows them as they drink to excess, sleep around, wear revealing clothes, ditch class, and do drugs. Their status on campus is forever tied to their sorority house and within the house, to their specific cliques. For those who try to rebel against the system, their experience will probably not be pleasant.
At first, I was absorbed into the story but it soon became clear that there was nothing new in this book. Additionally, the way the women acted isn't specific to sororities but to humankind in general. The antics that they pulled are often done in certain dorms and organizations that are not affiliated with Greek Life. Robbins seem to be extremely troubled by the amount of dating around the girls did as well as the strict hierarchy that was within each sorority. Again, this isn't anything that can't be witnessed at a high school lunch room. For those of you who have lived under a rock, this might be a good book to read. But for those who attended high school and remember what peer pressure and cliques are like...this is a snoozer.
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
For those of you who are not taking my advice and want a little more information, this novel is set at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th when women in Montreal (and around the world) were still shunned from the academic and medical world. Agnes White is not a typical woman of her day. At an early age, she becomes enthralled with dissections and mammal organs. She thinks that her passion comes from her father who left her family when she was five. Not long after her sister was born, her mother died leaving Agnes and her sister in the care of their grandmother. Their grandmother was the epitome of proper and therefore had no use for Agnes’ gory obsessions. However, Agnes savior came in the form of a governess who pushed Agnes to get an education and live her dreams of becoming a woman of medicine. While this was a hard road for Agnes, it was easier at times than coming to grips with her father’s tragic past and her sister’s troubled future.
Inspired by the life of Dr. Maude Abbott, Claire Holden Rothman develops the character of Agnes in a way that endears the reader while keeping her realistic. At times, I found Agnes to be unlikeable and even aloof. Still, I felt invested in her life and challenges. She is certainly a hero but she is not without her faults and it is for that reason that I adored her even when I didn’t understand her. Rothman’s character development in nothing short of beautiful and her language is inspiring. So stop looking, because this is the complete package! Now go read it already!!
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
The story begins with a 16 year old boy named Jacob who is an outsider in his town, school, and his own family. The only person with whom he feels a connection is his grandfather who weaves magnificent stories about an orphanage on an island that was home to children with bizarre talents. When Jacob was younger, he relished his grandfather’s fairy tales but teenaged cynicism stopped him from believing. When Jacob finds his grandfather brutality murdered in his own backyard, Jacob begins to wonder if the stories he was told as a child not actually be true. He travels to the island to find the orphanage in hopes to gaining some insight into his grandfather’s life and death. What he finds there is amazing, frightening, and leads Jacob to more questions than answers as he realizes not only are these legends true…but the peculiar children might still exist.
It should be known, that there are definitely elements of science fiction or the supernatural in this novel. So if your mind does not wander to the odd and possible fantastic, this is definitely not the book for you. I love that the novel is peppered with photographs of these children which helps the reader visualize some of their talents. However, at times it felt like the story was just a connect the dots linking up the various interested images. I found the first few chapters to be breathtaking and Riggs insight into Jacob’s troubled mind after the death of his grandfather was touching and real. Yet, Jacob climbed deeper and deeper into the island’s past, I felt myself losing interest. I thought that his relationships were superficial and therefore I questioned some of the decisions that he made. If this novel is geared towards young adults, I think that it will do well. But for adult readers, I think it leaves a bit to be desired. That said, I look forward to Riggs’ development as an author as I think he has some incredibly interesting and perhaps groundbreaking ideas.
Sunday, May 8, 2011
At first, it seems that the story centers around Marylou Ahearn, an older lady who moved to Florida to get revenge on a doctor who ruined her life decades before. She rents out her house and buys another under the name Nancy Acher where she stalks Dr. Wilson. Of course Dr. Wilson has aged since she saw him last and he is now suffering from some memory loss and living with his family. Wilson’s family is the epitome of quirky which includes his work-aholic brother-in-law, his burnt out daughter, his gorgeous granddaughter who suffers from Asperger’s, his genius grandson who also suffers from Asperger’s, and his silent and forgotten granddaughter who suffers from lack of her parents’ attention. Such a family is not what Nancy had bargained for and so she decides to destroy the family as Wilson had destroyed her own. Yet as she gets closer to each family member, she begins to wonder if she had been wrong all along.
The chapters of the novel alternate between each main character. While this technique can come off as annoying or disjointed when used by other authors, Elizabeth Stuckey-French is a master at her craft. Each character was completely unique and just as bit enchanting as each of the others. I found myself rocketing through the novel, unable to put it down. My only complaint was the ending. I felt that the final chapter or so when from being quirky to completely unrealistic and slightly mind-boggling. However, it did not ruin the rest of the story that I completely recommend!
The novel revolves around sisters Freya and Ingrid and their mother Joanna who live in a small town on Long Island. They are all witches but were forced to give up their powers centuries ago. When Freya falls in love with the handsome millionaire of the town, her heightened emotions set fire to a bunch of flowers. When her sister, Ingrid sees this witchery she feels that she can no longer deny her powers either. She begins treating lonely hearts and fulfilling unrequited love during her lunch break at the library. Inspired by her daughters, Joanna brushes up her magic by entertaining a little boy that brings back sad memories from her past. When violent events begin to occur in the small town, the residents start to turn against the family of witches.
I have to say that I devoured the first hundred pages or so without even coming up for air. I was completely enthralled. However, after about page 137 I started to lose interest as the story began to become more and more bizarre. As a frequent reader of science fiction, even I found the plot far-fetched. The characters went from being intriguing with a great deal of potential to two dimensional character sketches. The epilogue made it clear that this novel is meant to be the introduction to a series which made me excuse some of its flaws. Still, I can't deny that it got to a point where I just wanted it to be over. For fans of the Blue Blood Series, this seems to be a hit but for those who are not, I would said to proceed with caution.
Living in almost complete isolation outside of a small town is the Blackwood family. Though they have lived in the same town for generations, they are now shunned because of a tragic event years ago. Mary Katherine, or Merricat, lives with her troubled sister Constance and their slightly delusional uncle Julian. When Merricat makes her journey into town, it becomes clear that she is the only family member willing to show her face outside of the house. The three relatives live in a well-developed rhythm that limits their interactions with others and therefore limits their need to talk about the tragic event from years past. When a long lost cousin appears at their house, it throws the whole family for a loop as they must confront their demons before it is too late.
Jackson has never been light on the action or intrigue and this book is no exception. The family relationship is incredibly interesting and well developed. Though it took me two tries to get into the novel, I think it is only because Merricat’s character is so brilliantly created that I did not figure out she was an unreliable narrator until my second attempt. If you’re looking for mystery...here it is! If you’re looking for drama...here it is! If you’re looking for a quick and enthralling read...here it is! Here is the complete package. Go read it!