Saturday, August 31, 2013

352 (2013 #36). Breath, Eyes, Memory

by Edwidge Danticat

I picked up this book at a Friends of the Library fill-the-box-for-$5 sale, probably grabbing it because of the intriguing title.  It had been sitting in my TBR shelves for a while, and as it was short, I decided to give it a try.  I was extremely disappointed.

The book is set partly in Haiti and partly in the eastern United States, and focuses on three generations of women:  Sophia, her mother Martine and aunt Atie, and grandmother Ife.  The characters are one-dimensional and the plot is boring.  Danticat works in all sorts of feminist issues:  rape, genital mutilation, virginity, sexual abuse.

Unfortunately, there isn't enough description of Haiti and life there, which might have redeemed the book for me.  Not recommended.

© Amanda Pape - 2013

[This book was purchased at a Friends of the Library book sale, and it will be donated back to be re-sold.]

Thursday, August 29, 2013

351 (2013 #35). The Guy Not Taken

by Jennifer Weiner, 
read by Mary Catherine Garrison, Jordan Bridges, Jonathan Hogan, Andrea Gallo, and Ruth Ann Phimister

This is a collection of short stories by popular chick-lit author Jennifer Weiner. I've never read any of her books before, so I listened to this audiobook with an open mind.

I enjoyed the 11 stories in this book.  The first three are linked, featuring Josie Krystal, her mom, and younger siblings, the spoiled Nicki and the sullen Jon, at three different times in her life (age 18, 20, and 26).

My favorite story was the next one in the book, "Swim," about a single young female writer with a face badly scarred in the accident that killed her parents, who earns a living helping rich kids prepare their college applications, essays, and interviews.  Soon she’s hired to polish an online dating profile.  Ruth swims countless laps in her free time, something I did when I was single and lonely like she is.  I found the ending to this one a little predictable, yet still satisfying.

The narrators in the stories get older as you proceed through the book, moving from young singles, to middle age and married, to mature narrators, one about to be divorced, one widowed.  Two of the narrators (in "Good Men" and "Oranges from Florida") are men.  All of the narrators are flawed people in some way - no perfect-sized, stunning women (or men) here!  I was bothered by how some of Weiner’s female characters are rather weak-willed and let others walk all over them (like Josie, Jess from “Buyer’s Market,” and Dora, the widow from the last story, "Dora on the Beach").  I wanted to shake them at times and yell "grow a spine already!"

The story I liked least was "Tour of Duty," about a mother visiting colleges with her high- school senior son, the youngest of her four children, right before telling him that his father has left the family.  I liked the characters, but I felt the ending was rather abrupt, confusing, and unsatisfying - but it was also the first story Weiner ever sold for publication.  I also felt rather neutral about the two stories narrated by men.

Most of the stories are funny (especially the title story, "The Guy Not Taken," with its fantasy twist), and many are quite poignant (especially "Buyer's Market" and "The Mother's Hour").  Weiner has some recurring themes - the absentee dad (Weiner's father left their family when she was 17) is one, and characters who are writers (or swimmers, or both) is another.

The audiobook I listened to (pictured at left) had five narrators:  Mary Catherine Garrison, Jordan Bridges (of the famous Bridges acting family - his father is Beau), Jonathan Hogan, Andrea Gallo, and Ruth Ann Phimister.  These last three read the last three stories in the book - all older narrators, age 40+.  Bridges does the other male-narrated story, and Garrison does the remaining seven.  She was excellent, especially with the flippant Nicki.

I did not originally intend to listen to this audiobook.  I'd picked up a paperback of this title (pictured above) years ago at a Friends of the Library book sale.  However, I was trying to read and review five books this August, and due to time crunches, one of them needed to be an audiobook!  I'm glad I had both, as the audiobook lacks the author's notes on the stories (at the end of the paperback), where she explains when each story was written and some of its background.  THAT was fascinating!

Bottom line - I'm glad I listened to this book, and I'd recommend reading or listening to it as an easy, fun summer read.  I'd be willing to try more of Jennifer Weiner's books.

© Amanda Pape - 2013

[The audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my local public library.  I will be donating the paperback I got at a Friends of the Library book sale to them as well, as I think they need a print copy.]

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

349 & 350 (2013 #33 & #34). Two Books About Being Female and 60+

I Feel Bad About My Neck
by Nora Ephron

Subtitled "And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman," I Feel Bad About My Neck is a collection of mostly-funny essays by famed screenwriter Nora Ephron.  She was 65 when the book was published in 2006, and many of the essays deal with aging (gracefully).

I'm probably not the right audience for this book.  There's an essay "On Maintenance," about all the things women do to keep aging at bay, but (at 56) I am and have always been very low maintenance.  Yes, I dye my hair, but the about the only other thing I do is put Oil of Olay on my face.  No manicures or pedicures, thank you.  I feel pretty good about how my neck looks at my age.  I only have two small purses (albeit Coach leather), and the contents are very well organized.  I also couldn't relate to the essays on life in New York City (such as renting a $10K apartment there).  Other essays address cookbooks, parenting, Bill Clinton, and JFK.

The final essay, "Considering the Alternative," is a rather morbid one about death.  Rather poignant, considering that Ephron died of complications of leukemia, just six years after this book was published.  She wrote the essay about turning 60, which I just don't think of as old anymore.

Bottom line:  this was a 137-page quick, fun read; but not especially deep.

No!  I Don't Want to Join a Book Club
by Virginia Ironside

Subtitled "Diary of a Sixtieth Year," No!  I Don't Want to Join a Book Club is a humorous novel in diary format narrated by a British woman who is turning sixty.  Marie Sharp is happy to be doing so, and rejoicing in all the things she no longer HAS to do.  She feels no pressure to do the things others think they should do just because they now have the free time, like volunteer work, or long-distance traveling - or joining a book club.  She's also thrilled about all the privileges she gets (at least in Great Britain) from being an official senior citizen.

Her amusing friends include a gay male couple and a hypochondriac girlfriend.  The plot revolves around the announcement of and arrival of her first grandchild, but the illness of one of her friends is also a primary storyline.

Like I Feel Bad About My Neck, I did not relate to much in this book.  I'm still a number of years from retirement, don't have any grandchildren (other than steps who are age 8 and up) and am NOT looking forward to getting any, and I'm not British and have never been to England.  (You might need a British slang dictionary to learn, for instance, that a dummy is a pacifier, although most of the slang eventually becomes clear in context.)  As mentioned above, I don't think of 60 as old - maybe 80, but definitely not 60 - perhaps because it's less than four years away for me!

Nevertheless, I enjoyed this book for its humor and for its sympathetic treatment of dealing with friends through illness and loss.  At 231 pages, it's a light, easy summer read.

© Amanda Pape - 2013

[I won I Feel Bad About My Neck in a book blog contest.  I purchased No! I Don't Want to Join a Book Club used at a Friends of the Library book sale – the title and cover art caught my eye.  Both books will be donated to Friends groups.]

Thursday, August 22, 2013

348 (2013 #32). Letter to My Daughter

 by George Bishop

This slim (126-page) novel is the 2010 debut of George Bishop, a former actor and teacher from New Orleans.  Set in Baton Rouge and in Zachary, Louisiana, the book is mostly a long letter written by a mother to her runaway 15-year-old daughter in 2004.  Laura, the mother, looks back at herself at age 15 in 1970, hoping that her experiences will convince her daughter Liz that Laura is capable of understanding her.

In 1970, Zachary was a pretty rural town, just undergoing desegregation in the high school, and Laura's parents are rather strict and conservative with their only child.  They are somewhat bigoted, too, looking down not only on African-Americans, but on the poor whites of the area too - like Laura's older boyfriend Tim.

An incident causes Laura's parents to send her to Baton Rouge to board at an all-girls Catholic high school there, and Tim joins the Army, at the height of the Vietnam War.  The story follows Laura through the rest of her high school years in her letter to Liz, interspersed with updates in 2004 on hers and her husband’s wait for Liz to return.

I read this book in one day, as I was very engrossed in Laura's story.  I was, however, a bit disappointed in the ending.  I would have liked to know more about how Laura met and married Liz's father, and what happened AFTER the ending (but I don't want to give away any spoilers!).

I was also rather amazed at what a good job George Bishop, who is male, did in writing from a woman's viewpoint.  I would recommend this book as an easy, light read, that might be particularly enjoyed by anyone who was a teen in the early 1970s (like me - there were references to some of my favorite songs from that era), as well as girls who went to Catholic school (like me) or who grew up in the South (like me).

© Amanda Pape - 2013

[This advance reader edition was sent to me by  It will be passed on to someone else to enjoy.]

Monday, August 05, 2013

347 (2013 #31). Sweet Thunder

by Ivan Doig

Sweet Thunder is rollicking historical fiction, set in Butte, Montana, in late 1920 and early 1921.  Main character Morrie Morgan (aka Morgan Llewellyn) returns from Doig's earlier novels, The Whistling Season and Work Song.  He and his bride Grace, a boardinghouse owner/operator in Butte, are near the end of a yearlong worldwide honeymoon (and Morrie's 1919 Black Sox betting winnings), when they find they've "inherited" a mansion in Butte - along with its former owner, city librarian Sam Sandison, as a boarder.

Soon after they move in, Morrie is contacted by old friend Jared Evans, a state senator and union organizer, to write editorials for his start-up pro-labor newspaper.  Called Thunder, it's meant to rival the mouthpiece of the town's main employer, the Anaconda Copper Mining Company-controlled Post.  Morrie adopts the (clever) pen name Pluvius, and attacks the mining company for its labor practices and the lack of taxes it is assessed and pays.  The Post brings in a competing editorialist from Chicago and the war of words begins.  Meanwhile, Morrie also tries to stay ahead of his somewhat-shady past.

I enjoyed this book for its frequent use of Latin expressions, quotations from the classics, and homage to books and libraries.  I liked learning about journalism and newspapers, mining and bootlegging, and life in Montana in the early 1920s.  Ivan Doig can turn a phrase, and knows his home state well.

The characters fell a little flat for me, and I realized it was because so much of their back stories were missing.  Although it's not required to follow the entertaining plot in this book, I'd recommend reading The Whistling Season first, followed by Work Song, to enhance your enjoyment of this new novel, which will be published on August 20.  

© Amanda Pape - 2013

[I received this book from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  It will be passed on to someone else to enjoy.]