Monday, May 19, 2014

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kid was the FLICKS Book and Movie Club book of the month for May.  I admit that I was already a fan of Sue Monk Kidd and her novels The Secret Life of Bees and The Mermaid Chair.  I was able to attend a talk by her that the Milwaukee County Library hosted back in 2005 or so with a member of a book club I belonged to while I lived in Milwaukee.  It was interesting to listen to her talk and I did get her autograph.  I am terrible at chit chat with “famous” people and didn’t ask her any questions myself.  Picture me silent and smiling.

Even though I loved The Secret Life of Bees, I thought The Invention of Wings was even better.  Even more fascinating was discovering at the end of the novel that the characters and the major events of their lives were all true.  I could hardly believe it and wondered why I had not heard of them before.  I applaud Sue Monk Kidd for taking some little known important women in our history and telling their story.

Sarah Grimke is the daughter of an important judge in Charleston South Carolina.  On her eleventh birthday she is given a slave, Handful, as a present from her mother.  Sarah does not want a human being as a present and finds the entire process distasteful.  She tries to free Handful, but discovers that her beloved father that had always encouraged her abolitionist debates on the owning of slaves does not share her views and takes away what she values most to make her learn her place as a woman in the South.  When her sister, Angelina, is born, Sarah becomes her Godmother and also helps to shape her views towards slavery and being a woman in the South. Together the two will shape their own fates.

Handful has big dreams of a life outside of slavery, but her mother Charlotte does more than dream.  As accomplished seamstresses, they are among the most valuable slaves owned by the Grimkes.  Charlotte starts to venture out from the family home with a fake pass to take on extra work to make money to save towards their freedom.  Along the way she meets an exciting and dangerous man.  When fate takes away her mother, Handful continues to work for her dreams.

Handful and Sarah are linked together as Handful is Sarah’s slave through childhood until Sarah returns her ownership to her mother. Sarah thinks of Handful as at times, as her only friend, but as Handful reminds her, she is not emptying her chamber pot because of friendship.  Sarah promise Charlotte that someday she will free Handful, and it is a promise that plagues her throughout her life.  How can she make it happen?

I was riveted by this book and had a hard time putting it down, which wasn’t good as I was reading it during my busiest time of the semester.  I loved it.  I love historical fiction and was fascinated by the entire story and especially inspired when I discovered it was true.  I loved Sarah and Handful, they were both strong female characters living in a world where it was hard to be a woman, and even harder to be an African American woman.  I loved how each chapter switched back and forth between their viewpoints throughout their lives.  I loved Sarah’s journey from the South to the North, and I loved Handful’s journey through life in one Charleston home.  It is strange to think that you couldn’t even walk down the street without fearing for your life back then.

The book was a great book club pick as it brought about great discussion when we met.  It is overall hard to imagine a world where owning other people is considered to be okay.  It’s terrifying to realize that people still think this is okay in this day and age.  It’s also hard to imagine a world where as a woman you had no rights and no way to handle your affairs without a man.  It is also disturbing that although there really was a Handful, her story cannot be fully discovered because she was a black female living during the first half of the nineteenth century. It was a great book for thought.

Overall, The Invention of Wings is an excellent book and a must read.  It is one of the best historical fiction books I’ve ever read, and I’ve read a lot of historical fiction.   I’m still thinking about this book even though I finished it two weeks ago!

Book Source:  I purchased this book from

Dust by Patricia Cornwell

Title: Dust
Author: Patricia Cornwell
Read by:  Kate Reading
Publisher: Penguin
Length: 14 hours (12 CDs)
Source:  Review Copy from Penguin Thanks!

Massachusetts Chief Medical Examiner Kay Scarpetta is homebound and sick with the flu after returning from examining a horrifying tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut.  There is no rest for Kay Scarpetta as her former employee Detective Pete Marino drops by to pick her up early in the morning to investigate a murder.  The victim was found at MIT and is a computer programmer, Gail Shipton, a woman that is currently involved in a messy lawsuit as well as with Kay’s niece Lucy.  Complicating matters further, Kay’s husband, FBI profiler Benton Wesley, helicopters to the scene and suspects that the murder is work of a serial killer he has been investigating in Washington, D.C.  Benton cannot determine the motivation of the killer, and also suspects that there may be corruption in the FBI that is trying to cover the killer’s tracks.

Kay Scarpetta is quite the heroine.  She is smart, sexy, and sure that she is right.  She’s cool under pressure even when doubts about Lucy and Pete fill her mind.  She is fascinating.  I enjoyed the mystery of this audiobook and finding out the resolution, but mostly I find myself riveted by Kay Scarpetta and how she will figure this one out.  I would love to watch her in a TV show or movie.

I listened to this as an audiobook and enjoyed it immensely.  Kate Reading is one of the best narrators in the business and did another excellent job with this novel.   I especially enjoy listening to intriguing mysteries on my long drives to and from work as they keep me interested and make the drive go by fast.  

Overall, another great chapter in the Kay Scarpetta books.  I’ve listened to the last two now and really need to back track to read the rest of the series.  I also look forward to the next novel

How to Be the Parent You Always Wanted to Be by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

Title: How to Be the Parent You Always Wanted to Be
Author: Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
Read by:  Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Length: 1 hour, 8 minutes
Source:  MP4 Audio from Simon & Schuster Audio – Thanks!

I previously have listened to the audiobook How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish and picked up some good tips.  How to Be the Parent You Always Wanted to Be is more of a review of that book with great examples on how to work through common problems.  Topics include dealing with strong emotions, setting firm limits, resolving family conflicts peacefully, engaging your children’s cooperation, and expressing your angry feelings without being hurtful.

I liked that it was an hour long and something I could listen to on my phone while doing chores.  It was a good refresher and I will be listening to it again.  I would recommend this to those that have listened to or read How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk for a review and for those who have not listened to it or read it for a quick snippet on what you could expect to find in the longer book.

The narrators are the authors and are interesting and engaging.  They put such feeling into acting out the scenes and children’s voices. I could relate to many of the examples, but I really liked the ending where they point out that all parents are not perfect and will not remember all of the tips.  That made me feel better!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery

L.M. Montgomery is one of my favorite authors.  During my teenage years I devoured everything she had written, casing my local bookstore to see if any new collections of her short stories had come out (I think the last one came out while I was in college).  I love Anne of Green Gables; she is one of my all-time favorite heroines, but I also love all of Montgomery’s other literary creations as well.  The Blue Castle is one of her “adult novels.”  I loved it as a teen, but haven’t read it about twenty years.  When I was given the opportunity to review a new edition published by Sourcebooks, I jumped at the chance.

Valancy Stirling is a 29-year old spinster in a very domineering and controlling family.  The Stirlings love to gossip, and to make sure that you never forget any slight transgression even if you were only an eight-year old at the time of the transgression.  She has faded away from life and the only thing that keeps her going is her day dreams of a “blue castle” where she can be happy and the nature books of John Foster.  Valancy has been not feeling well and after a visit to her doctor, she learns some shocking news.  The news revitalizes her and makes her determined to grab life by the bullhorns and to really live it.  The new Valancy learns about compassion, life outside her family circle, and about love.  She also learns to not be afraid to speak the truth.

I found that even though I hadn’t read this book since I was a teenager, I still remembered much of the plot.  I enjoyed every single page of it.  I loved Valancy’s journey from shy and sad girl to empowered and happy woman. I’ve always thought this would make a great film, especially with the train scene at the end.  I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but now that I’m older and know more about L.M. Montgomery and her struggles with depression, the book really got me thinking.  Montgomery’s novels are often about family. Family can be loving and supportive, but family can also be cruel and vindictive.  With her mother dying while she was still a child and her grandparents raising her, did Montgomery ever feel emotionally adrift as Valancy did?  Was her family controlling and gossiping as the Stirlings were?  Did she wish she had a blue castle that she could escape too with a happy ending?  I really need to read the 2008 biography of L.M. Montgomery.

One other item I need to mention is how much I LOVE the new cover that Sourcebooks has put on this edition.  The Blue Castle is set during the 1920’s and the cover really captures the feel of the time period with Valancy’s dress and it looks like how I would picture Valancy with the description in the text.  I also LOVE the depicted blue castle, which really matches the text as well.  This edition is a Trade paperback book and is visually much nicer than the mass market paperback from the 90’s.
Overall if you are looking for a good story or love L.M. Montgomery, but have never read beyond the Anne series, make sure to pick up a copy of The Blue Castle.  You will enjoy it!

Book Source:  Review Copy from Sourcebooks – Thanks!

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

Title: The Museum of Extraordinary Things
Author: Alice Hoffman
Read by:  Judith Light, Grace Gummer, Zach Appelman
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Length: 11.5 hour (10 CDs)
Source:  Review Copy from Simon & Schuster – Thanks!

I love Alice Hoffman’s novels.  She writes surreal novels that always seem to border the line between reality and fantasy.  I haven’t read any of her novels in the past couple of years so I jumped at the chance to review her latest, The Museum of Extraordinary Things.  I was especially excited to be able to listen to it on audiobook.  With my two hours per day of commute time for work, listening to audiobooks has become my primary way to read books.  

Coralie Sardie has grown up in a strange household.  Her father, Professor Sardie, owns and runs the Museum of Extraordinary Things on Coney Island.  He collects the unusual and strange and also hires people with genetic deformities that can be dressed up to be extraordinary such as the Wolfman and Butterfly Girl.  Coralie was born with webbed hands.  Her father has her hide her hands in gloves whenever she is outside (which I kept wondering how she got them on with webbed hands).  He also trains her as a child to hold her breath for long periods of time underwater and to use a breathing tube underwater as well. All of her training goes towards making her a new attraction, a mermaid.  With a crafted tail, Coralie swims in a tank in the middle of the museum.  A breathing tube that she secretly uses when she turns around to show her tail helps her survive.  As her father tries to keep his business alive, Coralie’s home life turns desperate and she longs to escape to a normal life beyond her father’s control.

Eddie Cohen is a Jewish boy that has a difficult relationship with his father.  After his father almost commits suicide which would have left Eddie alone in America, he takes a job working as a boy helping with investigations. It’s during his investigations that he meets a photographer and turns on a new career path.  As a photographer he captures the horror of the Triangle Fire and then helps to search for a girl that disappeared the day of the Triangle Fire. Along his investigation he meets Coralie and the two fall in love, but will her father allow them to be together?

I loved this audiobook.  I thought Judith Light, Grace Gummer, and Zach Appelman were all excellent narrators.  I loved the history especially the strangeness of Coney Island, the Triangle Fire, and the Coney Island Fire.  I also loved the mysteries involved with the story.  I also enjoyed the look into the world of people that were sadly born with a disability that caused society to shun them, and how they used that disability to be able to make a living.  It is a unique story that was sad, but also hopeful.  The only downfall of the story is that it jumps around in time and by narrator. The jumps have no rhyme or reason to them so it was confusing at times.

Overall, The Museum of Extraordinary Things is another excellent Alice Hoffman novel that is unique and thrilling.  It translates into a riveting audiobook.