April 2015 Book Reviews

THE BEST OF APRIL….

Ashton Lee‘s Cherico, Mississippi is the sort of small town in which we’d all love to live. Ridiculous self-important politcos and a few oddballs aside, the residents are all decent, hard working folks who remember their manners and take care of each other. In the third installment of The Cherry Cola Book Club series, we find our Can-Do Librarian, Maura Beth Mayhew, on the eve of her wedding and on the eve of the ground breaking for the longed-for new Cherico library. The 70-is lovers Locke and Voncille are also heading for the alter and Peri has a twinkle in her eye [couldn’t resist saying that!] for Mr. Parker Place. This series delights from word one. Ashton Lee knows libraries and every bit of Maura Beth’s job rings true to this librarian. If you enjoy fun, pleasant series, such as the Robert Dalby’s Waltzing at the Piggly Wiggly, you will also LOVE the Cherry Cola Book Club series. And, guess what? The wait is much shorter for the next volume! A Cherry Cola Christmas is due out on in September. Don’t miss this series. The Wedding Circle by Ashton Lee.

When a friend said “you must read this,” I was naturally curious. But my taste is very eclectic and my friends tend to like fantasy and dystopian things that I don’t like, so I was skeptical. Wow! What a griping story! A super-talented oldest child casts a long shadow over the lives of her siblings. But there’s so much more to this story, I just can’t tell more or I’d spoil it for you! Just read it. Go on! Read it. You won’t be sorry. The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain.

I’ve been slowly working my way through Virginia’ Woolf’s Jacob’s Room, so when I spotted this new novel on Vanessa Bell and her sister Virginia, I knew I should read it. I seem to find many of these fictionalized lives of famous people novels to be interesting lately. This one was very well done. I came away loathing Virgina Woolf though! I also ended with no respect at all for Clive Bell and some real contempt for the self-congratulating Souls in general. But those are my reactions to the very vivid portrayal of these characters, not a diatribe against Priya Parmar’s excellent storytelling. By all means, get a copy of this and enjoy it–and do it sooner rather than later. Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar.

This is a sweet, fun book. I’m a Gone With the Wind fanatic having read the book 25 or more times through and seen the movie too many times to count thanks first to VHS and later DVD. I saw the movie first in a 1930s era huge theater the way it was meant to be seen though. Like all modern day readers I cringe at the slave characters hideous dialect that mars the great story and cringe again that it was carried thru to the movie, but as this story points out, the N word was not allowed in the film. That was serious progress in 1939, most of which was defeated by the premier being held in segregated Atlanta.

Kate Alcott gives us the feel of the times in Hollywood and the anxiety surrounding transferring Margaret Mitchell’s enormous book to the silver screen. I loved the way she brings Gable and Lombard to life, making them into real people and not just the handsome Hollywood couple of the old movie magazines.

I was surprised to read that Edith Head had designed the white dress Scarlett wore in the opening scene. She did not work on Gone With the Wind. I suppose this was just a fictitious scene to bring a little more drama into the story, due to Head’s name being so well known,  but it is one GWTW fans spot instantly.

The dialogue is occasionally lacking–especially the stilted “let’s explain this to modern readers” or the “let’s remind them of what’s going on in the world at this point in history” kind of dialogue. I felt Julie was more a stereotype than a determined young writer. I also found it odd that she was rather puzzled by segregation. Indiana certainly didn’t welcome persons of color in the 1930s. And Ft. Wayne, Indiana, is no liberal enclave–not today, not in 1939. In no way would she have been surprised by any of it.

Minor historical error: typing correction fluid hadn’t been invented yet.

Bigger historical error: Vichy government was not a thing yet. This was mentioned in Andy’s musings about his family in France.

Other: A well-brought up young lady who went to Smith in the 1930’s would not say “God” in a profane way. Especially not one from Ft. Wayne, Indiana. That’s a really modern thing to have her say. And, did people use the word “wimp” in 1939?

These are picky things.I’m a librarian. I check facts. The book is a good read. If you love GWTW, love the Golden Age of  Hollywood or are a Gable or Lombard fan you will devour this and enjoy it every bit as much as I did.

I listened to the audio which was very well done. A Touch of Star Dust by Kate Alcott

THE REST OF APRIL

I’m always interested to see what Universities are assigning to incoming Freshmen or in different seminars. This one such book. It was assigned at Brown University in their First Readings. Migrant labor is a huge thing in China–these are the rural young adults who move to cities to work in factories. The author, a Chinese-American reporter for the Wall Street Journal, does an excellent job of showing their lives without any melodrama about horrendous working conditions or other expose style writing. She simply shares their lives–all that they just accept to get ahead. On the factory floor, in continuing education and, later, in romance and in the Chinese Amway, these young women are all trying to have  better life than that lived by their farmer-parents. What amazed me was how similar it is to what goes on in our own rural communities here in the States (like where I live). They have no way to evaluate educational offerings for quality (like students her getting sucked into for profit schools), they take risks, live in a hook-up culture but worry about the morality they were taught as children, and often lose everything only to have to start again. These are not the pampered “little emperors” of China’s biggest cities or the daughters tossed away to orphanages. These girls were born in rural areas where the one child policy was either not present or not enforced. Some come from families with as many as seven children and have grown up in a very traditional village culture. What IS shocking here is that there is absolutely no ethical framework in any area of business in China. None. People use fake ids, blatantly lie, etc., as a matter of course–and see nothing wrong with it. That is very scary. Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China by Leslie T. Chang.

The story of a younger wife of an older missionary was bound to attract my attention. Then add that it is set in WWII-era British India and you can see why I snapped this up and read it eagerly. The wife, Nerys Watkins, is parked at a lakeside resort while her husband goes evangelizing. During this time she comes to know herself and experience life in ways she never imagined. This is not a Christian book, but the missionary is portrayed as sincere. Unfortunately I found the modern day part of the story too contrived so I only skimmed it. Nerys’ story is well worth the read though. The Kashmir Shawl by Rosie Thomas.

 DON’T BOTHER…

It was so hard to even follow this story on audio–the reader is so awful! She ends nearly every line on an up-note like a very posh Valley Girl. It was like listening to the recitation of an epic poem. The writing is fine, but the story? IS there a story? We have missionaries in Lenin’s day getting help from Moscow, then a modern day character has to recall walking in on her mother receiving oral sex from a man who, of course, is not the mother’s husband. Give me a break. Like two books arbitrarily (mistakenly) published together. Threw it back without finishing it. Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar by Suzanne Joinson.

What a confusing mess! I could not finish it. Beatrix Potter, a slut, friends who seem to hate each other, a guy who walks right in, too many changes from one chapter to another and then an odd conversation about mythology. I loved The Wednesday Sisters so put this sequel off fearing it wouldn’t be as good. My fear was fully justified. I guess editors no longer stand up to authors when they turn in a rough draft as a finished product. Shame because I really enjoy this author, just not this book. The Wednesday Daughters by Meg Waite Clayton.

Feel free to leave me a comment about what you are reading! I always love to hear what books people are enjoying.

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2 thoughts on “April 2015 Book Reviews

  1. sjbraun

    As usual, many of these sound intriguing to me. I am really curious about The Silent Sister!
    I’ve never read any Virginia Woolf, but reading Middlemarch now, there must be a connection with its author (at least I keep seeing VW mentioned in the “My Life in Middlemarch” book I’m reading). Interesting that the Touch of Stardust has a Ft Wayne connection!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mel Duke Ford

    Your review of Ashton Lee’s Wedding Circle is awesome!! I loved this book and it brought so many smiles back to me since I also grew up in a small town in Mississippi, …Natchez!!! I also have a wedding coming up in October for our youngest son so it was a fun read for me with that going on. Looking forward to reading the Cherry Cola Christmas in September when it comes out!! Thank you for your great review!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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