Friday, March 26, 2010

Review: The Girl Who Chased the Moon

This novel chronicles the move of seventeen-year-old Emily Benedict, as she returns to her mother's hometown following her mother's death. Emily arrives with little knowledge of Mullaby, North Carolina: her mother never spoke of the town, and moved after high school, never to return. What Emily finds is quite fantastic. Her grandfather is over eight feet tall. The wallpaper in her room changes to match her mood. Mystery lights appear in the back yard, and the town's leading family is harboring a tremendous secret. More prosaically, Emily finds that her mother's reputation in Mullaby is quite different from that of the charitable, activist mother Emily knew. Emily does her best to uncover the town's mysteries, but doing so may just arouse the town's ire, and there seems to be significant opposition to her doing so. The highlight of this book is the magical twist that Allen adds to the story. The plot is, in and of itself, fairly simple, and the characters don't have tremendous depth. But Allen does do a remarkable job of weaving a bit of fantasy and magic into the story. The book certainly reminded me of Alice Hoffman's writings, though perhaps less complicated than some of Hoffman's work. Some of the characters I found to be less than believable, especially Emily, who seems remarkably free of grief and despair. Emily has just lost her mother, and has left the only home she's ever known to come live with a previously unheard-of grandfather. The Coffey family, and Mullaby more generally, seemed entirely out of time, like they couldn't exist in the present day. I would classify this book as light reading, for vacations and the like. It is a book to read because it is charming.

Sarah Addison Allen, The Girl Who Chased the Moon (Bantam, 2010) ISBN: 0553807218

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Review: Arcadia Falls

This book bears distinct resemblance to Goodman's earlier Lake of Dead Languages. Both take place at elite private schools in the northeast. Both books' main characters are single mothers and teachers who move to these schools to teach under difficult circumstances. And both books rely heavily on student and faculty obsession with old myths. In Arcadia Falls the single mother in question is Meg Rosenthal, recently widowed folklore scholar, who moves herself and her daughter to a remote region of upstate New York to take a much-needed teaching job at the Arcadia School. The school began its life as a feminist artist colony, whose founders wrote and illustrated fairy tales. The school's founders, Vera Beecher and Lily Eberhart, are professional and romantic partners, but with the arrival of a charismatic sculptor at the colony, Lily finds herself in the midst of a troublesome love triangle. The consequences of this triangle will lead to Lily's death. It quickly becomes apparent to Meg that the Arcadia School is a dangerous and deadly place,not just in Lily's time, but in her own, too. The books is the retelling of three stories, that of Meg and Sally Rosenthal, that of Vera Beecher and Lily Eberhart, and the fairy tale, The Changeling Girl. Goodman does an excellent job of weaving these tales together. While the book does bear some similarities to some of Goodman's earlier work, it is not merely the same story retold. I was captivated with discovering who or what was responsible for Lily Eberhart's death. I did find that after the circumstances of Lily's death were revealed the book was neither as compelling, nor as plausible. The ending is not the most satisfying, but this was still an enjoyable and suspenseful read.

Carol Goodman, Arcadia Falls (Ballantine, 2010) ISBN:

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Review: Born under a Million Shadows

I know very little of Afghanistan outside of war reports, so I was intrigued to read this novel about a boy and his family in post-Taliban Afghanistan. The novel follows 11-year-old Fawad and his mother as they move into the employment and residence of a house of foreigners. Curious and clever, Fawad busies himself spying on his new housemates and trying to figure out the complex world of adult relationships. Fawad is especially captivated by the romantic fortunes of Georgie, Fawad's favorite of his new housemates, who has fallen in love with a local warlord. Through all of Fawad's childhood games and fantasies the reader sees the troubled landscape of Afghanistan: beautiful, but caught in suffering. Violence, poverty, and death pervade the lives of all of the Afghans in this book. At only eleven Fawad has lost three siblings and his father. No one is a stranger to suffering. But violence does not overshadow the fact that this is a novel about family, friends, and relationships, and how these are formed across cultural and geographic distance. Busfield does a surprisingly good job of capturing the voice of an Afghan boy, and Fawad is charming and believable. I would certainly be interested in reading other things by this author.

Andrea Busfield, Born under a Million Shadows (Holt, 2010) ISBN: 0805090614

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Review: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

Major Ernest Pettigrew and Mrs. Jasmina Ali have much in common: a love of reading, both widowed, both resident in the small Sussex town of Edgecome St. Mary. Both are trying to deal with the machinations of troublesome family members who have become more so in the wake of the deaths of their respective spouses. Edgecombe St. Mary is a provincial community in more ways than one. As Major Pettigrew and Mrs. Ali move towards a romantic relationship the village makes its gossip more explicit, and it becomes obvious that the public is not willing to accept the Anglo-Pakistani Mrs. Ali as part of its establishment. This is a delightful book in so many ways. Part pastoral novel, part comedy of manners, this work is like a vintage English novel mixed with some very modern themes. The characters are richly drawn, and the book retains the feel of the old English countryside.

Helen Simonson, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand (Random House, 2010) ISBN: 1400068932

Ireland Challenge

I need a new reading challenge about as much as I need a kick in the teeth, but I have so many Irish fiction books awaiting me on my shelves that I decided to join up with this one. The rules are as follows:

~ Join anytime. The challenge runs from February 1, 2010 to November 30, 2010.
~ Any books read for this challenge can also apply to other challenges you are working on.
~ Re-reads are allowed.
~ Any book written by an Irish author, set in Ireland, or involving Irish history or Irish characters, counts for the challenge – fiction, non-fiction, poetry, audiobooks, children’s books – all of these apply.
~ Choose your commitment level:

Shamrock level: 2 books
Luck o’ the Irish level: 4 books
Kiss the Blarney Stone level: 6 books

I'm going in at Shamrock level, but will leave myself room to move up if I complete more than anticipated.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Review: Another Life Altogether

Set in the English provinces in the 1970s, this novel tells the story of Jesse Bennett, a troubled teenager trying to hide her mother's mental illness from the cruelty of her classmates. Deep in the throes of manic depression, Jesse's mother alternates among the local mental hospital, her bed, and tearing apart the family. Jesse's father copes by ignoring the issue, and leaves Jesse home to manage the house and her mother. A move to the countryside has vaulted Jesse into the popular clique at her new school, but her new friends are profoundly cruel to outsiders, especially Malcolm, an openly gay student. To complicate Jesse's life she develops a tremendous crush on her best friend's sister, and begins to realize that she might be a lesbian. Family, sexuality, and basic human decency wreak havoc on Jesse's conscience, as she tries to rationalize her relationship with her cruel but powerful new clique. This novel brings into stark relief the rigid social hierarchies and cruelty of high school. Jesse's story makes clear how easy it is for children to get lost. It also reminds the reader that for all of the problems and injustices that remain, we have made some real progress in educating children about sexuality. The ending was abrupt and unbelievable, but I enjoyed the reading.

Elaine Beale, Another Life Altogether (Spiegel and Grau, 2010) ISBN: 0385530048