Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Review: The Red Garden

This linked series of short stories follows the residents of the town of Blackwell, Massachusetts from its eighteenth-century founding to the present day. Nestled in the Berkshires, the town has a legendary founding involving an intrepid pioneer woman, a bear, a girl who drowns in the river, and a red-soiled garden that causes all plants to grow with a scarlet tinge. Throughout the years the garden nurtures the lonely and the sensitive, and is ever so slightly magical.

In tone and form this books is quite similar to Hoffman's earlier Blackbird House. Both books follow the life of a town through the centuries, but The Red Garden is far less depressing, and many of the stories are far more hopeful. I found that this was a book best read in increments, not in a few sittings. Each story really needs its own space to digest.

Alice Hoffman, The Red Garden (Crown, 2011) ISBN: 0307393879

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Review: The Book of Tomorrow

This book is best describedas chick lit with a magical twist. Dublin teenager Tamara Goodwin has lost everything. Her father has committed suicide, leaving the family in debt and leading to them losing their home. Tamara's mother is so overwhelmed by grief that she sleeps all day and rarely gets out of bed. She and her mother have been forced to move in with an aunt and uncle who live in the middle of nowhere.

If all of this was not bad enough something strange seems to be happening in Tamara's new home. Aunt Rosalind is evasive, and she refuses to let Tamara see her mother. The garage remains mysteriously locked, and Tamara is ordered not pursue any of her curiosity about the surrounding area. Most significantly, she acquires a diary that writes entries for her, foreshadowing the next day's events.

The course of the plot of this book is rather predictable, though the magical elements do offer a sort of interesting twist. I don't generally read books with any kind of fantastic elements, but I did think that Ahern offered just enough here to create interest without overdoing. The magic did not necessarily always seem logical. I know, it's magic, but whether Tamara could change the future or not did seem to vary from day to day. Probably the best thing about this book is the setting, on the grounds of a ruined castle and an old convent. The setting was somewhat magical in and of itself, and it definitely added to the atmosphere.

Cecilia Ahern, The Book of Tomorrow (Harper, 2011) ISBN:

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Immigrant Stories Challenge

I've been meaning to post this for ages, but just got around to it. I'm joining the Immigrant Stories Challenge. It runs until the end of the year, and involves reading books about people emigrating from one county to another. There are several levels of achievement, I'm starting by signing up at the lowest level, and I can always move up.

Interested in signing up? Click on the image.

Review: Hungry for Happiness

I wanted to like this book, I really did. Instead, I found it to be quite offensive.

Loretta Crawford has lost significant weight after a gastric bypass. Life remains a struggle, as she ties to get her catering business off the ground and navigate the dating scene as a thinner woman. Loretta has a terrible self-image, and discovers that life as a thinner woman is not as easy as she expected.

The main problem with this book was the characters. They were at best unlikable, at worst offensive. The worst of the lot is Loretta, who expresses tremendous hatred of fat people. She is constantly criticizing overweight people, including her friends and family. Loretta genuinely believes that fat people do not deserve happiness, and she thinks that her overweight friends and family are disgusting, a sentiment she repeats ad nauseum. She expresses anger and disbelief when good things happen to her fat friends. Loretta Crawford is certainly not someone I would want to be my friend. Hatred of fat women seems to be coursing through this book. The male character who prefers to date fat women is repeatedly described as "a pervert," and treated much more harshly than the male characters who commit rape.

This book also employs a strange dialect. I've lived in the south. I'm used to heavy accents. I've never heard anything like this. Loretta calls everyone "Bub," "Buster," or "Buckaroo." I have no idea what the intention was, but I have yet to hear a Texan speak lie this.

I honestly cannot recommend this book.

James Villas, Hungry for Happiness (Kensington, 2010) ISBN:

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Review: Bitter in the Mouth

The most important thing I can say about this book is that it gets much better in the second half. A coming of age story about a southern girl with a unique disorder, Linda can taste words. Every word has a flavor. Listening and speaking can create a whole series of unpleasant tastes. Human conversation becomes a minefield.

To add to these problems Linda's family relations are strained. She has little relationship with her mother, and after her father's death Linda's only real emotional connection is with her uncle Harper. Harper faces his own demons struggling to find acceptance in a town that demonizes homosexuality.

This all sounds like it could make for a good story, but honestly, I found the first half of this book to be rather dull. Tasting words seemed like an unnecessary add-on, and the result was basically that Linda ended up smoking all the time. I nearly abandoned it. Then Truong drops a bomb on the last page of the first section, and the books gets much more interesting. I'm not going to address the nature of what changes; it's much more effective if it's a surprise.

Monique Truong, Bitter in the Mouth (Random House, 2010) ISBN: