Monday, February 7, 2011

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, by David Wroblewski

Who knew a story about a dog breeding farm could be so powerful? Not only do we have the heart-warming relationship between Edgar, who's mute and speaks only in sign, and his loyal friend Almondine, but we also have the threat of the uncle, Claude, who creates a situation on the farm reminiscent of Hamlet. It's all up to mute Edgar and a few of his unique breed of dogs, a breed that seems to have evolved in a way that makes them able to communicate in a special way with Edgar. This author has excellent descriptive powers that makes the beautiful Wisconsin setting come to life.

I highly recommend this book.

I'm Proud of You: My Friendship with Fred Rogers, by Tim Madigan

I was not looking forward to reading this book because I'm not one for nonfiction and because I thought I knew everything there was to know about Fred Rogers. Much to my surprise, this book was a joy, not only because it taught me more about Mister Rogers, but also because it portrayed the transformational power of friendship. I cried and laughed and had a ball reading this inspirational story.

I would recommend this book.

The Next Thing on My List, by Jill Smolinksy

Even though this wasn't one of my favorites (I'm not a big chick lit fan), it was still a good read, if you're looking for something quick and uplifting. We emailed the author and scheduled a conference call with her during our book club meeting. This part was awesome, because we were able to ask her questions, such as what inspired her to write the book or to create certain characters. Jill Smolinsky is a smart and nice lady.

I would recommend this book to those who enjoy chick lit.

Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett

Wow. I feel this book gave me an authentic look into the many kinds of lives lived during the Middle Ages in England. We see the rich and the starving, the religious and the irreverent, the talented and the disadvantaged. We see the role of the clergy, the merchants, the builders, the peasants, the kings and the lords, and the women and children. I feel especially educated now on the importance of cathedrals to Medieval towns because of the work the building of them created.

The ending was extremely satisfying to me, though not all in my club felt the same way.

I highly recommend this book.

The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls

I'm usually more of a fiction reader than one of memoirs, but the storytelling in this nonfiction work was captivating. What an intriguing look into the life a girl brought up by eccentric and probably mentally diseased parents who end up homeless and the girl's ability to triumph in spite of it all. It's nice to know that our society makes it possible for this to happen, though, more often than not, people like Jeanette fall though the cracks.

I would highly recommend this book.

The Virgin Blue, by Tracy Chevalier

Tracy Chevalier is my new favorite author, but not because of this novel, which is the one of hers that I least like. I was the one in my book club who recommended it, but it received mixed reviews from our members. Most of us enjoyed the historical point of view, but the modern story told through Ella could have been improved. I especially found the section where Ella visits her uncle Jacob lacking. But there were many things about this book I loved, including the character of the librarian, Jean-Paul, and the historical details surrounding the Protestant Reformation and its impact on the lives of everyday families.

I would recommend this novel.

The Other Boleyn Girl, by Philippa Gregory

I would put this novel up there in my top two or three picks. If you really want an interesting view of King Henry the Eighth and his wives from a new perspective, read this book. It hooks you right away and never lets up. I didn't want to do anything but read till I finished the story, and the details are still so fresh in my head even though I read the book two years ago.

The movie was surprisingly well done, though, understandably, much was left out. The character of the mother was also different.

I highly recommend this novel.

My Sister's Keeper, by Jodi Picoult

I had mixed feelings about this novel until a surprise is revealed toward the end that made me love it. I deferred my judgment on the narrator, a thirteen-year-old who sues her parents for rights to her own body, which has been used to harvest replacement material for her older sister Kate, who has leukemia. Anna, the narrator, isn't sympathetic enough to me until I learn the surprise that saves the whole story for me. Everyone in my book club loved this and we plan to read another book by this author.

This is a tragic and beautiful story that I would highly recommend. The movie can't compare and changes the story.

Perfume, by Patrick Suskind

Only two people in my book club loved this book, and I was one of them. The others were grossed out by the details of disgusting smells and horrid deeds, but I found the powers of description this author possesses to be absolutely astounding. Many books have made me see and hear and taste and feel unusual things, but this novel makes you smell in a brilliantly artistic way. I've never read a book like this one and consider it a masterpiece as a study of the sense of smell in literature.

I highly recommend this book.

A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini

This was a brilliantly crafted novel about Afghanistan from the Soviet invasion through the Taliban takeover through the points of view of two very different women. Reading their stories made me grateful to live in a society where women have most of the same liberties as men. I appreciated the insight this story gave me into the worlds of women so different from me. We need stories like this to remind us of how precious basic civil liberties are for all people, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation, in order for the pursuit of happiness to be possible.

I highly recommend this book and put it up there among my favorites. I recently read it a second time.

The Memory Keeper's Daughter, by Kim Edwards

Everybody in my book club loved this book but me. I liked it, but I didn't love it. I loved it only so far. The ending was a disappointment to me. I feel too much blame is put on the husband and not enough on the wife, but I was a minority in this way of thinking among my book club friends.

Despite my disappointment with the ending, I would still recommend this book for a tragic look at how Down Syndrome babies were once viewed and how one secret can tear an otherwise loving relationship apart.

The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

I loved this one so much that I read it twice. This story of a boy named Daniel, whose father deals in antiquarian books and whose mother dies when he's very young, intertwines the world of fiction with the world of reality. I love books that blur those two worlds while maintaining an absolute strict adherence to realism. This book is not mystical, but it brings you to the edge of mysticism.

If for no other reason, you have to read this book just so you can meet my new absolute favorite literary character, Fermin. He is a hoot. He is both tragic and comic and will make you laugh so hard, you'll cry.

The Life of Pi, by Yann Martel

Not everyone in the club loved this book as much as I did, but it sure sparked some really good conversation. This was definitely one of my favorites.

To some of my book club friends, this novel started out slow, but I enjoyed learning about this boy's interest in all religions, about his father's zoo-keeping, and about the differences between the two and three-toed sloths. All of this prelude is so crucial, in my opinion, to the metaphorical significance of the rest of the story, which, once you get to, is amazingly compelling.

I loved this book and highly recommend it. I think this novel is an expression of something Joseph Campbell once said in one of his books, about metaphor being the penultimate truth.

Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons, by Lorna Landvik

This was a great novel to start our book club so many years ago. Not only did it show us how such a club could bring disparate women with different backgrounds, ages, and values together in a heart-wrenching, lovely story, it also gave us ideas for how to conduct our meetings. Most of us were merely acquaintances when we started, and now we are a group of friends who have begun exchanging presents at our December meeting.

The ladies in the novel choose to have meals that relate to whatever novel they are reading, and we've continued to carry on this tradition in our club as well, encouraging us to try some new and yummy recipes.

This novel tells of five different women who each have their own story to share as they bond together through four decades of change. This is an American history novel, a woman's novel, and an inspirational novel. I highly recommend it.