Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Book's month 4

On Agate Hill by Lee Smith 

 I  didn't care for this book at all. I picked it up at building 19 for a few bucks so I'm not out much but don't suggest you read it. It get's great review on amazon so maybe it's just me. Lee Smith's latest novel, ON AGATE HILL, covers 50 years or so-- 1872 to 1920 of the life of  Molly Petree. She is orphaned as a teen and is taken in by relatives on a run-down plantation in North Carolina. She goes away to school for young girls called Gatewood Academy, teaches in a one-room school in the North Carolina mountains and ultimately marries a wild banjo picker. I found the story disjointed and strange. I had trouble feeling anything for the characters and felt the intrusion of the present day to be distracting and not at all adding to the story. 

I love Historical fiction as you may know by now and something about this book compelled me to buy it. I have read several civil war books as well.  I kept reading on and on but it never grabbed me to the point where I couldn't put in down, and the author never made me feel anything for Molly. I feel bad because the author said writing this book saved her life when her son died. I hope it was cathartic for her. Does it make me want to read it though? No. I would think someone who has undergone such a tragedy could write with more raw emotion and feeling. Not one dimensional characters and disjointed feelings. 


The Stillest Day: A Novel: This novel is written with such brilliance and intellect that few writers can achieve such a feat. I found myself engrossed in the darkness and  strangeness. The love and despair. The first half of this novel tells the story of Bethesda Barnet, an unmarried artist and teacher living a life of routines. She is the care taker or her invalid mother, paints and is a teacher. Once she lay's her eyes on Mathew Pearson that her life begins and ends. She becomes obsessed. Bethesda obsessively paints Mathew in mirrors. Ms. Hart weaves the reflections life and art have on the soul. After a bloody savage and perhaps courageous event, her life changes. Often times, it seems like Ms. Hart becomes overly dramatic in her story-telling; yet, when one considers Gothic pieces of literature, Ms. Hart seems justified. The novel uses sparse language steeped with complexities. One must read in-between the lines to understand Ms. Hart's writing. And though I did not understand this novel entirely, I can appreciate the brilliance. One will always look at a major traumatic event in one's life as "The Stillest Day." This is a difficult novel to read both due to subject matter and form of prose. 

 The Air We Breathe

On the cusp of war and height of tuberculosis.  I quite liked this book. I read it quite slowly, it isn't a page turner. What it lacks in excitement it makes up for by developing rich characters and story line. While I could take it or leave it, I am glad I read it.

From Amazon:  In the fall of 1916, America prepares for war—but in the community of Tamarack Lake, the focus is on the sick. Wealthy tubercular patients live in private cure cottages; charity patients, mainly immigrants, fill the large public sanatorium. Prisoners of routine, they take solace in gossip, rumor, and—sometimes—secret attachments. But when the well-meaning efforts of one enterprising patient lead to a tragic accident and a terrible betrayal, the war comes home, bringing with it a surge of anti-immigrant prejudice and vigilante sentiment. 

Dream When You're Feeling Blue

While I found the history well researched, I found this book depressing. The ending left me feeling blue. 

From amazon:  She sets her latest in Chicago during World War II, featuring three Irish Catholic sisters--Kitty, Louise, and Tish Heaney. The novel opens as Kitty and Louise say good-bye to their boyfriends at Union Station as they head off to war. Over the next three years, the sisters--amid the usual sibling squabbles over borrowed clothes and makeup--learn what it means to sacrifice during wartime. Kitty takes on an exhausting job at Douglas Aircraft; Louise, deeply in love with her boyfriend, keeps her worries to herself while writing him upbeat letters full of the news of home; and Trish spends her weekends at USO dances, promising to write to every soldier she meets. Berg makes the most of her Chicago setting, working in references to iconic institutions such as the old Marshall Field's department store and the Palmer House hotel. She also deftly mixes up the tone, moving easily between the wry dialogue of the long-married Heaney parents and the sad and affecting letters from the soldiers at the front. Although a final plot twist may not be fully credible, it does little to detract from this affectionate tribute to the patriotic 1940s and the women of the Greatest Generation. Joanne Wilkinson


Bette (Women of Ivy Manor Series #2)

While I didn't read the first in the series, I found this book a pleasant read. Bette undergoes a huge transformation while trying to do what's right. From daughter, to wife, to spy and mother. 

From amazon: The novel begins in the year 1936, after the Great Depression and before World War II, this second book focuses on Elizabeth "Bette" Leigh and her struggles with school, family and growing up when she befriends a German-Jewish girl and becomes a victim of neighborhood Klansmen. At the same time, she meets and falls in love with Curtis Sinclair, whom she marries. But when WWII begins and he is sent off to fight overseas and Bette begins to work to help with an anti-Nazi espionage, her struggles aren't easy after Curtis leaves her for a Frenchwoman and she has no choice but to work alone for her sake and that of her unborn child. The problems she encounters are quite difficult, but she proves that she is able to survive on her own. Will she want Curtis back in her life when he comes back wanting a reconciliation? There are many twists throughout the novel. Bette, like Chloe, is set against the backdrop of several historical references -- the post-Depression, the Holocaust, and a war, this one being World War II. This novel is just as rich in historical details and accuracy as the first one and I felt as though I had been transported to that time period. Even though I liked Chloe best because the turn of the twentieth century had so many more interesting breakthroughs than the 1930s and 1940s, Bette isn't far behind as far as wonderful descriptions of fashion changes and other interesting tidbits from that time frame. Bette is a great heroine. She is far stronger than her mother Chloe -- is more of a fighter and, despite her hopelessness at times, is able to adapt and handle every situation that is thrown at her. And that is what makes this novel, story wise, more appealing than its predecessor. The Women of Ivy Manor is a wonderful inspirational series that you cannot miss. I look forward to reading Leigh, which I have no doubt will be set against the backdrop of the Vietnam war. In the meantime, I suggest you give Chloe and Bette a whirl.



I loved this book! I have loaned it to friends and will continue to do so. It is funny, dirty and clever. It's silly frivolous and great for a day at the beach. If your looking for intellect, this ain't it. Based on a real life blog of a Washington staffer. The reviews are mixed. Most however lead toward poor, trashy and cheap. But isn't that what beach reads are all about? It felt like it is the female version of I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell by Tucker Max.

From Amazon: Cutler, the lowly Senate staffer who rocked the Capital last year with her salacious online diary, rehashes her ride into infamy in a tart, shallow tell-all that begs off as fiction. Smart but spoiled Jacqueline heads for the Hill after a broken engagement in New York. Soon this party girl is cavorting through the Capitol, where shameless flirting and sex appeal take her a long way. In Jacqueline's opinion, government is "Hollywood for the Ugly," and she coasts on her looks to score a fluffy job in a senator's office and effortlessly entice politicos on the prowl. She mines her dizzying array of casual sexploits, dished in callous, raunchy detail, for a blog to keep her friends in the loop ("I was a bitchy slut and so were all of my friends. Why not put it out there?"). Jacqueline winds up on D.C. gossip site Blogette—prompting her abrupt dismissal, an underdeveloped bit of soul-searching and lots of media attention. The flimsy garb of fiction makes for one coy striptease: just how much of Jessica emerges in Jacqueline? Who are the real-life counterparts to her paramours? For those who can conjure last summer's scandal, the reprise will liven up this year's beach batch. Agents, Michael Carlisle and Pilar Queen. (June)

Eleanor the Queen: A Novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine:

Yes another historical fiction novel. My obsession with all things Tudors bring me here, at the beginning. Born in the 12th century Eleanor of Aquitaine was probably the most influential woman in Europe. She married French King Louis VII and aided him in a failed Crusade in the Holy Land. They had two daughters together, females were not considered worth much, this hindered her plans. She could never fully get past his male advisers and rule together. Fifteen years after they married, they divorced. Back in Aquitaine, she meets a teenager Henry Plantagenet. Although he is 12 years younger they marry and he soon becomes England's King Henry II. They had many children and seemed a perfect couple until she discovers his infidelity with Rosamonde. Her furor leads to a family schism.  One son and her Husband on one side. Her other son and her on the other. As a result she in imprisoned for nearly 18 years.

This is a quick and lively biographical fiction tale. It stars a strong medieval woman who was queen to two powerful kings in two countries. Eleanor comes across somewhat as a modern female. Smart, strong and a worthy adversary. This attracted powerful men to her, yet ironically also led to her troubles with them. Twelfth century France and England are vividly described.

Book Challenge 42-7= 35 more to go!

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