Monday, January 30, 2012

The Dry Grass of August by Anna Jean Mayhew

If you liked The Help, you might want to try The Dry Grass of August. It's the story of a white family and the black woman who works for them in the South during the 1950s. The narrator of the story is thirteen-year-old June "Jubie" Watts. Jubie and her siblings has been cared for by the family's housekeeper, Mary Luther, for as long as she can remember. Jubie's father is abusive while her mother doesn't pay much attention to the children. Mary, on the other hand, loves the children unconditionally.

Jubie and her family go on a vacation to Florida. During their drive through the South, they see evidence of the racism that plagued the U.S. during that time. A tragedy occurs during the trip that no one could have predicted. In the aftermath, Jubie must decide how to deal with her parents' flaws, as well as learn how to move on.

I enjoyed this debut novel from Anna Jean Mayhew. The characters were well written, and their personalities really came through. If you like historical fiction that deals with racial tension, give this book a try.


Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Glass Demon by Helen Grant

Cover imageI find it rare that a new author with a splendid debut novel (The Vanishing of Katharina Linden in earlier posts) follows with as excellent a second. Helen Grant has done it. She takes us back to a secluded place in modern Germany whose isolation has preserved much of the atmosphere and culture of its mythic past.
British teen, Lin, is uprooted by her egomaniacal, academic father when he drags the whole family to rural Germany to track some antique stained glass panels. Finding a dead body in an orchard on their way to the house they’ve rented doesn’t make for a cheerful start, but things deteriorate from there. In The Glass Demon, Grant blends the eerie, Grimm-esque aura of the dark woods of Germany and local characters with insular, ancient superstitions in a tale told by a teen but not meant for children.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Arrivals by Meg Mitchell Moore

The Arrivals is a debut novel that is a quiet, interesting story about family life. Ginny and William are enjoying their retirement; he doing gardening and she busy with her church work. They have done their jobs: raising three children that are now on their own. Lillian, the oldest, married with two young children. Stephen, married to a high-powered businesswoman in New York. The youngest, Rachel, is also living in New York. Life is good for Ginny & William. Until... One by one, each of their children return home with one crisis or another. Now Ginny and William's nice new world is turned into chaos. For a first novel, I thought this author really got it right. Again, a simple story about change, love, and loyalty.


Saturday, January 14, 2012

1,000 Mitzvahs

Linda Cohen decides to perform 1,000 mitzvahs after her father's death to work through her grief. Basically, a mitzvah is a good deed, or an act of kindness. Cohen reasoned that performing these mitzvahs would be beneficial to those around her, as well as honor her father's life.

She started a blog to chart her progress and to keep a record of the mitzvahs she performed. In all, Cohen's project to two and a half years to complete. Her book, 1,000 Mitzvahs, is a collection of those acts of kindness. The book also offers her thoughts on the mitzvahs she performed and ideas for people who are interested in starting their own mitzvah project.

The project was too lengthy to cover every single mitzvah, but it gives a good overview of it. One thing I didn't like was that the mitzvahs started to feel very similar to me. There was a lot of "donate your time," "donate money," "volunteer at your children's school." I was hoping for a larger variety of mitzvahs, since there were 1,000 in the project.

Although I would have liked a bigger variety, I enjoyed this book. Cohen's writing was very straightforward, and she does a good job of explaining the Jewish faith for those who are unfamiliar with it. She also gives readers ideas of how they can translate the mitzvahs to fit their own projects.


Sunday, January 8, 2012

A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Cover imageThis title was chosen for our staff book discussion, and I was very happy as I remember wonderful reviews. It was also the winner of the Pulitzer Prize, which of course made me all the more anxious to read it. Well, what can I say? The writing style was pretty unique; each chapter was almost like a short story. And there were some interesting characters. The storyline was plausible, centering around the life of an aging former punk rocker and record executive. But put it all together...and I got nothing. I found it all very confusing. It will be interesting to see what my co-workers think!


Friday, January 6, 2012

Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo

Cover imageWhether you are a believer of near-death experiences or not, this really is a charming story of one little boy's belief. At age four, Colton Burpo suffers a burst appendix while on vacation with his parents and almost dies. Much to his parents surprise, several months later he begins to recount his experiences in heaven. His father, being a pastor of a small church in Nebraska, is both skeptical and thrilled as he listens to his son talk about meeting people that have passed on, most notably his miscarried sister and his great grandfather. Colton tells them all about angels and Jesus, as well as what heaven looks and feels like.

Did this really happen? Who knows...