Monday, June 27, 2011

The Rebellion of Jane Clarke

by Sally Gunning

This historical novel takes place during the mid 1700's America in Boston, as the country is struggling with British taxation. In particular the main event is the Bloody Massacre (Boston Massacre) and the varied perceptions of the townspeople of that event. Ms. Gunning shows her detail in research of the period and important characters of the time, even some lesser-known figures. Her main character tries to reveal a woman's viewpoint on the current political and social upheavals. I was interested in all of the historical detail, however I could never connect with Jane Clarke, her dilemmas or her personal unrest. I didn't find the story very engaging and often felt it was slow-paced. Even the climax, the Massacre itself, was just an onlookers dull narrative, which Jane revisits ad nauseam and was disappointing.

If you like pre-revolution history, you may enjoy giving The Rebellion of Jane Clarke a read, it is pretty easy and quick to finish. And clearly the author seems to remain close to historical accuracy.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Bonesetter's Daughter

by Amy Tan

This is the story of mothers and daughters, of China and America. Amy Tan brings these conflicts of generation and culture to life in her characters, Precious Auntie, LuLing and Ruth. The first half of the book introduces Ruth, the American born daughter of her Chinese immigrant mother Luling as Luling is quickly deteriorating into dementia. Through this we learn of Ruth's childhood and her frustrations growing up with a mother who failed to learn much English and required Ruth to be liaison between herself and her dead mother.

In the second half of The Bonesetter's Daughter, Ruth learns about Luling's childhood through her mother's narrative of growing up in a small Chinese village as the bastard child of the daughter of the town bonesetter. This account gives Ruth a better understanding of her mother's behavior and helps repair their shaky relationship.

Tan very eloquently weaves into this story many nuances of Chinese culture and beliefs, especially ghosts, good luck charms, bad fortune and curses. She reminds readers to value our mothers and treasure that relationship. She also reinforces the importance of communication in bridging an understanding between mother and daughter.

I would have liked to see the story go into a bit more detail about the dementia. I also think the end was just a bit too tidy, but overall I liked the book and the message. I think this can be counted for the reading challenge of a book with life stage in the title.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Caleb's Crossing

by Geraldine Brooks

Brooks is a masterful storyteller providing great detail to the times and peoples she is portraying. Caleb's Crossing relates the life and trials of Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk, the first American Indian to receive a degree from Harvard, but also manages to delve into a variety of other religious, cultural and ethical dilemmas faced by early American settlers and Native Americans.

Caleb's story is told through the eyes of Bethia Mayfield, a fictionalized character who ultimately steals the show. Bethia is an adventurous and curious young woman with a natural propensity for learning, yet her Puritan culture shuns the education of women. These two characters form an unlikely friendship and manage to secure an education for themselves despite their prejudicial and stifling cultures.

One of the aspects of the story I really liked was the thoroughness in describing both the Puritan and the Indian perspectives on relationships, family, death and God. Brooks does not shy away from boldly verbalizing these positions through her characters. I also appreciate historical accuracy in speech and details and Brooks shows she has done her homework. Her epilogue indicates the scant amount of information available on Caleb yet she manages to create a probable narrative of his life, surrounding him with other characters loosely based on people mentioned in his brief history.

I like the writing style of Ms. Brooks and realize I have read another of her books, which I liked equally, Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague. I am counting this book to qualify for the challenge of a book with movement in the title.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


My long delay in posting isn't because I have not been reading, it is because the last two books I selected I set aside and had a few days debate about finishing or moving on. I have trouble in not finishing a book once begun, but a good friend reminded me there are so many books I want to read why waste time on ones I'm not enjoying. In the end, I abandoned both books, hoping that the third choice would be a charm.

Both of the books I dumped happened to be collections of short stories. The first of these was St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell. I loved the title and wanted to love the book. However, I found it merely a collection of chapter one's for books the author might have begun and couldn't come to completing. I did not find any of the three stories I read to actually be a story, they were each an introduction of characters and a lead in to a story and then they just stopped. I believe I am confirmed in my idea because Russell has just published a book titled Swamplandia! which is based on the first short story in this collection. I may never know whether her new release actually does begin with the first "story" in this collection because I won't read it.

The second book was Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann, which I had thought to use as one of the challenge reads. This book seemed to be arranged much as Olive Kitteridge in that each story is connected to a common concept, in this case a 1974 tightrope walk between the World Trade Towers. The problems for me (in the four chapters I read) were that I didn't really like the characters in any of the stories, which made me indifferent to their plights and that I would have liked the tightrope act to have a bit more prominence (although I can't totally make that case because I failed to finish the book). I keep thinking there may be some redemption in this book and may give it another shot.

 The third book was a charm and will have a post of its own.