Thursday, March 10, 2011

Books of 2011: 11-15

11. Run by Ann Patchett (from 2008 library list)

We read Bel Canto by the same author in my church book group, and that book was well written. This was one was, too, and was a good read about family, identity, choices and more. The plot of the book takes place over 24 hours, starting (mostly) with a car accident that occurs on the night a retired Irish-American politician in Boston has taken his sons -- young African African men raised by the father after the adoptive mother died early in their young lives -- to hear a speech by Jesse Jackson. One of the characters is a runner, but the title also envelops the idea of running for office, from -- or to - things in our lives, and more.

12. The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean (church book group, January)

(The January book group meeting occurred on a date that I knew I wouldn't make it, so I didn't read the book until afterward.) We seem to have been reading quite a bit about people with Alzheimer's disease in this book group this year (Still Alice was an earlier selection.) This one deals with an elderly woman who is a Russian immigrant to America and is suffering Alzheimer's in her later years -- so that the parts of her life that is most real to her, and to readers of the book, is what she experienced as she lived through the siege of Leningrad in World War II. As a worker at the Hermitage museum prior to the war, she lived in the basement of the museum during the siege, and conducted "memory tours" through the empty rooms of the art that used to be there before it was evacuated (including several images of the Madonna, hence the book's title). I had never heard of this book or author before it was selected for this book group, but I really liked the book.

13. The Help by Kathryn Stockett (for women's book group, March/church book group, April)

This book, on the other hand, is one that has been extremely popular lately. Set in the early 1960s, at the beginning of the civil rights movement, in Jackson, Mississippi, it tells the tale of a group of African-American women who work as maids -- "the help" -- and, to a lesser extent, of the young white women of the Junior League and the "proper social circle," and their interactions as one of the white women begins to write the stories of the experiences of "the help," including such things as needing to use a separate bathroom from the families for which they worked. Telling those tales can be dangerous at that time and place, and that's reflected in the book, although it doesn't have a lot of graphic depictions of violence. I really liked a lot of the characters and found the book very readable and interesting - it's a long book, but a quick read -- and the subject is  interesting, too. (One of our women's book group members went to visit relatives in Mississippi, and talked about and confirmed the very real existence of the separate bathrooms and such.) I don't think it's quite as well written as Ann Patchett's book, but it was a good read.

14. The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs

(We sometimes share books around in book group, and I think this one came from one of those friends -- although she claims ignorance. It's a mystery how this one found its way into my house, but it's on its way to another friend's knitting group.) I really, really liked the characters in this book, too, and in fact, for most of the book thought it was meant to be one of those character-focused slices of life. I suppose it is, in a way, but something actually does happen in the book -- but not until you're about three-quarters of the way through. The group is a bunch of women who happen to meet every Friday evening at a knitting supply store in New York City: the shop owner, her teenage daughter, a grad student who doesn't knit and feels out of place, a wealthy widowed woman, a  mid-career person with a ticking biological clock. The book, overall, was OK.

15. Perfect Family by Pam Lewis (from 2008 library list)

The adult children and widowed father of a New England family find that family secrets begin to unravel in the time following the death of the mother and the death of one of the sisters -- which may not have been an accident. (Huh. This theme of novels with dead mothers -- Things I Want My Daughters to Know, Run, this one -- was not intentional.) Perfect Family is a type of mystery -- it's not really a "whodunnit" - if you have pretty much one extra character, that's pretty easy to figure out pretty early -- but more of "whydunnit." And that did get interesting, with the twists and turns and far-reaching ramifications of long-held family secrets.

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