Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Mini Book Reviews: Jane Green, Valerie Martin, Louise Erdrich, Beth Fantaskey, E. Lockhart and Meg Cabot

Seguin Island from Popham Beach

In summer you’ll find me reading on the beach or in my hammock.
I’m so behind on book reviews that I’ve bundled six of the best in one post.

Novels for Adults:

Promises to Keep by Jane Green (UK title: The Love Verb) 2010. Be sure to pack tissues in your beach bag. Based on the true experience of losing a dear friend to breast cancer, Jane Green has crafted a warm story about the end of life and those who keep on living. It’s sunnier and easier to read than you might expect given the subject but still manages to be emotionally true. The author is donating 20% of her royalties to a breast cancer charity.

Disclosure: I bought this book. The author is a friend and an art client.

Property by Valerie Martin 2003. A biracial slave on a Louisiana sugar plantations tries to subvert the system. I didn't sympathize with the slave-owner narrator, but her story captured the dehumanizing effect of slavery on the owners as well as on the slaves. It was an interesting and fresh perspective, making good use of the unreliable narrator. This perfectly crafted novel is bigger than its 200 pages. Property well deserved its Orange Prize. A Book A Week has a more in depth review here.

Disclosure: I bought 2 copies of this book, one for me and another for my mother, who loved it too.

The Master Butchers Singing Club by Louise Erdrich 2003. This has to be the best book with the worst title. It could have been called “The Great American Novel” with its epic story spanning both World Wars and the Depression. The writing is gorgeous if a bit slow at first; it reads like a classic from that era. Erdrich, who is part Ojibwa, usually writes about the Native American experience, but in this novel she draws on her German grandfather’s story (a singing butcher too.) The sunnier attitude toward humanity reminded me of her earlier work.

Disclosure: gift book from my mother – thank you!

Young Adult Novels (ages 12 and up):

Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side by Beth Fantaskey, 2009. Another good book with a lousy title. A vampire prince, disguised as a Romanian exchange student, experiences culture shock in farmland USA. Jessica is a brainy girl, who doesn’t believe in vampires but can’t resist the bad boy. The romance sizzles. The secondary characters, however, are flat, and the story isn’t sure if it’s a spoof on vampire romance or not. It's still a fast and fun read that has gotten strong reviews from many YA book bloggers.

Disclosure: library book.  We'll be renewing this book so my daughter can finish reading it.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, 2008. Barred from the campus secret society on account of her gender, Frankie crafts a scheme to infiltrate the all boys club at her boarding school with hilarious results. The opening confession letter spoiled the suspense, but I still enjoyed the story and appreciated the good writing, the feminist perspective and the fabulous dialogue. My daughter didn't have time to finish reading before camp and has asked me to buy a copy so she can. I will because this is one of the best young adult novels I've read.

Disclosure: library book recommended by my  YA author friend Maria Padian.

Airhead by Meg Cabot, 2008. After a freak double accident, a smart girl’s brain is transplanted into the body of teen supermodel. Only a skilled writer like Meg Cabot could make this narrative sound remotely plausible. It’s fluffy and funny. My 13-year-old daughter says it’s not her usual type of book, but she enjoyed it enough to read the next 2 books in the series. I quit reading the sequel, Being Nikki, because I'm not too interested in models, but my daughter says the third, Runaway, is the best.

Disclosure: my daughter bought the first novel with her book allowance. Grandparents bought her the next 2 books on her request.

Children's Books recently reviewed:
The Accidental Adventures of India McAllister by Charlotte Agell
Touch Blue by Cynthia Lord

Books in my Beach Bag:
Edinburgh by Alexander Chee
The Thousand Acres of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
One Day by David Nicholls

Book on Order:
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins(publication date: 8/24/10)

How about you, read any good books lately?


David Cranmer said...

Lots of great reviews here. Thanks. I may check out Ms. Erdrich's Native American novels. I'm doing research for a character I'm writing about who was reared among the Arapaho Nation.

Sarah Laurence said...

David, even this Erdrich novel has Native American characters, although assimilated. My favorites of her books are Love Medicine and Tracks, but the later ones like Bingo Palace tell the more contemporary story of native Americans on a reservation. Another fabulous book on the contemporary Native American experience: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie – it’s YA, but you’ll love it. Sounds like you have a great premise.

Anonymous said...

Dear Sarah, Thank you so much for revealing your summer reads. I should recommend the novels of Helen Dunmore which are always well received. I am currently reading a collection of her short stories, aptly titled for the season 'Ice Cream'.

walk2write said...

They all sound great except for maybe the one by Cabot, but I'm willing to give at least the first one in the series a try. You always find the most interesting reads, Sarah. I've just borrowed Chris Bohjalian's Secrets of Eden from the library, read the first few pages, and like the tone so far so that's a good sign. I hope your beautiful stretch of weather stretches a bit longer, at least into September.

Cid said...

Loved "The Master Butcher's Singing Club" as well. Read "The Slap" which was not at all what I expected but have me a new perspective on Australian culture. Also re-read "To Kill a Mockingbird" with my 12 year old son. He's not finished it yet but I still loved it 30 years later. Whipped through a stack of Jane Green novels, she's still the best beach/dock read and now have to head back to the library. Thanks for the suggestions.

tina said...

Good job on getting six knocked out at one time. I like the disclosures too.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I am writing these down! Thanks!
Have you read, What Is Left The Daughter, by Howard Norman?

Stacy said...

Those all sound great. Well, maybe not the last one. Property, in particular, sounds like a thought provoking read.

Funny. I loved all the titles that you hated. To each her own, I suppose.

Donna said...

Summer is great for relaxing and reading books. You've read some good ones. You have the ability to summarize quickly and clearly what a book is about. For some reason I have a hard time doing that. I either want to include too much information or not enough. Yours are a good example of how to do it, so thank you!

Sarah Laurence said...

Edith, thanks for the recommendation. I haven’t read Dunmore and shall have to check her out.

W2W, I love your new profile image. Give the Cabot book a miss unless you want to get into the head of teenaged girls. Midwives by Bohjalian is one of my favorite books, but I haven’t read that one. It was a lovely beach day today, thank you!

Cid, I haven’t heard of “The Slap.” I’m planning on rereading To Kill a Mockingbird with my daughter when she reads it for school this year. It’s one of my favorites. Good to hear you are reading.

Tina, if the FCC makes me write the disclosures, I may as well have a little fun with them.

Stacy, Property is a must read book. How funny that you liked those 2 troublesome titles. The Erdrich one is out of print and it’s fabulous so I’m guessing the title was to blame. I’m not big on red meat so the title turned me off. The YA book was too wordy – Dating on the Dark Side would have been better. Also Jessica is not the right name for a teenaged girl now – too 70/80s.

Donna, thanks for the feedback! My book review club posts are long, but my earlier book reviews tended towards brevity. I’m encouraged to do more of the shorter ones unless I’m interviewing the author. In general, I too find it easier to write more than less.

Rosaria Williams said...

Just finished The Elegance of the Hedgehog. It is so rich, it needs to be reread.

Amanda Summer said...

great reviews sarah, thanks for recommending these titles. there are still a few weeks left in summer to fit in some more reading!

i recently read and really enjoyed down the nile: alone in a fisherman's skiff, by rosemary mahoney. also liked her earlier nonfiction book about spending the summer as a teenager on martha's vineyard working for lillian hellman.

(by the way, i'd like to read your book as u like it. for some reason my barnes and noble wasn't able to order it - would i be able to purchase a copy from you directly?)

elizabeth said...

Fascinating reviews.
Just finished Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald a gem --such elegant and perceptive writing.
I really recommend the stunning and fascinating non-fiction book
Crossing Mandelbaum Gate by Kai Bird.

On a quite different note
for light summer reading
Denis Mackail's Greenery Street was a delight --about a happy marriage in the 1920's.

Virginia Nicolson's Singled Out , non fiction, is a beautifully written account of women in England post WW1.

So many books!
So little time.

Sarah Laurence said...

Lakeviewer, I started reading the Hedgehog in a bookstore but stopped because it was too dark and bitter. Perhaps I should have kept reading.

Amanda, I haven’t read anything by Rosemary Mahoney. Thanks for the recommendation. You started my day with a big smile, knowing you wanted to order “as u like it.” The reason you couldn’t find my novel at Barnes and Noble is because it’s not published yet. My agent is submitting the manuscript to publishers. Should it sell, I’ll announce the news on my blog. It’s nice to know that I’ll have readers, thank you!

Elizabeth, I’ve always meant to read Penelope Fitzgerald, but I haven’t heard of Kai Bird, Denis Mackail or Virginia Nicolson. Thanks for the recommendations.

Elenka said...

Thank you so much for your reviews. I appreciate it when you do them.

Bonnie Zieman, M.Ed. said...

Wonderful reviews Sarah. I am tempted by the first three - especially Promises to Keep. I do enjoy memoirs and autobiographies.

I am always reading several books at the same time. A few on my bedside table at the moment are:

The Journal of Helene Berr

The Dance of the Dissident Daughter (Kidd)

The Mindful Therapist (Siegel)

Being True to Life - Poetic Paths to Personal Growth (Richo)

The Journal Keeper (Theroux)

Thank you for sharing your summer reading. Will return to take notes on your readers suggestions too!

Sarah Laurence said...

Elenka, good to hear that you appreciate them.

Bonnie, Promises to Keep is fiction, but it draws from the author’s personal experience. Thanks so much for your list of recommendations.

Rose said...

Thanks for all the great reviews, Sarah. "The Master Butchers Singing Club" would have put me off with that title:)

I've been reading a lot this summer, too, but mostly it's been my standard fare of mysteries. I'm probably the only woman in the US who hasn't read "Eat, Pray, Love," but with the movie coming out tomorrow, I might just have to give in and read it.

TBM said...

Oh, I feel like I hit the jackpot here, Sarah! Thanks for this list. And I loved your disclosures, especially: daughter bought the first novel with her book allowance. Grandparents bought her the next 2 books on her request. It made me smile!

cynthia newberry martin said...

Summer reading! What fun. I haven't read any of these but have a stack of Valerie Martin's books, including Property, that were a gift from the publisher. Best novel I've read recently would have to be The Maytrees by Annie Dillard. Also wonderful and hot off the presses is My Name is Mary Sutter, by Robin Oliveira, about a midwife who wants to become a doctor at the time of the Civil War.

troutbirder said...

Nice selection. I think I'd be especially interested in "Property". The whole premise sounds intriguing. I'm embarrased to say I've read few books and no really good ones this summer. It must be the heat and humidity.

Booksnyc said...

I read Promises to Keep earlier this summer and LOVED it! Jane Green's books are generally hits for me.

Edinburgh seems to cover quite a heavy topic and is not what I expected it to be about based on its title.

One Day is on my TBR list - the premise if very interesting!

Thanks for a great post and recommendations!

Alyson | New England Living said...

I love summer reading! Thanks for including so many. I love variety and I love having books to recommend to my 13 year old daughter.

☆sapphire said...


Thanks for the 6 interesting reviews, Sarah! "Property" sounds very interesting. I'll order a copy of it at Amazon. As I was reading "Light in August"(it is set in MS, though) again in a Shinkansen train, what you call "fresh perspective" intrigues me a lot! Is "Property" atmospheric as well?
I've also read your review of "Touch Blue". The setting of the novel is tempting!

Sarah Laurence said...

Rose, the Butcher book sat for months on my shelf before I read it, and then I couldn’t put it down. I haven’t read Eat, Pray, Love either. Sometimes I find myself avoiding books that are that popular, but it looks amusing.

JAPRA, grandparents know how to please granddaughters. My parents looked after our daughter while we were in Quebec City.

Cynthia, you are so lucky; I love Valerie Martin. You would adore her short story collection, The Unfinished Novel. I also reviewed The Confessions of Edward Day. I recall your fabulous review of Maytrees and the Mary Sutter book sounds interesting.

Troutbirder, you would appreciate the historical details in Property. I’ve heard the heat has been tough out where you are. Even Maine has been hotter than normal but we never hit 100. It’s now back to the 70s during the day and 50s at night.

Booksnyc, I could have guessed that you’d love Jane Green. Thanks for adding your endorsement. Yes, Edinburgh is heavy but beautifully written. I’m reading it concurrently with the lighter One Day, my beach book. You will enjoy One Day although I’m not all of it will make sense to Americans.

Alyson, now that I’m writing YA fiction, I have the perfect excuse to read along with my daughter. She’s what got me started.

Sapphire, I’d love to hear your reaction to Property. It is very atmospheric and captures the heat of the south. I haven’t read Light in August although I read Faulkner’s stories and poetry in school. You are very well read in American literature.

Beth Kephart said...

you have convinced me: It is time time time to read Disreputable History.

Sarah Laurence said...

Beth, I think you'll appreciate The Disreputable History as much as I did once you get past the first chapter.

Barrie said...

Love these quickie reviews! I just finished Juliet Naked by Nick Hornby and LOVED it. Oh, and your disclosures are the best!!

Sarah Laurence said...

Barrie, thanks for reminding me to read Juliet Naked. My husband loved that novel too. I was short and a little silly this week – must be all the time in the sun.

cynthia newberry martin said...

Both of those Valerie Martin books-- The Unfinished Novel and The Confessions of Edward Day--are in my stack--yay!