Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Mini-reviews of recent books

Helen of Helen's Book Blog asked which of the books I mentioned in last week's Adult Summer Reading Program post were my favorites (from the list of thirteen, that is).  Here are the six I chose and why:

All three of the nonfiction books:

I Am Nujood: Age 10 and Divorced ~ by Nujood Ali, 2010
Yes, this one is unfortunately a true story, written by a brave little girl (with the help of Delphine Minoui).  Nujood had the courage to show up in a court of law to find out how she could divorce the man her father had -- I'm looking for a good word here, since she was too young to understand marriage -- let's say her father sold her to the old man, who promised to wait, but didn't.  She got out of the terrible situation, as you can see by the title.  In the Epilogue, Delphine Minoui wrote:  "On November 10, 2008, in New York City, the youngest divorcee in the world has just been named a Woman of the Year by Glamour.  With all the gravitas of her ten years, she shares this unexpected honor with the film star Nicole Kidman, the American secretary of state Condoleeza Rice, and Senator Hillary Clinton, among others" (p. 169).  Rated:  8 of 10.
Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change ~ by Elizabeth Kolbert, 2006
"I talked to an Inuit hunter named John Keogak, who lives on Bank Island, in Canada's Northwest Territories, some five hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle.  He told me that he and his fellow hunters had started to notice that the climate was changing in the mid-eighties.  Then, a few years ago, for the first time, people began to see robins, a bird for which the Inuit in his region have no word" (p. 64).

In Iceland:  "A raw wind came up, and I started to head down.  Then I thought about what Sigurdsson had told me.  If I returned in another decade, the glacier would probably no longer be visible from the ridge where I was standing.  So I climbed back up to take another look" (p. 66).  Rated:  9 of 10.

The Gnostic Gospels ~ by Elaine Pagels, 1979
I read this one in 1979 or 1980, shortly after it was published.  And I've already reviewed it.  Rated: 10 of 10, even on this re-read.
The fiction I think I'll remember:

Summer's End ~ by Audrey Couloumbis, 2005
The one YA book on this list is the best book I've ever read about the draft during the Vietnam War and how the young men (boys, really, unable to vote) felt about fleeing to Canada or dying without being able to vote on the issue.  My library's summary:  "Three teenaged cousins worry about their uncle who is missing in Vietnam, their brothers -- the one who was drafted and the two who are dodging the draft, and the effects of their absence on the four generations gathered at the family farm in the summer of 1965."  Rated:  8 of 10.
Look Again ~ by Lisa Scottoline, 2009
The beginning of chapter one:  "Ellen Gleeson was unlocking her front door when something in the mail caught her attention. It was a white card with photos of missing children, and one of the little boys looked oddly like her son."  How would that make you feel, especially if your child was adopted?  My favorite quote from the book, which I read straight through, like a thriller, turns the question around as the character considers the woman her father had married:

"She had come to love Barbara, who wisely hadn't tried to replace her mother, because no one could.  But somewhere along the line, she had opened her mind to the possibility that if you could love a child no matter how he came to you, then you could also love a mother, no matter how she came to you" (p. 371).

From an author interview:  "...the novel really raises the question:  Who does this child ultimately belong to?  Is it either parent?  Or is it actually, in the end, the child himself?"  Rated: 9 of 10.
Every Last One ~ by Anna Quindlen, 2010
Every Last One is already slipping from memory, unlike Quindlen's One True Thing, which I think is excellent.  The one long quote I copied from this book is also a spoiler, so I can't share the whole thing.  But (as a teaser) I'll give you the last sentence of that quote:  "Every last one," says a different voice (p. 155).  And that's where the title comes from.  Rated:  8 of 10.

And now for the rest of 'em:

The Cougar Club ~ by Susan McBride, 2010
The Cougar Club is pure fluff, and I only finished it because I won it during Dewey's Read-a-Thon, paired with another book (which was worth winning). I even debated whether I wanted to include it on my list of Summer Reading that the librarians would see!  Not my kind of book.  Do you know what a "cougar" is?  I didn't know it's a woman who dates (or more exactly, sleeps with) a much younger man.  No review because it would be such a pitiful report.  Rated:  "nah."
The Smoke Jumper ~ by Nicholas Evans, 2001
I mostly enjoyed The Smoke Jumper while reading it, but it's forgettable.  An average kind of story, maybe a beach read.  It's for folks who like action, as in jumping out of planes into the middle of a forest fire.  I can't really get excited enough to tell you more than that.  Rated:  "nah."
Shanghai Girls ~ by Lisa See, 2009
Shanghai Girls is pretty good, but I liked Lisa See's Snow Flower and the Secret Fan more. I took notes because I read this book with both my face-to-face book club and with my online Book Buddies (click that link for more), but not a lot of notes. I learned about Angel Island, the West coast equivalent of Ellis Island in New York. Rated: 7 of 10.
The Road Taken ~ by Rona Jaffe, 2000
I really liked The Road Taken while reading it, but I'd be hard pressed (already) to tell you much about the book.  In the very last sentence, Rose thinks:  "She wanted to tell them about her rich and vivid and vanished world before it was too late, before she was gone, before it was all forgotten" (p. 388).  Oops!  I've already forgotten nearly everything I read about Rose's world, which pretty much covered the whole twentieth century.  The best of the quotes I wrote out comes from when Rose was ten years old:  "God killed her.  In order to 'take' her he had to kill her.  I'm not so stupid as not to know that.  Of course she could never tell anyone how she felt; you were supposed to love God, even when he killed your mother" (p. 4).  Rated:  7 of 10.

Two Rivers ~ by T. Greenwood, 2009
Same with Two Rivers, which I thought was great as I was reading it, but now I have forgotten details.  A train derails into a river; a girl named Marguerite shows up, presumably from the train wreck.  She's taken in by the main character, who works for the railroad.  The book is easy to read, and I finished thinking the "two rivers" were a metaphor for two strands in the book.  I wrote a teaser about Shelly's essay on Lincoln.  Here she is again:  "Shelly set her utensils down, pressed her palms together, and closed her eyes.  'Father, bless the food we take, and bless us all for Jesus' sake. Amen.' ... Marguerite leaned over to her and said, 'At my house we say, 'For bacon, eggs and buttered toast, praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost'" (p. 56).  Rated:  7 of 10.
The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ ~ by Philip Pullman, 2010
This one has a premise that is unforgettable -- that Jesus had a twin, nicknamed Christ, who wrote down the things Jesus said. But the story wasn't all that good.  I'll share a quote, where Jesus is praying:
"'Lord, if I thought you were listening, I'd pray for this above all:  that any church set up in your name should remain poor, and powerless, and modest.  That it should wield no authority except that of love.  That it should never cast anyone out.  That it should own no property and make no laws.  That it should not condemn, but only forgive" (p. 199).
Interesting idea, but boring presentation.  Rated:  "nah."
Daughter of God ~ by Lewis Perdue, 2000
Oops!  Daughter of God was so forgettable that it didn't even make the list (in my response to Helen's question).  Thrillers do that to me.  They are interesting while I'm reading, but don't really make me think.  From the dustjacket:  "The Vatican has lost its most closely held secret -- a secret whose exposure could shatter the very foundations of Western religion..."  Blah-blah-blah.  The secret is "proof of a female Messiah named Sophia."  It sounds like something I'd remember, huh?  But this is no challenge to the Da Vinci Code.  Rated:  "nah."
When I realized this "report" to Helen was like a bunch of mini-reviews, I decided to post them that way, as mini-reviews.  Hope you like this way of covering a baker's dozen I've read recently.


Helen's Book Blog said...

Once August 1 rolls around I'd love you to post your review of I am Najood on my Middle East Reading Challenge reviews page (please?)

Bonnie Jacobs said...

Helen, I'll be happy to post it there, maybe even expanding it a bit to include the fact that my youngest grandchild is now a 10-year-old girl-child. CHILD, not woman, and certainly not at all ready to be married off, even if some old man promises to wait until she's old enough. Nujood's "husband" barely waited until that same evening.

Bonnie Jacobs said...

I forgot to mention that Look Again was the best book I ever bought for 7-cents. Read all about it here (look for the book's cover about halfway down the post) at