Friday, July 22, 2011

Operation Bonnet: Dabbling into the Amish

Operation Bonnet: A NovelOperation Bonnet, by Kimberly Stuart
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I picked this book up at the library, and it didn't have very many reviews on goodreads or amazon, but the Amish storyline made me think it was worth the risk.

Nellie Monroe is a bit of an odd duck--she is naive but bright and spunky and doesn't fit in very well in her small Ohio town. Her parents are inattentive and wealthy, and the two people most important to her are her step-grandmother Nona and her best friend, Matt. She also desperately wants to be a private investigator.

So when a former Amish man, Amos, asks her to find out whether his long-lost love, Katie, is going to marry another man, Nellie jumps at the chance to go undercover. She sneaks her way into an Amish family's good graces through a bit of falsehood, and finds a way to bring the star-crossed lovers together.

In the meantime, Nona's fading and Nellie doesn't want to admit it, and Matt views Nellie as more than a friend, but she's too dense to see it.

I liked Stuart's funny writing style, although some of the characters were caricatures or not fully developed (such as her school nemesis, Misty--what was the purpose of her?). We also do not really get to know Matt very well. Kimberly Stuart is actually a "Christian" author, as I discovered toward the end when she threw God in several times. Even though I'm a Christian, I steer clear from so-called "Christian" books, music, and the like. It wasn't too extreme, but it definitely kept the book from being a secular selection. At other times I felt like it was a little preachy, such as when Matt kept telling Nellie that "guys need a break." It felt like a way of suggesting that Nellie's strong, independent personality might be keeping guys away and that women should be more acquiesent to men.

But all in all, I enjoyed this book but probably will not read any more of this author's novels. If you are interested in the Amish or in different cultures, you might like it. 

Friday, July 15, 2011

Letters to My Daughter: Bite-size wisdom from Maya Angelou

Letter to My DaughterLetters to My Daughter, by Maya Angelou
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Maya Angelou is a poetic prophet, and this book contains nuggets of her wisdom. At first I was concerned that I wouldn't be able to relate, since I do not have any daughters myself. However, Angelou has one son and no daughters. Her daughter is metaphorical.

I enjoyed reading about some of her experiences and reflections (she is very opinionated!), but the one thing that bugged me was the glaring run-on sentences. Surely this book was edited? Perhaps it was meant to be stream of consciousness, but I found it to be distracting.

It did really feel like Angelou had taken her dear daughter out for dinner and was sharing her sage thoughts about life.

Take It Like a Mom: I have better uses for my time

Take it Like a MomTake It Like a Mom, by Stephanie Stiles
My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

After reading The Midwife's Confession all the way to the end so recently (and feeling disappointed), I decided to give up on Take It Like a Mom on page 59.

I was surprised to learn that Stephanie Stiles is a professor, because this book was very disappointing. It rings "chick lit" loud and clear. Former lawyer turned stay-at-home mom who is completely klutzy and clueless, but with a heart of gold. She gets into drama with her fellow stay-at-home moms, all of whom seem to be fighting a lack of fulfillment because of their life choices but channel their pent-up energy into their children.

She was shallow and the plot was just as shallow. By the time I reached the first day of the (cooperative) preschool (to which she did not have to register in advance--in whose world???), and she heaps scorn on the kid who is wearing a velvet cape on the playground and whose mom does not shave her legs...I was done. My kid could very well be the one wearing the cape on the playground.

My time is better spent on a good book.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Midwife's Confession: I can't believe I read the whole thing

The Midwife's ConfessionThe Midwife's Confession, by Diane Chamberlain
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Every once in awhile I start reading a book, and I think "meh...this is not really hooking me," but I continue carrying on. In this case, I had found this book on the library shelves and thought it sounded interesting enough. I always look books up on Goodreads if I find them that way, and this book's reviews were overwhelmingly positive. However, both Goodreads and Amazon had only 30 reviews or so, and for all I know, they could have all been written by the author's friends!

I didn't notice until I was almost finished that a Harlequin publishing house, Mira, published this book.  I have never read a Harlequin book--and even though this is not your typical Harlequin romance--the writing rang similar. Formulaic and lifeless. The author had written many other books and I'd never heard of any of them--both of those should have been dead giveaways.

The Midwife's Confession is not particularly well written. Chamberlain uses the passive voice constantly, and I found her characters to be shallow and one dimensional. I found the plot appealing (before I started reading): two friends try to discover why their other dear friend commits suicide...but it fell flat. Not only were the plot elements predictable, but they were highly unbelievable as well.

The characters annoyed me, and Noelle (the woman who kills herself) came across as difficult to fathom, even though Chamberlain has several chapters written in her perspective.

Speaking of perspective, that jumps around from chapter to chapter, from character to character and first person to third person. Why did Grace hate her mother with such passion? Is that typical of teenage girls?
Then it was all wrapped up way too nicely in the end.

I should have quit this book when I saw where it was headed. I do not recommend this--it was a waste of my time. Kind of like eating potato chips while watching a bad made-for-TV movie and pondering why you did that.

Now onto Maya Angelou--at least I know the writing will be lyrical and lovely!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

House made for books

Check out this house in Japan with walls of bookshelves. So cool! I've always wanted walls of bookshelves...but of course, I try to circulate my books nowadays and I use the library a lot.

This is more my style though...

Or this:

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Untied: A Memoir of Family, Fame, and Floundering

Untied: A Memoir of Family, Fame, and FlounderingUntied: A Memoir of Family, Fame, and Floundering, by Meredith Baxter
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

First of all, very clever name. Meredith Baxter, star of TV movies and the classic family sitcom, "Family Ties," writes about her lack of mothering, three troubled marriages, parenting, drug use and alcoholism, bout with breast cancer, and eventually, her coming out as a lesbian.

"Family Ties" last three years were when I lived in Japan. I remember my parents or friends taping a bunch of the American TV shows I liked and sending me videotapes--they were priceless. "Family Ties" was one of the shows I relished on those videotapes.

I've always enjoyed Baxter's acting, and I was surprised along with many others when she quietly announced that she was in relationship with a woman...although I suppose the fact that her three marriages were unsuccesful could have been a clue.

Baxter never went to college so when she was with her second husband, David Baxter, who constantly verbally and emotionally abused her (and sometimes physically assaulted her, too), she always felt "less than." It took a lot of courage for her to finally declare that she'd had enough. I think that verbal and emotional abuse is even harder for women to walk away from sometimes than physical abuse. In her case, she had five children to consider as well.

Those expecting a full book of stories about "Family Ties" will be disappointed, as she covers that period in just a chapter or so. She fondly mentions Michael Gross (who played the dad), who became one of her closest friends and one of the first people she told about the abuse. I first heard about this book when I happened on an Oprah clip with Baxter, and Michael Gross appeared as a surprise guest. It was clear that they have great love and affection for one another.

She doesn't go into great detail about most of her costars (in fact she doesn't even mention Justine Bateman, causing me to wonder), so readers who are expecting a celebrity gossip rag will be disappointed.

It's not high literature, but it was an interesting read, with ultimately, a happy ending.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Gilded Chamber: another female biblical story, reimagined

The Gilded Chamber: A Novel of Queen EstherThe Gilded Chamber: A Novel about Queen Esther, by Rebecca Kohn

3 out of 5 stars

I wouldn't have picked this up so soon after rereading The Red Tent, but my 8-year-old son was in a play about Queen Esther this week and I had a business trip, so Queen Esther it was.

Kohn's writing was not nearly as strong as Anita Diamant's, but I did have some similar issues about perspective. The novel was told in the first person, but Esther seemed to be omnipresent. It was interesting and disturbing to read about harem life and the subjugated roles that women led in this era.

One thing I had a hard time swallowing was Esther's undying devotion to Mordechai, and after she realized that King Xerxes was a weak tyrant, she still had the hots for him. Being a woman who has never been attracted to bad boys, I found this to be implausible.

The women (in particular, Esther) were much more vividly described than the men, many of whom were one dimensional. This might reflect the severe division between men and women, and the lack of personal connection they had. (Everyone in the kingdom was forbidden to approach the king without being called, including his wife.)

Some of the descriptions of Esther's clothing got to be a bit tiresome, and the writing seemed melodramatic at times. However, I found it to be another interesting story about another woman in the bible (and a Jewish hero).