Review: Under Magnolia by Frances Mayes

Under MagnolaBack in 1997, Frances Mayes took readers to Tuscany in her bestselling book Under the Tuscan Sun, her writing really captured being in Italy and building a life for herself in a foreign country. With her latest book Under Magnolia, Mayes brings readers to where she was trying to escape from – the past of her Southern childhood. In this book Mayes confronts her past, taking readers inside her tumultuous childhood in a 1940s South, so think eccentric family members, tradition, big houses, hot summers and lots of food.

Mayes’ parents had a volatile relationship fueled by passion, hostility and alcohol. Her father became ill at a relatively young age, but lingered on through many of Mayes’ high school days. Once he died, her mother became more aimless, under the thumb of her father-in-law who cut her off from much of the money and spending she was used to. Mayes spent her childhood feeling different from her girly sisters, but soon seemed to blend her intelligence with a southern girlish flair. It is this young girl who tries to escape her family bonds off at college.

I wasn’t really certain what to expect and I have to say I greatly enjoyed this book. It had been so long since I read Under the Tuscan Sun, I really didn’t remember all that much about Mayes, but it didn’t matter. You don’t need to know who Mayes is to enjoy her story, which is told in vignettes. Aside from Mayes lovely writing, her stories were charming, sad, funny – a whole mix. There were some times that I got a little lost in the timeline, but once I fell back into the storytelling, I really didn’t care. I was just happy to have such a wonderful storyteller take me on her journey.

** I received this book (an uncorrected proof) from the publisher for review. **



January 2010 in Review

Happy February! I have no idea where January went, but here we are. Among other things this February, I am hoping for a shadow-free Groundhog Day that heralds in an early spring.

I am pretty happy with my reading for January. While I was hoping to read two books a week, I did about half the time. So that sets me up to try and make two a week more consistent in February. My challenges are going well, and I didn’t even sign-up for any new ones during the month.

That’s about it for me. Below is my overview of January.

How about you – how was your month?

A Look Back:

Books Read
1. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
2. Everything Sucks by Hannah Friedman (book sent from author)
3. Cleopatra’s Daughter by Michelle Moran (blog site win)
4. High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
5. Across the Endless River by Thad Carhart (book sent from publicist)
6. True Colors by Kristin Hannah

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Fallen (book sent from publisher)
Dead to the World
The Age of Innocence
Everything Sucks (book sent from author)

Harry Potter Reading Challenge
Challenge Time: August 1, 2009 – June 30, 2010
Books Completed: 4 (of 7)

Sookie Stackhouse Challenge
Challenge Time: July 1, 2009 – June 30, 2010
Books Completed: 4 (of 9)

J. Kaye’s 100+ Reading Challenge
Challenge Time: January 1 – December 31, 2010
Books Completed: 6 (of 100)

The 2010 TBR Challenge
Challenge Time: January 1 – December 31, 2010
Books Completed: 2 (of 12)

The South Asian Author Challenge
Challenge Time: January 1 – December 31, 2010
Books Completed: 0 (of 5)

Review: Dead to the World by Charlaine Harris

If you regularly read my little blog, or happen to have seen some of my recent posts you might know that I ended 2009 in supernatural style with three books from two different challenges I am in. I had an end goal in mind of reading 50 books.

For my last book of the year I picked up Charlaine Harris’ Dead to the World. I was of two minds about this book because I wasn’t a huge fan of Club Dead (here is the link to my thoughts) – but overall I have enjoyed the series, and the reading pace that Sookie and the rest of the characters usually provide seemed to make it a good choice when I had only Dec 30 and 31st to finish one more book.

I am so glad that I did. This book had the Sookie that I have come to know and enjoy. Then there was Eric, a character that I like when he projects his self-assured persona, who was now equally fun in his role as an amnesiac.

In this fourth book in the Sookie Stackhouse series, Bill is out of the country working on his research project and Sookie is resolving to ring in the New Year drama-free, which lasts for a few hours. As Sookie is driving home from work in the middle of the night she finds Eric wandering on the side of the road, frightened and stripped of his memory. A few days after Sookie brings Eric to her home to hide him from whoever has done this to him, Jason goes missing.

Because Eric has no memory of being Eric, he is like a totally new man that Sookie finds herself drawn even closer to. So there is this budding relationship for Sookie to work through, while she is also helping to find and defeat the person who has attacked Eric, and look for her brother.

In addition to the vampires (and shape-shifter Sam) that populate this series, this book brings back Alcide and his werewolf pack and introduces a new community of shifters and also witches. So there was a lot going on.

I read this book as part of the Sookie Stackhouse Challenge, and it was a fun way to end my 2009 reading year.

Dead to the World
Author: Charlaine Harris
ISBN: 978-0441012183
Published: May 2005 (paperback)
Publisher: Ace
Pages: 310

Review: The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Time Traveler's WifeSo, there’s this time traveler and he hops all about time, even back to pay visits to his wife throughout her childhood and teen years.

OK, this might be the most basic distillation of the story. In all honesty this book offers so much more but given that the narrative moves all over and around the story of Henry DeTamble and Clare Abshire I fear that I might reveal too much of their story since now that I have finished it, I have the linear timeline of the story in my mind.

There are many things that I enjoyed about this book – one being how the characters were developed. I found both Henry and Clare so believable. I was immediately struck by how “normal” Henry was (aside from the time traveling, which he struggled with the entire time). Throughout his story, he did things that I think we all wonder if we would do if given an extraordinary talent, you know, take advantage of our “gift” — like sharing future lottery numbers or making subtile suggestions for the future.

I confess that for what has been quite awhile I saw this book on store shelves and was never particularly moved to pick it up to even read the back, and I had not talked about this book with any of my friends. If I had done either, I would have read this book much sooner. But what brought me to the book was actually a movie trip to watch another novel turned movie. While watching the previews prior to “My Sister’s Keeper” I saw a trailer for the film adaptation of this novel and knew I had to read the book before the movie came out. I was not disappointed.

Even knowing from the beginning that they will wind up together, while I was reading I found I still want to know their story, see it build and root for them. Once I got into the book, I wanted it to go on, I wanted their story to keep going.

For those interested, the movie comes out in the U.S. on Friday, August 14.

The Time Traveler’s Wife
Author: Audrey Niffenegger
ISBN: 978-0156029438
Pages: 560
Publisher: Mariner Books

Review: The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

The 19th WifeWith this book, you really get what could be two separate books in one.

Jordan Scott, who as a teenage boy was removed from his polygamous family home on the compound (by way of being left on the highway), returns to Utah after his mother has been arrested for the murder of her husband, Jordan’s father. The return is highly emotional for Jordan since he has not seen his mother since he was thrown out. In this track of the story we are given a look into modern-day polygamy as Jordan plays junior detective to solve who really killed his father. While on this path, Jordan learns more about himself as he opens his life up to his mother’s lawyer, the lawyer’s assistant, a teen who was also thrown out of the compound and a manager at a local hotel.

The parallel track of this story is historical fiction based on Brigham Young’s 19th wife Ann Eliza. Ann Eliza’s story is told via her memoir as well as other pieces of “primary” documentation, including: records, newspaper clippings and sermons of Brigham Young. These pieces of the book offer a history of the beginning of the Mormon religion, the migration of Mormons to Utah and the growth of polygamy. Ann Eliza was the daughter of a polygamous family, eventually became Young’s 19th wife, but later while seeking a divorce embarked on a speaking tour to discuss what it was like to be a wife in a polygamous relationship.

I was extremely impressed with how author David Ebershoff presented Ann Eliza’s story. Following Ebershoff’s extensive research, he creates a wide variety of these “primary” documents told via various voices – all seeming authentic and to actually be an original text. Before this book, I had not heard of Ann Eliza so was not sure where or how Ebershoff pulled his material. As soon as I finished the book, I was reading the author’s conversation at the back of the book so I could better understand the origins of Ann Eliza and her story. I now also find myself wanting to read both of Ann Eliza’s actual memoirs Wife No. 19 (from 1875) and Life in Mormon Bondage (from 1908). 

If you would like more insight into Ebershoff and his work for this book, an interview with him recently posted on LibraryThing.

The 19th Wife
ISBN: 978-0812974157
Pages: 544
Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks