Book Review: On Agate Hill by Lee Smith

If you are looking for an epic story to read this is it. On Agate Hill is a drama that spans much of the life of the Molly, the main character. The Civil War changes the circumstances of her life, as does losing family members, going to boarding school, and marrying for love.

Molly is a very independent, circumspect girl. She grows quite wild, raising herself on the once grand estate of Agate Hill. Her life has been full of loss. Her father died in the war, and her mother and siblings soon after. She lives how she pleases until death takes her uncle and she is forced into going to a private boarding school. At the conclusion of her years at school, she takes up residence in close-knit community in the Appalachian mountains as a school teacher. While there she falls in love and marries, something she swore she'd never do. She has several happy years before things all of the sudden come crashing down on her. And then, coming full circle she goes back "home" to Agate Hill.

I can't say that this was my favorite book. It was a nice story, but that was all that it was. It lacked real literary substance. In a lot of ways it reminded me of a Belva Plain novel, following one character through the triumphs and tragedies of life.

My Rating

Overall: 3 stars

Objectionable Content: Again, this book is kind of like a Belva Plain novel, there is some sexual content.

Book Review: Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris

I just finished reading this book about five minutes ago. So while it is fresh in my mind, I will be able to remember all of the details, but I have not given myself time to really ruminate on it much. I do think that it will be a book that will stay with me for a while though.

Five Quarters of the Orange is written by Joanne Harris, who you may recognize by her other popular book, Chocolat. The book is told by an old French woman who returns to the village of her childhood. She has inherited her mother's old scrapbook that is full of recipes, memories, and secrets. As Framboise rebuilds the old farmhouse and starts a little restaurant, she recounts her past. She lived in the farmhouse during the German occupation of WWII. She was nine at the time, but remembers quite clearly the events that led up to her family having to leave the village in disgrace.

I was easily pulled into this story. The characters were well thought out and the storytelling was marvelous. I loved all of the mention of food, even though I'm not familiar with French cuisine. Beware when reading this book. It merrily floats along, keeping you interested the whole time, but it does turn a bit dark. It is a book about family struggles during war, so some of it is not pretty.

My Rating

Overall: 4.5 stars

Objectionable Content: Adult themes, and a fair amount of swearing.

Book Review: Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas

Anyone else a Sandra Dallas fan? I've loved her books since I first read The Persian Pickle Club about 10 years ago. I can't say that I loved Buster Midnight's Cafe, and I haven't read her newest one yet (Prayers for Sale), but I thought that Tallgrass was one of her better novels.

The setting for Tallgrass is very important for the plot of this suspenseful tale. It is set in a small sugar beet farming community in Colorado in the early 1940's. The story opens with Rennie, a smart yet naive, thirteen year old girl at the train station as she is watching a large group of Japanese Americans who have just arrived. They are being hauled off to an internment camp (Tallgrass) that is just down the road from her home. Many of the townspeople are in an uproar over having to live so close to the "enemy." So, befriending some the Japanese Americans during this time of war is very unpopular and creates problems for Rennie and her family.

This book is based on what might have taken place in a small town that was so closely tied to an interment camp. It explores the feelings of the time. To keep the book from being boring, the author injected a little murder mystery into the thick of things. I think this was an excellent addition, since it stirred things up a bit more. The townspeople definitely took sides, and from this a lot of conflict arose. It was a good look into the not too distant past.

My Rating

Overall: 4 stars

Objectionable Content: Adult themes. Really a pretty clean book.

Book Review: The World to Come by Dara Horn

I've got to tell you that I'm a sucker for novels that fictionalize the story of well known artists, writers, musicians, etc. I loved The Girl with the Pearl Earring and The Girl in Hyacinth Blue. So, I was drawn to this book, since it revolves around one of the paintings of Marc Chagall.

The World to Come opens with the main character stealing a Marc Chagall painting from a museum. It continues with this story, but jumps to many other characters' stories and soon you understand that these peoples' lives are all intertwined. They all play an important role in how this painting came to be where it is. The history of this painting is all very interesting, as are the many Yiddish folktales that the author has sprinkled throughout the book. These give some depth to the book, but also are great asides in themselves.

I thought that the book was very imaginative and random. Some may think that it might be better if the author didn't go off on so many tangents, but I really liked this. I thought the last chapter was brilliant, and I would read it again just for the ending. I know it has been compared to The History of Love, but I didn't feel like there was much to compare. I loved both of these books for different reasons.

I think this might make a good read for a book group, if your group is a little bit artsy. It was really very clean and had many subjects that could be discussed (a big one being where we came from and where we go after this life).

My Rating

Overall: 4.5 stars. I loved the stories. I loved the author's imagination. I would give it 5 stars for sure if I had felt a little bit closer to the characters.

Objectionable Content: There were a handful of swear words throughout the book.

Book Review: The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker

Curiosity made me pick up this book. It's about a giant. Besides that, it has so many elements that I enjoy in a book. It has bits and pieces about herbs, magic, and quilts.

The story outlines the life of Truly, a girl who starts out big at birth, and continues to grow at an astronomical rate. She struggles to find herself amid all of the loss that seems to be her lot in life. Her life is not the one that she would have imagined for herself. She is stuck in a life that is humiliating, serving an undeserving relative. The tables do eventually turn for Truly, and she is finally free to live and make decisions for herself.

I felt that this book started out strong and lost a bit of it's momentum. The story is compelling, but too much of it is told in the preface. It is one of those books that does make you think about medical ethics. Is there really only black and white, or does the line sometimes blur and you just follow your heart? It would probably make a pretty good pick for a book club read.

My Rating

Overall: 4 stars. I would probably give it five stars if the story had not lagged.

Objectionable content: There is a part where a character has premarital sex, and there is also some details about a character who is homosexual.

Should I finish the book?

Lately, I can't bring myself to spend much time on a book that just isn't doing it for me. So, what do you do when you are half way through a book and decide that you are not enjoying it? I hate giving up on a book when it seems like it should be good, or will maybe take a turn for the better. I'm having this dilemma right now with this book:

Should I continue on? Has anyone read it? I know it's supposed to be good. I've read the other two books by this author, The Christmas Jar, and The Wednesday Letters. They were both nice stories. I just can't stand how the main character in this book is so apathetic to his whole situation.

Book Review: So B. It by Sarah Weeks

Sometimes I judge a book by it's cover. This time I was intrigued by the title. When I picked up this book and skimmed the first couple of lines I knew I'd have to read it.

So B. It is a young adult book that although short and simple, has a lot of meaning. It is essentially about twelve year old Heidi who decides that she must uncover the truth about herself. Her life is not the average life of a young girl. She lives with her mentally disabled mother and is being raised by her agoraphobic neighbor. Communication with her mother is limited at best (her mother only has a vocabulary of 23 words), so she doesn't know where she came from or who she is. She shows great courage and determination as she sets out on her quest to solve the mystery of her identity.

I definitely would recommend this book. I was hooked from the first couple of pages. The story was wonderful and the writing style was fun. If you are looking for a quick read that won't disappoint I'd give this one a try.

My Rating

Overall: 5 stars. I thought this book was well done.

Objectionable Content: There is a question of Heidi's parentage, so maybe a more mature theme, but nothing objectionable.