Sunday, June 1, 2014

spring reading list

I can't believe it's already June 1st. Only six books this spring quarter. Definitely my second shortest list. Too damn busy. No time to read. Too much mindless solitaire when I get time.

The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan - Amy Tan is on my favorite author list. That said, it took me a while to get into this one, her first in awhile. But that pretty much describes all my reading these days. We meet Violet in 1905 when she is seven, the daughter of her American, not Chinese, mother and madam and co-owner of a first class courtesan house in Shanghai. Violet is actually half Chinese, the result of an affair with a mediocre Chinese painter who was the reason her mother found herself in China as a pregnant 17 year old girl. But we don't get the mother's backstory until late in the book. The story is essentially about Violet who due to a series of events gets sold as a virgin courtesan to another first class house when she is 14 after she is separated from her mother through trickery and social upheaval. There she finds a former courtesan from her mother's house and they form a strong relationship as she becomes Violet's mentor and assistant. The story follows Violet, and Magic Gourd, as they navigate their way through courtesan life and relationships and loss and their desires for a secure future. It's a good story and at one point I had to page forward to make sure she got out of a bad situation.

Divergent by Veronica Roth - a young adult post-apocalyptic world novel, first of three. My grandkids are reading them. I have to wait til all three girls and their mother get through with the other two before I get my turn. In Divergent, society has been divided up into 5 factions and once a year all 16 year olds must choose which faction they want to join for the rest of their lives. To help them with this choice, they are tested to see what their natural affinities and tendencies suggest but they aren't bound by the result. Everyone is free to choose to stay in their birth faction or move to one of their choice. However, there is a large group of unaffiliated and if you fail the initiation or become expelled for some reason, this is where you go. It is the serf class, the working poor and homeless. In a faction, your needs are taken care of and in return, you perform some work to the benefit of the faction. So, Beatrice is 16 and her test is inconclusive, what they call 'divergent'. It is covered up by the test administer and she is told to tell no one. Being divergent is not encouraged. Beatrice, now Tris, has chosen Dauntless, instead of her birth faction. Dauntless is the faction responsible for protection and security and whose initiation is like boot camp and they kill divergents when they find them because, well, that's part of the story. This first book is about the training and the initiation of the new Dauntless wannabes and the cutthroat competition since only 10 of the 20 will accepted. Tris makes friends and enemies and becomes an unwilling participant in an illegal uprising against the political faction.

Switch by William Bayer - a retired NYC detective blows his brains out and at the funeral his protege, another NYC detective is given a case by the chief of detectives who also attended...two young women both killed on the same night, their heads cut off and switched. Janek assembles his team and they set about to solve the murders. At the same time, the widow asks him to look into what his old partner had been investigating when he committed suicide and that and his involvement with a woman he questioned from the funeral leads him to solve another case, this one involving the chief of detectives. It was a quick OK read.

Spider Woman's Daughter by Anne Hillerman - this a first novel by Tony Hillerman's daughter who picks up and carries on with the characters from her father's novels about crime on the Navaho Reservation. I was a little amused at the different portrayals of Jim Chee, (Anne's and Tony's) who in Anne's novel is very demonstrative of his love for Bernie, Navaho Officer Bernadette Manuelito, his wife, who is the main character in this story, it is she who perseveres until she solves the crime. I don't recall Bernie being the protagonist in any of her father's books. But, all in all, she told a good story even if it did rely heavily on the background of her father's novels. I'll read another when she writes it.

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman - a very unusual story about two people whose lives intersect and the love that saves them both in the end although the story ends soon after they come together. The author has written this story from three perspectives, Coralie's, Eddie's, and the narrator's. We get the story of Coralie's life from her though it is scattered through the book as is Eddie's that he tells. In between, the story of how these two people are brought together progresses and it is framed between the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in NY and the Dreamland Fire on Coney Island, both real events though the story is fiction. Coralie tells us of her life in her father's house and Museum of Extraordinary Things on the pier across from where the Dreamland is being renovated. He is a stern hard man with many rules and rules his house and the Living Wonders, as he calls his acts. The housekeeper Maureen is the only mother she has ever known. As the fortunes of the Museum start to wane with the introduction of new and better entertainments, Coralie discovers that the regimen of her upbringing was not for her health after all, but for a far different purpose. Eddie, who escaped from Poland with his father after the Cossacks burned their village and his mother along with it, goes to work in a clothing factory with his father once they reach NY. After many are fired for agitating for better working conditions, Eddie sees his father jump off the bridge into river, trying to commit suicide, or so he thinks. His father is rescued but Eddie turns his back on his father and his Orthodox community and eventually runs away. He works for the local go to guy for problems, usually abandoned women looking for their husbands or fiancées, and he develops a knack for finding people and it is this knack that eventually puts him on the path that leads to Coralie when a father whose daughter is missing after the Shirtwaist Factory Fire comes to him for help. This is a great read and I recommend it.

The Silver Star by Jeanette walls - In 1970, 12 year old Bean and her 15 year old sister, Liz, daughters of an aspiring musician and wannabe hippie living off her inheritance, often find themselves alone for days at a time while their mother goes off to one audition or another. When things don't pan out wherever they are, their single mother Charlotte pulls up stakes and finds a new place to try. One afternoon, Bean blurts out a sudden realization, a truth unspoken, and their mother goes off to find herself leaving her girls enough money to get by on for a few months til she returned. Eventually a shopkeeper gets suspicious and calls the police to investigate. Coming home from school, Bean sees the cops at the door before they see her and she knows that if caught they will be put in protective custody and likely split up. She intercepts her sister and they are forced to use their plan in case something happened. Before they leave, they grab the luggage and money and leave a cryptic note for their mother and set off on a cross country bus trip from California to North Carolina to spend the summer with their Uncle Tinsley whom they have not seen or had any contact with for 12 years when their mother left the family home. In fact Bean knows nothing about her family nor does Liz beyond a few early memories. I like Jeanette Walls. She tells a good story and did not disappoint this time.


  1. Thank you! And if you haven't read Life After Life, please do.

  2. Ms. Moon, I have read it and enjoyed it very much. I think it was in the winter or fall list.

  3. Good post. I have a hard time reading anything. I just get so sleepy. I might get that Hillerman book. I love anything Tony Hillerman. Lately, I've just gotten something on tape and just listen, and normally a mystery.

  4. They sound good although I've a hard time reading lately for some reason. Happy reading!

  5. I must admit I did not like reading this post...not because it was not well written and interesting. It was perfect. I just am so far behind on my Kindle already!!!

  6. I loved the Silver Star. I couldn't believe the one girl is called "Bean", which is what my best friend calls me.

    Hoffman used to be an automatic read for me, but in latter years she is all over the place, and sometimes I like her and sometimes don't. I liked her better before she became a Serious Novelist. But it sounds like this one is good.

  7. I haven't read any of this, but I've been looking at Divergent for a while. Maybe I'll pick it up...

  8. Havn't read any, a few sound real fun

  9. I read and enjoyed Divergent. I also read the second one.

    My kid was two weeks overdue, and I played computer solitaire the entire time.

  10. Hi Ellen,
    Just popping over from Steve's blog where I see you posting nearly every day. Just thought I would come and see you.

    I love Jeanette Walls. I read the Silver Star too, but I think Half Broke Horses was my favorite. The Glass Castle was excellent as well.

    Happy reading!

  11. Well, there you are. Plenty to be going on with. Some of them sound like they might interest me too.

  12. I haven't read any of these, Ellen. I have some catching up to do. Divergent has been on my list for awhile now, so maybe I'll start with that.


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