Tuesday, May 31, 2011

What I read in May

I read some wonderful books in May! I finished five four-star books (I rarely give five stars) and only one dud:

Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese (4 out of 5 stars)

It always amazes me when someone whose primary profession is not writing manages to write a highly ambitious, sweeping saga of a novel like Cutting for Stone.

Cutting for Stone is about twin boys, Marion and Shiva, who are born to an Indian nun and a British surgeon. After their mother dies and their father runs off in grief, they are raised by two other doctors (Ghosh and Hema) at "Missing Hospital" in Addis Adaba, Ethiopia. Extremely different from one another but bound together from birth through blood and an invisible line between their heads, the brothers experience loss, betrayal, and distance. Read my full review.

Words in the Dust, by Trent Reedy (4 out of 5 stars)

I was born with a cleft lip and palate, but I've never read a book about a person affected in the same way, so of course I knew I must read Words in the Dust. It's a middle grade novel, so written in a much simpler fashion than Cutting for Stone.

Zulaikah is a young Afghani girl who is taunted mercilessly by the neighborhood bullies because of her split lip and crooked teeth. (I, too, had horribly crooked teeth.) Her mother died during a Taliban raid, and her stepmother seems to dislike her. Her only consolation in life is her beloved sister, Zeynab. As frequent blog readers will know, I have a soft spot for books with positive sister relationships because of my own close relationship with my sister. When Zulaikah's sister is married off to a much-older man, her world seems to lose its meaning. But then the American military arranges for her cleft lip to be repaired, and the world seems brighter...but not for long. It's Afghanistan, and life is full of tragedies. Read my full review.

The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie, by Wendy McClure (4 out of 5 stars)

You know how I am drawn to books with one-year experiments. I'm not sure if this book fits into this category, because it's unclear how long Wendy McClure immersed herself in the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Like McClure, I loved the Little House on the Prairie series as a young girl, so as soon as I got wind of this book I knew I had to read it. When I was 16 on a cross-country trip with my family, I remember my thrill when we stopped in at one of the Little House locations (I can't remember which one now).

Over the months, McClure rereads all of the books, in addition to anything else she could get her hands on related to the Ingalls/Wilder family; watches the TV series (which she hadn't watched as a child) and Disney's 2005 version; visits as many Laura World landmarks as she possibly can (and there are quite a few); learns how to churn butter, make a haystick, and tackle a number of other homesteading tasks; cooks recipes from the Little House cookbook; attends two Little House on the Prairie pageants; sleeps in a covered wagon; buys multiple bonnets; and sees Melissa Gilbert appear as Ma in "Little House on the Prairie: The Musical." Her loyal, good-natured boyfriend, Chris, jumps into the adventure with her. Read my full review (which includes lots of photos of the Ingalls and Wilder families!)
Pomegranate Soup, by Marsha Mehran (4 out of 5 stars)
Although Pomegranate Soup reminds readers of Like Water for Chocolate or Chocolat, no chocolate delicacies are mentioned within its pages. Instead, the spicy and savory aromas, flavors, and spirit of Persian cuisine fill the streets of a little Irish village, hypnotizing its residents and changing their lives forever.

Marjam, Bahar, and Layla have escaped from Iran with their lives, and after a stint living in London, they moved north to Ireland. It is the 1980s, and the village residents have rarely seen anyone who is not European. They open the "Babylon Cafe," and before long, the villagers become to appreciate the wonders of Persian cooking. It made me want to eat Persian food!! Read my full review.

The Rehearsal, by Eleanor Catton (1 out of 5 stars)

The one dud of the month. Although this book received some rave reviews on amazon and Goodreads, it was far too postmodern and strange for me. I didn't get past page 30. Gave up. Read more here.

Backseat Saints, by Joshilyn Jackson (4 out of 5 stars)
Rose Mae Lolly, born in the depths of Alabama, was raised by her abusive alcoholic dad after her mom ran off when she was 8. She experiences men's love through emotional manipulation and shocking physical abuse. After she escapes her hometown, she migrates west and meets another abusive man to marry (Thom Grandee).

Settled in Amarillo, Texas, she's trapped by her husband's domineering family and her helplessness, in addition to the only kind of love she's ever known. All that changes when she meets a fortune teller in the airport. According to her tarot cards, either Thom Grandee has to die, or she will.

So begins her journey--shall she kill her husband before he kills her? She ends up on the run, trying to make a new life for herself and following the clues her mother has left for her and listening to her backseat saints. She spends a lot of time thinking about her high school romance, and in her rose-colored memory, he was the only man who's ever treated her well. Read my full review.

I also posted about Liebrary, a board game for readers and book lovers (which I have yet to play!); shared a link to a Trent Reedy (author of Words in the Dust) appearance on the Today Show; and highlighted a few of the New York Times' top book choices for summer reading.
Now I'm immersed in Jodi Picoult's House Rules (June's book club choice) and enjoying it immensely! Stay tuned for my review in a few days.

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