33. After This by Alice McDermott
This is a beautifully written book about an Irish Catholic family from Long Island in the 1940s-1970s. There really isn’t much in the way of a plot. It’s really mostly a character piece. McDermott’s descriptions are breathtaking at times though. If you’re a lover of language you should enjoy this book. I give it 7 out of 10.
32. Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel
I was horribly disappointed in this book. I absolutely loved Martel’s earlier book The Life of Pi. I know there was a lot of controversy over the ending of that book, but I thought it was brilliant. So I was much looking forward to Beatrice and Virgil. Now I’m sorry I spent any time reading it. The story revolves around Henry, an author, who befriends a taxidermist writing some kind of allegorical play about the Holocaust involving the main characters of a donkey named Beatrice and a howler monkey named Virgil. The taxidermist asks for Henry’s help with his play, which Henry seems to think is pretty bad because there is no character development or plot per se. I would have to agree, but unfortunately I was forced to read it in real time along with Henry. In my opinion there is really nothing to recommend this novel aside from the fact that it was short, which meant I didn’t have to suffer through it long. I give it a 1 out of 10.
31. Last Chance Saloon by Marian Keyes
I read this book for one of my book clubs. I never, ever would have read it otherwise because I pretty much detest chick lit, which this book is. This book in no way dissuaded me of my dislike for the genre, but I will say that Keyes writes well enough that I did find myself wanting to continue reading the book to find out what happened. The story revolves around a group of friends, who grew up in Ireland together and then moved to London together. Tara is a slightly overweight woman who is living with a sad speciman of a man for fear of being alone, Katherine is a woman who likes her life in order and is afraid to get involved in any real relationship with a man, and Fintan is their gay friend involved in a serious relationship with a wonderful man. All their worlds are turned upside down by Fintan’s diagnosis with Hodgkin’s disease. There is also another character who has whole chapters devoted to him named Lorcan, an actor who thinks he’s God’s gift to women. They seem to generally agree although based on how horribly he treats them I can’t figure out why. You don’t find out his connection to the other characters until the end of the novel, so I won’t reveal it here either. But generally like all other chick lit the women spend all their time obsessing over men and then doing ridiculous things to ruin their relationships. None of them appear to have any self-esteem or view any other accomplishment in their life worth anything other than landing a man. Makes me want to gag and makes me sad for the female gender. This is why I hate chick lit. If you like chick lit though I’m pretty sure this is a good example of such and that you would enjoy reading it. I personally however must give it a 4 out of 10.
30. The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore
I received a free copy of this book at the Maryland Library Association conference. I had never heard of it before, but pretty much as soon as I got back from the conference I started to see a lot of talk about this book at least locally since it’s set in Baltimore. The book is written by Wes Moore, a Hopkins grad who received a Rhodes scholarship and continued on to a successful life. After seeing a story of another man named Wes Moore, who is only a few years older than him and who grew up in similar circumstances but wound up being convicted of murdering a police officer, the author became intrigued with the idea of two men with similar backgrounds winding up in completely different places. The book chronicles both their lives from their childhoods through the present. Moore offers little commentary aside from the beginning and end of the book rather allowing the juxtaposition of their stories to speak for itself. I really enjoyed the book and think it does speak to how lasting the consequences can be for what may seem like lots of little decisions that add up to a life. I’ve seen lots of talk about this book being a candidate for the One Maryland, One Book program which would result in a lot of kids reading it. I think it would be an excellent choice, especially in light of the connection to Baltimore. I give it an 8 out of 10.
29. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba
I read this book for one of my book clubs. It’s the true story of a young boy in Malawi who builds a windmill from scrap materials he finds in the dump by his house. The first half of the book really has nothing to do with the windmill, which surprised me. Instead it looks at the period of his life leading up to the point where he builds the windmill. It introduces you to his family and how they live, especially through a period of famine. All this sets up the significance the building of the windmill has on his family, but it wasn’t what I expecting. It took me awhile to get into the book, but in the end I enjoyed it. I give it a 6 out of 10.
27. In the Time of Butterflies by Julia Alvarez
28. How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent by Julia Alvarez
I’m addressing these two books together because they seemed very similar to me in some regards. They both revolve around families containing four sisters from the Dominican Republic. In the Time of Butterflies is set in the Dominican Republic during the reign of Trujillo. How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent is set during a similar time period except that the family has emigrated from the DR to New York.
I was not super fond of either of them for some of the same reasons, but also for differing ones. I found the stories in Garcia Girls more interesting, but it almost felt like a series of connected short stories rather than a novel, which I didn’t care for. Butterflies had a more cohesive plot line, but I didn’t care that much about it. Both books spend different chapters telling the stories of the different sisters alternating back and forth. I found I had a hard time distinguishing one sister from another a lot of times in both books forgetting what part of what story belonged to who.
I know both of these books have gotten lots of praise and probably rightly so, but ultimately I think I just don’t care for Alvarez’s writing style.
I give them both 5 out of 10.