60. Little Bee by Chris Cleave
This book is the story of two women, one a Nigerian girl (I’m not sure her age was ever revealed but most likely a teenager or young twenty-something) and a British woman whose lives become intertwined by a shared experience on a Nigerian beach. The story picks up about 3 years after the incident with Little Bee held in a British detention center for refugees. Their lives once again intersect in Britain and the story from there leads you both forward from that time and back to describe the events that led them there. I really liked this book a lot. The story is told in alternating chapters by each of the main characters and I found the descriptions and language Cleave used in the Little Bee chapters to be extremely profound and beautiful. I give it a 9 out of 10.
59. The Pain Chronicles by Melanie Thernstrom
After her own experiences with chronic severe pain Thernstrom examines pain from many angles. She looks into both current and historical treatments for pain as well as views of pain. She talks about her own journey with pain while examining the biological and psychological mechanisms that affect how and why we feel pain. I found it to be a really interesting book. Although as someone who is a chronic pain sufferer it also kind of scared me. Luckily most of pain is low end, extremely manageable pain but it is there every day nonetheless and some of the things she said did give me pause about where my own future with pain lies. I give it an 8 out of 10.
58. Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard
This book is a memoir of sorts about Bard’s immigration to France to live with and eventually marry a Frenchman. The book basically chronicles her experiences adapting to a new culture. Much of it focuses on the differing ways the French and Americans view food. Each chapter concludes with recipes related to what she talked about in the chapter. It was a light, quick read and would probably appeal to anyone who likes French travel writing, ex-pat memoirs or books like Julie and Julia (although she is far less whiny than Julie was). I give it 6 out of 10.
57. The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Going into this review I have to say that I am just not one for graphic novels. I don’t disparage anyone who enjoys this genre and definitely believe that there are some great graphic novels out there. They just don’t happen to be my cup of tea. I don’t know what it says about me, but I honestly find it distracting and difficult to read the story and look at the pictures at the same time. And I feel like the text of the story has to really short and choppy to fit in a graphic novel. It just doesn’t flow the way I would like my books to. That being said Persepolis is an interesting story of a woman from Iran who deals with the change of her country in the 70’s and 80’s both while living there and as an emigrant to Europe. Some of the images drawn in the book are poignant and I do think add another layer to the story. From everything I’ve heard Persepolis is an amazing graphic novel and I will defer to those people in the know because I couldn’t get into this the way I would have liked and I think it’s really just a genre thing. I give it 5 out of 10.
56. The Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende
Although I’ve never been as big a fan of the works Allende has written outside of Chile, The Island Beneath the Sea was one of her better fictional works in awhile in my opinion. The story begins in Haiti during Napoleonic times. As with most of Allende’s works there is a rich tapestry of characters all interconnected in some manner. The two main characters though are Zarite a slave of a French emigre to the island, Toulouse Valmorain. Their lives are intertwined from the time Zarite is brought to Valmorain as a child through his death long after they have left Haiti for New Orleans. As with most of Allende’s works it’s the story of love, loss, and survival during a time of political upheaval. I give it a 7 out of 10.
55. The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood
I find that my enjoyment of Atwood’s books is very hit and miss. I have loved some of them like The Blind Assassin and Oryx and Crake, but have not found others like The Year of the Flood or The Handmaid’s Tale (I know, I know it’s a classic) nearly as enjoyable. Unfortunately The Robber Bride fell into the latter camp for me. The best way I found to sum it up is that it’s a plot driven novel in need of a plot. I certainly don’t mind books where nothing much happens because the story is really about the character development, but although there is certainly some semblance of a plot in this book I didn’t feel like it went anywhere nor did I feel like any of the characters truly developed in any meaningful way. Nor did I feel like Atwood painted them in more than just broad brushstrokes. The story centers around 3 women who’s lives have been somewhat destroyed by the same woman over a period of 20 years or so. Zenia has come into all of their lives, played them and their men and stolen their boyfriends/husbands from them. We get the backstory of each character and how Zenia was able to use information from their pasts to prey upon them in whatever future she wormed her way into their lives. We also end up in the present day when they discover her return and each deal with facing her once again. We did have an excellent discussion at my book group about the book, but I still didn’t really enjoy reading it. I give it a 4 out of 10.
54. The Map of True Places by Brunonia Barry
Having liked The Lace Reader well enough I decided to go ahead and read Barry’s second book, The Map of True Places. I actually enjoyed this one more than The Lace Reader because it didn’t have the same kind of cartoonishly outlandish ending that The Lace Reader had in my opinion. Like The Lace Reader, The Map of True Places takes place in present day Salem, Massachusetts. The story revolves around a psychologist living in Boston who moves back home to Salem both to deal with her father’s increasing dementia after he forces his long-time gay partner to move out and to escape the fact that one of her patient’s committed suicide. Her parents’ past and the past of her patient and where they all are today create the plot threads of the story. I really enjoyed the book and found the characters to be more realistic and better drawn than those in The Lace Reader. I give it a 7 out of 10.