Thursday, February 25, 2010

From the Reviewer's Stack

I've been quiet here but not here in real life. Busy with a long stretch at work, then getting the house back in order afterwords-still working on this, being the second in command for girl scout cookies sales...all this has made for a busy week. Speaking of cookies, those Samoas are like crack. Is there another cookie out there sold year round that approximates this? Please advise.

Well, I wrote late last year about how things are going to change around here, blah blah blah, and that I was going to greatly cut down on the number of review copies I accept and write about. I have been successful in this. There aren't exactly people banging down my door begging me to review their book, but I do get requests, perhaps a few a week and sure it's flattering, and nice to have such fun mail. Some of the requests are admittedly odd, for books outside any genre I read - self help, romance, etc. Then there was the illegible request that was formatted in some crazy way. I mean, AOL has a habit of making email look wonky by the time I receive it, but I could seriously not even read the text between the crazy http&^%$ stuff. And then the publicist contacted me again, saying 'how else can we get the word out' and I almost emailed back and said 'how bout start by sending me an email I can actually read!' but I didn't.

All this to say, that I'll be trying to keep my ARC reading to 12 books this year, that's one per month (I'm good at math too!) and here are the first two books of the year.

I actually received Melanie Benjamin's Alice I Have Been: A Novellast year. I was drawn to this story primarily by the Victorian period in which it is set, and secondly to it's literary nature. Benjamin was inspired by a photograph of Alice Liddell - the girl who inspired Alice in Wonderful - and was moved to think and write about who she actually was.

Alice I Have Been is divided into three sections, in the first Alice is young girl and counts teacher Charles Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll among her friends. There is a strong sense of unease in this section of the book, as we discover that Mr. Dodgson's favorite companions are young girls. When you think about the photograph above, that Dodgson took this photo of a child of a respectable Victorian family in such a state of undress -those couldn't have been her clothes, and with such an expression on her face, well it certainly seems that to an outsider something was Not.Quite.Right.

Something Happens.

Something really did happen to cause a break in the relationship between Dodgson and the Liddell family, but history does not tell us exactly what. The second section of the book deals features Alice as a young woman, having a romance with Prince Albert and meeting Mr. Dodgson again. It is uncomfortable. And finally, we see Alice as an older woman, somewhat surprised by the attention she still garners as Alice in Wonderland.

I liked Alice I Have Been very much. The period felt authentic to me and I thought the author used her imaginative powers very well here, conjuring up what Alice might have been like.

Next we have One Amazing Thingby Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. This woman really knows how the spin a sentence and I wanted to read this book after enjoying Sister of My Heart: A Noveland The Vine of Desire: A Novelso much.

One Amazing Thing takes place in a visa/passport office in the basement of a building in the US. San Francisco perhaps? There is an earthquake and the 9 people trapped inside this office must find a way to stay safe and survive until they can hopefully escape. One way they take their minds off their troubles is to each share 'one amazing thing' from their own lives and through this we see into each of their hearts and minds.

Despite the beautiful writing this was just an okay read for me. It was hard to get to know so many characters in so little time and really care about their stories. I was often mystified when the stories would go from first person to third person in one paragraph. Between stories, the survivors would deal with the immediate effects of the earthquake. I think the stories coming out of the earthquake in Haiti really lessened the impact of this part of the story.

Ultimately, what I got out of this book is being reminded that everyone has a story and a motivation that we'll probably never know nor understand. It is that story that makes each person who they are and may affect their daily life in ways we can never understand.

Many thanks to Delacorte Press and Hyperion Books for providing these books for review.


Ti said...

I am only accepting books that I really, really want to read. Highly anticipated novels seems to take-up most of that. It's hard to say no sometimes but I have to be realistic, even if I had all the time in the world to read (and I don't), I wouldn't be able to read them all.

bermudaonion said...

You have been busy! I can't wait to read Alice I Have Been - everyone seems to be crazy about it. The reviews for One Amazing Thing have been mixed, so I don't know what to think of that one.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

Hats off to you Tara; i stink at limiting review books.

I did like Alice I Have Been (review).

Staci said...

I so want to read Alice I Have a lot of positive reviews on this one. I picked up Sister of My Heart a few years ago at a library you've made me want to read that one instead of One Amazing Thing!!

I have a major weakness for Girl Scout Cookies!!!!

Anonymous said...

So the book doesn't say what happens either, to cause the break between Alice's family and dodgy Dodgson? I would be massively tempted if I were writing a book like this to suggest something - at least drop hints.

Cath said...

Alice I Have Been sounds like a fascinating read. But that photo of her makes me about as uncomfortable as it's possible to be.

Tara said...

Ti, I think that is the best way to do it. Not only do we not have time to read all these books, I just cannot spend time any longer on what I am not enjoying.

Kathy, I know! And I didn't even mention all the olympics I am watching!

Diane, it just had to be done, for my sanity.

Staci, I read Sister of My heart a few years back, and I just remember enjoying it so much. I hope you read it sometime.

jennysbooks, yes, the author does speculate as to what caused the break. Who knows if that is close to the truth? I have looked into it a tiny bit, and it is a very curiuos thing, no one ever spoke of it and there are missing diary pages and burned letters and such from the period of time involved.

Cath, I know. I didn't think much about the photo the first time I saw it, but when you think about what had to have been going on when it was being taken, well, it's very odd.

Bybee said...

Yeah, that photo creeps me out.

Danielle said...

That is a creepy photo if you think about the circumstances of it! I have this book out from the library and really want to read it, but I' afraid I'm going to have to get back in line--three weeks is just *not enough time*!

Tara said...

Bybee, totally.

Danielle, I know! And to think I'd never thought of it quite that way. It's funny how three weeks seems like a long time, and it's really not.