Reviews

Review: The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

The Invention of WingsThough a life long Southerner, I am not a big fan of Southern Literature. But ever since reading The Secret Life of Bees, I knew I would always give any novel by Sue Monk Kidd a try. Mermaid Chair left me pretty disappointed, but I stood by my love of Bees and put myself on the library waiting list for The Invention of Wings as soon as it came out. Here’s what The Invention of Wings is about:

Hetty “Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women.

Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten year old Handful, who is to be her handmaid.We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty-five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love. As the stories build to a riveting climax, Handful will endure loss and sorrow, finding courage and a sense of self in the process. Sarah will experience crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism before leaving Charleston to find her place alongside her fearless younger sister, Angelina, as one of the early pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements. -Goodreads.com

I enjoyed the fact that this book was based on real abolitionists, the Grimke sisters. They were remarkable women in a time when women weren’t supposed to be remarked on for anything but their choice of dresses and hair styles. They were Southern Belles gone wrong, in their society’s opinion. I also appreciated how this novel portrayed a reality of slavery in Charleston, South Carolina, without being as graphic as the recent popular novel, The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom. Having been to Charleston countless times, it was a hard reality check to really imagine what some of those historic buildings were housing three hundred years ago. The historical element of the novel was the novel’s best point.

Where the book disappointed me was in the character development and very inwardly focused narrative. The narrative switches from the first person perspectives of Sarah and Handful. I got very sick of being in Sarah’s head especially. If Kidd wanted me to feel stuck in molasses, she made her point. Handful’s narrative was more humorous and interesting. I would have rather heard more about Sarah’s sisters, Angelina, but it turns out there’s not really a whole lot known about her. She was the one with spunk in the Grimke family. The slow moving span of 35 years that the novel covers and the misguided patience of Sarah throughout her life made me tempted to throw the book down in frustration. But it was on an e-reader, so I didn’t throw it.

Because of the slow pace and tiresome narrative from Sarah, this book is a 2.5-3 out of 5 star book for me. If you’re interested in the Southern history and the Grimke sisters, I would recommend it, but if you are simply looking for a book that is similar in style and feel to The Secret Life of Bees, I’d give Beth Hoffman’s Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt or Sarah Jio’s The Violets of March a try.

The Violets of March       Saving Ceecee Honeycutt

Reading, Reviews

July Reading

It’s July, and that means Summer just began, right? I live in South Carolina and we only just hit consistent temperatures in the 90’s. We had an actual Spring, for a change, and it lasted forever. No wonder it’s a jolt to my system when I walk into Target and see huge displays of “back to school” supplies. Wait! I haven’t even scratched the surface of my summertime goals! I haven’t made homemade popsicles! I haven’t finished the kids’ summer listeners reading program at the library! I haven’t been to a baseball game! Or picked out a preschool curriculum for my four-year-old! Or made that inspiring vintage chore chart I saw on Pinterest. I haven’t organized every closet in the entire house!

What’s worse, I haven’t found that awesome Summer of 2013 book. Luckily, my children aren’t school age yet and the end of summer comes at the end of, well, Summer, and not in mid-August. So I have time (theoretically) to do all of the above and maybe find a good book this summer. It’s proving to be a difficult task so far (although my Jean Webster discovery was a great treat!). To make the “difficult” reference clearer, I have started reading and abandoned halfway through no less than four books in the last three weeks. That is just sad. But I happen to be a reader who won’t stick with a book if I’m hating it halfway through. I stuck with The Last Summer because I really wanted to review it, and to review a book, you kind of have to finish it.

Here are the books I began but couldn’t finish. Please don’t count these as official reviews since I only read half of the books. And please keep in mind that these books are not “terrible” and I am not looking to give a negative review. I think lots of readers would really enjoy these books. I’ll just tell you why I didn’t enjoy it and try not to give much of the plot of each book away.

Redfield Farm: A Novel of the Underground RailroadI was excited about reading Redfield Farm. It was number one on my Summer reading list and has great reviews on Goodreads. However, after a few chapters, I was pretty disappointed in the narrative style. It was a little flat. I didn’t get a good feel for the setting. And then the plot twists that occurred just seemed so utterly out of keeping with the characters, I couldn’t keep reading without thinking “ridiculous!” every few pages. It’s true that people do unexpected things and make mistakes in real life. Still, the Quakers were engaging in some pretty uncharacteristic activities in this book. If I had enjoyed the characters, I may have kept reading, but I didn’t. I wish I had, because the premise of the book with the Underground Railroad and the Quaker community working together sounded very intriguing. I think that if you enjoy books by Janet Oke or Beverly Lewis, you may like Redfield Farm. However, be forewarned: this isn’t a Christian book, so it’s not as clean as Oke or Lewis.

Home RepairI picked up Home Repair from the library shelf on a whim. I read the description and thought it sounded kind of like a quirky, memoir type novel that is both humorous and insightful. Here’s the description:

Eve’s beloved Ivan died thirteen years ago in an automobile accident. Her charming, boyish Chuck has taken a different exit out of her life: hopping into his car in the middle of a garage sale with no forewarning and departing their formerly happy upstate New York home for points unknown. Now Eve’s a boat adrift, subsisting on a heartbreak diet of rue, disappointment, and woe-left alone to care for Ivan’s brilliant teenaged son, Marcus, and Chuck’s precocious, pragmatic nine-year-old daughter, Noni, while contending with Charlotte, Eve’s acerbic mother, who’s come north to “help” but hinders instead.

But life ultimately must go on, with its highs and lows, its traumas and holidays, and well-meaning, if eccentric, friends. A house and a heart in disrepair are painful burdens for a passionate woman who’s still in her prime. And while learning to cope with the large and small tragedies that each passing day brings, Eve might end up discovering that she’s gained much more than she’s lost.

I was in the mood for a present day, this-is-real-life type book. However, I got through most of it and then just let it go. I was trying to be interested, but the non-plot wasn’t quite neatly packaged enough. Maybe the real life situation was too far removed from anything I’ve experienced for me to feel the book was relevant to life. I think this book is probably a really good book, just not my type of book. I’d say that if you liked The Friday Night Knitting Club by Karen Jacobs, you will probably like this book. Another book of this type that I did enjoy was The Atlas of Love by Laurie Frankel. The characters in this book were always interesting to me and I am closer to their stage of life (graduate school, young mom days) than I am to the life stages of the main characters in Home Repair or The Friday Night Knitting Club.

The Perfume CollectorI saw The Perfume Collector advertised on Goodreads and borrowed the e-book from my library as soon as it was available. It was…well, rather sensual. I abandoned it pretty soon after starting it. Don’t read it if you dislike erotica. The characters themselves didn’t tempt me to keep reading, either. Grace was not very appealing–the smart, small, dark haired young wife of a professor who finds herself childless and feeling like a trophy wife, at best. That kind of character has been done so many times! The format of this book is one of those historical novels that shifts from a character in the past to a character in the present (the present in this book being the 1950s). I have read a few of those books that I really like (The Secret Keeper, for one), but I think that kind of plot can be clumsy if the author isn’t careful. In this book, it felt kind of clumsy. I wasn’t drawn in from chapter to chapter. I’ve read a few other reviews from people who did like this book to people who hated it, so you may have to just decide for yourself.

The Dry Grass of AugustFinally, the last “meh” read I’ve had this month was The Dry Grass of August. I picked this book up after deciding not to read The Homecoming of Samuel Lake and it became a case of “out of the fire, into the frying pan.” The book’s plot follows 13-year-old Jubie and her trip with her mother and siblings to Florida in the 1950s. It was similar in some ways to To Kill A Mockingbird but the thing about books written around the African American plight in the 1950s is that they will never come close to being as ground breaking because they weren’t written in that time period (obviously).  I’d also compare this book to The Secret Life of Bees but without the rich scenery and spirituality. It was actually a pretty good book, with a few too many crude details for my taste (I’m a prude, I know, I know). I probably would have liked this book better about five years ago. This summer, I’m just not in the mood for Southern lit.

I just received Islanders by Helen Hull in the mail last week and I am itching to begin it. Also, I still plan to read The Princess and the Goblin before the Summer is over.

How’s your Summer reading going so far?

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