Friday, September 4, 2009

The Well and the Mine by Gin Phillips

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Pages: 287
Genre: Fiction (Historical Fiction)
Series: No
Publication Year: 2009

Synopsis (From Book Cover):
In a small Alabama coal-mining town during the summer of 1931, nine-year-old Tess Moore sits on her back porch and watches a woman toss a baby into her family's well without a word. This shocking act of violence sets in motion a chain of events that forces Tess and her older sister, Virgie, to look beyond their own door and learn the value of kindness and lending a helping hand. As Tess and Virgie try to solve the mystery of the well, an accident puts their seven-year-old brother's life in danger, revealing just what sorts of sacrifices their parents, Albert and Leta, have made in order to give their children a better life, and the power of love and compassion to provide comfort of those we love.

The Well and the Mine was a surprising read. The synopsis of the story doesn't do it justice. This is more than the story of Tess and Virgie trying to solve the mystery of the dead baby. It is about the town that they live in, the people that lived there (both black and white), the era they lived in, and the way they survived.

One of the best things about The Well and the Mine is that it is from the first person prespective of all the members of the Moore family. In each story the reader gets an view into all five members point of view. Normally this style of writing can be pretty trickly to do but Phillips made it easy to adjust to the shifting character perspectives by labeling the change. Also, when switching from perspective to perspective the themes and timeline stayed the same. The youngest member of the family, Jack, set up the beginning of each chapter by reflecting on his childhood. By presenting each members view point readers got to see not only how the events at the mine affected them at the time but also how they changed their future.

The characters were very well developed. They were all likeable and relateable. Some of the characters were reminiscent of characters in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. Tess comes of as a lot like Scout, a tomboy that is just enjoying her life until something happens that shakes her would. Albert is a little like Atticus but less scholarly. All of Albert's veiw point were based more of experince. His views on race and how his children were suppose to be raised were passed on personal experince and his beliefs about good or bad. It was interesting how the incident at the well and made him question his own actions and short comings.
"Me and Virgie and Jack were supposed to be the kind of people who helped out. But we didn't give those Talbert children nothing. That pained me, not just from the guilt, but because it took something so simple and confused it. I hated that, even though I wasn't supposed to hate." - Tess
One of the most interesting things about the story (personally) was the treatment of race issues in 1931. The children (Tess, Virgie, and Jack) never really deal with race, there is one incident with Jack. Albert is the one that deals with race the most and it is this experince that makes his sections so compelling to read.
"One year we had a group of real Negroes come and perform for the grammar school near Christmastime, and they weren't nearly so funny. They didn't seem to know at all how colored folks were supposed to act" - Virgie
Pros: Writing, Characters, Plot, Style
Cons: None

Overall Recommendation:

A very enjoyable story. I would highly recommend it to anyone that enjoyed To Kill a Mockingbird.

Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Award (2009)

Other Reviews:

Friday Finds: September 4

Haven't done Friday Finds in a long time. Which is a good thing. It means that my TBR pile has not gotten any bigger.

This weeks theme is Non-Fiction Finds. I have a total of 5 books that I have found courtsey of the book blogging world. Without further fanfare here they are:

The Weight of A Mustard Seed by Wendell Steavenson
General Kamel Sachet was a favorite of Saddam Hussein's, a hero of the Iran-Iraq war, head of the army in Kuwait City during Desert Storm, governor of the province of Maysan, and father of nine children. When author Wendell Steavenson became intrigued by his story, she began with a few questions about Sachet and his fellow Baathist loyalists: "Why had they served such a regime? How had they accommodated their own morality? How had they lived? How had they lived with themselves?" Her journey to find these answers took five years, and an accumulation of facts, opinions, fears, confessions and suspicions from Sachet's family, friends, and enemies. The result is not just a gripping account of one man's rise and fall, but a vivid and compassionate portrayal of the Iraqi people.

As Sachet rose from policeman to Special Forces officer and then General, he made more and more sacrifices to remain in Saddam's good favor. Steadfast in his loyalty to God and his President, Sachet attended military executions and endured his own imprisonment as Saddam's behavior took increasingly paranoiac and power-crazy turns. But when it came time for Sachet's sons to do their military service, he refused to let them join the "criminal" organization to which he had given his life. Kamel Sachet realized, too late, that he'd become a participant in the terror regime that had strangled his county and destroyed its people. Through his story and the stories of those around him, Wendell Steavenson shows the choices Iraqis have had to make between exile and collaboration, God and jihad. Here are the Iraqis behind the headlines and the tragedy begotten of unintended consequences. And here is the first full-length narrative from an immensely talented journalist who has already been compared by critics to Bruce Chatwin and Ryszard Kapucinksi.

Passing Strange by Martha Sandweiss
The secret double life of the man who mapped the American West, and the woman he loved

Clarence King is a hero of nineteenth century western history; a brilliant scientist and witty conversationalist, best-selling author and architect of the great surveys that mapped the West after the Civil War. Secretary of State John Hay named King the best and brightest of his generation. But King hid a secret from his Gilded Age cohorts and prominent family in Newport: for thirteen years he lived a double life as the celebrated white explorer, geologist and writer Clarence King and as a black Pullman porter and steel worker named James Todd. The fair blue-eyed son of a wealthy China trader passed across the color line, revealing his secret to his black common- law wife, Ada Copeland, only on his deathbed.

King lied because he wanted to and he lied because he had to. To marry his wife in a public way as the white man known as Clarence King would have created a scandal and destroyed his career. At a moment when many mixed-race Americans concealed their African heritage to seize the privileges of white America, King falsely presented himself as a black man in order to marry the woman he loved.

Noted historian of the American West Martha Sandweiss is the first writer to uncover the life that King tried so hard to conceal from the public eye. She reveals the complexity of a man who while publicly espousing a personal dream of a uniquely American race, an amalgam of white and black, hid his love for his wife, Ada, and their five biracial children. Passing Strange tells the dramatic tale of a family built along the fault lines of celebrity, class, and race from the Todd s wedding in 1888, to the 1964 death of Ada King, one of the last surviving Americans born into slavery.

War by Clara Kramer
This heart-stopping story of a young girl hiding from the Nazis is based on Clara Kramer's diary of her years surviving in an underground bunker with seventeen other people.

Clara Kramer was a typical Polish-Jewish teenager from a small town at the outbreak of the Second World War. When the Germans invaded, Clara's family was taken in by the Becks, a "Volksdeutsche" (ethnically German) family from their town. Mrs. Beck worked as Clara's family's housekeeper. Mr. Beck was known to be an alcoholic, a womanizer, and a vocal anti-Semite. But on hearing that Jewish families were being led into the woods and shot, Beck sheltered the Kramers and two other Jewish families.

Eighteen people in all lived in a bunker dug out of the Becks' basement. Fifteen-year-old Clara kept a diary during the twenty terrifying months she spent in hiding, writing down details of their unpredictable life--from the house's catching fire to Mr. Beck's affair with Clara's neighbor; from the nightly SS drinking sessions in the room above to the small pleasure of a shared Christmas carp.

Against all odds, Clara lived to tell her story, and her diary is now part of the permanent collection of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

Annie's Ghost by Steven Luxenberg
Beth Luxenberg was an only child. Everyone knew it: her grown children, her friends, even people she'd only recently met. So when her secret emerged, her son Steve Luxenberg was bewildered. He was certain that his mother had no siblings, just as he knew that her name was Beth, and that she had raised her children, above all, to tell the truth.
By then, Beth was nearly eighty, and in fragile health. While seeing a new doctor, she had casually mentioned a disabled sister, sent away at age two. For what reason? Was she physically disabled? Mentally ill? The questions were dizzying, the answers out of reach. Beth had said she knew nothing of her sister's fate.
Six months after Beth's death in 1999, the secret surfaced once more. This time, it had a name: Annie.

Steve Luxenberg began digging. As he dug, he uncovered more and more. His mother's name wasn't Beth. His aunt hadn't been two when she'd been hospitalized. She'd been twenty-one; his mother had been twenty-three. The sisters had grown up together. Annie had spent the rest of her life in a mental institution, while Beth had set out to hide her sister's existence. Why?
Employing his skills as a journalist while struggling to maintain his empathy as a son, Luxenberg pieces together the story of his mother's motivations, his aunt's unknown life, and the times in which they lived. His search takes him to imperial Russia and Depression-era Detroit, through the Holocaust in Ukraine and the Philippine war zone, and back to the hospitals where Annie and many others were lost to memory.

Combining the power of reportage with the intrigue of mystery, Annie's Ghosts explores the nature of self-deception and self-preservation. The result is equal parts memoir, social history, and riveting detective story.

The Known World by Edward P. Jones
In one of the most acclaimed novels in recent memory, Edward P. Jones, two-time National Book Award finalist, tells the story of Henry Townsend, a black farmer and former slave who falls under the tutelage of William Robbins, the most powerful man in Manchester County, Virginia. Making certain he never circumvents the law, Townsend runs his affairs with unusual discipline. But when death takes him unexpectedly, his widow, Caldonia, can't uphold the estate's order and chaos ensues. In a daring and ambitious novel, Jones has woven a footnote of history into an epic that takes an unflinching look at slavery in all of its moral complexities.

I would just like to note that all synopsis are from Google books except for Annie's Ghost which came from good reads.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

BTT: Recent Big

This week Booking Through Thursday ask:
What's the biggest book you've read recently?
(Feel free to think "big" as size, popularity or in any other way care to interpret)
I don't know what to consider recent. Does recently mean last three months, six months, year. I am going to take it as in the last year.

The top three "biggest" books according to size are all over six hundred pages. These three books have something in common, they all are considered classics. But the best part is that I enjoyed all of them. On to the books:

Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
East of Eden by John Steinbeck

The "biggest" books according to popularity are of course from The Twilight Series. I wish I could say that I enjoyed these books as much as I like the three classics but I didn't. I only reviewed two on this site:

The Vixen Manual by Karrine Steffans

Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
Pages: 294
Genre: Self Help (Love & Romance)
Series: No
Publication Year: 2009

Synopsis (From Google Books):
Since she exploded on the scene with her two juicy and impossible-to-put-down tell-alls, readers have wanted to know even more about what makes Karrine Steffans tick. How was she able to meet all the high profile politicians, movie stars, and other celebrities that are her close acquaintances? What skills does she possess to keep men wanting more? Finally, Karrine lays it all out and explains exactly what a woman must do to win over the man of her dreams. With chapters like "Never Let Him See You Sweat,""Flirting,""Encouraging His Manhood," and "Give Him What He Wants," this hot and sexy manual is a must-have for every woman's bookshelf

Literally speaking the The Vixen Manual comes as a surprise. As someone who had try to read Steffans' first work Confessions of A Video Vixen, the expectations of her writing ability were pretty low. There are varying opinions on whether or not Steffans uses a ghost writer. It is reported that she does but she claims that she writes all her books herself. If she is to be believed there is a remarkable jump in her writing ability from the first book to her third book (The Vixen Manual). The writing in The Vixen Manual is superb, in fact, better than some people with English degrees (my roommates opinion). It's hard to believe that she wrote this book (am I just hating?). While, the writing was good, after about the first half of the books it is annoying. Steffans writing seems to take on this tone that becomes unpleasant and patornizing. The impressive writing starts to wear off. To top that off she has a tendency to repeat herself. There is very little difference in the chapters, they basically all have the same point. It became hard to want to complete the book because it became very predictable.

I can't say that the book lives up to the title, it doesn't tell you how to find, seduce and keep the man you want. Mainly Steffans repeats the same on message over and over again; respect and love yourself. That is it. There are no exciting new sex tips (she does advice women to be more sexually adventurous). There is no advice on where to find the sort of man that you are looking for. In fact, the information isn't that different from anything that can't be found in online article or Cosmo. At times the information seemed like common sense. Steffans does encourge women to work on themselves and achieve their goals. While some of the messages she delievers are okay, there were a few that seemed sort of off. In what she calls "The New Dating Game", she advices women to date more than one man at a time, to rank them and tell them where they stand. That is sort of degrading. What woman worth her grain of salt would stay with a man that told her she was number 3 out of 5 on his list of females. There isn't anything wrong with dating one than one person at a time (if there is no sex involoved). There is nothing wrong with ranking people that you are dating, as long as you don't tell them. That is disrespectful. She contradicts herself by saying that it is okay to sleep with more than one person at a time (but remember to be safe) and then stating that beware of your behavoir so you don't come off as a slut. Doesn't these two things sort of contradict themselves. Another issue is that she plays into the Superwoman sterotype. In her message there is the feeling that a woman should be all things to her man and that if she doesn't an he leaves than it is her fault. A woman should be able to work, cook, clean, raise children, and look hot at all times. This is unrealistic and potentially exhuasting course. Not anywhere in her book does it say anyting about forming a partnership and finding out a way to split the responisblitiy to the house, kids, and careers together. The woman sort of becomes the work horse and the man has to be feel and be treated like king all the time.

If you are reading this book to get the freaky sex tips this is not the book. There are about a total of two diagrams showing different sexual positions. But that is all.

It is a interesting read at first, but quickly losses it appeal.

Pros: Writing, Advice
Cons: Repetitive, Advice

Overall Recommendation:

I am not normally a "Self Help" book reader. While I do like some of what Steffans some of it gets the side eye. There are better relationship books out there but it is not a bad start.

As a sidenote my roommate started to read this book and abandoned it. In the first five chapters is claimed she could have written it herself. Also, she is spectual on whether Steffans wrote the book herself. But we both are trying not to be judgment or "hate ".

Other Reviews:

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Toni Morrison Mini Challenge Starts Today

Today is the official start date for the Toni Morrison Mini Challenge. The challenge is really simple read four books (no re-reads) by Toni Morrison. That is just one book for the last four months of the year.

So far, three people have signed up already. I am really excited because this is the first challenge that I have host and hopefully not the last.

My planned reads for the challenge:
Song of Solomon
Tar Baby

Have your read any of Morrison's books? If so which?
Have you joined the challenge?
What are you planning to read for the challenge?

September Forecast

Wordle: September Forecast

September is going to be extra busy month reading since I didn't complete the books that I set aside for August. I am going to try to sit aside at least two to three hours a day to read.
Hopefully I can make myself read more on the weekends.

I really wise the weather here in Miami was nicer so that I could sit outside in the backyard and read. Oh well.

Reading Now (Started in July):
The Well and the Mine by Gin Phillips

Read in August But Not Yet Reviewed:
The Vixen Manuals by Karrine Steffans

Plans to Read in September:
Hair Story: Untangling The Roots of Black Hair in America by Ayana D. Byrd and Lori L. Thraps
Don't Move: A Novel by Margaret Mazzantini
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Lolita by Vladmir Naboko
The Bitten by LA Banks
The Forbidden by LA Banks
The Damed by LA Banks
The Club Dumas by Arthuro Perez-Reverte
The Hand That's Dealt by Rosalind Coats
The Color of Family by Patrica Jones
Freshwater Road by Denise Nichols
Sula by Toni Morrison

Do you have your monthly reading planned out or do you just decide as you go along?
What do you plan to read this month?