REVIEW: Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

Geraldine Brooks is a great writer, and her new novel “Caleb’s Crossing” is no exception to that fact. “Caleb’s Crossing” tells the story of the first Wampanoag Native American from Martha’s Vineyard to attend and graduate from Harvard University – in the 1600’s. Caleb’s story is told through the eyes of Bethia Mayfield, his childhood friend and his sponsor’s daughter. Brooks does an excellent job recreating the essence of the mid-1600’s in New England, including her use of Puritan speech. Her depictions of Martha’s Vineyard, where Bethia’s family has lived as her father and grandfather were ministers there, paints a pristine and wild landscape.

I just loved this book. The character descriptions and changes, the settings, the secondary characters — all of it combined to create a compelling story, and one that is based in fact. While the ending is sad – it is accurate, and it makes one question once again the cost to the Native Americans as their culture was forced out by the incoming Europeans. Caleb is taken from his life with his people and becomes a Harvard scholar – though always secondary to the “high class” Puritan boys. Though Caleb and his fellow tribal companion Joel are the top scholars in their class, they are held at arm’s length by all who deal with them, with the exception of Bethia, who loves both boys as brothers.

Brooks captures the time and place of this story so movingly, you will not forget it.

Also, there is a poignant note in the afterword: while Caleb was the first Wampanoag from Martha’s Vineyard to graduate as an undergraduate from Harvard, the next – a young woman – is due to graduate from Harvard’s undergrad program this June.

I got my copy from the library.

The Book Blogger Convention 2011

So – Friday I attended Book Blogger Con 2011 in NYC. What a great day!! There is something about just being around tons of people who love to read as much if not more than I do that makes me incredibly happy. I was surrounded by people who not only understood what I mean when I talk about blogging book reviews, but no one thought I was weird because I like to read all the time! It was like being in a group of kindred spirits all day.

Some of the interesting things I had the chance to experience through the sessions on Friday included listening to publishers speak about their imprints and what they look for from bloggers (and included how to get in contact with them), different genres of book blogs – niche blogging, technology for your blog (looks like podcasting is the next big thing – and Tumblr), how to spend your time wisely and balance blogging with everything else in your life, and the “grey areas” of blogging – where bloggers answered questions. We had a great and funny key note from the woman who writes “Smart Bitches, Trashy Books” and a walk-through where we could fill a bag with free books. There was even an author event where you could meet authors. It was a great day for me and I brought back tons of ideas on how to make my blog better.

I can’t wait until next year!

Heading to the BBC in NYC!

I am sooo excited! This Thursday we head to NYC so I can attend the Book Blogger Convention, which is linked to BEA. I’m sorry to miss BEA – which is Mon-Thurs this week – but it was a push to even get there Thursday! I can’t wait to meet bloggers and attend the workshops. I’ll post from there, too. Over the weekend we’ll head to NJ to see the family! Good times!!

REVIEW: The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

I had read a few reviews of this book via the blogosphere, and just loved the sample that I downloaded on my Kindle. It took weeks for me to get it from the library, but it was worth the wait!

“The Weird Sisters” tells the story of three very different (but actually very similar) grown sisters, as they return home to deal with their mother’s battle with breast cancer. Their father is a distracted and brilliant Shakespearean scholar, and thus the girls are named after Shakespearean heroines: Rose (Rosalind), Bean (Bianca), and Cordy (Cordelia). The whole family takes solace and refuge in books, and their literary worlds are often more real to them than the real world itself. Coming home to their sleepy college town of Barnwell, each sister also has her own issues: Rose (who actually has never left Barnwell) is struggling to take flight from the town and her parents by marrying her fiance, Bean has left her job in NYC due to embezzlement, and Cordy – the waif like wanderer – is newly pregnant by an unnamed source. Each of the girls revisits the status quo of their growing up years, and redefines her place in the family. As the dust jacket reads, they love each other, they just haven’t learned to like each other much!

I just loved this book! As the youngest of three sisters, there was something so compelling about their story to me. I’ll be the first to say that my sisters and I are not like these girls in temperament (we’re all three more like the responsible Rose than like Bean or Cordy); however, there is something almost universal about birth order that rings true whether you are the eldest, the youngest, or the “middle”.

I really enjoyed the portrayal of these women and how they changed throughout the story. As they grew to understand each other, they better understood themselves, and this journey helped bring them closer to their parents as well. Interestingly, the book is written in first person plural — using “we” as the omniscient narrator – a device that took me a bit to get used to, but served to enhance the cohesion of the sisterly unit for me.

5 Stars from me!!

(Quick) AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: Lucy by Laurence Gonzales

I found this set of 9 CD’s at the library and thought it’d be great for car listening. “Lucy” tells the story of a young girl, found in the African Congo after her family is murdered. Her father, a famous scientist, had been studying Bonobos (a type of great ape). Jenny, the scientist who discovers Lucy, takes her home with her to Chicago and tries to find her relatives, all the while forming a bond with the girl. Jenny then discovers that Lucy is actually a “human hybrid” – half human and half Bonobo. This of course leads to all sorts of trouble as the government comes after Lucy, religious groups organize against her, and everything becomes complete turmoil!

I have to say, that I just loved the first half of this book. The two narrators’ voices had the most beautiful cadences and timbres, I could have listened to them all day. I loved Lucy’s integration into modern American society, as she went from quoting Shakespeare to learning slang, having a cell phone, and joining the wrestling team. Lucy makes a best friend and comes to love Jenny. Then things go to pieces. I found the whole last third of the book partly terrifying and partly unbelievable. The hatred portrayed against Lucy was scary, and seemed a bit much at times. The scenes where she is being held at a facility and treated like an animal were disturbing. There seemed to be some messages being sent here by the author, too. The ending wrapped up pretty quick for me.

All in all, I enjoyed my listen, but did enjoy the first half of the book best.

QUICK REVIEW: Bless the Bride by Rhys Bowen

I am seriously behind in my posts, folks, due to our crazy schedule as of late, but I wanted to quickly post on the new Molly Murphy mystery “Bless the Bride”. Molly is preparing for her wedding when she takes on the case of a missing Chinese bride, causing her to foray into New York’s Chinatown. When the groom (a powerful but ruthless Chinese businessman) turns up murdered, Molly has to decide whether to protect suspect #1 – the young bride – or herself. All the time, she’s keeping her sleuthing a secret from Daniel since she’s promised to give up her business when they get married.
All in all, it’s a fun read – with some interesting information on New York’s Chinese immigrant experience from 1900.
I got mine from the library!