Monday, August 30, 2010

Bitter in the Mouth by Monique Truong

My picks for books a week ago for the Amazon Vine program where less than stellar. One book I will not even inflict the review on you folks who read my blog. Needless to say I couldn't read past 80 pages it was so boring to me. When I published my review of that bit of drivel on Amazon, I was happy to see that Publisher's Weekly agreed with me. When doing a review for the Vine program, to keep me as honest and fair as possible, I read the book, write and publish my review before seeing what anyone else has to say about it. Sometimes I seem to be the lone voice of dissent or praise, but since this is supposed to be my feelings and I've never been known for being a "yes" person I don't particularly care. When possible, I try to let the authors know of my reviews of their books and when they write back and tell me that I 'got' the book I feel happy. The titles of all my reviews here, when possible, always link back to the author's blog or website so that if you like you can find out more about them. That all being said, on to today's Vine review.

I was prepared to not like Bitter in the Mouth as the blurb about it seemed a bit implausible, but the selections for my Vine review picks that week were sketchy and this book looked to be the best of the lot. I am so glad I did choose it, because it turned out to be a very interesting book that showed friendships and families in the light of how they really are warts and all. Linda loves her father and is close to him, she is distant from her mother, extremely close to her great-uncle and has a best friend, Kelly, which she communicates by letters from their first little girl notes until the end of the book when they are in their early 30’s I believe. Not only does this book show the problems within the family, it also shows what Linda and her mother go through to heal their relationship.

Linda ‘suffers’ from synesthesia, although she would not call it suffering. Her form consists of every spoken word leaves a taste in her mouth which means that every word has certain connotations to her. For example, Mom equals chocolate milk, the name Leo equals parsnips. The only one that she has been able to discuss this with is her best friend Kelly, which is one of the reasons for the written letters between them over the years. Verbal language made it incredibly hard for her to handle the ‘incomings’ as she called them. It isn’t until she sees a TV program about people with other forms of synesthesia that Linda learns she is not alone.

What is found most appealing in reading this book, is that within minutes I felt like I was reading a girl’s true diary if girls had the writing ability of an adult to write out their feelings. I had to remind myself many times throughout reading this book that it was fiction. The entire book is narrated by Linda and as she learns things or understand past moments in time, only then do we learn and understand them too. This is a different and lovely novel and by the end of the book, you are really hoping for a happy ending for Linda even past the actual end of the book. You feel like you know her and want the best for her after all she has gone through. I will certainly be looking for more books by this author.


One of the very interesting things that I found in this book was knowing it was written by a Vietnamese immigrant and I kept waiting for somebody in the book to be Vietnamese. Well at the half-way point we are introduced to that person and I had been suspecting who it would be for a while, but the writing was skilfully done so that it wasn't really the focus of the book but an added element. I see great things ahead for this excellent writer, Monique Truong.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker

The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker

I picked this book up at a book sale and I know I did it because of the cover. It shows a dress maker’s dummy in the size of a full figured woman surrounded by lovely crewel work embroidery. For someone like me that sews and embroiders, etc. I was hoping for a cozy novel with a sewing theme. I got much more than that!

Truly, our main character was truly a giant from birth onwards. Her story is one of cruelty not only from other children but also from adults including her father who blamed her for her mother’s death during childbirth. Truly has a two-year older sister, Serena Jane, who of course, is of normal proportions and is a raving beauty besides. The world falls at her feet. Yet as this book proves beauty is only skin deep and those of us who plod on despite physical infirmities and less than perfect looks should also have a chance to make something of ourselves and be loved and cared for also.

Throughout this book is woven the tale of a quilt that is elaborately decorated with flowers made by a woman many generations earlier who had been known for her healing potions. Truly discovers the key to unlocking the knowledge the quilt holds and finds she then also holds the power of life and death and what an awesome responsibility that can be.

I don’t like my book reviews to be mini reruns of the book, but just enough hints to make you want to read it for yourself. In this book especially giving the condensed version of the book wouldn’t do it justice. Many times I pick up a book with the phrase ‘a novel’ on the front cover and wonder will it be yet another boring long treatise about ‘whatever’ where I have no sympathy or empathy for the characters. This book wasn’t like that. I felt sorry for Truly who so wanted to be loved for just who she was, I wanted to slap the adults into treating her like a human. As I heard more and more about the quilt, I wanted to see it and hold it myself as I knew it surely was a thing of beauty. As Marcus loved Truly from afar I kept wishing I could give him courage to show his love to her. This is a wonderful story and was the author’s first book. I sincerely hope that it won’t be a one hit wonder.


I read a book about every day or so and so within a few days of reading
The Little Giant of Aberdeen County,  I found myself reading Maggie Rowan by Catherine Cookson. In Maggie Rowan we also find two characters that were born with unusual shapes and disfigurments in pre-WWII England. If you would like to read and compare two books that have similiar themes, these two books should be a beginning for you. The books both take place during basically the same time frame in history, each on it's side of the Atlantic. Thankfully, attitudes have changed towards many with disabilities of all sorts, yet how many times do the pretty and handsome children get so much showered on them while those less fortunate shrivel on the vine. Both these books are a call to action to look into our own attitudes about others that might be different than us and remember everyone has feelings.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

I Am Hutterite by Mary-Ann Kirkby

I Am Hutterite is another book I read for the Amazon Review program. While in college in Saskatchewan Canada during the mid-1970s, I on occasion saw Hutterites and wondered about them. When I had the opportunity to get this book to read, I was excited to find out more about these people. After reading it, I understood one of my college friends much better as she had grown up highly influenced by the Hutterites in her area. I enjoyed getting to know these people through the book, but one thing became very clear to me. As long as humans are in charge of communal living and are making the rules and regulations, there will never be a true communal experience. Mary-Ann Kirkby's family bore the brunt of the head elder's dislike for her father and rather than treat the family by the beliefs he espoused, he treated them like the enemy. No communal living whether religious in nature or not, will ever be able to truly accomplish the reality of communal life. It is too hard for any one person or group of people to set aside themselves to fairly and wisely lead the group. Even if you get one or two that can do this, eventually the reigns will be turned over to someone who can't and seek power for power's sake and the community life will start to disintegrate.

While going to college in Canada in the 1970s I saw the occasional Hutterite but didn't have any idea about their beliefs or why they set themselves apart. When the opportunity to read this book for review, I jumped on it as a chance to find out about these people. Written as an autobiography by the author who lived in a Hutterite village in Canada until the age of 10 when her parents left the community. In many ways their lifestyle was perfect. They had everything they needed because they shared all in common. The workload was shared and there were certain procedures for occasions in a persons life. How a new mother was taken care of after a baby was born made me practically drool with longing even though I am many years removed from the birth of my own children. As a person aged their responsibilities to the community lessened although there was always some work that they could do.

Although the author and her family left the Hutterite community when she was aged 10, they still kept a close association with it due to relatives and friends there. Having the community to go visit seemed to help, as the children especially, got over the hump of going to regular public schools and being the victims of ridicule. This is a warm and sensitive book about growing up different yet growing up in a special way where everyone felt like a part of something bigger than themselves. There are still a large number of Hutterite communities in the Midwest and Canada. They split off into smaller communities when their numbers reach over 100 or so.

I'm very glad I got to read this book and would highly recommend it to others, especially those interested in a religious community life. It answered many of the questions I had had about Hutterites back many years ago and gave me a deeper insight into this large group of people that purposefully live their lives in a purposeful way.

An Impartial Witness: A Bess Crawford Mystery by Charles Todd

I read An Impartial Witness for the Amazon Vine Review program. Although reviews of this book were mixed, I enjoyed it and gave it five stars. It kept me up until 3 in the morning as I couldn't put it down.

This book takes place during World War I and begins not quite in the trenches but at the aid station/hospital nearby. Amidst the muck, mud, blood and filth wounded soldiers are being tended to by devoted nurses who in age where high society women were generally gently cared for, some left it all behind to help nurse the soldiers. Bess Crawford was one of these women. As the story begins, she escorts some of the wounded soldiers back to England and by a fluke sees one of her wounded soldier’s wife crying in the arms of another soldier at the train depot. Through a series of circumstances she finds that the woman was murdered later that day and her patient, subsequently commits suicide feeling he has nothing left to live for. She writes to the detective in charge of the investigation to let him know that she had seen the women and then over the course of each leave she gets, she becomes more and more involved finding out who killed the woman.

Solving a mystery during the time of war and almost 100 years before cell phones, faxes, etc. is difficult enough, but breaching the social class distinctions and where honor is everything became far more of a problem. But eventually Bess solves the mystery of who the killer was in time to save her friend from death. Not only was the book interesting, it also gave insight into the war and some of the difficulty the English people and solders faced during that awful time. I enjoy reading this book as it not only tells a story, but it also teaches you. I would certainly be happy to read more books in this series.

A Midwife's Story

I found this book. A Midwife's Story, at a Friends of the Library book sale where I happily shoved it into my bag on bag day. I love to read anything about giving birth and nursing and I am also interested in the Amish as I live near a large population of them. The book takes place in the 1970s and has apparently been republished. My copy that I read was a Bok Club Edition from 1986. This is the review I put up on Amazon after reading this delightful book.


A fabulous yet touching story of a woman's desire and willingness to become a midwife during a time in our history that midwifery was looked down on, but she persevered. The most amazing thing I found was midway through the book when the midwife herself miscarries a child and her reaction to this loss of a child she never even expected to have was touching.

As a nurse myself that loved labor and delivery the most as a student, I found the stories realistic, especially the comparison to a hospital birth intertwined with a home birth story from the day before. I felt almost every pang she did for the hospitalized mother as that was mostly my story of giving birth, while what I really wanted was what she had with her home deliveries.

Her love of her Amish families, since as a midwife she ministered to more than just the mother and baby, was touching and we got a significant look into the life of the Amish. I found this BCE copy at a sale and was so glad I stuffed it into my bag as this one kept me up way past my bedtime reading as it was so interesting. If you love stories of nurses, babies, midwives or reading about the Amish you should enjoy this book.