Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Thirty-two: The Other Mothers' Club - Samantha Baker

After reading four historical fiction books in a row, I needed a genre change.  The Other Mothers' Club captures the ups and downs of four women trying to navigate the life of being a stepmother.  Eve and her friend Claire start a "club" after she realizes that she doesn't know how to interact with her future stepchildren.

What I loved about this book is that the setting was London and it was interesting to picture these women in that city instead of New York or Los Angeles. I could see this book turning into a mini-series very easily.  

Thirty-one: Five Quarters of the Orange - Joanne Harris

Framboise Simon returns to the village where she grew up but not as her true identity.  Memories of a German soldier who was killed there haunts her.  As she reads through a book of recipes her mother left her, she begins to figure out different pieces of the puzzling memories.

This book is told as a remembrance of events in the past by Framboise to her adult daughters and one time lover.  The memories highlight how German soldiers would gain trust of the locals to gain information during the war.  The oranges referenced in the title refer to the orange slices Framboise would use to cause her mother to get migraines. These migraines would allow Framboise and her siblings to play and explore unsupervised.

This book was well written and went between the present day and the past seamlessly. I like how food was interwoven into the plot as well.   

Thirty: The Help - Kathryn Stockett

June Book Club Selection

Skeeter returns from college at Ole Miss to find her family maid, Constantine, has left and no one will tell her why.  She wants to be a writer and not be managed by her Mother.  Skeeter is able to convince the editor of the local newspaper to hire her to write the local housekeeping advice column.  The ironic part of the assignment is that Skeeter has never done any housework in her life. She ends up enlisting Aibileen, the black maid employed by her friend Elizabeth, to help her write the columns.

Aibileen has been a maid for all her life and currently is helping with her seventeenth white child - Mae Mobley.  She mourns her own son who died tragically recently.  She realizes that Skeeter is different from other white women and they begin to start a friendship.  Skeeter comes to her about the idea she had for a book- telling about life in the south from the perspective of the help.  Slowly, Aibileen tells her story to Skeeter and together they capture life as it is.  The publisher in New York City tells Skeeter that she needs not just one maid's story but 12 maid's stories.

Skeeter and Aibileen start to feel out other maids to see if they are willing to share their stories.  Aibileen's best friend Minnie is the hardest customer to convince.  Minnie is very outspoken and has been fired from many jobs.  She ends up being the maid for the local outcast - Celia.  Celia is different from the past employers that Minnie has had - she doesn't work, she talks to Minnie and wants to be her friend.

As Skeeter, Aibileen and Minnie continue to gather stories for the book, life in Southern Mississippi continues.  Skeeter finds it harder and harder to attend Junior League meetings.  She ends up losing friendships with her good friends Hilly and Elizabeth.  She dates the local senator's son Stuart but in the end breaks his heart.  Minnie becomes pregnant in order to stop her husband from beating her.  She begins to train her oldest daughter on how to be a maid.  Aibileen is witness to the civil unrest in the south one night riding the bus home.

Each chapter is told from a different perspective - Skeeter, Aibileen or Minnie - except for the chapter that describes the Junior League's annual banquet.  Kathryn does write in the local Southern dialect so getting used to reading and "hearing" that voice in your head.  I cannot recommend this book enough.  Our discussion at book club was really intense and exploratory of the topics that were in the book. 

Twenty-nine: The Queen's Dollmaker - Christine Trent

Claudette Laurent met the Dauphine - Marie Antoinette - at a young age.  She was enthralled by her beauty and youth.  Set in the backdrop of the French Revolution, The Queen's Dollmaker captures the political environment within Paris as well as between France and England.  Claudette is forced to flee to England after a fire destroys her father's doll shop and a carriage runs over her parents.  On the ship over to England she befriends a young Frenchwoman -Beatrice and her daughter.  Once they dock she is "sold" to a local family to be their French maid.  She quickly realizes that being a maid in this household was not going to be easy.  After a few months she saves enough money - from making dolls to be sold on the black market - to leave the household and rent her own place.

Eventually, Claudette is able to convince local fabric shops to give her samples of fabric to show off on her dolls.  She begins to build her doll making business and make her way in a foreign country.  She teaches Beatrice how to help her build the dolls so that they can support themselves. Claudette is always wondering if she will ever see her love of her life - Jean Phillipe again.  In the mean time she is woed by lord William Greycliffe who is impressed with her guts to make her own way. In the end Claudette is reunited with Jean Phillipe but not for the reasons she originally thought.  Her allegiance to the Dauphine is questioned as the political environment between France and England heats up.

I could not put this book down.  I liked the way the story was built around Marie Antoinette's legend.  The heroine is a strong woman and worked to overcome any obstacles in her way to happiness.

Twenty-eight: Amandine - Marlena De Blasi

***Full disclosure: This book was provided for free by Ballantine Books via LibraryThing's Early Reviewers group ***

Amandine is a story of a young girl raised as an orphan in a French convent where she learns to love her governess and fear the vengeful abbess who hates her without reason or remorse. Amandine longs for her real mother and it is this longing that takes her across war-torn Europe into the heart of French Resistance.  She magically and tragically moves towards the family she never knew.

I thought the back story of this book was interesting, but I felt that I was always wanting more to the story line. I felt that the description of the book made me think that at some point Amandine would be reunited with her family (spoiler - she never does find out who is her family - or her family find her).  This book just wasn't for me.