ARC Review: The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo

magicianThis is one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful books I have ever read.  The bookstore received some promotional cards with a note written by the author.  She states:  Telling the story of the magician and the elephant and Peter and Adele was a profound and powerful experience for me.  It is my outrageous wish that you, as you read this tale, will find some of the comfort and hope and magic, some of the healing power, that I found in the writing of it. And believe me, you will.  On several occasions, okay through most of the book, I found myself tearing up at the beauty within this book and its memorable characters.  It leaves you asking, “What if?  Why not?  Could it be?”.

I am not going to give away any of the book’s plot or its secrets.  Just take my word for it and reserve a copy for yourself and everyone in your life who has some sort of hold on you.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

images-5 I just finished my first book of the read-a-thon.   I actually had an ARC of this book for a while, but for some reason I just kept avoiding it.  Well, I am glad I changed my mind.  I really loved this book and found myself swept up in the characters and their stories.

The book takes place in Mississippi in the early 60s.  While some parts of the nation are awakening to civil rights, Mississippi is not one of those parts.  This is a world of segregation and racism, inequality and ignorance.  The book follows the lives of three characters, Aibileen who is a black maid who has raised over seventeen white children, Minny another black maid who has lost several jobs due to her inability to “keep her mouth shut” and Skeeter the young white woman who is home from college.  Skeeter decides she is going to write a book that is a collection of maids’ stories, not realizing the dangers that such an endeavor faces.  What follows is an unlikely friendship between these three woman as they share their stories of heartbreak, loss and love.

The books alternates between these three characters and we learn about their lives, their pasts and all the complexities that make up each woman.   Each woman is taking a gigantic risk in this project and they all have something to lose.  But what they have to gain is so much more important.

I have included the following quote from the book, which I think sums it up quite nicely:

“Wasn’t that the point of hte book?  For women to realize, We are just two people.  Not that much separates us.  Not nearly as much as I’d thought.”

ARC Review: Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

images-3I am a fan of Lisa See. I loved Peony in Love and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, and had high expectations for Shanghai Girls. She did not disappoint, in fact I think this one may be may favorite.

Summary: This is the story of two sisters, Pearl and May, born in Shanghai. They come from a wealthy family and live a life of luxury, but eventually their father gambles away all of the family’s money. In order to pay back some of his debts, he sells his daughters as wives to two American-born Chinese men. The sisters move to Los Angeles, in hopes of a better life with their husbands. Spanning a time period of 1930-the late 1950’s, See takes her readers from Shanghai as the Japanese are dropping bombs through WWII and the rise of a Communist China. The story is told from the point of view of the older sister, Pearl and we see America through the eyes of a young woman who struggles to start a home and family in a country who doesn’t want her.

Review:  The struggles that these two sisters face are immense.  They are heartbreakingly sad and tragic, yet I never lost faith in Pearl and May.  Their bond as sisters is real, they argue, they compete, they see the same events from completely different perspectives, yet their faith and love for one another remains strong and keeps them together through it all.  The sacrifices each makes for the other are staggeringly huge, and not truly understood until the very end of the novel.  Lisa See also offers a portrayal of America that is not shown and a voice that is not often heard.  The persecution that Chinese immigrants faced in the 30s, 40s and 50s is horrifying and tested all family ties.  However, when Pearl is forced to leave her home and thrust into a culture of which she know nothing about, family is the one thing that will pull her through.  While this story most definitely contains a lot of historical information, I think the true heart of this story lies within the Louie family and how they grow to love and support one another.  I highly recommend this book.

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ARC Review: The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams

images-4I just finished reading an ARC of The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams and wow!  This book left me reeling a little bit.  It is the story of a 13 year old girl named Kyra who is part of a polygamist cult and has been chosen to marry her 60 year old uncle.  Forced to choose between freedom and family, Kyra has to make a decision which could have deadly consequences.

Williams writes sparingly and powerfully, giving her readers an all too real look into the dark world of polygamy, the ties that bind families together and the power struggles which break them apart.  I devoured this book in one sitting, completely horrified and moved by Kyra’s struggle.  From the opening line to the final paragraph, I was completely engrossed.  Just like in David Ebershoff’s The Nineteenth Wife, the author provides a human side to the life inside a cult and we sympathisize with the characters in ways we could never imagine.  I was moved to tears in several parts and the ending, while hopeful, is heartbreakingly sad at the same time.  I predict this book will be a huge success.reading-emoticon1reading-emoticonreading-emoticonreading-emoticon1

The Weight of Heaven

images-11This book is fittingly titled The Weight of Heaven. And weigh heavily, it did. The ending left me reeling and won’t leave me for awhile.

Summary(from inside book flap): Haunted by memories of his dead son, Frank is consumed with making things right.  When Frank and Ellie Benton lose their only child, seven-year-old Benny, to a sudden illness, the perfect life they’d built is shattered. Filled with wrenching memories, their Ann Arbor home becomes unbearable and their marriage founders. But an unexpected job half a world away offers them an opportunity to start again, Life in Girbaug, India, holds promise- and peril- when Frank befriends Ramesh, a bright, curious boy who quickly becomes the focus of the grieving man’s attentions. Haunted by his family right- a quest that will lead him down an ever-darkening path that will have stark repercussions.

Review: This book was definitely a powerhouse of emotions. Alternating viewpoints between Frank, Ellie and Ramesh’s father, Prakesh, Umrigar really delves into the psyche of the characters. We witness Frank’s desperation to keep his family together via the young boy Ramsesh, we share Prakesh’s feelings of inadequacy in providing for his son and we sympathize with Ellie who feels the guilt her husband places on her for Benny’s death. The novel shows the cultural gap between America and India, the struggle between those with power and those without, and most of all, the difficulty of overcoming the loss of a child.

By the end of the novel, Frank has become a man blinded and imprisoned by his grief: “He admitted the answer to himself: Ramesh had become the brightest star in (his) galaxy, his sun, and without the sun his future looked barren and dark. Without the sun- without the son- there was only the Father, lost and lonely, with nothing to guide his path.” The choices he makes are devastating and final, and he lives up to his grandmother’s words, “You know the most dangerous force on earth, darlin’? It ain’t the atom bomb. It’s a man who is truly free. That’s who you gotta watch out for.” And so Frank becomes free in the end, but is the price of freedom worth it?