Friday, April 23, 2010

Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls~★★★★

Author: Jeannette Walls
Half Broke Horses
Release Date:
October 6th, 2009
Scribner, 1st edition
Based on true story

Book Jacket: "'Those old cows knew trouble was coming before we did.' So begins the story of Lily Casey Smith, Jeannette Walls's no-nonsense, resourceful, and spectacularly compelling grandmother. By age six, Lily was helping her father break horses. At fifteen, she left home to teach in a frontier town---riding five hundred miles on her pony, alone, to get to her job. She learned to drive a car ('I loved cars even more than than I loved horses. They didn't need to be fed if they weren't working, and they didn't leave big piles of manure all over the place') and fly a plane. And, with her husband, Jim, she ran a vast ranch in Arizona. She raised two children, one of whom is Jeannette's memorable mother, Rosemary Smith Walls, unforgettably portrayed in The Glass Castle.
Lily survived tornadoes, droughts, floods, the Great Depression, and the most heartbreaking personal tragedy. She bristled at prejudice of all kinds---against women, Native Americans, and anyone else who didn't fit the mold. Rosemary Smith Wallls always told Jeannette that she was like her grandmother, and in this true-life novel, Jeannette Walls channels that kindred spirit. Half Broke Horses is Laura Ingalls Wilder for adults, as riveting and dramatic as Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa or Beryl Markham's West with the Night. Destined to become a classic, it will transfix readers everywhere."
Taryn's Review:
I loved Jeannette Walls's memoir The Glass Castle. It was one of those books I finished in one reading. I was pleasantly excited when I saw this book on the bookshelf at the library!

Half Broke Horses, while it doesn't have the same magic that The Glass Castle did, was still a darn good read. Lily Casey Smith had a childhood that began in West Texas and ended up in Arizona, and Walls took the book in the direction where Lily was portrayed with the same dryness that West Texas and Arizona are known for. Lily said things just like they are, didn't dwell on much, and did what needed to be done no matter what.

There was a point in the book where I teared up (the personal tragedy the jacket talked about). Walls, in keeping with the fashion of the book, didn't build up to the event, didn't talk about Lily's emotions, but simply mentioned the event and moved on, which almost made it that much more painful for me to read. And the closing line of that chapter was heart-wrenching.

I would definitely recommend this book. For those that read The Glass Castle, again, it's not up the caliber of greatness that I felt that book was, but this is another book that makes you not want to turn out the light in bed so you can keep reading.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Vagrants by Yiyun Li~★★★

Author: Yiyun Li
The Vagrants
Release Date:
February 16th, 2010
Random House Trade Paperbacks

Book Jacket: "In luminous prose, award-winning author Yiyan Li weaves together the lives of unforgettable characters who are forced to make moral choices, and choices for survival, in China in the late 1970s.
As morning dawns on the provincial city of Muddy River, a spirited young woman, Gu Shan, once a devoted follower of Chairman Mao, has renounced her faith in Communism. Now a political prisoner, she is to be executed for her dissent. While Gu Shan's distraught mother makes bold decisions, her father begins to retreat into memories. Neither of them imagines that their daughter's death will have profound and far-reaching effects, in Muddy River and beyond. Among the characters affected are Kai, a beautiful radio announcer who is married to a man from a powerful family; Tong, a lonely seven-year-old boy; and Nini, a hungry young girl. Beijing is being rocked by the Democratic Wall Movement, an anti-Communist groundswell designed to move the country toward a more enlightened and open society, but the government backlash will be severe.
In this spellbinding novel, the brilliant Yiyun Li gives us a powerful and beautiful portrait of human courage and despair in dramatic times."
Taryn's Review: I didn't find the book to be powerful; I often had to force myself through it. For me, there was just too much going on and too many characters to try and sympathize with, which made it nearly impossible to create an emotional bond with the book.

I really wish Li would have narrowed down her characters so that the reader could connect with someone or one of the stories. The people in the book are centered around the execution of Gu Shan, a person Li told us very little about. Shan's parents' story is told, mainly her father's story, but for me, without knowing more about Gu Shan and her life, I couldn't connect with the Gus.

Bashi was another main character, a very mixed character. Bashi can be awful and cared little about his actions and their consequences on others; yet, his story interweaved intensely with Tong's. In fact, Bashi was the reason that Tong's story ended up the way it did as well as Nini's. Bashi was someone you sincerely hated at times. He also had an odd fascination with having a little girl, which was lost on me.

There were more characters I could talk about, but it makes my mind swirl a bit to get into them. Li is a good writer and at moments I would get into the reading, but then I was forced to switch characters which I didn't feel worked well in this book. It isn't a book I would discourage anyone from reading, but I'm not sure I would encourage anyone to pick it up, either.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell~★★★★★

Author: Margaret Mitchell
Gone with the Wind
Release Date:
First published 1936; this edition released April 1st, 1999
Publisher: First published by Macmillan; this edition published by Warner Books

Book Cover: "The greatest love story of our time, the story of of Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler. Margaret Mitchell's monumental epic of the South won a Pulitzer Prize, gave rise to the most popular motion picture of our time, and inspired a sequel that became the fastest selling novel of the century. It is one of the most popular books ever written; more than 28 million copies of the book sold in more than 37 countries. Today, more than 60 years after its initial publication, its achievements are unparalleled, and it remains the most revered American saga and the most beloved work by an American writer..."

Taryn's Review: I first came across the book Gone with the Wind in my hometown's dinky little library. It was one of the few books whose title I recognized on a pathetic, half-stocked shelf. I checked it out on a hot summer day with plans to stay indoors and tackle what I considered to be a massive book.

I fell in love that day. I don't know what it was about Scarlett O'Hara that made me love her so, but her magic captivated me. She was awful to most people and totally selfish in a lot of what she does. She was sassy and manipulative and just plain dreadful, yet, you wanted to know Scarlett. She was gorgeous, spirited, and said exactly what she thought about people and the world around her, good or bad.

And how can one not love the Rhett/Scarlett storyline? It's not the traditional love story at all and maybe that's why I'm so drawn to it. It's definitely not happily-ever-after.

I don't take the book to be factual nor representative of all Southern history (or U.S. history). It's not. It's a fictional book about a very small, elite group of people, but it's a damn good one. And if you are ever bored on the internet, look up Margaret Mitchell and do a little reading about her. She wrote only one book and wanted nothing to do with the movie production of her book. Mitchell was a spitfire and has some real hot-tempered quotes out there to read. Sadly, all she wanted was privacy after the movie came out yet the wild success of the film combined with the admirers of the book made that nearly impossible. In the end, Mitchell died a tragic death at a very young age.

The movie may be classic, but the book is way better. For me, it's an escape book; a book that sweeps you away and helps you leave the 21st century for a while. The book also paid more attention to Scarlett's relationship with her parents, provided a better background story, and helped the reader understand why Scarlett loved her mother so fiercely. The book also explained how Scarlett's Irish father ended up with Tara, the plantation they all loved so much. I've read this book many, many times and yet I still get excited when I pick it up for the next reading.