Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The Friday Night Knitting Club

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The Friday Night Knitting Club is the first novel from Kate Jacobs (a sequel, called Knit Two, has just been published). It tells the story of Georgia Walker, a single mother in Manhattan who supports herself and her twelve year old daughter by operating a yarn store, and taking commissions for knitwear.

Through her years of running the store, Georgia has met other knitters. Her relationships with them have evolved into the eponymous Friday Night Knitting Club, which meets at her store. Georgia’s daughter, Dakota, is an accomplished baker who provides treats for the group. The group consists of regulars, as well as women who drop in occasionally.

While The Friday Night Knitting Club is the best book I’ve read in a while, it is not that great.  Georgia expends a great deal of energy being angry and resentful of people who have betrayed her. The other characters are not really well developed. I continually had trouble figuring out who was whom. A number of the books I’ve read lately involve women who quilt, and now this! Enough already-not every woman in America is busy handcrafting baby blankets.

On the brighter side, I have just started reading two books which seem much more promising. I hope to finish at least one of them soon.

In USA:

Published in hardcover-Putnam Adult 2007
Softcover edition-Berkley 2008

The Friday Night Knitting Club

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Rashi's Daughters-Book I: Joheved

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This is the first book in the trilogy Rashi’s Daughters, by Maggie Anton. The second book is Miriam, and the third, Rachel, is yet to be published. Rashi was an 11th Century French Talmud scholar. He wrote the first Talmud commentary, and is still studied and quoted today. Having no sons, he taught Talmud to his daughters. This was then, and in some circles now, considered a revolutionary idea.

Joheved was the eldest of three daughters of Rashi (an acronym for his real name, Rabbi Salomon ben Isaac) and his wife Rivka. They lived in Troyes, France. With the help of the Jewish community of Troyes, Rashi established a yeshiva in Troyes. Students, all boys, came from towns near and far to study with Rashi. Meir ben Samuel is the son of a local, wealthy landowner. He is a student at the same yeshiva in Mayence at which Rashi had studied. He and Joheved become betrothed, and Meir comes to study at Rashi’s yeshiva.

The place and the time where these events happen are thoroughly researched. It is interesting to read about Jewish life in medieval France. However, the story itself lacks any real interest for me. There is no real conflict or surprise here. The characters are dull and lack dimension.

I had higher hopes for Joheved. And I’m still looking for a great book to read!

In USA:

Softcover edition-Banot Press 2005

Rashi’s Daughters, Book 1: Joheved

Intuition

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Why, oh why can’t I find a good book to read? I struggled through Intuition because it was a book club selection. And also because I had really enjoyed Allegra Goodman’s Kaaterskill Falls. This should have been the type of book I enjoy. Unfortunately, I had to struggle through every chapter.

Intuition is about a fictional research laboratory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and what happens when one of the postdoctoral fellows gets positive results from an experiment. The brash, ambitious co-director of the lab pushes the results towards publication, perhaps prematurely. The former girlfriend of the researcher begins to have suspicions about the work. Is she just jealous? Is there fraud involved, or merely sloppy record-keeping?

Basically-I don’t care. The characters are boring. There are a number of ancillary characters who seem potentially more interesting, but we don’t get a chance to know them in depth. And I think that depth, or the lack of it, is the problem with this novel. The characters are stereotypes. They lack motivation and interest. Once the plot line is established, the end result seems preordained.

Allegra Goodman-you can do better!

In USA:
Published in hardcover-Dial Press 2006
Softcover edition-Dial Press-2007

Intuition

The Idea of Perfection

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The Idea of Perfection is another book I’ve read for the Book Awards Reading Challenge. Sadly, it’s another award winning book that I just couldn’t like. This novel by Kate Grenville, an Australian writer, won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2001. The truly curious thing is that same year, Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin was shortlisted for the same prize. I had read that long before I started this blog, and it is a far superior novel.

This book hosts the most unlikely cast of characters one could imagine. The principle characters are supposed to be Harley Savage and Douglas Cheeseman. They are strangers on temporary work assignments in the fictional town of Karakarook, New South Wales. Harley is in town to help build a “heritage museum”. She is a textiles expert from a museum in Sydney. Douglas is an engineer, who has been sent to supervise the destruction of an old, worn-out bridge, and the construction of its replacement. They are both incredibly self-involved. They question every move and conversation-who has time for that?

A portion of the book is devoted to the story of Felicity Porcelline, the prim wife of the bank manager. In fact, she seems to be more of a main character than Harley or Douglas. Far too much of the book is focused on Felicity fantasizing about the town’s Chinese butcher/photographer, Alfred Chang. Talk about an unlikely character.

I really had to force myself to read this book all the way through. Is it too much to ask that a book be well-written and have interesting characters that I could enjoy reading about?

In USA:

Published in hardcover-Viking Penguin 2002
Softcover edition-Penguin 2003

The Idea of Perfection

Where Are You Now?

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Mary Higgins Clark-what else can I say? This book came my way when I was looking for a little distraction and light reading. Perfect! If I hadn’t promised myself to write a post about every book I read, I wouldn’t have bothered with this entry.

Let’s face it, Clark’s books are all pretty much the same. Her astounding popularity, and ability to sell books, have always perplexed me. Where Are You Now? is slightly better than the last MHC book I read (don’t remember the title). It’s a mystery, with the requisite red herrings thrown in.

I really have nothing else to say about this book. If you’re a fan of MHC, read it.

In USA:

Published in hard cover-Simon & Schuster-2008
Softcover edition-Pocket Books to be published March 2009

Where Are You Now?: A Novel

The Appeal

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The Appeal is the latest legal thriller by John Grisham. Once again, the wealthy and powerful are preying on the poor and weak. This time, the scheme involves fixing an election for the Mississippi State Supreme Court. The short term goal is to overturn a particular jury verdict; the long term goal is to make it virtually impossible for a plaintiff to successfully sue for damages in a personal injury case.

The protagonists include a husband-wife team of attorneys, Wes and May Grace Payton. The Paytons represent a number of plaintiffs suing Krane Chemical for deaths and illnesses caused by Krane’s dumping of toxic waste, which has polluted the groundwater in Bowmore, Mississippi. As the book opens, the jury returns a $41 million verdict in the first of the cases to go to trial.

Of course Krane will appeal. But how can Krane possibly win on appeal when the State Supreme Court routinely votes 5-4 to uphold such jury verdicts? Enter Barry Rinehart, a shady operative whose business is finding, and electing, pro-business candidates for seats on appeals courts.

The concept of The Appeal is interesting. And the book is a quick and easy read. At this point, Grisham seems to be writing with half the enthusiasm of his earlier works. There is little tension, and the characters are not all that interesting or sympathetic. If you are a Grisham fan, you should read The Appeal. Otherwise, maybe buy the paperback and save it for that long airport layover.

In USA:

Published in hardcover-Doubleday 2008
Softcover edition-Dell 2008

The Appeal

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China

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The Wild Swans:Three Daughters of China is the fourth book I’ve completed for the Book Awards Reading Challenge. This memoir won the British Book Awards “Book of the Year” in 1994. Wild Swans tells the story of three generations of women in Jung Chang’s family: her grandmother, her mother, and herself. It spans the years from 1909, when her grandmother was born, to 1978, the year Jung Chang left China to study in Great Britain.

Wild Swans encompasses the personal history of Chang’s family, as well as the tumultuous history of China. At the age of 15 Yu-fang, the author’s grandmother, became the concubine of a warlord. Jung Chang’s mother, De-hong, was born 7 years later. After the war lord’s death in 1933, Yu-fang married Dr. Xia. De-hong was raised in his household, as one of his children. Jung Chang was born in 1952, the second of 5 children born to De-hong and her husband, Shou-yu.

This book details the family’s struggles, as China itself struggles. Some events that impact the family include: World War II; the rise of Mao Tse Tung and the Communist party,;the founding of the People’ Republic of China; the Great Leap Forward; the Cultural Revolution; and China’s eventual opening up to the West.

Chang’s parents are loyal Communists, yet they suffer denunciation, re-education and imprisonment. The entire family is subject to the daily indignities of life in a totalitarian society. As children, Chang and her siblings rarely see their parents. Fortunately, Yu-fang is able to care for them.

Wild Swans is a very long and complex book. The appendices include a brief chronology of modern China juxtaposed with Chang’s family’s milestones. There is also a very helpful family tee and a map of China. I referred to these often. This memoir is quite thorough. I learned a tremendous amount about modern China.

Unfortunately, it did get a bit repetitious. We read numerous times that De-hong was upset that her husband put his very strict Communist principles before his family’s well-being. And the family’s constant struggles with other Communist Party officials, while important, are also tedious after a while. Some of the language seems a bit stilted. Chang did not learn English until her early 20’s, and the awkwardness shows. Overall, this memoir was quite good. It took me a very long time to read it, and I think it would be improved greatly by skillful editing.

In USA:

Published in hardcover- Simon & Schuster-1993
Softcover edition-Touchstone 2003

Wild Swans : Three Daughters of China