Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown Girl DreamingBrown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Beautifully written and a quick read, this is a childhood memoir written in free verse. The audiobook was read by the author. I never felt like I was listening to “poetry” but it all had a kind of flow that worked for each short snippet of memory. I am not sure how this would appeal to children, but to a white woman who also grew up in the 60s, this was a trip down memory lane. It made me think about my own childhood and the part that family, religion, and school teachers played. She describes a life both extraordinary and ordinary, both different and familiar to my own. I never felt distanced by her experiences as a black person growing up during the Civil Rights movement, or her memories of racism. I was more struck by how universal her experiences and memories were, and I think anyone reading this, young or old, black or white, will find much to relate to.

Book description: Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.

Come Rain or Come Shine

Come Rain or Come Shine (Mitford Years, #13)Come Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Family – that says it all. The minute I heard John McDonough’s voice I was back in Mitford with all of these special people. But other than that, the preachiness was a little over the top, and the plot was pretty slim compared to the earlier books. Lots of reminiscing by the characters, so if you’ve read the other Mitford books, you’ll be nodding your head – “oh yeah – I remember that….” And that’s pretty much all it is – a wedding that brings all the familiar characters together and gives them a chance to reflect on how they got where they are – all thanks to God, of course.

Book description: Over the course of twelve Mitford novels, fans have kept a special place in their hearts for Dooley Kavanagh, first seen in At Home in Mitford as a barefoot, freckle-faced boy in filthy overalls. Now, Father Tim Kavanagh’s adopted son has graduated from vet school and opened his own animal clinic. Since money will be tight for a while, maybe he and Lace Harper, his once and future soul mate, should keep their wedding simple. So the plan is to eliminate the cost of catering and do potluck. Ought to be fun. An old friend offers to bring his well-known country band. Gratis. And once mucked out, the barn works as a perfect venue for seating family and friends. Piece of cake, right?

Circling the Sun

Circling the SunCircling the Sun by Paula McLain
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This took me a long time to finish, because it kept getting interrupted by other things with time limits that I had to read. I learned a lot about Beryl Markham’s life prior to her flight across the Atlantic Ocean, but then I knew very little to begin with. Anything to do with aviation was mostly an afterthought. The epilogue felt tacked on and wasn’t necessary at all. The last chapter had such a great ending line – it really should have ended there. It’s a good story – as fiction – but the over-romanticization (is that a word?) of her writing makes me doubt that her Beryl is true to life. It does make me want to learn more, and perhaps read Beryl’s own book.

Otherwise, I found myself frustrated by shallow characters. At times Beryl seemed impossibly naïve and other times she was given a wisdom and grace that was beyond her years and experience. All of the men seemed to be out to take advantage of her, and perhaps that was true. Certainly she made some poor life choices. On the other hand, here was a woman who refused to give up, who refused to be defined by the conventions of her society. In that regard, she seemed more like the native Africans that she grew up with, and it surely had a huge impact on her personality. I am not a fan of colonialism, and while many of the English here seem dissolute and selfish, she also over-romanticizes the native culture. So enjoy this book for its poetic writing and if you like romances you’ll probably like this a lot, although the actual romance here doesn’t have a happy ending. But the romance does serve as the catalyst for Beryl’s future life as an aviator. A good story. I’m just not sure it is a “true” one.

Book description: Circling the Sun brings to life a fearless and captivating woman—Beryl Markham, a record-setting aviator caught up in a passionate love triangle with safari hunter Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen, who as Isak Dinesen wrote the classic memoir Out of Africa. Brought to Kenya from England as a child and then abandoned by her mother, Beryl is raised by both her father and the native Kipsigis tribe who share his estate. Her unconventional upbringing transforms Beryl into a bold young woman with a fierce love of all things wild and an inherent understanding of nature’s delicate balance. But even the wild child must grow up, and when everything Beryl knows and trusts dissolves, she is catapulted into a string of disastrous relationships. Ultimately, it’s the ruggedly charismatic Denys Finch Hatton who helps Beryl navigate the uncharted territory of her own heart. The intensity of their love reveals Beryl’s truest self and her fate: to fly.


All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot SeeAll the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Review may contain spoilers……..

I liked this book a lot, but I didn’t LOVE it. Definitely literary fiction – characterized by the writing rather than plot or characters. Lots of rich, beautiful, detailed descriptions about anything and everything. Plotwise, it constantly moves back and forth in time and point of view which may be distracting/discouraging for some readers. I didn’t have a problem with that, although occasionally I would find myself wondering “who is this character again?” It builds up to being (or could have been) a great love story, but when the two main characters finally meet, it is late in the tale and all too brief. So that was something of a let-down for me. Also, the plot device of the valuable diamond – the story of the curse never really went anywhere. The diamond was just another “character” to be followed through the story. You could almost think of this book as a collection of short stories. Some of the characters were revisited at the end so you knew what happened to them. Others were dropped and never reappeared, or their appearance in the first place was just part of the description, but not really relevant to the plot. So bottom line – beautiful writing, lots of gaps in the plot, and an ending that made you wonder what the point was of all that the characters went through.

Book description: Marie-Laure lives in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where her father works. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel. In a mining town in Germany, Werner Pfennig, an orphan, grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find that brings them news and stories from places they have never seen or imagined. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments and is enlisted to use his talent to track down the resistance. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another.