2014

The Housekeeper
and the Professor 

Yoko Ogawa 

3.5

 

The Housekeeper is sent by her agency to work for the Professor, a brilliant mathematician. The only problem is that due to a traumatic accident, the Professor's memory only lasts for 80 minutes. Hecan remember everything before the accident, but not after. When the Housekeeper arrives each day, it is as if she is meeting the Professor for the first time. He asks what her shoe size is and her birth date. Every number has a purpose and connection in life and he likes to find out what it is. The Housekeeper is intrigued with his formulas and calculations which sparks her own interest in Math. When the Professor realizes that the Housekeeper has a ten year old son at home, he insists that she brings him to work with her or after he gets out of school. When the Professor meets him, he calls the son, Root. he says the top of Root's head is flat like that of the math sign for root.The Professor and Root share a passion for baseball. Root also has math homework which he has to do while waiting for his mother to get done with work. It is through this connection of math and baseball between the two, that a wonderful friendship begins. But remember, the Professor starts over every 80 minutes.

The Housekeeper and Root value their friendship and relationship with the Professor. The begin to care deeply for the man. When a new 80 minute session starts, they can pick up the conversation where it left off by re-introducing the subject. They become their own family.

For some, time continues minute by minute. But for the Professor, it is suspended into 80 minutes. This is a beautiful story of a relationship where love grows for the ones moving on and the one suspended in time.

 

The Interestings Meg Wolitzer 

2.75

 

When Jules Jacobson crawled into the tepee with five other campers at a summer art camp, a friendship formed. They would call their group, "The Interestings". They were an eclectic group, ranging from acting, directing, animator, dancer, musician, and possible architect. The summer camp allowed each teen to find themselves and become there own person. At the end of the summer, Jules went home and suddenly felt out of place. She had found a new part of herself at camp and was most comfortable when she was with her new friends.

The group remained friends, but through their own separate lives and also together, their relationships change through success, tragedy, and hard times. What happens when some are rich and successful and some are not? When envy and jealousy hurt those closest to you? When tragedy, lies, and secrets ruin entire families?

This book covers decades of these six friends. But, not all friendships can last the test of time.

 

The Aviator's Wife Melanie
Benjamin
 

3.5

 

When Anne Morrow was a senior at Smith College, Charles Lindbergh celebrated his solo flight across the Atlantic. Anne and her classmates were all enamored with this new hero. At Christmas, Anne joined her family in Mexico City where her father, the US Ambassador to Mexico, was residing at the time. Little did Anne know that also spending the holidays with her family, was Charles Lindbergh himself. Her parents assumed that Charles would be interested in their older daughter, Elizabeth, who was always the center of attention. But Charles preferred Anne. She was quiet. an adventurer, and didn't want to be the center of attention as was Charles.

 

Charles saw Anne as one of his crew. He taught her how to fly, to read the stars to navigate, and how to read and send Morse Code. She was the first licensed female glider pilot in the United States. She was also mother to his six children. When their first born, Charles Jr., was kidnapped, Charles removed all existence of him from their lives and did not want Anne to mourn him any longer. The couple traveled the world together and then Charles traveled alone, leaving Anne to raise the children by herself. His return trips home, which didn't last very long, were long enough to disrupt their lives. When Charles vocalized and wrote about his agreements with Hitler and that of the German race, Anne stood by him, even though she didn't agree.


Anne had studied writing and literature in college. Charles encouraged her to write again, yet whenever she sat down to write for herself, he would ask her to write about him or rewrite what he had written. He won a Pulitzer in 1954, never giving Anne credit for her writing or of her contributions to his book.
 
In later years, Anne discovered that all the years he was in Germany alone, he had three mistresses and had fathered seven other children

Although this book is historical fiction, it is based on facts, letters, diaries, and other resources.  It gives us a look at a Charles Lindbergh many of us did not know and also of his wife, Anne. The book truly did what it was meant to do. It made us want to learn more about Anne and of Charles life outside of his as an aviator.
 
The Dovekeepers Alice Hoffman

3.5


Four women with very different past lives, find themselves working together as dovekeepers at the old fortress built by King Harrod and now occupied by their fellow Jews. They are there in the fortress on top of the mountain in Masada, part of the Judean desert.

The time period is 70 C.E. and the Romans have stormed the Temples and have driven the Jews from their Holy Land. The Roman armies destroy, steal, and rape, and kill everything in sight. The Jews flee in different directions hoping to find safety, while others stay and band forces, determined to fight back.

Yael is a young woman who's mother died in childbirth. Her father blamed Yael for the death of his wife so ignored his daughter and treated her like a servant. Her father was a trained assassin and her brother Amram became one as soon as he was old enough. He later joined the army and left home. When they were forced to leave their home, Yael was to accompany another family, the husband being an associate of Yael's father, across the desert for safety. Eventually, Yael arrives at the fortress.

Revka, the butcher's wife, is left after the murder of her husband and daughter, to take herself and two grandsons, now mute from the horror of the witnessing the murder and rape of their mother, to find safety. The boys father, Yoav, is stricken with grief and he is so filled with hate for the Romans that he leaves to fight with the army. Revka and the grandsons arrive at the fortress.

Asiza is a warrior's daughter. Her step-father allows her to ride and hunt alongside him behaving like a boy. After he leaves the family, her mother, Shirah, upon a message from a dove, travels with Asiza, and Asiza's sister, Nahara, and her brother, Adir. They arrive at the fortress.

Shirah, born in Alexandria, learns from her mother the ways of natural medicine, potions, and spells. When she is twelve, she is sent away to Jerusalem, where she meets her older cousin Eleazar ben Ya'ir. He was nineteen and already had a wife. Soon after, Eleazar's mother sees the bond between the two and sends Shirah away.
Years later, Shirah and her three children arrive at the fortress.

This book is based from the writings of Josephus. It tells of the actual siege on the fortress by the Romans, as told by the five survivors. It is a story not many of us have heard before. A great history lesson.

 

The Language of Flowers Vanessa Diffenbaugh

3.5


Victoria Jones has been in the foster care system since birth. In and out of different foster homes and group homes, she is now eighteen, emancipated from the system, and must find employment and housing on her own. During her three months in transitional housing, Victoria starts plants from seedlings that she has grown in her room. She transplants them in a pubic park which has become her new home.

 

When Victoria was ten, she was placed with Elizabeth who owned a vineyard. Victoria resisted Elizabeth from the beginning but Elizabeth, who saw herself in Victoria, was determined to make it work. Elizabeth taught Victoria everything she knew about plants, the grapes, the flowers in her garden, and the meaning of the flowers. The Victorian Language of Flowers was used to convey romantic expressions. Each flower had a meaning, whether it was love, anger, grief, or passion, the flower and the meaning conveyed to the receiver the intent from the giver.


Victoria finds a floral shop near the park and proves herself to the owner, Renata, that she has knowledge and a gift with floral arrangements. She is hired for weekend work, helping with purchases of the flowers at the market early in the morning, arrangements, and running the shop when left alone. When a customer comes into the shop asking for an arrangement, Victoria asks what purpose or message is the client wanting to convey. Through this first purchase, Victoria becomes popular with the clients and has many requests for arrangements.

While at the market one morning, Victoria comes face to face with a person from the past. This ignites Victoria to face her past, her present, and her future.

The book is written in chapters alternating with Victoria's present, then her past. Besides the wonderful definitions of the flowers, we also get a look into the foster care system and of those who are sent out on their own at the age of eighteen when the State "frees" them into society. Many of these young adults are not ready financially, emotionally, and socially, or have the education needed to be to be on their own.

 

The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat Edward Kelsey Moore

2.7

 

Odette, Clarice, and Barbara Jean, have been friends since high school. They were dubbed 'The Supremes' and sat at the same booth everyday after school at Earl's All-You--Eat-Diner. Decades later they remain friends and meet every Sunday after their three separate churches let out. They now bring their husbands and still sit in the same booth.

Odette, now married with grown children, wakes up early one morning with hot flashes. She goes to the kitchen where her mother comes in and starts visiting with her. She tells her she needs to get her hormones check and to see a doctor. She also tells her that she was just having a conversation with Big Earl and his wife Thelma. When Odette hears that, she knows that Big Earl must have died because her mom has been dead for six years and visits with Odette often. When Odette's mother Dora was alive, she also talked to ghosts. Now Odette had the same gift or curse.
 
Clarice grew up destined to be a classical pianist. She had offers to go away to perform and record. But when she met the football star, Richmond, she put all her dreams aside to be his wife. Now after all these years, she continues to live with his infidelity and her loneliness.
 
Barbara Jean grew up with an alcoholic mother. When her mother passed away while Barbara was in high school, Dora sent Odette and Clarice to her house with a roasted chicken. When Odette saw Barbara's situation with her mother's drunken boyfriend coming on to Barbara, Odette stepped in and rescued Barbara. After being rescued, Barbara moved into the diner under Big Earl's care. Big Earl was a father figure to a few in need of his help, including Odette's husband when he was in school. Big Earl also took in a white boy, Chick, to work in the diner. He lived in the storage area to escape the beatings of his brutal, racist brother. Since this was the 1960's, interracial dating was still frowned upon and it was very difficult to be a couple without discrimination. When Lester, an older, and prominent man came to town, he courted Barbara. Barbara chose him to marry. Barbara is now drinking to erase the memories of a tragedy her and Lester endured year ago.
 
The story goes back and forth as it unfolds each woman life's separately and together through the years. Through sickness, heartache, even the effects of their separate circumstantial births, the bond of their friendship never waver.
 

Their is a cast of characters and a few laugh out loud scenes. There are two voices in the book, Odette's and the narrator. This was confusing to some in our group. Some weren't thrilled with the ghosts but  I personally loved the ghosts, especially Mrs. Roosevelt. This is the author's first novel. He grew up listening to his mother's, aunts, cousins, and their friends conversations. This explains why he did an amazing job capturing the voices of these female women. The book has won awards and has been translated in other languages. A movie deal is in the making which doesn't surprise me in the least.

 

The Luminaries Eleanor Catton

2.5

 

The year is 1866 and the place is a small mining town in Hokitika, New Zealand. Gold has been discovered in the past years and many miners have flocked to the area to try their luck. Walter Moody is one of those men. A former lawyer, he has left the British Isles to change his career and life. Upon arriving, he enters a smoking room at The Crown Hotel, to relax and have a drink after a harrowing trip across the water. Upon entering the room, he notices 12 men of different backgrounds, quiet and tense. As he sits down to relax, he is approached by one of the men, Tom Balfour, who is in the shipping business. Mr. Balfour questions him as the others listen in though they appear to be occupied. He relates to Mr. Moody the story of what has brought all the men to gather in this place. Those not in attendance are: Crosby Wells who was found dead in his cabin,  Anna Wetherell, the local prostitute, who it appears stepped out into the road perhaps to kill herself, and Emery Staines, who disappeared the same night that Anna went into the road and Crosby died.

The first 240 pages introduces each character, their past and present history, and how they are all connected to each other in a variety of ways. From there on, they try to figure out who is responsible and what happened. It is a very complex murder mystery with many twists and turns that links the various characters through time and travel.

The structure, title, chapters, and character chart of the book is based on astrology and mathematical equations which was lost on me. The first chapter of the book is the longest and each chapter gets shorter and shorter. As the book progresses, the characters become more familiar, the pace and plot lines seem to move faster,(perhaps the shorter chapters help with this), and every characters individual story from the beginning is explained and resolved.

 

The Lost Prince Selden Edwards

3


It is 1918, and Weezie Putnam has just returned from her trip in Vienna. She brings with her: a manuscript which she wrote while there, a royal piece of jewelry, and a journal written and given to her by her then lover and future grandson. The journal is a detailed guide for her to follow to make sure her life, and the lives of others, play out exactly as they must in order for the future to happen as was described in the past. Time travel is always very complicated.

Now that Weezie has returned, she starts going by her actual name of Eleanor. She will resume her relationship with Frank Burden, who she was just with in Vienna, until the tragic event. She knows she will marry him, have children, and will find a way to carry through with each task as stated in the journal. She pursues business as a woman in a man's world, she meets with men such as JP Morgan, Freud whom she met in Vienna, and begins a new friendship with Freud's fellow contemporary, Carl Jung. She knows of events in the future such as the Titanic, but does not allow herself to warn anyone, with the exception of JP Morgan. Her dear friend Arnauld Esterhazy, is presumed dead in battle during WWI but she cannot believe it is true since she knows he has a future. In order for the future to happen, she must make sure no stone is left unturned until she finds him.

In the first book, we learn of a vibrant and rich Vienna before the start of WWI. Freud is a prominent doctor and his teachings and beliefs are new and exciting in the world of Psychology. In this book, WWI has begun and men have enlisted from different  countries. When Arnauld goes to war for Austria, he keeps a journal so we read in his words, the horror of war and what life was like for these men and boys. Influenza has infected many in the United States and as the men have gone overseas to war, they have taken the illness with them. There is now an influenza epidemic in the other countries as well. The horrors of war are evident as the injured men will be left not only with physical scars, but emotional scars as well. Although the term was not known at the time, but many suffered from PTSD and retreated into themselves, some not surfacing again. Carl Jung will be treating many of these men.

I would recommend reading "The Little Book" first, although, "The Lost Prince" can stand on its own. It will just make more sense if you read them in order. The review can be found in the year 2010.

 

The Lowland Jhumpa Lahiri

2.75

 

The lowland was an area between two ponds in the neighborhood of brothers Subhash and Udayan. When the rains came, it would flood and become one. When it dried, the brothers would use this area as a shortcut to a field they played in. In later years, it would become a place of tragedy and mourning.

Subhash is the older brother by 15 months. Quiet, cautious, and ever pleasing, he is the dutiful son. Udayan is the opposite; darer, impetuous, always looking for adventure. When it is time for Subhash to go to school, Udayan puts up such a fuss, that he is allowed to go to school with Subhash. They stay in the same grade throughout school. Both are very smart and creative. Subhash studies Chemistry and Udayan studies Physics.  While in college, Subhash decides he wants to continue his education and earn his PHD in America. Udayan, however, becomes involved in the uprising of the Naxalite/MAO movement, a movement who's purpose is to eradicate poverty in India. Udayan met his friend's sister, Gauri, and they marry without the consent of his parents. Once wed, the couple lives in Udayan's parents home. Word arrives to Subhash, that his brother has been killed in the movement and he must come home. Once there, he finds that Gauri is pregnant. He decides to do the honorable thing, to marry his brother's wife, and take her back to the States.

Gauri gives birth to a daughter, Bela. They decide not to tell her about Udayan being her natural father until later. But, Gauri is not a natural mother. She is consumed with herself and her own studies. She still lives with her memories of Udayan and what they did together for the movement. She at first tries to be a wife to Subhash but that doesn't last long. In the meantime, Subhash becomes a professor and researcher at the University. He becomes the sole parent in a house where there are two.

Life goes on and the years continue. We found the characters did not emotionally connect nor were there depth to the characters. We did not know if this was the author's neglect in her characters, or if in the Indian culture, there is a disconnect or emotional distance between one another.

 

The Bluest Eyes Tony Morrison

3.75

 

Sisters Claudia and Freida were two little black girls living in a small Ohio town in the Fall of 1941. Pecola Breedlove was a little black girl who was always being told that she was ugly. What she wanted most in the world was to have blue eyes. She felt if she had blue eyes, she would be beautiful and people would look at her differently. After her father burned down her house, she was sent to live with the sisters and their parents for awhile. When Claudia heard that Pecola wanted to have blue eyes, it made her very angry. She would tear off the heads of her dolls just because they had blue eyes and blonde hair. She did not want to play with a pretty white baby. She wanted a black doll like herself. How could Pecola want to have blue eyes?

 
Pecola's father, Cholly was an angry drunk who had been abandoned by his own father. Her mother, Pauline, did not show her affection yet showed affection to the daughter of the white family she worked for. She felt abandoned and unloved by her family. She thought if she was pretty like the white girls, she could be someone to love. The only attention she received from her father, was the times he raped her, he reliving his past when he was first with his wife. Consequently, she became pregnant.

The book is written in chapters according to the season and the lines from the Dick and Jane Readers. Morrison tells the story of the hardships and history of each character. When you read this book, make sure you get the edition with the Afterward.
 
My Beloved World Sonia Sotomayor Sonia Sotomayor is the first Hispanic and third woman appointed to the United States Supreme Court. This is her memoir of growing up from the projects in the Bronx, to becoming a judge in the Federal District Court, all before the age of forty.