Favorite Books Read in 2011
* in the order read *
Covers link to my take on each book
Did you read any of my favorites?
Author: Caroline Preston
Genre: Sequential Art; Historical Fiction
Published: October 2011 – Ecco
About: (from the book flap): For her graduation from high school in 1920, Frankie Pratt receives a scrapbook and her father’s old Corona typewriter. Despite Frankie’s dreams of becoming a writer, she must forgo a college scholarship to help her widowed mother. But when a mysterious Captain James sweeps her off her feet, her mother finds a way to protect Frankie from the less-than-noble intentions of her unsuitable beau.
My take: I’ll just start by saying The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt is one of my favorite books of 2011. It is Frances Pratt’s story told through her scrapbook. Caroline Preston compiled a wonderful array of 1920s memorabilia from the US and France. Each page is a feast for the eyes that conveys Frankie’s story as she moves from high school graduation to Vassar to New York City to Paris and back home again.
I was surprised by the emotional connection I felt to Frankie given the unusual style of this novel. Frankie’s notes, photos, souvenirs, etc. tell a personal and complete story of the first part of her adult life that demands re-reading just to take it all in. I love that! This is definitely one for my keeper shelf. Recommended.
Source: I bought it.
Disclaimer: See sidebar. I was not compensated for my review.
Author: Catherine McKenzie
About: (Book flap synopsis) Anne Blythe has a great life: a good job, good friends, and a potential book deal for her first novel. When it comes to finding someone to share it with, however, she just can’t seem to get it right.
After yet another relationship ends, Anne comes across a business card for what she thinks is a dating service, and she pockets it just in case. When her best friend, Sarah, announces she’s engaged, Anne can’t help feeling envious. On an impulse, she decides to give the service a try because maybe she could use a little assistance in finding the right man. But Anne soon discovers the company isn’t a dating service; it’s an exclusive, and pricey, arranged marriage service. She initially rejects the idea, but the more she thinks about it-and the company’s success rate-the more it appeals to her. After all, arranged marriages are the norm for millions of women around the world, so why wouldn’t it work for her?
A few months later, Anne is travelling to a Mexican resort, where in one short weekend she will meet and marry Jack. And against all odds, it seems to be working out-until Anne learns that Jack, and the company that arranged their marriage, are not what they seem at all.
My thoughts: If the synopsis appeals to you at all, find the book and read it! At first, although it sounded entertaining, I thought it also sounded too far-fetched but once I got into the story I loved every minute I spent with Anne, Jack and the rest of the characters.
What I liked most is the point that relationships based on friendship and compatibility have a better chance of working out than lust first, maybe love later or (as statistics show) probably divorce.
The author wrote in the first person which took me a few pages to get used to and then it was like listening to my best friend tell me this extraordinary story. I had a hard time putting it down each night.
Recommend? Yes, I enjoyed Arranged very much and look forward to reading more from Catherine McKenzie.
Source: PK from aisle b sent it to me. Thank you, PK!!
Author: Laura Dave
About: Annie, a travel writer in her early 30s, returns home from a recent trip to find that her long-time boyfriend (the one she thought would eventually be her husband) has decided he needs a break from her. She’s not completely shocked by the bad news because she had just watched Roman Holiday and something bad always happens after she watches that movie. But she manages to move on each time. This time she moves into a completely unexpected relationship which takes her on a journey to figure out what or who she wants.
My thoughts: At 244 pages The First Husband is a fast, funny, and heartfelt novel about the roads taken and sometimes not taken to find grown up love – the kind that lasts.
Laura Dave’s characters are charming and quirky and most seem to be on the same quest as Annie. There’s a lot of emotion packed into this story as it twists and turns its way to a satisfying conclusion.
The First Husband is one of those books that had me thinking about it long after I finished reading it – always a good sign.
Recommend? Yes! Read it on the beach or your favorite backyard chair or in your house. Just read it!
Author: Helen Simonson
Audiobook narrated by: Peter Altschuler
About: (from the Goodreads synopsis) Major Ernest Pettigrew, retired, of Edgecombe St. Mary, England, is more than a little dismayed by the sloppy manners, narcissism, and materialism of modern society. The decline of gentility is evident everywhere, from tea bags to designer sweaters, to racism masquerading as tolerance.
Mutual grief allies him with Mrs. Ali, a widowed local shopkeeper of Pakistani descent who has also resigned herself to dignified, if solitary, last years. The carefully suppressed passion between these two spawns twitters of disapproval in their provincial village, but Pettigrew hasn’t time for such silliness: real estate developers are plotting to carpet the fields outside his back door with mansionettes and his sister-in-law plans to auction off a prized family firearm. Meanwhile, Mrs. Ali’s late husband’s Muslim family expects her to hand over her hard-won business to her sullen, fundamentalist nephew, a notion she finds repellant and chauvinistic.
My take: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is a charming novel that I think most readers would enjoy. I listened to the audiobook narrated by Peter Altschuler. The voice he gave each character seemed just right. His narration made me laugh out loud more than a few times.
Helen Simonson’s novel is entertaining in a smart and humorous way. Although there were a few over-the-top minor characters I thought most seemed believable. Major Pettigrew and Mrs. Ali are strong and true in their convictions. They delight in each other even though they know that to pursue any kind of friendship would be frowned upon by their respective communities. Being true to themselves they become friends despite what anyone might say. That support ultimately gives each the strength to take a stand when confronted with some important challenges.
To say any more about the novel would take away the enjoyment of discovering it on your own so I’ll just say you should put it on your TBR list.
Recommend? Yes – especially the audiobook.
Source: I bought it
Author: Rebecca Rasmussen
Genre: Literary Fiction
About: (Back of the book) Whenever a bird flies into a window in Spring Green, Wisconsin, sisters Milly and Twiss get a visit. Twiss listens to the birds’ heartbeats, assessing what she can fix and what she can’t, while Milly listens to the heartaches of the people who’ve brought them. These spinster sisters have spent their lives nursing people and birds back to health.
But back in the summer of 1947, Milly and Twiss knew nothing about trying to mend what had been accidentally broken. Milly was known as a great beauty with emerald eyes and Twiss was a brazen wild child who never wore a dress or did what she was told. That was the summer their golf pro father got into an accident that cost him both his swing and his charm, and their mother, the daughter of a wealthy jeweler, finally admitted their hardscrabble lives wouldn’t change. . .
My take: Rebecca Rasmussen’s debut novel is a delicate portrait of a family who find that life doesn’t always deliver what had been promised. The family consists of a mother who married beneath her parents’ expectations, a father who aspired to be accepted by people who never would, and the daughters who simply want their family to be the way they used to be. When cousin Bett arrives for the summer she seems intent on throwing everyone off balance – and she does.
The story is told in the present and the past. I was completely drawn into the novel and felt an ache for the sisters as they tried to fix their broken family, each other, and then the injured birds.
Rasmussen’s portrayal of the sisters in their later years is bittersweet and lovely:
Now that she was old, Twiss understood why people her age stopped speaking and started sitting on porches. Language failed to describe the simplest of phenomena; a fine sunset, for example, was more than fine. There were no words, or Twiss couldn’t find them anymore, for the way the colors made her feel. She’d say to Milly, “It’s an especially pretty one tonight,” when she meant that it reminded her of other sunsets, and years, and people who had nothing to do with sunsets: pinks and reds and blues.
“It is,” Milly would say. Or she might add a word like “lovely” or “otherworldly” and then Twiss would know that Milly, too, was thinking about something else entirely as they passed a glass of iced tea back and forth and gazed at the changing colors of the sky. (p.105)
Reading this novel was like looking at a painting and with each glance discovering something new in the deceptive simplicity of it all. The Bird Sisters is the story of hopes, dreams, sacrifice, and the love of two sisters.
Rating: 5/5 stars
Title: Madame Tussaud
Author: Michelle Moran
Genre: Historical Fiction
About: (Goodreads synopsis) In this deft historical novel, Madame Tussaud (1761-1850) escapes the pages of trivia quizzes to become a real person far more arresting than even her waxwork sculptures. Who among us knew, for instance, that she moved freely through the royal court of Louis XVI, only to become a prisoner of the Reign of Terror?
My thoughts: Michelle Moran brings to life a familiar character while examining her place in history. I learned things I’d either forgotten or never knew about the French Revolution. Madame Tussaud and her family chronicled with wax models the royals and political figures of France in the time leading up to the revolution and beyond. It was not unusual for Robespierre and other revolutionaries to sit at their table for dinner and discussion. They also hosted private showings for the Royal family and other dignitaries. The common people of Paris who could afford the fee relied on the gallery to depict recent events and to always be of the moment. Because of her dedication to her profession Madame Tussaud had very little private time. She even tutored the sister of the King in wax modeling. As the Revolution turned into a bloodbath Marie was called upon to make death masks of beheaded Royals and royalists. She complied until the day she refused to make the mask of a friend. That sealed her fate as well as her mother’s. The story doesn’t end there but I don’t want to spoil it for other readers.
Michelle Moran’s gift for storytelling and detailed descriptions put me in the opulent halls at Versailles, the workroom at the Salon de Cire (the gallery), and in the middle of the crowd watching the executions-by-guillotine in the Place de la Révolution.
After reading Madame Tussaud I have a better understanding of this turbulent time in French history as well as an appreciation of one remarkable woman who is now much more than a trivia answer.
Recommend? Yes, if you like historical fiction I think you’ll like Madame Tussaud – it was a page-turner!
Source: Michelle Moran