Books read in September

Some good fiction reading this month…

Eat, Drink and Be From Mississippi
Nanci Kincaid
I grabbed this book because I had no fiction on hand and the train was coming. I was a bit leery, both because of the title (a bit too cute) and the way the author spelled her first name. Yes, I judge a book by its cover, it’s author’s name and its title, along with a host of other things. But 5o pages in, I was hooked and want to read everything Nanci Kincaid has ever written.

The synopsis of the book is a bit off. Don’t get impatient because you are pretty far in and the “troubled teenager” hasn’t shown up yet; he arrives in the second half of the book. The first half is a leisurely meander though Truley’s life, getting him from Mississippi to California and from high school student to successful entrepreneur. After that enjoyable setup we can make room for the troubled teenager.

Every once in awhile I get to read a book with delightful characters. Funny, interesting and flawed, I fall in love with them all. Add to that, the fact that Kincaid has some nice turns of phrase and you can take my recommendation that you sit yourself down with a nice book.

The Prophet of Yonwood
Jeanne DuPrau
The third book in the Ember series, this is billed as a prequel. I thought it failed on that front as the first 281 pages seemed to have no connection at all to the city of Ember, or the people of Sparks, for that matter. The story was interesting enough, but I kept wondering when I would find out how this connected to the previous books. If you are a reader similarly inclined, simply turn to page 182 and read “What happened after” first. Knowing the connection to the previous books, you can now begin the story at the beginning and read it on its own terms.

The Diamond of Darkhold
Jeanne DuPrau
After I finished The City of Ember, and before I realized there was an Ember series, I spent a few days wondering what, exactly the builders were thinking. Their whole setup seemed great for 200 years, but there seemed to be no plan for how the people of Ember would survive above ground without the collective knowledge of human history. I myself have a smattering of knowledge of how to grow food and consider myself handy, but I’m not sure if I could make it through a winter on my own, and I was raised on frontier novels with survivor tips disguised as plot points. The people of Ember had never seen a sunset, or experienced seasons, or even snow. What exactly were they supposed to do for food and shelter?

The first chapter of book four in the Ember series lets us know that the builders were thinking of how hard the emergence would be and explains that they decided to do something to give the people of Ember a head start–to make it easier on them. The builders put this mysterious something into a time-release vault for the people of Ember to find when they come above ground. After this setup, we are plunged (yay!) back to the village of Sparks where the former citizens of Ember and current citizens of Sparks are attempting to survive their first winter. We follow Lina and Doon as they find evidence of this thing that will make it easier on the Emberites. Being the Lina and Doon we know, of course they decide to solve this mystery on their own.

Now knowing the thing that the builders prepared, I have to say, “eh.” Sure, the item was helpful to the village of Sparks and allowed a great many things to happen, as we find out in the last chapter, but really. That’s what they thought of? A few books on creating food and shelter as well as natural medicines might have served the citizens a bit better.

That said, I enjoyed this seemingly last book in the Ember series. Like the first and second book, it was full of action and moral quandaries and Lina and Doon are great characters.

The Divorce Party
Laura Dave
Can you think of any circumstance in which it would be okay for your fiancee to neglect to mention that he has been married before? How about the fact that his family is worth half a billion dollars? Maggie, one of the two main characters in this novel discovers both of these things on the way to meet her fiancee’s parents for the first time. What’s worse, they are attending her future in-law’s Divorce Party.

I found this to be a nicely written novel with sympathetic characters and a few interesting plot twists. The last chapter in particular was a nice completion of a circle. At a brief 244 pages, this might be a nice vacation or rainy weekend read.

American Wife: a novel
Curtis Sittenfeld
I spent this weekend devouring this novel, and what a lovely way to pass a late-summer weekend. I heard Sittenfeld on Fresh Air when this book was first published and it was obvious to me that she was in love with her main character. This love comes through in the writing of this book, which I found added to my love of the book.

While many novels explore the compromises people make to remain with their married partner, most people won’t have to face the level of compromises that Alice Blackwell, the main character, makes over her the lifetime of her marriage to Charles Blackwell. The first third of the book explores Alice’s upbringing, and was where I fell in love with her too. She is a deeply sympathetic character.

The middle part of the novel–the troubles in the Blackwell’s marriage, was not as interesting to me, but if your attention starts to waver, stick it out. Because, what if you wanted to live your life essentially a private person, but your husband, who you deeply love, first runs for governer and then later runs for, and is elected, President of the United States of America? And then what if, early in his presidency a huge national tradegy occurs and your husband decides to start wars in two countries and eventually becomes one of the most hated sitting presidents in US History? How would you arrage your life?

Aside from being an entertaining story (the part where the Blackwell matriarch explains the reasons why Alice Blackwell needs to return to her alcoholic husband was a particularly fun few pages for me) this was a gentle reminder to remember that there are people behind the personas we see in the media. Also, Sittenfeld is a fabulous writer and I will be including several phrases and passages from this book in my quotes page. Highly recommended.

Sarah’s Quilt
Nancy E. Turner
Somewhat like a Michael Bay movie with it’s pretty much uninterrupted action scenes, this is the continuation of Sara Prine, the woman I first met in These is my words. Sara’s grammar is fine now, but she has a lot of problems, most of them stemming from the drought. As with the first book, about three-quarters of the way through I grew weary of all the hardship that come Mrs. Prine’s way. However, the force of her character kept me reading to the end. I’m taking a break from her for awhile, but I will return to read the next book in the series.

Food Not Lawns
H.C. Flores
This took me a long time to read, but it was worth it. Flores spends about one third of this book discussing how to build community, though there are suggestions/tips about permaculture, which she calls “paradise gardening.” A good solid recommendation for permaculture reading.

Started but did not finish

The Believers
Zoe Heller
I didn’t like the people peopling this book, so I dropped it before I even found out what the secret was.

Figures in Silk
Vanora Bennett
I started this, but it didn’t grab me and it is due tomorrow at the library. Back it goes.

The First Days of School
Harry K & Rosemary T. Wong
If I had unlimited time, I would dive into this again. However, my fiction slot has been taken up by Food Not Lawns for so long that I never even opened it. Perhaps when I get that first teaching job I will consult this.

Hope and Despair in the American City: Why there are no bad schools in Raleigh
Gerald Grant
I stopped reading this short, readable book before getting to the “hope” section. Reading about the decline of Syracuse just made me mad. Even though I haven’t finished it, this book will always be the book that opened my eyes to the fact that the mortgage subsidies most homeowners get add up to much more of a subsidy than welfare recipients get.

Ordinary Springs
Lenore Hart
You know how you think the book is going to unfold even when you are on page 20? You know how sometimes you read just to find out if you were right? This wasn’t one of those times. I couldn’t get into this.

The Solar Food Dryer: How to make and use your own high-performance, sun-powered food dryer.
Eban Fodor
A compact little book about how to do just what the title says. Fairly good instructions and it also include recipes. A bit of it is available on Google Books if you Google the title.

Did not even start

Troll: A love story.
Johanna Sinisalo
Perhaps it is the fact that this was translated from the Finnish that kept me from enjoying this novel with a great premise? I usually love books that are set in apparent modern times, but with just one or two fantasy elements. In this one, the fact that trolls exist wasn’t enough to keep me reading.

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