Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle

Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence was my first "travel" book to read. It was the book club choice for the month of March. While it seems that the majority of the people in the group found it to be a bit dull, I found it to be quite delightful and entertaining!

Peter and his wife move to Provence, France (from London) after vacationing there and falling in love with the small town. A Year in Provence is an account of their first year, broken up into chapters by month, and told from Peter's point of view. From the surprisingly frigid "Mistral" winds that greeted them in January, to the completion of their never-ending home renovations right before Christmas, the book is chock-full of amusing anecdotes and quaint villagers. There are goat races, annoying and unexpected houseguests, home renovations that never seem to end, and an eccentric and crusty old neighbor-- just to mention a little of what Peter experiences during his first year.

One of my favorite things about this book is the almost constant description of food! The people of Provence always seem to be eating all kinds of freshly baked bread, olives, various types of cheeses, and far more interesting sounding dishes than anything I normally eat, and always with plenty of wine. Also interesting is the descriptions of the various customs, and how Peter and his wife had to learn to decipher not only the French language, but also the body language and facial expressions common to the region.

The lifestyle they adopted was SO much more laid back than what they were used to in London. It sounded quite appealing to me! The only negative I found is that I would have liked Peter to be a little more personal. He gives very little information about his wife, their relationship, and their former life in London. But, since this was a travel memoir (I think that is the appropriate genre?), more emphasis was placed on what Peter was seeing and doing and less on what his personal thoughts and relationships were like. I still really enjoyed this book, and I would recommend it!

Date completed: March 2009
Number of pages: 207

Bedlam South by Mark Grisham and David Donaldson

In the last year, I have been on a bit of a Civil War kick. Maybe it's normal and I just wasn't aware, but it seems that there have been lots of historical fiction novels published recently about the Civil War. When I read several pre-publication reviews of Bedlam South by Mark Grisham and David Donaldson, I knew I had find a copy.

While perusing the authors' website, I saw that they were coming to my own town (north of Dallas, Texas) to do a book signing. I had never attended a book signing, so I was a little nervous about going by myself, so I convinced Trish to come too. We both didn't really know what to expect, and neither one of us had read the book, so we didn't really have a list of questions to ask. We were the first to arrive, and stood awkwardly in front of the authors for a few minutes. They seemed just as uncomfortable as we were, as this is their first book, and they hadn't done very many events. After we started talking, the tension and awkardness eased a bit, and it was very interesting to hear about how the two collaborated to write their book. Mark Grisham (brother to John Grisham) has always had a keen interest in the Civil War and has a history degree, and David Donaldson has a PhD and is a marriage and family counselor. Besides their differing scholastic backgrounds, the two also have very different writing styles. Mr. Grisham wrote about the soldiers and the battle scenes while Mr. Donaldson wrote about the insane asylum and the treatment for the patients. They both were true Southern gentlemen with their warm Mississippi accents and their willingness to answer our questions.

Bedlam South is unique in more than the just the method in which it was written. The central character, Dr. Joseph Bryarly, is not a soldier but a psychologist with a secret. From early on in the story, it is obvious he is trying to run from his past by focusing on giving his patients his best care. However, the asylums during the mid 1800s were terrible, and the patients were basically used for horrible experiments. Though Dr. Bryarly tries to help, he has little freedom to practice his own methods because the man in charge is an evil man who enjoys inflicting pain.

Zeke and Billy Gibson are two brothers fighting for the Confederacy. Billy is an officer and is a battle-hardened soldier, while Zeke is "fresh from the farm" and eager to fight. They are separated during the terrible battle of Fredricksburg and neither knows if the other survived.

These are just three of the many characters in Bedlam South. Though they all have their own stories, they share the same struggle to survive the war and protect those they love. Though Grisham and Donaldson have great characters with intriguing storylines, there are almost too many in the 320 pages. It seems as if none of the characters truly were developed to their potential. An exmple is Mary Beth Greene, who is a prostitute, yet still a lady. I would have liked to have gotten to know her story better instead of just a few bits and pieces here and there. The writing can be a bit rudimentary at times and a little heavy on the cliches. However, I did enjoy the book, and I felt sorrow and joy right along with the characters. I believe Grisham and Donaldson are working on another book, and I will definitely be interested in reading it.

Date Completed: February 2009
Number of pages: 322

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A Challenge, a Read-a-Thon and random thoughts (oh my!)

The last last few months, I have become a not-so-great blogger. I haven't been posting very frequently, I haven't been commenting on others' blogs very often, and I've been skimming posts far more than actually reading every word. While this makes me feel a little guilty, the reason for this is that I've been spending lots of quality time with my husband (who was away from home for 2 years for work) and my friends and family. Like everyone else out there, I can't seem to find enough time to do all the things I want to do. So, the area that I'm spending less time on than I would like is blogging. However, I am still reading books, I am still reading blogs, and I am trying to comment when I have something to say. Though I have become a bit of a lurker, it's only because I'm trying not to spend too much time on the computer, but I'm still here, and I still enjoy the blogging community!!

I knew that with my husband back home, I wouldn't have as much time for reading and blogging as I did last year, so I decided not to join any challenges this year. I accidentally joined too many last year, then I felt really bad when I didn't complete all of them. However, I HAVE to join Trish's Classics Challenge for 3 reasons: 1. Trish is awesome. 2. I LOVE the button that Nymeth created. 3. I need a little extra push to read classics. Since this is already a long post, I'm not going to include the rules for the challenge, and if you are interested, please visit the challenge blog. The following is my list for the "classics snack" option:

1. My Antonia by Willa Cather

2. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

3. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

4. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

(Possible alternates: Oliver Twist and The Age of Innocence)

Bonus Future Classic: Empire Falls or The Joy Luck Club

Lastly, I was VERY excited to hear that the exciting 24-hour Read-a-thon event is going to be April 18-19th. Dewey started the read-a-thon, and I think it is wonderful that others are continuing this event. I had tons of fun participating in October 2008, and I'm really looking forward to getting involved again in April!

The Triumph of Deborah by Eva Etzioni-Halevy

I was surprised and thrilled when I received an e-mail from Eva Etzioni-Halevy asking if I would read and review her book, The Triumph of Deborah. I had seen her book reviewed by several other bloggers and I was already interested in reading it, as I enjoy both historical fiction as well as reading about Biblical characters and time periods.

Deborah is a leader and judge of the Israelites, which is unusual as women were very rarely in any position of authority. She knows the Israelite army must push back the Canaanites, who are trying to overtake the Israelite land, but she hates to send her people into battle. She convinces Barak, a young warrior, to lead the battle, even though others advise her to follow older and more experienced soldiers' plans. Deborah and her husband have disagreements over this issue, and they can't seem to find a compromise.

Barak is successful in battle and after defeating the Canaanites, he brings back the Canaanite women and children to his city. He has his eye set on Asherah, a Canaanite princess, and takes her to his home to be his wife. She has no desire to be the wife of her enemy, and looks for ways to escape. Nogah, whose father was the Canaanite king, and whose mother was an Israelite captive in Canaan, decides to work in Barak's house as a servant. She catches Barak's eye as well, even though she is not as beautiful as Asherah.

The Triumph of Deborah weaves together the lives of Deborah and Barak and shows the struggles they have in their respective positions of power, and how this affects their personal relationships as well. Including much Biblical history, Etzioni-Halevy also includes many passages from the Bible about the laws for the Israelite people. Though the passage in the book of Judges that tells about the real judge Deborah, is relatively short (Judges chapters 4 and 5), Etzioni-Halevy drew from other books in the Old Testament to paint a realistic picture of what life would be like for Israelites in that time.

I especially found this to be an interesting book to read, as one of my goals for the year 2009 is to read through the Bible. As I was reading this book, I was simultaneously reading the Old Testament, and I frequently came across the passages in the Bible that were included in the book. (I would have appreciated it if these passages in the book were given footnotes to the verses in the Bible, for easy reference.) While the basics of The Triumph of Deborah are true to the Biblical account, much of the book is fictionalized. I greatly enjoyed the fictional character Nogah, and I almost feel that she is a stronger female character than Deborah. I was disappointed that the sexual relationships were so dominant. What was described as love between the characters seemed more like lust, and this dampened my enjoyment of the book overall. However, the book is engaging and well-researched, and reading it made me interested in doing some research of my own on the life of Deborah, as well as this time period. I really appreciate Mrs. Etzioni-Halevy sending the book, and I have added her other two books, The Song of Hannah and The Garden of Ruth to my "to be read" list.

Number of pages: 358
Date Completed: February 2009