The Violets of March by Sarah Jio – Book Review

The Violets of March by Sarah Jio
Published by Plum, an imprint of Penguin

When Emily’s marriage falls apart, she doesn’t cry, and she doesn’t rage. In fact, her best friend is a bit worried about the degree to which she is repressing her feelings and Emily quite clearly isn’t actually dealing with her divorce. As a novelist – and a stalled one at that – there is no 9 to 5 job where Emily must clock in, so she finally decides to visit her Great Aunt Bee on Bainbridge Island in Washington for a change of scenery. While there, she runs into an old boyfriend from her youth summering on the island, as well as a slightly mysterious yet handsome neighbor. Even more compelling to Emily than the men she meets, though, is the red journal she finds in the room she is staying in. Did Aunt Bee try her hand at fiction, or is this really the diary of a woman named Esther? And, if so, what happened to her, and what does any of this have to do with the unhealed schism between Aunt Bee and Emily’s mother?

The Violets of March was simply a lovely book. Jio clearly loves her characters dearly, and her fondness for them makes them irresistible to the reader. This may sound like a setup with the potential to be saccharine, but Jio has a great sense of balance and narrative that prevents her story from turning campy or emotionally manipulative, while allowing it to be genuinely moving. Both Emily’s modern story and the mystery of the diary were well drawn, and Jio did a masterful job weaving them together in a way that detracted from neither story.

This was a beautiful and well-written story of redemption, hope, and starting over. I can’t wait to see what Jio has for us next. Highly recommended.

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Source: Publisher.
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The Atlas of Love by Laurie Frankel – Book Review

The Atlas of Love by Laurie Frankel
Published by St. Martin’s Press, an imprint of Macmillan

Janey has always had a thing for babies, ever since she was six and found an abandoned baby in the planter at a hotel with her grandmother. So when Jill, one of her best friends in grad school,  gets pregnant and the father doesn’t want to be involved, it seems like an obvious choice for Janey, Jill, and Katie to move in together and share parenting duties. Janey, Jill, and Katie have a classic friendship, born of loneliness, uncertainty, and terrible grad school eating habits. They have always had their own apartments, but Janey has always mothered them all, and now she’ll have a real live baby to mother. Things begin swimmingly when Jill’s son Atlas makes his appearance, but as the three young women try to balance school, teaching, living together, and motherhood things become predictably stressed.

The Atlas of Love could easily have been an immensely mediocre book. It would not take a Masters in Literature to predict how this experiment in shared motherhood will end. Yet it is exactly a Masters in Literature that lends The Atlas of Love its charm. Laurie Frankel teaches in an English department, and Janey and all of her friends are graduate students in English. The self-referential literature remarks, Janey’s comparison of their life to the literature she studies, these things are what The Atlas of Love unique and interesting.

Join the conversation on March 31, 2011

A touching story of friendship, parental love, and unconventional families. Recommended.

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Source: Publisher for SheKnows Book Club.
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The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht – Mini Review

The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht
Published by Random House

In The Tigers Wife, Tea Obreht’s gorgeous novel set in a war-ravaged Eastern European country, life, death, and myth coincide. Although Natalia, a young doctor who has recently lost her grandfather, is the central character, Obreht’s narrative also follows Natalia’s grandfather’s periodic encounters with a deathless man, as well as the titular story of the tiger’s wife.

Tea Obreht’s debut novel is beautiful beyond belief. The writing is simply gorgeous, and the plotting impeccable. Obreht weaves a remarkable tale that defies easy description. In fact, I think it is better if I do not try to go into too much detail, as The Tiger’s Wife is so absolutely beautiful that I cannot do it justice.

This is one of those times where I must simply say, trust me, read it.

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Source: personal copy.
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The Love Goddess’ Cooking School by Melissa Senate – Book Review

The Love Goddess’ Cooking School by Melissa Senate
Published by Gallery, an imprint of Simon & Schuster

All her life, Holly has been somewhat adrift. She tries to have a fulfilling life, including meaningful romantic relationships, but she herself seems unsure of what exactly she wants, and things never quite work out. After her latest failed relationship, Holly returns to her grandmother’s house on Blue Crab Island, off the coast of Maine. Holly’s grandmother is a special women who runs her own Cucinotta, teaches Italian cooking classes, and has been known to tell people’s fortunes – including telling Holly that the love of her life will be a man who loves sa cordula, a dish of lamb intestines with peas. When Holly’s grandmother passes away, Holly inherits everything but her gift of second sight, and must get her cooking skills – and her life – together if she wants to honor her grandmother’s legacy by keeping her store and classes going.

With “The Love Goddess’ Cooking School,” Senate has given us a sweet and well-written book about discovering one’s self and one’s talents. Holly is a likable and well-developed character. I did at times have trouble reconciling her great leaps forward in cooking ability, but I think that Senate supported that well with Holly’s unceasing practice, and the fact that she did grow up around her grandmother’s kitchen in the first place. The romantic angle was somewhat predictable – I knew from the second the love interest first walked into the store that he would indeed be the love interest – but that is not necessarily a bad thing in a fun and uplifting read like “The Love Goddess’ Cooking School.”

Interestingly, of all of the supporting characters, the love interest was perhaps the least well developed, but this did serve to make the book more about Holly and her self-discovery than about the great love foretold by her grandmother, which was somewhat refreshing. The members of Holly’s cooking class were very well sketched, with problems and realities of their own that added to the overall plot without seeming as if they were forced to do so.

Overall a very enjoyable book, and one I would recommend snuggling in with on a cold winter’s day.

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Source: Library.
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Great Philosophers Who Failed at Love by Andrew Shaffer – Book Review

Great Philosophers Who Failed at Love by Andrew Shaffer
Published by Harper Perennial, an imprint of Harper Collins

If philosophers are the wisest among us, and even by their very name called lovers of wisdom, then surely they should excel at romantic relationships, n’est pas? Alas, that seems not to be the case, as Andrew Shaffer clearly shows in “Great Philsophers Who Failed at Love.”

Thirty-seven philosophers, including greats such as Socrates, Plato, Kant, Locke, and Sartre, have their love lives chronicled in “Great Philosophers Who Failed at Love.” Their stories range from merely an excessive number of marriages and divorces, to legal adoption of one’s younger lover, to the accidental murder by strangling of one’s spouse.

“Great Philosophers Who Failed at Love”  was supremely well executed. Each philosopher has a chapter between two and four pages long, where their contributions to the world of philosophy, along with their scandalous love life, is chronicled. Shaffer walks at least two fine lines: providing the reader with enough information on each philosopher’s contributions that their inclusion makes sense, but not overwhelming the narrative with philosophical detail which not all readers may understand; and providing an informative narrative which is funny, but not to the point of being ridiculous. In both cases, Shaffer achieved exactly the right balance.

A fascinating book. although I’m surprised that Shaffer’s wife didn’t turn around and leave when he mentioned on their honeymoon his proposed topic. Highly recommended for those interested in philosophy, history, and human nature.

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Powells.*
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Indiebound.*
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Source: Publisher.
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