Saturday, March 31, 2012

The French Gardener by Santa Montefoire

Review by Jan:
CoverFirst I will begin by saying I fell in love with the environment of this story.  It's set on an English country estate, with neglected gardens, stone bridge covered streams, and an abandoned cottage complete with a scrapbook filled with secrets.   It reads more like contemporary fiction, or women's fiction, rather than a typical romance.  Also, this book was voted in for our next read.  Copies will be available at our next meeting on April 26th.  The discussion should be interesting.

It begins with Miranda Lambert, an ex-Londoner and writer who we soon learn is not entirely happy living in the country as she secretly sobs in her closet over her unused Jimmy Choos.  Her husband, a banker, travels from London to spend the weekends with her and their two children.  She is a posh socialite more comfortable in the city than the country that she now inhabits.  Her children are lonely and unhappy, starving for attention; her son acts out in aggressive ways, torturing the neighbor's poor donkey and biting classmates.

I was drawn to champion this woman as soon as her husband hit the pages.  David is arrogant, belittles his wife, and having an affair with her best friend!  On his weekends home, he watches golf and ignores his family.  Miranda, after a scolding from her husband to "get it together", hires a cook, housekeeper, and a mysterious French gardener.  While cleaning out an abandoned cottage on the estate, she discovers a journal written by the previous owner who was lovingly called Shrub by her husband.  The journal chronicles Shrub's love affair with her own French gardener that happened thirty years prior.

We soon learn that Shrub's French gardener in the past is also Miranda's French gardener in the present; Jean-Paul is older but still handsome.  The gardener returned for Shrub but found a troubled family in her place.  In honor of his lost love, Jean-Paul agrees to stay and rebuild the overgrown garden.  As the garden comes back to life so does the family who lives amongst its magical surroundings, and as Miranda reads the secret journal readers also journey through a forbidden love story.

This book intertwines two story lines quite nicely.  I will say I enjoyed this book despite the heavy influence of infidelity throughout, both in the past and present.  Shrub's affair in the past helps Miranda forgive her own husband's infidelity in the present, so while the affairs are distasteful, there are lessons learned.  It is a story filled with secret discoveries, forbidden love, and human weakness.  The setting is exquisite, a gardener's ultimate dream, and the cast is fun and quirky.  The only other spoiler I will give is that I think it wrapped up the French gardener's storyline in a satisfactory way.  I enjoyed the journey of Miranda and her family toward happiness and forgiveness, although I wouldn't have minded if she had punished her husband just a tad longer before allowing him back home.

Hope to see you in our library someday soon,

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

book jacketI will first start off saying that “The Magicians” maybe a difficult book for some to get through.   I know that many of the characters are not particularly likeable and the pacing of the book can be kind of slow at times but if you can finish the first book I would suggest reading the second book “The Magician King.”  You have to realize that in the first book the author is setting up and creating the world that his characters inhabit.  I am enjoying the second book more than the first book. Many people have compared the book to JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series, but I think that is a very poor comparison.  While both books have the main characters attend a secret school that teaches magic, the comparison ends there.  One is that these are college age students, who smoke, drink and have sex like normal college students.  Also this world that Lev Grossman has created is less forgiving, than Rowling’s. Here spells can go horrible wrong and there is no recovering from them.

We meet the main character, Quentin Coldwater, in Brooklyn on a bleak fall day as he heads off to a college interview for Princeton University. The interview doesn’t go quite as planned, the interviewer is dead when he shows up and one of the EMTs hands him a folder that contains a previously unknown novel by Chistopher Plover. In the “Magicians” Plover has written a beloved series of children’s books that take place in a mythical land called Fillory.  But as Quentin is leaving a page from the folder gets caught in the wind and blown into an overgrown garden.  As he searches the garden he emerges from the other side in garden that is warmed by a summer sun.  He is lead to a building where he is told that he will be given an entrance exam to a Brakebills a college for magicians. Quentin passes the first exam and then is given a series of test by various professors at the college. In the final test Quentin manages to perform real magic, so he is accepted in to this very exclusive and elite college.

The first part of this book then follows Quentin and his friends at Brakebills.  And this seems very much like a typical college experience where there is drinking, smoking and sex, except they are also learning magic.  They are constantly told how very special they are and many of them become elitist snobs, especially Quentin. But reality sinks in after the friends graduate and they are reintroduced to the real world. While they have the ability to perform magic there is no real use for magic in the real world, especially in Manhattan. The group of friends is all just a bunch of aimless young adults, who drink too much, smoke too much and have sex with each other.  This all changes when another graduate from Brakebills shows up with a button that will allow them to actually visit the magical land of Fiilory.  Of course this trip to Fillory doesn’t go quite how they expect. 

I will be the first to say that many of the characters in this book are quite self absorbed and not really likeable and are your quintessential anti-heroes. But I think that Lev Grossman in much of this book is trying to set up the characters and the world that they inhabit. I do say that I enjoyed the sequel, The Magician King, more.  The Magician king explores differ themes, such as what does it meant to be a hero, and is a conventional education such as Brakebills any better than a hard fought independent one.   I really enjoyed the discussion that we had about this book at the meeting and how a few things about the book were put in to perspective for me.

Request The Magicians from the Bangor Public Library

Monday, March 19, 2012

Our Library

This isn't a book review, or information about upcoming meetings, but just a few fun photographs of our library.  I thought it would be nice to post some pictures on our blog for those of you who follow our book group from a distance.  This is where we meet each month to discuss all sorts of books, and other fun topics we always seem to meander on!  :o)

As always, hope to see you in our library someday soon,

Friday, March 16, 2012

Now Reading Wicked Appetite by Janet Evanovich and Soulless by Gail Carriger

We had another wonderful meeting last night!  At one point I went down to the front desk to get a few of our Nooks for new members, and the laughter from our group (coming from the third floor) echoed through the library and all the way down into the lobby.  It was such a lovely sound!  Thank you all for making our group such a fun time discussing books!

For those of you who couldn't make it, we are currently reading...

Wicked Appetite by Janet Evanovich and Soulless by Gail Carriger.  If you need copies please send Sarah or Jan an email and we will put them on the hold shelf for you!

April's Books
book jacket   book jacket
These two books will be discussed at our April meeting!

I never know, nor can I begin to predict, how the book vote is going to go.  Our ladies choose their own reads, nominate them, promote them, and the end result is always a surprise.  The following two books (our May reads) and the winners of our book vote were...

The French Gardener by Santa Montefiore and Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris.  Copies of these books will be available at our April meeting.  (The red chili pepper rating is for Dead Until Dark)

May's Books
Cover  book jacket Red Chili Pepper
These two books will be discussed at our May meeting!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Vote now for our next books!

The voting has closed. 

Hope to see you at our meeting on Thursday, March 15, 2012 at 6:00 pm!

The winners of the vote will be announced after the meeting!

Join us on Twitter

We've started a Twitter account for our book group.  If you want to receive tweets on meeting reminders, book vote winners, book reviews and current reads... follow us!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Taker by Alma Katsu

~ Review by Jan
book jacketI will begin this review by pointing out that this isn’t the usual genre I like to read but the story called to me on a personal level because of the northern Maine setting.  It comes with a Booklist starred review, and Katsu’s writing has been compared to early Anne Rice---and after finishing The Taker, I will add that she is worthy of all those impressive accolades.   If I had to catogorize this book, I would say it leans toward literary fiction with paranormal/horror elements.  Traditionally, as all of our book group members are aware, I am not usually a literary fiction or horror reader, but there are ALWAYS exceptions, and this book is one of them.  It is a story of obsessive love---but I wouldn't call it a romance.  There are graphic elements with sexual content that are more abusive than sensual---which is why I believe other reviewers have added the horror genre label.  The paranormal elements are alchemy and immortality and shouldn't discourage readers who are not drawn to the fantasy/horror genre.  Personally, I would say it is a story of survival, beautifully written, yet sad and emotionally haunting, with historical aspects of Aroostook County Maine that I will touch on again after a brief description of the story…

The Taker begins in present day Maine, in a fictitious town of St. Andrew (it felt like New Sweden to me, just north of Limestone and Caribou) in the point of view of an emergency room doctor named Luke.  A young woman, Lanny, is brought into the hospital for care, under the guard of authorities for killing a man.  Luke soon learns there is more to Lanny when she cuts herself in a demonstration of her immortality, healing instantly and convincing Luke to help her escape.   During their escape, Lanny tells her sad story of unrequited love for Jonathan, the man she once made immortal and then murdered in an act of mercy.  Her story begins in early 1800’s in the town of St. Andrew as a young girl enamored with the town’s golden son, Jonathan St. Andrew.  Lanny and Jonathan become unlikely friends, a farmer’s daughter and a business owner’s son; most of the townspeople rely on the industry owned by the St. Andrew family.  Jonathan values Lanny’s friendship but never offers her love beyond a physical nature.   Lanny becomes pregnant with his child.  Fearing his father’s response, Jonathan doesn’t offer her marriage.  Instead, on the day she tells him of her pregnancy his engagement is announced to another young girl of his family’s choosing, which Jonathan accepts.  Lanny is sent by her father to a convent in Boston to have her child. 
It is in Boston where she meets the immortals and their leader, Adair.  Adair is a sexually sadistic alchemist.  Using the ancient art of dark alchemy, he creates his pack of immortals to serve his needs; disloyalty is met with sexual punishment or death.   Lanny, starving, alone, pregnant and forsaken by her family and the father or her child, is taken to Adair where she is drugged and raped to the point of death.   Recognizing a fellow survivor as she fights for life, Adair brings Lanny into his troop of immortal servants, where, in his own demented way, he favors her above the others. 
… I will end my story description there as not to give away too many spoilers, only adding that Lanny will be forced to go back for Jonathan at Adair’s request.   Her love for Jonathan will guide her choices and eventually motivate her to disable Adair and his power over the troop of immortals.  The saddest part of this story is that Jonathan never truly returns Lanny’s love, and she is so deserving of it, which is why I will call this a story of human survival, and also why I feel it leans toward literary fiction.  The graphic elements are not overly described, but rather told and left to the reader’s imagination, which many times can lead to worse assumptions of events--or perhaps that's my own dark imagination at work.  The Taker concentrates on human choices and the consequences of those choices on the people we love, which is more realistic than a novel with a predictable happy ending, because humanity is imperfect, and love is rarely a journey without some sadness or emotional pain--- although this one is definitely more brutal than most.              
I cannot end this review without touching on the historical Maine elements of The Taker and Katsu’s writing style, because while her story is quite dark and sad, it is also well written, which is probably why she is getting comparisons to Anne Rice, though I need to add that Katsu has her own very unique voice.  A majority of the story is set in Aroostook County Maine, both in present time and in the early 1800’s.  When in present time, the author writes in present tense, and while retelling Lanny’s story in the 1800’s, she writes in past tense; it is a very powerful writing style that fully immersed me into Lanny’s perspective. 
Finally, I just want to add that this author reached out to me in an email { read her email } suggesting her book for our group, totally unaware that I grew up on a farm in Aroostook County Maine on the border of Canada.  It was a unique gift to read a work of paranormal fiction of this high caliber, built on an environment I am personally familiar with.  There were scenes, simple sentences scattered throughout, describing a brush of snow in the air, or church gatherings, or a cluster of trees in a field, or winter confinement that literally gave me remembrance goose bumps.    Her historical recreation of northern Maine was eerie in its believability, and strengthened the paranormal elements of her story.  
This was not a light read, but deeply thought provoking.  Again, there are graphic elements--- but we are an “edgy and uncensored” book group and I think our ladies can handle it.  If chosen, it would make an interesting book group discussion.  The Taker has been added to our online vote once again, which should be ready to go on Monday, and purchased for our red Nooks.
As always, hope to see you in our library someday soon,