Katherine Howe’s Conversion


Conversion

Title: Conversion
Author: Katherine Howe
ISBN: 978-0399167775
Length: 432 Pages
Publication Date: July 1, 2014
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Genre: Historical Fiction, General Fiction
Source: Harris County Public Library

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Reasons for Reading: I often recommend Katherine Howe’s The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane to readers seeking a good book to read. Of course, when Howe’s Conversion arrived in the order department at Harris County Public Library, I placed a request on it.

Summary : Howe offers us two points of view. The first belongs to Colleen Rowley is a stressed out high senior attending the prestigious St. Joan’s Academy in the year 2012. Various classmates of Colleen’s succumb to odd behavior – tics, panic, hysteria, etc. On top of that, a popular teacher mysteriously departs. All of this just happens to take place in Danvers, Massachusetts. The other point of view comes from a recalcitrant, grown up Ann Putnam. In 1706, Ann builds up the courage to publicly confess to her part in the witch hunt known as the infamous Salem Witch Trials.

One Thing I Learned from this book: I rediscovered that Danvers used to be Salem Village.

What I Liked: I liked the Easter eggs referring to one of my favorite books – The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. Also, I felt Colleen and her friends were genuine, well-conceived characters.

What I Disliked: I wanted a few of the loose ends to be tied. Maybe there will be a sequel?

RR - Yellow  Rainbow Rating: Yellow – Parental Guidance for Kids Under 13

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TBTB (Throwback Thursday Books) – Esther Forbes’ Johnny Tremain


Johnny Tremain by Esther Hoskins Forbes | LibraryThing

Esther Forbes’ Johnny Tremain made my list of Independence Day Reads last week. This tale of 1775 Boston focuses on the titular character, a silversmith apprentice. A life-changing event alters Johnny’s prospects and Johnny must regroup.

Johnny Tremain set on my girlhood bookshelf. I liked that Johnny was an artist and appreciated the mentions of Paul Revere, another silversmith. When Tropical Storm Allison poured on Houston, family friends suffered a lot of property damage. As a bookish college girl, I aimed to rebuild this family’s personal library. Among the donations was my copy of Johnny Tremain.

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For more walks down memory lane, check out my page for #tbtb:

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Katherine Howe’s The House of Velvet and Glass


Jorie’s Store – Katherine Howe’s The House of Velvet and Glass

 
Title and Author(s):  Katherine Howe’s The House of Velvet and Glass
Release Date:
 Apr 06, 2012
Publisher: Thorndike Press; Lrg edition

ISBN: 978-1410448743
Pages: 695
Source: Harris County Public Library

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Reasons for Reading: Feel free to click onto this link TBRs – Katherine Howe’s The House of Velvet and Glass. Unfortunately,  I was reading this book when my Nook went on the fritz. It was a huge relief to me when I found the large print version of this novel at the library branch. Thus, I was able to quickly finish this book.

Summary: It’s 1915, three years after losing her mother and sister (Helen and Eulah) on that fateful voyage of the HMS Titanic, Sibyl Allston suffers in near silence as she runs the Boston household of her laconic, shipping magnate Lan Allston. She seeks solace in her late mother’s medium. When her brother, Harlan, gets kicked out of Harvard and his involvement with an odd woman seems the cause, old flame Professor Benton Derby reaches out to Sibyl. With Benton, Sibyl embarks on an odd journey of discovery of Boston’s Chinatown and its opium dens. Sibyl’s 1915 point of view is mingled with those of Helen and Eulah’s 1912 and Lannie’s 1867. I won’t say anymore about Lannie.

One Thing I Learned from reading Katherine Howe’s The House of Velvet and GlassI knew of the Widener Library at Harvard but I didn’t know the story behind it. For more info, visit History – Widener Library – Harvard College Library.

What I Liked: The characters were well conceived – particularly Sibyl, Eulah, and Lan. The settings appeared well-researched and recreated. Howe’s descriptive writing paints the picture without being gratuitous. I appreciated the integration of real-life people such as Harry Widener and Edwin Friend. By the end of the novel, I truly appreciated Lan’s love for and devotion to his family. Howe’s afterward was great and she made significant points in this section.

What I Disliked: Well, it wasn’t “Deliverance Dane.” The beginning didn’t pull me in as quickly as Howe’s first effort did. Once I put aside my “Deliverance Dane” measuring stick, I got more out of this book. Also, the presence of opium in this book made me extremely uncomfortable. Nonetheless, I DID like the resolution of the opium abuse. Lastly, I wanted to know more about Dovie, Harlan’s mysterious girlfriend.

Song: Al Bowlly “Melancholy Baby”

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Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book


People of the book by Geraldine Brooks | LibraryThing

Brooks, G., & OverDrive, Inc. (2008). People of the book: A novel. New York, N.Y: Viking. 9781429591065

Reasons for Reading : As I sought eAudio, I stumbled upon Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book. While I enjoyed listening to the book, I realized I wouldn’t be able to finish listening to it before it was due. Thus, I checked out the eBook and downloaded it to my Nook.

Summary: Australian rare-book expert Hanna Heath receives an outstanding offer: to analyze and conserve the Sarajevo Haggadah when it’s recovered in 1996 during the Bosnian War. The Sarajevo Haggadah is one of the earliest Jewish texts to have illustrations. Quickly, Hanna finds peculiarities about the book – a wing of an insect, wine stains, salt crystals, a white hair, and missing clasps. While Hanna examines this priceless piece of history, the reader goes on a journey in reverse chronological order – making stops in 1940s Sarajevo, 1894 Vienna, 1609 Venice, 1492 Tarragona, and 1480 Seville, visiting the people who physically impacted the Haggadah.

What I Liked : Author Brooks spins and weaves a fascinating saga. These people of the book elicit a broad range of emotions from me. I liked that Hanna seemed to unite everyone in her work with the Haggadah and I appreciated that she spoke directly to the reader whereas the other sections of the story were told in the third person. Hanna did have values and adhered to them even when it hurt her. I pitied her when it came to her relationship with her mother and that she had no clue about her father’s identity. I learned much about Haggadahs and Jewish history in Europe.

What I Disliked : So, Hanna wasn’t the only one telling the story in first person. This was confusing to me and I believe Brooks did this to mislead the reader. Also, some of the characters that I imagine were supposed to be sympathetic were not. When I didn’t care about the characters, the book dragged. Sometimes, the details were gratuitous and Brooks seemed to come across as magnanimous in her “We’re all in this together” theme.

Four Out of Five Pearls

Song: The Kingston Trio – Where have all the flowers gone? – YouTube

Setting : Australia, Sarajevo, Germany, Vienna, Venice,  Boston, Tarragona Spain, Seville, Jerusalem

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Alisa Valdes’ Lauren’s Saints of Dirty Faith


Jorie’s Store – Lauren’s Saints of Dirty Faith: A Dirty Girls Social Club Novel

Valdes, A. (2004). Playing with boys. New York: St. Martin’s Press. 9780312332341

Reasons for Reading: When I found the existence of another book about las sucias, I quickly searched the library catalog for Lauren’s saints of dirty faith: A Dirty Girls Social Club novel.  Ultimately, I requested the bookthrough Inter-Library Loan (ILL).

Summary: The third installment of the Dirty Girls Social Club series by Alisa Valdes (formerly Valdes – Rodriguez) shares the latest adventures of three of las sucias – newspaper columnist Lauren Fernandez, ghetto-fabulous Usnavys Rivera, and media mogul Rebecca Baca. Lauren finds herself running away from her lunatic ex-boyfriend, a Boston cop with the help of Usnavys and Rebecca. Laid off, Usnavys must back up and start doing things differently. Rebecca learns of her father’s “other family” and struggles in her relationships with her soul mate husband, Andre, and her son who has Autism.

What I Liked :  I liked las sucias. Also, I did think it was good to read about just three of the ladies as opposed to the entire six. It was especially good to see Usnavys mature. 

What I Disliked : While I admire Valdes for taking matters into her own hands and publishing this book independently, I wish sh had caught numerous spelling/grammar errors. Editing should’ve also caught a time that Rebecca’s son was referred to as a daughter/girl.

I admit I’m not much for reading introductions. I should’ve read where Valdes said she tried on Dean Koontz’s style on for size. Oh, I wished I’d skipped ALL the sections about Jason, Lauren’s psycho ex.

Lastly, I realized that while I read this installment, that my favorite sucia was Sara.

Two Out of Five Pearls

Song: Stone Temple Pilots – Plush (Video) – YouTube

Setting: Boston, New Mexico

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Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez’s Dirty Girls on Top


Dirty Girls on Top by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez | LibraryThing

Valdes, A. (2008). Dirty girls on top. New York: St. Martin’s Press. 9780312349677

Reasons for Reading : Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez got me hooked on the sucias with The Dirty Girls Social Club. So, I checked out the sequel, Dirty Girls on Top from HCPL.

Summary: (Must Read The Dirty Girls Social Club before starting this book) Las sucias return five years after the end of The Dirty Girls Social Club. Columnist Lauren Fernandez still writes at a Boston paper but can’t choose her men nor hold her liquor well. Ghetto-fabulous Usnavys has a great man and little tomboy at home but also a roving eye. Rebecca found her soulmate in Andre but has yet to realize her dream of parenthood. Sara may appear to have it all together but with her own decorating show on cable but can she resist the charms of her abusive ex-husband Roberto. Chameleon-like rockstar Cuicatl (formerly known as Amber) wakes up to the fact that it’s hard to stay on top. Despite coming out of the closet and living with her partner, Elizabeth is a lonely single parent. All of this begs the question – Can las sucias reunite and withstand all the lemons life has given them?

What I Liked: The first book tied up some loose ends but I wondered about what was happening with las sucias. I think Valdes-Rodriguez answered a number of my questions. Her descriptions render these women quite real and they deal with their issues in realistic ways. I could see these people as though they were in the room with me! While their distinctive voices stand on their own, I appreciated that the author headed each section with the name of the heroine narrating it.

What I Disliked: I mentioned before that I think six were too many. Three or four characters would’ve been great. Perhaps I’m a purest but I didn’t like reading Roberto’s section. This book belongs to las sucias alone! Lastly, I got a little too much detail in some passages. As I’ve noted, Valdes-Rodriguez leaves little to the imagination with her nearly photographic descriptions.

Three Out of Five Pearls

Song: Lana Del Rey – National Anthem – YouTube

Setting : Boston, Los Angeles, New Mexico, Puerto Rico

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Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez’s The Dirty Girls Social Club


The Dirty Girls Social Club: A Novel by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez | LibraryThing

Valdes, A. (2003). The Dirty Girls Social Club. New York: St. Martin’s Press. 9780312313814

 Reasons for Reading : In April, I enjoyed Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez’s Haters. Also, I have been reading more chick  lit lately.  So, I checked out The Dirty Girls Social Club.

 Summary: Six women meet at Boston University. While completely different in looks and personality, they are the only women of Latin descent in the Communications Department. Thus, the six form a strong bond and call their group the Buena Vista Sucia Club also known as The Dirty Girls Social Club. At the beginning of the book, the sucias have been out of college for a few years. They meet each other every six months, rain or shine. These ladies have their ups and downs but always support their sucias. The Dirty Girls Social Club is narrated in the first person, each shedding light on her own life. The sucias are:

 –Lauren, the “caliente” columnist for the local Boston paper whose love live has recently led her to her boyfriend’s closet…to catch him in the act with someone else
–Sara, the perfect wife and mother who’s got it all but who is paying a high price
–Amber, raised a Valley girl without a word of Spanish but who is becoming a huge rock en Español star
–Elizabeth, the stunning black Latina whose TV anchor job conflicts with her intensely private personal life
–Rebecca, hyper-in-command in the world of her glossy magazine, Ella, but totally at sea when it comes to men
–Usnavys, fabulous and larger than life, whose agenda to land the kind of man who can keep her in Manolos almost prevents her finding true love

– From the flap

What I Liked : While brought together by the narrow-mindedness of others, the sucias rise above and show such a devotion to one another that some can only dream of. They’re far from perfect and do ill-advised things but these women are definitely compelling and believable. I felt I could see Lauren, Sara, Amber, Rebecca, Elizabeth, and even Usnavys on the street and in my life. I even visualized some of their faces as those of my friends. I also liked how these women were diverse – Lauren (part-Cuban, part-white  trash), Sara (Cuban Jew), Amber (Valley Girl of Mexican descent), Rebecca (New Mexican Spanish), Elizabeth (Colombian), and Usnavys (Puerto Rican). I also liked how each section was prefaced by passages from Lauren’s column in a Boston newspaper.

What I Disliked : Maybe Valdes-Rodriguez had too many main characters. I think she may have fared better with just four women. Since the narrators alternated from sucia to sucia, I felt some of the stories became cold. Sometimes, I wanted to know about what was happening with one sucia but would be delivered to another. Also, I didn’t care for the very detailed “love scenes.” I like a few things left to the imagination.

Four Out of Five Pearls

Song: El sol de la noche. Salsa céltica. – YouTube

Setting : Boston, Los Angeles, Puerto Rico, Colombia

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Julie Powell’s Julie and Julia


Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen by Julie Powell | LibraryThing

Powell, J. (2005). Julie and Julia: 365 days, 524 recipes, 1 tiny apartment kitchen. New York: Little, Brown and Co. 9780316109697

Reasons for Reading:  I’m no gourmet but I enjoyed watching cooking shows on PBS ever since I can remember. One of those heroic translators of French cuisine was the unforgettable Julia Child. She empowered people nationwide to  Since this book was about the experiences of a blogger working her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, I decided I wanted to read Julie and Julia someday. A couple of years ago, I heard Julie Powell speak at the Texas Library Association Annual Conference. I found the book on the shelf at the HCPL where I work.

Summary: As secretarial government drone Julie Powell eyes her approaching thirtieth birthday, she yearns for something to do. While visiting her family in Austin, Texas, Julie eyes her mom’s copy of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. This sighting inspires Julie to work her way through 524 recipes in a year and blog about her experiences. 

What I Liked : I enjoyed the mention of Samuel Pepys and the segments from Julia and Paul Child. I also liked reading about Austin, Texas, the capital of my home state. The following Julie’s blog built amazed me. It’s impressive how these kind souls even sent her foodstuffs when she remarked on wanting something.

What I Disliked : I didn’t care much for Julie. This fact alone really colored my opinion of the book. I wanted to know more the actual blogging and how it became so lucrative for her. I didn’t find much of that here. Unfortunately I saw the movie before I read the book and that disappointed me as well. Maybe my expectations are too high. 

Two Out of Five Pearls

Song: ‪The French Chef Theme Song

Setting: New York City, Austin Texas, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Paris, Boston

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John Grisham’s The Firm


The Firm | WorldCat Detailed Record

Grisham, J., & Brick, S. (2002). The Firm. Santa Ana, CA: Books on Tape. 9780736688604

Reasons for Reading:  I saw blurbs an upcoming TV show based on John Grisham’s The Firm . It featured Josh Lucas as the main character. Yet, I hesitated to watch the show because I wanted to read the book first. (I’d seen the movie back around the time it came out on video.) Thus, I requested the audiobook via HCPL.

Summary:  Harvard Law student, Mitchell Y. McDeere, works hard. He and his college sweetheart wife, Abby, have next to nothing. McDeere’s brother, Ray, is imprisoned. As Mitch graduates third in his class, a small Memphis tax firm called Bendini, Lambert and Locke comes knocking. The firm offers him and Abby a life of luxury – a large salary, a low-rate mortgage on a house, a BMW, and vacations at company owned places in Colorado and the Cayman Islands. The McDeeres leap at this chance with little consideration for any possible catches. Soon, though, Mitch discovers things aren’t as wonderful as they first appeared.

What I Liked : This story about an attorney seems authentic and I think that’s due to Grisham writing what he knew. Not only did I appreciate this, I also liked that he broke things down in layman’s terms. While I’m not a law professional, I could easily follow the action. In my mind’s eye, I could see these characters and events.

What I Disliked: I only have one tiny complaint; I wished there had been dates offered for the action. Mitch’s brother Rusty died fighting in Vietnam. International flights were simple, pre-9/11. Very little takes place using cell phones or the Internet, too. Some time stamps would’ve been awesome.

Three Out of Five Pearls

Song: ‪Charlie Rich • No Headstone on My Grave – YouTube

Setting : Memphis, Boston, Washington D.C, The Cayman Islands

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Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot


The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides | LibraryThing

Eugenides, J. (2011). The marriage plot. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 9780374203054

Reasons for Reading : Yippee!!! Jeffrey Eugenides wrote another book. When I saw The Marriage Plot on the bestseller’s list, I added my name to the waiting list for a copy from HCPL

Summary: Starting the morning of Class of 1982’s graduation from Brown University, Madeleine Hanna faces the cold, hard reality of her breakup with Darwinist biologist Leonard Bankhead and very little promise of grad school in the near future. Her take on the marriage plot and Jane Austen’s novels hasn’t exactly wowed Yale Grad School. More immediately, she must deal with her parents. As the Hannas treat Madeleine to breakfast,  Mitchell Grammaticus, a student of Christian mysticism, who believes Madeleine is his soul mate. As Madeleine and Leonard make up and head out to a lab on Cape Cod, Mitchell takes a world tour, aiming to forget Madeleine.

What I Liked : Author Jeffrey Eugenides describes everything so well. I could see these dysfunctional characters. While I am a generation behind them, I still recognized the confusion of life beyond graduaton. Characters such as Madeleine and Mitchell were quite familiar because all three of us over-analyze practically everything.

The ending, which I will not reveal, was to my liking as well.

What I Disliked : One of my friends who read the book before I did warned me about some extra descriptive passages within the book. Going in with my eyes open, I found this book to have high cringe factor.

Also, I wished for more breaks – such as chapters. The Marriage Plot definitely is broken down into parts. However, these sections were, well, stealthy. With these Ivy League alum, much intertextuality can be found with the covers. That’s cool, especially the mention of Ludwig Bemelman’s Madeline. While this techniques offers context, it also made the book with the long sections seem infinitely longer. I’m not even going to touch the semiotics within, either.

I wanted to throttle, above all other characters, Leonard and Madeleine’s sister, Alwyn. Amongst a strange and disillusioned and delusional cast, these two deserved the padded cells and straight jackets the most.

Lastly, I liked both The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex better. Eugenides’ previous novels offered, above all else, unique narrators. The former spoke in the form of a group of men reflecting upon something from their adolescence while the latter had the incomparably omniscient Cal Stephanides. The Marriage Plot had ordinary third person omniscient points of view.

Three Out of Five Pearls

Song: Talking Heads – “Once In A Lifetime” – YouTube

Setting : Providence, Rhode Island; Detroit, New York City, New Jersey; Portland, Oregan; Cape Cod, Boston, Provincetown, India, France, Ireland, Greece

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