Posts Tagged book review

A book round-up

Life in Motion

Anyone who knows me has to be aware that I read voraciously. My partner sometimes calls me ‘Wormie,’ since I’m such a bookworm. So, while it is always my intention to review the books I read, sometimes I’m plowing through them so rapidly that I just can’t take the time. I thought, instead of lengthy reviews, that I’d list some of the books I’ve read in the past few months, with a few comments about each of them, and why I picked them up.

I was wandering around our local Barnes and Noble and found myself drawn to the three for the price of two table. Well, okay, I’m always drawn to that table, but I don’t usually buy anything because I can never find three I want to read. But this time, I did. I’m already through the two memoirs:

I picked up Life in Motion: an unlikely Ballerina, by Misty Copeland, largely because my niece, Audrey Rachelle Stanley, started out in ballet. Audrey danced for two years with the Nashville Ballet’s second company, before switching to Contemporary Dance. She now lives in New York City, and dances with Teresa Fellion, among others. I was curious about the ballet world, and about the way a black woman has made it in what I know to be an extremely competitive and demanding profession. This inspiring book is partly about that, and partly about Ms. Copeland’s crazy childhood, and the wonderful people who inspired and helped her along the way. I could hardly put it down. Certainly, the chapters where she talks about dancing on injuries because she was afraid she’d lose her position confirmed my suspicions about the ballet world, but much of the book says that if we have enough passion, and we work hard enough (and maybe have that extra something special?), we can achieve greatness.

I also picked up What the Dog Knows: Scent, Science, and the Amazing Way Dogs Perceive the World, by Cat Warren. I enjoyed this book, even though it wasn’t quite what I expected: I thought there’d be a lot more science about how dogs and humans smells things, but it’s more about the training of dogs to become cadaver dogs, and testing of other species for that purpose. There’s enough of her personal story with her dog Solo to keep the story moving, and I learned some things about the use of dog-generated evidence, but my main take-away was that I shouldn’t feel bad that my two corgis don’t listen to my commands when they feel that they know better than I do.

I also picked up Freud’s Mistress, by Karen Mack and Jennifer Kaufman, off the sale table while I was at B&N. This book is based upon what is known about Minna Bernays, the sister of Freud’s wife, and Freud’s relationship. I imagine that this book would be very  interesting, since Freud himself has been so influential, and I have enjoyed novels about Hemingway’s wife and Frank Lloyd Wright’s mistress. Also, Freud’s Mistress has received a fair amount of press. I’m sure that the authors did their research well, as they include many details about life in that time. For my taste, they are too caught up in the details, and the guilt that Minna feels, and the prose is stiff. Freud comes across as a horrible man, and I wonder why Minna would find him attractive. Perhaps he was awful, but it seems over-done. I plan to finish the book, but I keep picking up others instead. I think a lot more could have been done with this material to bring it to life.

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Book Review: In The Time of Butterflies

This novel by Julia Alvarez was a National Endowment for the Arts Big Read selection. From the book blurb:

It is November 25, 1960, and three beautiful sisters have been found near their wrecked Jeep at the bottom of a 150-foot cliff on the north coast of the Dominican Republic. The official state newspaper reports their death as accidental. It does not mention that a fourth sister lives. Nor does it explain that the sisters were among the leading opponents of Gen. Rafael Leonidas Trujillo’s dictatorship. It doesn’t have to. Everybody knows of Las Mariposas—the Butterflies.

This novel is based upon a real incident which happened four months after Alvarez’s family escaped to New York. The Mirabel sisters, known as Las Mariposas, were members of the underground resistance, along with Alvarez’s father. In her notes at the back of the novel, Alvarez says: “When as a young girl I heard about the “accident, I could not get the Mirabels out of my mind. On my frequent trips back to the Dominican Republic, I sought out whatever information I could about these brave sisters who had done what few men and only a handful of women—had been Julia-Alvarezwilling to do.” She took what she found and began to invent the characters which fill these pages.

Alvarez tells the story from the point of view of each of the four sisters, devoting alternating chapters to each. We start in 1994, with the surviving sister, Dedé, meeting a journalist who wishes to interview her about her sisters. Then we drop into the past. Dedé is a little girl living on a farm with her family. We meet the fierce middle sister, Minerva, who wants to be a lawyer, the religious oldest sister, Patria, and the shy youngest, María Teresa. Their lives seem peaceful, their father becoming prosperous. Like many girls, Minerva and Patria are sent to Catholic boarding school, where Minerva pushes the boundaries along with her girlfriends and Patria becomes ever more religious. Dedé stays home to help her papa with his store.

However, the brutal Trujillo’s dictatorship soon changes everything. Minerva and her friends, chosen to perform a skit for Trujillo, change it to make a political statement in front of him. Trujillo, known for taking pretty teenagers as mistresses, sets his sights on the beautiful Minerva. Inviting her family to a ball, he tries to claim her, but she manages to escape. From then on, the intrigue builds, yet in between the political, the sisters grow up, falling in love, having their children, and interacting with their aging parents. Their marriages have their very real ups and down.

I loved this novel. The language is rich, the descriptions beautiful, and the four sisters’ voices come across clear and distinct. I felt as if I was right there. I loved the way Alvarez combined the intimate with the political, reminding us that all warriors have parents, many have spouses and children, and every choice they make has to be weighed against the risk to those they love. I give it five stars out of five.

Note: A Wikipedia page about the Mirabel sisters states that the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women is November 25 in honor of the three brave sisters who were assassinated Nov 25, 1960.

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