Tag Archives: Fave Reads

Review: The Help

The Help
By Kathryn Stockett
Penguin Group (USA)
February 2009
464pp

Here’s the blurb from the publisher:

Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.

Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.

Minny, Aibileen’s best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody’s business, but she can’t mind her tongue, so she’s lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town  to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.

The Short of It:

The Help is the kind of book that you make time for, no matter how busy your schedule.

The Rest of It:

I’ve seen The Help everywhere and although it’s gotten wonderful reviews, I held off on reading it. I don’t like to read books that are overly hyped. I’m usually disappointed by them. However, the hype hasn’t died down yet even after all these months,  so I figured I’d give it a shot. I’m glad I did. Let me just say, that if you’ve been on the fence about reading it, get yourself a copy, find a cozy place to sit and dig in. It’s good.

As many of you know, the book is a work of fiction but it almost seems auto-biographical in nature. Skeeter is a young woman living in Mississippi. Most women her age focus on marriage and standing, but Skeeter is different. She wants to be a writer and after receiving some encouragement from a publishing house, she decides to write a book. A book about the help, literally. She decides to write a book about the black women of Jackson. The women that make a living taking care of other people’s children, cleaning other people’s houses, and putting up with all sorts of drama.

There’s so much to love about this book. Aibileen’s love for Mae Mobley, her young charge, is written so tenderly that your heart just aches when Stockett mentions them. Raising and loving another woman’s child, knowing full well that she could grow-up to treat blacks the very same way her mother does. Well, that just takes the air right out of my lungs.

Then there’s Minny, Aibileen’s best friend. Head-strong and difficult but so full of life. When Minny walks into a room, you pay attention. She’s quick to judge and has a sharp tongue, but there’s a gentle, vulnerable side to her too. I loved the interaction between her and her boss, Miss Celia.

Oh, and when Miss Skeeter has her”aha” moment, you just want to give her a big hug. Putting everything on the line for what she believes in. She’s not perfect. She has flaws but so does everyone. That’s the point. We are not meant to be perfect.

My only complaint with this book is that towards the end, the pace seemed to drop quite a bit. I suppose it was just me wanting to get to the end to find out how it all turned out, but it did seem to slow down quite a bit at one point. This is a tiny quibble given that the rest of the book is so wonderful. I really enjoyed it and feel like kicking myself for waiting so long to read it. It will definitely make my fave list this year and I can certainly see why book groups across the nation have embraced it.

For those that have read it, what did you think of the dialect? Not what I expected but it worked for me.

Also, I came across this interview with Katie Couric. I was surprised to see that Stockett is so soft-spoken. I don’t know why, but I imagined her to be a lot more aggressive and vocal. I also think it’s interesting that the book groups they feature in this clip are all white.

Source: I won this book in a contest.

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Review: The Shadow of the Wind

The Shadow of the Wind
By Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Translated by Lucia Graves
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
Pub. Date: January 2005
ISBN-13: 9780143034902
512pp

Here’s the blurb from the publisher:

Barcelona, 1945—A great world city lies shrouded in secrets after the war, and a boy mourning the loss of his mother finds solace in his love for an extraordinary book called The Shadow of the Wind, by an author named Julian Carax. When the boy searches for Carax’s other books, it begins to dawn on him, to his horror, that someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book the man has ever written. Soon the boy realizes that The Shadow of the Wind is as dangerous to own as it is impossible to forget, for the mystery of its author’s identity holds the key to an epic story of murder, madness, and doomed love that someone will go to any lengths to keep secret.

The Short of It:

This novel is a wonderful combination of all things good, a locale shrouded in mystery, murder, intrigue, characters that stay with you long after you finish the book and it all centers around the love of books. What could be better?

My Thoughts:

A friend of mine urged me to read this one. It took me awhile to get around to reading it (so sorry for the delay!) but after reading just a few pages, I knew it was going to be good, so I put it aside to read while on vacation.

Each time I opened the book, I felt as if I had stepped inside Daniel’s world. I experienced Barcelona through his eyes…the dark alleyways, the bookstore where he worked, and of course the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Zafon’s writing is rich with detail, but not overly done. I stopped several times to reread certain passages just because I found them to be so beautifully written.

To me, a really good book has to have memorable characters and I fell in love with many of the characters. Here are just a few:

Daniel Sempere
He’s the main character and we see him grow up through the course of the novel. He’s a genuinely kind soul and wants to do what is right. He’s extremely loyal to his friends and when he falls in love, well…we feel his angst.

Fermín Romero de Torres
I loved Fermín! He’s fiercely protective of Daniel (for good reason). He’s incredibly pompous but in a humorous way. His eccentricities make for good reading. I found myself chuckling over his antics numerous times. I also caught myself sitting on the edge of my seat over some of his adventures.

Nuria Monfort
Nuria is the femme fatale in love with Julián Carax. She is so completely absorbed with Julían that her own life takes a backseat whenever she is with him. We learn more about Nuria as the story progresses but I found her to be such a tragic figure.

Julían Carax
What can I say about Julían? He is the author of “The Shadow of the Wind” and as Daniel desperately seeks to find the truth about the missing books and Julían in general, we learn all about Julían and the tragedies that he has been forced to endure.

This book made a permanent mark upon my soul. Honestly, if you haven’t read it, please do so. You won’t regret it. If the length of the novel seems daunting to you, don’t even pay attention to it because I cried when this book ended and I have NEVER cried over a book. It’s that wonderful.

Jill, over at Fizzy Thoughts was kind enough to send me Zafon’s new novel The Angel’s Game. I understand that this one is a prequel to Shadow but that each book stands alone. Additionally, Angel’s Game has the same translator as Shadow (Lucia Graves) which is a big plus because she did such an awesome job with Zafon’s first book.

I will probably begin The Angel’s Game next week and I can’t wait!