A Bunch of Quick Book Reviews

It's summertime, which means the time when I actually get to read for fun (you know, besides watching TV). Sometimes I forget that I like to read, but since my job is so boring this summer, I've gotten to back into the swing of it. Here are the books I've actually managed to finish so far this summer:

1. Hottentot Venus by Barbara Chase-Riboud -- This is about Sarah Baartman, otherwise known as the Hottentot Venus. Kind of in the vein of Roots, this book follows Saartjie from her home in South Africa, where much of her family is killed and she is enslaved and set free by a kind Dutch preacher, to Europe, where she becomes a sensation in the 19th Century thanks to her exotic body, and eventually to Musée de l'Homme where her skeleton, brain, and genitals (adjusted in typical Khoisan custom) were on display for over a century. It was more of a dramatized history as opposed to a compelling story. I think it's an important story, but it took a lot of effort to finish toward the end, when alcoholism and the horrors of being on display in freak shows catches up with Sarah. Overall, fairly interesting book, but hard to get through.

2. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskill. After my epic miniseries day, I decided I wanted to read North and South, and I was not disappointed. Filled with delicious inner thoughts of both Margaret and Mr. Thornton, it was also filled with the right amount of 19th Century cheese and a heavy streak of social awareness. The only negative thing I can say about it is that I hate reading "accents." My copy luckily had a small dictionary in the back that helped with some of the words and phrases, but the rampant use of apostrophes to show the northern accents was impossible to understand and I ended up skimming sections heavy with them. But seriously, it's like a less frivolous Pride and Prejudice, meaning it was pretty awesome.

3. My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud'Homme. The only way I can describe this book is delightful. It covers all of Julia Child's life, but spends most of the time of the first several years of her marriage to Paul Child when they lived in France. Everything from her growing passion for cooking, her tenacity in studying French cuisine, and her frustrations with certain people she had to deal with has an air of youth even though this was written in the last years of Julia's very long life. I'm convinced I would love to friends with Julia Child. Endlessly positive, she found something she loved to do and had a long marriage to what seems to be her best friend. But possibly my favorite moments in this memoir are when she describes her tenuous relationship with her dad. I guess I just found it amusing that even as an adult, she still struggled with her parents. It was kind of refreshing to read about someone so positive, who loved life, and was willing to share how she still had a lot to figure out about life even as she got older.

4. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. Obviously, I was on a "books that are soon going to be movies" kick (My Life in France is incorporated into Julie & Julia), but I loved this book as well. And yet again, it was a book that involves a loving long term relationship/marriage. This book could have been overwhelmingly gimmicky, but it focused on genuinely developing a relationship. Each section gives the year and how old Henry and Clare are as a heading, making what could have become convoluted easy to catch onto. The narrative is told in the first person from Henry or Clare, which is also clearly labeled. This is just to say, I really like the structure of the book, as it skips around time, although mostly chronological from Clare's lifeline since Henry's is all over the place thanks to his involuntary time travel. I grew to really become invested in these characters. They're full of life, and getting a first-person perspective from these two characters gave a well-rounded view the relationship. At the end of the the book, I was as close as I've ever been to crying at a novel (the count so far is zero--I'm not a book crier). It's an experience. Read it.

5. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I just finished this book today after a day and a half of marathon reading. It's a young adult book, so it's a quick read, but it's also really interesting. Set in a future dystopic world where North America becomes a 12 district state run by a ruthless and decadent Capitol, the government sets up annual Hunger Games that reminds the population of the dark time before it took control and also reminds the population of who's in control. The Hunger Games involve lottery chosen Tributes, one boy and one girl ages 12-18, from each district to participate in in the Games. The Games don't end until there is one Tribute alive. Our protagonist is Katniss, a 16-year-old girl who acts as head of her family by hunting on the sly. The story is told from her perspective as she replaces her sister in the Games by volunteering, goes through training, and tries to survive in the deadly Hunger Games. The biggest challenge for her, however, seems to be how to relate to the male Tribute from her district, Peeta. The most intriguing thing for me about the book was how it was entirely feasible. The Games are required viewing for the whole state, so it's like a really sick reality show. The more compelling Tributes are given more screentime, therefore they get more sponsorships, and that gives them more help during the Games. The Tributes can either be actually compelling, or by device, much like most reality shows today. And each detail of the world, which could have been heavy-handed exposition, I found to be really interesting, which r(eminded me of how absorbed I was in the futuristic Ender's Game world. I would by far give a teenage girl a copy of this book over any in the Twilight series. The characters actually have personality/redeemable qualities/actually do something/develop relationships, and Katniss kind of rocks. I only wish that the next two books in the series were already out.


  1. Thanks for the recommendations! I really need to catch up on my reading as well. It's taking me months to finish a single book lately. I loved what you said about N&S of having the "right amount of 19th Century cheese" lol.
    And I'm with you on not being able to cry with the printed word, closest I've been was perhaps with Pride and Prejudice, I'm a sucker for romantic happy endings.

  2. I just finished time traveler's wife and LOVED it... I think I shall have to try the Julia Childs book. I've also been on a book-to-new-movie kick and also read My Sister's Keeper. Good book, crappy ending.

  3. Hottentot Venus! I haven't read this book but I learned about Sarah Baartman in a "gender, race, nation" class. It was really fascinating. And Elizabeth Gaskell! Have you seen "Wives and Daughters"? That was another good Masterpiece Theatre. I read the book in high school and it's also quite enjoyable. I didn't watch North and South because I wanted to "read the book first." We'll see. Semi-unrelated: hope that Julie and Julia movie will be good. I love Julia Child.

    The End.

  4. PS Have you seen the preview for The Time Traveler's Wife movie? I read the book and enjoyed it, but I don't know...I feel like the movie looks a little sappy...maybe I've just gotten too picky. Okay. Shutting up now.

  5. Wives and daughters--yes I've seen, but haven't read. Charming. Also, the Time Traveler's Wife movie looks all kinds of awful.

  6. THANK YOU SO MUCH. I went to the movies a couple nights ago and the preview came on and I just...I had a bad feeling. But all three of the people I was with said "Oooh! It looks so good!"