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Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline 

orphan trainThe Grade: A

Why I Picked It: The author came and spoke at my public library

Quick Take: Molly, a Penobscot foster child, begins her community service at Vivian’s home in Bar Harbor. Vivian was sent on one of the orphan trains from New York city in the 1920’s and the novel alternates from the present to Vivian’s childhood.

My Thoughts: This will be one of my favorite reads of 2014. I adored this book. Both Vivian and Molly are compelling, empathetic, inspiring heroines and I loved both their stories. Sometimes with novels that alternate between time periods or narrators, I find myself bored with one and skipping through those chapters to get back to my preferred narrative. That wasn’t the case with Orphan Train.

As a Mainer, the Maine setting created a personal connection for me: I’ve  been to the Abbe Museum, my aunt curated the “Four Mollys” exhibit which included Molly Molasses, and Women of the Dawn is on my bookshelf.

I also want to believe that we find our way back to the people we love and that there are all kinds of families, not just the ones in which you are born, and there are echoes of both themes in this novel.

If you enjoy historical fiction, contemporary fiction, strong female characters, happy endings, good writing, or moving novels, I highly recommend Orphan Train.

 

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

BSBThe Grade: B

Why I Picked It: Recommended in Bookmarks Magazine and for #ReadWomen2014

Quick Take: In the 1950’s, a young woman runs away from her abusive father and marries a widower. When she gives birth, she discovers a secret his family has been hiding.

My Thoughts: A week later, I’m still puzzling over this book. I liked it, but I don’t think I will read it again. It’s billed as a Snow White story, and there are some echoes of Snow White, but I wouldn’t categorize this as a fairy tale retelling.

Of course, an underlying theme of the book is how people can’t be categorized by race or color. So maybe that’s the point.

It’s not a spoiler to say that when Boy marries Arturo Whitman and gives birth to their daughter Bird, she discovers that the Whitmans are light-skinned African-Americans living as whites. But Bird has black skin. As Bird herself later says, “I accidentally brought truth to light, and bringing truth to light is the right thing to do” (150).

In previous generations of the Whitmans, the children who couldn’t pass for white were sent to live with other relatives. But when Boy calls her sister-in-law, she asks her to take Snow, Arturo’s light-skinned daughter from his first marriage, instead.

There are interesting questions about race and identity, but we don’t get to know enough about the characters to know why they act the way they do. Why does Boy send Snow away for so long? Why is Aruturo okay with this? Snow can pass for white but grows up with black relatives. How does this affect who she is?

Then there is a new subplot introduced in the final chapters that raises more questions and casts new light on previous events.

There’s good stuff here, but it doesn’t quite connect for me.

 

The Message: The Reselling of President Obama by Richard WolffeThe Message

The Grade: A-

Why I Picked It: I’m an Obamaniac, a political junkie, and I work in communications.

Quick Take: Wolffe covers the messaging and communications strategy of the Obama reelection campaign

My Thoughts: This was an “A” book until the final chapter when Wolffe gets grand and lofty and moves beyond the scope of the reelection campaign’s messaging.

Overall, I loved it. Communications strategy and messaging fascinate me and I liked the limited focus of this book.

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