“One Thousand White Women”

Fergus, Jim.  One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd.  New York: St. Martin’s Griffin., 1999.  Print.

Borrowed from The Cedar Falls Public Library.  

Read between September 19-September 25, 2012.

Four out of five stars.

Jim Fergus’ One Thousand White Women follows May Dodd and a motley crew of women from her incarceration in a Chicago insane asylum where she had been committed for falling in love with a man beneath her station, to the prairies of the Nebraska Territory as part of President Ulysses S. Grant’s “Brides for Indians” program.  The program, intended to assimilate Native Americans into “white culture” was (unsurprisingly) met with hostility and horror when it was proposed by a Cheyenne chief in 1875.  Grant, however, saw an opportunity and secretly recruited prisoners, patients, and other unsavory women to participate and marry Cheyenne men with the intent to becoming pregnant, thereby joining the two cultures together through matrimony and children.  What ensues is carefully recorded in the fictitious diary of May Dodd in an amusing, offbeat, and bittersweet chronicle.  Writing in a candid, descriptive and witty style,  Fergus is able to capture the triumphs and hardships of this unique group of women who are thrust into the unknown and married to men with whom they can barely communicate.  Like most Western novels, One Thousand White Women relies on strong story telling and descriptive narrative with themes of justice, redemption and survival being present throughout.  It is a tale of strength and character, not only of May Dodd but also the other women and their Cheyenne families, which ranges from sassy and sarcastic to reflective and nostalgic.  May Dodd is at the center of a strong cast of characters who must learn to adapt and evolve to drastically new lifestyles whilst being caught in the middle of a tumultuous time in history as the Cheyenne people try desperately to cling to their traditional way of life, and white Americans press westward in search of land and gold.  At times romantic, occasionally violent, One Thousand White Women will appeal to readers who connect to strong female protagonists, are fans of historical fiction, and those seeking a thought-provoking Novel of the West.

 

I absolutely loved this book, though I tend to really enjoy historical fiction.  I thought the narrator was charming and affable, and I empathized with her struggles, cheered with her victories. The ending was not what I expected, though I found it fitting (I won’t spoil it).  I recommended the book to my mom, who then bought it for my grandmother.  I would definitely re-read this book.

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“The Next Always”

Roberts, Nora.  The Next Always: Book One of the Inn BoonsBoro Trilogy.  Westminster: Penguin Books., 2011.  Print.

Borrowed from the Iowa City Public Library.

Read in between September 12 and 19, 2012.

Three and a half out of five stars.

Nora Roberts’s first book in the Inn Boonsboro Trilogy, The Next Always follows the development of the relationship between lead female protagonist Clare Brewster and her male counterpart Beckett Montgomery.  Beckett has been in love with Clare for years, however the two couldn’t be together due to extenuating circumstances (her high school sweetheart-turned-husband).  When Clare’s husband is killed in Iraq, she returns to her hometown in Maryland,  where the Montgomery brothers have taken on the job of renovating the Boonsboro Inn (which comes equipped with literary-themed suites such as the Titania and Oberon and Westley and Buttercup ).  The Next Always entertains readers through its cast of characters which includes Clare’s three rambunctious young sons, Beckett’s two handsome brothers Owen and Ryder, the fierce and protective Montgomery family matriarch Justine, and Clare’s quirky and loveable BFF Avery.  In addition to these characters, places in the book the Boonsboro Inn and Clare’s bookstore play prominent roles. Roberts writes in a candid and conversational tone with just enough sauciness to make the book a touch steamy, but not overly erotic or explicit.  It is both humorous and heartwarming, though at times bittersweet and nostalgic.  Although a bit predictable, fans of Nora Roberts will recognize her voice throughout the book, and Romance newcomers will appreciate the lighthearted novel that keeps readers guessing with its many sub-plot twists and obstacles (including a ghost and a stalker!).  The Next Always will satisfy readers who are looking for a romantic story with just enough heat to be interesting, but nothing too graphic or detailed.

 

As my first foray into the Romance genre, I chose to read a Nora Roberts book because I know how popular and prominent she is (with over 200 novels published), and because I assumed it would follow the traditional romance formula.  I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised.  It certainly wasn’t what I would consider a great literary work, nor was it deeply thought-provoking, but it was entertaining and served its purpose as being a mostly upbeat, heartwarming (though exceedingly predictable) tale.  Readers of Roberts’ work certainly won’t need any convincing to read this title, though in my reading of other reviews it may disappoint some of her more diehard fans.  I have nothing to which I can compare this book, though I will probably read the other two books in the series.

“A Game of Thrones”

Martin, George R.R.  A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire Book 1.  New York: Bantam Books, 2011.  Print.

Martin, George R.R. A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire Book 1.  New York: Random House Audio, 2011. Audio CD.

Audio-book borrowed from the Cedar Falls Public Library.

Print book bought from The Eastern Iowa Airport (CID).

Combined listening and reading throughout the summer of 2012.

Four out of five stars.

Winter is coming, and with it a fight for the Iron Throne that sits in King’s Landing.  At stake are ruling powers over the seven kingdoms of Westeros, and in the running are the Starks, the Lannisters, the Baratheons, and the Targaryens.  In a world where loyalties are bought with gold and people, allies and foes trade places upon whims, and seasons last for lifetimes a storm is brewing, bringing with it a game of thrones full of war and destruction.  George R. R. Martin’s inaugural book in his Song of Ice and Fire series takes readers from Winterfell in the north, home to the Stark family, south to the royal court of the houses Baratheon and Lannister in King’s Landing, east across the Small Sea with the dragon princess Daenerys Targaryen and the Dothraki horse-lords, and to the far north where a monstrous wall guards the land against the impending winter and the wildlings living beyond.  Dark, moody, ominous and suspenseful, this medieval epic is intricately plotted with elaborate subplots and a huge cast of both sinister and honorable characters (many of whom are both).  In typical fantasy series form, A Game of Thrones follows heroic quests pitting good against evil, though that dichotomy is often challenged and its lines are frequently blurred.  Told by many different characters’ perspectives (eight in all) and rife with flashbacks, foreboding, and internal monologues, this book will keep fans of dense fantasy epics entertained, and frustrate those seeking a straightforward, fast-paced series.  The lack of overly fantastical elements, (with the exception of dragons and undead enemies), helps make A Game of Thrones appealing to a wide variety of readers, particularly those who are interested in the intricacies of politics and royal family feuds.  This series is not recommended to those who become easily attached to characters, as no one seems to be safe in Martin’s world.  As Queen Cersei Lannister puts it, “When you play the game of thrones you either win or die.  There is no middle ground.”

I will certainly be continuing the series, of which five of the seven books have been completed.  Fans of the HBO series of the same name will be pleased to know that the show does not deviate far from the series, though it is difficult to include all that happens in the novel’s 700+ pages.

“Strength in What Remains”

Kidder, Tracy.  Strength in What Remains.  New York: Random House, Inc., 2009.  Print.

Borrowed from the Iowa City Public Library.

Read in (mostly) one sitting on Labor Day, 2012.

Three and a half out of five stars.

This first week’s selection is the 2012 All Iowa Reads title Strength in What Remains written by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Tracy Kidder.  It tells the true story of Deogratias a native of Burundi, the tiny country nestled between Rwanda and Tanzania in eastern central Africa.  Deo, as he’s referred to in the book, narrowly escapes the genocide and civil war that ravages Rwanda and Burundi in early 1994 and finds himself in New York City with only $200 to his name.  Though he doesn’t speak English, Deo gets a job delivering groceries and faces the harsh realities known to many immigrants: hunger, homelessness and, despite the horrors he has witnessed in his native country, homesickness.  Prior to fleeing Africa Deo was in his third year of medical school on his way to becoming a doctor.  Eventually, albeit not easily, he finds favor with a series of good Samaritan New Yorkers who get him back on his feet and back into school.

Throughout the book Kidder takes the reader back and forth between Africa and the United States, beginning with Deo’s flight from Burundi to New York in 1994.  As the story unfolds we catch glimpses of Deo’s childhood, adolescence, and school years, all intwined with the story of his arrival in the United States.  Although I appreciate Kidder’s attempts to meld Deo’s past and present, the progression comes off as disjointed, even forced.  By skimming the text on the back cover the reader learns that Deo finds his way to “Columbia University, medical school, and a life devoted to healing.”  With this prior knowledge, the sporadic plot fails in its goal of lending suspense and drama to an already incredible, profound, heartbreaking and awe-inspiring story.  Kidder injects himself unnecessarily in the last third of the book, narrating in first person as he accompanies Deo back to Africa on a journey to build a rural medical clinic.  The history of the Burundian/Rwandan genocide and civil war Kidder gives in the last third of the book could have better supplemented the accounts of Deo’s life growing up in Africa; rather it read like a hasty, afterthought of a lecture.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this book, more so for the characters Kidder brings to life than for his story telling abilities.  Having grown up without war, famine and disease it is hard to empathize with Deo, but it’s hard not to admire him for his resilience and outlook on life (which, understandably so, is not always rose-colored).  And while it is difficult to read about the atrocities and injustices depicted in Strength in What Remains, but I think that is one of the reasons this selection was a good one for the All Iowa Reads program.  Too often it is easy to forget what happens outside of our own little worlds, and it takes stories like Deo’s to remind us that there are more important things in life and that our attitudes and character define and shape us in many ways.