Thursday, May 9, 2013
The Next Best Thing, Jennifer Weiner, Fiction. Ruth is going to Hollywood. She picks up her family and heads out west. Her family includes her grandmother Rachel. Raised by Rachel since the horrendous car crash that severely scarred Ruth and killed her parents, Ruth depends on her grandmother for everything. When Ruth expresses her desire to write a TV show based loosely on their lives, Rachel is the first to pull out a suitcase. Ruth can’t imagine her life without the support of her grandma, so they merrily make their way across the country. Things start to crumble when Ruth falls for another writer on the show she has been working with for three years. Workplace romance is never a good idea, especially when he has already impregnated the TV show’s star. Finding her way after this episode takes time, but Rachel is there to coax her along and finally kick Ruth into gear. With her grandmother’s support, she finds a position with another writing company, this time run by two Daves, one of whom she falls for. In the midst of her personal turmoil, her show is picked up for a season and her grandmother gets engaged. Weiner's tale about planning a wedding, writing and producing a show, and trying not to fall in love make for a heartwarming, frustrating, and happy read.
What the Family Needed, Steven Amsterdam, Fiction. This novel tells the tale of one unusual family from multiple perspectives over a period of about forty years. Starting from young Giordana’s perspective, her life really begins the summer her delighted cousin Alek asks her, “what do you want, to be invisible, or to fly?” She chooses invisibility, and doesn't think a thing about it until she is standing in front of the bathroom mirror, watching herself slowly fade away. At the time, he also bestowed the gift of flight on her brother Ben, but it is not until years later Ben discovers this ability. The story jumps through time and characters as they discover their own powers, and how they use them. Amsterdam takes a wish that many of us have – to have an ability that is impossible – and puts it in his character’s hands. Eventually the tale returns to Alek and his struggle with how he deals with his own power, and the way he is perceived by others. The true beauty of this story is, even with superpowers, these characters can't find the courage to talk to each other about their astounding, scary and superhuman talents. Which makes them all the more faulted than without the powers. What power would you choose? Would you be ready to deal with the consequences? What Amsterdam writes in answer to these questions is why this is one of my favorite books of the year.
Gods and Beasts, Denise Mina, Fiction, Mystery. Detective Sergeant Morrow, and the rest of the police squad of Edinburgh, needs to know exactly why the kindly old man helped a gun-wielding young man rob the local post office, then stand still as the robber shot him clean in half. According to the eyewitness Martin Pavel, the gentleman seemed to recognize the rough-looking robber, but how would the two have crossed paths before? Morrow, convinced there is more than just a robbery, delves into the history of the old man and this mysterious Martin Pavel, and continually runs out of leads, leaving her frustrated and knowing she is on the brink of solving this mystery. Meanwhile, her police force is spiraling out of control. Two of her fellow detectives were caught on camera taking money from a car, and someone on the force is leaking information. Morrow is constantly reminded of her twin baby boys as she struggles with sleep deprivation and nursing while back at work, and speaking of family, her crooked brother seems to be trying to straighten himself out. Deftly dealing with the subject matters of organized crime, parental guilt, and murder, Mina's straightforward writing makes reading her books a pleasure.
Thursday, April 18, 2013
Thursday, March 28, 2013
The Andalucian Friend, Alexander Soderberg, Fiction. Sophie is the quiet type - she keeps her beautiful home cozy and approachable, tries her best to figure out her teenage son, and maintains a professional attitude with her patients at work. Until she meets Hector Guzeman. He is from the Andalusian region of Spain, and offers little details about himself, but there is just something about him. From the point she steps outside of her professional dealings with Hector, Sophie, unbeknownst to her, is thrust into the seedy world of drug trafficking, police cover ups, fatal brutality, and maybe worst of all, new relationships. Soderberg's writing takes us deeper into the terrors of addiction - to painkillers, violence, and love. The conclusion, after the breathless page turning, felt unsettled, but possibly on purpose. I would welcome a follow up to Sophie's tale and redemption. I have to admit, I did a little research after reading this book. I had to find out what an Andalucian Friend was, because I didn't think I wanted one. I now know I don't.
Love is a Canoe, Ben Schrank, Fiction. According to Emily and thousands of others, Peter Herman wrote the definitive manual on marriage, Love is a Canoe. As her parents' marriage was falling apart, she would sit in the bathroom, reading about Peter's idyllic summer with his grandparents, who tenderly dispensed advice on how to keep a marriage joyful, loving, and ultimately, lasting. Now, Emily is fighting for her own marriage, and has won a contest dreamt up by Stella, an ambitious young thing at marriage manual's publisher. Emily and her husband Eli have won an afternoon talk and dinner with Peter Herman, and Emily sees this as a chance to put her marriage on the right path. The problem is, no one knows what path is the right one. At first, the story is sweetly sentimental, but as the characters delve deeper into their relationships, the language becomes so deliberate it feels like work to read. Schrank wraps up the story for each character - Peter, Emily, Helena the publisher, her protoge wanna-be Stella, and Eli - not neatly - but when is life not a little bit messy?
Thursday, March 14, 2013
The Love Song of Jonny Valentine, Teddy Wayne, Fiction. Boy do pop stars have it rough. Really, they do. That is what Wayne sets out to show us in this sparkly trip we take with Jonny on his latest tour. He is eleven and his star is shining bright in the young girl demographic, and his mother/manager is doing all in her power to break into the older male and Asian market. Jonny is a hard worker and is determined to make it bigger than any other pop star of his time. He is young, yes, but that does not detract him from worries about his concert sales, where his album is on the charts, and the live stream of his last concert of the tour to Asia. Wayne writes Jonny sweetly as well, as he endearingly self-grades his concerts, worries that he will never reach puberty, and loses his voice just to make little girls laugh. Jonny (wrongly?) trusts the people who are caring for him, and as we and Jonny question their motives, Wayne shows us that the characters are really trying to figure out their own ways and how they can help Jonny to the best of their own abilities.
The End of the Wasp Season, Denise Mina, Fiction, Mystery. I picked this up because I had heard rave reviews of Mina's newest, Gods and Beasts, which is currently on hold for me at the library! Wasp Season's Detective Morrow, pregnant with twins, is assigned to the brutal murder of a young woman found in her childhood home. She didn't have many friends, her mother had just passed, and there is a big surprise under the kitchen table for the investigators. Why was it there? Who was Sarah, and what did she do to deserve to die? Morrow's investigation reconnects her with an old friend, steers her farther away from her mob-ensconced brother, and takes us into the world of privilege that Sarah had just dipped her toes into. Mina's light touch gets easily into deeper issues, including mental illness, family relations, and perception of reality. With the movement of the babies inside of her, Morrow is constantly reminded of the preciousness of the present and how much it matters to constantly strive to make the best of the life you have.
Wednesday, March 6, 2013
The Secret Keeper, Kate Morton, Fiction. Swathed in deceit, this is another twisty, secretive tale from Morton. As her mother lays dying, Laurel hears her whisper a name from the past - which takes Laurel back to the day she saw her sweet, imaginative, wonderful mother murder a man in cold blood. Explained away at the time as self-defense, a young Laurel lets the incident go as well as she can, but now she wonders - how did this stranger know her mom's name? How far would her mother go to protect her family? A bit tiresome, Morton keeps us guessing, and guessing again, until the last few pages. Morton's attention to detail puts the reader into the time and place of the story, and her imagination shines when speaking of the stories Laurel heard her mother tell as a young girl. But what was fiction - and what was true?
Truth in Advertising, John Kenney, Fiction. The truth is, the story is more about the truth of life. Taking on troubled relationships, a family fallen apart, and job dissatisfaction, it would seem that this would be one downer of a book. However, Kenney is able to cast a glow on a very sad character. The acidic, witty writing brings Finbar Dolan, and especially the people who surround him, to life. Fin has gotten his fair share of knocks. Once determined to write poetry, he is now determined to make a somewhat serious commercial about baby poop. After ending his engagement to a woman he really liked, but didn't quiet love, he is trying really hard to not fall in love with the perfect woman for him. Upon hearing that his father is dying, he tries to not care, but it seems that life has other plans for Fin. He does care - about it all, his job, the woman, and his father, despite all of the mess that is attached to each. As Fin literally navigates the waters of his troubled relationship with his family, he is able to see the truth of what matters the most.