Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Another Piece of My Heart, Jane Green, Fiction.  How seamlessly can a new wife fit into an old family?  In Green's 13th novel, the answer is not very.  Andi has finally fallen in love.  Not only is Ethan perfect for her, but he has two daughters who Andi can't wait to help raise.  However, the oldest daughter Emily has different ideas.  Andi and Emily constantly clash and it is finally wearing on the strong relationship that Andi and Ethan have worked to forge.  Both of these women would wear on me, too.  Most of the time that Green was writing from the views of either woman I felt like I was hearing cliche after cliche of complaints.  I don't know how many times Andi had to ask the same question of Ethan - when will you stand up for me?  If I were Ethan I would have stood up and then turned around and dove into a pool.  Emily's behavior is atrocious, and compared to the (gag) perfect younger sister, anyone would look bad.  One of the things I was excited about picking up a Jane Green novel is that I like the way she is able to portray people.  I feel like the characters are likable even though we see their struggles, even more likable because of her compassion towards the people who populate her books.  I felt that was missing in this book.  Green wrote about the struggles and thoughts of each character, but they were unlikable.  Granted, I think that blending families takes work and can sometimes be a struggle, but these characters keep fighting the same fights - there is no growth in this novel.  Situations change and things ultimately work out for everyone involved, but by the end of the book I just didn't care.  If you want a great Jane Green read, try The Beach House.

Friday, May 18, 2012

When I started this blog there were many books that I wanted to talk about but I had read too long ago to remember character names, specific plot lines, or the exact reason why I did not like the book.  I have done a bit of research to remember some of the well-received books of 2011, and here I will list my opinions on some of them, and if I think they are worth checking out of your local library while you are waiting for the next Sookie Stackhouse book to show up on the New Releases shelf.

The Submission, Amy Waldman - Tied for my favorite book of last year.  I did not really like any one character in this book, but I came to care for them all and it mattered to me how their stories resolved.  The premise of the story is thought provoking and will become increasingly relevant in our society.
tied with:  The Paris Wife, Paula McLain.  This isn't necessarily a nice story, but you WILL find yourself tucked into a booth in a smoky cafe in Paris.  I felt a jolt coming back to reality every time I had to grudgingly set this book down.

State of Wonder, Ann Patchett.  With shades of Heart of Darkness, the fear that this story could be happening now is what made this work of fiction stand out to me.
The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern.  Reading this felt like a fairy tale.
Rules of Civility, Amor Towles.  I wanted to be there.  I also kept thinking about the author's resume - former Wall Street finance whiz writes a great work of fiction.  I love a happy ending!
The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes.  How well does our memory serve us?  Do we remember what we want to, or exact scenes from our past?  How do your interactions with people every day effect them for the rest of their lives?  All of these questions are explored in this marvelously well written, brief - but complete, book by Barnes.
A Discovery of Witches, Deborah Harkness.  If you don't mind witches and vampires and like it when they get together, you'll like this.  Its like Twilight but between adults and with a lot more travel.  Plus, its the first in a trilogy.
The Dovekeepers, Alice Hoffman.  The piece of history this story is based upon is fascinating and haunting.  Hoffman's telling lifts above just history and adds magic and heart.
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, Tom Franklin.  A very tight story - I feel like Franklin deliberately placed every single word - there is nothing extra, and he doesn't need it.
The Magician King, Lev Grossman. When I heard Grossman wrote a sequel to The Magicians I couldn't wait to read it.  It wasn't as good as the first book, but even a little bit worse than the first still makes it great.

The following books are some of the well-received books of 2011 that I did not personally receive well:

The Marriage Plot, Jeffrey Eugenides.  I liked it, but didn't love it.  If you want to read one of his, read The Virgin Suicides.
Art of Fielding (NY Times #1 of 2011), Chad Harbach.  Quite possibly some of the most inspired writing I have read for about seven pages.  I am still fuming over the lead female character.  I'm sorry Mr. Harbach, but cool girls don't act that way.
Jamrach's Menagerie, Carol Birch.  It took a turn for the worst on the boat.
Swamplandia, Karen Russell.  Inventive, yes.  I am sure families like this are living all over the world - but I just couldn't get into the book.  I ended up not finishing it.
11/22/63, Stephen King  Wow was this a long book.  The premise is fascinating, and King is able to paint a scene better than most authors.  He can instill a sense of terror into an innocent smokestack, but  the middle of the book plods along.  And, in the end, well, I'm pretty sure I would have come to the same conclusion as Mr. King.

Blue Monday, Nicci French, Fiction, Mystery.  The husband-wife writing team of Nicci French has created a new character with Freida Klein, a psychologist in London.  The moral missteps of a colleague lead Freida to take on a new patient, Alan.  During his sessions, information he reveals in confidence to Frieda make her wonder if this man could have anything to do with the disappearance of a young boy in the area.  Crossing professional boundaries, Freida goes to the police and her information leads to the discovery that indeed Alan is involved, but in ways no one could have known.  The story flows along like the underground rivers that Freida follows on her late night solo walks around London.  She is a character who is hard to understand, and even more so because her life's work is helping others understand themselves.  I think stories about child abduction are scary and tense, which may be a reason why authors commonly choose this as a theme, but it doesn't make it any easier to read.  What makes this book stand out is the way the authors delve into the minds of each main character.  The psychologist is analyzed just as much as the missing boy and the suspects of the crime.  The story mainly sets the scene for the last third of the book, which is suspenseful, tense and shocking.  Unfortunately, I feel the writing only pricks the surface of the depth that this story can hold.  Even though the writers explain what the characters are thinking, I still don't know why they chose the actions that led to the conclusion of the book.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Arcadia, Lauren Groff  Fiction  This is my favorite book of 2012.  This book, written about "the littlest Bit of a hippie that ever was," tells the story of Bit, whose life starts in a hippie commune in New England.  Told through glimpses of his life, he explains the operation and sense of community that envelops his younger years, and then how this initial environment and the people he loves there continue to shape his life.  I loved this book because Groff is able to take scenes from an unconventional life and make me understand why this man journeys through life looking for the best in people.  Even though he struggles with death, the collapse of his home, the uncertainty of the future, and longing for his lost love, Bit remains eternally hopeful.  He is not optimistic or glib, he just believes in and searches out the best in the people around him. The images that Groff brings to life with her achingly beautiful prose have stayed with me even after starting a new book.  I prolonged finishing Arcadia because I didn't want to be done reading Groff's writing.  It is funny, sincere, haunting, true and entertaining.  This is what it looks like when moments add up to make the story of a life.
Fiction: New Republic, Lionel Shriver  She has a way with words. "This was a house you had to live not only in, but up to." This is a book you not only have to read, but enjoy. Shriver's latest is a foray into the world of not exactly reporting, but reporters. A disillusioned lawyer has given up corporate law in an effort to stand out - but by following in the footsteps of a childhood idol, who is now a journalist. Edgar is assigned to Barbra, a wind-battered country south of Portugal where nothing happens. Their main export is plastic trinkets and industrial wind chimes made from logs. And terrorism.  Edgar is assigned to a terrorism beat in this country, and also to find out what happened to the reporter who was assigned the same, and who had disappeared weeks before.  Edgar finds himself not only investigating the disappearance of Barrington Salder, but also following in the footsteps of the venerable reporter, whose reputation far proceeds him in the windswept region south of Portugal.  Edgar, for all purposes, steps into a life that he always thought he wanted.  He commandeers Sadler's friends, sources, love interest, and watering hole.  When he becomes completely ensconced into the world of Barrington Sadler he admits even to himself that he is in too deep.
The aknowlegdements are a thank you to the people who "let a girl write a boy - book" and that made me laugh - because when I was thinking of who to recommend this book to I came up with a list of male friends.     Shriver's books, over the past ten years or so, stand out so vividly in my mind as excellent fiction, and this does not disappoint.  I admit, I read two books in the middle of this one but kept wanting to come back for more Shriver's writing and philosophy.
Fifty Shades of Grey, E.L. James  Fiction, Romance Yeah, I read it.  And I deserve extra credit because I checked it out of the library.  The librarian slid it across the desk with a knowing glance – “I won’t be seeing you for a while I guess.”  I guess there are positives to having a reading “device.”  The story is much more than the scenes you have heard about – but it is hard to remember anything else.  The passionate affair between Christian and Anastasia is so combustible it is unbelievable.  To think that a man may warn a young, pretty thing away from him before they even talk is presumptuous of him, which draws Anastasia to him.  The reason he warns her away?  His domineering nature both in life and in bed.  Anastasia has not been tempted before this point to pursue any relationships with men, until being ensnared by Christian Grey.  I just never thought that people would enter into any relationship with boundaries in place.  Isn’t that what makes a good relationship – being able to explore your thoughts and feelings about each other together, as they are happening? James explains, through glimpses of his past, why Christian may approach relationships in this manner, but not why a young, inexperienced woman would choose to agree to such conditions.  I think the reason is that, like many woman in abusive relationships, she believes he will change for her.  Will he?  There are two others in this "Fifty Shades" trilogy.  We'll see if I can hold my head up high enough to check the other two out of the library.

Catch Me, Lisa Gardner.  Fiction, Mystery.  
A warning:  the scenes dealing with child abuse and pedophilia are pretty hard to take.  Lisa Garner writes about a young woman, Charlie, who believes she will be killed at a predetermined date and time, and picks a detective who she wants to investigate her murder.  Detective DD Warren is taken aback by the young woman's request until she digs deeper into Charlie’s past and realizes she may have a murder on her hands in a few days.  In the meantime, she is busy investigating a string of deaths in the area, and the murderer has been targeting pedophiles. The story is both heartfelt when DD Warren expresses the frustration and overwhelming love that comes with having a newborn baby at home, and gritty when she speaks of the training and discipline that Charlie puts into training to meet her murderer, and that contrast is what makes this mystery compelling.  When Gardner describes the emergency calls that Charlie takes at her job as a dispatcher, her writing is so taut I could hardly breathe until the conclusion of the situation on the other end of the 911 line.  What would you do if you knew someone was going to try to kill you?  Gardner asks that question of Charlie many times in the final moments leading up to the anniversary date of the death of both of Charlie's best friends.  The book, though at parts hard to read, is thoroughly enjoyable and will keep you guessing about the connection between the recent deaths in the Boston area and the connection to Charlie's story.  The conclusion involves a twist I never saw coming, and will make you wonder how well you really know the people you see on an every day basis.  What are they hiding?