Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Where'd You Go, Bernadette? Maria Semple, Fiction.  Told creatively through emails, letters, legal notices, FBI files, and flashbacks, Where'd you go, Bernadette? is the gorgeous telling of one woman's search for self, where she lost herself, and how it impacts the people who love her.  Set in Seattle, where the weather has just as big of a role in the plot as any of the characters, this hilarious and touching story shows us the devotion a young girl can have to her mother.  Bernadette is wacky, confident, anxious, and lost, but totally in love with her daughter Bee.  Elgin, her husband and Bee's father, is so lost in his job at Microsoft he barely notices when they have to weed-whack under the carpet to keep the grass creeping into their home at bay.  When he is visited by the FBI and appraised of Bernadette's recent activities, he finally notices his world crumbling around him.  Because, how does that saying go, "You don't know what you have until you lose it?"
(cool website!!)
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, Ben Fountain, Fiction.   Billy Lynn is the hero of a caught-on-tape firefight between Americans and Iraqi soldiers.  Fox News airs the footage and the Bravo team becomes instant celebrities and models for the war in Iraq.  They are currently on a tour of America to raise morale and let people shake their hands, and the entire book is set during their last stop, a Dallas Cowboys football game on Thanksgiving.  The other characters thrown into the mix in Texas - oil tycoons, Cowboy Cheerleaders, burly stage crew members, family members, and a Hollywood manager, serve to show the contrast between each other and the strange situation the men of Bravo are surviving.  Their normal - dodging bullets, surviving in extreme conditions - make the most American situation, halftime at the Dallas Cowboys football game, an alien experience.  There are scenes that will stick with you long after you read the book (and you should), like when Billy talks with the football players that just want to shoot someone, the tour of the equipment room, and the halftime show.  How surreal would it be if you saw your best friend killed, killed others in return, and a few weeks later, were watching Beyonce being bootylicious on stage right next to you?  Fountain lets you know.
What The Nanny Saw, Fiona Neill, Fiction.  Ah, nannies.  They see it all, and what do they say?  Well, they are paid to say nothing.  And if they DO say something, there goes their designer castoffs, working vacations in Greece, cushy daily stipend, and total loss of self.  At least that is what Neill would have us believe.  After a few failed various relationships at home and school, Ali falls into a nanny job for one of the most high profile couples in London.  Their children are sweet, smart, and in need of a little guidance and daily love.  Her job consumes her, and as she becomes more enmeshed in the family, the children, parents, and even grandparents lean on her heavily for various levels of support.  Ali is all too happy to comply, even after Nick, the father, disappears amidst allegations of insider trading and conspiring with another mother's husband at school.  Ali observes the lives of the super rich are just as fraught with decisions and daily struggles, but on a different level as her own normal.  When people start asking Ali questions, how loyal will she be?  What does she really know?  How involved, exactly, is she with the children she is supposed to be caring for?
Gold, Chris Cleave, Fiction.  This is the first of Cleave's distinctively covered books that I have read, and I plan to not stop here.  This gripping, fast-paced novel had my heart racing like the speed bikers that this story is about.  Kate and Zoe have raced as long as they can remember, and it has always been against each other.  They are the best in the world - but who has the medals to show for it?  And what are those medals worth?  Zoe is racing away from her past and Kate is racing toward her future, but we are never sure what either of those scenarios are.  What happened to Zoe to make her so reckless?  When will Kate really be sure of the future of her family?  The gripping ending of this story, with a race for life and a race for gold pitted against each other as the girls, now women, race each other one last time, had me pacing the room in between tears and pages.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Broken Harbor, Tana French, Fiction.  Read it.  French mesmerizes with this mystery, drawing you deeper and deeper into the solving of a family's mass murder set in a ghostly new development outside of Dublin.  Broken Harbor, newly minted Brianstown, was a lazy, quiet vacation spot of years past until developers got their hands on the harbor and hastily slapped up homes and sold a few to the highest bidders.  As soon as problems with the homes started, the builders deserted the site.  It is in one of these houses that Mick "Scorcher" Kennedy comes across one of the worst multiple murder scenes he has encountered in his years as a Dublin detective.  The only clues he and his rookie partner have to go by are what is left in the house and the mother, who is alive, but barely, in the hospital.  Very quickly, the partners figure out that nothing is as it seems in this home in the middle of nowhere - and the only witnesses are self-absorbed, alienated, and plugged-in-to-whatever-device-available neighbors, and the person who was hiding in the shell of the home next door.  Who was there?  Why are there baby monitors all over the house?  Why is there a very large animal trap in the attic?  Who would kill two children?  It is these questions, combined with the memories of his mother's suicide in the same place, that almost drive Scorcher to the edge.  French uncovers each clue carefully and hands them to the reader as if it is a present - just like the detectives must feel, and during the climactic twist, it feels like a punch in the gut.
Where We Belong, Emily Giffin, Fiction.  Giffin's 6th story of relationships explores not only where we belong, but where we began, and how that makes us who we are.  An eighteen year old who is trying to figure out her future decides to confront her past - the beginning of her life - by contacting her birth mother.  Kirby shows up on Marian's doorstep and the moment proves to be an intersection of time, love, loss, and possibility.  Marian has never forgotten the decision she made to give up her daughter for adoption - but she has never looked back, either.  Now a driven and successful writer in NYC, her life is coming together the way she pictured it - finally.  Kirby can't figure out where her life should go.  Eighteen and deciding between college and a job, she hasn't found a place to fit in throughout high school, and is feeling lost.  When the two meet, both Kirby and Marian have to confront the feelings their reunion.  Giffin, no stranger to writing about relationships, treats this situation fairly - it isn't all hearts and rainbows and she is able to show longing, hope, disappointment, and possibility through all of the characters affected by the reuniting of mother and daughter.
Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter, Fiction.  Spanning decades and continents, the aptly titled Beautiful Ruins is a close look at what the impact small decisions can have on a lifetime.  Set in Italy and America, Beautiful Ruins is an ode to missed opportunities and what that makes us into the person we become.  One movie star's careless intimacy with a young woman sets in motion the events that not only make one life, but pushes another to be better than it already is.  Many years later, in a casting room in Hollywood a lucky and unlikely duo unite to convince a young lady to give them mere minutes of her day to hear their stories - true or not.  Claire's ability to take a minute of her day again sets events in motion that will change everyone's life - and reunite a cast of characters for better or worse.  Walter's ability to examine the consequences of each decision we make is not tedious, but delightful, and Beautiful Ruins is a funny, lovely read.