Archive | June, 2012

Hot Summer in the Middle East

30 Jun

I find myself wishing that there were more books I LOVED, rather than a bunch of books I feel so-so about. If I waited until I found something I LOVED to post up here, my blog entries would be few and far between. Here are two new books that I felt so-so about – glad to have read but not thrilled with.  I’m putting them together only because they are both set in the Middle East.  When you remove that connector, they are nothing alike.

Kingdom of Men by Kim Barnes is one I started, put down, came back to weeks later, and finished slowly. This is not usually my book-reading MO; usually I zing through books fairly quickly. For some reason this lost my interest, but then I found myself thinking about it every now and then to the point where I dug it out from under the bed (where lost books go), blew off the dust bunnies and gave it another go.  I think my biggest problem lay in the marketing for this book – the synopsis on the back makes it out to be a murder mystery “a young Bedouin woman is found dead…and Gin’s world closes in around her.” In reality, there is no murder mystery. The death of the young Bedouin happens in pretty much the last quarter of the book and doesn’t factor in to the story up to that point at all.  REALLY, it is the story of a young girl (Gin) who finds herself pregnant by the stud of her small-town high school in 1967. After a speedy marriage and departure from their hometown, Gin’s husband takes a job for the Arabian American Oil Company. They move to a gated community in Saudi Arabia, and nearly the entire novel is about Gin’s struggle to find herself in a foreign country, a foreign life. It is a slow-paced drama about her marriage and her new-fangled friends. Spiced up at the end with a dead Bedouin girl washed ashore. 3 out of 5 stars.

The Watch by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya is much more tense than Kingdom of Men. It starts with a young Afghani woman working her way down from the mountains on a wheel-barrow-like cart. She has lost her feet in a recent attack by the Americans, an attack her brother and other men from her community tried to avenge. Her brother was killed outside the American perimeter, and she is on her way, slowly and painfully, to try to recover his body to bury according to her family’s religion. Each chapter switches perspective – we start with Nizam, out to find her brother’s body, but continue on through the eyes of the American Unit’s medic, commander, the Afghani man employed as a translator – until we have a well-rounded picture of the situation.  Once you get through the first chapter, from Nizam’s perspective, it really is a manly book (lots of war-talk and soldierly camaraderie). I found it interesting, but not thrilling. 3 out of 5 stars.

Bronze Medal?

27 Jun

When I read Chris Cleave’s last novel, Little Bee, I sped through it lightning fast. But after finishing it, I thought to myself “I can never sell this to anyone – it is SO depressing.” Shows what I know – it was a runaway success. I found myself speeding through his upcoming Gold too, and decided, again, that it was too depressing to recommend. Which means there is a good chance it will also find stunning commercial success.

Maybe I’ve read too many books about children with cancer lately. And all the ones I’ve read have been great – but reading about children battling such a terrible thing over and over, no matter HOW good the book, is a bit of a soul-suck. So that was part of it with Gold. Yes, it’s about two women who are Olympic-quality cyclists, who have a complicated friendship and a complicated rivalry. And yes, there is a crazy love triangle and a couple of surprising twists. BUT. The most vivid parts of the story are about one of the women’s daughter, Sophie, who is battling a relapse of Leukemia. I’d bet that half the book revolves around this – the illness of a child. The scenes where she is trying to act not-sick in order to not-worry her parents are just so heartbreaking.  I’m sure it will sell and be a huge hit – it is perfectly timed to coincide with the start of the Summer Olympic Games – but on a scale of 1 to 5, I give it only a 3.

Book Club Options 6/24/12

26 Jun

The paperback edition of Rules of Civility came out today – but if you ever came   into RDB over the past year, I’ve probably already sold it to you. It is THAT good. Set in NYC in the 1930s, it has every bit the glitz and glamour of Gatsby but a lot more in the ways of feminine wiles. It opens with two friends, Katey Kontent and Evie Ross, on New Years Eve in 1937. They  set out for the night with just enough money to have one drink every hour until midnight, but by 10pm they’ve drunk their way through their funds. As if on cue, a very handsome and wealthy looking young man walks into the bar… Of course they both fall for him – that’s not the thrilling part- but the way the story unfolds, the way it is written, is so refreshing and beautiful that if you haven’t read it, you should.

Maine is another recent paperback release – and for all of the readers who love Jennifer Weiner or Elin Hilderbrand or even Anne Tyler. Four women in the Kelleher family are gathered in a summer home in Maine. Spanning three generations and a huge range of temperament, each of the women comes to the house in Maine with a different set of baggage. The ending can be interpreted in different ways (to the extreme), and I loved that about this book. I’d say this is a summer read, but it would also be great for a book club because the ending alone would generate enough talk to fill an hour.

I read and loved Meg Howrey’s earlier novel, Blind Sight, so was eager to crack into The Crane’s Dance. And while it is completely different, it is also completely entertaining. I’m pretty sure it was given a great review in EW not too long ago, also. Two sisters, both ballerinas, are in constant struggle. The elder sister, Kate, worked hard all of her young life to be a soloist in a celebrated company, only to be quickly surpassed by her younger sister who never quite seemed as driven (but has more pure talent). This is also appropriate for upper-teens, but has a sort of Black-Swan-ish darkness to watch out for.

I didn’t have many expectations upon picking up Drowned – I’d never heard of the author – but the cover is pretty and it is slender in size and I thought I could zip through it. It is a dark, foggy tale (also about sisters) about an eerie love triangle. It is unsettling in all of the right ways, a little steamy (though nothing like 50 Shades) and mysterious in every aspect. I think it would generate a lot of really interesting discussion – plus it’s fast and a bit juicy!

To Read On…or Not To

26 Jun

I try to give every book a chance. Especially books by big name authors who put out books shrouded with hype. 100 pages, I tell myself, is a great indicator of whether or not to read on. Well, I am 168 pages into Richard Ford’s “Canada.” Still debating whether to read on or whether to skip to the end…

It isn’t that I don’t like it, really, just that I am not grabbed. If I were still working in a retail bookstore, I would speed through it just to be able to recommend it (or not) assuredly. Now that I’m reading strictly for pleasure….I may just move on. After, of course, reading the last few chapters just to tie things up.

Occasionally, I am wrong about these things. In fact, I am going to link some great reviews of this book – fabulous reviews that tout it as his Best Ever. I haven’t read any of his others, so I wouldn’t know.

– Reviewed by the Daily Beast here

– Reviewed by the New Yorker here

Father’s Day Dilemma

26 Jun

I have a fabulous father. Seriously, he is one of the best. Probably THE best. But I’m biased, I know.

For Father’s Day this year, I am giving him a current dictionary. He and my mom have started playing Scrabble every night, and my mom, apparently, has been trying to pass off made up words. The dictionary should help.

Here are the titles on my list to be considered – I haven’t read many of them because I far and away prefer fiction – and most of it is girly fiction.

1. Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson. This has been around for a long while, but has been the favorite book of almost every guy I know who reads.

2. Mission to Paris by Alan Furst. He is tremendous at WWII fiction – fast-paced and action-filled, he is always a big hit with both my dad and my grandfather.

3. Double Cross: The True Story of D-Day Spies by Ben Macintyre. Upon closer inspection, this isn’t due to be released until the end of July. But he is one of my go-to narrative non-fiction guys and this should be GOOD.

4. Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China by Paul French. I don’t know why exactly this appeals to me – my dad is not at all interested in Old China, but for some reason I think it would be an interesting section of history, sort of sliding in to all the other sections he likes.

5. This Republic of Suffering by Drew Gilpin Faust. This is an older one too, but one I think he might have missed. The woman who wrote it is the President of Harvard University, and it won a bunch of big-time prizes. My dad loves anything Civil War, and I think her’s is an interesting take.

 

Summer on the Cape

26 Jun

Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann
July 17th, 2012
Little Brown & Co.

I’ve realized that I have to write about books quickly as I read, otherwise they turn hazy and I can only remember a strong sense of like or dislike.

This is a Like. It sat in my stack for a fair bit, with a different cover, and I can’t remember the review I read or the buzz I heard that made me pick it up. I’m so glad I did.

Two cousins, Helena and Nick, spend their summers drinking gin and dancing in the hot Martha Vineyard’s nights. When the book opens, they are looking forward to the end of the war – the return of Nick’s husband Hughes and the end of rationing. This simple, muggy summer beginning starts a roller coaster spanning five narrators and almost as many decades. Nick and her young Veteran husband Hughes move to Florida only to find that they are not what they once were. Moving back to the Vineyard and into the family’s Tiger House, the story becomes a portrait of Nick’s marriage and motherhood – contrasted by the marriage and motherhood of Helena. Living in Hollywood with her skeezy husband, Avery, Helena finds herself hopelessly addicted to pills with a son who is withdrawn, secretive and cold. When Nick uncovers the seriousness of her addiction, she moves Helena and her son to Tiger House on the Vineyard to be cared for.

When a dead girl is discovered by the two children, the summers mood turns sour, and tensions rise. I loved the drama brought out in these two women, in their children and most of all in Hughes (Nick’s husband) who I grew to respect. There are twists and turns and lots glamour.

It is “Rules of Civility” with a murderous twist, “Great Gatsby” minus the unrequited love and continuous large parties. Or Courtney Sullivan’s “Maine” without the doll-house loving sister-in-law.

It has the perfect balance of glamour, scandal, steam and suspense – a great summer book.

Fiction is a Treasure

26 Jun

At one point, my house was drowning in books. There were stacks of them everywhere, in every room and empty corner. You couldn’t turn around without knocking into them. To be honest, this problem really didn’t bother me as I can’t think of a better way to live – surrounded by books. But. They were taking over, and my brilliant aunt suggested to stack them on an empty wall underneath my mounted TV. They started sort of low and took the place of a side table. And then they just kept growing. I have a feeling that the growth will be exponentially smaller now that I have resigned from the bookstore I worked at for 13 long years. Giving up my discount and losing access to advance copies will surely slow me down a little.

When I quit, not only did I lose my access to the physical books, I also lost my forum for talking about them. And that is what this space is for. A place for me to recommend and gush about books that I love. Fiction is one of my most valued treasures.