Archive | July, 2013

A Smart Novel

29 Jul

lifeafterlife

Kate Atkinson’s new book Life After Life was pretty incredible. In truth I’m incredibly jealous that I didn’t think of it myself.  I hope I can explain the premise well enough – she does it so swimmingly and I’m afraid I’ll just muddle it up. Our heroine, Ursula, is born to a family in England in 1910. And then.

Here is where I get a little lost in translation. This novel is about how teeny tiny decisions or actions can alter an entire life’s course. And Ursula is, in the most amazing way, guinea pig of fate. The end of each section has Ursula dying. Each new section has her altering (without knowing why, often with only an “impending sense of doom” lurking around) her actions slightly – and then we get to see how her life goes as it continues on that path. Then she dies, and makes slightly different decisions in her next go and we follow that thread. Here is a brief overview of the first few (and very shortest) chapters: On a snowy, stormy night, Ursula is born to Sylvie at home in 1910 England. Due to the storm, the doctor does not make it in time and Ursula dies before she takes her first breath. The end. Second section: The doctor makes it just in the nick of time and saves the baby. Ursula lives. We follow her through her hectic childhood with a brood of siblings. At age 4, she drowns while on a summer vacation to the shore. Third section: Ursula begs her sister to play in the waves a few feet to the left of where they were in the previous section and a man painting the sea sees them and rescues Ursula. She lives – and we follow the next bit of her life until she, again, meets her maker.  It sounds like it may be tedious and dull – but really there are so many great things. It’s like getting a dozen stories in one, that’s how different her tiny alterations make. She ends up in such crazy places. I thought this novel was Brilliant. Capital B.

 

And I’m going to throw this one in here. Not my particular cup of tea, but short and fast and some interesting things.

when women wereIf you love things like The Artist’s Way or I don’t know. Anne Lamott? this is not funny, though. Any sort of soul-searching, deep-reaching woman’s-insight-on-life. If you like those things, you’d like this. Just before Terry Tempest Williams’s mother dies, she tells Terry that she’s leaving all of her journals to her, and not to read them until after she passes away. The mother passes away, and Terry discovers that every single journal is blank. What follows are 54 short essays/chapters about what it means to have a voice. It was quick and easy and made me want to be better about keeping up with my journal.

 

The PERFECT Summer Book

16 Jul

You know that lovely feeling when you find a book you really like? That’s what I’m feeling right now. Last night, knowing that I had to wake up early (for the gym!), I decided to read just a few pages of A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams. I’ll admit right now that I bought it because the cover reminded me of Tigers in Red Weather, one of my 2012 favorites. Just a few pages, I thought. When I looked up, it as WAY past the time I thought I’d be sleeping and I was halfway through.

hundred summersMy day today was crazy, and every moment I wasn’t talking I was wishing I could sneak off and read some more. I buzzed through my work at home this afternoon hoping that I’d be able to finish it. And I did. I’d call A Hundred Summers a cross between Rules of CivilityTigers in Red Weather and maybe even a little bit of J. Courtney Sullivan’s Maine. To sum up: The PERFECT Summer Book. Here is the story: Sweet, innocent Lucy is entering her senior year at an all girls college. She is shy and awkward-ish and prim. Every summer that she can remember found her summering on the shores of Rhode Island (on a great big summer estate) with her childhood friend Budgie. Budgie is Lily’s roommate now in college, but where Lily is demure Budgie is brazen. She wears tight sweaters and is always running with some boy. Running fast. One weekend Budgie convinces her shy friend to drive up to Dartmouth to see her current beau play in the football game. During the game, Lily catches sight the tall handsome quarterback, Nick Greenwald. Gifted athlete, handsome bloke, Jew. Knowing that falling in love with someone of his religion would blackball her from her family, Lily goes right on ahead. Oh, do they fall in love! Heck, I fell in love with Nick Greenwald. Second chapter, 7 years later: Lily is back at her Rhode Island summer home, chasing after her 7-year-old sister when Budgie (brazenly!) shows up to open her long-emptied family home. Lily, sweet girl, hasn’t set sights on Budgie in seven long years and is nervously anticipating an encounter. Even more nervously anticipating an encounter with Budgie’s husband, one Mr. Nick Greenwald. SHOCKING! But oh it is compulsively readable, and so easy to root for Lily. And there are twists and hurricanes and dramatics the whole way through. Seriously singing the praises of this fun novel (and Aunt Linda, I’m letting you borrow it for your trip!).

The Thrill of it all.

14 Jul

I am NOT a thriller reader. Sometimes if I’m on a plane, and there is one I’ve been hearing about – maybe. If I’ve been in a reading slump, sure! (they are so fast and easy it’s a nice re-entry into reading). But typically, I stay away. Funny, then, that in the midst of a great reading month I found myself reading a thriller. No, wait. ANOTHER thriller (The Execution of Noa P Singleton  and Reconstructing Amelia are the others). Here is the one that I zoomed through this weekend.

anonymous sourcesThis came highly recommended to me by my trusty bookseller/friend. Of the three “thrillers” that I’ve read this month – this was the most clearly thriller. I think I liked Amelia a little bit better, but it was close. Alexandra James, hard-drinking good-looking journalist on the education beat in Boston, is called to cover an apparent suicide at Harvard. True to form, the “apparent” suicide is not what it seems, and Ms James is thrust into the middle of a dangerous international plot. Along the way she gets plenty drunk, flirts with a handful of men, seduces one, etc etc. The chapters are short and that kept me moving. I developed a teeny pet peeve while reading – the author ends a fair amount of chapters with the same sort of impending-doom sentences (Lucien always wanted to be in the middle of the action, but he had no idea what was in store for him next! or something along those lines). Not terrible, not a real take-away from the story or plot, but enough of a trend to irk me.

burial rites

This next book is not out yet, I don’t think, but it was GOOD. If I had to, I could make a case for it being a “thriller” too, but because it’s set in 19th century Iceland, I’m going to let it pass as suspenseful literary fiction. Strangely, the plot line very, very closely matches The Execution of Noa P Singleton. Here is the set up: Agnes and two others have been arrested for a terrible murder (and subsequent arson charges). The Powers That Be decide to make an example of them and execute them all on Icelandic soil (normally they would have been sent to Denmark for such punishment). While the case for a localized execution makes its way up the judicial chain, the three felons are split up and sent to different rural homes (mostly to provide manual labor). Agnes is sent to the small village she grew up in, living with the District Commissioner, his wife and their two young daughters. The novel is equal parts Agnes dealing with her current situation and revisiting the events that led her there. I wouldn’t say that I loved Agnes. But I’m kind of glad I didn’t – it would be too easy to make her the victim, but I found her to be equal parts good and evil. Ech, maybe not evil. But she definitely has a dark side and that was more interesting and believable than if she had been a lovable convict.

Oh, Amelia.

8 Jul

At work the other day, I read an article about 14 books that were turning into movies (here) and this was one that I hadn’t read. Thanks to my lovely book-club-swap, I was able to get my hands on a copy.

ReconstructingAmelia-

I just read a couple of reviews of this comparing it to Gone Girl. I don’t know how accurate that is – it is definitely not as nerve-wracking. It was good. It was fast and good. It had an ending I couldn’t have guessed. But I didn’t love it like I loved Gone Girl. Here is the set-up: Kate is a junior partner at a big law firm in Brooklyn. She is a single parent to her 15-year-old daughter, Amelia (straight-laced, straight A’s, huge reader). In the middle of an important meeting, Kate is interrupted by Amelia’s school – a prestigious, exclusive academy – and told that Amelia has been suspended for plagiarizing a paper and could Kate please come pick her up immediately. As usual, Kate has a difficult time getting out of work and ends up arriving at Grace Hall about an hour after the phone call. When she arrives, the school has a lone ambulance in its drive and a small crowd gathered round. Amelia had jumped to her death from the roof of the school. The case is immediately ruled a suicide. Weeks later, Kate receives an anonymous text saying “Amelia didn’t jump” or something along those lines. The case is reopened and we are off!

There were a million twists in this novel – each one had me thinking “OH maybe it was her, or him or them, or…” If you need a beach read or an airplane read – this is a good choice!

Two for Now and One for Later

3 Jul

Thanks to an eventful (and fruitful) night at book club last week, I have a zillion things waiting for me this long holiday weekend. And three are already done!

We Are All Completely

I thought that We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves was going to be silly. A girl who misses her chimpanzee sister? Sheesh. Ridiculous. To my surprise, I loved this book. I mean I really loved it. Somehow Karen Joy Fowler made me believe in this unusual family, made it feel not so unusual, and kept me captive until the end.  When we meet Rosemary, she is an 18 year-old college student with a strange but loveable group of friends. She goes out of her way to never speak of her family – she doesn’t think she can. From here, we go forward and backward in time to gather the story of her family: the brother and sister she lost, the tension/aloofness between her parents, her childhood growing up with her chimpanzee sister Fern. I know that last part makes you think it will be wacky or science-fiction-y, but I promise it’s not. It’s more Jane Goodall than Planet of the Apes. I thought it was stellar.

The Execution of Noa P. Singleton- Jacket.JPGI wish I could say the same about The Execution of Noa P. Singleton. Sadly, I found it kind of a letdown. It has such promise, such an interesting start…but man. I was disappointed at the end. The twist wasn’t that twisty, the creeps weren’t that creepy, I pretty much disliked EVERYONE. If this is on your summer list – get it from the library or wait until it comes out in paperback. It’s not one you’ll want to keep forever.

returned

OH WOW. What a great book to pick up after Noa P. This one, The Returned, was AWESOME. I was describing it to someone at work today and she said “Oh, you read Sci-Fi?” so I must have been describing it poorly. Although there are some Science Fiction aspects to it. Harold Hargrave and his wife Lucille are up there in age, living alone outside of a small town called Arcadia. The book opens with their charming back-and-forth bickering, the news plays on the TV in the background. They are squabbling over this business of The Returned. It’s all vague to begin with, and their fight is interrupted by a knock on the door. Harold opens it to find a government man and a small boy – the boy is their 8 year-old son who died almost fifty years ago. But here he is, eight years old and SO happy to see his parents. All across the world this miracle/omen is happening – people who died years ago are popping up, picking up their lives right where they left off. The rest of the story reminded me, at parts, of that PD James novel Children of Men – part character novel, part philosophical novel, part political. This doesn’t come out until September (and there is a TV show that will shortly follow it) but I think it’s going to be a great book club option – the coin has more than two sides in this crazy novel.