Showing posts with label books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label books. Show all posts

Friday, July 13, 2018

Summer Reading: The Women in the Castle

The next selection on my summer reading list, The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck, is one that I absolutely could not put down! I loved it! This novel is set in Germany during and after World War II and gives a fascinating perspective on the collective guilt felt by Germans. Three women, all widows of men involved in a failed attempt to assassinate Hitler, come together to live in a crumbling Bavarian castle after the war. Marianne von Lingenfels views the events of the war in black and white and holds herself and her children above the former Nazis around her. Beautiful Benita Flederman, who married her wealthy husband to escape her life of poverty in a small town, cares nothing for politics and wants life to return to normal as soon as possible. Ania Grabarek is tormented by the guilt she feels over her complicity in the events of the war and about the secret she is keeping. Over the course of the novel the three women must come to terms with what has happened to each of them, what has happened to their country, and what they have done to each other. The characters are very sympathetic and memorable (I felt very emotionally connected to all three of them for different reasons) and the story is extremely compelling because well-known events are told from a different vantage point than that of most World War II fiction. I found it interesting that the women crave understanding rather than forgiveness and I never felt like Shattuck was in any way condoning the more horrific events of the war. It is one of the most thought-provoking novels I have read in a long time because I have always wondered how Germans could have allowed the rise of Hitler to happen and how they rationalized it to themselves once the full extent of the atrocities were made public. Conversely, I've also wondered what it was that motivated people to risk everything in order to resist when so many did nothing. This gave me some context and I highly recommend it!

Note:  Have you read The Women in the Castle?  What did you think of it?

Friday, July 6, 2018

Summer Reading: To Capture What We Cannot Keep

The next selection on my summer reading list was To Capture What We Cannot Keep by Beatrice Colin. This is the type of book that I keep reading hoping that it will get better. It didn't. Caitriona Wallace is a recently widowed Scottish woman with limited financial means. She accepts a position as a chaperon to siblings Jamie and Alice Arrol on a European tour. While in Paris, she has a chance encounter with Emile Nouguier, an engineer working on the construction of the Eiffel Tower. She is dazzled by him but soon must return to Scotland with her charges. In despair she is about to enter a marriage of convenience with a wealthy man she does not love when she is suddenly given the opportunity to return to Paris as chaperon to the Arrols once again as Jamie, an aspiring engineer, has been given an internship to work on the Eiffel Tower. She is soon reunited with Emile and they embark on a forbidden romance. Gag! The pace of the narrative is so slow! It takes forever for Caitriona and Emile to get together!  When they finally do get together I didn't really buy into the conflict because the reasons why they can’t be together are preposterous.  I didn't understand Emile's hesitation. He comes from a wealthy family and worries about his mother's reaction but he has defied her at every turn, refusing to work in the family business to pursue building the tower. Why does her opinion suddenly matter? I also didn't understand the shocked reaction from his contemporaries because every other character's behavior is very Bohemian. Why the sudden judgement? Apparently Caitriona is too respectable for Emile to dally with (his fellow artists have no problem with his on-again off-again relationship with an opium addicted prostitute) but not respectable enough for his mother. Then she decides to break it off with him, despite the fact that he now realizes that he loves her, because she suddenly has a big secret (which has not been referenced before) and must leave him for his own good without telling him the reason. To me this is such lazy storytelling and it is the reason why I don't really like romantic comedies. If characters would only talk about their issues all of this heartbreak could be avoided but then again there wouldn't be any conflict. It is so contrived! Another weakness is that the narrative spends a great deal of time on the antics of Jamie and Alice Arrol and I found them to be incredibly unsympathetic. The two of them make one bad decision after another but there are no consequences for their behavior. Every issue is resolved rather conveniently, especially a subplot involving Alice (I think I rolled my eyes at this explanation). Finally, I was baffled by the epilogue. Years later, when Emile finds Caitriona again, they have this special moment but nothing is actually resolved. I suppose we are meant to think that they live happily ever after because they embrace dramatically. Ugh! I did really enjoy the details surrounding the building of the Eiffel Tower but these were not enough to overcome the uninspired story. Does anyone want my copy?

Note:  Have you read To Capture What We Cannot Keep?  What was your reaction?  I am definitely in the minority on this one.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Summer Reading: Before We Were Yours

The next selection on my summer reading list, Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate, reminded me a great deal of a previous selection, The Orphan Train. They both shed light on a tragic and little known part of history involving the adoption of children during the Depression and they both employ a dual narrative with a contemporary story merging with one from the past. I enjoyed them both immensely! In the present day Avery Stafford, a former federal prosecutor from a wealthy and prominent South Carolina family, is being groomed to take her father's Senate seat. A chance meeting with May Weathers at a political event at a nursing home causes Avery to begin digging into her family's history. In 1939 Rill Floss lives with her family on a riverboat on the Mississippi River. When her mother goes into labor, her father leaves her in charge of her siblings to go to the hospital. The next morning the children are removed from the boat by a group of policemen who tell them they are going to visit their parents. Instead they are taken to an orphanage run by Georgia Tann for the Tennessee Children's Home Society. The children are mistreated and malnourished and Rill soon learns that they are meant to be adopted by families wealthy enough to pay Tann's outrageous fees. The two stories converge in a way that I was expecting but the predictability did not detract from my enjoyment of it. In fact, I found the resolution to be incredibly emotional. Rill's story, based on the real-life experiences of hundreds of children who were victims of Georgia Tann's illegal adoption for profit scheme, is incredibly compelling and my heart broke for these children who were at the mercy of such evil people while their biological parents who, because of their poverty and lack of education, were powerless to intervene. Avery's story is also interesting because she is fighting against her family's expectations of her and against the social conventions of her class (although I did think that the romance was really cheesy and not needed to advance the plot). The characters come alive off of the page and I spent several nights reading well into the morning to find out what happens to them. I highly recommend this novel!

Note:  Have you read Before We Were Yours?  What did you think?

Friday, June 22, 2018

Summer Reading: The Alice Network

The next selection on my summer reading list was The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. It is 1915 and Evelyn Gardiner longs to do more for the war effort than just file in an office in London. Eventually she is recruited as a spy and sent to France to work in a restaurant run by Rene Bourdelon, a collaborator who caters to German officers. She passes information through a real-life espionage ring of women known as the Alice Network to help the Allies. In 1947, in the aftermath of another war, American heiress Charlie St. Clair is in London searching for her cousin Rose who disappeared in occupied France. She follows a lead which brings her to Eve, now a drunk and disillusioned woman haunted by a betrayal. Their stories converge when Charlie learns that Rose worked for the Resistance in another restaurant owned by Rene. Eve travels through France once again to help Charlie find Rose but also to face her greatest enemy, Rene Bourdelon. The perspective alternates between that of Eve and of Charlie and one of these perspectives worked more for me than the other. Eve's story is absolutely fascinating and she is a strong and courageous character who faces truly harrowing conditions that kept me reading well into the night. Lili (based on real-life spy Louise de Bettignies), the leader of the spy ring, and Violette, another spy, are also intriguing characters. Charlie's story is not as compelling and I found her to be a weak and whiny character without the stakes that Eve has throughout the story. I found myself skimming through the pages of Charlie's narrative to get back to Eve and her journey of redemption. Had this novel been just about Eve and the other brave spies who put their lives in danger during the first world war, I would have enjoyed it so much more. However, I would recommend this novel (just skim through Charlie's story).

Note:  Have you read The Alice Network?  What did you think?

Friday, June 15, 2018

Summer Reading: Orphan Train

Unlike the first two selections on my summer reading list, I could not put Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline down! It is a compelling story about a little known period of history and an unlikely friendship that really touched me. Kline seamlessly blends a story from the 1930s and a contemporary one with two alternating narrators: Molly is a seventeen year old orphan in a difficult foster placement who is given community service hours for stealing a book and Vivian Daly is a lonely 91-year-old woman living in a large house overflowing with painful memories. Molly is given the opportunity to complete her community service hours by helping Vivian clean and organize her attic. As the two of them interact, Molly learns Vivian's remarkable story about her life as an Irish immigrant and how, after losing her parents in a fire, she was placed on a train to the Midwest to be adopted by families in need of labor during the 1930s and their relationship begins to grow. They bond over their shared experiences as orphans (and the book Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery) and eventually help each other in surprising ways. I found both of these characters to be incredibly sympathetic. Molly is, initially, harder to like because she has built such a wall around herself to deal with the circumstances of her life but I understood her anger and appreciated her transformation even more. I found Vivian's story to be incredibly moving, even more so because it is a true depiction of what happened to over 200,000 orphans from 1854 to 1929. Vivian's bleak life after riding the orphan train brought tears to my eyes but this novel is ultimately very hopeful.  I read well into the night because I wanted to know what happened to these characters and, while I did feel that the ending was a bit rushed, I found it to be very satisfying. This is a memorable story that I highly recommend.

Note:  Have you read Orphan Train?  What did you think?

Friday, June 8, 2018

Summer Reading: We Were the Lucky Ones

The next selection on my summer reading list, We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter, was actually recommended to me by one of my students so you can imagine how eager I was to read it! Hunter, while interviewing her grandmother for a school project about her family history, discovered a heretofore unknown story about how her grandfather's entire family survived the Holocaust in Poland. This led to a decade-long quest to find out the details of his story and these details became the basis of her novel. At the start of the war the Kurcs are a comfortably well off and loving Jewish family living in Radom, Poland. Sol and Nechuma preside over three generations of their family including five children, their spouses, and a granddaughter. They try to ignore the horrors overtaking Europe but soon they are all separated as they try to escape the Nazis and they go to extraordinary lengths to survive and be reunited at the end of the war. Any novel about the Holocaust is going to be incredibly poignant and I had an emotional response to much of it, especially when one of the siblings and his family end up in a gulag in Siberia and when another sibling is looking for her daughter after the bombing of Warsaw, but there was both too little and too much going on for me to truly connect with it. The narrative is very episodic, jumping from character to character and location to location spanning long periods of time. It seemed as if the focus was to catch the reader up on what had happened since the last time we were with each character and then there would be a small vignette about what was currently happening. I would have liked a more in-depth exploration rather than a chronicle of events. I never really had the chance to connect with the characters because there were so many of them. It was often very confusing and I felt like I needed to keep notes on who was married to whom (some spouses were separated) and to have a map of where everyone was currently located. Also, there was very little dramatic tension because, although characters go through some incredibly harrowing experiences, I knew going in that everyone survives (they were the lucky ones, after all). I know that this is a story that many people will enjoy (my student thought it was the best book she had ever read) so I recommend it even though it didn't particularly appeal to me.

Note:  Have you read We Were the Lucky Ones?  What did you think?  Once again, I am in the minority with my response.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Summer Reading: Everyone Brave is Forgiven

The first selection on my summer reading list was Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave and I was eagerly anticipating this novel (hence the reason I began with it).  Unfortunately, it fell a little flat for me (as did Little Bee, another novel by Cleave). Mary North is an eighteen year old London socialite who signs up for a job at the War Office on the day that war is declared in 1939. She wishes to be useful but she is also motivated by a need to rebel against her wealthy family. When she is assigned to be a teacher of students left behind in the evacuation, she meets and falls in love with Tom Shaw, a school administrator. She also meets Alistair Heath, Tom's roommate, and her feelings for him complicate her relationship with Tom, especially when Alistair is stationed on Malta during a brutal blockade. A romance set in war-torn London seems like it would be right up my alley but, honestly, I had a hard time engaging with the story. I would pick it up for a few minutes and then set it down again and it was a struggle just to finish it. The story felt very episodic rather than a cohesive narrative. It was mostly vignettes about Mary in London and Alistair in Malta with lots of secondary characters and secondary plots that seemed to go nowhere. The romance seemed like an afterthought rather than the focus and the reunion between Mary and Alistair (which is why I kept reading, to be honest) was disappointingly anticlimactic. While Cleave's prose is incredibly beautiful and descriptive, the dialogue between the characters is unrealistic.  They engage in witty banter rather than heartfelt communication and that made the characters rather one-dimensional and kept them at a distance. I suppose Cleave's motivation for this device was to show the British stiff upper lip in the face of adversity but it backfired with me because I didn't really care about what happened to the characters. In the end, this novel didn't really appeal to me and I wouldn't recommend it.

Note:  Have you read Everyone Brave is Forgiven?  What did you think?  I seem to be in the minority on this one.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Summer Reading 2018

There is nothing that I enjoy more than spending an afternoon reading and, now that the school year has officially concluded, I now have some uninterrupted time to do just that!  Once again I am sharing my summer reading list and inviting you to read along with me.  This year my list includes popular historical fiction, my very favorite genre, including Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave, We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter, Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline, The Alice Network by Kate Quinn, Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate, To Capture What We Cannot Keep by Beatrice Colin, The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck, Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan, The Chilbury Ladies' Choir by Jennifer Ryan, and Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly.  I am so excited to get started!  Once again I will review each selection here every Friday and I hope you will join me and tell me what you think in the comments.  Yay for summer reading!

Friday, August 4, 2017

Summer Reading: Commonwealth

The final selection on my summer reading list (the summer has gone by so fast!) was Commonwealth by Ann Patchett. My former book club read Truth and Beauty, a memoir about Patchett's friendship with the author Lucy Grealy which was quite moving, but I had never read any of her fiction until now. I will definitely read some of her other works because I loved Commonwealth. This novel spans fifty years in the lives of the blended family of Bert Cousins and Beverly Keating, including Bert's children Cal, Holly, Jeannette, and Albie, and Beverly's daughters Caroline and Franny. The six children spend their summers together with their parents in Virginia, mostly left to their own devices as the adults try to deal with the situation they have created, until a tragedy strikes. The events are told in a nonlinear narrative from multiple perspectives as the children become adults and deal, each in their own way, with the trauma of their childhood. All of the events are set in motion when Bert attends the christening party, to which he has not been invited, of the daughter of a man with whom he has a passing acquaintance and then shares an illicit kiss with his wife, Beverly. Thus begins a chain-reaction of events which have far flung consequences. All of the children, at various points, wonder what their lives would have been like had that kiss not happened. There is a sub-plot involving Franny and her relationship with a famous author who uses her childhood stories as the basis for a best-selling novel, and later movie, and her siblings' negative reaction to something which makes them confront their past. This is an interesting device because Patchett's own childhood informed much of this story and one has to wonder if her siblings had a similar reaction as the fictional ones. What I liked most about this novel is the use of time. Whole decades are skipped in the lives of the characters in favor of a series of vignettes but you still feel like you know them intimately and they are all incredibly compelling. The time span allows the theme of learning how to forgive family members, even ex-spouses, to emerge very powerfully. The writing is absolutely exquisite and I enjoyed reading this novel so much, which I did well into the night so I could finish it. I think anyone who has ever been a part of a blended family will find it very authentic and I highly recommend it.

Have you read Commonwealth or any of the other selections on my summer reading list?  What did you think?

Friday, July 28, 2017

Summer Reading: Eligible

The next selection on my summer reading list was Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld. I was really looking forward to this novel because it is a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, one of my favorite novels of all time. I absolutely hated it and, before you accuse me of being a purist, I loved Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame Smith because I thought it was so clever. Eligible is not clever; it is absolute rubbish. Liz Bennett is a writer for a gossip magazine and Jane Bennett is a yoga instructor, both of whom live in New York.  Liz is in a long term relationship with a married man named Jasper Wick and Jane, concerned about her biological clock, is inseminated by a donor. The two of them are called back to their home in Cincinnati when their father suffers a heart attack. They end up staying for the summer to sort things out because the family's rambling Tudor home is in a state of disrepair and the Bennetts are living well beyond their means because Mrs. Bennett is addicted to shopping and the three younger girls are sponging off their parents. The family is invited to a Fourth of July barbecue hosted by the Lucases where they meet Chip Bingley, a contestant on a popular TV program (like The Bachelor), and his friend Fitzwilliam Darcy, a Harvard educated brain surgeon. Mrs. Bennett is a fan of the TV show and encourages Jane's relationship with Chip while Liz takes an immediate dislike to the snobby Darcy (although that doesn't stop them from having casual sex with each other). Chip and Jane eventually break up when Jane discovers that the IUI has been successful and that she is pregnant while Liz spurns Darcy's proposal (for no discernible reason). The rest of the novel is about getting the two couples back together (in a trashy televised ceremony for Chip's TV show). Ugh! I hated so many things about this novel. It is almost as if Sittenfeld was trying replace every plot point in the original novel with the most salacious details possible. I hated what she did to all of the characters: Liz is a cynical woman involved with a married man, Jane is a passive woman who lives off of the kindness of others, Mary may or may not be a lesbian simply because she is intelligent, Kitty and Lydia are crass and vulgar young women, Mrs. Bennett is racist and homophobic, Mr. Bennett is nasty to everyone, Mr. Bingley is a simpering weakling, Mr. Darcy is bland and unappealing, Miss Lucas is unmarried because she is overweight, Mr. Collins frequents prostitutes, and Miss Darcy is anorexic. I didn't care about any of them by the time I reached the bewildering end. It took a long time to reach the end because the story is bloated with so many useless details such as the names of every single street Liz passes as she runs in the morning, a disgusting spider infestation, and an interview with a feminist named Kathy De Bourgh that does nothing to advance the plot. Ugh! The original novel is a brilliant comedy of manners but this novel has reduced the beloved characters to people without any manners to speak of. Avoid this novel at all costs.

Have you read Eligible? What did you think?

Friday, July 21, 2017

Summer Reading: All the Ugly and Wonderful Things

The next selection on my summer reading list was All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood. The story revolves around a young girl named Wavy and her incredibly dysfunctional childhood. Her father is a drug dealer and her mother is completely delusional with a compulsion for cleanliness that she uses to brainwash Wavy into thinking that anything she eats is contaminated. Wavy is basically responsible for raising her baby brother, Donal, and she is bounced between her negligent parents and an uptight aunt whenever her parents are in prison. She rarely speaks and refuses to eat in front of anyone. The only person who pays any attention to Wavy is an older man named Kellen who occasionally works as a drug-runner for her father. He is rough, anti-social, and quick to get into fights at the local bar but he takes responsibility for Wavy and she grows more and more attached to him. Eventually, the two of them begin an inappropriate relationship. When a tragedy strikes, Wavy is sent to live permanently with her aunt, who disapproves of this relationship and has Kellen charged with statutory rape. Wavy spends all of her energy, for the next six years, trying to reunite with the only person who has ever cared about her. I had a very difficult time with this novel.  On the one hand, it is beautifully written and Wavy's story about triumphing despite overwhelming odds is very compelling. In fact, I couldn't put it down and I confess that the story has stayed with me for quite a while. However, I just couldn't get past the relationship between Wavy and Kellen. I know that they are both profoundly damaged and turn to each other for the only comfort they can find in horrific circumstances but, to me, it is not a love story. No matter what they are going through, it is wrong for a 12 year old girl to be sexually involved with a 26 year old man. No matter how neglected, abused, or unhappy the protagonist is, she is still a child and there are just some boundaries that should not be crossed. I didn't view Kellen as Wavy's savior; rather, I feel that Wavy had so many opportunities in college that she threw away in pursuing a relationship with him. This is not a romance and I did not view the ending as a happy one. I don't think I can recommend this book but the very things that made me so uncomfortable might make this a compelling read for someone else.

Have you read All the Ugly and Wonderful Things? What did you think?

Friday, July 14, 2017

Summer Reading: Lily and the Octopus

I started reading Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley, the next selection on my summer reading list, early in the afternoon and I finished it in the wee hours of the next morning (even canceling my plans for that evening to continue). I couldn't put it down! I laughed and cried and I think anyone who has ever had a dog in their life will have the same reaction. Ted is a lonely, middle-aged, gay man who is suffering from writer's block and a recent heartbreak. Lily is the beloved dachshund he has had for all of her 12 years. Lily is Ted's whole life and he often eschews going out in favor of game night, movie night, or pizza night with her. Ted has actual conversations with Lily and she answers. I have to admit that one of my favorite aspects of this novel is Lily's dialogue. It is exactly what a dog would say. One day an octopus appears on Lily's head, which is how Ted views her tumor. He always refers to the tumor as an octopus, as a coping mechanism because he cannot face what it really is, and tries every way he can think of to make the octopus leave on its own. Then things take a strange turn into the realm of magical realism as Ted takes a metaphorical journey to kill the octopus. I have to admit that this part of the story didn't work as much for me but it is a small criticism. Rowley describes Lily's final hours with so much emotion and anyone who has ever experienced the loss of a pet will probably be shattered. As sad as this novel is it does end on a hopeful note. When Ted does finally acknowledge the tumor, he faces his own mortality and reevaluates his life. It is such a poignant story about the love and grief experienced as a pet owner and I highly recommend it.

Have you read Lily and the Octopus?  What did you think?

Friday, July 7, 2017

Summer Reading: Nutshell

I am a huge fan of Ian McEwan! I've read and enjoyed many of his books (Enduring Love and Atonement are my favorites) so I was quite eager to start Nutshell, the next selection on my summer reading list. This novel is a contemporary retelling of Hamlet which, of course, made me even more excited.  Rather unusually, the first-person narrator is the unborn fetus (a rather loquacious fetus) of a woman named Trudy who, with her lover Claude, is plotting the murder of her husband and Claude's brother, John. The fetus hears all of their discussions and tries, unsuccessfully, to foil their plan and save his father. The action builds and builds into an ingenious conclusion (half of the fun for me was trying to figure out how the fetus could affect the outcome and it didn't disappoint). I loved the fetus' description of being inside the womb and his account of what it was like for him when Trudy and Claude have sex is highly amusing. I also really enjoyed all of the fetus' philosophical musings about the state of the world, such as global warming, over population, religious extremism, and identity theft (Trudy listens to a lot of public radio when she can't sleep), and his worries about being born into such a world with an unreliable mother, a despicable uncle, and an absent father. All of the sly references to Hamlet, including the title, are such fun and I suspect that I will have to read this again to find all of them. I particularly enjoyed the fact that Trudy is absolutely complicit in the murder of John because I always go back and forth in how I feel about Gertrude's involvement in the death of King Hamlet. McEwan's prose is so beautiful and I found myself going back to reread certain passages. While I was sometimes exasperated with Cline's hyperbolic descriptions in The Girls, I think the removal of even a single word in this novel would result in diminishment. I highly recommend this clever and captivating novel.

Have you read Nutshell? What did you think?

Friday, June 30, 2017

Summer Reading: The Girls

Emma Cline's debut novel, The Girls, was the next selection on my summer reading list. It tells the coming-of-age story of Evie Boyd and her involvement in a Manson-like cult in San Francisco during the summer of love. In present-day, Evie is a middle-aged woman in between jobs and staying at the beach house of a friend. When his son unexpectedly visits with his girlfriend, Evie sees a hunger in the girl which reminds her of her younger self and begins relating her experiences in the cult as a cautionary tale. In the late 1960s, Evie is a bored 14-year-old, alienated from her friends and neglected by her divorced parents, when she sees a group of older girls and is enthralled by their unconventional behavior (which includes digging for food in a dumpster). She is eventually drawn into their orbit, which includes the charismatic leader Russell who fancies himself a musician, and begins experimenting with sex, drugs, and rock and roll while living at a communal ranch. When a promised record deal falls through, Russell has the girls go to the house of the musician, who promised the aforementioned deal, to commit a grisly murder much like that of Sharon Tate. To be honest, I had a very difficult time finishing this book because nothing much happens until the expected ending and, without giving anything away, this ending is quite anticlimactic. Evie, an in-and-out member of the cult, is a first-person narrator so most of the other characters are very thinly drawn and I would have liked to have known more about Suzanne and Russell and their motivations. Cline's writing style is overly-descriptive and sometimes it is a bit too much, almost like style is more important than substance. I didn't hate this novel but I didn't like it as much as other people do.

Have you read The Girls?  What did you think?

Friday, June 23, 2017

Summer Reading: The Nest

The next selection on my summer reading list was The Nest, the debut novel by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney. Four adult siblings have been looking forward to inheriting a large sum of money, nicknamed "The Nest," set aside by their father to be dispersed when the youngest sibling turns 40, which will be soon. However, Leo, the eldest, is involved in a devastating car crash involving a Porsche, cocaine, and a young woman (not his wife) who is severely injured. His mother depletes "The Nest" to cover expenses and to pay off the young woman to avoid a scandal.  This sends the other siblings, Jack, Beatrice, and Melody, into a tailspin because they are in financial difficulties and have been counting on receiving their inheritance to bail them out. I found all of these characters to be self-absorbed, selfish, and unlikable and they spend the entire novel whining about losing some unearned and undeserved money. By the end of the novel I didn't even care about what happened to any of them but I was infuriated that Leo seemed to get away with it without any consequences. Even though the three younger siblings deal with the loss of their inheritance, there is absolutely no character development from the beginning of the novel to the end. I was actually more interested in some of the minor characters (there are a lot of them) but the resolution of their stories seemed very rushed to me. I think the story is very mediocre and, as I mentioned, I lost interest very quickly. Like other novels which seem to be lauded by the critics, I wonder if I've read the same thing.

Have you read The Nest?  What did you think?

Friday, June 16, 2017

Summer Reading: My Name is Lucy Barton

The next selection on my summer reading list was My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout. My former book club read Strout's The Burgess Boys and I thought it was fascinating. This novel is very nonlinear beginning with Lucy Barton's extended stay in the hospital for an unexplained illness with flashbacks to her difficult childhood and glimpses of her future as a successful novelist. For five days during her hospital stay her estranged mother comes to visit and, through trivial conversations about the people back home, the two of them reconnect. There are vague references to the debilitating poverty suffered by the family and hints about the abuse she suffered at the hands of her father and, while nothing is really resolved between Clara and her mother, Clara begins to come to terms with her past and it is assumed that she uses her experiences in her writing. While I was reading this short novel I kept wishing that more would happen (it is definitely more character driven than plot driven) but upon reflection I view it is a poignant masterpiece. Lucy is an incredibly sympathetic character and I found her descriptions of her childhood to be very affecting, especially when she describes staying at school to do her homework because it was warm. That really made me think about the students who linger in my classroom after school. Strout's writing is very understated but it really packs an emotional punch.  It took me a little while to wrap my head around this novel but once I did it really resonated with me.  I highly recommend it!

Have you read My Name is Lucy Barton?  What did you think?

Friday, June 9, 2017

Summer Reading: Small Great Things

The next selection on my summer reading list was Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult. My former book club read My Sister's Keeper, House Rules, and Leaving Time, all of which I enjoyed to varying degrees. Jodi Picoult can always be relied upon for a thought-provoking read and this novel certainly delivered. Ruth Jefferson is a well-respected labor and delivery nurse with twenty years of experience. She is also African-American. She is assigned to assess Davis Bauer, the newborn son of Brittany and Turk Bauer, who happen to be white supremacists. They make a request that Ruth not be allowed to care for their son and a note is placed in his file. On a busy night with many deliveries and an emergency C-section, Ruth is the only nurse available to monitor Davis after a routine circumcision. When he goes into cardiac arrest, she tries to save him but, fearing for her job, immediately stops ministering to him when others arrive. When the baby dies, Turk and Brittany hold Ruth responsible and she is arrested and charged with murder. Kennedy McQuarrie is the overworked public defender who is assigned Ruth's case. It is her first murder trial and she hopes to win in order to advance her career. The narrative alternates between the perspectives of Ruth, Turk, and Kennedy and I found all of them to be compelling and believable, although Turk made me extremely uncomfortable. Of course, this novel explores the overt racism of the white supremacists which we would all agree is utterly reprehensible but Picoult also explores the subtle racism of Kennedy, a good person who asserts that she doesn't see race yet makes decisions about Ruth's case which silence her voice. This also made me very uncomfortable as I began questioning my own implicit bias. Some of the most powerful scenes in the novel are when Kennedy tries to experience what it is like to live inside Ruth's skin. While there are some aspects of the novel that I questioned, especially the transformation at the end which was not entirely believable, I highly recommend Small Great Things for bringing up important and timely questions about race.

Have you read Small Great Things?  What did you think?

Friday, June 2, 2017

Summer Reading: Truly Madly Guilty

The first selection on my summer reading list was Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty. My former book club read Big Little Lies and What Alice Forgot, both of which I really enjoyed, so I was really looking forward to this, Moriarty's latest best-seller. Like these previous novels, Truly Madly Guilty is set present-day suburban Sydney and involves a great deal of foreshadowing before finally revealing the conflict. It centers on three couples: wealthy electrician Vid and his "smoking-hot wife" Tiffany (who used to be an exotic dancer), their neighbors Erika and Oliver who are both accountants, and Erika's childhood best friend, Clementine, a cellist, and her husband Sam. Vid spontaneously invites Erika and Oliver to a barbecue in his backyard and, when Erika reveals that Clementine, Sam, and their two young children are expected at their house for tea, he invites them along as well. Then an incident occurs at the barbecue and the narrative alternates between the night of the barbecue and several weeks later as the couples deal with the aftermath of the incident. All of these characters have issues, to say the least, and the incident at the barbecue bring them all to the forefront of their lives and they all feel a tremendous amount of guilt over what happened. The incident is referred to constantly and information is revealed with brief, and sometimes maddening, little flashes of information about what happened. I must admit that I literally couldn't put this book down, often reading well into the wee hours of the morning, because I had to know what happened at the barbecue. However, unlike Moriarty's previous novels, when the incident is finally revealed, I found it to be utterly anticlimactic and, to be honest, I quickly lost interest in the resolution. I did continue reading and I found the resolution, given the characters' backstories and their traumatic reactions to the incident, to be much too neat and pat. All of the characters are pretty unlikable, which is usual for Moriarty, but this time I didn't find them to be quirky or humorous and I wasn't really invested in what happened to them. This novel was a pretty big disappointment to me and reading it to the end seemed like a chore rather than a pleasure. I would definitely recommend reading Big Little Lies instead.

Have you read Truly Madly Guilty?  What did you think?

Friday, May 26, 2017

Summer Reading 2017

Today is the last day of school and you know what that means:  uninterrupted time for reading!  My summer reading list is back by popular demand (okay one person asked me about it).  This year's selections come from a list of the most popular fiction of 2016 (found here) and I think it includes an eclectic mix by authors I enjoy.  I'm looking forward to all of them!  I will be reading Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty, Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult, My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout, The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney, The Girls by Emma Cline, Nutshell by Ian McEwan, Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley, All The Ugly And Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood, Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld, and Commonwealth by Ann Patchett.  Like last year, I will review each of these selections here every Friday.  I hope you will join me and tell me what you think in the comments!  Yay for summer reading!

Friday, August 5, 2016

Summer Reading: White Teeth

White Teeth by Zadie Smith was the one book on my summer reading list that I was the least interested in reading (hence the reason I saved it for last).  I really wanted to like this book because it has been lauded by so many critics but I just didn't find it to be very appealing. I get that it is a treatise about the immigrant experience and generational conflict but I thought it was very boring at times and I kept waiting for some sort of climax that would tie all of the disparate narratives together but I was left feeling more confused than ever at the end of the novel. It focuses on the lives of World War II buddies, Samad Iqbal and Archie Jones, and their wives and children in post-colonial Britain.  Iqbal and his wife are originally from Bangladesh and are afraid that their twin sons are straying from their traditional values. They decide to send one of the sons to live with family in Bangladesh (they can only afford to send one). The son in Bangladesh becomes an Anglophile while the one in Britain becomes involved with a terrorist organization. Jones marries an immigrant from Jamaica (after deciding that meeting her is a sign not to kill himself) and their daughter is incredibly smart but lacks self-esteem because of her looks and, like the twins, she struggles with her identity. There are lots of tangential family members, such as a niece who has shamed the family and a grandmother who is a devout Jehovah's Witness, for comic relief. To be sure, all of the characters are quirky and their dialogue is, at times, quite hilarious, but I didn't find them to be sympathetic. I did laugh at many things in this novel but it wasn't funny enough to keep my attention. Also, the leitmotif of teeth as a symbol of success seems really forced to me, almost as if those passages were added to the novel after it was finished so Smith could use it as a title. There is something to be said when a person who usually devours books in one or two days takes about three weeks to plow through it.  This novel just wasn't for me.
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