I’ve been finding time to read, or more accurately to listen to, a wide variety of books in the past month, but apparently I haven’t been finding the time to post. So let me catch you up with absurdly short reviews of a bunch of books that have taken me to several states, a couple countries, and have given me some more letters and 1001 books. Sadly few of them have met lots of goals at once, but they have all been fun reads.
These are in reverse chronological order:
For Kansas, a leap into the life of early 20th century film star Louise Brooks and her chaperone:
I read this novel for a book group I have recently joined. I probably would not have found it anytime soon otherwise, but I am quite glad to have read it.
The novel is narrated by Cora Carlisle, the middle-aged wife of a Wichita attorney who offers to chaperone the headstrong Louise Brooks on a summer trip to New York City, where the teenager will be attending a dance class with a prominent up and coming modern dance troupe. Cora has her own private reasons for wanting to make the trip, but is not fully prepared for the things that Louise and the trip will teach her about herself. Through the novel, we learn not only about the trip itself, but about Cora’s earlier and later life, and the way it is transformed by the summer trip. The novel presents a wonderful contrast between the New York City of the 1920s and the more provincial Witchita of the same era.
The pace of the novel moves along quickly, the writing is clear and rich with detail, and the characters are empathically crafted. It’s a wonderful journey to another time and place–enjoy it!
A 1001 pick from an author I’ve been enjoying very much since discovering her:
I’m becoming a serious Ali Smith fan. She has a gift for speaking in the voices of precocious kids, for capturing the impact that a single individual, refusing to conform to the normal rules, can have on a social network, and for combining delicious tidbits from various other disciplines with day to day life in seamless and amusing ways. This novel was shortlisted for the Orange Prize and the Booker. Written from the alternating perspectives of 5 different narrators, the novel focuses on a family whose members are fairly disconnected from each other and who have escaped to a rather disappointing vacation house for a summer holiday. While there, their lives are jostled in various ways by the family’s encounter with the mysterious Amber who appears at their door one day. I was reading about mindfulness at the same time that I was listening to this book, and there is a way that Amber seems to cross their paths to wake them up, like the rap on the back with a stick delivered by a stern monk during a zen meditation session or a confounding koan. Who is she, what is she about, is she benign or malignant? The answers aren’t clear or simple. And all of this makes for quite an entertaining read.
I returned to the beginning of the Pendergast series, to get to know him better. I’m still a lukewarm fan. I enjoy the behind-the-scenes view of life at the Museum of Natural History in NY in this book, and continue to enjoy Pendergast as a character, but when the plot ventures out of the credible in this series, I have a hard time getting fully engaged and going along for the ride.
This was a book group read, but I’m also counting it for Jamaica. Only a small part of the book takes place there, but I’m willing to give myself some leeway on these things this year, since my job and moving situation don’t give me the same freedom to read as freely as I have been able to in past years.
This was a book group read. It’s a courtroom/crime novel with a twist, as the District Attorney finds himself dealing with a case in which his son becomes a suspect. It’s not stellar from a literary perspective, but it is an interesting read from a psychological one. The book is about family relationships, about nature vs. nurture and violence, about the degree to which we are willing to be honest with ourselves in the face of frightening information, and about ethical choices in parenting. My three stars are probably actually a 3 and a half because of the degree to which I’ve been thinking about it since I read it. Some people have criticized the plot as slow, but I didn’t have any issues with the pacing, and everyone in the book group seems to have liked it (although I ended up missing the meeting due to a sick kid!).
For Libya, a rare 5 star rating, and I’m absolutely kicking myself for not writing the review just after I read it. I had so much to say about this novel then, and I can’t recapture it.
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. I saw the film years ago and loved it. The beauty in the cinematography left me with clear memories over the years since. Usually I read books before movies and like them better, and conversely once I’ve seen the movie of a book I haven’t yet read, my motivation to read the book is pretty low. But this was marvelously worth taking in in both formats. The imagery in the novel is as startling and rich as that of the movie, and at the same time made me crave a chance to see the images from the desert in particular again. The ending of the book is, I think, different from that in the movie, although I need to see the film again to be sure.
I wish that I had written this just after finishing the novel–I had thoughts then about the connections between the landscapes and the characters’ emotional lives that I can’t recapture. And there were things about nationality and identity and willingness to connect… I do know that I rarely give five stars to books I’ve read as an adult (kids’ books have a bit of grade inflation in my ratings here, I think), but this novel absolutely earned all five.
This one did nothing for any of my goals, but I wasn’t going to NOT read it. I mean, come on…
I feel for J.K. Rowling. It is hard to write adult books and be read with fresh eyes after Harry Potter. I read her first adult fiction and liked it, but wasn’t blown away. Now she’s writing under another name, creating a detective series. I can understanding wanting to be read and reviewed without the Potter madness, but, face it, I probably wouldn’t have read this book right away, or even ever, if I hadn’t known who really wrote it, and then the pseudonym loses its value. The good news is that Rowling has picked a genre for which I have a different set of standards. I don’t expect my mystery/crime/thrillers to blow me away on the literary side. I just expect them to entertain me. This novel still doesn’t have the magic (pun intended) of the HP series, but it’s a fun mystery to follow, and I enjoy the detective, Cormoran Strike, his backstory, and his marvelous temp secretary who will undoubtedly be around for several more books. I will be back too, just cause it’s kinda fun.
And to check off Michigan, and have an excuse to read more John Sandford. I really enjoy John Sandford.
Another enjoyable Virgil Flowers mystery. This one is about a series of bombings centered on a fictitious retail chain called Pyemart.
So that sums up my month in books. Coming soon Quinn and Rushdie.
Around the World (goal: 52 total including at least 6 in each of 6 different regions) 22
Asia/Mideast: 5 (Israel, China, Afghanistan, Japan, Iran)
Africa: 2 (Madagascar, Libya)
Europe: 8 (England/UK, Ireland, Monaco, Poland, Spain, Italy, Greece, Holland)
Caribbean/Central America/North America: 5 (US, Cuba, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Jamaica)
Oceania: 1 (Fiji)
South America: 1 (Brazil)
Extra: 1 (Scotland)
Around the US (goal: 50 states, DC, and PR): 16 (CA, CO, GA, IA, KS, LA, MA, MI, MN, MS, NM, NJ, NY, PA, RI, WV)
1001 Books (goal 52): 17
A to Z challenge (must be completed in order–26 author last names A to Z then 26 titles A to Z–strategy is all!): 16
Authors: Auster, Beinart, Chandler, Donovan, Eugenides, Faulkner, Grau, Hosseini, Ishiguro, Joyce, King, Lewis, Murakami, Nasar, Ondaatje, Preston and Childs,