Sunday, July 25, 2010

Thief by Maureen Gibbon

Thief: A Novel Suzanne has fled her latest dysfunctional relationship for a cabin in the remote North Woods. There she starts up a correspondence with Alpha Breville, a prisoner who is doing 14 years for burglary and rape. Suzanne was raped at the age of 16 and so devastated by her assault that she is still working through the trauma of that night. She thinks that understanding Breville will release her from the pain she has carried with her for years. She soon begins visiting Alpha in prison, and their relationship turns sexual. She also initiates a sexual relationship with an emotionally damaged cowboy with whom she has little in common and who shows up at her door at odd hours. When she finally realizes that these men are too sick to give her what she needs, she finds the liberation she has been so desperately seeking. This searing, compact novel can be read in one sitting for maximum intensity. Suzanne's direct voice, stripped of self-pity, will draw readers in and keep them there but, be aware that it is sexually blunt and explicit and doesn't pull any punches.  Disturbing and difficult to recommend but so well written.  This book is not for everyone so read other reviews before you decide if you want to read it

Rating: 4.1 Good but disturbing 

The Pleasing Hour by Lily King

The Pleasing Hour
A year in France brings a young American new reserves of sympathy and maturity in this poised, accomplished first novel. Nineteen-year-old Rosie, King's sensitive narrator, arrives in Paris on the first day of the school year, set for her job as the Tivot family's au pair. The other au pairs (in French usage, filles) are cosmopolitan students drawn to French culture. Rosie, however, has come here to flee her past: she became pregnant as a deliberate act of charity, giving up her baby so her infertile sister could have a child. But that decision has only heightened her omnipresent sense of loss. Her months with the Tivot family on their houseboat bring her new and difficult human connections: to the inquisitive, needy 12-year-old Lola and her younger brother, Guillaume; to their unhappy, astringent mother, Nicole; and to their father, Marc.  This is a light easy read yet contains much more than meets the eye.  Very enjoyable and well written.  As one reviewer said, "it left us feeling as we've become fluent in a foreign language".

Rating: 4.2 Recommend

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

The Imperfectionists: A Novel
This is about the intersecting lives of the men and women who produce a newspaper—and one woman who reads it religiously, if belatedly. Although the chapters clearly intersect, it reads like a short story.  In the opening chapter, aging, dissolute Paris correspondent Lloyd Burko pressures his estranged son to leak information from the French Foreign Ministry, and in the process unearths startling family fare that won't sell a single edition. Obit writer Arthur Gopal, whose overarching goal at the paper is indolence, encounters personal tragedy and, with it, unexpected career ambition. Late in the book, as the paper buckles, recently laid-off copyeditor Dave Belling seduces the CFO who fired him. Throughout, the founding publisher's progeny stagger under a heritage they don't understand. As the ragtag staff faces down the implications of the paper's tilt into oblivion, there are more than enough sublime moments, unexpected turns and sheer inky wretchedness to warrant putting this on the shelf next to other great newspaper novels. Despite my not enjoying short stories, I did find this book very engagine.  If you enjoy short stories, you will love this book.

Rating: 4.3 Recommend

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli

The Lotus Eaters: A Novel
This hauntingly beautiful novel will stay with me.  The story revolves around three characters - Helen, Darrow and Linh - whose lives are affected by the Vietnam War. Helen Adams is a photojournalist in Vietnam - one of the only women covering actual combat, recon, and rescue assignments. She comes to Vietnam as an idealistic college student, determined to make a name for herself, tell the story of the war - and discover the truth of her brother's death in country. She immediately attracts the attention of the male journalists in the region, and quickly falls into an affair with the grizzled but darkly charismatic war photographer Sam Darrow. As Helen starts to make her own way as a photographer in Vietnam, drawing as much attention for her gender as for her work, Darrow sends her his Vietnamese assistant, Linh, a reluctant soldier who deserted the SVA in the wake of his wife’s death. While Linh wants nothing more than to escape the war, Darrow and Helen are consumed by it, unable to leave until the inevitable tragedy strikes.

The strength of this novel is in Soli’s vivid, beautiful depiction of war-torn Vietnam, from the dangers of the field, where death can be a single step away, to the emptiness of the Saigon streets in the final days of the American evacuation.  You will become as addicted to the life in Saigon and the thrill of action as the photographers who stay there long past when most think that they should leave.  This book will pull you across the miles and the decades so you are walking the war torn streets of Vietnam.

Rating: 4.9  Highly Recommend

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Pearl of China by Anchee Min

This is historical fiction of Pearl Buck and her friendship with Willow Yee - that aligns very closely to history.  This is not normally a book I would read but, I enjoyed it a lot.  Pearl S. Buck, who grew up in China and became the first American woman writer to win the Nobel Prize, wrote that Chinese women “are the strongest women in the world.” Min, a prime example of an indomitable Chinese woman, has made it her mission to reveal the truth about the lives of women in China, including Madame Mao, Empress Tzu Hsi, and now Buck. Pearl first appears as a bright, inquisitive girl who conceals her blond, curly hair beneath a black knit cap to be less conspicuous in the Chinese town of Chin-kiang, where she lives with her courageous American missionary parents.
Pearl of China
We get to know Pearl through her best friend, Willow—impoverished, smart, plucky, and Chinese—as they share mischievous and harrowing adventures, a disastrous mutual love for the famous poet Hsu Chih-mo, and a string of tragedies yoked to the paradoxes and horrors of the Boxer Rebellion, China’s civil war, and Mao’s catastrophic rule. Exiled and heartbroken, Pearl achieves world renown by writing about China, while journalist Willow is brutally punished for remaining loyal to her “imperialist” friend. Ardently detailed, dramatic, and encompassing, Min’s fresh and penetrating interpretation of Pearl S. Buck’s extraordinary life delivers profound psychological, spiritual, and historical insights within an unforgettable cross-cultural story of a quest for veracity, compassion, and justice.  Thanks to this book, I have added Buck's "The Good Earth" to my future reads list.  It also educated about a period of itme in China that I knew little about.  Definitely an educational and enjoyable read.

Rating: 4.3 Recommend

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barberry

The Elegance of the HedgehogThis novel explores the upstairs-downstairs goings-on of a posh Parisian apartment building from two perspectives - the concierge, Renée Michel, who deliberately hides her radiant intelligence from the upper-crust residents of 7 rue de Grenelle, and Paloma Josse, who also lives in the building, is the precocious 12 year old girl who recognizes Renée as a kindred spirit is nothing short of a revelation.

This novel has laborious philosophical passages (the author is a professor of philosophy) that drone on and on.  I just couldn't get into the characters or the story so I am moving on to other books.

Rating: 1 Do NOT Recommend