Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

This novel begins in A Visit from the Goon SquadNew York with kleptomaniac Sasha and her boss, rising music producer Bennie Salazar, before flashing back, with Bennie, to the glory days of Bay Area punk rock, and eventually forward, with Sasha, to a settled life.  This time-hopping narrative is extremely entertaining.    The story skips back and forth in time and place. The voice moves from first person to third person and even to second. In the hands of a less skilled author, this story would not work.  This does have a 'short story' feel to it which I don't care for but, overall, I really enjoyed this book and the creative writing style.

Rating: 4.1 Good

Monday, February 21, 2011

Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff

Cleopatra has gone down in history for all the wrong reasons.  In a masterly return to the classical sources, Stacy Schiff here boldly separates fact from fiction to rescue the magnetic queen whose death ushered in a new world order. Rich in detail, epic in scope, Schiff 's is a luminous, deeply original reconstruction of a dazzling life.  I learned a lot about Cleopatra, that although her life spanned fewer than forty years, it reshaped the contours of the ancient world. She was married twice, each time to a brother. She waged a brutal civil war against the first when both were teenagers. She poisoned the second. Ultimately she dispensed with an ambitious sister as well; incest and assassination were family specialties.

Cleopatra: A Life
Cleopatra appears to have had sex with only two men. They happen, however, to have been Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, among the most prominent Romans of the day. Both were married to other women. Cleopatra had a child with Caesar and--after his murder--three more with his protégé. Already she was the wealthiest ruler in the Mediterranean; the relationship with Antony confirmed her status as the most influential woman of the age. The two would together attempt to forge a new empire, in an alliance that spelled their ends. Cleopatra has lodged herself in our imaginations ever since.

Perhaps if it was told as a story vs. the facts of her life laid out I wouldn't have found it so dry.

Rating: 2.5 OK

Incendiary by Chris Cleave

This is told in the form of the voice of a working-class woman with remarkable persuasiveness—through  a letter from an enraged mother to Osama bin Laden.  Cleave has an eye for detail and political commentary and throws in the perfect mix of a little parody and a little sex.

 Living hand to mouth in London's East End, the unnamed mother's life is shattered when her policeman husband (part of a bomb disposal unit) and four-year-old son are killed in the stadium stands. Complicating matters: our narrator witnesses the event on TV, while in the throes of passion with her lover, journalist Jasper Black.

Cleave does an amazing character development that makes me feel like I know these people.  This novel was both gripping and entertaining...until the end when the violence went over the top and completely lost me.  A very disappointing ending.

Rating: 3.2 OK

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Keep by Jennifer Egan

Two cousins reunite twenty years after a childhood prank gone wrong changed their lives and sent them on their separate ways. "Cousin Howie," the formerly uncool, strange, and pasty ("he looked like a guy the sun wouldn't touch") cousin has become a blond, tan, and married millionaire with a generous spirit. He invites his cousin Danny (who as an insecure teenager left him hurt and helpless in a cave for three days) to help him renovate an old castle in Germany.  
The Keep
 The Keep is a wonderfully weird read--a touch experimental in terms of narrative, with a hefty dose of gothic tension and mystery--balanced by an intimate and mesmerizing look at how the past haunts us in different ways.  This is a quirky off-beat novel.

Rating: 4 Good

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

After River by Donna Milner

After River
In this debut novel, a nostalgia that is "rich and sweet" belies the lingering bitterness of family tragedy. Natalie Ward is a thrice-married writer forced by the imminent death of her mother to return to the town she left. She recounts her golden childhood growing up on a busy farm "carved out of a narrow mountain valley deep in the Cascade Mountains." But when a handsome Vietnam War resister named River Jordon ambles up the family's dirt road in 1966 and offers his services as a farm hand, this innocent simplicity begins to curdle. This novel combines the Canadian setting and characters, blended with optimism, make it charming and reminiscent of Mark Spragg’s Where Rivers Change Direction in the wholesome farm life but, unfortunately it tries to pack in too much drama and ends up being a bit too syrupy.  Overall though, it was still enjoyable if a bit fluffy in the writing style.

Rating: 3.7 Good

Monday, February 14, 2011

Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon

Dragonfly in Amber
This is the 2nd in the Outland time-traveling series that captures the people and politics of a pivotal period in history--while turning up the heat between an appealing modern heroine and a magnetic romantic hero. It's now 1968, and Claire Beauchamp Randall has returned to Inverness, Scotland, with her daughter, Brianna. This is Claire's first visit back since she and husband Frank visited 22 years before--when she walked through a Druid stone circle into the middle of the 18th century. Now, Frank is dead, and Claire hopes to learn what happened to the great love of her life--gallant Jamie Fraser, laird of Lallybroch whom she married during her journey into the past. She's also looking for a way to tell Brianna who her real father is. Framed by these dilemmas, the bulk of the story consists of the second installment of Claire and Jamie's adventures.

I enjoyed this book at first but, then it started getting more and more in to the history and just lost me.  I don't hink I will be reading any more in this series.

Rating: 1 Do NOT Recommend

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Await Your Reply by Dan Cohen

Await Your Reply: A NovelThe lives of three strangers interconnect in unforeseen ways--and with unexpected consequences.  This book feels light and easy to read and yet I have sense of foreboding the whole time I am reading it (ok, it could be that the first chapter was about a young boy being rushed to the hospital by his father with his severed hand laying beside him!).  Each chapter is engrossing and pulls you in more.

Without giving too much away, the three story-lines are:
- Ryan, his amputated hand and his father rushing him to the hospital
- Recently orphaned 18 year old Lucy who runs away with her teacher, who has a sense of strangeness about him, George Orson
- Thirty-one year old Miles who hasn't seen his twin brother Hayden in more than 10 years but gets "conspiracy" letters from him and Miles feels compelled to go hunt his brother down.  This was a very engaging novel that had a mixture of feeling like a young adult/easy read and something that coiuld easily be turned into a movie.

Rating: 4.2 Recommend

Monday, February 7, 2011

Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller

Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood
This is about a white African girl's childhood.  Born in England and now living in Wyoming, Fuller was conceived and bred on African soil during the Rhodesian civil war (1971-1979), a world where children over five "learn[ed] how to load an FN rifle magazine, strip and clean all the guns in the house, and ultimately, shoot-to-kill." With a unique and subtle sensitivity to racial issues, Fuller describes her parents' racism and the wartime relationships between blacks and whites through a child's watchful eyes. Curfews and war, mosquitoes, land mines, ambushes and "an abundance of leopards" are the stuff of this childhood. "Dad has to go out into the bush... and find terrorists and fight them"; Mum saves the family from an Egyptian spitting cobra; they both fight "to keep one country in Africa white-run."  Fuller describes her African childhood in detail, from the death of her sibling to playing in the wild and it makes for an engrossing read as she brings Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) to life.

Rating: 3.7 Good