Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

Noah’s Rainy Day

Author Sandra Brannan

Author Sandra Brannan

Noah’s Rainy Day is the fourth book in Sandra Brannan’s series featuring Liv Bergen, now an FBI Special Agent. Liv has recently completed her FBI training in Quantico, Virginia, and is newly returned to the Denver area. Liv is staying with the family of her sister, Frances, while she searches for an apartment large enough to accommodate her and Beulah, The FBI bloodhound that she works with. Noah is Liv’s twelve year old nephew. He is afflicted with a severe form of cerebral palsy. He is nearly blind, and can barely move independently. Noah, however, is smart, observant, and wants to be a spy like his hero, his Auntie Liv.

Liv and Beulah are summoned to Denver International Airport on Christmas Eve to work on their first case together. A five year old boy, Max, has disappeared from the airport during a layover on his New York to Los Angeles flight. His parents are divorcing and his wealthy father has sent him to spend Christmas with his mother in LA. Mr. Bennett has paid an airline employee to escort little Max to his destination. When Max doesn’t deplane in LA, his waiting mother becomes hysterical, and the search is on.

Noah’s Rainy Day is interesting, fact-paced and, overall, a good read. And even though I haven’t read the previous three Liv Bergen books, it was simple enough to get up to speed on the characters and the story line.

The only nit I have to pick will probably sound familiar to readers of this blog. Liv is a smart, strong, independent woman. She and her colleagues are working round the clock to help solve the mystery of Max’s disappearance. And yet-Liv has time to wonder about the new cologne one of her male co-workers is wearing. She is convinced that is was given to him by a female co-worker, and she is jealous. And he is not even the colleague that she is interested in. What gives?

On the other hand, it’s great to have a character with a severe disability take center stage in a novel. Although Noah’s body is crippled, his mind is active and inquisitive. He shows tremendous empathy for the missing Max, and his assistance is crucial bringing Max home.

So-overall, I give Noah’s Rainy Day a thumbs up. Once again, many thinks to the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program for sending me this book. I look forward to reading Brannan’s earlier novels featuring Liv Bergen.

In USA:

Softcover edition-Greenleaf Book Group Press-2013

Noah’s Rainy Day

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Book Catch Up

Portrait of a Spy: A Gabriel Allon story by Daniel Silva. One of the better books in this series about the former Israeli agent Gabriel Allon. Interesting characters, fast-paced drama. Fun to read.

Cartwheel: A LibraryThing Early Reviewer selection by Jennifer Dubois. This is inspired by the Amanda Knox story. A young woman is arrested for murder while studying abroad. It is interesting from the start. The central question, of course, is whether Lily Hayes did in fact murder her roommate. Lily’s case is not helped by her odd behavior. Or is the problem that her behavior is misinterpreted due to language and cultural barriers? It’s hard to discuss this too thoroughly without giving alot away. But there remain interesting ambiguities in the story and this is a worthwhile read.

The River of Doubt: Candice Millard’s portrait of Theodore Roosevelt’s expedition into the South American interior. After TR’s defeat in the 1912 Presidential campaign, he embarked on an epic trip to South America. This book depicts Roosevelt’s reason for making this trip, as well as the egos involved in the trip and the serious blunders that occurred along the way. Like many well-written expedition tales, even though the reader knows how the story ends, it is still an interesting and gripping drama.

I think I read a few other books since I last blogged, but none of them are memorable enough to write about. So now I’m all caught up!

The Woman Upstairs

Claire Messud

Claire Messud

The Woman Upstairs is Claire Messud’s novel about a single woman, Nora Eldridge who, in her own mind, typifies the literary trope of “the woman upstairs”. Nora is a third grade teacher in Boston. She lives alone, and has a very narrow social circle. Nora has spent years helping her father care for her dying mother, and now helps out her elderly father.

Nora fancies herself an artist, although she has little to show for her pretensions. Her major work is a miniature version of Emily Dickinson’s bedroom. She obsesses over each detail. She also plans dioramas of the rooms of other women artists, including Andy Warhol’s muse, Edie Sedgwick.

As a new school year begins, Nora meets the Shahid family. Reza is her pupil. His father, Skandar has come to Cambridge to spend a year as a visiting professor at Harvard. Reza’s mother, Sirena, is an artist who reluctantly accompanies her husband from Paris, where she has been preparing for a show. To continue her work in Boston, Sirena rents a studio and asks Nora to share the space. Nora of course agrees.

And she agrees because she is a doormat, and because she has fallen in love with the entire Shahid family. The way she responds to each of them individually is creepy, particularly Reza. Nora moons a bit too much over the eight year old’s eyes. Yuck! Of course the family takes advantage of her. Nora helps Sirena with her art, while neglecting her own. She also babysits for Reza while his parents pursue the active social life available to university professors.

Of course this odd relationship will take its toll on the characters, particularly on Nora. In a way, Nora is much like the main character in the previous book I reviewed, Rockaway. She wants to be an artist, but is unable to commit to the lifestyle. She uses others as her excuse not to create. She is emotionally stunted and, altogether, a very unpleasant person.

Nora has so few redeeming qualities it was difficult to read this book. She is not at all interesting. She stalks the Shahid family, but they don’t even mind because they are so happy to use her in any way to make their lives easier. What a bunch of losers! I say pass on this book.

In USA:

Published in hardcover-Knopf-2013
Softcover edition-to be published-Vintage-February 2014

The Woman Upstairs

Songs of Willow Frost

Songs of Willow Frost is the second novel by Jamie Ford, the (justly) acclaimed author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Like his previous work, this novel explores a dark time in American history. This is the story of a 12-year-old Chinese boy who lives in a Seattle orphanage in 1934.  While conditions at Sacred Heart Orphanage are harsh, William Eng and the other orphans are relatively lucky. Outside the walls of Sacred Heart, the Great Depression rages. Dispossessed families live in a nearby Hooverville. There are bread lines, and children work to support their families by shining shoes and selling newspapers. William and the other orphans have a roof over their heads, 3 meals a day, and regular schooling.

Many of the children at Sacred Heart are not, technically, orphans. Their families, unable to care for them, have left them at the orphanage, with a vague promise to one day return. The annual outing celebrating the collective birthday of the boys of Sacred Heart includes a visit to a local movie theater. On the screen, William sees the actress Willow Frost.  He is convinced that Willow is his mother. The last time William saw his beloved ah-ma he was six years old and she lay dying in a bathtub in their small apartment in a seedy Seattle hotel. Liu Song was brought to a hospital, and William to Sacred Heart.

William sees from a flyer that Willow is appearing in a revue that will soon be coming to Seattle. He is determined to escape the orphanage and find Willow.

Songs of Willow Frost is an excellent novel. The characters are realistic and believable. The plot moves along at a good pace, despite the use of flashbacks. It took me a long time to read this book, but only because it was so sad that I could only read a little at a time. Jamie Ford has avoided the “sophomore curse” of so many second novels. I highly recommend this book. Many thanks to LibraryThing Early Reviewers for sending this along to me.

In USA:

Author Jamie Ford

Author Jamie Ford

Hardcover-to be published-Ballanatine Books- September 2013

Songs of Willow Frost: A Novel

Rockaway

Tara Ison

Tara Ison

LaJolla

LaJolla

Rockaway

Rockaway

Rockaway is the very new novel by Tara Ison. I had not heard of her or any of her books before, and was pleased that my book club made this our next selection. We actually chose it from Oprah Magazine’s “Best Books of Summer” feature. And this book is about a summer-specifically the summer of 2001 which the protagonist, an artist named Sarah, spends in a borrowed house in Rockaway, Queens.

Sarah has been an unsuccessful artist. At 35, she works in an art supply store in her hometown of LaJolla, California. She lives in a dreary apartment, and spends much of her time caring for her not-so-elderly parents. A local gallery owner offers Sarah the possibility of a show based on some old paintings of hers. But the gallery owner wishes to exhibit only current works by the more mature Sarah. With the help of a childhood friend, Sarah relocates temporarily to Rockaway for inspiration and time alone to paint.

At first, this scenario strains credibility. I’ve been to LaJolla, and I’ve been to Rockaway. If I were an artist, I couldn’t imagine a more inspiring landscape/seascape than LaJolla.(see photos above-take your pick!) But it soon becomes clear that Sarah’s need is more than inspiring scenery. She needs to break free of her needy, depressed parents and follow her own vision. This is not easy for her, as she is immature, unfocused, self-centered and has a serious, unacknowledged drinking problem.

Sarah is judgmental, and really unable to connect meaningfully with other people. Sarah procrastinates, makes excuses for her lack of productivity, and consoles herself with alcohol. Not a pretty picture.It’s tough to empathize with Sarah, until we learn more about her family background, and how childhood events have shaped her adult life.

Rockaway is a quick and easy read, but definitely has more depth than the usual summer beach book.

In USA:

Published in softcover-Soft Skull Press-2013

Rockaway: A Novel

The Transplant

I always applaud the author who the ability and grit to pen a long novel-such as this nearly 500 page tome by Alexandra Ulysses. However-and this is a big however-The Transplant is one of the dreariest, most dreadful books I’ve come across. It was sent to me from the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program. I’m always excited and grateful when I receive the e-mail that I’ve won a new book; it’s like being chosen for a new adventure. But this was awful.

I will confess that I managed to slog through the first 124 pages, then skipped to the final 20 pages. I won’t recount the plot here, but suffice to say it not the least compelling. The main character is naive, selfish, whiny. The other characters in the book are equally unlikeable.

So-I do not recommend this book at all, and will be purging it from my home as soon as possible!

 

In USA:

Published in hardcover-United Arts Media-2010

The Dry Grass of August

Author Anna Jean Mayhew

Author Anna Jean Mayhew

The Dry Grass of August is the June selection of my book club. And once again, a selection has me pondering the reason for a book club. Other than spending a pleasant evening with friends, I guess the reason is to force me to read books that I otherwise would not. For my personal reading I gravitate to certain genres and authors, but book club forces me out of my comfort zone. And that’s a good thing, right?

Well-maybe not in this case. The Dry Grass of August is another book in the genre I like to call “depressing stories of ignorance and racism in the south in the 20th century”.

This novel centers on teenager Jubie Watts, who lives in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1954. Jubie, her mother, siblings, and Mary, the family’s maid, leave for vacation to visit Jubie’s uncle in Pensacola, Florida. The action  is interspersed with flashbacks to Jubie’s early childhood and very recent past. Jubie’s father, Bill, is a violent drunk, and Jubie, inexplicably, is the target of his rage. Her mother, Pauly, is benignly neglectful of her four children, leaving the work of child rearing to the family’s “colored” maid. Mary is the one caring and stable adult presence in Jubie’s life.

The violence that is simmering below the surface erupts in a predictable way. This of course forces Jubie to grow up and rebel against her parents. Yawn!

This book has, in my opinion, nothing to add to the genre of the southern novel. The themes are stale; the characters  I’ve met before. There remain three novels of the south worth reading: Gone With the Wind, The Sound and the Fury, and To Kill a Mockingbird. All the others are riffs on the same theme.

In USA:

Published in softcover-Kensington-2011

The Dry Grass of August