Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Looking for a good summer read?

Summer is when I want to find "gentle reads" that keep my interest without being too heavy. The first two on this list I have read, the rest I can't wait to get to!

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarity

From USA Today: "The Chaperone is a captivating novel about the woman who chaperoned an irreverent Louise Brooks to New York City in 1922 and the summer that would change them both.

Only a few years before becoming a famous silent-film star and an icon of her generation, a fifteen-year-old Louise Brooks leaves Wichita, Kansas, to study with the prestigious Denishawn School of Dancing in New York. Much to her annoyance, she is accompanied by a thirty-six-year-old chaperone, who is neither mother nor friend. Cora Carlisle, a complicated but traditional woman with her own reasons for making the trip, has no idea what she’s in for. Young Louise, already stunningly beautiful and sporting her famous black bob with blunt bangs, is known for her arrogance and her lack of respect for convention. Ultimately, the five weeks they spend together will transform their lives forever."

I would call this book a "gentle read" with enough surprises (the orphan train, how homosexuality was dealt with in the 1920's) to keep it very compelling.

The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. by Nichole Bernier

From Amazon: "Summer vacation on Great Rock Island was supposed to be a restorative time for Kate, who’d lost her close friend Elizabeth in a sudden accident. But when she inherits a trunk of Elizabeth's journals, they reveal a woman far different than the cheerful wife and mother Kate thought she knew. 

   The complicated portrait of Elizabeth—her troubled upbringing, and her route to marriage and motherhood—makes Kate question not just their friendship, but her own deepest beliefs about loyalty and honesty at a period of uncertainty in her own marriage. 

   Set in the anxious summer after the September 11th attacks, this story of two women—their friendship, their marriages, private ambitions and fears—considers the aspects of ourselves we show and those we conceal, and the repercussions of our choices."

The Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler

From Amazon: "Anne Tyler gives us a wise, haunting, and deeply moving new novel in which she explores how a middle-aged man, ripped apart by the death of his wife, is gradually restored by her frequent appearances—in their house, on the roadway, in the market.

Crippled in his right arm and leg, Aaron spent his childhood fending off a sister who wants to manage him. So when he meets Dorothy, a plain, outspoken, self-dependent young woman, she is like a breath of fresh air. Unhesitatingly he marries her, and they have a relatively happy, unremarkable marriage. But when a tree crashes into their house and Dorothy is killed, Aaron feels as though he has been erased forever. Only Dorothy’s unexpected appearances from the dead help him to live in the moment and to find some peace." 

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarity

From Amazon: "Alice Love is twenty-nine, crazy about her husband, and pregnant with her first child. 

So imagine Alice’s surprise when she comes to on the floor of a gym (a gym! She HATES the gym) and is whisked off to the hospital where she discovers the honeymoon is truly over — she’s getting divorced, , she has three kids, and she’s actually 39 years old. Alice must reconstruct the events of a lost decade, and find out whether it’s possible to reconstruct her life at the same time. She has to figure out why her sister hardly talks to her, and how is it that she’s become one of those super skinny moms with really expensive clothes. Ultimately, Alice must discover whether forgetting is a blessing or a curse, and whether it’s possible to start over…"

The Receptionist: An Education at The New Yorker by Janet Groth

From Amazon: "Thanks to a successful interview with a painfully shy E. B. White, a beautiful nineteen-year-old hazel-eyed Midwesterner landed a job as receptionist at The New Yorker. There she stayed for two decades, becoming the general office factotum—watching and registering the comings and goings, marriages and divorces, scandalous affairs, failures, triumphs, and tragedies of the eccentric inhabitants of the eighteenth floor. In addition to taking their messages, Groth watered their plants, walked their dogs, boarded their cats, and sat their children (and houses) when they traveled. And although she dreamed of becoming a writer herself, she never advanced at the magazine.

This memoir of a particular time and place is as much about why that was so as it is about Groth’s fascinating relationships with poet John Berryman (who proposed marriage), essayist Joseph Mitchell (who took her to lunch every Friday), and playwright Muriel Spark (who invited her to Christmas dinner in Tuscany), as well as E. J. Kahn, Calvin Trillin, Renata Adler, Peter Devries, Charles Addams, and many other New Yorker contributors and bohemian denizens of Greenwich Village in its heyday."

The Hypnotist's Love Story by Liane Moriarity

From Amazon: "Ellen O’Farrell is an expert when it comes to human frailties. She’s a hypnotherapist who helps her clients deal with everything from addictions to life-long phobias. So when she falls in love with a man who is being stalked by his ex-girlfriend she’s more intrigued than frightened. What makes a supposedly smart, professional woman behave this way? She’d love to meet her! What she doesn’t know is that she already has. Saskia has been masquerading as a client, and their lives are set to collide in ways Ellen could never have predicted. This wonderfully perceptive new novel from Liane Moriarty is about the lines we’ll cross for love. It’s about the murky areas between right and wrong, and the complexities of modern relationships. As Ellen is about to discover, we’re all a little crazy – even her."

Enjoy your summer, and let me know what you have found to get you through these hot summer days.


Sunday, January 29, 2012

Hello booklovers!

I was astounded to see that it was last August since I had posted anything. Wow. Life, you know? Well, I have three books I've read recently that I'm excited to tell you about, so let's get right to it.

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt: A Novel in Pictures by Caroline Preston

This book is a gem, and you will want to read it slowly because it is over all too quickly. It's the story of Frankie Pratt, who graduates from high school in 1920, and receives a scrapbook and her father's old Corona typewriter. She has dreams of being a writer, and wins a scholarship to Vassar, but LIFE has other plans and she ends up in Paris (where she has a brief working relationship with James Joyce) before she finds her way back home.

Here's the unique thing about this book: the story is told entirely in scrapbook form, with vintage postcards, mementos from her adventures, and cut out pictures from 1920's catalogs. It becomes a treasure trove of images that I found more fun to read than a graphic novel. This book is pure pleasure.

The Language of Flowers by Laura Diffenbach

If you loved "White Oleander," you will love this book. Eighteen year-old Victoria Jones has just aged out of the foster care system and is sleeping in a park in San Francisco. She trusts no one and is fiercely independent. Having been blessed with an innate ability to grow flowers and design arrangements, she gets noticed by a local florist who gives her a job. But when a flower vendor at the local flower market recognizes her from his childhood, she is forced to confront some painful secrets about her past. This book is mesmerizing and very hard to put down.

I'm Down by Mishna Wolff (CD)

First of all, my heartfelt thanks to Stacey Spencer, who was so passionate about this book that she wagged her finger in my face and insisted I find it, and that it had to be listened to, and not read. I recognize this kind of passion, so I took her advice, and this audiobook rocked my world.

This is the true story, narrated by the author, of a young girl who grows up in a poor area of Seattle. She and her sister live mainly with her father and see her mother on weekends. As she states in the first paragraph, "My parents, both white. My sister had the same mother and father as me - all of us completely white."

She feels it necessary to make this statement up front because then she goes on to explain that her father (white) beloved to his core that he was a black man. He talked like a black man. He walked like a black man. He dressed like a black man.  All his friends were black, and he raised that author and her sister in a poor black neighborhood. When she is sent to a summer program and later to school, she has to figure out how to fit in as the only white kid. (How she does this is hilarious.) And then later when she is moved to a gifted program at a different school, she has to figure out how to fit in with all these rich white kids.

The author's ability to capture the voice and reasoning of a 3rd grader and put it into words is only one of the things that makes this book priceless.  She has huge challenges to face, not the least of which are that her narcissistic father rarely works, money is tight and food sometimes scarce, and at one point an evil stepmother comes into her life. But she is incredibly resilient, and athletically gifted, and if there isn't a sequel to this book I will GO CRAZY. It ends when she is about fourteen, and I SO wanted to know what happened next (did she get into college?) that I went to the publisher's website to see if there was word of a sequel. Have you ever liked a book so much that you went on the Internet to find out all you can about an author? I was bereft when the story ended.

And Stacey was right: you have to listen to it.

p.s. The photo of her on the cover is photo-shopped.