Thursday, May 14, 2015

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Bachman
I'm going to bet we have all had that cranky, curmudgeonly old man in a neighborhood.  You know...that man who seems to make everything his business, the kids are always too loud and bothersome, and he doesn't want any changes.  Yep, that is Ove.  However, this delightful Swedish novel is so much more than some grumpy old fart.  As I listened to this book on Audible, I laughed out loud more times than I could count, felt my eyes well up a few times as well, and realized that Ove was actually...my own father, who I miss every day over the nine years since he died.  You see, Ove is a widower who desperately misses his wife who has recently passed away.  Amidst his frequent tries at suicide (hilariously unsuccessful, and that's not to take suicide lightly - it's just Ove!), Ove meets his new neighbors: Patrick, a fumbled-finger executive who is incapable of being a 'fixer-upper', a sin in Ove's eyes; Parvana, the East Indian immigrant wife, with two snappy lil girls in tow and another child on the way; a cat rescued from a snow bank; and a few other 'odds and ends' of characters who make up Ove's surroundings.  As Bachman weaves his tale of how a lifelong curmudgeon finds his way back to love and friendship, we see Ove's past and how he came to be 'Ove.'  I have not loved a book this much since The Unlikely Pilgramage of Harold Frye.  It is a dear, delightful, heartwarming story of life and the humanity that peoples our world.

You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz
I'm not sure how I missed this little gem which was on the New York Times bestseller list for quite some time. It has all the requisite ingredients of a thriller that is bound to pull one in:  a creepy little sociopath, a confused and ignorant wife, a school setting with impossibly snobby parents, a sympathetic victim, and a question mark throughout of what is true and what is fiction.  The main character of the book, Grace, is a composed, intelligent woman who works as a marriage therapist and has been married eighteen years, with a twelve year old son in a posh private school.  On the eve of publishing her first book, titled "You Should Have Known," the horse manure hits the fan at Rearden Prep School.  Having written a text on how marital problems are not formed within a marriage, but are a product of women just choosing poorly, Grace has to confront her own beliefs on what her marriage is, and is not.  Korelitz writes a taut story with little extraneous fluff; it reads quickly and obsessively.  This could be an intriguing choice for a book club who is willing to delve into some provocative ideas of marriage, friendship, and how the two intertwine.

The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant
For those of you who read Diamant's The Red Tent (one of my favs in the last decade), you will not be disappointed in her latest novel.  And if you like to listen to books on Audible, absolutely download this one.  It is read by Linda Laven (of Alice's Restaurant fame) and she nails the Boston-Jewish accent - I felt like I was watching a movie in my head.  Let me tell you first what The Boston Girl is not; it is not a mystery, nor a thriller, nor family drama per say.  It is a historical fiction that delves deeply into the character of Addy Baum, a young Jewish girl in Boston where the story begins in 1916.  The 85 year old Addy is telling her grandaughter the story of her life for a school project, and just like her family, we get drawn deeply into Addy's tale of a Jewish immigrant and her surrounding friends and family.  We hear of WWI and the soldiers with shell shock, of the Spanish flu pandemic, the child labor issues, the search for more education, and of course, a man to love.  Addy is heartwarmingly honest with her granddaughter, and is also wryly funny - there are many laugh-out-loud moments, especially concerning her mother who does nothing but complain, while she loves her daughters so hard.  This was a seriously delightful book; I felt bereft as the book finished, as if I had lost touch with my good friend, Addy Baum.  Ah, what a beautiful thing it is to feel as if the characters are truly alive.

Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore
Unless you were that perfectly gorgeous, shockingly smart, and sickeningly wealthy friend in college, we all have seen those people on campus, or read about them in People magazine.  Who wouldn't want to be part of their secret circle of friends?  In Beverly-Whittemore's novel, we meet the Winslows, the family who has everything:  beauty, money, bloodline, and more importantly, a private little family compound called Winlock, where all the relatives encamp each summer.  The protagonist of the book is fittingly called Mabel, an overweight, awkward, lower-class girl who just so happens to be college roommates with...yep, a Winslow.  Over the course of this summer in Vermont, Mabel (and the reader) meet the eccentric and highly addictive family of the Winslows: the crazy aunt, the creepy patriarch, the ice-queen mother, the hot brother, and the cousins who all look shockingly alike.  What is really going on in Winlock and in Bittersweet, the cottage that Ev and Mabel share?  This book is an intriguing thriller with some nice little twists and turns.

Where They Found Her by Kimberly McCreight
One of my favorite books last year was McCreight's Reconstructing Amelia, a book about a high schooler's death and her mother's search for the truth.  McCreight used a variety of sources to tell that story: text messages, emails, blog sites, etc.  It was a unique writing style that I not only admired, but I felt was more fitting for today's teenager. Her second novel is another page turner.  The main character, Molly Sanderson, is an ex-attorney, want-to-be reporter who is just recovering from a severe depression due to the loss of a child.  Enter the murder in her small New York college town - a newborn's body is found out in the woods.  Thus the search for the mother/murderer begins.  A variety of characters people McCreight's story: Molly's husband, Justin, and English prof at the local college; the wild divorcee with a troubled son; the 'perfect' mother with the two 'perfect' children; the strong-jawed police chief who grew up in the town and has a history; and the kindergartners and high school kids who turn the story all sorts of intriguing directions.  This is a fascinating thriller that brings up questions of guilt, parenting styles, and how our past affects our today - highly recommend.

The Hotel on Place Vendome: Life, Death, and Betrayal at the Hotel Ritz in Paris by Tilar J. Mazzeo
After reading so many fiction books on France and Paris in preparation for the big trip this summer, I figured it was time for some factual info.  This book reads like a real-life People magazine, interspersed with historical facts and trivia.  The main setting is the world-famous Ritz hotel in Paris, the gathering spot for decades for all the famous people and glitterati in the world (and yes, this is where Princess Diane was staying when chased to her death by the paparazzi).  The Lost Generation (Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, etc.) frequented its bar in the 1920's, and Coco Chanel lived there for many years leading up to the German invasion.  The focus for this book is the last few months of the occupation and follows a variety of people, both ones you know and ones that are merely bookmarks in history.  I learned a ton about the occupation and the Parisian participation, or lack there of, in the resistance,  I also gleaned facts about the famous Valkyrie plot to kill Hitler (yep, it was hatched in the bar at the Ritz), and the secret meetings often held in the salon.  Mazzeo drops waaaaay too many names constantly - I stopped trying to keep them all straight and just read for the story.  Short chapters that focus on one person/group of people helped.  If you're visiting Paris anytime soon, this is a great read.

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