Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight

Vassar and U Penn law school graduate, Kimberly McCreight can WRITE.  Wow, this book is just mind-blowing.  If you loved Gone Girl, by Gillian Anderson, you will also love Reconstructing Amelia.  The premise (and I'm not giving anything away - it's on the book flap) focuses on Kate, a big-time corporate litigator, single mother of fifteen-year old beautiful, brilliant Amelia.  Kate receives a phone call during an important legal meeting, that Amelia has been caught cheating on an English paper and needs to be picked up from school due to her suspension.  By the time Kate arrives, Amelia has leapt to her death from her very posh Brooklyn school.  The next 380 pages takes the reader on a roller coaster ride, as Kate tries to ascertain whether Amelia really committed suicide.  We enter the world of teenagers, through Amelia's Facbook posts, Twitter feeds, text messages and email.  We also see Kate fifteen years previously, dealing with an unplanned pregancy and the effects of the people she met then as everyone becomes involved in her search for the truth.  McCreight nails the voices for both Kate and her daughter, and takes us into the inside world of vicious teenagers, manipulative parents, and corporate law.  I read this book in 24 hours, finding minutes every where I could; it was gripping, addictive, and completely satisfying.  I will most definitely be in line to purchase McCreight's next novel.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

I'm not sure how I forgot to write this book up, when I've been telling all my girlfriends to read it - and yes, definitely more of a 'girlfriend' book.  This book is quirky, pointed, meanly-funny, and shockingly well written.  Semple is obviously either a Seattle-native, or has lived there for years, as she is right on with her irritations of the Northwest (yes, we do all wear REI clothing and  say 'no worries' to just about everything).  Bernadette, our resident heroine, is a stay-at-home mom with a single daughter and Microsoft husband.  Her neighbors (aka 'gnats') annoy the heck out of her, while she lives in a moldy old nunnery at the top of Queen Ann hill.  As the story of Bernadette's'insanity' unfolds, we also learn of her previous life as an architect in southern California, adding depth to her character and some motivation for her behavior. Her relationship with her long-distance East Indian assistant, her planning of a trip to Antarctica, and her relationship with the other moms makes Bernadette one of my favorite literary charaters of the last few years. I literally could not put this book down, I laughed out loud frequently, and related waaaaay too much to Bernadette's behavior (haven't we all wanted to run our mini-vans over ridiculous PTA moms just once?!).  LOVED this book!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

More Books...

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
  If you liked Major Pettigrew, or you love very 'English' books, you will love this one.  While a bit of a slow start, it is absolutely worth it; it makes one remember the value of the past and those we love.  The main character is...Harold Fry, obviously.  He's a delightful, but also rather pathetic, old English gentleman who goes out one day to get the mail.  Upon receiving a letter from an 'old friend', who tells him good-bye before cancer takes her, Harold decides to walk a little further.  Thus begins his pilgrimage to save Queenie Hennessey.  Each person he meets helps him to view pieces of his own life, causing nostalgia, regret, as well as introspection on his marriage and his role as a father.  We get to watch his wife, Maureen, as she grows and changes right along with Harold.  By the end of the book, I felt as if I too was as exhausted and spent as Harold, yet triumphant as well.  I understand all the accolades and awards for this book; it is beautifully written, thought-provoking, and in the end, it is a book that just has 'heart.' 

The Round House by Louise Erdrich
After seeing this book on numerous award lists (yes, it won the National Book Award, which is kind of a big deal), as well as knowing that Erdrich is a well-reknowned author, I kept deliberately avoiding this book.  Sometimes the 'award-winners' are more in love with their own words, than with the plot line of the story.  However, I finally 'jumped' and it was well worth it.  Obviously, Erdrich can write; she has a lyrical style that is descriptive, yet not too much so.  She paints a picture of the desolate Dakota reservation where four Native American boys are fast friends, if not blood brothers. The narrator of the story is Joe, a lawyer who is also an Ojibwe native, looking back to the pivotal moment of his childhood - the rape of his mother on reservation land. The boys' journey together, to catch the criminal, explores their relationships with numerous different inhabitants of the reservation.  Joe's father, a judge, is in a unique position and provides the story with the political and legal background to see the repercussions of crime on reservation land. The native mythology is woven into the plot line quite seamlessly and gives a unique context to the book, as Erdrich is a Native American herself, and I know far less of the culture than I should.  This 'coming-of-age' story is a beautiful, yet heart-breaking story, of a culture that is a part of who we are as America.

The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin
Obviously, looking at this blog, I love historical fiction...and this book does not disappoint.  I always thought I knew pretty much everything important about Charles and Anne Lindbergh - he flew solo over the Atlantic, their child was kidnapped, and Anne was a writer - case closed.  Obviously, a larger story exists.  Anne Morrow was the 'forgotten' child of a wealthy U.S. ambassador and senator.  A shy and quiet, studious young woman, Anne was shockingly courageous, tenacious, and a talented aviator in her own right.  The book covers the 'biggies', such as the tragic kidnapping of their first-born son and Charles' fliration with Nazism, but the psychological and emotional strain on their marriage is also explored.  The role of the media in the destruction of their lives is remeniscent of today's Twitter-crazy paparazzi.  And while at times I wanted to wring Anne's neck, I also felt her searing pain, admired her search for her personal and professional independence, and related to the struggles of a woman who, while loving her children, dreams of her own identity in a world that doesn't want her to have it.  This was a powerful story of a pivotal time in American history - highly recommend it.

A Walk Across the Sun by Corbin Addison
Each Christmas and birthday, my girls get a book - that's what we English teachers do, right?  This year, my oldest received this one.  As a current law school student who also has a minor in human rights, I figured this was the perfect book for her.  So of course, mom stole it and read it first.  All I can say is...wow.  This book is a powerful story; I cannot recommend it highly enough.  No, it's not brain candy and no, it's not a good 'beach' read.  It involves the legal field and human traficking, not light-hearted subjects.  Told from two perspectives, the story draws the reader in for numerous reasons.  One, it is remarkable well-written.  Two, the research is rich, deep, and obviously authentic.  And three, the plot line is well developed and the characters are dynamic, both frustrating and admiring.  The American story line involves a corporate lawyer who is being 'put in the corner' by Big Law, and needs to find something 'worthwhile' to spend a year on.  After the death of a child and the dissolution of his marriage, this man is an empty shell who has forgotten what the true power of the law. The East Indian story follows two young girls, who are orphaned due to the Dec. 26th tsunami.  Kidnapped and traded, time and again, taking us to Mumbai, Paris, and New York city, their story is gut-wrenching, discouraging, yet ultimately inspiring.  The growth and change in all the characters is what makes this story so rich and fulfilling. I will never look at life in quite the same way, and yes, I will worry even more as my girls travel alone, not only abroad but in our very own country.