Sunday, June 15, 2014

Time for Summer Reading

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
I do love living in a small town, where a five minute conversation with the local bookstore owners, leads to a few late nights of late-night reading.  Chuck and Dee Robinson, the incredible due behind Village Bookstore, were having a wine-night and author talk in their condo above the store.  While I wasn't going, they encouraged me to check out his book, saying "this book will be the next hot read of 2014."  They could be right:)  Doerr is a beautiful writer, who weaves a tale about France and WWII, but in a fresh way that makes it seem like a story first told.  His heroine is unique, Marie-Laure, who goes blind at a young age due to inoperable cataracts.  Her father is a gifted craftsman, who builds her a model of the Parisian neighborhood where they live, giving her unprecedented freedom.  A parallel story unfolds in Germany as well, of a young, poor boy who is unusually gifted with radio.  Werner watches the rise of the Nazi youth, endures a 'school' for special boys, and becomes someone he never wanted, nor expected, to be.  As the war sweeps both Werner and Marie-Laure into its grasp, Doerr sweeps us into his story as well.  The walled city in Brittany, the cold battlefields of Russia, and the mystery of a cursed diamond all combine to make a suspenseful, lyrical, beautiful book.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt
If you read The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt's Pulitzer prize winning novel (and if you haven't, you really should - read earlier review - it's fabulous), you may be intrigued by her earlier work. The woman definitely does not believe in short novels.  This is another looooong one, and occasionally I wish her editor had chopped a few words, but no matter the length, I still obsessively read this book until the very last page.  It's an intriguing story line, with a blue collar boy who enrolls at a small, liberal arts college, peopled by moneyed aristocracy.  His first few months, he lives the typical beer-soaked, dorm life of a normal college kid, wandering through his required classes, wondering why he cannot get into the exclusive ancient Greek language course taught by the reclusive, mysterious professor.  Of course, an odd chance meeting gets young Richard drawn into the realm of some eccentric students who take things into a "Lord of the Flies" kind of world.  Tartt is truly a word smith, developing the most intriguing characters and twisting a plot around so it forces the reader to search in every corner, for every twist and turn.  This is a psychological thriller that is truly a fascinating read.

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
I have seen this book on bookstore shelves for months, and even though it has a Northwest connection, I never felt a compulsion to purchase it. I admit, a good cover is usually a draw for me and this one seemed juvenile and unappealing.  However, once a teaching buddy loaned it to me, I found the story line intriguing, mostly due to the uniqueness of the characters, as well as the plot line.  First, it is definitely a book with which to be patient, as it really wasn't until page 80 or so that the story truly grabbed me.  It begins with an author named Ruth (duh?!), who finds a diary, wrapped in a plastic bag, that has floated across the ocean following the tsunami.  As Ruth gets dragged into the story of the young teenage girl, so do we.  The diary unfolds the life of a young Japanese girl, Nao, who after living in California for a number of years, gets dragged back to Tokyo due to her father's job loss.  Her tale of school bullying, prostitution, suicide, family legends, WWII, and most exceptionally her 104 year old Zen Buddhist nun of a great-grandmother is gripping, heart-wrenching, witty, and told in the most perfect sixteen-year old voice.  The first half of the book, I didn't really care much about Ruth and her eccentric boyfriend and their life on a San Juan island in the Puget Sound, but as she involves herself in the search for Nao, I also bought into her story as well.  This tale is a mix of Japanese history, personal narrative, psychological exploration, surrealism, ghosts, and most especially, the importance of life.  It's not a page turner, nor a mystery, but I look forward to our book club discussion, as there is so much meat on this bone to gnaw over.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
So, if you're looking for an "I can't put this down" kinda book, this is it.  I started it at 5 PM, and it was finished by 10 PM.  The beauty of this YA book, is that the only thing about it that is 'Young Adult' is the length, about 235 pages.  Geez, I wish 'adult' writers could pare down the story to create a tense, suspense filled one like Lockhart did.  The story revolves around Cadence, the eighteen year old daughter in a very old, very moneyed, very traditional Massachusetts family (yes, their ancestors were on the Mayflower).  The Sinclair family is just so perfect...except that it's not.  You will spend the entire time trying to figure out what happened to Cadence...does she have a brain injury? What caused the amnesia?  Is it amnesia?  How are her cousins involved?  Is her mother crazy, or just protective?  Is grandfather a pitiful old man with dementia, or a manipulative Tywin Lannister type?  Lockhart creates a taut, tense story that will absolutely satisfy you in the end.  Regardless of what age it was written for, it's just a great story.

We Live in Water by Jess Walters
Let's preface this with two things:  One, I love this author - he wrote The Financial Lives of Poets, a witty, sardonic look at the crash of 2007 and an idiotic man in the midst of it, as well as Beautiful Ruins, a lyrical story of the Italian riviera, a family in Idaho, and the story that ties them together; Two, I usually hate short stories - however, since Jess Walters wrote it, I figured why not?  Plus, my partner in reading/crime, highly recommended it.  She was right, as always.  These stories all take place in Spokane, and he just nails the sense of this quirky Eastern Washington city.  He skips all over the place, with homeless people, a weird futuristic tale,  child abandonment, you name it.  And the cool thing is, no matter how long, whether it's twelve pages or just two, Walters is able to develop his characters and story line so deeply that the reader is invested in just one page.  The only problem with this book is that most of the stories I wanted turned into books.  If your book club is looking for a book of short stories as a 'change of pace', or you actually like short stories, or you want a book that's quick and easy to read, or you just thoroughly appreciate good writing, I would highly recommend We Live in Water.

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