Thursday, July 10, 2014

WOW - lots of summer reading!

Delicious by Ruth Reichle
I am a self-proclaimed 'non-foodie,' which I know is not the cool thing these days.  All my friends seem to be into food books, food shows, new ingredients, new trends, etc.  I, admittedly, eat the exact same thing for breakfast, every day, for the last ten years, and yes, I have a pb&j sandwich every day at work.  Thus, I wondered if this book by an acclaimed food critic would be my 'thing?'  However, Reighle's first foray into fiction was definitely delectable (okay - I admit - I just couldn't ignore all the wonderful stupid food puns that were available!).  The premise of the story is a twenty-something year old girl, Billie, who quits college and comes to New York to apply to be an executive assistant to the editor of the country's most prestigious food magazine.  Reichle peoples the book with some delightfully eccentric characters - the photographer, the travel writer, the bitchy ex-girlfriend, and the editor himself - as well as the side story of the delightful little Italian grocer.  As the magazine is inexplicably closed, the job transitions and our girl discovers a beautiful trail of letters between a young girl during WWII and the famous James Beard, and we also start to unravel the back story of Wilhelmina herself.   Reichle is able to juggle all the story lines quite well and winds up with what I would call a 'delightful' book (okay, I wanted to say 'delicious' but I withheld:) Fun summer read!

The Pearl that Broke its Shell by Nadia Hashimi
I have not seen this book on any bookstore shelves, and what a tragedy that is.  I discovered this debut novel by looking at books I have loved, and scrolling through the line on Amazon to see what else people bought who liked that same book. I have a soft spot for debuts - I always feel like an author's most honest voice comes through when she first begins, and this one is just a beautifully told story.  Hashimi weaves together two stories, one of Afghanistan from the turn of the century, as Kabul is ruled by a king whose harem needs guarding, a damaged young girl trying to sustain herself in a male-centric society, and the people who both help and hinder her...and the story of the harem guard's great-great-granddaughter in modern day Afghanistan, who lives her life as a boy prior to a forced marriage to a warlord and subsequent birth of 'democracy' in her country.  It is a fascinating look at where Afghanistan used to be, the journey it is taking now, and the subjugation of women at the core of their cultural beliefs.  Sometimes painful to read, always powerful, and beautifully written, I cannot recommend this book enough - I hope bookstores and other people discover it soon - it is a jewel.

The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison
So, if you liked The Dinner or Indiscretion (both great books-see old posts), which were peopled with fairly despicable people but so fascinating, you'll like this one.  The story begins with a fairly 'normal' marriage between a psychologist and a land-management wheeler/dealer; they live in a beautiful Boston apartment where the wife cooks perfect meals, walks the dog each day, and climbs into bed each night in her pressed and ironed pajamas.  In others words...nothing is 'normal!'  As the story delves deeper into each spouse, we see the complete inhumanity in each, as the wife comes up with all sorts of interesting revenge tricks to punish dear old hubby for cheating.  The marriage crumbles, murder ensues, and all sorts of intriguing twists and turns bring us to the culminating event.  Read in 24 hours, I wanted to take a shower afterwards, as very little is present in either character that is worthwhile or lovely, but it's like rubbernecking at a particularly horrid accident; you know you should look away, but you just can't - this book feels the same.  Wicked good story and well told by Harrison - great summer read.

The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
I think I've seen this book listed on 'must reads' for well over a year; typical of my reverse-psychology self, I refused to read it if everyone else was - plus, the title sounded like a Boxcar children book, quite honestly.  I finally jumped in when I needed to pile my Kindle full of books before leaving the country, and I am very glad I did.  As a historical fiction junkie, this book was a nice change from the nastiness of the previous book reviewed and a good change of pace from the fantasy of Game of Thrones.  Kline tells two stories that take place some eighty years apart, but with eerie similarities.  For many, many years, orphaned children in New York City were shipped out to the midwest and adopted by families for a variety of reasons, some because they had lost children, others because they needed free labor.  Kline tells the story of one such young girl, and then juxtaposes it with the story of a foster child of today, who does a school research project on the famous orphan trains from long ago.  I found the historical information quite fascinating, the characters interesting, and the ending satisfactory. Was it predictable at times?  Yes...but honestly, I didn't care - it was just a really good story.

The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh
I also needed just a good old-fashioned mystery while on the beach, and this book gave me some of my favorite components - a snarly villain, a likable protagonist, and even some good 'ole Southern shenanigans in the middle of the Ozark mountains.  McHugh tells the story from a variety of first person perspectives, beginning with the story of Lucy, her murdered friend, and her mother who has been missing for sixteen years.  We see the story from years ago, as well as the different twists from the characters still around today.  Lucy has a loving, yet absent father, a best friend with questionable morals, a boyfriend whose mother is a psychic, and a fairly creepy uncle.  The story deals with some fairly topical issues, such as our foster care system, kids with special needs and the bullying they endure, as well as human trafficking in the American South, which has become endemic.  This is a solid mystery, a quick read, and just another good story.

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty
This too had sat on my Kindle for over a year, no idea why except that other books came along that grabbed me more.  However, this is just a really, really good read - great summer beach book.  A host of different characters people this book - a young mom who moves back to Sydney when her husband and her cousin/best friend tell her they're in love, the perfect PTA mom with four perfect girls with a not-so-perfect husband, the mother who's daughter was murdered twenty years ago who still grieves, the questionable physical education teacher - and Moriarty weaves the story quite seamlessly, pulling everyone and all situations together in the end.  She's quite a good storyteller - I wouldn't say it's 'pretty' writing but it's definitely a page turner.  I think this one took me, maybe, two days - great vacation book and wouldn't be a bad book club book either, as many complex issues are mulled over.

Game of Thrones George R.R. Martin
Yes, I have 'drunk the kool-aid', 'followed the lemings,' 'jumped on the bandwagon,' - and every other bad cliche.  However...quite honestly, these books are worth it, and that's coming from a person who typically says "I don't like fantasy."  Of course, by that I mean Tolkien (not a fan - sorry).  Harry Potter, Narnia, Oz, - those magical books I love - but Martin and his dragons always seemed to be more in line with hobbits, elves, and wizards.  Plus, they're viciously long so I have avoided them for years.  Enter...the HBS series and my obsession with it.  So the question is, why read the books?  Here's a few reasons:  1). if you love the television show, the books gives you far more details and things you will never find out from the shows + you can get ahead of the show and threaten your friends with giving plot twists away 2). Martin is a spectacular story writer - he is able to juggle about a million plot ideas, and do it exceptionally well, while at the same time telling the story from dozens of different perspectives and never confusing the reader and 3). if you like complex characters, this is definitely the series for you.  Martin creates characters who on first observation are incredibly evil and unsalvageable, yet in another chapter he gives them a scrap of humanity that makes you wonder if your first assessment is correct.  In other words, he creates real humans and he forces you to become wickedly invested in their lives.  He tells an obsessively good story.  If you need a couple long books to keep you occupied on long train or plane rides, or a good beach read, these books will not let you down.

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