The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure
I have seen this book on numerous 2015 lists, and great book club choice lists as well; I would whole-heartedly concur. Written more in the style of All the Light I Cannot See, this is a beautiful tale of WWII and the Parisian people involved in the conflict. Belfoure creates complex characters who are not always likable, but who are vulnerable, selfish, loyal, patriotic, anti-semitic, self-sacrificing, and all together human. Lucien, the title character of the novel, is hired by a wealthy Parisian to create hiding places for Jews who are no longer able to escape Nazi-occupied Paris. Inherently anti-semitic, Lucien first agrees in order to earn the outrageously large fee, but ultimately gets pulled in by the creativity this task requires - to devise a hiding place that even the most discerning SS officer cannot find. The characters we meet are intriguing: Hertzog, the Nazi soldier with an artist's soul; Adele, the fashion designer who will do anything to survive; Bette, the beautiful model with a hidden secret; and the many different Jewish prisoners whom Lucien attempts to save. This story is fascinating and compelling, with some lovely twists in the end - I highly recommend it.
Carry the Sky by Kate Gray
It is truly hard to find words to describe this book, as it is almost seems to be part poetry, part novel. Kate Gray, a talented and award-winning poet from Oregon, has taken her own life experiences and written a gorgeous, heart-breaking, and poignant tale of life in 1983 in a college preparatory boarding school. The tale is recounted by two of the main characters: Jack Song, a young Korean-American physics teacher and Taylor Alta, the new girl's crew coach at St. Timothy's. Song's side of the story is constantly told through poetic use of physics - I know, that sounds like an oxymoron, a poetic physics story? But he pulls it off with aplomb, making the reader consider the pull and drag not only of physical elements, but of human emotions. His dealings with the student who just does not fit in, his inappropriate relationship with an unstable student, as well as Song's struggles with his sister's death, explores some very deep questions about life and responsibility. Alta's side of the story is heart-wrenching, as Gray takes us deep into her mind as she is tortured by the death of the woman she loves, as the police continue to look for her body in the very river where Alta's team rows each morning, as well as her guilt about her own sexuality. I will be honest - this is not a heartwarming, uplifting, sweet story. It is painful at times to see into the recesses of one's heart, and as the story unfolds, you will find little redemption. However, it is truly one of the most beautifully written books I have read in years, and deeply involved me in the lives of these characters. This was a five-star book for me, a rating I rarely give. I suspect it will be overlooked for awards, as it is written by an obscure Oregon writer; that is a big mistake - it is a very special book.
Euphoria by Lily King
This was a strange and different book, and I was not sure I was truly going to like it until I was about one third of the way through. It has earned tons of accolades and numerous awards, and now that it is completed, I do understand why. It is gorgeously written, and it is not a 'cookie-cutter' type of book; it has a unique focus and very different characters. First is Nell, the bad-ass anthropologist who already has a published and popular book; she is a cypher, as she is on one hand a truly gifted scientist, able to understand the nature of the native people and to form familial bonds with them in a short amount of time. However, she also seems to be ignorant of her own bonds with her husband, Fen, and one wonders why the two are actually together. The third part of this triangle is Bankson, the son of English gentry, the last of his male line due to illness, war, and suicide. The push and pull amongst these three moves the story along to its final, shocking crescendo. I look forward to our book club discussion of this intriguing, and rather different tale of these three scientists and the natives of New Guinea.
Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson
Winner of an emerging writer award, I look forward to seeing more by Henderson, as this was a fabulous first effort. To be honest, I felt it could have been about 100 pages shorter (more judicious editing perhaps?). However, I still found it to be a page-turning rollicking good story. The main character, Pete Snow, is a social worker who attempts to solve each child's disastrous life; unfortunately, Pete has his own disaster of a life with an ex-wife who has taken their thirteen year old daughter to Texas, for no apparent reason other than to party for weeks on end, his brother who is on the run due to a warrant for his arrest, and a distant father and rather bitchy stepmother. Amidst Pete's own traumas, in walk the Pearls, a father and son who are trying to live off the grid, but are doing so rather unsuccessfully. As Pete gets pulled into their intriguing lifestyle of paranoia and government hatred, he begins to question what makes a family whole and what truly breaks them apart. This is a compelling story.
Missing Reels by Farran Smith Nehme
Remember those old Hepburn and Tracy movies, where they quibbled, and teased, and angered each other, and the dialogue was snappy and delicious? Yep, that would be this book. Read in just one day (okay, I was home sick but it was still an obsessive read), Nehme knows her stuff about the cinema. She should - she's a movie blogger on old films, as well as a regular contributor to film magazines. Missing Reels is her first novel, and I do hope she keeps writing them - she's good. The main character is Ceinwen(pronounced Kine-Wen), a young girl from Mississippi who is obsessed with looking like Jean Harlow, works at a vintage clothing store, and lives in a sketchy apartment with two of the most adorable gay roommates ever. Her downstairs neighbor is Miriam, a film star from the 'pre'- talkie era, who is dying to see a full copy of the only film she ever made. Hence, the hunt begins. Pulled into this mystery is a quirky NYU math professor, Matthew, who has a snobbish and mostly-absent fiancee; with Ceinwen, Nehme has created a dynamic duo. These two have the best dialogue in the book as they painstakingly go back through time in their hunt for the 'missing reels.' Nehme creates a cast of wonderful sidekicks that help the two young lovers along the way, and has a satisfying ending. If you're looking for an entertaining summer read, I would highly recommend this one.