Wednesday, March 31, 2010
As a feel-good book The Almost Moon is a massive fail. But. I couldn’t stop reading it. It is horrifying and graphic and unsettling yet compelling.
Most people don’t like it. The characters are unlikeable and their actions are hard to fathom. So I can’t explain what kept me turning the pages. The story: just like in The Lovely Bones. Talk about bleak and grim yet I kept reading. It’s not a feel good story, and neither was The Lovely Bones but The Lovely Bones had an endearing main character whereas The Almost Moon doesn’t.
A lot of people really, I mean, really didn’t like it. I did.
Gastronomy of a Marriage by Michelle Maisto
From Publishers Weekly:
First-time memoirist Maisto turns out a subtle valentine to cooking and New York City life in this chronicle of two foodies in love. Maisto is a charming writer with a keen wit and sense of setting, whether describing tennis in her beloved Brooklyn neighborhood, or reluctantly making Jell-O for her fiancé. Despite her skill, however, the book struggles to get off the ground. What momentum there is springs from Maisto's imminent nuptials, but the actual wedding ends up a side note next to the recurring question of what to make for dinner. Low-stress recipes for favorite comfort foods are scattered throughout, including her grandmother's Walnut Tarts and a dressed-up boxed chocolate cake mix recipe, each worth reading: instructions for simmering lentils include lying on the couch and "watching a television program that the person you live with, but who is not home now, thinks is stupid." Readers homesick for New York will get the most out of the book, but it's unlikely to stick out in an increasingly cluttered field of food memoirs.
Catching Genuis by Kristy Keirnan
From Publishers Weekly:
Kiernan tests the bonds of sisterhood and goes to the well of family secrets and stunted connections in her easy-reading if maudlin debut. Sisters Estella and Connie grew apart early-Estella, a genius, began college at 12 and was the apple of their father's eye, while the younger Connie was blessed with good looks and a charming personality. Now in their 40s and after eight years of not speaking, the sisters are forced together to pack up their childhood home in Florida as their mother prepares to sell it. There are amends to be made and old wounds to be opened, and Kiernan handles the melodramatic moments with a light touch, though her prose can wander into purple territory ("It was as if we were both sunburned, flinching and shrieking at every touch, real or imagined"). Chapters that alternate between the sisters' perspectives reveal the miscommunication between them, and though Connie's self-deprecating humor keeps the novel from becoming too heavy, the climax is overdone and drawn-out. Still, it is a moving novel about forgiveness and the fragility of family.
I loved The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. It was a fast read with a narrator who you liked right away. The novel easily could have been insulting or patronizing or just gotten it plain wrong and it did none of those things.
Mark Haddon's bitterly funny debut novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, is a murder mystery of sorts--one told by an autistic version of Adrian Mole. Fifteen-year-old Christopher John Francis Boone is mathematically gifted and socially hopeless, raised in a working-class home by parents who can barely cope with their child's quirks. He takes everything that he sees (or is told) at face value, and is unable to sort out the strange behavior of his elders and peers.
Late one night, Christopher comes across his neighbor's poodle, Wellington, impaled on a garden fork. Wellington's owner finds him cradling her dead dog in his arms, and has him arrested. After spending a night in jail, Christopher resolves--against the objection of his father and neighbors--to discover just who has murdered Wellington. He is encouraged by Siobhan, a social worker at his school, to write a book about his investigations, and the result--quirkily illustrated, with each chapter given its own prime number--is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
I've been looking forward to The Girl Who Chased the Moon since I read the last page of The Sugar Queen.
I read it in a day. I’m happy that Allen is working away on another one. I will say that this was not my favorite book by Allen. If you haven’t read anything of hers yet, I’d start with one of her earlier novels – Garden Spells or The Sugar Queen.
From Publisher’s Weekly:
Allen's latest (after The Sugar Queen) takes the familiar setup of a young protagonist returning to the small town where her elusive mother was raised, and subverts it by sprinkling just enough magic into the narrative to keep things lively but short of saccharine. Seventeen-year-old Emily Benedict, intent on learning more about her mother, Dulcie, moves in with her grandfather, but is disappointed to find that her grandfather doesn't want to talk much about Dulcie. She soon discovers, though, that many still hold a grudge against Dulcie for the way she treated an old sweetheart before dumping him and disappearing. Luckily, Dulcie's high school adversary, Julia Winterson, back in town to pay down her deceased father's debt, takes a shine to Emily. She's working another quest as well: baking cakes every day with the hope that they'll somehow attract the daughter she gave up for adoption years ago. There are love interests, big family secrets, and magical happenings (color-changing wallpaper, mysterious lights) aplenty as Allen charts the spiraling inter-generational stories, bringing everything together in an unexpected way.
I thought about Safe From the Neighbors by Steve Yarbrough for days after I finished it, the true sign of a successful novel - when the characters are that real to the reader. I read the book in about two days; could not stop turning the pages. I imagine at years’ end it will rank up among my favorite books, as does Yarbrough's The End of California.
From Publishers Weekly:
Yarbrough's tightly constructed latest is hobbled by the ordinariness of its characters and the situations they find themselves in. The story is told from the point of view of Luke May, a high school teacher and history buff living in a small Mississippi River delta town where he and his wife carry on a passionless marriage. During Luke's childhood, a family friend killed his wife, and Luke never fully understood the circumstances. After Maggie, one of the slain mother's children, returns to town as the new high school French teacher, Luke begins to unravel the murder, which coincided with one of the key moments in the civil rights movement. He also begins an affair with Maggie, providing a bit of tension as the reader wonders where the affair will lead and what Luke will learn about the shooting. The book's pacing and language are superb, and while Yarbrough (The End of California) is terrific at getting inside the head of his protagonist, what's inside isn't very special.
I started and stopped Possession:
Did the same with The Northern Clemency.
I read about 200 pages of The Northern Clemency. I couldn't keep the characters straight and was a bit bored. The book is huge - 738 pages - and carrying it around was a hassle.
It's a monster. Look at it dwarfing the little Alice Hoffman trade paperback.
What The Northern Clemency and Possession have in common is that Possession won the Booker Award and The Northern Clemency was shortlisted for it. Maybe I should avoid Booker Award-winning and -nominated books.
Favorite Book of the Month: Safe from the Neighbors by Steve Yarbrough
Character Who I’d Most Like to Have a Drink With: Ellis Buchanan, long time newspaper guy in Safe from the Neighbors. He would have some great stories.