Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Camp. We’re coming up on the summer camp season, and this will be a perfect time to read Meg Wolitzer’s novel, The Interestings. The bonds formed as teens at an arts camp in the early 1970s have endured for decades for an ensemble of characters, each of whom Wolitzer presents and develops with precision. One could try to categorize this novel as a coming of age story, a tale of enduring love and friendship, parenting, social satire, or a sampling of life over the past five decades. This finely written novel is some of all that and more. Wolitzer teased me into the lives of these characters, and once I was there, she helped me care about them. I enjoyed their good times and mourned their losses. Most of all, I understood them as real, complex people whose authenticity holds a mirror to my own life and that of those I know and love. This is a big novel that I enjoyed while reading it, and appreciated all the more after I reflected on it. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Interestings from amazon.com.
Contradictions. I’ve slowly savored reading Jon Meacham’s fine book, Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power. Many of us know well the highlights of Jefferson’s life. Meacham left me with several reflections about Jefferson: he had a vision for America that was at times in sync and at other times misaligned with that of other founders; he seemed to be comfortable in holding multiple contradictory views (slavery being the greatest contradiction); and his legacy is so large that reflecting on it by reading a book like this is time very well spent. Any reader with an interest in the formation years of the United States will enjoy reading this book. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power from amazon.com.
Pursuit. Mohsin Hamid riffs on the structure of a self-help book in his short novel, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia. Hamid packs a wallop in this clever and quirky novel. He presents the rags to riches story of someone who pursues success. Along the way, his unhappiness grows. Hamid explores ambition, dreams, the search for meaning and for love in life, as well as financial rewards. Read a sample before jumping in. Those readers who like an excerpt are likely to enjoy the whole book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase How to Get Filthy Rich from amazon.com.
Middleman. Since I share a surname with Harry Hopkins, I’ve noted his accomplishments for decades, often referring to him fondly as “Cousin Harry,” while we are unrelated. When I saw David Roll’s book, The Hopkins Touch: Harry Hopkins and the Forging of the Alliance to Defeat Hitler, I knew I had to read it. Roll presents the many ways in which Hopkins served Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the United States, especially during World War II. Hopkins’ role as confidant to FDR and middleman to Churchill, Stalin and others, was critical to the success of the allies in fighting the war. Roll ascribes Hopkins’ success to his affable personal style and deep understanding of the individuals with whom he interacted, what Roll calls “The Hopkins Touch.” Readers who enjoy history will find this book fascinating and informative, especially those who want to know more about the mid-twentieth century and World War II. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Hopkins Touch from amazon.com.
Insiders. Clandestine assassin Will Robie returns as protagonist in David Baldacci’s novel, The Hit. I can almost imagine Baldacci’s thought process as he planned this novel. Who could best complement Robie? The solution seems obvious: a female assassin working for the same agency. Jessica Reel is as complicated and troubled a character as Robie, but usually Baldacci leaves character development to spread over several books, and that’s the case here. Where Baldacci excels is at creating a fast-paced plot, and this plot kept me engaged from beginning to end. Powerful government insiders are implementing a plan that will change the world. Robie and Reel become caught up in deciding the right path for them to pursue, in compliance or defiance of orders. Fans who like action thrillers are those most likely to be pleased by this one. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Hit from amazon.com.
Friday, May 10, 2013
Guilt. There must be well-developed psychological insights that Elizabeth Strout learned in her life that help her write fiction that presents readers with well-developed complex characters. I loved her novel The Burgess Boys because of the many ways in which she unmasks the suffering and trouble beneath the persona most individuals present to the world. Some are suffused with guilt. Some have no idea why they do what they do. Many are wounded by the actions of those close to them. Many have to leave one place to discover their true selves somewhere else. All are drawn, eventually, to the bonds of family, and to expressing the love that endures all wounds. This is a novel filled with outsiders, trying to fit into a world that they don’t really understand. I raced through this finely written novel, caring about these characters, even or especially, the ones I didn’t like. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Burgess Boys from amazon.com.
Penthouse. Protagonist and baker Hannah Swensen returns for more crime solving in Red Velvet Cupcake Murder, the latest novel in a series by Joanne Fluke. I find that I enjoy books in this series as a diversion after I’ve read something difficult, long, or challenging. Life in Lake Eden, Minnesota is simple and everybody is friendly and nice, except for the occasional villain or murderer. The action in the current novel starts at the grand opening of the renovated Albion Hotel, now condos, including a full floor penthouse. (If there are only three floors, can you still call the top one a penthouse?) A familiar cast of characters returns for hijinks, and the usual abundance of sweets. This time out, Hannah herself is a suspect in a murder case. Readers who like easy-to-solve mysteries, and the slow pace of small town life are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Of course, all bakers are a natural audience for the included recipes. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Red Velvet Cupcake Murder from amazon.com.