Review: Canada

Canada
Canada 
By Richard Ford
(Ecco, Paperback, 9780061692031, January 2013, 432pp.)

The Short of It:

The anatomy of a crime, as told by one of the characters most affected by it.

The Rest of It:

First, I’ll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later. The robbery is the more important part, since it served to set my and my sister’s lives on the courses they eventually followed. Nothing would make complete sense without that being told first. (First lines of Canada)

Those opening lines set the stage for Dell’s story. His parents, struggling to make a life for themselves in Great Falls, Montana, rob a bank after getting involved in an illegal business deal. Their hope, is to pay off their debt and begin again. What Bev Parsons does not know, is that his wife Neeva sees this criminal act as a way to escape a lifetime with the man she married. Dell and his sister Berner are left to a family friend who has plans to get them out of the country. But as twins, and only fifteen, they are not sure what to make of the things happening around them.

What a book. I’ve never read Richard Ford before but when my book club picked it for January I had to give it a try. It’s not a book a reader can love. The story is too bleak for that, but I did appreciate the languid writing. Some of the members in the group compared Ford to Richard Russo and I agree. His writing reminded me a lot of Russo.

Many of the details shared are “day in the life” type details but at the same time, Ford uses foreshadowing to string the reader along. It works. I read these 400+ pages in two sittings. Telling the story from Dell’s sheltered perspective is somewhat limiting at times, but his wide-eyed wonder at the things going on around him made him vulnerable which lent the story a fragile, precarious quality.

What I most enjoyed, is the discussion that took place afterward. It’s hard to imagine what drives people to do the things they do, but it was fun to discuss it. Dell’s parents were never normal, in the traditional sense of the word. They kept their kids sheltered, were not successful in any way and tried to remain under the radar. Living in that small town, they managed to avoid most of their neighbors and didn’t seem to know how to interact with the people around them, or each other. This should have helped them in the end, but it’s really what did them in.

Ford can tell a tale and his sense of place is strong here. I enjoyed his style of writing so much, that I will be sure to seek out his other books. Have you read any of his books?

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Sputnik Sweetheart

Sputnik Sweetheart

Sputnik Sweetheart
By Haruki Murakami
(Vintage Books, Paperback, 9780099448471, 2006, 224pp.)

The Short of It:

In true Murakami fashion, all of the elements are here. A love triangle, a mysterious protagonist known only as K, a beautiful setting and buckets of ennui.

The Rest of It:

It’s no secret how much I love Murakami but this book seemed the most balanced to me. The characters are strange and deep, in the way they usually are but not overly so and the conflict presented, happens to be something any reader can relate to.

Sumire, is this deep, untouchable writer-type who has the talent to write, but can’t seem to effectively gather her thoughts into anything more than just a few words on a page. She’s frustrated and shares her angst with her male friend, known only as K. He sees her potential but at the same time is blinded by his passion for her. Sumire is not interested in K as a lover. Instead, she meets an older woman by the name of Miu, and falls in love with her. Miu shares a very special friendship with Sumire, but does not want to be her lover. This rejection, throws Sumire into a deep well of despair and when Sumire goes missing while vacationing with Miu in Greece, Miu calls K to help find her.

So. Much. Angst. Oh, how I love angst!

These characters are torn between love and passion. They love each other and have passion for one another but the feeling is not mutual. As hard as this is for K, his concern over Sumire outweighs his frustration over the situation. He drops everything to find Sumire and in the process, realizes that some alternate universe exists and that the world as he knows it, will never be the same.

The beauty of this book is the writing itself. It’s delicate. Like taking tiny, measured tastes of a delicious pastry. So many people ask me which Murakami to read first. I am always torn because it really depends on your mood at the time, your tolerance for ennui and angst, etc. But this one would be great for anyone wanting to give Murakami a try. His books can be sexually explicit, but this was tame in comparison and the tone, mild.

Out of all of his books, this is one of my faves. I read this with a couple of other readers for #readingsputnik and it was just what I needed to jolt me out of the reading rut I was in.

Source: Purchased
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Cartwheel

Cartwheel

Cartwheel
By Jennifer du Bois
(Random House, Hardcover, 9780812995862, September 2013, 384pp.)

The Short of It:

One of those stories that is ripped right out the headlines, and yet you still find yourself eagerly turning pages even though the story is not new to you.

The Rest of It:

There has been a lot of praise for Cartwheel and after finishing the book, I can certainly see why.

Largely inspired by the Amanda Knox trial, Cartwheel follows the events leading up to the murder of Katy Kellers, a young American living with a host family in Buenos Aires. Her American roommate, Lily Hayes is accused of the crime. With no alibi to speak of, and what the crime investigator sees as questionable behavior in the form of a cartwheel, perfectly executed by Lily in the interrogation room, Lily is looking quite guilty even by those who know her.

Lily Hayes makes a very interesting character study. She is slightly off kilter in her thinking and no matter how dire her situation seems to be, she fails to see the severity of the situation. You cannot believe anything that she says and because of that, it’s impossible to know what is going on in her head. As she sits in prison, awaiting her trial, she appears to be a victim, but is she? When her parents and sister fly out to see her, what they see is what she WANTS them to see. A victim. A disheveled, dirty, largely misunderstood victim. But what about that cartwheel? A cartwheel? In the middle of an interrogation? With absolutely no regard to how that might look to anyone watching?

As a reader, we learn a lot about Lily, but I have to say that I never felt as if I really knew her. She’s as complex as she is frustrating. The investigation, headed-up by the lead prosecutor in the case, Eduardo Campos, is not always on the up-and-up either. He’s pretty sure that what he has in front of him is cut and dry, and yet… he continues to wonder about her motive. I enjoyed his take on what was going on, but by the end, I have to admit that I was still a bit confused over whether or not she was guilty of the crime. I think I know, but I can’t be sure.

Cartwheel is a page-turner. No lie. But what I didn’t expect is just how similar this fictional tale is to what really happened with Amanda Knox. Lily employs the use of a cartwheel, whereas Amanda Knox did yoga. There is a bar owner in both Knox’s case as well as Lily’s and the whole thing with finding DNA on the bra clasp appears in both stories. I think as a fictional work, DuBois could have taken us somewhere else with all of that, but I can’t say that knowing the real-life facts took anything away from the story.

Overall, it was a gripping read but not because there is a lot going on. More so, because as you read, you can’t help but review the facts and come to your own conclusion on what happened or could have happened. For that reason, you pay attention to every word on the page. It’s a book that I could easily fall back into even after reading other books in between. That’s saying quite a bit given my attention span at the time I read it.

In a nutshell, it’s a keeper.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: The Interestings

The Interestings

The Interestings
By Meg Wolitzer
(Riverhead Hardcover, Hardcover, 9781594488399, April 2013, 480pp.)

The Short of It:

Good friends and a healthy dose of nostalgia. So many of life’s ills can be cured with that combination.

The Rest of It:

Goodness, what is there to say? I read this so long ago. Long before my blogging break and yet, it still remains in my heart in some small way. It’s about a group of kids who meet at an art’s camp over the summer. They name themselves “The Interestings” because they all have the hope of becoming something unique once they hit their adult years. Some have money and talent and others, not so much, but what they have in common is a sincere understanding of one another. Wolitzer follows them into adulthood and the end result is a fascinating look at relationships and how they weather the test of time.

I adored this book. Simply adored it. I listened to part of it on audio and it was fantastic but I also read some of it in print and it was wonderful as well. The story is told by Jules Jacobson as she meets and befriends this group of kids. She’s got the right amount of confidence and awkwardness. Just enough to make her likable and her ability to take in a situation and react accordingly is admirable. She’s level-headed, bright, but not perfect. In fact, none of these kids are perfect. Their outer shells sometimes make them appear that way, but inside, they are all vulnerable which is what makes this group of kids especially readable.

But don’t think that this is a young adult novel, because it’s not. They enter adulthood rather quickly and as with most things, their shine dulls a bit until they find steady ground. The aftermath of a rape, is what propels them quickly into adulthood and the way that they handle the event and the loyalty to one particular character is what eventually divides them. But their journey is somehow interesting even though much of it is somewhat mundane. College, career, marriage, children. The rut of adulthood is also the impetus to propel them forward.

Some readers have said that they found the book to go on a little too long. It’s chunky and goes along at a steady pace, but I didn’t find it to be long at all. In fact, I found myself not wanting it to end. I had grown close to these characters and through the course of reading the book, I felt as if I knew them and that they could easily be people I know now. There was a familiarity that was comforting. You know that movie The Big Chill? It was sort of like watching that movie. A circle of friends, made tighter by tragedy. The easy interactions, the “what if” questions, the effect that passing years has on a person or marriage. Everyone has that one friend that they think of no matter how many years go by, and so I think many readers can relate to what happens in this story.

Reading this book is like visiting with old friends and I loved it for that reason. I loved it for all the memories that it brought back to me from my own teen years and the fact that it was well written certainly didn’t hurt.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher via Library Thing
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Night Film

Night Film

Night Film
By Marisha Pessl
(Random House, Hardcover, 9781400067886, August 20, 2013. 624pp.)

The Short of It:

A completely absorbing literary thriller that’s both smart and alluring.

The Rest of It:

Ashley Cordova is found dead in an abandoned building on a cold October night. Her death is ruled a suicide but investigative journalist Scott McGrath thinks otherwise. As the daughter of Stanislas Cordova, known for his horror films and his reclusive nature, Ashley’s mysterious death sparks the interest of many, including all of the fans who call themselves Cordovites. As Scott assembles a team to assist him in the investigation, his love of Cordova’s work and his obsession over the director himself, puts him front and center. Danger lurks everywhere and as they dig deeper into a life that has basically been in hiding for more than twenty years, the answers they find surprise them.

This novel will most likely be my favorite book of the year. I felt it within the first fifty pages and after 600+ pages, the feeling stuck This is the type of novel that makes reading an experience. I can’t deny  it, I totally ignored my family while reading this one. The kids and Hub were left to forage for food, laundry piled up and the Otter Pup tried to sit on my head to get my attention. It’s hard to say if everyone will have this same reaction. I’ve seen a few reviews and some were less enthused by it, but there was much to love.

I’ll point out just a few of the things that made this a five-star read for me:

  • Top-notch writing
  • Engaging, likable characters
  • The puzzle aspect of the story
  • It’s all dark and drizzly and the cult-horror thing worked for me
  • The inclusion of web pages, articles and the like to move the story along
  • The fact that the films within the story were all made-up yet seemed fully fleshed out
  • The back story of all the key players
  • Pessl’s ability to toss red herrings in over and over again and somehow not lose the reader along the way
  • Reading it felt absolutely forbidden which made it all the more appealing

In the midst of all this darkness, there is humor. McGrath’s self-deprecating nature made for some humorous moments and his love of the genre shines through, which makes his quest to find the truth even more plausible. it could have been edited down a bit but I didn’t mind since I ended up stretching it out for as long as I could anyway. In fact, I didn’t want it to end. As soon as I finished, I immediately had to talk about it with others who read it and that conversation even included possible casting choices for the movie, because I know it will be made into a film. Actually, I did see a listing for it on IMDb but I am not seeing it as of this writing.

That said, this entire review is based on how it made me feel while reading it. it sent shivers up my spine and there were times where I gasped out loud. It’s the type of book that will make you fall in love with reading all over again. I will say this, the inclusion of photos and news articles makes this book one that you want to read in print. Turning the page and seeing an obituary is quite startling. I don’t think you’d have the same reaction if someone just read it to you (audio) and I am not sure how those pages would translate in e-book form.

If you pick it up, let me know. I’d be interested in your thoughts.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher via Library Thing
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Heading Out to Wonderful

Heading Out to Wonderful
Heading Out to Wonderful
By Robert Goolrick
(Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, Paperback, 9781616202798, January 2013, 313pp.)

The Short of It:

Complex, well-developed characters and the lure of small town life make Heading Out to Wonderful an entertaining read.

The Rest of It:

The story takes place in Brownsburg, Virginia just after World War II. Brownsburg is a small town, population 538. The kind of simple, southern town you’ve come to know from movies and books. Everyone knows everyone so when a stranger by the name of Charlie Beale arrives, people can’t help but notice. In one hand, he carries a suitcase full of knives and in the other, a whole lot of money. After getting a job at the local butcher, he ends up befriending the butcher’s young, five-year-old son, Sam. The two become inseparable. For a while, it looks as if Charlie has found a place to call home.

Boaty Glass, the richest man in Brownsburg buys himself a young farm girl to become his wife. Sylvan is young and beautiful but not as dumb as Boaty thinks. After securing her place firmly within his home, she transforms herself into a shiny, sparkly thing, surrounded by the best that life has to offer which includes a custom wardrobe made by a woman in town. Impressed with the Hollywood starlets she sees at the movie house, she begins to model herself after them. Wanting nothing but fame and fortune, she begins to resent her time with Boaty and Boaty has taken to putting her in her place, both verbally and physically.

When Charlie Beale sees Sylvan for the first time, he sees a beautiful girl, trapped in a marriage she does not want. The need to save her becomes an obsession and when the two begin to meet regularly, you quickly realize that no good can come of it.

I’m not sure how well-received this book was when it first came out. Following the wickedly good, A Reliable Wife, I am guessing it did pretty well. But for some reason this one slipped past my radar until just recently. I am so glad I finally picked it up.

This book has a little bit of everything. There’s the love triangle of course which makes for some juicy reading, but the small town feel of it and the friendship between Beale and the boy seemed especially tender. There was a sweetness to all the nastiness and Sylvan Glass was such an interesting woman creature. As wicked as she was, I felt as if I understood where she was coming from, which always surprises me. I don’t consider myself a vindictive, conniving human being but I must have a dark streak somewhere because I eat this stuff up.

I enjoyed Heading Out to Wonderful very much.  It’s the type of book that makes you question motive and with characters like Sylvan and Boaty, you could spend hours trying to figure them out. Plus, the writing has that atmospheric quality that always pulls me in. Goolrick’s take on small town life really puts you right in the center of town. It’s quite impressive how quickly I was pulled into the story. If I were to compare his two books, I’d say this one is the tamer of the two, but certainly no less complex than the other.

If you haven’t given his books a try, do so!

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: The Slippage

The Slippage

The Slippage
By Ben Greenman
(Harper Perennial, Paperback, 9780061990519, April 2013, 288pp.)

The Short of It:

A fractured, splintered view of a marriage in decline.

The Rest of It:

When I first saw the title of this book I was immediately reminded of  California earthquake faults and how they slip and slide every ten years to give us a good jolt of reality. Oddly enough, that’s kinda what this book is about. Marriage, on the brink of disaster and how the fissures eventually become full-on cracks if you let them run their course.

William and Louisa Day live in suburban bliss. Nice house, great neighborhood, interesting neighbors. One afternoon, while hosting one of his famous parties, William realizes that Louisa hasn’t come out to greet their guests. After trying to juggle his meet and greet duties along with cooking the food they are about to eat he goes in search of Louisa and finds her locked in their junk room. Forced to talk to her through the door, she seems okay but refuses to come out and only comes out after her drunk brother shows up and causes quite the scene.

Shortly after the party, Louisa tells William that she’s bought a plot of land and wants him to build her a new house. This innocent and somewhat far-fetched request triggers introspection but when an old flame of William’s moves into their neighborhood and rekindles what they started long ago, William’s not really sure what he wants.

The book opens with the party scene and within just a few pages, I was hooked. William is one of those funny, sarcastic guys that people don’t really pay attention to. His humor, if you can call it that, inserts itself innocently but the people on the other side of it rarely pick-up on his sarcasm. As he plods through life, you willingly follow along because although he’s a cheater and seems clueless about what his wife wants, he’s somehow more human than say the “suits” that he has to deal with at work or the guy next door or down the street.

As much as I love stories like this one, I had some trouble with Louisa. In one sense, she appears to be the voice of reason but her odd behavior, hiding behind closed doors and hoarding junk mail made me wonder if she was a little off. The other thing that bothered me is that William and Louisa hardly interact at all. Their interactions are short and abbreviated and her comments about anything had a throwaway quality to them. As if she was saying them just to say something. Perhaps, that is what a marriage in decline is like, but there was no heat… no tension. I expected there to be lots of it given the fact that their marriage was on the line. To me, they were looking at each other through a broken mirror. Their images greatly exaggerated and skewed.

After finishing the book, I concluded that all the women in the book seemed a little off. I couldn’t relate to any of them and found myself relating more to William which surprised me. As negative as that may sound, I still enjoyed the book quite a bit. Greenman’s take on suburbia was spot on. That party scene alone won me over and the wry humor made what could have been a very depressing novel, somewhat comical.

It’s not perfect, but what marriage is? If you’re like me and want to read something a little different this summer, give this one a try. It will give you a lot to think about.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher via Edelweiss
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

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