Review & Tour: Casebook

Casebook
Casebook
By Mona Simpson
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9780385351416, April 15, 2014, 336pp.)

The Short of It:

A little bit of mystery and a lovable protagonist add a special something to an otherwise familiar story.

The Rest of It:

After his parents split, Miles Adler spends his days eavesdropping on his mathematician mother, Irene. Although his father visits frequently and Irene is still good friends with him, Miles fears that she’s lonely and a little depressed. When she meets Eli Lee, Miles sees a different side to his mom, a happy side. Her laughter and the easy breezy way she has about her when Eli is around, makes the days that much easier. But when Miles begins to suspect that Eli is too good to be true, he employs the help of his best friend Hector, to find out the truth.

The setting of this novel is both Santa Monica and Pasadena, Ca. Two places very local to me and for that reason alone, I decided to accept this novel for review. It’s fun to read a book and discover that yes, that is exactly how those neighborhoods are and that was absolutely the case here. I love when I can relate to a character through setting.

The setting wasn’t the only thing that caught my eye. I loved the characters, too. Miles, when we first meet him, is an awkward teen. He’s not a ladies man but is okay with it. He hangs out with his best friend Hector, and they spend their days cooking up business deals to make a few bucks. Selling snacks at lunch or providing re-location services for problem pets, Miles and Hector seem to do alright. When Miles begins to suspect that Eli is not being truthful with his mother, Miles and Hector tap her phone and look into Eli’s personal life to get a feel for the kind of guy he is. This is difficult for a couple of reasons, one…that Miles has grown to like Eli, and two…that his mom is so happy around him. Does he really want to know the truth?

I loved this book and was so sorry to see the story end.

Miles is such a sweet kid. Hector, too. I loved their friendship. It really reminded me of my teen years. How all you wanted to do all summer long was hang with your best friend. I spent many summers at my friend’s house, on her floor, gazing at the ceiling or out the window. It was okay to just BE and that’s how it is with Miles and Hector. The added mystery of Eli and who he really is just adds to the story.

As a mystery, it’s pretty tame. But as a coming-of-age story about friendship and family, it hit the ball out of the park. It just hit me in all the right places. It was sweet, funny and reminded me that there is goodness in the world. I highly recommend it.

 

Mona Simpson

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Source: Review copy provided by the publisher via TLC Book Tours.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Dept. of Speculation

Dept of Speculation

Dept. of Speculation
By Jenny Offill
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9780385350815, January 2014, 192pp.)

The Short of It:

Dept. of Speculation is a glittery, moving entity that grabs the reader quickly with its sharp and lovely prose.

The Rest of It:

This novel is quite different from anything I’ve read before. Reading it, was like gazing into a prism. It dazzled me with its simplicity and had me rereading passages every time I turned a page.

The story is told by the Narrator, who later becomes The Wife. She marries, has a child and then when the marriage begins to fall apart, she quietly observes the destruction almost as if she is a stranger on the outside, looking in. Infidelity plays a large role, as does the exhaustion that comes with raising a child. But in the midst of the not-so-good, is the good. The smell of her baby’s head, the way her husband used to look at her, the fact that they’ve come this far, even with all of the angst. There is something to be said for working through your problems, and that is what The Wife does, in her own head, as she carefully weighs what’s important to her.

Before getting married, we possess a sense of self. We know who we are and most often, what we hope to be. But once married, that plan or that sense of self often doesn’t pan out or changes into something else. That is the case here. With marriage, comes experience and life lessons and when we have children, we learn from that experience as well and it changes us. It would be impossible for it not to.

This book captures that moment of when Me, becomes We and then back again. Don’t let the book’s length fool you either. It’s short but packed with meaning. There’s plenty to reflect on here and although it certainly deals with the struggle that lots of married couples experience, it’s hopeful and tinged with the promise of something better.

Dept. of Speculation is a lovely read. I highly recommend it. Oh, and if you don’t read it, I may have to stop talking to you. I just threw that in to see who’s paying attention.

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

Review: The Realm of Last Chances

The Realm of Last Chances

The Realm of Last Chances
By Steve Yarbrough
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9780385349505, August 2013, 288pp.)

The Short of It:

An unraveling marriage, an illicit affair with a younger man and an online book club is what prompted me to read this one.

The Rest of It:

Earlier this month, Gayle hosted a book club for The Realm of Last Chances and seeing that it had all the finer points of what I look for in a novel (a crumbling marriage, dysfunction, dishonesty and secrets) I jumped on board.

Kristen, a fifty-something, loses her high paid administrative job at a California university. She, along with her husband Cal, move to Boston so she can accept a position at one of the smaller colleges in town. Still recovering from the shock of losing her job, they are both forced to make a new life for themselves, where neighbors seem to know your every move. But the move itself is a last chance of sorts. Their marriage has hit a dead-end. Communication is at an all time low. When Kristen takes up with a younger man, the situation is further complicated.

This was an interesting read and made for a good discussion, but it wasn’t a fave of mine. I think the most interesting aspect of this novel is that Yarbrough catches these people at the worst point of their lives. They are tired of having to hold it together. This is most evident in Cal’s actions. He’s the brooding type whereas Kristen is sort of cold fish. She’s more calculated and because of that, I liked her the least.

My main problem with this novel is that I just didn’t buy Kristen’s affair with Matt. He seems consumed by Kristen but between you and me, she wasn’t all that. She was so closed off that I had a hard time believing anyone could love her, much less a younger guy. Sure, a lot can be said for a physical attraction but I didn’t see much of that either. Had Yarbrough gone a bit deeper with Kristen’s character, everything might have been a little more believable.

However, Yarbrough’s take of a marriage on the rocks is pretty accurate. The distance between each other while lying in bed, the long silences and the quiet observation all add to the tension between Kristen and Cal. As a reader, you know something is about to happen but you aren’t quite sure what, and that is what kept me reading.

Overall, some gorgeous passages that stuck with me but I needed a little more character development for me to really get into the story.

If you want to read what the others thought, check out this post.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher for an online book club.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Mr. Lynch’s Holiday

Mr. Lynch's Holiday

Mr. Lynch’s Holiday
By Catherine O’Flynn
(Henry Holt and Co., Hardcover, 9780805091816, October 2013, 272pp.)

The Short of It:

Things don’t always happen as planned. Sometimes, you need to be rescued.

The Rest of It:

After his wife’s death, Dermot Lynch leaves his home in England to visit his estranged son, Eamonn, who’s made a new life for himself in Spain. When Dermot arrives unannounced, what he finds is that Lomaverde is not the ideal neighborhood that Eamonn had described. Its dilapidated appearance, its empty pools and the feral cats are just a few of the tip-offs that things are not going well for Eamonn.

Also hard to ignore, is the fact that Eamonn’s wife Laura,  is nowhere to be found. Shortly before Dermot’s arrival, Laura left him and returned to England. This is not something he wants to discuss with his father, or anyone really, so he tells Dermot that she’s taken a trip. With his father standing before him, Eamonn is forced to play host, when all he wants to do is crawl into bed and sleep the day away.

This is one of those great, sleeper reads that you come across every now and then. The book came and went without any fanfare and that’s a shame, because it’s really very good. There is a closeness between Eamonn and his father, but it’s not one that is easily seen on the surface. Dermot, is basically a happy guy. He’s at peace with who he is and what he’s done whereas Eamonn is not satisfied with life. His decision to leave a good life, for a better life, blew up in his face and he’s not able to admit it. With the economy the way it is, he can’t sell, so he’s reminded daily of what a failure he is.

What Dermot does, is what any caring father would do. He picks Eamonn up, brushes him off and gets him on his feet, even if that means going to the crazy neighbor’s house for dinner or walking around the compound that has become his prison. It’s all too exhausting for Eamonn but at the same time, he seems to realize that something has to give and that he can’t go on living this way forever. Through these daily interactions, Eamonn begins to realize that perhaps, all is not lost.

Mr. Lynch’s Holiday is a quiet, feel-good book. It’s about appreciating what you have, when you have it and finding happiness in the simple things. It’s a lovely story that is both well-written and entertaining. I really enjoyed it and can’t wait to read her other books.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher via Library Thing.
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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