Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Love in Mid Air by Kim Wright

Book description:
A chance encounter with a stranger on an airplane sends Elyse Bearden into an emotional tailspin. Suddenly Elyse is willing to risk everything: her safe but stale marriage, her seemingly perfect life in an affluent Southern suburb, and her position in the community. She finds herself cutting through all the instincts that say "no" and instead lets "yes" happen. As Elyse embarks on a risky affair, her longtime friend Kelly and the other women in their book club begin to question their own decisions about love, sex, marriage, and freedom.

Though the underlying plot of a woman assessing her unhappy marriage is a common one, I found this treatment of it very unusual and original. I was delighted that the book focussed on a woman making decisions about her marriage rather than finding herself left behind for a younger woman. I mean, I'm married and so obviously frown upon the idea of adultery, but the thought of living in a marriage like Elyse's where your partner doesn't really see you or hear anything you say, and is content to be content (even knowing that you are not) is so crushing that I could understand why Elyse grasped at a relationship where she could at least feel a passionate connection to another person. I was also surprised that in a book about so many women, I couldn't really find a character that I thought I would like in real life, and yet still I enjoyed the book so much.

One thing I really enjoyed was Wright's use of old movies in the novel. Most of my friends also love watching old black and white movies for the romance of them, whereas most of our husbands love watching new action movies with lots of special effects. I found those scenes involving the movies very true to life.

This is one of those books I will recommend to my friends even though it is rather bleak in its look at relationships because I think it expresses some of the fear that so many of us have about where our marriages may end up. I didn't think the book itself was bleak, just the view of relationships as not one of the characters was truly happy. Of course, maybe none of us is ever really truly happy- maybe we just read too many books where it all ends happily ever after. I also thought the question of religion quite sensitively and accurately handled, a nice change from so many books I've read in the last couple of years.

Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton

Book description:
When five young mothers– Frankie, Linda, Kath, Ally, and Brett– first meet in a neighborhood park in the late 1960s, their conversations center on marriage, raising children, and a shared love of books. Then one evening, as they gather to watch the Miss America Pageant, Linda admits that she aspires to write a novel herself, and the Wednesday Sisters Writing Society is born. The five women slowly, and often reluctantly, start filling journals, sliding pages into typewriters, and sharing their work. In the process, they explore the changing world around them: the Vietnam War, the race to the moon, and a women’s movement that challenges everything they believe about themselves. At the same time, the friends carry one another through more personal changes–ones brought about by infidelity, longing, illness, failure, and success. With one another’s support and encouragement, the Wednesday Sisters begin to embrace who they are and what they hope to become, welcoming readers to experience, along with them, the power of dreaming big.

This appealing book centers around a group of young women who become friends in the beginning of the tumultuous civil rights era. The California setting allows the author to explore a variety of issues but in the end I think there was just too much going on in this novel. I was impressed by how the author presented the mindset of these women- I thought it was a great mix of personalities and a realistic picture of a group of women just coming to grips with feminism. I liked these women, and the way they bonded over writing, but I felt like there were no real surprises and I never found myself making an emotional connection to any of them. In the end, this was an enjoyable read, but it felt rather undercooked.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Waking Up in the Land of Glitter by Kathy Cano-Murillo

Book description:
One ill-fated evening, Star jeopardizes her family's business, her relationship with her boyfriend, and her future career. To redeem herself, she agrees to participate in a national craft competition, teaming up with her best friend, Ofelia-a secretly troubled mother whose love for crafting borders on obsession-and local celebrity Chloe Chavez-a determined television personality with more than one skeleton in her professional closet. If these unlikely allies can set aside their differences, they'll find strength they never knew they had, and learn that friendship, like crafting, is truly an art form.

I was pleasantly surprised by this light offering, which started out a little to frothy for my taste, but then developed into a truly interesting story. I was initially interested because I love crafts, and found the idea of a craft-related novel appealing. The characters as initially introduced are typical quirky chick-lit characters whose problems are entirely of their own making. Fortunately, as the novel progresses, these women become more like characters and less like caricatures, and I found myself truly invested in their adventures. They each achieve some believeable personal growth, and I was definitely rooting for them as the big craft competition approached. This would be a great book club offering, or a wonderful spring break beach read.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

And Then Came the Evening by Brian Hart

Book description:
Bandy Dorner, home from Vietnam, awakes with his car mired in a canal, his cabin reduced to ashes, and his pregnant wife preparing to leave town with her lover. Within moments, a cop lies bleeding on the road.

Eighteen years later, Bandy is released from prison. His parents are gone, but on the derelict family ranch, Bandy faces a different reunion. Tracy, his now teenaged son, has come to claim the father he’s never known. Iona, Bandy’s ex-wife, has returned on the heels of her son. All three are damaged, hardened, haunted. But warily, desperately, they move in a slow dance around each other, trying to piece back together a family that never was; trying to discover if they belong together at all.

This dark family drama is a riveting read I found hard to put down. The bleak landscape, so well-drawn, provides the perfect backdrop for the story of Bandy, Tracy, and Iona. Reading this book, I couldn't help but reflect on how if put me in mind of No Country for Old Men- it has that same deftly rendered cinematic feel to the background. I was surprised by how invested I felt in these characters, whose lives are far outside my realm of experience. I was sorry when the book ended, because despite that lack of personal connection, I was drawn into the world Hart created. I certainly hope to read more by this talented author in the future.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

For All the Tea in China by Sarah Rose

Flap copy from ARC:

In 1848, the British East India Company, having lost its monopoly on the tea trade, engaged Robert Fortune, a Scottish gardener, botanist, and plant hunter, to make a clandestine trip into the interior of China-territory forbidden to foreigners-to steal the closely guarded secrets of tea horticulture and manufacturing. For All the Tea in China is the remarkable account of Fortune's journeys into China-a thrilling narrative that combines history, geography, botany, natural science, and old-fashioned adventure.

Disguised in Mandarin robes, Fortune ventured deep into the country, confronting pirates, hostile climate, and his own untrustworthy men as he made his way to the epicenter of tea production, the remote Wu Yi Shan hills. One of the most daring acts of corporate espionage in history, Fortune's pursuit of China's ancient secret makes for a classic nineteenth-century adventure tale, one in which the fate of empires hinges on the feats of one extraordinary man.

This could have been a fascinating book about one of the most economically impactful thefts of intellectual property in history, but unfortunately. it was a little too light on details and data to be completely successful. Though I enjoyed reading this book, it left me wanting more- more information, more details, more history. As the book itself was fairly short, it could have included more of that missing information to make for a more satisfying read. I expected the details of Fortune's actual adventures in China to dominate the book, and was disappointed that they didn't make up a larger portion of the narrative.

The California Roll by John Vorhaus

Book description:
Meet Radar Hoverlander, a witty, gifted con artist with the mind of David Mamet, the voice of Tom Robbins, and the morals of a sailor on shore leave.

What do the Merlin Game, the Penny Skim, the Doolally Snadoodle, and the Afterparty Snuke have in common? They’re all the work of world-class con artist and master bafflegabber Radar Hoverlander. Radar’s been “on the snuke” since childhood, but he’s still looking for his California Roll, the one big scam that’ll set him up in sushi for life.

Trouble arrives in the stunning, sassy package of Allie Quinn—either the last true innocent or a con artist so slick she makes Radar look like a Quaker. Radar’s hapless sidekick, Vic Mirplo, a lovable loser who couldn’t con a kid out of a candy cane, thinks Radar’s being played. But if love is blind, it’s also deaf, dumb and stupid, and before Radar knows it, he’s sucked into a vortex of double-, triple-, quadruple-crosses that’ll either net him his precious California Roll or put him in a hole in the ground.

This book was a fast moving, slick romp though the mysterious underworld of grifters and con men. The prose was colorful and convoluted, much like the patter of a street hustler running a game of three card monte- give the subject matter, completely appropriate! I found the book a little hard to get into at first, but gradually got the hang of Radar's speech and thoughts, and found myself just letting go to enjoy the ride. As the novel built to a complicated climax involving double cross on top of double cross, I found myself unable to put the book down. Well written and engaging, this book was a fast and enjoyable read.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Bride Collector by Ted Dekker

Flap copy from ARC:
"FBI Special Agent Brad Raines is facing his most complex case yet. A Denver serial killer has murdered a string of young women, leaving a bridal veil at each scene, and he's picking up his pace. Unable to crack the case, Raines appeals for help to a most unusual source: residents of the Center for Well-being and Intelligence, a private psychiatric institution for mentally ill people who are extraordinarily gifted.

It's there that he meets Paradise, a young woman who witnessed her father murder her family and barely escaped his hand. Diagnosed with schizophrenia, Paradise may also have an extra-sensory gift: the ability to experience the final moments of a person's life when she touches the dead body.

In a desperate attempt to find the killer, Raines enlists Paradise's help. Gradually he starts to question whether sanity resides outside the hospital walls...or inside."

This is the first Dekker book I've read, and I'm not sure I'll pick up another. Though the plot has lots of wonderful elements, they never really gel into a thriller in this book- I get more chills from an episode of Criminal Minds. Though Raines was an interesting and well-drawn character, I never really warmed to Paradise or bought into their interactions. The other patients at the hospital are interesting, more interesting than the spiritual questions they raise for Raines, but do seem to have been added almost as comic relief.

In the end, this book has too much religion and not enough suspense to truly hold my interest. The book was well-written, and there were certainly elements of each character that I enjoyed, but in the end it just didn't pull me in the way I need a thriller to- I was easily able to put down this book which is never a good sign.