Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Miles From Ordinary by Carol Lynch Williams

Book Description:
Thirteen-year-old Lacey wakes to a beautiful summer morning excited to begin her new job at the library, just as her mother is supposed to start work at the grocery store. Lacey hopes that her mother's ghosts have finally been laid to rest; after all, she seems so much better these days, and they really do need the money. But as the hours tick by and memories come flooding back, a day full of hope spins terrifyingly out of control...

I chose this book because I read Carol Lynch Williams' The Chosen One a couple of years ago and thought it was wonderful. If anything, Miles from Ordinary surpasses that earlier work with its tender and haunting look at one daughter's effort to care for a mother spiralling into madness. 13 year old Lacey has simple desires for her summer- jobs for her and her mother, and the chance to make a friend. The book traces one day in Lacey's life, one day that starts out hopeful only to fall apart in every way when her mother goes missing. William's has a unique ability to convey the pain of adolescence and Lacey is a powerful character who is much harder on herself than any reader will ever be. Highly recommended for both YA and older readers.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

Book description:
In the small village of Edgecombe St. Mary in the English countryside lives Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired), the unlikely hero of Helen Simonson’s wondrous debut. Wry, courtly, opinionated, and completely endearing, the Major leads a quiet life valuing the proper things that Englishmen have lived by for generations: honor, duty, decorum, and a properly brewed cup of tea. But then his brother’s death sparks an unexpected friendship with Mrs. Jasmina Ali, the Pakistani shopkeeper from the village.

Drawn together by their shared love of literature and the loss of their spouses, the Major and Mrs. Ali soon find their friendship blossoming into something more. But village society insists on embracing him as the quintessential local and regarding her as the permanent foreigner. Can their relationship survive the risks one takes when pursuing happiness in the face of culture and tradition?

This book has been on my wishlist for months, and I finally got a paperback copy as a Christmas gift, and then of course I was reluctant to start the book because I was afraid it woudn't live up to the build-up. Thankfully, my fears were unfounded as this gem of a book more than lived up to the hype.

This beautiful story about finding love a second time around amid the complications of grown children, family businesses, and busybody neighbors also explores themes of racism, greed, loss and redemption. The characters are wonderfully drawn and the writing is flawless. Once I started reading, I simply couldn't put it down, and when the book ended, I was sorry to no longer be a part of that world. 5 stars for this wonderful book!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Girl in the Green Raincoat by Laura Lippman

Book description:
In the third trimester of her pregnancy, Baltimore private investigator Tess Monaghan is under doctor's orders to remain immobile. Bored and restless, reduced to watching the world go by outside her window, she takes small comfort in the mundane events she observes . . . like the young woman in a green raincoat who walks her dog at the same time every day.

Then one day the dog is running free and its owner is nowhere to be seen. Certain that something is terribly wrong, and incapable of leaving well enough alone, Tess is determined to get to the bottom of the dog walker's abrupt disappearance, even if she must do so from her own bedroom. But her inquisitiveness is about to fling open a dangerous Pandora's box of past crimes and troubling deaths . . . and she's not only putting her own life in jeopardy but also her unborn child's.

This light mystery novella is a far cry from Lippman's wonderful What the Dead Know which is truly unfortunate. Though the parallels with Rear Window are immediately obvious, this book had none of the suspense or thrill of the original. The plot could easily have been worked into a full length novel which would have given Lippman a chance to flesh out these characters enough to pull in the reader; as it was, I couldn't share Tess' obsession with the missing woman nor understand how or why Lloyd and May fit into things. The book was just too short in my opinion to pull me in; I finished it in just under two hours with no sense of satisfaction. 3 stars because the writing as always was good, there just wasn't enough of it.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Helen of Pasadena by Lian Dolan

Book description:
Helen Fairchild is leading a privileged Pasadena existence: married to a pillar of the community; raising a water polo-playing son destined for the most select high school; volunteering her time on the most fashionable committees. It only bothers Helen a tiny bit the she has never quite fit in with the proper Pasadena crowd, never finished that graduate degree in Classics, and never had that second baby. But the rigid rules of society in Pasadena appeal to Helen, the daughter of Oregon "fiber artists," even if she'll never be on the inside. And then along comes a Rose Parade float, killing her philandering husband and leaving Helen broke, out of her "forever' house and scrambling to salvage her once-rarefied existence.

Enter Dr. Patrick O'Neill, noted archaeologist, excavator of Troy and wearer of nubby sweaters. A job as Dr. O'Neill's research assistant is the lifeline Helen needs to reinvent herself, both personally and professionally. Ancient mysteries to solve! Charity events to plan! School admissions advisors to charm! If Helen wasn't so distracted by her incredibly attractive boss, she might be able to pull off this new life.

Helen's world widens to include a Hollywood star, a local gossip columnist, an old college nemesis, a high-powered Neutron Mom, an unforgiving school headmistress , the best Armenian real state agent in the biz, and, of course, the intriguing Patrick O'Neill. While uncovering secrets about ancient Troy alongside her archaeologist boss, Helen discovers something much more: a new sense of self and a new love.

When Helen's husband is killed in a run-in with a parade float, she faces a new reality as a single mother forced to sell her home and look for a job, all the while trying to cope with the loss of everything she thought she knew about her life and her marriage.

Though the plot sounds like a standard chicklit offering, this book manages to steer a course as straight fiction. Helen is a wonderful character- well written and easy to relate to as a reader. She manages her situation as best she can and her evolving feelings seem to be reasonable developments rather than just plot points to move the story forward. The relationships in the book between friends and family are well drawn; for example, what appear to be stereotypical relationships between Helen and her in-laws actually unfold in unexpected and delightful ways. The romatic relationship was the weakest in the book in my opinion- hence the 4.5 stars rather than 5.

All in all a great read likely to appeal to a wide range of readers because of the quality of the prose. A great book to fill a few winter afternoons.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Fates Will Find Their Way by Hannah Pittard

Book description:
Sixteen-year-old Nora Lindell is missing. And the neighborhood boys she's left behind are caught forever in the heady current of her absence.

As the days and years pile up, the mystery of her disappearance grows kaleidoscopically. A collection of rumors, divergent suspicions, and tantalizing what-ifs, Nora Lindell's story is a shadowy projection of teenage lust, friendship, reverence, and regret, captured magically in the disembodied plural voice of the boys who still long for her.

Hannah Pittard's novel tracks the emotional progress of the sister Nora left behind, the other families in their leafy suburban enclave, and the individual fates of the boys in her thrall. Far more eager to imagine Nora's fate than to scrutinize their own, the boys sleepwalk into an adulthood of jobs, marriages, families, homes, and daughters of their own, all the while pining for a girl–and a life–that no longer exists, except in the imagination.

The central figure in this book, 16 year old Nora Liddell, never actually appears other than in the memories and speculations of the boys who were her friends. As they grow up and marry and have children of their own, they are always haunted by the memory of perfect Nora- she looms large over their psyches despite her long absence. As they debate whether or not she ran away or was abducted, whether she hopped a plane to AZ or was buried in a shallow grave it the woods, some part of them is always stuck in childhood in that focus on Nora and her family.

This is a wonderfully written book- truly original and an excellent read. Though at the beginning, I kept hoping to get some clarity on what actually happened to Nora, by the end it was clear that knowledge was unnecessary. Though Nora and her sister are in many ways the central chracters in this drama, it is the reactions of the boys around them that are the focus of this engaging novel. Highly recommended!