Monday, April 16, 2012

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker

Book description:
When a successful New York lawyer suddenly disappears without a trace, neither his wife nor his daughter Julia has any idea where he might be…until they find a love letter he wrote many years ago, to a Burmese woman they have never heard of. Intent on solving the mystery and coming to terms with her father’s past, Julia decides to travel to the village where the woman lived. There she uncovers a tale of unimaginable hardship, resilience, and passion.

This book, about one daughter's quest to find her father, is a truly engrossing read. During the first few pages, I felt Julia's confusion and feelings of dislocation; after that, I (like Julia) was too caught up in the story to question it from a logical perspective. The writing is fluid and the feeling of Burma, especially Burma in the 1950s, shines through. This is an odd book in some ways, a tale of the past that has only a nominal connection to the present, but surprisingly it works. As the true story of Tin Win and Mi Mi unfolds, the reasons for Julia's father's abrupt departure from his life in NY become clear and even understandable. Though the book does not answer how he could have so easily abandoned his daughter, Julia is really ony a peripheral character so her pain and her story are never as compelling as that of Tin Win and Mi Mi. Well written and engaging, this book was impossible to put down once I started reading.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Professionals by Owen Laukkanen

Book description:
Four friends, recent college graduates, caught in a terrible job market, joke about turning to kidnapping to survive. And then, suddenly, it's no joke. For two years, the strategy they devise-quick, efficient, low risk-works like a charm. Until they kidnap the wrong man.

Now two groups they've very much wanted to avoid are after them-the law, in the form of veteran state investigator Kirk Stevens and hotshot young FBI agent Carla Windermere, and an organized-crime outfit looking for payback. As they all crisscross the country in deadly pursuit and a series of increasingly explosive confrontations, each of them is ultimately forced to recognize the truth: The true professionals, cop or criminal, are those who are willing to sacrifice . . . everything.

The premise of this book was creative and compelling- four college buddies turn to intelligent kidnapping when their liberal arts degrees prove useless in today's job market. Unfortunately, that interesting hook is quickly lost in the shuffle of idiotic decisions, inexplicable violence, and the complete collapse of the structure of their long-term plans. I couldn't root for the criminals because their actions seemed wildly out of character for the way they were initially presented. The police and FBI also failed to capture my support because their odd sexual tension seemed unnecessary and undermined their appeal. By the last third of the book, I felt like I was just slogging through to make it to the end; turning the page was a chore not a thrill. Ultimately, I found this book a disappointing read with shallow characters that I have no desire to meet again.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Cottage at Glass Beach by Heather Barbieri

Book description:
Married to the youngest attorney general in Massachusetts state history, Nora Cunningham is a picture-perfect political wife and a doting mother. But her carefully constructed life falls to pieces when she, along with the rest of the world, learns of the infidelity of her husband, Malcolm.

Humiliated and hounded by the press, Nora packs up her daughters—Annie, seven; and Ella, twelve—and takes refuge on Burke's Island, a craggy spit of land off the coast of Maine. Settled by Irish immigrants, the island is a place where superstition and magic are carried on the ocean winds, and wishes and dreams wash ashore with the changing tides.

Nora spent her first five years on the island but has not been back to the remote community for decades—not since that long ago summer when her mother disappeared at sea. One night while sitting alone on Glass Beach below the cottage where she spent her childhood, Nora succumbs to grief, her tears flowing into the ocean. Days later she finds an enigmatic fisherman named Owen Kavanagh shipwrecked on the rocks nearby. Is he, as her aunt's friend Polly suggests, a selkie—a mythical being of island legend—summoned by her heartbreak, or simply someone who, like Nora, is trying to find his way in the wake of his own personal struggles?

Just as she begins to regain her balance, her daughters embark on a reckless odyssey of their own—a journey that will force Nora to find the courage to chart her own course and finally face the truth about her marriage, her mother, and her long-buried past.

When Nora needed a place to escape the spotlight shining on her husband's infidelity, she retreated with her daughters to the island where she was born, the island she and her father left when she was just five years old after her mother disappeared. There Nora finds an aunt who loves her, a cottage that was once a home, and the still unanswered questions about her mother's disappearance. Woven through the story is Irish mythology and a deep and abiding love of the sea.

This was a book that once I started, I couldn't put down. The writing style is wonderful, as is the way the author weaves in old fairy stories with ease. Maire and Nora are great characters, and the Annie and Ella are precocious and intelligent children trying to deal with a crumbling family and a new-found love of the sea. I would have given it five stars if more of the questions about Maeve's disappearance has been answered- at the end I still had too many questions about that to be fully satisfied with the narrative. That said, this was a truly enjoyable read; I will certainly pick up other books by the author.