Wednesday, October 1, 2014

What Happened in September, 2014


Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks

Two Christmases ago, my daughter gave me Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks.  The movie was coming out, and the plan may have been to trick me into taking her to see it by giving me the book first.  The plan didn't work, and Safe Haven sat in my nightstand  unread for a year and a half.  In August, my family rented a house in North Carolina, and I decided that it was the perfect time to give Safe Haven a try.  I expected it to be a good beach book, with the added benefit that my daughter would see me reading it and appreciating her gift.

I have to say that Safe Haven was pretty much exactly what one might expect from a Nicholas Sparks book.  The main character, Katie, has left her abusive husband and fled to a small North Carolina town.  There she meets the recently widowed Alex, and falls in love with him and his two children.  All is going well until, yep, you guessed it. 

While the story was predictable, it was a page turner, and I found myself oddly unable to put it down.  Sparks played some hokey name games, and threw in an unexpected but equally unbelievable twist at the end.  Still, if you are renting beach house and looking for something to bring along, you might as well bring this one!

Challenges:  Rewind

Tags:  Light and Fluffy

The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson

I'm a pretty persistent reader.  Most of the time, if I can make it through the first hundred pages, I'll finish the book.  Last month, I put down . . . And Ladies of the Club by Helen Hooven Santmyer after over 400 pages.  This month, I'm quitting The Finkler Question, despite being 2/3 through.

The Finkler Question is the story of three men living in London, Julian Treslove, Sam Finkler and Libor Sevcik.  Julian and Sam are about the same age as each other - mid 40s, and Libor is in his 80s.  Libor and Sam are recently widowed.  They are also Jewish.  So what, you ask?  Jewishness is all that they talk about.

Julian is mugged, and believes that he was the victim of an anti-Semitic attack.  Although he is not Jewish, he then experiences a huge case of Jewish envy, and tries to become Jewish by changing his manner of speaking and actions, without actually converting.  Libor is seemingly happily Jewish, although he spends a great deal of time thinking about whether attacks on Jewish people and places are understandable, if not justified.  Sam Finkler, on the other hand, joins a group who identify themselves as ASHamed Jews and are opposed to the Israeli state.

Much of the dialogue in The Finkler Question is focused on what it means to be Jewish, whether one can be Jewish and be ashamed of other Jewish people, and whether Jewish people who disagree with what other Jewish people are doing, especially in Israel, are anti-Semitic.

If you are Jewish, and are questioning your beliefs, this might be a great book for you.  I was actually not aware that some Jewish people don't support Israel, which I probably should have known.  So much of the book is about Jewish people as a group, and then the opinions of particular Jewish people.  All of this is great, but it just got old.  I was looking for another dimension to the characters.  Being Jewish, or being jealous of people who are Jewish, shouldn't be all that they are.

The Finkler Question won the Man Booker Prize for 2010. 

Challenges: Rewind, Audiobook, and I Love Library Books

Tags: British Stories, Man Booker Listed, Questioning Religions

. . . And Ladies of the Club by Helen Hooven Santmyer

Well, I picked it up again.  This time I read from where I left off, at page 413 in 1880, until page 613 in 1887.  Some more club members have died, others have married, and the kids are mostly grown.  There are some hints that someone might be a lesbian, but I'm not sure if that was a topic discussed in popular fiction in 1982 when the book was first published, so I'm not expecting anything explosive.

The other members of The Typical Book Group are also struggling with this one.  We usually discuss our summer Big Fat Book in August, or possibly in September if everyone is out of town at the end of the summer.  This year, we have decided to move the meeting back until October.

Although this book is taking me forever, I am liking it.  It has a nice, soothing rhythm.  There's not a ton of action, but there is something about it that I like.  I'm taking a break again, but after I finish The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon, I'll try and knock out another 200 pages.

The Wife, the Maid and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon

In 1930, a judge in New York named Joseph Crater suddenly disappeared and became the "The Missingest Man in New York".  His wife, Stella was at their vacation home in Maine, while Crater went to Atlantic City with his mistress, Sally Lou Ritz.  He came back to the City, had dinner with Ritz and his lawyer, William Klein, then got in a cab, and was never seen again.  In her book, The Wife, the Maid and the Mistress, Ariel Lawhon offers a theory of what may have happened.

Lawhon's story focuses on the tangled connections between Stella and Crater and a cast of characters including a mob boss, Owney Madden, his unexpectedly friendly thug, Shorty, and the Craters' maid, Maria.  No one seems to actually have liked Crater, so there were lots people who might have preferred for him to disappear.  In fact, in real life as in the book it took 10 days for anyone to start wondering where he was.

During Crater's lifetime, there were rumors about how he secured his appointment to court. Lawhon speculates that Owney Madden was involved, and became worried when a grand jury was convened to investigate alleged corruption.  She then also guesses that the police investigating the crime may be indebted to Madden themselves.

Sometimes in a historical fiction book, there is something that happens that is so unbelievable that you know it must be true.  In this story, when it turned out that the Craters' maid was married to one of the policemen investigating the case, I knew that it must have been true, because there's no way that a police officer would be charged with investigating his wife's boss' mysterious disappearance, so no author would make that up.  However, when I got to Lawhon's end notes, it turned out that was a fictional twist.  The Craters did have a maid, but there's no indication that she was married to an investigator. 

All told, this was an interesting story, made all the more so with its morsels of truth.

Challenges:  I Love Library Books Challenge

Tags:  Historical Fiction   

In Other News

Pass it On

You might remember that I got my copy of Life After Life by Kate Atkinson from a Little Free Library.  I finished that book while I was staying that the beach house that I talked about in my review of Safe Haven, and so I left it there.  The shelves were crowded with more beach reads than literary fiction, but I found it a nice spot next to The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery.  While Safe Haven would have fit right in, I wasn't done with it yet.  So, I'll return Safe Haven to my Little Free Library instead.  Pass it on!

Man Booker Short List

The Man Booker Prize Shortlist was announced on September 9.  To my surprise, David Mitchell's new book, The Bone Clocks, did not make the cut.  Instead, Joshua Ferris' book, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour made the list, along with books by Howard Jacobson, Karen Joy Fowler, Richard Flanagan, Neel Mukherjee and Ali Smith.  Despite an earlier so-so review, the Times published this almost glowing review of To Rise Again on September 15.  What brought on the reconsideration?  I just might suspect that they didn't want to be left on the wrong side of the hype if Ferris wins this one.  More power to him.

Blogging for Rivera

This month, I had dinner in the Rivera Court at the Detroit Institute of Arts.  No biggie really, I've been there before, and anyone in my tri-county area can go for free.  But it is pretty spectacular.  If you need a reason to visit Detroit, this could be it.

But anyway, sitting there, sipping wine, I was thinking about Rivera and his wife, Frida Kahlo, and I couldn't help but think about The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver.  The thing about The Lacuna is that although I know that it was a good book, and it was about Rivera and Kahlo, I can't tell you much about it.  Unfortunately, I read it during the period when I had officially started my blog, but before my Parent Rant that got me really writing about what I read.  And this is why I'm still blogging.  I'm convinced that if I stop, I won't remember the details about the books that I read.  So, here I go, blogging toward another month.

October Preview

In October, I plan to read and review the following books:

On Paper or Electronic Format:

. . . And Ladies of the Club by Helen Hooven Santmyer
White Woman on a Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey
Bread and Butter by Michelle Widgen

On Audio

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

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