Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Her Fearful Symmetry

by Audrey Niffenegger

My favorite novel by Niffenegger, hands-down, is "The Time Traveler's Wife" - which many have seen in its movie form (sidenote: very well done adaptation).

That being said, "Her Fearful Symmetry" is an intruiging novel with four intriguing main subjects- two generations of identical twins, which alone suggests a mystical connection between two humans that others cannot understand.

The story revolves around the mysterious comings and goings at London flat vacated by the younger twins' deceased aunt- the twin of their mother. The twins quickly discover that they aren't as alone as they think they are...both in the living and in the deceased sense.

Becoming involved in the lives of their neighbors, the twins begin to question their deceased aunt's relationship with everyone around them....including their own mother, whose twin held secrets she never intended to reveal.

As the twins story starts to imbed itself in their mother's and their aunt's story, and eventually plays out, the roles and identities of these four twins become nearly interchangeable.

The book was engaging in the sense that you knew something wasn't quite right, but it wasn't easy to put you finger on exactly what was wrong. The ending, as well, will leave you with the sense that things may not have all come out terribly right in the world, which is another of Niffenegger's themes- happy endings that aren't, always.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Cutting for Stone

by Abraham Verghese

I'll probably say this a few times this year, but my goodness, hands-down, no-contest, straight-up, BEST BOOK I HAVE READ SO FAR THIS YEAR.

"Cutting for Stone" is an amazing, beautiful, awe-inspiring, insert-fifty-glowing-adjectives-here type of book. Reviewers use words like "Richly written, vivid, masterpiece," and I couldn't agree more.

Set largely in Ethiopia and America in the 1950s- 1980s, the story is that of two twins born attached at the head. Surgically separated after the horrendous birth that kills their mother and drives their father to leave the hospital - and his babies- behind, the twins are raised by two doctors working at "Missing" hospital in Addis Ababa.

While each twin exhibits unique personality traits, their initial tie remains strong and causes intersections throughout their lives. Both twins will follow in their adopted parents' footsteps to careers in medicine, though their specialties and motivations will differ greatly. One twin will travel to America, and experience life as a medical resident in the 1970s & 1980s, before returning to Addis Ababa.

I literally couldn't put this book down, and am thankful that my mother had the presence of mind to give it to me in the chilly winter months, when I wasn't busy with work and could basically abandon my life for two days to read it while getting ready in the morning, brushing my teeth, eating breakfast, etc etc etc.

It's written by Abraham Verghese, a physician who also wrote "My Own Country," his story of working in an eastern Tennessee hospital and specializing in infectious disease during the onset of the AIDS epidemic, when the first HIV/AIDS patient arrives in the town. This book is absolutely on my list of books to read this year!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Best Friends

by Thomas Berger

Named a "New York Times Notable Book" and reviewed by the same publication as "One that ranks near Berger's best: tautly drawn tragicomedy, taking one more mythical swipe and contemporary life," I have to confess...........meh.

Perhaps I was expecting too much; after all, Berger's work "The Feud" was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and "Little Big Man" is known throughout the world (this according to the author bio on the back cover.)

Or perhaps there was a reason that this book was also on the Borders' 99 cent markdown pile, and that's because, while it's written extremely well, the story is a little- well- something. Old? Told? Expected? I'm honestly not sure which adjective to use.

Oh sure, the book was entertaining enough- which is to say I started reading it, wondered how it would end, and thusly finished it. Along the way there were great small "aside" moments and lots of rich character detail, which is probably what contributes to Berger's books being as popular as they apparently are.

But the basic story.

My lord.

It's been told.

Two guys are best friends their whole lives. Predictably, they are different people. Predictably, they are motivated by different things. Predictably, undercurrents of jealousy permeate. Predictably, they find themselves at a crossroads.

It's pretty much the same story, in fact, as ANOTHER "Best Friends" novel I'd read several years back- this one by Martha Moody, I believe- except that instead of two men experiencing the fallout of differences over morals and money, it's two women experiencing the fallout of differences over morals and money, and manages to weave in the porn industry. Points.

Would I rave about this book to a friend? Probably not. Would I loan it to them if they happened to pull it off my shelf and wanted to read it? Sure. I may even give Berger another try and check out one of the works more raved about on the back.

This one, though? Will probably get shelved.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Light of Day

by Jamie M. Saul

A few weeks ago, I happened upon a Borders' bookstore that was closing and had marked down their remaining inventory. Though the top two floors had already been seriosly picked over, I hit jackpot in the basement with books marked down to 99 cents!!

I picked up several, including "Light of Day," and figured that at 99 cents each, I'd lump any bad ones as a loss and happily put the $6 total I spent towards the one good one.

I haven't read them all yet, but so far? "Light of Day" makes the entire purchase worth it.



Compelling storyline.

Amazing characters.

Intruiging friendships.

Revealing sub-plot flashbacks.

Twists and turns.

Everything, absolutely everything, requires you to keep turning the pages until you find out what's next. In the first ten pages alone, you meet Jack Owens, the character who will chart the course of the rest of the book through his actions and memories, and learn that he's a man haunted by the past- despite having left and moved to a small town to escape it.

And that's where the body is found.

I won't give away anything more, because you quite simply just have to go read this book, if you're the sort who enjoys intruige, suspense, and questions that don't always have answers.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Fall of Giants

by Ken Follett

Because Ken Follett can do no wrong, in my eyes, I expected nothing less than greatness when I cracked open "Fall of Giants," a Christmas gift from my mother.

I was not disappointed.

Again following his masterful pattern of taking readers through history by creating small family groups to experience society and events, this book starts readers off in Russia, England, Germany, Austria, Wales, Scotland, and the US in June of 1911, takes them through World War I and the Russian Revolution, and leaves them in January of 1924.

With a cast of characters list six pages long prefacing the start of the book, I worried that I'd be confused at trying to keep everyone's names and whereabouts straight.

But I forgot it was Ken Follett.

I need not have worried.

The characters, stories, subplots and dramas woven into history are so engrossing that, I have to confess, I became somewhat of a nut about reading this book. At 983 pages long, I expected it to take me at least a week, if not a bit longer.

Or, you know.......three days.

Granted, I am a speed-reader, but the length of time it took me to finish this book definitely speaks more to the amazingness of the book than of my skills.

The best part?

It's only the first installment of "The Century Trilogy."



The next book is due out in 2012, and will (according to Ken Follett's website) feature the children from Fall of Giants during the Depression and World War II. The third is not due out until 2014 and will feature (again according to the website) future generations during the Cold War.

This trilogy's timeline is of particular significance to me, and many I'm sure, as it depicts the era that our grandparents or great-great grandparents were born into. I can't help picturing my maternal grandfather, born in 1917 and just a year or two younger than several of the children in the book, and my grandmother, born shortly after. My grandparents would live through the Great Depression, with my grandfather surviving health scares that claimed the lives of many. He and two of his brothers would go on to fight in World War II. I look forward to reading the future volumes for the rich detail I know they'll contain about the time my grandparents lived in.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Rest Of Her Life and While I'm Falling

by Laura Moriarty

I was trolling around in the bargain areas at Borders when I discovered "While I'm Falling" by Laura Moriarty. The book cover was intruiging enough, but what really grabbed me was the single-sentence review on the cover.

"Moriarty keeps getting better and better."- Jodi Picoult.


Um, confession. I might have a slight obsession author crush fondness for Jodi Picoult.

The kind that makes me run out and buy every single one of her books, the day it comes out, in hard cover, at full price.


Anyway, I figured that any book Jodi liked I'd be a fan of as well, so I picked up "While I'm Falling," and discovered a gem of a novel about the events in a character's life surrounding the first time she falls in love, including her relationship with her mother as her parents own marriage is questioned.

Later in the year I also picked up (or somehow acquired- it's possible, in fact, that this was one of my mother's book club picks that she passed along to me) "The Rest of Her Life," another Moriarty book with a Picoult endorsement on the cover. This one, again, focuses largely on the relationship between mother and daughter following a tragic accident.

In both, her characters are incredibly realistic and well done. I'm definitely looking forward to reading more of her books!

Monday, January 31, 2011

The Weight Of Silence

by Heather Gudenkauf

On a quiet morning two little girls - one a mute and the other her best friend - go missing in the woods.

Over the course of the coming hours, their families will face fear, history, relationships, unanswered questions and new revelations as they search for the girls and deal with the outcomes of the morning.

Well-written and descriptive, the author tells the story through the characters of Callie, a 7-year-old who has, for reasons that will be revealed, not spoken in years; her mother Antonia; her older brother Ben; Deputy Louis, who searches for Callie while confronting his complicated feelings for Antonia and the crumple of his own marriage, and Martin Gregory, the father of her best friend Petra, also missing.

Like many books in which I become immersed, I found myself wanting to jump into the book at certain times- to shake the mother, for never leaving her awful abusive husband, to protect the children from their dad, to force the deputy's wife to leave him alone so he can find the girls, to beg Callie to talk and beg those around her to understand why she can't, and force them to ask themselves why.

It's a fascinating book that will pull you in quickly and surprise you along the way.