Thursday, January 28, 2010

Review: The Pursuit of Other Interests

I'd call this book a beach read, but it was a winter release, so I'll say it's a winter break read instead. This is a light and funny book, one that I would describe as the unisex version of chick lit, to be entirely convoluted. The novel is the story of Charlie Baker, an advertising CEO who loses his job and can't cope with the aftermath. Charlie is the stereotypical workaholic: three hours of sleep per night, little contact with his family, McMansion and SUV. In the wake of being fired Charlie has to try and make sense of his life, and repair his broken relationships with his wife and son. I found this novel to be light and humorous; a touching story that reads easily and quickly. I would certainly not describe this book as a deep statement on human nature or modernity or anything like that, but enjoyable recreational reading nonetheless.

Jim Kokoris, The Pursuit of Other Interests (St. Martins, 2009) ISBN: 0312365489

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

This is a beautiful book- the language, the imagery, the characters. Telling the story of what happens when a drifter wanders in to the lives of a mother and son one labor day weekend, Maynard examines child and adult love, as well as the bonds of family. This is a book of few characters, but they are deeply drawn and fully believable. Central to the story is the relationship of a mother and her thirteen-year-old son. Maynard tells us of the love they give one another, but also of the love that each desires, which the other cannot give. Frank, the mysterious man who enters their lives that Labor Day weekend seems able to fill the gap. This is a short book, but also a deeply moving one. I was a bit concerned that the short timespan the book covers (four days) would lead to repetition or drawn-out prose, but that is not the case at all. The book moves quickly, and I enjoyed every minute of it. This is a book I kept reading to get more of the prose, rather than to advance the plot. The plot is certainly there, but it is secondary to the writing. I highly recommend it.

Joyce Maynard, Labor Day (William Morrow, 2009) ISBN: 0061843407

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Review: Moonlight in Odessa

The post-Soviet Ukraine is the setting for this story of love, ambition, and disappointment. For Daria, a smart and ambitious young Odessan, her great wish is to move to the English-speaking world. Her English skills have gotten her a coveted job with an Israeli shipping firm, offering benefits unavailable to most Odessans. The promise of the job seems ruined when her boss's expectations and dalliances encourage Daria to look elsewhere for work. This search lands her in a matchmaking firm that arranges mail-order marriages. Dara may be a Soviet Unions employee, but it isn't long before she is receiving proposals herself, and is faced with the difficult decision of whether to leave home and family in the Ukraine to marry a man she hardly knows in a place she wants to live. The results of her choice form the bulk of this book's content. Overall, I found this to be an excellent book. The plot was both complicated and compelling. More striking, though, was the Ukrainian setting for the story. I knew little of Odessa; Charles clearly has an affection for the city: its problems, its history, its beauty. The novel also offers a biting commentary on mail-order marriages, which have apparently become even bigger business with the availability of the internet. While reading this book I became invested in Daria; I wanted to know her fate. Charles does an excellent job of showing just what faces bright young women coming of age in the post-Soviet Ukraine. Daria earns more as an office worker than she would as the engineer she trained to be. The entire country, it seems, runs on corruption. Daria makes herself a valuable employee by figuring out how to manage all of the necessary bribes to keep her firm's shipments on time and the mafia at bay. A fascinating book and an engaging read- well worth my time.

Janet Seskin Charles, Moonlight in Odessa (Bloomsbury, 2009) ISBN: 1596916729

Numbers Challenge

This one intrigued me, so I'm going to be joining the Numbers Challenge as well. From the challenge website:

The challenge is to read books whose titles have a number in them from Jan 1, 2010 to August 1, 2010. This includes written numbers like 'one' and numbers like 10th or first or even half.

You can pick from different levels this year:

1. Read one book with a number in it
2. Read three books with a number in it.
3. Read five or more books with a number in it.

I'm not sure what level I'll clock in at, but I am considering:

Born Under a Million Shadows by Andrea Busfield
Half a Heart by Rosellen Brown
Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris
One Small Thing by Jessica Barksdale Inclan

This list is definitely subject to change!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Review: Family Sentence

Jeanine Cornillot's memoir recalls growing up with a father in prison. Hector Cornillot spent decades in Florida prisons, sentenced for participation in an anti-Castro bombing in Miami. For his children, Cornillot became an enigma. Jeanine spent her childhood imagining her father fulfilling his parental duties to the best of his ability, within the confines of prison. Her imagination ranged from faith that he thought about his children regularly, to dreaming that he escaped from prison to return to his family. This tendency is exacerbated by Jeanine's mother's edict that that family remain silent on Hector's whereabouts. Jeanine upholds that code of silence, resulting in an even richer imaginative life. Her suppositions are based on a few, sparse visits to her incarcerated father, always undertaken when she visits her Cuban-Floridian grandparents. These do little to quell Jeanine's desire for information about her father; they seem to be cut scenes in the regular progression of her life. Ultimately we see that despite his physical absence, Hector Cornillot shapes his children's lives in many ways. Ultimately what I found most interesting about this book was Jeanine's discussion of struggling with her Cuban identity. She doesn't speak Spanish, when in Miami with her grandparents Jeanine relies on a cousin to translate. Her quotidian life in Philadelphia has little contact with Cuban culture, something that is certainly reinforced by the familial code of silence concerning Hector Cornillot. Many aspects of Jeanine's story duplicate those of thousands of other children with incarcerated parents- on that note I didn't necessarily feel like I was reading what I haven't heard before.

Jeanine Cornillot, Family Sentence: The Search for My Cuban-Revolutionary, Prison-Yard, Mythic-Hero, Deadbeat Dad (Beacon, 2009) ISBN: 0807000388

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Review: The Weight of Silence

This is a novel of suspense and mystery, examining the mysterious disappearance of two seven-year-old girls, one of them suffering from selective mutism-- silent since she was a toddler. Built around this mystery are a complex web of human relationships. Calli Clark's family is decidedly troubled; her mutism developed after a family tragedy. Her friend Petra Clark has remained her faithful translator. When the two disappear their families are thrown into a state of turmoil. By the end of the book we find out what happened to the girls, and we see the two families forced to confront their demons. This book is basically a well-written mystery. The whodunit clearly drives the plot forward, but it is given weight by attention to human relationships. I'm a sucker for a suspenseful story with literary merit, and I read this one straight through to the end in one evening. Essentially, this book satisfied my desire for a good mystery without making me feel like I was reading trash.

Heather Gudenkauf, The Weight of Silence (Mira, 2009) ISBN: 077832740X

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Review: Long Past Stopping

I have to admit that I was first attracted to this book because it was written by the son of the Chicken Soup for the Soul guy. A memoir about growing up with chicken-soup dad was bound to be interesting. Upon reading, I found that there's actually very little about being a Canfield kid in here. That's because Jack Canfield, who peddles heartwarming claptrap to millions, abandoned his wife and sons when the children were infants (one was still in utero). Oran Canfield grew up by and large without his father; his childhood was by all accounts unconventional. So, what exactly is this book? It's a mix: half a memoir of addiction, and half a reminiscence of a very unconventional childhood. Told in alternating chapters between childhood and adulthood, we learn of Oran's descent into heroin and cocaine addiction, and how he grew up in the circus, hippie communes, and experimental schools. As a memoir of addiction Canfield does a good job illustrating the hopelessness that surrounds addiction, and the significant difficulties involved in overcoming them. I did find the back and forth of the book quite distracting. Just as I would get engaged in one thread of the narrative it would shift to something completely different. Overall this memoir kept me engaged, and certainly made me feel for both the child and adult Oran.

Oran Canfield, Long Past Stopping: A Memoir (William Morrow, 2009) ISBN: 0061450758

Friday, January 1, 2010

Pub Challenge 2010

I really enjoyed last year's Pub Challenge, and I actually finished it, so I'm delighted to be signing on again for 2010. The rules are to read 10 books first published in 2010. I usually have no problem with that, so I'm officially signing on.

Typically British Reading Challenge

What can I say? I've signed up for too many challenges already, but I read a lot of British fiction, and love it, so I had to go on and sign up for the Typically British Reading Challenge hosted by Book Chick City. I've decided to go for the highest level on this one:

• "Put The Kettle On" – Read 2 Typically British novels.
• "Gordon Bennett" – Read 4 Typically British novels.
• "Bob's Your Uncle" – Read 6 Typically British novels.
• "Cream Crackered" – Read 8 Typically British novels.

So, that would be cream crackered, though I do love the phrase 'Bob's Your Uncle.' In any case, that means I'll be reading eight British novels. No list as of yet, but I'm digging right in.