Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Moving Inside

We Florida gals do move inside during the hot summer and that's when I have more time to read. The company stops coming, the hot, buggy outdoors doesn't beckon but those books do. So I thought I share my summer reading list and some descriptions of the books, borrowed from reviews on Amazon. So far I've read five -- Amy Tan, Kim Edwards, Anita Brookner, Julia Glass (features a Chef) and Joanne Harris (the most poetic writer I've ever read.) Since I'm halfway through my list and it's a long summer in Florida, I welcome suggestions for other reading material.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Memoir of a 31-year-old woman who, after a divorce, sets out on a year’s journey with three main stops: Rome, for pleasure with an emphasis on food; an ashram outside of Mumbai, for spiritual searching; and Bali, to find balance between the two. Funny, inspiring, and well-written.

Opposite of Fate by Amy Tan
In this collection of sometimes humorous and occasionally wrenching essays, readers will come to know the person and the creative energy behind such remarkable novels as The Joy Luck Club and The Kitchen God's Wife. These previously published pieces often detail the author's troubled relationship with her quick-tempered, superstitious mother, but they also reveal the intuition and knowledge she gained from that relationship. Tan recognizes her mother's part in her reliance on faith, fate, and hope, as well as the tendency in her writing toward the inexplicable, such as a ghost who whistles the Jeopardy theme.

And now the FICTION:

The Whole World Over by Julia Glass
Hired as the personal chef to the governor of New Mexico, Greenie Duquette leaves behind her Greenwich Village pastry business and her husband to head west with her four-year-old son, prompting a period of upheaval and reflection for herself. In Glass’s sprawling follow-up to her award-winning novel “Three Junes,” a dozen or so characters are plunged into the tumultuous dissatisfactions and challenges of middle age, their paths crossing and recrossing with a pleasing mixture of chance and inevitability. Even as we watch these characters’ dramas unfold in the shadow of 9/11, the potential horror of irrevocable choices eludes us.

Fluke by Christopher Moore
Just why do humpback whales sing? That's the question that has marine behavioral biologist Nate Quinn and his crew poking, charting, recording, and photographing very big, wet, gray marine mammals. Until the extraordinary day when a whale lifts its tail into the air to display a cryptic message spelled out in foot-high letters: Bite me. Later, when a roll of film returns from the lab missing the crucial tail shot -- and his research facility is trashed -- Nate realizes something very fishy indeed is going on. By turns witty, irreverent, fascinating, puzzling, and surprising, Fluke is Christopher Moore at his outrageous best.

Private View by Anita Brookner
Brookner explores the changes wrought on an aging solitary man by his growing obsession with a brash young con artist. George Bland appears to live a dull and uninteresting life, but the author's examination of why he does so makes for heartily provocative perusal. Some of the usual Brookner appetizers and entrees are on offer here: the intense internal monologue; the snake oil placebo of tea for what ails; the visits to the shops when boredom constricts; the useless days of people who have nothing to do and no one to do it with. But it is the author's vivisectional analysis of what makes such people tick, that makes for such riveting reading.

Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards
In Edwards's assured but schematic debut novel hinges on the birth of fraternal twins, a healthy boy and a girl with Down syndrome. When Norah Henry goes into labor during a storm, her surgeon husband delivers their babies himself, aided by a nurse. Seeing his daughter's handicap, he instructs the nurse to take her to a home and later tells Norah that their son’s twin died at birth. Instead of institutionalizing the child, the nurse raises her. The husband’s undetected lie warps his marriage, and the child’s absence corrodes her birth family's core over the course of the next 25 years. Norah mourns her lost child; and the son not only deals with his parents' icy relationship but with his own yearnings for his sister as well.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Jacob Jankowski hops a train after walking out on his final exams at Cornell, where he had hoped to earn a veterinary degree. The train turns out to be a circus train, and since it's the Depression, Jacob soon finds himself involved with the animal acts—specifically with the beautiful young Marlena, the horse rider, and her husband, August. Jacob falls for Marlena immediately, and the ensuing triangle is at the center of this novel, which follows the circus across the states. Jacob and Marlena are attracted to each other, but their relationship is fairly innocent until it becomes clear that August is not merely jealous but dangerously mentally deranged. Old-fashioned and endearing, this is an enjoyable, fast-paced story told by the older Jacob, now in his nineties in a nursing home.

The Reading Group by Elizabeth Noble
When five women get together to start a book group, they never envision how their lives will change, become intertwined, and be reflected in their books of choice. Their meetings draw them into a surprising sisterhood as they work through a year of caring for an aging parent, unexpectedly becoming a grandmother, marital infidelity, a marriage gone stale, and infertility. Each chapter opens with the group's reading pick and uses it to frame the chapter, mirroring the plot and character development along a particular theme. Fast paced and funny, this is women's fiction worth staying up past your bedtime for. Noble's portrayal of each character remains steady throughout, and readers will readily relate to these women.

Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris
Harris presents a beautiful tale involving misfortune, mystery and intense family relations. Framboise Dartigen, grew up in a gossip-ridden hamlet on the banks of the Loire. Striving for attention and power, nine-year-old Framboise took to playing nasty tricks on her headstrong, mentally vulnerable mother, Mirabelle. But despite Framboise's girlish pranks, Mirabelle's maternal instinct was strong. When her children befriended German soldiers who occupied the village during WW II, things went awry, and mother and children were forced to flee. As Framboise tells the tale, she's in her 60s and has returned to Les Laveuses, posing as a widow named Franoise Simon. When the cafe she owns is reviewed in a national food magazine, her cover is blown and the past resurfaces. Harris has constructed a multilayered plot, punctuated with scrumptious descriptions of French delicacies and telling depictions of the war's jolting effects on one fragile family. This intense work brims with sensuality and sensitivity.

Swimming Lessons by Mary Alice Monroe
Monroe's novel redefines the beauty and magic of the Carolina lowcountry. Single mom Toy Sooner has two loves: her daughter and sea turtles. When sick sea turtles wash up near Charleston one summer Toy is tapped by the president of the aquarium where she works to land a grant for setting up a turtle hospital. This means long nights of work alongside aquarium director Ethan Legare, stirring Toy's dormant emotions. Meanwhile, Toy's friends wrestle with their own issues—aging, infertility, money problems, postdivorce blues. After Toy's grant is approved, she is put in charge of the turtle hospital and things go well until her daughter’s father suddenly reappears, intent on playing a role in the girl’s life. Toy is torn, and trouble is in the offing. This is a deeply satisfying work with keen insights into the connections between women.


Sarita Leone said...

Oh Kathy, you've got a super list here! I've read some of these and they are goodies. There are a couple that are my tpu (to pick up) pile now, thanks to you. :) Fluke, especially, sounds intriguing.

I loved Swimming Lessons. In fact, I've read it twice just because I enjoyed it so much the first time. I'm a sucker for beach, ocean, summertime stories and this one really appealed to me for a number of reasons.

Glad to hear you're getting so much reading done. Yesterday I had a book propped up on the potting bench in the greenhouse and was reading while I was planting seeds. I won't be shocked if I find all my peppers were put into the same flat as my marigolds! :)

Kathleen said...

Thanks, Sarita. I'm looking forward to Swimming Lessons. Right now I'm finishing the Reading Group. Set in London, it has sone of Margaret's charming expressions i.e. heaving trolleys as opposed to loaded shopping carts. Was all day waiting in a surgery center and the book helped. Doug is doing well tonight.