This is not a happy book, but perhaps one of the most well-written I have ever read. It touches on themes of grief, the desire to belong, the mixing of cultures, living vicariously through others and being ahead of one’s time. These are wrapped up in succinct, but emotionally evocative, prose so beautifully rendered that I found myself wanting to re read many of the passages out loud.
The story takes place during the 1950’s ‘60’s and 70’s and revolves around the marriage and family life of a first generation Chinese-American man and his WASP wife in a mid-western small town. His lifelong desire to fit in to American culture and her lifelong regrets about not pursuing a medical career set the stage for conflict with both of their families and consequences for their children.
The first line of the book tells you their daughter has drowned under apparently mysterious circumstances. That sets the stage for the couple to look back on both their lives, informing us to why they act the way they do. In some chapters we get their children’s point of view, including the one who has died.
As the reader, it is clear to see the mistakes they have made, and continue to make when they fail time and again to communicate and to appreciate how their actions are doing harm to themselves and the ones they love. That is part of the tension of the story. You just want to tell them to stop!
Interesting, heart-rending, thoughtful and beautifully written.
This summer marked the 20 year anniversary of Clueless’s opening in CA movie theaters (and nationwide a week later). The fashion, the slang, the talent! and the soundtrack combined to create a sleeper hit teen movie with widespread appeal. Based on Jane Austen’s classic matchmaking story, Emma, Clueless won 8 awards, including Best Screenplay from the National Society of Film Critics but sadly missed the Oscar, in part due to it’s unfortunate categorization as a derivative work.
In this interview-style book, Jen Cheney shares memory and insight from the major players from the stars, director, producer, promoters, wardrobe, even bands featured in the movie and on the soundtrack. The book also places Clueless neatly in context of cinema history, and pop culture, showing how a seemingly fluffy story of a Beverly Hills socialite changed the grunge scene, empowers women and influenced music, television film for years to come, most recently in Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy“video, which recreates a number of iconic scenes from the film, down to the actual wardrobe.
A must-read for any fan of the film, As If! is organized chronologically from concept and then through each major scene, with forays into the worlds of costume, music and reviews. The author pieces together interviews (new and past) to stitch together a seamless narrative that makes the reader feel as if all the participants are in a room sitting in a circle and feeding off one another’s comments.
Missing throughout is Brittany Murphy’s voice, lost in 2009. A tribute at the end memorializes her without dipping into oversentimentality.
Read more about Clueless with these 22 fun facts, go see the revival playing at the Coolidge Theatre this fall, or borrow it from the Library today! Watch for the Broadway version to debut (pending funding) in the next few years.
The most recent installment of the Bruno: Chief of Police series by Martin Walker is now available. The Children Return once again finds our hero Bruno pitted against forces larger than himself, and his local police force, in rural St. Denis, France. Starting with a murdered undercover agent who had been investigating local jihadists, Bruno’s concerns quickly escalate to include a local autistic boy who had been hijacked by Islamic extremists, spirited away to Afghanistan and used for his amazing information-gathering technical skills. He has now been rescued and returned to St. Denis, but his former captors are not letting him go that easily, and fears grow for his safety, and that of his family and the local populace, should these forces pursue him back to his home town.
Interwoven with this storyline are a few other subplots involving international intrigue, local history and as always with Bruno, a potential new love interest, complications with his old love interest, good food, good wine, good friends and the beauty of the Dordogne countryside.
While these mysteries are a charming read, they always showcase an interesting plot with some twists. In addition they contain a serious vein which examines contemporary controversies. This time around, the focus is on issues involving the large and growing Muslim population in France. The people and local officials of the fictional town of St. Denis face these, as always, under the watchful and protective eye of their beloved Bruno: Chief of Police.
Bed by David Whitehouse is the story of a family wrought by one member’s refusal to get out of bed. The main character, Malcolm Ede, is a man in his 40s who went to bed on his 25th birthday and decided to never leave it again. The story is told by his younger brother, also in his 40s, who like his brother, still lives with his parents in the bedroom they grew up in.
The story unfolds, oscillating between childhood memories and the present. Mal started out as an eccentric child who ruined family outings with his outlandish behavior. Mal’s family cannot hold him accountable, and as a result, they become hostages of his actions. As a young adult, Mal is handsome, athletic, and popular. He meets a girl named Lou, and both Mal and his younger brother fall in love with her. However, finding a job, getting married, working, having a family, working more –essentially what most people do when they grow up– is completely unacceptable to Mal. He is convinced there is an easier way to live, and turns to (or into) his bed.
David Whitehouse writes beautifully. His descriptions are so vivid and original, I found myself rereading sentences just to linger over them a little longer; however, Bedwas difficult to read due to the nature of the story itself. As readers, we want to know, Why? What motivates humans to act as they do? Whitehouse keeps us engaged on our search for answers.
Beautifully descriptive, always hopeful, it’s no wonder this book has been on so many readers’ waiting lists. There are two stories, with two main protagonists coming of age during World War II in Europe. One is Marie-Laure, a blind Parisian girl who lives with her father, the master locksmith of the Museum of Natural History. Her father has lovingly created a completely perfect miniature of their town so Marie can learn to navigate on her own. When the two are forced to flee Paris, he creates a miniature replica of their new town, Saint-Malo, the walled port city in Brittany that is bombed by the Nazis. The miniature house has major significance as everything comes together in the final chapters of the novel. Werner is an orphan living in a small minding town Germany. He and his sister Jutta are fascinated by radios, and have created their own out of scrap material, which they listen to secretly from the attic after bedtime in the orphanage. They are both mesmerized by a science program for children, narrated by a Frenchman. This thread foreshadows how the two stories ultimately converge.
Doerr captures the internal lives of these two young people so vividly, along with many other characters throughout the book. It’s one of those novels that is hard to put down, yet sad to finish.
When a young minor league baseball player blows out his arm in the midst of a no-hitter, he is left with the possibility of leaving baseball behind. Tyler Ames has lost everyone he loves on his way to the big leagues. In the midst of dealing with these losses, an angel intervention leads Tyler to a maintenance job at a retirement home. There Tyler meets Virginia Hutcheson, a woman struggling with Alzheimer’s. A friendship begins that brings deep spiritual awakenings for both the younger and older parties. Other angel interventions at timely moments bring about other interesting outcomes. This is the first book in a new series of books depicting fictional angel interventions that set the stage for a larger scale series development. This is a fine selection in the genre of Christian fiction/gentle reads.
Lucinda Riley uses a dual narrative in The Lavender Garden to relate the story of Emilie de la Martinières, a young heiress who now finds herself in possession of an aging Chateau on the Côte d’Azur in 1998 and that of Constance Carruthers, a British newlywed suddenly swept up in the covert activities of Churchill’s Special Operations Executive, supporting the French Resistance during the Nazi occupation in World War II.
Both are reluctant in their new roles, and also share a family connection which unfolds as the drama of their new circumstances plays out, and involves the characters who enter their lives. Riley does a nice job of representing both the magic of the French countryside and the tension of the difficult circumstances in which the people of Occupied France find themselves. Her characters range from bohemian artists to sneering Nazi elite, charming intellectuals and wine growers to gruff French Resistance fighters. They are fairly well drawn, if not always very likeable. Some twists and turns and family secrets also serve to make the story line moderately interesting, and the resolution is satisfying.
The Lavender Garden is a pleasant read if you like historical fiction, travel fiction, stories about the changing roles of women in society and a bit of mystery thrown in for good measure.
Leaving Time, by Jodi Picoult, tells the story of Jenna Metcalf, a young teen who is desperately searching for her mother, Alice. Alice disappeared ten years earlier, after a tragic accident at the elephant compound, where she was a scientist studying grief among elephants. Not wanting to believe she was abandoned, Jenna searches the internet and reads her mother’s journal, looking for any information that would help her find her mother, or explain her disappearance. Having no luck on her own, Jenna turns for help to Serenity Jones, a once famous psychic, and Virgil Stanhope, a private detective and ex-cop, who was in involved in the investigation of the incident at the compound. The unlikely trio begin their search, leading them to discover the events leading up to Alice’s disappearance and the surprising truths they discover about Alice, and about themselves.
This book offered a lot of interesting information about the emotional intelligence of elephants, the dynamics of the relationships they have with one another, and the surprising amount of grief they experience when they lose a member of their group. This is especially evident with the loss of a young calf by its mother, and parallels these emotions with those of the human characters in the story.
Jodi Picoult is once again able to draw you into the complex lives, feelings and emotions of her characters in a new and unique way, while offering a surprising twist at the conclusion of the story.
When dealing with the British monarchy, there is no better author than Philippa Gregory. Her heavily researched historical novels are instant successes, and The King’s Curse is no exception.
Because the history of the British monarchy is so vast, I feel the need for a point of reference to acclimate myself. The only way I could even begin to follow the life of Mary Pole, a Plantagenet, was with her connection to Henry VIII, the subject of the curse.
It was through the television series, The Tudors , that I came to know about the rise and fall of Henry VIII, his incessant desire for male heirs, and the many women whose lives were devastated by his whims. It was the soap opera of the 16th century.
Philippa Gregory uses the voice of Mary Pole who was of royal descent. She became the guardian to Arthur, the young Price of Wales, who was wed to Katherine of Aragon. Katherine was the daughter of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. After Arthur’s premature death, Katherine married her brother-in-law, Henry VIII.
At one time Mary was in favor at the court, but as Katherine failed for ten years to produce a son both women were cast aside while Henry moved on to Anne Boleyn.
This is but the framework of the drama. How Mary managed to raise her family as a widow, keep track of her lands and household and remain in the king’s good graces makes for intensive reading, all 600 pages of it.
As Mary becomes more and more ostracized, much of what happens at court is revealed to her by her sons who remain in the king’s favor. While Henry is the mover and the shaker, Mary brings a different viewpoint to what the country endured over an increasingly tyrannical and out of control king.
Although we are now only interested in Kate, William, Baby George and Harry, it’s fascinating to see how royal families evolve. Excellent historical reading…
When a new historical novel written by former Grafton resident Amy Belding Brown came to my attention, I immediately ran to the library. Amy’s first novel, Mr. Emerson’sWife, was well received, and I’m betting her newest effort, Flight of the Sparrow, will be an even bigger success.
Subtitled , “A Novel of Early America”,Flight of the Sparrow brings the reader back to Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1676. As seen through the eyes of Mary Rowlandson, the wife of a Puritan minister, life is hard, but there seems to be enough food in the village of Lancaster and they persevere. Unfortunately, there are still Indian uprisings, and when one particularly savage attack occurred, Mary and one of her children were captured , enslaved and held for ransom. Two of her other children were taken elsewhere. Her husband was away at the time.
Although her capture lasted only three months, Mary’s experience into the lifestyle of the Indians was life-changing. After an initial period of brutal handling including rope around her neck, her captors lessened the severity of her treatment and she was allowed some freedom of movement after her heavy work was done.
She became accustomed to the Indian ways and began to appreciate the natural world around her. Even her new clothing consisting of a deerskin shift and soft moccasins was a relief from her cumbersome Puritan garb. The Indians, however, were slowly starving. They broke camp frequently and looked forward to the reward a ransom would bring.
Three months later she was returned to the English for a ransom. The location of this occurrence was Redemption Rock in Princeton. (route 140 north).
The rest of the book concerns her adjustment to the restrictive Puritan ways. Mary refused to disclose information about her enslavement, so rumors and sly looks ensued. Her husband was not happy with her reticence, and Mary began to question her husband’s authority and religious teachings.
Amy Belding Brown did a great deal of research into this fascinating look into local history. For example, James Printer, a Nipmuc Indian, came from the Hassanamesit, a Praying Indian Village in Grafton. Sound familiar?
Do not under any conditions miss this book . It is stellar.