Saturday, June 23, 2012

Book Review: Arranged

Catherine McKenzie's Arranged explores the possibility of arranged marriages, American-style. Anne Blythe is in her 30s and desperate to get married. She has been in several long-term relationships is crushed knowing that all those men are now settled down and happily married. What is wrong with her?

She finds a business card at her feet one day for a marriage broker and decides to give it a whirl. This is more than eHarmony or other matchmaking websites; this is a thorough, incredibly expensive brokerage service. (How does a woman in her mid-30s who writes for a magazine come up with $10,000 to pay for this, by the way? I do not live in that world.) The story takes off from there when she meets Jack, her guaranteed husband. The book description alerted me that there was a "but..." to their happily-ever-after. I wish I hadn't known that because I never took their relationship seriously, waiting for him to be a serial killer or something.

Does Jack turn out to be a serial killer? Do they live happily ever after? Should you read this book and find out? Well, if you need something to fill the time and happen to come across this is a used book store, sure. The novel isn't throw-against-the-wall annoying. Anne and Jack's story is kind of sweet. But too much was missing for this to be particularly memorable and engaging for me. Maybe you'll like it more.

*FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, in hopes I would review it.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Book Review: Saving Ruth

Saving Ruth by Zoe Fishman (not to be confused with Drowning Ruth by Christina Schwartz) was a fun coming-of-age novel about a girl who has finished her freshman year in college and returns home for the summer.

Do you remember that feeling? I do. You've been away from home for 9 months, and when you come back, everything has changed. Your world has slipped. You are caught between becoming someone new, and readjusting to who you were.

It occurred to me after reading the novel that I had somewhat of an opposite life as Ruth Wasserman. She is a dark-haired Jewish girl raised in the midst of blond Baptists in the south; I was a blond Protestant raised among scores of dark-haired Italian Catholics in the north. She headed north for college; I headed south. She was a slightly overweight girl who became a skinny girl at college; I was a skinny girl who put on the freshman 10 in college. But those are just accessories to the real story, that of 19-year-old who is finding her place in the world, and being constantly shocked by the revelations that unfold as she goes along.

I liked the novel. It took me back to that place and time quite easily—Fishman does a great job of capturing the thoughts of a 19-year-old. The rest of the characters were rather flat, but this was really all about Ruth, anyway.

I also enjoyed this novel as the parent of two teens because it reminded me about how much our words can affect our kids. In Ruth's eyes, her mom was "always" commenting on her daughter's weight. In her mom's eyes, she made a few comments here and there. This made me think about what I say to my kids regarding their shyness, for example. I don't ever want to make them feel like I don't love them exactly how they are. It's a tricky balance, and so often in comes down to perception.

The book could have had a lot more depth had Fishman revealed other stories that she barely touched upon: the troubled marriage of Ruth's parents, her brother's struggle as an artist, the issue of growing up Jewish in the south. As it is, it's a nice beach read that will take you back to your own coming-of-age days.

*FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, in hopes I would review it.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Book Review: Caleb's Crossing

Geraldine Brooks, how I love you. If I were to play that game "which celebrities would you have dinner with," I would for sure pick Geraldine Brooks and Kate Morton. We could just write to each other across the dinner table, spinning stories and weaving words. We'd play Story Starters: I'd write the first phrase, and then they could just take off with it.

But I digress. This is a review of Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks. This was our book club's read for June, and I am happy to report that, for perhaps the first time ever, everyone not only read but loved this novel! This is an astonishing accomplishment for this highly opinionated, somewhat diverse group of women.

We had a fantastic discussion of the novel, guided by this excellent set of questions provided at Penguin Books. Of course our discussion branched off from the guide at nearly every question, but we did actually get through it in our 3.5 hour meeting.

Caleb's Crossing tells the story of Bethia, a young Puritan girl and daughter of a minister, and Caleb, the son of a Wampanoag chieftain. The two forge a steadfast but secret friendship that carries them through terrible tragedies throughout several years. The novel is loosely based on the true story of Caleb, who was the first Native American graduate of Harvard. The "crossing" refers to Caleb's decision to, in many ways, cross over from his world to the white world. But it is also Bethia's crossing, as she straddles the world that she is destined for—that of a quiet and submissive Puritan—and the one she desires, that is full of intellectual stimulation and education.

The novel brings up an array of issues: the European conquest of the New World, the role of religion, gender, race, education, societal and cultural expectations, and even child rearing. Brooks is a beautiful writer and captivating storyteller. She does everything well, touching on the issues but allowing the reader freedom to draw her own conclusions. We could have discussed the book for hours and hours more.

I'd been looking forward to reading this novel for such a long time, and now I'm sad that I have read all of Brooks's novels so far:
People of the Book
Year of Wonders

 Highly recommended—and a fantastic book club choice.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Sunday Salon: May in Review

Books Read in May
In the Bag by Kate Klise: "What a fun novel—well written, witty, and insightful."
How to Be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway:  "This is an interesting view on post-WW2 through the eyes of a Japanese woman, adding still another perspective to the WW2 experience."
The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton: "…everything I could possibly want in a novel."
Saving Ruth by Zoe Fishman (not yet reviewed)

Favorite Book of the Month
No question: The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton. This could well end up being my favorite book of the year. I loved it so much!

Books Read Aloud (to 11-year-old)
Daughter of the Mountains by Louise Rankin

Added to My Ever-Growing TBR List
Expecting Adam by Martha Beck
An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor
The Memory Palace by Mira Bartok

Now Reading
Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

Friday, June 1, 2012

Book Review: In the Bag

I love being surprised by a book. When I read the premise of Kate Klise's In the Bag, I thought it would probably be trite and maybe silly: " A European vacation. A luggage mix-up. A note from a secret admirer." But Kate Klise's debut adult novel (she writes children's mystery books) is anything but trite and silly. I loved it.

Single dad Andrew and his son Webb and single mom Daisy and her daughter Coco are all traveling to Europe, and the teenagers get their bags mixed up. That's the part that sounds silly, right? But oh-my-goodness. Klise has an incredible knack for dialog, whether it's the characters speaking or sending emails.

The teens find contact info in the bags and begin emailing each other in an attempt to exchange bags. (One is in Madrid, the other in Paris.) They hit it off immediately via email.What they don't know is that Andrew, Webb's dad, spied the pretty Daisy on the airplane and, in an out-of-character gesture, dropped a flirty note in her bag. Back in her hotel room, when she finds the note, she is appalled and shoots off an angry email to him.

Predictably, the teens find a way to meet, and ultimately their parents meets, and they all end up together. I am sure I'm not spoiling anything by revealing this. But what happens in the middle is so worth reading. How does written communication (email) stack up to meeting in real life? I find this especially interesting because I am so much better at communicating in writing that in speaking in person.

Klise knows teens. She knows how they think and talk and panic. But she also knows adults, and she has created four incredibly real characters in this novel. The novel alternates among the viewpoints of the two teens and their parents, so we get a tour inside all of their heads. There are all kinds of missed cues and misunderstandings that are so familiar in that we've all been there (even if not in Paris or Madrid), and Klise does it all so well.

What a fun novel—well written, witty, and insightful. No, it's not Pulitzer Prize winning, but who cares. Get it, read it, and pass it on!

*FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, in hopes I would review it.