05 May 2011

April Book Report

Happy Cinco de Mayo everyone!  We celebrated with a Mexican-themed dinner, cooked by The Tim (El Tim?) and quite tasty. 

Last night we went to a Phillies game, and though it was cold, we enjoyed it a lot - especially since a) we were properly dressed, and b) they won!  Which is a significant event, as the other few times one or both of us attended a game in person, they've lost.  Regardless of how well they had been playing up to that time.  We were starting to get a complex.  So the curse seems to have lifted, good news for all of us.  (Well, not good news for the Nationals last night.)

Saturday I'm taking the Rosie's bus with Andrea, my friend Kate (who is also our cat sitter), and many others to Maryland Sheep and Wool.  I'm looking forward to it, and right now it sounds as if the weather will cooperate quite nicely.  I don't have anything specific that I want to get, but I don't care.  I just love seeing the animals (and petting any that I can!), looking at the yarns, etc., and people-watching. 

This will be the first year in a long time that I'm not walking in the Race for the Cure (this coming Sunday), and I feel bad about that.  I just completely didn't recognize it on the radar and didn't sign up in time.  (Yes, you can sign up that morning, but I absolutely hate that kind of thing.  And scoff at those who can't plan ahead.  Ahem.)  I'm not that crazy about the whole sisterhood aspect of it, but I know that I am a heck of a lot more lucky than others, who either are not able to walk, or not here to walk.  I'll just have to make more of an effort to do the American Cancer Society walk in the fall.

My, that was a lot of blathering, no?  Especially if you only wanted to know what I'd read last month.  Let's just decide that the subtitle of this post is "Tolerate the blathering; stay for the book report," and get moving.

The Map of True Places, by Brunonia Barry.  I really wasn't sure what to expect from this book, but once I started reading, I just had to keep going! It covers a year (well, intensely three months) in the life of Zee Finch, a therapist practicing in Boston who also engaged and living what appears to be a nice, comfortable life. That life is thrown for a loop when one of Zee's patients commits suicide.

What starts as Zee attending the patient's funeral, and then going to visit her aging father in Salem, turns into a story of a woman and her family. Zee's mother committed suicide when she was a young girl, and Zee starts to realize that she had started to confuse her mother with the patient who just committed suicide. Her father, who she hasn't seen for a while, has Parkinson's Disease, which she realizes is much worse than it was when she last saw him. He is getting to the point where the disease merges into Alzheimer's. Her father has thrown his partner of many years out of the house, after an incident that her father can't tell her about, and his partner doesn't want to talk about.

Zee decides that she needs to take a leave of absence to care for her father, being hesitant to place him in a nursing home. She also begins to think about where she is in her own life, and what she really wants or needs. As her father's condition quickly deteriorates, she begins to realize things about her mother that she never understood. Her feelings about a lot of things - including her fiance - change, and she tries to move forward and release herself from the guilt she has always felt because she couldn't save her mother, and because she didn't see any warning signs in her patient who committed suicide.

I don't want to go into a lot of detail, because if you are planning to read the book, I want you to be able to enjoy it without too many of my expectations laid over it. I will say that the book was interesting, and written in a way that made you want to keep reading to find out what would happen. The characters and their stories are multilayered, and there were two parts of the story where I was truly surprised by the turn of events.

Another thing I liked about it was the setting - Salem, Massachusetts, a place I've only visited once but loved, and would like to visit again sometime.

Though I think a lot of people would find this novel depressing, I did not. Sure, there are sad and depressing themes that make up the story, but upon finishing it, I felt fairly satisfied rather than sad. (Advance Reader copy up for grabs!)

Final Appeal, by Lisa Scottoline.  This is one of Lisa Scottoline's early books, but it was new to me.

Grace Rossi is a lawyer in Philadelphia who has started working part-time after a divorce. She gets a job with a federal appeals court, and is overall quite pleased with it - until she is assigned a high-profile death penalty appeal case. She also learns that her boss, who she has secretly always found attractive, finds her attractive as well. One night while working late, they admit to their feelings and make love. The next morning, her boss is found dead in his office - supposedly a suicide, but Grace is not convinced.

While Grace begins to investigate, she uncovers a lot of disturbing facts, not just about her boss, but about the other judges, some of her co-workers, and the appeals court in general. The story is very suspenseful, and I completely chose the wrong person as the murderer (as usual). I liked the unexpectedness in some of the characters, and the internal conversation that Grace carries on in her mind during some of the book.

This was an enjoyable book, and is an interesting look at part of the judicial system that was not at all familiar to me.

Bossypants, by Tina Fey.  I really like Tina Fey. And her alter-ego on "30 Rock," Liz Lemon, is one of my heroes. I wasn't sure that I wanted to read this, 'cause I didn't want it to turn out to be one of those celebrity-waste-of-time books. Fortunately for me, it was worth it.

This is not really an autobiography, or a how-I-made-it-big type of book, though it is about her life and her career. But it's more like a series of vignettes where she tells the reader about various details and experiences from her life so far. Of course, I expected the writing to be good - she is after all, first and foremost a writer - but the tone was very conversational, which meant that her humor and her slightly skewed way of looking at the world came through.

After reading this, I found Tina Fey to be a funny, strong woman, with the same kinds of worries, random thoughts, and funny stories that attract me to people. Not even trying to be "literature" it just gives you a chance to read something for the heck of it.

My only disappointment was finding out that she is not an animal person. As she states, not that she would ever hurt an animal, she just isn't interested in them. Plus, she is allergic, so that probably plays into it somewhat.

Oh well, nobody's perfect. :-)

In the Bleak Midwinter, by Julia Spencer-Fleming.  This is the first book I read on my Nook Color, and I really enjoyed it. I was not familiar with this series, but saw that the first installment was on sale for the Nook, so decided to try it.

Close to Christmas, Clare Fergusson - former Army helicopter pilot and now Episcopalian minister - finds a baby on the steps of her church, St. Albans, in upstate Miller's Kill, New York. There is a note on the blanket, saying tha the baby is named Cody, and should be given to a couple in the congregation hoping to adopt a baby. She alerts the local police chief, Russ Van Alstyne, also an Army veteran, and the two try to figure out who abandoned the baby and why.

Clare is a Southern girl transplanted to the snowy North, and not quite prepared for winter in Miller's Kill. She is also trying to do some different, more progressive things with the church, and the longtime congregation members are not 100% behind her.

This was an interesting book, and I think, a good beginning to a series. Clare is interesting, and "normal" as opposed to overly holy. She is not always perfect and has doubts about a lot of things. But she tries to do good and do the right thing, even if she doesn't always think before acting. Her relationship with Van Alstyne is just starting in this book, and they work together well, at least in this installment. Other characters are introduced, and even if not fleshed out, make an impression in the story.

As mysteries go, this one was well paced, and kept me going back and forth over who was responsible for the baby as well as for the other incidents in the book. I will definitely read other installments of this series.

Okay for Now, by Gary D. Schmidt.  This one was a surprise.  The Tim brought home a copy and said he had read it, and thought I should as well.  (We seldom read the same books, much less recommend one to each other.)  That alone intrigued me, but it was also a young adult novel - a genre he doesn't usually read, as far as I know.  Intriguing, no?

The story is narrated by Doug Swiecek, a 7th-grader whose father moves the family from New York City to "stupid Marysville" New York when he loses his job. Doug's family life is not that great - his father is a bully, and his older brother Christopher spends most of his time trying to find ways to make Doug's life miserable.

The early part of the book is mostly about Doug's home life, and his misery when the family relocates, moving into a house he refers to as The Dump. Doug thinks his mother is wonderful, and senses that his father bullies her as well as the children. One day Doug happens to walk into the public library, and comes upon a volume of John James Audubon's Birds of America elephant folio. The book has a profound effect on him, that even he doesn't understand. One of the librarians (a cataloger, YAY!) befriends him, and as he becomes more familiar with Audubon's masterpiece, makes a friend at school, and starts to settle in, his life changes, even if he doesn't realize it.

His older brother Lucas returns home from the Vietnam War severely injured, and the family has a hard time adjusting. One day, something Doug says and does, which kind of takes your breath away when you read it, changes the whole tenor of the story.

I really enjoyed the book, and found it to be one that resounds with adults, but would be good for kids to read. Doug is believable - he is not perfect, he messes up even when he tries, he loses his temper. But he keeps on the best that he can. His "relationship" with the Audubon work serves as a metaphor for his growth and development throughout the story.

For me, the Audubon has particular meaning, since I currently work in a library that has an original set of the plates and every Friday afternoon, we invite visitors to the museum to come while we turn the page. It's beautiful, and the story of it is interesting, and it's fun to see adults and children alike become engaged in our "big book."

That's all, folks.  Let me know if any of you are interested in The Map of True Places, and I'll pick a name on Monday, May 9.


sprite said...

Me, pick me! I quite liked Barry's previous novel, The Lace Reader, when I read it a few years ago. It's also set in Salem (as is the Janet Evanovich mystery I recently finished).

Alas! I'll at MDSW on Sunday. Too bad, but I look forward to seeing what, if anything, you buy.

Kim said...

There are probably a wealth of terrific books in Young Adult --- but, once your children are past that age, you just never go into that section of the bookstore.

Carrie#K said...

NOT an animal person?! Oh noes! OTOH, with her schedule.....

Have fun at MS&W you lucky thing! And don't fret about Sunday. You can't do it all, all the time.

mary said...

Bummer, I was thinking of reading Tina Fey's book but I guess I'll skip it. I do still admire her and enjoy her comedy. Based on your review, I am going to read In The Bleak Midwinter. I like series mystery books and I haven't heard of this one.

Can't wait to hear about MS&W.

Give the kitties a hug for me.

Lorraine said...

Bridget- I want a full report of MS&W- if I can't go, then I can live through your experience.