10 April 2013

March Book Report

I'm still surprised to realize it is April.  I'm not sure why, but for whatever reason it is news to me every time I realize it.  Probably because I'm getting older - "they" always say that time goes more quickly when you get old.

In any event, that means that I should let you know what I read, and how I felt about it, during March.  Rather than make you wait even one second more, here is what kept me busy when I wasn't doing a thousand other things.

Saints and Sinners, by Edna O'Brien.  I've had this one on my bookshelves for a bit - actually, mine is an Advance Readers Edition!  But I finally got around to it, and it did not disappoint.  I usually enjoy Edna O'Brien's books, and this one is no exception.

It's not a large collection - there are only eleven stories - but they cover a lot of emotional, as well as geographical, ground.  O'Brien only inserts sentimentality where it logically makes sense, so these are not stories of Ireland and the Irish that contain pots of gold, fairies, or even happy endings.  But they are riveting nonetheless, and the characters seem very real.  From "Shovel Kings," about Irish workers in London hoping to make enough money to return home as wealthy men, to "Black Flower," detailing a social worker's meeting with a man she met while working in a prison, to "Old Wounds," where two cousins reunite briefly, only to have long-held family grudges resurface, each story here is one that on some level, the reader understands and can compare to their own experiences.  We have all been, or known, people just like these.

I think if you enjoy realistic short-story collections, and excellent evocation of time and place, you will enjoy this book.  This also is one of the titles on my reading list for the 2013 Ireland Challenge.

This Is Where I Leave You, by Jonathan Tropper.  I read this book because I read that Tina Fey was going to be in the movie version, and I really like her.  I'd heard of the book, and figured I'd give it a try.

Judd Foxman is on his way home.  His father has died after a lingering illness, and he goes home to attend the funeral.  Besides his mother, his siblings are also there.  None of them have spent much time together in years, but they learn from their mother that the father's dying wish was that they all sit shiva for him.  Surprised because their father was not that religious, they agree because they feel obligated to do so.

Judd, in the meantime, is dealing with losing his job and his wife.  He walked in on his boss and his wife having sex the bed he usually shared with her.  So he quit his job and moved out  of the house.  Not surprisingly, his siblings have their own issues, both personally, and with their respective partners.  The seven days become more and more something to just get through.  During this time, Judd learns that his wife is pregnant, and it is revealed to be Judd's baby, rather than his ex-boss'.  Adding a whole other layer to the story.

This book was interesting, sad, and funny at times.  It underscores something I think about from time to time, which is that when you are growing up, you always think you'll know the daily goings on of everyone else in your family.  Once you are an adult, you're usually lucky if you can keep up with them on a monthly basis.  And when you are away from them, you tend to forget the things that drove you nuts.  For the Foxman family, sitting shiva becomes a challenge in continuing to speak to one another, as much as it is dealing with their grief.

This isn't the best book I've ever read, but it had some interesting twists, and was a lot truer-to-life than some other books I've read about adult siblings reuniting for whatever reason.

The Imperfectionists, by Tom Rachman.  I remember reading about this book when it first came out, and thinking it sounded interesting.  I put it on my list to read for the TBR Challenge, and decided I was in the mood to give it a try.

The overall story is that of an English language newspaper headquartered in Rome, originally started by a millionaire from Atlanta in the 1950s.  As the book opens, it's 2007, and we eventually realize that the book is the story of the history of the paper, told via stories of individual reporters and other employees, and in reverse order.  Each "chapter" is the story of/is narrated by a staff member of the paper, telling how they came to work there, what kinds of things they covered, their individual lives, etc.  Then at the end of that, a vignette on the paper's history.

I liked this book, though it was bittersweet.  I am a fan of newspapers, particularly newspapers in print.  Admittedly, I read a lot of news online, but to me there is nothing better than a leisurely morning with a print newspaper.  During the week, not so much because I'm busy getting ready for work and all related to that, but I am a particular fan of leisurely Sunday mornings with a cup of tea, maybe even a muffin, and a nice big Sunday paper.  And this book reminded me that those "glory days" of newspapers have probably passed.  But the stories of the people and their lives made for interesting reading, and I always enjoy learning about Americans who live and work abroad, and how they came to do that.

There are also some funny parts of the book, and it did evoke the feeling of living in Rome to me (granted, I've never been to Rome, but I have imagined it!), so I read it in a leisurely manner because I wanted each person's story to take its time.  Except for the very last one, which is about the grandson of the original founder, who is not interested in the paper (or much of anything but his dog), who oversees its true closing.  It was disheartening and at the very end, quite upsetting.

Having said that, it was overall very good, and a kind of love letter to our old ideas about newspapers, reporters, and journalism.

A Few Green Leaves, by Barbara Pym.  It has only been in the past few years that I heard of/learned of  Barbara Pym.  Since then, I've read a few of her books, enjoying the experience each time.  "A Few Green Leaves" was no exception.

Emma has moved to a small village for the summer, living in her mother's empty cottage there.  She is an anthropologist, and feels that a summer spent observing the people in a small village will provide vast material for her studies.

The people in the village, for the most part, have lived there for a long time, and still talk about the family who lived in the village manor as if they were still actively involved in daily life.  The church's rector, Tom, and his sister, Daphne (who dreams of life in Greece), are relatively new to the village, but since they are associated with the church, have a certain social standing.  Another person joins the group for a small portion of the time, a former lover of Emma's that she saw on TV one night and impulsively wrote to.  [Yes, I know you should not end a sentence with a preposition.  So kill me for this.]

Anyway, the book deals with the everyday lives of these people, and Emma's thoughts and observations about them, and how her behavior changes as well.  As usual, Pym gives us amusing but pointed prose, and minor characters show as much "character" as the major ones do.  I really enjoyed this book, and hope to read another Barbara Pym story very soon.

Latte  Trouble, by Cleo Coyle.  In this third part of the Coffeehouse Mystery series, Clare Cosi, the owner of the Village Blend coffee shop in NYC, tries her hand at detective work again when one of her baristas is accused of killing someone by poisoning their coffee drink during a Fashion Week reception held at her location.

Like the others I've read in this series, I enjoyed this book.  The story moves along at a reasonable pace, and for me at least, the resolution is not so obvious that you wonder why you  are bothering to keep reading.  This particular one had some interesting commentary about the fashion world, and the usual coffee descriptions and pastries keep you wishing you could step into the book.  There are recipes at the end for some of the things mentioned, but like so much in life, I enjoy reading about it much more than making the effort to actually fix it ...

If you enjoy cozy mysteries, and drink even an occasional cup of coffee (like me), I think this is a series you'll like.  I especially like reading them in between other "more serious" books.  


I only have one book to offer this time, as the others were either ones I read on my Nook, or borrowed from the library.  Saints and Sinners, by Edna O'Brien is the one that I would be happy to pass along to a new home.  If you are interested, leave me a note in the comments by the end of the day on Friday, April 12.  As usual, if more than one person is interested, I'll choose the "winner" in a random fashion.

1 comment:

Lorraine said...

Bridget- I like the small village books- like Barbara Pym. I'll look for some of hers.

Try Alexandra Raife- a Scottish author you don't see much of in North America.