Monday, January 31, 2011

Sarah's Key

by Tatiana de Rosnay

Sarah's KeyI have a friend who can't read books about the Holocaust because it's just too traumatic. He's Jewish, so I can empathize, but until reading Sarah's Key, I didn't fully understand his hesitation. Now I get it. I'm quite sure I held my breath for the greater part of this book. The torment, torture and anguish was almost more than I could bear, especially considering that reading is supposed to be a relaxing, pleasant hobby. But, that being said, this book was powerful.

Set in Paris in 1942 as well as 2002, Sarah's Key explains the lesser publicized roundup of Parisian Jews and their eventual deportation to Auschwitz. Sarah is only 11 years old when her family is arrested and she attempts to protect her 5 year old brother, Michel, from inevitable death. The true horrors that these prisoners went through is told in extreme detail. Concurrently, in modern day, Julia Jarmond is an American living in Paris to a rat bastard Frenchman (pardon my French :). When the magazine she works for asks her to write a story of the 60th anniversary of the Roundup, she uncovers a link between her husband's family and Sarah's.

If you can classify such intense emotions and stress as enjoyable, then I enjoyed this book. It just sounds weird to say that. But I've already said that I love historical fiction, so I will use that as my hook. I do know there is NO WAY I will tell my friend to read this. But for as engaging as this was, my feelings are that the last 50 or so pages threw in the towel. Extremely sloppy and just a little too convenient an ending. You know when you're reading a book, turn the page, and automatically see the tone change? Like we just entered wrap-up mode? I really hate when this happens, but I think this was one of the most obvious hurry-up-and-get-it-over-with books I have ever encountered. It's a shame too because 80% of it was fascinating. Oh well, I would still recommend it, but maybe don't put it on the top of your list.

(p.s. In case you haven't noticed, I'm not linking the titles of the books in the body copy of these posts anymore. That's because the photo is now the link. Cool, huh?) 

* * * * *

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Left Neglected

by Lisa Genova

Left NeglectedThere's two things I really like. First is historical fiction. You know, where the story isn't real, but the facts, places and/or events surrounding the story are. What always comes to mind is the movie Titanic. Make fun of me if you want, I don't care, I love that movie. The second is accuracy. Now, I'm all for a story involving fantasy and the theory of "what if," but I also like when a fiction book can speak the truth about a syndrome, disease, disorder and still keep the entertainment value. I kind of think the two go together.

Lisa Genova is a real-life neuroscientist, so accuracy is her specialty. I think it's pretty cool that she can also write interesting novels. Sarah and her husband Bob are a career-driven couple with three children. They both work 60-hour weeks and have a nanny to care for the kids. While they love their children, neither can give up the corporate life to spend more time with their family. They tend to hide behind the excuse that they need these high-paying jobs to afford the lifestyle in which they are accustomed. I personally think this is a cop out, but thus is the basis for the story. Running late for an important meeting, Sarah is multi-tasking in her car going 70 on the highway when she looks up to see traffic at a stand still. She wakes up eight days later to realize that the left side of her body no longer exists, at least according to her brain. Here's where her true journey begins. Will she ever fully recover? What will happen to her job? Will she be able to take care of herself, let alone her children? Her struggles and new realities play out in a fascinating way. Told with believability and medical accuracy, Left Neglected is a story that hits the mark.

"I think some small part of me knew I was living an unsustainable life. Every now and then it would whisper, Sarah, please slow down. You don't need all this. You can't continue like this. But the rest of me, powerful, smart and determined to achieve, achieve, achieve, wasn't hearing a word of it ...
... Even my dreams began tapping me on the shoulder, trying to grab my attention. Don't you even know what you're doing? Let me show you ... With all that has happened, I honestly believe that they were guidance sent from a spiritual source. Messages from God. And I ignored them. I guess I needed something less fleeting and more concrete.
Like a traumatic smack to the head."

* * * * *

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Let the Great World Spin

by Colum McCann

Let the Great World Spin: A NovelI'm sitting here trying to think of what to write that would do this book justice. How do I describe this story with the same eloquence in which it was told? And will I tempt you, my blog reader, enough to make you pick up Let the Great World Spin? To initially hear the synopsis might not be convincing enough. Plus, when I say that it took me almost a quarter of the book to become emotionally involved and attached to the story, you may say that your time is too valuable. But I need you to read this book. I promise it is worth every minute of your precious time.

I'm a little late with my review. Great World was released in December of 2009, reviewed by my friend Ed in April and recently voted his 2010 Fiction Book of the Year. Anyway, for those who don't know, the heart of the story revolves around Philippe Petit and his 1974 tightrope walk across the World Trade Towers. A series of people are introduced and, while their lives overlap slightly, in the end they converge into one of the best told stories I have read in a long time. Publisher's Weekly can synopsize better than me:

"Petit appears in the courtroom of Judge Solomon Soderberg, that sets events into motion. Solomon, anxious to get to Petit, quickly dispenses with a petty larceny involving mother/daughter hookers Tillie and Jazzlyn Henderson. Jazzlyn is let go, but is killed on the way home in a traffic accident. Also killed is John Corrigan, a priest who was giving her a ride. The other driver, an artist named Blaine, drives away, and the next day his wife, Lara, feeling guilty, tries to check on the victims, leading her to meet John's brother, with whom she'll form an enduring bond. Meanwhile, Solomon's wife, Claire, meets with a group of mothers who have lost sons in Vietnam. One of them, Gloria, lives in the same building where John lived, which is how Claire, taking Gloria home, witnesses a small salvation."

My favorite characters/plot lines were Lara and her struggle with forgiveness and guilt, and Tilly, who did the very best she could with the cards she was dealt. The parallels McCann made with 9/11 are evident and truly fantastic. I found this video interview he did and it's worth the six minutes it takes to watch. Do so, then go get this book.

* * * * *

Friday, January 7, 2011

Still Missing

by Chevy Stevens

Still MissingOh holy crap. Immediately sucked in.
"You know Doc, you're not the first shrink I've seen since I got back. The one my family doctor recommended right after I came home was a real prize. The guy actually tried to act like he didn't know who I was, but that was a pile of crap – you'd have to be deaf and blind not to. Hell, it seems every time I turn around another asshole with a camera is jumping out of the bushes. But before all this shit went down? Most of the world had never heard of Vancouver Island, let alone Clayton Falls. Now mention the island to someone and I'm willing to bet the first thing out of their mouth will be,  'Isn't that where the lady Realtor was abducted?' "

I loved the writing perspective of the Realtor, Annie, speaking directly to the psychiatrist, whose "voice" is never heard. But knowing that she is speaking to him after her horrific ordeal doesn't make the tale any less stressful, even though you realize she survived her one-year abduction. The nightmare of Annie being taken from an open house, having to live like a wife to a psychotic maniac, and her eventual escape is truly only the beginning. As Annie tries to work out her fears and attempt regaining a "normal" life, she is still hoping to find out more about her abductor and why she was his victim. The result is something I don't think any reader will figure out.

My heart didn't stop pounding the whole time I was reading. Just thinking back on it as I type this, my heart pounds again. If you are looking for a real suspenseful, unique, quick read, go now. Actually, even if you aren't, just get Still Missing. It's that good.

* * * * *

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Every Last One

by Anna Quindlen

Every Last One: A NovelI've been a fan of Anna Quindlen since I read Black & Blue when it was an Oprah Book Club selection in 1998. I think about that book a lot. So good. So scary. So real. And while Rise & Shine wasn't my favorite, I was definitely looking forward to this latest one.

Quindlen writes tragedy really well. Some people may find the subject matter a little too much for casual reading, but I kind of love it. She is able to capture raw emotion and keep the plot completely believable all at the same time. Every Last One begins as a pretty typical family story; proms, learning disabilities and soccer practice; and quickly turns on a dime. Mary Beth Latham, devoted wife and mother of three, in an instant finds herself with nothing. The rest of the book is simply about survival when even the strongest person would give up. Line after line, my heart wanted to break. That makes for some genius writing.

"Sometimes I feel as though the entire point of a woman's life is to fall in love with people who will leave her."

I read this one on my Kindle. I love my Kindle. I actually think I might read faster on it than holding a "real" book. I'm still not ready to give up the real thing though. I hope I never am.

* * * * *