Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Friday, April 20, 2018

“Girl in Snow” by Danya Kukafka

I’d never heard of this book (and haven’t heard anything about it since, come to think of it) before Sam gave it to me for Christmas. He liked the image on the cover, and the similarity of the author’s last name to Kafka; and the endorsement by Paula Hawkins on the front cover didn't hurt.

Girl in Snow is definitely in the same category as Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train (and not just because it has the word "girl" in the title). All three are well-written, tightly plotted mystery/thrillers that are definitely fun and worth reading. If I had to rank them I think I'd say this one isn't as good as GG but is slightly better than TGotT. (Is Gone Girl inflated in my memory? Because no thriller seems to quite compare to it anymore.) 

The story here is a murder mystery told from the perspective of three different characters. Two are teenagers who attend the same school as the girl who was killed, and one is a cop who was with the phalanx who first responded to the murder scene. There's a little bit of Northern Exposure going on here, as all three characters are almost a little bit too quirky to be true . . . or maybe everyone is really that quirky on the inside, and we just don't have the opportunity to realize it the way we do when we're reading someone's innermost thoughts?

Lots of parallels were drawn between characters (art, ballet, people with fathers who are were policemen--maybe there were more similarities than this, but I'm too lazy to search for others) which was *almost* (but not quite) enough to make things a little confusing sometimes, but was definitely enough to be interesting and make me think about the connections between people and how similar situations can affect people in different ways. 

I have only one complaint, which isn't really much of one. Once again I guessed the solution early on. I first wondered on page 50, first suspected on 142, my suspicion deepened on 299... and the actual revelation wasn’t until 305. At least this wasn’t a case where all the characters were being stupid because the clues were too obvious, or a case where it was annoyingly easy to guess the killer. It was both satisfying and frustrating to crack the case early. Maybe I’m just too good at it! I guarantee you, though, I would NOT be good at solving real-life murders. I’m sure the criminals would never be as accommodating in handing out clues as authors are. 

Saturday, April 14, 2018

“The Imperfectionists” by Tom Rachman

This may sound like a stupid thing to say, but I love books that I enjoy reading. And I really enjoyed this one.

The Imperfectionists is marketed as a novel, but it’s really a book of short stories. (Don’t let that put you off, though! That makes it great for taking it in small bites and reading one chapter at a time.) This book did not reach critical mass (I assume because of the format, or maybe my one-chapter reading habit?) but my reading experience was better without it. 

Though there is a tenuous narrative arc (the stories are tied together by a fictional newspaper based in Rome; each chapter is about someone who works there, and people who are featured in one story often make small appearances in others) the relative lack of plot is a benefit rather than a detriment. What really shines in this book is the characters. 

The characters weren’t necessarily lovable or impressive (more often the opposite), but they felt real and true. As I read, I don’t remember thinking “Wow, these characters seem like they could be real people,” which is a good thing because that would have taken me out of the story. And that’s always annoying. (Though that would have been better than if I’d been thinking, “Wow, I totally can’t imagine any of these characters as real people.”) But looking back now, after having finished the book, I’m definitely thinking “Wow, those characters seemed like they could have been real people.”

Saturday, April 7, 2018

“In the Orchard, the Swallows” by Peter Hobbs

This is a beautiful little book, through and through. I mean, look at that lovely little cover! And what’s inside is even better. I actually finished reading this book several weeks ago, and I hate that I put off writing about it, but I think that’s because I was afraid I wouldn’t do it justice. That’s still true, but the longer I wait the worse it will be.

Which is unfortunate, because reading this book was rewarding, and I would really like to savor that feeling. The story is told so calmly and peacefully, almost a Zen experience, but it has strength and a quiet passion too. It’s the story of a young man who returns to his village in Pakistan after years of unjust imprisonment . . . and that sentence right there would NOT interest me in reading this book. But the writing is subtle and taut, the story offered in sweet but tart nibbles, so that reading it was almost like eating one of the pomegranates that grow in the book’s orchard. The plot gently shifts between the man’s adolescence, his imprisonment, and his following convalescence, slowly revealing the series of events that brought him to the present day. 

It’s a very short book, but it’s the kind that any Goldilocks worth her salt would close with a satisfied sigh. 

Sunday, April 1, 2018

“Riding in Cars with Boys” by Beverly Donofrio

I only got this book because I’d heard of the movie. That’s not a good enough reason. It's a nice little I-was-a-teen-mom-and-lived-to-tell-about-it memoir, with the added twists that Donofrio grows up to be a published author, and the baby who seemingly ruined her life grows up to be her best friend. So, kind of like a fairy tale. But I do appreciate the sentiment expressed at the end. Many people have limitations... but it’s up to the individual to decide whether to stew about those limits or whether to learn from them and find them enriching.

I haven’t seen the movie, and now I probably won’t. That’s mainly because I totally can’t picture Drew Barrymore playing Beverly. I was thinking of someone more like Leah Remini as I read (dark hair, looks convincingly Italian, and is a sharp sarcastic talker who has perfected the eye-roll). I expect that Barrymore did well with the scenes where Beverly got high (admittedly that’s probably almost all of them) because she’s good at the dreamy, slow-speaking, happy-go-lucky characters. Maybe I’m underestimating her range, but I just don’t think Barrymore could successfully “be” Beverly as written in the book.

Or maybe I’ll have to watch the movie just to find out if I’m right?