Monday, April 22, 2013

Minor Characters: A Beat Generation Story

Minor Characters
By Joyce Johnson

Genre: Memoir/Nonfiction

Review: We read this for my book club. Joyce Johnson was a teen in the 1950s, traveling to the Village to listen to music, later attending Barnard. She finds herself in the orbit of the Beat Generation, among artists and poets. Joyce takes a job at a publisher, tries her hand at writing, and observes the world changing as she becomes one of the first young women in her neighborhood to move into her own apartment. Later, she meets Jack Kerouac and falls in love, right before his On the Road fame near the end of the 50s. If you are interested in this era, art, identity, women's rights, you will find this book interesting.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Kate Morton's The Secret Keeper

The Secret Keeper
by Kate Morton

Genre: Popular, Historical, Women's Fiction

How have I not reviewed this book yet? I read it months ago; Kate Morton's novels are books that I always buy in hardcover and re-read once or twice--which is saying a lot since I am an avid library patron and I can't buy every book that I read as a poor but happy graduate student :)

Review: Morton is one of my favorite authors. The settings of her novels are amazingly vivid and memorable. If you want to travel to a quaint English cottage, a mysterious forgotten manor, if you want to unravel a mystery while savoring vivid settings and languorous language, pick up this book. If you enjoyed her previous novels, this one won't disappoint, although The Forgotten Garden is still my favorite.

Sixteen-year-old Laurel witnesses a crime she will never forget and won't understand until fifty years later; a crime perpetrated by her mother. In the future, we follow Laurel as an established actress reflecting on her life and career; she returns home to her sisters at the end of her mother's life.

 Flashback to wartime England: we follow Laurel's mother Dorothy, glamorous Vivien, and the handsome Jimmy.
Conclusion: Lavish historical fiction, mystery, and a surpising ending! Even I didn't predict it!

Song to Read by: "Una Mattina" by Ludovico Einaudi

Sarah Jio's Latest

Blackberry Winter
by Sarah Jio

Genre: Women's Fiction

Review: A teddy bear in the snow, a lost boy. A mother's desperate search for her son in the 1930s. Blackberry Winter follows both Vera Ray and a contemporary character, a journalist grieving who finds the spark in life again when she discovers that years ago, on another freak snowstorm in May, a boy was lost. She sets out to investigate and of course, the mystery hits closer to home than she'd imagined. Flashbacks to Vera and son Daniel's story alternate with Claire's workplace concerns and crumbling marriage.

This book is like sitting down with a favorite cup of tea and just relaxing. There isn't an urgency to reading, it is comfortable and familiar--rather formulaic and predictable, nothing new here, but still satisfying enough.

If you've read Jio's other novels, you'll enjoy the reappearance of several characters from The Violets of March, her first novel. I recommend her first novel the most, and The Bungalow. You can read a review here

Author website and blog:

Song to Read by: "Night Sky" by Andrew Bird

A Year in France

Lessons in French
by Hilary Reyl

Genre: Literary Fiction

Review: The Berlin Wall is falling down and an aspiring painter, Kate, sets out for a year in Paris as assistant to eccentric photographer Lydia and becomes embroiled in dysfunctional family drama. The premise of the book holds promise as a coming-of-age tale/dream of many twenty-something young women. Spend a year in Paris after college? Alright! Meet fascinating people and have an affair with a French guy? Not a bad idea, right?

This equation for a novel sounds great, but something is hollow in her character; the book doesn't quite deliver. Kate is so ineffectual that you may tire of her non-actions and lack of conviction. On the other hand, you might relate to this struggle. Read it and see for yourself.

Question: As I read, I was wondering, do you think that a book set in 1989 is historical fiction?

Song to Read by: "Lusitania" by Andrew Bird and St. Vincent

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Spy/Mother Caper

The Expats
by Chris Pavone

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Review: When Kate's husband proposes the family move to England for a job, she leaves her own top-secret career to plan family trips around Europe and care for the children. Once in Luxembourg, she finds herself missing her old career and feeling suspicious of her husband's job and her new friends, Americans who are not what they seem.

This novel is an interesting portrait of the expat community in Europe, a women navigating career vs. family, and a spy caper hopping around cities in Europe.

A fun, fast, engaging read! Check it out!