Monday, April 23, 2012

The Singles - Review and Giveaway

by Meredith Goldstein, Plume, April 2012

...this one will be a popular beach read this summer
This is the story of the Annapolis wedding of Bee Evans and Matt Fee (yes she will become Bee Fee) and the five guests who despite receiving a plus one invite come solo to the wedding.  Hannah, a college classmate of Beth’s is a bridesmaid.  She dreads the wedding as she will need to confront ex boyfriend Tom who dumped her.  She is hoping that Rob a college friend and old boyfriend will attend the wedding with her, but Rob the flakiest of the five solo wedding guests stays in Texas to support his dog Liz a rescue mutt with epilepsy.  Rob stays current with the wedding events through texts sent by Hannah.  Hannah’s roommate at the wedding is Vickie another college friend.  Vicki, a romance novel addict, works at an unexciting but well paying job; she is constantly depressed and travels with a social affective disorder sun lamp in a guitar case.  These three college friends are supplemented by two additional solo guests.  The bride’s uncle Joe, a divorced father is attending even though the bride’s mother would prefer he not be in attendance.  Joe is attracted to Vicki and has big plans for their relationship, plans that are not shared by Vickie.  The final character in this farce is Phil.  Phil is only attending the wedding as a favor to his mom who is ill and unable to attend.  Phil is perhaps the saddest of these characters, unable to grow up he continues to linger in a prolonged adolescence that includes sports and failed commitments and not much else. 
The adventures of these five characters through the wedding weekend are enjoyable to follow.  The story is told from alternating perspectives.  Some of the scenes are quite funny.  Hannah, on the advice of a controlling maid of honor, takes some pills to settle her nerves.  Followed by a couple of drinks Hannah’s confrontation with her ex is painfully funny.  All five of the solo guests experience character growth through this wedding weekend.  The back and forth between Hannah and Rob is very well done.  Rob, still in love with Hannah, but unable to act decisively on it, shows the most growth of all of the characters.  All of these solo guests are changed by their attendance at this wedding.  I loved the ending; it provided hope but was not an unrealistic take on life. 
This is a debut novel for Meredith Goldstein, the popular LoveLetters advice columnist from the Boston Globe and it is a good one.  You’ll love the characters and if you’ve ever gone single to a wedding you'll relate to the events in this story.   The Singles, I think will be a popular beach read this summer.  The book has been optioned for film so read it now before the movie is cast and you can compare your casting choices with the actual ones.
My gently used copy of this novel is available for giveaway, follow the instructions to the right of this box.  Giveaway ends May 1. CLOSED
I read an ARC provided by the publisher.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Calico Joe

by John Grisham, Doubleday, April 2012

This is a two-three hour read, perfect for an airplane.  

Befitting the start of baseball season we have a baseball novel, Calico Joe.  This is in fact an expanded short story, just over 200 pages, of a father-son relationship.  Paul Tracey, the narrator is the son of Warren Tracey a fictional New York Mets pitcher in 1973.  Paul is 11 years old.  Warren is a mean spirited father, teaching Paul the seamier aspects of the game while drinking and physically abusing his mother.  A rookie phenom, Joe Castle from Calico, Arkansas has energized the league with his record breaking start.  Warren Tracey faces Calico Joe in a game, Joe hits a home run and Tracey’s son knows the next at bat will feature Warren throwing a bean ball at Joe.  Tracey hits Joe in the head, injuring him so badly that his promising career and his health are both ruined.  This act essentially ends Warren’s major league career also.  Warren’s abusive behavior ends his marriage and his relationship with his children.  Thirty years later Paul, now a happily married father of three, attempts to bring together the reclusive Joe Castle and Paul's estranged dying father.   

This story has lots of inside baseball talk that gives it a realistic feel.  Grisham has mixed in real life players with the fictional characters, something baseball fans will enjoy.  You don’t have to be a baseball fan to enjoy this story; it really is about the father-son relationship.  Like most of Gresham’s books this is a story but really not literature.  Characters have somewhat murky motivations and are mostly one dimensional.  Nothing challenging, surprising or growth inspiring here.  This is a two-three hour read, perfect for an airplane.   
I read a copy of this novel provided by the publisher

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar

by Suzanne Joinson, Bloomsbury USA, May, 2012                                                        ... good story, great atmosphere, likeable characters and interesting plot

This story of two sisters who go off in missionary service to Kashgar (western China on the Silk Road) is set in 1923. One sister Elizabeth has a strong religious calling fostered by her mentor Millicent an older worldly woman. The second sister and story narrator Evangeline has very different motives.  Eva desires to leave England and have adventures. She has been given a book contract to relate her experiences cycling in the Far East (hence the title). Accompanied by Millicent the ladies set off on their adventures and adventures they do have!  First off, they assist a pregnant mother who delivers a baby girl on the roadside and promptly dies. The missionaries take the newborn along with them.They arrive in Kashgar to a very unwelcoming crowd of Moslems, Chinese, Turkmen and others. Millicent and Elizabeth throw themselves passionately into attempting to convert the locals to Christianity; Evangeline can see the fruitlessness and even danger in their work but is powerless to stop this force.Without giving too much away let’s just say things go downhill from there.

In a present day story that is intertwined the author introduces Frieda, an English woman   who has worked in the Moslem world for a think tank trying to sort out the problems in the communication between Christians and Moslems.  Frieda is weary of her rootless, peripatetic life and her needy lover Nathaniel when she meets Tayeb a Yemeni immigrant on the lam from the authorities.  At the same time she is notified that she is the sole heir to a woman that she has never heard of.  Frieda and Tayeb develop a supportive relationship and assist each other in coping with mysteries and changes in their lives. 
In the last third of the book the two narratives come together in a clever way.  I liked this story, the 1923 parts better than the present day narrative.  The exotic and strange life style and customs of  Kashgar were fascinating.  I also appreciated the elements of true history interspersed into the story - rebellions, uprisings and battles.  I liked the writing style; it was straightforward and evocative of the time and place without being overly descriptive.  I thought that most of the characters were well developed with clear motivations; I did struggle with the motivations of Millicent.
So for me this was good story, well written with great atmosphere, likeable characters and an interesting plot.  
 I read an advanced copy of this novel provided by the publisher.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Come Home

by Lisa Scottoline, St, Martins Press, April 2012

...not a great story.

This is one of a couple of the stand alone novels that Lisa Scottoline has written since abandoning her series on Philadelphia female lawyers.  In this storyJill is a part-time pediatrician and mother of a teen age daughter, who was divorced three years earlier. She has found a wonderful new relationship with Sam a scientist.   One night her step daughter Abby knocks on their door to tell Jill that her ex husband is dead and Abby suspects murder.  Jill was a loving step mother to Abby and her sister Victoria and immediately wants to help Abby. Jill had wanted to continue a relationship with her step daughters but her ex husband prevented this.  Despite objections from her fiancee Sam, Jill helps Abby investigate the murder of her father.  The plot drags along for the first two thirds of the book where nothing much happens then in the last third events take off and the story has all the elements of a soap opera.  There are car crashes, undercover agents, Wall St. swindlers, deceptive pharmaceutical executives, indecipherable financial schemes and not quite believable coincidences. 

The overriding theme in the story is the extent of a mother’s love for a child  (biological or otherwise) and her willingness to do almost anything to help the child.  Scottoline is good at describing family dynamics in today’s blended families, the balance of work and home responsibilities needed by working mothers and the challenges of parents in relating to children especially teenagers.  There are lots of references to email, facebook and twitter, so the story has an up to date feel to it.   Despite these positives this isn’t a good book.  It screams for better editing, there is too much repetition we are told over and over that Jill loves her step children as much as her biological child – enough already we get it!

Scottoline has been a favorite Philadelphia writer for me.  She writes a weekly column for the Philadelphia Inquirer - Chick Wit that is both funny and insightful.  Her earlier novels dealt with a group of Philadelphia female lawyers (Scottoline was a Philly lawyer before she went full time to writing) that were peopled with great characters that were quintessentially Philly.  The legal dramas were realistic and fast paced.  Please bring back that series with Bennie Rosato, Mary DiNunzio and the rest of that great gang!
I read an advanced reader copy of this book provided by the publisher.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Good American

by Alex George, February 2012, Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam

  ...the story much like real life contains both joy and sorrow but overall it is an immigrant story exploring what is means to be “a good American” - highly recommended      

Spoilers Alex George has given us one more take on the immigrant story so integral to the fabric of the US.  Frederick and Jette leave Bremen Germany in 1903 to escape disapproving parents who won’t bless their marriage.  They start with the idea of going to New York but end up going to New Orleans (“What’s the difference?  They’re both new”).  The story is narrated by their grandson James.  Frederick and Jette Meisenheimer end up in Beatrice Missouri, greatly aided by many Americans along their journey.  Jette delivers their first son Joseph in Beatrice and the Meisenheimers set down roots.  Frederick starts work at a local tavern where he becomes a popular fixture as the barkeep.  Frederick is deeply grateful for the opportunities given him and his young family which now includes a daughter Rosa.  When WWI expands to include the US, Frederick enlists and is sent to France.  In an enduring family tragedy he is killed on the last day of the war.  Jette, enraged at him for enlisting but grief stricken at his death must rally and provide for the young family.  Frederick has left her the tavern which he had been able to purchase.  She manages the tavern and then with the arrival of prohibition converts the tavern to a restaurant.  She raises Joseph and Rosa.  The story continues through the twentieth century as James marries and has four sons.   The entire family stays in Beatrice although the grandchildren all desire to leave the small town. 
The story is populated with unique, memorable characters, both good and bad.  The town of Beatrice is also a major part of this story.  The changes that occur in small town America throughout the century are seen in the changes in Beatrice.  The story much like real life contains both joy and sorrow but overall it is an immigrant story exploring what is means to be “a good American”.  I enjoyed this book it is well written with vibrant characters and a first class plot with an unexpected twist at the end.  Definitely worth your time. 
I read a copy of this book borrowed from The Free Library of Philadelphia.