Thursday, March 19, 2009

What I've Been Reading Lately

Let me try to get caught up here, I'm not sure if that is going to happen but I'm giving it a go.

First up: The Local News by Miriam Gershow

This was an ARC send to me; the back cover reads:

Lydia Pasternak is a decade out of high school, but inside she's still Danny Pasternak’s little sister, the bookish teenager who lived in her popular older brother's shadow until the night he disappeared. Though she has spent her adult life trying to forget that year she turned sixteen, the memory of her brother’s vanishing still haunts her: her secret pleasure at the attention she received as the missing football hero’s sister, her ambivalence about his possible fate, her emergence as an individual in his absence. As her parents went off the rails, she went to her first keg parties and befriended the school's elite crowd—all the while fervidly helping the attractive private investigator her family hired to search for clues to Danny's whereabouts. The shocking end to that trail of clues—an end that Lydia never prepared herself for—left a wound that has never healed, even now as she prepares to return to her hometown after many years.

From that description I thought I'd be reading about an adult Lydia. That was not so much the case, in fact aside from I think 2 comments early on referring to 'back then' we don't come into contact with adult Lydia until about 30 pages before the end of the book. So, this book wasn't exactly what it said it was. Putting that aside, this was one of those books that I thought was well done, but that I never really connected with. Lydia is a precocious and freakishly intelligent 15 year old - this girl discusses world politics for fun for crying out loud. She's in an awkward stage of life and in her relationship with older brother Danny who alternately annoys, torments, and includes her when he goes missing. What Danny's disappearance does to Lydia's family is the heart of this book. I guess I thought that this story would have been more about Lydia looking back retrospectively, perhaps more objectively at what happened to her family. Instead it was mostly from the perspective of a teenager, which perhaps wasn't as fulfilling for me. So, The Local News was not really for me, but if you're interested in the story it's certainly well done.


The Rose of Sebastopol by katharine McMahon

How gorgeous is that cover? Well, I thought this book was going to be sort of a love affair for me, and this was definitely more of a 'like' than a 'love' relationship.

The story opens when Victorian lady Mariella Lingwood travels to Italy to visit her ailing fiance Dr. Henry Thewell who has been treating soldiers of the Crimean war. In his delirium, Henry calls out for Mariella's cousin, Rosa who had gone to Crimea to nurse the soldiers, and it is apparent that they have had some sort of relationship. We then go back in time and get to know these characters as they came to this point. One interesting thing I've noticed in reading a few reviews of this is that readers found Mariella to be a rather 'dull' heroine. I think in modern Victorian stories we are so used to our heroines being quite modern and ahead of their times, that a girl who behaves like a well brought up Victorian lady does seem a bit dull. About halfway through this book, Mariella throws convention aside and travels to Crimea to try to find her missing cousin Rosa. The story picks up at this point and Mariella really comes into her own. I enjoyed this book overall, particularly the setting and all the descriptions of clothing and travel and sewing. For all the effort the author made to create this Victorian setting though, many times I was surprised by the modern dialogue. For example, I wasn't aware someone might have used the phrase "Back in a sec." back then. This is certainly the sort of novel I am typically drawn to, and if you are too, I'd recommend giving this one a try. Many thanks to Putnam Books for the advanced copy.

Finally, I'd like to mention a book that I've been feeling guilty about. Guilty, because I really liked it when I read it back in January when for whatever reason I was reading at the speed of light and I never got around to reviewing it. Guilty also, because Random House was kind enough to provide me with a copy.

The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford opens in 1986 when Chinese American Henry Lee discovers that there are boxes in an old hotel that were left behind by Japanese who used to live in the area and who were sent to internment camps. This discovery brings Henry back to WW2 and his friendship with a young Japanese girl Keiko. We follow Henry in the present as he looks for answers and Henry in the past, when he wears a button saying "I am Chinese." so as not to be confused with the Japanese, and as he tries to maintain his relationship with Keiko. This is a sweet and moving story and brought me to tears at one point as I realized how much Henry and Keiko cared for one another. I highly recommend this book.

Whew! That's it? Now whatever will I write about...

OH! Something strange/curious/bizarre/coincidental, recently released felon Sara Jane Olson lives in my neighborhood, and I mean Neighborhood. It's sort of like living in a small town in the middle of a big city here, so I'm trying to gauge what my reaction will be when I run into her at the grocery store....


bermudaonion said...

Oh my gosh! How bizarre is that. You'll have to report back when you see her somewhere.

Lisa said...

I know what you mean about feeling guilty when you don't get to review books, especially arcs as quickly as you would like. I'm reading an arc right now that I got from LibraryThing that I am in love with! I'll definitely be reviewing it soon, but I've actually never gotten around to some of them. I just can't force myself to read a book to the end if I don't like it. I figure no review is probably better than a bad review anyway.

J.L. Danger said...

I dont know how you read as much as you do! You are amazing!
I miss your farmers market posts.......

Staci said...

I can't wait to read Corner of Bitter and Sweet. You've been busy!! Now I need to look up your local felon and see what she did!

Carrie K said...

The Rose of Sebastopol sounds pretty good. The phrase does sound jarring but otoh, I was watching an old Barbara Stanwyck movie where she looked about 22 and she, some what shockingly said "stick a fork in me, I'm done".

Live in a bad neighborhood, do you? ;)

Les said...

Somehow, I doubt a Victorian woman (or man) would say, "Back in a sec."

I'm seeing more and more reviews for The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. I thought it was really good, too.

Must feel strange to have Sara Jane Olson nearby! Wonder what ever happened to Patty Hearst.

Ti said...

Great reviews. You made some valid points for sure. Back in a sec...that got a chuckle out of me.

Hey, I didn't know who Sara Jane Olson was so I looked her up. She grew up close to where I currently live.

Tara said...

Bermudaonion, I know, totally. I definitely will! It sounds like she's holed up for now.

Lisa, I can't wait to know what you're reading now! I stick to the rule 'if I cannot say anything nice, I say nothing at all', but it a book is good, just not for me, then I feel okay writing about it.

J.Danger, I didn't finish all these this week! I miss my farmer's market posts too! Hopefully they'll be back in May.

Staci, you won't have any trouble finding her!

Carrie K, it was pretty good, just not great. I like your remark about the movie!

Les, I know! I was trying to link to your review, since I'd remembered you liked it, but I wasn't able to for some reason. Didn't PH go on to lead a pretty normal life?

Ti, thanks! Did she really? Her parents/mother are still in CA.

Iliana said...

I'm always behind on reviewing ARCs so I know that guilty feeling - oh well, we eventually get to them right? :)

Sorry to hear The Rose and Local News were quite as good as you expected. They sound good so I guess I'll keep them on my radar and see what happens.

Bonnie said...

I loved Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet! Definitely one of my favorites of the year. I never got Local News to review but have The Rose in my TBR shelves.

I had to look up Sara Jane Olson also but now remember reading about her. Her picture is right there online so you'll know who she is when you bump into her at the grocery!!

Danielle said...

I listened to Katharine McMahon's The Alchemist's Daughter last year and really liked it. The reader was excellent, and I am very picky on audio books! I do have The Rose of Sebastopol, so will likely read it eventually, though I have another of her books I think I will start with. The Jamie Ford novel sounds good, too, and I love the cover. Very strange about Sara Jane Olson--what a weird situation. I hope she doesn't live next door!

Tara said...

Iliana, I do always try to get to them! Both are worth reading, just were not favorites of mine.

Red lady-bonnie, glad to know you liked HOTCOBAS - what a long title - I'll be looking for more of the authors work. I will definitely know SJI when I see her!

Danielle, The Rose.. does seem like it is right up your alley, and I suspect you will enjoy it. It think as I get older I've become more critical of books..maybe I expect too much. She doesn't live next door! Thanks goodness, since the press has been there regularly.