Sunday, June 28, 2009

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

As the first selection for the Adult Summer Weekly Book Club, I was obligated to re-read this novel for the upcoming discussion (my job is so hard sometimes). Bel Canto has always been one of my favorite works of literary fiction because of Patchett's beautiful prose and its heartbreaking conclusion. Set in an undisclosed South American country, a group of foreign ambassadors, politicians and one magnificent opera singer are celebrating a guest's birthday when the palace is overrun by terrorists. What starts off as an extremely tense situation slowly grows into a prime example of Stockholm Syndrome where the hostages and the terrorists create their own little shared world together.
This novel has everything - there are two sweet love stories, lots of cases of unrequited love, death, violence, suspense, the evolution of unusual friendships and more. In writing this review, I really can't do this work justice. It's that good. Seriously, you should read this novel. You won't regret it.

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

As an only child, I think reading about the dynamics of sisters is incredibly interesting (it's that whole "grass is greener" idea). In Lisa See's newest novel, sisters Pearl and May are "beautiful girls" (read: models) living a luxurious life in pre-WWII China. After their father loses all of his money due to gambling/Chinese mafia, he is forced to marry off his daughters to Americans, much to the girls' dismay. About 2 days after the weddings, Japan begins to invade/bomb parts of their beloved city, forcing the sisters to flee to their husbands in San Francisco. The rest of the novel depicts their turbulent relationship as well as their trying times in America as they adjust to a completely new family, culture and way of life.

Overall, I did enjoy this book, although the ending was a little rushed.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

I think I've posted this before, but in general, it takes a lot for a book to make me cry (or really scared for that matter). That being said, I was quite teary at several points while reading Still Alice, which is Genova's debut novel. Alice Howland is a distinguished professor of psychology at Harvard with a loving husband and three grown children. Everything is just peachy, until the day when she starts forgetting things, even going so far as getting lost in her neighborhood during an average run. After consequent trips to the doctor, Alice is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's Disease. The rest of the novel is spent on how she and her poor family deal with this awful illness. As her condition deteriorates, her sense of language and cognition starts to fail, thus leaving her frustrated and scared. The scenes between Alice and her husband were very heartwrenching - it must be impossibly difficult to care for a spouse with the disease.

Genova is a neuroscientist, and therein lies my only criticism I have of this book - her writing style and usage of language and dialogue isn't nearly as fluid as she thinks it is. There was one line in the book about how Alice could tell "by looking at [her daughter] Anna's B-cup that she wasn't pregnant yet." Um, what? Other than that, it was still very much a moving book.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Push: A Novel by Sapphire

After seeing a trailer of the film adaptation a few weeks ago (which looks to be wonderful), I decided to give this novel a try. At 16, Claireece Precious Jones has had an unimaginable amount of awful things thrown at her in her short life. At age 12, she became pregnant by her father, giving birth to a daughter with Down's Syndrome. At 16, she is not only impregnated but also given HIV by her father. Precious is poor and illiterate and lives in Harlem with her insane and highly abusive mother. Despite all of these odds, Precious manages to find her way to an alternative school where a kind teacher named Blue Rain takes it upon herself to steer Precious into a better direction.

Getting through this novel was difficult, not because of the language, but because of the endless amount of pity I felt towards this poor girl. Seriously, Precious goes through the ringer in this book and it only makes you want to root for her to succeed by the end.
For more information about the upcoming film, which won a lot of praise at Sundance, click here

Monday, June 1, 2009

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Every once in awhile, I like to read a classic just to see how it has stood up over time. Despite the poverty and constant fear of starvation, I really enjoyed reading about the life and times of Francie Nolan and the Nolan family in Brooklyn circa 1912. The major complaint that some may have about this book is that it's virtually devoid of plot - instead, there are long vignettes that go in chronological order, but I honestly thought it was better than having a 900 page book about Francie's whole childhood and development and yadda yadda yadda. In this way, you just get the "good stuff" about her life and experiences.