Saturday, October 1, 2016

Book Reviews September 2016

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld.  I had mixed feelings about this book.  It is a modern day rewrite of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and for the first third of it I was basically just grumpy that I wasn’t reading the original.  But then I discovered that if I pictured the main characters as Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, then I could enjoy the book a little more!  Some of the updates are interesting – Lydia elopes with a transsexual, for example, and Mrs. Bennet is a compulsive shopper – but some of the story just doesn’t translate into modern times, particularly the family constraints.  It doesn’t matter today if you have tacky sisters and a stupid mother – that is no longer going to affect your own opportunities.  Sittenfeld is clever though, and the writing isn’t bad.  It’s an entertaining but not mind-blowing read.

Adnan’s Story: The Search For Truth and Justice After Serial by Rabia Chaudry.  If you listened to the podcast, Serial, and enjoyed it, then you should definitely read this book.  Actually even if you didn’t, it is a fascinating – if long – read.  Rabia’s brother, Saad, was Adnan’s good friend, and when Adnan got arrested in 1999, Rabia, who was then in law school, became his advocate.  It was Rabia who brought the case to the attention of Sarah Koenig, who then made theSerial podcast.  Anyway, Rabia puts all the very, very extensive evidence that Adnan Syed is innocent into her book.  I thought he was innocent before I read the book, but I definitely think so after.  She leaves no stone unturned, and once Serial becomes so popular, she gets a lot of help from professionals and others to sift through the transcripts and evidence and follow old leads, etc.  It was one of these helpers who discovered the fax page that has led to the case being reopened.  She shows how the police very early on came up with the theory that it was Adnan and some kind of a Muslim honor killing, and she goes on to prove how very silly and unfounded that theory was.  The police then bent all evidence into fitting that story line, however, and Adnan’s attorney was having major medical problems that people didn’t know about at the time.  Her illnesses made her incompetent.  It’s an often times stressful read – I had to put my kindle down and rage a bit from time to time, and Sean got very tired of me filling him in on outrageous details.  Adnan Syed has been in prison since the age of 17 for a crime he clearly didn’t commit.  Free Adnan!  And please find the real killer of Hae Min Lee.

Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner.  This was an excellent novel and I look forward to reading more books about DS Manon Bradshaw in the future.  Manon is a detective assigned to a missing persons case in Cambridge, England.  Edith Hind, a 22 year-old student, is reported missing by her boyfriend who returns home from a weekend away to find the door to their apartment open and Edith gone, although her purse and phone and coat are all still there.  He calls her parents and the police.  The majority of the book is through the viewpoint of Manon, a 39 year-old woman who is good at her job and not as good in her personal life.  She is in the midst of internet dating and finding the pickings slim.  We also get chapters from the viewpoint of Miriam, Edith’s mother, and also Davy, Manon’s work partner.  The characters are all very well-written and developed and believable, and Steiner does a good job of telling just what is needed without getting overblown in the process.  The case unfolds slowly, and as more time passes, of course, there is less of a chance that Edith will be found safe.  I recommend it!

You’ll Grow Out Of It by Jessi Klein.  This is a hilarious book of essays, and I often found myself laughing so hard on the train while reading it, that I think I caused a fellow passenger or two to move a few seats farther away from me.  But it is so funny!  Klein is a comedian, and also a writer for Amy Schumer, so of course she is funny, but her writing is quite good too.  She concentrates in this book on her dating experiences, and then once she meets the man she goes on to marry in her late thirties, she writes about their relationship and infertility problems etc.  She has a great eye for detail and is also really adept at the interesting turn of phrase:  I laughed for several days at her description of herself trying on French lingerie in a high-end boutique in Manhattan, looking in the mirror while wearing a thong and saying that she looks like a groundhog wearing a tiny belt.  She pokes fun at herself constantly, yet she also finds the right balance of making serious commentary about relationships and what people go through to find good ones.  I knew she would be funny, but it is seriously an excellent book.

Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel by Anya Ulinich.  I didn’t like this as much as I thought I would, although I think a lot of my problems with it had to do with the fact that it is a work of fiction, yet I kept forgetting that and thinking it was a graphic memoir.  I’m not sure why that caused me irritation, except that it did.  Lena is a woman in her late thirties with two daughters, who has just gotten a divorce and is on her own for the first time ever.  Lena and Anya are Russian immigrants, and Anya writes well about what it is like to have dual identities.  In the course of the book, too, Lena Finkle travels back to Moscow for book tours, and realizes that she cannot truly return.  Much of the first two-thirds of the book are about the different men she meets on an internet dating site.  I feel like the book hit its stride more when she starts dating “The Orphan,” a wealthy heir who lives like a homeless hipster.  One sees that the relationship is not going to last, but Ulinich does a good job of portraying Finkle’s devastation when it ends.  How she does so is also a good example of how graphic novels can perhaps show certain emotions better than words alone:  each time Lena returns to The Orphan to go over why he broke up with her, Ulinich draws her as a duck quacking “But I love you” over and over.

The Woman In Cabin Ten by Ruth Ware.  In general it is a pet peeve of mine when I’m reading a book in which the main character cannot a) sleep, or b) sober up.  It stresses me to the point where I don’t enjoy the book, and it also seems like an easy way out. I’m not saying it isn’t effective in plot advancement, as a sleep-deprived person of course makes bad decisions, but it just is unpleasant being dragged down that path.  Having said that, however, whereas I began being grumpy at this book for precisely the above reasons, I was grudgingly won over by the suspense and the plot.  Lo Blacklock is a journalist who writes for a travel magazine, and has the opportunity to go on a small luxury cruise for copy.  The first night on the boat, she borrows mascara from a woman in the cabin next to hers, and then when she tries to return it, realizes that there is no trace of the woman.  The crew denies that anyone was ever in that room, and the readers and the people in charge on the boat aren’t sure if Lo is telling the truth or if she was muddled from lack of sleep and too much drink.  Lo is stubborn, though, and keeps up her search for this mysterious woman, even when she begins to get frightening threats left in the steam on the mirror while she showers!  The suspense does not let up, and our curiosity and worry is piqued even further by between-section emails Lo’s boyfriend writes about Lo having disappeared herself from the ship.  It’s an excellent read!

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