Monday, July 1, 2019

Book Reviews June 2019

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender.  This book started as one thing, and then at some point became a completely different kind of book!  Completely!  I was so surprised!  I did not see it coming.  The narrator, Rose, is a young girl growing up in California with her parents and brother.  Her mother is a little lost and her father a little clueless.  One day her mother bakes her a lemon cake and Rose can taste all her mother’s angst in the cake.   From that point on, she has to be very careful of what she eats, because she can taste the mood of the cook in the food.  Okay, so it’s quirky, and a little bland, and I was getting annoyed that the narrator was a kid, when all of a sudden, Rose learns something about her brother, which is NOT what you would expect.  And the book completely changes.  I will not say more than that.  I’m not sure Bender pulls it off, and I didn’t love the book, but kudos to her for trying!

Mirror, Shoulder, Signal by Dorthe Nors.  This was a beautiful book and I found it heartbreaking and original.  Sonja is a 40 year-old woman living in Copenhagen and learning to drive for the first time.  She is also at a crossroads in her life, having grown up in the countryside and become a successful translator of mystery novels.  Her interactions with her driving instructors, and learning how to drive become a symbol of all that she is confronting now with what her life has become.  She has a good friend with whom she no longer has much in common, and a sister who does not want much to do with her.  It is a fast read and smart and lovely.

Unfuck Your Habitat by Rachel Hoffman.  This is a Marie Kondo-esque book about not living in squalor.  She makes some good points and has good strategies about how to unclutter your physical surroundings, but it is more a book geared to a young twenty-something (very slobby) audience.

The Idiot by Elif Batuman.  I really enjoy Batuman’s pieces in the New Yorker, so decided to read her first novel.  At first I was a little put off because the narrator, Selin, is a first-year student at Harvard and in love with her first love, Ivan, and Batuman gets it so right, that it is rather painful to read.  It was bad enough to experience that the first time – one really does not want to dwell.  So at first I was a bit grumpy with the book, but Selin – although often infuriating in her inaction – is cerebral and charming and awkward and ultimately very likeable.  She very much tries to live what she learns in her college courses and tries to make sense of her feelings for and interactions with Ivan, ultimately following him to Hungary in the summer where she teaches English in small villages.  It’s a good novel and I felt tender toward it.

Bad Blood by John Carreyrou.  This is the story of Elizabeth Holmes and her company, Theranos, which was supposed to change the whole blood testing world, but ultimately ended up a scam.  Carreyrou is the journalist who broke the story in the Wall Street Journal, and it was a fascinating read.  It’s an interesting story and he gets so many great sources, and the whole time I was reading it I just didn’t understand how/why she pulled it off for so long.  So manly people could see that her technology didn’t work, yet she retained a board of political superstars.  Anyway, I recommend the book, and listening to the podcast, “The Dropout” afterwards.

All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg.  I didn’t love this book.  It is all about one woman, Andrea, the narrator, but each chapter is sort of set up like a stand-alone short story, so you end up getting repeated bits of information that I found confusing.  At first I thought each chapter had a different, yet obviously similar, narrator.  So it took me awhile to work out the form.  Andrea is a 40 year-old single woman living in New York and conflicted about relationships.  She had a turbulent childhood, and a difficult relationship with her mother, yet is very upset when her mother moves to New Hampshire to help out her brother and his wife, who have a dying child.  It is witty and well-written, but ultimately unsatisfying.

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