Tuesday, April 29, 2008

I'm in Print!

Can I crow for just a minute? I happened to be working on my second book review for LJ the other day and had a question about format. I opened the May 1st issue to look at a review and my eyes fell on - you guessed it - my very own review! I couldn't believe it. How come no one told me it was there? Why hadn't LJ sent me a copy? I guess they don't do that. So now I can actually say I'm published. Very cool.

When I was finishing up Stewart O'Nan's sweet little novel, The Last Night at the Lobster, I was thinking about who would read this book. Unless you'd been in the food service industry it might not appeal, but if you have? You'll get some poignant chuckles. One of my dirty little secrets is that while I was married, my ex-husband and I ran not one, but TWO restaurant/club establishments. I'm using the term restaurant loosely, believe me. They were bars, pure and simple, and if I use the term "the dregs of humanity" to describe our customers, please don't think I'm being unkind. Just the facts m'am.

So they say that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger and I have to admit that, while I was running these places, I hated life. Looking back on it though, I realize what great fodder it will be if I ever become a "real" writer. My experiences also made for some interesting interviews! All that is to say how much I enjoyed the O'Nan book. The entire thing revolves around one day, the last day, of a Red Lobster in Connecticut that 's being shut down by its corporate HQ for lack of sales. Anyone who's ever worked in a restaurant knows that the staff is like a microcosm of society; each player, from the busboy to the dishwasher to the chef and the hostess, has their little dramas and petty squabbles going on. Resentments flair over the smallest thing, "so and so got an extra table tonight," "the manager (in this case Manny) treats the prep guy better than the line cook," you know the kind of thing. Still, at the end of day, the staff of The Lobster are like family and Manny's efforts to make sure that their last day together is a good one, despite the winter storm outside and the fact that he won't be taking everyone with him to The Olive Garden down in Bristol, makes for a delightful read.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Good, Quick Reads

I'm like an addict who doesn't know where her next hit will come from! Michael Connelly's The Overlook ended so quickly that I was only half way through my yard work Thursday morning when I suddenly found myself without another book to turn to on the MP3. I raced into the house and began trying to download anything that looked halfway acceptable but I got one of those frustrating messages about a "license being expired." What? I don't think so. Several emails later I've been given some possible things to do to "fix" this. They better work!

The latest Harry Bosch was shorter than most but just as riveting for all that. Len Cariou IS Harry. When I hear his voice I feel as though I'm hearing from a crusty old pal. What made this book even more fun was that Maryellen and I were in the audience at the Sarasota Reading Festival when Connelly introduced the idea for his latest thriller; the theft from a hospital lab of a container of highly toxic, radioactive sesium, used in the treatment of certain cancers. A murder ensues and Harry thinks for one moment that he may have an open and shut case but things are never that simple with Bosch. Suddenly the FBI is all over it and Harry is reunited with his former lover, Rachel Walling.

I enjoy Michael Connelly's Bosch series for many reasons, not the least of which is that Harry has grown in introspection and dimension as the years have progressed. Connelly also manages to get a few subtle political jabs in. This time, there was a red herring that threw a kink in the investigation, the result of post 9/11 paranoia and distrust of all Middle Easterners.

I was thoroughly enjoying Sue Miller's The Senator's Wife when I received another packet from my editor at Library Journal. Ouch! Another 400 page book to be read and reviewed by the 29th. Delia, the very interesting and complicated wife of the senator, had to take a back seat but I can't wait to pick her up again. This novel would make a good discussion book for a group that doesn't mind opening up. It shines a fascinating light on what constitutes a "good marriage," and why such high profile marriages like those of the Kennedys and Clintons have managed to stand the test of time.

At work I'm finishing up Marguerite Duras's The Lover because the movie is a favorite of Don's and I recently read some blurb about Duras's life that piqued my interest. I had no idea that the video was based on a fictionalized version of her own young adulthood in Saigon where she became the consort of an older, very wealthy Chinese man, shocking her family even as they bled him dry. The writing style is naturally a bit dated and off-putting but it's a tiny little book by a devilishly clever and sophisticated young woman and it's worth the read just for the new introduction by Maxine Hong Kingston.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A Search for Bliss?

OK, if you have to go looking for it, do you think you'd recognize it if it hit you between the eyes? I normally steer way clear of "self-help" books that try to tell you how to live a certain way or adopt a persona that doesn't come naturally. In this case, though, I'd heard from friends and co-workers about Eric Weiner's The Geography of Bliss; One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World. I appreciated that Mr. Weiner (pronounced "whiner" by the way, in the proper German vernacular) was inciteful enough to admit that he's a "grump" and I love travelogues, so I popped the first CD in the car and began.

It takes a little investment in time. I'd guess it started to grab me around disc 4; just when I was going to trade it in for something darker like Tree of Smoke, which is up next. The problem was that Eric was just taking himself and his "research" a little too seriously. It wasn't until he landed in Moldova that I really got interested. His sense of humor evolved as his travels progressed, so by the time he arrived at the most depressed country of all he began to lighten up. Go figure. His description of communicating with his dour Modovan landlady is hilarious and heartwarming as they actually grow to enjoy eachother's company. Still, as his plane lifts off from this most disheartening country, Weiner says he understands how the last soldier airlifted out of Vietnam must have felt. Unlikely, but a great metaphor nevertheless.

Weiner loved the enigmatic Thais. How can you not enjoy a people whose country has a "Gross Domestic Happiness Index?" His time in an Indian ashram had me laughing out loud. No coffee for three days? Yikes! And certainly the Berkshire village of Slough was the catalyst for several jokes at the expense of the Brits. I grew to like Eric Weiner more as we traveled together and began to wish that his search had taken him to some of the commoner countries, ones I've actually been to and found happiness in. As I was putting the finished Weiner book back on the shelf I picked up Mediterranean Summer; A Season on France's Cote d'Azur and Italy's Costa Bella. Now that's bliss!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Books I likely won't finish (and some I will)

I was really psyched when I heard about the new book How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read. Yes, this is exactly what I need, I thought. Well, not so much. Pierre Bayard's attempt to get us off the hook of reading every classic that's ever been written, is actually so erudite that it's difficult to understand what he's even talking about. By chapter two I was zoning out; by chapter three I was done. It's probably just as well. Now I'll have one less overdue on my disreputable library card!
Another bigger disappointment was Charles Baxter's The Soul Thief. How could the man who wrote the glorious Feast of Love, so full of wonderfully flawed and delightful characters, be the same man to write this creepy book about a slimy character who insinuates himself into others' lives, taking on their friends and persona. Yuk. I'm not sure if I even gave this one the "rule of 50," but then, I don't have to cause I'm 59 now. This means that I only need to read 41 pages before giving something the heave-ho.

The exciting news is that Tuesday, with sweaty fingers on the keys, I hit the send button to Library Journal with the first of my reviews for that magazine. I had a two week turn-around to read the book, which I really liked, and send in the review. Of course, over achiever that I am, I made sure to get it in well before the 4/7 deadline. I had an immediate and, whew, complimentary reply from my editor (doesn't that sound wonderful?) and she said another book will be on its way shortly. Uh oh, I hope they won't expect a one week turn-around!
Oh, by the way, the book is called The Road Home by Rose Tremain. It'll be out in August so be on the lookout.

Now I've got to get the push on to finish Eat the Document by Dana Spiotta which is my book club choice for April. This one is right up my alley. A sure to be depressing and controversial look at the lives of two college students who took part in a radical protest action against the undeclared war in VietNam. Yes, some of us actually remember that horrible time in U.S. history as if it was yesterday, which is likely why we were so vocal in our opposition to Bush's declared war in Iraq. When something goes awry at the demonstration, Bobby and Mary are forced to separate, avoiding arrest by going underground. How this action affects their lives and the lives of their families over the next twenty years is the subject of this book which was nominiated for a National Book Award.