Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Wonder Garden

Thanks to a recommendation from my friend Kathleen, I had the immense pleasure of reading Lauren Acampora's The Wonder Garden. When I asked Kathleen if it was a novel or short stories she said "both." I might say "neither." It doesn't really matter. We could argue as to whether each story is a story or a chapter, but why bother. I'd rather talk about this strange suburban town, these wonderfully off-center characters, the somewhat (and sometimes not somewhat) creepy things they do. Acampora's characters are honest, even when they are pretending not to notice cracks in the fa├žade. They are charming, even when they are doing bad things. Maybe Old Cranbury isn't a town you'd want to visit, but for me it felt like places I've known, and that makes the characters who inhabit it all the more strange and wonderful. For me, this book felt like a cross between Olive Kitteridge and Kissing in Manhattan. A palpable place inhabited by familiar people doing odd things. If you are looking for a world in which every thread is neatly tied into a bow at the end, this book is probably not for you. Acampora leaves room for the reader to imagine the fates of characters we meet once, and then again, and then sometimes again. I was charmed and delighted by them all.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Girl on the Train

I'm always skeptical of books that get a lot of attention because I wonder if they're really good, or if everyone just doesn't want to be the first person to say "eh. Not that good." But, one of my coworkers said she enjoyed listening to Paula Hawkins's The Girl on the Train so I figured I give it a go.

I know a book is good when I can't wait to get in my car. When I drive around a parking lot a few extra times. When I make up errands just so I can drive more. This was that kind of book.

I'm a sucker for deeply flawed characters anyway and this novel, with the three women at the center, each caustically telling her own story, certainly fits that criteria. These are not necessarily women you'd want to be friends with, and some may say they are hard to root for. But I was deeply fascinated by each one of them--of their honestly, their self-deprecation, their failure to act when action would have been a very good thing.

The story itself is not one that we haven't heard before but it's a mystery, tried and true. And, I thought, well done.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Is it already June?

In May, I listened to The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. I don't know why I always fluffed that book aside--possibly because I'd heard it was "political," or maybe, shamefully, because it's so long and, even though I love to read, it seemed like too big of a commitment. I can't speak to any other of Kingsolver's books, but I found this one delightful. I loved this family, and yes, it was political, but not in an unpalatable way. The voice of each character was so strong, quirky, moving. I did think the book got a tad long a the end, but still it was an excellent listen.

And then, vacation came. Between the pre-vacation getting ready, the vacation itself (which didn't allow for much reading time) and the post-vacation laundry, I haven't read much. But I did read Cara Hoffman's Be Safe I Love You. This novel, about a returning female soldier, is amazing. It's beautifully written with characters easy to love and root for, even though they are real and humanly flawed. Lauren, battle-scarred and weary, returns home and tries to pretend everything is ok. Her father, brother, boyfriend, best friend, and others all try to do the same. Until they can't anymore. Hoffman does the almost impossible by keeping this novel from becoming over-sentimental. She has a very light touch, even with this very heavy issue. An excellent read.