Tuesday, December 18, 2012

{read: light-hearted quest} Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

This is a fun, light-hearted read about a genius architect who doesn't fit in with the in-crowd of moms at her daughter's school. Bernadette moved her family to Seattle after her husband took a job with Microsoft, but it's turned out to be a nightmare. She hates the city and its configuration of streets, the other moms ("gnats") at her daughter's school look down on her, and she soon runs into trouble after trying to outsource her life to an assistant in India, whom she asks to do everything from hiring a contractor to tear out her blackberry bushes to booking a cruise to Antarctica.

The plot is twisty, the tone is light, and this book is one of the best fun books (maybe THE best) I've read this year. I definitely recommend it! The movie rights have recently been sold, and I hope they do the book justice.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple (Little, Brown, 2012)
My rating: 4 stars

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

{read: mystery from the archives} Just One Look by Harlan Coben

If you're a Harlan Coben fan, you may have read this one years ago. If you're not, this is a good intro to a popular mystery author. I discovered it thanks to my mystery book club and found it to be tightly paced, if a little confusing. 

I admit I had trouble keeping track of all the characters and eventually went with a just-keep-reading-and-it-will-all-become-clear eventually approach. (I don't believe in keeping lists of characters if I'm reading for fun.) This strategy left me a little baffled at the end, but mostly I got it.

The story starts with a U.S. attorney meeting with a mafia hit man, who confesses to killing his sister years ago. The attorney thought his sister had died in an accidental dorm fire. Fast forward three months, and Grace Lawson's world begins to unravel when she picks up her roll of pictures (yes, some people still use real film and get pictures developed) and finds an old picture with several people, one of whom appears to be her husband. Then her husband disappears without a word after she shows him the picture. No one can be trusted, everyone who wants to help her has their own agendas, and Grace is thrown into a world she doesn't understand.

Some of the secondary characters, like the next-door neighbor and the paid assassin, are just as engrossing as the main characters (and perhaps more so). While female characters often end up being the victims, the women in this book take charge and don't wait around for things to happen. They assess the situation, make a plan, and get moving. Maybe that's why I liked it.

Just One Look by Harlan Coben (Signet, 2005)
My rating: 3.5 stars

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

{read: escaping the past} This Bright River by Patrick Somerville

A reader review on Amazon described this as both thrilling and boring, and I have to agree. While the prose is readable and drew me in quickly, the meandering story arc threatened to lose me in the middle.

Ben and Lauren barely knew each other in high school. Now they both have complicated, checkered pasts and have returned to the town where they went to high school as they try to move forward and embark upon the next chapters of their lives. One of many questions they wrestle with is whether their next steps will be together or apart. Yet the past, of course, is not really over and threatens to destroy the present.

After some drug- and alcohol-inducted rants in the middle of the book which nearly lost me in their length and reduced me to skimming, this book turns into a thriller before wrapping up on a softer note. The transitions in tone were a little jarring, although the thriller section did keep me turning the pages. The author also alternates first-person POV and nearly lost me the first time he did it. I suspect that was a criticism many others had offered, as after I had re-read the first few paragraphs of the chapter several times and finally gave up and read on in confusion, he noted the change of POV in parentheses.

For me, one of the most interesting things about the book was its setting in southeastern Wisconsin, where I live. That part was spot-on. I loved the mention of the apothecary with a Harley-Davidson motorcycle parked outside, as that could have happened in my small town.

This Bright River by Patrick Somerville (Reagan Arthur Books, 2011)
My rating: 3 stars