I haven't read Chris Cleeve's other two books, but I liked this one about two female Olympic cyclists, the driven and ambitious Zoe, and the naturally...moreI haven't read Chris Cleeve's other two books, but I liked this one about two female Olympic cyclists, the driven and ambitious Zoe, and the naturally talented Kate. Each has her own demons and challenges: Zoe's brother died when she was a young girl, and Kate's daughter, Sophie, has leukemia. The plot moves along at a quick clip that is kicked into a higher gear when the rules of the upcoming Olympics are changed such that the women's long-time coach will only be able to select one of them to complete. Zoe and Kate manage these challenges in hugely different ways as each strives to be a champion in what is sure to be the final Olympics of their careers.
Not long after I finished Gold, I read a review of it in the New York Times Book Review that concluded rather dismissively with the statement that Gold was "Beaches on bikes." To the extent that Beaches is a good movie about female friendship, the assessment is not off the mark; but to the extent it was dismissive, I thought it was unfairly so. In Gold, I thought Cleeve was rather thoughtfully exploring survival under extreme odds or conditions, what beating them looks like, and what it means to be a champion. He clearly researched not only the world of elite cycling, but also that of pediatric cancer--both insular and crushing in their highs and lows. I liked the juxtaposition. The plot is borne by complex characters and strong writing. An engaging and thoughtful read, whose release was perfectly timed to dovetail with the 2012 summer Olympics excitement.(less)
Tell the Wolves I'm Home is outstanding. It is about love and how it is seldom easy or tidy; often hard to define, keep, and give; but how necessary i...moreTell the Wolves I'm Home is outstanding. It is about love and how it is seldom easy or tidy; often hard to define, keep, and give; but how necessary it is, what it can make of our lives. The novel is narrated by a perfectly written and vividly realized 14-year-old June, who was in love with her gay uncle, Finn, a famous artist, who dies of AIDS shortly after the novel begins. (The novel is set in the late 1980s, a time when AIDS was a new and misunderstood disease, and thus a very frightening one as well. The novel captures the memory of that time totally, and beautifully.) June has a sister, Greta, who is slowly imploding, jealous of June's relationship with Finn which she blames for changing what she had with June. June and Greta's mother, Finn's sister, blames Finn's boyfriend Toby for Finn's death and what she sees as Finn's earlier abandonment. Toby misses Finn as much as June does, and it is the bond between these two, grieving the loss of the same love, that delivers June and Greta back to each other, and heals their mother. Near the book's end, June says,"I know all about love that's too big to stay in a tiny bucket. Splashing out all over the place in the most embarrassing way possible." She does, and watching her come into this knowledge is fabulous and satisfying reading.(less)
I avoided this book for years because of a (mistaken, as it turns out) preconceived notion that it would be too much to do with the abuses so many chi...moreI avoided this book for years because of a (mistaken, as it turns out) preconceived notion that it would be too much to do with the abuses so many children is foster care have suffered and while there is some of that heartbreak here, it is a necessary foundation for an otherwise wonderful story. Our heroine is Victoria, a foster child, who greatly wrongs Elizabeth, a foster mother to whom she is devoted, in an act of childish, heart-wrenching stupidity after Elizabeth fails Victoria when Victoria is ill-equipped to manage the failure. Victoria's act sets in motion the chain of events we read as we work toward backward to the beginning of the story and an understanding of how things ended up so broken, and whether they can be made whole again. After I closed the book, I wondered if some elements of the narrative were a little too tidy to be believable, but while I was into he midst of watching them unfold, I didn't think so. It all works. The antique language of flowers and the floral industry serve as an interesting backdrop, but my attention was sustained by the characters all of whom were well-drawn and tucked into an absorbing plot that is concerned with mothering and forgiveness.(less)
I think it's so unfortunate that the title of this novel makes it sound like some piece of 1980s teen lit because it was an engrossing look at female...moreI think it's so unfortunate that the title of this novel makes it sound like some piece of 1980s teen lit because it was an engrossing look at female friendship, motherhood, and parenting, most decidedly in the post-September 11 world, a world which to many a person, and many a parent in particular, feels more fraught and anxiety-making than the world that existed before that day in 2001. When Kate's friend Elizabeth unexpectedly dies, Kate inherits the journals Elizabeth has been keeping since she was a teen. As Kate reads them, she struggles to reconcile her perception of Elizabeth with that which emerges in the journal, a struggle that is complicated by her grief and longing for her friend, her anxiety about the safety of her family in the wake of Elizabeth's death and the terrorist attacks of September 11, and her examination of her own marriage. We can't really be certain of the past, or the future, and how Kate comes to terms with this uncertainty is absorbing. I happily flipped the pages whenever I had a spare moment, and stayed up late one night to finish it. The title didn't do it justice.(less)
Peace Like a River is a truly lovely, literary book. How did I miss it for so long?! (Thank you, Erin, for sharing it with me!) It is set in the Midwe...morePeace Like a River is a truly lovely, literary book. How did I miss it for so long?! (Thank you, Erin, for sharing it with me!) It is set in the Midwest in the 1960s, and is narrated by the 11-year-old Reuben Land, who recounts his family's story, and in particular, what happens in the wake of his older brother, Davy, being charged with the murder of local miscreants who hassle Davy's girlfriend, and then Reuben and Davy's younger sister, Swede. (The book opens with what I thought was a fabulous chapter in which Reuben cast himself as a witness, deftly introducing two of the major themes of the novel: faith and miracles. The final chapter of the book is a wonderful, complimentary bookend.) Reuben's narrative voice is strong, but his siblings and their father are each exceptional well-drawn characters. Swede dazzles, but I was mostly taken with Reuben, so in love with his family, young, but trying to be bigger than his years. All these characterizations coupled with the deftly plotted story and fine writing make for engrossing and very satisfying reading.
I Am Forbidden is the story of two Hasidic Jewish girls raised together as sisters in WWII Europe. Mila, made an orphan by the atrocities committed ag...moreI Am Forbidden is the story of two Hasidic Jewish girls raised together as sisters in WWII Europe. Mila, made an orphan by the atrocities committed against her people in that war, is delivered to Atara's family by another war-made orphan, Josef, a Hasidic Jew being hidden by a Christian woman. As the years pass, Mila's faith intensifies, in part because she hopes it will lead to her reunification with her parents. She and Josef find their way to each other again and marry. In those same years, Atara's faith falters, despite her intense bond with Mila, and the girls' relationship is broken. A secret eventually returns them to each other.
The persecution of Jews during WWII and the Hasidism figure prominently in the novel and the reader learns quite a bit throughout its course about Hasidism, in particular, as it is an insular community about which most readers will, given its insular nature, know rather little. (The author was born into, and raised in, a Hasidic sect.) The reason I think the novel succeeds so well is that though its conflicts are situated in a particular time among a particular group of people, the questions it is exploring are universal: when we find ourselves trying to fend off or recover from the worst of life's cruelties and blows, what will sustain and heal us? What do we do when those things are in conflict? I Am Forbidden is a thoughtful, historical novel, written by a seemingly knowledgeable and sensitive author. It was a pleasure to be in the world she created, even if it offered no easy answers to the questions it presented.(less)
In The Beginner's Goodbye, Aaron, the narrator, who has been crippled and fussed over since childhood, must cope with the sudden and unexpected loss o...moreIn The Beginner's Goodbye, Aaron, the narrator, who has been crippled and fussed over since childhood, must cope with the sudden and unexpected loss of his wife, Dorothy, who is also a bit of a misfit, and rebuild his life without her presence in it. Things are complicated by Dorthy's sudden and periodic reappearances. I enjoyed looking over Aaron's shoulder as he realizes that though he is surrounded by others who are sort of goofy, he is goofy, too (just as he and Dorothy always were, even if they didn't think so at the time), as he learns to say goodbye. This is not my favorite of Tyler's novels that I've read--not by a long shot--but I enjoyed it all the same.
There is, as always, some lovely writing: "I walked in a kind of trance, keeping my gait as nearly level as possible, as if Dorothy had been a liquid and now I was brimful of her and moving slowly and gently so as not to spill over." Beautiful!(less)
Some aspects of this raw, and beautifully written memoir are devastating: an adoptive mother who is a religious fanatic who cannot receive, or give, l...moreSome aspects of this raw, and beautifully written memoir are devastating: an adoptive mother who is a religious fanatic who cannot receive, or give, love, and an adoptive father too sidelined to do much to counterbalance this formidable force. But this memoir is not concerned with the chronological recounting of horrors made all the more grim by their every day occurrence. Instead, representative details and key moments are revealed so that the author might spend most of her time reflecting on how she forged her identity, and made herself whole in the absence of her adoptive mother's love, and in this aspect, this work--and the spirit behind it--are luminous and triumphant. Fascinating exploration of the tension between Winterson's fury at being landed in her adoptive family, but also being glad, in a way, because that was what she had, and from what she fled to make herself whole. Moving meditation on love--how actually it can be hard to love, and be loved, if you have been mothered in a way that is wanting, and how deeply each of us need to feel we belong, and see our true selves reflected lovingly back to us in our mother's eyes. Relatively short book, but intense, with some absolutely stunning, gorgeous prose. I was both exhausted and exhilarated when I finished.(less)
This delightful book is billed as a memoir, but I thought it was more of a series of essays, expansive versions of Anna Quindlen's Pulitzer Prize winn...moreThis delightful book is billed as a memoir, but I thought it was more of a series of essays, expansive versions of Anna Quindlen's Pulitzer Prize winning columns. It made me want to thank my mother her for her ongoing patience with what will always be my youth, relative to her; thank my girlfriends for spending years talking with me about everything and nothing; thank my husband for loving me at my best and forgiving me at my worst; and thank my children for arriving it in my world and making it better in every way.
The pieces here are wide-ranging, but are mostly concerned with things related to the experience of being a woman and, in particular, a Baby Boomer woman, as Quindlen is: marriage, motherhood, friendship, working, aging, faith, dying, among others. Although I think a woman born in the Baby Boomer generation might especially enjoy this book because she may have experienced largely the same trajectory as Quindlen, I think the perspective in this book will resonate with younger women as well. Quindlen's years of journalistic training and success shine through; it is well-written and easily read, even as it gives the reader lots of opportunity to pause and reflect, think, and laugh.(less)
Carmen, Alice, and Nick are siblings who, together with some others to whom they are connected, must always "carry the one"--a ten-year-old girl who w...moreCarmen, Alice, and Nick are siblings who, together with some others to whom they are connected, must always "carry the one"--a ten-year-old girl who was hit and killed by a carful of stoned, drunk, or dazed guests to Carmen's wedding, driven by Nick's stoned wedding date, Olivia. Time forces the siblings, Olivia, and others connected to the tragedy to move forward, but the tragedy naturally effects their ability to do so.
I really enjoyed this quietly powerful novel. I suppose one could just read it as just a story of what happens to these people on the surface, but I think the author is encouraging the reader to think about more complex themes. In particular, I think she is wrestling with the myriad ways in which we are connected to others, and the meaning of both a life, and those it touches. Nick is an astronomer, and there is a moment when he is talking to Alice, and says, "You *are* a speck. This whole life that seems so huge to us?. . .All of human enterprise even. F$#% us. We are so tiny." How ironic when it is clear how much one life--or the absence of one--has changed the one he is living. Each of us matters, to varying degrees, perhaps, and at different moments, to others, and I think this novel is gettting at the ways in which that truth is both thrilling, and frightening--as much as the opposite thought: that we might not matter at all. How do we live with that complexity, that mess, that rush, that warmth?
In talking about this novel with others, I have realized that some are put off in the beginning by the swirl of characters presented in the wedding in the opening chapter, and later, by the jumps in time. There actually aren't too many characters of which to keep track, and the various ways they are connected to each other was solidified for me not long after the close of the first chapter which recounts the fateful car ride. The novel does cover quite a bit of time. Often the reader realizes that time must have passed between chapters when a new one opens and an important circumstance will have changed. I liked that author trusts her readers to keep up. (less)
American Boy is a very well-written novel about the sometimes dark underbelly of small town America. It is set in a small town in Minnesota in the ear...moreAmerican Boy is a very well-written novel about the sometimes dark underbelly of small town America. It is set in a small town in Minnesota in the early sixties, and concerns the events that unfold in the wake of the shooting of a young woman, Louisa, who is treated by the town's doctor, Dr. Dunbar, and survives. She is a source of fascination for the narrator, Matthew, who is such close friends with Dr. Dunbar's son, Johnny, that they are often mistaken for brothers. Instead, Matt is the son of a single mother, and far poorer than Johnny. I do not think it is spoiling anything to announce that it is Louisa's entrance into their lives that tests, and ultimately changes, these relationships. Just how she will do so, however, is something of a question, and it is that tension which tows the reader along to the book's conclusion. The characters are well-drawn, the plot subtle, and the writing, again, excellent. It is a dark and unsettling story, but a good one.(less)
Admittedly, some of my five-star rating may be due to nostalgia. I first read A Wrinkle in Time after all feeling I was a girl very much like Wrinkle'...moreAdmittedly, some of my five-star rating may be due to nostalgia. I first read A Wrinkle in Time after all feeling I was a girl very much like Wrinkle's heroine, Meg, except that I was always more comfortable between the pages of a book than the lines of a math problem. Even so, Wrinkle is a fabulous read. Briefly, it tells the story of the Murray family, whose father has gone missing. Strange visitors enable two of the Murray children, Meg and Charles Wallace, to set off on a rescue adventure, together with their new friend, Calvin. By book's end, Charles Wallace is in danger, too, and it is Meg who saves him, as well as their father. A Wrinkle in Time celebrates the power of individuality, imagination, and love, and the manner in which these things can make us bigger and stronger than we may think possible if we are brave enough to dare and reach for for the things of which we dream.(less)
Tiger Eyes was one of my favorite books when I first encountered it as an adolescent. After reading it again, now, at least 20 years later, I am impre...moreTiger Eyes was one of my favorite books when I first encountered it as an adolescent. After reading it again, now, at least 20 years later, I am impressed at how relevant it remains. It is a powerful novel that explores universal experiences with grace, wisdom, and a seeming simplicity that in no way diminishes the enormity or complexity of the themes with which it is concerned.
Tiger Eyes is the story of a 15-year-old girl, Davey, whose father is shot in a hold-up of his Atlantic City 7-Eleven store, and dies. In the wake of the shooting and Davey's subsequent panic attacks, Davey, her younger brother, and mother move to New Mexico to live with Davey's aunt and uncle with whom they had a distant relationship. Here, Davey meets the engmatic Wolf, and begins to learn how she will live again in her much changed world.
I enjoy so many things about this book. Stylistically, I enjoyed, all over again, how Blume reveals what happened the night of Davey's father's murder over the course of the book, rather than all at once in the beginning, which for me, mirrors the manner in which Davey, and her family, face and come to terms with the event and death in their own and different ways, and times. I also very much enjoyed Blume's exploration of fear, how it relates to death, and how facing our fears is a necessary part of healing when the worst of our fears have been realized.
Sister is mystery-thriller that concerns a pair of sisters, Bee and Tess. Bee has died, and Tess, alone initially, is convinced that her sister was mu...moreSister is mystery-thriller that concerns a pair of sisters, Bee and Tess. Bee has died, and Tess, alone initially, is convinced that her sister was murdered. The reader realizes early on that Tess has been vindicated in her belief, as she recounts her way toward the revelation of whodunit. There is a twist, which I will admit, did not make me gasp. Nevertheless, Sister was entertaining, and would be perhaps more so if you are fond of a mystery or thriller.(less)