Reviews

Man Booker Prize

Julian Barnes was awarded the Man Booker prize this week for his recent short novel, The Sense of an Ending. Reviews of the book include key words like "compelling", "memorable" and "dexterously crafted".
Barnes is well known in Britain, and has made the Booker short list three times in the past. He was the front runner going into the final days of the Booker, a prize awarded to British authors and authors from the Commonwealth. Usually considered one of the more prestigious literary awards, the Booker prize wasn't without it's own controversy this year. Critics complained that the short list was less literary in an effort to be more accessible and reward popular titles.
Can a book be accessible and popular while also being literary? Color me intrigued - I've just added this to my to-read list.

22 Britannia Road

Many novels dwell on the horrors of war, but few deal with the dislocation and tremendous adjustments that occur afterwards. Amanda Hodgkinson's wise debut novel does exactly that for a Polish family separated during World War ll and later reunited in England.

A year before Poland was invaded, Silvana, a movie projectionist, and Janusz, a country boy meet and marry. They have a son Aurek. War comes and Janusz is called to defend his country. Before even reaching his unit, German bombs halt Janusz's train and he is injured during his first battle. He watches as an old woman herding her sheep is shot down.

After the planes disappear, the young Polish soldier decides that he must care for these animals and give this old woman a proper burial. Meanwhile Silvana takes Aurek to the city but as the Germans invade it, she is separated from her son. A woman helps her to reclaim him. Later, a German tries to rape her in an abandoned apartment that she has taken over in search of food and shelter. She and Aurek flee to the woods where they spend the next three or four years.

The Passage by Justin Cronin

In The Passage, author Justin Cronin, shows us a world in which humans struggle to survive in a bleak future overrun by horrific vampires. The only hope for humanity is a mysterious young girl.
 
When the military attempts to use a virus to create the next race of super-soldiers a bloodthirsty horde is released upon the world, knocking the human race down a step in the food chain. Cronin, admittedly, takes us where many, many authors have taken us before. However, few authors have done so with the style that one expects from Cronin, a former Hemingway/PEN award winner.

Heavens to Betsy

Betsy Blessing is an interim reverend at Church of the Shepherd in Nashville, TN, but when the senior pastor retires without warning the church reluctantly turns the reigns over to her. The board, for the most part, is not fully supportive of Betsy because she's a female and Edna Thompkins, Betsy's nemesis,  knows just how to get under Betsy's skin. Little does the congregation or Betsy's best friends, LaRonda and David, know that Betsy is planning to go to law school in the fall. All she has to do is get through a few months and she's free...or so she thinks.

Half Broke Horses: a True Life Novel

This Sunday in our Booksplus program (Library Room 2B at 2p.m.) we will be discussing Jeannette Walls' rousing true fiction story Half Broke Horses about her grandmother, Lily Casey Smith, a feisty woman who grew up in the still wild west of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona in the early years of the last century. You may be familiar with the author's first book The Glass Castle; it made many best books of the year lists when it came out in 2005 and still has a wide readership.

What a gripping opening. A flash flood rips through the family ranch one evening and Lily her brother and sister hear a loud rumbling as the earth shakes beneath them. Lily grabs the youngest and runs for the only tree in the field. They spend a harrowing night hanging on to branches as massive flood waters drown the field. Although Lily is only ten at the time, she keeps both children awake by making them say their math tables, the names of the states, and any other long list she can remember.

The Hunger Games

If you have not heard of Suzanne Collins' trilogy, The Hunger Games, I must ask what rock you've been sleeping under? The 2008 Young Adult Bestseller has exploded in classrooms, libraries, bookstores, and on the tongues of everyone I come in contact with (or so it seems). Well after being dogged for not reading this book, I finally gave in and read it, determined not to like it to spite all those people who gawked at me for not yet reading it. Unfortunately, my mission backfired on me. I loved it.

The London Train

Not many novels tell the story of a daughter's pregnancy through her father's eyes, and although this is only one of this book's themes, it's very powerful one. In the first half, we follow the story of the very imperfect Paul--critic, college teacher, husband, father, friend, and neighbor who is involved in a feud over the cutting down of trees. Paul himself admits that he has problems, for example, he's too afraid of showing emotion so he does not ask the undertaker to see his mother's body. He lies to his wife, has affairs, and for years has ignored his oldest child.

The Paris Wife

To be an American during the 1920s in Paris? What could be more trendy and romantic? Especially, if you've just married the dashing young fiction writer, Ernest Hemingway. This absorbing novel introduces you to all the famous ex-pat writers of the time period: everyone from Gertrude Stein ("a rose is a rose is a rose") to Scott Fitzgerald with the wild Zelda on his arms to Ezra Pound and John Dos Passos.

But it's not primarily a biographical novel about Papa Hemingway; it's more the story of a marriage between two smart, witty people who each possess an incredible zest for life and adventure.

Fiction! Fiction! Fiction!

I admit to being a streaky reader and will often go through several books on the same subject over the course of a month or so. While not as exotic as reading books about bananas (What? Not exotic either? Well you get the point), I have lately been reading some excellent literary fiction.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
I have read some critiques of this book that there are plot holes and lapses of logic. Upon reflection, I would have to agree with this, however it in no way changes my reading experience. I loved this book and was completely emotionally invested in the characters and outcome of this story. I both devoured the last pages, and didn't want the book to end.

Turn of Mind

This week Tennessee Lady Vol's basketball coach, Pat Summitt, made headlines with her announcement that she had developed Alzheimer's disease. Coincidentally, I was reading this very readable novel on the same subject.

But how do you write a book from the viewpoint of someone suffering from this disease? Not only write it but combine it with a family drama and a murder mystery? This engrossing book does all of these beautifully.

"Something has happened. You can always tell. You come to and find wreckage: a smashed lamp, a devastated human face that shivers on the verge of being recognizable." That's Alice LaPlante's compelling opening. In her first novel, she helps us understand Alzheimer's disease from the patient's eyes.

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