Thursday, May 29, 2014

What I've Been Reading: May 2014

Wow, I can hardly believe how quickly May flew by!  The good news is that I managed to get lots of reading in--I was shocked when I tallied eight titles for the month (and it's not even over yet!).  Yes, you read that right--eight!  I will admit, four of these were in audiobook form, which I do count toward my challenge total.  It never ceases to amaze me how much extra reading I can get done just running errands, commuting, or just for something to listen to while doing chores around the house.  An audiobook definitely makes tasks like painting or cleaning a little less onerous, in my opinion.

Defending Jacob, by William Landay.  This was my book club's choice for our May meeting, and I nearly didn't finish in time!  I actually finished the last disc of the audiobook driving to work the morning of the meeting--that's too close for comfort for me!  The good news was that it was a great book, well-narrated, and it made for one of the best, most intense discussions that our book group has had in its twelve-year run.  This is so much more than a thriller or a courtroom drama.  In the wake of the murder of a teenage boy, the son of assistant district attorney Andy Barber, middle-school student Jacob, is the prime suspect.  In the course of the investigation and prosecution, the tale becomes as much about secrets, family dynamics, community response to tragedy, and coping with change, all of which make this deep, intriguing novel so much more than the sum of its parts.  Not for the faint of heart, but very highly recommended.

The Last Runaway, by Tracy Chevalier.  This is my book club's title for our June meeting, and since it was such a close call for me finishing for our May meeting, I wasn't about to take any chances and got started on this the very same day!  This is a deceptively simple, surprisingly deep novel about a woman who loses or leaves behind everything for a fresh start, departing her small, safe community in Dorset, England for the wilds of Ohio in 1850.  Here, everything is different, from the language to the animals, the people to the food.  Honor Bright then finds friendship in the unlikeliest people, and strength where she thought there was none.  Just one more reason I'm a fan of Chevalier's work. 

Astonish Me, by Maggie Shipstead.  I adored Shipstead's debut novel, Seating Arrangements, with its wry, witty social commentary, so I was eagerly anticipating her sophomore novel.  Those expecting something similar to her debut, like I was, may find themselves having to readjust their thinking a bit in order to appreciate this new novel, which follows ballet dancer Joan through her career in a prestigious dance troupe in 1970s New York.  After helping her Russian lover, another famous dancer, defect to the US, Joan finds herself torn between dreams and reality, ultimately choosing to leave New York and Russian Arslan behind in favor of marrying, settling down to raise a family, and moving on.  Until, of course, everything comes crashing down years later, as Joan's new life is revealed to be built on deceit.  A gorgeous novel of passion and drive.

The Third Angel, by Alice Hoffman.  There is the Angel of Life, there is the Angel of Death.  And then there is the Third Angel, the one who comes home with you and renews your faith.  The novel is told in three parts, by three different women, each in London and each in love with the wrong man.  Central to all three tales, however, is Lucy Green, who blames herself for a tragic accident that occurred when she was twelve and spends the next forty years searching for the Third Angel, that her faith might be restored.  Hoffman draws such singular characters, each so deftly nuanced, that I found myself helpless to do anything but keep reading.  Glorious and heartbreaking.

The Pink Suit, by Nicole Mary Kelby.  Based on the true story behind Jacqueline Kennedy's iconic Chanel-inspired pink suit, worn on the fateful day of November 22, 1963 at the request of her husband, as it was his favorite.  Much of the First Lady's wardrobe, pink suit included, came from the New York boutique Chez Ninon, where a young seamstress, an Irish immigrant named Kate, worked behind the scenes on many of these memorable outfits.  Though the two women never met, their lives are deeply enmeshed; when the pink suit becomes infamous, Kate's fragile existence is threatened as well.  There are times in each reader's life when we catch our breaths at a line that is, in the instant we read it, so true and beautiful and powerful that we are overwhelmed.  The Pink Suit absolutely had that instant for me--it will stay with me for years to come.

Long Man, by Amy Greene.  I'd been looking forward to this title since reading reviews for it several months ago--in fact, it was one of my "Meg's Picks" titles from late this past winter.  I finally got a chance to listen to the audiobook last week, and it is phenomenal, read by the immensely talented actress, Tennessee native Dale Dickey.  Based on a true story, the novel takes place during three days in the summer of 1936 as the small Appalachian town of Yuneetah is evacuated.  The government-built dam is about to flood the valley where the town is located.  And three-year-old Gracie Dodson, daughter to one of the last families holding out to the bitter end, has gone missing.  Harrowing and poignant by turns, this is quite possibly one of the best books I've read in recent memory. 

The Winter People, by Jennifer McMahon.  In a Vermont town defined by old legends and mysterious disappearances, the most puzzling of which is the unexplained death of Sara Harrison Shea in 1908, just months after the tragic death of her daughter, Gertie.  Now years later, Ruthie lives with her mother and sister in Sara's farmhouse and stumbles across Sara's old diary, which might just explain not only Sara's death, but also the strange goings-on in Ruthie's family today.  A literary thriller that will make you shiver even in the heat of summer.

Pawn of Prophecy, by David Eddings.  The last of my audiobooks this month, I must admit I got this through  I first read the Pawn of Prophecy, the first in Eddings's The Belgariad series, over twenty years ago, and it is just as slyly humorous and deeply entertaining to me now as it was at the first reading.  Young Garion has been brought up on a remote farm, looked over by his Aunt Pol.  He plays at battle with his young friends, but he doesn't really believe the ancient stories of a greedy god long asleep, or that there is a plan to wake this god and unleash him onto the world.  Until, of course, he finds himself swept up in the adventure of a lifetime, and those ordinary people he loves most in his life turn out to be most extraordinary indeed.  If the test of a good book is that it holds up over time, then this is definitely a very good book.

Eight titles for May, which makes for 28 so far this year.  I'm nearly halfway through the year and only a third of the way through my challenge to read 75 books in 2014.  Yikes! 

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