Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Hundred-Year House (Rebecca Makkai)

Rebecca Makkai's The Hundred-Year House is one of those rare novels that you can't wait to see what happens at the end but you never want to get there.  The book is one of the most engrossing that I've read in a very long time, and I have a feeling that it's going to a big hit when it comes out in July 2014.  As a reviewer, I was fortunate to get my hands on an early copy, and you can be sure that I'll be spreading the word about this one.

The novel is written during four completely different time periods, beginning with the end of the 20th century and going all the way back 100 years.  As the title suggests, a house (Laurelfield) plays a very significant role in the narrative, and starting with the latest generation to inhabit it is a stroke of genius.  The reader gets to have multiple "Aha!" moments, as questions raised in a later time period get satisfying answers from the previous generation.  Every single character is necessary, and together, they create a rich, fulfilling book that spans a century.

Even though The Hundred-Year House comes out in July, I strongly suggest NOT taking it on vacation with you.  Forget about sightseeing; you'll want to spend all your time reading. 


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Working Stiff (Judy Melinek, M.D. and T.J. Mitchell)

Not for the faint of heart, Working Stiff is a fascinating account of Judy Melinek's daily life as a New York City medical examiner.  But beware -- she doesn't mince words or "dumb things down" for the reader.  So if gruesome details turn you off, this book isn't for you.  However, if you love to put the pieces of a puzzle together, you'll love reading how Melinek goes about that very thing...only during autopsies instead.

Dr. Melinek began training as a forensic pathologist in New York City's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in July 2001.  Therefore, the most harrowing, heartbreaking account in Working Stiff is the chapter where she describes what it was like on September 11, one of the worst days ever in our country's history.  Most people can remember exactly where they were when they heard the news about the terrorist attacks, and many stories have been told about the heroic efforts of the police, firefighters, and other emergency workers.  However, on that angst-ridden day, the medical examiners were thrown into uncharted waters as well; I'm not going to get into the heart-pounding details Melinek writes about, but the chapter is absolutely gripping.

Ordinary doctors take care of you when you're alive; Melinek does the opposite, focusing on finding answers for heartbroken families.  Working Stiff is enthralling and will absorb you in a way that will make hours fly by.  


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Tempting Fate (Jane Green)

I'm going to start with a full-out disclaimer: Parts of Jane Green's Tempting Fate made me so angry that I physically wanted to throw the book against the wall.  I actually found myself yelling at Gabby, the main character, and really getting way too emotionally involved.  For you see, this is the classic"throw-it-all-away" story, with Gabby becoming obsessed with a younger guy she meets in a bar and...well, this can't end well.  Or can it?

After calming myself down, I was able to continue Tempting Fate in a less angry fashion, realizing that we've all done lots of things in life that we regret. However, this being chick lit, you should know by now that major repercussions will be had; Gabby's entire life (and those of her family and friends) is in turmoil, and she must try to put the pieces back together, however hard that will be.

This is a welcome addition to Jane Green's collection of smart beach reads.  Some reviewers have written that they found it difficult to root for Gabby; however, in the end, life is filled with the mistakes people make.  It's those who pick themselves up and dust themselves off that learn the most.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Quick (Lauren Owen)

Wow, what a book!  It seems like I've been in a pattern of rating books a 3 or 4 lately and haven't given out a 5 since Kimberly McCreight's outstanding Reconstructing Amelia.  However, that's all about to change with Lauren Owen's spectacular debut novel The Quick, a haunting (literally) novel that will take your breath away and keep your heart in a constant state of racing.

As most reviewers of this book have already stated, you can't write too much without giving too much away.  The Quick is best left up to the reader to unfold its many, many layers.  The bare bones: Charlotte and James Norbury are an English brother and sister growing up on a large estate in the late 1800s.  When writer James grows up, he moves to London and finds himself getting involved with a young aristrocrat, soon being introduced to all that is London high society.  Then, without warning, he goes missing, and Charlotte is desperate to find him.  Her journey for the truth is bone-chilling and filled with unforgettable characters (some of whom you wish you COULD forget). 

And that's all I can say without spoiling it; your job now is to run to the bookstore and get yourself a copy (well, when it comes out in June 2014).  You won't be disappointed and will find yourself staying up late into the night to find out what happens. Fabulous debut!


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Jennifer, Gwyneth & Me (Rachel Bertsche)

Jennifer, Gwyneth & Me: The Pursuit of Happiness by Rachel Bertsche is one of those books that I'm not quite sure how I feel about.  On the one hand, reading about Bertsche's common struggles with having a baby will, I'm sure, resonate with a lot of women.  However, she intersperses those vignettes with her attempts to lead a celebrity-driven lifestyle that, at times, can seem a little disjointed.  It was almost like reading two different books, one about infertility struggles and one about her strives to be Jennifer Aniston, et al.

The basic concept of this book is rather simple.  Bertsche looks at the various aspects of her life and decides which superstar best exemplifies that aspect's highest pillar of success.  For example, which celebrity does she deem the best cook?  Gwyneth Paltrow.  Who has the best marriage?  Jennifer Garner.  She then reads up for hours and hours on how Jennifer Aniston works out, etc., and tries to emulate her.  By the end, she tries to do it all (and there is a celebrity who best exemplifies that too).  However, all of this seems out of place next to her infertility issues in the same chapter.

I think Jennifer, Gwyneth & Me would have been best suited for two separate books, but that's just my opinion.  With how well Us Weekly and People Magazine sell, I'm sure there will be enthusiastic readers of this tome.