Tuesday, October 4, 2011

What I read in September

Here, in summary, are the books I read and reviewed in September. You can check out my full reviews at Marie's Book Garden by clicking on the titles.

Best Fiction of the Month (it's a tie!):

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (4 out of 5 stars)

Ann Patchett's latest novel begins in Minnesota and travels to the jungles of Brazil, where a naive and emotionally stifled researcher, Marina Singh, hopes to discover what happened to her research partner, Anders Eckman. The pharmaceutical company Marina and Anders work for, Vogel, is funding the research of a new fertility drug in the Amazonian jungle led by her medical school mentor, the brilliant and chilly Dr. Annick Swenson. Marina and Vogel CEO (and Marina's lover) "Mr. Fox" receive a sketchy aerogram from Swenson, informing them almost as an afterthought that Anders has died in the jungle. Mr. Fox asks Marina to go to Brazil to find out what is going on with the drug development (since Dr. Swenson is nearly completely incommunicado) and Karen, Anders' wife, wants her to find out how Anders died--if indeed he really is dead. The novel has been compared to an updated/female version of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.

Faith by Jennifer Haigh (4 out of 5 stars)

Sheila McGann, a lapsed Catholic daughter, returns to Boston to try to figure out what has happened to her fractured family. Her beloved older brother, Art, has been accused in the Boston archdiocese priest sex abuse scandal. Her younger brother, Mike, is convinced he's guilty, while her mother is in denial and her father is too far gone as an alcoholic to understand what is going on. Faith is one of those books in which you do not necessarily identify with any of the characters, but you care what will happen to them. 
Interesting Nonfiction

That Day in September by Artie Van Why (3.5 out of 5 stars)

Artie Van Why worked right across from the twin towers on that fateful day in 2001. This book is his personal account of September 11 and its aftermath on his life. Written in a very simple style and self published, the book describes Artie's life in New York (how he ended up there and got discouraged while pursuing his dream to be an actor). He worked in a law firm's word processing center across from the World Trade Center, and on the morning of 9/11 he heard a horrifically loud boom above him. When he and his coworkers rushed out into the street, they saw people falling through the skies.

Laughing Without an Accent by Firoozeh Dumas (3 out of 5 stars)

Dumas is an Iranian-American married to a Frenchman, and now a writer, speaker, and mom of three. A few years ago, I enjoyed reading her first book, Funny in Farsi, a collection of stories about moving to the U.S. as a child and viewing life through an immigrant family's eyes. Laughing Without an Accent is more focused on Dumas' recent years in the U.S. I loved some of these stories, especially when she described her first-ever visit to the library and how she met one of the Iranian hostages many years later.

Most Disappointing
South of Broad by Pat Conroy (3 out of 5 stars)

South of Broad is the story of Leopold King, who finds his 9-year-old brother dead in the bathtub when he is only 8 years old. This tragedy shapes his life from then on. One day in late summer, right before he is to start his senior year in high school, he discovers that his ultra-serious and severe school principal/Joyce scholar mother used to be a nun. He also meets a motley crew of friends, including Charleston snobs Molly, Chad, and Fraser; mountain hillbillies Niles and Starla (yes, a novel with both of the names Niles and Fraser!); tragic figures Trevor and Sheba Poe; and African-American heroes Ike and Betty (who integrate the high school all too easily). Where do I start with what was wrong with this novel? First of all, the writing--terribly overwritten. It's not that I didn't find this book readable...it was..I just found myself disappointed in it, because Conroy can do so much better.

Biggest Waste of Time (and Paper)

The Ex-Boyfriend's Handbook by Matt Dunn (2 out of 5 stars)

I don't know why I did it...read this book, that is. It caught my eye at the library, and I was interested in the British setting (Brighton) and a supposedly "chick lit" type of story written by a man. As I've said before, I don't like the term "chick lit," because I find that title denigrating to novels written by and for women. However, it is a certain type of genre, and this novel fits into that category. My husband says I should call it "dick lit." I like it...especially because the main character's best friend was a dick.

And finally...

In other booky news, I also celebrated the fact that my beloved Portland was named #1 for books...and also wrote about Banned Books Week (last week)!

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