Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Book Report

By Jeff Abbott
Grand Central Pub., 2011. 400 pgs. Fiction

Sam Capra’s life is almost perfect. He has a beautiful wife he loves, a new baby on the way, and an exciting job with the CIA. However, in the blink of an eye everything is gone, his wife and child are missing, his coworkers are all dead, and the government he has served faithfully believes he has betrayed them. Desperate to rescue his family and restore his professional reputation, Sam is willing to do almost anything. And while he makes some shocking discoveries about people he has trusted in the past, his greatest shock may be the discovery of his own capacity for violence when the ones he loves are at risk.

True to its name, Adrenaline is a fast-paced piece of espionage fiction. Sam is a great character and you can’t help but root for him. The action keeps coming and there are a number of surprises along the way. This is no doubt the first book in a series featuring Capra, since the ending is left wide open for continuations. Crime and spy novel readers will enjoy this new addition to the genre.

Thick as Thieves
By Peter Spiegelman
Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. 295 pgs. Mystery.

Carr was recruited from the CIA into a ring of thieves by an old man who quickly takes the haunted young man under his wing. At the end of a seemingly simple job, Carr’s mentor is gunned down, leaving the crew without a leader and Carr with a pile of questions. Despite their recent losses, the thieves decide to proceed with a job, monumental in its scope, but with the potential to provide them all with a generous retirement. As the danger becomes more and more real, tension between the players mount, and Carr finds himself questioning the people he must trust with his life.

Thick as Thieves is an utterly fantastic heist novel. It has action, intrigue, and suspense in just the right quantities. Just when you think you know who to trust, the other shoe drops and you are left reeling from new discoveries and eminent danger. Very fun and very exciting!

The Magicians
By Lev Grossman
Viking, 2009. 402 pgs. Fantasy.

Quentin has spent his entire life waiting for the ‘something more’ he instinctively knows is out there. Then suddenly, at the start of his senior year of high school, he is transported to a hidden school where he discovers a world of magic and possibility. The problem is that when anything is possible and troubles can be banished with a quick spell, life loses its wonder. After graduating, Quentin and his friends find they must travel beyond this world to find the adventure they crave.

This is Harry Potter for adults, complete with whiney teenagers and adults who are unnecessarily cryptic and secretive. While I didn’t love the book, I didn’t hate it either. Some of the characters are intriguing and the storyline had some merit. I think what bothered me most were how obviously the author was paying tribute to classic fantasy works like the Chronicles of Narnia and The Wizard of Oz. Everything seemed a little stolen which made me feel a bit like a guilty accomplice. But it was still crafted with skill and epic fantasy readers will probably enjoy this first book in the Magicians series.

By Rosamund Lupton
Random House, 2011. 336 pgs. Mystery.

Beatrice lives in New York, an ocean from her only sister Tess, a poor art student studying in London. But the distance doesn’t keep them from maintaining an intensely close relationship and when Tess goes missing, Beatrice immediately flies to England to help locate her. As the investigation proceeds, the police decide no foul play is involved, despite Beatrice’s assurances that her sister was being harassed and feared for her safety. Without official support, Beatrice tries to use what resources she has to investigate on her own and find her beloved sister.

Sister is a touching psychological thriller, if such a thing is possible. The relationship between the two women provides depth of character and motive which intensifies the impending danger and the reader’s engagement. Revelations are spaced throughout the narration providing various ‘ah-ha’ moments and a satisfying pace. This is a terrific debut effort from a promising new writer.

Rules of Civility
By Amor Towles
Viking, 2011. 334 pgs. Historical Fiction.

The year is 1938 and the city is New York. America is just finding its financial footing after surviving the Great Depression and young Americans are seeing that their dreams may not be as impossible as they may have seemed only a few years ago. On a dark New Year’s Eve, Katey, Eve, and Tinker meet up and begin the year with a promise to break out of their ruts and embrace unexpected opportunities. Within weeks, a tragic car accident will force those promised changes and start the three friends toward futures no one could have anticipated.

This story is fantastic and these characters are vibrantly depicted, but it’s the sense of place the author infuses in his writing that makes this one of the best books I’ve read this year. Katey, is by far, the star of the story. And, while the book is certainly more literary than those typically labeled ‘chick lit’, I can not seem to keep myself from placing her among my favorite heroines from that genre. She is certainly more self-assured and socially presentable than Bridget Jones, but she still inspires in this reader that same sense of loyalty and desire for her to come out on top. This is an easy recommendation to historical and literary fiction readers.

Then Came You
By Jennifer Weiner
Atria Books, 2011. 352 pgs. Fiction

This is a story of four women. Each one is at a turning point in life and is struggling with her own set of challenges. India is attempting to becoming a mother before the opportunity has passed. Bettina, India’s step-daughter is desperately trying to keep her fractured family from further disintegration. As a college student, Jules has financial troubles which are complicated by her drug addict father. And finally, Annie who needs to help keep her family financially afloat while staying at home with her two young boys. These four women will be brought together and each one will play a vital role in the life of a baby being brought into the world.

This book was okay. The premise is intriguing and the issues interesting. Society’s definition of family is put under the microscope as the story raises the consequences of solutions science has found to help infertile couples have children. Egg donation and surrogacy are both necessary to bring India’s familial dreams to life but unanticipated events complicate the already convoluted situation. A decent addition to the world of women’s literature.

Clara and Mr. Tiffany
By Susan Vreeland
Random House, 2011. 405 pgs. Historical Fiction

Clara Driscoll lived during an exciting and turbulent time; especially if you were a woman in the workforce. Following a brief marriage to an older man, the young widow returned to work at the studio of Louis Comfort Tiffany, a respected artist and eventual heir of the famous Tiffany and Co. jewelry company. She managed his department of unmarried women building stained glass windows and eventually helped to invent and design the beautiful Tiffany lamps crafted from stained glass. Her story vividly portrays how hard women in the early 1900s fought to secure a place in both the arts and in the corporate world.

Vreeland brings art to life in her fiction. Her descriptions of the masterpieces created in glass cannot help but fascinate readers. As with much historical fiction, the best part is that it is based on actual facts. Clara’s unrecognized contributions to such a famous art form is a tragedy. And while in life she never received credit for her gifts or skills, this novelization of her efforts and courage is inspiring. A good choice for art and historical fiction fans.

The Art of Racing in the Rain
By Garth Stein
Harper, 2008. 321 pgs. Fiction

Enzo, a lab terrier mix, is adopted as a puppy by a race car driver named Denny. The two bond almost immediately and Enzo quickly realizes he is far more self-aware than other dogs. He watches as Denny meets and falls in love with Eve and learns how quickly things can change as a couple becomes a family. As he narrates the story, Enzo recognizes the strength and courage necessary to live a full life, loving people and striving to achieve fulfillment.

This has been a popular novel over the past couple of years. If the reader is a ‘dog person,’ I think it would be easy to enjoy the story and Enzo’s insights. However, since I’m not even an ‘animal person’ I found the canine narration annoying and self-righteous, but I believe I am severely biased and species-ist. I enjoyed Denny and Eve’s story and some of the parallels drawn between life and racing, but I was never able to really ‘buy in’ to the book’s premise. I good book for a different audience.

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