Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Buddha in the Attic - Julie Otsuka

As I become more and more sleep deprived, I find myself wanting straight-forward plot-driven books even more than usual, and avoiding anything remotely "literary".  But, I was pleasantly surprised to discover Otsuka's latest, a beautiful and lyrical novel which follows the lives of Japanese picture brides, as they arrive in the United States, develop relationships with their husbands, find work, and eventually, in the midst of World War II, find themselves forced into relocations camps.  Otsuka writes in the voice of hundreds of Japanese - and all their varied experiences - the positive and negative, the joyous and the tragic, she is able capture in hardly more than 100 pages, the despair of isolation, and the promise of hope.  Otsuka's writing is so precise, I truly felt like I was holding a treasure as I read carefully through each page.  Of course, as a Japanese-American, the subject matter of this book is close to my heart, and the pain of my ancestors boils my blood.  I found many passages difficult to read, and so many images brought tears to my eyes.  But, like Elie Wiesel's, Night, this is a story about the suffering and survival of one group of people that should be required reading for all.

The Leftovers - Tom Perrotta

I've enjoyed a few of Tom Perrotta's earlier novels - including Joe College, The Abstinence Teacher, and Little Children, so I was excited to check out his latest developed out of last year's hype surrounding The Rapture.  In Perrotta's world, The Rapture has actually taken place.  But instead of vanishing the most righteous, those taken appear to have been at random, causing those left behind to question everything they ever knew and believed.  Out of the confusion, a group emerges called the Guilty Remnant, a cult of survivors who have tasked themselves with ensuring that no one in their community ever forgets.  The novel focuses on Kevin Garvey, the town mayor, whose own wife has left him to join the Guilty Remnant.  His wayward son has run off with a charismatic prophet, and his once focused and promising daughter has started cutting school to hang out with a drug-using n'er-do-well.  Through Kevin's family, Perrotta explores the various reactions to this apocolyptic event and raises questions about the meaning of life and our place in it.  While clearly the story requires a suspension of disbelief, I actually didn't find it all too fanciful.  Perrotta managed to state the premise in a matter-of-fact way that didn't distract from the rest of the story, but still manged to inform the actions of the characters.  An enjoyable and thought-provoking read.

The Brass Verdict - Michael Connelly (Mickey Haller Series #2)

Over the past several years, I've been slowly making my was through Connelly's Harry Bosch series which follows a curmudgeonly LADP Detective in his homicide investigations.  The Lincoln Lawyer introduced Mickey Haller, an LA defense attorney.  In The Brass Verdict, Bosch and Haller's world collide, as Haller takes over a high-profile murder case from a recently deceased member of the bar.  As Bosch investigates the dead lawyer's murder, the two lone wolves join forces to get to the bottom of things.  It was really fun to see Connelly's two heroes come together- and the underlying trial had some fun (and tricky) moments.  I look forward to more Bosch/Haller collaborations.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Seriously...I'm Kidding - Ellen DeGeneres

I'd never watched the Ellen show until I was home on maternity leave...and for those few months, 4:00 became one of my favorite hours - and I fell in love with Ellen, her dancing, and just her general niceness.  She seems like a genuinely good person - with a wonderful sense of humor.  So, I was incredibly disappointed to find that her book did not make me laugh.  Even once.  I could, at time, picture her delivering the written lines, and that seemed to help.  But, what this book to demonstrate to me is that there is a true art to comedic timing - and Ellen has it on her show (in-person) in spades.  And, the topics she talks about come across as folksy and endearing on an afternoon talk-show and just kind of blah in a book.  I needed something more edgy like Tina Fey or Mindy Kaling, or something more offensive like David Sedaris.  Unfortunately, Ellen's safe comedy didn't work for me late at night after a full day.  But, I still love her and now that I've returned to work, I look forward to catching her on a lovely day when I happen to be home at 4:00 in the afternoon.  And, I want to read Portia's book!! 

The Overlook - Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch #13)

I got out of order on my Harry Bosch novels and managed to skip Nos. 9, 10, and 12 in this series, so some of the backstory was a little muddy for me on this one.  But, plot-wise, this one seemed a bit more straight-forward than the rest - Harry finds himself investigating the murder of a scientist who works with extremely dangerous hazardous materials.  The chemicals involved could potentially threaten national security, which bring the FBI and Bosch's ex-flame, Rachel Walling, into the picture.  Together they must track the killer - with Bosch's usual hatred of authority, the Feds, and any kind of direct order, naturally threatening to hinder the investigation.  A little sexual tension, a little Muslim prejudice thrown in as a diversionary tactic, and Bosch's signature gut feelings made for the usual Connelly entertaining read.  I need to go back and read the ones I skipped!

The Sense of an Ending - Julian Barnes

The Sense of an Ending received the 2011 Man Booker Prize.  I know that I am never a fan of the winners of this particular award, but still I keep going back.  Plus, Julian Barnes's novels are short, so there's not much to lose - particularly since I will concede that these winners do tend to be well writter.  The Sense of an Ending is Tony's story about his now dead friend Adrian and his former girlfriend Victoria.  As Tony reaches middle-age and finds his life somewhat unfulfilled, he remembers back to his earlier relationships, reliving moments and questioning motives.  The book is Tony's search for answers, but unsurprisingly, while the end of the book brings a big revelation, it leaves the reader with more questions than ever.  In such a short novel, there are certain to be loose ends left untied, but this one left me completely unsatisfied.  Characters are angry with each other for no particular reason - or there are reasons that don't seem complete.  There are secrets being kept, also for no particular reason.  In the end, I was just annoyed.