Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday: Brand New Human Being

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine which spotlights upcoming new releases.

This week I have selected:

Brand New Human Being
By Emily Jean Miller
Publication Date: June 12

From Amazon:

I’m putting the drill back in the safe when my fingers touch something unexpected—paper. An envelope. I take it out. Where an address should be, my name is written in Gus’s unmistakable, back-slanting hand.

Meet Logan Pyle, a lapsed grad student and stay-at-home dad who’s holding it together by a thread. His father, Gus, has died; his wife, Julie, has grown distant; his four-year-old son has gone back to drinking from a bottle. When he finds Julie kissing another man on a pile of coats at a party, the thread snaps. Logan packs a bag, buckles his son into his car seat, and heads north with a 1930s Lousville Slugger in the back of his truck, a maxed-out credit card in his wallet, and revenge in his heart.

After some bad decisions and worse luck, he lands at his father’s old A-frame cabin, where his father’s young widow, Bennie, now lives. She has every reason to turn Logan away, but when she doesn’t, she opens the door to unexpected redemption—for both of them.

A deftly plotted exploration of marriage, family, and the road from child to parent, Brand New Human Being is a page-turning debut that overflows with heart and grace

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Invitation by Anne Cherian

Cherian writes such thought-provoking and compelling accounts of the Indian immigrant experience in the United States. The Invitation, allows her the opportunity to present four different accounts of this experience. The book recounts the varied experiences of Jay, Frances, Lali and Vikram, four friends who met in the 1970s while pursuing graduate degrees at UCLA.  Frances is a Goan who was raised to believe in love matches and who schemed to find a way to study in the US.  Jay grew up in a wealthy Indian family that wanted him to return to India and work for a family friend and accept an arranged marriage. Having resisted that pull, he has struggled economically in the US. Jay and Frances had easier initial transitions to the US than their two friends but twenty-five years later the former "golden couple" which united the foursome is struggling both personally and professionally. In contrast, Vikram, the nerd who was one of the first to leave his small village in India and who embraced an arranged marriage, has been wildly successful in America. He built a successful computer company and sent his son to MIT--Mighty Indian Triumph. Lali took a totally different path, after a young sexual experience made her believe she would not be a suitable match for an arranged marriage, and moved to San Francisco and married a white man. While she has the trappings of success-- a Harvard-educated cardiologist husband and a son enrolled at Harvard--she is at a cross roads as an empty nester and feels disconnected in her marriage when her husband rediscovers his Jewish roots.   The four friends are forced to examine their divergent choices when Vikram sends out an invitation to a graduation party for his oldest son.

I love reading about different cultures especially Indian culture. I was particularly excited to read about the Goan experience, as my former roommate's family is from Goa and I've always wanted to learn more about her culture.  Cherian is able to explain so much about the different castes and cultures in India through this one constrained narrative. The novel also vividly depicts the varied experiences of first generation Indian Americans and the conflicts between their dual cultures.  For example, Vikram's son has followed the path his father has outlined for him and been a good dutiful Indian son.  He studied hard, got into MIT and graduated with honors. But he has grown up in the US and wants to pursue his own passion.  Jay and Frances's oldest, Mandy, was once a gifted student but is floundering academically as she faces the stereotype that all Indians perform well.  That one idea was something I wanted to read more about. I wish the story had given even more attention to the experiences of the children, possibly providing some of their own voices.

My other criticism is that I wanted more from the ending of the story.  It was wonderful to see the four friends interact with one another twenty-five years later. And I understand some of the choices the author makes in terms of why she chose her open-ended closing, but I still longed for more of a neat wrap-up. Overall, I highly recommend both of Cherian's novels.  I was left wanting more closure for the characters, but I found them to be incredibly well-drawn and realistic.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Myth of You and Me by Leah Stewart

I can't figure out why I never picked up The Myth of You and Me before (it came out in 2005) as I genuinely enjoyed Stewart's latest novel Husband and Wife. But I'm so glad I finally decided to dive into this thought-provoking and engaging story. I can already imagine re-reading it in the future. The characters and the themes  have stuck with me for days.  In fact, after finishing the book, I immediately started scrolling back (oh how I prefer a real book to a Kindle!) to re-read parts of the beginning.  The book also inspired me to write a journal entry considering the different ways I could choose to narrate my own romantic life. The novel had me thinking deeply about friendship, love, story-telling, adolescence, forgiveness, the different types of love people seek as well as a variety of other topics.

The novel is narrated by Cameron, a twenty-nine year old woman who is adrift in life.  Cameron has been running away from connection for years, after a falling out with her closest friend. Cameron and Sonia met at fourteen and formed a tremendous bond. Together they grappled with a variety of challenges and eventually journeyed from their small hometown to college at Vanderbilt University. In the present, Cameron receives an unexpected letter from Sonia ten years after the incident that ended their friendship. Cameron doesn't initially reply but is eventually forced to track Sonia down after her boss assigns her a final task to deliver a package to Sonia.

I loved the deeper themes running throughout the novel. It made me think about what it means to truly be connected to someone, and what happens when we end a meaningful relationship. Can two people with a great deal of history reconnect after many years of estrangement? Are some relationships so defining that they live on even as the two people are out of contact? The Myth of You and Me made me consider the way I narrate the events in my own life, and to consider which relationships in my own life define me and tether me to former versions of myself.

The Myth of You and Me is also artfully told.  Some of the story is told in flashbacks and thus the story itself evolves in different directions.  I loved meeting Cameron and Sonia at fourteen, and being privy to the events that cemented their deep bond. I also loved reading about Cameron and Sonia's college years and it made me nostalgic for my own college years. It was fascinating to trace the trajectory of Sonia and Cameron and their supporting cast over fifteen years.  The characters were flawed and real and vibrant.

I highly recommend The Myth of You and Me and think it would be a great book for a book club.

Waiting on Wednesday: Say Nice Things About Detroit

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases.

 My selection this week is:                                        
 Say Nice Things About Detroit
 By Scott Lasser
 Release Date July 2, 2012

 From Amazon:

A novel about second chances from a writer of "stirring, poignant and profound" work (Wally Lamb). Twenty-five years after his high school graduation, David Halpert returns to a place that most people flee. But David is making his own escape--from his divorce and the death of his son. In Detroit, David learns about the double shooting of his high school girlfriend Natalie and her black half-brother Dirk. As David becomes involved with Natalie's sister, he will discover both he and his hometown have reasons to hope. As compelling an urban portrait as The Wire and a touching love story, Say Nice Things About Detroit takes place in a racially polarized, economically collapsing city that doesn't seem like a place for rebirth. But as David tries to make sense of the mystery behind Natalie's death and puts back the pieces of his own life, he is forced to answers a simple question: if you want to go home again, what do you do if home is Detroit?

This novel sounds intriguing to me on so many levels. First, anything compared to The Wire is worthy of attention. Second, I am fascinated by the evolution of changing cities. Third, I find stories about individuals "returning home" really intriguing. I can't wait to read this novel!

Monday, May 7, 2012

I Couldn't Love You More - Jillian Medoff

I was surprised to find Medoff's latest novel on the table of the Barnes & Nobles at Union Station yesterday--I thought it wouldn't be out till the 15th. I remember really enjoying the way Medoff captured family dynamics in her last novel.  I remember how the pink cover seemed to trivialize what was a very serious story.  Similarly, the cover of I Couldn't Love You More, makes it seem like light summer reading but it isn't a breezy story.  A day after finishing the novel, the characters are still with me. I can picture Eliott with her new hair color and  persevering seven year old Gail with a slight limp in her gait and Hailey the four year old de fuhrer.  I can picture the clear V of Grant's back and I can picture the face of fourteen year old Charlotte, clear and unsullied with make-up, ready to trust. I have my own idea of what their future holds since the book ends without everything resolved.

Medoff is incredibly gifted, as she was able to create such a believable story. There were moments when I was absolutely furious with her characters. There were moments where it was painful to continue reading as I was so angry with the events in the story.  I had to actually remind myself--this is fiction, it isn't a true story.  I found myself so drawn into the unfolding narrative.

According to the discussion guide, the central conflict revolves around having to make an unfathomable choice between two children. The books raises questions about how one can be a successful step mother while also being a mother to a biological child.  It also centrally seems to ask: What does it mean to be a good mother?  In the world we live in today this is such a loaded concept. Do good mothers stay home with their children? Co-sleep? Breastfeed? Balance work and family? Is it ever acceptable for a divorced biological mother to let her children live with their father? Can a good mother blog about their child's daily life?  In her essay that follows the novel, Medoff explains that part of the story was developed when she started to consider how children react to a parent writing about them.  Medoff explains that she had quit the writing life, but was compelled to write a scene in which the adult daughter of a memoirist describes how it felt to be the subject of her mother's books. It is compelling to consider how being the subject of her mother's memoirs affected Eliot's development.

Medoff writes provocatively about motherhood, family relationships and modern life.  I genuinely enjoyed this novel. It is well-crafted and incredibly thought-provoking. I can't wait to hear others thoughts on I Couldn't Love You More.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday: My Top Picks for May

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

One day soon I will return to posting book reviews (June can't come soon enough). But I thought I'd take the opportunity to list the upcoming May releases that I'm the most excited about.

Only two more days until the release of Jennifer Paddock's The Weight of Memory, which will reconnect me with Chandler, Sarah and Leigh, the character's from Paddock's first novel A Secret World and Walker Galloway, a character from Paddock's second novel Point Clear. The book description explains: "In The Weight of Memory, memory is the common thread running through the storylines of Chandler, Sarah, and Leigh . All three women are from the same hometown, witnessed the death of a boy they all loved in high school, have complicated relationships with their fathers, and ride out Hurricane Katrina together in Destin, Florida." I'm very excited to learn more about these characters and to savor Paddock's prose. I re-read A Secret World two summers ago and I love Paddock's writing.

I'm also excited for Anne Cherian's The Invitation which is released May 14. I learned about this book a while ago and I just re-read Cherian's first novel A Good Indian Wife. I highly recommend the book which is incredibly thought-provoking. I love reading about Indian families and I found Cherian's depiction of an arranged marriage and a man torn between the cultures of India and the US truly insightful.  Cherian's newest book focuses on a group of first generation Indian immigrants.  From Amazon: "When Vikram invites three of his college friends to his son’s graduation from MIT, they accept out of obligation and curiosity, viewing the party as a twenty-fifth reunion of sorts. Village genius Vikram, now the founder of a lucrative computer company, is having the party against his son’s wishes. Frances and Jay regret accepting: Frances, a real estate agent, hasn't sold a house in a year; Jay’s middle management job isn't brag worthy; and their daughter is failing the eleventh grade. Lali plans to hide the fact that her once-happy marriage is crumbling because her American husband is discovering his Jewish roots. Each had left UCLA expecting to be successful and have even more successful children. At Vikram’s Newport Beach mansion, the showmanship they anticipate dissolves as each is forced to deal with his or her own problems. The follow-up toA Good Indian Wife, Anne Cherian’s novel resonates with the poignancy of real life colliding with expectations unmet."

I Couldn't Love You More by Jillian Medoff comes out May 15.  I read Medoff's previous novel Hunger Point when it came out in 2002.  I'm excited to see how her writing has changed--there is a lot to capture in how society has changed. The book description: "Eliot Gordon would do anything for her family. A 38-year-old working mother, she lives an ordinary but fulfilling life in suburban Atlanta with her partner, Grant Delaney, and their three daughters. The two older girls are actually Eliot's stepdaughters, a distinction she is reluctant to make as she valiantly attempts to maintain a safe, happy household." Then Finn Montgomery, Eliot's long-lost first love, appears, triggering a shocking chain of events that culminates in a split-second decision that will haunt her beloved family forever. How Eliot survives-and what she loses in the process-is a story that will resonate with anyone who has ever loved a child."

I am also eagerly awaiting Meg Mitchell Moore's second novel So Far Away which comes out May 29. I thoroughly enjoyed Mitchell Moore's debut novel The Arrivals. Here is the book description: "Thirteen-year-old Natalie Gallagher is trying to escape: from her parents' ugly divorce, and from the vicious cyber-bullying of her former best friend. Adrift, confused, she is a girl trying to find her way in a world that seems to either neglect or despise her. Her salvation arrives in an unlikely form: Bridget O'Connell, an Irish maid working for a wealthy Boston family. The catch? Bridget lives only in the pages of a dusty old 1920s diary Natalie unearthed in her mother's basement. But the life she describes is as troubling - and mysterious - as the one Natalie is trying to navigate herself, almost a century later."

I'm super excited that these books will soon be in my hands!