Last Sunday in November Roundup

Short comments on a few books:

  • Love and Other Consolations by Jamie Ford

Another immigrant story – this one centers on a Chinese boy sold at the 1909 Seattle World’s Fair, as he looks back on his life fifty years later at Seattle’s second World’s Fair.

  • The Breakdown by B. A. Paris

Finally finished listening to this thriller! I had it on Audible, and found myself increasing the speed when the diary- like texts revealed the collusion. Think “Gaslight” with Ingrid Bergman being systemstically driven mad by a greedy husband. The surprise is whodunit – not Charles Boyer this time.

  • The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg

Elizabeth Berg connects three sad souls who find redemption in each other. Arthur has lunch everyday at his wife’s grave, and while imagining the lives under the other headstones, he meets pregnant teenage Maddie whose mother died soon after she was born. After Maddie moves into Arthur’s big house, his 83 year old next door neighbor Lucille loses an old love (after finding him again after 60 years), and moves in with Arthur too.  Full of life lessons and philosophical bon mots, the book is in good company with others having unique names in the title – Penumbra, Fikry, Pettigrew…

  • Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

Although I pre-ordered this highly touted coming of age tale of a recent college grad (lit major) who tries to make it in the big city by working as a backwaiter at a high-end restaurant, I could never get into it.  Since it was still on my iPhone, I tried again.  The book is divided into the four seasons, beginning with Summer.  I made it through Autumn and most of Winter before skipping to the end of Spring, following 22-year-old Tess’ initiation into the world of fine dining and hedonism. As she learns the ropes of restaurant work, she falls for bad-boy bartender Jake, and makes her first forays into wine, drugs, lust, betrayal and adulthood.  I still think the book is overrated, but I might appreciate it more when Brad Pitt produces the Starz series drama for television.

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Trying to Keep Up – Turning the Pages

How do you like your books – hard cover with pages to bend over, electronic on a phone or pad, plugged into your ears? Mine come in all flavors – three I am reading now:

Hardback:

160px-Free_Food_for_Millionaires   After finishing and enjoying Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko, I found her first novel – Free Food for Millionaires – and am now ensconced in her beautiful language and another tale of Korean immigrants – this time in New York City.

“…a tale of first-generation immigrants stuck between stodgy parents and the hip new world with focus on contemporary intergenerational cultural friction.”

So far, Casey has graduated from Princeton, been thrown out of her father’s house for disrespect, finds her boyfriend in bed with two women, and has headed to the Carlyle Hotel In New York City with her new credit card…what next?

E-book:

contentIsabelle Allende’s In the Midst of Winter caught my eye and I am reading another tale of immigrants on my iPhone – this time in Brooklyn.

The novel revolves around three main characters: Evelyn Ortega, a twenty-year old young Guatemalan born, illegal immigrant;  Lucia Maraz, an older woman and a Chilean born academic who lives in exile in the United States; and Richard Bowmaster, her landlord and colleague, who was married to a Brazilian woman earlier in his life.  The three are thrown together when Richard rear ends the car Evelyn is driving. This minor accident draws the murdered body in the trunk of Evelyn’s car into the action.”

Audiobook:

51EQME-NuJL._SL150_   When I read a review of George Eliot’s Scenes of Clerical Life, I could not resist this classic.  It is available for free on Gutenberg Press, but with so many credits on audible, I decided to listen to it in the lovely British tones of Wanda McCaddon.

“This work, George Eliot’s fiction debut, contains three stories, all of which aim to disclose the value hidden in the commonplace.  The Sad Fortunes of the Rev. Amos Barton, through vignettes of his life, portrays a character who is hard to like and easy to ridicule. Many people ridicule as well as slander and despise him, until his suffering shocks them into fellowship and sympathy.  In Mr. Gilfil’s Love-Story, Eliot brings forth conflicting value systems revolving around a young woman, Caterina, and two men, Wybrow, who is capable of loving only himself, and Mr. Gilfil, whose love for Caterina is selfless and perceptive.  The story Janet’s Repentance is an account of conversion from sinfulness to righteousness achieved through the selfless endeavors of an Evangelical clergyman.”

Lots to read – hope I can keep all the story lines from overlapping.  What are you reading?

Tell Tale – Shorts by Archer

9781447252290tell tale_5_jpg_260_400    After following the characters in Jeffrey Archer’s Clifton Chronicles for years (one character was named after me, but only my first name appears in one of the short stories), it’s a relief to have a few shorts without cliffhangers in Archer’s new book of short stories – Tell Tale.

In fourteen short stories, Archer targets a range of characters and lifestyles, from the bank executive forced to retire months before his pension, to the iron monger who became a theologian.  In one story, “The Holiday of a Lifetime,” Archer offers the reader a choice of endings, and two well-known literary characters pop up in “A Wasted Hour” and “A Good Toss to Lose.”   Demonstrating his talent for writing clever plots, Jeffrey Archer begins and ends his collection with stories confined to 100 words; the others are varying lengths, but each has a surprising O’Henry twist at the end.

Archer’s newest collection of short stories is as entertaining as his novels, and he ends with a teaser for his fans – the first four chapter of his next novel – “Heads You Win” to be published next year – I can’t wait.

What to Read (Listen to) Next

51M04zBndRL._SL150_  After reading Sam Anderson’s teaser in the New York Times Sunday magazine – New Sentences from Dan Brown’s Origin: A Novel – I ordered the book on line from my library, but I am number 297 on the waiting list.  Although I read Brown’s The Da Vinci Code years ago, I steered away from his other books when Tom Hanks became the image of Robert Langdon – I had imagined Pierce Brosnan as the professor/adventurer.

Origin is number five in the series with Robert Langdon,  and this one promises the secrets of the universe with predictions for the future.  Anderson actually makes the case for not reading the book, but Peter Conrad for The Observer says it may the antidote to the real world –  ” a specimen of phoney fiction, expertly designed to confuse the credulous…{Dan Brown’s} deranged fantasy increasingly looks like our daily reality…”

Sounds like fun and I have too many credits on Audible – maybe I’ll just listen to the abridged version, or maybe instead –

download Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied Sing.51C0X7VufEL._SL150_

What are you listening to?

 

Golden Hill – A Novel of Old New York

9781501163876_p0_v4_s192x300   Francis Spufford’s Golden Hill mixes Shakespearean plot twists with an adventurous tale of Manhattan in the eighteenth century, thirty years before the American Revolution.  Richard Smith, an Englishman who mysteriously arrives on a ship from London, immediately goes to the New York City colony counting-house on Golden Hill Street, and demands cash for a thousand pound note – the equivalent of a cashier’s check for almost two hundred thousand dollars today.     Smith offers no explanation about the purpose of his visit or his identity, and seems determined to keep the local merchants wondering if they should trust him. Smith’s mishaps and attempts at love at first seem to follow the plot of a Shakespearean comedy, but Spufford has more at stake in using disguises and insidious politics than Shakespeare’s comedic rivalry.

As Richard Smith nonchalantly continues to refuse how he will distribute the funds once he has them in hand, his cool demeanor arouses suspicions – is he a spy from the King?  a wealthy man’s son sent to prepare for a royal visit?  a confabulator? prestidigitator?  actor?  The counting house master responsible for distributing the funds to him would prefer him proven unworthy and a scam artist, so he could refuse giving him the money.

In the sixty days before Christmas, when the note is due, Smith manages to be robbed, fall in love, go to debtor’s prison, and be tried in court for murder.  Nevertheless, his secret remains until the last pages.  The narrator pauses the action intermittently to address the reader, using short soliloquies to provide an insider’s view – one who already knows the outcome and the characters’ motivations.  The identity of the narrator is also surprisingly revealed at the end of the story.

Because Spufford uses the formal language and sentence structure of colonial America for his characters and for the narration, the rhythm of the book seems strange at first.  I had to slow down, even rereading from the beginning when I found myself lost; however,  once I had identified Richard Smith as a sympathetic scoundrel, I was anxious to discover what would happen to him next.  Nothing seems to deter him as he cleverly manages to dine on credit after his money purse is stolen, or escape a bloodthirsty mob at the Guy Fawkes bonfire.  At times, the action is fast and hilarious, then slowing into the lull before the next storm of catastrophes.

With a reference to Shakespeare’s dueling lovers in Much Ado About Nothing, the narrator compares their combative relationship to that of Richard Smith and the counting house master’s daughter, Tabitha, who resembles Shakespeare’s shrew Katherine more than the witty Beatrice.  Spufford takes the relationship back and forth, having the characters verbally sparring with well-matched minds and creating sexual tension with the hope of an alliance.

When Smith’s true identity is revealed, with a flourish in the final scene that includes an episode worthy of a Hollywood extravaganza, the story has new purpose.  All of Smith’s witty banter and swashbuckling behavior comes together in a sobering and worthwhile delivery.    With a clever plot and an endearing hero, Spufford delivers an historical tale worth reading, forcing the reader to transport to that earlier time, immersed in the old world and its rich language – with a final tribute to those determined to change the status quo.