Monday, February 18, 2008

Monday Reviews

It's a bit of a melancholy Monday in my corner of the Midwest. The weather is miserable (I am so sick of snow!), my kids have cabin fever, and my husband just got diagnosed with Influenza A. The boys and I got the flu shot, but Aaron refrained this year. Sucker. Although, I guess we're not in the clear! Apparently the shot this year is only working on 45% of the different flu strains. Yuck. Anyway, I'm feeling a little bummed, so I thought I'd cheer myself up by talking about books. Books can always make me happy! In case your week is looking anything like mine, here is my recommendation on how to spend (and how not to spend) your cooped-up time.

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

Synopsis: Set in Paris at the beginning of World War II, Suite Francaise is a mosaic of stories comprising the details of life in Nazi-occupied France. As the Parisians flee the city, we are drawn into their firsthand accounts of life on the edge of sanity. As a successful writer living in Paris during the first half of the twentieth century, Irene brings a haunting and almost biographical feeling to this book--you aren't just reading about the war, you're living it.

My Take: As a writer, I was drawn to Suite Francaise because it is, essentially, a manuscript and not a completed novel. Irene Nemirovsky was a Jew, and in 1942 (in the middle of writing the stories that would comprise Suite Francaise) she was deported to Auschwitz where she died in the gas chambers. I began my reading of Suite Francaise by skipping to the end and devouring the appendices. Appendix I contains portions of Irene's handwritten notes. Appendix II is a collection of different correspondence dating from 1936-1945. I consumed the letters with my heart in my throat and my tears rippling the pages as I read Michel's (Irene's husband) tender pleas for someone to help free his wife. The entire book has an intensity to it that is astonishing not only because Irene is a brilliant writer but also because we know the ending and she does not. It is stunning and beautiful, hopeful and haunting. I loved it.

The Kindness of Strangers by Katrina Kittle

Synopsis: Sarah Laden is a recent widow and the mother of two difficult boys. She is just starting to put her life back together when she interrupts a suicide attempt by her best friend's son, Jordan. In the ensuing fall-out Sarah's world is shattered. After Jordan is hospitalized, it is quickly discovered that he has been horribly sexually abused and all evidence points to his parents. Sarah is shocked and horrified, torn between defending her best friend and coming to the aid of the terrified Jordan. Eventually, Jordan is released into Sarah's custody and she begins the careful process of picking up the pieces for herself and the young men in her life.

My Take: I hated this book. I can't put it any more bluntly that that. The first 100 pages were like a nightmare. I wish that I could erase the things that I read about Jordan's awful abuse and the way in which his own parents exploited him and other children. This book looked like such a redemptive, hope-filled read when I picked it up, but after the first section I was so longing for the light at the end of the tunnel that I skimmed all the way to the end of the book. I needed to find something worth clinging to. Sadly, I did not find any sort of promise until the very last pages and even then it seemed thin and incomplete to me. I can't believe I did this, but I chucked The Kindness of Strangers in the garbage! Don't worry, it was my book to throw away, not the library's. But still, I am usually a very open-minded reader and unafraid of sensitive subject matter, so for me to detest this book so thoroughly is really alarming. True, my aversion might have much to do with the fact that I am the mother of two young sons, but still, be warned if you decide to pick it up.

After that bummer of a review, I feel like I should give you a few fun freebies! Here are some of my recent favorite reads:

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
A story about friendship and betrayal set in 19th century China. I found it melancholy but rich and deliciously fun to read--just don't expect to walk away feeling light and happy!

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
Gothic and mysterious. Full of intrigue and unexpected plot twists. Perfect for a stormy night and nice glass of rich Cabernet Sauvignon.

Water for Elephants by Sarah Gruen
There's lots of buzz around this book and I have to admit I enjoyed it. It's captivating and easy to read, though I found the ending to be a little too easy. It's a rough book that ends up unexpectedly (and a little tritely) happily-ever-after. Nevertheless, I found it to be a good beach read.

Bel Canto by Anne Patchett
Everyone is talking about her new book, Run, but don't miss Bel Canto! It's set in a hijacked mansion in South America and is so gloriously romantic and redemptive, I couldn't put it down.


  1. I will have to read the WWII one myself. After having been to the Holocaust Museum in DC, the stories of those souls has become particularly poignant.

  2. Thanks for the reviews, Nicole. I really enjoyed Bel Canto. Patchett also wrote a moving friendship memoir called Truth and Beauty.