As the end of the year draws near, I thought I should wrap up the ‘year-in-review’ I had started with quick reviews of the remaining books read in 2009. All of the books reviewed in this post came from the library.
The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice (2005, 368pages hardcover)
– Set in 1950’s London, this winning tale is narrated by a young woman named Penelope, who is the sort of friendly character you wish was real so that you could hang out with her (and yay! for her being a tall girl as well). She lives with her mother and brother in a grand home they can no longer afford to maintain. Their lives take an upward turn when Penelope is absconded on a train trip by the charming Charlotte. Good sense of place and a lovely set of characters made this one of my favorite books read this year.
Midnight Champagne by A. Manette Ansay (1999, 225 pages hardcover)
– Meh. This novel tells of a winter wedding as viewed from the perspective of many characters. Each perspective illuminates on complicated interrelationships and personal histories. I liked that one of the characters was the ghost of a recently dead woman. That part was interesting, considering this was definitely literary fiction and not the supernatural genre. Overall, though, it felt like a successful writing experiment as opposed to a whole and complete story.
American Cream by Catherine Tudish (2007, 320 pages hardcover)
– I absolutely loved Tudish’s short story collection, Tenney’s Landing. The novel takes place in the same fictional rural Pennsylvanian town of Tenney’s Landing. The main character, Virginia, returns to this, her hometown, to help at her father’s farm as he recovers from an injury. This homecoming of course prompts her reevaluate her life choices and to wonder if she actually belongs at the farm. This is complicated by her teenage son’s attachment to a troubled teenaged girl who lives in the neighborhood, as well as Virginia’s awkward reconnection with her high school sweetheart, now that both are married. American Cream kept me interested throughout but Tudish’s short story collection was much, much better.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (2007, 340 pages, hardcover)
– In anticipation of Diaz speaking at the National Book Festival in D.C., I powered through The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao in the days prior to the event. It’s a well-known book at this point, so I’ll leave off summarizing. Simply put, the writing is amazing, thick with sci-fi and fantasy references, Dominican history, and character and cultural insight. I loved hearing Diaz speak at the Festival. He had some great words to say on the writing craft and on reading.