20 June 2011

Book Reviews: A Threefer

 Here are three books that I have read this week on vacation.  While I did not love them, they were all good and would be perfect for another reader.  Mostly I felt like I was being held at arms length from the story, so while the books were themselves engaging, I did not find myself connecting with any of them.  Perhaps you will. The first book, The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine, is a NYT Book Review Notable Book of the Year and it is a 21st century homage to Jane Austen's Sense & Sensibility.  Overall it's a fairly light and slyly playful account of an older woman and her two grown daughters who fall on hard times (only relative to their station, mind you) and decide to pool their resources by moving to a shabby cottage in Westport, CT, owned by their cousin.  If you know Austen's novel, you will mostly know what to expect.  While I didn't connect to this book personally, I found the ending to be quite good and satisfying. This book is available from Picador in paperback and I requested a comp copy from my sales rep expressly for this vacation.

 The Bee-Loud Glade by Steve Himmer is a book I first heard about from Jason at Bookazine, through his wonderful blog, Three Guys One Book.  It's the story of a man named Mr. Finch who is fired after years adrift in his cubicle because neither his boss nor he can figure out exactly what he does for the company.  Enter a fabulously wealthy and eccentric man who offers Finch a job as a hermit on his grand estate--all he has to do is take a vow of silence and follow any random instructions (meditate at sunrise, learn to fish, make friends with this lion) he receives and he will earn $5,000,000/year for a seven year contract. The chapters alternate in time between Finch as an old man hermit and Finch just as he's getting started with hermitdom.  Intriguing premise and full of absurdities, I definitely recommend this book even if I personally did not connect with it.  It's available in paperback from Atticus books and I bought this copy for myself after reading Jason's review. 

 The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman is another NYT Book Review Notable Book of the Year telling in discrete but interlinked stories from various characters' point of view the rise, fall, and demise of an  international English-language newspaper based in Rome.  We get the perspective of various editors, reporters, publishers, and in one case, even a reader of this paper, created in the 1950s and coming to its brutal end in 2007.  It is the story of journalism itself, the very human side of it, with its foibles and glories showcased in equal measure, and it made this reader at least decry once more the age of internet news, where soundbytes have become more important than substance. NB: If you have even a slight sensitivity to animal abuse, please do yourself a favor and skip the last 4 pages of the final chapter, featuring Oliver Ott.  You won't miss anything crucial to the story and you can pick up again to read the italicized afterword and skip a really sad & maddening scene where a beloved pet is made to pay for the sins of its owner. I do recommend this book, despite the caution about the ending.  This book is available in paperback from Dial Press and I purchased a copy for myself expressly for my summer vacation.


  1. I held back my thoughts on the Weissmann book because I had a similar experience. With all the critical praise noted on the front cover and in the first few pages I thought maybe there was something wrong with me that I didn't love it! It was fine, but I really didn't connect to the characters, I wanted to like them more than I did. I kept thinking maybe I just couldn't get Emma Thompson and Hugh Grant out of my mind and that was messing things up since they didn't fit into this new version. Some of the plot twists seemed a bit contrived and forced to be relevant, but maybe it was just that her writing style didn't captivate me. I ended up swapping it in the hotel library for Cutting for Stone; based on your blog it sounds like I made a good trade!

    I continue to love reading the mix of your book reviews and trip adventures. I hope Mr. Crowe is feeling better.


  2. Thanks for the heads-up about the end of The Imperfectionists, which I have sitting on my Kindle. I have a deep aversion to animal stuff like that and am pleased to know that it won't affect my experience of the story otherwise. That was definitely your good deed of the day.

  3. Cindy, I'm sorry that you felt the same way about it that I did. I guess that's the pratfall of recommending a book before you read it [ducks head in shame!].

    Lisa, I'm glad that I saved you from that unpleasantness then. Believe me, it doesn't affect the story by that point but it is rather heartbreaking and more than a little disturbing to read.

  4. Oh no, do not duck your head in shame! You told me upfront you hadn't read it and I enjoy Jane Austen stories so I was glad I read it. (I do wonder what the "NYT Book Review Notable Book of the Year" people were thinking.)

    If you could have seen my interactions at two bookstores in town when I came in with my list of books from your PM, you would - and should - hold your head up proud as a bookseller/recommender/reviewer! I relayed the stories to my mom, who spent many of her happiest working years in bookstores. I'll sum it up to say that the people who are hired at our local Books-a-Million and Barnes and Noble (including the GM at the former), apparently do not read widely or stay current on new releases and authors. I spent the better part of my childhood engrossed in books my mom brought home with the cover torn off, and I feel like you have helped to re-ignite a desire to read fiction that was lost 10-15 years ago when I had to read so much for school that I was burned out when it came time for leisure reading.

    p.s. I loved the latest Anguilla post today, you have a real way with words. Thanks for providing an island-fix this week, I am really missing it. I hope your husband gets to feeling better soon!


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