Sunday, March 24, 2013

Benediction by Kent Haruf

Dad Lewis, the main character in Kent Haruf’s new novel Benediction, is terminally ill and has accepted that his life is coming to an end. He also knows he has plenty of regrets about it, the biggest one being that he has not seen or spoken to his son Frank in years. Like Dad, Reverend Lyle also lives in the small town of Holt, Colorado—although he was recently relocated to the town when he ran into problems at his previous church in Denver. In Benediction both men try with varying degrees of success to make sense of their lives.

Dad is well respected in Holt and has run the local hardware store for years. He has always been very set in his feelings about right and wrong. On his death bed he thinks back to a former employee who he discovered was stealing from him. Dad made the man promise to leave Holt and refused his repeated requests to repay the stolen money over a period of time. This decision did not work out so well for Dad in the long run.

 Reverend Lyle gives a sermon on forgiveness that causes most members of his church in Holt to walk out and two men in the town to beat him up later on. From the reaction of his wife and his son John Wesley it is obvious that he has received such adverse reactions to his sermons before.

In addition to Dad Lewis and Reverend Lyle, the book features a number of other prominent characters whose lives intersect throughout the course of the story. Benediction has a nice mix of dark and sweet moments and Dad is treated as a complicated man still able to rectify some things but unable to change others. Haruf’s spare, concise prose is a delight to read and makes a book thin on plot move along at a nice clip.


Monday, March 18, 2013

Total Recall by Arnold Schwarzenegger

The Governator has written his memoir, and it is a page turner.  Total Recall, taken from the title of one of his movies, is a great example of an "only-in-America" story.  Arnold talks candidly about how as a young bodybuilder in Austria he longed to be a world champion and come to America.  When in America he was determined to be a movie star and then governor.  Clearly, Arnold thinks big. He became a Republican upon his arrival in America in 1968 when he watched a debate between Nixon and Humphrey.  Having experienced socialism in Austria, Arnold embraced Nixon's free-market capitalism.  Arnold also speaks lovingly about Maria Shriver, whom he married in 1986, but the final chapter in the memoir, "The Secret," is about the indiscretion that brought his marriage to an end.  Arnold proves the adage "the bigger they are, the harder they fall"; however, I still have tremendous respect for him.  Even though I don't agree with all of his principles, he is very straightforward about what he believes and works hard to achieve his goals.  Arnold concludes the book with his list of ten rules for living--among them are "Reps, Reps, Reps" and "Stay Hungry."  The memoir clearly reflects all of those rules and shows that Arnold's success was no accident but was clearly planned and executed.


If you enjoy this book, you will like Don't Start the Revolution Without Me by Jesse Ventura.

The Power Trip by Jackie Collins

She's baaack; my absolute favorite "trash" author! The Power Trip is her newest but albeit not her best. The usual cast of characters, rich, beautiful, famous actors/politicians/models/businessmen all embark on a luxury cruise. Of course, they all bring secrets and lies and baggage with them, and it all comes to a head in the middle of the sea. This time, a famous Russian billionaire is at the center of the story, and he has some powerful enemies. What better place to get revenge than on a helpless yacht? That's the main theme, but the real story is all that is happening behind the stateroom doors...

You know what I'm talking about. Just enjoy!


Read-alike author: Pat Booth

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Pretty One: A Novel About Sisters by Lucinda Rosenfeld

The Pretty One is a hard novel to describe. By reading the blurb on the cover, I thought it might be kind of creepy. Reading reviews, I thought it might be kind of funny. After the first chapter, I thought it might be kind of a family saga. But none of the above is quite right. This novel is very real. What I mean by that is that it could be about any family at any time in any place.

It is the story of three sisters: Perri - the perfect one, Gus - the political one, and Olympia, the pretty one. They struggle to live each day just like anyone else, but at the same time, they have the additional burden of being pushed into a certain role or type in their family. Anger, jealousy, confusion, happiness and love all happen at the same time.

Again, a story that is very real. The characters are interesting and believable. Not a lot of action, but plenty of sibling rivalry and secrets to keep it moving. Overall, a pretty good read.


Readalike author: Joshilyn Jackson

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Cover of Snow by Jenny Milchman

What do you do when your life changes over night? This is what Nora Hamilton must deal with when her strong-as-nails, cop husband commits suicide. She refuses to believe that he would have killed himself, but everyone around her thinks otherwise. Nora discovers that he’s been prescribed sedatives, and that maybe her husband wasn’t who he seemed to be. But she refuses to give up her own investigation, and is relentless in her pursuit of the truth. The townspeople have other ideas, and they work hard to make sure deadly secrets stay buried.

I really enjoyed this debut novel from Jenny Milchman. This book is anything but predictable, and I couldn’t put it down. If you think you’ve got the mystery figured out, think again. You might not. If Milchman’s next book is anything like this one, I look forward to reading it. 

If you liked Cover of Snow, try books by Lisa Gardner


Saturday, March 9, 2013

Chango’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes by William Kennedy

William Kennedy is probably best known for his award winning novel Ironweed which became even better known when it was turned into a movie with Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson. I hadn’t read anything else by him but was intrigued by his latest novel, Chango’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes, mainly because Ernest Hemingway and Fidel Castro both appear as characters in the book. Even better and somewhat stranger, Bing Crosby is one of the characters in the first scene. While the fictionalized versions of these real people were satisfying, they don’t appear all that often in the novel. I didn’t find this disappointing as the book’s main character, a journalist named Daniel Quinn, has a pretty fascinating life as well.

Chango’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes starts out in Cuba with Quinn meeting Hemingway and later on Fidel Castro. This section was enjoyable but the definite highlight of the book comes when the action switches to Albany, New York on the day Robert F. Kennedy was shot. Racial tensions risk tearing apart the city and Quinn spends the night pursuing, among other things, a story about a down and out man named Zuki who claims he received an offer to shoot Albany’s mayor. The book also follows George, Quinn’s dad, a somewhat senile man who inadvertently ends up on his own adventure on the same night in which he spends most of it thinking he is in Albany fifty years ago. This one night could have been the whole book but Kennedy skillfully ties in the section set in Cuba. Hopefully this is not the last book from this important American novelist.


Saturday, March 2, 2013

Goldberg Variations: a Novel by Susan Isaacs

Author Susan Isaacs has published more than a dozen novels since 1978, and has always stayed relevant. That is, until now. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed Goldberg Variations. I just felt it was unlike anything I had ever read by her. This is the story of 80-year-old Gloria Goldberg, owner of Glory, a company known for bringing current makeup and fashion trends to small-town America. For the last several decades, Glory has been Gloria's whole life. She has had very little contact with her ex-husband or her two sons (one now deceased) or their families.

But now Gloria is in a predicament. She had planned to sell her company to her long time assistant when she decided to retire. But after a recent blowup, Keith has left the company and now Gloria has no one she trusts to take over Glory. She decides to summon her three twenty-something grandchildren to her estate and choose one of them to take the reins. What has not occurred to Gloria is that perhaps none of them would want it.

Now what should she do? Try to make amends to the people she has ignored for most of their lives? And how could she even do that? The answer turns out to be both sad and amusing!


Readalike author: Jennifer Weiner