age of desire

First of all, I need to say that I am an Edith Wharton fan. She is probably my favorite author ever. So, stating that, I really, really loved this book, which is historical fiction about her life…and somewhat about her work.

The novel is told from the point of view of both Wharton herself and Wharton’s assistant/secretary/confidant Anna, who was more like a mother to Edith than Edith’s own mother ever was. Aside from being a friend and constant companion, Anna helped Edith with her writing…by typing her pages but also by offering her tips on story structure and character development.

Though Anna is technically a servant, Edith and Anna are quite close…but when Edith begins to stray away from her marriage into the arms of another man (who Anna believes is a cad and a gold-digger), Edith begins to question Anna’s loyalty.

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For distinguished fiction by an American author: 

Awarded to The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson, an exquisitely crafted novel that carries the reader on an adventuresome journey into the depths of totalitarian North Korea and into the most intimate spaces of the human heart.

 

Finalists:

Also nominated as finalists in this category were: “What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank,” by Nathan Englander (Alfred A. Knopf), a diverse yet consistently masterful collection of stories that explore Jewish identity and questions of modern life in ways that can both delight and unsettle the reader; and “The Snow Child,” by Eowyn Ivey (Reagan Arthur/Little, Brown), and enchanting novel about an older homesteading couple who long for a child amid the harsh wilderness of Alaska and a feral girl who emerges from the woods to bring them hope.

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This is another psychological thriller that keeps the reader riveted from Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn. This, Flynn’s debut novel, tells the story of Camille and the uphill battle she faces as she is forced to confront her past and return her her roots.  Struggling as a cub reporter, Camille gets a prime assignment that just might get her name on the journalism map.  The only problem is the story requires her to head back to her small hometown to cover the murder of two young girls.  Her mother still lives there and Camille has had practically no communication with her since Camille left eight years ago.  There also is a new half-sister, who Camille does not know at all.

Flynn does a fantastic job of interweaving all of Camille’s troubles with the case she’s supposed to be researching and reporting.  And, though Camille is not a perfect character, we do at least begin to like her more and more as the story progresses.  She’s very troubled (at the beginning, we find out one of the reasons she is floundering in her newspaper job is that she just finished a stint in a psych hospital) and heading to her hometown only increases these troubles.  But, Flynn does not take Camille or any of the characters here and send them over the top, as many authors tend to do, especially in thrillers.  The story and the characters here are controlled and methodical.  All in all, this is a a wonderful thriller with a dark, gritty edge. 

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A dark (as the title states), depressing novel with pretty much no sympathetic characters, this is the second novel by Gone Girl author Flynn.  The main character here, Libby Day, was witness to her mother and sisters being murdered when she was a small child.  In court, she identified her brother as the killer.  Over 20 years later, Libby begins to doubt that testimony…did she really see her brother kill three members of her family or did she just believe she had seen it?  Libby begins a quest for self-discovery that will take her life into even more dark places than before.

First of all, Libby is not a nice person.  She’s a thief, she can be violent, and she only begins to question her brother’s innocence after stumbling on a group of true crime addicts who offer her money for trophies from her past.  Aside from Libby, the novel is also told from the point-of-view of the mother and the brother (both of those POVs are set before the murders).  But, like Libby, neither the mother nor the brother are characters the reader will want to relate to.  The brother, Ben, gets involved with Satanism and a VERY bad crowd of friends.  And the mother sits idly by while her family crumbles around her. 

See…it’s a VERY dark story.  But, if you can get past all of that, it is a well-written, edgy piece of fiction that really does keep you reading.  Unlike a lot of contemporary thrillers, this one has a solid foundation, as well as great character development and a pretty decent ending. 

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By far my favorite book of 2012 (even though I read it in 2013).  It is a strong, fierce thriller that combines social commentary and suspense…all in one well-written story.  It is no surprise to me that Ruth Rendell is still writing strong, highly literary pieces of fiction.  She is one of the leaders of the mystery genre, especially British mysteries.  Writing here as Barbara Vine, Rendell writes what I think is one of her best in years…lending truth to the adage that some things improves with age. 

The story here starts off in 2011 with a sister and her brother, Grace and Andrew, sharing a home in London.  They divide the living space of the house equally, a situation which works fine until the brother’s lover, James, comes to live with them.  James sets off a series of events that neither Grace nor Andrew will ever recover from.  While coping, Grace begins reading a long-lost manuscript, never published because its storyline includes unwed mothers and homosexual characters in the 1920s.  That’s when a completely different part of the story takes over.  Or at least we THINK it’s different…because it is set in the post-WWI era.  Soon, correlations between Grace’s modern-day dilemmas and the historical plot become evident. 

The historical storyline revolves around a sister, Maud, the youngest child in a very conservative Bristol family, who gets herself pregnant. After telling her family, they want to send her away.  But, her brother John has a different idea.  He is homosexual and aware that he will never be able to lead a respectable life as a gay man, so he and Maud begin living together as husband and wife…in name only…so that the child does not seem illegitimate. 

Both storylines are interesting and compelling but the historical one just captivates the reader with twists and turns that the reader never expects (or at least I didn’t).  I found both tales together a great commentary on how things regarding sexuality and homosexuality have changed…yet how some things have stayed the same through the centuries. 

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index.phpAnne Tyler once again captures the heart and soul of someone going through a trying time. This time, it’s Aaron…who lives an unremarkable life with an unremarkable woman…Dorothy.  But, after Dorothy’s sudden death, Aaron’s period of adjustment offers more than just grief and depression.  He simply cannot let Dorothy go. This is a touching, sweet book that is filled with heart and emotion.  I found myself laughing at Aaron more than once…whether this was intentional humor on Tyler’s part… just the sad-sack, vulnerable ways of Aaron manifesting themselves as comic moments I do not know.  I would like to think that Tyler wanted us to laugh at him a little…so he and her reader’s would try and take life a little less seriously.  Tyler, who is known for her engaging and emotive character studies, really captures the soul of this wayward man.  I would be hard pressed to say it is Tyler’s best work but it is one of her best.

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I recently re-read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society,  a book I liked.  Upon second reading, I re-liked it all over again…but even more.  I LOVED it on the second read.
Why?  Well, could it be attributed to growing older (I first read it in 2009)? Or experiencing more loss and pain in life?  Or maybe just being in the mood for a sentimental book?
Well, whatever it was that made me change my GOOD read to a GREAT read, I thoroughly enjoyed every page of this story.  There is something for everyone here…romance, history, sentimentality, friendship, etc.
One of the things I forgot was how immersed you get into the world of Guernsey and the period of the story (post-WWII).  I remember adding Guernsey to my “must see” travel list right after I finished this book the first time.  Well, this time, I wanted to RUN there.  Between the sense of place and the sense of history, I felt like I was right there, in 1940s Guernsey, chatting with the characters and partaking of some potato peel pie.  The characters all jump off the page so it is easy to imagine them conversing with me about books and travel and the hardships of the war.
Told exclusively through letters exchanged from Guernsey natives to Juliet, a writer who is searching for her next story, this book begins in 1946, after the Germans left Guernsey.  Juliet lives in London and somehow, one of Guernsey’s residents comes across a book that has Juliet’s name in it so he writes to her.  This letter strikes up a series of events that leads to Juliet and some of her friends traveling to Guernsey and becoming one of the Guernsey family.
No, it is not one of the finest books ever written.  But, sometimes you just need a book to transport you to another world for a little while…something that takes your mind away from the ordinary and the mundane.  For me, this was that book.  Maybe it will be yours too.

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Immersing yourself within the covers of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet is a literary treat. The readers on the audio CD are also very good in their presentation of David Mitchell’s writing expertise. Sometimes the accents do not sound realistic but for the most part it is an enjoyable listening experience.

A mix of historical fiction, suspense, political intrigue, and a touching love story, this novel begins in 1799 in Diejima in Nagasaki Harbor, the farthest outpost of the Dutch East Indies Company. Jacob De Zoet arrives as the new clerk in hopes of earning a fortune so he can wed his wealthy fiancée back in Holland. Japan is a closed country for foreigners and the Dutch are their sole trading partners. In the opening chapters it takes a while to engage and understand the action and characters since the scenes jump around but soon one figures it out. After finishing the novel I was amazed by the quality of its construction. The themes, the action, the setting and the characterization all mesh in a seamless story.

Obviously well researched, the book flows beautifully with countless poetic passages, dialogue with subtle humor, and suspenseful scenes that appeal to both female and male readers. What I found particularly beautiful was the portrayal of men acting honorably amid corruption, greed, lust, and deception. With wondrous writing, Mitchell exposes the love between fathers and sons, respect for women and what it means to be a man.

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This one was slow starting for me. But, once I got into the “Kitteridge” groove, it was a ride I thoroughly enjoyed. I think one of the off-putting things for me was that Olive is not the most likable character. Actually, she can be quite a B$*&%& at times. But, she does have her soft side, so once you get to know her, she does grow on you. Another thing that might have initially hindered my immediate enjoyment was that Olive’s story told in a series of interconnecting short stories. I’m not a big short story reader, so I admit I might have started this one thinking…”Oh, I’m not going to like it. It’s stories…” But, soon, that prejudice vanished when I figured out that Strout was not writing separate stories that happen to feature some continuing characters. She was weaving a tale of a woman’s flawed and marred life, through the eyes of all of the people around her. A strikingly good read!

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As an Anglophile, I guess my most deep, dark fantasy (no, NOT that kind) is that I will find out that I was switched at birth…and that my real parents are British! Trust me…this is not an insult to my American parents. They would be MORE than happy to trade me to an unsuspecting couple across the pond. But, alas, my fantasy is just that…fiction. Well, in this novel, the first by stand-up comedienne/actress Alison Larkin, the main character, Pippa, is raised by British adoptive parents in England but finds out that her biological parents are truly American. This immediately makes sense to Pippa, since she’s always considered herself something of an American-phile but most importantly, she is NOTHING like most the British people around her. This information propels Pippa on a quest to find her true identity and the reasons for all of her non-British idiosyncrasies. Larkin, herself, is a biological American and adoptive Brit, so the story resonates very true. Larkin’s writing style is sharp and witty and Pippa is a truly engaging and highly enjoyable character. We want her to be happy…whether in America or England. For me, I will just keep searching for that one day when I find my true parents…and I’m able to go home where I belong…England! Sorry mom and dad.

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