This month has given an amazing string of books without a single dud. Part of my enjoyment probably comes from each of them being so different from the others. No repeated tropes or cliches to make me cranky.
Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson. A very enjoyable summer read that I’m quite sure will be a movie in no time. It has a similar vibe to Gone Girl or Girl on a Train that way, and that’s a compliment! Intriguing story with layers and a strong, interesting main character in Amy, a woman who’s been through a lot in her past that’s she’s hidden away in her now “perfect” suburban life. Then, charismatic beauty Roux arrives, and Amy’s carefully woven perfection starts to unravel. If I were casting the movie, Angelina Jolie would be a natural for Roux, maybe Amy Adams for Amy, and maybe Jenna Coleman for Charlotte, Amy’s best friend.
Meet Me in Monaco: A Novel of Grace Kelly's Royal Wedding by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb. Another lovely and satisfying summer read. Sophie Duval is working in her perfume shop in Cannes when none other than Grace Kelly, already one of Hollywood’s brightest stars, ducks in to try to shake off a paparazzo with a camera. Sophie shelters Grace in her office, then meets the pursuing English photographer who comes in moments later. This incident offers the catalyst for friendships, professional advances, and adventures. Before anything else, it’s a love story (and not primarily the one involving Princess Grace).
The Boat People by Sharon Bala. We’re surrounded by stories about refugees – in the news, politics, social media, TV shows – but we seldom hear the stories of individual humans. Together, they may be part of a “refugee crisis,” or not, but what is the life story of that person or of him or her or another? This novel is fiction that feels relevant and very true. There are three key people whose individual stories are told as their lives come to intersect: Mahindan, a Tamil refugee with a young son who has arrived in Canada on a rusting cargo ship full of refugees; Priya, a first generation Canadian whose own parents left Sri Lanka in the ‘80s seeking a peaceful life; and Grace, the descendent of Japanese-Canadians whose Canadianness meant nothing when they were interned as possible security threats and whose home and business were both confiscated during World War 2. Priya is an articling law student assigned to help Mahindan with his claim to be considered a bona fide refugee, while Grace is a political appointee with little relevant experience who sits in judgement of the refugee cases.
This novel was incredible and, wow, no pat and easy answers to be found either. Full respect to the author who unveils details bit by bit, and ultimately ends on a cliffhanger. A very credible mirror to real life where so much is unknowable.
Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks: A Librarian's Love Letters and Breakup Notes to the Books in Her Life by Annie Spence. This whopper of a title says it all. Much of the book is a collection of letters from a librarian to the books she loves, loathes, and loans out. What a hoot! I just loved it. And man, do I wish I had thought of the concept because I have definitely have things to say to some selected books (looking at you, Wuthering Heights). She also provides lists of books to read under certain circumstances as well as excuses to use in order to stay at home and dive under the book covers.
The Library Book by Susan Orlean. I did not know the Los Angeles Central Library burned the same week as the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Now I know so much about this particular library, and the city and state it’s in, but more broadly, the book’s also provided an enhanced appreciation for the philosophy of libraries and the role they play in the life of society. I’ve always felt an easy sense of comfort and pleasure in libraries – being surrounded by more books than I could ever read is a wonderful thought – and being immersed in this book gave me the same sense of ease and eagerness.
The Giver by Lois Lowry. A novel that’s head and shoulders above many of its YA peers, this book takes place in a seemingly utopian society. There’s no war, no hunger, and everyone has a role in society. As the story unfolds, it becomes evident that there’s also no freedom, no love, no room for imagination or creativity. I found it to be a fast and fascinating read. I’d love to understand how teachers tackle it in the many intermediate/middle school classrooms where it’s on the curriculum. It’s obviously written to broadcast A Message but, frankly, I’m not clear on what the precise message is meant to be. There are lots of big bads (euthanasia, censorship, drugs to take away emotions); however, unlike, say, Fahrenheit 451 or The Handmaid’s Tale or 1984, I’m not what Lowry is trying to communicate about our society. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting story, and one that should evoke active discussion however the kids zero in to it.
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. With the elegance and grace of the refined – and now virtually exterminated – Russian aristocracy, Count Alexander Rostov lives under house arrest at the luxurious Metropol hotel in Moscow. He’s been imprisoned for authoring a poem unacceptable to the Bolsheviks now in power, but the beauty of the poem is also what saves him from the firing squad met by so many of his peers. Over the decades, the Count’s life intersects with movie stars, power-brokers, foreigners and, most importantly, the little girl who becomes his daughter. Throughout, his charm, manners, and dedication to living the life he’s been given with authenticity and the highest of standards remain unblemished. The storytelling is well-paced and the language, absolutely beautiful.