Sunday, April 24, 2011

Book review: Little Bee, by Chris Cleave

Conventional wisdom warns us not to judge a book by it's cover, but that's typically exactly how I choose my reading material. A visually arresting cover or a good blurb on the back are a must. Luckily, Little Bee had the former and just enough of the latter to catch my interest.

The back basically tells you "we aren't going to tell you much about this book because we don't want to spoil the surprise, but trust us that you'll like it". That, to me, is a dangerous sales tactic because it sets you up for disappointment if the story isn't up to the hype, but in this case they were absolutely right.

All I knew was that the book deals with the repercussions of a chance meeting in Nigeria between an English woman and a Nigerian girl. I had a guess at their relationship before I started reading, and I was dead wrong. The story was much more--and much more powerful--than i had imagined. Like the back cover of the book, I'm left with telling you that I don't want to spoil it by giving out too much information about the plot.

Working first back in time and then forwards, the story is told in chapters that alternate between the two women's voices. The male author did a pitch-perfect job writing for his female characters. It's probably the best I've read of a male writer narrating through his female characters since Wally Lamb's She's Come Undone. It's a powerful story with well-written characters and a very engaging plot. I bought the book Wednesday night and finished it Thursday morning. I just couldn't put it down. Even now, several days later, the characters are still with me. Definitely worth reading.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Book review: This is Where I Leave You

I read this book last year and then reread it so that I could blog about it.  I was starting to notice that most of the books I review here are books I wasn't crazy about.  I think that's because it's so much easier to talk about what you don't like than what you do...but I'm going to try with this one.

This Is Where I Leave You

Judd Foxman is still reeling from his wife's affair with his Howard Stern-ish boss when his father passes away from cancer.  Despite the fact that his father was a dedicated atheist, his last wish was that the family would sit shiva for 7 days.  This is no small request of a family that tolerates each other best in small doses, and issues most certainly arise.  In the midst of the Foxmans' typical -- and atypical -- sibling drama, Judd's soon-to-be-ex-wife arrives with an announcement that further throws him for a loop.

Sounds like a laugh a minute, right?  And yet, this book is hilarious.  I was reading sections aloud to my husband in the first five pages.  From Judd's discovery of his wife's adultery to their mother's wildly inappropriate conversational topics to his efforts to defuse the good-intentioned matchmaking of shiva callers with eligible daughters to the family's attendance at temple, there are some laugh out loud moments.  At the same time, it's really a touching book and a great look at their complicated family dynamics.  I won't tell you how it ends, but I can tell you that, like in real life, there's always more to the story than the characters see from their side of the conflict.

Well worth reading.  And of course, if you do read it, come back and tell me what you thought.