Az’s CBR-III Review #11: Say Her Name by Francisco Goldman
Francisco Goldman’s first book, The Long Night of White Chickens remains to this day in my top 10 favorite books of all time. I was very excited to pick up his new book when I saw it in the library. This book blew me away, plain and simple. In his fifties, Goldman met a beautiful, talented young woman named Aura Estrada. He immediately fell in love. How could he not? And by some insane stroke of luck, she fell in love with him as well. The were together for four years, married for two. And then she died. She was thirty. It was a freak bodysurfing accident off the Pacific coast of Mexico. This book is Goldman’s way of bringing Aura back to life and he does so marvelously. He uses fragments from her diaries and short stories to reconstruct her early life, move seamlessly into a narration of his relationship with her and then takes us through the unbearable horror of her death and how he dealt with his grief and loss. This book hit home hard for me. Like Goldman, I too met the love of my life later in life. Like Goldman, I am older than my love. There’s a certain expectation there: that I will go first, that he will be the one to live without me. This was especially true with Goldman and his Aura given the 20-year difference between them. I cannot imagine losing my husband and having to survive without him. I don’t know how Goldman does it. This book is staggeringly beautiful. It is truly a labor of love as much as it is a gorgeous piece of writing. Goldman truly succeeds in his endeavor to bring Aura to life and every word of this book is a testament to the gloriously immense love they shared in the appallingly short time they had together. I honestly can’t recommend this book enough!
Az’s CBR-III Review #10: Your voice in my head by Emma Forrest
Emma Forrest is amazing. That is the main thing I took away from this book. Emma Forrest is nothing short of amazing. I believe it takes so much courage to face that your foibles and quirks have crossed the line from merely being capricious and fey to being destructive and potentially life threatening. That admission doesn’t come easily and, for most of us, never comes at all. So there is that. But Emma didn’t only make this admission, she sought help and then committed to healing herself. And that commitment takes even more strength and determination. I’m not trying to undermine the role of those people who assist in the healing – and God knows Emma had an extraordinary helper – but no one can be helped who can’t help himself. So what happens then, when out of the blue you lose that extraordinary person who helped put you back together and on top of that lose the one you love the most who had become your strongest supporter? If you are Emma Forrest, you survive. And you tell your story. And what a story it is: full of heartbreak, yes, but ultimately full of strength and determination. You go on. And you go on well. And that is why this story is extraordinary. And Emma Forrest? She is amazing.
Az’s CBR-III Review #9: Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty
Where to begin with Jessica Darling? Is it that she is smarter and wittier by far than most tenage heroines? Is it the level of angst? I don’t know. All I know is that I ripped through this book, laughing and crying as if I were 13 and not middle aged. This book is simply amazing. Okay, so Jessica Darling is the proverbial good girl with a bitter streak. Her father calls her “Notso” as in “not so Darling”. She is suffering from the loss of her best friend and soulmate Hope whose parents have moved her away following the death of Hope’s brother Heath from an overdose. Jessica is left adrift and lonely and even more bitter. How is she supposed to deal with her world when her only source of support is gone? Jessica must learn to navigate school – where she feels out of place- and home – where she feels even more out of place- by herself. Her only confidant is her journal and what she writes in it is by turns, mortifying, hilarious and poignant. And then there is Marcus Flutie… This book is a classic (not just a YA classic) for a reason: the dilemmas and heartaches of its heroine are universal and everyone will find something to which they can relate in it. I cannot wait to share this book with my daughter in a couple of years. It is just wonderful.
Az’s CBR-III Review #8: The Castaways by Elin Hildebrand
The Castaways by Elin Hildebrand is another of those books I picked up after hearing from several people that I would love the author’s works. I had tried to read another of her books before without success so I approached this one with trepidation. Imagine my surprise when I could not put it down! The book deals with a group of friends who live on Nantucket and call themselves “the Castaways”. It’s made up of three married couples and their children. They are all seemingly very close friends. The book begins when one of the couples, whose marriage has been on the rocks due to infidelity, drowns during a sailing trip to celebrate their anniversary. Each of the remaining Castaways has to deal with his or her own grief, a grief that is marred by the many secrets and lies that mark the couple’s relationships with their own spouses as well as those with the other members of the group. As well, there is the mystery of what exactly happened on that boat that caused these people to die. The result is a whopper of a page-turner in which none of the characters are totally likeable, yet you still care about what happens to them. It’s also an interesting analysis of how you can never really know someone no matter how close you think you are to them. Altogether a really interesting, engaging book, if a little off-putting at times. It’s touted as a beach read… I have to say that term is misleading… definitely not a beach read!
Az’s CBR-III Review #7: The last time I saw you by Elizabeth Berg
I’ve always had this fascination of how different events are remembered differently by the participants in said events or even by the same person at different times in that person’s life. How an event that is insignificant for one of its participants is life-altering for another. The Last Time I Saw You by Elizabeth Berg is a prime example of this phenomenon. The book addresses the events preceding and leading up to the 40th high school class reunion in Clear Springs. This makes it interesting because high school experiences are literally over half a life away and yet they continue to shape and define the characters in this novel. What’s especially wonderful about this book is that it does deal with the time-honored cliches: the jock whose life didn’t turn out like he expected, the nerd done good, the unpopular girl leading a happy life, the high school sweethearts who have remained together and are happy, the prettiest girl who didn’t get everything she wanted, the trio of mean girls who haven’t changed a bit… however, the genius of Elizabeth Berg is that she tweaks the cliches in unexpected ways. Also, Berg nails the anxiety and insecurity that arises when having to face any group of people you haven’t seen in a while, especially when there is something to prove. This book is by turns hilarious, poignant and thought-provoking and a great, entertaining read. I read it in no time at all and was very sad to have it end. I then promptly re-read it and liked it even more. And that is always a wonderful thing.
Az’s CBR-III Review #6: Where she went by Gayle Forman
Where She Went is the sequel to If I Stay. This time, the story is told from the viewpoint of Adam, Mia’s boyfriend. Basically it travels the 3 years from when Mia woke up from her coma to the present. There were many unexpected developments in this sequel. I’m not planning to spoil any of them because all the discoveries made in this book are actually what propel the story along. I really have to tip my hat to Gayle Foreman for not turning this into your run-of-the-mill recovery from accident, love story plot. Another aspect of the book that I loved as well are the inclusion of Adam’s lyrics. What could have been a cliched sampling of teenage emotions actually reads as honest, bitter emotion… these lyrics are plausible. Yes, Adam is a tad emo, whiny and needy. And Mia is a little too well-adjusted at times. But this is a rarity among books: a wonderful, well written, well thought out sequel that is not only the perfect companion to its predecessor but also provides the perfect amount of closure and, the cherry on top of the sundae is that it doesn’t disappoint. Gayle Foreman has written another outstanding story. One last recommendation: bring a boxful of tissues, you are going to need them.
Az’s CBR-III Review #5: Crystal Clear by Jane Heller
I resisted reading Jane Heller for the longest time. I had been told by several people that I’d love her books but could never get into them. Last week at the library I came across her newish book called Crystal Clear and decided to give Ms. Heller another shot. Crystal is an accountant in NYC with a lackluster life that revolves around her job. When a trio of crises – including the possibility of being fired – hits her, she decides to go to Sedona, AZ for a “mystical” vacation. There she encounters her long-gone ex-husband, gets into mischief with a mystery involving a vapid heiress and her hangers-on and finally experiences the epiphany necessary to turn her life around. The key to this is, of course, the long-lost ex. I didn’t hate his book but I didn’t love it either. I thought it was a serviceable plot that followed a time-honored formula. It wasn’t highly literate or intellectual, but I didn’t expect it to be. It kept me entertained for the hour or so that it took me to read it and honestly, that’s all I was after.