Monday, June 29, 2015

Mrs. Kimble, by Jennifer Haigh

Mrs. Kimble is the story of three women, all of whom fall in love with the same horrible man, Ken Kimble. We never learn what's caused Ken to behave the way he does, but his whole life is a series of cons. He makes people believe that he cares about them, but they're really just scenery and background to his self-absorption. He's drawn to young, beautiful women, and simply drops them when they are no longer of use to him.

A chaplain at a Bible college, Ken married one of his students, Birdie, when she was eighteen, then abandons his family when he runs off with yet another student. He then dumps her when he meets Joan, a vulnerable, yet wealthy, woman, and ingratiates himself with Joan's family, passing himself off as Jewish so that they embrace him and bring him into the family business. After she dies from cancer a few years later, Ken inherits everything from her and moves back to the Washington, D.C. area to run a real estate business. Meeting up with Dinah, a young woman who babysat the children from his first marriage, he marries yet again. The facade Ken built crumbles when it becomes clear that he had been committing fraud for years, and Ken runs away once again, only to die alone.

Jennifer Haigh's writing is crisp and unsentimental, yet she clearly evokes the emotional wreckage that Ken leaves behind in each of his marriages. I found the ending satisfying as it's clear that Ken's children, though scarred, have formed a sort of blended family and will survive. I suppose it's intentional on the author's part, but we never learn what caused Ken to become so narcissistic. Ken dies alone (this isn't a spoiler, because the book opens with his death), but we don't have the satisfaction of thinking this is a punishment for him. In the end, I felt that he didn't even care about that. Alone, and on the run from the FBI, he continued to live the way he was accustomed. He ran every day, he watched his cholesterol, he wore good suits and his Rolex watch, and he had his stash of money in the bank.

Mrs. Kimble is Jennifer Haigh's first book. I've also read The Condition and Faith, the latter reviewed here on this blog. I loved both books, and look forward to reading Baker Towers, the only book of hers that I haven't read yet, as well as any future books. 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

ALA Annual 2015 Book-A-Licious Breakfast

The ALA Annual 2015 Book-A-Licious Breakfast was another fun event sponsored by the Association of American Publishers and LibraryReads. Held on Saturday, June 27th at the Marriott Marquis San Francisco Hotel, it featured six authors and their latest books. Attendees were treated to a full breakfast while each of the authors talked about how libraries and librarians were important to their development at authors, and discussed their books. I was amazed at what good speakers each of the authors were. They were at times earnest, passionate, and funny. I attend this event at every conference, and I'm never disappointed. As a bonus, all attendees are given a tote bag filled with each of the books that are discussed. The authors and books that were spotlighted were:

Charles Belfoure. House of Thieves. Mr. Belfoure is an architect who writes books with architecture as the backdrop. His first book was the best-selling The Paris Architect so there is a lot of anticipation for his second effort.

Anthony Marra
Anthony Marra
Anthony Marra. The Tsar of Love and Techno. Mr. Marra's first book was the best-selling and prize-winning A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, which I have at home but haven't read yet. Mr. Marra began his talk by telling us that his father worked as a young man collecting late fines door-to-door for a public library in Brooklyn and wanted Anthony to tell the room full of librarians that he never let him return books late to the library when he was a child.

Celeste Ng

Celeste Ng. Everything I Never Told You. This is Ms. Ng's first novel, although she has published short stories previously. Her book is set in 1977, and was meticulously researched at the library. Ms. Ng reports that she obsessively read both books and newspapers about the time period to get the details right.

Nnedi Okorafor

Nnedi Okorafor. Lagoon. Ms. Okorafor writes science fiction and fantasy for children, young adults, and adults. Her latest, Lagoon, was inspired by the movie District 9, which she felt got so much wrong about Africa. I really liked District 9, and I'm not sure what she was getting at there, so I'll have to watch it again and read her book to see what she means.

Stacy Schiff
Stacy Schiff. The Witches. Ms. Schiff is the only one of the six authors presenting whose work I had previously read (Cleopatra: A Life, which I loved). Her new book is an examination of the Salem witch trials, and sounds fascinating.

Brigid Schulte

 Brigid Schulte. Overwhelmed. Ms. Schulte is a reporter for the The Washington Post who writes about work-life issues. Overwhelmed explores how and why women often feel so overwhelmed by all of their obligations and responsibilities. How did this happen, and what can we do about it?

Friday, June 26, 2015

Book Buzz San Francisco 2015

Book Buzz San Francisco was an all-day event held at the San Francisco Public Library on June 25, 2015. This event is sponsored by the Association of American Publishers (AAP), which very generously presents an opportunity for member publishers to share their upcoming books with librarians. The morning is devoted to children's and young adult books, and the afternoon to adult fiction and non-fiction.

AAP also provides a lunch for all who attend, and at the end of each session, attendees are given a bag full of advance reader's copies of many of the books discussed throughout the day. I was flying to San Francisco on Thursday morning, so I missed the morning session, but I was able to get there just in time for lunch and the afternoon session.

Here are some of the publishers and books that I'm excited about:

Simon & Schuster. Esther: A Novel, by Rebecca Kanner (about Queen Esther).
Perseus Books Group. First Bite: How We Learn to Eat, by Bee Wilson (who also wrote Consider the Fork).
New York Review Books. The House of Twenty Thousand Books, by Sasha Abramsky (about his grandfather who loved learning).
Sterling. House Beautiful Pink, by Lisa Cregan (how to decorate with pink).
WW.Norton. S.P.Q.R: A History of Rome, by Mary Beard.
HarperCollins. Art in the Blood: A Sherlock Holmes Adventure, by Bonnie MacBird (I got this in the bag of ARCs they distributed).
Workman. This is Your Life, Harriet Chance, by Jonathan Evison (I really liked his The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving).
Sourcebooks. Until We Meet Again, by Renee Collins (marketed at The Time Traveler's Wife for teens).
Soho Crime. Burning Down George Orwell's House, by Andrew Ervin.
National Geographic. Pope Francis & the New Vatican (first time ever photos of any pope in the Vatican;  the cover photo is embargoed and we were the first ever to see it (we were asked not to take any pictures)).
Melville House. The Dog Walker: An Anarchist's Encounters with the Good, the Bad, and the Canine, by Joshua Stevens (he spends his free time protesting against the 1%, but it's their dogs that he walks for a living).
Hachette. Drinking in America, by Susan Cheever.
Penguin Random House. The Swans of Fifth Avenue, by Melanie Benjamin (about Truman Capote).


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Catching up: June 2015

Once again I've gotten behind on writing reviews for my leisure reading, so I will list the missing books here along with just a few words about each one.

Alice Hoffman's Local Girls. I read this book (published in 1999) for my book club. Originally not very enthusiastic about it because it is a collection of short stories, I ended up enjoying it because the stories and characters were all related. The stories mostly follow Greta through her teenage years as her father leaves them for a new wife and her best friend gets pregnant and drops out of school.

Alice Hoffman's Nightbird. Twig is a young girl who lives with her mother and brother in a small town. Her life is defined by the secrets they keep; her family was cursed by a witch many generations ago and her brother is the last in a long line of men in the family who have to hide from public view. Everything changes when a new family comes to town; they're descendants of the witch who cursed the family so long ago. Including elements of magic and fantasy, Alice Hoffman's writing is simple and charming.

Joseph Kanon's Stardust. I absolutely loved this historical mystery/thriller. Set at the end of 1945, it explores the hunt for communists in the film industry. Ben Collier's brother has committed suicide and Ben's investigation into his death brings many intrigues to light. Its fast-paced and fascinating look at this period of history will make this book interesting to thriller lovers as well as historical fiction buffs.

Joseph Kanon's Istanbul Passage. This book explores yet another aspect of the five-year period after World War II. Neutral during WWII, Turkey was a central point for U.S., Russian, and other spies trying to get information and make deals throughout the war. Businessman Leon Bauer works on the fringe of the spy community, delivering messages and packages when needed. Hired to pick up a former Romanian military officer, he has to hide him away when they're ambushed. Leon has to navigate between the two nation's interests when it becomes clear that there's a traitor in the U.S. embassy who may be working for the Russians. This is a good thriller but has a little less of the historical context than the other two Kanon's that I've read.

Tiffany Baker's The Little Giant of Aberdeen County. Truly was born big and grows to be exceedingly tall and heavy. After her parents both die, Truly and her sister Serena Jane are split up and sent to different families for fostering. Because of her size and refusal to wear girls clothing, Truly is sent to live with a farming family whereas Serena Jane is brought up in a home in town. This book describes their lives growing up apart, Serena Jane's marriage and then disappearance, and Truly's service as a caretaker for Serena Jane's husband and surrogate mother to their son Bobbie. This is a strong first book; I'm looking forward to Tiffany Baker's next one.