28 May 2009

Neil Armstrong is My Uncle & Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me by Nan Marino

Flap Copy from ARC:" 'Muscle Man McGinty is a squirrely runt, a lying snake, and a pitiful excuse for a ten-year-old. The problem is that no one on Ramble Street knows it, but me.'

Tamara Ann Simpson is tired of all the lies. And boy, oh boy, can Muscle Man McGinty tell some whoppers! When he does the unthinkable and challenges the entire block to a game of kickball, Tamara knows she's found her opportunity to prove to everyonw what a wormy little liar Muscle Man really is. Of course things would be a lot easier if her best friend Kebsie Grobser were here to help her ...

It's the summer of 1969 and the world is getting ready for a young man named Neil Armstrong to make history by walking on the moon. But change happens a bit more slowly in Massapequa Park, and it'll take one giant leap for Tamara to understand the likes of Muscle Man McGinty."

Such a rich and entertaining young adult find! This slim novel has a bully for a narrator, a tall-tale-teller for an enemy and the summer of 1969 as its volatile setting. Tamara has a clear and honest voice - she made me feel the frustrations of her ten-year-old self as though they were my own. The story definitely delivers a few life lessons about loss and rushing to judgement, but does so quietly, without an overbearing moral voice. I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it, for young adults and grown-ups alike.

20 May 2009

Perfection by Julie Metz

Flap Copy from ARC: "Julie Metz seemed to have the perfect life - an adoring if demanding husband, spirited daughter, a lovely old house in an idyllic town outside New York City - when in an instant, everything changed. Her charismatic, charming husband, Henry, suffered a pulmonary embolism and collapsed on the kitchen floor. Within hours he was dead, and Julie was a widow and single mother at forty-four. Just like that, what seemed like a perfect life melted away. But the worst was yet to come.

Six months after his death, Julie discovered that her husband of twelve years, the man who loved her and their six-year-old daughter ebulliently and devotedly, had been unfaithful throughout their marriage, going so far as to conduct an ongoing relationship with one of Julie's close friends."

Metz has produced a raw and moving memoir of her life as a grieving widow faced with the reality of her dead husband's infdelity. Her writing is honest and brave as she chronicles the unraveling of her marriage post her husband's death - as evidence of each new woman comes to light, Metz acknowledges that there were signs along the way, signs she either misread or simply ignored.

She approached her 'recovery' with zeal, contacting all of her husband's lovers, researching the sociology and psychology of infidelity and of human desire, but also with the very real shame, fear and dismay that anyone would feel in the same situation. Metz was more forgiving than I can imagine being, and there were times along the way that I found her self-questioning to be tedious, but overall I was rooting for her, hoping she would emerge at the end of the tunnel with a capacity for love and happiness that had previously been taken from her. This memoir is definitely worth the read - I give it 3.5 stars.

14 May 2009

Palace Circle by Rebecca Dean

Description from Publisher's Weekly: From London to Cairo, in the glittery world of high society before WWII, Dean taps into an exotic and distant world in her page-turning debut. After 18-year-old Virginia belle Delia marries older British aristocrat Ivor Conisborough, they decamp to London and get to work on producing an heir for the aging viscount. Delia is agog at her new friends in high places, but her idyll is trampled when she learns a painful secret about Ivor. Even so, Delia is endlessly infatuated with London, and she eventually has two girls, Petronella and Davina. The family, to Delia's chagrin, is relocated to Cairo on a long diplomatic mission ... Davina and Petronella, meanwhile, grow into young women who think of Cairo as home and fall in love with men they meet there."

I really wanted to like this book, but ultimately I was just very disappointed. Divided into 5 sections, one for each of the main characters, the story remained superficial and the characters for the most part poorly developed. Though the narrative contains vast leaps forward in time, it still manages to drag.

The most interesting elements of the book were its historical glimpses of the Windsor court and of society in colonial Egypt - it was these settings which drew me to the book in the first place. I'm not sure of Dean's historical accuracy, though, as she seems to take quite a bit of license with a variety of famous names and places.

I suppose as a light-hearted period piece, Palace Circle succeeds, recounting one family's journey through time and war. I give it 2.5 stars - for me, this book just didn't deliver all that it had promised.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

Flap Copy from ARC: "It is the summer of 1950 - and a series of inexplicable events has struck Buckshaw, the decaying English mansion that Flavia's family calls home. A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beack. Hours later, Flavia finds a man lying in the cucumber patch and watches him as he takes his dying breath. Then someone steals a slice of Mrs. Mullet's unspeakable custard pie that had been cooling on the kitchen window. Flavia sums it up: 'I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn't. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life ...'

As the noose tightens, Flavia decides it is up to her - and her fully equipped Victorian laboratory - to piece together the clues and solve a murder."

Entertaining and quirky, this debut novel was well worth read. I was immediately drawn to the precocious 11-year-old heroine, with her love of chemistry, her passionate obsession with poisons and her beloved bicycle named Gladys. The book is filled with strange characters, Flavia's unsympathetic family among them - each encounter serves to further enhance the bizarre, almost surreal nature of Flavia's surroundings.

Bradley's mystery plot unfolds at a good pace, with enough twists and turns to keep Flavia guessing - though I had it figured out pretty quickly, my enjoyment of the book came from watching Flavia reach the same conclusion. Four stars, a highly recommended read!