Sunday, December 21, 2014

Fingal O'Reilly, Irish Doctor by Patrick Taylor

While we've come to know and love Dr. Fingal Flahertie O'Reilly as the senior doctor in a tiny Irish town, new doings have stirred things up in his life - including his memories of the past. Interspersed with the "modern" timeline (1960's actually) are his reminiscences of beginning his career out of medical school (in the 1930s).

Almost unbelievably, this is the eighth book in the Irish County series, and I'm still captivated and engrossed in the lives of the residents of Ballybucklebo. I've made it my habit to wait for these on audiobook, because narrator John Keating is a true gem: He seamlessly breaths life into men, women and children from all parts of the British, Scottish, and Irish lands.

These books are touching, but also funny. In this one there's a bit of grandstanding about political unrest and world events, but I have to admit that I've also found it enlightening in ways I wouldn't have expected. Young Fingal's work in the slums of Belfast allow some historical insight into a world I'd heard about but never actually studied. In the newer storyline, there's a new female doctor working with Fingal and her presence stirs up bias and prejudice it's easy to forget our foremothers endured.

I was again glad to visit the good doctors and hilarious characters in this small town, and can't wait to visit again!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Boy21 by Matthew Quick

Finley lives for basketball, and because he isn't the best player on the team he works extra hard to prove he's an asset. But when Coach asks Finley to watch over a special new kid in town, the strange boy's friendship changes everything: Russ has been through tough stuff and seems not quite right in the head, yet he becomes the kind of friend Finley's never had. When it comes down to friendship or basketball, there are tough choices to make.

Matthew Quick always does a wonderful job with marginalized characters, and typically he likes to put you right inside the head of his most damaged character. So it's a bit different that in this novel, he chose Finley's voice: Finley's life isn't ideal and there's a lurking darkness, but he's a more "normal" character than Russ, who believes he's from outer space and answers to Boy21 instead of his name. Just a slight change of style for Quick, I thought.

I absolutely loved this book, and I have really come to adore Quick's writing style and the stories he tells. His scenarios aren't easy, but they're a journey I'm glad to embark upon to get a new perspective.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Best to Laugh by Lorna Landvik

In this semi-autobiographical novel, folksy funny novelist Lorna Landvik introduces a cast of eccentric Hollywood characters who span from the Golden Era into the tarnished TV years.

Asian-Scandinavian Candy Pekkala followed her dreams to Hollywood so she could pursue a career in comedy. Using baked goods as leverage, she's immediately absorbed into a community that mirrors the Minnesota-nice she left behind: the natty Francis who once ran Hollywood's hottest nightspot along with his blue mohawked punk rock son Frank, a female bodybuilder with a sudsy TV soap star mother, a Romanian seer, a lesbian black-power sistah with a penchant for country music, and many more.

It's an upbeat, funny book about friendship and the end of an era. Candy has some great jobs as a temp worker in Los Angeles, and her friends and neighbors are a hoot. The fact that it's basically Landvik's own story is interesting - because I'm tempted to say the ending is too pat and neatly tied, too "finished" for real life, except it's real life.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Beautiful You by Chuck Palahniuk

When a legal assistant falls dramatically and gracelessly at the feet of the richest man around, her life suddenly changes. After a globetrotting-but-chaste month of dating, one of his ex's warns Penny never to sleep with C. Linus Maxwell - so she turns around and jumps him just like that. It's the beginning of a sex adventure that eventually brings about the complete downfall of humanity. Seriously!

This book is all about control, but it's not whips and chains. It's about the most primal forms of pleasure and the most advanced high-tech gadgetry: a modern satire on feminism, sex, and technology.

Despite the fact this book is about testing and creating sex toys, don't go into this one looking for a thrill - this is seriously the least sexy sex book I've ever read. It's clinical probing and medically specific anatomy with very little titillation. It's almost a relief when Linus and Penny's 136-day relationship is over - because that's when we finally see what's really going on.

It's a sci-fi, future-apocalypse kind of book, and I enjoyed the audiobook read by Carol Monda. There's a lot of  emotionless sex and perhaps a slightly thin plot (with several "Really?" moments) but it's also entertaining and offers some interesting thought-points on technology.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby

On New Year's Eve, four strangers meet accidentally as they all queue up to kill themselves by jumping from one of London's most famous suicide spots.

They form a motley band of survivors, and almost reluctantly the strangers become a quasi-support group. They've got little in common, and many don't even have strong cases for why they're suicidal - which leads to some interesting conversations and soul-searching amongst the characters. It's both a funny book and quite thoughtful, too.

I listened to the multi-voiced audiobook, and I think having a cast brings a fantastic, diverse element to stories told in multiple voices (as this one is). Because we get the perspective of all the major characters, it's not just a single-sided look at suicide - you get four very different perspectives on what's wrong with their lives, why they think they should die, and how they got there.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Let's Go Crazy: Prince and the Making of Purple Rain by Alan Light

The song, album, and film "Purple Rain" epitomize a certain spot on the 1980s timeline, and I was surprised when I read this book was being released for their 30th anniversary. (It seems like just yesterday!)

Written by a former Rolling Stone editor, this book is chock full of memories and stories from the making of Prince's 1985 magnum opus. Unfortunately, very little of the information is from the notoriously press-shy artist himself - but the story stands up pretty well without Prince's input due to the wealth of truly inside information mined from band mates, friends, rivals, and business partners.
Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman participated fully in this book, and their up-front-and-personal insights may be the best look we'll ever get into the operations of Prince's mind; they were friends and collaborators in a way Prince has rarely allowed. The book also does a nice job putting the music and film into historical perspective, with criticism and analysis from the 80's but also delving into the larger context of their legacy.

It's not the kind of book you read if you're not already a fan of Purple Rain - but for those who are already fans, this deeper look at the behind-the-scenes machinations and little-known facts is a fun way to reminisce and revisit a classic.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The gift of the Magi

by O. Henry

With the holiday season upon us, I pulled an old favorite from the library shelves.  Later in the Thanksgiving weekend, I had the opportunity to engage two very young children in the reading of this story.  You might think a four-year-old is too little to sit through this, but Mr. Henry's lyrical text entrances.

Mr. Henry captivated his readers with this 1903 story of a young couple facing dire times.  While we often remind ourselves holidays are meant to be about more than gifts, we always want to show our love somehow.  You probably already know the sacrifices made by Della and Jim, but cherish the feeling you have when they discover the depths to which they each are loved.