Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Monkeys by Susan Minot

Balancing the all-seeing perspective yet limited understanding of youth, this novel (in the form of short stories) show us a New England family through the eyes of its seven children.

Each story moves us forward in time, eventually covering about 15 years. The stories mostly center around small, relatively commonplace occurrences - monumental life events happen outside the stories, though we see their impact through the changing interactions of the family.

It's a story from the perspective of the kids, without it being a children's book. With such a range in age, it's interesting to ponder the ways each Vincent child processes events like mother's tears, father's alcohol abuse, or the addition of another baby.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Incognegro: A Graphic Mystery by Mat Johnson with art by Warren Pleece

In this thought-provoking, dramatic graphic novel, a light-skinned African-American goes undercover to report on KKK activity and lynchings.

Though he's chafing about the lack of fame his job requires, Zane Pinchback is making a difference by reporting on the horrors of racism. And then it all strikes too close to home, reminding him exactly WHY this dangerous, secret work matters.

This is a fascinating premise, and the author's note explains his own history and inspiration. It's not the kind of book you "enjoy" reading, but it's very well done and incredibly captivating.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Bread & Butter by Michelle Wildgen

If you're interested in the behind-the-scenes working of restaurants, you'll love this one.

Brothers Leo and Britt run a popular restaurant in their hometown. Their younger brother Harry has just returned with the plan to start his own restaurant - edgier, hipper, newer. He's looking for their help - but do they want to give it? Might his failure be their success?

It's a relatively light novel that deals a lot with relationships: between the brothers, with their love lives, and as a family.

But there's a ton of food and menu planning and chef talk to keep foodies interested. And if you were ever unclear on how much work it takes to run a restaurant, you'll understand by book's end.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

In this wartime New York novel, a girl's life intersects repeatedly with that of a gangster nightclub owner.

Anna Kerrigan first encounters Dexter Stiles as a child, with her father Eddie in one of his shady business meetings. Year later - with Eddie long gone - Anna has become a Navy yard worker and encounters Dexter again in one of his clubs. It's a captivating story of a woman forced to grow up early and her desire to work outside the bounds of what "girls" were allowed to do.

But the story isn't just Anna's - it's told in turns by Dexter, Eddie, and Anna. Therefore, you get the backstory of how crime pays, how shady deals happen, and what motivates each of the men. You also get a couple perspectives on the Kerrigan family, who are anchored by Anna's adored and severely disabled sister. Interestingly, the audiobook is a multi-cast recording with three narrators.

The ending was maybe a little too neatly tied for my taste, but overall I enjoyed the book immensely. It's always interesting to ponder the lives of women in the past and the struggles they faced, especially those offered a bit of unusual freedom during the wars.