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Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Books of Summer, Pt. III, IV?

I've lost track, but here is what I have been reading lately--a very mixed bag:

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko
Another young adult novel, one of this year's Newbery honor books, and a tale about children living on Alcatraz Island in the 1930's due to their parents' employment at the infamous prison. Gangster Al Capone plays a part in the warden's daughter's money-making schemes and ultimately, in the fate of the young hero's autistic older sister. Well done, humorous and touching, nicely drawn characterization of the boy who struggles with his sister's disability and his own seeming inability to fit into a new school and neighborhood--interesting side note: baseball is the vehicle for social success (and failure) in this book and another Newbery honor winner, Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy (see below.)

In the Company of Cheerful Ladies by Alexander McCall Smith
Precious Ramotswe of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency in Botswana is back for another series of adventures, handily solved with applications of her unique wisdom. This sixth of the series is as charming as its predecessors, combining humor and the mysteries of human nature with heartfelt descriptions of the African terrain. In this book, Precious deals with a mysterious intruder who leaves behind his trousers, an apprentice mechanic who is involved with a married woman, and a budding romance for her able assistant, Mma Makutsi.

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt
Another of this year's Newbery medalists, this story also deals with a young boy struggling to adjust to a new community. Turner Buckminster is the new minister's son and within moments of his arrival, feels like an outcast. He eventually makes friends with Lizzie Bright, a young African-American girl from a nearby island community. Based on true events in 1912 Maine, the friendship of the two is the centerpiece of a sad tale that involves the destruction of the island's community by land-greedy town fathers and the tragic results. The writing is very moving and engaging, conveying the tension among the characters very well.

Lucia Lucia by Adriana Trigiani
Recommended by a friend, this light novel combines fashion, Italy, Italians, and New York--all subjects dear to my heart--and was a thoroughly satisfying read. This is the tale of Lucia Sartori, a "career girl" in 1950, and how she struggles with the questions of marriage and family, with some surprising twists. It was lovely to imagine that simpler, safer time--but the strictures of the era were also clearly revealed. All of the details felt right and the story was engrossing. I actually tried to sneak this novel along when attending a baseball game, but was "busted" by my husband and son. 55 years later, it seems that men are still trying to tell us what is best.

Straight Man by Richard Russo
This academic novel is strongly reminiscent of John Updike and Michael Chabon's Wonder Boys, but that is fine with me--I like them. This is the picaresque tale of an English department chairman at a small college in the rust belt of Pennsylvania, who threatens to kill one goose a day at the college pond until the chancellor releases his budget. Let me know when things start to sound familiar. From the departmental squabbling to the Women's Studies Center in the basement of a campus building, this book eerily reflects life in Slippery Rock--or perhaps all college campuses. Recommended for all faculty with a sense of humor--I enjoyed this tremendously.

Festa: Recipes and Recollections of Italian Holidays by Helen Barolini
I am struggling with this one, but find it very interesting when I can focus on it. The author prefaces each collection of recipes with fascinating details about the relevant holidays, the saints they honor, and accompanying traditions. After enjoying all of the delightful narratives listed above, it is difficult to settle into this cookbook/memoir/calendar of saints. That said, I would like to acquire my own copy for future culinary consultations.


Blogger Jane Smith said...

I just started "Straight Man." I'll have to get back to you on it. I read "Lucia, Lucia" about a year ago...and thoroughly enjoyed it too. I have a soft spot for New York and this story found it. I haven't read any Alexander McCall Smith yet...but do have his books on my "to read" list.

10:33 PM  

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