Monthly Archives: March 2012

Giveaway: FAITH Audiobook

I recently reviewed the audiobook for FAITH by Jennifer Haigh. I’d like to give away my audiobook version. If you’re interested in receiving the audiobook, leave me a comment below, and be sure to use your email address in the comment. I will pick a winner at random on Friday March 30.

Good luck!

CARRY THE ONE by Carol Anshaw


Carry the One by Carol Anshaw, one of the books I picked up at The Strand a few weeks ago, came very highly recommended by a few book bloggers I respect a lot (Carrie at Nomad Reader and Julie at Booking Mama) and by EW (Grade: A), so I picked it up with anticipation last week. I appreciate what was unique and impressive about the book, but I have to say that I didn’t like it as much as many others have.

Carry the One opens at a wedding reception in the Midwest. It’s in the wee hours of the morning, and Carmen, the bride, has just put her siblings Alice and Nick in a car driven by Nick’s stoned girlfriend Olivia and carrying a few other passengers, including Maude, a woman that Alice has just gotten involved with. Soon after setting out from the farmhouse where the wedding took place, the car strikes and kills a  young girl who was returning to her house in the middle of the night. Carry the One tracks Carmen, Nick, Alice, Maude and Olivia’s lives for the next 20+ years, through their ups and downs, breakups, joys and challenges.

Anshaw is a beautiful writer, almost poetic. Her descriptions are spare but powerful, and her eye for detail and the little gestures and emotions that make up relationships is keen. Carrie at Nomad Reader compared Carry the One to The Year We Left Home  (reviewed by me here) and I think that’s a pretty apt comparison. Both novels track members of a family over many years, not with faithful yearly check-ins, but through vignettes and flashes of detail that together form an almost impressionist canvas of their lives and interactions.

I have tried to pinpoint where this book fell short for me. I think it was the characters themselves. Carmen is an activist who seems oddly detached from her own life, even as she gets divorced and remarried to a man with a difficult daughter. Alice, a painter, goes from relationship to relationship, caught up in passion and longing but disdainful of conventional relationships and the stability they provide. And Nick is a junkie, unable to stay off of drugs for any substantial period of time. Each of these characters thus cuts him or herself off from deeper connection to the people around them, and at times from each other. This lack of connection – the detached way that these characters floated through their lives – ultimately put a distance between me and the book as well. I am surprised by those who said they couldn’t put this book down; I had to make an effort to stay engaged with these characters and what was happening to them. It’s a testament to Anshaw’s writing that I enjoyed it as much as I did.

I also found the plot construct of the accident linking these people together forever – and indelibly impacting them – to be somewhat artificial. While I understand that it served to keep the characters from spinning off immediately in directions far from each other, I found the way the dead girl was threaded through their lives to be forced. Of course they would be impacted by what happened, but as a theme unifying the lives of these characters, it didn’t work for me.

I know that I am in the minority on this one. I just didn’t love it. But I’d love to hear more from those of you who did!

FAITH by Jennifer Haigh

One of my favorite authors that I discovered since launching this blog is Jennifer Haigh. I’ve reviewed her first three novels, Mrs. Kimble, The Condition, and Baker Towers, and I loved each one. Haigh is a master storyteller – her books are perfectly paced, her characters developed with precision and consistency. I don’t think I’ve ever read a line in a Haigh novel that didn’t ring true, that didn’t seem perfectly in place with the rest of the book.

Last May, I learned that Haigh had a new novel coming out – Faith – and I angled for a review copy, which I was generously provided by HarperCollins. The subject matter – priests and child molestation and family secrets and coverups – didn’t appeal to me off the bat. I think I feared that the book would be overly religious, or just unpleasant. I read the first chapter and then I put the book down and never picked it up again. It pained me – this Jennifer Haigh novel sitting in my room that I hadn’t clicked with – how was that possible?

I finally decided to pick Faith up again about two weeks ago, and ended up listening to it mostly on audio. I’m so glad I did. Faith is a tautly written story about a Catholic family in Boston. The oldest son, Arthur, is a priest who has been accused of molesting a 7 year-old boy. His mother, Mary, is a devout Catholic who refuses to believe the accusation. His siblings, Sheila and Mike, grapple with the accusation, with Sheila (mostly) standing by her brother and Mike, the father of three young sons himself, immediately shunning his brother while finding the need to uncover the truth himself.

Sheila narrates the novel, but with her limited knowledge of what actually happened, it unfolds like a mystery as she unravels the events leading up to the accusation and relays what she learned, and when she learned it.

What I liked about Faith is that none of these characters was predictable or one-dimensional. In the end, they were each flawed in his or her own way, but Haigh’s empathy toward each one made them sympathetic and totally realistic. As a reader, I could understand their motivations; what seemed unforgivable in one chapter made perfect sense in a later chapter. The book definitely explores faith – not just the religious type, but the faith we put in our loved ones to do the right thing, and what happens when that faith is shaken to its core. How strongly can faith withstand what appears to be controversial evidence? As Sheila says halfway through the book, “It was a thing I’d always known but until recently had forgotten: that faith is a decision. In its most basic form, it is a choice.”

There is a fair amount of religion in here, but most of it is in the context of setting the scene for what Arthur’s life as a priest was like. The book has a somewhat slow start and gets a little drowned in the Catholicism at first, which, in retrospect, is what prompted me to put the book down. But that early foundation gives way to a suspenseful story that is beautifully told in Haigh’s usual style. I think that of her four novels, this is the weakest- it gets a little repetitive at times, and there is almost too much foreshadowing for my taste (I like to be surprised). But at her weakest, Haigh is still a master, and Faith was a very good read.

I highly recommend Faith. The audio version is also very good. The narrator, Therese Plummer, has a perfect Boston accent, and she vividly brought Faith‘s characters, male and female, to life.  (She lives in NY, it turns out – I wonder if she grew up in Boston?) The audiobook forced me to ingest this novel more slowly than if I had read it, prolonging the pleasure of experiencing the book. By the end, however, I had to switch to the paper version just because I wanted to finish more quickly and find out what happened. Also, while I read the hardcover, Faith is now out in paperback.

THE GOOD FATHER by Noah Hawley


I recently wrote a post about Parent’s Worst Nightmare books, inspired by the book that I was reading last week, The Good Father by Noah Hawley. The Good Father definitely deserves a spot on that list. It’s about Paul Allen, a successful 50ish doctor living in Connecticut with his second wife and their twin sons. His oldest son, Daniel, from his first marriage, is a bit of a drifter – he has recently dropped out of college and hasn’t been in touch for a while. Soon after the book opens, Paul learns that the Democratic presidential frontrunner has been shot and killed at a rally in L.A., and that Daniel has been arrested for the crime.

The rest of the book is about Paul’s attempts to understand what happened, to exonerate his son, and to come to terms with his own guilt about not being there for his son as he was growing up. It’s also an examination of Daniel’s mental state in the months leading up to the shooting, what brought him to L.A., and what might have motivated him to do what he was accused of doing.

I liked this book a lot. It’s a very difficult topic – what role does a parent play in the bad deeds of his children? At what point must a parent let go, and how does he recover from the loss of a child – and control over that child? There are chilling details throughout the book – depictions of mass murderers and their motivations, their last meals, their executions – all research that Paul does meticulously to understand the mind of the killer.

Heavy stuff, indeed. But this is a very well-written book and while difficult, a good read.  I had to put it down at times just because it was such a tough subject atter. Here’s a passage I liked a lot:

America was a country that believed that crime was who a person was, not just what they did. In this light there could be no such thing as rehabilitation, only punishment And part of that punishment was, inevitably, the ostracism and conviction of a convict’s family.

Some of the passages about Daniel’s meandering journey to LA could have used a little tightening, and some of the book felt repetitive at times. But overall this was a really good read. If you can stomach the subject matter, I really recommend it. It comes out next Tuesday, so pre-order it now or go to your bookstore next week!

Thank you to Doubleday for the review copy of The Good Father, which showed up unsolicited and was a very welcome surprise.

Book Haul from The Strand

I was in NY for business yesterday, and was in the neighborhood of The Strand bookstore. I decided to stop in for a quick visit, armed with my Goodreads To-Read list. Even though I know this probably isn’t true, I feel like I won’t be in NY for months and months after the baby is born, and that I need to stock up on books now. And because I have no books at home on the TBR list… (ha!). These are all contemporary fiction.

Here is a picture of the haul – all half-price or better. And here is what I bought:

Spoiled by Caitlin Macy – one of a few short story collections I bought, even though I rarely read short stories

The Divorce Party by Laura Dave

The Arrivals by Meg Mitchell Moore – looks light but good

You Are Free by Danzy Senna – this has gotten mixed reviews but looked good to me; more short stories

The Submission by Amy Waldman – I’ve wanted to read this one for a while

The Grief of Others by Leah Hager Cohen – I keep reading good things about this one. Another in the Parent’s Worst Nightmare camp.

Sleepwalking in Daylight by Elizabeth Flock – this one also looks pretty light

The Late Lamented Molly Marx by Sally Koslow – I usually have a rule that I won’t buy a book with a picture of shoes on the cover, but I made an exception for this one

The Red Thread by Ann Hood – I also avoid books with knitting/yarn on the cover but I liked the subject of this one (Chinese adoption)

Carry the One by Carol Anshaw – this book came out 2 days ago and looks good

Where the God of Love Hangs Out by Amy Bloom – MORE short stories (I know!)

If you’ve read any of these titles, let me know what you thought of them!

THE LAST SUMMER (OF YOU AND ME) by Ann Brashares

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants
Ann Brashares is best known for her YA book series The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, which was made into a few movies a few years ago and was a big success. Brashares has written two adult novels, including The Last Summer (of You and Me), which is about three kids that grew up together spending summers on Fire Island in NY. Riley and Alice are sisters in their 20s, and Paul, their summer neighbor, is Riley’s age and her best friend. But he’s always been in love with Alice, something that he has denied and sublimated for many years. Alice, meanwhile, loves Paul too, but is confused by his mixed messages and endless criticism of her over the years.

The Last Summer (of You and Me) is supposed to be adult fiction, but it felt pretty immature to me. The tortured relationship between Paul and Alice unspools slowly and tortuously, with much high school-esque drama and over-analysis. There is one tragic thing that happens in this book, and admittedly all of the characters are deeply affected by it. But there is so much angst experienced by the other characters throughout the book that it got tiresome after a while. I enjoyed the plot and the setting; I just wish that Brashares had gone deeper. I probably would have enjoyed it when I was a YA, but now it seemed superficial and overwrought.

I listened to The Last Summer (of You and Me) on audio. The narrator’s voice bothered me – too slow with a lot of overanunciation. I thought that her voice sounded familiar, and realized that she had narrated another book I reviewed: Songs Without Words by Ann Packer. And I had the same complaint then – pace and overanunciation. At least I’m consistent!

Unless you’re a huge Brashares fan, I can’t really recommend this one.

Winner of THIS BEAUTIFUL LIFE Audiobook Giveaway

Congratulations to the winner of the audiobook for This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman! Random.org selected…

Pat Burke!

Enjoy!