Sunday, August 15, 2010

Thirty-eight: Twelve Rooms With a View - Theresa Rebeck

Tina Finn is a screw up.  Her mother dies suddenly and leaves no will.  Tina and her two sisters - Lucy & Alison - find themselves inheriting an Upper West Side apartment with a view of Central Park.  In order to stake their claim on the apartment, Tina is forced to move in.  Her mother's step sons wan the apartment for themselves and cannot understand why their father left the apartment to his second wife - who was his housekeeper. The co-op board for the building wants to split up the apartment themselves and tries to evict Tina almost immediately.

As Lucy & Alison try to figure out the red tape surrounding the apartment, Tina tries to make friends with the co-op board.  Tina also explores the apartment more and finds a whole closet full of items from her mother's husband's first marriage.  From rare plants to false arrests to secret passages this historical apartment has much more in store than it first looks. 

Thirty-seven: Between Two Worlds - Roxana Saberi

My focus shirted next to Iran.  Roxana Saberi was held for 100 days in an Iranian prison.  This book details her time in that prison and the women she met inside there.  She was accused of being a spy and using her researching a book as a cover.

Roxana makes a false confession under distress and ends up recanting that confession while in jail.  She uses hunger strikes as a way to pressure her jailers on letting her go.  She barely is able to talk to her lawyer as he prepares her defense.  She realizes early on that she can't trust anything she is told.  Eventually her parents and boyfriend - a native Iranian - make enough "noise" to get her released.

I remember seeing the press release NPR and other news organizations wrote in support of her release come across my inbox last year.  It was encouraging and motivating to see how a strong and smart woman was able to mentally survive this ordeal.  Saberi mixes in stories about Iran's culture and historical events within her own story.

Thirty-Six: A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini

August Book Club Selection

I started to read The Kite Runner a few years ago and had a hard time getting into the story.  I was concerned that this book might be the same way.  Working at NPR, I listen to stories about Afghanistan everyday.  This story - while fictional - explained life on the ground more than those NPR stories.

It was hard to imagine how these two women - Mariam and Laila - were able to adapt and cope with the conditions they faced - being unable to show skin outside of their husband's presence, having the possibility they could be violated just by leaving the house, limited food and multiple "rules" to follow are just a few.

It was interesting how Hosseini was able to integrate the history of Afghanistan throughout the fictional story.  The part that hit me the most was when the family did not have any money and had to starve basically as well as send the oldest child to an orphanage.  I'm not sure what I would do if I had no food and no options to obtain any food. 

Thirty-five: Beautiful Malice - Rebecca James

***Full disclosure: This book was provided for free by Harper Collins at their Book Buzz session part of ALA Annual Conference ***

"I didn't go to Alice's funeral." This sentence opens the book and captures the reader's attention right away.  Who is Alice and why didn't the narrator go to her funeral? 

After her sister Rachel is raped and killed one night, Katherine moves to a new school and changes her name.  She meets Alice one day after school and they become fast friends.  Katherine, Alice and Alice's "boyfriend" become close friends and hang out all the time.  Even though Alice is dating someone she does not call him her boyfriend.  She verbally abuses him and leaves him hanging all the time.  Katherine - while attracted to him - sympathizes and ends up becoming close friends with him as well.

One night they run into one of Alice's old boyfriends in a bar.  Alice ends up alienating the old boyfriends current date.  Katherine and this girl run into each other in the bathroom and bond over how rude and possessive Alice can be sometimes.  Katherine and her new friend meet up later in the week to see the friend's brother play with his band.  Katherine and the brother have an instant connection and end up becoming lovers.

Alice becomes jealous and tries to break up Katherine and her boyfriend.  No matter how much they ignore her, Alice is determined to mess up Katherine's life.  She tells Katherine's parents that she is doing drugs when she isn't.  Alice lures Katherine's boyfriend to the beach and fakes drowning so that he jumps in to save her.  Alice ends up dying - but so does Katherine's boyfriend even after Katherine - who is 5 months pregnant at the time - tries to save him.  Katherine finds out shortly later that Alice's brother was one of the boys that raped her sister and has been in jail this whole time. Everything that Alice has said or done over the past couple of months suddenly makes sense.

This book is an interesting look into how teenagers sometimes befriend each other not always in a positive way.  The plot seemed very much like Gossip Girl meets General Hospital.

Thirty-four: Juliet - Anne Fortier

***Full disclosure: This book was provided for free by Harper Collins at their Book Buzz session part of ALA Annual Conference ***

Julie Jacobs inherits a key to a safe deposit box found in Siena, Italy left to her by her mother after her aunt passes away suddenly. The family butler Umberto encourages her to go to Italy and find out what her family has left her using the name Giulietta Tolomei.

From the moment she steps on the plane, Julie is thrown into a crazy world of dueling families, hidden treasure and an old story about star crossed lovers.  Julie's mother leaves her with a box of documents all focusing on the story of Romeo & Juliet.  As Julie starts to explore these documents she realizes that she has descended from the original Giulietta Tolomei. 

Meeting her own "Romeo" - Alessandro, Julie is thrown into a full blown mystery that her mother never completely figured out before dying in a car crash.  Julie and her twin sister Janice end up helping their long lost father  - who posed as her aunt's butler all these years - find hidden jewels that were enclosed in statues of the original Romeo & Giulietta many centuries before. 

This book is an interesting look at a familiar tale.  I had a hard time putting it down.  While the ending seems very fairy tale like, it does make you think if everyone has their own Romeo out there somewhere.

Thirty-three: Russian Winter - Daphne Kalotay

***Full disclosure: This book was provided for free by Harper Collins at their Book Buzz session part of ALA Annual Conference ***

Nina Revskaya star of the Bolshoi Ballet decides to auction off her jewelry that was given to her by her husband, poet Viktor Elsin.  She met him after a performance one night and they shared an immediate connection.  Nina meets him again a few weeks later and they start to date.  She meets his best friend Gersh - a composer - "fighting" against the government ideals.

Nina is surprised one evening when her best friend from childhood - Vera - appears at the dressing room for soloists. Vera left the Krakow Ballet to come to the Bolshoi.  Vera meets Gersh shortly after that and they fall in love.  Nina ends up getting pregnant twice, but decides to end the pregnancies because of her career. Vera ends up pregnant with Gersh's baby - Grigori.

Grigori grows up to be a Russian professor.   He believed all his life that Vikor & Nina are his parents.  He translates Vikor's poems to English.  He also tries to reach out to Nina with a picture of a necklace and documents he thinks are linked to her.

Drew Brooks from the auction house  is intrigued by Nina's history.  She asks her to provide stories about the jewels to help create the supplementary book for the auction.  This book goes back and forth between post WWII Moscow and present day Boston.  As Drew explores the origin of Grigori's necklace, they find out together that his parents are not who he thinks they are.

Both intensely romantic, but historically fascinating and scrupulous, Russian Winter is a love story and an adventure which is completely riveting from the first page.