Friday, January 02, 2009

Last Three Books of 2008

I feel quite happy that I was able to end 2008 on a high note, literarily speaking. I read three books in the month of December and all three were noteworthy to one extent or another.

The first is Carrie Adams's The Godmother. I first heard of this book from Nicole's blog, where she posted a glowing review of it and offered her copy to whoever might be interested in reading it. I read the description on Amazon and decided that as it was a) set in England and b) sounded good and c) recommended by a friend whose literary judgement I trust and d) free, I'd give it a whirl. Nicole sent it off to me and I discovered just the book I was looking for to get me through the December insanity--nothing to heavy, nothing too serious, just something to read.

The book centers around Tessa King, a single thirty-something woman who is living in London and is known in her circle of married and parenting friends as the one you call for a great time and to whom they can turn for help and advice, though she has no experience in many of the issues they need help with. She is the godmother to seven of their children. Lately, however, Tessa feels a bit empty inside, and when tragedy strikes her group of friends, she is put in the position of deciding what will make her truly happy.

I really enjoyed the heck out of this book. It was definitely chick lit, I don't know that many men would enjoy reading it. It left me a bit weepy, and re-ignited my dreams of living in London and being one of these fabulously British single women. Being as I a) live in the US, b) am American, and c) am not single, this is unlikely. However, a girl can dream. Tessa was a fascinating character, funny and flawed, reliable and irresponsible at times too. She is the kind of friend so many of us would love to have and so many of us need. You could feel for her in her own struggles as she fought to make the good choices for herself, her friends, and their families. And I had to laugh at times too.

Thanks, Nicole, for a great read! Would you like your book back or should I pass it along to the next interested party? And if so, are there any interested parties out there who would like to read it?

Second book on my December list was The Wednesday Letters by Jason F. Wright. I came upon this book rather unusually--I was in Wegman's for lunch and as I hate eating by myself without something to read, I was scanning their books and magazine section to find something to read. This book's bright red cover leapt out at me. The description was intriguing, as was the fact that in the back of the book was a sealed envelope containing a letter. I read the first few chapters in Wegmans and then promptly forgot about the book for 2 weeks until cleaning out my car in preparation for Christmas. I brought it in and barely put it down.

The book is about the lives of Jack and Laurel Cooper, a married couple who run a B&B in Woodstock, VA. Jack is terminally ill, but has spent his married life sending a letter to Laurel each and every Wednesday of their marriage. One night, as they are preparing for bed, Laurel suffers a fatal heart attack. Jack writes one final letter, crawls into bed with his wife, and dies in his sleep. As their children arrive for the funeral, they discover boxes and boxes of the Wednesday letters, memories of a life built together, and contained therein, some shocking secrets which force them to re-think the parents they thought they knew.

I really loved this book until the bitter end. Towards the end, it devolves into a "Jesus loves and forgives each one of us" festival, which for me is an ultimate turn off. I very nearly stopped reading the Mitford books by Jan Karon, as each grew increasingly preachy as the series wore on. I ultimately finished them and I ultimately finished The Wednesday Letters because I believed in the story and wanted to know what would happen. But I would be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed that the author couldn't make the story come to a conclusion without that type of writing--particularly when it came out of the blue and nowhere else in the book did that type of thing exist in the first couple hundred pages. If I'm being honest, I was also disappointed in the letter in the sealed envelope at the back of the book--but mainly because the letter I expected to be in there was not.

At a scant 288 pages with great big type and lots of white space, this should be a fairly easy read for any reader who cares to commit a couple of hours to it. I'm very happy to have read it, and I admit, it was another tearjerker for me indeed. Jack and Laurel's story is one of an amazing marriage and life, and worth reading.

The final book of the month was Kathleen Flinn's amazing memoir The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry. Flinn was a 30-something American living in London working at a job she hated. Returning from a vacation to get back to work, she was met at the airport by her boss, who took her to a nearby hotel to let her know that she had been let go from the job she had increasingly grown to hate. Getting another job in London would be a challenge, and in despair she called her boyfriend Mike back in the US and asked him what he thought she should do. Without hesitating, Mike told her she should follow the dream she had once told him she had and enroll at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and become trained as a chef. Still, Flinn had her doubts, chief among them not knowing anyone in Paris. Thus did Mike get out of his business entanglements and join her in Paris so she could accomplish her dream.

I absolutely loved this book. Flinn is a master writer. I felt like I was right there with her in the kitchen, feeling her frustrations and victories over the stove and cutting board. The book was vivid in its descriptions as well. About a quarter of the way into it, I began to build my own dreams of attending Le Cordon Bleu and learning to be a great chef. And then I read about them having to chop off rabbit heads and duck feet and kill lobsters with trussing needles and and I came to the conclusion that perhaps I wasn't cut out of the general cuisine lessons and I'd have to stick to patisserie. There was also a vivid description of a huge meat market on the outskirts of Paris, with horses, cows, and pigs hanging from hooks on the ceiling, ready for purchase. But Flinn admits towards the end that eventually the chefs become desensitized to such sights and are more in touch with their food in its most basic state, before it's butchered and packaged prettily for sale in the market.

While I doubt I will ever attend Le Cordon Bleu, be it in Paris or here in the US--after all, it's her dream, and am I just being sucked into it or is it my dream as well?--the book led me think about what I really want out of life. I am unhappy at work, but keep showing up as long as they keep paying me. But here I am in my 30's and isn't it time I figured it out and went for it? What am I waiting for? I don't know, honestly. But I've been giving it much more thought and hope I come to some answers soon! This book was everything I wanted from Eat, Pray, Love and more.

I was also pleased to see that Kathleen included a pile of recipes in the book. At the end of each chapter is one recipe she prepared during the course of that chapter's lessons. I plan to prepare them here at home so I may at least feel like a chef for a few hours. The General is of course balking at the prospect of such fancy foods as coq-au-vin, but I think he'll come to like it in the new year. We're expanding our culinary horizons! You're in my kitchen now, General! (Love you, Sugar Bear.)

So, definitely check these out if you have the time and inclination. If you could only pick one, go with Kathleen Flinn, The Sharper Your Knife being one of my favorite reads of the year. I will update the blog with my attempts at her recipes in the not-too-distant future.

Happy reading!

2 pearl(s) of wisdom:

Lesley said...

Happy New Year, Susan!

I have a book suggestion for you, with the caveat that I have not read it, but it sounds like something that would appeal to the anglophile in both of us. It's called Someday My Prince Will Come by Jerramy Fine.

I've heard good things about The Wednesday Letters but I know it's not something I would really like. That's the first I've heard of the Jesus angle.

I've seen that Sharper the Knife book in the store and thought it looked good - glad to hear it is. I might have to pick that one up.

Here's to a great year of reading!

nic said...

SUSAN! I've slacked on writing and reading blogs over the holidays, but I just got caught up on yours. I am so excited that you loved "The Godmother!"

PLEASE, feel free to pass it along to anyone else who is interested. I don't need it back. I feel like that is the point of books that touch us... pass it along!

I hope your holidays were happy and that your new year is off to a good start! Cheers to some amazing books in 2009!