Bel Canto by Ann Patchett came from the top 100 list I’ve been working on this past year. It’s clear why it was on the list. The gist of the story is an elite musical evening in an unnamed South American country is interrupted by terrorists, but don’t be fooled by the quick synopsis. The writing is beautiful. Patchett takes us inside her characters and the story becomes surreal, then haunting. Great reading.
The Luminaries by Elanor Catton was also on the list. I didn’t know what it was about until I read it, the only hint was the library’s tag of “historical” on the books binding. But “historical” does not really fit though it comes close. It is not quite “fantasy” despite the fantastic elements. I tell you this: it’s huge. 848 pages in hardcover requires a good grip and determination, yet I loved all those pages. Catton has woven together a story set in New Zealand’s gold-rush past full of characters so well crafted even I can keep them all straight. The tale starts near the end, travels here and there in time, whips back to the beginning and ends at the end; what a ride!
Taft by Ann Patchett was a quick read. Set in Memphis, it explores fatherhood, life, boundaries and choices. I was impressed in both Patchett books how she writes from a male point of view, but I felt a bit of a let-down after Bel Canto’s heights.
Birds of America by Lorrie Moore. To say that I loved this book means a lot because I don’t generally like short story collections. Sure, I’ve got a few favorites, but I like a longer, deeper read and often feel abandoned by a short story. Birds of America is now one of the elite. A favorite. Moore is a genius.
How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent by Julia Alvarez straddles the gap between “novel” and “collection of short stories.” It’s kind of neither. Or both. I don’t know. It left me with impressions of the Garcia girls lives without making me really care much about them.
The House of Impossible Loves by Cristina Lopez Barrio. Truth be told I didn’t read the entire book. I tried to. I read most of it, maybe. This is one of those multi-generational novels. But the generations ripped past too quickly for me to care what happened next. Many of the characters weren’t very likable. I got tired of hoping it would get better and quit.
Side Jobs by Jim Butcher. I admit it; I’m a Jim Butcher fan. I love the Dresden books. Butcher is adept at taking me for an exciting ride through his fantastic alternate-Chicago world of wizards, vampires and all kinds of creepy-ass things. Love his stuff. But….this is a collection of short stories (see above review) and I have a hard time with those. Side Jobs made me just wish I were reading a new Dresden book. Sorry, Jim. They’re great short stories – they’re just, uh, short.
Solsbury Hill by Susan Wyler. I read this as an e-book from my library. I love the story idea: a woman inherits a big house, a mysterious past, and meets a hunky man. Good formula for romance, and that’s what I was in the mood for. However, I was so snagged on the writing while reading I kept wanting to edit it into a great book. Heck, I’m sure I don’t have the skill to do that, but it was frustrating to read a fun idea so poorly written.