Friday, November 26, 2010

The Lady Matador's Hotel by Cristina Garcia

Passion and politics brilliantly collide during a week at the South American Hotel Miraflor as author Cristina Garcia (of Dreaming in Cuban fame) interweaves the chaotic lives of six of its guests.

The most fascinating is the heroine of the title - Suki Palacios - a former medical student and stunningly beautiful Los Angeleno of Japanese/Mexican descent. Her knowledge of anatomy, a precise pre-fight ritual ("then in the shadowed moment before she steps into the ring, Suki repeats three words in Spanish and Japanese, arrogance, honor death") and the proud traditions of a bull-fighting heritage will hopefully serve to insure her victory at the first Battle of the Lady Matadors in the Americas.

Colonel Martin Abel, well practised in the art of torture has proudly organized a military conference of top officials from twenty-two nations. Serving his pork chops while plotting his murder is Aura Estrada, a former guerilla disguised as waitress.

Contemplating suicide in the honeymoon is Won Kim overwhelmed by the failure of his business, the imminent death of his mother and the impending birth of his child by his fifteen year old mistress.

A frequent visitor to the hotel is Gertrudis Stuber, entrepreneur of a ethically questionable adoption enterprise. This week she is bringing a new baby to an American wife and her Cuban poet husband. Perhaps the baby will repair a very torn marriage.

If the cover fails to entice just read the first page. Garcia's prose shimmers as brightly as Suki's traje de luces.

Proceed to Priceline and check into the Miraflor at first opportunity.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Mystery, mayhem, and dragons

I love books with dragons, so the cover of Pillage just reached out and grabbed me. The dragons weren't as prominent as the cover lead me to believe, but it was a fun read anyway. When Beck Phillip's mother dies he is sent to live with an uncle he has never met. When he arrives he discovers a crumbling mansion, grumpy caretakers, and an uncle that never comes down from the attic. He is strongly warned to stay out of the back yard, supposedly because it's so overgrown that it's dangerous. Beck has never been very good at following orders, so he goes exploring. The secrets he discovers will change his life forever.

This story had a little of everything, mystery, fantasy, humor, action, and good characters. Beck's character in particular was a lot of fun. He has this slightly sarcastic take on the world around him that had me laughing. He just can't let go of the mysteries he is surrounded by even though it will almost definitely get him into trouble. There were lots of twists and turns and the mystery is tantalizingly slow to unfold. And never fear, the dragons do make a dramatic appearance.

Father of the Rain

How can you resist a novel that, in the first page, references Newfoundland puppies as "silky black sacks of fur pressing their big heavy heads against my cheek"? The cheek belongs to 11 year old Daley, daughter of a charming functioning alcoholic father whose behavior escalates from rowdy to raunchy including reading letters from the Penthouse Forums to the kids during family vacations. Daley's narrative then jumps to her late 20s when she gives up a promising academic position to return home and care for her father who hit (or not) bottom and finds her married with children at the book's conclusion.

The story is told through keen observation and fluid, often poetic language. Add the complex characters and it's everything I like, which is why it's strange I took so long to finish and write about it. Maybe, like Daley, I needed occasional respite from a broken situation with no easy solutions.

Vicki Ann-
Find it at the Library

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall

For my money, Brady Udall (The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint ) is among the most entertaining novelists writing about the Southwest. In his latest outing, Udall chronicles the life and dysfunctional times of Golden Richards, the book's eponymous polygamist, who has 4 wives and 28 children but is, nonetheless, infatuated with the wife of his violent and unpredictable boss.

In addition to being lonely, Golden is also an accidental polygamist. From his earliest days as the child of equally dysfunctional parents, his life has been a series of events directed by personalities more dominant than his. This is how he finds himself with plural wives, a family so large that the simple act of remembering the names of his children challenges him, and a contract to build a brothel that he must misrepresent to his family and Mormon neighbors as a senior citizen center.

But don't let his indecisiveness turn you off: Golden is big, endearing, and well-meaning, and you will love him for his determination to do the right thing. The book is populated by a cast of unforgettable characters, including youthful Trish, yearning for a life larger than the one allotted to her as wife #4, and Rusty, Golden's adolescent son, whose response to the cancellation of his long-awaited birthday has shattering results. By turns heart-breaking and hilariously funny, this is a hefty read at 602 pages, but well worth the time.


Find it at the Library

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Bloody Jack series

Often what makes or breaks a book is the main character. Some characters are placeholders, put there for things to happen to. But some leap off the page in three dimensions, tearing through the story, knocking other characters on their rear, and staying with you long after you turn the last page. One of my favorite examples of this is the Bloody Jack series by L.A. Meyer, aimed at teens but well worth reading for history buffs, sailor wannabes, and anybody who likes a ripping good yarn.

Bloody Jack starts out the first book as Mary Faber, a clever urchin from the streets of 1804 London who sees the chance to better herself. So what if that chance takes the form of pretending to be a boy named Jack aboard one of His Majesty's naval warships? She's not going to let a little thing like gender stand in her way.

Over the eight books in the series, she gets in all manner of trouble, including piracy, kidnapping, sailing down the Mississippi, treasure hunting, all the while remaining faithful (well, mostly) to her beloved Jaimy, a fellow sailor on her first ship.

Jacky is a teenager. She's impulsive, often thoughtless, even more often stubborn. But she's also warm-hearted, generous, clever, and daring, and she will steal your heart.

Then hold it for ransom.

--Maureen K.

Find them at a library!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Stiff by Mary Roach

So you've never found cadavers to be particularly compelling? You've always thought that dead bodies are best left alone? I thought so, too--and then I read Mary Roach's wonderfully quirky; funny; thoughtful; and sometimes, a little gross, book, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers.

Stiff is all about corpses: what it's like when they rot, how they've been used as research subjects and crash test dummies, the way they help address questions about anatomy, ethics, and even cannibalism. Mary Roach's writing is straightforward and interesting, filled with all kind of juicy nuggets of information about things you would never think to ask. Did you know, for example, that a decomposing body smells a bit like rotting fruit and a bit like rotting meat, or that there has been debate and study about whether or not heads, when severed from their bodies, can see or hear or feel?

If the subject of this book just doesn't grab you, try one of Mary Roach's other books instead. She's the most compelling science writer I've ever read, and her subject matter tends to be slightly off the beaten path. Most recently, she's written Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, and her other books include Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex and Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife.

Behind You - Jacqueline Woodson

I knew it would be dangerous to read this book at work - crying at the workplace is not a recommended activity. But it was well worth it. Read If You Come Softly first and you will meet Miah and Ellie and fall in love with these characters as they fall in love with each other. They run into difficulties as an interracial couple and their lives unfortunately take a tragic turn. Enter the first box of tissues. Behind You takes a look at all of the characters a year later to see how they are getting on with their lives. Enter tissue box #2. These teen novels are beautifully written and will speak to anyone who has loved and lost someone dear to them - essentially all of us, no matter what your age, race or sexual orientation. Highly recommended, just have the tissues nearby.

Find more at the PCPL website!
-More Books