Book Snap #79

Title: The Dinner List

Author: Rebecca Serle

Date Read: April 26, 2020

One and a half snaps.

I wasn’t expecting much from this one. The central idea of the novel clings to the pretense of a dinner in which you could select five guests, living or dead, to attend your birthday dinner. The main character invites her former college professer, Conrad; her estranged best friend, Jessica; the father who abandoned she and her mother, Robert; her long-time boyfriend and fiance, Tobias; and … Audrey Hepburn.

I guess I could swallow the use of a plotline in which a character would want to meet with the four people with whom she had unanswered questions and a desire to settle the score with, but I got hung up on the addition of Audrey Hepburn. Serle surprised me however, and handled all of the guests in a way that made it seem remotely plausible and moderately likable as a hook.

I was most interested in the revelations about her relationship with Tobias– which does land the novel solidly in the chicklit category– but still made for entertaining reading: complete with an unexpected twist.

If you find this one on your To Be Read pile during a pandemic– give it a read!

Book Snap #77

Title: American Dirt

Author: Jeanine Cummins

Date Read: March 21, 2020

Two snaps.

So, Oprah chose this one for her Book Club– and boy, did it stir up some controversy.

The complaints about the book mix concerns with its execution (including what some have said is Spanish not typical of Mexico), the identity of the author and the belief that a Latino writer telling the same story would not get the same support.

The novel tells the story of Lydia, a mother fleeing Mexico with her son, after a drug cartel kills her husband and family. Cummins has been accused of trafficking in stereotypes while appropriating a culture to which she does not belong.

Well, I am no rookie to controversies surrounding the books that Oprah has chosen for her Book Clubs. In 2005, she declared that James Frey’s memoir, A Million Little Pieces, was revelatory and that James Frey was the man that kept her up at night.

You know what? Both times, Oprah was right. They were really good books. Regardless of the controversy that spins around them. Because, really, what is story telling? Connecting with another person is one of the highest forms of social being for humans, and at the heart of it is good storytelling. When I’m telling you a story, and you’re engaged in it, you match your thinking with mine. Both Cummins and Frey were able to do this– whether they fictionalized parts of their memoir or if “someone slightly browner” should have written it (as Cummins concedes in her Author’s Notes). More importantly, she did spend four years researching and writing the novel, but she also was compelled to write the story because she was frustrated by the discourse surrounding immigration in the United States.

I was appalled at the way Latino migrants, even five years ago — and it has gotten exponentially worse since then — were characterized within that public discourse. At worse, we perceive them as an invading mob of resource-draining criminals, and, at best, a sort of helpless, impoverished, faceless brown mass, clamouring for help at our doorstep. We seldom think of them as our fellow human beings.

(Cummins, p.381)

Cummins drew me in to Lydia’s story. I pained for her incomprehensible loss; I was bereft, as she was, at the impossible choices left for her and her son, Luca. I followed their journey through Mexico to the border with breath caught in my lungs and my heart in my stomach.

This is emotional story telling, balanced with terror. It is Narcos layered with This Is Us. It is about a mother who simply will not give up– because her son moves her to defy all the odds placed at her feet. It is fear and hope, and love and pain all mixed into a riveting page-turner I could not put down. Ignore the controversy. Read it.

Book Snap #75

Title: Mrs. Every-thing

Author: Jennifer Weiner

Date Read: March 6, 2020

One and a half snaps.

Finished this great story poolside on vacation this week!

Weiner tells the inter-woven tales of sisters, Jo and Bethie. From their days as young girls living with their parents in Detroit– their paths seem set. Jo is the athletic tomboy and Bethie is the pretty, crinolined little lady her mother was most proud of.

As the girls navigate the societal expectations of women throughout the 1950s and 60s: to be married; have children; be a good wife— Jo simultaneously struggles with her sexuality and not wanting any of the choices offered. She embarks on the trip of a lifetime, only to be called home for a family emergency. That return alters the course of her own, and her sister’s life too.

The traumas and tribulations faced by both Jo and Bethie beg the question: do we change, or does what happens to us change us?

This was a great vacation read that had me constantly wondering how it would all work out for Jo and Bethie. Pack it in your carry on and enjoy the ride!

Book Snap #72

Title: All Families are Psychotic

Author: Douglas Coupland

Date Read: December 29, 2019

Two snaps.

If you’ve read Coupland’s work before (Generation X, Shampoo Planet, The Gum Thief, Miss Wyoming, Hey Nostradumus!... ) then you are prepared for the kind of whirlwind adventure Coupland has concocted for the Drummond family. Otherwise, leave your Rockwellian ideals of family reunions aside and take consolation that your family is nowhere near as crazy as you first thought.

The family reunites to mark the important event of their daughter and sister, Sarah Drummond, about to launch in to space. The Drummond family then haphazardly reveal their multitude of psychoses to everyone around them as they count the days to take off at Cape Caneveral.

They stumble through kidnapping, blackmail, gunplay, and black market negotiations; but even as their lives spin wildly off their axis– we also see the tender relationships, the humanity, and kindness of these flawed characters as they mend and repair and build each other up.

The Drummonds are psychotic– but their madness is a foundation for deep love and compassion as they handle the real issues of our time.

Book Snap #71

Title: The Only Story

Author: Julian Barnes

Date Read: December 16, 2019

Two snaps.

What a messy love story.

He, 19. She is married and 43, but a chance coupling on the tennis courts sparks the connection that weaves them inextricably together over decades.

A rambling, stream of consciousness narrative takes us back through the ages, the choices, the thrills of turning heads in a society that whispered and snubbed them– and well ahead in to the future and the regrets, the complications and the misgivings.

Would you rather love the more, and suffer the more; or love the less, and suffer the less? That is, I think, finally, the only real question.

Read about other of Chapters/Indigo’s CEO, Heather Reisman’s picks, or Heather’s Picks!