Winter Book Reviews: Part 1 of 3

Without further ado, my first bite out of my current nightstand stack of books. The next batch will be coming soon!

ALL MY PUNY SORROWS by Miriam Toews.
“Because to survive something we first need to know what it is we’re surviving.”
And, “A heart attack comes from the pain of remembering.” Yes, this novel is full of
quotable material. There’s one on every page.

This novel broke my heart in a good way. What is the meaning of life and how do we
go about embracing all its beauty and ugliness? Two sisters raised in a Mennonite
community bust free and build lives for themselves. One, Elf, is a gifted pianist. The
other, Yoli, a writer of a rodeo series for young adults. Elf is only truly alive when
she’s performing. The rest of her time is weighted with memory. Elf wants to end it
all. Yoli struggles to build and maintain a life for herself and her children. The
storyline is heavy with angst, but the writing is funny at times and exquisite to the
end. It’s a book for and about women and the individual ways they seize life or feel
beaten down by it.

Favorite Line

"She says isn’t it funny how every second, every minute, every day, month,
year, is accounted for, capable of being named—when time, or life, is so unwieldy, so
intangible and slippery? This makes her feel compassion toward the people who
invented the concept of “telling time.” How hopeful, she says. How beautifully futile.
How perfectly human."

A holiday cruise turns into a gut-wrenching page-turner when the safe and
privileged lives of three families are upended after their children are taken.

I loved this book. Not a shock. I’ve loved most everything Meloy has written starting
with her two story collections, Half in Love and Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It.
Her novels, Liars and Saints and A Family Daughter aren’t too shabby either. The
Apothecary Series, a trilogy of young adult books, I haven’t read, but it has gotten
good reviews. Plus, Meloy is the older sister of Colin Meloy from The Decemberists.
Double points!

Her new novel is a fast-paced story of a holiday cruise gone terribly
wrong. With descriptive, minimalist prose Meloy shows how three families deal
with unexpected danger in Central America. What does safety mean? As Americans
are we oblivious to the harsh realities most people live under? And what happens to
these marriages, childhoods, friendships after the children are taken while the
mothers look away? Great story for a discussion on cultural differences. And it’s a
perfect book to devour over a crappy weather weekend.

Favorite Line

"Nora shook her head. 'They’re looking for Hector. You know, I keep
thinking how we live in this weird ahistorical bubble, a time and place when it seems
unthinkable, impossible, to lose a child. But it happens all the time, all over the world.
It always has. And people go on. They can’t just drop to the floor and scream for the
rest of their lives.' "

The Richardson’s house has burned down. A baby has been taken. A family flees. The
status quo in Shaker Heights disrupted while the geese swim peacefully in the pond.
Behind closed doors, families aren’t all that they seem.

Celeste Ng has created a wonderful story about mothers and daughters, identity and
assimilation, manipulation and humaneness. Elena Richardson wants to do good in
the world but by her own rules. Her husband and teenaged kids have their own
secrets. Enter Mia and Pearl who entice the Richardson’s with their mystery and art.
When friends of the Richardsons try to adopt a Chinese American baby after the
biological mother wants her back, the custody battle divides the town. Elena can’t
leave good enough alone and goes on a quest to find out who Mia really is and
divides her own family in the process. Ng delves into place as its own character in
the book. I love family-suburban angst driven narrative, and this one hits it home.
Themes galore for a book discussion.

Favorite Line

"No, it wasn’t the money that mattered. The rent—all five hundred
dollars of it in total—now went into the Richardsons’ vacation fund each month, and
last year it had paid for their trip to Martha’s Vineyard, where Lexie had perfected her
backstroke and Trip had bewitched all the local girls and Moody had sunburnt to a
peeling crisp and Izzy, under great duress, had finally agreed to come down to the
beach—fully clothed, in her Doc Martens, and glowering. But the truth was, there was
plenty of money for a vacation even without it. Because they did not need the money
from the house, it was the kind of tenant that mattered to Mrs. Richardson. She wanted
to feel that she was doing good with it."