The Art of Racing in the Rain

10 11 2008

Not since Hank the Cowdog have I felt so connected to an animal. Enzo, the narrator of Garth Stein’s novel about love and loss, is a lab/terrier mix who helps his author make it through a series of life-shattering changes. Denny Swift, Enzo’s owner, picked Enzo out to keep him company during his single life. But through Enzo’s eyes, we watch Denny’s life change. He meets Eve, tries to get his racing career off the ground, and starts a family (not that Enzo didn’t count as family, but you know…).

I have to respect Stein for not pulling any punches, because he begins the story at its end. We know, from the very beginning, that this loyal dog is going to die. Otherwise, I would hate this book. But the story isn’t truly about the death of a beloved family pet, it’s about the way that Enzo changed the lives of the family he belonged to. It’s about the relationship between people and their pets. Most of all, it’s a book about love. Stein has written a book filled to the brim with love, some of it good and some of it bad, but all of it love. And he did it without letting you realize what he was up to. Brilliant.

The House at Riverton – Kate Morton

9 11 2008

All I have to say about The House at Riverton is that it is absolutely astounding. At first glance, it seems a simple spin off of the recently popularized Atonement. After all, it happens at a gorgeous house in the English countryside (you guessed it – at Riverton) and each book contains a war hero named Robbie who is central to the plot.┬áIt even begins with a woman looking back over her past life. Quickly, however, the book distinguishes itself.

The House at Riverton is also very much a war book…not just a romance or a mystery. The narrator of this story, Grace, is a servant. And though she turns out to be incredibly involved in the lives of the Ashbury family, One thing that I must admit is that if you enjoyed Atonement, book or movie, you might get the two confused occasionally. With such close premises, it’s not that hard. But Morton manages to make her characters far more sympathetic, and cover a much larger range of time. The romance and heartbreak doesn’t center around a single couple, but it also doesn’t seem cluttered or crowded in its delivery. I would expect that Morton’s editor has quite the eye. And the twist at the end? Astounding. At first glance, it’s appreciated for the shock value of a surprise literary revelation. But give it a minute to sink in, and the ending ties everything up so perfectly that only a plot-genius could have conceived of it.

I definitely recommend the period piece as a must read for anyone interested in the high society’s relationship to war and class.

Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian

7 11 2008

I have yet to read any of the other works by this author, but I can’t wait after reading Bohjalian’s latest.

Skeletons at the Feast is a novel about a Polish/German family and their struggle at the end of the World War II. As the Russian army moves into Poland in 1945, the Emmerich family must follow the lead of all other families in the area and either leave or fight. With the father and two oldest sons dedicated to the German army, 18-year-old Anna Emmerich must lead her mother, younger brother, and their Scottish POW on a quest for safety. Along the way, they are joined by Manfred, who appears at first glance to be a German soldier, but who reveals himself to be a Jewish escapee.

While it is historical fiction and certainly deals with the actual events, it also explores the larger themes of romance, family tragedy, and resillience. The novel not only provides a look at the fate of the German people at the end of the war, but it also answers the question that was asked of the entire population after the war. “How did the Germans not know what was happening to the Jews?” It’s the other side, the less popular side, but I found myself pittying everyone in the novel, if not connecting with them.

What’s my premise again?

7 11 2008

Welcome to the nerdiest blog I have.

This blog is dedicated to my literary adventures, in an attempt to inspire people to read. The blog will have three features:

  1. Reviews of the books I’ve read.
  2. A monthly list of the good and the bad so you don’t waste your time.
  3. Suggestions of books for certain circumstances.

Hopefully, some of you will find it useful. If not, then screw it, I’ll enjoy it anyway.