Books We Loved, Oct. 2016
Pauline M. Campos, Baby Fat: Adventures in Motherhood, Muffin Tops, and Trying to Stay Sane (CreateSpace, 2015)
When I had my first baby at 26 years old, I took my size 8 Wrangler jeans into the hospital with me, planning to wear them when bringing the baby home. That baby is now 28 years old, and I have never worn those jeans again.
Pauline M. Campos must have been in that hospital room with me when those jeans wouldn’t fit over my blobby knees, as she has written a funny, moving, raw, personal, and realistic account of her own struggle to fit back into her jeans and back into her life that I could completely relate to. This book is for every mother who has found that life with a new baby and a new body is just … well, hard!
“There’s nothing like motherhood to slap you upside the head with a nice honkin’ chunk of reality. And my current reality is about forty pounds heavier than it should be.” Well said, Pauline. A must-read for every new mother.—DS
Clare Flynn, Kurinji Flowers (CreateSpace, 2014)
Poignant and tender, by turns poetic and fretful, this novel explores the life of Ginny, a damaged debutante who flees into an unhappy marriage with a tea plantation manager in India. The novel begins shortly before World War II, when Ginny, a naïve and lonely girl, is taken advantage of by a much older man, an acquaintance of her deceased father. When she arrives in India to join her husband, whom she barely knows, the vivid descriptions put us right in the setting. Ginny is a sympathetic figure; alone and far from home, she tries to come to terms with her reserved husband and the snobbery of the English at the club where he likes to spend most of his time. Although I would have liked a better sense of how characters looked and prefer more active heroines, the excellent writing drew me in and the ending paid off.—GM
Curtis J. James, High Hand (Copper Peak Press, 2016)
Just what one wants in a spy novel: clever, fast-paced, complex, and topical. High Hand mirrors the events of 2016, intertwining Caspian oil fields, an advanced technology espionage tool so far-fetched you know it must actually exist, media manipulation, and an American presidential contest. The players are Russia, Israel, Iran, China, and the United States. The frame of a poker game allows for internecine connections that are uncovered by collaborating American and Russian journalists at great risk to their lives. A love story is delicately interwoven and two women are stand-ins for female spy tropes: cool and rational vs. seductive and ruthless. Most amazing is that Curtis J. James is a pseudonym for three authors—Curtis C Harris, James Ellenberger, and James Rosen, each with the impressive real-life credentials that lend credibility to seemingly impossible events. A thoroughly engrossing read, beginning to end.—AA
Graeme Simsion, The Rosie Project (Simon and Schuster, 2013)
Don Tillman, a geneticist, has little use for the messy world of human emotions. His ordered life revolves around Standardized Meals, his two friends (a married couple), and a college teaching job that repeatedly pits him against illogical demands from his dean to soft-soap students and potential funders. So when he decides to marry, he initiates the Wife Project, a 16-page questionnaire delivered to potential candidates. Enter Rosie, who fails every criterion on Don’s survey but inexorably draws him into her quest to identify her biological father. The Wife Project turns into the Father Project, then the Rosie Project as Don slowly wakes up to the idea that life may hold more for him than carping superiors and unchanging menus. A hilarious exploration of a serious subject, Asperger’s Syndrome, in an unconventional and delightful romance.—CPL
David Vann, Aquarium (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2015)
If you were to separate the passages in this novel into two categories, they would be “tales of extreme physical and psychological abuse” and “meditations on the underworld.” It doesn’t sound like something that would work. But it does work, beautifully in fact. And learning about the habits of various species of fish not only provides insights into the characters who observe them in the story, but it also provides relief from the abuse in the book while simultaneously helping us to better understand how instances of abuse take place in the first place. Aquarium illuminates the coming-of-age journeys of two women, mother and daughter. It is poetic, painful, and ultimately redemptive.—JS