It’s not that I haven’t been reading at all; I just haven’t felt like writing about the books. But, a dear friend and writer – who happens to be blind – noted that if a blind person could do it, that is, write – so I should be able to drag myself into a motivational state and write – something.
Easy reads have called to me – all happy endings – maybe one will become a comma in your daily pursuits…
The Woman Who Stole My Life by Marion Keyes
Marion Keyes is an Irish author who offers the usual angst you would expect from an Irish tale, but, unlike many of her contemporaries, she offers a happy ending. The story alternates between the drama of the narrator paralyzed by Guillain–Barré syndrome syndrome, and her life after she recovers. Conveniently, the editor has changed the font to identify when Stella Sweeney is bedridden – blinking her thoughts to her handsome neurologist with the sexy bedside manner – and when she is recovered in Ireland, trying to deal with a husband jealous of her success as a first-time author of a book of motivational sayings, titled “One Blink at a Time” from her mute communication with her doctor. Keyes includes hilarious excerpts from the blink book. Although Stella’s husband claims she has stolen the life of fame and fortune he was meant to have, the title surprisingly refers to another tangent in the story.
The story reminded me of a mix of Sophie Kinsella and Maeve Binchy, with a touch of Oscar Wilde.
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley
If you believe in fate, and the power to change it, Pulley’s magical story of a British telegraph worker who inadvertently becomes a spy, combines clairvoyance with espionage – again ending with a life made better. I found this book after reading Helene Wecker’s review in the New York Times. Wecker is the author of “Golem and the Jinni,” and Pulley’s book had some of the same elements mixing fantasy with mystery, requiring the reader to suspend belief, immersing the reader in realistic impossibilities, and sprinkling the narrative with enough factual history – in this case, in Victorian London, Oxford, and Japan – to drive the narrative – my kind of story.
Thaniel Steepleton finds an intricate gold pocket watch on his bed one night, after receiving a report of a bomb threat from Irish separatists. Just before the bomb goes off, the watch sounds an eerie alarm minutes before a terrorist explosion in Scotland Yard, saving his life. Examination of the watchworks leads him to a strange Japanese watchmaker, Keita Mori, a mechanical genius and a clairvoyant, who has the skill to create life-like mechanisms with diamond studded gears – birds, fireflies, an octupus. On orders from his superiors, Thaniel moves in as a boarder in the watchmaker’s home, and changes from milk toast government worker to spy, to gather evidence to prove the watchmaker had created the bomb. But the two become friends, and Thaniel’s life begins to improve. Is it coincidence or is Mori making things happen? The story has a few unlikely surprises, and creates a charming and easily readable tale.
And then there are the graphics (comic books?):
The Marvels by Brian Selznick – for a child-like escape into history from the author of Hugo Cabret. With over 600 pages and gold-leaf trimmed pages, the size of this book seemed intimidating at first, until I realized the first half was all in pictures. Selznick has an artistic style reminiscent of Chris van Allsburg (“The Polar Express”), and he can tell a story without words. The illustrations tell the story of Billy Marvel who falls off a whaling ship, and his descendants who all become famous theater actors. The second half of the book is in print, two hundred years later in 1990, telling the story of Joseph, a runaway, who finds his long-lost eccentric uncle in London. As Joseph uncovers his uncle and his family’s history, he is convinced he is descended from the famous Marvels. The story has an unlikely twist at the end, combining historical fact with Selznick’s brilliant imagination.
The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua – with a New Yorker cartoon style, Padua spins a tale about the real invention of the computer, with help from Lord Byron’s daughter, and its unlikely possibilities. Although Babbage did create the idea for the hardware, and Lovelace for the software, their machine never materialized before they died. In the second half of the book, Padua imagines what their computer could have done in a fictionalized story where the two “live to complete the Analytical Engine, and naturally use it to have thrilling adventures and fight crime!!” The footnotes are overwhelming and take over the page at times; Padua seems determined to provide all the facts. I got lost about midway through and found myself skimming through to the end – but then I do that with New Yorker cartoons too.