What I’ve Been Reading Lately

It’s summer year round here, so I’ve given myself permission to have beach reads on my shelf anytime; in fact, it’s been a while since I’ve been immersed in a pithy book or a thought provoking tome up for an award.  The Man Booker Prize longlist  of books will be announced soon – maybe I’ll get some ideas for books to challenge me then,

For now, I’m content with what I’ve been reading in paperback.

Scottish author Beatrice Colin weaves a complicated historical fiction around the construction of the Eiffel Tower. The politics and sheer precision of the engineering dominates the story. But what would Paris be without romance, and Colin obliges with her characters, using the turmoil of their lives to complement the uncertainty of the tower’s completion.

The romance between a Scottish widow, Cait, and the chief engineer under the famous Gustave Eiffel, Émile Nouguier, dominates the backdrop.  Cait is chaperoning two wealthy spoiled Scottish siblings, Alice and Jamie, on their world tour when she meets the handsome Émile, who is reluctantly assigned to mentor Jamie’s notion of becoming an architect. Émile’s jealous, wicked drug-addicted mistress conspires to foil Cait and Émile’s romance as well as ruin the young naive Alice in Cait’s charge.  Some steamy scenes but the relationships are somewhat contrived.  

The book took me longer to finish than I had expected – probably because I kept dwelling on the Parisian scenes and the descriptions of the arrondissements in the nineteenth century. The most compelling are the historical notes around the tower in progress, and the perfection needed to accomplish its completion.

UnknownA Long Way from Home – an Australian historical adventure

Peter Carey (who won the Man Booker Prize twice) writes an Australian saga of a couple who compete in the now defunct Redex Trial, a special rally to test the reliability and performance of the competing cars. The premise had me googling to see if it really existed.  It did.  Carey’s story focuses on Irene Bobs and her neighbor and navigator, Willie Bachhuber. Irene and her husband enter the race to publicize their new car dealership.

“The Redex Trial, a dusty tour of Australia that pits the dominance of Ford over “Australia’s Own Car,” the General Motors Holden: Two hundred lunatics circumnavigating the continent of Australia, more than 10,000 miles over outback roads so rough they might crack your chassis clean in half.”  

It’a  a wild ride as the Australian landscape whizzes by.

Unknown-1The Perfect Couple – murder, mystery and romance in Nantucket

I met an Australian couple recently from Melbourne who are fans of author Elin Hildebrand; they could not stop praising her books.  I’ve read a few of Hildebrand’s Nantucket stories, but had not thought about her in a while.  So I’ve downloaded her latest book – The Perfect Couple, her first murder mystery novel.  Set in Nantucket, of course, the story revolves around a wedding, a dying mother, and a dead maid of honor.  Fun and fast reading.

Unknown-2The Magic Hour – a Kristin Hannah melodrama

A 2007 novel by the author of The Nightingale and The Great Alone focuses on a six year old feral girl suddenly appearing from the surrounding woods of a Washington State town. Prominent child psychiatrist Julia Cates, struggling with her own issues of career confidence, works with her sister, the town’s police chief, to save the girl.  A compelling story with a little romance and, of course, a happy ending.




Summer Reinventions

The summer in Hawaii is not very different from the rest of the year, just hotter, more humid, and more tourists.  Most residents are content to live in a place where others can only visit, but can sometimes feel trapped on the farthest rock in the middle of the ocean  Reading may offer an escape on days when the trade winds do not blow and the yearning for a civilized alternate life lingers in the air.  Women in books often reinvent themselves, from Bernadette to Alice, offering a cool escape through their stories.

Unknown Jodi Picoult’s feud with best-selling author Jonathan Franzen kept me from her books.   After her Small Great Things was recommended by two friends, I finally took on the author.  Whether or not her work fits into the category of literary fiction, her book tackles an ugly reality and forces the reader into introspection.  Her expected ending has a surprise twist, somehow forcing her message.  Ruth, her main character, stays true to herself, and it’s the villain who reinvents himself.

Unknown Nina George’s The Little French Bistro weaves romance into a desperate struggle to escape.  With the charm and beauty of a coastal village in Brittany as the setting, sixty year old Marianne casts aside her miserable forty years of marriage and begins again with a new attitude and a better connection.   I missed reading George’s “The Little Paris Bookshop” – another book about new beginnings; reinvention seems to be her theme –  what better place to reinvent yourself than Paris.

Unknown Kathleen Rooney’s Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk has a sophisticated Dorothy Parker literary aura, as the eighty-five year old New Yorker who lives in Murray Hill reminisces about milestones in her life on New Year’s Eve, 1984. The book is a series of vignettes as she revisits old haunts and recalls important moments in her life represented in restaurants, bars, parks, Penn Station, and Macy’s, where she worked for years as as advertising executive.  The book was inspired by the real life of Margaret Fishback, poet and Macy’s ad-writing wonder of the 1930s.   The neighborhoods have changed over the years as have the people, but Lillian remains curious and loyal, making new friends as she walks – the cop on the beat, the pregnant woman waiting outside the hospital, the store clerk who sells her an amaryllis bulb.  In true New York style, she has also an encounter with three muggers.  Anyone familiar with New York will recognize her – someone who needs no reinvention.  Sprinkled within her reminiscences are lines from Margaret Fishback’s books of poetry.

When life seems gray

And short of fizz

It seems that way

Because it is.






New Summer Beach Books

Although the weather in Hawaii promotes year-round beach reading, summer still comes to the islands – with more tourists looking for that idyll that lets them escape for a few weeks.  Janet Martin’s article for the New York Times – New Under the Sun: Books for Basking  – made it to the front page of the Honolulu Star Advertiser recently, and I was happy to see her top beach read is Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies (check out my review here).

Her list of fiction to read this summer – that I might try – includes:

  • Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson
  • The Kings of Cool by Don Winslow
  • Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (thriller)
  • Granddad, There’s A Head on the Beach by Colin Cotterill (mystery)

A few nonfiction piqued my interest too:

  • Cronkite by Douglas Brinkley
  • Love, Life, and Elephants: An African Love Story by Diane Daphne Sheldrick

    It promises to be a long hot summer, and when the trade winds stop blowing, August in Hawaii can be as hot and humid as Washington, D.C. without the air conditioning.

Check out Maslin’s article for more reading suggestions and book summaries.

Summer Reads

Seasons in Hawaii are hard to identify and limited to two: winter and summer.  It takes a while for seventy degrees to feel cold – only the locals are wearing sweatshirts in January –  but summer is coming, and the Honolulu Weekly is recommending a list of summer books to complement the annual Hawaii Book and Music Festival this weekend.

The Festival offered a Book Swap and hosted a variety of authors, including Sarah Vowell for her account of Western intervention in the Hawaiian monarchy, Unfamiliar Fishes; Maya Soetoro-Ng (Obama’s sister) for her children’s book Ladder to the Moon; and a svelte looking Roseanne Barr for her latest memoir Roseannarchy.


Maya Soetoro-Ng

Standing room only for Sarah Vowell, and Maya Soetoro-Ng, with Honolulu policemen nearby, calmly greeted each fan as she signed copies of her book.

The Honolulu Weekly highlighted local authors:

  • The Little Greenies by Petronella Evers (children’s picture book).  Go to Potpourri to meet the author.
  • The Tao of Travel by Paul Theroux (travel)
  • One Man’s Paradise by Douglas Corleone (crime mystery)
  • Waves of Resistance by Isaiah Walker  (surfing)

Lots of reading recommendations – for any weather zone…