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Archive for the ‘Crown Publishers’ Tag

Being the Best Fit   Leave a comment

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Becoming, by Michelle Obama, loitered on my nightstand for months; I’d pick it up, read a little and abandon it again. Despite rave reviews from friends who’d read the book, I was initially underwhelmed. I wasn’t interested in her piano lessons and other accounts of her childhood. Yet, I stuck with it and was rewarded with what proved to be an engaging memoir.

During Obama’s time in the spotlight, I was impressed with her friendly, accessible demeanor and forthrightness. I came to appreciate these same attributes in her book. She truly came from humble beginnings. Her close-knit family, personal drive and obvious intellect helped propel her to the popularity she enjoyed as First Lady.

Obama shares her life story moving from those early years (piano lessons included) to her teens, from college to a high-powered legal career, from meeting Barack to becoming a mother. Each of the book’s sections highlights a specific period: “Becoming Me,” “Becoming Us” and “Becoming More.” The latter focuses on her life in the public eye as the wife of the first African American president, her efforts to exceed expectations because of a sense that many wanted the Obamas to fail and her determination to create some semblance of a normal family life for her daughters.

Through an easy-going, almost conversational tone, Obama’s narrative evokes emotion, pride and, at times, dismay. This is about someone you’d like to meet. She’s already invited you into her life through her deeds. The book simply adds an exclamation point.

Becoming
Four-and-a-half Book marks
Crown Books, 2018
426 pages

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Bad Time for a Cruise   Leave a comment

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It takes Erik Larson about 100 pages to finally let the Lusitania set sail from New York City in May 1915. Dead Wake, his account of the doomed luxury liner, is exhaustive in detail and detached in its descriptions of the events leading to its historic sinking. No need for a spoiler alert here; many consider the German sinking of the Lusitania is what ultimately led the United States to join the British and French allies in World War I.

Larson’s research on the subject is thorough (there are more than 50 pages of notes). He addresses everything from the backgrounds of the ships’ captains involved, to the weather leading up to the point the ship left sight of land, to how the dining room was decorated for first class passengers. There’s more: brief bios about passengers, history of submarines, how Cunard came to name its fleet, and even Wilson’s love life as he strove to maintain neutrality for the U.S. even as events continued to escalate in Europe.

While it is heartbreaking to know that a record number of families with children were on board, the concise elements Larson provides about the passengers makes it difficult to have a true sense of their characters. This does not mean the event was less tragic, just that the book offers little except a historic narrative.

As with any tragedy, fingers pointing blame are plentiful; Larson offers numerous what ifs, which, of course, do nothing to change the course of history.

Dead Wake
Not-quite-three Bookmarks
Crown Publishers, 2015
430 pages (including notes and index)

Disturbing and Capitivating   6 comments

I was on the library’s waiting list for Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl for months. When it was finally ready for me to check out, I was impatient to start reading. After mentioning this to a friend, her reaction was less than exuberant, it was baffling. After all, the novel was so popular there’d been hundreds ahead of me waiting for a library copy. It’s been on Publisher Weekly’s list of Best Hardcover Fiction for 15 weeks – and appears pretty comfortable there. I pressed my friend for more, but she held fast: we’d talk when I finished.

Gone Girl is a mystery on several levels, including how I spent time living with such unlikeable characters for the past week? The story follows the disappearance of Amy on her fifth wedding anniversary. By all indications, her husband, Nick, is responsible. Amy and Nick alternate as narrators. The book is divided into three sections. The first focuses on the disappearance, possibly abduction or possibly murder. Nick comes across as shallow and surprised, not upset, at his wife’s unexplained absence. He seems guilty, which is reinforced by Amy-as-victim told through diary entries.

The second and third sections of the book reveal much more about Amy’s ability to weave complicated webs of deceit. It’s not that Nick is suddenly less appalling, but Amy is more so.  Flynn is a craftswoman. Her characters are fully developed as repulsive and intriguing. They’re also scary, always a good thing for a mystery, and I couldn’t look away. I need to talk to my friend.

Gone Girl
Four Bookmarks
Crown Publishers, 2012
415 pages