Archive for the ‘doubleday’ Tag

Murder Family Style   3 comments

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My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite is both engaging and unnerving. The writing accounts for the former and the subject, which the title clearly reflects, explains the latter.

Korede is the good sister. She’s older, responsible and works as a nurse. She is single but is attracted to a doctor with whom she is friends. Her looks are considered plain. Meanwhile, her sister, Ayoola, is beautiful, flippant and kills off the men she dates. She relies on Korede to, literally, clean up the mess.

Yet, Ayoola’s most recent – the third — murder leaves her sister filled with guilt. She begins to worry that the same fate will befall the doctor who has succumbed to Ayoola’s charms.

In addition to the deaths, which for the most part warrant little attention from the police, the narrative explores the sisters’ relationship with their father. He’s an abusive, powerful man, whose character is portrayed in the past tense. The more that’s shared about him, the more one has to wonder how he died, particularly given Ayoola’s penchant for murder.

Braithwaite’s novel is about the strength of sisterly love, no matter how misguided, and the way in which dreams can be so easily burst in the name of loyalty. Short chapters and the terse vivid writing make this a fast read. The characters are easily imagined and a range of emotions, from sympathy to disappointment, is evoked.  It’s clear from the beginning that Ayoola isn’t good; the real surprise comes from Korede.

 

My Sister, the Serial Killer

Four Bookmarks

Doubleday, 2018

226 pages

Family Dinners   Leave a comment

BreadandButter
Bread & Butter is bound to appeal to foodies. Author Michelle Wildgen combines her talents as a writer with her past restaurant experience to tell the story of three brothers with two competing eateries in their hometown.

Leo and Britt have been running Winesap, their fashionable restaurant for more than a decade. When their younger brother, Harry, returns home they find it difficult to be enthusiastic about his plans to open another upscale establishment in a weak economy. Yet, it’s not just the competition that has the older two apprehensive. Harry has bounced around from educational pursuits to various jobs in the years since he’s been gone. Leo and Britt are certain Harry lacks the stamina, knowledge and commitment to run a successful business. They see him as a neophyte, and Harry, who wants their support, is driven to prove them wrong.

Wildgen has created likeable, sometimes exasperating, characters whose voices and situations ring true. Eventually, Britt signs on as Harry’s partner while maintaining his front-of-house role at Winesap. Tensions mount as expectations, many unfounded, lead to several surprises when Harry’s place opens for business.

Descriptions of food, prepping for dinner service and the relationships among the employees (and owners) are vivid and realistic.

Ultimately, the siblings have credible culinary chops; they also have difficulty relinquishing family issues precipitated by birth order. This tends to bog things down a bit. Wildgen emphasizes that sometimes family members are often seen as what we want them to be, rather than who they truly are.

Bread & Butter
Three-and-a-half Bookmarks
Doubleday, 2014
314 pages

Food Filled With TMI   3 comments

partciularsadness

Aimee Bender’s second novel, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, is quirky but glum. The premise follows Rose, the young narrator, and her ability to discern people’s emotions through the food they prepare. This is in stark contrast to the concept that cooking and eating meals are meant to be enjoyed and shared. Poor Rose must develop a strategy to avoid knowing more than she cares or wants, but, of course, she also has to eat.

It doesn’t help that Rose’s family is on the eccentric side to begin with. Lane, her mother, is flighty. And, as Rose deduces from her mother’s cooking, Lane is also very unhappy. Rose’s father is distant and professional. Her brother, Joe, is a genius void of social skills, with an enigma of his own. Despite the food affliction, Rose is pretty much the clan’s anchor with Joe’s friend, George.

Bender deftly portrays the efforts young Rose endures to, at first, keep her disorder a secret and, eventually, live with it. Rose is wise and perceptive; she is smart enough not to reveal too much. Although there are a few light moments, it’s more than a slice of cake that’s particularly sad. Rose and most everyone around her are all woefully unhappy.

The story’s saving grace is Bender’s writing which blends melancholy with the bizarre, while throwing sensitivity and a bit of wry humor into the mix. She’s also excellent at describing a Los Angeles neighborhood that doesn’t rely on tired landmarks.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
Three-and-and-half Bookmarks
Doubleday, 2010
292 pages

Family Holiday on Ice   5 comments

Mark Haddon’s The Red House is a metaphor for the definition of family;  the meaning can be obscured by comfort or serve as boundaries through which no one should cross. Haddon emphasizes the latter. Estranged brother and sister, Richard and Angela, meet for a family vacation shortly after their mother’s death. Richard’s a doctor and newly married to his second wife. Her 16-year-old daughter is part of the package. Angela and her husband have three children, but she mourns the still-born daughter she lost 18 years ago. These eight family members spend a week together in the English countryside as they tentatively reveal themselves to each other – some with better results than others.

Haddon’s approach is interesting. Each chapter represents one day of the vacation, and everyone’s perspective is provided to set the scene. Initially, it’s difficult, even confusing, keeping track of who’s who. However, as the storyline evolves, more about Angela’s grief is explained, not just from her viewpoint but her husband’s, too. Also, Richard is not as professionally secure as he projects, this from his wife.

Haddon blends the familiar (sulky teenagers) with the uncomfortable (sulky parents). Slowly, observations and experiences round out each character. Jumping from one person to another becomes less awkward. Mostly, the time together leads to everyone’s better understanding of him or herself. Haddon writes, “Behind everything there is a house … compared to which every other house is larger or colder or more luxurious.” Sounds a lot like the way all families are perceived.

The Red House
Three-and-a-half Bookmarks
Doubleday, 2012
264 pages

More Than a Three-Ring Extravaganza   4 comments


The Night Circus
is like a fine etching, rich in detail and artistically crafted. Although
black and white are the dominant hues, the nuances of lighting and shading result in a
rainbow of detail.

The word magical to describe Erin Morgenstern’s novel is inadequate. The story is so
much more. The circus, only open at night and in various places around the world,
transports its audience members, and thus readers, to beyond the suspension of dis-
belief. Taking place between 1873 and 1903 the story moves from one time frame to
another, from character to character, from love story to mystery, while Morgenstern
tells a very tall tale that is engaging and exciting.

Magic, or the manipulation of what people believe they see, is the backdrop. The
circus is the venue for a battle of the beautiful and incredible between Celia and
Marco. They have been trained their entire lives by masters who have no regard
for emotion or repercussions. Although Marco and Celia are destined to try to sur-
pass each other through their skills of illusion, no one is prepared for the direction
their relationship takes.

The vivid cast of characters demonstrates the human element of magic and mystery.
Attachments develop among them, and with the reader, creating plenty of tension
wondering not only what will happen between Marco and Celia, but to those whose
lives depend on the night circus.

Morgenstern’s black and white portrait is as lively as any circus, but far more fantastic
than any that can be imagined.

The Night Circus

Four-and-a-half Bookmarks
Doubleday, 2011
387 pages

Posted January 12, 2012 by bluepagespecial in Books, Reviews

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