The Great Gatsby

gatsbyI read The Great Gatsby in high school and it was OK.  It’s interesting what some years (and I’m not talking about how many!) can do to your perspective because I just finished reading it again and I loved it.  I think the beauty of the book, and the sadness of the story, are wasted on most high school students.  The future still looms far in front of them, full of opportunity and time and chances.  It doesn’t elude them, it’s still in front of them, still something to reach for and achieve.  There is no melancholy yet for their youth, for the chance to be young again and make different choices, to set the path right.

Yet in spite of all that the characters have been through, as jaded as they should be, I was struck in some ways by their innocence.   Gatsby’s unwavering belief in his love for Daisy and its ability to overcome all other circumstances reminds me of the hopefulness that exists in the young.  It’s just that they don’t have any reason to believe differently yet, and Gatsby does.  Even Daisy’s heartlessness and cruelty is wrapped in its own kind of confusion and innocence.  It’s not like she means to ruin anyone’s life…

Some of my favorite moments…

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. “Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.” 

Not only shouldn’t we judge Gatsby, but we shouldn’t judge Daisy, or Tom, or any of them.  Because there are all kinds of advantages, not all of them monetary, which impact the way people behave.  It reminds me of a conversation I recently had with my kids about my son’s frustration with what he perceives as rampant apathy among some of his classmates – remember kid, you don’t know what their life is like, or what yours would be like if you were them…

And so heartbreaking:

“The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is stare blankly.” 

‘Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther… And one fine morning ——

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.’

Mystery Mayhem

Here’s a quick look what’s new in some of my favorite mystery series!

minor adjustment beauty salonThe No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency novels take place in Botswana, where the traditionally-built Mme Precious Ramotswe, with the help of her assistant Mma Grace Makutsi, uses her common sense to solve the mysteries of those around her.

In this latest installment, The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon, Mme Ramotswe has two cases to worry about.  A lawyer has asked her to confirm the identity of the beneficiary of a deceased farmer’s estate and the owner of the Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon has been subjected to nasty rumors that are ruining her business.  Is someone trying to get an inheritance that isn’t theirs?  Why is someone trying to destroy the new salon’s reputation?  And, although she has yet to mention it, it has become obvious that Mme Makutsi is pregnant.  Will she mention it before the baby’s born?  And who will keep the office running smoothly while she’s out?

Reading a book in this series is always relaxing for me.  No matter the mystery, no one ever feels the need to rush; there is always time for a cup of tea and polite conversation.  Mme Ramotswe is as lovable as ever – kind, thoughtful, respectful, and insightful.  Mme Makutsi, while always quirky, becomes more likable in this installment of the series – motherhood seems to soften her, make her more aware of the importance of her relationships and those who support her.  Another fun and restful trip to Botswana – perfect with a cup of tea!

Title: The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon
Author:Alexander McCall Smith
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 256
Publication: Pantheon, November 2013

critical massThe V.I. Warshawski novels follow Chicago private investigator V.I. Warshawski as she takes on cases that take her from the social echelons of Chicago to its seediest sides.  There were times, in the middle of this series, where I was beginning to tire of the characters and the storylines, but I am thrilled that I stuck with her; Critical Mass may be the best yet in the series.

In this latest installment, Critical Mass, V.I. is asked by her friend Dr. Lotty Herschel for help.  Lotty grew up in Vienna and lost her family during the Holocaust.  One of the children she escaped with is now living in Chicago and her daughter, a drug-addict, is in trouble.  When V.I. starts digging she uncovers a mystery that goes back to Vienna and WWII, the atomic bomb, and the Holocaust, involving drug addicts, physicists, computer scientists, and corporate giants.

The history and the science could’ve made the story overly detailed and boring, but it didn’t.  Instead, it added depth and interest to an already fascinating story.  This page-turner has me eagerly awaiting the next book in the series.

Title: Critical Mass
Author:Sara Paretsky
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 480
Publication: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, October 2013

dustThe Kay Scarpetta novels follow medical examiner Dr. Kay Scarpetta and the rest of her team – her husband, FBI profiler Benton Wesley, her niece, computer genius Lucy, and detective Pete Marino.  The series starts with Kay as the medical examiner in Virginia, but at this point in the series she is in Boston.  The crimes she is involved in solving are always brutal, the violence always graphic, but at one point, the stories were always page-turners.  Unfortunately, that is not the case anymore…

I was very disappointed with her last book in this series, The Bone Bed, and was hoping for a return to better writing, character development, and storytelling in this latest installment.  But it was even worse.  The book starts off with Kay sick in bed, having just returned from working the scenes of the killings at Sandy Hook.  Why this was incorporated into the story at all is a mystery to me – it added nothing to the storyline and just seemed like a blatant attempt to incorporate current events.  Personally, I found it disturbing and insulting that it was included at all.  But even putting that aside, the rest of the story was painfully slow – there is a serial killer on the loose and the FBI seems to be working against the good guys – but I just couldn’t care for long.  Marino has left working for Kay to become a cop again – too much of the story is just nonsense about Marino and Benton and Kay and their personal issues and some love triangle that was played out a long time ago.  Again, I couldn’t care less.  Lucy never changes and grows as a character.  Honestly – all of the main characters seem to be stuck in destructive and annoying cycles of their lives.  Unfortunately, this will be the last second-chance I am giving to the series…

Title: Dust
Author:Patricia Cornwell
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 523
Publication: Putnam Adult, November 2013

silent nightThe Spenser novels follow Boston private investigator Spenser with the most common recurring characters being his love interest Dr. Susan Silverman and his best friend Hawk.

A scared kid shows up at Spenser’s office door, looking for help.  The home for homeless boys where he has been living is being threatened.  Without it there will be a bunch of kids on the streets.  Spenser, with help and back-up from Hawk, follows the trail to drug kingpins and ultimately saves the boys and their home.

What I have loved most about this series is the interactions between Spenser and Hawk, hilarious dialog with a core trust and friendship that both men share with few others.  With the death of Robert B. Parker the series has been turned over to Ace Atkins who has done a wonderful job catching Parker’s voice.  However this Christmas novel, started by Parker, was completed by his agent Helen Brann who seemed to give the characters, and the actual detecting, little attention.  It was unfortunate, but it was also a quick read over the holidays so I’ll let it go and hope for more from Ace Atkins soon!

Title: Silent Night: A Spenser Holiday Novel
Author:Robert B. Parker, Helen Brann
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 240
Publication: Putnam Adult, October 2013

The Cherry Cola Book Club

cherry colaI really didn’t like this book.  I really wanted to – it’s the story of a small town librarian, Maura Beth, who has been told by the city council that she has until the end of the year to show the worth of her library or it will be closed.  There is a cast of small town characters – a restaurant owner, an elderly genealogist, a retiree, a cooking show host – who rally around as Maura Beth starts the Cherry Cola Book Club in an attempt to boost library usage and secure their future funding.

Given the current state of library funding as a priority throughout the country, and the importance of libraries to their communities, this book could’ve been so much more than what it was – a sweet story with likable characters of a town pulling together to save their library – at least temporarily.

My frustration with the book was the author’s apparent lack of knowledge about libraries and librarians and what they actually accomplish in their communities.  Maura Beth has been the director for six years, has virtually no one using the library, and this is the first time she’s trying to do something about it?!  Reading this book I had a hard time understanding why she’d been getting paid at all for the past six years – the author made it seem like all she did was sit in her office and occasionally order some books.  But now that her job is in jeopardy she thinks it might be important to do something more?  And her miraculous plan is to start a book discussion group?  Don’t get me wrong, book discussion groups are great – almost all libraries already have them along with computers, internet access, early literacy programming, summer reading programs, entertainers, movie nights, author presentations, computer classes, art classes, writing groups, teen groups, job hunting and continuing education resources, reference resources, GED and ESL classes…

The problem that libraries have is not a lack of use – many libraries are seeing increased usage year after year – the problem is a lack of public funding as budgets continue to shrink and public libraries attempt to support greater need with less resources – the problem is a lack of understanding about what libraries actually do and why it’s so important to our communities.  Someone should write a book about that.

Title: The Cherry Cola Book Club
Author: Ashton Lee
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 304
Publication: Kensington, March 2013

Clockwork Princess

clockworkThe Clockwork Princess is the final book in The Infernal Devices trilogy which was written as a prequel series to Mortal Instruments series.

For those who have not read The Infernal Devices trilogy, let me give you a brief overview.  The books are set in Victorian England and the story starts with Tessa Grey heading to London from America to search for her missing brother.  She soon finds herself part of a world that she did not know existed – a world full of Nephilim, warlocks, werewolves, demons, automatons, etc.  As she stays at the Institute, the home for Shadowhunters, Nephilim who fight demons in order to protect us mere humans, she searches for the truth of her own identity, battles demons, and falls in love – of course there’s a love triangle – isn’t there always?  I thoroughly enjoyed this book in spite of becoming tired of love triangles (this one does have a uniqueness), and the books are filled with so much more – adventure, battles, death, triumph, magic, technology, demons, warlocks, politics, family feuds, …  making the series fast and fun – a great way to kill a rainy weekend.

For those who have read the first two books and are eagerly awaiting a chance to read the final piece of the story, the final book does not disappoint.  Maybe things are a little too tidily wrapped up, but hey –this is fiction – why not?  There are epic battles, lives will be ended and changed, new loves will be found, and hearts will be broken.  Will or James?  I’m not telling!  😉

Title: Clockwork Princess
Author: Cassandra Clare
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 592
Publication: Margaret K. McElderry Books, March 2013