Saturday, March 20, 2010

Where the God of Love Hangs Out

Where the God of Love Hangs Out by Amy Bloom

Bloom teaches creative writing at Yale so one would think she knows how to write a short story and this somber, yet realistic collection showcases her talent. The stories all take on the theme of love and many are inter-related. Perhaps the finest linked stories are those about a family that loses the father, and the relationships that grow between the stepsons, stepmother, and grandchildren through a period of 30 years. The stories may not be flowery and fun, but they are real and will certainly strike a nerve with everyone, for everyone is involved in a love story of some sort.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


Sizzle by Julie Garwood

Predictability? Check. Cheesiness? Check. Far-fetched fairytale plot? Check. The only good part of this novel by best-selling novelist Julie Garwood was the very brief passage in which one of the villains tries to steal books from a library and comments on how "hot" and tough the librarians are. Otherwise, it was fluff and the fluff wasn't even as good as what I've read of Nora Roberts. Obviously she's got a magic formula that works for some readers--I'm just not one of them.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson

The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson by Jerome Charyn

Charyn is a Emily Dickinson scholar and has created a novel based on her life and many of the characters in it, with a few added story lines to make it, well, fiction. Dickinson is still an old maid, but we see many of the men who excite her and woo her, as well as the women who create drama around her. What we don't see is her brilliant poetry and she's rarely writing it. Perhaps Charyn felt that wasn't interesting, but that's what I was looking for.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Gracefully Insane

Gracefully Insane: The Rise and Fall of America's Premier Mental Hospital by Alex Beam

McLean Hospital was once the premier mental institution in America. And by premier, I don't just mean it had the best doctors and best treatments. I mean it was (and still is, though not to the same degree) the country club of mental institutions--where $1,000/day stays were "enjoyed" by the richest and most powerful Americans with mental illness. It was the hospital about which Girl, Interrupted and The Bell Jar were written, and Dennis Lehane loosely based the hospital in Shutter Island on McLean. For some of the elite patients, like James Taylor and Ray Charles, stays at McLean were simply short respites--a retreat away from the stressful world. For others, like a 79-year-old patient Beam interviews who has been at McClean for over 50 years, it's a necessary home. Beam, a journalist for the Boston Globe, captures the human interest elements of the hospital's history--the fascinating patients and their doctors, the cutting edge treatments, and, finally, the current state of mental health care in the United States and the economic problems that have affected McLean as they have other treatment facilities. I found it fascinating, but it may only be fascinating to others interested in mental health care.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Brightest Star in the Sky

The Brightest Star in the Sky by Marian Keyes

Marian Keyes is the queen of Irish chicklit and she has earned her throne. Her bio claims she's written 10 novels, and Brightest is her latest. The plot sounds hokey--the narrator is a spirit that floats between flats in a four-floor Dublin townhouse and observes the secrets and relationships brewing in each home--but Keyes sells it well. The characters are all very different, yet it's believable how their lives overlap. Each chapter is divided into "days" and we see that the spirit has a countdown going on, starting from 66. As we get closer to 0, it's obvious that something big is going to happen, and the countdown really intensifies the build-up. The ending isn't at all predictable, and I was quite pleased, which is saying a lot. I'm usually disappointed in clean endings, but this one is worth the ride.