Sunday, June 28, 2015

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

Olive with a Hint of Lemon (Glimpses into Different Lives)

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout is a Pulitzer-winning novel about a stern, intimidating schoolteacher and interconnecting stories of the townspeople whose lives intersect with hers.  Each of the thirteen chapters in this book meanders through the personal struggles and secrets lives of various people in a small Maine town.

Although this was not a cheery book, I enjoyed it and found the narration fresh and intriguing. It was like listening to a friend gossip about neighbors. Strout’s skillful storytelling made it easy to get lost in the tales of the townspeople. She had my full attention. Among others, we get to know the piano player in a local bar, a mother of three who loses her husband, and a woman struggling with anorexia. Each story brings some type of tragedy or turmoil to light. The book is like a somber quilt with Olive as the thread that holds it all together. 

Olive, herself, is not a bright and happy person. She wouldn’t win any Miss Congeniality contest.  She is abrupt and caustic. She is strongly opinionated, and at times she is sour as a lemon. But we discover that underneath the rough exterior, she is also caring, sensitive, and lonely.  Like everyone, she’s a flawed human being, and I liked getting to know her and the people around her.

This book was made into a 2014 TV mini-series. The cast includes Frances McDormand as Olive and Richard Jenkins as her husband, Henry.

This book met several of my 2015 Book Challenges: Read a Pulitzer-prize winning book; read a book that has or will become a movie; read a book with only two words in the title.

Happy Reading,


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Monday, June 15, 2015

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

The Charmed Life of an Explosives Expert (Farcical Romp Through History)

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson is a farcical tale of a centenarian who escapes an old folk’s home on his hundredth birthday and finds himself in an escapade that leads from one crazy situation to the next.  Allan Karlsson is no stranger to a wild and unusual lifestyle. He’s an explosives expert who, through his career, has met many historical figures along the way. He’s dined with leaders such as Stalin, Harry S. Truman, Charles de Gaulle and many more. The book alternates between his latest adventure and the outrageously far-fetched and funny background of his ten-decade romp through history.

The book, first published in Sweden, has become an international bestselling sensation, much like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but on the complete opposite side of the serious scale.  The 100-Year-Old Man was skillfully written with a hand that had a direct connection to the funny bone. 

I truly enjoyed this highly imaginative book, although I preferred the narration on his current situation a tad more than the historical flashbacks, which seemed a bit too long.  I liked the writing style as well as the story of Allan’s charmed life. A definite thumbs-up.

This was a book club selection and although our members had not all finished it at meeting time, all were enjoying the book. Again, they also thought the narration of the Allan's current situation was a smidgen better than his "Forest Gump-like" meetings with all the prominent historical figures.  Allan's encounters with the mobsters and Sonya were very funny!  Thumbs-up.  

This book met two of my 2015 Book Challenges: Read a book with a number in the title; read a book set in a foreign country.

Happy Reading,


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Sunday, June 7, 2015

Stealing Mona Lisa by Carson Morton

The Art of a Con... (Art)

Stealing Mona Lisa by Carson Morton is a novel about a con artist who orchestrates one of the greatest art heists in the world, the 1911 theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre. While the bones of the story are built on facts, the meat is fleshed out with pure entertainment.  Fact: The Mona Lisa painting was boldly stolen from the Louvre art museum in 1911. Fact: It was a former worker at the Louvre, an Italian named Vincenzo Peruggia, who accomplished the deed.  Fact:  Eduardo de Valfierno claimed to be the mastermind of the theft.  Fact: There really was a devastating flood in Paris (though not exactly the same year as the book).

Fact: I really enjoyed this book. In fact, I think it’s one of those kinds of novels I would like to see on the big screen. I imagine that the settings in Buenos Aires then Paris in the early 1900s, the Mona Lisa and art museums, the dramatic action towards the end, and the lighthearted, upbeat pace of the book would translate nicely in theaters.

I think this is a great summer read.  Whether you’re interested in art or not, the plot holds interest and moves along nicely. On the other hand, if the art world generally piques your interest, this book should be doubly attractive.

If you’re interested in art, you may also consider these novels: Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland, I Am Madame X by Gioia Dilberto, The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan, The Lady in Gold by Anne-Marie O’Connor, and Frida by Barbara Mujica.

One more thing you may like is a free Android phone app
called Muzei.  My son found this app and installed it for me, and I love it.  Every day, my phone wallpaper changes to display a different famous painting, noting the artist and year it was painted.

This book met a couple of my 2015 Book Challenges: Read a book set in a foreign country; read a book about art.

Happy Reading,


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