Ellen (ennienyc) wrote,

More books

I must again fulfill obligations to review some books obtained from various early reader programs, so here goes:

Sister Mother Husband Dog by Delia Ephron - I received this from Penguin First to Read program, but didn't finish in time and the ebook magically disappeared from my iPad. However, all was not lost as I obtained a paper copy of the uncorrected manuscript. Delia Ephron does not try to avoid the shadow of her recently deceased older sister, Nora. Nora appears throughout the book, including the very first essay, "Losing Nora." Sigh, she was gone too soon. The sisters were close and also collaborated professionally, on movies and theater ("Love, Loss, and What I Wore" had a long journey to the stage, where I saw it a few years ago). Though they had a privileged Beverly Hills upbringing with screenwriter parents, alcoholism was an issue ("Why I Can't Write About my Mother"). Other than the piece about dogs (I am not an animal lover, and indeed the author recommends non-dog owners skip to the next essay), I enjoyed this trip through a more upscale, celebrity-filled New York than I live in. And Delia went to Barnard, yay! (she graduated just before I arrived)

Falling Off The Fast Track by Gail Hewitt - Samantha Hudnutt is a consultant in Manhattan struggling to maintain her business. The work descriptions were full of management jargon which struck me as BS-y, but clients pay big bucks for this sort of thing. Her personal life was messy, with the married guy looking for action, the cute ex-colleague seemingly not interested... I won't spoil anything. The situations felt realistic, with current events like Hurricane Sandy adding to the atmosphere.

The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger - I'm a sucker for books in the form of letters, notes, emails and other forms of communication that aren't straight narrative. An early favorite in this vein was Up the Down Staircase. The Divorce Papers drew my interest immediately due to its interesting visual presentation. Besides the NetGalley copy on Kindle, I also had a paper Advance Reader's Edition (which I got from the book giveaway table where I freelance). The paper copy rendered the documents more clearly, as some were in handwriting, different fonts, highlighting, and varied formats. While I'm all for electronic reading, this book is better suited to paper.

I'm also a sucker for quality chick lit, and this filled the bill. The characters were upscale and educated. Rieger is a lawyer with extensive academic experience, and puts that background to work in the legal documents and correspondence that form part of the story. Mia (stay-at-home mom from a wealthy family who gave up her career to move for her husband's job in medical academia) and Daniel (renowned MD who loves his daughter but is consumed by his work) and daughter Jane were going through an at times acrimonious divorce in the fictitious New England state of Narragansett. Due to circumstances at her law firm, young lawyer Sophie took on Mia's case even though she normally defended criminals. Office politics were part of the plot, and the reader saw the back and forth of negotiations, official memos, and court documents. There were also personal letters and emails concerning the characters' families and private lives. The characters are richly drawn and the plot tooled along smoothly and plausibly. I might have liked to see some shock value, melodrama, or twists, but this is not a big minus.

I was surprised to see that the author is married to movie critic David Denby (who is briefly mentioned when the characters are discussing films), as I thought his wife was novelist Cathleen Schine. Subsequent research showed they split a while ago, and furthermore that the author's ex is Peter Pouncey who was Columbia College dean when I was at Barnard. Wow, impressive connections. I'm also a sucker for all things Columbia and everyone in this paragraph is an alum or admin or faculty of some division of the university (the fictional husband is also a College alum).

So this book was in my wheelhouse, even though I think law is intrinsically boring (all that nit-picking precision and argument is not for me). It's a story about people, told in an unusual, eye-catching way.

The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls - In her memoir The Glass Castle, Walls describes her harrowing childhood of poverty and parental neglect. In this novel, physical conditions for teens Liz and Bean are a little better, but their mother is somewhat flighty and their fathers deceased. When Mom takes a break from her responsibilities, the girls find their way to their uncle back east. Life in the mill town formerly run by the family has its ups and downs, and heroes and villains. The plot moves at a leisurely pace, but I was never bored and would love to meet these characters again. Come to think of it, Jeannette is another Barnard grad, class of '84. Lots of writers in the ranks.

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