The Supreme Macaroni Company

I’ve read another novel by Adriana Trigiani and really love her strong female characters and the settings that she choses. In The Supreme Macaroni Company, Trigiani creates a small family village in the middle of Manhattan. Valentine Roncalli runs her family’s shoe company The Angelini Shoe Company in Greenwich Village, one of the most crowded places in the world, and yet the space the characters inhabit feels like everyone knows everyone.

This is the 3rd novel about Valentine, but the first that I’ve read. Valentine comes from a very large, very immeshed family that runs from NYC to Jersey to Ohio and down to Argentina. This story focuses on Valentines romance and marriage to a much older Italian leather tanner, Gianluca Vechiarelli. While I loved the family dynamics and even the difficulties shown in a different cultured May-December relationship, I was very annoyed at the resolution to their problems. I don’t want to give the ending away, but it disappointed me. It felt like an easy out for the writer and made Valentine’s life easier while maintaining her love/romance with a much older man whose culture clashed with her beliefs and work ethic.

I haven’t read the other novels in this series, and there may be another one after this which would make this ending less contrived, but I don’t know if I want to read more about her exploits. This novel could be read for enjoyment except for the ending. It was disappointing.

Read August 2014.

Freakonomics

Steven D. Levitt is an economist. Stephen J. Dubner is a writer. Together they wrote Freakonomics. They take general ideas and prove whether their is any relationship between things that have nothing in common or things that seem to be related. For example, Levitt and Dubner proved that both teachers and Sumo wrestlers, both groups held in high esteem, will cheat based on the system set up for their success. They support the premise that allowing legal abortions had more to do with decreased crime rates in the 90’s than any other public policies. They support that a parent’s education has more do with a child’s success that any child rearing strategy out there.

While a lot of their facts were fascinating and captivated my attention, much of the book read like a economics textbook. I know they are very interested in their topics, as are many of the readers, but I thought it kept going much longer than my interest. This isn’t the first time I tried to read this book and I think I only finished because my book club chose it.

So I think most people who would gravitate to this book would be interested in portions or all of it. Its not a book that needs to be read from cover to cover. In fact, in retrospect, if I had read only chapters every few months, like articles in a magazine, I would probably have like the book more.

Read August 2014

Then Again

Before talking about Diane Keaton’s memoir, Then Again, let me say that I’ve never had a strong opinion about Diane Keaton. Her role in Baby Boom was one of my favorite as a young girl, but I never saw her iconic movie Annie Hall until I was in college and at that point, while I could appreciate some of its charm and cinematic significance, it just felt dated. I also knew nothing of her personal life or much about her acting life.

Now that I’ve read Then Again, I don’t feel like I’m better off. For someone who led a pretty interesting life, Diane Keaton mostly focused on her relationship with her mother. A relationship that, while not great, was a pretty decent mother-daughter relationship. She describes her mother as a lost artist and she shares a kinship with her. But, to be honest, I don’t really care about her relationship with her mother. I also was not interested in very much that she had to say. In this memoir, Keaton relates that Woody Allen wrote the role of Annie Hall based on her and her family. That is interesting. Her description of Warren Beatty as a lover, director, and actor didn’t last long, yet it was one of the more interesting sections. Yet, somehow, her mother’s presence dominated the pages.

It felt like Diane Keaton had a ghost writer and anytime something too personal came up, Keaton wouldn’t allow the writer to expand on it. But the writer recognized the interesting parts of the story and tried to include them as best as they could. Or Keaton knew that people’s interest would be peeked by her small personal revelations, and included them to help boost sales. Either way, this book might be better suited to a contemporary of Diane Keaton’s who could appreciate the time period where the majority of movies came out. I kept having to reference her movies online to try to remember if I’d ever seen them. For the most part, I have not.

Overall, I would say this book was not terribly engaging since I knew very little about the topic ahead of time and the most interesting parts were condensed stories. For anyone interested in Diane Keaton’s life, this memoir would be a required read and wouldn’t take too long to get through.

Read July 2014.

Evidence of Murder

Evidence of Murder is the second in Lisa Black’s series about forensic scientist Theresa MacLean. Theresa goes with her police detective cousin to investigate a missing person case, only to have the victim show up days later in a freezing Cleveland park. Theresa has nothing but contempt for the victim until the forensic evidence doesn’t show a cause of death. No signs of hypothermia, drugs, foul play, nothing. It looks as if Jillian Perry walked into the park without proper clothing, sat down and stopped breathing. Since that’s not how most people would be able to control their body’s reflexes in the intense cold to commit suicide, Theresa keeps investigating the physical evidence until she’s able to figure out what cause Jillian’s death.

The cast of possible suspects include her former escort service boss, her stalker best friend, and her internet-game developing husband. All have a possible cause to murder her, but Theresa finds it hard to pin point the murderer until the method of murder is discovered.

This novel kept my interest but there are many plausibility problems for me. First, how would a forensic scientist who’s been kept in the lab find the time to do this investigation. Also, she investigates almost all on her own, hardly ever bringing in her cousin who’s the detective on the case. Throughout the story it is clear that Lisa Black has a strong background in forensic science, and the details about the murder and cover up are great! Its the rest of the investigation that cause me trouble. Its still a decent read if you can let some of the plot problems go.

Read July 2014.

The Thirteenth Tale

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield brings together a bookworm spinster and a famous novelist to write the novelist’s memoir before she dies. Vida Winter wrote a best seller a year for over 20 years, but has never let the truth about her personal history ever be written. Margaret Lea works and lives in her father’s book shop, not a popular spot but well regarded in the right book circles. Vida Winter hires Margaret to write her story but on her own terms and her own timeline, which is partially determined by her ailing health.

The story that Vida tells is filled with a gothic haunted house, twins left to raise themselves, a dysfunctional mother, deceased father, recluse uncle, and a pair of aging staffers that are trying their best to maintain a sane household filled with insanity. Before accepting the assignment, Margaret asks for provable facts that she can research since Vida Winter is a known storyteller who has told multiple versions of her ‘life story’ over the years. In order to help prove these facts, Margaret travels to Angelfield, where Vida Winter was born and lived for the first part of her life. The whole of her life according to her, since after the fire, her life was in essence over and she began writing her stories. Both woman’s lives are consumed with books and stories and there’s a nice bibliophile aspect of reading this story. Both for the lovers of old books and the stories within those books. Between the visuals we gain from Vida’s story and Margaret’s recent descriptions of the dilapated house, Setterfield brings the reader home to Angelfield. Running between the garden topiary’s or hiding behind the curtains, the reader knows Angelfield and is drawn to its morbid story.

This was a great mystery about what can go wrong in a sheltered home with absentee parents. I loved the past story as well as the relationship between the subject and biographer. Setterfield captured two different time periods and environments and brought the reader inside these closeted worlds.

Read July 2014.

The Aviator’s Wife

The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin is very similar to The Paris Wife by Paula McClain and Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler. Also, although I’ve never read it, I’ve heard it is also very similar to Loving Frank by Nancy Horan. All of these are about the famous man, the forgotten woman and the family burden left to her alone. Of course these men being who they were, their family and wife were never enough to entertain the ego of these men.

The Aviator’s Wife is about Charles Lindbergh’s wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Benjamin included great details about the Lindbergh’s life including a heart breaking section devoted to the Lindbergh kidnapping. There were great stories about how Anne flew with her husband, not just as a passenger, but as an active navigator, radio operator, and fellow explorer flying around the world creating new flight routes which would help develop the burgeoning world of commercial aircraft. There were stories about being trapped by paparazzi before there was even a term to describe the reporters stalking the couple and their family. I learned more about Charles Lindbergh’s association with Hitler and the Nazis and how it almost brought down the great legend than I’d ever heard before.

Even with all this, this story felt like it had already been told. A book club friend speculated that after the popularity of all the other ‘wife’ books someone rushed to research the wife of the famous aviator. Anne Lindbergh’s life sounded interesting but the writing and story telling techniques felt tired and it wasn’t enough to hold my interest very well. Perhaps if I had read this book first, I would have felt different. But I didn’t.

Interesting facts and an ok read.

Read June 2014.

Inferno

Dan Brown’s newest Robert Langdon mystery, Inferno will feel familiar to his readers. This twisted tale begins with Langdon awaking in a Florentine hospital with no memory of the previous 2 days. As he pieces together his purpose in Florence and an underground network of people who are working to limit the human population, Brown leads us around renaissance Florence, Venice, and to Istabul’s hidden underground.

As usual, Brown loves to taunt the reader with historically significant stories, and Inferno is no different. A madman uses Dante’s Divine Comedy to lead a team of scientists around the world to try to find a potential virus that is meant to decimate the human population in order to restore balance to the world. The idea that human population has gotten out of control and needs to be put into check by Bertrand Zobrist, the unelected head of a Transhumanism movement. Its an interesting concept that the world’s population has grown to an unsustainable number and that something needs to be done for humanity to survive. Although Brown’s novel is a fantastic view of what could happen if a brilliant, wealthy, patron to decides to take action on overpopulation, it is an idea worth thinking about.

Although this novel has all of Brown’s known twists and action while jumping around beautiful buildings in some of the most beautiful cities in the world, something seemed to be missing for me. It seems like Brown was trying to fit into his own pattern without having the passion to deliver like he has in the past. Since reading The DaVinci Code, I’ve become a fan of crime and mystery novels and have read many fantastic writers in this genre. Maybe after reading novels that subtly dissect societal ills, its hard to read such a heavy handed approach to the end of the world. I think reading Dan Brown’s Inferno is like watching Hollywood’s summer blockbusters, while authors like Per Wahloo, Maj Sjowall, Gillian Flynn, Henning Mankell deliver the mystery and dissect society with the required quietness for true introspection.

Overall, an ok summer read.

Read May 2014.