Thursday, February 25, 2010

51. Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah

I told my friend Stacey that I needed book recommendations and she thought of Firefly Lane right away. She told me that she read it in three days, and that she laughed AND cried while reading. I borrowed her copy, and read the whole thing one Saturday while Colin was working. I couldn't put it down! Every time I tried, I couldn't stop thinking about it and what was going to happen next.

In the turbulent summer of 1974, Kate Mularkey has accepted her place at the bottom of the eighth-grade social food chain. Then, to her amazement, the "coolest girl in the world" moves in across the street and wants to be her friend. Tully Hart seems to have it all - beauty, brains, ambition. On the surface they are as opposite as two people can be: Kate, doomed to be forever uncool, with a loving family who mortifies her at every turn. Tully, stepped in glamour and mystery, but with a secret that is destroying her. They make a pact to be best friends forever; by summer's end they've become TullyandKate. Inseparable.

So begins Kristin Hannah's magnificent new novel. Spanning more than three decades and playing out across the ever-changing face of the Pacific Northwest, Firefly Lane is the poignant, powerful story of two women and the friendship that becomes the bulkhead of their lives. For thirty years, Tully and Kate buoy each other through life, weathering the storms of friendship - jealousy, anger, hurt, resentment. They think they've survived it all until a single act of betrayal tears them apart...and puts their courage and friendship to the ultimate test.

Plot summary lifted from the book jacket. Colin typed it up for me because he can't stand my hunt-and-peck typing. 

I'm a total sucker for stories about life-long female friendships. Nothing against my own gender, but I think female friendships can be tricky. Let's say you're lucky enough to find a friend that totally gets you -- knows exactly where you're coming from, knows what to say and when not to say anything. It's rare. Now try to hold onto that friend -- it's not always easy. Maybe your old best friend is jealous of your new best friend. Maybe you like the same stupid boy. Maybe one of you moves away. There are a million little things that can get in the way if you let them. It's a minefield! Now, I have friends and my sisters and Colin, but I don't really have a best girlfriend and I miss it. So reading Firefly Lane was very satisfying. And it really is a page-turner, I could not put it down and walk away. And like Stacey, I laughed AND cried while reading. That happens less often than you think. This book would be great to take on vacation or to spend a lazy Saturday reading, like I did. I highly recommend it!

50. Enemies of the People by Kati Marton

I read about Enemies of the People by Kati Marton somewhere, and kept seeing the title pop up on book blogs and review sites. It sounded really interesting, so I placed a request at the library and waited my turn. The day that I went to pick it up, Marton was interviewed on The Colbert Report (which is practically required viewing in our home). This seemed fortuitous to me somehow, so I started reading the next day.

"You are opening a Pandora's box."

Marton was warned when she filed for her family's secret police files in Budapest. But her family history -- during both the Nazi and the Communist periods -- was too full of shadows. The files revealed terrifying truths: secret love affairs, betrayals inside the family circle, torture and brutalities alongside acts of stunning courage -- and, above all, deep family love. In this true-life thriller, Kati Marton, an accomplished journalist, exposes the cruel mechanics of the Communist Terror State, using the secret police files on her journalist parents as well as dozens of interviews that reveal how her family was spied on and betrayed by friends and colleagues, and even their children's baby-sitter. In this moving and brave memoir, Marton searches for and finds her parents, and love. Marton relates her eyewitness account of her mother's and father's arrests in Cold War Budapest and the terrible separation that followed. She describes the pain her parents endured in prison - isolated from each other and their children. She reveals the secret war between Washington and Moscow, in which Marton and her family were pawns in a much larger game. By the acclaimed author of The Great Escape, Enemies of the People is a tour de force, an important work of history as it was lived, a narrative of multiple betrayals on both sides of the Cold War that ends with triumph and a new beginning in America.

Plot summary lifted from the book jacket. Colin typed it up for me because he can't stand my hunt-and-peck typing.

First, let me get the negatives out of the way. In my experience, expectations have an enormous effect on your enjoyment of a book. For some reason, I was expecting to be riveted while reading Enemies of the People. While this book is interesting, I wasn't riveted and that made me feel like it wasn't as good as I thought it would be. The subject matter and the way that Marton chose to write about it was a bit dryer than I expected. You hear about secret police investigating and arresting journalists and you expect suspense and intrigue. In actuality, the surveillance of the Martons must have been tedious for the state. It doesn't seem like very much is happening. And Kati made extensive use of her research, quoting from informants and reports in the files. I can see why she made this choice -- the book is in essence a result of this journey to uncover what the files contained. And those contents are extraordinary, but I felt a bit mired down in the excerpts at times. 

In the end, the positives definitely outweigh the negatives. What happened to Kati Marton and her family almost seems like fiction; the fact that it's all true and the evidence is right in front of us is incredible. I appreciated Marton's sense of humor and her willingness to share how her past has shaped her life -- that is to say, the past as she knew it and the past as she now knows it. The most valuable part of the book for me is the very clear sense you get of the atmosphere in Hungary at the time. Marton relates the day-to-day life in a police state eloquently, making the unimaginable imaginable. If you're at all interested in this time period or subject matter, I recommend you give this book a try.

Here's a clip of Marton's appearance on The Colbert Report. It's very entertaining, even if you're not a Colbert fan. 

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Kati Marton
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorSkate Expectations

(I especially like the part when Marton calls her baby-sitter a bitch.)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

50 down, 50 to go! And the highlight reel, sort of.

I still have to post the review, but I officially finished my 50th book tonight! Holy accomplishment, Batman!

Life has been getting in my way lately, as it is wont to do. Between work and family stuff, I haven't kept on pace with my project. And if you read the sidebar, you'll notice I'm reading four books at the moment. That's unusual for me; I'm very orderly about starting one thing and finishing it before moving onto the next. Usually. For some reason, I'm having trouble finishing books right now. I think I'm just distracted.

I am going to try and get back on pace, because I really am enjoying myself. This is something that I chose to do and am excited about. Although, when I think about the amount and variety of books that I've read in the past seven months, I feel like I've already won (regardless of how cheesy that sounds).

I was going to try and do a whole "highlights of the first 50" post, but I think I'm too tired. So I'll just include the first few that come to mind.

  1. I'm really glad I discovered the author Tana French. Read my reviews of In the Woods and The Likeness if you want to know why. I am eagerly anticipating her next book. I love it when I want to read absolutely everything a certain author writes.
  2. I should be more open to my family members' suggestions. Kudos to my dad for recommending 1632 and Old Man's War, which is very good so far. And I loved American Shaolin, which my sister Annie suggested.
  3. That leads me to my next point -- apparently, I enjoy science fiction and fantasy. This is entirely contrary to my previous self-image. But giving new things a chance pays off sometimes. I have the sequel to A Game of Thrones saved on my laptop, and I'm itching to read it.
  4. I have to work on not biting off more than I can chew! Sometimes I set myself up for failure. See Public Enemies, An American Tragedy
  5. Although I am benefiting from trying new things, I do like what I like. That's not going to change. I'll always be excited about books like Bobby and Jackie and L.A. Candy. That's me.
I feel like I have more to say, but I can't think of anything. Let's end with a really awesome photo of my sisters and me from childhood, okay? This will be fun.

Mollie, Annie, Maggie

Apparently someone confiscated my pacifier in order to get a better photo. Well, here's proof of how contrary I can be. Look how distraught I am without it! And Mollie and Annie are so happy. Delighted, from the looks of it. At least Annie is reaching out to me. I'm also just noticing how cute their sweaters are, while mine is the color of oatmeal. Maybe that's another reason I look detached and bewildered?