Tuesday, July 31, 2012

289 (2012 #34). The Art of Racing in the Rain

by Garth Stein, 
read by Christopher Evan Welch

When my local book club made this selection, at first I thought - meh.  I'm not an animal lover (don't hate 'em, just don't love 'em), and I'm not a fan of racing.  The narrator of this book is a dog, and the story is about the dog's owner, a struggling race car driver.

However, this book really grew on me as I listened to it.  It helped that the audiobook narrator, actor Christopher Evan Welch, as well as author Garth Stein, must have been dogs in previous lives,* because I began to believe the narrator, Enzo the dog, was speaking to me!

(* This is a riff on Enzo's belief in reincarnation, and that he will be a human in his next life.)

I suppose another reason I really liked the book was because part of the storyline really hit close to home.  Like Denny, Enzo's owner, I also faced a custody battle full of false accusations (luckily, in my case, criminal behavior was not involved, and my battle ran 18 months rather than three years).  I had a lot of empathy for Denny's situation, especially the way the custody battle was dragged out to put Denny in economic hardship.

It also helped that the book was set in Seattle, where I lived for 21 years, with scenes (Stein is also a filmmaker) in various locales that were familiar to me.  Finally, I really enjoyed some of the interesting life philosophy that came out of racing observations and the musings and wisdom of a canine - "Enzoisms" like "The car goes where the eyes go" and "That which you manifest is before you."

I think this book would be enjoyed by all-male and mixed book discussion groups, as well as an all-women group like mine.

© Amanda Pape - 2012

[This audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my university library.  A print copy for reference was borrowed and returned through interlibrary loan.]

Saturday, July 28, 2012

288 (2012 #33). Reading My Father

by Alexandra Styron,
read by the author

I purchased this audiobook for my library's collection after hearing about it during a Booklist "June is Audiobook Month"-type webinar last year.  As it's supposed to be about prize-winning author William Styron (Pulitzer for The Confessions of Nat Turner, National Book Award for Sophie's Choice), I thought it would be appropriate for a university library collection.

Trouble is, the senior Styron's youngest daughter (he was 41 when she was born) can't quite seem to decide if she is writing a memoir (as it says on the audiobook case), or a biography.  She tries to do both, being biographical especially during the first 50 years of her father's life, when she either wasn't there at all, or too young to remember much.

I knew nothing about Styron before listening to this audiobook, so this book did succeed in that I learned more about him.  However, by the end, I didn't really care about him, and  I think the book could be a disappointment to his fans.

William Styron apparently made life difficult for those around him with his clinical depression, but I really did not see him behaving much worse than many creative types, especially males of that era.  What I did notice was a lot of name-dropping in the book - Styron senior was apparently friends with the Kennedys and numerous celebrities, but Alexandra doesn't really have many interesting stories to tell about these friendships.

Alexandra Styron reads her book in a monotone.  This might have been intentional, to fit the detachment with which she tells her story, but it did make it hard to maintain my interest.  I'd recommend this book only to fans of her father, and in print form rather than audio.

© Amanda Pape - 2012

[This audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my university library.]

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

287 (2012 #32). The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns


by Margaret Dilloway

I read Dilloway's debut novel, How to Be an American Housewife, last year and really liked it, so I was really looking forward to this book.   While reading it, I found the main character, Galilee "Gal" Garner, to be as thorny and high-maintenance as the roses she grows and breeds.  But by the time I finished, Gal (and the book) had grown on me.

Thirty-six year-old Gal, single and childless, is suffering from kidney failure.  She's had two transplants so far and is awaiting a third.  In the meantime, she's in her eighth year of dialysis, which requires her spending every other night at a dialysis center, even when she travels.  The requirements of her health condition, and her job as an advanced biology teacher at a Catholic high school, make for a very regimented life, which spills over to her care of her beloved roses.

Gal is breeding Hulthemias, a rose variety (actually not a true rose) that have distinctive blotches of darker color at the heart, the base of the petals.  They aren't easy to grow or breed, according to Gal (on page 3 of the advance reader edition):

"Difficult and obstinate. Thriving under a set of specific and limited conditions. That pretty much describes me. Maybe that's why I like these roses so much."

Her goal is to create a repeat-bloomer with fragrance and take it to market, so this is more than a hobby for her.

Gal has one close friend, a fellow teacher named Dara, and is also still close to her parents, who live about a day's drive away.  Understandably, they've worried about her all her life, perhaps at the expense of their other daughter, Becky, who had a daughter (Riley) out of wedlock.  Becky's also had problems with drugs and alcohol, and is not close to the rest of her family.

Then Becky sends teenaged Riley to live with Gal when she heads overseas for a job opportunity.  Being responsible for Riley has some positive effects on Gal, and it's heartwarming to see the changes.

As in How to Be an American Housewife, Dilloway builds in excerpts from another fictional guidebook, this time a mythical rose-growing guide, the author of which later appears in the novel.  She also includes some pages from Gal's rose-breeding notebook, although the latter could have used a little more explanation.

And, like her first novel, Dilloway is once again writing what she knows.  Gal is based on Dilloway's sister-in-law Deborah, who suffered from kidney failure and went through three transplants, but sadly passed away in December 2011.  Dilloway  also experienced sudden guardianship of her teenage nephew when she had no children of her own, much the way Gal does for Riley.  For her rose breeding information, she corresponded with an expert, Jim Sproul.

This advance reader edition came with a cool bookmark of the beautiful book cover (pictured at left), with sweet alyssum and baby's breath seeds embedded in the paper.  It's a little too hot (high of 107 last Saturday) and dry right now for seedlings, so I will probably plant these next spring.

© Amanda Pape - 2012

[I received this book from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program, which asked only for a review posted there in return.  The book will be passed on to a friend to enjoy.]