Monday, January 14, 2013

318 - 320 (2013 #2 - #4). Three Cruise Reads

On my recent eight-day cruise, I managed to finish three novels.  Gold was my prize in a book exchange game in December; The Art of Fielding was picked up in the ships' book exchange (it had been on a lot of recommendation lists for book clubs, so I wanted to read it), and The Turkish Mirror was sent by a friend in my former book club in Washington - they were reading it and had the author visit their discussion.

Gold, by Chris Cleave, continues the Olympic theme of my previous read, Olympic Affair.  This one, though, is set (mostly) in a four-day period in early April, 2012.  Zoe and Kate are friends and Olympic-level competitors in track cycling.  Kate's husband, Jack, is another competitor, and he slept with Zoe in the past.  Zoe is a three-time gold medalist from 2004 and 2008; Jack won gold in 2004.  Kate didn't qualify for the 2004 Olympics due to caring for baby Sophie, and skipped her event in 2008 due to Sophie's illness - diagnosed as leukemia - which distracted Jack enough that he missed the start of his event.  Unfortunately, a rule change for 2012 means each country can only send one competitor to each event, not two, so a showdown between Zoe and Kate is imminent.

The plot is somewhat predictable, although a twist does come about 200 pages in.  Zoe in particular is not very likable, and with the mean things Zoe has done to her, it surprises me that Kate is her friend.  However, I enjoyed learning more about sprints in cycling and all the work (training and eating regimens) to be an Olympic-level athlete in this sport.  And I do love the book's cover art.

The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach, continues the sports theme, as most of the main characters play baseball, and the title refers to a (mythical) book by a (mythical) professional baseball player on the "art" of playing the game.

For amazing shortstop Henry Skrimshander, it's his Bible.  Henry is a small-town high school senior discovered by (mythical) Westish (northern lakefront Wisconsin) College Harpooners baseball team captain Mike Schwartz in a summer league.  The other main characters in the book are Henry's gay mulatto college roommate and teammate, Owen; the college president, Affenlight (who falls in love with Owen); and Affenlight's daughter, Pella (who falls for Mike).  The story is told from the point of view of each of these five characters. 

 Henry's never made a fielding error in a game, but the first time a throw goes awry (on page 69), it sets in motion the events of the remaining 443 (!) pages of the book.

I thought the characters were wonderful and very well-developed - even some of the minor ones, such as the other teammates, and the college dining hall supervisor.  Yes, it is a baseball novel, but it's more a college coming-of-age story.  I thought the ending was a little weak, though, with the scene in the cemetery a bit over-the-top.  Still, I'd recommend this book, especially for book clubs with both male and female members.

I had a tough time getting into The Turkish Mirror, by Seattle-area physician Lisa Murphy, because I'm not much for fantasy.  I'm sure others will love it for that very reason.

The two main characters, Tatyana and her daughter Jie, are both artists who are trying to escape the curse of an enchanted mirror made by Hades, the god of the underworld.  The story takes place in London, Paris, and a small village in Turkey, and the author makes good use of her visits there in the details.  The characters are quite international - Russian, Chinese, Indian.

Jie is a graffiti artist in London, and uses a lot of slang that's like a foreign language for me - a glossary at the end of the book might have been helpful. While I'm not a fan of graffiti, it was interesting and educational to read about graffiti as an art form, and how Jie created her works.

© Amanda Pape - 2013

[Gold is an advance reader edition, so it will be passed on to someone else to enjoy.  The other two books will be sold or donated to my university or local public library.]

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