I love the film noir Double Indemnity, one of the American Film Institute’s Greatest American Films. This taut and sparely written novella differs in a few ways but retains the power of the classic film. Greed and lust in 1930s Los Angeles, depicted by insurance agent Walter Neff and femme fatale Phyllis Dietrichson, result in a memorable denouement.
Albert Honing, a beekeeper in his eighties, lives a quiet life until he discovers his two elderly neighbors, also beekeepers, murdered. Narrator Albert slowly and deliberately tells this tale of relationships and family secrets and loss. Bittersweet and wonderfully written, this tale vibrates with a mesmerizing rhythm. Albert’s bee lore regularly takes center stage and factors heavily in the story; readers will learn the poignant meaning of its title. I listened to Telling the Bees, Peggy Hesketh’s first novel, and recommend it for those who can patiently allow Albert his story’s due.
I haven’t become so invested in characters in a long while. This subtle, evocative novel interweaves multiple stories and characters during the course of one August day in the small western Canadian town of Juliet.
I discovered many lovely moments in this wonderful piece of storytelling, including some of almost indescribable lyricism; I especially loved the story of twenty-something Lee Torgesen, who alone runs the family ranch after the passing of his adoptive parents, as well as Willard and Miriam’s tender relationship. I almost crawled inside their heads and breathed with the characters in Juliet, even the ones for whom I cared less. The everyday-ness resonates.
I listened to the audio version; the narrator’s understated rendering hit the right notes. She keeps character differentiation to a minimum, but adds the right level of emotion.
“It must have some kind of teeth, and it wasn’t shy about using them.”—A description of a nightmarish monster? No. Instead, it’s a tai chi master…snail. This surprising, lovingly crafted homage to a snail, written by the seriously ill and bed-ridden Bailey whose friend one day brings her a wild snail in a flowerpot for her bedside, delighted me with Bailey’s observations of her new companion. She finds many parallels between her life and the snail’s, making this book meaningful and moving. Although the denouement seemed a bit rushed, I found it an easy read and enjoyed the captivating little quotations and haiku poetry about snails that introduced the chapters. Who would have thought? Four ½ stars.
Check out the YouTube video about this book.
Rescue Ink by Denise Flaim (2009)
What do 10-plus tattooed bikers, a houseful (literally) of cats, and sweet-natured pit bulls have in common? Read Rescue Ink! Most readers will have a hard time making it through the stories of abuse, but you’ll find out how it’s great having these “inked angels” on the side of the animals. Watch the new television series.
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (2001)
A character study of the highest level, this unforgettable novel traces the developing relationships between an international group of hostages and their captors in an unnamed South American country. You’ll find it intriguing that the author based this on a true incident.
High Country by Nevada Barr (2004)
Chalk up another one for Barr. This well-written tale embroils her park ranger character, Anna Pigeon, in more suspenseful escapades that require her plentiful wits and survival skills. It’s edge-of-your-seat stuff.
Hands of My Father by Myron Uhlberg (2008)
Myron served as intermediary to the hearing world for his father and mother, both deaf. This touching memoir tells of his life in that early-mid 1940s world, his embarrassment, shame, but especially his joys. I delighted in its lovingly written moments of humor (pantomimed boxing matches), while its pathos brought tears. Although the storytelling slipped a bit in the last quarter of the book, the ending absolutely sparkled. I loved this memoir.
A Little Bit Wicked by Kristin Chenoweth (2009)
I adored the whimsical TV show Pushing Daisies, which I think may have suffered an early death under the weight of the writers’ strike. Kristin Chenoweth was one of the main reasons I watched. This vivacious, talented, perky, lovely, versatile, vivacious, sweet as her recipe for Butterfinger Pie – and did I mention vivacious? – singer and actress tells of her life from beauty queen to Tony award winner and beyond. Self-effacing and just plain nice, she writes sweet and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny stories about her life in and out of the limelight.
Listen to an interview with the author and read an excerpt at NPR.com, read reviews at Amazon.com, and visit the author’s website.
The Book of Jane by Ann Dayton and May Vanderbilt (2007)
This contemporary chick lit retelling of the Biblical Book of Job has Jane Williams (who lives what her friends consider a perfect life), losing her high-profile job, boyfriend, and awesome NYC apartment all in the space of a day or so–not to mention her seriously sick dog and that mysterious facial rash. Sweet, romantic, funny and inspirational (but isn’t it annoying when characters don’t take some obvious action that could help resolve a problem?).