Monday, August 30, 2010

Now Reading...

Numb: a Novel by Sean Ferrell
A man with no memory who feels no pain, Numb (that's the main character's name) travels to New York City after a short stint with the circus, following the one and only clue he holds to his hidden history: a brittle, bloodstained business card.
Review to follow soon...

Friday, August 27, 2010

Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

The Art of Racing in the Rain is a book about overcoming obstacles. Denny Swift, an emerging race car driver, has a tight bond with his philosophical dog, Enzo. Enzo has become well trained in the art of race car driving by listening to Denny's wisdom and because when Enzo is left alone at home, Denny leaves the TV on for him to learn even more about race cars and human life. You see, Enzo believes in his next life he will return as a human and so his “dog life” is a dress rehearsal for human life when he returns.

By the way, the dog, Enzo, is the story's narrator.

Denny's life is on course. He has married a woman he loves, Eve, and they have a precious little girl, Zoe. The whole family dotes on the little girl, especially Enzo who fills in for Denny whenever he is not around. Eve becomes ill and her parents convince Denny that it would be in Zoe's best interest if Zoe lived with her grandparents as Eve has become permanently bed ridden and Denny is busy pursuing his race car driving career. This is when the story becomes focused on obstacles and how sacrifices, however difficult at the time, are the truest test of our character and often times out greatest sense of pride in the long run.

Without giving away too many of the details, the story becomes centered around who should take custody of Zoe when Eve succumbs to her illness. Zoe's grandparents use their great wealth and power to overwhelm Denny who must use his wisdom gained from driving a race car, especially the fine art of racing in the rain, in order to successfully contend with Zoe's grandparents. All the while, Enzo is there for Denny, guiding him the best a way he can, though limited in human communication. Some of the most endearing parts of the story occur when Enzo has observed something that Denny should know but cannot tell him. It is in these moments that Enzo takes notes for his future life as a human as he will file these experiences away and become a human full of wisdom in the ways of the world. In the meantime, he is forced to watch Denny stumble through traps, and Enzo—ever the faithful companion—is always there for him to lean on and talk to.

One of the endearing things about this story is the narrative structure. Enzo gives the reader periodic, short chapters about past racing greats and how they overcame their obstacles. Then, Enzo leads (or reminds) Denny about what it takes to succeed in the face of challenges.

Loose grips on the steering wheel, taking what the car will give you, and remembering that the car goes where the eyes go help Denny stay on course in racing and in life.

A good, fast read, highly recommended to all.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Now Reading: The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

A story about an up-and-coming race car driver, Denny Swift, and his philosophical dog, Enzo. Review coming soon.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Review: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

We all remember our parents telling us not to play with our food. Imagine if your food played with you. Aimee Bender's The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is a slightly magical story about Grace, a young girl who possesses a special power. Every time she eats, the feelings of the person who made the food comes across in her taste buds. Sometimes happy, more often sad, Grace's food dominates her every thought.

Grace comes from a simple, average family living in Los Angeles, California. As we get to know the people, however, unique quirks emerge. Grace's mother prepares Grace a lemon cake for her ninth birthday and when she tastes it, Grace learns of her powers for the first time. The cake is full of depression. Grace can hardly swallow and certainly cannot digest what is happening to her. After visiting school nurses and hospitals for wanting to “remove her lips,” Grace slowly accepts her ability and begins to form a diet full of processed foods in which the makers' feelings are hidden and suppressed by factories.

Grace's brother, Joseph, is a loner who constantly demands his own private space. This demand for privacy only draws Grace closer to her brother as she desperately wants to be part of his life. To Grace;s disappointment, though, the more effort Grace puts into connecting with her brother, the more he disappears from her. A gifted mathematician and potential scientist, he spends most of his free time locked away in room studying physics with his best friend George. George turns out to be the only one who believes Grace and her powers and sets off to study her ability through a set of hilarious experiments. His faith in Grace endures and forms a close bond that Grace cherishes forever.

Grace's father is an aloof man. A dedicated lawyer who keeps rigorous schedules but never brings work home has oddities of his own. He will not enter hospitals. Through births of his children, illnesses and injuries, he always camped outside the hospital and waited eagerly for news to come to him about how his children were. Grace's mother has secrets of her own, at least ones she believes are private until they start coming across her food and into Grace's perceptions. These secrets dominate Grace as she wonders what it could do to her family and her albeit tenuous happiness.

Bender's narratives are compact and vivid. You connect with her characters because they are grounded in a reality that we can all recognize even if her characters are learning about special gifts that seem magical. I'd recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a bit of magical realism, quirky characters, and food. Who can deny the last one?