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Beth F has commented on (7) products.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
Where'd You Go, Bernadette

Beth F, August 13, 2012

Bernadette Fox might be a brilliant architect but she also has just a little problem with her people skills. That little problem led to big problems, and when her husband, Elgin Branch, was offered a top-tier job with Microsoft, she was happy to move to Seattle. Well, she liked the real estate prices. All right, in truth, she hates the city with its wholesome goodness and five-street intersections.

Bernadette is not like the other moms at Galer Street School, but fourteen-year-old Bee is just fine with that. Her mom is one of her besties, even if she isn't exactly Donna Reed. Despite her lack of cooking skills, her abandonment of her career, and her reliance on a virtual assistant (located in India), Bernadette loves her daughter and is all ears when Bee announces what she wants for an early graduation present.

The trip to Antarctica came as a bit of shock. Okay, it came as a big shock: Bernadette hates to travel, can't stand the thought of being cooped up on a ship with strangers, and gets seasick. On the other hand, she can't deny Bee her trip, and besides, all the necessary online shopping for cold-weather clothes and supplies sounds like it could be fun.

There's just one tiny glitch: The police, the Galer Street School, the neighbors, an architecture graduate student, the FBI, and the Russian mob have all taken a sudden interest in Bernadette. And on the eve of departure . . . Bernadette departs. Alone. She is last seen on a ship somewhere off the coast of Antarctica. Is she dead or alive? Is she hiding or does she want to be found? Bee compiles all the known documents, files, e-mails, and memos concerning her mother and attempts to solve the mystery.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette, Maria Semple's second novel, is more than the story of the Branch family and the puzzle of Bernadette's disappearance. Through humor moderated with more poignant moments, Semple takes a jab at helicopter moms, overworked techno geeks, private middle schools, and today's families. It's a fun story about how little things can quickly spin out of control, especially when Bernadette is involved.

As in her first novel, Semple proves to be a master at creating characters who are a touch crazy but not quite over the top. You'll love Bee, the tolerant daughter and perfect student who struggles with her emotions after her mother vanishes. And you'll laugh with and cry for Bernadette and Elgin and their unique relationship and individual worldviews.

Although most of the novel is told through the documents Bee assembles about her family, Semple makes it easy to picture even the most minor characters. You'll especially remember the uptight next-door neighbor, the enthusiastic school fund-raiser, the insecure underling at Microsoft, and even the virtual assistant.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette is a spunky and smart look at modern life and what happens when you try to put a lid on creative energy. Maria Semple is now on my permanent must-read list.
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Goodnight Tweetheart by Teresa Medeiros
Goodnight Tweetheart

Beth F, April 18, 2011

The roller coaster car of Abby Donovan's career is beginning to slow down. She's already had her day on Oprah, and she can't get past chapter four in her new novel. Her publicist thinks Abby needs to get a Twitter account to boost her sales and help her connect with her fans.

On her very first Twitter day, Abby meets Mark Baynard, who says he's a literature professor from Ole Miss on sabbatical in Europe. Abby hasn't had much luck with love, she's suffering writer's block, and her editor isn't returning her phone calls. All those problems seem to fade away, however, when she exchanges tweets with Mark. Abby is counting the days until she can meet her Twitter buddy in real life.

Teresa Medeiros's Goodnight Tweetheart: A Love Story in 140 Characters or Less is mostly a conversation between Mark and Abby rendered as if the two were DM'ing (direct messaging) each other on Twitter. I didn't count, but presumably each tweet met the 140-character limit. Abby and Mark's banter is, however, a little more thought out than most Twitter conversations; for example, there are no funny typos and very few instances of dropped articles or other means of shortening the text to meet the 140 limit. In only one case does Abby mistakenly send a somewhat embarrassing private tweet to her public stream.

Goodnight Tweetheart is a quick, light read that would be perfect for travel or for the beach. Fans of pop culture will appreciate the many television, movie, book, and music references Abby and Mark work into their conversation. There is also a fair amount of gadget/technology name-dropping. Unfortunately, the Twitter gimmick doesn't quite work. You'll soon forget that the couple is communicating on Twitter, and you have the impression that Abby and Mark could just as easily be instant messaging, texting, or emailing.

Book clubs will appreciate the reading guide included at the back of the novel. Questions focus on the meanings behind some of the pop culture references, the idea of finding love online, and how truthful people are about themselves in a public forum. (Beth Fish Reads: www.BethFishReads.com)
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Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay
Russian Winter

Beth F, September 9, 2010

Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay is a beautifully written novel about the Soviet Union after the war, the Bolshoi Ballet, defection to the West, a jewelry collection, a foreign language professor, an auction house employee, and the mysterious connections among all.

At the center of the book is Nina Revskaya, whose eighty-something body has given in to the years of abuse suffered by a prima ballerina. Nina, accepted by the Bolshoi when she was just a little girl, lived a sheltered life, even for postwar Moscow. Her innocence--both physically and politically--comes to end when she meets and marries the famous poet Viktor Elsin. The how and why Nina ends up in Boston are tantalizingly revealed in a series of flashbacks.

In the present day, Nina arranges to sell her valuable jewelry collection, donating the proceeds to the Boston Ballet Foundation. All Nina wants is to makes sure her beloved ballet is well taken care of; she has no intention of stirring up the past and revealing the true story behind her defection, her jewels, and her life before America.

Kalotay carefully and subtly draws us into the varied aspects of Nina's world. We sense the quick change from laughter to fear after a small gathering in a Moscow apartment discovers a government wire tap in the ceiling. We can easily imagine the sights and smells in the backstage dressing room and understand the odd mix of friendship and competition between the dancers as they prepare for a performance. We reach out to Nina, alone in her living room, wheelchair pulled up to the window, as she looks out over a snow-covered Boston and thinks of the winter beauty of her native Russia.

Kalotay's prose should be savored, allowing the complex story to slowly unfold. Russian Winter will appeal to fans of historical fiction with a bit of mystery and to anyone interested in Russia, the ballet, and jewelry. In many ways, I feel as if this novel had been written just for me.
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Sea Escape by Lynne Griffin
Sea Escape

Beth F, August 3, 2010

Laura Martinez, wife, mother, daughter, sister, and neonatal nurse finds herself pulled in all directions and can't seem to prioritize her time. When her seventy-seven-year-old mother, Helen, has a stroke, Laura starts to feel overstressed as she juggles her various roles. While trying to find a way to help Helen heal, Laura learns some truths about her family history and searches for a way to make peace with her mother and gain hope for the future.

Lynne Griffin's Sea Escape is an emotional journey that spans three generations of women. It is through Laura that we learn the current situation and the progress of her mother's recovery from her stroke. The past is revealed from Helen's memories of her parents and of her own marriage, and her perspective is augmented by the letters her long-dead husband sent her when he traveled the world as a soldier in Korea and later as a reporter.

Griffin does a nice job with the shifting viewpoints and jumps in time. The reader is never lost, and the revelations of significant moments are well timed. The writing is vivid and moving, but unfortunately, there are several aspects of the story that are bothersome.

In particular, Laura's and Helen's behavior is sometimes a bit unrealistic (can't say what without spoilers). Further, although most readers will be more than satisfied with the ending, some of us will find it difficult to fully accept the convergence of the plot lines as Griffin has written it.

Despite some flaws in the plot, there is much to like about Sea Escape. It is easy to relate to the characters' joys and sorrows, and Griffin's descriptions of Helen's hospitalization and rehab are true to life. The novel will appeal to readers who are attracted to stories that revolve around families, marriage, and parent-child relationships.
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The Opposite of Me by Sarah Pekkanen
The Opposite of Me

Beth F, July 12, 2010

Lindsey Rose is destined for fame. She's developed some of the most well known ad campaigns for some of the biggest companies in the world. Life in New York is exciting . . . but Lindsey doesn't exactly know because she lives her job. In fact, the only real friend she has is Matt, and she is able to maintain that relationship because they work together.

At twenty-nine years old, Lindsey is just about to become the youngest vice president her firm has ever had. And then she isn't. And then she does the first reckless thing she's ever done in her life. And then she finds herself without a job and living with her parents in Maryland.

Sarah Pekkanen's debut novel, The Opposite of Me, does indeed explore opposites, especially the differences between Lindsey and her twin sister, Alex, and between Lindsey's old high-powered career and her new easygoing job.

But the novel goes deeper, taking as its central theme the idea that from a young age we fall into the roles and self-image we are rewarded for. Unfortunately, those roles don't always reflect who we truly are. Further, once our eyes are opened, there is no map showing us the way to escape our own and others' expectations.

Although The Opposite of Me has many elements of contemporary women's literature, Pekkanen rises above standard chick lit to focus on deeper issues than happily ever after. It is easy to care about Lindsey and her family, and we root for her ultimate success on her journey to self-discovery. Despite being a bit predictable, the book is an enjoyable read.

I would recommend the novel for book clubs because it offers a variety of discussion topics. Additional themes are child-parent relationships, sisters, twins, careers, boyfriends, and relationships with business colleagues.
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