Book Review – July 2013


Happy summer! There are a lot of new books out this month worth reading—take a look!

Curtis Sittenfeld, who made a big splash with her debut novel Prep in 2005, has a new book out this summer. Sisterland features identical twin sisters Violet and Kate, who possess extra-sensory perceptions that set them apart from other people. As adults, they have taken different paths in life; Violet accepts and exploits her gift by working as a medium, while Kate (who has discarded her given name, Daisy) has buried it beneath the everyday activity of being a busy stay-at-home mother and homemaker.  Kate is the responsible, caretaking twin, while Violet is the eccentric, volatile twin who might require some caretaking. When Violet makes a stunning prediction of disaster, the ensuing publicity upends both of their lives. Sittenfeld does a great job with the sisters’ relationship, and with Kate’s relationships with her husband and neighbors. When the disaster that happens is not exactly what Violet predicted, every character must step out of his or her comfort zone to deal with the fallout. Read this, then lend it to your sister.  

I have loved Kate Christensen’s writing ever since I read the galley of her first novel, In the Drink, in 1999. Blue Plate Special: An Autobiography of My Appetites, is her first foray into non-fiction. From her childhood in California and Arizona to her travels and education in upstate New York, France, Oregon and Iowa, Christensen’s memories are inextricably related to food. While not all of her memories are happy—a broken home, a depressed mother, an unhappy first marriage—her enjoyment of food and drink comes through even in her darkest moments. Each section is followed by recipes for foods mentioned in the narrative. I am not a cook, but if they are half as delicious as her descriptions make them sound, they are worth trying! Kate Christensen’s story of her struggle to establish her identity and succeed as a writer is well written and will appeal to both foodies and memoir lovers.

Chris Bohjalian’s newest novel, The Light in Ruins, is set in World War II Italy and in 1955 post-war Italy. In 1955, the widowed daughter-in-law of the noble Rosati family is brutally murdered by what appears to be a serial killer. When her elderly mother-in-law is viciously slain, it seems that the Rosati family is the killer’s target—but why? Scenes from the Rosatis’ wartime lives at their palatial villa tucked away from the war are interspersed with the murder investigation, and it doesn’t take long to realize that the Rosatis may have antagonized someone when they began to entertain the Nazi officers stationed near their estate and when daughter of the house, Cristina, begins a love affair with a German soldier. Serafina, an Italian police officer and former resistance fighter, is inexplicably drawn to the decaying estate while investigating the murder; it seems very familiar. There are many suspects in this unusual mystery, but the solution is shocking. Bohjalian does an excellent job of keeping the reader on her toes.   

Susan Taylor has been in the book business since 1982.


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