Each of the four books I read in the past couple of weeks are comprised of interconnected tales. I thought that was a fun theme, and I’ve certainly seen it pop up a lot in literature more recently. Some fell flat for me, but some were very entertaining.
Trans Atlantic by Colum McCann- I had heard wonderful things about McCann’s first novel, Let the Great World Spin, for a long time. I knew that his sophomore work was unrelated so I thought I would give it a try as an audiobook. This is a book of four stories linking North America to Ireland starting with the first trans-atlantic flight from Newfoundland to Ireland in 1919. What also links the stories together are the women in a particular family who also travel from Ireland to North America and back again. Unfortunately, I had a difficult time focusing on the story and felt the narrative was just lacking. A couple of the stories didn’t seem to fit in at all. It was interesting, however, to learn a little bit more about Irish history, but I wasn’t compelled to find out more information. Maybe I had a particularly rough commute for that month, but if I’m going to give McCann another try, I will likely try reading it instead of listening to it. 2/5
Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan – This is a story of four women in the Kelleher family, led by the hard grandmother and matriarch, Alice. Alice has retreated to her summer house in Maine and has been unexpectedly joined by her pleasing granddaughter, Maggie, her rebellious daughter, Kathleen, and her doting daughter-in-law, Ann Marie. Each lady holds her own guilt that she wishes to escape at the beach property, but when tempers rise and quarters become too close, these women have to face their insecurities one at a time. I enjoyed Sullivan’s first novel, Commencement, and while this story was similar to The Smart One by Jennifer Close, I felt Sullivan was more successful in making each woman whole. They each had strengths, vulnerabilities, likeable qualities and unlikeable qualities. It was a decent beach read. 3/5
The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan – Sullivan’s latest novel is really an example of an author coming into her own. The Engagements gives a glimpse into the cultural significance that had grown around diamonds in the United States starting with the very woman who coined the De Beers motto, “A diamond is forever,” in 1947. The book explores the commitment of marriage, the struggle to keep up with the Joneses, the ethical dilemmas of diamond mining, and what marriage means now, all within the context of two very special diamonds. It was also interesting to read about how certain strategic moves by an advertisement agency essentially created all the things we associate with diamonds now, such as “the 4 C’s” and the “two-month salary” benchmark. It totally reminded me of Mad Men! I think Sullivan really wrote 5 great stories and did a great job of connecting them. She mentions in her notes that all of these stories required a lot of research and were not at all in her element. I look forward to more from her, and definitely think that her latest novel is her best so far. You’ve gotta love someone who just keeps getting better and better! 4/5
Eve in Hollywood by Amor Towles – Oh, Amor Towles, I wish you would never stop writing because then I could always have a book to fall in love with. Eve in Hollywood is a novella following Evey, the plucky blonde from Rules of Civility, who got on a train intending to get off in Chicago, but decided to ride all the way to Los Angeles. In only eighty pages, Towles tells us how Eve gets from the train as a nobody to the front pages of the newspapers with her highly sought-after actress friend. The story is told from the perspectives of the people she encounters and, in one fluid motion, we see how Eve makes her mark in Hollywood. I gave this four stars simply because I wish it was a little longer and gave a little more from Eve’s perspective. It’s only available in e-book format, but it’s $2.99, so go read it already! 4/5