Saturday, December 10, 2011

Not Quite Chick-Lit, But Close Enough

I'm glad to have finally found some engrossing fiction; I was seriously contemplating burdening you all with a posting on a veritable doorstop of a book (Jerusalem:  A Biography by Simon Sebag Montefiore.  Fascinating, but not for the faint of heart).  Fortunately, this week's random grab at the New Books section came up trumps.

First, Falling Together, by Marisa de los Santos.  This looks a lot like chick-lit; the cover features a small cafe table with three teacups, two grouped together.  The story itself is more complicated.  Yes, there is an enduring friendship thing going on, as well as an on-again, off-again relationship complicated by custodial issues.  The requisite cute-child-perpetually-wearing-tiara is present also.  However, something about this book sets it (just a little) above that genre.  Three friends meet at college.  One is male, two are female.  They share very little in terms of character traits, but Pen, Will, and Cat become fast friends.  Fast forward a decade, and they are no longer in touch, and the reader does not discover why for many pages.  There's friendship, trauma, travel, and enough humor to leaven the whole thing.

When I first opened the cover of The Time In Between, by Maria Duenas, I wasn't altogether sure that I would stay the course.  The jacket blurb mentioned the Spanish Civil War, and that is a period about which much has been written, very little of it easily readable (think Hemingway, think Falangists, think various Communists and all the death and destruction and depressing ideology.  What a bore.  And I firmly believe that more people claim to have read Hemingway than have actually made it through an entire Hemingway novel).  I was pleasantly surprised by this book -- it starts a bit slowly in a messy failed romance sort of way, but it turns out to be a really excellent spy novel.  The main character, a Spanish woman called Sira at the beginning and Arish when she begins her career as a dressmaker/spy, develops quite a bit over the course of the plot.  The book is 609 pages, which is a real treat -- when I am enjoying a book, I want it to go on as long as possible.

Last of all is a confection of a book that is more like a graphic novel than a work of writing.  The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt is exactly that -- a scrapbook.  Circa 1920's dance cards, photos, advertisements, postcards, and typed commentary by the eponymous Frankie Pratt fill this book, as the reader traces her story from Cornish, New Hampshire, to Vassar, to Greenwich Village, to Paris, and then back to Cornish.
This is a book that can be read in one sitting (marvelous bathtub book), requires no intellectual exertion whatsoever, and has a movie-like happy ending.  Didn't you love picture books when you were little?  It's written (or should I say assembled?) by Caroline Preston.  Enjoy!