Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint
The first word in Pastrix is a four-letter one. If you find that offensive, go ahead and put the book down now. If, however, you find it challenging or intriguing, keep reading.
In Pastrix, Nadia tells the story of how she found her way from a very conservative Christian background (where women were not even allowed to teach Sunday school to teen boys) to being the pastor of a church (with many gay, homeless and otherwise non-traditional congregants.) She spent years as an alcoholic and, after sobering up, felt most at home as a Wiccan. But her husband (then a seminary student) introduced her to the Lutheran liturgy and she began to understand God- and grace- like she never had before. Eventually she felt the call to ministry and attended seminary- with her parents blessing.
I also grew up in churches even more conservative than the ones of Nadia’s childhood. I still haven’t sorted out everything I believe about women in the pulpit, or gays in the church, or lots of other things. But I loved this book!
In Pastrix, Nadia explains grace better than almost anyone I’ve ever heard. Its easy to look at others and judge them; its a lot more challenging when the Holy Spirit convicts you of being proud, judgemental and not loving your neighbor.
Nadia and I probably disagree on a lot of theology, but we agree on the big points. Being a Christian- or pastor- isnt about having all the right theology. Its about saying with the blind man healed by Jesus, “I do not know; but one thing I do know: that I was blind and now I see.” (John 9) Being a Christian- or pastor- isn’t about being better (or swearing less) than someone else. Its about saying, “I found water in the desert; here it is.”
Pastrix, in the end, isn’t really about Nadia, or how she looks, or the language she uses. Its about Jesus. And it was like a cool drink of water in a hot, dry place.
Frieda Klein is the last person on earth you would expect to become involved in a police case. She is a single woman, living alone in her own house. She has a lover, Sandy, but he doesn’t sleep in her bed. She enjoys small rituals like drinking tea in front of the fire. She is a psychotherapist who only sees a few people a week so that she can give each patient proper consideration. When she can’t sleep, she takes long walks on dark, cold London streets. In short, Frieda lives a small, quiet life.
Frieda is not alone, tho. She remains close friends with her brother’s ex-wife Olivia and daughter Chloe. She is in touch with her former mentor, Reuben and her own mentee, Jack. Finally there is the Ukarainian handyman Josef who (quite literally) falls into Frieda’s life. Each of these people looks to Frieda for help in some way- and she offers strength and guidance. But at the end of the day she retreats to that quiet spot with a cup of tea- or a cold solitary walk.
Frieda’s life is thrown into turmoil when one of her patients, Alan, begins talking about his dreams. These dreams closely mirror the kidnapping of a young boy that just happened. Not only that, Alan has had dreams in the past that could also link to unsolved crimes. Frieda goes on a search for the truth.
Inspector Karlsson is Frieda’s contact at the police. He is intrigiued by her insights but also frustrated by her tendancy to try to solve the cases on her own.
This being a murder mystery, of course Frieda and Inspector Karlsson solve the case. But is the kidnapped boy alive? Is Alan guilty? And can Frieda maintain her quiet solitary life- and still help all the people she cares for?
This book is good from a psychological thriller standpoint. But Frieda and the cast of supporting characters are also exceptionally well drawn. I know after Blue Monday, Nicci French also wrote Tuesdays Gone. I can only hope the books continue for at least all the days of the week.
Full confession: I actually, accidentally read Tuesdays Gone first, so I knew how Blue Monday ended. It was still so good that I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. That’s how you know you’ve really got a good mystery: when you know whodunnit and you want to read it anyway.
The Supreme Macaroni Company (Valentine Trilogy #3)
Valentine, the Italian-American heroine of Very Valentine and Brava Valentine returns in this heart-warming story of love, family, shoes, and of course food. Valentine has revitalized her grandfather’s shoe business, making bespoke wedding shoes and launching a line for upscale department stores. She has also finally found love with a man she met in Italy, Gianluca. But nothing is perfect, and Valentine faces plenty of challenges.
First, of course, there is the massive Italian family wedding. Trigiani’s writing is especially fun and descriptive as she writes about food and dresses in a way that makes the scenes come alive. For Valentine, the wedding is not nearly so hard as the marriage. Long a single woman, she is used to being independent and strong, and has no idea how to really work in a partnership with Gianluca. The cultural and age differences between them only make the problem worse.
Valentine faces professional challenges too, and has to decide what the future of her manufactured shoe line will be.
And of course, Valentine’s family drama never stops. Her brothers and sisters and their spouses are not always supportive of her, altho she tries to help them. But her parents are a solid example of what love and partnership can look like in a marriage, even after many years.
I don’t give away story endings, but The Supreme Macaroni Company does have an unexpected plot development. Its enough to make you wonder about Valentine’s happily ever after- but then Trigiani shows us that happiness takes many forms and can be found in many places. Valentine was never totally a typical rom-com heroine so why should her story have a typicsl ending? But all the things that made this story great are there in the end: Valentine’s stength, her family, and of course love.
The Mountain of Light
The Kohinoor diamond today is part of the British crown jewels. But hundreds of years ago, it belonged to rulers of India, Persia and Afghanistan. It was taken as kingdoms were conquered, and given in ransom and tribute. The name “Koh-i-noor” means “mountain of light” and refers to the diamond’s unusual brilliance.
Sundaresan has written a beautiful account of almost 100 years in the life of the Kohinoor diamond, during the British conquest of India. The story traces real events and features some historical characters, although many of the details are fictional.
Sundaresan opts to move the story along through a sort of chain of narrators, each one linking to the next. I found each narration break a bit confusing, as it always took me a little while to figure out the connection to the previous segment. However, this unique style brought a wide range of perspectives to the story (male and female; British and Indian; royal, military and civilian.)
The segment I enjoyed the most was also the saddest one: at the end when the last heir of the Punjab empire, Dalip Singh, has followed the Kohinoor to England. His life there is in sharp contrast to the stories of his predecessors in India just a few decades before.
Sundaresan excels at descriptions: lush gardens, vivid colors and sparkling mirrors form the backdrop for the story of the Kohinoor diamond. The contrast between Indian and British cultures is especially sharp. This is a part of history I don’t know much about, but Mountain of Light brought the stories of the past alive.
You might like: The Namesake, Lahiri. The Blood of Flowers, Amirrezvani. The World We Found, Umrigar.
In the aftermath of World War 2, victorious allied forces occupied Germany. They were simultaneously trying to rebuild a shattered country and prosecute Nazi war criminals. The British housed their officers in the homes of wealthy Germans, evicting the occupants to shoddy camp housing. This is the historically true framework for this novel.
Captain Lewis Morgan is relieved that the war is over. When he finds out his housing will displace an upper-class German named Herr Lubert and his daughter Freda, Captain Morgan proposes an unorthodox solution: he and his family could share the house, moving the Luberts into the servant quarters. This descision will have an unexpected impact on all of them.
Captain Morgan dreams of a happy reunion with his wife Rachael and son Edmund, having not seen them since the funeral for his older son, Michael, who was killed in the bombings. He badly underestimates his wife’s depression and son’s lonliness. He does his best to care for them, but official duties keep him busy, and Rachael and Edmund are left largely to their own devices.
Herr Lubert and Freda are dealing with their own grief; Mrs. Lubert was also killed in the bombings. Now their country has been defeated and their home taken over.
At first, the two families hardly speak to one another. Their communication is complicated and difficult, with each person taking their own approach to the situation. In time the inevitable happens, and they begin to see one another not as enemies or occupiers, but as people. For Herr Lubert and Rachael, left together in the house, that turns out to be a more dangerous thing.
While the Morgan and Lubert families live in relative comfort, thousands of Germans live on the street, literally starving and freezing to death. Ozi is a young boy, leading a band of even younger feral children. He meets Edmund and convinces him to share some of the cigarettes which Captain Morgan recieves as part of his stipend, and which can be spent like cash on the streets.
In The Aftermath, Brooks does an excellent job of telling a big story on a small scale. He is able to portray a wide variety of experiences and responses in wartime through the eyes of just a few characters. He also accurately shows many different ways that people grieve.
One of the central issues of the book is the question of how the Germans, post-war, should be viewed. Many of Captain Morgan’s fellow officers still see them as an enemy, and as complicit with the Nazi regime. Captain Morgan feels that feeding the German people is more important that judging them, and that rebulding the nation will take more understanding. Edmund might have the best perspective of all: he arrives in Germany hating the Germans, with the “us vs them” mindset that war engenders. But he finds that, once you get to know people and speak their language, they are not so different.
I do feel, though, that the author glossed over German support for the Nazis. For example, Herr Lubert says that he only participated in things like sending Freda to join the Hitler Youth because it was mandatory. To me, that sounds like the concentration camp guards who said they were only following orders.
None of the history or issues in The Aftermath are easy. Against that background, Brooks brings his characters to life. He has woven together a story that will stay with you long after you turn the last page
25 years ago, Cass plead guilty to the murder of his girlfriend, Dita. Now, he is almost finished serving his prison sentance. His identical twin brother, Paul, has meanwhile climbed the political ladder and is now a state senator running for mayor. Dita’s brother, Hal, has never been quite convinced that Paul was not involved in the murder. Hal is now a sucessful real estate tycoon, who retains the services of Evon, a former FBI agent. He directs her to research Dita’s murder with the help of Tim, a very old private investigator who was on the case 25 years ago.
In Identical Turow brings the courtroom drama for which his novels are famous. He includes complicated details about doing DNA and fingerprint analysis on identical twins. He switches back and for from the present drama between Cass, Paul and Hal- and what happened 25 years ago. He writes a nice backstory for Evon, including her complicated relationship with her current girlfriend.
Turow writes all of those things well, but he is most famous for (and I like him best for) his plot twists. Identical certainly has plot twists! I feel like there were 3 major ones in this novel; I did guess one (primarily because I was looking for it) but was happily blindsided by the other 2. I will say just this- its not an accident that the characters in Identical are Greek, and their names allude to more than one myth.
You might like: Defending Jacob, Landay. The Prestige (movie)
The Book of Someday
Olivia grew up with a father who wqs physically present but emotionally and mentally checked out. Her stepmother was physically, emotionally and verbally abusive. Now an adult, Olivia has turned her experiences into a novel that is selling well. But she still anticipates that everyone she meets will hurt and reject her.
When she meets Andrew at a party, she is charmed by the handsome stranger. He wins her over with romantic trips and expensive gifts. But is he too good to be true? Has Olivia found the love of her or just another man that will leave her?
Micah is an artist, world-renowned for her photography. But her photos never have any people in them. When she receives a serious medical diagnosis, she wonders if it is punishment for things she has done. Instead of getting medical treatment, she begins to travel around the country trying to get in touch with people she has wronged. Can Micah have a second chance? Or does she have to die to pay for what she has done?
AnnaLee is a young married woman who loves her husband, Jack, and daughter, Bella. But she struggles because Jack doesn’t work hard and provide for the family. Their lives are thrown into disarray when Jack’s teenage neice (who wants to be called Persephone) comes to stay with them for the summer. AnnaLee struggles to love the unhappy wild girl the same way she loves Bella. Can Jack man up for his wife and child? Can AnnaLee’s love and patience win over Persephone? Or is it too late- have their choices already gone too far?
The stories of these three women- Olivia, Micah and AnnaLee- are of course linked. The author does an excellent job, tho, of drawing the stories together gradually; so that the reader starts to put the puzzke together but is still a little surprised when the last piece clicks into place.
The Book of Someday is a beautiful story, and the characters have a lot of depth. Each of them grows throughout the story in ways I didn’t anticipate when I opened the book.
The one criticism that I have of the book is that perfect strangers tended to share well-articulated insights into their innermost selves upon first meeting people. I understand why the author did this- she was trying to show not tell- but it struck an unrealistic note.
Can I just mention that the cover was exceptional? The “notecard” image was raised with textured edges. That was what first drew me to this book.
You might like: The Language of Flowers, Diffenbaugh.