Friday, January 29, 2016

January Minis: From Antarctica to London

Mini-reviews!  They're back!  And both of them are on my 30 Before 35 list, which is pretty exciting.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
Little, Brown and Company, 2012
borrowed from the library

This was the book EVERYONE was talking about a couple years ago, which is why I put it on the 30 Before 35 list.  I finally got around to it, and I definitely liked it, though for a lot of unexpected reasons.  This is a unique story, both in subject and perspective.  Short synopsis: Bernadette Fox is mom to middle schooler Bee and wife to a Microsoft exec.  Bernadette was a famous architect back in the day, but is now a bit of a recluse (albeit a spunky one) in their Seattle home.  Bee convinces her parents to take her on a cruise to Antarctica, and shortly before the trip, Bernadette disappears.  Now Bee is trying to track down her Mom, using all the resources she can dream up.

This book is a lot of things.  It's hilarious, for starters.  Bernadette can be off-putting at times, but mostly she had me in stitches.  She's surrounded by snotty, wealthy soccer moms, and she can't stand a bit of their crap.  Bee is equally entertaining, as she's wise beyond her years and has picked up many of her mother's tendencies to swim against the current.  However, the novel also touches on many more serious themes of mental illness, work-family balance, and marital issues...even as it keeps its sense of humor.

The conclusion is fitting without being explosive, and I was left enamored with Bee and Bernadette as a mother-daughter team.  Where'd You Go, Bernadette is nothing that I expected, while still somehow being everything that I wanted...that is probably the corniest thing I've ever written, but that makes it no less true.

Incendiary by Chris Cleave
Knopf, 2005
personal purchase

Fact: Chris Cleave is one of my favorite authors.  Most people know him from Little Bee, but I honestly loved his 2012 release Gold even more.  I bought Incendiary, his debut novel, quite a while ago and finally jumped into it this month.  I am so glad that I did!

Synopsis: the story is told via a series of letters written from an unnamed woman (our protagonist) to Osama bin Laden, after her husband and son are killed in a (fictional) terrorist attack in London.  Yes, an odd premise.  But this almost stream-of-consciousness style is perfect for readers as you move through the story.  After I finished the book, I read that Cleave wrote it in just six weeks, and I find that completely believable.  The writing is furtive, with a sense of urgency that heightens as the book goes on.  The narrator has many psychological issues that make her telling of the story a bit shaky, but we also get a sense that Cleave's fictional London has taken a rather Orwellian turn after the terror attack--leading to a lot of interesting questions about government control, social structure, and morality (especially in the wake of terror threats).  And despite that heavy fare, the book is still peppered with a dark humor that will, at the very least, keep a wry smile on your face.

This is a short novel with an awful lot to say.  Cleave's novel was originally released on what, sadly, was also the same day as the London tube attacks in 2005, making this book especially relevant at the time.  However, as we continue to face terror threats around the globe, I think this makes for fascinating reading.  Incendiary forces you to think more deeply about these problems, beyond threat levels and travel advisories and removing your shoes at the airport.  It's quite a bit different from Little Bee, but I think will give you just as much to discuss when you're done.


  1. I LOVED Bernadette and thought she was hilarious as well - loved how she didn't give a sh*t about those crazy moms!
    And you've really got me curious about sounds fascinating and relevant.

    1. Bernadette was SO much fun as a character. I wish I could be more like her with some of the moms I meet...haha!

  2. I loved Bernadette, but HATED Little Bee. I abandoned it 3/4 of the way through.

    1. I remember you saying that before! I know you're not alone though. It got a lot of hype but ended up with very polarized reviews.

  3. I hadn't laughed so hard from a scene in a book before. I really enjoyed Bernadette and I DNF her first book so I really was unsure about reading.

    I have had Little Bee for a long time but still unsure if I will read it.

    1. After reading Bernadette I am curious about Semple's first novel--your thoughts have me thinking it might not be mentioned much for a reason!

  4. I liked Bernadette. I didn't love Gold, which keeps Chris Cleve off my to-read list. Sigh...

    1. Ah, gotcha. The 3 novels of his that I have read are all quite different, so I think disliking Gold may not mean the others will fall flat...though he does seem to enjoy the twist endings.

  5. I haven't read any of Chris Cleave's books yet, but the covers all have the same look, don't they? I enjoyed Bernadette on audio, but didn't exactly love it.

    1. The covers do look similar, I love his cover artwork!

  6. I loved Bernadette! I haven't read Incendiary but enjoyed Little Bee. I also read Gold which was just so so - too predictable.

    1. Ah yes...I am a very gullible reader (meaning that I never see the twists coming!), so I didn't find it predictable, but I am easy to fool! :)

  7. I think I may have been put off by all the hype surrounding Where'd You Go, Bernadette. I also expected her to be unlikable and it sounds like that may not be the case. Whatever the reasons, your review is one of the first that's made me actually want to pick this up :)

    1. She is such a fun character! The description of the book does make her sound questionable, but I promise she reads well. :)

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