Circle of Friends – Maeve Binchy

9780385341738

Maeve Binchy creates characters and a sense of place so well, she was quite simply born to write.  This coming of age tale focuses mainly on Benny Hogan and her friend Eve who live in a small Irish village in 1957.  Benny is an only child, plump and plain, whose parents are very controlling.  Both girls are off to Dublin to attend Trinity College.  There they meet beautiful Nan Mahon and handsome Jack Fogerty.  The four, with a few others, form a close circle of friends.  Surprisingly, it’s Benny who catches Jack’s eye.  Nan dates an older man who won’t marry her when she gets pregnant.  Meanwhile, Benny’s father dies and she has to be at home which frustrates Jack.  Sensing opportunity, Nan seduces Jack and convinces him the baby is his.  He feels obligated to propose, breaking Benny’s heart.  Binchy resolves the matter in great style.  Like all her books, Circle of Friends provides compelling slice of life drama.

 

Protect and Defend – Richard North Patterson

9780345404794This is a hard to put down thriller dealing with the abortion issue.  What makes it unique is that the book is comprehensive.  The author attempts to show both sides fairly.  In less capable hands, it could have come off like a political manifesto, but the plot is intriguing and the characters well-imagined.  It’s part of a series of courtroom dramas featuring the same cast of characters.  This one is my favorite.  A new Supreme Court Chief Justice is nominated – a brilliant female with a secret.  While the Senate spars over her nomination, an inflammatory abortion case wends its way toward her turning her nomination into an all out war.  Not all of Patterson’s book are as weighty.  Some readers prefer his lighter fare; I like his heftier tomes likes this one.

    

The Prince Of Tides – Pat Conroy

TidesThis is a richly textured book, set in South Carolina’s low-country, about one night of terror that devastates a family. Tom Wingo’s twin sister, Savannah, a famous poet living in New York City, tries to commit suicide — again. Since Tom’s marriage, and his career as a high school football coach, seem to be crumbling, he flies to New York to help. There, he meets with her psychiatrist, Dr. Susan Lowenstein, who is trying to unlock the door to her patient’s pattern of self-destruction.  Dr. Lowenstein is relying on Tom to be his sister’s memory.  What the good doctor doesn’t realize is that the last thing Tom wants to do is remember.  Both Tom and Savannah are haunted by a painful childhood, a domineering mother, and a tragedy that has colored their entire lives. In trying to save his sister, Tom might just save himself.  The author’s ability to convey the vanishing beauty of the low-country — it’s changing way of life, and the depth of the character’s emotions are what sets this book apart.

Rich Man, Poor Man – Irwin Shaw

Rich manGreat story spanning the time period from World War II to the beginning of the Vietnam-era about the Jordache family, headed by violent father Axel, mother Mary, beautiful but emotionally unstable Gretchen, overachiever Rudy and ne’er-do-well, yet best of them all, Thom.  Gretchen marries but is unable to sustain a relationship.  Rudy finishes college, establishing a business which makes him a millionaire.  His life is work until he meets his wife, who, unfortunately, is an alcoholic.  After years of failure, Thom finally finds his true calling, the sea, and uses money Rudy invests for him to buy a boat in the South of France.  He now has an enviable life:  a career he enjoys, a new love, a son, and good friends.  He invites Gretchen and Rudy to his wedding. Awakened late at night, Thom learns Rudy’s wife is in trouble at a local bar.  He intervenes, an action that results in terrible tragedy.  That’s a whole lotta of melodrama. Yet, somehow, it just works.

The Cider House Rules – John Irving

Cider“Goodnight you princes of Maine, you kings of New England.”  I love that quote from this book which refers to the boys in an orphanage at St. Clouds.  The story is about one of the orphans, Homer Wells, who is never adopted, and the doctor who grows to love him as a son.  Dr. Larch works at St. Clouds as an obstetrician and abortionist.  As Homer grows up, and away from Dr. Larch, he also grows away from the doctor’s views. When Homer returns to St. Clouds to take up where Larch left off, as an orphan he is still ambivalent about abortion, but comes to believe that women have the right to choose as he delivers babies and as well as women from unwanted pregnancies.

A Time To Kill – John Grisham

A Time To KillJohn Grisham is a gifted author in courtroom drama, although this, his first book, remains my favorite.  Two men brutally rape and leave for dead a ten-year-old black girl in Mississippi.  The mostly white town is shocked and then dismayed when the girl’s father guns the men down.  The town is a powder keg ready to explode as a young defense attorney fights to keep the girl’s father out of prison.  What would you do as the girl’s father?  What would you do as a member of the jury hearing the trial?  Legal drama at its very best.

Plainsong – Kent Haruf

23-Plainsong_coverBeautifully lyrical book in which the author manages to convey the heart of a whole community by spotlighting a few people in a small Colorado town.  Included are a lonely teacher, a pair of boys abandoned by their mother, and a pair of crusty bachelor farmers charged with caring for a pregnant teenager.  This book is a wonderful, feel good read and richly deserving of its status as a National Book Award Finalist.

The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

kite-runnerRare is the author who excels at both characterization and plot but Hosseini is just such a writer.  This book, set in Afghanistan on the brink of collapse as the Taliban moves in, is about the unlikely friendship between a wealthy boy and a servant’s son. The wealthy boy does nothing when he sees something truly horrific happen to his friend, but he gets his chance at redemption years later when he can help his friend’s son.  The writing in his book is just wonderful.  Hosseini is a great talent – able to give Westerners a glance into a culture we sometimes find inaccessible and confounding.

The Godfather – Mario Puzo

godfatherIt’s very difficult for a bibliophile to pick a favorite book, but this one is close to the top. “Don” Vito Corleone is the head of a New York mob family who refuses to allow drugs into his territory.  Because of his stand, he is the target of a hit, which he survives, thanks to the quick thinking of his youngest son, Michael.  Michael is also the one to exact revenge although he never wanted to be in the family business.  When his older brother is killed, Michael has no choice but to take over completely, showing his smarts in the violent, ensuing mob war.  Michael settles all scores, which provides a very exciting and satisfying conclusion, eventually taking his place as the new “Don.”  There is nothing I don’t like about this book.  The plot is interesting and well-woven.  The characters are fully realized.  This book, rightly or wrongly, caused a love affair with the mob.  “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse . . . Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”  It doesn’t get much better than that!