Wednesday 6 April 2011

Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger

Almost Like Being in Love was m favourite book of last year. So it was with a little trepidation that I started Last Days of Summer. I knew it was a different sort of book to ALBiL, so I wasn't sure if I would like it as much.

Last Days of Summer tells the story of Joey Margolis - a young boy growing up in Brooklyn in the 1940's. A boy, who rarely, if ever sees his father. Joey decides he's going to write (maybe harass would be a better word) Charlie Banks - the third baseman for the New York Giants. Charlie doesn't exactly welcome the attention (at first) but Joey is nothing if not persistent.

This (like Almost Like Being in Love) is an epistolary novel. Told in the form of letters, transcripts, notes and school reports. Before I read ALBiL and The Color Purple, I never thought I'd enjoy this kind of story. I think it has its pros and cons. On the one hand you get to see a very personal side of the characters that you may not otherwise have, but on the other there are things that you miss out on seeing because the book doesn't have a conventional narrative. For example I would have liked to experience the first meeting with Charlie firsthand rather than through interview, but we don't get to do that.

I think what made the book especially poignant for me is the Authors Note at the end of the story (which I did read before beginning). And I think in a way that does play a little bit at the back of your mind and because of this you pay more attention to the relationship between 'fathers' and 'sons' in the story.

Whether you like the novel or not, will probably depend on your feelings about the character of Joey - I loved him. Charlie is not so enamoured of him at first:-
"You are beginning to make a mess out of my life."
Joey really gets under his skin - like a tick. I think that the point I started to fall in love with the book was on p.88 when Charlie sets some boundaries on their friendship. I especially liked rule number 9
9. You will alawys remember that you are probably somebody very special. I do not know this for a fact yet...
I like how these rules keep cropping up throughout the story, and get adapted as circumstances change.

If I had to pick two letters as my favourites. One would be where Charlie tries to answer some of Joey's big questions. And the other would be where Charlie gives Joey advice about women.

The writing is beautiful. There are so many bits that I could just quote, because I want to share them. The friendship that develops between them and how they stand up for each other is just wonderful to read. I think Joey initially sees Charlie as something of a challenge but eventually they become friends. For Joey, Charlie becomes the father he doesn't have. However, America is about to be pulled into World War 2 - which of course we as readers know, but the characters don't. So there is a sense of time running out, history moves on, no matter what. And eventually it catches up with them - Joey's Japanese friend Craig is sent to an internment camp, Charlie enlists and there is a sense of seriousness that wasn't there before.
"Joey listen to me. Everybody gets handed a rotten deal sooner or later and your just getting it out of the way early."
If I had any problems with the story, it would be the baseball references. Being in the UK I don't really understand them. I have a vague understanding of how the game of baseball works but not enough to decipher the few commentaries and stats sheets. However, I don't think it's necessary to be a baseball afficionado to enjoy the story. It's the relationships between all the characters that make the story work.

I would hightly recommend this story. It's funny and sad and touching and heartbreaking. I've always been of the opinion that if a story can make you really laugh or cry then it's on another level. It has really touched you and that's a rare thing.

Monday 4 April 2011

The Dark Tide by Josh Lanyon (Adrien English 5)

The Dark Tide is the fifth and last book in Josh Lanyon's Adrien English series. And it keeps up the trend of Adrien inadvertently tangling himself up in a murder investigation. This time though, it's really not his fault...really. In the midst of renovating his bookstore a skeleton is discovered in the floorboards. When it proves to be over fifty years old, the case is handed over to the cold case squad. But Adrien's curiosity has been caught - could be something to do with the burglar who keeps breaking into the store - so he hires his ex-lover Jake Riordan (now working as a private detective) to investigate.

The Dark Tide opens shortly after the end of Death of a Pirate King (Book 4). Adrien has still not fully recovered form his heart surgery and is slightly resentful. His situation has changed and he's having to re-evaluate his life and he hasn't quite found his footing yet. I think this also explains why he's a little obtuse a little bit blinkered where Jake is concerned. He also has a new step-family who worry about him and who he worries about. He has old lovers popping up out of the proverbial woodwork and he has a fifty-year old skeleton in his floorboards.

What I loved most about this book is how Adrien and Jake have changed. Both characters have evolved over the course of the series. I think on a second read-through you'd appreciate more how Jake and Adrien are out of sync at the beginning of the book. Now Jake's out of the closet, he's mellowed a little. Whereas Adrien is more uptight - it's as if they're finally meeting in the middle.

All the things I love most about the series are here. Adrien's snarky inner voice,
I resisted the temptation to undo my apology by throttling her.
I wanted him so much, I could have cried. I wanted him now, and I wanted it to be three years ago when I had loved him without fear...
...and also brilliant dialogue:-
She summoned her patience. "I said perhaps this friend would be willing to act as your support partner."
"I don't think so."
"We never know until we ask."
"Sometimes we do."
And I realise how much I'm going to miss this series.

I also really like how Adrien has gone from being an only child, to having siblings. He doesn't have a perfect relationship with his stepsisters. But it's a very familial and loving relationship, with all the dramas that that entails.

I think this book ties up all the loose ends from earlier in the series but leaves it quite open as well. When I first finished the book I was a little uncertain about the ending. But having thought about it, I think it works, everything's resolved but it isn't all tied up with a nice pretty pink bow on the top. And I think it's better for that.

I've consistently said that A Dangerous Thing (Book 2) is my favourite Adrien English story. I think Jenre posted (possibly on my review of Book 4 or one of my other posts about this series) that The Dark Tide would change my opinion. And she's right. The Dark Tide is now my favourite Adrien English book and I look forward to re-reading the series again, in the not too distant future, reading it from the perspective of knowing how it will end. And I console myself with the fact that there are still many Josh Lanyon books for me to read.

Saturday 2 April 2011

Diana Wynne Jones Passes Away

I didn't realise she had gone until I read it on one of my groups this morning. I feel like we're losing a lot of authors recently.

Guardian - Diana Wynne Jones Obituary

Maybe it just seems that way. :(