Tag Archives: Kristan’s picks

Book Review: Olive Kitteridge – Elizabeth Strout

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

This book is quiet and powerful grouping of short stories that ends up feeling more like a novel. Each story is imbued with a bit of sorrow and includes varying viewpoints with all stories connecting through the title character, Olive Kitteridge- the story may be told through her vantage point or contain a scant mention of her name in one line of text. Author, Elizabeth Strout, has provided us with a myriad of richly nuanced characters and such a familiarity with their town that we end up feeling like we have lived our lives there too. We are presented with Olive Kitteridge, an extremely flawed woman that more often invokes feelings of dislike and perhaps, empathy, rather than stoking our feelings of pure understanding. I don’t mean this as a negative. In fact, I had a hard time putting the book down.

The stories always remind me of the song lyrics by Neko Case, “the most tender place in my heart is for strangers; I know it’s unkind but my own blood is much too dangerous.” We see Olive excel at calling up kindness when the lives of strangers are at stake as in the stories, “Incoming Tide” and “Starving”, mixed in with stories showcasing her complete lack of understanding for her family at best and her brutal ungratefulness to them at worse. But, the author lets us know there is a reason for her regarding her husband’s unconditional love for her and gentleness towards everyone he meets as preposterous. The book also includes a story entitled, “A Different Road”, that chillingly summons up “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor and provides a turning point for the title character.

I encountered this well-written Pulitzer Prized Winning book, “Olive Kitteridge”, by reading it for a women’s book group in Chicago. We all agreed that Olive was a hard woman to love but that her extremely flawed existence was what provides so much interest in this tale. It was also the first book during my tenure in the group that we unanimously agreed upon enjoying.

Book Review: The Spellmans Strike Again – Lisa Lutz

The Spellmans Strike Again by Lisa Lutz

The Spellmans Strike Again (released March 2010) is author Lisa Lutz’s fourth installment of her mystery series told from the vantage point of 32-year-old private investigator Isabel “Izzy” Spellman as she looks to take on the family’s PI business. The series has been known for its refreshingly clever, sharp witted, and fast paced storylines, not to mention its quirky cast of characters, and this book provides more of the same. And more of the same is simply fantastic when it involves the (almost) always hilarious, screenplay-esque dialogue of the Spellman family as they wield their investigative skills out in the world but mostly within their family. This edition helps to answer the questions: How did “Izzele’s” octogenarian, court ordered lawyer(1) convince his wife to move back to “San Fran”? Why have all of Izzy’s parents’ (Olivia and Albert) doorknobs gone missing? Could the ever-dashing neat freak best friend to her little sister Rae, Inspector Henry Stone, be potential ex-boyfriend #13? What piece of blackmail does Olivia possess that convinces Izzy to suffer through two mandated lawyer dates (with sound recorded proof, of course!) a month? The Spellmans Strike Again also takes on a more serious question about prisoners on death row: Were Schmidt(2) and Merriweather wrongly convicted and imprisoned?

This book is an excellent selection for fan’s of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series. In a genre that has been dominated by a few key players, the author has offered up a fresh voice and provided a gateway for readers who delight in quality fiction novels with strong female characters. Beginning with her first words in The Spellman Files (being made into a movie), Ms. Lutz, offers up a lead character, who is sure to become a character you will cheer on and laugh with while simultaneously cringing at her antics (she wasn’t provided a court-ordered counselor for nothing). And I would be remiss not to mention the book’s secondary main character of Izzy’s teenage sister, Rae, who shows a keen panache for investigative work and an insatiable penchant for junk food. This has been the number one book (and series)(3) that I have been recommending to all my fellow book-lovers this year!

1 Read Curse of the Spellmans for more details on one, Morty Schilling.
2 See http://freeschmidt.com.
3 Don’t forget! Read the series in order!