Saturday, December 16, 2017

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Summary:

In his long-awaited first novel, American master George Saunders delivers his most original, transcendent, and moving work yet. Unfolding in a graveyard over the course of a single night, narrated by a dazzling chorus of voices, Lincoln in the Bardo is a literary experience unlike any other—for no one but Saunders could conceive it.

My take: 5 looks

Everything about this book is a breath of fresh air. The story of a night where spirits welcome the young Willie Lincoln to the cemetery. It becomes apparent that many of them do not realize they are dead, and as they become increasingly aware, it is both traumatic and funny.

The genius here is the story being told using historical text and perceived ghostly musings in tandem. Every comment is attributed to its source. With the insight of the historical records and the reflections of the spirits, the story is beautifully full and packed with feeling.

For example, the ghosts are used to seeing mourners come to the burial, then perhaps return a few times, only to trickle to never visiting again after a time. When Willie's father comes to the burial site, looks at his son, and takes the little lifeless body into his arms, the ghosts are awash in love and respect for this father. One comments, " We were perhaps not so unlovable as we had come to believe."

The dawning on both Lincolns that Willie is not coming back, as well as the true situation dawning on the spirits, impact the story with a gentle but unwavering look at the reality of death, acceptance of it, and moving on from it.

This is a book that I will buy to read again and again. Highly recommended.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Paper Ghosts by Julia Heaberlin

Summary:

An obsessive young woman has been waiting half her life—since she was twelve years old—for this moment. She has planned. Researched. Trained. Imagined every scenario. Now she is almost certain the man who kidnapped and murdered her sister sits in the passenger seat beside her.

Carl Louis Feldman is a documentary photographer. The young woman claims to be his long-lost daughter. He doesn’t believe her. He claims no memory of murdering girls across Texas, in a string of places where he shot eerie pictures. She doesn’t believe him.
       
Determined to find the truth, she lures him out of a halfway house and proposes a dangerous idea: a ten-day road trip, just the two of them, to examine cold cases linked to his haunting photographs.

Is he a liar or a broken old man? Is he a pathological con artist? Or is she? Julia Heaberlin once again swerves the serial killer genre in a new direction. With taut, captivating prose, Heaberlin deftly explores the ghosts that live in our minds—and the ones that stare back from photographs. You won’t see the final, terrifying twist spinning your way until the very last mile.

My take: 2 looks

It took me a while to read this one because I would get so frustrated with the main character that I had to put it down. Because I am reviewing this advanced reader copy from NetGalley, I felt compelled to pick it back up again and again to finish it.

For a woman who had been planning 1/2 of her life to track down a serial killer, she was remarkably ill-prepared and na├»ve. When she checks him out of a facility for dementia patients to take him on a cross country trip, they leave with a list of his "conditions", to which he continues to add. What? Who is in charge here?

Her plan is to visit all of the places where she believes he killed, and see if there is any recognition in his eyes on where her sister may be. It is clear from the beginning that she has not thought this through, and that Carl is much smarter than she even on one of this bad days.

Frustrating, overly detailed, and anti-climatic, I can't recommend this one when it is released in May 2018.

Thank you to NetGalley for a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Hi-de-ho! Two in a row!

It is unusual for me to choose back-to-back books in which I invoke the "100-page rule"; but alas, there are too many (far, far too many) great books waiting for me to waste my precious reading time.

"The Woman in Cabin 10" by Ruth Ware is the first one. This one hit the stands in a blaze of hype, promising to be the next "Gone Girl" or "The Girl on the Train", as many do these days. And for some, it was that good. For me, not so much. My review is here.

The next one was more of a surprise because it's been on my TBR for a while, and I have looked forward to reading it. "1Q84" by Haruki Murakami, originally written as three novellas in Murakami's native Japanese, was translated to English and combined into one novel. My review is here.


1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

1Q84Summary:
A young woman named Aomame follows a taxi driver’s enigmatic suggestion and begins to notice puzzling discrepancies in the world around her. She has entered, she realizes, a parallel existence, which she calls 1Q84 —“Q is for ‘question mark.’ A world that bears a question.” Meanwhile, an aspiring writer named Tengo takes on a suspect ghostwriting project. He becomes so wrapped up with the work and its unusual author that, soon, his previously placid life begins to come unraveled.


My take: 2 looks
Even though I put this one down, I am giving it 2 looks because I did read to page 223 before deciding to abandon it. Interestingly enough, I asked fellow reader Sarah if she had read it, and she told me that she, too, put it down about 1/2 way through.

To pen a book that wraps it all up in the end is an intriguing method of writing, but it has to be interesting enough until you get to the solution in order to keep the reader. That is where this book failed me.

The characters were all very different, with developing pasts, and their trajectories were clearly going to intersect. However, none of the five primary characters had any hold on me. I was completely uninvested, but wanted so badly to like this one that I plowed through over 200 pages. Perhaps there was something lost in the translation from Japanese to English, and I was quite interested in the fact that one person translated the first two sections, with someone else translating the last section. I wanted to like the book enough to read it all and ruminate over any differences in style from the translators. However, it was not meant to be.

Not recommended.

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

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Summary:
In this tightly wound story, Lo Blacklock, a journalist who writes for a travel magazine, has just been given the assignment of a lifetime: a week on a luxury cruise with only a handful of cabins. At first, Lo’s stay is nothing but pleasant: the cabins are plush, the dinner parties are sparkling, and the guests are elegant. But as the week wears on, frigid winds whip the deck, gray skies fall, and Lo witnesses what she can only describe as a nightmare: a woman being thrown overboard. The problem? All passengers remain accounted for—and so, the ship sails on as if nothing has happened, despite Lo’s desperate attempts to convey that something (or someone) has gone terribly, terribly wrong…

My take: 1 look
I put this one down after trying again and again to get "into" it. When there are excellent suspense novels ripe for the picking on the shelves of the local library, this one does not hold muster. I did a quick survey on social media when I found myself struggling with the book, and found that it is quite polarizing. People either love it or hate it. Well, count me as one of the latter.

Not recommended.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

I'm Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid

I'm Thinking of Ending Things
Summary:
In this deeply suspenseful and irresistibly unnerving debut novel, a man and his girlfriend are on their way to a secluded farm. When the two take an unexpected detour, she is left stranded in a deserted high school, wondering if there is any escape at all. What follows is a twisted unraveling that will haunt you long after the last page is turned.

In this smart, suspenseful, and intense literary thriller, debut novelist Iain Reid explores the depths of the human psyche, questioning consciousness, free will, the value of relationships, fear, and the limitations of solitude. Reminiscent of Jose Saramago’s early work, Michel Faber’s cult classic Under the Skin, and Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk about Kevin, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is an edgy, haunting debut. Tense, gripping, and atmospheric, this novel pulls you in from the very first page…and never lets you go.

My take: 2.5 looks

I started this one over three times. It was so easy to put down when I needed more time or was feeling overwhelmed. However, it was also very easy to read, enabling me to start from the beginning each time. At less than 300 pages, I felt as if I had to finish it.

The story was interesting enough. I didn't get a good feel for any of the characters, and was not overly surprised by the ending. Some of the scenes felt forced, some of the dialogue choppy, and internal monologues were a bit too heavy-handed. However, because of the nature of the "surprise" ending, all of these things may have been as-designed. With a little more writing experience, I expect this kind of thing will naturally fall into place.

It read like a first novel, and upon looking, found that it is Reid's first novel, but not his first book. Because it was fairly easy to read, and because I am intrigued by the title of one of his previous works ("The Truth About Luck: What I Learned on my Road Trip with Grandma"), I am not yet crossing him off my list of TBRs.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Man Booker Short List!


I have read one of these books, and loved it. Now on to the others!!

Have you read any of the six?

Below, find the full shortlist, linked to NPR's reviews of the works and interviews with their authors, where possible.

Friday, August 11, 2017

The book was better.


I'm sure you have seen this illustration before on movie-versus-book discussions. With the sudden influx of movies based on books, I feel that I have to stress again how much richer and more satisfying reading a book is over seeing the movie adaptation.

When you read, you are creating your own movie. Your brain is more engaged and invested in a book. It is a very active process, combining the words you are seeing, processing, and understanding to create a full-color, vivid, on-demand movie in your mind. You are director and producer. You are in charge of makeup and costumes. You choose the locations and scenes. All of this in a split second.

That's why reading makes you smarter. Not only are you able to learn new words, but you are also engaging so much of your brain in sequential, systematic, and parallel ways - many times all at once!

There will never be a better movie-maker than your own imagination.

Some books to try instead of the movie:

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
One of my top 10 books, the story presents a challenge to the screen because it is primarily internal monologue. While the film and television series are true to the dystopian nature of the story, it is impossible to capture the parallel thoughts and feelings of the protagonist and the other handmaids as told in the double narrative-style of the book.

The Giver by Lois Lowry
Another one of my faves, this is the first book in a quartet. While the film adaptation, again, presents the general idea of the book, the fact that one character was given a much bigger part in the film (Streep's characterization of the Chief Elder) in order cash in on her star power doesn't sit well with me. The book is about exploring feelings, making decisions, and actions bringing consequences.

The Lost Weekend by Charles R. Jackson
The film version was highly acclaimed, nominated for seven Academy Awards and winning four. What is missing here, however, is the raw and visceral pull of alcohol on the main character. It consumes him, drives his behavior, and pulls the reader in opposing directions of disgust and sympathy for him. Thought of as the seminal American novel on addiction, this desperation cannot be captured on film. That, coupled with homosexual overtones, makes this 1944 novel a must-read.

These are just three of my pics for you. Let me know of other books-into-films you have experienced, and what your impression on the comparison was.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Anne's Pick for my next read: WOW!

The other day, I turned you on to Anne Bogel's "What Should I Read Next" podcast, as well as her blog, Modern Mrs. Darcy. In looking through her book lists, I happened upon an intriguing proposition: The perfect summer reading for every Myers-Briggs personality type.

Thank goodness, there is a quick series of questions available to determine your type. Mine turned out to be E(xtroverted), N(tuition), T(hinking), P(erceiving). With that in mind, the recommended book for me by Bogel is:
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn HugoSummary:
From Taylor Jenkins Reid comes an unforgettable and sweeping novel about one classic film actress’s relentless rise to the top—the risks she took, the loves she lost, and the long-held secrets the public could never imagine.

There's more to the synopsis than that, but I don't like those long ones because, to me, it gives too much of the book away.

Rest assured, I WILL be reading this one!

Take a quick trip to the list linked above and let me know what your recommended book is!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Literary Matchmaking and Anne Bogel

Modern Mrs. Darcy

In my search for a new book-centric podcast when my beloved Books on the Nightstand ended its run, I came across What Should I Read Next, a podcast by Anne Bogel.

While still reeling from the end of BotN, Anne immediately caught my attention with her literary matchmaking. On the podcast, she talks with a reader, asking what they are currently reading, three books they love, and one book that didn't grab them.

See what I mean??! Brilliant!

With this, she then recommends three books to them. Almost always, each of the books discussed is new to me. I love hearing about the books, why they love them, why they didn't like them, and why Anne chooses the books she does for them. There is even a follow-up podcast (episode 46) in which she revisits seven of these readers to find out how well she did in her matchmaking picks.

Next time you are in the midst of your commute, or are sitting outside in the sun and breeze, pop in your earbuds and listen to a few of these. Be warned, though! Your TBR will more than likely grow.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

Summary:

Fourteen-year-old Alma Singer is trying to find a cure for her mother's loneliness. Believing she might discover it in an old book her mother is lovingly translating, she sets out in search of its author. Across New York an old man called Leo Gursky is trying to survive a little bit longer. He spends his days dreaming of the lost love who, sixty years ago in Poland, inspired him to write a book. And although he doesn't know it yet, that book also survived: crossing oceans and generations, and changing lives...

My take: 3 looks

Okay, this is weird.

My sorority sister Laura just texted me about a week ago and recommended a movie: The Words. It has Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana, Jeremy Irons, and Dennis Quaid, among others. I watched it last night. The night before finishing this book by the pool.

The storylines turned out to be the same. The same.

How weird and serendipitous is that? Almost scary, in a cosmic way.

If I tell you any more, I will give away spoilers. However, I will say that there is a young girl trying to find the story of a woman and the author who loved her. Was she the reason for this book, which goes on to win accolades? Is there a father/son relationship that can be healed? Will her mother find happiness with anyone after the death of her father?

I admit that I didn't give this book its fair recompense. Subjugated as a "pool book", I put it aside only when I was by the pool. With that, it has taken me far longer to read it than others. Because of that, I had to occasionally go back and familiarize myself with situations and characters. However, I never lost sight of the overall story. With that said, I was not as deeply entrenched in the text as I could have been.

I recommend this one, along with the recommendation that you then watch "The Words", and let me know how intrigued you are at the similarities in the premises.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Question: Do you think about past reads?

At seemingly odd times, a bit of text, a scene, or a character from a past read will pop into my mind. From books that made very little obvious impact on me suddenly prove themselves buried deep into my psyche, much like that lone Narcissus papyraceus that pops up in the center of my lawn each spring.

The first book that haunted me a little, but in a positive way, was Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End. I am not a huge science fiction book fan, so this is not a genre that I read very often. However, this book drew me right in. Based on an alien invasion, the "haunting" scene is where a human is trying to explain to the "Overlords" our need for sleep. It is a concept that is completely foreign to them.  
Image result for jennifer weiner then came youAnother scene in my memory is from Jennifer Weiner's book Then Came You. Weiner is an author that I do not read enough of. Her characters are always so likable, real, and the situations are familiar and completely relatable.

This "haunting" is a scene in which an adult child of long-divorced parents realizes how different the much-younger new wife relates to her father than her mother ever did. With this, she comes to understand that what her mother and father needed were very different when they married than when they divorced. It was an epiphany borne of seeing her father's wife lean into him with her body language, giving the impression that he was truly holding her up. Her mother had grown into a very independent woman and no longer needed a man in that way. Resentment for his new marriage dissipated, and the story truly turned a corner.

There are more, but this is already longer than I wanted it to be. What are some of your "hauntings"?

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Question - A New Feature


I am going to ramp up the blog a bit by posting a few more personal entries, observations, and book news. All of this in addition to my regular book reviews. To start this new journey of blogdom, I introduce a new feature to the blog: The Question.

I didn't know this, but there is apparently a comic book character named ... you guessed it - The Question. Like most comic book characters, this one has gone through lots of changes, most of which I can't follow, and am not really interested in. Sorry, not sorry.

I will make this a monthly feature, and will get started on it right away. Maybe even tomorrow.

Ooh! I feel some excitement tingles!!


Sunday, July 16, 2017

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles



Summary:

A Gentleman in Moscow immerses us in an elegantly drawn era with the story of Count Alexander Rostov. When, in 1922, he is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, the count is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him a doorway into a much larger world of emotional discovery.

My take: 5 looks

A delightful book! So beautifully written, and such a nice combination of historical events, figures, and characters. I was truly sad to see it end, and yet so satisfied in its ending. I felt intimately familiar with The Metropol, which is a character unto itself. Who can resist the luxury of this famous bastion of Russian history, forging ground with its warm water and telephones in the rooms? Dining at night by candlelight in the prestigious Boyarsky Hall and slipping into the Art Nouveau Shalyapin bar for a nightcap before retiring to your room.

The author in Suite 217 with the Bolshoi in the backgroundEven today, they offer breakfast with musical accompaniment. I can imagine that Towles immersed himself in the glamour of 20th century Russia. Here is a photograph of the author in his Metropol suite, with the Bolshoi Theatre in the background.

Apart from the hotel, our protagonist, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, is a gentleman of gentlemen. Educated, well-traveled, speaking several languages, and presenting the patience and fortitude of the nobility, he is a delightful sort with the highest of morals, even if they are sometimes apt to bend just a little.

By his side is a host of colorful characters which go in and out of the story. It is a wonderful adventure through decades of Russian change, seen through the eyes of a man exiled in luxury.

Read this for the beautiful location. Read it for the wonderful characters. Read it for the beautiful writing. For goodness sake, just read it.