Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway

A spare and haunting, wise and beautiful novel about the endurance of the human spirit and the subtle ways individuals reclaim their humanity in a city ravaged by war. In a city under siege, four people whose lives have been upended are ultimately reminded of what it is to be human. From his window, a musician sees twenty-two of his friends and neighbors waiting in a breadline.

Then, in a flash, they are killed by a mortar attack. In an act of defiance, the man picks up his cello and decides to play at the site of the shelling for twenty-two days, honoring their memory. Elsewhere, a young man leaves home to collect drinking water for his family and, in the face of danger, must weigh the value of generosity against selfish survivalism. A third man, older, sets off in search of bread and distraction and instead runs into a long-ago friend who reminds him of the city he thought he had lost, and the man he once was. As both men are drawn into the orbit of cello music, a fourth character—a young woman, a sniper—holds the fate of the cellist in her hands. As she protects him with her life, her own army prepares to challenge the kind of person she has become.

A novel of great intensity and power, and inspired by a true story, The Cellist of Sarajevo poignantly explores how war can change one’s definition of humanity, the effect of music on our emotional endurance, and how a romance with the rituals of daily life can itself be a form of resistance.

My take: 2 looks
Overall, I was very disappointed in this book. A brilliant premise, the story fell flat for me, with poorly conceived characters and rote storylines.

The story is told from the viewpoint of three members of the city. One is responsible for his family, one is responsible for working in a bakery, and one is a sniper for the defenders. The story would have been much deeper if one of the "men on the hill", or the attackers, had been included in this. Both sides of the conflict would have been offered, as opposed to this almost propaganda-ish, one-sided story. Whether you are for one side or the other, there are two sides to each story, and humanity on both sides of the battle.

There is also a measure of outright license taken by the author to call his book "The Cellist of Sarajevo" since this person actually exists. The author is clear and adamant that this is a work of fiction; but there can be no doubt whom the cellist is, and although I'm sure this phrase is not licensed or protected, the author shows (I think) a lack of respect for the person in the title.

With that said, I understand why the view of the cellist is not given, as that would have pushed the envelope too far, especially since the cellist has come out publicly against this book. However, another voice was needed here, as mentioned in the previous paragraph, to balance the story.

Another issue I had with the book was the predictability of it all. Even Arrow's last scene adds to the "and they all lived..." feeling of the book. Why didn't Arrow shoot the commander? Why didn't she shoot the civilian? If she was going to be a fugitive for not obeying orders, why not take out a few of the internal bad guys?

Everyone's internal struggle seemed surface, predictable, and without sympathy from me, the reader. I didn't care what happened to the characters, and even found myself wanting one to be killed in the middle of the story so the author could give the reader a real sense of loss. Instead, he handed me a one-dimensional story and asked me to watch for movement.

Not recommended.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Last Clinic by Gary Gusick

In a fast-paced, suspenseful debut novel for fans of Harlan Coben and Lisa Gardner, detective Darla Cavannah goes Deep South in pursuit of a merciless killer.

Outside the local women’s health clinic, the Reverend Jimmy Aldridge waving his protest sign is a familiar sight. But that changes early one morning when someone shoots the beloved Reverend Jimmy dead. Sheriff Shelby Mitchell knows the preacher’s murder will shock the good people of Jackson—and the pressure to find the killer is immediate and intense, which is why Shelby calls in detective Darla Cavannah.

When police detective Darla moved from Philadelphia to Jackson with her husband—hometown football hero Hugh “the Glue” Cavannah—she never imagined the culture shock that awaited. Then after Hugh dies in a car crash, Darla enters a self-imposed exile in her Mississippi home, taking a leave of absence from the sheriff’s department. Now she’s called back to duty—or coerced, more like it, with Shelby slathering on his good-ole-boy charm nice and thick, like on a helping of barbecue.

Reluctantly partnered with a mulish Elvis impersonator, Darla keeps a cool head even as the community demands an arrest. The court of public opinion has already convicted the clinic’s doctor, Stephen Nicoletti, but Darla is just as sure he’s not guilty—even as she fights her growing attraction to him. From the genteel suburbs to a raunchy strip club, Darla follows a trail of dirty money and nasty secrets—until the day of judgment comes, and she faces down an ungodly assassin.

My take: 3 looks
This was an enjoyable, fast-paced story and provided much-needed lightness after the heavy books that I have read lately.

At first, I thought this was Christian Fiction, but it SO IS NOT. I saw another review that mentioned the same thing. Not sure why this feels like CF at first, but at least I was not alone. haha

With that said, this is the first novel by Gusick, who has a few non-fiction books under his belt. It is a good first novel with likable characters and believable action. There are a few loose ends, and I was left with more than one question, but I like the fact that this is a series and expect that these issues will be ironed out in subsequent books.


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

What if you could live again and again, until you got it right? On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born to an English banker and his wife. She dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in a variety of ways, while the young century marches on towards its second cataclysmic world war. Does Ursula's apparently infinite number of lives give her the power to save the world from its inevitable destiny?

My take: 4 looks
Wonderful...just wonderful.

No longer the most original premise for a book (see Replay by Ken Grimwood and 11/22/63 by Stephen King), this book builds a compelling story by putting a new spin in that the protagonist has no memory of the past when coming back as an infant.

Each chapter follows the birth and subsequent death of Ursula. I loved the way Atkinson built on each "life" by referring to past events, people and occasions. The weaving of decisions taking Ursula on different paths was so well done that it was seamless, causing a smile to come to my lips as I saw tragedy averted, only to be faced with a new crisis.

The age-old question is explored: if you could do it over again, would you? Much like King's take on the future if JFK had not been assassinated, the reader is struck by how events can be dramatically altered with the slightest change in the decision.

Beautifully written and a breath of fresh air in a land of zombies and vampires, I highly recommend this book.