Thursday, August 21, 2014

Coming Soon to a Book Store Near You - The Book of Strange New Things; Michel Faber

Here's my "Coming Soon to a Book Store Near You" pick for this week.  What do you think -- would you try it?

Crown-Hogarth - October 2014

 Description

A monumental, genre-defying novel over ten years in the making, Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things is a masterwork from a writer in full command of his many talents.

It begins with Peter, a devoted man of faith, as he is called to the mission of a lifetime, one that takes him galaxies away from his wife, Bea. Peter becomes immersed in the mysteries of an astonishing new environment, overseen by an enigmatic corporation known only as USIC.   His work introduces him to a seemingly friendly native population struggling with a dangerous illness and hungry for Peter’s teachings—his Bible is their “book of strange new things.” But Peter is rattled when Bea’s letters from home become increasingly desperate: typhoons and earthquakes are devastating whole countries, and governments are crumbling.  Bea’s faith, once the guiding light of their lives, begins to falter.

Suddenly, a separation measured by an otherworldly distance, and defined both by one newly discovered world and another in a state of collapse, is threatened by an ever-widening gulf that is much less quantifiable.  While Peter is reconciling the needs of his congregation with the desires of his strange employer, Bea is struggling for survival.  Their trials lay bare a profound meditation on faith, love tested beyond endurance, and our responsibility to those closest to us.

Marked by the same bravura storytelling and precise language that made The Crimson Petal and the White such an international success, The Book of Strange New Things is extraordinary, mesmerizing, and replete with emotional complexity and genuine pathos.
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I was first introduced to this author's work some 10 years ago when I read, Crimson Petal and the White (2003) which I loved.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Story Hour; Thrity Umrigar

The Story Hour; Thrity Umrigar
Harper - August 2014

Maggie Bose is a 56 year old psychologist who is married to a professor from India.  She is a black woman who has become successful despite growing up poor and being sexually abused as a child.  One day she gets a new client, a 30-something, Indian woman named Lakshmi who has just attempted suicide. Every week following her release from the hospital, the two of them meet for a one hour therapy session at Maggie’s home office. 

Lakshmi’s suicide attempt stems from several factors. She is in a loveless marriage to an verbally abusive man, cut off from her family (she moved to the US from India 6 years earlier), she is friendless and even though she works long hours at her husband’s restaurant, she has no money of her own. She is dependent on her husband for every little thing. In India, Lakshmi was a woman with pride yet in the mid western town she now lives her life is lonely and her self-respect gone.

As Maggie and Lakshmi meet for their weekly therapy sessions, Maggie is confident that all her client needs is a friend and some confidence to begin to feel some self-worth. Maggie tries to maintain professional boundaries yet she tells Lakshmi that her husband Sudhir is an Indian man so that she begins to feel comfortable with their sessions. Before long, Lakshmi is bringing Sudhir his favorite Indian dishes and she is starting to feel that Maggie is more friend than therapist. At her weekly sessions she shares more about her life in India and even sheds light as to why her husband feels the way he does about her. 

Although Maggie is shocked by what she learns about Lakshmi's marriage, she has some secrets about her own marriage that she has attempted to keep secret, until one day Lakshmi discovers the truth. Despite all the help Maggie has been to build Lakshmi’s confidence and to make her more independent -- she’s taught her to drive, found her jobs catering for small parties and is cleaning houses, when Lakshmi discover the secret Maggie's been hiding she is angry and shocked and without thinking seeks revenge against the woman who has helped her.

The Story Hour brings together two very different women each carrying their share of guilt and secrets. Told primarily in the alternating voices of each woman,  I must admit that initially, I found reading the broken English narrative of Lakshmi to very a bit off putting, but once I eventually got used to it., and understand that, it did make her character more authentic.  As with her earlier novels, the author has created a compelling story and characters that you will remember after the final page is turned. 

⅘ stars
(review copy sent by publisher)

First Chapter First Paragraph ~ Tuesday Intros - We Are Not Ourselves; Matthew Thomas

Every Tuesday I host First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where I share the first paragraph or (a few) of a book I am reading or thinking about reading soon. Just started this one  -- 600++ pages, but very good so far.

We Are Not Ourselves; Matthew Thomas
Simon & Schuster - August - 2014

"His father was watching the line in the water. The boy caught a frog and stuck a hook in its stomach to see what it would look like going through.  Slick guts clung to the hook, and a queasy guilt grabbed him.  He tried to sound innocent when he asked if you could fish with frogs.  His father glanced over, flared his nostrils, and shook the teeming coffee can at him.  Worms spilled out and wriggled away.  He told him he'd done an evil thing and that his youth was no excuse for his cruelty.  He made him remove the hook and hold the twitching creature until it died.  Then he passed him the bait knife and had him dig a little grave.  He spoke with a terrifying lack of familiarity, as if they were simply two people on earth now and an invisible tether between them had been severed."
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What do you think?

Feel free to join in and post the Intro from one of your reads by linking your post below. 



Monday, August 18, 2014

All Fall Down; Jennifer Weiner

All Fall Down; Jennifer Weiner
Simon & Schuster Audio - 2014

In All Fall Down, Allison Weiss is a 39 year old who on the outside appears to have it all.  A gorgeous husband, a cute, rambunctious five year old daughter name Eloise, and a successful career as blogger for a very popular woman's website.  One day while she's waiting in the pediatrician’s office with Eloise, she takes a quiz in a magazine about addiction and begins to wonder if she may have a bit of a problem.  
 
For Allison, what began with a legitimate prescription for Percocet, for back pain after a gym injury, gradually develops into a full blown pill addiction. An extra pain pill here and there to take the edge off at the end of day, soon she finds herself consuming a dozen or more pain pills a day. She justifies her need for them by the stress of her daily life. Motherhood, a troubled marriage, job stress, a high maintenance five year old, and a father who has developed Alzheimer's related dementia. Is popping a pill now and then so different from the women who end their day with a few glasses of wine to relax?

For Allison, the increased need for more pills to feel relief leads to doctor shopping for multiple prescriptions. She even resorts to illegal online pill purchases.  One day her erratic behavior and an incident at her daughter's school, forces her to come face to face with her addiction and enter a rehab program.
 
Allison's stint at rehab and the stories of the other women in rehab (both younger and older) seemed very realistic -- different backgrounds, their substance of choice, how they got hooked, therapy sessions and more,  I found their stories compelling.  The novel seemed like a realistic account of what addiction and rehab must be like.  I was surprised to read that the author's father, a psychiatrist, died from an overdose seven years ago, and although she hadn't seen her father in several years, she never realized he had a problem.
 
The subject of addiction seemed very well researched. I found Allison to be a sympathetic character, a woman who felt she must be everything to everyone. I think this would be an excellent choice for book clubs as there is a lot to discuss. The audiobook was good, read by Tracee Chimo, but the whining by five year old Eloise was a bit much at times.  Although I wasn't sure this would be a story I would enjoy, I was happy that I tried it.
 
4/5
(audiobook)

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Sunday Blatherings ~ one cute cat and several new books

Mid August and honestly, this week felt like fall - low 70's by day and 50's by night.  I am not complaining, but feel bad for anyone who paid a lot of money for beach front rental this week in New England.  I've been taking some long weekends - 1/2 days on Fridays and Mondays off and it's been great.

(4) years ago I posted this picture (left) of Rae the 3-legged kitten my daughter had adopted.  She's adjusted well, even now with a toddler and infant added to the family (although she like to sleep behind the sofa or as high up as possible some days).
Visiting yesterday I noticed Rae in a picture purrfect position. So here she is as 4+ years old (right).

Grandkids or Grandcats we love them all.
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I donated several books this week to the free library boxes in my daughter's town, but I acquired several more in their place....you know how easy that his right?  Here's my new arrivals and I can't wait to dig in.














enjoy your week everyone!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage; Haruki Murakami

Knopf - Random House Audio
August - 2014

When I first heard about  Murakami's new novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, I admit that was a little put off by the title, but after finishing the book in just two days, I must say that afterward I felt the title was perfect. 

The story begins with the title character, Tsukuru Tazaki, in his 30's, depressed and contemplating suicide.

"From July of his sophomore year in college until the following January, all Tsukuru Tazaki could think about was dying.  He turned twenty during this time, but this special watershed--becoming an adult--meant nothing.  Taking his own life seemed the most natural solution, and even now he couldn't say why he hadn't taken this final step.  Crossing that threshold between life and death would have been easier than swallowing down a slick, raw egg.

Perhaps he didn't commit suicide then because he couldn't conceive of a method that fit the pure and intense feelings he had toward death.  But method was beside the point.  If there had been a door within reach that lead straight to death, he wouldn't have hesitated to push it open,without a second thought, as if it were just a part of ordinary life. For better or for worse, though, there was no such door nearby."

In his teens, Tsukuru Tazaki  formed a friendship with 4 other teens. 2 males and 2 females.  Of the group, he was the only one who did not have a "color" in his name.  While his friends were very good students, Tsukuru's grades were average. He wasn't a sport's fan, and really there wasn't anything special about him, his family, however, was the most affluent of the group. 
 
Since Tsukuru always had an interest in trains, when it came time for college, he went to Tokyo to study engineering, hoping to have a career designing train stations and railroads.

In the summer of his sophomore year when he returned home during his college break, he called his friends. One call, two calls, three calls and no response. Finally one of his former friends announces, "I'm sorry but don't call us."  Without explanation, he had been banished from the merry group of five. Somewhat insecure anyways, this event sends Tsukuru into a downward spiral making him feel even more insignificant than before.  He loses weight and his body begins to take on the look of someone much older.

Then one night after a strange dream changes everything. Tsukuru awoke from the dream feeling as if his dark days had disappeared, but he still had a "colorless" empty feeling that remained. He did the same things each day, but yet he felt different. Remaining in Tokyo a woman he is seeing, Kimoto Sara, suggests that to help him get on with his life, he needs to get some resolution to the traumatic event that still haunts him. She feels he has too much baggage that he needs to unload, and suggests he seek out his former friends and get to the bottom of why they ended their friendship with him.  Since Sara works at a travel agency, she helps him track down his friends, 16 years after the fact. He learns some startling things as he connects with them individually, except for one (who has died).

I really enjoyed this novel. It didn't feel as surreal as some of the author's other books, but it was fully engaging, and enjoyable.  A few erotic dreams, a conversation with a stranger that vanishes, all add to the mystique of the story.  The third person POV worked well, and, even though Tsukuru's former friends were less developed that I had hoped, I was glad that he was able to eventually connect with them, even though none of them were individuals I care for. Instead, for me, his reconnecting with these individuals was a reminder of how our early interactions and the cruelty of others can deeply scar us for life. I liked the way they author wrapped up this story with Tsukuru reflecting on his life, I was satisfied with the ending, but readers who like all the loose ends neatly tied might be a tad disappointed.

The narrative flowed extremely well with both the eBook and the audiobook thanks to great translation by Philip Gabriel. The audiobook reader, Bruce Locke was amazing as well.

Read it!  5/5 stars
(eGalley and audiobook)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Coming Soon to a Book Store Near You; The Way Inn; Will Wiles


Here's my "Coming Soon to a Book Store Near You" pick for this week.  What do you think -- would you try it? I loved the debut novel by this author - Care of Wooden Floors - have you read it? 

The Way Inn; Will Wiles
September 16th - Harper Perennial

Description

Up in the Air meets Inception in this smart, innovative, genre-synthesizing novel from the acclaimed author of Care of Wooden Floors—hailed as “Fawlty Towers crossed with Freud,” by the Daily Telegraph—that takes the polished surfaces of modern life, the branded coffee, and the free wifi, and twists them into a surrealistic nightmare of infinite proportions.

Neil Double is a “conference surrogate,” hired by his clients to attend industry conferences so that they don’t have to. It’s a life of budget travel, cheap suits, and out-of-town exhibition centers—a kind of paradise for Neil, who has reconstructed his incognito professional life into a toxic and selfish personal philosophy. But his latest job, at a conference of conference organizers, will radically transform him and everything he believes as it unexpectedly draws him into a bizarre and speculative mystery.

In a brand new Way Inn—a global chain of identikit mid-budget motels—in an airport hinterland, he meets a woman he has seen before in strange and unsettling circumstances. She hints at an astonishing truth about this mundane world filled with fake smiles and piped muzak. But before Neil can learn more, she vanishes. Intrigued, he tries to find her—a search that will lead him down the rabbit hole, into an eerily familiar place where he will discover a dark and disturbing secret about the Way Inn. Caught on a metaphysical Mobius strip, Neil discovers that there may be no way out.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Conditions of Love; Dale M. Kushner

The Conditions of Love; Dale M Kushner
Grand Central - 2014

The Conditions of Love, is a wonderful coming of age story which takes place in the 1950-60’s. The story begins in the little town of Wild Pea, Illinois, where young, Eunice lives with her self-centered, unpredictable, star-struck mother. Mern is a woman with her head in clouds, and obvious to the reader early on -- she’s just not “mother material”. Eunice must never call her mother “mom”, just Mern is acceptable. For Eunice life is lonely. She has few friends and although she has met her father, he took off before she ever got a chance to know him. Eunice learns at an early age that love and the people you love, can slip away without warning.

With little stability in Eunice’s life, Mern adds even more uncertainty to the mix by moving them to a new town in Wisconsin. Soon after they settle there a flood devastates their lives separating mother and daughter. While Mern heads off to California without really looking for her daughter,  Eunice is found and is taken in by a kind but somewhat odd woman named Rose.
Rose is a woman who lives off the grid in a rundown cabin that lacks even basic electricity. Rose cares about Eunice and she nurtures her love of nature, and shares with her the wisdom of her years. For Eunice, however, her search for love and stability does not end when Rose comes to her rescue, there are a few more hurdles she must face, yet her resilience in difficult times keeps her strong.
Most every significant event in this novel came alive on the page as I read.  It stirred a lot of emotion in me. It was easy for me to root for Eunice given all she had been through. I could relate to her love of animals and the unconditional love she felt being surrounded by them, whether it be a fox, a sheep, a turtle or a  more domestic animal like a  parakeet or dog. She wasn’t sure which humans she could trust or who would abandon her if she got too close.

The Conditions of Love is a terrific literary novel that left a big impression.The novel was so well written that the story never felt depressing despite the numerous disappointments Eunice faced along the way to adulthood. The characters had depth and were intriguing, and I liked the fact that there were two male characters who genuinely cared about Eunice -- Mr. Tabachnik, a neighbor, and Sam, one of her mother’s short-termed boyfriends.  There is no fast-paced action with this story, yet it was a story that held my interest throughout, Eunice is the star through and through. I enjoyed watching her mature from a young child to a young woman over a period of about 9 years. Readers who enjoy coming of age stories with substance will enjoy the debut novel.

5/5 stars

(eGalley) 

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage; Haruki Murakami


Every Tuesday I host First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where I share the first paragraph or (a few) of a book I am reading or thinking about reading soon. [I'm Participating in a Read Along hosted by Dolce Bellezza].

Knopf - August 12, 2014

Chapter 1

"From July of his sophomore year in college until the following January, all Tsukuru Tazaki could think about was dying.  He turned twenty during this time, but this special watershed--becoming an adult--meant nothing.  Taking his own life seemed the most natural solution, and even now he couldn't say why he hadn't taken this final step.  Crossing that threshold between life and death would have been easier than swallowing down a slick, raw egg.

Perhaps he didn't commit suicide then because he couldn't conceive of a method that fit the pure and intense feelings he had toward death.  But method was beside the point.  If there had been a door within reach that lead straight to death, he wouldn't have hesitated to push it open,without a second thought, as if it were just a part of ordinary life. For better or for worse, though, there was no such door nearby."
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What do you think? Would you read more? I just started this one and I think it's going to be a good one.

Feel free to join in and post the Intro from one of your reads by linking your post below. 


Sunday, August 10, 2014

New Books and Babies

How was your week for books everyone?  It seemed like I got more reading time in this week than I usually do -- mostly because I got to listen to a couple of audio books at work (not completely), but was at least 14 hours worth between 2 books -- California; E. Lepucki and All Fall Down; Jennifer Weiner.  I'm reserving my comments until I'm done.  I also finished, The Conditions of Love; Dale Kushner (which I loved but need to review) and The Marrying of Chani Kaufman; Eve Harris (very good - need to review).

In progress is The Story Hour; Thrity Umrigar and Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage; Murakami.

These are the new books that arrived by mail last week.

Happy Reading!
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I thought I'd share a couple pictures of our littlest bookworms
(6) weeks and (3) months
Have a Great Week!