Friday, May 7, 2021

2021 - 74 - The Cold Vanish: Seeking the Missing in North America's Wildlands; Jon Billman

 

TITLE/AUTHOR The Cold Vanish: Seeking the Missing in North America's Wildlands; Jon Billman

PUBLISHER: Hachette Audio

YEAR PUBLISHED: 2020

GENRE: Non Fiction / True Crime / Missing Persons

FORMAT:  audio download LENGTH: 11 hours  36 min.

SOURCE:  library download/

SETTING(s):  Northwest US


ONE SENTENCE SUMMARY:  A fascinating collection of true life wilderness disappearances and the families left to wonder.

BRIEF REVIEW:   What an interesting collection of stories about individuals who have gone missing while hiking and biking alone.  The primary story involves the 2017 disappearance of Jacob Gray, a bicyclist who went missing around the Olympic National Forest. His father Randy never gave up hope or stopped looking for clues.  

Did you realize over 600,000 people go missing in the US each year? Most have chosen to disappear for various reasons yet, for those who have disappeared while hiking alone the chances of been found alive are often bleak. There is no database of people who go missing in National Parks and on other public lands. I found the many different ways searches are sometimes conducted quite impressive: park ranges, search dogs, volunteers, helicopters and even psychics.

All of the stories in this collection were from the West coast and felt personal in the way they were told. The audio book narrator, Stephen Graybill, was fantastic, the facts of the cases were so interesting to learn about.   I did feel that the book itself might have been easier to follow if were written as individual stories as this collection seemed to jump around quite a bit.  At times I felt confused especially when some of the stories ended a bit abruptly.   I'd would love to see another collection of stories about people gone missing on the East coast, perhaps along the Appalachian trail which runs from Maine to Georgia.   If you are someone who enjoys taking long hikes all by your lonesome, you might think again if you choose to read this book.  Overall I was happy that I tried to this one - fascinating stuff.

RATING:  4/5 stars

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

2021 - 73 - If Cats Disappeared from the World; Genki Kawamura















TITLE/AUTHORIf Cats Disappeared From the World; Genki Kawamura

PUBLISHER:  Flatiron Books

YEAR PUBLISHED: 2019 

GENRE: Fiction / Animals / Magical Realism

FORMAT:  print LENGTH: 168 pp.

SOURCE:  my shelves

SETTING(s):  Japan

ONE SENTENCE SUMMARY:  Given the opportunity, what might you have disappear from the earth to live one more day?

BRIEF REVIEW:   A young, unnamed postman lives alone with his cat Cabbage. He learns that he has stage 4 brain cancer and will be dead within six months but, there is a likelihood that his time will be up in just a week. What goes through one's mind when faced with such shocking news?

When the devil, decked out in a Hawaiian print shirt, shows up at his door and proposes a way to extend his life ---make one thing disappear from the earth and get an extra day to live--he's tempted to take him up on his offer. When he does, some of the first to go are cell phones, movies and clocks but, when it comes to considering having cats disappear maybe things have gone a bit too far.

This is a slim, well-translated novel (Eric Selland) about what constitutes a life well-lived. I felt the story was more heartwarming than sad and even a bit funny at times. The writing style was a bit unusual, consisting of mostly conversations and memories but, it didn't bother me.  As a cat lover and an introspective sort of person, I loved the story and the overall message.  It made me think about the things that are really important in life.  I also loved how it pointed out the importance of cats and their uncanny ability to know and understand when something is not right with a loved one.   HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

MEMORABLE QUOTES:  

"I'd always thought that when my time came, I'd go quietly, peacefully, and with dignity--that's how I always imagined it would happen.  But when death stares you in the face, you find yourself willing to accept a helping hand from anyone, even the devil, in order to stay alive.  It's basic human instinct.  Dignity and respectability fly out the window at that point."

"Mobile phones have been around for only about twenty years, but in just that short amount of time they've managed to take complete control over us. In the span of two decades something we don't really need has come to dominate our lives and make us believe we can't live without it.  When human beings invented the mobile phone, they also invented the anxiety that comes with not having one on you."

"They say that only humans can contemplate death. Cats don't fear it the same way we do.  It doesn't cause them the same level of anxiety that it does humans.  And then despite our angst over mortality, we end up keeping cats as pets, even though we know they will die long before we do, causing the owner immense grief."

"As you go on with your life, always remember the things that are good in you. They are your gifts. As long as you have these things, you'll find happiness, and you'll make people around you happy......"

"In exchange for another day of life, I erased from the face of the earth cell phones, movies, and clocks, but I just couldn't bring myself to get rid of cats...."

"A lot of people buy into that slogan Live life like there's no tomorrow. But I tend to disagree. Once you become aware of your impending death, you have to make a compromise in accepting the loss of the life you wish you could have led and the reality of your imminent death. Sure, there will always be regrets and broken dreams, but you have to go easy on yourself.  Over the last few days, I've come to realize there's a certain beauty in those regrets. They're proof of having lived."

"I was never able to be myself completely or live my life exactly how I wanted to. I'm not even sure if I ever figured out what exactly being myself and living out my dreams really meant.  So I guess I'm going to die with all those failures and regrets: all those unfulfilled dreams, all the people I've never met, all the things I never tasted and all the places I've never been. I'm taking all that with me to the grave, and I'm okay with that.  In the end, I'm satisfied with who I am and the life I've lived. I'm just happy to have been here at all."


non-fiction for children - The Story of Joe Biden: A Biography for New Readers; Frank Berrios and The Story of Climate Change: A First Book About How We Can Help Save the Planet; Catherine Barr & Steve Williams

 

What a well-written, beautifully illustrated and complete biography for children about President Biden.  The book begins with his childhood in Scranton, PA growing up in a working class family, his stuttering challenges in school and how he lost an uncle in WWII and shows his family tree as well.  The bio then moves on to him joining the Democratic Party, being elected Senator and setting his sights on the White House.  His VP campaign and more recently his race for 46th President of the US.

One thing that I really liked was that the book asks questions that encourage children to think about their future: Asking about favorite subjects and what type of school they might like to go to, who they admire, are they nervous about trying new things, what makes them work hard to achieve their goals and several more questions like how they would go about trying to make the world a better place.  

At the end there is a multiple choice quiz about Who is Joe Biden?

I was also impressed that there is a series of biographies about others who have dared to dream and become famous in their own right like: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Alexander Hamilton, Barack Obama, Martin Luther King Jr. Frida Kahlo, Harriet Tubman, Helen Keller, Jame Goodall, Marie Curie, and Albert Einstein.

                                                                                          
Catherine Barr and Steve Williams (Illustrations by Amy Husband and Mike Love)
Frances Lincoln Children's Books - 2021

A perfect blend of science and history the story begins billions of years ago with the Earth's first atmosphere, a mix of swirling poisonous gases. The story moves on to how clouds are formed, how life in the oceans began, how plants started to flourish and how mammals and humans evolved.   The book then moves on to how the climate cycles have changed over the years and what climate change means for our planet as the temperatures rise, the glaciers melt, hurricanes and floods become more frequent.  Children will learn about the impact on habitats causing animals and humans to migrate to safer areas where growing and finding food may result in a better chance of success. It also speaks to climate changes impact on forests, oceans, pollution in the air we breathe and the dangers of fossil fuels as well as an introduction to green energy.  The book concludes with a 2-page glossary of pertinent terms. I thought the book was very well done and the illustrations were great as well as to make for lively discussion. 

A great book and topic for parents to discuss with children or for teachers to discuss in their classrooms. I was impressed that this is a series book with other interesting topics like space, inventions etc.

Targeted for children in Grades 2 thru 5. Both of the above books would make nice additions to personal collections or library shelves.


Both of these books were sent to me for my unbiased reviews through the Amazon Vine program.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - If Cats Disappeared From the Earth; Genki Kawamura

Welcome to First Chapter/Intros, now hosted by Yvonne @ Socrates Book ReviewsEach week readers post the first paragraph (or 2) of a book they are reading or that they plan to read soon. 

Flatiron Books - 2019

Monday

The Devil Makes His Appearance

"I couldn't think of ten things I wanted to do before I died.

I saw a movie once where the heroine is about to die, so she makes a list of ten things she wants to do before she passes away.

Ugh, what a load of crap. Maybe I shouldn't be so harsh. But, seriously, what even goes on a list like that? A bunch of junk probably."

What do you think, read more or pass?  I picked this up on the free cart outside the library last week and I read it in one sitting yesterday. It's just 168 pages and there were so many wonderful passages I felt compelled to highlight as well.  (review coming soon)

Monday, May 3, 2021

2021 - 70 - The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida; Clarissa Goenawan

 

TITLE/AUTHOR The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida ; Clarissa Goenawan

PUBLISHER: Soho Press

YEAR PUBLISHED: 2020

GENRE: Fiction / Psych Fiction / Magical Realism

FORMAT:  ARC LENGTH: 269 pp.

SOURCE:  Amazon Vine/publisher

SETTING(s):  Japan


ONE SENTENCE SUMMARY:  A young woman commits suicide leaving her three friends to figure out why she took her own life.

BRIEF REVIEW:   We briefly meet Miwako Sumida at the beginning of the novel. She is a young woman who comes across as strong, independent and not needing many people in her life.  In her second year as university student she chooses to end her life by hanging herself and now her friends need answers.

Set in 1990's Japan, the story is divided into three parts from which we get different perspectives of who Miwako was and what might have driven her to suicide.  There is Ryusei (Ryu) the young man who loved her but,  yet she chose to keep him at a distance.  Fumi is Ryusei's sister but, only knew the deceased through Ryu. She gave Miwako a job at her art studio and the two got along well until Miwako disappears without notice. Chie was Miwako's best friend - she joins Ryu on a pilgrimage to Kitsuyma, a remote forested village, the place where Miwako committed suicide. 

This was such an addictive novel.  It's a mystery, a spiritual journey and a story of self-discovery all in one.  Each of the flawed characters has a story to tell which speaks to the reader about the powerful and destructive impact of holding on too tightly to painful secrets. The author employs some similar techniques fans of Haruki Murakami might recognize.  There were a few supernatural elements and a "cat", the story flowed well and never felt over the top.  In 2018 I had read the author's debut novel, Rainbirds, also about an unexpected suicide and a search for answers. I was quite impressed  with that novel as well.  Both of this author's books are highly recommended


RATING:  4.5/5 stars

Saturday, May 1, 2021

April in a Nutshell - Reading Plans for May

April has come and gone and a few good things happened: we are all fully vaccinated and we had out first restaurant dining experience in 14 months (we did sit outside but, it was great).  We also celebrated our granddaughter sisters birthdays in April. The girls were born 2 years and 5 days apart and, I can't believe they are now 9 and 7. Happy girls and glad to be back in-person at school - that happened in April as well.

My book group met online to discuss The Night Circus which I read in 2011 and loved, this time I listened to it performed by Jim Dale of Harry Potter audio book fame. It was wonderful and like a theatrical performance. The book is great but overly long.


This post has taken me much longer to compose with these (2) lap cats hindering helping out.  My husband asks, why my legs are often sore when I get up from the sofa and, I'm guessing it is from these two which amount to about 30 extra pounds around my ankles and knees....it's so worth it though and they are probably the reason I've never had high blood pressure?? Aww to feel so needed again.

so I persist....

April Reading

Here's a breakdown:

READING: My reading choices for April were mostly winners so I was pleased.

I read (18) books and I also had (1) DNF.

(3) children's books

(16) Fiction

(2) Non Fiction

(7) print books - (1) from my shelves of which (5) were sent by publishers and (1) from library

(8) audio books - (5)  library  download and (3) publisher download (0) purchased

(4) eBooks/eGalleys - (4) publisher downloads (0) purchase

(12) female authors  (YTD) (54)

(6) male authors       (YTD) ( 15)

YTD Total (69)

DNF 
  1. Good Neighbors; Sarah Langon

Countries traveled to through the books I've read:  South KoreaUnited Kingdom,  France,  Japan , Peru, Switzerland, Italy and England.

US States NY, CT, DC, OR, CA, New South and TX


  1. Stranger on a Train; Patricia Highsmith - 4/5 Setting: NY, CT. DC (April)
  2. Later, Stephen King - 4/5 Setting: NY
  3. Infinite Country; Patricia  Engel - 4/5 Setting: Columbia and US
  4. The Night Always Comes; Willy Vlautin - 5/5 Setting: Oregon
  5. The Island of Sea Women; Lisa See - 4/5 Setting: South Korea Island of Jeju
  6. Vera; Carol Edgarian - 2.5/5 Setting: San Francisco 
  7. A Sunday in Ville-d'Avray; Dominique Barberis - 4/5 Setting: France
  8. Everything That Rises Must Converge:Stories; Flannery O'Connor - 4.5/5 Setting: New South
  9. Zonia's Rain Forest; Julia  Martinez-Neal - 5/5 Setting Peru
  10. Zee Grows a Tree; Elizabeth Rusch - 5/5
  11. And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer; Fredrik Backman - 3/5 Setting: UK
  12. The Sanatorium; Sarah Pearse - 2/5 Setting: Swiss Alps
  13. A World of Plants; Martin Jenkins and James Brown - 5/5
  14. Earthlings; Sayaka Murata - 4.5/5 Setting: Japan
  15. The Last Thing He Told Me; Laura Dave - 4/5 Setting: CA, TX
  16. What Unites Us: Reflections of Patriotism; Dan Rather and Elliot Kirshner - (NF) 4/5
  17. Nives; Sacha Naspini - 3.5/5 Setting: Tuscany
  18. The Absolutist; John Boyne - 5/5 Setting: WWI (France) and England
May Reading Plans

Finish - The Cold Vanish; Jon Billman - audio narration is fantastic and The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida; Clarissa Goenawan

Hope to Read in May (plus a few as the spirit moves me titles)
  1. Hour of the Witch; Chris Bohjalian
  2. Heaven; Mieko Kawakami
  3. When the Stars Go Dark; Paula Mclain
  4. One Two Three; Laurie Frankle
  5. Count the Ways; Joyce Maynard
  6. Family Reunion; Nancy Thayer 
  7. The Nightingale; Kristin Hannah
  8. The Perfect Daughter; DJ Palmer
  9. The Music of Bees; Eileen Garvin
  10. The Disappearing Act; Catherine Steadman
How did your month of April go? Any exciting plans for May?

Friday, April 30, 2021

2021 - 69 - The Absolutist; John Boyne

TITLE/AUTHOR:  The Absolutist; John Boyne

PUBLISHER:  Other Press

YEAR PUBLISHED: 2011 (reissue - 4/2021)

GENRE: Fiction / Historical / War Fiction / LGBT

FORMAT:  print LENGTH: 309 pp.

SOURCE:  sent to me by Other Press

SETTING(s):  France and London


ONE SENTENCE SUMMARY:  An unforgettable, beautifully written and heart-wrenching story about choices we make and the regrets that sometimes follow.

BRIEF REVIEW:   When this book was first published in 2012, I just didn't think it was a story for me but, was I ever wrong.

What is an "absolutist?"  We are told that when it comes to war, it is worse than being a conscientious objector. Not only does an "absolutist"  refuse to fight in a war they also refuse to perform ANY duties to help in the war effort like helping out on the sidelines or in a hospital for example.

The story begins in 1919 on a train with Tristan Sadler traveling to visit Marian, the sister of Will Bancroft, a very close friend of Tristans and fallen soldier.  The purpose of the visit is to return a stack of letters that Marion wrote Will during the war.  The two young men were briefly, intimately involved while serving in France.  While Will preferred to forget the incidents and made light of them, Tristan could not forget the encounters as he cared deeply for Will.

Many issues are covered in this beautiful story: family, courage, cowardice, friendships, pressures to conform, homophobia and more. Never do the issues overwhelm the storyline.  It's actually a simple story, yet masterfully written. Through flashbacks from 1919 to 1916 the reader gets a clear picture of what happened but, it isn't until you get closer to the ending that the real shock and impact of the story hits you.  The story ends with Tristan as an old man in 1979. This is a story I'll never forget.  I'm more determined than ever to read everything that John Boyne has written; his books The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,  and A Ladder to the Sky  were other books of his that have never left me. If you decide to read this book (please do) go into it blind, like I did and don't read too many reviews. The story is written in such a way that it does not give anything away too soon at least, you get just small pieces in just the right doses.  This would make an excellent book club discussion choice.  HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

NOTE: Thanks go to Other Press for sending this book my way in exchange for my unbiased review.

MEMORABLE QUOTES:  

"Astonishing how everyone is willing to go abroad to fight for the foreigners while having such little concern for those of  their own countrymen at home."

" I think perhaps the adults we become are formed in childhood and there's no way around it."

"I felt that this is what it must be like to be married to someone, a constant back and forth of bickering, watching out for any stray comment in a conversation that might be corrected,  anything to keep gaining the upper hand, the advantage, bringing one closer to taking the game, the set, the whole blasted match without ever conceding a point."

Thursday, April 29, 2021

2021 - 68 - Nives; Sacha Naspini

 


TITLE/AUTHOR:  Nives, Sacha Nasoini

PUBLISHER: Europa Editions

YEAR PUBLISHED: 2021

GENRE: Fiction / Literary / Loss and Forgiveness

FORMAT:  eGalley LENGTH: 144 pp.

SOURCE:  Edelweiss/publisher

SETTING(s):  Tuscany


ONE SENTENCE SUMMARY:  Unable to mourn after the death of a spouse, perhaps a favorite chicken can make it all better so that you can move on?

BRIEF REVIEW:   When Nives Cilleraii  66, loses her husband of 50 years unexpectedly to a stroke she is unable to shed a tear. The couple lived on an isolated farm on the outskirts of Tuscany.  Lonely and unable to sleep but determined to carry on Nives finds unexpected companionship in Giacomina "Gia",  her favorite chicken of the brood, deformed claw and all.  Gia soon begins to live indoors with Nives and seems to be the answer to her prayers. But, when the chicken appears ill, gaze fixed after watching a Tide laundry commercial, Nives panics and contacts her former friend and Veterinarian, Loriano, a man who likes to drink.  On this particular evening Loriano has had more than his share yet, he takes the call from Nives and eventually makes several suggestions to wake the chicken out of what seems to be some sort of a trance. 

As the extended phone call progresses the two reminisce about younger days, earlier relationships and ghosts of the past which have haunted but remained tucked away until now.  Not only does Nives begin to heal and forgive but,  the chicken recovers as well.

I love Europa Edition's translated works and I have to say that this one was one of the most unusual I've tried thus far but, it did leave me smiling and thinking.  Sometimes you need to do whatever it takes to move on as life, my friends,  is for the living.

Translated from the Italian by  Clarissa Botsford. 

RATING:  3.5/5 stars

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

2021 - 67 What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism; Dan Rather & Elliot Kirshner

TITLE/AUTHOR What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism; Dan Rather & Elliot Kirshner

PUBLISHER: Highbridge Audio

YEAR PUBLISHED: 2017

GENRE: Non-Fiction / Essays / Patriotism / Memoir

FORMAT:  eAudio / LENGTH:  7 hours and 5 min.

SOURCE:  Library download

SETTING(s):  n/a


ONE SENTENCE SUMMARY:  A nice collections of essay about our country and what made it great.

BRIEF REVIEW:   What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism begins with What is Patriotism?   It is then broken into (5) parts: Freedom, Community, Exploration, Responsibility and Character  with a short collection of essays within each part.  Rather speaks about the ideals needed to form a more perfect union in turbulent times.   It is not an in-depth political commentary but more of a call to revisit our country's history and encouragement to stand up for the things you believe in.    

This book was released in 2017 but, in case you are wondering - there is no Trump-bashing.  Even though our country is more divided than ever,  I found this to be more of a reminder to refocus our energy on the things that once brought our nation together. He does mention the Free Press being in a state of crisis and makes a plea for individuals to get involved in a constructive way.

Part memoir, I loved learning about Dan Rather's early life, growing up in Texas and his news career spanning 60 years.  Although he does speak of the dark times of our country, I found the overall feel of the book to be sincere, inspiring and optimistic. 

I read about this one on Stacy's Blog and thought this would be a good one for me and my husband to listen to together. We both thought that the audio book was very good.


RATING:  4/5 stars

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - Hour of the Witch; Chris Bohjalian

Welcome to First Chapter/Intros, now hosted by Yvonne @ Socrates Book ReviewsEach week readers post the first paragraph (or 2) of a book they are reading or that they plan to read soon.  This week's pick is by an author I always look forward to reading and, his latest book will be released on May 4th.

Hour of the Witch; Chris Bohjalian
Doubleday - 5/2021

Prologue

It was always possible that the Devil was present.

Certainly, God was watching. And their Savior.

And so they were never completely alone.  Not even when they might wander out toward the mudflats or the salt marshes which, because they all but disappeared at high tide, they called the back Bay, or they happened to scale the Trimountain--three separate hills, really, Cotton and Sentry and Beacon--they had virtually flattened as they moved the earth to create the jetties and wharves and foundations for the war-houses.  Not even along the narrow neck that led to the mainland, or when they were in the woods (most definitely not when they were in the woods) on the far side of the slender split.

What do you think read more or pass?   (I hope to start this one in a few days, Chris Bohjalian has always been a go-to author.)

Monday, April 26, 2021

2021 - 66 - The Last Thing He Told Me; Laura Dave

 


TITLE/AUTHOR The Last Thing He Told Me; Laura Dave

PUBLISHER: Simon and Schuster

YEAR PUBLISHED: 2021

GENRE: Fiction / Domestic Suspense

FORMAT:  eGalley / LENGTH: 320 pp

SOURCE:  Edelweiss

SETTING(s):  CA and TX


ONE SENTENCE SUMMARY:  A suspenseful family drama that kept me quickly turning the pages.

BRIEF REVIEW:   Hannah Hall has been married to Owen Michaels for one year. She loves her husband and is trying to be the best possible step-mom to his sixteen year old daughter Bailey, whose mother has died.  Hannah knows the pain of growing up without a mother - hers didn't die but,  she wasn't interested in mothering.  Fortunately, Hannah had an amazing grandfather who showed her plenty of love. He also taught her the fine art of woodturning, which results in unique pieces of very expensive furniture that she now creates and sells to wealthy clientele.  The couple along with Bailey live on a lovely houseboat in Sausalito, CA.

One day Hannah is given a note which says: "protect her."  Little does she realize it just might be the last communication from Owen.  The same day Bailey comes home from school with a duffle bag and $600,000 cash that she claims she found in her locker.  Calls to Owen's cellphone go unanswered and the FBI has arrested the head of the big software start up company where Owen worked as a coder.  Where is Owen and why has he seemed to disappear off the face of the earth?

As Hannah tries to "protect" Bailey she also determined not to sit and just wait for Owen to surface. She needs answers and soon begins to get some tips which lead her to believe Owen has not been completely honest with her and that she and Bailey may be in danger.

The story is told from the POV of Hannah past and present. I loved her character and the way tried to gain Bailey's trust. She stepped up to the plate and did everything to protect her even though Bailey proved challenging at times.  I also liked that even though Owen disappears from the story early on, you really felt like you knew him and what his past was all about.  A tender, suspenseful character driven novel with some tense moments. I found the ending satisfying even though I was hoping for a bit more.  I love the way Laura Dave writes and I've enjoyed several of her earlier books as well.  BTW - I read Julia Roberts will be starring and producing a limited series by the same title for Apple TV. 


RATING:  4/5 stars

Sunday, April 25, 2021

A Few Book Purchases for Independent Bookstore Day

 



I wanted to support an Indie Bookstore so I treated myself to several very different books from one of my favorite imprints - NYRB classics - They look great on the bookshelves too.



  • Little Reunions - Eileen Chang - Now available in English for the first time, Eileen Chang’s dark romance opens with Julie, living at a convent school in Hong Kong, on the eve of the Japanese invasion. Her mother, Rachel, long divorced from Julie’s opium-addict father, saunters around the world with various lovers. Recollections of Julie’s horrifying but privileged childhood in Shanghai clash with a flamboyant, sometimes incestuous cast of relations that crowd her life. Eventually, back in Shanghai, she meets the magnetic Chih-yung, a traitor who collaborates with the Japanese puppet regime. Soon they’re in the throes of an impassioned love affair that swings back and forth between ardor and anxiety, secrecy and ruin. Like Julie’s relationship with her mother, her marriage to Chih-yung is marked by long stretches of separation interspersed with unexpected little reunions. Chang’s emotionally fraught, bitterly humorous novel lifts a fractured mirror directly in front of her own heart.
  • A School for Fools - Sasha Sokolov - By turns lyrical and philosophical, witty and baffling, A School for Fools confounds all expectations of the novel. Here we find not one reliable narrator but two “unreliable” narrators: the young man who is a student at the “school for fools” and his double. What begins as a reverie (with frequent interruptions) comes to seem a sort of fairy-tale quest not for gold or marriage but for self-knowledge. The currents of consciousness running through the novel are passionate and profound. Memories of childhood summers at the dacha are contemporaneous with the present, the dead are alive, and the beloved is present in the wind. Here is a tale either of madness or of the life of the imagination in conversation with reason, straining at the limits of language; in the words of Vladimir Nabokov, “an enchanting, tragic, and touching book.”
  • Malicroix, Henri Bosco - A nice young man, of stolidly unimaginative, good bourgeois stock, is surprised to inherit a house on an island in the Rhône, in the famously desolate and untamed region of the Camargue. The terms of his great-uncle’s will are even more surprising: the young man must take up solitary residence in the house for a full three months before he will be permitted to take possession of it. With only a taciturn shepherd and his dog for occasional company, he finds himself surrounded by the huge and turbulent river (always threatening to flood the island and surrounding countryside) and the wind, battering at his all-too-fragile house, shrieking from on high. And there is another condition of the will, a challenging task he must perform, even as others scheme to make his house their own. Only under threat can the young man come to terms with both his strange inheritance and himself.
  • Temptation, Janos Szekely- A Dickensian coming-of-age tale about poverty, sex, WWI and the darker side of human nature as seen through the eyes of a lobby boy at a Budapest hotel.
  • My Dog Tulip, J.R. Ackerley - J.R. Ackerley's German shepherd Tulip was skittish, possessive, and wild, but he loved her deeply. This clear-eyed and wondering, humorous and moving book, described by Christopher Isherwood as one of the "greatest masterpieces of animal literature," is her biography, a work of faultless and respectful observation that transcends the seeming modesty of its subject. In telling the story of his beloved Tulip, Ackerley has written a book that is a profound and subtle meditation on the strangeness abiding at the heart of all relationships. 
  • To Each His Own, Leonard Sciascia - This letter is your death sentence. To avenge what you have done you will die. But what has Manno the pharmacist done? Nothing that he can think of. The next day he and his hunting companion are both dead. The police investigation is inconclusive. However, a modest high school teacher with a literary bent has noticed a clue that, he believes, will allow him to trace the killer. Patiently, methodically, he begins to untangle a web of erotic intrigue and political calculation. But the results of his amateur sleuthing are unexpected—and tragic. To Each His Own is one of the masterworks of the great Sicilian novelist Leonardo Sciascia—a gripping and unconventional detective story that is also an anatomy of a society founded on secrets, lies, collusion, and violence. 
  • The Ten Thousand Things, Maria Dermout -The Ten Thousand Things is a novel of shimmering strangeness—the story of Felicia, who returns with her baby son from Holland to the Spice Islands of Indonesia, to the house and garden that were her birthplace, over which her powerful grandmother still presides. There Felicia finds herself wedded to an uncanny and dangerous world, full of mystery and violence, where objects tell tales, the dead come and go, and the past is as potent as the present. First published in Holland in 1955, Maria Dermoût's novel was immediately recognized as a magical work, like nothing else Dutch—or European—literature had seen before. The Ten Thousand Things is an entranced vision of a far-off place that is as convincingly real and intimate as it is exotic, a book that is at once a lament and an ecstatic ode to nature and life.

Friday, April 23, 2021

2021 - 65 - Earthlings; Sayaka Murata

 

TITLE/AUTHOREarthlings; Sayaka Murata

PUBLISHER: Blackstone Audio

YEAR PUBLISHED: 2020

GENRE: Fiction / Literary / Coming of Age / Dystopian

FORMAT:  audio LENGTH: 7 hours 6 minutes

SOURCE:  library download

SETTING(s):  Japan


ONE SENTENCE SUMMARY:  Don't let the cute cover lead you to believe this is a light read; it's an unsettling story that you won't easily forget.

BRIEF REVIEW:   Earlier this year I read The Convenience Store Woman and absolutely loved it so I wanted to try the author's latest novel as well. This one was very good but a much darker story, however,  Sayaka Murata has become another favorite on my list of must-read authors.

Since the age of nine, Natsuki has always felt like a bit of an alien when it came to human interactions.  Her mother physically and emotionally abusive, her father devoid of emotion and both parents favored her sister.  She isn't even able to get her mother to take her seriously when she is sexually assaulted by a teacher.  Yet, Natsuki gets by pretending her plush, hedgehog toy,  Piyyut, has bestowed its magical powers to protect her.  One summer while the family has gathered for her grandfather's funeral at their mountain retreat, she learns that her similar age, male cousin Yuu also feels that same societal alienation and believes he has ascended from the planet Popinpobopia. The two bond over their similarities and the duo pledge to marry when older.

Fast forward 20 years and Natsuki is married to Totomoya and in a loveless marriage.  The two met on a website for "people trying to evade society's gaze."  It turns out Totomoya is disgusted by the female body because of abuse he suffered at the hands of his mother.  Pressured by the "Baby Factory" to procreate and the feeling that people are trying to brainwash them, Natsuki and Totomoya plan a getaway to that mountain retreat where Natsuki reconnects with Yuu hoping that he has not forgotten their childhood promise.  What occurs in the rather brief finale is likely to horrify the reader or, at the very least, have them jolt up in shock and never forget how this unsettling story ends.

Beautifully translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemoti, the author has written another stunning piece about the pressures and consequences of being expected to conform to societies expectations.

RATING:  4.5/5 stars

MEMORABLE QUOTES:  

"The person who had given birth to me said I was a dead loss, so I decided it must really be true."

"Society was a system for falling in love.  People who couldn't fall in love had to fake it.  What came first: the system or love?"

"I was a tool for the town's good, in two senses.  Firstly, I  had to study hard to become a work tool. Secondly, I had to be a good girl, so I could become a reproductive organ for the town."