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."

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

2021 - 64 - Another Earth Day Treasure - A World of Plants; Martin Jenkins and James Brown (ILL)


A World of Plants is a stunning, all encompassing book about plants full of facts about what plants can do.  It is a beautiful, oversized hardboard book approx. 11"x15". The targeted age group is 7 - 10, but, adults  might be surprised that they learned quite a few new things by reading this book as well. 

Some of the topics that I found fascinating were:
  • Plants That Eat Animals
  • Sacred and Symbolic Plants
  • Breeding Plants
  • Ten Plants That Feed the World
  • Cycling Carbon
  • Plants That Steal
  • Tall, Taller, Tallest Trees
  • Desert Plants
  • Breeding Plants...... and honestly so many more.

Each particular topic is given a (2)-page spread like the ones shown below with beautiful illustrations and details about the specific topic featured. There is interesting information about photosynthesis, what it is and how it works.  It also cautions readers about how important it is to take the climate crisis seriously and how important plants are to life on Planet Earth. 

This book would work great as an instructional tool as well as for personal collections.

Thanks go to Candlewick and Walker Books US for sending this lovely book my way.



2021 - 63 - The Sanatorium; Sarah Pearse

 

TITLE/AUTHORThe Sanatorium; Sarah Pearse

PUBLISHER: Pamela Dorman Books

YEAR PUBLISHED: 2021

GENRE: Fiction / Psych Thriller

FORMAT:  Hardcover LENGTH: 400 pp

SOURCE:  library

SETTING(s):  Swiss Alps


ONE SENTENCE SUMMARY:  A slow psych thriller that ended up disappointing for me.

BRIEF REVIEW:   This novel had been hyped all over the place but, for me, it was the title and the cover that made me want to read it. I tried to stay away from reviews and honestly, I thought it was about a "sanatorium" --well, not exactly. It's the sanatorium's dark and troubled past that is significant here.

Once a remote "sanatorium", Le Sommet, is now a modern, minimalist, 5-star luxury hotel in the Swiss Alps.  The hotel sets the stage for a celebratory engagement party for Isaac and Laure where Laure is an Assistant Manager.  Among the invited guests is Elin Warner, the estranged sister of Isaac. She is a former police detective on leave from her job and also suffering from PTSD since her mother's death six months earlier and she is also still troubled by the death of her younger brother. Elin is not keen on attending the celebration since she has not been on speaking terms with her brother but, Laure was her best friend so she feels compelled to attend especially since she is not currently working.  She brings her boyfriend Will along for emotional support.

Rather quickly,  things go from bad to worse -  a blizzard makes the steep access road to the resort impassable, Laure ends up missing another person found dead.  Elin feels compelled to find out what is going on.  She even begins to suspect her own brother. The truth is Elin is a hot-mess.

While I loved the atmosphere of the novel, the set up reminded me very much of Ruth Ware's most recent novel, One By One.  In both novels - a resort, a blizzard or avalanche cuts off access and people end up missing or dead and both, for me,  had a less than satisfying plot.  While I wanted to like Elin because she had been through a lot, I soon found her super annoying and wondered how she was ever able to function as a detective.  I didn't like how the author decided to leave nothing to chance and  so she spelled out Elin's every move and thought, even some ridiculous ones.  I didn't find the motives compelling enough for murder nor did I find the twists all that believable. Finally, the ending seemed quite abrupt and it made me wonder about a possible sequel? If so, count me out. 

RATING:  2/5 stars

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - The Absolutist; John Boyne

 


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. 

The Absolutist; John Boyne - Other Press 

Tombland

Norwich, 15-16 September 1919

SEATED OPPOSITE ME in the railway carriage, the elderly lady in the fox-fur shawl was recalling some of the murders that she committed over the years.

"There was the vicar in Leeds," as she said, smiling a little as she tapped her lower lip with her index finger. "And the spinster from Hartlepool whose tragic secret was to prove her undoing.  The actress from London, of course, who took up with her sister's husband just after his return from Crimea. She was a flighty piece so no one would blame me for that.  But the maid-of-all-work in Connaught Square, I rater regretted killing her.  She was a hard-working girl of good Northerner stock, who perhaps didn't deserve such a brutal ending."

"That was one of my favourites, I replied. "If you ask me, she got what was coming to her. She read letters that were not hers to read."

What do you think, read more or pass?   I've read a few books by this author and just loved them,  This one has been on my TBR list for a bit - I love the intros and can't wait to read on.

2021 - 62 - And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer; Fredrik Backman


TITLE/AUTHORAnd Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer; Fredrik Backman

PUBLISHER: Simon & Schuster Audio

YEAR PUBLISHED: 2016

GENRE: Fiction / Family Life

FORMAT:  eAudio / LENGTH: 1 hour and 9 minutes

SOURCE: Library download

SETTING(s):  UK


ONE SENTENCE SUMMARY:  A sad story about memories and letting go.

BRIEF REVIEW:  A grandfather, son and grandson grapple with the fact that although Grandpa is still doing fairly well physically, his mind and memories are failing him.  Grandpa has always had a close relationship with grandson, Noah, it was time treasured by both parties and Grandpa thought of it as a second chance since he wasn't always available when his own son Ted, (Noah's father) was a young boy.  The grandfather reflects on his relationship with his wife who has passed on, things about his son but mostly about treasured times he has spent with his grandson Noah.  Grandpa's thoughts seemed to ramble and,  although the story is brief, I often found myself wondering whose POV  was at play and where the conversations were taking place - except maybe at the very end.  This is a tender, reflective story which I don't recommend that you read if you are feeling down or if you have a loved one struggling with memory issues.

Fredrik Backman is an author I always seem to enjoy but, this novella didn't work all that well for me. The audio was read by David Morse who did a fine job. It was more that the overall story was a bit of a miss for me even though I loved the special relationship that Noah and his grandfather enjoyed.


RATING:  3/5 stars

Monday, April 19, 2021

Earth Day is April 22nd ~ Some fabulous Children's Books to Celebrate: Zonia's Rain Forest ; Juana Martinez-Neal and Zee Grows a Tree; Elizabeth Rusch

Zonia's Rain Forest; Juana Martinez - Neal

2021 Candlewick Press 

Zonia's Rain Forest is a kid-friendly opportunity to learn about the rain forests and how the beauty of this environment is in jeopardy. Zonia is a young Ashaninka girl who lives with other Indigenous people in the Peruvian rain forest. Each day she spends time chatting with the critters who live there.  She loves her outdoor adventures.  One day it becomes clear that the future of the rain forest is questionable as a result of deforestation and action clearly needs to be taken to protect it. 

From adorable sloths to jaguars, snakes, leopards, birds, turtles, anteaters and more compromised living things, Zonia's Rain Forest is a call to action. The color appropriate pencil and ink pallet images and illustrations on paper made of banana bark are impressive and really draw the reader into the rain forest along side of Zonia and her friends.

This is a wonderful book to start educating young children about environmental issues.

A beautiful book meant to educate the very young about our compromised environment. A great book for personal collections as well as school and public library collections. I found the information about the Ashaninka people so interesting and a glossary was a wonderful addition as well. A perfect book to read to children in celebration of Earth Day.

Ages 4 to 8 

40 pp



Zee Grows a Tree; Elizabeth Rusch (Ill. Will Hillenbrand

Candlewick Press - 2021

On the very day that Zee Cooper is born a Douglas Fir seedling sprouts on her family's Christmas Tree Farm.  As Zee grows, so does the seedling. As her mom and dad cared for Zee, they also nurtured the seedling that sprouted into a big tree. As Zee grew she began to care for her tree as well often comparing height until the tree's height eventually surpassed Zee.  One summer drought hit hard and damaged the tree so it needed extra protection again the upcoming winter. The extra love and protection helped the tree survive.

I thought this was a very sweet and touching story that followed Zee and the Douglas fir from birth to age 8 and measured  various milestones. I liked that there was an index and suggestions for both enjoying and preserving precious trees.  With glossy pages and pleasing art and a story and simple text that should be appropriate for children between the ages of 4 and 8.  This is another Earth Day winner. Be sure to add this to your personal library.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

2021 - 59 - Everything That Rises Must Converge; Flannery O'Connor

 


TITLE/AUTHOR:  Everything That Rises Must Converge; Flannery O'Connor

PUBLISHER: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

YEAR PUBLISHED: 1965

GENRE: Fiction / Literary / Short Stories

FORMAT:  Trade Paperback LENGTH: 269 pp

SOURCE:  My shelves

SETTING(s):  US, (New South)


ONE SENTENCE SUMMARY:  A short story collection that might shock you as well as make you smile with some hot topics like race, faith and morality.

BRIEF REVIEW:   This was an enlightening collection of (9) short stories that I was easily captivated by. The writing and subject matter in most stories was so different from anything I've read in a long while. The collection was written in the early 60s and published after the author's death.  With themes like faith, race, morality and death.  Six of the nine stories speak of dying and death and most exhibit some form of prejudice or downright racism.  Despite the serious topics, O'Connor's writing style and scenarios she created often made me smile.

My favorite was the title story: Everything That Rises Must Converge.  In this story, Mrs. Chestny and her son Julian live in 1960s New South,  and have conflicting views on desegregation now that the laws have begun to change.  Mrs. Chestny has a weight problem and takes the bus to the YMCA in an attempt to exercise and trim down but, now that integration is in effect she is nervous about riding the bus.  There is a scene where she wears a big fancy hat and is all prim and proper riding the bus to go to the YMCA when a black woman on the bus is wearing the exact same hat.  There is an incident when they get off the bus where Mrs C. insults the black woman and her young boy and the offended hits her with her purse in retaliation causing Mrs. C  a fatal medical event.   I loved the writing style where the reader got to see the happenings from a 3rd party POV but, is also privy to son Julian's outrage of his mother's behavior.  One final thought was that although Julian, a college graduate, saw himself as more progressive in thought when it came to how times were changing, deep down he wasn't very self-aware and actually pretty small-minded and rather petty.  

Most all of these stories seem to feature characters who were racist yet fail to see this in themselves.  I thought that the author had an amazing gift of pointing out irony and the absurdities of life. I definitely plan to read more by this author and, I actually own a few more of her books. Here is a LINK to my review of another of her short-story collections: A Good Man is Hard to Find and other stories which I read and reviewed in 2012 and also enjoyed.

Flannery O'Connor grew up in devout Catholic family in rural Georgia. Sadly she passed away at the age of 39 in 1964 of a form of Lupus, the same disease that took her father's life when Flannery was a teen. I wonder how her writing style might have changed after Civil Rights had she lived.

RATING:  4.5/5 stars

MEMORABLE QUOTES:  

"Will you for God's sake get off that subject?" Julian said. When he got on a bus by himself, he made it a point to sit by a Negro, in reparation as it was for his mother's sins.

"Mrs. May winced. She thought the word Jesus should be kept inside the church building like other words inside the bedroom."    

"She was a good Christian woman with a large respect for religion, though she did not, of course, believe any of it was true."   

Thursday, April 15, 2021

2021 - 58 - A Sunday in Ville-d'Avray; Dominique Barberis

 

TITLE/AUTHORA Sunday in Ville-d'Avray; Dominique Barberis

PUBLISHER: Other Press

YEAR PUBLISHED: 2021

GENRE: Fiction / Literary /Translated

FORMAT:  LENGTH: 132 pp

SOURCE: ARC (sent by publisher)

SETTING(s):  France (translated from the French by John Cullen)


ONE SENTENCE SUMMARY:  A brief but enjoyable escape to France in this story about sisters with secrets.

BRIEF REVIEW:   Two sisters who were very close when young, now live a distance away.  Our unnamed narrator sister and her partner Luc live in Paris, while the other sister, Claire Marie, lives in a quiet suburb and is married to a doctor and also has a daughter.  Since Luc does not care for Claire Marie, he stays behind on the Sunday the narrator makes the trip.  Already in a melancholy mood when she travels to her sisters place, oddly, Sunday had always been a day their mother hated when they were young as well.  Over the course of their Sunday visit these middle-aged sisters reveal things they had never shared before.

I sat down with this brief novella and a hot cup of tea on a dreary spring afternoon and found it to be a rewarding escape that made me think.  There was a quiet, intimate, yet suspenseful and atmospheric feel to the writing.  By the end of this brief novel, I felt like I knew what made each sister tick but, did I? Can you always tell the difference between fact and fiction and can we always trust our memories? 

RATING:  4/5 stars

MEMORABLE QUOTES:  "WHO REALLY KNOWS US? We say so few things, and we lie about almost everything.  Who knows the truth?  Had my sister really told me the truth? Who can know it? Who'll remember us? With the passage of time, our hearts will become dark and dusty....."

2021 - 57 - Vera; Carol Edgarian

 

TITLE/AUTHOR:  Vera; Carol Edgarian

PUBLISHER: Scribner

YEAR PUBLISHED: 2021

GENRE: Fiction / Historical Fiction

FORMAT:  eGalley / LENGTH: 336 pp 

SOURCE: NetGalley download

SETTING(s):  San Francisco, CA


ONE SENTENCE SUMMARY:  Not the engaging piece of historical fiction I was hoping for.

BRIEF REVIEW:  When I read that Vera was set around the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and resulting fires, I couldn't wait to read it.  I recently read another historical novel set around the 1906 earthquake, The Nature of Fragile Things; Susan Meissner which I loved.   Unfortunately, Vera was a bit of a disappointment for me.

Vera Johnson is a fifteen year old girl just trying to find her place in the world.  Her real mother is Rose, who runs San Francisco's most famous brothel and, it is only a few times a year that she actually gets to see her.  The olive-skinned, Vera lives with a widowed foster mother Morie, a light-skinned,  Swedish woman who Rose pays to care for her illegitimate daughter, Vera.  Morie also has another daughter, eighteen year old Pie.  The two girls are quite different, where Pie is easy going and innocent with simple dreams, Vera is far more complicated, bold and determined. When the 1906 earthquake and resulting fires hit the city just days after Vera's fifteenth birthday and Morie ends up dead, Vera and Pie must do what it takes to survive a city in chaos. As they make their way to Rose's Pacific Heights mansion they find out that she isn't even around. Not sure whether Rose is dead or alive, it's here that Vera's strength and determination is needed most.  

While I'm sure that the author did her research while writing this novel about the 1906 earthquake, I felt the plot was way more involved and complicated than it really needed to be. The characters were plentiful yet very few were memorable for me.  


RATING:  2.5/5 stars

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - The Sanatorium; Sarah Pearse

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. 


The Sanatorium; Sarah Pearse
Viking - 2021

Prologue

January - 2015

Discarded medical equipment litters the floor; surgical tools blistered with rust, broken bottles, jars, the scratched spine of an old invalid chair.  A torn mattress sits slumped against the wall, bile-yellow stains pocking the surface.

Hand clamped tight around his briefcase, Daniel Lemaitre feels a sharp wave of revulsion: it's as if time has taken over the building's soul, left something rotten and diseased in its place."


What do you think - read more or pass?   I had been eyeing this one for a while and the library copy just became available a couple of days ago.