Category Archives: Book Reviews

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Authors I’m Dying to meet

This weeks meme from the Broke and the Bookish is about authors you would like to meet.  To be more specific, these are 10 authors I would really enjoy getting to know a bit maybe over a meal.  Are any of these authors on your list?  Who is on your list and why?

  1. Margaret Atwood is one of my favorite  authors of all time.  I find her writing brilliant and her social commentary chilling yet spot on.  I felt like she was one of the first feminist writers whose writing I fell in love with.
  2. Elizabeth Strout is another favorite author of mine.  I love reading her novels and feeling like I have really gotten to know her characters well.  I find her writing brilliant and her character depiction one of the best out there.
  3. Kurt Vonnegut was a favorite of mine about 20 years ago and I devoured everything he wrote.  I would love to revisit his work with him.  This won’t be possible as he passed away in 2007 at the age of 84.
  4. Kate Atkinson is an author I fell in love with while reading ‘Life After Life.’  There was something so deeply affecting about this novel, how such small choices in life can have such large devastating consequences.  I listened to an interview with her, yet still have many questions of my own.
  5. Ernest Hemmingway is an author that sweeps me off my feet each time I pick up one of his novels.  His writing is beautiful and timeless.  I would love to meet this extremely charismatic man and get to know him more.  As he passed away in 1961 this won’t be possible, but I did have the opportunity to explore his home in Key West.
  6. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie blew me away with her novel ‘Americanah.’  She is a brilliant forward thinker who is doing tremendous good with her writing, bringing more thought and insight to not only race discussions, but also gender.  I hold her in the utmost esteem.
  7. Neil Gaiman is amazing.  I love everything I’ve read by him.  I would love to meet him, just to hear him tell me stories.. I have no idea how he is able to think up all of these incredibly fabulous fantastical tales.
  8. Mariana Enriquez is a young Argentinian author who recently published a collection of short stories, ‘Things We Lost in the Fire.’  These were horror stories that spoke to a horrific Argentinian recent past and to horrors in current society.  These stories have stuck with me and I would love to speak with her more about them and what her drive was in writing them.
  9. Trevor Noah, current host of the Daily Show, and author of ‘Born a Lie’ is hilarious!  His humor and social commentary is spot on.  I would love to sit down and share some laughs with this man.
  10. Malala Yousafzai is an amazing young woman who inspires women and girls everywhere.  Her struggle to fight for education in the face of the Taliban was incredibly brave and heroic.  Her memoir serves as a enormous reminder that women in other parts of the world have a long way to go in their fight for access to education, let alone equality.

“The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley” by Hannah Tinti

Pages: 480

Expected Publication Date:  March 28, 2017

 

 

 

 

This was a beautiful story of a father – daughter relationship.  It tells of a past pertaining to the father, Samuel Hawley, from which he is trying to protect his daughter at all costs.  His past is Herculean, it is a time of it’s own, yet it cannot be separated from the present.  He has scars from  twelve bullets.  Twelve bullets are the equivalent of the twelve tasks of Hercules, the twelve hours on a clock.  Hawley’s past is shady, but he is a good man and wants the best for his daughter.  His job now is taking care of his daughter.  The chapters describing the circumstances leading up to each bullet striking him alternate with chapters about his daughter coming of age.  It is a unique intersecting of two lives, one in the past and one in the present.

The setting is Gloucester, Massachusetts, a fishing town that has a renowned greasy pole competition in the summer.  However, the author has renamed Gloucester Olympus, giving it heroic proportions, suitable for the Hercules of this novel to tackle.  He tackles it with humility and for his daughter.  He does not enter the competition to win glory for himself.  The town is well developed in the novel.  The reader gets a sense of the determination and culture of the fishermen.  This is set against the environmentalists embodied by Mary Titus who are fighting to protect against overfishing.

Hawley’s past is tainted.  It is rough and difficult, full of narrow escapes.  The daughter, Loo, is youthful, more innocent.  Their relationship is full of respect and love.  She doesn’t fully understand who he is, but she is starting too.  She may be innocent, but even she carries pieces of his past within her.  She often feels that sour taste rising in the back of her throat driving her to violence.  In returning to her mother’s hometown, she is subject to bullying, but learns to fight for herself.  She falls for a boy.  She starts a waitressing job.  She is coming of age, understanding her father better and the world at large.

This is a beautiful book which I highly recommend!  I loved the intersection of an exciting shoot ’em up novel combined with a  coming-of-age story and the subtle shift in the relationship between father and daughter.  It was beautifully executed and seemingly timeless.  It was  tender and sweet plus keep-you-on-your-toes, exciting.   

 

Photo from obs-us.com

 

 

 

 

 

Photo from Boston.com

 

 

 

 

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  The author states in the afterward that the 3 themes she is trying to develop are time, death and love.  How are these developed throughout the novel?  Which theme do you think is most important?
  2. In exploring the theme of time, how does the past influence the present and the future in this novel?
  3. Discuss the comparison between Samuel Hawley and Hercules.  How are they similar?  How are they different?
  4. Who are the heroes in this novel?
  5. What were your feelings toward Samuel Hawley?
  6. How does the grandmother feel about Samuel?  Why do you think she does not confront him with her suspicions?
  7. Why does Principal Gunderson become Loo’s ally?
  8. How is the backdrop of the fishing town important to the story?
  9. What elements do each bullet story all have in common?

Interview with Hannah Tinti conducted by NPR

Review by Ron Charles in the Washington Post

Review by Jo’s Book Blog

“Ill Will” by Dan Chaon

Pages:  480

Published:  March 7, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

Unique, dark, suspenseful psychological thriller that cycles back and forth in time focusing on 2 separate sets of murders.  In the 1970s, Dustin’s parents and aunt and uncle were brutally murdered while he and his cousins slept in a trailer in the driveway.  It was his and his cousin, Kate’s, testimony that landed Dustin’s foster brother, Randy in prison.  As a result of this traumatic event, Dustin became interested in studying the psychology of Satanic cults and violence expressed through them.  He developed his thesis around it, testified in many cases as an expert, and currently works as a therapist.  In present day, Dustin’s life starts unravelling as the delicate tendrils that were holding it together gradually give way.  His wife dies of cancer at the age of 43, his two sons have graduated from high school, and his foster brother Randy has been released from prison with the help of the Innocence Project working on his behalf.  In current day, Dustin is drawn into investing a possible homicide cluster of drunk college boys who were determined accidental drownings by the police.

The books chapters are narrated by various different characters (sometimes in the first person and sometimes in the third) and they deeply reflect the mindset of the characters.  The characters become more and more isolated from each, so the reader knows more about what is going on with them than they know what is going on with each other or in some cases themselves.

The chapters from Dustin’s mindset are particularly troubling.  His thoughts and sense of reality seem to be losing footing.  He takes up drinking and smoking.  His thoughts are repeating themselves.  He trails off not finishing thoughts or sentences.   He wonders if he’s in a fugue state.   His cousins and foster brother describe the young Dustin as trusting and gullible.  It seems without his wife as an anchor, he has become so again, particularly with regards to his patient Aqil.  Aqil is obsessed with the “murders” of drunk frat boys that have drown in waterways while intoxicated.  Dustin becomes drawn into “investigating” these incidences with Aqil, presenting himself to others as an investigator or writer.  He confides in Aqil so much that it seems there is a role reversal.  In fact, he knows very little about Aqil, but has become emotionally dependent upon him.  Dustin has trouble seeing what is right in front of him.  His son is getting deeper into drugs and pretends to go to a college he never enrolled in.  Dustin becomes an easy victim once again, trusting and gullible as always, without a strong sense of self.

This book brings up many questions.  What are memories composed of?  How reliable are our memories?  Can a fictionalized statement in the past be remembered as a truth?  What defines us?  Is it our perception of ourselves or how others perceive us?  How does grief shape our thoughts and mental stability?

This is a long, dark twisted mystery delving deep into the psychology of its characters.  At points it’s hard to read as the writing reflects the altered and distressed mental states of its characters.  It experiments with writing in chart format, chunking bits of information together in little boxes,  letting the reader grasp that it is not making coherent sense with the character.  I enjoyed the story and the writing, although it felt more difficult to get through because of it’s style.  I felt the quotations at the beginning of each chapter were perfect for setting the chapter up for it’s intended purpose and were very thought provoking in and of themselves.   The last chapter begins with this quote: “In the end it is the mystery that lasts and not the explanation.” – Sacheverell Sitwell, For Want of the Golden City.  

 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Wave tells Kate that she sacrificed them and that this is her reward.  What does she mean by that?
  2. What do you think happens to Aqil at the end of the novel?
  3. Who are the gibbeners and what do they represent in this novel?
  4. How is the self defined?  By those close to us or by ourself?  Why is Dustin so concerned that Rusty will change his son’s perception of him?
  5. How are these two sets of murders connected?
  6. How were Dustin’s parents and his Aunt and Uncle really killed and why?  Who is killing these boys and why?  What is Dustin’s role in each set of “murders”?
  7. Why do you think Dustin becomes wraps up in Aqil’s investigation?
  8. Why do you believe that Dustin’s reality is decomposing in this novel? What factors are contributing?
  9. Why does Wave stop speaking to Kate after Rusty’s trial?
  10. What is the meaning and importance of memories in this novel?
  11. Why doesn’t Dustin want to read the letter written to his wife that he finds in his son’s desk?
  12. Why is Dustin blind to his son’s heroin abuse?
  13. Discuss the meaning of the title?  Ill will toward whom?  From whom?  Why?

 

Ron Charles’ Review in The Washington Post

Review by Scott Bradfield in the Los Angeles Times

An Interview with Dan Chaon as conducted by The Millions

Dan Chaon’s website

“All the Ugly and Wonderful Things” by Bryn Greenwood

Pages: 346

Published:  August 9, 2016

Literary Awards:  Kirkus Prize Nominee (2016), Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Fiction (2016), Book of the Month’s first Book of the Year Award (2016), Goodreads Best Fiction of Nominee (2016)

 

 

This is a book written by a woman who grew up in Kansas, the daughter of a “very successful” meth dealer who had his own private plane.  At the age of 13, she fell in love with a much older man.  This novel was not meant to be autobiographical, but it definitely draws upon a known past.

This novel has stirred much controversy about the nature of the relationship that develops between the two main characters in this novel.  I admit that as their relationship started to change,  I cringed at the idea of a romantic relationship between Kellen and Wavy, but I grew to love them together.  The book brings up so many questions about the nature of romantic relationships.  Is it better to first experience romance with someone you love and trust or as a fling at a party, like Rene and Amy?  Is engaging in a romantic relationship with a much older man who has been acting as your care-giver breaking boundaries of trust?  Is it morally reprehensible?  Was Aunt Brenda’s extreme reaction to the relationship between Wavy and Kellen due more to her guilt at not being there or true repulsion at the idea of this inappropriate relationship?

I loved Wavy in this novel. I felt she was an angel, a beautiful, bright and intelligent child, trapped in an ugly situation.  Her father is a meth dealer, with multiple girlfriends, not even living at home with her mother.  Her mother has extreme OCD and paranoia which she self medicates with substance abuse.  Wavy is left to her own devices, neglected, ignored, physically injured at times, witnessing the debauchery and reckless behavior of the adults around her.  She appears feral in part due to her neglect and in part due to her mother’s extreme reactions and instructions to her daughter.  Wavy will not speak to people and she will not eat in front of people.  This scares most people around her.  The teachers feel she is a lost cause.  When her parents are in jail, her Aunt Brenda becomes so frustrated by Wavy that she is made to leave.   Only certain special people are able to connect and get through to Wavy.  These include Amy, Donal, her grandmother and Kellen.

I felt so much truth, humanity and love expressed through this book. I loved that this book made me rethink some hard and fast rules that I have for behavior.  I think looking at everything as being black and white is dangerous.  There are always shades of grey.  Wavy and Kellen proved this.  This would make an excellent book club book.  There is so much to discuss and from reading other reviews, there are people with polar opposite feelings about this book!  

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Why did Liam treat Wavy so poorly?
  2. Why did Liam often turn his attention away from Wavy?
  3. Why do you think Liam has so much control over those around him?
  4. Why did Uncle Sean kill Val and Liam?
  5. If you had to clinically diagnose Val, what would her diagnosis be?
  6. Discuss the female role models Wavy had in her life and the effect they had on her.
  7. Discuss the title and it various possible meanings?
  8. How did you feel about the relationship between Kellen and Wavy?  Did your feelings about their relationship change over the course of the book?
  9. Did this book make you re-evaluate your belief systems?
  10. Compare and contrast Wavy’s first experience with sexual activity to Amy and Rene’s.  Which is the better?
  11. Discuss the reasons behind which Wavy does not speak initially and will not eat in front of other people.

 

 

Bryn Greenwood’s Blog

LitLovers Discussion Guide

Interesting Viewpoint from Nobody New Yorker

 

Food 52 Mighty Salads: 60 New Ways to Turn Salad into Dinner — and Make-Ahead Lunches, Too by the Editors of Food52

Pages:  160

Expected Publication Date:  April 11, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

I love a hearty salad for dinner, so this cookbook caught my attention right away.  A one dish meal with vegetables, protein and grains that is mostly plant-based?  Yes, please!  I often find myself purchasing ingredients at the grocery store that I think might be interesting in a salad and unfortunately they go bad without me using them.  I really needed this book.  This book gave some great salad recipe ideas that were healthy, filling and tasted cultural authentic to a variety of different regions.   They were also chock full of interesting, unusual ingredients.  I loved the format, the descriptions, and the genius tips.  I really learned a lot from this cookbook!  The cookbook includes beautiful photos of the salads throughout.  To be honest, the ones in the book are much more artistically photographed, but to be truthful to my experience with this book, I posted my own, alongside some specific notes on several individual recipes I’ve made thus far.  I look forward to making many more recipes in this book.  I have been so pleasantly surprised by all of the recipes so far.  I would love to own the physical cookbook to work more easily with these recipes and highly recommend it to others.  

  1.  Curried Cauliflower Fattoush – Fried bread + sturdy veg + cook’s choice + spiced yogurt dressing.  This is a salad with the main ingredient being uncooked cauliflower.  It works though!  With the middle eastern spices and yogurt, some veggies, chick peas for protein, and fried pieces of pita bread… this was actually great!  This was unlike any salad my husband or I had eaten previously, but we both very much enjoyed it.  This was even better the next day once the cauliflower has some time to become more tender.  The directions recommend marinating the cauliflower for 1-24 hours.  I only marinated for one hour.  If you make this recipe, I recommend longer, as the cauliflower becomes more flavorful and tender.

  2.   Spicy Chicken Salad with Rice Noodles  Grilled meat + thinly sliced veg + noodles + herbs.  It was absolutely delicious!!  So flavorful, fresh and a lovely combination of chicken, noodles and veggies.  The marinade and dressing were perfect for this.  Not too sweet, but very flavorful.  This felt like an authentic healthy Thai dish.  We loved it!

  3.  Herbed Tuna and Israeli Couscous Salad – Protein + pasta or grain + chopped herbs + spiced oil + citrus.  This was super flavorful, spicy, no need to add salt.  Delicious!  Seems more like a lunch than dinner salad.  I love the tuna in it!  The preserved lemons take 2 weeks to make on your own, so I bought mine on amazon.  However, I enjoyed learning how to make the preserved lemons – very easy!

  4.  Coconut Rice Salad with Mango, Bell Pepper & Lime – Grain + lentils + fruit + warming spices + herbs – This was absolutely delicious.  The sweet cool mango was the prefect counterbalance to the spice of the Fresno chile.  This dish was so flavorful, fresh and filling.  This was absolutely delicious as well as boasting beautiful, bright colors!

  5. Radicchio & Shrimp Salad with Warm Bacon VinaigretteRoasted chicory and protein + warm vinaigrette + herbs + smoke.   Prior to making this I hesitated over the radicchio base to this salad, but decided to give it a try since I’ve only had radicchio mixed with other greens and this seemed so different.  I’m not sure if it was the radicchio that turned me off or the tartness from the balsamic vinegar.  There was a strong tart aftertaste to this that I did not like at all.  I ate it though and thoroughly enjoyed the shrimp.  Perhaps it’s just me and radicchio weren’t meant to be or maybe my balsamic vinegar was too old.. not sure.  It does say in the description that this is the favorite salad of not one, but two editors, so I’m thinking I’m probably an outlier on this one.

  6. Chorizo and Summer Melon Salad – Spicy cured meat + melon + crisp vegetables + crumbly cheese + herbs + citrus.  Amazing!  This was a perfect balance of flavors.  It had a nice variety of ingredients to keep it interesting without having too many ingredients.  It was super easy to make and tasted so fresh and delicious.  We ate it with a side of black beans.  I hugely recommend this salad.  This is one I’ll be making all summer.  It will be a huge hit at potlucks.

  7. Roasted Grape, Butternut Squash & Kale Salad – Roasted winter squash + roasted fruit + hearty greens + hard cheese + cheesy vinaigrette.  This salad made for a beautiful presentation.  This would be a wonderful side salad for an autumn dinner party.  We felt that the lack of protein in this salad left us still hungry.  However it was a very good salad.  The roasted grapes in this salad made it very special!

  8. Chicken & Rice Salad with Poached Radishes & Nuoc ChamShredded meat + spicy greens + grains + brown butter + heat.  This was absolutely delicious.  It was sweet and spicy and quite filling.  We loved it!  I would definitely make this again.  Very easy and very satisfying.  This was my first time eating poached radishes – amazing!

“Trump This! The Life and Times of Donald Trump, An Unauthorized Biography” by Marc Shapiro

Pages: 204

Published: February 26, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you to Patty for writing a review on goodreads, which piqued my interest in reading this book.  I was one of many people who did not understand the Donald Trump phenomenon during the election, who could not fathom the possibility of him getting elected, but it happened.  I decided I would read this biography to better understand our president, his motivations for becoming president and what his agenda might be.  I’m not sure how much new about our President I learned, however, it was helpful to have all the information in one place.

I felt that I knew the superficial Donald Trump from media attention over many years.  I knew about him as the real estate tycoon, the Apprentice showman, the man with dazzling new beautiful wives, the alleged affairs, and most recently the run for president.  He loves the spotlight and America has seen so much of him, but I was hoping to discover something more.. to explain his run for president as something more than attention-seeking.  This book is well written and researched, covers his life from crib to ascension to president, and is easy to read.

Shapiro describes a Trump who “in his personal and professional life, has been slicker than Mercury and just as hard to handle.”  What we learn from this book is that Donald Trump denies and strikes back when questioned or attacked.  He rarely gives straightforward answers.  He waffles on his positions.  He says outrageous things and gets away with it.

He has had three marriages with beautiful women.  He seems to have been enamored of the concept of “trophy wife.”  He was having an affair with the second while still married to the first.  He tried to broker a deal for Marla (wife #2) with playboy for her to pose nude, which she ultimately declined.

What comes across in this book is that Donald is extremely vain with a mania for branding.  He is a showman and a master manipulator.  He utilizes his privilege and wealth to great advantage throughout his life.  He gets into Wharton business school by way of family ties, he is able to escape the draft by reason of being at Wharton.  He wields his money and power over the media daring them to defy him.  He cares very much about his image and does whatever he can to maintain that image, including bribing journalists.  He is extremely money hungry and very concerned with public perception of his wealth, to the extent that he has actually sued over his perceived underestimation of his wealth by the media.   He is prone to telling stories that are often untrue.  Perhaps the greatest example of this is the propagation of the “birther movement.”  Trump’s insistence on questioning Obama’s place of birth had created a rallying cry so fierce that Obama felt compelled to produce his birth certificate, finally putting the movement to rest.

Donald Trump has proven himself racist.  In his speech announcing his run for president he said “When Mexico sends it people, they’re not sending their best.  They’re sending people who have lots of problems.  They’re bringing drugs.  They’re bringing crime.  They’re rapists.  And some, I assume, are good people.”  Multiple news outlets reported that  the Trump campaign had paid extras to come and cheer for that rally and others.  Trump has stated that if it were up to him all Muslims would be banned from entering the United States.

Many world leaders have evoked a fascist comparison of Trump and his ideals, including People and NSNBC.  Trump kept a copy of “My New Order,” a book of Adolf Hilter’s collected speeches by his bed according to ex-wife Ivana.  Trump, defending his proposed ban on Muslims, in an interview with Good Morning America, cited President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s use of the Alien and Sedition Acts following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.  In February 2016, Trump retweeted a quote from fascist Italian dictator Benito Mussolini that said, “It’s better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep.”   In July 2016, Trump retweeted a picture of Clinton next to a star-shaped badge, similar to the Jewish Star of David that read “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever”  against a background of $100 bills.  It was immediately condemned as anti-Semitic, so Trump had the star replaced with a circle and #AmericaFirst.  He would soon be criticized that America First is the name of a fascist organization that encouraged appeasement with Aldolph Hitler and Nazi Germany during World War II.

Donald Trump has proven himself sexist and misogynistic.  Megyn Kelly confronted Trump during one of the first debates with this question, “You’ve called women you don’t like fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals.  You once told a contestant on Celebrity Apprentice it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees.  Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as President and how will you answer the charge of Hillary Clinton that you are part of the war on women?”  Trump responded with anger and further woman-hatred, accusing her of having blood coming out of “her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.”    The Access Hollywood tape, released to the world during his campaign, revealed that among other things, Trump felt he could sexually assault any woman he wanted because he was famous.

Trump had found an effective route to the White House in courting white lower and middle class men and women in the heartland of America.  “Trump’s supporters were pro-gun, pro-flag, anti-foreigner and convinced that their shortcomings were the fault of everybody but themselves.  They came from a world that was miles removed from Trump’s.  But when it came to the countless rallies in front of thousands of confirmed believers, Trump was quite capable of speaking their language, especially on the road to the Republican National Convention.”  Trump seemed forever the showman, but had no interest in putting together an actual campaign.  Several high level members  of his campaign resigned after power struggles and subsequently, his long time campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski was fired and replaced briefly by Paul Manafort, before the press discovered he had business dealings with Russia.  Fortunately for Trump, some far-right leaning Republicans, including Jeff Sessions, Newt Gingrich, Mitch McConnell, and others pledged to back him and began offering some much needed advice, like the need to pick a running mate.

Trump’s main platform for his presidential run was creating jobs, building a wall between the US and Mexico, and banning Muslims from entering the US.  He has allied himself with white supremacists, most notably Steve Bannon.  As Donald Trump’s platform has remained thin, it will likely be Trump’s cabinet members steering the ship.

This book’s publication date per netgalley, amazon and goodreads is February 26, 2016.  However, the copy that I read through netgalley took me through a history of Trump leading all the way up to the day he took office on January 20, 2017.  So, I’m guessing another edition will be released that gives this fuller biography.   Or you can request a copy directly from netgalley, here.  I’m glad I read this.  I did not feel there were a lot of surprises within this book, but it was helpful to read about Trump’s life from start to presidency to get a bigger picture.    Please note, my review is more biased than the actual book.  However, I do find it hard to believe that anyone who would read this book and take it to heart could come away singing Trump’s praises in terms of being an effective or suitable president of the United States.

 

 

Donald and first wife, Ivana

Children:  Don Jr, Ivanka and Eric

 

 

Donald and second wife, Marla Maples

Children:  Tiffany Trump

 

 

 

Donald and current wife, Melania

Children:  Barron

 

 

 

Mark Bowden’s 1997 Playboy Article on Trump – This article is mentioned in the book.  Trump tries to bribe Mark Bowden into writing a more favorable article once he realizes the weekend Mark Bowden is spending at his mansion is going awry.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Loved Less than Everyone Else

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish is about books bloggers loved more or less than everyone else.  Sorry to be so negative here, but I am going to talk about 10 books I loved less than everyone else.  How did you feel about these books?  What books would be on your list?  Feel free to argue against me!  Tell me why you loved these books or agree with me.  I welcome your thoughts and opinions!

  1.  The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein – I hated this book which is written from the perspective of a dog.  The plot is horrible!! There is a false accusation of rape and the father loses visitation rights with his daughter, blech! The dog somehow is able to tell of events occurring in courthouse and other locations he was not in.  Race car driving becomes a metaphor for life.  This was a huge bestseller, promoted by starbucks and has a goodreads average rating of 4.19.  I don’t get it!
  2. The Rent Collector by Camron Wright – This historical fiction novel takes place in the slums of Cambodia, a country which the author has never visited!!!  He was inspired to write this novel after his son traveled there and made a documentary.  The whole thing rings as false.  You must take a huge leap of faith to go along with this story.  Yet, this too, was a best-seller and has an average goodreads rating of 4.23.  My review.
  3. The Next Best Thing by Jennifer Weiner – This is the only book by Jennifer Weiner that I’ve read and I’ve heard some of her other books are better.  I thought this was pretty terrible, lacking any degree of depth whatsoever.  It’s about a young girl trying to make it in Hollywood.  It was literally painful to read and I’m pretty sure I did not make it to the end.
  4. The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty – I really disliked this book.  It is typical emotionally manipulative chick-lit.  I hated the focus on the nuclear family above all else.  I hated the spiteful relationships between the women in this novel.  Of course, we all know this was a huge best seller and very loved by many.
  5. Magic America by C.E. Medford – After listening to an interview with the author on NPR, I decided to read this book.  It involves biker angels, fairy godmothers, radioactive cats…  The problem was the story was underdeveloped and the book didn’t really take off, it just fell flat.  Not many people read this book, but you’d be surprised at all the 5 star reviews on goodreads.
  6. Bossypants by Tina Fey – I know I’m not going to be popular for putting this one on my list.  I LOVE Tina Fey, but I didn’t love this autobiography.  I love her humor and my favorite parts of this book were transcripts of some of her SNL skits.  The rest felt like scattered tidbits relating to her life.  So, I really couldn’t love this memoir.
  7. The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton – This is a book that got a lot of attention and was hyped as a great book club book when it came out, so my book club read it.   I found the storyline dull and the characters flat.
  8. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan – Yes, Ian McEwan is an amazingly talented writer.  I just hated this story and am still shocked and amazed that this was a Man Booker Prize nominee.
  9. The Martian by Andy Weir – Yes, this novel is impressive on so many levels.  It is excellently written and the science element is fascinating.  However, it made me want to pluck my eyelashes out, because there was not enough human interaction.  It’s about a man alone on Mars.  I need more interpersonal interactions in my books!
  10.  Divergent by Veronica Roth – Having really enjoyed the Hunger Games series, I decided I’d give this book a try.  For me, Divergent did not live up to the hype.  It greatly paled in comparison to Hunger Games.

**  Before posting this I realized the actual meme is “Books I loved more/less than I thought I would.  I liked the way I had already created it, so kept with this slight variation.

“The Association of Small Bombs” by Karan Mahajan

Pages:  288

Published:  March 22, 2016

Awards:  National Book Award Nominee for Fiction (2016); Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Fiction (2016);  One of New York Time’s Book Review’s 10 Best Books of the Year

 

 

“The bomb was a child, a tantrum directed against all things.”

When I started this novel, I was captivated, absorbed, thoroughly in awe of the author’s writing and the subject matter he was tackling.  How often do we try to put ourselves in the shoes of the terrorists?  We are often so appalled by the acts of terrorism happening around the globe we don’t delve deeply into the minds of the terrorists?  What purpose are they working toward? What outcome do they expect?  What events led up to their becoming terrorists?  In this novel, the terrorists are not radicalized islamists, but political activists.  They have tried peaceful demonstrations without success.

The story sets out in Dehli with the Kurana boys (both Hindu) and their Muslim friend Mansoor at the market when a small bomb goes off.  The Kurana boys are dead, however Mansoor survives with an injury only to his arm.  He walks off, not with much direction or purpose, but ends up at home.  His life is forever impacted by the blast.   It is as if by being associated with that bomb, he is never able to be free of it.  The bomb has determined his fate.

The book also follows the terrorists.  Shockie had become a terrorist out of frustration for the way Muslims were treated in Kashmir, his home province.  He feels he is fighting for independence for a land he is in exile from.   The novel poignantly describes his conflicting feelings about setting off bombs.  When he calls his mother beforehand, he hopes to be summoned home to attend to her health.  There is a sense of desperation, a knowledge that not much will be accomplished by the blast, an anger that there is not more money to make a bigger impact.  “They fucking want freedom but this fucking cheapness with never go away.”  Interestingly, he finds closeness with Malik, who is working for the same cause, however believes more in the Ghandian philosophy, and is very much laughed at by the others in their group for his ideas.  Malik tells Shockie, ” What do you think these attacks are going to achieve?  Today when you were talking about the blast not being big enough, I was thinking: It doesn’t matter.  It’s all wrong.  Blasts are a way of hiding.”

The Kuranas lost two sons to the blast.  They deal with the loss in different ways and in various stages.  There is pregnancy and birth of a daughter, there is an arranged meeting with one of the accused terrorists (Malik), there is an affair, there is the creation of a group for victims and families of victims of small bombs.  Finally, there is the realization that even though they have been so active in the world of supporting terrorist victims, they are helpless in trying to get a dear innocent friend out of jail, as this book comes full circle.

As a young adult, Mansoor becomes active in an NGO working for communal harmony.  As part of their mission, this group advocates for speedier trials for accused terrorists and feels that many of those jailed were falsely accused.  Seemingly, the pressure to arrest people in the aftermath of a bomb, leads to many false arrests with torture and inconceivable years in prison prior to trial.  He becomes good friends with Ayub, a Muslim who is very much influenced by Ghandi.  However, after a disappointing break-up and disappointing peaceful demonstrations, he begins to think more like a terrorist.  Is this all it takes?   A theme of excess sexual frustration energizing anger in an ineffective manner is a steady current throughout this book.  After setting off a bomb at another busy market place, Ayub literally becomes the bomb.  The bomb here and throughout this book, is a metaphor for a useless and reckless way of dealing with problems.

This book is fatalistic.  It takes on an enormous task looking at terrorists, victims, families of victims, even the falsely imprisoned in the bomb’s aftermath.  It is dense and extremely well written.  The topic is tough, especially since the moral in this book is that these bombs are an exercise in futility – no one will win, everyone has much to lose.  I needed to take breaks from this book; I just didn’t want to think about the book for a while.  I do think it’s an important book, though.  It raises questions.  It is unique.  

2 Photos on left:  1996 bombing in New Delhi upon which this novel is based  (CNN)

 

 

 

Photo on right:  Ramzi Yousef (Shockie’s hero) – FBI photo of perpetrator of 1993 World Trade Center Bombing

 

 

 

 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does the bomb symbolize in this novel?  What is it a metaphor for?
  2. How do you think the sexual tension and thoughts of sexual violence relate to the terrorism theme?  Shockie calls the New Delhi blast “an anticlimax” because he is frustrated that the first bomb did not go off because of faulty wiring.
  3. Why do you think Ayub becomes a terrorist?  What has driven the other terrorists into doing what they do?  Do you feel that the author empathizes with the terrorists at all?  Why or why not?
  4. The terrorists in this novel are political activists.  How do you think they differ psychologically from those that are not political activists?  What are other motivations in the world today for people to become terrorists?
  5. How does Mansoor’s injury from the blast impact the rest of his life?
  6. Why does Malik stay silent in jail?
  7. Why do you think Ayub becomes the bomb?  Do you think Ayub feels regretful by the end?
  8. In this book, the author says that when a bomb goes off the truth about people is exposed.  How is this true in the novel?  How does the bomb and the death of the Kurana children affect the Kurana’s marriage?
  9. Why do you think Vikas has no affection for his daughter?
  10. Why are the Kuranas so concerned about how the outside world perceives their level of wealth?
  11. Why do you think the Kuranas would get so excited about bombings?
  12. Discuss the meaning of the title?  Does this characterize the people as a whole within the novel?  Does it relate to the association formed by Deepa and Vikas?
  13. Why do you think these small bombings have become a global phenomena?
  14. The novel begins:  “A good bombing begins everywhere at once.”  What does this mean?  What makes for a good bombing?
  15. Were the victims or families of the victims ever able to let go of the bombing, move beyond it in their lives?  Do you think they ever could?
  16. How do you feel about Karan Mahajan’s portrayal of terrorists in this novel?  Do you feel it is fair and accurate?
  17. Does this book offer any possible solutions, better outlet for anger, better means of getting government to listen to the people and end corruption?

Karan Mahajan’s website

Review by Fiona Maazel in the New York Times

Review by Alexandra Schwartz in the New Yorker

LitLovers Discussion Questions

Interview with Karan Mahajan as conducted by Interview Magazine

“Things We Lost in the Fire: Stories” by Mariana Enriquez

Pages: 208

Expected Publication Date: February 21, 2017 (first published December 4, 2014 in Spanish)

 

 

 

 

Wow!  What a macabre, twisted way to get swept up in the life and culture of Argentina.  I love when I read books outside my usual genres and get blown away by them. These short stories invoke living nightmares and nightmarish creatures that dwell just below the surface of normal life and enter into these stories in unexpected ways.  There are ghosts of the past, horrific creatures, and a sense of the clairvoyance  in these pages.  Some of the descriptions within these stories brought to mind Stephen King’s writing, particularly “Adela’s House.”  Certain descriptions of graffiti in repetitive patterns of letters that don’t seem to spell anything and the creature with teeth filed into triangles that eats Paula’s live cat in “The Neighbor’s Courtyard” are two other particular examples that felt Stephen King-esque to me.

The setting for these stories is in various cities in Argentina, including Buenos Aires, Lanus, and Corrientes.  There is a sense of healing in the land, but there are horrors of the past lurking just beneath the surface.  Natalia in “Spiderweb” saw a burning building which 10 minutes later was charred down to the earth.  Someone else in that story saw a ghost rising from the cement of a bridge, within which dead bodies must have been hidden.  In “Under the Black Water” a buried monster dwells in a polluted river, which people had been trying to cover up.  Argentina’s Dirty War took place 1974 to 1983 and though it is not directly referenced in these stories, the horrors lurking just beneath the surface and these ghosts of the past are most certainly from that time.

There are many common themes that wind their way through these stories creating interest and intrigue.  Many of the characters in these stories are depressed, sometimes overwhelmingly so to the point of not being able to work anymore, hurting themselves,  and perhaps hallucinating.  In one story “Green Red Orange,”  Marco becomes locked in, not seeing people anymore.  He only opens his door when no one is there to get the food his mother has left him.  He only communicates with an old girlfriend via chat from his computer where he becomes obsessed with the deep web, where he can find the most horrific things.

Another theme running through many of these stories is dissatisfaction with boyfriends or husbands.  The boyfriends and husbands in these stories are not loved or desired by the protagonist.  They are depicted as being over-confident, arrogant, pig-headed and most importantly useless.  The boyfriends or husbands end up disappearing or leaving by the end of each story.  The final and titular story “Things We Lost in the Fire” begins with women being the subject of fires set by angry significant others.  The women then begin to burn themselves in protest creating a world of disfigured women.  This is a very disturbing brutal ending to this collection of stories.

There is obvious social commentary within the pages of these stories.  The author is definitely a feminist.  She has an interesting way of depicting wealth versus poverty and sane versus mentally unstable.  She definitely delves into a world of darkness and demons, most of us do not think about.  She recognizes horrors within her stories, that don’t even pertain to the main story, but are issues with the society at large.  In “Spiderweb” the soldiers at the Paraguayan restaurant with their large guns are harassing the waitress and are likely going to rape her, however, any intervention would get the narrator and Natalia raped.  However, I feel the greatest social commentary contained within these stories is directed at the horrors and brutality of the Dirty War and how the ghosts of that time continue to haunt the Argentinian people.

Each story, thrilling and terrifying, ends on a cliffhanger.   You, the reader, are left not knowing, still wondering, what was truth and fiction, and where things will go from there.   I highly recommend this collection of short stories from a gifted and talented Argentinian writer!  It will make the hair on your arms stand up.  

 

 

The original, untranslated stories

 

 

 

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What social commentary is the author making?
  2. What political commentary is the author making?
  3. What literary influences did you find in the author’s writing?
  4. Why do you think depression figures so heavily in these stories?
  5. Discuss the role of female friendship within these stories.
  6. What role do drugs and alcohol play within these stories?
  7. How do these stories reference Argentina’s Dirty War?
  8. Discuss Gauchito Gil, his dark violent mythology and his role in the death of the boy in “The Dirty Kid.”  Why does Gauchito Gil appeal to the people in the neighborhood of Constitucion?
  9. How does Enriquez characterize the police in these stories?
  10. What is the meaning of people disappearing within these stories?
  11. In “Under the Water” the people of the slum are repeating “In his house, the dead man waits dreaming.”  What is the meaning of this?
  12. What do you think the meaning of the title is?  Why do you think the author chose this story’s title to be the title of the book?
  13. In “Spiderweb,” what does spiderweb symbolize?

Interview with Mariana Enriquez by McSweeney’s

Review by Allerdale Reviews

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Books I Didn’t get to in 2016 but Wish I Did

This week’s meme on The Broke and the Bookish has to do with romance.  Sorry to go against the Valentine’s theme, but, I don’t read much in the way of romance novels, so I figured I’d take the opportunity to do this top ten theme I’ve been hoping to do before too much more time elapses.  Here are the top ten books I really wanted to read in 2016 that I did not get to.   Next to each title I’ve also put in a sentence taken from the goodreads description of each.  Hopefully, by putting them all in a list here, I’ll get to most in 2017.

  1.  Portable Veblen by Elizabeth Mckenzie “Set in and around Palo Alto, amid the culture clash of new money and old (antiestablishment) values, and with the specter of our current wars looming across its pages, The Portable Veblen is an unforgettable look at the way we live now.”
  2. The Nix by Nathan Hill – “It’s 2011, and Samuel Andresen-Anderson—college professor, stalled writer—has a Nix of his own: his mother, Faye. He hasn’t seen her in decades, not since she abandoned the family when he was a boy.”
  3. All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood – “As the daughter of a meth dealer, Wavy knows not to trust people, not even her own parents. Struggling to raise her little brother, eight-year-old Wavy is the only responsible “adult” around. “
  4. News of the World by Paulette Jiles“In the aftermath of the American Civil War, an aging itinerant news reader agrees to transport a young captive of the Kiowa back to her people in this morally complex, multi-layered novel of historical fiction..”
  5. The Vegetarian by Han Kang – “…when splintering, blood-soaked images start haunting her thoughts, Yeong-hye decides to purge her mind and renounce eating meat. In a country where societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye’s decision to embrace a more “plant-like” existence is a shocking act of subversion.”
  6. Christodora by Tim Murphy“…Christodora is home to Milly and Jared, a privileged young couple with artistic ambitions. Their neighbor, Hector, a Puerto Rican gay man who was once a celebrated AIDS activist but is now a lonely addict, becomes connected to Milly and Jared’s lives in ways none of them can anticipate.”
  7. Dark Matter by Blake Crouch“…Dark Matter is a brilliantly plotted tale that is at once sweeping and intimate, mind-bendingly strange and profoundly human—a relentlessly surprising science-fiction thriller about choices, paths not taken, and how far we’ll go to claim the lives we dream of.”
  8. Before the Fall by Noah Hawley“With chapters weaving between the aftermath of the tragedy and the backstories of the passengers and crew members–including a Wall Street titan and his wife, a Texan-born party boy just in from London, a young woman questioning her path in life, and a career pilot–the mystery surrounding the crash heightens.”
  9. LaRose by Louise Erdrich“North Dakota, late summer, 1999. Landreaux Iron stalks a deer along the edge of the property bordering his own. He shoots with easy confidence—but when the buck springs away, Landreaux realizes he’s hit something else, a blur he saw as he squeezed the trigger. When he staggers closer, he realizes he has killed his neighbor’s five-year-old son, Dusty Ravich.”
  10. The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan “When brothers Tushar and Nakul Khurana, two Delhi schoolboys, pick up their family’s television set at a repair shop with their friend Mansoor Ahmed one day in 1996, disaster strikes without warning. A bomb…”

Have you read any of these?  Thoughts?  Any I should skip or move to the top of my list?