Many books, one post

Here it is, already November, and, despite my best intentions, I never got around to reviewing most of my October reads. So here they are, wrap-up style. (And, despite the lack of lengthy reviews, there are some real gems in the bunch.

In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner

4 stars

I would hesitate to guess that this book could be as easily classified as memoir instead of fiction. The story is based on the author’s childhood, surviving the Khmer Rouge takeover of Cambodia. It’s horrifying, violent and tragic; but it’s also beautiful in the way she captures innocence and hope. I learned much and felt deeply, both things I find satisfying from a good “socially responsible” novel.

“Had I owned the words I would’ve told him what my heart intuited – that joy and sorrow often travel the same road and sometimes, whether by grace or misfortune, they meet and become each other’s companion.”

The Weird Sisters (audio)  by Eleanor Brown

3 stars

I was very back and forth on the book as I read it.  It had components I loved – smart Shakespearean references, strong women, and an unusual linguistic approach. Brown uses the third person plural “we” to great effect. But I never quite connected to these women, who seemed too immature to be believed. The story went on (and on and on) – not helped by the overacting of the audio book’s narrator. In the end, I wanted to like it more than I did, but I’d try Brown again.

“We’d wrap ourselves in cloaks woven of self-pity and victimhood.”

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

3.5 stars

This book is so different in style than anything I usually read that it took me quite a while to catch the rhythm. Epistolary in format, we get a glimpse into the perspectives of Bernadette, her husband, her daughter and neighbors, coworkers and old friends. Honestly, I found it a little confusing and the sheer number of voices kept me from completely connecting. But I loved Bernadette despite her many flaws. I got her and rooted for her and, admittedly, wanted more. I only wish I felt more part of the book than viewing it from a distance.

“It’s like a hypnotist put everyone from Seattle into a collective trance. “You are getting sleepy, when you wake up you will want to live only in a Craftsman house, the year won’t matter to you, all that will matter is that the walls will be thick, the windows tiny, the rooms dark, the ceilings low, and it will be poorly situated on the lot.”

The Forgetting Tree by Tatjana Soli

3 stars

A strange, strange book, Soli take co-dependence to a whole new level. I wanted to love this book as much as I loved The Lotus Eaters, but I never connected to the characters. It’s not that they’re under-developed. Both Claire and Minna stand out as complex, broken souls. It’s just that I never really liked either of them and I just could not believe anyone in the book would have accepted Claire’s “living arrangement” with Minna. It was too far-fetched even for my suspension of disbelief. That said, Soli writes beautifully. It was the quality of this writing that carried me through this very long novel. (and also what raises my rating to 3 stars)

“She regretted nothing, except that making one choice canceled out the possibility of so many others. As she continued to watch, there was the smallest opening in Minna’s dance, like a dervish spinning for enlightenment, a pinhole through which Claire caught a glimpse of other possible lives than the one she had chosen.”

Fool (audio) by Christopher Moore

4 stars

I was entertained the entire time I listened to this book. I find Christopher Moore brilliant and have a deep appreciation for his irreverent, dark humor. Without any real effort to adhere to the original storyline, he tells his own version of Shakespeare’s King Lear, from the Fool’s perspective. Mixing time periods, languages, continents and cultural references, he still produces a cohesive book that had me giggling (and sometimes blushing) the whole time. I still think Sacre Bleu: A Comedy d’Art is better, but I liked this enough to keep going through the Moore collection.

“The castle’s full of villainy and intrigue. They’ll need comic relief between all the murders and flattery.”

What else?

Somehow I managed to post three full book reviews in October…

We Need to Talk About Kevin

The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag

Beautiful Ruins

Astray — review to come this week, but if you’re really curious you can find it on Goodreads.

W…W…W…Wednesday

It’s Wednesday. Some say Hump Day. Some say Halloween. I say it’s time to play a little book game. Just answer the following three (3) questions…

• What are you currently reading? • What did you recently finish reading? • What do you think you’ll read next?

What are you currently reading? Just started Chris Cleave‘s Gold, which has been on my list for some time. Listening to the last disc of Fool by Christopher Moore. It’s his raunchy retelling of King Lear. So funny, so clever, plus the bonus of narration of Euan Morton. A true delight.

What did you recently finish reading? Finally finished The Forgetting Tree by Tatjana Soli. I loved her book The Lotus Eaters but couldn’t quite get in the groove of this one. Some excellent writing, but I never connected to the two main characters. Took me a full week to read. That could have been because I paused to read the excellent short story collection, Astray, by Emma Donoghue. She took tidbits from historical documents about immigrants and castaways and created moving and interesting stories about them. I highly recommend for short story or historical fiction lovers.

What do you think you’ll read next? I’m planning to start the audio version of Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen. I own the book version but never got to it so I’m hoping the audio will be a good one. Next in hardcover, the completion of my Ann Patchett Project. I finally have a copy of Taft.

What are your W…W…W… titles?

Paperback Picks – October

October was a great month for paperback releases. Here are my picks for five not to miss.

A WALK ACROSS THE SUN by Corban Addison

4 stars

Addison took my breath away with this unflinching look at human sex trafficking. Be warned: the tsunami that wipes out Ahlaya and Sita’s entire family and leaves them homeless orphans is not the most tragic thing that happens in this story. In fact, that happens in the first chapter. What follows is a downward spiral of kidnapping, rape, smuggling and terror as these girls are “trafficked” from person to person, country to country. But don’t let any of that scare you away. Corban Addison has also written something beautiful and touching and honest. The inner strength present in these characters is inspiring. Plus, Addison does an admirable job of drawing the truth out without preaching. Addison does not shy away from the graphic or gruesome details of this atrocity, but somehow he never pushes too hard or too far.

“Hope may vanish, but can die not.”

STAY AWAKE by Dan Choan

4 stars

“It is the worst sound Gene can imagine, the sound of a young child dying violently…” Any story collection with this line in its opening paragraph is not for the faint of heart. Dan Chaon‘s characters are dark and twisted. This is not bedtime reading, but I love his writing. Like any short story collection, some are better than others. Each piece is haunting but “I Wake Up” and “Thinking of You in Your Time of Sorrow” stand out as the best. A few stories crossed into a territory too dark for my taste and the final piece was just plain confusing, but overall I find Chaon’s writing brilliant.

“This is one of those things that you can never explain to anyone; that’s what I want to explain – one of those free-association moments with connections that dissolve when you start to try to put them into words.”

SACRE BLEU: A COMEDY D’ART by Christopher Moore

4 stars

Moore is smart-assed hilarious, definitely irreverent, and sometimes brilliant. He reimagines art history in 19th century Paris, mixing together all the masters of the time, and traveling back far enough to throw in Michelangelo as well. The cast of characters is at once familiar (van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Monet) and unusual (each intimately connected to the next). The plot centers around a murder/suicide, a mysterious color man, the enchanting Juliet and a baker/painter named Lucien. Throw in some politics, magic, curious inventions, cave paintings and whores and you get a mess of book that delighted me just the same. I was completely taken in by Moore’s language and satire. For all the bouts of uproarious laughter, he scratched at deeper truths.

“They are between. Not what they used to be, and not what they have become. In those times, they are nothing. And I am invisible, and I am nothing too. That is the true demimonde, Lucien, and the secret is, it is not always desperate and dark. Sometimes it is just nothing. No burden of potential or regret. There are worse things than being nothing, my friend.”

RUNNING THE RIFT by Naomi Benaron

4 stars

The choice to set a love story amid the genocide in Rwanda does not immediately seem wise, but Naomi Benaron handles this story with such tenderness and sincerity that she succeeds in creating something both beautiful and horrific. Jean Patrick is a young Tutsi man coming of age in a large, loving family. While poor in material wealth, his natural talent and strong determination to become and Olympic runner drive him toward success even in the face of Tutu discrimination.Benaron’s choice of running as an extended metaphor works beautifully as Jean Patrick struggles with ambition, trust and pride. Benaron sets a strong pace and the novel’s start and knows just when to make her surge. Hard to believe she is a first-time author herself.

“Your hope is the most beautiful and the saddest in the world.”

CARRY THE ONE by Carol Anshaw

3 stars

Carol Anshaw creates a brilliant premise for her latest novel.. A group of “friends” leave a wedding, all drunk, stoned or high and kill a 10 year-old girl. Each in his or her way must carry that weight forever. I appreciated the skill with which Anshaw drew the similarities and differences in the other characters’ reactions to the trauma. All of these men and women are seriously screwed up to begin with, so heaping on guilt and sorrow leads to some really bad behavior. She shifts perspective often, giving us a glimpse into each character’s soul. I flew from storyline to storyline always wanting a little bit more and wishing Anshaw could have shown a little more trust in her readers. But still, a worthwhile read.

“Carmen could see the women gathering, clutching the Instamatics, tears already pooling in the corners of their eyes, tourists on an emotional safari, eager to bag a bride.”

W…W…W…Wednesday

Yikes! I almost missed Wednesday again. Luckily, I still have time to play a little book game. Just answer the following three (3) questions…

• What are you currently reading? • What did you recently finish reading? • What do you think you’ll read next?

What are you currently reading? Reading The Forgetting Tree by Tatjana Soli. I loved her book The Lotus Eaters so I was eager to follow up with this one. About 150 pages in a liking it very much. Just when I thought I knew where the story was going, she surprised me. Listening to Fool by the hilariously dirty-mouthed Christopher Moore. The writing is laugh-out-loud, made all the better by the narration of Euan Morton. A true delight

What did you recently finish reading? Finished reading Where’d You Go Bernadette, which I liked, but didn’t love. It felt like something I viewed from afar instead of sinking into. Clever, but not totally engaging. The same might be true for the audio book I finished. The Weird Sisters seemed to go on forever despite characters I liked and a good deal of smart writing.

What do you think you’ll read next? I just picked up Astray, a new short story collection from Emma Donoghue. I loved Room, so I’ll probably read this next even though I also have Chris Cleave’s Gold which I have waited a long time to start.

What are your W…W…W… titles?

Sacre Bleu: A Comedy d’Art

Having never read a book by Christopher Moore, I hardly knew what to expect beyond “irreverent” and “witty” – the two words that pop up consistently in Goodreads reviews of his work. When I was searching for my first adult audio book, those were just the words that appealed to me. I only have 20 minutes each way, so I needed a story that would hold my attention, something I could stop and start and nothing too heavy. Christopher Moore seemed to fit the bill and Sacre Bleu was on the shelf at the library so I went for it.

Success all around.

I am sure the other west suburban commuters thought I was loony. I was literally slapping my knee laughing out loud during portions of this book – which must have made for an odd sight at stop lights. Moore is smart-assed hilarious, definitely irreverent, and sometimes brilliant.

“The Painting is not shit,’ said Lucien.
‘I know,’ said Henri. ‘That was just part of the subterfuge. I am of royal lineage; subterfuge is one of the many talents we carry in our blood, along with guile and hemophilia.”

He reimagines art history in 19th century Paris, mixing together all the masters of the time, and travelling back far enough to throw in Michelangelo as well. The cast of characters is at once familiar (van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Monet) and unusual (each intimately connected to the next). The plot centers around a murder/suicide, a mysterious color man, the enchanting Juliet and a baker/painter named Lucien. Throw in some politics, magic, curious inventions, cave paintings and whores and you get a mess of book that delighted me just the same.

To be honest, I didn’t really care about the plot per se. It is far-fetched to say the least and involves ancient witchcraft, impressionist painters and more suspension of disbelief than I’m used to granting, but, in the end, none of that mattered. I was taken in by Moore’s language and satire. For all the bouts of uproarious laughter, he scratched at deeper truths and several times I wished to stop the CD and write down passages.

“They are between. Not what they used to be, and not what they have become. In those times, they are nothing. And I am invisible, and I am nothing too. That is the true demimonde, Lucien, and the secret is, it is not always desperate and dark. Sometimes it is just nothing. No burden of potential or regret. There are worse things than being nothing, my friend.”

I am officially now a fan of Christopher Moore, and audio books. Only one question remains, “What should I listen to next?”

It’s Wednesdsay…must be time for a book-themed play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…

Special thanks to Should be Reading for first introducing me to this weekly meme.

• What are you currently reading? • What did you recently finish reading? • What do you think you’ll read next?

What are you currently reading?   I’m on the last disk of “Sacre Bleu” by Christopher Moore. The laugh-out-loud, irreverent telling of art history has made time alone in the car a real treat. Also getting into “Prodigal Summer” by Barbara Kingsolver, well-timed for the lovely weather we’ve been having. I have pretty high hopes for this one.

What did you recently finish reading? “A Hologram for the King” by Dave Eggers. I didn’t exactly finish this book, but I’m finished with this book. Too much complaining, self-indulgent, middle-aged white man for me. I gave up 2/3 of the way through.

What do you think you’ll read next? Picked up 5 new books at the library today, including Jonathan Tropper‘s latest and “Playing with Matches,” which has gotten lots of good buzz. Next up for the audio books, “The Buddha in the Attic” which I meant to read long ago.

W… W… W… Wednesdays

Since people seemed to enjoy this last week (and since I haven’t finished my latest book review…), I return with a book-themed play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…

Special thanks to Should be Reading for this weekly meme.

• What are you currently reading? • What did you recently finish reading? • What do you think you’ll read next?

What are you currently reading? “A Hologram for the King” by Dave Eggers. I’m only 60 pages in and it’s off to a slow start, but I’m going to give it a little time because this is kind of like an Eggers tie-breaker for me. I really did not enjoy “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” but I loved “Zeitoun.” Plus I won this book from a library book club giveaway so I feel a sense of responsibility to give it an honest effort. I’m also listening to “Sacre Bleu” by Christopher Moore which is seriously hilarious.

What did you recently finish reading?The Magician’s Assistant” by Ann Patchett. This was my least favorite of all her novels I’ve read to date, but still an interesting story. “A Walk Across the Sun” by Corban Addison was a very powerful novel about human trafficking. Enjoy is the wrong word, but this is a marvelous book. (And the unfinished review for a future blog post.)

What do you think you’ll read next? Just ordered 6 more books at the library, to go with the 5 that haven’t come in. But I did pick up “Prodigal Summer” because my Goodreads group is reading Kingsolver this month and this is one of the few books by her that I haven’t read yet.

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