Wednesday, December 2, 2020

The Dragons, The Giant, the Women

Title:
  The Dragons, The Giant, the Women:  A Memoir
Author:  Wayétu Moore
Publication Information:  Graywolf Press. 2020. 272 pages.
ISBN:  1644450313 / 978-1644450314

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Mam."

Favorite Quote:  "I think, as women of color, especially women of color who come from some means, any means really, we tend to play down the unpleasant things we've experienced. To bury them ... Perfection or the desire for it, it becomes a mask ... a uniform. But there is something underneath. What's underneath makes us real."

Wayétu Moore was born in Liberia. She grew up in Spring, Texas. She studied in California, New York, and Washington, DC. She currently lives in Brooklyn. Her debut novel drew upon Liberian history and mythology. This book explores the same but through the lens of her own life.

The memoir seemingly comprises of three parts. The first is from the perspective of five year old Wayétu. Uprisings and war has broken out in Liberia. She, her sisters, and her father flee to a remote village. Her mother lives in America, although it is not clarified at this time how or why. The second section jumps forward to Wayétu as an adult in the United States. This segment traverses through time and tells of the US immigrant experience, particularly as a person of color. It also presents the challenges she faces in coming to terms with her own childhood and the scars of war. The third part unexpectedly jumps to the story of Wayétu's mother, how she came to be in the US, and what she went through to bring her family out of Liberia. In some ways, this section goes back to the beginning of the book and tells the other side of the story. The memoir is clearly not linear. It is a more literary description of an experience.

The first part is by far my favorite section. It depicts a child's innocence and the courage of the adults around her who manage not just to keep the family safe but also to maintain some semblance of a childhood. The incorporation of an almost fairly tale of the dragon, the giant who is her father, and the women - her mother and the women of the village - encapsulates the horrors of war. This section also introduces me to the history of Liberia, one of my main reasons for choosing to read this book. This part of the world and this history is one with which I am unfamiliar, and this book provides the introduction to learn more.

The second part introduces the experiences of immigration and of racism:
  • "Barely one year in and our new country let us know, every day, that we were different."
  • "I could be beautiful in a place and still not enough, not because of who I was or anything I had done, but because of something as simple, and somehow as grand in this new place, as the color of my skin."
The section seems somewhat scattered as it captures the struggle of an adult coming to terms with her own history, the traumas of childhood, and the reality of her adopted home. It is not easy to read, but, in its very telling, captures the emotion of being adrift and trying to determine where you belong.

The third section is surprising because the story completely shifts to her mother's. "When I tell them the story, I tell them that the only thing that made me stay was wanting my daughters to know that they could go after anything they wanted, that they could fly too." Her mother's story is essential for context and to complete the history. However, at that point, does this book shift from memoir to something else? Is this truly her mother's story of her mother's story as Wayétu herself understands it? Perhaps, the telling of it is essential to her coming to terms with the past. Perhaps, I will not understand, and that is okay.

A history I did not know and a story that once again documents the strength and resilience of individuals makes for a powerful read.


Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Around the Sun

Title:
  Around the Sun
Author:  Eric Michael Bovim
Publication Information:  Epigraph Publishing. 2020. 288 pages.
ISBN:  1951937384 / 978-1951937386

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "It was a quiet line that stretched across the threshold from the airbridge into the fuselage world, business travelers, mainly, eyes fixed into screens and sipping away their liters of glacial water, an idling American engine."

Favorite Quote:  "We are never where we are. It was something she said whenever she saw me on the phone making dinner or reading an email if we were already in a conversation, when my attention was subdivided amount apps and browsers and inboxes and people."

Mark White is a thirty-some year old successful entrepreneur. He has a wife and a son. He flies around the world on business trips. "This was my fifth business trip in two months. If I was not on the phone I was in a meeting and if I was not in a meeting or on the phone I was on a business trip. Whatever was left I called home." In other words, he takes a lot for granted and creates priorities around what he does not take for granted. His love for his family is real, but the choices he makes do not always reflect that love.

The premise of the book is that in the midst of this success, Mark White's wife dies suddenly in an accident. The story of the book is about how Mark copes (or doesn't cope) with his grief and what changes come about in his life as a result of his wife's death. Some of the changes are the result of the staggering grief, and some of the changes are the result of choices and new priorities.

The ending of this book and the redemption found is not really a surprise. I wish the book had perhaps gone somewhere different. This book is more about the journey through the grief to get there. It's the "how" we change in the face of such dire circumstances.

The premise of the book is heart breaking. Unfortunately, I find the telling of the story pull away from that heartbreak for a couple of reasons. First, much time, particularly at the beginning of the book, is spent on Mark's business relationships and deals. While interesting, these details do not go toward the main idea of the book. They emphasize the reasons for this success, delineate his priorities, and accentuate his fall from that success but do not speak to the personal grief that he is going through.

The second reason is the writing style with its very wordy descriptions makes this seem almost as a stream of consciousness expression so focused on the details that the main idea seems to get lost:
  • "A waiter brought menus and waters with less and it seemed utterly ridiculous that, only an hour ago, we'd been trying to beat back a media wildfire for twenty-first-century tech scions, and now we were commiserating beneath color lithographs of nineteenth-century locomotives and wall sconces mounted on elk tusks."
  • "I felt the plane rolling back from the gate; I pushed the LAND button and he came upright and I told him to look outside and watch the man in the neon vest motioning the great vessel backwards and left, and then we heard the engines flush, a low grade hum in the cabin, and I buckled his seatbelt and they played the CEO video, again I watched Athens, London, Vienna, unreal, and he was scissoring his legs in his seat, eating cashews and sucking the soda off the ice cubes, and I looked at the cover of El Pais and began sounding out common expressions in my head so that I could impress him with my sapling Spanish when we landed in Barcelona, where they spoke Catalan."
Whew! I am tired after these long descriptions that cover so much ground in very, very long sentences. I find myself need to take a break, reread, and readjust to where the story is. The bigger point is lost in the middle of all those words. Perhaps, that hyper-focus on details is a manifestation of grief and a need for grounding in facts. Unfortunately, it makes for challenging reading.


Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Instant Pot Miracle Vegetarian Cookbook

Title:
  Instant Pot Miracle Vegetarian Cookbook
Author:  Urvashi Pitre
Publication Information:  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2020. 256 pages.
ISBN:  0358379334 / 978-0358379331

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "I have been cooking with pressure cookers for over thirty-five years."

Favorite Quote:  "Make each recipe once as written and then feel to experiment."

Instant Pot Miracle Vegetarian Cookbook is the latest cookbook offering from Dr. Urvashi Pitre. She is the recipe creator for a popular blog. Her background is in experimental psychology. Her cooking style pulls upon the fact that she lost 80 pounds on a low carb, keto diet that also restricted calories.

Her recipes sometimes focus on keto ingredients and sometimes highlight the tools such as a pressure cooker or an air fryer. As the title of this book indicates, this one focuses on vegetarian cooking in an instant pot.

The introduction provides the following qualifications:
  • "There are no pseudo meats or meat substitutes." I appreciate that as I am not a fan of pseudo meats. 
  • "Tofu is only used in three recipes where you would traditionally find it."
  • "I use whole, unprocessed ingredients as much as possible." I appreciate this as well.
So far, I am completely on board. The book includes about a 100 recipes, some of which may be found on her blog. That becomes a question of economics. I, for one, love cookbooks and browsing cookings. So, I make the investment realizing that the recipes may be available elsewhere.

The introduction also indicates the target audience for the book with assurance that the recipes are simple enough for a fourteen-year-old and the stipulation that the reader may not be familiar with the ingredients or cuisines featured in the book. I am not fourteen and am quite familiar with cooking dishes from around the world. More and more, cooking is global with ingredients becoming readily available. So, that characterization sets a tone and target audience for the book.

The book is organized into sections
  • Vegetables
  • Lentils, beans, and legumes
  • Rice and grains
  • Eggs and cheese (so clearly vegetarian not vegan)
  • Desserts and Drinks
  • Sauces & spice mixes
It's interesting to see the main section of a vegetarian cookbook be vegetables. What else would it be? I expected perhaps an organizations around meals or main dishes versus accompaniments. For example, the recipe for braised cabbage pasta follows one for sweet-and-spicy glazed brussel sprouts. I would see one as a main dish and one perhaps as a side. That distinction would increase the usability of the book. The recipes themselves and a listing at the back provide information on categorizations such as egg-free, nut-free, dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan, low carb, cooking time, and number of ingredients. The book also indicates an index which is not present in the version of the book I have. The table of contents and the lists in the electronic version of the book that I have are also not hyperlinked which would improve usage (but that could be just an issue with the advance reader's version).

The individual recipes are mostly formatted to fit on a single page which makes for easier use. They are also clearly laid out as to categorization, servings, pressure cooker settings, ingredient lists, and instructions. Given Dr. Ptire's background, I do expect to see nutritional information which is not provided.

The color pictures are appetizing, and the individual recipes tried work.  I look forward to trying more, but I do find it amusing the the book specifically points out, "... if a recipe doesn't work for you, it's unlikely to be the recipe and more likely to be be something that you could do differently." Interesting approach again setting a tone and a target audience!


Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

The Paris Hours

Title:  The Paris Hours
Author:  Alex George
Publication Information:  Flatiron Books. 2020. 272 pages.
ISBN:  125030718X / 978-1250307187

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The Armenian works by the light of a single candle."

Favorite Quote:  "'Never underestimate your memories, monsieur,' she tells him. 'They can be ferocious if left unguarded.'"

One day in 1927 in the city of Paris. One day. Four lives. Some connected. Some not. Some tangentially connected. Some connected in ways not revealed until the very end. Camille is a wife and a mother who hides a life altering secret. Jean-Paul mourns a wife and a child. Guillaume needs escape. Souren is a refugee who cannot outrun the images of his past.

The book traverses between their four stories through the course of one day, a day with a dramatic conclusion. This book is more like reading four interconnected novellas. The fact that there are four stories introduces a lot of characters. The fact that the book goes jumps from one to the other chapter to chapter at times makes the book very challenging to follow especially since some the characters do connect. 

The individual characters and their tales are engaging. Two are particularly heartbreaking. The jumps from character to character draw me away from the emotion of any given story.

Camille's story is the base as she is depicted as the maid of Marcel Proust. Marcel Proust had a real maid named Céleste Albaret, who was known to be completely and absolutely devoted to him. The history goes that upon her employer's request, she burned all of his notebooks documenting his unpublished works. Camille's story in this book picks up on the idea of what might have happened if not all the notebooks were burned. However, the story is not that of a found literary gem but rather Camille's fear that the notebook reveals her story. The author's note does clearly state that this book is pure fiction based on just that kernel of an idea.

The book does, however, use a number of historical figures - Marcel Proust, Josephine Baker, Ernest Hemingway, and Gertrude Stein. However, the book in no way claims or purports to be historical fiction. As such, the use of the historical figures as integral characters in the story appear more name dropping than anything else. At times, it leaves me wondering why this story about "ordinary" people brings in the big names.

The dramatic ending to the book does bring all the stories to the same point at the same time. However, not all the stories reach a conclusion. One story introduces a tragic element that is not brought out previously. Two of the stories connect in a dramatic way, but the connection is left hanging at the end.

So, I wanted to love this book. However, it uses historical figures but is not historical fiction. It tells intermingled stories that do not completely connect and come together. I am not sure I quite understand. My favorite thought of the book is perhaps the start of the author's note. "One of the joys of writing [in my case, reading] novels is all the travel. Not actual travel, mind you, but the journeys you get to take in your imagination." That is an idea I whole heartedly agree with. Unfortunately, I wish the path of this book and story had been clearer.


Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

The New Husband

Title:  The New Husband
Author:  DJ Palmer
Publication Information:  St. Martin's Press. 2020. 384 pages.
ISBN:  1250107490 / 978-1250107497

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "It was a chilly predawn morning when Anthony Strauss eased Sweet Caroline, his seventeen-foot Boston Whaler, from the trailer into water so dark it was indistinguishable from the sky."

Favorite Quote:  "Judging others is easy. It makes us feel superior. But it doesn't help women like Allison, or my father, or my mother, or me, or anyone who is 'different.' It hurts. So what to do? It's simple. Don't rush to judgment. Have humility. Show empathy. Ask: what can I do to help?"

Let me begin at the ending. I loved the ending. If you choose to read this book, make sure that you do not skip the epilogue. Not only does it being the story all together, it also spells out whose story this is. It also highlights the lesson of the book. I find myself reading throughout the book thinking about how certain characters do not see what seems so obvious to me. The ending makes it clear that this is somewhat the point of the book. Sometimes, the emotional and mental place we find ourselves in can prevent us from seeing what is in front of us.

Nina Garrity is the wife. Her husband Greg goes on a fishing trip one day and disappears. Nina discovers that there is much she does not know about her husband. Eventually, she presumes that he is dead. Her son Connor follows her belief. Her daughter Maggie though firmly believes that her father will return.

Then, there is Simon. Simon is there when Nina needs a friend. He seems to know her, some days even better than Greg did. He takes care of her and offers much more than comfort. To stay in town when Nina's finances cannot support it, they buy a house together. They do not marry, but Simon is de facto the new husband. Connor sees Simon as a friend, but Maggie does not. Nina tries to be the bridge, holding everything together.

This book is not a mystery in that it is clear who the villain of the book is. Early on, it is also made clear what happens to Greg. The "thriller" aspect of the book evolves as the reader sees exactly how far the villain will go to attain his goal. Truly, though, this book is about the angst and the seeming contradictions of being in a abusive relationship.

Nina is a social worker. After Greg's disappearance, she is easily able to get back into a paying job in the industry. She knows the language, implications, and legalities of situations of abuse. She is a fierce mother, on the one hand calling out her children's behavior and on the other seeking to protect them. Yet, at the same time, she cannot seeing the controlling, manipulative behaviors in Simon. She does not question how Simon appears to know her every like and dislike.

It takes me a while to figure out that this book is really Maggie's story much more so than it is Nina's although it is told from both perspectives. Maggie is a teenager, who has had her own issues with bullies in school. Given the age of the character, the book does at times have a young adult feel which belies both the title and the cover of the book. Her dislike and distrust of Simon are also never completely explained. Why is she the only one? Why does her one friend believe her but not her mother or for the most part her older brother?

If I trust the explanation of the epilogue, I believe it. If I don't, then I wonder. Thankfully, I have neither the knowledge or experience to assess. So, in the interest of a good read, I choose to follow the logic of the epilogue.


Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Sin Eater

Title:  Sin Eater
Author:  Megan Campisi
Publication Information:  Atria Books. 2020. 304 pages.
ISBN:  1982124105 / 978-1982124106

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Salt for pride."

Favorite Quote:  "There's a certain comfort in rules. You know if you're good or if you're bad. And even if you're bad, you know where you fit. You belong. But I don't want other folks' rules to say if I belong anymore. I want to say for myself."

"The Sin Eater walks among us, unseen, unheard
Sins of our flesh become sins of Hers
Following Her to the grave, unseen, unheard
The Sin Eater Walks Among Us."

The history of sin eaters can be found in different cultures around the world, in particular amongst the Welsh counties in England. Some historians have gone as far as to say that the concept is embedded in Christian culture as Jesus Christ offered his own life for the sins of humanity. However, I am here to talk about a  story not discuss religious beliefs.

The concept of a sin eater in Welsh culture was that of a woman who ate certain ritual foods upon the funeral of an individual. Each sin was represented by a specific food. The foods found upon a coffin revealed secrets that individual may have held during life. The actual sin eater was a pariah and shunned by society although she was the first to be called upon an impending death for a recitation of sins and then upon the death for the ritual eating.

This book centers on fourteen year old Meg, who receives the sentence of being a sin eater for the crime of stealing a loaf of bread. (Les Miserables is brought to mind by that crime!) The plot entangles Meg into royal intrigue with influential people conniving and plotting for political gain.

The book makes a myriad of comments on sins and sinners which provides food for thought:
  • "It's always women who eat sins, since it was Eve who first ate a sin:  the Forbidden Fruit."
  • "I understand why sin eaters were made. Carrying such feelings is too much for one little heart, too much for one body. There must be some hope of shedding regret, grief, sorrow, sloughing them off like a skin and going into death free and light. Else we'd never be able to live."
  • "With how you came into the world and what you've seen lately you should know, the more you live, the more the sinner and the saint can't be pulled apart. All of us just getting by."
  • "Don't I know by now that folks see their sins in the way they choose? There's always a reason as to why selfishness is not really selfish and crimes are honest and waiting safely by while somefolk else is killed is really the more courageous choice. I've always had an answer for why I'm a godly girl despite my sins."
The mystery of what is happening in the royal household keeps the book moving at a fast pace. The conclusion, when it comes, seems logical. What the conclusion turns out to be is not a surprise. The surprise is the who.

What makes this story and keeps me turning pages until the end is the character of May herself - a fourteen year old who is on her own relegated to a fate out of her control. Yet, she manages with courage and resilience, and that makes for an engaging fictional heroine. In the midst of the sadness that surrounds her, she manages to also find a family in her own way. The concept and the fact of this oddity of history is the most fascinating aspect of the book. As Atlas Obscura calls it, being a sin eater was "the worst freelance gig in history."


Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The Forgotten Sister

The Forgotten Sister
Title:
  The Forgotten Sister
Author:  Nicola Cornick
Publication Information:  Graydon House. 2020. 368 pages.
ISBN:  1525809954 / 978-1525809958

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and through the Fall 2020 historical fiction blog tour from Harlequin Trade Publishing free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "They came for me one night in the winter of 1752 when the ice was on the pond and the trees bowed under the weight of the hoar frost."

Favorite Quote:  "Yet in the end it is your kindness that heals me. Kindness cannot alter the past but it can change the future. It can bring peace."

***** BLOG TOUR *****


Review

Amy Robsart is a historical figure from Elizabethan England. Her "claim to fame" unfortunately was her unhappy marriage and her death. She was the wife of Robert Dudley, a favorite of Elizabeth I. Amy died from a fall down a flight of stairs. The circumstances surrounding the fall were never clarified. It remains undetermined whether the death was an accident or a results of more nefarious decisions.

The book begins with a prologue from 1752. It is unclear how it ties into the story until the very end, but then it encapsulates the story and brings it to closure. The rest of the book goes between 1549 and 2020. In 1549, there are Amy, Anna, Robert, Elizabeth, Arthur, and Johnny. In 2020, there are Amelie, Anna, Dudley, Lizzie, Arthur, and Johnny. In 1549, there are court intrigues and the rise and fall of fortunes as the struggle for power continues and the control of the throne shifts. In 2020, there are celebrity lifestyles and a death which calls into question life choices. in 1549, the story centers around Amy. In 2020, it is Lizzie.

Both Amy and Lizzie's stories are also the stories of women in their own way finding their own voices and taking (or attempting to take) charge of the direction of their lives. Considering that history tells us Amy dies under suspicious circumstances tells you the conclusion of her story. Where Lizzie's story end is much more open for question as is the question of how their stories relate.

The book gives a lot of clues as to that connection - the prologue, the title of the book, the character names in the two time periods. In other words, the mystery turns out to not be such a mystery. However, in this case, it does not distract from the discovery of the mystery or the enjoyment of the book.

The magical realism in this book stems from extrasensory abilities in people. Psychometry is the supposed ability to learn about an event, a person, or other history from touching an inanimate object. Science disagrees about whether or not psychometry actually exists. This, telepathy, a ghost boy, and even time travel are foundational to this story. I choose to suspend disbelief and go along for the ride. I also do respond to the emotional use of psychometry. The thought of touching an object of a loved one who has passed away and conjuring up a scenario as if they were still there is an appealing one. Which one of us would not relish that possibility if only for a moment!

This book picks up on the history of Amy Robsart's death and develops an entire two timeline story that incorporates history, love stories, sibling rivalries, celebrity lifestyles, mysterious deaths, and magical realism. This book is unusual in two timeline stories in that I find myself equally engaged in both stories. Usually, one takes precedence, but this book finds that unique balance. The title of the book, I realize at the end, is a spoiler, but the book itself is a fast paced page turner that keeps me engaged until the very end.

About the Book

In the tradition of the spellbinding historical novels of Philippa Gregory and Kate Morton comes a stunning story based on a real-life Tudor mystery, of a curse that echoes through the centuries and shapes two women’s destinies…

1560: Amy Robsart is trapped in a loveless marriage to Robert Dudley, a member of the court of Queen Elizabeth I. Surrounded by enemies and with nowhere left to turn, Amy hatches a desperate scheme to escape—one with devastating consequences that will echo through the centuries…

Present Day: When Lizzie Kingdom is forced to withdraw from the public eye in a blaze of scandal, it seems her life is over. But she’s about to encounter a young man, Johnny Robsart, whose fate will interlace with hers in the most unexpected of ways. For Johnny is certain that Lizzie is linked to a terrible secret dating back to Tudor times. If Lizzie is brave enough to go in search of the truth, then what she discovers will change the course of their lives forever.

About the Author

USA Today bestselling author Nicola Cornick has written over thirty historical romances for Harlequin and HQN Books. She has been nominated twice for a RWA RITA Award and twice for the UK RNA Award. She works as a historian and guide in a seventeenth century house. In 2006 she was awarded a Masters degree with distinction from Ruskin College, Oxford, where she wrote her dissertation on heroes.

Excerpt

Copyright © Nicola Cornick.

PROLOGUE

Amy Robsart, Cumnor Village

They came for me one night in the winter of 1752 when the ice was on the pond and the trees bowed under the weight of the hoar frost. There were nine priests out of Oxford, garbed all in white with tapers in hand. Some looked fearful, others burned with a righteous fervour because they thought they were doing the Lord’s work. All of them looked cold, huddled within their cassocks, the one out ahead gripping the golden crucifix as though it were all that stood between him and the devil himself.

The villagers came out to watch for a while, standing around in uneasy groups, their breath like smoke on the night air, then the lure of the warm alehouse called them back and they went eagerly, talking of uneasy ghosts and the folly of the holy men in thinking they could trap my spirit.

The hunt was long. I ran through the lost passageways of Cumnor Hall with the priests snapping at my heels and in the end, exhausted and vanquished, my ghost sank into the dark pool. They said their prayers over me and returned to their cloisters and believed the haunting to be at an end.

Yet an unquiet ghost is not so easily laid to rest. They had trapped my wandering spirit but I was not at peace. When the truth is concealed the pattern will repeat. The first victim was Amyas Latimer, the poor boy who fell to his death from the tower of the church where my body was buried. Then there was the little serving girl, Amethyst Green, who tumbled from the roof of Oakhangar Hall. Soon there will be another. If no one prevents it, I know there will be a fourth death and a fifth, and on into an endless future, the same pattern, yet different each time, a shifting magic lantern projecting the horror of that day centuries ago.

There is only one hope.

I sense her presence beside me through the dark. Each time it happens she is there too, in a different guise, like me. She is my nemesis, the arch-enemy. Yet she is the only one who can free me and break this curse. In the end it all depends on her and in freeing my spirit I sense she will also free her own.

Elizabeth.

I met her only a handful of times in my life. She was little but she was fierce, always, fierce enough to survive against the odds, a fighter, clever, ruthless, destined always to be alone. We could never have been friends yet we are locked together in this endless dance through time.

I possessed the one thing she wanted and could not have and in my dying I denied it to her forever. For a little while I thought that would be enough to satisfy me. Yet revenge sours and diminishes through the years. All I wish now is to be released from my pain and to ensure this can never happen again.

Elizabeth, my enemy, you are the only one who can help me now but to do that you must change, you must see that the truth needs to be told. Open your eyes. Find the light.

Social Links

Author Website: https://www.nicolacornick.co.uk
TWITTER: https://twitter.com/NicolaCornick
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nicola.cornick/
Insta: https://www.instagram.com/nicolacornick/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/63843.Nicola_Cornick

Buy Links

Harlequin
Indiebound
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Books-A-Million
Google
iBooks
Kobo


Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

The Red Lotus

Title:  The Red Lotus
Author:  Chris Bohjalian
Publication Information:  Doubleday. 2020. 400 pages.
ISBN:  0385544804 / 978-0385544801

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The opposite of a hospice?"

Favorite Quote:  "But he felt a deep, numinous stitch within him as he recalled the deaths he had seen and the one he'd never get over, and the sad truth that no matter how many or how few people are with you at the end, you really do die alone."

Alexis works in an Emergency Department in New York City. That is, in fact, where she meets Austin. He comes in with a bullet wound, which is deemed a random act of a drunk individual in a bar. But was it? The story reveals that Austin may not be who or what he seems to be on the surface. At the beginning, though, he seems to be Alexis's dream and their meeting seems meant to be.

Months later, the two go on a tour of Vietnam around the Hoi An area. It is a bike tour for Austin who is an avid bicyclist. It is a bike tour in Vietnam so he can pay homage to the places his father and uncle fought in the war. During the course of the tour, Austin disappears.

Then, the mystery begins. Who was Austin? What really brought him to Vietnam? The story itself returns to New York with Alexis. Unwittingly, Alexis steps into the middle of a global thriller involving scientific research, its uses to save lives, and its potential uses for far more dangerous and lethal purposes.

Interestingly, the book title makes its way into the book in two diametrically opposite ways. One is a nod to Vietnamese belief about the red lotus:

"'My grandmother won't eat them.'
'Lotus flowers.'
'She thinks they're sacred. Especially the red lotus ... The heart. They heart a broken heart - but not medicinally. Spiritually.'"

The other is a nickname given to a lab conducting research into disease transmission and the ability to use certain rats as carriers. "They'd christened that one the red lotus, because their transgenic label rats had genes from their Vietnamese counterparts."

The book has a limited number of characters. The "who" of the good guys and the bad guys in the story is made clear early on. The "what" of the enterprise is not a surprise. The "why" of course is money. Even the "how" is easily guessed as the only clue found at the site of Austin's disappearance is a energy gel pack found in the road. The book hold true to its reference to "Occam's razor:  the most likely explanation is probably the correct explanation."

This book came out before the intensity of COVID pandemic became a reality. Reading it at this point through the lens of an actual global pandemic seems prescient. The mystery of this book is not really a mystery. It is more about following Alexis on her journey as she discovers who Austin was and what happened to him. Unfortunately, she is not always a character that I invest in or begin to care about. My favorite character of the book is the private detective for his story has the emotion that seems to be lacking in Alexis's story.

The information about how a contagion might be developed and spread is frighteningly fascinating. The details about rats, I could do without! At the same time, a book about a possible fictional pandemic becomes an escape from the real one.


Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Apeirogon


Title:
  Apeirogon
Author:  Colum McCann
Publication Information:  Random House. 2020. 480 pages.
ISBN:  1400069602 / 978-1400069606

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The hills of Jerusalem are a bath of fog."

Favorite Quote:  "It will not be over until we talk."

The word "apeirogon" itself is a mathematical concept. The etymology of the word is from the Greek words apeiros meaning infinite or boundless and gonia meaning angle. Mathematically, an apeirogon is a two-dimensional closed shape (a polygon) with a countable infinite number of sides. I am not entire sure what that means mathematically, but it gets the point across. This book is about a history and a dialogue with countless different perspectives that have to be reconciled and joined to form a whole.

This idea is captured in the structure of the book itself. The story is told in 1,000 chapters, each ranging from a few words to a few pages long. The sections turn from topic to topic, coming at the story from different angles. Each one ties into the cohesive whole.

This story is fiction but with lifetimes of history encapsulated in it. Having now read it, I want to go back and page by page look up the topics, the people and the history to try and better understand it. Countless books and articles have been written and continue to be written on this history. This fictionalized book puts them in the context of a story. The relationship between the history and the fictionalization is explained in the author's note in the book.

What is the story, you might ask? This is a story of two fathers, both of whom lost their young daughter to violence - one to a stray bullet and one to a bombing. Both girls were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Both girls were being raised in a time and place where violence unfortunately is common place. These two men, who some might say come from opposite ends of a political spectrum, have found commonality and friendship in their losses and their sorrow.

This is a story of the Palestinian and Israeli conflict and of two men - Rami Elhanan nor Bassam Aramin. Rami Elhanan - father of Smadar - is Israeli. Bassam Aramin - father of Abir - is Palestinian. A Palestinian suicide bomber was responsible for the death of thirteen-year-old Smadar Elhanan. A rubber bullet fired by an Israeli soldier killed ten-year-old Abir Aramin. United in their sorrow, the men call each other friend and brother.

They are members of the Parents Circle Families Forum. The membership of the joint Israeli-Palestinian organization is over 600 families who have lost an immediate family member to this conflict. The central tenet of the organization is that reconciliation and dialogue are the inherent foundation on which sustainable peace may one day be built.

What can I possibly say about this book other than read it.

I was educated as I looked up the myriad of things the story captures - the birds, the bullets, the Molotov Cocktail, the Parents Circle, the universal symbol of peace, and countless other details built into the story.

I was heartbroken, and I cried. As a human and as a parent, the loss of these two men is immeasurable and unending. In fact, in interviews, both men have said that they participated in the writing and that this book will keep the memory of their daughters alive. However, they are unable to read the book in entirety for it is a mirror of the searing grief they live with. The fact that these two families are but two examples of losses that extend so far is even more devastating.

I was given hope. Out of the loss of these men came not hate but friendship and dialogue. Perhaps, that light in the middle of this darkness will shine bright.

I was changed. This is a book and a story I will carry with me for a long time to come. Behind every headline I now read will be a vision of Abir and Smadar. Their deaths are the stark reality of this conflict.


Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

The Forger's Daughter

Title:
  The Forger's Daughter
Author:  Bradford Morrow
Publication Information:  Mysterious Press. 2020. 288 pages.
ISBN:  0802149251 / 978-0802149251

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "A scream shattered the night."

Favorite Quote:  "'At that moment, as I looked this man in the eye, I was reminded of Hanlon's razor, a philosophical notion that states one should never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity. It occurred to me just then that, conversely, one ought never attribute to stupidity that which can be explained by malice."

Disclaimer: I did not realize until after reading this book that the book is a sequel. While the book can be read on its own, I do feel like I missed connections and some of the story impact without the backstory.

Will and his wife Meghan are spending the sumner at their country house in the Rhinebeck valley 100 miles north of New York City. Meghan runs a bookstore, and Will operates a small literary imprint. Will's speciality though is literary forgery, a skills he has long since buried but most definitely not forgotten. 

A voice from the past - Henry Slader - pulls Will in again. "Had we been collaborators instead of competitors, God knows what satanic masterpieces we might have produced." Under threat, Will agrees to create a forgery of Edgar Allan Poe's Tamerlane. Tamerlane is a poem that tells the story of a Turkish conqueror. The original publication of Tamerlane and Other Poems in 1827 was only about 50 copies of about 40 pages printed under the name "A Bostonian." Edgar Allan Poe paid for the the original publication which was done by a young printer named Calvin Thomas. Currently, only twelve copies of this publication are known to exist, making it a valuable literary rarity. The last one sold in 2009 for a price of $662,500.

The story of this book goes that Henry Slader, who is Will's nemesis and the one responsible for severe injuries to Will's hand, has discovered a copy in a private collection. He wants Will to create a forgery such that the original can be "discovered" elsewhere and brought to auction with the proceeds going to all those involved in this nefarious enterprise. Will's adopted daughter Nicole gets involved for her father has taught her his skills, and the teacher has surpassed the student.

The majority of the book deals with the back and forth between Henry Slader and Will and the creation of the forgery itself. It delves into some of Will and Meghan's past. This is the piece I feel I miss out of, not having read the first book. It also provides insight into the world of rare books and the art of letterpress printing. Along with the forgery comes the creation of a fictional provenance to prove "authenticity" of the forgery. As a book lover, I find the details fascinating. Yet, it also renders the slow pace of the book.

The conclusion of the book comes at a fast pace and includes some unexpected events. A murder happens with no repercussions! Self-defense, perhaps? Or self-preservation? Either way, the characters involved are surprising; the calm way in which it is dealt is surprising; the lack of consequence is surprising; and the coverup after is surprising. It takes the book away from the world of rare books and brings it somewhere else all together. It's hard to find a protagonist to cheer for by the end unfortunately. Nevertheless, the book is an intriguing look at the world of rare books.


Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

The Mystery of Henri Pick

Title:
  The Mystery of Henri Pick
Author:  David Foenkinos (author). Sam Taylor (translator).
Publication Information:  Pushkin Press. 2020. 288 pages.
ISBN:  1782275827 / 978-1782275824

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "In 1971, the American writer Richard Brautigan published The Abortion:  An Historical Roman 1966, a quirky love story about a male librarian and a young woman with a spectacular body."

Favorite Quote:  "Readers always find themselves in a book, in one way or another. Reading is a completely egotistical pleasure. Unconsciously we expect books to speak to us. An author can write the most farfetched or implausible story ever, but there will still be readers who will still be readers who will say: 'I don't believe it:  you wrote the story of my life!'"

Bookstores, libraries, publishers, booksellers. The sources for published books are numerous and readily found. Through The Mystery of Henri Pick, I learn that there are places to go to find manuscripts the publishing industry has declined. In a 1971 novel titled, The Abortion:  An Historical Romance 1966, author Richard Brautigan wrote a character who works at a library of unpublished manuscripts. In 1990, Todd Lockwood brought the library's vision to life in Vermont. The library closed due to lack of funding. However, in 2010, the library was moved to Vancouver, Washington, a short distance away from where Richard Brautigan was born.

This literary history appeals to this bibliophile! It also forms the basis of The Mystery of Henri Pick. The book takes the idea of the Brautigan library and moves it to the small town of Crozon in Brittany. Delphine Despero, a literary agent, has family in the area. Her partner is an author whose one published work did not make the splash he envisioned.

In this library of forgotten books, Delphine discovers a masterpiece. She brings it to Paris and proceeds to be publish it. The stated author is a now-dead pizza chef whose family had no idea that he liked books much less that he might have written one. The family's reaction is perhaps the funniest part of the book for me.

The rest of the book, of course, is about the question of who the mysterious Henri Pick is. Is it the pizza chef? Is it someone else? Who? Now that the book is a phenomenal success, will someone else step forward to take credit? Should the financial gain from the book go to the pizza chef's family? Can someone else take credit or have things gone too far? The conclusion, when it comes, is somewhat of a surprise but then leaves the reaction that it was the only possible conclusion. The "mystery" of Henri Pick turns to not be all that much a mystery. The conclusion is a very satisfying "but, of course" as to the author's identity.

This is a book about authors, publishers, and book lovers. "According to him, it was not a question of liking or not liking to read, but of finding the book that was meant for you. Everybody could love reading, as long as they had the right book in their hands, a book that spoke to them, a book they could not bear to part with." It is a book for bibliophiles with lots of literary references, many to French literature with which I am not familiar but nevertheless. The book meanders through this world, going back and forth between characters and times and locations. The "farcical" part of the book description is very much embodied in the book. The "moving" part is much less present for me. M favorite part is actually not the story itself, but the little known history I learned about the Brautigan Library.


Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Creatures

Title:
  Creatures
Author:  Crissy Van Meter
Publication Information:  Algonquin Books. 2020. 272 pages.
ISBN:  9781643750835

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and a publisher's blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "There is a dead whale."

Favorite Quote:  "There are so many things I never said, because how can you say all the things when no one is ever listening?"

***** BLOG TOUR *****


Review


"I guess we are doing our best, little creature." So says a father to his daughter. This book is the daughter's story. It is a stream of consciousness flow through her memories and her knowledge. It jumps across time and place. It jumps from topic to topic sometimes with no warning. It is not the easiest track to follow, but somehow it all works. I am not even sure why, but the book draws me in to this woman's life, and I keep turning pages, wanting to know more.

The book begins the night before Evangeline's wedding. She has had and continues to have an unusual life. She is brought up and continues to live on a small island. She studies marine life. Her father is (was?) a drug-dealing alcoholic known for his special variety of weed - Winter Wonderland. "I never felt unloved, though he was not always capable of defining anything like love." Her mother is a part of her life but at the same time appears to have walked away from her. "My mother ... loves to be needed. These moments of brokenness seem to make her feel better about herself, her life. These chances make her feel like a mother again. I never feel like a daughter."

The book begins the night before the wedding and yet then leads to musing many years into the marriage - thoughts of love, infidelity, and the things that make a marriage last. "I want to talk about Liam. About our most-of-the-time happiness, how I'm afraid I'll lose him somedays, too, because I don't know what it's like to keep things."

This book, with its jumps, its at times incomplete thoughts, is more poetry than narrative. At first, I am not sure I can follow. At first, I am not sure I like it at all, especially as it begins with a vision of a dead whale beginning to decompose and be eaten by predators. I am somewhat confused at the jumps. Then, somewhere along the way, I am immersed in the experiences being described, and the image of this woman that is forming. I feel sad for the child and empathize with the woman she becomes. I see how she (and, indeed all of us) are the sum of all the experiences along the way.

One of the most memorable aspects of the book is its setting on the fictional Winter Island. The name is interesting because the island is described as "forty miles from Los Angeles on a scenic ferry ride with room for cars and concessions." Throughout the book, the atmosphere I conjure up is a forbidding, rocky place was crashing waves and impending storms. This belies the descriptions and the vibrant cover teeming with signs of life.

That is the magic of this book. The writing creates an aura and atmosphere that defies the physical descriptions and pulls you completely into its world. Yet, it does not feel forced or contrived. A beautiful and unusual debut. I look forward to reading more from the author.

About the Author

Crissy Van Meter is a writer in Los Angeles. Her writing has appeared in VICE, Catapult, Guernica, ESPN, The Hairpin, Golly, VIDA, and Bustle. She has an MFA from the New School. She teaches creative writing at The Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College. She is the founder of the literary project Five Quarterly, and the managing editor for Nouvella Books. She serves on the board of directors for the literary non-profit, Novelly.

About the Book

A former surf editor at ESPN and Southern California native, Van Meter deftly weaves her family history and deep California roots into this atmospheric novel set on the fictional Winter Island. She follows her protagonist, Evie, as she questions her love, her family, and her past on the night of her wedding, and through her, ultimately captures the spirit of wild California as well as her own volatile relationship with an alcoholic father to create a story that The New York Times called “a coming-of-age that is as human as it is wild… an unwavering triumph.” With phenomenal reviews from the Los Angeles Times, People Magazine, NPR, and many more, CREATURES triumphantly burst on the literary scene upon publication in January, and we are thrilled to release in paperback this fall.

Unique in its structure and written to mimic the tidal charts that Evie studies as well as the natural ebbs and flows of life, CREATURES takes readers on a provocative and mesmerizing journey as Evie is forced to reckon with her complicated upbringing in this lush, feral land off the coast of Southern California. On the eve of Evie’s wedding, a dead whale is trapped in the harbor of Winter Island, the groom may be lost at sea, and Evie’s mostly absent mother has shown up out of the blue. Evie grew up with her well-meaning but negligent father, surviving on the money he made dealing the island’s world-famous strain of marijuana, Winter Wonderland. Although he raised her with a deep respect for the elements, the sea, and the creatures living within it, he also left her to parent herself.

Van Meter based CREATURES on her own coming of age in Newport Beach. “I was asking questions about what it means to grieve, to love, to experience love informed by grief, and to love someone who isn’t always good.” She explains, “I was interested in digging into my own experiences with my father’s drug and alcohol addiction, his failures as a father, and the dichotomy of still loving him so much… And, I was interested in exploring what it means to have a treacherous past with a father like this, and what it means as an adult to decipher what it means to love, what it means to forgive.”Darkly funny and ultimately cathartic, CREATURES reveals the complexities of love and abandonment, guilt and forgiveness, betrayal and grief—and the ways in which our ability to love can be threatened if we are not brave enough to conquer the past. Melissa Broder, author of The Pisces, says, “At the intersection of the natural world and the human heart, Van Meter explores alcoholism, absence, daughterly loyalties and longing in this slim and beautiful tale that contains a whole aqueous universe in its depths.”


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Monday, November 2, 2020

The Wrong Kind of Woman


Title:
  The Wrong Kind of Woman
Author:  Sarah McCraw Crow
Publication Information:  MIRA Books. 2020. 320 pages.
ISBN:  0778310078 / 978-0778310075

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and a publisher blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Oliver died the Sunday after Thanksgiving, the air heavy with snow that hadn't fallen yet."

Favorite Quote:  "The young women have made their point"

***** BLOG TOUR *****


Review

Clarendon College in New Hampshire is an all boys college with its fraternities, its old boys network, and its very clear lack of diversity. Oliver Desmarais had come to Clarendon College as a last resort when other career opportunities did not work out. He taught history. Virginia Desmarais gave up on her dreams and her pursuit of a PhD as she supported her husband's career and as cares of family took precedence. They, along with their teenage daughter Rebecca, are settled in this small town, or so it seems.

The time is 1970. One day, Oliver drops dead of an aneurysm.. What is Virginia to do? She is in need of reinventing her own life and preserving her daughters. Her vision of a cozy, family life in this small town was what she was counting on regardless of whether or not it had ever been her dream. With Oliver's death, that vision has been shattered. So, what is next?

She finds unexpected support in four women associated with the college - all outspoken and unmarried. They have been labeled the Gang of Four (a nod to the Congressional Squad of four strong, outspoken women?) by the men of the school. This group includes Louise, the one tenured female faculty member at Clarendon, which is interesting as she was also Oliver's nemesis. Yet, the women find themselves growing closer, finding commonilties where they thought differences existed.

Set in the context of the women's movement and its impending arrival at Clarendon College, this book has the potential to tell that story through the voices of these women and others at the college. The fact that these conversations are still occurring today makes the topic and the book relevant. That is the book I expect. It is not quite the book I read.

The story is told through different perspectives including Virginia, her daughter, and - the one that surprised me - Sam, a male student at Clarendon and one of Oliver's proteges. Unfortunately, the voices switch frequently and at time with no transition, making it challenging to follow and giving a scattered feel to the entire book. It was not easy to get through!

The most intriguing thought of this book is captured in its title - the wrong kind of woman. Who is that? What makes her wrong? Who decides if she is right or wrong? Louise carves out a place for herself as the only tenured faculty at an otherwise all male school. Is she wrong or does the environment label her as wrong? Virginia is reminded of her dreams and attempts to have a life beyond one just as a mother. Many in this time and place label that as wrong. Rebecca is a young woman devastated by loss but also finding her voice as a woman. Is that wrong?

So many for so long have labeled the choices of women as "wrong" if they are made for the women themselves and if they challenge existing societal boundaries. Looking around me today, it amazes me how far we have come and yet how frequently, these same conversations are taking place today. I wish the book had delivered this statement in a stronger way and in the context of a stronger story, but it is a reminder of an important statement nevertheless.

About the Book

A powerful exploration of what a woman can be when what she should be is no longer an option.

In late 1970, Oliver Desmarais drops dead in his front yard while hanging Christmas lights. In the year that follows, his widow, Virginia, struggles to find her place on the campus of the elite New Hampshire men’s college where Oliver was a professor. While Virginia had always shared her husband’s prejudices against the four outspoken, never-married women on the faculty—dubbed the Gang of Four by their male counterparts—she now finds herself depending on them, even joining their work to bring the women’s movement to Clarendon College.

Soon, though, reports of violent protests across the country reach this sleepy New England town, stirring tensions between the fraternal establishment of Clarendon and those calling for change. As authorities attempt to tamp down “radical elements,” Virginia must decide whether she’s willing to put herself and her family at risk for a cause that had never felt like her own.

Told through alternating perspectives, The Wrong Kind of Woman is an engrossing story about finding the strength to forge new paths, beautifully woven against the rapid changes of the early ‘70s.

About the Author

Sarah McCraw Crow grew up in Virginia but has lived most of her adult life in New Hampshire. Her short fiction has run in Calyx, Crab Orchard Review, Good Housekeeping, So to Speak, Waccamaw, and Stanford Alumni Magazine. She is a graduate of Dartmouth College and Stanford University, and is finishing an MFA degree at Vermont College of Fine Arts. When she's not reading or writing, she's probably gardening or snowshoeing (depending on the weather).

Social Links

Author website: https://sarahmccrawcrow.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/sarahmcrow?lang=en
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sarahmccrawcrow/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15502401.Sarah_McCraw_Crow

Buy Links

Amazon 
Barnes & Noble
IndieBound 
Books-A-Million


Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.