Friday, October 29, 2021

How Do You Live?

How Do You Live?
  How Do You Live?
Author:  Genzaburo Yoshino (Author), Bruno Navasky (Translator)
Publication Information:  Algonquin Young Readers. 1937 (original Japanese). 2021 (English translation). 288 pages.
ISBN:  1616209771 / 978-1616209773

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:  "Copper is in his second year of junior high school."

Favorite Quote:  "But even when you have read the books and learned the ideas, the ultimate key to the mystery will be - Copper, of course it will be you. You, yourself and no other. For it is only through the life you will lead, building on your many experiences and impressions, that you will be able to understand the truths in the words of these great thinkers."

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


I had never heard of this book or the author until seeing the marketing for the book. I am fan of Hayao Miyazaki's movies and of Neil Gaiman's work. Filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki calls this his favorite childhood book and is in fact basing a  new Studio Gibli movie on this book. The book description also draws a comparison to The Alchemist by Paul Coelho, which I love.

This set up creates high expectations for the book. Although targeted to an audience aged 10-14, this book offers considerable philosophy to an adult reader. The title - how do you live - is very much literal. The book offers advice and principals for an ethical life.

The philosophy is embedded in the life of Copper, a young man whose nickname comes from the mathematician and scientist Copernicus. Copper is fifteen years old in this book and in junior high school - a challenging age in the best of circumstances. Copper's life is further challenged by the loss of his father.

Much of this philosophical advice resonates even as an adult reader. The book is at times sad and at times nostalgic. Given the time of its original publication, the book also captures the changing paradigm of life in the years leading up to World War II. As the translator's note  points out, "... it contains many lessons, and a quiet but powerful message on the value of thinking for oneself and standing up for others during troubled times. In this respect, it's a unique book, and particularly valuable to us now..."

This story focuses on his life in school and with his friends and his relationship with his uncle - the father figure in his life. The chapters alternate with depictions of incidents in Copper's life and with writings of his uncle in a notebook destined to provide guidance to Copper in his life. The uncle's journal stems from his promise to Copper's father to help Copper become a "good" man.

The structure of alternating chapter does create a distance in the book from Copper's story, but perhaps that is intentional for it keeps the focus on principles being shared. Copper's story is a vehicle for the lessons in ethics rather than the lessons being a corollary to Copper's story.

The interesting aspect is that so many of the ideas share transcend time. So much of what is shared in this book published in the 1930s still holds true today. I suppose that is not surprising for the basic tenets of living a good and ethical life do not change. The lessons we learn in childhood and attempt to pass on to our own children remain constant ones of believing in yourself, standing up for what you believe in, and standing up for other even when they cannot.

The book is memorable, and in this case, I cannot wait to see the movie!

About the Book

First published in 1937, Genzaburo Yoshino’s enchanting novel HOW  DO  YOU  LIVE? is finally available in English for the first time. Award-winning filmmaker  Hayao Miyazaki  (Spirited Away,  Howl’s Moving Castle) has long referred to this coming-of-age classic beloved by millions of Japanese readers as not only a major influence on his work but also his favorite childhood book, and he has recently announced plans to base his final film on it. Brilliantly translated by Bruno Navasky and with a foreword by fantasy master  Neil Gaiman, who wrote the English-language adaptation of Miyazaki’s  Princess Mononoke,  this new edition will introduce legions of new readers to Yoshino’s timeless tale.

HOW  DO  YOU  LIVE?  begins with fifteen-year-old Copper, who has recently suffered the loss of his father, gazing out over his hometown of Tokyo, watching the thousands of people below, and beginning to ponder life’s big questions. How many people are in the world? What do their lives look like? Are humans really made of molecules? The book moves between Copper’s story and his uncle’s journal entries, in which he gives advice and helps Copper learn pivotal truths about the way the world works. Over the course of a year in his life, Copper, like his namesake Copernicus, embarks on a journey of philosophical enlightenment, and uses his discoveries about the heavens, earth and human nature to determine the best way to live. Yoshino perfectly captures the beauty and strangeness of pre-war Japan – the changing of the seasons, the fried tofu and taiyaki stands, and the lush landscapes, as Copper explores the city on his bike and learns from friends and family what really matters most in life. “It’s funny and sad in a particularly Japanese way. As I read more of the book, I discovered that it contains lessons on everything: art, science, language, history, politics and philosophy,” translator Bruno Navasky writes. “It also contains a quiet but powerful message on the value of thinking for oneself and standing up for others during troubled times.”

“Books like this are important,” writes Neil Gaiman in the book’s foreword. “I’m so glad Mr. Miyazaki is making his film because it means that eighty-four years after it was written, Yoshino’s novel can be read in English, in Bruno Navasky’s gentle and winning translation, and that I got to read it.” Perfect for fans of  The Little Prince  and  the Alchemist, as well as Miyazaki fans eager to understand some of his most important influences,  HOW  DO  YOU  LIVE?  is a whimsical and wise novel that will forever change the way readers think about their place in the world.

About the Author

Genzaburō Yoshino (1899-1981) was a Japanese writer and publisher. In 1935, he became director of a collection of educational books for young people. Yoshino stepped in to write How Do You Live? when Yūzō Yamamoto, the expected writer, fell ill. Since its debut as a novel and guide to philosophy for young people, How Do You Live? has been re-edited and republished more than eighty times, a reflection of the changing times and culture in Japan.

About the Translator

Bruno Navasky is a teacher and writer, whose work as a translator and editor includes Festival in My Heart: Poems by Japanese Children and Poem in Your Pocket for Young Poets. He was the founding editor of American Poet, the journal of The Academy of American Poets, where he now serves on the board of directors. He lives and works in New York City.

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

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

The Mother Next Door

  The Mother Next Door
Author:  Tara Laskowski
Publication Information:  Graydon  House. 2021. 352 pages.
ISBN:  1525804707 / 978-1525804700

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and the HTP Fall 2021 mystery and thriller blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Ladies and gentlemen, skulls and boys: by the time our Halloween block party is over tonight, one of us will be dead."

Favorite Quote:  "They done masks on this one single night to dress up as someone or something else, but in reality they live their lives this way. We all do. We hate ourselves. We are too fat, or too thin. We should work hard, be smarter. We are lonely and depressed. We are worried about money. We are ashamed of the way that our friends and family treat us. But we lie about it all. We hide behind a protective facade, fragile glass figurines inside elaborate dollhouses designed to look like perfect, safe happy places."

**** BLOG TOUR *****


Ivy Woods is the ultimate, affluent suburban neighborhood. It is located outside of Washington, DC in a little cul-de-sac. It is seemingly quiet and friendly. The families on the cul-de-sac are friends and there for each other when needed. The women are career women, wives, mothers, volunteers, PTA moms, and the organizers of the ultimate Halloween party. That cul-de-sac is "the" place to be on Halloween and the neighborhood that all the local kids gravitate to.

However, perhaps, all is not what it seems in Ivy Woods. The women of Ivy Woods - the Ivy Five - have the reputation of being a clique, of being "queen bees" in a suburban PTA mom hierarchy, and of being mean. Years ago, in 2005, a death occurred at the Halloween party. It was deemed a suicide and has transformed into the legend of Ghost Girl. What if there is more to this story? What if someone know a different story of what happened that night? What if that story is true? What if it is  not?

Theresa Pressley moves to Ivy Woods with her husband the new high school principal and her daughter. She knows the surface story of Ivy Woods and wants to belong. She learns the darker side of Ivy Woods. She also learns that everyone has secrets they was to protect beyond this story. The thing is so does she.

So proceeds this story through the past and the present gradually drawing the threads of past and present together into a dramatic conclusion. Although this is the story of the Ivy Woods families, it is really the story of the Ivy Wood women. The men - the husbands - are really only tangentially present in the story. Even amongst the women, two main characters - Kendra and Therese - emerge.

The book keeps me guessing until the end. I do not see the twist until it arrives, and then it makes perfect sense. The ending, though disturbing and "wrong" on so many levels, also makes sense. What makes this book is the ordinary suburban setting. So many of us know a neighborhood like Ivy Woods. Those with kids perhaps visit such a place themselves on Halloween. So many of us also know a clique of friends such as the Ivy Five. Perhaps, some of us have such a strong bond of sisterhood ourselves although hopefully more positively channeled. The setup, the group, the situation and the story rings true. As such, it reads more like drama than thriller but one that I eagerly follow along on until the last page. I turn the last page still wanting to know what happens next!

The ending leaves an opening for a sequel. I wonder if one is coming. I could see myself following along on the journey of the Ivy Five and the next generation.

About the Book

For fans of Lisa Jewell, Aimee Molloy, and Joshilyn Jackson, an upmarket suspense novel from a multi-award-winning author about a tightknit group of suburban mothers who invite a new neighborhood mom into their fold, and the fallout the night of the annual block party, when secrets from the past come back to haunt them…

The annual block party is the pinnacle of the year on idyllic suburban cul de sac Ivy Woods Drive. An influential group of neighborhood moms—known as the Ivy Five—plan the event for months.

Except the Ivy Five have been four for a long time.

When a new mother moves to town, eager to fit in, the moms see it as an opportunity to make the group whole again. This year’s block party should be the best yet... until the women start receiving anonymous messages threatening to expose the quiet neighborhood’s dark past—and the lengths they’ve gone to hide it.

As secrets seep out and the threats intensify, the Ivy Five must sort the loyal from the disloyal, the good from the bad. They'll do anything to protect their families. But when a twisted plot is revealed, with dangerous consequences, their steady foundation begins to crumble, leaving only one certainty: after this year’s block party, Ivy Woods Drive will never be the same.

From award-winning author Tara Laskowski, The Mother Next Door is an atmospheric novel of domestic suspense in which the strive for perfection ends in murder…

About the Author

TARA LASKOWSKI is the author of One Night Gone, which won an Agatha Award, Macavity Award, and Anthony Award, and was a finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark Award, Left Coast Crime Award, Strand Critics' Award, and Library of Virginia Literary Award. She is also the author of two short story collections, Modern Manners for Your Inner Demons and Bystanders, has published stories in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and Mid-American Review, among others, and is the former editor of SmokeLong Quarterly. Tara earned a BA in English from Susquehanna University and an MFA from George Mason University and currently lives in Virginia. Find her on Twitter and Instagram, @TaraLWrites.

Q&A with Tara Laskowski

Q: Please give us a one sentence pitch for your novel, The Mother Next Door.
A: An atmospheric suspense novel about a tight-knit group of suburban mothers who invite a new neighborhood mom into their fold, and the fallout the night of the annual Halloween block party, when secrets from the past come back to haunt them.

Q: Why do you believe thrillers are so popular?
A: They naturally invoke our curiosity--our sense of “I have to know what happens.” Plus, I think people like to read about bad things happening to other people. It’s the same with horror movies or books--it’s a fun way to put yourself in a terrifying situation without actually having to be in a terrifying situation. As long as our brains know we are safe, we can enjoy that rush of adrenaline without the sheer panic.

Q: Where do you get your ideas? Of course, from your imagination, but do you read, see or hear something that clicks? How did you come up with the idea for The Mother Next Door? Is this book based on any true events?
A: I usually start with setting, weirdly. I need a place that I can envision, and that I can see bad things happening in. If I’ve got the place, then I can insert characters and make things happen.

For The Mother Next Door, I took all of the things I love most--Halloween, cool houses, urban legends--and put them in a domestic suspense set in a creepy suburban neighborhood. The book isn’t really based on any true events, but it definitely riffs off stuff in my real life. We live in a neighborhood with a cul-de-sac that throws a Halloween potluck every year, for example, though as far as I know nothing nefarious has happened over there!

Q: Are you a plotter or pantser?
A: I don’t do well with outlines. I need to feel my way through a book with a blindfold on (though occasionally I guess I pull it down and try to get a glimpse of what’s ahead.) By this, I mean, I like to write a little, then figure out the next few “beats” or things that might happen, then write those, then figure out a little more, etc. And delete and rewrite and cry a little and doubt myself and think I’m the greatest thing since barbeque chips and start the whole process over again. And each time, so far, it’s ended up in a book, so fingers crossed!

Q: Any great tips for aspiring writers?
A: 1) Find your tribe 2) Learn to take criticism and rejection gracefully 3) Read. A lot. 4) Sign up for a monthly massage program.

Q: What is your favorite place to write?
A: It’s super boring, but my home office. I like to have control over my environment. I know writers who can write in coffee shops or libraries or outside, but I need to be at a desk in relative quiet most of the time. If it’s too noisy or too cold or there’s a chance that a spider will crawl on me, I can’t concentrate. That said, we have an excellent screened-in porch and I do like writing out there sometimes.

Q: Are you working on another book now or taking a break?
A: I’m working on my third novel, which is set in upstate New York at a winery and estate and features a group of old friends who return there for a reunion only to realize they are caught up in a decade-old revenge plot.

Q: What is your favorite season and why?
A: Hands-down: Fall. Sweaters! Crunchy leaves! Pumpkin everything! Football! Also, Halloween is my birthday, and I adore anything and everything spooky. So, there you go.

Social Links

Author website:
Twitter: @TaraLWrites
Instagram: @taralwrites

Buy Links
Politics & Prose:
Barnes & Noble:
Apple Books:
One More Page:
Indiebound: Play:

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

Sunday, October 17, 2021

How Beautiful We Were

  How Beautiful We Were
Author:  Imbolo Mbue
Publication Information:  Random House. 2021. 384 pages.
ISBN:  0593132424 / 978-0593132425

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

Opening Sentence:  "We should have known the end was near."

Favorite Quote:  "... if everyone only did what they ought to do, who would do the things no one thought they had to do? What did enjoyment have to do with duty?"

The beauty to which the title of this book refers is the beauty and bounty of the land and the community that thrived in that land. The "were" is the crux of this book for the land and the community have been overrun by industry and corporate interests.

The main setting begins in the fictional West African village of Kosawa. It is October of 1980. Children are dying. The fields lie fallow. The water is poisoned. Nearby, the pipelines and drilling sites of the American oil company Pexton have pumped oil for decades. The people of Kosawa are fighting for survival in the pollution and for the restoration of their land and their way of life. The Pexton representatives enumerate the ways in which the locals are helped and will continue to be helped by the oil company. The big oil company has the support of the village and the country's dictator. The local villagers differ in the approach with which to deal with the company.

The book tells its story through the voices of different narrators including a group titled the Children for it is the children that are dying. This named yet anonymous narrator at times gives the book the feel of a fable or a Greek tragedy. Perhaps, that effort to make the story universal is by choice for this scenario repeats in many different communities in many different parts of the world. Corporate interests discount pollution and down the impact on the local regions. The communities take different approaches - legal channels, advocacy, protest, and sometimes even more - to counteract big money. It is the David vs. Goliath story. Industry vs. environment and community which, in this situation, seem mutually exclusive.

To my understanding, the Children references an entire generation who is born, raised, and - in some cases - dies in the shadow of the oil company and its pollution. The key named character, of course, is Thula whose journey represents one path in this fight to preserve the environment and the community. Why is this the path highlighted? I am not sure. Why is Thula's path? Again, I think I understand through the explanation of some of Thula's story. "Thula walked around consumed by all the ways the world has failed to protect its children." The broadening of the story, however, takes the away from her individual story.

The theme is universal. However, the telling of it in this way makes the story a little less personal and a little more distant. The story then goes even broader, coming from the village of Kosawa to the United States and back again. The identification of the oil company as American and the journey to the US and back firmly lays the responsibility and the search for environmental leadership at America's door. Again, the point is political and broader than just this immediate story. "Someday, when you're old, you'll see the the ones who came to kill us and the ones who'll run to save us are the same. No matter their pretenses, the all arrive here believing they have the power to take from us or give to us whatever will satisfy their endless wants."

The story itself conveys the sense of loss and tragedy. I do, however, find myself losing the specific thread of the story in the shifting narrators and the generic way of referring to collective groups or even specific characters. I logically understand the loss and sadness. I am not entirely sure I walk away feeling it.

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

Saturday, October 16, 2021

The Sum of Us

The Sum of Us
  The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We can Prosper Together
Author:  Heather McGhee
Publication Information:  One World. 2021. 448 pages.
ISBN:  0525509569 / 978-0525509561

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

Opening Sentence:  "Why can't we have nice things?"

Favorite Quote:  "Since this country's founding, we have not allowed our diversity to be our superpower, and the result is that the United States is not more than the sum of its disparate parts. But it could be. And if it were, all of us would prosper."

Heather McGhee's book states its purpose upfront. "This book recounts my journey to tally the hidden costs of racism to us all." It states the need for this journey up front. "In my gut, I've always known that laws are merely expressions of a society's dominant beliefs. It's the beliefs that must shift in order for outcomes to change. When policies change in advance of the underlying beliefs, we are often surprised to find the problem still with us." It states the hope. "In short, we must emerge from this crisis in our republic with a new birth of freedom, rooted in the knowledge that we are so much more when the 'We' in 'We the people' is not some of us, but all of us. We are greater than, and greater for, the sum of us."

In between its statement of purpose and its hope, the book documents the impact of the long-held zero-sum paradigm. That familiar paradigm goes as follows. For one to get ahead or "win," another must fall behind or "lose." For many, that paradigm is so ingrained that we do not even realize that it is a belief not a fact and that it is a belief that can be altered by each of us individually and by us a collective society and nation.

The book lays out the history in ten chapters, each focusing on a different economic or societal area - public pools, education, voting laws, pollution, home ownership particularly subprime mortgages to name a few. Each chapter presents data and individual stories that make the data personal and perhaps more understandable and relatable.

The history and the data presented is well researched with a significant portion of the book devoted to notes and references for further verification. In other words, don't just take the book's word for it; do your own further research. In the ebook version, many of the notes are presented as links and take the reader directly to the source. The lengthy list of interviews that underlie the stories occurred from 2017 to as recently as 2020. Further research and verification is encouraged. The one thing I would have appreciated even further is the inclusion of footnotes, make the cross-reference from the text to the notes even easier.

There is a lot of information in this book and a lot of opportunity to dig deeper. My recommendation to any reader is to take your time and really absorb the history being recounted.

The data is concrete; the stories are heartbreaking. The perspectives include people of different races and different parts of the country - all Americans. Both drive home the point again and again of the impact of racism on all of us. Some of the individual stories mirror my own personal experiences and bring the book even closer to home. This impacts each and every one of us. I walk away educated and with the certainty that I have a lot more still to learn.

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

Thursday, October 14, 2021

The Hunting Gun

The Hunting Gun
  The Hunting Gun
Author:  Yasushi Inoue (author). Michael Emmerich (translator)
Publication Information:  Pushkin Collection. 1949 (original Japanese), 2014 (translation). 112 pages.
ISBN:  1782270019 / 978-1782270010

Book Source:  I read this book as a selection for a local book club.

Opening Sentence:  "I published a poem titled 'The Hunting Gun' in the most recent issue of The Hunter's Friend, a floppy little magazine put out by the Japan Hunters' Club."

Favorite Quote:  "We humans are, in the end, stupid creatures who cannot help desiring that someone know us as we are."

This book is a tragedy in three letters. The book truly only has four characters - Misugi Josuke and three women whose lives he touches. Shoko is the young woman to whom he has been "uncle" until she discovers the truth about his role in her life. Midori is his wife. Saiko is his love, lover, paramour, mistress - the name depends on your perspective.

There is a narrator in the background. That narrator is the author of a poem titled The Hunting Gun, which serves as introduction to Misuse Josuke. The narrator, however, is somewhat immaterial other than being the vehicle by which the letters find light of day. I am still puzzled by the presence of the narrator and the poem and the hunting reference. I suppose it may serve to characterize Misugi Josuke, or it may speak to the random connections of life. The discussion of the symbolism makes a great topic for an English class or a book club!

The letters are all addressed to Misugi Josuke and come from each of the three women. Put together, they paint a picture of infidelity and a longtime love affair. Shoko learns of the affair when she reads her mother's diary. Midori has always known and looked away. Saiko left her own husband and had chosen this life of illicit love and chosen this environment in which to raise her daughter.

This book is unusual given the combination of its original publication date of 1949 and its Japanese setting and origin. This time period, of course, is within a few years of the end of World War II. Yet, that history has no place in this book. This is an intensely emotional and personal story of a relationship and the far reaching, life altering impact that relationship has on these four individuals.

The book is brief - a novella. Yet, the content is so serious and tragic that the book feels weighty. The book also proves somewhat frustrating because the letters truly do not explain the "why". Shoko's letter is the only one that has no why because she is not part of the triangle of this relationships. Why does the affair happen? Why does it last? Why does the marriage last? More so than Misugi Josuke, why do the women make the choices they do?

Perhaps, given the time and place, women stay. Yet, the question remains unanswered.

For these reasons, this book makes for a great book club discussion. It also examples one of the reasons I love being in a book club. We are a diverse group, and each month we take turns picking the book. Without the book club, I don't think I would have discovered and read this book or even been introduced to this author. I love that the book club takes me in undiscovered directions!

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

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Good Eggs

  Good Eggs
Author:  Rebecca Hardiman
Publication Information:  Atria Books. 2021. 336 pages.
ISBN:  978-1982164294

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

Opening Sentence:  "Three-quarters fo the way to the tuck shop, a trek she will come to deeply regret, Millie Gogarty realizes she's been barreling along in second gear, oblivious to the guttural grinding from the bowels of her Renault."

Favorite Quote:  "Her own string of heartaches, on balance, strikes her as scant and humbling. Maybe she has plenty, or enough."

Good Eggs begins in an Irish village (Dun Laoghaire) as the story of a woman of a certain age finding herself limited due to certain ailments but ready to take on her life and the world. Many delightful stories have been written on this premise. This book, however, then proceeds into the story of the dysfunctional Gogarty family. Many delightful books have also been written about dysfunctional families. This book further proceeds into story of elder care and the advantages and challenges that presents. This is an important issue that I have not seen much fiction about. So, I appreciate the conversation this book may start about a serious concern that should be discussed.

The story is that of three generations. Millie who is 80 something. Her son Kevin who is currently unemployed, looking for work and stay-at-home father to his children. His sixteen year old daughter Aileen who is a teenager looking to find her place in the world and at times seems completely at odds with the world around her and the people in it.

Millie has dreams of going to the United States. She is a compulsive shoplifter. She lives on her own at this time but relies on Kevin for support. Yet, she struggles with her family's attempt to, what she feels, limit her freedom. Kevin is looking for work and trying to manage his wife's absences for work, the needs and challenges of his four children who seem at odds with each other, his aging mother, and his own needs and wants. Kevin's wife is the workaholic in the background of this family dynamic. Aileen has always felt as if she pales in comparison to her sister, and her sister highlights that difference whenever possible. Normal sibling rivalry or something more? It is unclear, but somehow Aileen is the one who ends up in a boarding school as a result of her behavior. Into this mix are throws both friends and foes and foes who seem at the beginning like friends.

The interesting aspect of this book is that it seems to set out to break out of the definitions of gender roles which is refreshing. A workaholic wife and mother who is the major breadwinner of the home. An unemployed husband and father who seems to be drifting along. A villain - although conman is a more appropriate level of villainous  in this case - who is a woman. I appreciate the portrayals of the characters in this regard.

The issue in this book is that I find myself not relating to or particularly even liking the characters in this book. Books of this nature rely on a protagonist to root for. Unfortunately, that does not happen for me in this book. The book description states a humorous read. Unfortunately, the humor escapes me. Rather, a sense of meanness and pettiness remains. The book description also promises a heartfelt read. A struggling teen and elder abuse should pull at the heart strings. However, in this case, it fails to.

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