Saturday, January 20, 2024

Every Rising Sun

Every Rising Sun
  Every Rising Sun
Author:  Jamila Ahmed
Publication Information:  Henry Holt and Co. 2023. 432 pages.
ISBN:  1250887070 / 978-1250887078

Rating:   ★★★

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

Opening Sentence:  "Shaherazade turned to Shahryar and said, 'May I have your permission to tell a story."

Favorite Quote:  "Men and women before you have been betrayed. Men and women after you will be betrayed. But to be betrayed is not to be broken. And to be broken is not be become a killer."

Alif Lailah. One thousand and one nights. Arabian nights. Most of us have heard of this collection of folk tales. Many more have heard some stories that come from this collection without perhaps realizing that they are part of a bigger collection. Aladdin. Sinbad the Sailor. Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. 

The stories date back centuries and have been gathered in different forms by different authors and narrators. What is universal in all the collections is the framework in which these individual tales exist. The story is of a ruler who would marry and the next morning execute the young woman he married because he was once betrayed by the one he loved. One of the brides, Shaherazade sets out to save herself and those who may come after. On the night of the wedding, she asks to tell a story. The story hangs in the balance when morning comes. The ruler gives her a one day reprieve for the story to be concluded that night. Each night and each morning, the pattern repeats for 1,000 nights. And on the 1,001st night, what becomes of Shaherazade? There is a commonly held belief as to what happens then.

This debut novel decides to envision this paradigm through the eyes of Shaherazade. It provides a love story, a family, a "history" of what happens in "real life" between the nights of Shaherazade's stories. Some of the tales are still there, but this is Shaherazade's story. The "real life" has palace intrigue, wars, politics, a marriage, a love triangle, deaths, and more. "The world has ended before. Each time it has arisen anew."

I love seeing these stories of my childhood brought to a new envisioning and perhaps to an audience that may not be as familiar with these tales. Perhaps, this book will send a reader in search of other renditions more classically told. 

The one concern I have is the inconsistencies in the characters. As this is Shaherazade's story and told through her eyes, the other characters including the Malik and the other women of this story do not materialize fully. The reader sees them only through Shaherazade's eyes even though significant calamities befall these characters, and they are responsible for significant turning points in this story.

Narrowing the focus, there are inconsistencies in Shaherazade's character itself. On the one hand is a strong young woman who makes a daring choice, who bets on herself to save not only herself but those around her, who gives sage counsel to warriors, and who is a warrior herself. So many of her decisions are based on the greater good. Yet, a main story point is Shaherazade's allowing herself to be pulled into a relationship that runs counter to all those choices. This ultimately leads to the ending of the book itself, which is considerable different than the ending I have heard in these tales in any prior version. 

The contradiction is not fully explained to the satisfaction of this reader. I can appreciate a good retelling, but enough of the original must remain for it to be a retelling. The ending, to me, is a key part. Perhaps, there is a sequel to come. Perhaps not. Nevertheless, the ending for me undermines the characterizations throughout the book for I do not see why or how.

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

Saturday, January 13, 2024

The Museum of Failures

The Museum of Failures by Thrity Umrigar
  The Museum of Failures
Author:  Thrity Umrigar
Publication Information:  Algonquin Books. 2023. 368 pages.
ISBN:  164375355X / 978-1643753553

Rating:   ★★★★

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:  "All night long, the crows fought as a jet-lagged Remy Wadia struggled to sleep in an unfamiliar bed."

Favorite Quote:  "Because, ultimately everybody's story was written in scars."

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


The story of the museum of failures is ultimately about a family. In particular it is about how parents, even with the best of intentions, can sometimes fail their children. It is about the far-reaching impact of those failures for the children carry those scars into adulthood and into their own journey of parenthood. At the heart of the story is Remy Wadia, an adult who had made a life in America but returns to Bombay, India in the hopes of an adoption. Unexpected events lead him on a journey to questions what he has always believed about his life, his family relationships in India, and his own ability and willingness to be a father.

The book, however, defines itself in different ways at different points. "He had often thought of Bombay as the museum of failures, an exhibit hall filled with thwarted dreams and broken promises." Towards the beginning of the book, the book offers Remy's commentary on India, life in India, and of the reasons he left is all behind. Correspondingly, there is commentary about immigrant life in general and specifically in the Unites States under recent regimes. I almost want to stop as political commentary is not what I expect or want in this book. That commentary does not add to and is completely unnecessary for the story. However, this story is firmly set in Bombay. The US side of Remy's life never really developed. Thus, the political commentary does not permeate the story enough to distract from the focal point. 

Within the global commentary are the individual stories. "Of course, there were unhappy people everywhere on earth, and if you catalogued all their griefs and disappointments, every place could be considered a museum of failures. One could argue that this was the universal human condition." The sadness in this story belongs to Remy, his father Cyrus who is deceased but very much a character in this story, and his mother Shirin. Other supporting characters like Monaz and Dina have their own tragic stories that overlap Remy's.

The progression of the story can be measured in the next time the title appears. "There is no room for hope in the museum of failures. Even if it hangs on the walls for a moment, it usually comes crashing down." Cyrus dies without resolving the failures of their family's life. Shirin goes mute, harboring those failures. Remy holds on to the perceived failures of his parents and bears the scars of the choices. Even as an adult who has gone through therapy to resolve the hurts of his childhood, Remy has yet to reckon with that past. The story of what can only be termed abuse is tragic and horrifying. It seems unbelievable because I would like to think that it could not be possible. Yet, we all know that it is.

The next mention of the title highlights where the story ends up. "Because the only way to destroy the museum of failures is to burn every shameful secret that it has ever held." More than failures, this book is all about secrets. The ending of this book packages this family's entire history from before Remy's birth until his now-middle-age neatly with almost a bow. Every loose end is tied up. Every relationship and every concern is resolved. This, to me, lessons the impact of this story. Life is not neat, and a lifetime of issues are not so neatly resolved. Nevertheless, an emotional family story and a depiction of the immigrant experience that will stay with me.

About the Book

(from the author's website)
An immersive story about family secrets and the power of forgiveness from the bestselling author of Reese’s Book Club pick Honor.

When Remy Wadia left India for the United States, he carried his resentment of his cold and inscrutable mother with him and has kept his distance from her. Years later, he returns to Bombay, planning to adopt a baby from a young pregnant girl—and to see his elderly mother again before it is too late. She is in the hospital, has stopped talking, and seems to have given up on life.

Struck with guilt for not realizing just how ill she had become, Remy devotes himself to helping her recover and return home. But one day in her apartment he comes upon an old photograph that demands explanation. As shocking family secrets surface, Remy finds himself reevaluating his entire childhood and his relationship to his parents, just as he is on the cusp of becoming a parent himself. Can Remy learn to forgive others for their human frailties, or is he too wedded to his sorrow and anger over his parents’ long-ago decisions?

Surprising, devastating, and ultimately a story of redemption and healing still possible between a mother and son, The Museum of Failures is a tour de force from one of our most elegant storytellers about the mixed bag of love and regret. It is also, above all, a much-needed reminder that forgiveness comes from empathy for others.

About the Author

(from the author's website)
Thrity Umrigar is the best-selling author of the novels Bombay Time, The Space Between Us, If Today Be Sweet, The Weight of Heaven, The World We Found, The Story Hour, Everybody’s Son and The Secrets Between Us. Her new novel, Honor, is an Indie Next List Pick for January 2022. Umrigar is also the author of the memoir, First Darling of the Morning and three children's picture books, When I Carried You in My Belly, Sugar in Milk and Binny's Diwali. Her books have been translated into several languages and published in over fifteen countries. She is a Distinguished University Professor of English at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

The Space Between Us was a finalist for the PEN/Beyond Margins award, while her memoir was a finalist for the Society of Midland Authors award. If Today Be Sweet was a Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle selection, while her other books have been Community Reads selections. Thrity is the winner of the Cleveland Arts Prize, a Lambda Literary award and the Seth Rosenberg prize. She is also the recipient of the Nieman Fellowship to Harvard.

Thrity was born in Bombay, India and came to the U.S. when she was 21. As a Parsi child attending a Catholic school in a predominantly Hindu country, she had the kind of schizophrenic and cosmopolitan childhood that has served her well in her life as a writer. Accused by teachers and parents alike of being a daydreaming, head-in-the-clouds child, she grew up lost in the fictional worlds created by Steinbeck, Hemingway, Woolf and Faulkner. She would emerge long enough from these books to create her own fictional and poetic worlds. Encouraged by her practical-minded parents to get an undergraduate degree in business, Thrity survived business school by creating a drama club and writing, directing and acting in plays. Her first short stories, essays and poems were published in national magazines and newspapers in India at age fifteen.

After earning a M.A. in journalism in the U.S., Thrity worked for several years as an award-winning reporter, columnist and magazine writer. She also earned a Ph.D. in English. In 1999, Thrity won a one-year Nieman Fellowship to Harvard University, which is given to mid-career journalists.

While at Harvard, Thrity wrote her first novel, Bombay Time. In 2002 she accepted a teaching position at Case Western Reserve University, where she was recently named a Distinguished University Professor of English. Her articles have been published in national publications such as The New York Times, the Washington Post and the Boston Globe.

Thrity is active on the national lecture circuit and has spoken at book festivals such as the L.A. Festival of Books, the Tuscon Book Festival and the Miami Book Fair International; at universities such as MIT, Harvard University, and Spelman College; and at literary societies, civic and business organizations and public libraries all across the country.

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

Thursday, January 11, 2024

The Midnight Library

The Midnight Library
  The Midnight Library
Author:  Matt Haig
Publication Information:  Viking. 2020. 304 pages.
ISBN:  0525559477 / 978-0525559474

Rating:  ★★★★

Book Source:  I read this book as a selection of a local book group.

Opening Sentence:  "Nineteen years before she decided to die, Nora Seed sat in the warmth of the small library at Hazeldene School in the town of Bedford."

Favorite Quote:  "You don't have to understand life. You just have to live it."

Reader, beware. The book begins with contemplation and attempt of a suicide. If that is a trigger, perhaps this book is not for you.

At some point in our lives, we have all wondered. What if? What if I did not go down that road at that point? What if I lived on a different street? What if I went to a different school? What if I pursued a different career? What if.... What if I made a different choice?

Now, first imagine a library with an infinite number of books! Yes! Now imagine that this library is for you specifically! Yes! Now imagine that not only is it for you specifically, but it answers the question what if. Not just one what if, but every what if ever in your life! It can show you the path and the outcome if you chose a different path.

Given that any one of us makes a multitude of choices even just in one day and given that each choice combination has an exponential impact, it is easy to see how that may lead to what seems to be an infinite number of possibilities. 

That is the wonderful premise of the midnight library. This is the opportunity presented to Nora at the beginning of the book. An opportunity to see the what ifs and then choose. It sounds amazing, right?

Follow Nora's journey to see if it is and what she discovers. Interestingly, Nora's journey into each life is not as the Nora who would inhabit that life had she made that different choice. Rather, it is this Nora who has attempted suicide and is seeing that life without actually being that Nora. In each life, she is in effect acting as herself but is not really herself. "You are right to think of these lives like a plane where you're playing tunes that aren't really you. You are forgetting who you are. You are forgetting your root life. You are forgetting what worked for you and what didn't. You are forgetting your regrets."

Given that setup, the ending of this book goes about where I expect it to. "We only know what we perceive. Everything we experience is ultimately just our perception of it. IT's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see." Something unexpected might have added even more impact to the book, but, then again, perhaps this could not possibly have ended in any other way. Regardless, the journey to that end is worth it.

The idea of the path not taken has been explored in many different books and movies. The approach of creating a personalized library of lives makes this book unique and, as a reader, of course appeals to me. That and the delve into the philosophy surrounding this question makes the book work for me.

Book Club Discussion

The reaction in our book club to this read were mixed. Much of that difference centered around the fact that the philosophical premise of this book ties into the nonfiction self-help genre and that does not work for many people. As Nora experiences each life, there are of course the lessons of that life. Most people have either love or really dislike books of that genre, and this reaction to this fiction parallels.

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

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

The Vacation

The Vacation by John Marrs
  The Vacation
Author:  John Marrs
Publication Information:  Hanover Square Press. 2023. 464 pages.
ISBN:  1335013253 / 978-1335013255

Rating:   ★★★

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:  "'That's her,' the driver yelled to the three men waiting in the rear of the transit van."

Favorite Quote:  "I see it like this - people are like the tide. Some come into your life and bring things you'll only need for a short time, and others will bring things you'll carry forever. But some are just destined to disappear beneath the waves."

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


Tommy. Nicole. Eric. Jake. Matty. Declan. Ron. Peyk. Ruth. Savannah. Jane. 

Northampton, England. Victoria, Australia. London, England. Montgomery, Alabama. Navan, Ireland.

Different people from different places and different walks of life all converge upon the Venice Beach International Hostel. Ron owns it. Peyk is just there. Tommy lives and works there. The rest are backpackers staying in this somewhat decrepit, definitely not up to code hostel. 

Some of the book represents the transient, backpacking lifestyle:
  • "Recently, she had begun allowing herself to imagine what it must feel like to live for the moment - to wake up and not have your day mapped out in front of you; to go where you pleased; to meet new people from all walks of life and to absorb sights most people only witness in TV documentaries."
  • "How long do you stay in each place? It depends. I travel by three rules - never outstay your welcome; always leave them wanting more; disappear when no one's looking."
  • "And only when you allow the warmth of new experiences to fill your heart will you truly realize how precious a gem your life is."
The transient nature of the traveller's is captured in the original title of this book, Welcome to Wherever You Are, upon first publication in 2015. The book still contains and explains that title. "What does Welcome to Wherever You Are mean? It means that it doesn't matter where you are, just as long as you're somewhere." To me, the original is a more apt title for this story as for so many, this is a lifestyle not a vacation. In this case, for many, it is an escape from their lives and most definitely not a vacation as they struggle to survive and outrun their own pasts.

With John Marrs subsequent success, that title is now being re-released as a new title. The premise of this book is this coincidental meetup of people at a traveling juncture. However, no one here is quite who they seem. Each has secrets they wish to keep hidden. For many, it is those very secrets that have led them here. The book is being marketed as a suspenseful thriller.

However, to me, it is not that. The book weaves through the present day in Venice Beach and through different junctures in the back stories of the characters and how they find themselves to be here. There are a lot of characters and a lot of back stories to keep track of. The back stories include controlling abusive parents, illnesses, accidents, infatuations, drugs, crime, and more.

How the story comes together is the intrigue of the book. That takes most of the 400 pages of the book; not a lot actually happens in the present. The connections the author is able to design and depict between these characters are creative and entertaining. It just takes a while to get there. So, the book at times seems long. About half way through, I am ready for the story to all come together.

About the Book

How far would you run to escape your past?

Venice Beach, Los Angeles. A paradise on earth. Tourists flock to the golden coast and the promise of Hollywood. But for eight strangers at a beach-front hostel, there is far more on their minds than an extended vacation. All of them are running from something. And they all have secrets they’d kill to keep…

This holiday-set read is a compulsive and addictive thriller, perfect for fans of T.M. Logan.

About the Author

John Marrs is an author and former journalist based in London and Northamptonshire. After spending his career interviewing celebrities from the worlds of television, film and music for numerous national newspapers and magazines, he is now a full-time author. His books include No1 bestseller and Netflix series The One, The Passengers, award winning What Lies Between Us and The Good Samaritan. Follow him at , on Twitter @johnmarrs1, on Instagram and on Facebook at

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

Monday, January 8, 2024

Blacktop Wasteland

Blacktop Wasteland
  Blacktop Wasteland
Author:  S. A. Cosby
Publication Information:  Flatiron Books. 2020. 304 pages.
ISBN:  1250252687 / 978-1250252685

Rating:   ★★★★

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

Opening Sentence:  "Beauregard thought the night sky looked like a painting."

Favorite Quote:  "Choices give you freedom from those expectations. Allow you to cut 'em loose. Because that's what freedom is. Being able to let things go. And nothing is more important than freedom. Nothing."

The term "blacktop wasteland" is not a reference to a post-apocalyptic ruin of some other worldly calamity. It is rather a reference to the poverty, the racial divides, and the inequity that still inhabits many parts of our nation. In this case, the reader finds themselves in a small town in Virginia. "Progress had left this part of town behind. It was abandoned just like the store. A blacktop wasteland haunted by the phantoms of the past."

Beauregard “Bug” Montage did not have a positive start in life. He ends up in juvenile detention due to petty crimes as a teenager. By the time he comes out, his father has disappeared, leaving him behind. He tries to build an honest life, making a living as a mechanic and trying to be a better parent and example to his children.

Big business moves in, and a  small town mechanic cannot compete with those prices. Dire financial straits bring back into Bug's life people from his past. Bug's passion is cars, and his claim to fame is being one of the best drivers around - one of the best getaway drivers. Is one more heist and stint worth the price if it will secure his family's financial future? Is one last getaway drive possible? Is it possible to get out? Is it worth the price if his children learn that he is on the wrong side of the law to accomplish this?This is the quandry that Bug faces.

"I ain't gonna tell you it's wrong, because you know it's wrong. You gotta promise no matter how bad you think things are, you won't ever do anything like this again. You start down a road like this and before you know it you can't find your way back. You lose yourself. One day you wake up and you're just this thing that does shit and don't feel nothing. And that's the worst thing you can be. I can't let that happen to you. I'm your Daddy and it's my job to protect you. Even if that means protecting you from yourself."

This book was a book club selection and a newer genre for me with its dark, noir setup. With Bug's expertise in cars, his love for his car - a legacy from his father, and a plot line about a getaway, this book is very car forward. I know very little about cars, and my interest is limited to getting from point A to point B. However, I can understand that strong affinity to something that anchors to our pasts, especially to emotions left unresolved.

In addition, the characters and emotions in this book resonate. This is a book about poverty and the impossible choices involved in trying to give your children a better life. "He wasn't robbing Peter to pay Paul. They had both ganged up on him and were mugging him." The main character is a criminal contemplating another crime. He is also an adult abandoned as a child, a husband, and a father. He is a character I find myself cheering for. Throughout the book, I hope that things work out for Bug and his family.

This book exemplifies what I love about book clubs. It often forces me to read beyond my comfort zone, and sometimes it leads to a wonderful new reading adventure.

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

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

The Patron Saint of Second Chances

The Patron Saint of Second Chances
  The Patron Saint of Second Chances
Author:  Christine Simon
Publication Information:  Atria Books. 2022. 304 pages.
ISBN:  1982188774 / 978-1982188771

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

Opening Sentence:  "Signor Giovannino Speranza, self-appointed mayor of the diminishing village of Prometto, population 212, knew from his sixty-years of experience in this world that, in dealing with plumbers, one must never show even a hint of weakness."

Favorite Quote:  "I am just saying, no one can be here forever. And that is why it matters what you choose to do if God gives you the chance."

Sometimes, you just need to laugh. This book certainly provides that. As the author's note sates, "As ludicrous as the story is, so many bits and pieces of it are real." That is what makes the book work. It is funny and over the top. Yet, in each one of the characters, I can see bits and pieces of people I recognize, perhaps even myself.

So, what is the story? A very small town (population 212) must come up with 70,000 euros it does not have.  Otherwise, the town will be no more, and its residents will be displaced. A visit to a nearby, slightly larger town gives Signor Giovannino Speranza an idea. That town has had a resurgence because of the possible news that a celebrity may buy a house there.

Signor Speranza brings that idea home. What if a movie was to be made in Prometto? What if a famous movie star was to film there? Could that influx of tourism save the town? It all starts with one little lie and snowballs from there.

The idea takes on a life of its own. It brings a father and daughter closer together. One family will invest in the film if roles are found for their fifteen sons. The parish priest provides input of his own. A store clerk lives his dream of making a movie. A film star sees how this made-up movie could help his career. A budding romance emerges.

In the process, there are cardboard cutouts as stand-ins, a construction project, a young man who cannot act but has the voice of an angel, an action scene with fireworks, vacuum cleaners, exploding pipes, money being spent as soon as it is saved, whoopie cushions (repeated and often!) and confessions in church to wind the way out of this ever growing web of lies to save the town. Ultimately, it is about people and caring and a community coming together to save its place in the world.

Does the movie have the desired financial impact and save the town? You will have to read the book to find out. Regardless, this hare-brained scheme forevers alters perhaps all 212 people in the town and some from beyond.

The book is silly, funny, and sweet. Neither the author nor the story takes itself too seriously. A great way to start the year. As this is a debut novel, I look forward to seeing what Christine Simon writes next.

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