Friday, September 28, 2012

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

I nominated this book for one of my book group reads, and I'm so glad that I did. It was a very quick read, and the style of this writing is pretty unusual. However, the unusual format, the author's way of making individual statements within a setting where the same thing is happening to everyone is extremely powerful.

This book follows the journey of some Japanese mail order brides from Japan to California. The journey does not end there. These families are subjected to what equals imprisonment by their new government after the attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor, and the US entry into World War 2.

I was reading this on my Kindle, so I really had no idea when I began what a short book it was...more of a novella, really. But I devoured every word. Beautifully written, this is another one of those novels that should be used in high schools in this country to teach in a sensitive way about the pain our own government inflicted out of nothing but fear and suspicion, and how we must never inflict this kind of pain and heartbreak on our own citizens ever again. I plan on reading her other book, When the Emperor Was Divine in the not too distant future.

5 stars

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Girl Reading by Katie Ward

I anticipated reading this novel for a while, and was pleased to finally get a copy from the library. It seemed to take me a few tries to get into the first chapter, but once I achieved an interest, I pretty much finished the book in an evening or two.

What attracted me to this novel were blurbs about the book, calling it "a time machine!" And of course, the title, Girl Reading...isn't that what I've been all my life? The book's chapters are each the story of one girl or woman and one "portrait," be it a painting, or some other from of art. In each chapter there are thinly veiled references to previous chapters. Each chapter is also set in a different time period as well.

Some of the writing was really entertaining and clever and fun. It wasn't so long ago that I read Cloud Atlas, and while much more complex and complicated, in both the story and structure, I couldn't help but be reminded of that novel as well. Not every chapter was all that memorable. My favorite chapter was so clever and wonderful though, I doubt I will ever forget it. Victorian twins meet again and one takes the other's photo, but they are not your ordinary run of the mill women. The chapters almost stand on their own as short stories.

As the book and chapters evolve, we end up in a very different world that we hardly recognize in the future. Clever and wondrous, Ward manages to create knowable characters and a world we can believe, although it has become quite different from our present one.

Go here to see portraits that inspired Katie Ward when she wrote the book.

This book is Cloud Atlas meets Girl with a Pearl Earring.

Tiny, Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

I love Dear Sugar on the Rumpus, and have been a fan for a while. I was excited when Sugar "came out" as Cheryl Strayed and shared her story with the world in Wild (which I haven't read yet, but it is on the pile!). But when I saw this book, I couldn't wait to read it! And it is a gem!

This book is filled with letters she has chosen as the best ones from her column, and she is very good and choosing wonderful letters (well, some are very sad) and responding to the problems and questions of real people. She is tough, she is strong and she is tender. I folded down my page corners, for future reference and have already found myself thinking about what she's said to others in my own life.

She quotes Emily Dickinson. She is brutally honest and unfailingly loving at the same time. Who wouldn't love someone who writes this: "You need to do the same, dear sweet arrogant beautiful crazy talented tortured rising star glowbug"! I want to write like this! She is a genius! "Find a way to weave your father's failing into the new tapestry of your lifelong bond." This stuff makes me cry, I swear, I wept several times throughout this book, even in the dentist's office!

You don't need to be a fan, or even to know who Sugar, or the Rumpus, or who Cheryl Strayed is to LOVE this book. There were countless moments in this book where I just felt she was speaking to me, about my life, my family, my children, etc. She has a way, and it is wonderful. I look forward to so much more with Sugar, and I will cherish this book and always keep it around. This would also make a fine gift for a friend that you were close to.

5 stars

advanced reader copy provided by Amazon

Shine, Shine, Shine by Lydia Netzer

And Shine is what Ms. Netzer's novel does. Whenever you pick up a new author who has invented some of the most wonderful and original characters in recent fiction history, you get excited knowing that certainly this author will bring more wonderfulness to us in future years.

My daughter just asked me, "what was this book about?" And I told her, a bald woman and an autistic man! Because Sunny is bald, and beautiful, and smart and endearing in her hopes and fears. And Maxon is a very sexy(!), smart, oddball, who loves to ride his bike and work his formulas and who is loved by Sunny. But the story is so much more than that.

Netzer has done a lovely job of telling both Sunny and Maxon's story, and Emma's story as well. As Sunny's mother, Emma plays a large role not only as Sunny's mother, but as someone who has known Maxon and helped him for much of his life. When we meet the characters, en media res, Emma is dying, Sunny is getting bad news about her husband and the space flight he's on, AND she is pregnant and expecting their second child, and Maxon is trying to fix what is broken. These characters are so complex, and all of their stories are interwoven.

I think the best way to go into this beautiful novel is without knowing too much about the actual story. It is a pleasure to read Netzer's wonderful writing and have these characters grow and unfold for you within the pages. Very human, very moving, and highly unexpected and delightful.  This is one of those novels that makes you miss the characters when it is all finished.

This was an advanced reader copy provided via Amazon Vine.

5 stars

Review of This is How It Ends by Kathleen MacMahon

    Kathleen MacMahon has written a very sweet little novel, although a few things about it baffled me at times. The novel is set in Ireland, where we meet Bruno Boylan, an out of work American stock trader from New York, and Addie Murphy, a 37 year old architect with a passion for swimming and pools,l and her dog, Lola. Bruno is newly arrived in Ireland as a "political refugee" as he jokes, since he cannot stand the political environment in his home country: it is 2008 and the Presidential election between John McCain and Barack Obama is heating up. Bruno is distraught at the mere thought of McCain winning and has decided that if Obama does not win, he will never return to the US. Addie is caring for her sick father--he is a surgeon who has broken both his hands and needs around the clock assistance with almost everything he does, so she has moved into her old home on the beach, and is living in the basement apartment. Her father can be difficult and is also dealing with a lawsuit against him, involving the death of a woman in his operating room.

    The novel unfolds into a peculiar romance. What brings the couple together is Bruno's search for his family. Bruno and Addie are cousins. Not first cousins, thank goodness, but still related. Bruno's dad was Addie's dad's first cousin. So he is also in Ireland to explore his family history, something which the Murphy family is clearly not interested in talking about. Despite Hugh Murphy's resistance, and initially Addie's as well, but Bruno finds a way to break through the fortress of the Murphy family and becomes, over time, very close to Addie.

     The author uses a technical in the book that seems to be the opposite of omniscient. This reader often felt confused or annoyed at the lack of information, or the slow leaking of it, about the Murphy family in the book. I can see where the author might have felt this was building up some kind of suspense or even mystery, but for me, personally, I did not feel that tack worked for this kind of novel. I wanted to like the characters who are certainly introspective and thoughtful, but thinking about things I felt I didn't quite get. I felt the use of a political election as a plot device might alienate some readers as well, since the author was definitely making a political statement as well, although it was certainly interesting. The characters were original, but lacking in the believability department. Throughout the novel, the foreshadowing about the fate of each was very heavy handed. 

     This wasn't a terrible novel, the prose was decent, if the style was a little grating.The characters were just a little too hard to get to know. Unremarkable, and the ending dissolved into complete and utter sappiness, which some readers were fully appreciate and love. This novel will be loved by some and hated by some too. It is just that kind of novel.

This was a digital review copy provided by Grand Central Publishing via NetGalley.

3 Stars

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

August 2012

On August 4th, 2012, my dad passed away. It happened to be his 76th birthday, as well. My father was not a healthy person, he was an alcoholic, and was also in denial about his general condition. He always said to me that he was going to live forever. He always bragged about how much younger he looked than other people his age. But somehow, I bought into much of his bravado, and though my husband and I discussed my father's eventual passing, I was not prepared when he did leave us.

My father drowned, in the creek that he loved next to his trailer. What happened, we will never really know. I spoke to him the previous day, a Friday, and he seemed fine. Odd things happened on Friday. I had not forgotten his birthday on Saturday morning, and was thinking about what I'd say to him when I called him, since he had forgotten about my birthday less than a month before. I was devastated by my father's dearth, because it should not have happened like this.

So, I've been mourning. I'm behind on everything: my reading, my writing, my reviews, my search for a job. My children have started back to school, and here I am a month later, with still no plans for a memorial service. I've gotten lovely, sweet and thoughtful cards and messages from so many people, mostly my friends, since my dad really had no family left that he spoke to often, and his best friend really was my husband. Oh, he had hangers on. The person who was with him the day before he died and the who was also the same person who found his body--but we never heard from him or saw him, although they lived right next door to my dad, and we spent 2 weeks cleaning out my dad's belongings. Not a call, not a hello. Silence.

I think of my dad and I feel a stab in the gut. I just can't believe he is gone, and I can't call him or talk to him again. I want to know, what happened to him? I've been thinking about contacting a psychic, or learning how to talk to the dead. I think I've been seeing things, and I think it is a side effect of my grief.

I dreamed about my dad last night. He had been saying to me for the last five years that he wanted to start walking with me, which I knew he could not do. His gout was too bad and he had really slowed down in the last few years. He hadn't owned a pair of sneakers for some time. In  my dream, he was dressed up in workout clothes--shorts and a tank top. My dad NEVER wore anything but pants (mostly jeans) and t-shirts. He just wasn't a workout kind of guy. Funny to see him dressed like that, but it was still so good to see him. I miss you, Daddy. I love you.