Feed aggregator

Reader Review: "Castle of Water"

Top Reader Reviews - Fri, 09/15/2017 - 06:00
by lani: What looked like an ordinary novel of 2 castaways on a deserted island in French Polynesia turned out to be anything but. Barry Bleecker, a frustrated artist and former Wall Street financier has left NYC to follow the path of Gauguin and derive inspiration. Sophie Ducel, newly married, is flying with her new husband to visit the land of Jacques Brel for her honeymoon. However, their prop plane crashes way off course with no flight plan filed and thus begins the most amazing adventure. Part of the story is told from above as if a reporter was elucidating their life ; the other part is direct conversation between the participants. But oh the prose, oh the lessons learned of struggle, cooperation and love elevate this from a simple story to something divine. Poignant and thoughtful it elucidates the real meaning of home.

Categories:

Reader Review: "News of the World"

Top Reader Reviews - Wed, 09/13/2017 - 06:00
by S Hofsommer (Minnesota): Having lived in West Texas, studied Texas history and taught literature set in this country, I found the book a joy to read. Those who are familiar with the film "The Searchers" know about Indians capturing white settlers' children and bringing them up as their own. My book club members knew little about the history of this time or the setting, so we had a lively discussion. I strongly recommend a book with a good plot set in an accurately portrayed setting.

Categories:

Reader Review: "Being Mortal"

Top Reader Reviews - Tue, 09/12/2017 - 06:00
by Gloria: Atul Gawande's "Being Mortal" actually made me feel better about growing older and, eventually, frailer. Just knowing that there are people like him that are trying to make longer lives better lives gives me great comfort. This book should be in every home. And now I want to read his other books, too.

Categories:

6 Books That Help You Talk About Death and End-of-Life Care

Editor's blog - Mon, 09/11/2017 - 16:04
Healthcare is a global hot-button issue and recent political discussions in the United States have brought the topic front and center in the national dialog. A whole slew of books have looked at the complex issues surrounding mortality and care: when to intervene, when to not, what does quality of life mean, and the importance of a life well lived without prolonging suffering. The ones we feature in this blog will give you plenty of food for thought, and angles to discuss if you're part of a book club. The topic of health might often be weighty but how better to address it than with your friends and family as part of a broader life discussion and through the accessible avenue of books! [More]
Categories:

Reader Review: "A Gentleman in Moscow"

Top Reader Reviews - Mon, 09/11/2017 - 06:00
by Cloggie Downunder (Thirroul): "Some might wonder that the two men should consider themselves to be old friends having only known each other for four years; but the tenure of friendships has never been governed by the passage of time. These two would have felt like old friends had they met just hours before. To some degree, this was because they were kindred spirits – finding ample evidence of common ground and cause for laughter in the midst of effortless conversation; but it was also almost certainly a matter of upbringing. Raised in grand homes in cosmopolitan cities, educated in the liberal arts, graced with idle hors, and exposed to the finest things, though the Count and the American had been born ten years and four thousand miles apart, they had more in common with each other than they had with the majority of their countrymen."

A Gentleman in Moscow is the second novel by American author, Amor Towles. At the age of thirty-two, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov finds himself under house arrest in Moscow's Hotel Metropol. It's 1922, and the Bolsheviks are in charge; as an aristocrat, Count Rostov becomes a Former Person. Rostov has been occupying a suite on the third floor; now he leaves behind for "The People" all that he cannot fit into a tiny attic room three floors up. A good friend states, much later "Who would have imagined, when you were sentenced to life in the Metropol all those years ago, that you had just become the luckiest man in all of Russia."

Towles drops his readers into Rostov's life every few years, bringing them up to date on significant events and people. If his detention is meant to be a punishment, Rostov is determined to make the best of it, and does so, despite some shaky times and one suicidal moment. Already well respected before his confinement, within a few years Count Rostov's role goes significantly beyond that of an involuntary guest held in great affection. For loved and respected he indeed is, by guests and all bar one member of the Metropol's staff.

This is not an action-packed page-turner, although there is a good dose of intrigue, some romance, plenty of humour and a rather exciting climax. This is a novel that meanders along at a gentle pace. Towles is a skilful storyteller: even seemingly unimportant details woven into the narrative prove their significance if the reader is patient. As well as exploring the philosophies of friendship and of politics, his setting facilitates a suitably nasty and vindictive petty bureaucrat, and a very fine example of communist equality policy at its silliest.

This is a novel with love and loyalty, compassion and quite a lot of wisdom, all wrapped is beautiful prose: "For if a room that exists under the governance, authority, and intent of others seems smaller than it is, then a room that exists in secret can, regardless of its dimensions, seem as vast as one cares to imagine". David Nicholls describes Towles's first novel as "terrific"; his fans might think this one is too. Simply wonderful!

Categories:

Reader Review: "Who Is Rich?"

Top Reader Reviews - Wed, 09/06/2017 - 06:00
by Lola425: Read this if you like male protagonists who have literally nothing to complain about but complain anyway. Rich is miserable because he makes bad choices, generally originating from between his legs instead of his ears. In trying to prove himself he proves nothing.

Klam is funny and he creates a world that is so self-involved and self-reverential and ridiculous that it is believable and recognizable. The characters are well-written and yet I felt zero empathy for Rich.

I like to read books where characters are struggling with who they are. I enjoy existential crisis. So even if I didn't like Rich, I did like the book.

Categories:

Reader Review: "Less"

Top Reader Reviews - Wed, 09/06/2017 - 06:00
by Lola425 (Ridgewood, NJ): Put this on your must read. I read this on vacation a week after turning fifty so I was ripe for Arthur Less' experiences, but on every page there is something to love. This is a book about the pull of nostalgia, of looking back, because the thought of moving forward is too painful or scary. This is a book about love and what makes a love affair, a marriage, a friendship a success (longevity? intensity?). It is a book about looking at who you are and deciding if you like who that person is and if you don't do you have it in you to become your best self? And it's a book where you make fictional friend and wish desperately for him to figure it out.

I loved Arthur from page one and soaked a sleeve of my sweatshirt with tears of sadness and frustration and joy and beauty. I also laughed. Which is how life goes, both tragedy and comedy, and hopefully we all end up like Arthur, with just enough of both.

Categories:

A Van Gogh Reading List

Editor's blog - Tue, 09/05/2017 - 11:32
Deborah Heiligman's young adult biography Vincent and Theo draws on the hundreds of letters that passed between the Van Gogh brothers. There are various editions of Vincent's letters, including a 2009 version endorsed by the Van Gogh Museum that contains all Van Gogh's letters to his brother Theo. The letters between Theo and his wife, Johanna, are also available in translation as Brief Happiness (1999), and Jo left a short memoir of Vincent.

Here are four more books, not limited to the young adult genre, that allow for further reflection and/or speculation about Vincent van Gogh's career and character. [More]
Categories:

Shakespeare in Books and Film

Editor's blog - Wed, 08/30/2017 - 11:25
According to Guinness World Records, William Shakespeare is the world's best-selling playwright, with in excess of four billion copies of his plays and poetry making it to press over the centuries. He is also history's most filmed author; his works have been adapted into 420 feature film and TV-movie versions (Hamlet alone has been performed on screen 79 times). While his plays are timeless works of art, some people find them challenging due to the Elizabethan prose. Over the years many attempts have been made to adapt the plays into a format that contemporary audiences might find more accessible (some resulting in a more faithful interpretation than others). The past 25 years in particular have seen a rise in the productio...
Categories:

Reader Review: "Our Souls at Night"

Top Reader Reviews - Sat, 08/26/2017 - 06:00
by Judith Bates: This is a short book, only 179 pages, and it is Kent Haruf's last book before he passed away and, of course, it takes place in Holt, Colorado. I think this is the best of his books,, although they are all good! It is a story about two senior people who have been "sort of friend" for many years. She knew his wife, but they were not close friends. Both his wife and her husband have passed away. This is a story that will make you happy and sad! It is undoubtedly one of the best stories I have ever read! It is a story about two people who "find" each other; there is happiness and sadness! Read it you will like it! It is the perfect story!

Categories:

Beyond the Book: Traditional Cambodian Music

Editor's blog - Fri, 08/18/2017 - 19:25
Traditional Cambodian music plays a key role in Music of the Ghosts. Hearing it triggers memories for both of the story's main characters, and three hand-made instruments—a single-stringed lute, an oboe, and a drum—set the plot in motion.

Music and Buddhism have a strong connection; music is sometimes seen as a ceremonial offering to the Buddha. An estimated 95% of Cambodians are Buddhist today, and the roots of Buddhism date back to the 5th century. Over that long history, Buddhist songs have been adapted for use in ceremonies such as weddings and funerals, playing an integral role in common cultural practices.
[More]
Categories:

7 Books on The Civil War for Book Clubs

Editor's blog - Mon, 08/14/2017 - 13:00
Historical fiction lovers have it good: they can travel to distant places and times, and learn by immersion. The American Civil War is one piece of history that is filled with treats for fans of the form -- high drama, hazy battle lines between good and bad, black and white; and the sights and sounds of a nascent America still struggling to forge its identity. There are plenty of good books in this category, March by Geraldine Brooks and Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier being two classics. Here are some others worth checking out. Please fee free to add your own suggestions at the bottom. The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers Hardcover Jan 2017; Paperback Nov 2...
Categories:

Reader Review: "The Ministry of Utmost Happiness"

Top Reader Reviews - Mon, 08/14/2017 - 06:00
by Cloggie Downunder (Thirroul): "Their wounds were too old and too new, too different, and perhaps too deep, for healing. But for a fleeting moment, they were able to pool them like accumulated gambling debts and share the pain equally, without naming injuries or asking which was whose. For a fleeting moment they were able to repudiate the world they lived in and call forth another one, just as real."

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is the second novel by Booker Prize winning author, Arundhati Roy. The story begins with Aftab, whose confusion about what he was found relief at the Khwabgah, among other hijra. He became Anjum, and eventually she ran the Jannat Guest House (in its highly unusual location), a refuge for the quirky, the oppressed, the different.

Integral to the tale is S. Tilottama, real and adopted daughter of Maryam Ipe. Tilo's story, and that of the three men who love her, is told not only by her, but by Dr Azad Bhartiya (fasting Free Indian), Biplab Desgupta (her ex-Intelligence Bureau landlord), and Musa Yeswi (elusive militant). Filling out the quirky cast are a paraven calling himself Saddam Hussain, Zainab the Bandicoot, Naga the journalist, a singing teacher, and an abandoned baby, to name just a few.

How all their lives intersect and how these lives are impacted upon by Government and policy, and in particular, the Kashmiri freedom struggles, is told using vignettes, anecdotes, loosely connected short stories, moral tales, memos, disjointed scraps, accounts that take detours and meander off on tangents. As with Rushdie, Seth and Mistry, this novel has that unmistakeable, essential Indian quality, in characters, in dialogue, in plot.

But here, moreso than in The God of Small Things, the fact that this is a novel by Arundhati Roy the social activist, is very much in evidence (as readers of her non-fiction works will attest) and thus includes illustrations of the many issues against which she rails. Some reviewers describe this novel as "preachy"; the causes are worthy, but readers may feel that is it is only a shade off being exactly that, and perhaps be forgiven for wishing that it was more novel, less moral tale.

Some of Roy's descriptive prose, as with in The God of Small Things, is staggeringly beautiful, poetic and profound: "They understood of course that it was a dirge for a fallen empire whose international borders had shrunk to a grimy ghetto circumscribed by the ruined walls of an old city. And yes, they realised that it was also a rueful comment on Mulaqat Ali's own straitened circumstances. What escaped them was that the couplet was a sly snack, a perfidious samosa, a warning wrapped in mourning, being offered with faux humility by an erudite man who had absolute faith in his listeners' ignorance of Udru, a language which, like most of those who spoke it, was gradually being ghettoized."

However, the vague and veiled references to certain personages, events and ideas which are, perhaps, obvious to those familiar with Indian current affairs, will go straight over the heads of other readers, the message will be lost or less than clear. There is humour, heartache, despair and hope, there is much cruelty but also abundant kindness, making it a moving and powerful read.

Categories:

Reader Review: "Birdsong"

Top Reader Reviews - Mon, 08/07/2017 - 06:00
by mike speake: Quite simply the best book that I have ever read. A feast of intense story-line, history, love, horror, emotion, description, frailty. I read it ten years ago and am now re-reading it. I just cannot put it down.

Categories:

Reader Review: "Beartown"

Top Reader Reviews - Fri, 08/04/2017 - 06:00
by Cloggie Downunder (Thirroul): The Scandal (also titled Beartown) is the fourth full-length novel by Swedish blogger, columnist and author, Fredrik Backman. It is translated from Swedish by Neil Smith. As remote as this place in the forest is, and barely surviving economic downturns, closures and redundancies, Beartown has one thing going for it: the Beartown Ice Hockey Club Juniors. While the A Team is pretty well hopeless, the Juniors have a star who might just get them to the Final in the big city. And that would bring the attention of sponsors and investors and governing bodies. A kick start for the town would be most welcome, as even those Beartown residents who don't like ice hockey will acknowledge.

But in the hubris of an interim win, someone steps beyond the bounds of the decency that could be expected, and that whole promising future is thrown into jeopardy.

Backman's opening sentence tantalises the reader: "Late one evening towards the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barrelled shotgun, walked into the forest, put the gun to someone else's head and pulled the trigger." The mystery of who and how and why is gradually revealed, and involves some twists and a red herring or two, as well as a good dose of philosophising, quite a lot of social commentary and much ice hockey.

Backman is very skilled at the short vignette that describes his minor characters, and also certain important incidents in the lives of major characters. None of his characters is one-dimensional: all have flaws and most have a conscience; some disappoint and some surprise; many keep secrets and some act out of guilt or the hope to protect their loved ones from hurt.

In this tale, Backman touches on several topical themes: the behaviour of sporting team members off the field; peer pressure and bullying; "blame the victim" mentality; loyalty and responsibility; the tacit acceptance of the violence inherent in contact sport; and the sense of entitlement that often affects the privileged. Yes, there is a lot of Ice Hockey in this story, but it could actually be centred around any team sport in a remote town to the same effect. There is a very slow build-up to the climax, which may be frustrating for some readers, but patience is rewarded. Backman presents moral and ethical dilemmas in a realistic fashion, but is his formula wearing just a little thin? This is a very good read, but not a brilliant one.

Categories:

Pages