Feed aggregator

The 20 Best Books of 2017, and Our 4 Award Winners

Editor's blog - Wed, 12/06/2017 - 13:58
Dear BookBrowsers, It's hard to believe that another year has gone by filled with great literature. The number of books we fit into our daily lives and the ones we add to our to-read pile has us endlessly lament "too many books, too little time." BookBrowse's annual Best of the Year awards are an excellent barometer of great reading. The awards are particularly noteworthy because voting is only open to BookBrowse subscribers - so no vote stuffing by rabid fan bases; and instead of just voting for a book (which favors the most widely read books) subscribers rate each book they've read that is on the shortlist, and the winners are the books with the highest overall rating. Such considered selection results in truly outstanding bo... [More]
Categories:

Reader Review: "The Second Mrs. Hockaday"

Top Reader Reviews - Wed, 12/06/2017 - 06:00
by Cariola: Placidia was only 17 and not even thinking of marriage when widower Major Gryff Hockaday swept her off her. She had a single day to decide whether to accept his proposal. Only a few days after they married, the major was called back to join his Confederate troops, and Placidia was left to manage the farm, oversee the slaves, and care for Charles, her husband's toddler son. As the situation deteriorates, Placidia finds herself charged with a crime, but she is keeping her secrets.

The novel is told in the form of letters and diary entries. Most of the action takes place in 1864-65, and the early letters are between Placidia and her cousin Mildred, but later sections set in the 1890s focus on how Achilles, the son of Placidia and Gryff, uncovered his parents' secrets and changed the way he thought about them and himself.

I can't say much more without giving away too much. I found the novel held my interest and that the author did a great job of heightening the suspense while slowly revealing the truth. The novel explores the hardships of women left alone to manage while their men are at war, as well as the dark side of slavery, but it also depicts a marriage that, although sorely tried, survives because of love.

Categories:

Reader Review: "The Perfect Girl"

Top Reader Reviews - Tue, 12/05/2017 - 06:00
by Cloggie Downunder (Thirroul): "Adults like to put a name on everything you feel, as if a name can neutralise it. They're wrong, though. Some things settle under your skin and don't ever go away, no matter what you call them"

The Perfect Girl, also titled much more evocatively, Butterfly in the Dark, is the second novel by British author, Gilly Macmillan. At fourteen years of age, Zoe Guerin, a precociously talented Devon girl, had a promising career as a concert pianist ahead of her. Then she was found guilty of causing an accident that took three teenagers' lives.

At seventeen, now called Zoe Maisey, she has served her sentence in a Secure Unit, and her mother Maria has tried to give them both what Zoe recognises as a Second Chance at Life. But her attempt to restart her career in Bristol is dramatically aborted due to an incident that vividly brings back that tragic event and its aftermath. And mere hours later, Maria Maisey is dead.

Macmillan employs three main narrators (Zoe, her aunt Tessa and her solicitor, Sam) to tell the story, adding another two in later chapters. The bulk of the story covers a period of less than twenty-four hours, but there are flashbacks that detail earlier occurrences.

Zoe's memories of her trial, her interactions with her keyworker at the Secure Unit, and a film script written by her step-brother, Lucas, serve to fill in some of the back story and establish Zoe's state of mind. Both Sam's and Tessa's more mature perspectives establish the nature of the main characters and their interactions.

Macmillan's portrayal of a brilliant teenager and the effects of the accident on her life, and the lives of those close to her, is convincing. Her descriptive prose is evocative: 'Lucas … just moved quietly around the different parts of the house and when he settled down anywhere, it reminded me of a dark shadow cast over a patch of white sand".

While the cover's enticer "Nobody knows the truth but her" is quite misleading, this is a gripping tale. All the characters have secrets and several could have motives for murder. Macmillan skilfully builds her story, gradually feeding in clues and red herrings to produce a page-turner that will keep the reader guessing until the truth is revealed. Recommended!

Categories:

Reader Review: "Uncommon Type"

Top Reader Reviews - Sun, 12/03/2017 - 06:00
by Cloggie Downunder (Thirroul): Uncommon Type: Some Stories is the first print book by American actor, filmmaker and author, Tom Hanks. This is a collection of seventeen quite diverse stories. They vary not only in subject matter, but also format. Many are straight narrative, but there's also a screen play and a series of newspaper columns from the Tri-Cities Daily News/Herald entitled Our Town Today with Hank Fiset. Hank muses on modern news consumption and production compared with that of fifty years ago; he shares his opinion of New York City; he reminisces on significant moments in his life as punctuated by a typewriter bell; he describes a return to analog by a typewriting evangelista.

Typewriters feature heavily: there's a typewriter on the cover; there's an image of a different model of typewriter at the beginning of each chapter; sometimes, a typewriter is an integral part of the story, sometimes it has a minor role, and sometimes it just gets an incidental mention. Many of the characters are appealing and a particular quartet who reappear twice after their initial tale might be well suited to have their own novel (in fact, one of their stories was published in a separate volume in 2014).

The stories are an ideal length for dipping into, but also interesting and different enough to read without pause. Topics are many and mixed: refugees in the present day (or near future) and from a half a century ago; travel by car and plane as well as time travel, space travel and travel down memory lane; ten pin bowling; surfing; motel accommodation; moving house; the public relations junket; making it on the stage; the heavy toll of wartime service.

Hanks gives the reader laughter and romance, loyal friends, wise words and plots that aren't entirely predictable. It's easy to imagine Hanks himself as the narrator in many of these tales: his voice is really there, even in the print version. This is an outstanding debut, and if Hanks ever tires of Hollywood, he can certainly direct his energies to the keyboard (whether a typewriter or electronic), as more tales of this ilk would definitely be welcome. Very enjoyable.

Categories:

Young Adults as Unreliable Narrators

Editor's blog - Mon, 11/20/2017 - 11:20
In How to Set a Fire and Why, Lucia claims to not remember exactly what occurred during an argument with her aunt's landlord, leaving her exact reasoning and motivation somewhat mysterious. In writing Lucia as an unreliable narrator, Jesse Ball draws from an established tradition. An unreliable narrator lies, expresses uncertainty or bias, or seems to have a misunderstanding of situations that occurred. The author may employ an unreliable narrator to intentionally mislead the reader or as a means of characterization. Part of the pleasure in encountering such a narrator is parsing out what is true and what is not. Teen and young adult narrators are some of the most obvious and well-known examples of the trope, and this makes logical sen... [More]
Categories:

Reader Review: "Idaho"

Top Reader Reviews - Wed, 11/15/2017 - 06:00
by Lorri (Ridgewood, NJ): This book is not what you may think it is. It sounds so dark from the description, one of those edge-of-your-seat-are-things-really-what-they seem page turners. But what it really is, is a book about grace, how a complicated life, filled with unimaginable sadness, still has those moments of grace, of connection. This is a beautifully written book, it quietly builds tension and then just as quietly releases you from it, but never completely. Happiness is never quite attained, sadness is always lurking at the edges, and yet there is a satisfaction there, equal parts resignation and unexpected joy.

Categories:

Climate Fiction: A Glimpse into the Growing Genre

Editor's blog - Mon, 11/13/2017 - 11:12
In Midnight at the Electric, it is the year 2065, and teenager Adri is part of a carefully selected group departing Earth forever to live on Mars. Although the story takes place less than 50 years from now, massive planetary destruction has already taken place. As Adri puts it early on, "there's no Miami and hardly any Bangladesh and no polar bears…and they're paying billions of dollars to start a colony on Mars because humans need an exit strategy." Considered by some to be a sub-genre of science-fiction, and by others to be an entirely new genre, climate-fiction highlights climate change and its potential ramifications. Although books exploring man-made climate change date back to the '70s, it was only in 2007 that journalist Da... [More]
Categories:

The Origins of the Kashmir Dispute

Editor's blog - Thu, 11/02/2017 - 10:42
The Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan occupies center stage in Arundhati Roy's The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. For readers unfamiliar with the dispute here is some background (this piece first ran as the "beyond the book" article for Roy's long awaited book): The conflict in Kashmir traces its roots back to the partition of India and Pakistan (see our Beyond the Book article for An Unrestored Woman). When the British left India in 1947, Kashmir was not an Indian state, but was instead one of hundreds of smaller independent princely states. each with their own rulers, who swore loyalty to the British empire. As the British Raj withdrew, these princely states had to make the complicated decision as to whether to become a pa... [More]
Categories:

Reader Review: "If the Creek Don't Rise"

Top Reader Reviews - Thu, 11/02/2017 - 06:00
by Tired Bookreader (Florida): It's rare that a book grabs you from the first sentence; and yet, that is exactly what happened. The people, the environment, the fear, the hate, the anger, the struggles...all of this made for a book that a person could not wait to keep reading. And then the ending...did NOT see that coming. I love this book and encourage anyone who loves a good tale to pick this one up.

Categories:

Reader Review: "Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk"

Top Reader Reviews - Wed, 11/01/2017 - 06:00
by Cloggie Downunder (Thirroul): Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk is the second novel by American author, Kathleen Rooney. It's New Year's Eve, 1984 and Lillian Boxfish, ex-wife, mother, grandmother, just a shade older than the century itself, takes a walk from her home on Murray Hill to Grimaldis where she's going to have her traditional NYE dinner. Walking the footpaths of her city sets her thinking: about her city and about her life. She takes a detour for a drink, and at Grimaldis, things don't quite go as planned, and Lillian walks on.

As Lillian considers her life, she heads for landmarks meaningful to her: restaurants, a hospital, the Hudson River, places she's lived and her place of work for fifteen years. It was at R.H.Macy's that Lillian Boxfish became the highest-paid advertising woman in America. As Lillian walks, she thinks back on her life: her divorce, her marriage, the birth of her son, her honeymoon cruise, and another, less happy one, to Italy. She remembers parties, work, men, her best friend, homes, her boss, work colleagues, books she wrote and editors. A hospital stay and a certain TV appearance are among the less-favoured memories.

Despite the cautions and concerns of her son, she walks through the streets of New York on this last night of 1984, and she encounters its denizens: a limo driver at a loose end, a barman, a restaurant maître d', a security guard, a kindly dinner host, an angry homosexual, a terrified expectant mother, a helpful and courteous shop assistant and some disaffected black youths. She dines, drinks, shops, parties, gives away money and writes a bill of sale.

Rooney's story is based on an actual person, but is quite definitely fiction. She paints a marvellous picture of New York over a span of sixty years, and this is a tale that would appeal to readers familiar with New York City, but more especially, to residents of the Big Apple. The Boston Globe calls it "A witty and heartfelt ode to a city" and this is a most apt description. A moving and entertaining read.

Categories:

Pages