Thursday, February 25, 2016
Mona Awad has captured every woman's feelings about her body in various stages through following Elizabeth over the years. Lizzie starts as a young girl who is fat as she is starting her relationship with men. Since she is not desirable to them, she lets them take liberties she probably wouldn't otherwise. She forms relationships online and tries not to have to send pictures.
Once she meets Tom online, she decides before they meet in person to lose weight. That starts a years long fight with her weight, where every ounce of food is measured and weighed. Long grueling workouts are undertaken. The weight slowly comes off, but the price is unwavering vigilance and continuance of her spartan lifestyle. Her weight is the consuming battle of her life and she changes her relationships and even her name depending on the numbers on her scale.
Awad knows this territory. She talks about how women view clothes and the shame of having to buy larger sizes. She deals with how weight impacts women's friendships with each other. She knows how it is an overwhelming part of romantic relationships and how those who struggle with their weight are supposed to be grateful for whatever romantic interest is shown to them. She deals with the shame of giving up and gaining back weight that took months to take off.
Is there a woman who doesn't struggle with weight? Most women feel they are too large or too small. They feel that their lives would be better if they could only lose weight or gain it. They spend enormous amounts of time and energy dealing with this one issue. As such, women can relate to this anthology of thirteen stories that follows Lizzie throughout her life. Awad has an MFA in fiction from Brown University. This talented debut introduces a fresh new voice to literary fiction.
Tuesday, February 23, 2016
When the Songoli family moves to London, they have a secret. In addition to their two sons, there is another member in the family who no one knows about. Yetunde, the wife, made a trip to an orphanage before they left. There she claimed a young girl, saying that she was the girl's aunt. The truth is much more sinister.
Muna, the girl, has been taken in order to be the family's slave. She is forced to clean and cook all day, her only refuge a stained, ragged mattress in the cellar with no light or heat. She is beaten regularly by the wife and later, as they grow older, by both the boys. She is abused sexually by the husband. She is not allowed to have any schooling, or even to speak.
But things have a way of changing. When the family's younger son goes missing and the police come to the house to investigate, things take a turn for the better for Muna. She is moved upstairs into her own bedroom and claimed as the family's daughter. They need Muna to validate their stories so slowly fall into her debt. As the weeks go by, the family starts to realise how strong Muna really is and the lengths she will go to as she wrecks her revenge.
Minette Walter is one of the finest mystery and suspense novelists working. Her books have layer with the story being told prosaically and then a lower level where evil things dart about and where the lies of the top layer are slowly peeled back and revealed. Her sense of timing is immaculate and the reader is never disappointed when the story is finished. This book is recommended for mystery readers.
Saturday, February 20, 2016
Julian had a stellar academic career ahead of him. But he threw that all away once he met Julia. It was an instantaneous connection and he couldn't imagine anything he'd ever want more. They scrape by and things get better as time goes on. Julian becomes an author of children's books and Julia becomes a landscape architecture. They have a child, Mira, who is the center of their existence. When Firdaws, Julian's ancestral home, comes on the market, they even find a way to purchase it and move there.
But paradise rarely lasts. It all falls apart when Mira is diagnosed with a life-altering disease and it isn't clear whether she will even survive. The two turn to anything that will help them through and do things that are unforgivable in a relationship. They split and Julian removes all traces of Julia and Mira from Firdaws. His family and friends rally around him to help him get through the breakup and the loss of all he holds dear.
Samson has written a book that slowly uncurls and reveals the dark secrets that tear families apart. As the reader discovers each secret, it becomes clear how little communication Julia and Julian ever had and how the secrets have ruined any chance they ever had together. Each secret is as surprising to the reader as to the people learning them for the first time. Samson is an English author and not well known here in the States. Those that read The Kindness will make sure that she becomes more well read as her books become available here. This book is recommended for readers about family relationships and those who prefer literary fiction.
Friday, February 19, 2016
A huge number of books have come through the door in the past few weeks. I'm making a little progress in my dry eye problem, so have had some success in reading and finished several books this week. Here in NC we had what we hope was the last blast from winter this week and it was frustrating not to spend a snow day with a good book. At least I can walk tv so hopefully I'll see a victory for my Tarheels playing Duke tonight. Here's the newest additions:
1. The Taxidermist's Daughter, Kate Mosse, literary fiction, sent by publisher
2. The Madwomen Upstairs, Catherine Lowell, literary fiction, sent by publisher
3. H is For Hawk, Helen Macdonald, memoir, purchased
4. War Of The Encyclopaedists, Christopher Robinson and Gavin Kovitt, literary fiction, purchased
5 The Girl Who Stayed, Tanya Crosby, literary fiction, sent by publisher
6. The Miracle Girl, Andrew Roe, literary fiction, sent by publisher
7. The Pocket Wife, Susan Crawford, suspense, sent by publisher
8. The Last Days Of Magic, Mark Tompkins, fantasy, sent by publisher
9. Blood Infernal, James Rollins, suspense, sent by publisher
10. Black Rabbit Hall, Eve Chase, suspense, sent by publisher
11. Why We Came To The City, Kristopher Jansma, literary fiction, sent by publisher
12. Sex With Shakespeare, Jillian Keenan, literary fiction, sent by publisher
13. Mongrels, Stephen Graham Jones, fantasy, sent by publisher
14. Speakers Of The Dead, J. Aaron Sanders, mystery, sent by publisher
Here's what I'm reading:
1. The Kindness, Polly Sampson, paperback
2. The Empty Chair, Jeffrey Deaver, Kindle
3. The Path Of The Storm, James Maxwell, Kindle Fire
4. Mystery Walk, Robert McCammon, Kindle Fire
5. Shockwave, John Sandford, paperback
6. Lexicon, Max Barry, hardback
7. The Maid's Version, Daniel Woodrell, Kindle Fire
8. The House Of Rumour, Jake Arnott, audio
9. A Crucible Of Souls, Mitchell Hogan, paperback
Wednesday, February 17, 2016
After her sister Lily Rose's death, Finn Sullivan and her father can't stay in San Francisco any longer. They flee to Fair Hollow, New York, the same upstate town where her father was raised and where he is offered a job at the local college. Finn attempts to start a new chapter in her life. She attends college and meets two friends, Sylvie and Christy.
But Fair Hollow seems to have secrets. Long a haunt of movie makers, the town seems full of beautiful people and dramatic happenings. The most beautiful are the Fata family, extremely wealthy and consisting of a large clan of both men and women. They don't seem to have to work and spend a lot of time having parties and exploring the deserted mansions from Fair Hollows time as a haven for wealthy families.
Finn is curious about the Fatas, and especially when she meets Jack Fata. He is impossibly gorgeous, irresistibly mysterious, and for some reason, he seems interested in Finn. She seems to run into him everywhere. Sometimes he pushes her away and then he pulls her back. She doesn't know what to think, but she knows she is falling in love.
But that's not a good idea. For the Fata family is mysterious for a reason. They have secrets going back centuries and they don't take kindly to newcomers. As Finn gets closer to their secrets, she starts to realise that she has fallen into a danger even more fatal than the one that stole her sister. Can she break free and can she take Jack from his family?
This is the first of a trilogy about The People Of Nothing And The Night. It is lushly written and the tension builds very slowly. The reader sees Finn's danger long before she does, but is helpless to do anything more than read as she is entwined further and further into the Fata family mysteries. This book is recommended for young adults and those interested in suspense fantasy novels.
Friday, February 12, 2016
They should be fabulously happy. Clio, Sarah and Tate all live in New York City and have found professional success. Yet each is stumbling in life, their professional success not mirrored in their personal lives.
Clio was the scholarship girl in an Ivy League university. Her middle-class parents didn't bode well for her fitting in with her classmates from fabulous, wealthy families. Clio also has childhood secrets that she wanted to hide and that even in her mid-thirties keep her from forming a committed relationship. She has been seeing Henry, a charming Irish man who has just opened a successful hotel in midtown Manhattan. He's ready for commitment but Clio just can't make the leap.
Sarah comes from old money. She lives in an apartment right off Central Park, a college graduation gift from her parents, who live in the same building, as does her sister. Clio was her college roommate and still lives with her, each hesitant to live on their own. Sarah's younger sister is getting married in a week, a fact that fills her with envy. She thought she had met the love of her life, but he crushed her by leaving her before their marriage. Sarah has created her own business, but the fact that she had to get the money to do so from her father still gnaws at her.
Tate, with a college friend, created an app that they sold for millions. At the same time, his marriage imploded and he is left without work or love. He thinks he would like to pursue his lifelong fascination with photography. He meets Sarah at a Yale alumni game, and although they weren't friends in college, they have an immediate connection.
Aidan Rowley knows the subject area she is writing about. She lives in New York with her family. She is a graduate of Yale and Columbia Law School. She understands the difficulty in finding one's way in both personal and professional arenas, and how one must make a conscious decision to be happy. Readers will be invested in all three character's lives and decision points, although they may question why these difficulties weren't resolved before the characters' mid-thirties. This book is recommended for readers interested in relationships and life struggles.
Tuesday, February 9, 2016
FBI Special Agent Mathew Roarke is on a manhunt for a killer who has escaped the best efforts of law enforcement for years; in fact, no one even suspected the killer until recently. One of the main reasons is that this killer is a woman, a rarity most law enforcement specialists never see. Cara Lindstrom is a survivor. As a small child, she survived a brutal attack that killed her entire family. The killer cut Cara's throat, but she survived, the only witness to his wanton destruction. Sent to the social services mill, she disappeared when she became an adult, but she didn't leave to live a quiet life. Instead, the hunted has become the huntress, killing men who use and hurt women. Roarke is drawn to her, each encounter he has with her leaving him more confused. He knows she is a killer but can't help but have some sympathy for her.
Now Roarke is on the hunt to put Cara behind bars. He comes up with the idea of pretending that the killer who destroyed her family is back at work and has his staff find a recent family massacre. The problem is that when they go to the most recent example, it appears that it is indeed the work of the man who destroyed Cara's family twenty-five years ago. Can that be true? Can someone that sick, that depraved, just stop killing for several decades?
As the FBI becomes more certain that the original killer is indeed back at work, Roarke and his team switch focus to track down this man who has destroyed multiple families. In the process, Roarke knows that he is also getting closer to Cara. Will he be able to put her behind bars?
Alexandra Sokoloff is writing some of the best suspense done today. Her plotting is intricate and involved, drawing the reader in further and further into the world of psychotic killers and that of the law enforcement personnel who dedicate their lives to tracking and putting away such killers. The interplay of emotions between Roarke and Cara as each is in turn, the hunted and the hunter, is mesmerizing. This book is recommended for mystery readers.
Sunday, February 7, 2016
Bill Bryson is known for his travel books. Probably the one that most people remember is Notes From A Small Island, which was his impressions of his adopted homeland, Great Britain. It was released in 2001. Twenty-five years later, his family is grown and he is a famous author. He still lives in England and decided to revisit places he saw then and visit new ones to get a sense of what has changed.
He visits the entirety of the island, from the big cities to the small villages, from the remote north to the little coastal towns to the more populous southern areas. What he finds is that many things have remained the same while overall the country has gotten poorer, less well-educated and has less interest in the historical places that surround them. Many of the former tourist areas are now struggling as people can just as inexpensively visit overseas. Much of the industry has also closed, fleeing for cheaper areas in which to operate. The population has changed with more immigrants than when he arrived, himself an immigrant as he points out.
What bothers him? The historical areas that don't get the attention they should or the funding to remain available to the public. The trashing of the common areas as common politeness seems to diminish. The areas that are harder rather than easier to travel to as train and bus lines close due to lack of profits. The closing of village shops as large superstores move in, often to move out again a few years later, leaving the area destitute of shopping choices. The towns that now feel dangerous at night as gangs have taken over.
What does he like? The absolute natural beauty of the land. The amazing number of historical places that England and the other areas have, many of which are forgotten and unvisited. The amazing higher education system, where England has 1% of the world's population and 11% of the world's most highly ranked universities. The sheer fortitude and perseverance of the British people, pleased with what they have and disinclined to grumble about what life hands them.
Bryson has written about many places over the years. He and Paul Theroux are my two favorite travel writers and I've read almost everything they have written. Both are revisiting places as they get older, Bryson with Britain and Theroux with Africa. Both seem discouraged at how their favorite places have changed, and how the world seems poorer and more difficult than it did years ago. The interesting thing is how much of this is due to natural aging and the loss of optimism the young have, and how much is verifiable fact. Bryson fans will enjoy this book and those new to him will probably seek out his other books as he is addictive. This book is recommended to readers of travel writing and those interested in visiting England.
Saturday, February 6, 2016
Already February! We've had our annual snow here in North Carolina and we're all done with winter and ready for spring. My eyes are getting a little better and I've been reading more. Our daughter is down to the time of choosing a college. She applied to five colleges and got accepted at all five, now to make the big decision. Outside of all that, books continue to show up. Here's what's come through the door lately:
1. Imagine That, Mark Fins, literary fiction, sent by publisher
2. The Buried Giant, Kazuo Ishiguro, literary fiction, published
3. Blood Of Innocents, Mitchell Hogan, fantasy, sent by publisher
4. 13 Ways Of Looking At A Fat Girl, Mona Awad, literary fiction, sent by publisher
5. Why They Run The Way They Do, Susan Perabo, anthology, sent by publisher
6. Why We Snap, R. Douglas Fields, nonfiction, sent by publisher
7. The Passentger, Lisa Lutz, mystery, sent by publisher
8. Welcome Thieves, Sean Beaudoin, anthology, sent by publisher
9. The Arrangement, Ashley Warlick, literary fiction, sent by publisher
10. River Road, Carol Goodman, mystery, sent by publisher
11. The Daylight Marriage, Heidi Pitlor, literary fiction, sent by publisher
Here's what I'm reading:
1. Blood Moon, Alexandra Sokoloff, paperback
2. The Path Of The Storm, James Maxwell, Kindle Fire
3. The Kindness, Polly Sampson, paperback
4. The Empty Chair, Jeffrey Deaver, Kindle
5. Shockwave, John Sandford, paperback
6. Lexicon, Max Barry, hardback
7. Thorn Jack, Katherine Harbour, audio
8. The Maid's Version, Daniel Woodrell, Kindle Fire
Thursday, February 4, 2016
Living in Hong Kong as an expatriate is living a charmed life. The husbands (and it's mostly husbands who work) are given lots of enticements to uproot their families and move abroad for a stint away from the mainland. Travel allowances for the family to go back to America in business class twice a year, a housing allowance that means no housing costs, a membership to the country club, schooling allowances for the children. Everyone has servants, a driver, a nanny, a maid. The wives don't usually work but live a life of shopping, visiting with friends and going to the club. It is an artificial life at times, with your friends the other people you see and the endless round of socializing. It is reminiscent of a summer camp or college days, times when one is surrounded only by those in the same general life situation. You share intimate things with them, but once their time is over and they disappear, they also disappear from your life.
Three women's lives are twisted together in the latest round of expatriates. Margaret had it all, a loving husband, three beautiful children until the family went abroad for a family vacation and met a horrific family tragedy. Hiliary and her husband are trying for a child but it isn't going well and they are looking into adoption. At least until her husband leaves her, alone and adrift. Mercy is the youngest, a graduate from Columbia University who can't quite seem to make a go of it after college. Everyone knows everyone in Hong Kong, at least in the expatriate community, so all three woman know, or at least are aware of, each other. How their lives entwine in the disasters and reincarnation of each life is the life exploration Lee displays.
Lee knows what she is writing about. She and her husband spent ten years in Hong Kong in the expatriate community. She was born and raised in Hong Kong so is very familiar with the area as well as the expatriate community. Her ability to deftly dig into the lives of these women and show how they adjust to an unfamiliar world is stellar. This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those interested in exploring how people's lives mesh and how one moves on from life tragedies.