In the mood for something different? The Antiquarian by Gustavo Faveron Patriau.

(Click the image to purchase the book) I took this picture in a mock-up of an alcatraz cell in a hotel in San Francisco the day before I was able to tour alcatraz.  There were a lot of tourists taking photos...They gave me plenty of room as I began staging and taking pictures of this book...lol

(Click the image to purchase the book) I took this picture in a mock-up of an alcatraz cell in a hotel in San Francisco the day before I was able to tour alcatraz.  There were a lot of tourists taking photos...They gave me plenty of room as I began staging and taking pictures of this book...lol

This is a book full of many pieces; it is a mystery and a love story; it is a surrealistic search for truth and a text on friendship; it is a story of madness, tragedy, and the bonds of sibling affection.

The narrator, a psycholinguist named Gustavo, is trying to find out what really happened with his friend and fellow bibliophile, Daniel, and the murder or murders in which his friend is involved.  The dead girls include Daniel’s fiancé; Daniel’s mistress, a prostitute he convinced to act as his maid and live with him and his fiancé; and a girl at the mental asylum (murdered by having pages torn from books carefully pressed down her throat) Daniel’s mother was able to get him in to avoid prison for the murder of said fiancé.  Also thrown in the mix is the bizarre, tragic tale of the fire that claimed Daniel’s beloved sister, Sophia. 

When Daniel goes to the asylum, Gustavo does nothing to contact his friend. It isn’t until three years later when Daniel reaches out to him with a cryptic confession and tales that are more fable and allegory than truth that Gustavo’s guilt at leaving his friend behind pushes him to pursue the truth.  The search will take Gustavo into a world of mental illness, strange policemen, and antique book dealers who may also trade in human body parts.

This book is Kafkaesque in that the lines between what is real and unreal are blurred to the point of being incorporeal. The stories Daniel tells Gustavo and the reality of his stay in the asylum, the murders, and even the officers investigating the death at the asylum all take on surreal qualities. A good example is this description of an unexpected encounter Gustavo has with a woman in a small room:

…there was a woman: branches of black hair falling over her shoulders to her stomach, her head tilting downward, and her fingers jutting out from her hands like nightsticks. She was emitting a faint reptilian groan and wiggling her body from side to side, as if she too was being rocked by the breeze, another larva in that room of half-made beings…The woman, sitting with great difficulty upon a box, her legs hanging inches from the ground, appeared like a quiet dwarf or a beastly bird barricaded into a corner of its cage in a zoo of shadows…Out of nowhere, she snapped her head forward at me, and in the grayish glow of the room I saw her featureless, amphibious face, her skin striated in parallel lines of withering flesh, her salamander smile infested with fangs and pustules of filthy cartilage.

She also lays an egg with a fortune inside which states, “Don’t believe anything.” Surreal.

What this book does well is keep the mystery intact; it keeps the readers questioning who David really is, what crimes he is capable of and the lengths to which he might go to cover them up.  It leaves you guessing about motives throughout the book, revisiting and revising what you know and what you think you know.  What it doesn’t do so well is weave the side stories the Antiquarian reads us into the narrative in a meaningful way. Also, the sub-story about selling human body parts has a purpose in the story but isn’t integrated in a manner to successfully tie it all together and make it feel like it was worth the effort.

(click the image to purchase)

(click the image to purchase)

This book foremost reminds me of another I read years ago: Artificial Respiration by Ricardo Piglia. I can’t accurately recall an adequate summary of its content, but I can say that it left a lasting impression and is an incredible book and I would recommend it over The Antiquarian if you were only going to read one of the two.  Other books that you might like if you like these kinds of books would be Kafka’s The Trial or even his short story, “The Metamorphosis.”  Bruno Schulz also wrote a book of short stories titled Street of Crocodiles which would offer you shorter travels in this vein of fiction.

Ultimately the book is a worthy read.  The unraveling of the truth as the narrative closes is engaging and held my interest, but it didn’t convince me the book was better than my initial response to it. Read Artificial Respiration first; if you like it, or any of the other books mentioned, then you’ll enjoy the offerings Gustavo Patriau is giving in The Antiquarian.

The Great Alone: 2018's First Book of the Year Nominee

The Great Alone photo taken by andhereads.jpg
Click Image to Buy now or pick up at your local Library or bookstore

Click Image to Buy now or pick up at your local Library or bookstore

Kristin Hannah has written numerous bestselling books.  Her 2015 release, The Nightingale, reached even new literary heights, and the movie is set to be released this August. If you haven’t read The Nightingale, you need to read it as soon as you can; new books from this year can wait.

This February (on my birthday, in fact, the 6th) her new novel, The Great Alone, will be released. I just finished an advanced readers edition and want to tell you why you should not miss this book; in fact, this book will be in discussion for book of the year eleven months from now (I won’t reveal any spoilers). 

Most of The Great Alone takes place in the nineteen-seventies. The book is the story of the Allbright family.  The family consists of Leni and her parents, Cora and Ernt. We meet Leni on the first page, along with the central tension of the novel:

     Leni felt edgy, too.  She was the new girl at school, just a face in the crowd; a girl with long hair, parted in the middle, who had no friends and walked to school alone.
     Now she sat on her bed, with her skinny legs drawn up to her flat chest, a dog-eared copy of Watership Down open beside her. Through the thin walls of the rambler, she heard her mother say, Ernt, baby, please don’t. Listen…and her father’s angry leave me the hell alone.
     They were at it again. Arguing. Shouting.
     Soon there would be crying.
     Weather like this brought out the darkness in her father.

With simple language, the author has deftly laid out the story right there on page one.  Two pages later, she completes the underlying story that will carry the reader through this complicated, emotional, and conflicted novel:

     It hadn’t always been this way. At least that’s what Mama said. Before the war, they’d been happy, back when they’d lived in a trailer park in Kent and Dad had had a good job as a mechanic and Mama had laughed all of the time and danced to “Piece of My Heart” while she made dinner. (Mama dancing was really all Leni remembered of those years.)
     Then Dad got drafted and went off to Vietnam and got shot down and captured. Without him, Mama fell apart; that was when Leni first understood her mother’s fragility…
     When Dad had finally come home, Leni barely recognized him. The handsome, laughing man of her memory had become moody, quick to anger, and distant. He hated everything about the commune, it seemed, and so they moved. Then they moved again. And again. Nothing ever worked out the way he wanted.

So now you understand the family dynamic. All we need is a location for the story to unfold. The Allbrights will receive that through a letter from a man whose son Ernt served with in Vietnam: Alaska.  It is there, in that wide, wild land full of darkness and danger, community and isolation, that this story of love and survival will take hold of you.

Kristin Hannah does a remarkable job creating an Alaska vast and deadly and still full of wonder and beauty. The supporting characters in the book can be as large as the land itself; the Allbright’s neighbors, the Walker family, are well-written, and their story is complex and nimbly interwoven with the Allbright’s; Large Marge is nothing less than a force of nature and will be a reader favorite; and the off-the-gridders, the conspiracy-theorist group, add an element of entanglement and realism that mirrors sectors of our modern lives.

The Allbrights do find a home in Alaska.  Ernt Allbright finds people who are like-minded and listen to him as well as a largeness of space which lets him feel less trapped.  Leni learns hunting from her father and self-reliance from necessity which gives her the confidence and strength she had been lacking.  And Cora, Cora learns how weak love can make you, and the strength it can give you to do anything to protect it.  

The family finds a routine in Alaska.  They learn how to survive there and make a place for themselves.  But underneath it all, the cancer of domestic violence is spreading.  All the dark, the isolation, the constant fight for survival, takes its toll:

     The sudden wildness in his eyes, the showing of the whites, scared Leni. She took a step backward…
     “It’s the weather,” Mama said, lighting a cigarette, watching him drive away. Her beautiful skin looked sallow in the headlight’s glow, almost waxen.
     “It’s going to get worse,” Leni said. “Every day is darker and colder.”
     “Yeah,” Mama said, looking as scared as Leni suddenly felt. “I know.”
Click Image to Buy now or pick up at your local Library or bookstore

Click Image to Buy now or pick up at your local Library or bookstore

There is a certain chilling beauty to that passage, both in the description of the mother and the connection of the father’s temperament to the weather.  In places, the reflection of the violence and fury in the natural world in the Allbright father reminds me of Wuthering Heights.  I haven’t read that book in decades, but I remember the natural world being a mirror to the character’s internal struggles in that book as well as in this one. 

This book will grab you and twist your insides.  You will get angry; you’ll feel frustration, pity, and love.  I was surprised at how tangled my emotions were toward the mother, Cora.  I got so mad at her and wanted to wake her up, and yet there were times I just wanted to hug and soothe her.  The toll love takes in her life is tremendous.  Leni you’ll cheer for, but there is a sadness within her that will always give you pause.

Click Image to Buy now or pick up at your local Library or bookstore

Click Image to Buy now or pick up at your local Library or bookstore

Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale is a five-star book.  The only thing that bugged me about that book was the neatly-tied, pretty ribbon at the story’s conclusion.  It and Anthony Doer’s All the Light We Cannot See were side-by-side stellar historical fiction about the WWII period: I preferred how Doer let his story have its own ending rather than making sure it ended in a way to appease readers.  (I also think I may be in the minority with that preference.) The Great Alone had a little of that same issue for me, as well as one twist toward the end which caught me by surprise, but then unraveled too easily.  It made the final twist feel unnecessary and a little like a late addition to the novel.

Still, this will be one of the books of the year.  It is a wonderful book. Most writers will spend their life trying to write one book this good and fail.  Thank you, Kristin Hannah, for giving up law and turning to writing.  Readers, enjoy.

Click Image to Buy now or pick up at your local Library or bookstore

Click Image to Buy now or pick up at your local Library or bookstore

Add your email on the right for the latest on books!
Feel free to share on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.
Thanks.
 

Little Fires Everywhere is a very good book; here are three reasons why Celeste Ng’s previous novel is better.

Landing on most of the best of 2017 reading lists is Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere.  It deserves to be on those lists.  It is a good family drama and will satisfy many readers.  However, her lesser-known, 2014 release, Everything I Never Told You, is an even better book.  Without spoiling either story, let me detail three reasons why the earlier book is superior.

First, the interracial issues that are a part of each book are handled with more depth, impact, and precision in Everything I Never Told You.  In Little Fires Everywhere, the racial drama concerning the adoption of a Chinese baby, and the decision about which woman has more right to raise that baby, feels less intense and genuine than the manner similar issues were dealt with in her previous book. In this latest novel, the issues feel like a plot device to move the story along and juxtapose the views of the characters, specifically Elena Richardson and Mia Warren.  However, the previous novel presents the interracial issue with many more layers; we see its impact on the Lee family throughout the entire book.  It shows how some issues, including race, popularity, and opportunity, never really go away. It shows the depth of these feelings and how they must be considered throughout a lifetime.  It reminds us how easily old hurts can resurface years after first appearing.

Also, the character depth and development in the earlier novel is more robust.  Little Fires Everywhere does have Mia and Izzy, both vibrant, interesting characters.  However, the Richardson father and, in many ways, the older son, Trip, are both rather flat.  Even Elena Richardson, one of the principle characters of the novel, feels a bit type-cast.  In contrast, Everything I Never Told You has an entire family, and a neighbor, with complex, well-rounded personalities.  Throughout the novel, the characters are dynamic; they change and grow. The skill and subtlety of the author drawing these characters and having them live their story is more artfully displayed.

Finally, Everything I Never Told You is just a more enjoyable book with greater emotional impact.  Not only does it hook you with the opening lines, “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet,” but it also keeps you hooked with the question of what really happened to Lydia and why did this happen.  You will remember the characters and the story longer and feel more invested in the lives of the characters.  You’ll understand their failures and triumphs more fully, and you’ll hope for a better future for them all. Even the conclusion of the book is more thoughtful and skillfully wrought than in her latest novel. With Little Fires Everywhere, you will root for a couple characters, but you won’t think of them as much nor give their future’s but a moment’s thought as you close the last pages. 

I recommend that you read both these books. Little Fires Everywhere is a very good read: Everything I Never Told You is just a better read.

Add your email on the right for the latest on books!
Feel free to share on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Thanks.

Love, Secrets, and Absolution by K. L. Lovely

Love, Secrets, and Absolution is K. L. Lovely’s second novel, and it is her first book published by Globeflower Books, an imprint of The Globeflower Agency, LTD.  Love, Secrets, and Absolution is the story of Grace, her husband, Paul, and their son, Alfie.  The story follows the family through Alfie’s birth, Paul’s affair, which causes an immediate split, and the trials and triumphs Grace and Alfie experience as Alfie grows up and lives life through the filter of a young man with Asperger’s Syndrome.

Before I discuss the content of the book, I must mention the copyediting.  I am not known for my meticulous attention to correct grammar.  I’ve always been more concerned with content; I can easily miss, or consciously overlook and forgive, errors in the mechanics of writing.  However, the poor editing in this book distracted from the story and did a disservice to the author.  The many run-on sentences and missing or misused commas made the text frustrating to read.  Also problematic were some issues with subject/verb agreement, poorly used exclamation points, cumbersome adjective use, and generally stiff, awkward sentences.  As an example, in this excerpt there are numerous obvious errors:

“Paul looked on proudly as he watched his newborn son cradled in his wife’s arms, they were a vision of health and loveliness. Grace and Alfie appeared content and within the moment, it was as if no one else in the world mattered to either one of them. They were one, as though the umbilical cord had never been cut. He knew for certain it had, for the midwife asked if he wanted the honours. Paul didn’t hesitate at the significant event of cutting the cord which supplied his son with nutrition from the blood of Grace. However, he predicted that the bond between them might never break, and an invisible umbilical cord would forever remain. Paul could not take his eyes off them, he looked at Grace, his eyes full of love and joy.”

In defense of the editing, I am reviewing an ARC, and some of this may very well be addressed in the final copy.  However, with errors so prevalent, and it being so close to publication when the ARC was received, it is unlikely many of these mistakes will be corrected. 

Regarding content, I believe the author was attached to her story and tried to make it as gripping and emotionally powerful for the readers as she could.  There are many well-written children’s and adult books available to readers looking for character-driven stories, especially if they are interested in characters with neurodiversity.  A few I can think of off-hand include The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon and Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig.  Each of these books handle their stories and characters brilliantly.  Love, Secrets, and Absolution has a much more limited appeal than the books mentioned.  The writing in this book will put off most readers; it simply isn’t that good. 

Many chapters of the book are written from Alfie’s point of view.  The first of these begins with his birth.  I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to write a birth scene from the baby’s point of view. However, I couldn’t help but laugh during Alfie’s description of his birth.  Though unintentional, that same comic feeling is repeated over the first few years of Alfie’s life during his narrated chapters.  The randomness of the vocabulary he uses in contrast to the words he doesn’t know follows no logic.  Moreover, his basic descriptions of what he sees and experiences, which appear to be written to inspire wonder and show a child’s view of the world, come across as funny, misguided, and ultimately irrelevant.

In addition, if you are going to read this, you will be repeatedly pummeled with the notion that Grace is an angel sacrificing her very life and physical well-being for her child (to an extent, this is what all decent parents do).  In contrast, I don’t think you can find one good man in any feature role in the entire book.  I won’t even discuss the gaudy ribbon used to neatly tie up all the character’s problems in the conclusion and close the book on a final note of absolution.

Typically, I wouldn’t finish a book like this, nor take the time to review it.  However, I agreed with the publishing agency that I would do so and cannot give anything other than my honest opinion.  It isn’t easy to review a book you don’t enjoy.  I can understand and appreciate all the hard work that went into this book, especially by the author.  I do value the time she spent working on her story, and I believe that she will find some readers who enjoy this book.

Add your email on the right for the latest on books!
Feel free to share on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Thanks.

The Golden House by Salman Rushdie

My favorite aspect of The Golden House is Salman Rushdie’s clear enjoyment of writing a story.  His sentences, the little diversions he takes with the plot, the side streets of language he travels down, pointing out literary and pop culture landmarks along the way; all these avenues of fiction were enjoyable to visit with him.  I haven’t read Rushdie since he wrote The Satanic Verses.  I don’t recall that book being as playful with language as this current selection. The plot, however, is more of an American epic than a playful tale. The Golden family is large in the scope of their reach and influence. The patriarch is a powerful man with three diverse sons and a past he has tried to escape.  Besides the family, the primary players include a Russian seductress and a young man named Rene (think Nick Carraway) who wants to be a filmmaker and views the family as source material.  He is not, however, an aloof watcher.  He becomes deeply involved in the life of the Golden's.

There are a number of interesting literary references the reader can make.  I’ve already mentioned Nick Carraway and there are definitely flavors of The Great Gatsby in this book.  There are also ties to both Roman emperors and, I’d say, Greek drama.  And Rushdie makes it clear he is playing with the Slavic myths involving Vailisa and Baba Yaga.

I was also amazed at how current this book is. Not only are there timely cultural references, but the political climate is ultra current.  The shape of our current social and political America plays as an unseen, yet influential hand indirectly impacting all aspects of the story and the characters in it.

The characters (and the mythologies they can bring to the story) were interesting to me, and I was involved in all their stories,  However, it was those same characters which kept me from loving the book.  I didn’t really like any of them. The narrator was the most likable, but some of his actions, which had resounding impacts, seemed to be done without any sense of personal integrity.  Then again, maybe that was part of the point; maybe Rushdie wanted the reader to be a little sickened by the whole thing.  But don’t get too upset; Rushdie does leave us with hope, maybe that is the ultimate takeaway from The Golden House.  

Add your email on the right for the latest on books!
Feel free to share on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Thanks.

Memory by Phillippe Grimbert

If you’re looking for a book that is a quick read but will linger in your thoughts long after you’ve returned it, Memory, by Phillippe Grimbert, may be the book for you.  I read this book in two short afternoons, but have been thinking about its little nuances for months, resulting in this review.

The story involves the unraveling of a families’ past through the eyes of a quiet, reserved boy of fifteen.  The secrets he seeks to unlock involve his parents and their lives as Jews during WWII France.  Our protagonist has always had a sense that there was something else about his family, some silent “other” thing that was never discussed but was always present although not quite tangible.  This struggle to figure out what that “thing” is leads the boy to seek answers from family friends and journey into the past.  If you are thinking to yourself, “I’ve already read Night by Elie Wiesel” or “I’ve seen Schindler’s List, I don’t need to revisit that,” I ask that you think again.  This isn’t the same kind of work.  It isn’t as heavy in the same way, although it is haunting in its own right. 

What’s really interesting about this book is the way space works.  The book is full of short revelations and insights, often just a couple pages, some even less.  The space at the end of each of these acts almost as a breath, allowing you a chance to, in a sense, inhale the experience and think on it in the same manner as when you take a conscious breath.  This is one of those simple, concise works that pulls you in and then never quite lets you go…highly recommended.

Add your email on the right for the latest on books!
Feel free to share on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Thanks.

Out Stealing Horses

The English translation of this Norwegian novel, Out Stealing Horses, by Per Petterson, was published in 2005 and was highly praised. However, I just recently found this book seemingly unloved on our shelves and thought I would give it a try. The story is about the life of Trond Sander and mainly takes place during two distinct moments of time in his life. At sixty-seven, Trond has lost his wife and sister to cancer, and his daughters are grown. He decides to live out the rest of his life in a determined manner in a small cabin. There are definitely threads of Walden here, especially early going, but only to the extent that the scene is set and our main character begins to have his personality revealed to us. The other portion of his life we see quite a bit of is Trond as a boy, just on the verge of becoming a young man. Through this we see a lot of Trond interacting with his father; moreover, we really get to see the events and decisions which shaped the sixty-seven year old Trond we are getting to know.

There is a lot to love in this novel, but two things really stood out in this novel for me. First, the credibility that the reader feels towards the author’s slow unraveling of Trond’s adult life into the sometimes cautious, sometimes manic boy that he was, is exceptional. Everything Trond is as a grown man seems directly related to how he handled the life and situations presented him in his formative years.

Secondly, and I really loved this about this book, Trond is not a victim. His determination is admirable in his older self, and seeing the formulation of it in him as a boy is masterfully done. He is told early in the novel, "You decide for yourself when it will hurt." Seeing how this germ of an idea is handled throughout the novel makes for great reading. Truthfully, the last chapter of the book was fantastic, it managed to drive the central thematic experience of the entire novel straight into me. This novel has a lot to enjoy: a determined life, parent-child relationships, the coming-of-age-experience, friendship, and even Nazi occupation. After reading this book, it feels like it will be part of your life for a long time. 

Add your email on the right for the latest on books!
Feel free to share on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Thanks.