Books About Girls, Boys, and Dinner

the-dinner

The Dinner by Herman Koch.  This was a book in which I did not like one single character.  They are all nuts.  Two brothers and their wives go out for dinner in some city in the Netherlands to discuss what to do about their sons who have committed a crime but have not yet been found out by the police.  It takes pages and pages to get to this point.  Dinner goes on forever with every course described in endless detail.  There are many, many flashbacks, each helping to reveal the various relationships in each family, and how the different family members relate to each other, and how incredibly screwed up they all are.  To what lengths will they go to protect their sons and this family secret?  You will reach the end of  ‘the dinner’  still hungry, and maybe even a bit nauseous.

the burgess boys

The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout.  There are some hard to like characters in this book too, but most of them get more likable as the story goes on.  Jim and Bob Burgess are attorneys working in New York, called home to Shirley Falls, Maine, when their sister Susan’s teenage son gets himself in trouble.  There is a lot of family history to be revealed which explains the siblings character traits and strained relationships with each other.  It’s not just a story about personal, marital and family issues, it is also a story of cultural clashes, with some interesting revelations and some surprising life changes thrown in.

lost girls
Lost Girls by Andrew Pyper  I would not describe this as a terrifying thriller, but compulsively readable sounds about right.  A cocaine addicted lawyer of questionable morals defends a teacher accused of being responsible for the disappearance of two high school girls in a small town north of Toronto.  The lawyer doesn’t care about the truth, only about getting his client acquitted as quickly as possible.  The town has a crazy Lady of the Lake legend, and the lawyer has a dark episode in his own temporarily forgotten past.  Strange visions and bizarre middle of the night incidents could be drug induced dreams – or they could be real.  The characters are real enough.  The atmosphere goes from disturbing to downright creepy.  The only thing truly terrifying about the story is how ‘evil’ can appear to be so normal and how hard it can be to tell the difference.

These are all good authors, and well written books.  I’m glad I read them.  I can’t say that they made me any smarter or better informed or interesting, but it was worth a shot.

One Line Bad Book Reviews

It’s the sadly lacking reviews that are bad here.  These are not necessarily bad books.  I’m merely keeping a random record of what I’ve been reading.  For my own amusement I guess, since I’m not exactly being a helpful librarian here.

falling underChild of divorced parents grows up to be dysfunctional artist while making poor relationship choices and keeps us in suspense wondering which man is possibly the least likely to make her even more crazy than she is already.unlikely pilgrimageHarold goes out to mail a letter to an old friend and just keeps walking, convinced that as long as he keeps going (for six hundred miles to deliver it in person), she will not die. He gets blisters, among other things.     are you happy nowObnoxious and self-centered book editor with lofty ambitions takes an entire book to figure out what he REALLY wants but it finally ends well so I guess that’s something.last letterTragic car accident, memory loss, unhappy marriages,  lovers separated by circumstances and bizarre complications, not to mention willful stupidity;  ultimately unclear why they both don’t just run out into traffic and end the insanity.interestingsArtistic and talented teenagers from New York meet at a summer camp and their lives unfold into adulthood and parenthood and middle-aged success and failure until none of them are really all that interesting anymore.pretty oneA novel about sisters named Imperia (Perri), Olympia (Pia), and Augusta (Gus) who continue their childhood role-playing for forty years without noticing how dumb that is.woman who wouldntIn a small Lao village a woman is shot and killed during a burglary and burned at her funeral;  three days later she is back in her house, now a clairvoyant who can speak to the dead.  And after that it just gets weird.ru kim thuyThis one I started and finished today.  It’s a series of short yet poetic vignettes by Ru, a Vietnamese girl who goes from her palatial childhood home in Saigon to a crowded and muddy Malaysian refugee camp, and then across the ocean as one of the boat people to a new life in Quebec.  I really liked this one. A few well-chosen words can paint the most vivid pictures.

The Storyteller Review

the storyteller

Sage Singer befriends an old man who’s particularly beloved in her community. Josef Weber is everyone’s favorite retired teacher and Little League coach. They strike up a friendship at the bakery where Sage works. One day he asks Sage for a favor: to kill him. Shocked, Sage refuses…and then he confesses his darkest secret – he deserves to die, because he was a Nazi SS guard. Complicating the matter? Sage’s grandmother is a Holocaust survivor.

What do you do when evil lives next door? Can someone who’s committed a truly heinous act ever atone for it with subsequent good behavior? Should you offer forgiveness to someone if you aren’t the party who was wronged? And most of all – if Sage even considers his request – is it murder, or justice?  (Goodreads)

This is no quick and easy read – it’s a complex and compelling one about good and evil and everything in between.  There are stories within the story that are horrifying, sickening, and unbearably sad, and yet I became immersed in every one of them.  There is guilt, grief, despair, hope, mindless cruelty, emotional scars, remorse and the lack of it.  The main story is told from several points of view, with a vampire tale woven in just to keep you on your toes.  Sounds confusing, but ultimately it’s not.  It’s gripping and grim, and still remarkable.

Normally I read a book in a few days, but this one took much longer to digest and absorb. It starts off slowly, then nails you to your chair, and finally ends with a twist.  If that didn’t hook you, perhaps these quotes will.

“Inside each of us is a monster; inside each of us is a saint. The real question is which one we nurture the most, which one will smite the other.” 

“I don’t believe in God. But sitting there, in a room full of those who feel otherwise, I realize that I do believe in people. In their strength to help each other, and to thrive in spite of the odds, I believe that the extraordinary trumps the ordinary, any day. I believe that having something to hope for — even if it’s just a better tomorrow — is the most powerful drug on this planet.” 

Forgiving isn’t something you do for someone else. It’s something you do for yourself. It’s saying, ‘You’re not important enough to have a stranglehold on me.’ It’s saying, ‘You don’t get to trap me in the past. I am worthy of a future.” 

Jodi Picoult, The Storyteller

How To Read Two Books At The Same Time

nikolski by dickner

Nikolski by Nicolas Dickner may look a little fishy at first, but it’s an excellent book, even for somebody like me who gets confused easily.  In the beginning it felt like I was reading three completely unrelated stories, but eventually it all comes together as the paths of the characters intersect, although they never really connect for long with each other.

Spring 1989. Three young people leave their far-flung birthplaces to follow their own songs of migration. Each ends up in Montreal, each on a voyage of self-discovery, dealing with the mishaps of heartbreak and the twisted branches of their shared family tree.

Filled with humor, charm, and good storytelling, this novel shows the surprising links between cartography, garbage-obsessed archeologists, pirates past and present, a mysterious book with no cover, and a broken compass whose needle obstinately points to the Aleutian village of Nikolski.  (Goodreads)

Nikolski won the Governor General’s Literary Award for French to English Translation.  It certainly doesn’t read like a translation, so that could be a big reason why it won.

I was interrupted in the middle of reading this by the arrival of my new Kindle.  The breaking of the previous Kindle also interrupted a half read book, so I was torn in two trying to decide where my loyalties lay.  Yep, everyone should have such pressing problems and decisions keeping them awake at night.death of bees

So by going back and forth from book to e-reader,  I have also finished The Death of Bees, by Lisa O’Donnell.  Here’s the great first paragraph and delightful hook for this one.

Today is Christmas Eve. Today is my birthday. Today I am fifteen. Today I buried my parents in the backyard. Neither of them were beloved.

I think you can appreciate my dilemma.  The paper white Kindle is great and I couldn’t wait to use it.  It’s smaller and lighter, with easier to see print.  I’m loving the touch screen except for all my dirty finger prints.  I’m also living dangerously by not yet having purchased a protective cover for it, but I didn’t drop the other one for a couple of years, so maybe this one has some time left accident free.  I’ll get one today.

Sorry, back to the bee book – it deserves a few more praises.  It is a dark comedy about two sisters in Glasgow who could write the book on dysfunctional families.  The story touches on homosexuality, child neglect, child abuse, drug use, drug dealing, drinking, smoking, promiscuity, mental illness, cancer, poverty, being orphaned, social services, and of course the problems that come up when your parents are buried in your back yard.

Since it’s written from the point of view of each sister and a kind but nosy neighbor, it felt like reading the secret journals of each one and thus getting an over view of the big picture.  You would imagine that a book starting out like this one could not possibly end well.  But at the same time you wonder how things could possibly get any worse.  It will keep you reading right to the end to find out what becomes of them all.

I don’t recommend reading books in this helter-skelter manner,  but I do recommend both of these titles and both of their authors.  They are two very different styles and stories, both with unexpected twists and turns.  Maybe they won’t be quite so unexpected if you read them one at a time.

The Sisters Brothers Book

sisters brothers

A couple of days ago I broke my kindle.  It didn’t have its protective cover on it, and it fell from my hand on to the wooden floor with a mighty crash hard enough to jar the back loose.  I picked it up and got it snapped back together, but no amount of button pushing or shaking or cursing could coax it back to life.  Mark Twain was the screen saver at the fatal moment, and he has been slowly fading from view ever since.

Well, crap. What a bummer of a sad moment.  I was in the middle of some weird story but I decided it wasn’t good enough to warrant risking getting permanently crossed eyes trying to continue reading it on my tiny phone screen.  So that left me with no alternative but to go looking for a real book instead.  It was a quick search, because I have a whole room full of real books for just such dire emergencies.

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt caught my eye.  It’s bright and red and kind of gruesome looking.  I don’t know why I’ve been neglecting it for such a long time, because it looks GOOD, doesn’t it?   That’s some amazing book cover art.  I don’t think I even bothered to read the back cover or the inside flap when I bought it and may have been influenced solely by the big gold sticker on the front which reads…..

WINNER

Governor General’s Literary Award

Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize

…because it turns out it’s a book about two psycho cowboys in the Gold Rush of the Wild West in the 1850’s.  It’s a Western, and I never read Westerns.  These guys are hired guns and they travel around on horseback drinking whiskey and shooting people.  At least that was my first impression.  But the more I read, the more I loved it.  From the cover flap, which I finally read in its entirety –

Hermann Kermit Warm is going to die. The enigmatic and powerful man known only as the Commodore has ordered it, and his henchmen, Eli and Charlie Sisters, will make sure of it. Though Eli doesn’t share his brother’s appetite for whiskey and killing, he’s never known anything else. But their prey isn’t an easy mark, and on the road from Oregon City to Warm’s gold-mining claim outside Sacramento, Eli begins to question what he does for a living — and whom he does it for. With The Sisters Brothers, Patrick deWitt pays homage to the classic Western, transforming it into an unforgettable comic tour de force. Filled with a remarkable cast of characters — losers, cheaters, and ne’er-do-wells from all stripes of life — and told by a complex and compelling narrator, it is a violent, lustful odyssey through the underworld of the 1850s frontier that beautifully captures the humour, melancholy, and grit of the Old West and two brothers bound by blood, violence, and love.

That’s an excellent synopsis.  Maybe I was just desperate to read anything at all rather than go into panic mode over my busted kindle, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  Despite all the gun-slinging and lawlessness, there are some very funny and touching moments.

It took me all of twenty minutes of mourning the loss of my faithful old kindle to go on-line and order a new and improved version.  Yes, I am a spoiled brat with a broken toy, demanding a new one.  But my kindle was one of the originals, and the one I’ve ordered is the new paper white model with a built-in light and a touch screen, so no more tiny keyboard for my fat fingers.  It has been shipped already and will be arriving soon. I probably have time for one more 3-D paperback from the emergency library while I’m impatiently waiting.

I am such a book-aholic.  I don’t think there is any cure for this.  I mean, seriously, I just read a Western.

Here’s to Hildy Good

“So alive, I swear the pages of this wickedly funny and moving novel are breathing.” —Caroline Leavitt

good house ann leary

The Good House by Ann Leary is about Hildy Good, a sixty year old divorced realtor, mother, grandmother, and descendant of a Salem witch.  She lives in a small New England town where she has a knack for reading people and is a successful business woman.  She is also an alcoholic in complete denial of her addiction.    The fact that she goes solo skinny-dipping and drunk-driving, makes rambling phone calls in the middle of the night, loses periods of time to blackouts, passes out in her cellar and has excruciating hangovers –  is all perfectly normal sober behaviour – or so she would have us believe.  She is a lonely woman who is her own worst enemy, making mistake after mistake until my pity and concern for her turned to exasperation and I just wanted to yell at her and give her a good shake.  I guess that’s proof that she is a well drawn and believable character, just like her new best friend Rebecca who is also incredibly needy and unhappy and having an affair with Peter, the town psychiatrist.  Frank, the handyman who grew up with Hildy seems to me to be the only character with any sense.  And even he doesn’t have enough of it to make him steer clear of Hildy for his own good.

If all that sounds “wickedly funny” to you, then I guess you will enjoy this book.  But I enjoyed it too without ever once laughing out loud at anything in it.  I suppose I just don’t find addictions all that funny.  Then there is a bit of a twist at the end which I didn’t see coming, so that was a pleasant surprise.

The book is very well written as a rambling account of how things happened from Hildy’s point of view, both drunk and sober. Often I wasn’t sure which details were real and which were vivid but drunken hallucinations.  I also wanted more closure at the end, but maybe sometimes it’s a good thing to find yourself staring at that last page wondering what happens next.  The reader is left hoping Hildy is finally going to pull herself together.  And at the same time not caring enough to anticipate a sequel.  Strange book.  Good, but not funny.

All He Wanted

He could not abide the woman

And her squawking, huge and urgent need, for long.

Quietly he took off, left.

So what?

Inner blankness all he wanted.

Sensation of quiescence,

Blanket of relief.

Olive Kitteridge

Olive Kitteridge (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Trifecta Challenge :  This weekend it’s another word game – seeing what can be done with a particular word bank.  From the 33rd page of
Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, scour the page, choose 33 words and reshape them into a piece of your own.

This is so much harder than it looks.  And that was a great book, by the way.  Happy Weekend.

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For Flavia de Luce Fans

And if you’re not yet a Flavia de Luce fan, here’s how to become one.  It starts with this book.

flavia 1It continues on with these:

flavia 234
Then just when you think you know all there is to know about Flavia, out comes another great mystery by Alan Bradley in this excellent series.

flavia 5

On GoodreadsFrom award-winning author Alan Bradley comes the next cozy British mystery starring intrepid young sleuth Flavia de Luce, hailed by USA Today as “one of the most remarkable creations in recent literature.”

Eleven-year-old amateur detective and ardent chemist Flavia de Luce is used to digging up clues, whether they’re found among the potions in her laboratory or between the pages of her insufferable sisters’ diaries. What she is not accustomed to is digging up bodies. Upon the five-hundredth anniversary of St. Tancred’s death, the English hamlet of Bishop’s Lacey is busily preparing to open its patron saint’s tomb. Nobody is more excited to peek inside the crypt than Flavia, yet what she finds will halt the proceedings dead in their tracks: the body of Mr. Collicutt, the church organist, his face grotesquely and inexplicably masked. Who held a vendetta against Mr. Collicutt, and why would they hide him in such a sacred resting place? The irrepressible Flavia decides to find out. And what she unearths will prove there’s never such a thing as an open-and-shut case.

It’s a mystery to  me why these mysteries are so appealing to a non mystery lover such as I have always been.  Although I suppose when I consider how much I’ve grown to love Flavia, it’s not such a great mystery after all.  I read this latest addition to the series yesterday, and it was like sitting down to have a long friendly chat with an old friend.  Except that Flavia is barely twelve at this point.

The last line in this book (an eye rolling, teasing groaner of a sentence if there ever was one) has to be a promise that there is more Flavia to come.  So while we’re waiting for that, there’s time for you to read this delightful series (or re-read it, it’s that good) and get ready for the rest of the story.

When Father Time Stopped the World

time keeper

Trifextra Challenge:  This Trifextra isn’t so much a writing challenge; it’s more of a
reading challenge.  We want you to scour through your favorite pieces of
literature and give us the best 33 words you can find.

From The Time Keeper, by Mitch Albom

There was not a sound on earth.  Airplanes hung silently above runways.  Puffs of cigarette smoke remained solid around their smokers.  Phones were dead.  Screens were blank.  No one spoke.  No one breathed.

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Hi Lily Hi Lily Hi Lo

imposter bride Richler

This is what’s written on Goodreads about The Imposter Bride by Nancy Richler

When a young, enigmatic woman arrives in post-war Montreal, it is immediately clear that she is not who she claims to be. Her attempt to live out her life as Lily Azerov shatters as she disappears, leaving a new husband and baby daughter, and a host of unanswered questions. Who is she really and what happened to the young woman whose identity she has stolen? Why has she left and where did she go? It is left to the daughter she abandoned to find the answers to these questions as she searches for the mother she may never find or really know.

It all sounds quite wonderful, I know.  And although nothing very exciting or earth shattering ever happens in it, there were still lots of very interesting bits and I still read the whole thing without falling asleep.  Well, okay, I might have done that but no more than twice.  There’s a lot of sadness in this book, with a kind of joy-less story that drones on and on,  slowly building up our curiosity as to why Lily did what she did.

And then finally the revelation at the end is really no revelation at all and thus rather anti-climactic, with no real punch.  Because even Lily doesn’t seem to have much of a clue.

I hope that last bit was sufficiently vague to avoid being a spoiler.

But here’s the thing – ever since reading about Lily, I have had this stupid Lily song in my head and I can’t seem to get it out.  I think I have been singing the damned thing in my sleep.  So I though it would be a great idea to share it with everyone, and thus spread the misery joy.

You are so very welcome.  I live to please. Sing along if you dare.