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Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Lost and Found   Leave a comment

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I lost my library card.

It’s one of my most important forms of identification. I’ve held in my hand far more often than my driver’s license or my passport.

I knew the card was easily replaceable, but I’ve had this particular card for 27 years. Before that I had the one issued to me when I was in high school, but I had to relinquish it when I changed my last name. I was attached to the card as much for the length of time it’s been in my possession as for the access it’s provided to feed my imagination and my intellect.

I’d removed the card from my wallet just before a trip out of the country; I knew I wouldn’t be checking out any books in a Mexico City library because I suspected it wouldn’t be accepted anyway. One of my first stops upon returning home was to my local branch. Fortunately, my license was accepted as alternative ID for the book I wanted. Yet, I worried. I couldn’t remember where I’d placed the card.

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I went through my wallet multiple times; I ransacked my purse – just in case. I searched drawers, underneath piles of papers and books. I ended up organizing the clutter around my computer.

I wondered if I’d left in it the car. I hadn’t. I rearranged more untidiness. I opened one more drawer.

The next best thing to finding something that’s been lost is that sometimes it results in a little bit of cleanup.

library card

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Sometimes it Takes More Than a Village   Leave a comment

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Fredrik Backman hit the bestseller list in the United States with A Man Called Ove in 2013. (Several of his books are reviewed here on The Blue Page Special). Beartown, his most recent, is as engaging and character-driven as his previous work. Yet, in many ways, it’s also a departure.

The small, isolated town of the title is cold and bleak, where hockey reigns, followed closely by poverty. This is a story about fitting in, motivation, pain, teen angst, adult misperceptions and misplaced loyalty. It lacks the blatant quirkiness of some of  Backman’s earlier novels and teeters near the edge of predictability. Its salvation lies in the strength of the characters. Some fall into the cliché category while most are remarkable and credible, if not always likeable.

The first sentence is a grabber; actually, it’s more like a full body check: “late one evening toward the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barreled shotgun, walked into the forest, put the gun to someone else’s forehead, and pulled the trigger.”

The town’s economy depends on the success of its junior ice hockey team winning a championship. It’s well positioned to do so thanks to the group of players who have been together for years and the exceptional talents of a particular player.

However, as Backman describes the players, their families, fans and town residents, it becomes evident that all is not as it appears. This is about secrets, self-identity and the drive not just to succeed but to survive.

Beartown
Four bookmarks
Atria Books, 2017
432 pages

Disconnecting the Dots   Leave a comment

 

A Separation

The narrator in Katie Kitamura’s novel, A Separation, is never named. Nonetheless, we learn other, more intimate details about her.

The title has multiple implications beginning with the fact that the narrator is separated from her husband, Christopher, and has been for six months. The couple has not announced the split; in fact, the pair has promised vowed to continue waiting before going public with the news.

Kitamura is terse in her descriptions. Yet her characters are well-developed, even the ones we never actually meet. Christopher, for example, has gone missing in Greece. Still, he is seen through the narrator’s eyes and experience.

In London, his mother Isabella, who is unaware of any change in Christopher’s marital status, contacts the narrator since messages to her son have gone unheeded. In just a few sentences, Kitamura deftly portrays the uncomfortable relationship the women share. Isabella is incredulous that her daughter-in-law has no idea of Christopher’s exact whereabouts. Both know he is in Greece and the resort hotel he checked into, but nothing beyond that.

What ensues is the narrator’s trip to Greece in search of the man from whom she is no longer in love. He’s not been seen at the hotel for several days, although all of his belongings are still there.  She’s curious,  but her heart isn’t in it. Her voice is stoic, matter-of-fact, with occasional flashes of anger or disappointment as she discovers new secrets and is placed in the awkward position of being presumed a devoted wife.

A Separation
(Barely) Four Bookmarks
Riverhead Books, 2017
229 pages

At Sea Without a Clue   Leave a comment

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Not all mysteries are thrillers; I like those that make me want to sleep with the light on – lots of lights. I expected to be kept awake by Ruth Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10. I wasn’t. I enjoyed it as a mystery, but it fell short as a thriller.

The story is intriguing enough: a small group of passengers aboard a boutique luxury cruise liner bound from England to Norway’s fjords. The 10-cabin ship is owned by an exceptionally wealthy man who has invited a few friends and members of the media for the maiden voyage. Part of the problem is the main character: Laura “Lo” Blacklock, a travel magazine low-level journalist who lucked into the assignment. Ware doesn’t imbue Lo with many attributes that evoke much empathy or interest.

The mystery begins when, after drinking too much on the first night of the cruise, Lo is convinced that the woman in the cabin next door (#10) was thrown overboard. It’s the same woman who had earlier lent mascara to Lo. The problem is, according to the ship’s manifest, the cabin is unoccupied.

Lo knows the woman existed; she had proof. The narrative follows her efforts to determine what became of the woman in the face of incredulity from others. In this, Ware is successful. However, the lack of intensity as Lo strives to prove the reality of what she saw, keeps the novel from reaching the level of thriller. It was easy enough to turn off the lights.

The Woman in Cabin 10
3.5 Bookmarks
Scout Press, 2017
340 pages

Shall We Gather at the Cemetery   Leave a comment

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Lincoln in the Bardo is a mash-up. It’s part Greek tragedy, part play, part poem and completely imaginative. George Saunders has crafted a novel that can best be described as unusual, and that’s meant as a compliment.

Amid a graveyard setting, following the death of Willie Lincoln, the 11-year-old son of the U.S. president, Saunders’ tale is about grief, the afterlife and the disenfranchised. It includes a lot of humor.

Bardo comes from the Buddhist thought regarding a state between life and death; a purgatory of sorts. The characters are largely those trapped in this transitional stage. Although they are definitely dead, Saunders brings them to life through references to their foibles when they were alive as well as through their attitudes and deeds among the nonliving. They aren’t zombies, but they are supernatural.

There is no dialogue. Instead, observations on the action are shared through statements from the characters or from accounts in books, newspapers, conversations and other sources. It’s a blend of having each statement presented as lines in a play with footnotes. For example, this about Abraham Lincolns’ grief:

“It was only just at bedtime, when the boy would normally present
himself for some talk or roughhousing that Mr. Lincoln seemed truly
mindful of the irreversibility of the loss.”
In “Selected Memories from a Life of Service,”
By Stanley Hohner

Initially, it was a bit difficult to embrace the format and the narrative. However, it becomes evident that Saunders is creative and appreciates a good laugh.

Lincoln in the Bardo

Four Bookmarks
Random House, 2017
343 pages

Lost at Sea   1 comment

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It’s not often that I give up on a book, but I’m calling it quits after 78 pages of The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge. I tried, I really tried to get into this book. I wanted to, but it wasn’t happening.

In less than 100 pages I knew little more of what novel was about then I did on page one: zilch. That’s an exaggeration; I had gleaned a little info from the book jacket. The problem is that the synopsis and the narrative didn’t mesh well  — at least not in the first 80 pages.

The Night Ocean is part of The Tournament of Books Summer Reading Challenge. I’m a fan of the Tournament of Books, which happens around the same time as the NCAA basketball tournament following a similar bracket formula. The Summer Challenge involves two books, La Farge’s and A Separation. I put library holds on both; I’m still waiting for the latter.

The premise of The Night Ocean is a woman’s search for her presumed-dead husband, his obsession with H.P. Lovecraft, the 1930s horror writer who had an affair with a 16-year-old boy (who later gained fame as an Aztecs scholar). Why wouldn’t that be intriguing?

Most of what I read involved Lovecraft, including pages and pages of his journal entries. His style and tone were off-putting: “Down at y’Dockes againe this night, seeking Subjects for y’Worke.”

Challenge or not, I don’t want to toil this hard for a summer read.

The Night Ocean
Penguin Books, 2017
389 pages

A Look at Lost Causes   Leave a comment

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It’s always good to learn something new from a book, but I admit I hadn’t expected it to be the explanation of the distinction between rowing and paddling. I got this and only a little more in History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund. I anticipated many references to the predatory animal.

Instead, the theme is about parental neglect, in one case benign and another intentional based on religious beliefs. (This reference is meant as foreshadowing, which the novel heavily incorporates.)

Linda, the teenage narrator, lives with her parents in a cabin once part of a commune. They are the only ones left from that off-the-grid lifestyle. The setting is a mostly-isolated wooded area on a northern Minnesota lake. Linda is an observer, rather than a participant. Her parents have a minor role in her life since she generally navigates the world on her own.

A family moves in across the lake and captivates Linda’s imagination. She watches them from a distance, but eventually meets Patra and Paul, the mother and her young son. She soon becomes part of their world by babysitting and being away from her own home.

Interspersed with the development of the relationships among the characters are references to a trial (thus the foreshadowing) and descriptions of Linda’s life as a young adult.

The narrative is slow paced which doesn’t improve as discomfort surfaces when Leo, who’d been away on business, returns to his wife and child.

By the way, paddling is what propels canoes; rowing is done in boats.

History of Wolves
Three-and-a-half Bookmarks
Atlantic Monthly Press, 2017
279 pages