What was the point of being a faithful, loyal girlfriend who put all her time and energy into planning for the future and supporting her boyfriend, only to have him run off with some remedial volleyball player? What was the point in living for tomorrow instead of today, of putting faith in people who would only let me down? Really, what was the point of being Jenny Shaw? - from Why Can’t I Be You, page 46 -Jenny Shaw is working at a PR firm in Rochester, NY and planning her future with the handsome Deagan. But when Deagan drops her at the airport for a conference trip to Seattle, he also drops a bombshell: he wants to explore things with another woman. In other words, he dumps Jenny, then drives away with her suitcase still in the trunk of his car. Devastated and without luggage, Jenny arrives at the Seattle hotel for her conference where, coincidentally, a high school reunion is also unfolding. While walking through the lobby, Jenny is mistaken for Jessie Morgan – a woman who looks a lot like Jenny but has disappeared from her hometown and the lives of her friends. Instead of correcting the mistake, the lonely Jenny decides to go with it. As Jessie’s friends pull her into their warm circle, Jenny begins to get a glimpse of what her life might have been like as someone else. But when some of Jessie’s darker secrets are uncovered, Jenny realizes life is not quite so simple.Allie Larkin’s second novel is filled with wonderful characters who remind us of the awkwardness of growing up and the necessity of friendship. Jenny has submerged her real desires and dreams to meet those of others – including her faithless boyfriend and alcoholic mother. When she is thrust into another person’s life, she begins to discover who she really wants to be.Reading Why Can’t I Be You was like stepping into a time machine to the past. I am much older than the character Jenny, yet so much of growing up is the same regardless of one’s age. And this is one of the strengths of Larkin’s writing – she creates characters who share universal experiences and motivations, characters who remind us of who we once were, characters who feel like our own friends.Why Can’t I Be You is a novel about friendship, but it is also a book that explores identity. It asks the central question: If you could step into someone else’s shoes, would you? For Jenny, the answer is yes – at least at first. But ultimately, the real question is: If you could change your life, what would it look like? Allie Larkin celebrates finding our genuine selves despite the pressure to be what others expect.This is a marvelous, funny, poignant novel which readers who love women’s fiction will adore. If you have not yet read Larkin’s work, I invite you to do so. I promise, you won’t regret it.Recommended.
At 23:05 Central Indonesian Time (15:05 UTC) on 12 October 2002, a suicide bomber entered Paddy’s Pub in the tourist district of Kuta on the Indonesian island of Bali. He detonated the explosive device inside his backpack and customers immediately fled into the street where, twenty seconds later, a second bomb exploded just outside the Sari Club, located across the street from Paddy’s Pub. Two hundred and two people (including 88 Australians, 38 Indonesian, 27 Britons, 7 Americans and 5 Swedish citizens) were killed and 240 people were injured. Later, members of Jemaah Islamiyah, a violent Islamist group, were convicted for their role in the bombing. Osama Bin Laden stated that the Bali bombings were in direct retaliation for Indonesia’s support of the United States’ war on terror and Australia’s role in the liberation of East Timor.Ellen Sussman has set her novel, The Paradise Guest House, against the backdrop of these horrifying events. Jamie is an American adventure guide who has survived the blasts and finds herself, a year later, returning to Bali for a one year memorial event. But the ceremony is only part of the reason she has decided to go back to the a place which still haunts her. Jamie hopes to find the man who saved her life, a man named Gabe who was an American ex-pat living in Bali and working as a teacher. What unfolds is a gentle story of love, forgiveness, and the difficult road to healing after unspeakable loss. The Paradise Guest House is beautifully crafted. Sussman’s descriptions of Bali – its lush jungles, sudden rainstorms, and spiritual people – deliver the reader into the heart of the island. The characters are well developed and include Jamie who lost her lover in the bombing and is looking for closure; Gabe who carries his own deep loss of a son and marriage and wants a new life on Bali; Nyoman, a local man whose wife perished in the bombing; and BamBang, a street child with a tendency towards theft. All the characters have had loss and are journeying towards recovery.Sussman’s novel is a meditation of sorts on grief and our connection to others. It captures the shock and devastation post trauma, and the slow, often difficult, path towards healing. The book is also, at its heart, a love story. Despite the underlying sadness which echoes through the narrative, there is the bright light of hope, a glimpse of something better for these characters who stole my heart.Readers who enjoy character driven novels with gorgeous writing will want to read The Paradise Guest House in one big gulp. I sped through this novel, fully immersing myself in its sensuous prose.Highly recommended.
It is 1942, Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts. The Porters arrive at their summer home on Ashuant Point with their three daughters – Helen and Dossie who are teenagers, and Janie who is only eight years old. With them are “the help,” including a Scottish nanny named Bea whose task it is to watch over Janie. Ashaunt has been their place, but this summer things are different. Soldiers have taken over the Wilson home, erected barracks, paved the road. And Charlie, the Porter’s son, is far away, training to go to war overseas. As the summer progresses, Bea falls in love and Helen and Dossie test out their new-found maturity, while something happens to Janie that forces the family to leave Ashaunt earlier than expected. The years spiral outward – Helen goes to school in Switzerland, marries and starts a family; Dossie struggles with mental illness; Janie grieves that Bea has moved back to Scotland. There are new generations, and one child in particular – Charlie, Helen’s son who is named after her brother – again looks to Ashaunt to find solace and meaning.The End of The Point is a sweeping, multi-generational family saga which spans more than fifty years. The book is a quiet novel. Elizabeth Graver takes her time to slowly develop the characters, to examine their lives and their tragedies. The backdrop of history is always right there: WWII, Vietnam, the drug-addled years of the sixties and seventies, and real estate development along the shores of Massachusetts.The novel is broken into four parts and told in multiple points of view, following a family through time. My favorite section was the first where the immediate members of the family are introduced and the girls are coming of age. Bea also takes a central role in the novel – a woman who has lived her life for others and becomes a part of the extended family.It is the characters who drive the narrative in this novel about growing up, family legacy, parenting, and the power of place. Charlie, the brother, is someone who the reader only meets through the eyes of the other characters, and yet his presence reverberate throughout the novel. Janie, who is a strong presence in the first section, yields the novel to Helen, her older sister, as time passes. Charlie, Helen’s son, struggles with his identity, befriends questionable people, and clings to the one place he has always felt he belonged. And Bea, the motherly woman who adopts the Porters as her own, weaves her own tale through the book.This is a novel which is subtle in plot, but beautifully rendered in description and character development. Readers who enjoy quiet novels with a strong sense of place will enjoy The End of The Point.
It seemed to him that in Annawadi, fortunes derived not just from what people did, or how well they did it, but from the accidents and catastrophes they dodged. A decent life was the train that hadn’t hit you, the slumlord you hadn’t offended, the malaria you hadn’t caught. – from Behind the Beautiful Forevers -Author Katherine Boo spent four years following the individual lives of people living in the Annawadi settlement – an Indian slum which sits near the Mumbai airport and in the shadow of opulent buildings where the wealthy regularly live their lives.The airport people had erected tall, gleaming aluminum fences on the side of the slum that most drivers passed before turning into the international terminal. Drivers approaching the terminal from the other direction would see only a concrete wall covered with sunshine-yellow advertisement. The ads were for Italianate floor tiles, and the corporate slogan ran the wall’s length: BEAUTIFUL, FOREVER BEAUTIFUL, FOREVER BEAUTIFUL, FOREVER. – from Behind The Beautiful Forevers, page 37 -The contrast between the wealthy and the poor in India is stark and Boo’s wish was to document “the distribution of opportunity in a fast-changing country.” Does she do that? Yes. But she also examines the lives of women in poverty, the effect of corruption on disenfranchised people, the idea of justice and equality, the power of hope even when hope seems elusive, and the struggle to be “good” in the face of unrelenting, heartbreaking poverty.Behind The Beautiful Forevers reads like a novel, and perhaps it would be easier to read it if one believed the “characters” between the pages were fictional rather than real. There is Abdul, a Muslim teenager whose organizational skills allow him to be one of the more successful garbage sorters in the community; and the politically savvy Asha, a forty year old mother who sells her body and bargains her morals to make a better life for her daughter; and Kalu, a teenager who flirts with drugs and steals scrap metal on his road to finding the “good life”; and Sunil, a boy who seems to have stopped growing while he battles rats, gangs of bigger boys, and fate while he searches for garbage to sell; and Meena, a young woman whose future is so bleak that death is more preferable; and finally Fatima, the “one leg,” whose spite costs her not only her very life, but the lives of her closest neighbors. There are others, of course, all battling to survive in a world we can only imagine and even then, we fall short.Somehow in this book about desperation and poverty, Boo manages to carve out some hope between the pages. Sunil regularly climbs to the top of a roof four stories above the ground where he enjoys the exhilarating vista of open space. It is here he watches the planes leave the ground and soar into the sky, where he can view the rich people arriving at and leaving the terminal. It is here, high above the reality of his world, where Sunil can imagine himself becoming “a middle something.”Sunil thought that he, too, had a life. A bad life, certainly – the kind that could be ended as Kalu’s had been and then forgotten, because it made no difference to the people who lived in the overcity. But something he’d come to realize on the roof, leaning out, thinking about what would happen if he leaned too far, was that a boy’s life could still matter to himself. – from Behind the Beautiful Forevers, page 199 -Katherine Boo’s remarkable book is sad. It is heartbreaking. It pulls the reader up short, has her gasping for breath as she immerses herself into the world of these survivors. Boo writes: “If the house is crooked and crumbling, and the land on which it sits uneven, is it possible to make anything lie straight?” And this is, perhaps, the central question posed in Behind The Beautiful Forevers. The world feels broken in the Annawadi slum, and yet the luminous lives of its inhabitants offer some hope for answers.Katherine Boo offers us a glimpse into inequality and poverty. It is a personal glimpse, an unforgettable one. But it is not an isolated one. All over the world the disenfranchised struggle to not only survive, but to elevate their lives. They fight against government corruption, unfair justice systems, and cultures which divide rather than unite people. Behind the Beautiful Forevers is a reminder that a slum is not just a slum – it is a community of people just like ourselves only with less opportunity.Pulitzer Prize winning author Katherine Boo snagged the National Book Award and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Behind the Beautiful Forevers. This is a powerful, must read book and one I highly recommend.
Hannah Gardner Price is twenty-four years old and living on Nantucket as part of the Quaker community there. She has always been drawn to the Heavens, hoping to someday discover a new comet and be recognized by the King of Denmark. But the year is 1845 and she is a woman, expected to marry, have children, and let go of her dream of a profession. When Isaac Martin, a black whaler from the Azores arrives on Nantucket, Hannah’s life will grow more complicated. As she begins to teach Isaac about navigation, their uneasy friendship begins to blossom into something more and Hannah’s Quaker congregation takes notice. Torn between family, faith, desire and the pull of the stars, Hannah must make choices which will forever impact her.Amy Brill’s debut novel is inspired by the life of Maria Mitchell, the first professional female astronomer in America. Brill sets her story in the Nantucket Quaker community in the mid-nineteenth century and succeeds in recreating a period in history which found women struggling against societal constraints. The book also explores the theme of racism, as well as the impact of rigid religious views. Isaac and Hannah both want more in their lives, to elevate themselves above the station to which they’ve been born. And it is perhaps that desire which initially draws them together.I read this book as part of a three person face to face book club, and we all agreed the novel opens slowly and it took some time to engage with the characters. Brill concentrates on the technology of astronomy in the early pages, but by the time she launches into Part II of the novel, the characters begin to lead the story. One member of our Book Club chose not to finish the novel, while two of us did read to the end.Hannah’s internal growth is interesting as her acceptance of her own sexuality awakens and she begins to understand how her life could be away from Nantucket. But, I think I was most drawn to Isaac, a young man living the harsh life as a whaler, struggling to achieve a place in society where blacks were not fully accepted. Although Brill draws parallels between the women’s suffrage movement and racism, I always felt that Isaac’s battle was the more difficult. “One star is nearly always brighter than the other. But they change positions relative to the other; sometimes they eclipse each other as they make their orbits. Sometimes we can only see one or the other.” In the dark, Isaac leaned close to her ear. “But they are always together, moving through the Heavens.” “Yes,” she said, or thought she did. – from Movement of Stars -Despite a slow start, I appreciated the historical detail in the novel and by mid-book was fully engaged in the characters’ lives. Brill develops tension well, and it kept me turning the pages to find out how the conflicts would be resolved.Readers who love historical fiction, and especially those interested in astronomy in particular and science in general, will find much to enjoy in The Movement of Stars.
Was there an end to time, or did it carry on forever? If it did end, then it had to happen at the exact moment when man became extinct and no other species was left on the planet, for what was time if there was no one to measure it, if there was nothing to experience its passing? Time could only be seen in the falling leaves, a wound that healed, a woodworm’s tunneling, rust that spread, and hearts that grew weary. Without anyone to discern it, time was nothing, nothing at all. - from The Map of Time, page 548 -Victorian England marked a transition away from the rational Georgian period and movement toward the ideas of romanticism and mysticism with regard to religion, social values, and the arts. An interest in science also marked this era in history with The Great Exhibition of 1851 (the first World’s Fair). A popular writer of the time period was H.G. Wells – known for his work in the science fiction genre, he published The Time Machine in 1895 which explored time travel and social class. It is this fascinating period of time, amid industrialization, interest in science, focus on religion and during a time of great inventiveness…which is the setting for Felix J. Palma’s The Map of Time.There are three distinct narratives in Palma’s doorstopper: the story of Andrew Harrington; the romantic tale of Claire Haggerty; and finally the solving of a series of murders with Inspector Colin Garrett of Scotland Yard at the forefront. An omniscient narrator unveils the story of love lost and found, scandal, trickery, murder, and the wonder of time travel.It is hard to pigeon hole this novel into any specific genre. Palma introduces several historical characters such as H.G. Wells, authors Henry James and Bram Stoker, and even Jack the Ripper. The streets of Victorian England come alive on the page. There is also a good deal of science fiction introduced into the plot of the novel, and some mind-bending twists. Palma delivers his story with wit and brilliance and manages to keep the storyline fresh in a chunkster that exceeds 600 pages.Thematically, the novel takes a look at what it would mean to be able to slip from one century to the other, to perhaps change events of the past or glimpse the future. For example, how would time travel impact morality?Have you ever wondered what makes men act responsibly? I’ll tell you; they only have one go at things. If we had machines that allowed us to correct all our mistakes, even the most foolish ones, we would live in a world of irresponsible people. - from The Map of Time, page 198 -Palma explores not only morality, but the power of passionate love, social strata, and the elusive edge between reality and magic.For most people, the known world was a tiresome, hostile place, but that was because they could only see part of it. Now, people were consoled by the notion that, just as a bland roast of meat is made tastier by seasoning, the universe improved if they imagined it was no longer reduced to what they were able to see, but contained a secret hidden component that could somehow make it bigger. – from The Map of Time, page 179 -Felix Palma has been heralded as a brilliant and original storyteller – and my first foray into his work supports that praise. I do not normally read science fiction, and was not sure how this book would resonate with me. I was delighted to discover that although there is “magic” between the pages, there is also a hefty dose of historical fiction and several plot twists that enchanted me and made me laugh. Palma pokes a little fun at the stuffy sensibilities of the Victorian era and plays with the nonsense of purple prose as well. The journey through time with H.G. Wells and Murray’s Time Travel was a satisfying and entertaining endeavor.Recommended for readers who enjoy historical fiction and love surprises.
Up surfaced the monster, and after the monster there came the crowd. – from The Monsters of Templeton, page 34 -Willie Upton arrives back in her hometown of Templeton after a lurid affair with her archeology professor. She leaves behind her potential PhD in the Alaskan wilderness to return to her roots in upstate New York. Hoping to find comfort in a place that has always felt unchanged, Willie instead finds her former hippie mother, Vi, immersed in born-again Christianity and a town in an uproar over the dead body of a monster which as surfaced in Lake Glimmerglass.I come home to Templeton because it’s the only place in the world that never changes, and I mean never, never changes, and here’s this half-dead lake. I always thought, hey, if the ice caps melt and all the cities of the world are swallowed up, Templeton will be fine. We’d be able to make do. Plant vegetables. Bunker up, sit it out, whatever. But it doesn’t seem right anymore. Does it? – from The Monsters of Templeton, page 131 -Within days, Vi reveals that Willie’s father is not an unknown hippie from the psychedelic days of San Francisco, but instead someone Willie knows well and who shares her family history. On a quest to discover her father’s identity, Willie digs deeply into the backgrounds of the people from the town’s by gone days, and reconnects with friends from her past.Lauren Groff’s complex and riveting first novel explores identity, the irresistible pull of our pasts, and the history of a small town in upstate New York. Groff based her story on her real hometown of Cooperstown, New York and borrowed liberally from James Fenimore Cooper’s massive cast of quirky characters in constructing a novel rich in folklore and historical references.Willie is a young woman struggling to find her identity in order to understand her future. As she researches her family history, the characters from her past take turns narrating their often convoluted stories and revealing their dark, well kept secrets. Groff uses actual photographs and constructs ever evolving family trees as Willie gets closer to the truth about her family.The Monsters of Templeton is really a bit of a mystery novel, an unraveling of the past to solve the question of who fathered Willie. Groff also introduces a bit of magical realism with the monster of Lake Glimmerglass and several ghosts who help guide Willie to clues about her ancestry. But what works the best in the story is the crowd of characters who all vie for their chance to reveal their secrets.Lauren Groff’s debut novel was nominated for the Orange Broadband Award for New Writers in 2008.This book is recommended for readers who enjoy character driven novels, historical fiction and a bit of a mystery.
Nick and Amy Dunne have been married exactly five years when Amy suddenly disappears from their home leaving behind a suspiciously staged scene, blood evidence and clues for a “treasure hunt.” Nick has no real alibi and his lies to police are beginning to make him look like a killer. Meanwhile, Amy’s diary reveals a woman who longs to be the best possible wife, but who fears her husband. As the evidence piles up against Nick and television shows spin the case, it looks like an arrest will soon happen. But is everything all that it seems? Could Nick be innocent? And if so, what has happened to Amy?Gillian Flynn has written a smart psychological thriller about a marriage which has gone terribly awry. Gone Girl is a black comedy of sorts. Neither Nick nor Amy are reliable narrators and Flynn moves back and forth from each of their points of view to build a story with lots of sharp twists and turns. The drama unfolds, not only through Amy and Nick’s limited narration, but also on the television news shows which supply their own spin. The novel provides a satirical look at social media, the US justice system, and modern marriage.I wasn’t quite sure if I would like this novel, but I was pleasantly surprised at its clever wit and well-developed characters. Readers will find little to like about Amy and Nick – two very dysfunctional people who cultivate their toxic relationship despite its psychopathy. Flynn writes skillfully, and manages to keep the reader turning the pages in spite of her characters’ poisonous personalities. I was reminded of Louise Erdrich’s brilliant novel Shadow Tag which keeps the reader off balance while its characters manipulate and damage each other.Gone Girl is not perfect – there are some plot points which require readers to suspend reality in order to believe the story line (especially during the novel’s final pages). I was easily able to do just that which I think speaks to the exceptional character development early on.Gone Girl is suspenseful, original and surprisingly funny. Readers who enjoy psychological thrillers and twisty plots will find much to love about this book.Recommended.
It’s astonishing how people react when the routine is disturbed, a tiny delay to the normal schedule and at once everything is different – and I mean everything: the moment a random event occurs, however insignificant, people who were once stuck together fall apart, all hell breaks loose and they tear each other’s heads off, still alive if possible; terrible violence and slaughter, the fiercest wars ensue because, by pure accident, not everything is normal. - from The Mussel Feast, page 34 -A woman toils over her tub, scrubbing mussels in cold water because it is her husband’s favorite meal even though she does not care for them. As she and her two teenage children – a boy and a girl – sit down with their pot of mussels, they await the father’s return home from work. The time passes and the father does not arrive. As the mussels grow cold in the pot, the reader discovers that all is not what it appears to be within this nuclear family.The unnamed daughter narrates the story of her family where the father takes center stage. Early on she gives clues to the dysfunction which lies below the surface.You see we all had to switch for my father, to become a proper family, as he called it, because he hadn’t had a family, but he had developed the most detailed notions of what a proper family should be like, and he could be extremely sensitive if you undermined these notions. – from The Mussel Feast, page 22 -As the tale unspools, the reader begins to see the unflinching control and brutality of the father who rules his family with an iron fist. The children are not allowed to enjoy the arts, since logic, math and science are all revered instead. The children wonder how many bones they will break if they leap from the window of their home. As the meal progresses, the mother and her children begin to express their true feelings about the father – and they only feel safe doing so in solidarity with each other.The Mussel Feast, translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch, was first penned in August of 1989 – just prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, and it is the timing of the novella which gives the reader a clue into the symbolism found within its pages. East Germany severely restricted individual freedoms and the Berlin Wall symbolized the loss of freedom to many Germans. In Vanderbeke’s novella, the family has recently left East Germany and now live in the West but the atmosphere in their home continues to be defined by a tyrant who controls everything they do. In his absence, the family begins to recognize the power they may have if they unite against him – part of that is simply having the conversation. At one point, the mussels begin to shift in the pot and in dying, they begin to move, a unified group opening their shells and making noise. The narrator remarks:Can’t you hear anything, I asked. Listen! It’s the mussels, my mother said, and I remember saying, isn’t it awful, I mean I knew that they were still alive, it’s just that I’d never imagined that they would make that rattling noise with their shells. I’d imagined they’d be cooked, eaten, and that was it. And my mother said, they’re opening up and then the entire heap of mussels will start moving. – from The Mussel Feast, page 15 -This is a powerful, darkly comic novella about how revolutions begin and how change unfolds in the face of tyranny. Deftly crafted, the narrative feels circular in nature and subtle plot lines become more obvious as the story unfolds.Good literature is thought-provoking and esoteric in nature. I spent a couple of days thinking about this slim book after I turned the final page and found that I appreciated it more after giving it time to percolate in my mind. Readers who enjoy translated, metaphorical stories anchored in history will find a lot to love about this modern classic.Recommended.
What makes life worth living is not anything that might happen. It is what is happening right now. - from All You Could Ask For -Brooke is living the “perfect” life. She has twins and an amazing husband who loves her. She works hard to keep her marriage exciting – including hiring a photographer to take nude photos of her for her husband’s birthday.Samantha, married only two days, breaks into her new husband’s computer and discovers he has been and still is unfaithful to her. She immediately decides to stay in Hawaii (where they have flown for their honeymoon) and train for a triathlon.Katherine is wealthy and successful in her work – but she clings to a hatred and resentment for her boss who used to be her lover and who threw her over for another woman almost 20 years ago. When she travels to Aspen for her first vacation in years, the last thing she expects is to meet the man of her dreams.All three women who grace the pages of Mike Greenberg’s debut novel are different, and yet they will soon discover they have something in common. Something which will unexpectedly unite them, cause them to look deeply into their lives, and ultimately define what is most important to them.There has been a lot of buzz about All You Could Ask For. First of all, the novel is penned by a man who fully embraces his female side in creating characters women will like, if not relate to. Secondly, Mike Greenberg is the voice of ESPN ‘s Mike in the Morning and has promised to donate all of his profits from the book to The V Foundation for Cancer Research to combat breast cancer.The book is divided into two parts. In the first part, Greenberg introduces his characters through alternating first person narratives. The second part is dedicated to how these three women come together, and Greenberg makes his novel modern by including social media as the uniting mechanism. This resonated with me, a blogger who has made a lot of friends through my blog, on line community events and book clubs, and Facebook. It is the second part of the book which really hooked me.Greenberg writes from a women’s perspective very well, although I will admit that I did not relate to all the characters. My least favorite character was Brooke who seemed almost a caricature of the perfect wife and mother. I longed for her to see herself as an individual, rather than an extension of her spouse. Samantha was the most likeable – she is the person every woman wants for a friend: loyal, giving, sincere. But my favorite character was Katherine who demonstrates a sarcastic wit and an inner strength I admired. Katherine is the character who grows the most from beginning to end. I wanted Katherine to realize all her goals and find love again.Nobody is living better than I am; I have a duplex on Park Avenue, a driver, a chef, an assistant, and a killer house in South Hampton, and I did it all on my own. But I still haven’t gotten past what happened with Phillip and I doubt I ever will, and I wish to god he was ten times more miserable than I am. If that sounds bitchy, I guess I don’t really care. - from All You Can Ask For -All You Could Ask For is fun women’s fiction, but it also has a deeper message about the decisions we make and how we determine our journey through life. Greenberg explores friendship within the context of the unexpected events which life throws in our path. Funny, poignant, and well-crafted, this is a novel which will appeal to a wide variety of women and the men who love them.Recommended.