Friday, August 26, 2016

August 2.0

A House With No Windows by Nadia Hashimi 
Back with her third adult book, Nadia Hashimi never disappoints me.  Her first book, The Pearl That Broke its Shell, was the winner of the Goodreads debut novel in 2014 and was one of my favorite books of the year.  Her second, The Moon Hangs Low, was a powerful story of Afghan refugees, as they tried to make their way to Western Europe.  Her latest novel focuses on the 'crimes' of women in Afghanistan, typically involving accusations of immorality and sex.  The main character, Zeba, after being found holding her husband's bloody body, is accused of murder and locked up in a women's prison.  Her lawyer Yusef, a young idealistic Afghan-American, returns to her village, going through the past history of Zeba and Kamal's marriage, as well as the traditions of their community.  As Zeba acquaints herself with the other women prisoners, we also see the honesty, the frustration, the dignity, and the ultimate inequities in the supposed legal system of this decimated country.  This is a powerful novel that tells a heart-wrenching tale of redemption and honor.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
It's hard to know where to start with this book...finalist for huge awards, loooooong (as in 814 pages), weird cover.  All these things combined negatively so it sat on my bedside stand for months.  Finally, a couple friends encouraged me to pick it up, saying it would be worth it.  That is an understatement, and I do not say the following lightly:  this is one of the BEST books I have read in my adult life.  Over the span of thirty years, this novel follows four young men who meet as college roommates and begin their adult life.  Boring, right?  Yep, that's what I thought, but by page 10 I was completely unable to put this book down.  Read in four days, early mornings and late nights, the story is so compelling, so intense, so raw, and so rich that it pulls you into their lives in a way I have rarely felt. Yanagihara is an incredible storyteller and beautiful writer, but she doesn't get caught up in the poetry of her words; she truly stays focused on the four friends, in particular Jude, the most tortured of the boys.  I have not wept this many tears over a book in I don't know when, and yes, it was worth every tear.  This will be a book I never forget; I cannot recommend it highly enough.

The Trespasser by Tana French
If you haven't read any of Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad mysteries, and you like a well-written Irish story, you really need to pick one up. They do not need to be read in any order, as each book picks on a different detective and a new murder,  I have loved all but one (The Likeness - not her best), and her latest trip back to Dublin is one of the best in the series.  This time around, the two main detectives are some complex characters with unique issues. Antoinette is the only female detective in a sexist, bullying environment - she is tough, feisty, assertive, and brings the fight first. Her partner, Stephen, is a pretty boy who likes to be liked, but only on the surface; he is smart, manipulative, and loyal to the core.  As the two detectives investigate what should be an open-and-shut domestic homicide, they learn the dark side of the Murder Squad and those people who will do anything to protect their turf.  Great read!

The Light in Paris by Eleanor Brown
I loved Brown's first book The Weird Sisters; it was quirky, well-written, different.  I was excited to see a new book out from her after five years, figuring she took the time to write another winner.  However, I was underwhelmed by her latest effort.  The premise wasn't bad with two parallel stories: Madeline, a woman in the 1990's, unhappy in her marriage, tied to a 'conventional' life that she did not want, and Margie, her grandmother who spends a season in Paris in 1924, looking for that unconventional life denied her by a well-to-do family.  It had great potential, but was wasted in a predictable story line, and poorly drawn characters that were hard to root for.  I frequently just wanted to slap Madeline, tell her to quit whining, and MOVE ON; Margie was slightly more heroic, as she tries to make a go of living without her family's money and breaking out of all of life's rules to live the life of a French writer.  Alas, Eleanor Brown devolves into the convention that her characters tried so valiantly to escape in their own literary lives and writes an inevitable end that leaves no room for an 'ah-ha' moment, pleasure in the unforeseeable, nor any true feelings other than disappointment.

The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore
One part legal thriller, one part historical fiction, and one part love story, this new novel by Graham Moore (The Sherlockian, screenwriter of The Imitation Game) is a page turner.  Young attorney Paul Cravath (yes, you can find him on Wikipedia), is inexplicably hired by George Westinghouse for the patent battle against Thomas Edison.  Thus, the story of the beginning of the era of electricity, invention, and modern industrial age plays out and it is a fascinating look into the lives of these famous historical characters.  J.P Morgan and Alexander Graham Bell even have a cameo, as well as Nikola Tesla, who plays a bigger part in the invention of electrical current than I ever knew.   Reminiscent of the race between Gates and Job to invent the first personal computer, this was an intriguing novel that shows how creativity, concentration, passion, and greed shaped a new age for America.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Jack Thorne
I've only had about a million people ask me if I've read the new
Harry Potter; it's a logical question considering my obsession with Hogwarts, Muggles, and anything HP-related.  So now the answer is "Yes," I took a morning and read the script of the play currently on the London stage.  And "No," J.K. Rowling did not write this book, but merely acted as a consultant with the playwright to bring the world of Harry Potter back to life.  Here's my conclusions:  1) it was an absolute delight to find myself once more in this world, to be reading about characters I consider old friends - it warmed my heart 2) it's not a book - of course there's not deep character or plot development - it's a script of a play so put that into perspective 3) you need to be a fan of alternative-reality scenarios - there's a lot of them 4) is it worth it? Absolutely!  Jack Thorne gets this world, and he understands the lives of children - their anxieties, their friendships, their troubles with parents, etc.  He does a worthy job of weaving all the important pieces into a new tale of Hogwarts and its students; I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

August Books

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (September 2016)
A brilliant new historical fiction, touched with surrealism, Whitehead has written what many of us booksellers feel is an award-winner.  He takes the context of the underground railroad, a system of houses and other hideaways, manned by abolitionists, and imbues it with magical fantasy, creating a 'real' locomotive that speeds runaway slaves away on their journey to freedom.  Cora, a young woman who lives a hellish life on a Georgian cotton plantation, ostracized by the other slaves, motherless and alone, is chosen by Caesar, a fellow slave, to catch the train to freedom.  Thus begins Cora's adventures, with allusions to Gulliver's travels as well as the travails of Odysseus.  The strangers who both assist and impede the slaves are complex, showing great violence at times, as well as great compassion.  It is a tale well told, that will leave thought provoking ideas behind in its wake.

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

Rich, handsome, ambitious man meets beautiful woman with a big heart, a heart so generous she chooses to be guardian to her sister with Down's syndrome.  Man woos her, proposes, has perfect wedding...except the broken leg of the sister...oops.  Then Jack and Grace live happily ever after, right? Not a chance.  What happens behind the steel shutters and locked doors of their English country home makes for a tense, psychological thriller.  Can Grace save her sister, much less herself, or will Jack convince the world that she is insane?  As the thread of madness spools out and the past is revealed, you will obsessively turn pages to see the true fabric of this marriage.  Already a huge hit in the UK and movie plans in the works, this book should take America by storm.

Daisy in Chains by Sharon Bolton
Maggie Rose is a true-crime writer, yet also a renowned defense attorney in England.  In fact, she's a pro at getting murderers out of prison, after being convicted of heinous crimes.  So who better for Hamish Wolfe to hire, the handsome surgeon convicted of some fairly nasty murders?  This is a premise with some guaranteed twists and turns, as Maggie continuously questions his innocence or guilt.  Bolton takes us back in time to see the history of some of the victims, throwing in numerous red herrings to throw the reader off track.  This book will keep you up late at night, frantically turning pages, to see if you guessed right...guilty or innocent?

The Darkest Secret by Alex Marwood
I loved Marwood's first two books (The Wicked Girls and The Killer Next Door), and this deliciously British mystery writer does not disappoint with her third novel.  Based loosely on the true story of Madeline McCann, the three year old English child who disappeared years ago while on vacation with her family, in this fictitious version, the young child is a twin who mysteriously vanishes one night while in a vacation home in Bournemouth.  The players of the story are what makes this book so fascinating:  her father, a rich nasty man who is a serial monogamist, ruining every marriage he touches; teenage siblings with a huge trough of bitterness inside; an absentee mother more concerned with her nails than who's watching the children; and a host of rich, self-centered, narcissistic friends who all have different stories of the night that Chloe vanishes.  It is a rich story, with complex characters and various nuances of plot twists that made my mouth hang open literally in the last few pages.  Loved this book!

Modern Lovers by Emma Straub
A small neighborhood in Brooklyn, two mixed up teenagers, four adults with an 'interesting' history, and two marriages struggling to find happiness after years together, Straub (The Vacationers) has written another intriguing story of 'normal' people in America.  Zoe and Jane have been married for years, raising a rebellious daughter named Ruby, running a small restaurant, and forgetting the romance of how they found each other.  Elizabeth is the neighborhood realtor and uptight mom, married to uber-wealthy and privileged Andrew, who has never really found his 'thing' in life.  Yet, long ago, Zoe, Andrew and Elizabeth were in a college band that had that one big hit, the one-hit wonder sung by the long-dead heroin addict who deserted the band first.  Oh my, the complications of a simple life.  Straub does a masterful job of stringing out all the plot lines, and of making us care about each character; this is a great vacation read.

The Trespassers by Tana French
In her Dublin murder squad series, Tana French has written some fabulous books and some 'meh.'  Her latest, however, is by far the best of the lot.  I love that this series does not have to be read in any order; each book stands on its own, focusing on a member of the Murder Squad and a new mystery, usually involving a dead body, family ties, complex relationships, and deeply developed characters.  In The Trespassers, Detectives Antoinette Conway and Steve Moran are the 'newbies' to the Squad, and must deal with harassment and non-stop dirty tricks to try and solve the murder of a beautiful young woman.  Extremely well-written, with numerous twists and turns, this is a fantastic new addition to the series.

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty
The author of Big Little Lies, The Husband's Secret, and What Alice Forget is back with her latest novel of Australian mom, relationships, and a little mystery thrown in.  I am always excited to pick up a Moriarty book, always good brain candy, always a bit of a page turner, always entertaining.  Unfortunately this time around, not so much.  Perhaps she rushed it after such huge hits?  Perhaps she's running out of material?  Or perhaps she forgot that amidst the stupidity of humanity, we also like to see a little heroism, character, or intelligence? Involving an 'incident' at a neighborhood barbecue, it takes forever to find out what happened, and quite frankly, to care about it, or the people involved.  Sorry, but I would take a pass on this one.

Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi
Remember your childhood favorite stories, the ones filled with magic and adventure, the ones that talked to you like you were a grown up, the ones that made your brain tick and your heart surge?  Tahereh Mafi's latest book is the perfect blend of all our old favorites - Phantom Tollbooth, the Oz stories, Narnia, The Wind in the Willows, the Secret Garden, Kipling's Just So stories.  This was a delightful romp through an enchanted land that should be a newfound classic.  The main protagonist is Alice (yes, some illusions to Lewis Carroll's heroine) whose father disappeared three years ago, and flunked her magical test into adulthood, choosing to go off on a hunt to find not only her father, but her true magical talent.  The beginning was a bit saccharine for me - I was concerned at first - but then Alice shows her sassy, feisty, independent side and never lets up.  Her sidekick in crime, Oliver, is a perfect partner with issues of his own.  This is a magical new tale for any reader ten years and up, and would be a wonderful gift for either a boy or a girl.