Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Eden by Andrea Kleine

Hope is the protagonist of this new novel by award-winning writer, Andrea Kleine. Eden is the driving force behind the questions, the loneliness, and the unachievable success in Hope's life. Hope is a playwright with proper university credentials, starting out strong with a play production in London. Since then, she hasn't been able to move anything else into the art world.

Hope comes from Virginia, outside of Charlottesville, where she grew up with her half-sister, Eden. Their father divorced Hope's mother, and he and Eden's mother were never married. Dad is a writer and a professor, living an alternative life in the countryside southwest of Charlottesville. When the girls were growing up, they took the bus to their father's town every Friday after school where he picked them up. When Eden was sixteen and Hope was fourteen their dad didn't show up at the bus stop to get them. They wound up with someone named Larry who said he was a friend of their dad and he sent him to get them. Larry said the dad was having trouble with his camper van. This day was the beginning of the hell that both of them would live in for much of the rest of their lives.

It is never clear in the novel if either girl suffered a rape, but they were kept against their wills, tied up outside in only their underwear. Their escape isn't as important as what happened to them afterward. The dysfunctional family of one father, two mothers, and a stubborn Eden set all their lives on end. Eden went to a boarding school, and Hope never really saw her again.

The story moves twenty years forward to a turning point in the story and Hope's life. The D.A. wants to interview both of them as Larry, their abductor, is up for parole. Hope decides to try to find Eden to talk to her about what happened and see if she can help make a case against Larry.

The trip takes her from New York to California, searching for Eden, but in more significant ways, searching for what created a massive hole in her soul, one that no one and nothing seems able to repair. This was a difficult novel to process. Hope's lonely journey through life is painful to witness. Ms. Kleine's insightful portrait of real-life pain makes it an excellent story.

Thank you, NetGalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for the opportunity to read the e-ARC.

The publication date for Eden is July 10th 2018.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

A Terrible Country by Keith Gessen

Andrei Kaplan, a perpetual student of Russian literature, succumbs to his brother pleas to return to Moscow for a short time to take care of their grandmother and help him settle some real estate issues. Andrei, becomes Andryush, an affectionate name given to him by his grandmother, Seva Efraimovna. Seva was well educated in Russian literature, and she and Andrew had lively conversations in addition to playing anagrams where Seva always beat Andrew. Eva taught Andrei Pushkin.

Andrew, still working at a university in NYC, taught 3-4 sections of online students in the MOOC program (Massive Open Online Courses offered by top schools to anyone who wanted to participate online). Andrew had barely enough to live on but gingerly went about trying to find the Russia he left when he was a child when he moved to Boston with his family. Just traversing the widely spaced open streets of Moscow was a huge challenge and it took Andrew a good enough amount of time to find people to socialize with and to play hockey with, his great love. He had trouble finding Wi-Fi, but coincidentally he stumbled on a place across from the KGB building, called The Grind and he spent time there working on communication with his students and reading their work.

Everyone Andrew came across was worried about the USA financial collapse and if electing Barack Obama was the right thing to do in those perilous times. With some like-minded students and his hockey friends, Andrew created a life that seemed to work. He never had any money and finding food for him, and his grandmother was always foremost on his mind, along with a young woman named Yulia who Andrew developed a lovely relationship. He fell in love.

After a year in Mosco and many adventures, Andrew begins to think clearly about where Putin is going with his power plays and that leaves Andrei with some big decisions to make. This brilliant novel gave me an excellent look into a world I would like to know better.

Thank you, NetGalley, and Viking for allowing me to read this advance galley.

Publish date is July 10th 2018.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Snap by Belinda Bauer

The thought of three children being left in a car while the mother goes for help is a perfect set up for a chilling novel. The mother never came back, and the life of those children went downhill immediately. Jack who was eleven at the time was required to take on the care and custody of the children who never told anyone what their circumstances were. The dad fell apart and littered the house with newspapers detailing the mother's murder. He didn't recover.

Jack carried on trying to feed the kids. They didn't go to school, living in a sorely neglected state. Somehow, this fact went unnoticed by the authorities and life carried on for a good long while.

Another story unfolds in the novel about a burglar who breaks into houses when the owners or tenants are away. He eats their food, steals some valuable things and sleeps in their beds. The cops call him Goldilocks, and they can't catch him.

This novel is sad and chilling to the core. BB ingeniously unfolds the mysteries, telling multiple stories of people who no one cares about. Jack is a hero, a teenager hero.

Thank you, NetGalley and Transworld Digital for offering me this e-ARC.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, Ginny Tapley Takemori (Translator)

In a society where people conform to gender, class, personal, and professional roles, Keiko Furukura stands out for her inability to blend in. Keiko is thirty-six and has been working part-time in a convenience store for eighteen years. This brilliant short novel describes her life and her long traveled path to reach acceptance in a role as a valued employee, working hard to perform at the level of excellence. Keiko trained herself to speak loudly and cheerfully to each customer and give them what they need with a smile, in the exact manner in which she received her training so long ago. She re-stocks the store perfectly and knows every minute detail about the running of the business. It is her pride and joy.

As a child. Keiko did not fit in, starting in elementary school, with acting in a somewhat aggressive way when she saw something done against another child. Some people might suggest that Keiko is on the autistic spectrum, but that is not a part of the story. Keiko doesn't get better as she grows up, she rarely socializes and depends on her younger sister to help her with social cues. When she is in college and finds a part-time job in the store, Keiko seems to have found her niche.

Keiko has seen workers come and go and even managers who leave after a relatively short time. She knows that certain new employees probably won't make it and most often, she is correct. Her work peers realize she is different but depend on her and respect her knowledge of the job. I enjoyed learning about all the various snacks served in the store and was so happy that Keiko's path led her to the exact place she needed to inhabit.

Thank you, NetGalley and Grove Press for the opportunity to read this ARC.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman

In this new novel by Catherine Steadman, the protagonist begins the narration by describing what a difficult time she is having trying to bury her husband with just a shovel. Erin, a documentary filmmaker, is married to Mark, an investment banker. After the burial prologue, the story goes back to explaining the life of the narrator and her husband. The couple was planning their wedding and honeymoon. It was supposed to be a first-class affair with a deluxe class honeymoon in Bora Bora.

The expensive wedding gets downgraded when Mark loses his job. The couple decides to continue with their trip to Bora Bora, down to two weeks, from three.Even though there is a beautiful home waiting for the couple when they return, they begin to make questionable decisions based on money. The relationship takes a quick turn, and the reader must buckle up for a brush with criminals, police, and mysterious people who are following Erin. She never seems to doubt her actions because she wants the life she expected to have and is determined to get it, no matter what she has to do. The key to destruction here is the money. Erin followed the money.

Thank you, NetGalley and Ballantine for this E-arc.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Possible World by Liese O'Halloran Schwarz

Liese O'Halloran Schwarz describes the interior life, the struggles of loss, pain, and recovery of characters of different ages in different time spaces. The drama of the plot comes immediately when there is a mass murder at a child's birthday party. Ben is the only survivor, his mother was one of the adults killed. Ben meets an E.R. doctor, Lucy, who was acquainted with his mother, a resident in another department. Ben is severely traumatized and admitted to the psychiatric department.

Lucy works long, exhausting hours in the E.R. and as a result, begins to see the deterioration of her marriage. Her husband actually presents an ultimatum on one particular night and her trauma of losing the man she thought she could depend on adds to her difficult life.

Other interesting characters come into the picture. Claire is a resident of a nursing home and about to win the trophy as the oldest resident at 100.She is quiet, keeps to herself, and the unfolding of her story is worth the reading.

LOS writes knowledgeably about both the physical and mental health of all the characters and does and a heartwarming job of bringing people together with great compassion and empathy.

Thank you, NetGalley and Scribner for the opportunity to read this e-ARC.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

Who hasn't wanted to drop out, hibernate in our apartment for a long time, get away from the world for a while? Ottessa Moshfegh's unnamed narrator takes the need for getting away from it all and puts a plan of action into effect. In late 1999, the narrator, a recent Columbia University graduate with a major in art history, lives on East 84th Street in a doorman building paid for by her inheritance. She works in a chic art gallery downtown for $22,000 a year. Her job description is to help out at openings but otherwise to sit in the gallery and ignore any pedestrian visitor. The hibernation begins when she begins taking her lunch in the form of a nap in a closet.

The narrator is deeply troubled by the loss of her father and shortly after, her mother. Trevor dumped her, a creep who seemingly used her as an armpiece and sex partner. His sexual proclivities place him in the misogynistic category. The only friend who comes to visit is Reva, a college roommate. Reva is irritating with her constant comparison to the narrator who is tall, blonde and wears a size 2. Reva wants to look like her roommate and have men attracted to her as well. She wears a size 4 but is always on a new diet program. She does not like herself. Reva is having an affair with her boss, Ken.

So the first step to getting as many hours of sleep as possible is to get drugs. A psychiatrist picked out of the phone book proves to be a perfect set up. Dr. Tuttle is as quacky as they come, even giving out samples and telling her patient not to divulge where she got them. Every fake symptom the patient comes up with, gives Dr. Tuttle a new inspiration to prescribe more Ambien, Xanax, Ativan, Haldol, Librium, etc. The narrator is drugged up every night and begins to start missing days at work.

When sleep begins to evade her, the narrator cooks up a plan to sleep for most of every day for six months. She finds an artist from her art gallery who she knows will do anything for an off the wall exhibition. The rest of the story is a bit scary. I couldn't stop reading OM's writing which ticked off every cultural phenomenon from the late nineties in New York City. The insights into a loss, loneliness, and pain ring with a staggering truth. I wanted to reach out and take hold of that young woman who had the potential for a good, meaningful life. This novel was a life lesson fit for women of any age.

Thank you to NetGalley and Penguin for the opportunity to read this ARC.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Upstate by James Wood

Alan Querry, who lives in northern England, decides to accompany his daughter, Helen, to visit his other daughter, Vanessa who lives in Saratoga Springs, NY. Vanessa teaches philosophy at Skidmore College. Though Vanessa has been in NY for some years, he has never visited.

The novel is a portrait of a man trying to come to terms with how his daughters turned out in life. Dealing with the lives our adult children have chosen and how life treats them is a dilemma many of us grapple with in our later years. We hope for our children's success, but even more critical, their happiness. That aspect of life is entirely out of our hands. I think that if we stay physically close to our grown children, it helps. In the end, as a wise James Wood lays out for us, we can't make them happy as we did when they were babies. Perhaps, how we handle the process of growing up is the key to the mystery.

Thank you to NetGalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for the opportunity to read this ARC.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Ensemble by Aja Gabel

The Van Ness String Quartet is a young group studying at the Conservatory in San Francisco. The two women and two men devote their lives to perfecting their skill and building a career in the highly competitive, ever decreasing world of classical music performance. This novel describes the musicians' professional and personal lives, how the closeness of working together spills over and sometimes threatens to derail them.

Aja Gabel writes informatively on music, musicians, and the institutions and people who populate that rarified world. The wealthy patrons are there, along with the descriptions of the toll of working hard takes on the characters' physical and emotional lives. Brit and Daniel have an intimate connection, and Jana and Henry are likened to close siblings. Jana is the leader of the pack. She is organized and clear thinking when it comes to seeing the future and what they need to do to get into the superior positions they seek. Jana has no interest in a romantic connection. Her family history is such that she avoids attachments with men other Henry. They understand and need each other for comfort and companionship. It works well for them.

Brit and Daniel have a mercurial relationship. They need each other, but Daniel does not want the encumbrance of a committed relationship like marriage. He and Brit often fight and are at odds even though the attraction is strong and steady.

The storyline skips years and takes them to higher levels of professional accomplishments. Eventually, they travel the world. The story then focuses on the characters and their personal turmoil. Here, I got stuck with the story. I think that a tighter take on that aspect would serve the novel better.

Thank you, NetGalley and Riverhead for the opportunity to read this ARC.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Our Kind of Cruelty by Araminta Hall

Verity (V) and Mike met at university in Bristol and became inseparable from then on. This suspense novel is about the young couple's seven-year relationship, narrated by Mike. The story is about obsessive romance, sex games, and a bubble that V and Mike lived in until he took a job with a firm in New York. Mike's reasoning to make the job move was so that he could make a lot of money quickly, working toward their goal of retirement at forty-five. The couple did not want to waste their lives working. They envisioned a life of travel and adventure. Their dreams were limitless.

It all came tumbling down when Mike revealed an indiscretion in New York on his second Christmas trip back to London. V was not happy and told him that she thought they should break up. Mike returned to New York, thinking that V just needed some time to forgive him. He was sure that everything would be fine. Mike decided to return to London. He had enough money for the time being and was sure he could get a good job in London.

When Mike returns to London, he buys a house and begins to prepare for a life with V. It is here where I started to think that something was not right and slowly began to suspect that Mike had some serious issues with reality. The novel is written so well that it could be read in one sitting if you have the time. I didn't want to put it down; it continually brings up questions and made me question what Mike and V thought when they said and did things to each other.I've read enough suspense novels to know an excellent one, and this will be on my 'best of list' for suspense novels of the year!

Thank you to NetGalley and MCD / Farrar, Straus and Giroux for the opportunity to read this ARC.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

In Dust and Ashes by Ann Holt

Even though I haven't read any of the previous books in the "Hanne Wilhelmsen" series, I immediately tuned into this final volume. Jonas Abrahmsen, the father of a three-year-old Dina, who was killed by a car when she was three, is free from prison where he served eight years for killing his wife, Anne. Ann Holt had me in the first few pages!

Hanne Wilhelmsen, a seasoned detective, works with Henrik Holme. Hanne works from her home and serves as Henrik's mentor. Even though Jonas did not fight the case against him for killing his wife, a retiring detective hands the case over to Henrik as he is leaving. He continues to have doubts about the guilt of Jonas and asks Henrik to give it a look.

Henrik and Hanne have just finished up a court case where 22 people are on trial for terrorism, and their desks are relatively clean. Henrik wants to look at the Jonas case, but Hanne calls him and asks him to get in touch with a detective who has a new death, the suicide an Islamophobic blogger who has recently been found out to be Iselin Havorn, a wealthy businesswoman.

Henrik and Hanne do not agree on which case to follow. Their initial research reveals possible connections, and from there AH weaves a non-stop reading delight. I often zone out with the small details of criminal stories, but not this one. I was focused at all times as if AH was telling me the story in my living room. IN DUST AND ASHES is a novel not to be missed, regardless of your genre likes and dislikes. AH makes the art of writing seem so effortless! Her story flows smoothly and with empathy for all the characters.

Thank you NetGalley and Scribner for the opportunity to read this ARC.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Motherhood: A Novel by Sheila Heti

The issue of whether or not to have a child is the driving question of this autobiographical novel. The narrator, a woman in her late thirties, is plagued with doubt about something she sees so many women go through as a natural part of maturation. Naturally, most women do not suffer the internal struggle here as evidenced by the population explosion of modern times. It is as easy as falling off a log. But for some, it requires a thorough examination of the existential act of becoming a mother.

Looking at the question of whether to take on the role of mother, the narrator looks at all aspects of her life and that of her mother and grandmother. She has a loving partner, Miles, who already has a child so he is not anxious to reproduce for the sake of having a family. Miles seems perfectly happy with his new partner; childless seems okay. But the narrator digs deep into what it will mean for her, for them as a couple, and for the rest of her life, realizing that once a mother, it is a lifetime commitment. She considers every aspect of motherhood, even the part where one day she will make the child, or adult child, an orphan. This book is a thorough examination of life. It was difficult to read at times because I consider the question of having a child a serious one, perhaps at the same level as Heti. I finished reading this significant piece of writing wishing that more women would give the issue soul searching thought before they decided to procreate.

Thank you, NetGalley and Henry Holt for the opportunity to read this ARC.

Monday, April 23, 2018

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer

Meg Wolitzer has mined the zeitgeist of the millennial generation and created a story with characters brimming with hope on the eve of the 2008 presidential election. The theme is postmodern feminism, and the story checks all the boxes: ambition, love, relationships, and adult realities. Greer Kadetsky is an introverted girl from a small town in Massachusetts. She and her boyfriend, Cory Pinto, have big plans beginning with college admission to one of the "ivies."

Greer's first brush with a developing sense of ambition is when she goes to a talk given by Faith Frank, famous at age 63 for her work in the sixties and seventies with the likes of Gloria Steinem. Greer lucks out on a short conversation in the ladies room, a discussion that will change her life. She begins to see her growth through a different lens; she has met someone who will fulfill all women's need for a mentor. And, a short time later, will have an opportunity we also need, help to or from a friend.

Greer's trajectory involves a steadfast devotion to becoming a 21st century Faith Frank. She questions everyone who doesn't have a similar zeal and willingness to forgo all else to reach the pinnacle of success. I read this jam-packed novel with recognition of all the characters, young and old. The good old days were hard, but we had more hope for change. Today's reality is harsher, more difficult. The awful truth that people in power, mostly men, still want to legislate our reproductive rights is disheartening.

The only ray of hope out there is a more significant number of women who, because of the 2016 election, are standing up to run for office in 2018. We must place our faith there and be thankful for the feminist men in our lives today. MW covered it all, and I appreciated her insights in this novel for today.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner

Rachel Kushner has applied her extraordinary writing skills to one of the most significant issues in American society, mass incarceration. I am mostly aware of male prison and the use of penalization for drug use and minor crimes. It is new to me (I didn't watch "Orange is the New Black") that life is hopeless for the unfortunate women who get caught up in today's penal system.

Romy Hall, a former exotic dancer in San Francisco, has started serving two life sentences in 2003. She winds up in a deserted area in the central region of California in a place called Stanville. Romy's life is one of monotony and grief, missing her son, Jackson, who is with Romy's mother. At first, Romy has no interest in getting jobs to get money for canteen supplies or classes to give some meaning to her day. She sits and waits. Romy observes her fellow inmates and their stories create a narrative that pulled me in. I wanted to know what happened to each downtrodden woman who mostly came from poverty and homes of abuse to a life of more violence from inmates and guards. RK manages to peel away the complex layers of women who have gone against their nature by committing crimes. This novel took my breath away and made me more aware of what life in the USA is like for those whose freedom no longer exists.

Thank you, NetGalley and Scribner for the opportunity to read this ARC.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

This I Know by Eldonna Edwards

Grace Carter is one of five daughters living in a little town in Michigan. Grace is a bright, curious girl in middle school who has the gift of seeing and understanding things. Some people would say she has ESP or that she is a psychic. Grace's father, a minister, says it is the work of Satan. Grace is forbidden to use her powers when he is present, so she hides in her closet and talks to her twin, Issac, the boy who did not survive childbirth. Grace loves Issac, and he has a calming effect on her hectic life of school, chores, and trying to stay out of trouble with her father.

Grace's mother has the same power as well as possessing a beautiful voice. She has squelched her ability for her husband's sake and also only sings religious songs, those approved by the preacher/boss of the house. I found the father to be an egocentric bully in the pulpit and the home. Grace's mom had many ambitions surround her vocal ability but quit when she married and continued to have children. The family lives on a shoestring and everyone make sacrifices so that the father can run a church. The family suffers a great deal. The girls hardly have a healthy life. They are poor and different than their peers at school. My heart broke for Grace mainly.

Eldonna Edwards has written a family tale skillfully, showing humanity at its best and worst. I'm sure that many readers will welcome this beautiful book.

Thank you, NetGalley and the publisher for this digital ARC.