Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Redemption by Friedrich Gorenstein

Mostly, I think about the Holocaust as it affected German and Polish people who died because of their religion, their profession as intellectuals or their refusal to pay homage to Hitler. Redemption is a novel that educated my general knowledge of what happened in Stalinist Russia after the war when the Germans left.

Life continued to be a challenge without any organized government administration, a lack of food, no jobs, and people maintaining distrust of Jews and in general, each other. The lead character of this novel written in 1967, by Friedrich Gorenstein a Soviet Jew who eventually lived in exile in Berlin, is Sashenko. Sasha is resentful of everyone, especially her mother. She bitterly resents anyone who has one morsel of a better life than she. Sasha's hatred symbolizes the continuing misery of life in Stalin's Russia.

The poverty described is heartbreaking as is the lack of medical care and any authority who can help a person even buy a train ticket to exit from the hell the population continues to endure. Redemption is an essential novel for all time, and perhaps, particularly striking in today's world of lack of tolerance for anyone different than ourselves.

I received an advanced copy of this novel from the publisher through NetGalley.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Gone So Long by Andre Dubus III

Andre Dubus III created Susan Dunn and placed her in the center of his new novel, Gone So Long. Susan is forty-three, a writer, a college lecturer, and a student. She lives in the southwestern part of Florida with her husband, Bobby, a musicologist. She is, on the surface, like any young, attractive woman we might come into contact with in our daily travels. However, Susan is carrying pain and grief and the burden of wanting to write a novel that seems to burn inside of her unwritten, for years.

Susan's grandmother raised her. She still calls Lois, "Noni." They come from a background of carnival workers based in New England. Susan's mother, Lois, hung out at the pier every summer. She loved the sounds and the smell of the fried bread, pizza, cotton candy and hung around the big ride, The Himalaya, because she liked the DJ, Danny. He played all the latest songs. He was the coolest guy she had ever met. She married him.

Lois didn't like Danny, and she was always critical of Linda for the choices she made. The lives of the three women create the novel's narrative. As someone said this weekend in connection with the Kavanaugh Supreme Court inquiry, the women always lose (I believe it was Jeffrey Toobin on CNN). This densely written novel confirms this opinion. The women try to keep it all together, to smooth the rough spots, get over the tragedies, and go on to take care of each other. For the most part, the women lose.

So much of life is about taking the hurt and the pain and making some peace with it. Some of us are successful at that and others, not at all. Noni and Susan struggle with anger, resentment, and a complex combination of hatred and hurt. It takes a writer like ADIII to give us a story about how all this can be realized, at least in fiction, if not reality.

I received an advanced copy of this novel from the publisher through NetGalley.

Friday, September 21, 2018

A Cloud in the Shape of a Girl by Jean Thompson

Jean Thompson's new novel resonated in my subconscious, a place I try not to visit too often. Three generations of women in the mid-west are deeply unsatisfied with their lives. The story begins during WWII when Evelyn manages to secure a job teaching at a university because there is a shortage of men. Evelyn falls for an older professor of law and begins a life of academic privilege with two children and many events on the arm of her esteemed husband.

Evelyn's daughter, Laura, tries very hard to be happy and does want to marry, not fully absorbing her mother's unhappiness in a lackluster career, one where she didn't accomplish much. Evelyn loved her family but was not a warm, affectionate mom. Laura wanted more of a storybook family and used all her efforts to find it.

Laura's life produced two children, Grace and Michael. Her husband, Gabe, is a nasty piece of work. We only learn about her mother's life when Grace is taking care of her when she becomes ill. Michael is a constant source of pain and grief as he fights with his father and never manages to hold down any job or finish school.

Grace is the smart one, but she isn't moving away from the dull midwestern town either. She takes her responsibilities seriously, and they continue to be her father and her brother.

The pressure to be something you are not and to feel locked into a life that isn't at all what you wanted was a resonating force for me. Women must free themselves from the unhappiness of doing what is expected, even in this century. We can no longer endure the sadness and disappointment that society serves up cold as we mature into young women.

I received an advanced copy of this novel from the publisher through NetGalley.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Virgil Wander by Leif Enger

I've always thought that if I had to live in the mid-west, the northern part like Minnesota would suit me. I love cold weather and all things Scandinavian. Leif Enger created such a town, Greenstone, and placed Virgil Wander there. Virgil is the opposite of his name. He is content to be in this small town where barely anything happens. He owns a run-down movie theater called The Empress, and he works part-time as a city clerk.

On a cold wintry night Vigil's car slides off the highway and hang-glides into Lake Superior. Virgil survives but with some memory and speech deficits that change his life. At about that time, an old man appears in town. His name is Rune, and he makes unique kites that ride the wind like nothing anyone has ever seen. Rune is from Norway, and he has come to find the son he never knew he had. This event begins the patchwork of a deeply felt story about many of Virgil's friends and people he loves in Greenstone.

Life may be annoying in a rundown forgotten post-industrial town, but each inhabitant has a beating heart and a desire to connect with others and to find a special spark that makes each day worth the toil and pain of having to live with the past. LE has written a story for the soul and the heart. Even if you live in a beating metropolis of a global city, Virgil's story will make you think and hope for a better day for us all.

I received an advanced copy of this novel from the publisher through NetGalley.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Godsend by John Wray

I understand how Wray's protagonist felt when she left home all by herself at a very young age. I did the same and went halfway around the world to a Southeast Asian country as a volunteer just as Aden Grace Sawyer did. But we went forty years apart, for different reasons, and under different circumstances. I was a Peace Corps volunteer, and Aden set off for Pakistan to study at a Madrasa. I had support from the US government both in Washington and on the ground, a massive infrastructure to provide me with support and medical care. Aden had to transform herself into a young male believer, and her only comfort was her best friend, Decker, who traveled with her.

Reading about Aden's experience as Suleyman ground me down. She was always in fear of being exposed as a female which would cost her her life. The dangerous atmosphere in Pakistan was at a time leading up to 9/11. Suleyman finds herself bored in the Madrasa and follows a wild guy, Ziar, the Mullah's oldest son, into Afghanistan where every minute of every day was a challenge to her survival.

The life jihadists choose takes them on a constant downward spiral. There doesn't seem to be any hope, even if they are not determined to kill, there isn't a happy ending to any story. Death is continuously present and can come in the next minute. Moving through the rough terrain of northern Pakistan and Afghanistan seemed to me like a death march. And yet, the top echelon of the jihadists accomplished death and destruction unlike anything in American history. There is no end; we have militants today hoping to kill more people in all parts of the world. John Wray put a voice to it in the form of an innocent young girl. I learned so much from this novel.

I received an advanced copy of this novel from the publisher through NetGalley.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Transcription by Kate Atkinson

Juliet Armstrong is a solitary nineteen-year-old woman living in London in 1940. MI5 recruits Juliet to transcribe conversations that take place in a flat where Fascist sympathizers meet weekly to report to their handler what they have observed. Juliet has recently lost her mother, and she doesn't mind the solitary work. Cyril, the technician she works with, is an amiable, kind companion in the made over flat.

Time passes, the horrors of the war are over, and ten years later Juliet is working for the BBC. Her handlers start appearing again, and she finds out that the original job was a job for life. Juliet finds herself doing "just one more job" for MI5. Some of the mysterious people surface, and we find out what happened to others.

Transcription is a wonderfully layered novel with Juliet's inner voice as the narrator. We find out how a lonely woman might survive during dangerous times with tragic outcomes. KA writes with details that are precious and often quite funny. This will be another Atkinson winner of a novel for 2018.

I received an advanced copy of this novel from the publisher through NetGalley.

Friday, August 31, 2018

The Winter Soldier by Daniel Mason

Lucius Krzelewski is the main character in Daniel Mason's historical novel, The Winter Soldier. Lucius is a 22-year-old medical student in Vienna. He comes from a privileged family where loyalty to country and tradition rule. Lucius is a dedicated student who wants nothing more than to learn everything he can about medicine, particularly in the neurological field where his interest moves toward the possibility of seeing more of the brain with the new invention of x-rays.

The Great War breaks out and Lucius, at first, decides that his medical studies are too essential to leave. His two best friends enlist, and finally, Lucius also sees the possibilities of gains in his medical knowledge by serving at the front. After a few errors in the inefficient war bureaucracy, Luis lands in a far-flung hospital, or first-aid station, in the Carpathian Mountains. He faces a situation far different than the ones he friends promised him. His hospital is in a church with a giant crater in the middle and run by a stern young nursing nun, Sister Margarete. She carries a gun with her at all times, running an organized ward divided into groups with fevers, head wounds, amputations, infectious quarantines. Lucius soon learns that he knows very little about patient care, surgery, and amputations.

Patiently, Margarete teaches the young doctor everything he needs to know and the operation runs as smooth as it can under the dire circumstances. The nurse and the doctor become friendly, to a degree, and take their meals together with the cook and the porter. The routines become a way of life, and Lucius is learning more through his hands-on work with suffering men than he ever could in the medical libraries of Vienna.

I agree with other readers that the novel has a Dr. Shivago like mood. We see through the author's eyes the unspeakable horrors of what humans do to each in the name of patriotism. The novel is well written, and the irony that World War II will once again ravage most of Europe is sobering. I enjoyed reading this novel for the geography and cultural aspects and learning more about clinical medical practices in a war zone 100 years ago.

I received an advanced copy of this novel from the publisher through NetGalley.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Crudo by Olivia Laing

Olivia Laing created a character who we think is Kathy Acker (the real Kathy Acker died in 1997). Kathy Acker is getting married, having just turned forty, and takes the reader on a wild ride on the state of her life and the world in the summer of 2017. Kathy tells us rapidly as if there isn't enough time, about her angst at committing to an older man and the horrible times we have lived through in the last year. Kathy knows all the famous people, moving in those circles. She and a friend discuss their concern about Sinead O'Connor as if they were close friends.

Kathy seems to be a lecturer in the USA but is planning to live with her husband in the UK. The novel begins with the couple on vacation, and then Kathy is continuously moving or planning to move to a different location to sell an apartment, rent an apartment, go to dinner, plan a wedding, buy a house, plant a garden. It is all about life abundant in material things with a clear notion that Trump, Brexit, and all the other horrors we are living will take us down, all of us.

I received an advanced copy of this novel from the publisher through NetGalley.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

L'Anglaise by Helen E. Mundler

Hotel du Lac was my first Anita Brookner novel. Her writing style and skill made her my favorite author, and she is, still, today. So to find a story where the main character is an academic, teaching in France, who specializes in Brookner's ladder of narratology, from her late novels, was a considerable surprise and delight.

Helen Mundler's story begins with Ella's return to England for her father's funeral. The book weaves in and out of the scars of Ella's childhood, the lack of nurturing love from parents who were so distant from each other that they lived on different floors of the house. Nick, the father's friend, takes care of the funeral arrangements so that mother and daughter can try to communicate, but as usual, it fails.

Ella returns quickly to her apartment in France. She doesn't make it through one night in her mother's house. When friends ask Ella about her academic work, and she corrects them that she has completed a Ph.D., not an M.A., her mother interjects that it isn't a husband and a baby. Fleeing would have been my choice as well.

Ella's parents, Margaret and Hugo, are each given a few chapters at the beginning of the book and then Ella begins to unravel her lifelong demons of being solitary, by choice, but not necessarily happily. We move into Brookner territory quickly. Helen Mundler does an excellent job of using every British woman in Ella's life as a protagonist in a novel she is trying to write. Each story has Brookner aspects to it, and HM creates lovely scenarios with endings you will have to find for yourself. Read this incredible new book.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced copy of this novel.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The Winter's Child by Cassandra Parkin

Reading this new novel is about feeling empathy for Susannah Harper whose son Joel disappeared five years ago after an argument with his father, John. Joel storms off and never comes home. The pain of losing a child is a trope commonly used in novels. This plot involves a mother who lives and breaths Joel's absence every second of her life. Susannah and John divorced when it became too intense.

Susannah lives only to try to find some crumb of evidence that will lead her to her son. She writes a blog that focuses on psychics who she thinks prey on the broken people who have lost loved ones, especially those who have lost children. Susannah accidentally meets a young woman named Jackie who has lost her child, and they have a few encounters that form a friendship.

This novel takes several twists and turns with Susannah getting more and more mentally rattled. She begins to see things that aren't there, and as readers, we take a wild ride to the end. The novel is a real page-turner and so very sad.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for giving me an advanced copy of this novel to read.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Little Comfort by Edwin Hill

This novel by Edwin Hill is full of life's real moments of fun, fear, loneliness, anxiety, and suspense. Hester Thursby, a Harvard librarian, is left taking care of her best friend's daughter, Katie. She has never had any desire to have children or even be around them, but they soon grow close, along with Morgan who is Hester's love interest (the jury is still out on their future status).

A missing person's case falls into Hester's lap through a woman named Lila. She is looking for her brother, Sam, and his best friend, Gabe, who left Little Comfort, New Hampshire a long time ago. Lila has a collection of postcards she has received from Sam over the years, but that is all the information she can offer Hester.

It doesn't take too long for this novel to turn into a mix of the rich and elite of Boston with the likes of people who would like to take advantage of their money and connections. This is a twisty novel, so I won't say much more except consider this book for a good end of the summer read!

Thank you, NetGalley and the publisher for an advance copy of this novel.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

The Clock Dance by Anne Tyler

Reading an Anny Tyler novel is like settling back in a comfy chair with an old friend, a friend who told the incredible story of The Accidental Tourist so long ago. We've all grown up, and she still gets us, ordinary women, who are flawed and often in pain with no visible way of getting out. Clock Dance is about Willa, beginning when she was very young and in college. Willa fell into a marriage, not finishing her last year of college. Her husband was from a wealthy family, and it seemed that she fit their idea of a suitable wife for her son. He was ready to graduate and saw no need to wait for her to finish.

It seems almost predictable that Willa would have two sons who paid little attention to her and grew up like their father, self-involved and indifferent to a woman who gave up all she wanted to be, a linguist, to raise them.

Willa's husband dies in a road rage car accident, and Willa gains some freedom to start working on her life and what she always wanted. Willa's sons, Sean and Ian have left home and offer their mother no comfort with communication or visits.

She started back to school. Unfortunately, another hapless male comes along and convinces her to marry and move to Phoenix. The only thing Willa likes about the desert environment is the Saguaro cactus. It thrives on little care, much the same as our dear Willa.

A whole new chapter unfolds when Willa gets a call telling her that her son's ex-girlfriend in Baltimore is in the hospital and needs someone to care for her eleven-year-old child. Willa takes on that challenge, and the enjoyable part of the story happens here with people she doesn't know but learns to love.

The Clock Dance is yet another Anne Tyler novel to love and cherish just like Willa needs love and care.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Feared by Lisa Scottoline

This novel is #6 in the Rosato & DiNunzio series of mystery crime novels. I have not read books 1-5, so I thought it would be a challenge. It wasn't at all. The law firm where Rosato and DiNunzio are partners receives a lawsuit against them while they are celebrating Mary's pregnancy with pink and blue cupcakes. The suit comes from Nick Machiavelli, a foe that Mary beat last time in court. She knows it is a vendetta. How can a mostly female law firm be sued for sexual discrimination?

Welcome to the 21st century where litigation has become a way of life, it's a kind of art form. Nick is suing for male discrimination and even quotes their associate, John Foxman, saying he feels uncomfortable work at the firm, believes he will never make partner, and is looking for a new job.

This novel got exciting fast and kept me glued to the very end, actually on the edge of my seat at the very end. I enjoyed this novel and plan to read more of this series.

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

Mr. and Mrs. American Pie by Juliet McDaniel

Juliet McDaniel has written a hilarious novel about hypocritical American society in the sixties. For those of us who were old enough to remember what married couples were like, this is an eclectic walk down memory lane.

Maxine Simmons, the protagonist, begins the novel with a major meltdown at her own Thanksgiving extravaganza done in a tropical style. Maxine disgraces herself in front of the country club hu ha's and her starched, upper-crust husband, Douglas. The next day she is out on the street, relegated to a condo Douglas owns in Scottsdale, Arizona. Gone are her glory days in Palm Springs, California. Despite trying to negotiate with Douglas's attorney and managing to get a relatively small settlement, she is leaving her life of luxury, deleted.

On her way out, smart Maxine changes cars and drives away with hubby's Jaguar. She is delighted with that sweet victory. She drives to Scottsdale and her new life. The condo is tacky, ugly, lonely and on the wrong side of town. Maxine starts putting her new life together and comes up with some bright ideas as she moves along. She meets a bartender, Robert, and finds a dear friend in him. He is handsome and an excellent listener. She adds a young boy, Chuck, to her new circle of friends. Chuck is eleven years old and takes care of his toddler sister since his Mom works a lot and has many boyfriends. Chuck proves to be a great problem solver. These three characters take turns narrating their story. It is delicious.

Maxine decides to put all of them together as a family and enter the Mr. and Mrs. American Pie Pageant, a beauty pageant of sorts but more complicated with husband and kid expectations as well. The show takes place in Palm Springs, and it involves much work and near misses to get them there and into the top twenty.The story is funny and sad and shows the meanness of people and the glorious goodness of most of us. Mr. and Mrs. American Pie is a novel for today as much as it was about 1970.

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

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Only Story by Julian Barnes

Julian Barnes once again brings to life the voice of an older man admitting that he regrets some, perhaps all, of the choices he made at a young age. And again, it is about a relationship with a woman, an older woman. It is the sixties in London, and Paul is bored having to spend his summer at home because he has no money to travel like his upper-class buddies. Mom prods him to go to the local tennis club to meet people and attempt to join a social circle, and he agrees. His reward is a partner named Susan Macleod, a 48-year-old married woman.

Paul drifts into Susan's life, into her family. He dines with the family, helps Mr. Macleod with his gardening and often sleeps on the living room sofa. Nineteen-year-old Paul has no idea of where this relationship is going. Paul is afraid of getting old and somehow sees his love affair with Susan as experience for when he finds someone later on in life, the real thing. Paul seems to have a permanent case of boredom and his fixture in the Macleod household works for Susan who has lost the desire she once had for her husband.

There are lessons to be learned from this novel, even though most of them jump out at you when they are happening. Julian Barnes's voice is sharp clarity of how weak, and easy decisions can spread throughout a person's life and family and destroy the roots of a good relationship. JB doesn't hide behind his thoughts and deeds. It is a cold, mean look at the harm a person can, especially a man, bring to a vulnerable human. The writing, as always, is superb and for the skill itself, I will reread this novel.