Category: FG – Fiction General


The Guest Book by Sarah Blake

September 26th, 2019 — 12:23am

The Guest Book by Sarah Blake

This story is about an elite family that has owned an island off the coast of Maine for 3 generations. It started with a wealthy couple Ogden and Kitty Milton in the 1930s. Ogden Milton ran a bank that may have had some secret dealings with the Naizis during that time. Ogden and his wife seemingly had everything until tragedy struck them. In response to their grief, they purchased the island and made a tradition of yearly visits to the island every year as the family would grow with new generations. The prejudices and complex feelings became apparent as time went on. A Jewish man gets a job in the patriach’s bank and he becomes involved with one of the daughters. His best friend from Harvard, a black man, also joins one of the family get-togethers on the island.

The book not only shows racism and power but clearly addresses some of the differences in how various family members accepted others who were different.. The author skillfully lets the reader into the mind and thoughts of each of the characters. Her style included choosing various time periods out of sequence, which I thought made it difficult at times to closely follow each character.

The author’s description of the island and the house and other buildings on it was so clear that I was not surprised to find out that it was based out on a real place and probably some actual people and their experiences.

This is a solid good read that I would recommend for consideration.

 

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Comment » | FG - Fiction General

Normal People by Sally Rooney

August 24th, 2019 — 11:10am

Normal People by Sally Rooney

One of the most intriguing things about this book is the title. I believe that that author is telling us that every meaningful relationship is built upon complex psychodynamics. In this story, we have a boy and girl who become friends in childhood. She is from a wealthy family with one parent and a brother who is frequently mean to her. He is raised by a single loving mom who is actually a housekeeper for the girl’s family. He is very popular in high school with lots of friends. She is a loner and often didn’t go to classes. They both are very smart. They have their first sexual experience together which is very intense and meaningful. As both of them mature and go to college they develop a different circle of friends and relationships but they still have various meetings and encounters. One of them has a tendency to have a depressive disorder. Both of them have complex dynamics related to needs and preferences influenced by earlier experiences with family members. For example one has certain masochistic needs. These factors all influence their choices and experiments with relationships and the struggles whenever they periodically reconnect. This very well-written book shows us the very complex psychological factors which greatly impact on their pathway in life and their attraction to each other. There is nothing common, typical, or easily predictable, but yet, that is what human behavior is all about. “Just two normal people.”

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Comment » | FG - Fiction General, FR - Fiction Romance

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

August 19th, 2019 — 11:45am

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

We meet “Wash”, the main character as an 11-year-old slave on a sugarcane plantation in Barbados. We come to realize that his chance of living to a ripe old age or even having any kind of meaningful life is quite slim. Then by chance, he is “given” to the owner’s brother who needs a manservant to help with various projects. It is ironic that through this one slave’s subsequent life which is quite unusual, we are allowed to come to appreciate the almost no chance that his brothers and sisters and numerable other Black people held in captivity have for any self-realization and an opportunity to find their potential as human beings.

Wash is the “assistant” to Titch, his new owner who was a scientist of sorts with a clear plan to develop a “cloud-cutter” (a hot air balloon). Titch soon realizes that Wash has talent as an artist in not only making scientific drawings but depicting all sorts of scenes from nature. Wash leaves the plantation with Titch to lead a new life which takes place during a time period when slavery in the United States is “abolished.” However, we are reminded that “Jim Crow” is alive and well as our main character is searched for by a bounty hunter as Wash’s previous owner had decided to put a thousand-dollar reward for his return, dead or alive.

Through the storyline and the author’s insight into the main character as he attempts to reconcile his past with the new opportunities he has, we come to understand how important “Big Kit”, his mother figure in his earlier life was to him. We also appreciate how meaningful to him is “Titch”, the man who took him from slavery on the plantation to a new life and because of his own issues ended up complicating Wash’s life with further dilemmas.

There is adventure, mystery, romance all mixed into the novel as the reader has another opportunity to understand the great scourge of slavery. It is not surprising that this book is on the short list for the prestigious Booker Prize.

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Comment » | FG - Fiction General, FH - Fiction Historical

Where The Crawdads Sings by Delia Owens

June 30th, 2019 — 1:25pm

Your comments are welcome at the end of the review

Where the Crawdads Sings by Delia Owens

The story takes the reader to a place I would not usually choose to visit- the wild nature land in North Carolina. A young girl is gradually abandoned by her siblings and parents and grows up alone in the marshland. She has her dad’s motorboat and she can fish and collect mussels et cetera and sell them in the local town in order to get gas for the boat and the essentials of life. She is known by the town folks as the wild marsh girl. While living a very isolated lifestyle, she has on occasion to meet two local young men. One of them teaches her to read and she ultimately over many years becomes a renowned expert in writing and painting the local nature life. Since the author is a well-known expert in nature writing, her depictions are quite beautiful and fascinating.

The marsh girl is attracted to both young men and one does not treat her very well. There is an incident where one of the young men dies under mysterious circumstances. So, there is intrigue and ultimately a courtroom drama, which is, as interesting and well-written as any literary courtroom scene that you might encounter

So, we have sensitive novel about living in the wildlife with all the beauty and mysteries of nature. We also have a sensitive depiction of a naïve young woman who feels her yearnings, as do all the creatures of nature. On top of all these, we have a mysterious death and a murder trial. For me, half of the time this book was a page turner, the other half, I was turning the pages to get through the book. I conclude by giving it a mixed review. (2019)

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Comment » | FG - Fiction General, FM - Fiction Mystery, T - Recommended for Teenagers

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

March 19th, 2019 — 11:51am

 

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

This book introduces the reader to the story of Koreans who migrated from Japan shortly before the outbreak of World War II. It also traces the occupation of Korea by the Japanese prior to this time and follows a family who lived in Japan for four generations. This book tells the story of discrimination against the Koreans by the Japanese. Through the depiction of various characters, the reader learns about family values, the role of women, religious beliefs and the impact of culture on the lives of this multi-generational Korean family.

The book takes the reader on an interesting journey which not only studies all aspects of the personalities and values of the characters, but also paints a very vivid picture of the bustling street markets in Korea as well as the life in the universities in Japan. There is also a very interesting and revealing story about “Pachinko”, a gambling parlor game that is common and also the connection to the criminal underworld of the people who run these games.

This is a good read which pulls back the curtain and reveals the lives of people who we may not have had the opportunity to meet and understand.

 

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Comment » | FG - Fiction General, FH - Fiction Historical

The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende

December 14th, 2018 — 1:59pm

The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende

The author provides an in-depth description of the various characters presented in the book. This includes the experience of a Jewish family in Eastern Europe as the Nazis take over, living in a Japanese internment camp in the United States during World War II, as well as the subsequent life of some of the survivors of these events. We also meet a young woman who suffered from tremendous abuse and molestation as a child by her stepfather. However, this writer found this book disjointed as it jumped from one character to the other without any particular theme or purpose. While this approach often allows for the unfolding of the background after we have met a character much as a therapist learns the psychodynamics as the sessions progress, each of these tales did not seem to have coherence. Even the love lives of the various subjects of the book while very interesting did not seem to have relevance to any storyline. It may very well be that the characters were based on real people and this is the nature of their lives. If this is the case, the author gave no such clue in any postscript to the book. Certainly, we are open-minded and appreciate any variations in the love life and relationships that people may have but a novel describing these things becomes more engaging when we can see how they develop or have some insight into any response or struggle to a biological propensity.

The author certainly had empathy for how people might deal with aging as she tried to show how her main characters handled the late stages of life. It is also interesting to try to understand how the author chose the title for her book. The essence of the various stories in my opinion was not simply centered around this particular man or the fact that he was Japanese. Although I had concerns, this book appears to have been well received by the public and is another best seller from Ms. Allende.

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Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk by Kathleen Rooney

November 28th, 2018 — 11:18pm

Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk by Kathleen Rooney

This is a story about a remarkable woman born at the turn of the 20th century and who died in the mid 1980s. It is a work of fiction by a very talented writer who based this novel on the writings of Margaret Fishback, whose archives she studied in depth. Ms. Fishback was a poet, feminist and a highly paid advertising executive for R. H. Macy, the world renowned department store in New York City.

There is no real plot or storyline for this book. Each charming chapter tells a story of a particular event in the life of this woman. It is told often by flashbacks as she takes a stroll through her beloved Manhattan. It might be how she fell in love at first sight, her marriage, her pregnancy, the birth of her son, having to leave her job because she gave birth to her child, her divorce, a day at work at R.H. Macy, various parties she has attended or one of the many strolls that she did through Manhattan.

What makes this book so engrossing was the ability of the author to hold the reader’s attention with her insight into herself and the people around her. Of course, the credit for the success of this book must go to Ms. Rooney, the author, although we cannot know how much of the compelling nature of it came from the writings of Ms. Fishback, which were discovered and credited by the author. I found this book a page turner and a very good read.

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Waking Lions by Ayelet-Gundar-Gosher

October 15th, 2018 — 1:12pm

 Waking Lions  by Ayelet-Gundar-Gosher

 The setting is modern day Israel. A neurosurgeon in the early evening at the end of his shift at the hospital, takes his SUV out on an open road to release some of the tension built-up during the day. After speeding on what he thought was a deserted road, he hears a thud. Upon getting out of the car, he realizes that he has killed black Eritrean man. He uncharacteristically decides to leave the scene of the accident and vows to tell no one what happened. His wife, who is a homicide detective, is assigned the case.

Certainly, this has the makings of a great story, which it is. However, the author is intent on also making it a study of many aspects of human behavior including marital relationships, honesty, fidelity, blackmail, prejudice, discrimination, drugs, conscience and a lot more, perhaps too much. I can see that the author deserves the accolades that she has received for the book, as she has developed many wonderful skillful metaphors worked into the narrative. For me, however, these many deviations or sidetracks directed me away from my interest in the characters and the plot. I found myself reading faster and faster and flicking my finger more quickly on my iPad as I was not inclined to reflect as much as the author wanted me to do. This may have been my shortcoming as the book was very well received and recommended to me from people that I highly respect.

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Comment » | FG - Fiction General, FM - Fiction Mystery

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

September 3rd, 2018 — 2:35pm

The Hate U Give

By Angie Thomas

The main theme of this book is well known to every black parent and child who has participated in “The Talk.” A black teenage boy and girl who were like buddies since they were young kids are riding at night in a car. A white policeman pulls them over. The teenage boy who was driving was asked to get out of the car. He wants to know why is he being pulled over and is irritated. Skip a few beats, and the next thing we know there are several gunshots. The boy is dead and the girl is left to tell the story – the whole story.

Although this is a novel, we know every nuance of this painful tale could be true. The details of this girl’s life and the life of her parents, siblings, relatives, friends and the life and death of her childhood friend all feel genuine and real as they jump from the pages of this book or as they light up on your iPad.

Our heroine, on the surface seemed to lead two lives. One is at the private school she attended with her white friends, which her parents hoped would give her the best chance in life. The other was her time with her friends and family in the “hood” where she was comfortable and could speak her mind and talk in her true language. Did I mention that Starr (that was her name) actually was bilingual and much of the book was written in a language that was not my native tongue, but for some reason every word and nuance was crystal clear.

The author found a way to take us on journey into the lives, hearts and emotions of this 16-year-old black girl and also her parents, siblings, uncle, cousins and friends. We came away with insight into how a destructive riot can envelop a community.

However, there is a glimmer of optimism among the painful hate and destruction in this book and that is in the character of a bewildered white young man  who is Starr’s boyfriend. He stands by and closely follow the bright light that is his inspired girlfriend. His journey appears to be one of insight and understanding into the pain and hate that rumbles through the streets. Perhaps this is the author’s metaphor for hope that will eventually emerge in the future.

 

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1 comment » | FG - Fiction General

Home Fire by Kamila Schamsie

July 23rd, 2018 — 11:27pm

Home Fire

by Kamila Schamsie

This is a well-written novel by an experienced author, although I did find it somewhat drawn out.   The story depicts a British-Muslim family of Pakistani origin living in England who have to deal with the situation when one son (who has a female twin sister) decides to explore his long-deceased father’s roots and become a Jihadist. Not only does this disrupt his family but it also impacts on the British Home Secretary whose son has fallen in love with the would be Jihadist’s twin sister. The story provides insight into some of the contemporary political, social and religious turmoil that exists in the world today. It also examines how such struggles impact on family dynamics. The author has a style, which allows the reader to identify with each of the characters and feel their pain

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