Reviews by Cloggie Downunder

Power Reviewer  Power Reviewer

Note: This page displays reviews using the email address you currently use to login to BookBrowse. If you have changed your email address during the time you have been a member your older reviews will not show. If that is the case, please email us with any older email addresses you have used for BookBrowse, and we will do our best to link these older reviews to your current profile.
Order Reviews by:
Perfect
by Rachel Joyce
A moving and uplifting read. (11/16/2014)
“Sometimes it is easier, he thinks, to live out the mistakes we have made than to summon the energy and imagination to repair them”

Perfect is the second novel by bestselling British author, Rachel Joyce. In the heat of the 1972 English summer, Byron Hemmings, an intense and thoughtful eleven-year-old boy, is worried. His best friend (and the smartest boy in school), James Lowe has told him two seconds are to be added to time. He understands it is necessary, but can’t shake a feeling of terror. When those two seconds appear to result in a car accident involving Diana Hemmings’ perfect Jaguar, Byron worries incessantly about the consequences and, despite his best efforts to follow the meticulous plans James makes, his known universe begins to unravel.

Joyce uses two narrators to tell her story: young Byron relates the events of that 1972 summer; Jim, a man in his fifties whose life is governed by rituals, intersperses his narration of his present day life (currently being disrupted by a red-headed cook uttering profanities) with memories of earlier times and how he came to live most of his life in a mental institution. These narratives approach a common point, gradually revealing the summer’s tragic conclusion.

Joyce renders the feel of the seventies summer and the present day winter with great skill. Her descriptive prose is often breathtaking: “The sun was not yet fully risen and, caught in the low weak shaft of light, the dew shone silver over the meadow although the crust of earth beneath was hard and cracked. The ox-eye daisies made white pools on the lower hills while every tree sprang a black leak away from the sun’s light. The air smelt new and green like mint” and “A flock of gulls flew east, rising and falling, as if they might clean the sky with their wings” and “With a clutter of wings a flock of starlings lifts into the air, unravelling and lengthening like black ribbon” are just a few samples.

Her characters are appealing and the reader cannot help having sympathy for their situation: Diana’s feelings of inadequacy, Byron’s need to protect his beloved mother (“Like a splinter in his head, the truth was always there, and even though he tried to avoid it by being careful, sometimes he forgot to be careful and there it was”), Jim’s attempts to be normal (“No one knows how to be normal, Jim. We’re all just trying our best. Sometimes we don’t have to think about it and other times it’s like running after a bus that’s already halfway down the street.”) Byron’s anxiety is palpable and Joyce portrays mental conditions like depression and OCD with both insight and humour.

She gives her characters words of wisdom: “They’re playing with us, aren’t they?.....The gods. We think we understand, we’ve invented science, but we haven’t a clue. Maybe the clever people are not the ones who think they’re clever. Maybe the clever people are the ones who accept they know nothing” and “Sometimes caring for something already growing is more perilous than planting something new”. On more than one occasion, the reader may well be moved to tears. Fans of Joyce’s work will not be disappointed and newcomers will want to seek out her other books. A moving and uplifting read.
The Miniaturist
by Jessie Burton
a brilliant read (11/14/2014)
The Miniaturist is the first novel by British author, Jessie Burton. Amsterdam in the late 1680s is a prosperous place for merchants of the VOC (Dutch East India Company). When eighteen-year-old Petronella Oortman, newly married to wealthy merchant, Johannes Brandt, arrives at his luxurious home on the Herengracht, she is nervous but expectant: surely her life can only get better now that she has left Assendelft.

But Johannes is absent, and his sister Marin is less than welcoming. When her husband finally returns, things do not go as Nella had expected. He does, however, bring her a remarkable gift: a replica of their home in miniature. She engages the services of a miniaturist to craft items to furnish this amazing creation, but is disturbed by the accuracy of certain extra pieces, pieces she did not order.

As Nella becomes familiar with the household, it is soon apparent that neither people nor circumstances are what they first seem, and that the life she had expected, and perhaps even hoped, for is unlikely to be the one she will have. Before long, she discovers the shocking truth about her marriage, learns disturbing facts about her husband’s business dealings, surprising truths about other household members and about the elusive but seemingly prescient miniaturist.

Nella begins to realise that while there is abundant prosperity, there is very little tolerance in this Amsterdam “Where the pendulum swings from God to a guilder”. Within three months, this young innocent country girl has to draw on reserves she was unaware she had, along the way witnessing a drowning, a stabbing and a sexual act, attending a funeral, seeing a man condemned to death, bribing a prison guard, and handling the sale of a valuable commodity.

As she weaves a fictional world around real life characters, Burton also provides the reader with a wealth of information about late seventeenth century Amsterdam. Her extensive research is apparent in every paragraph. How interesting to imagine a time when sugar was rare enough to be a valuable commodity, and to actually view Nella’s cabinet house in the Rijksmuseum.

Burton also treats the reader to some marvelously evocative descriptive prose: “A spray of red pimples covers the second man’s forehead. He’s little more than a boy. God has been malicious with his paintbrush” and “The threads of Nella’s imagination begin to spool, embroidering conversations, patches of which it stitches loosely together” and “There is water everywhere she looks, lagoons as still as glass, patched with murk like a foxed mirror when the weak sun moves behind cloud” are just a few examples. This amazing debut novel is a brilliant read. 4.5 stars
Serena: A Novel
by Ron Rash
a brilliant novel (11/3/2014)
“…the work bell rang. The men left so quickly their cast-down forks and spoons seemed to retain a slight vibration, like pond water rippling after a splash”

Serena is the fourth novel by American author, Ron Rash. The mountains of North Carolina in the early 1930s were the scene of competing land grabs: timber getters like George Pemberton who were determined to make their fortunes clear-felling the slopes; miners like Harris who stripped the denuded land of its minerals; and the government, funded by wealthy patrons like Rockerfeller and Vanderbilt, committed to creating National Parks. Logging in this remote wilderness presented many hazards but the Depression ensured that labour was cheap and plentiful.

It is against this background that Rash sets the story of Serena, newly wed to Pemberton and intent on proving herself equal to any worker in this dangerous place. From the first she shows herself to be extremely capable, but also single-minded, calculating, fiercely possessive and completely ruthless. When she perceives a threat to her business or her marriage, she acts without hesitation, fear or favour. The story is told from three perspectives: George Pemberton, thoroughly enthralled by Serena; sixteen-year-old Rachel Harmon, mother of a son to Pemberton; and foreman Snipes, gauging the mood of his crew of sawyers and offering perceptive comments on their suspicions & superstitions.

Rash gives the reader an original plot, a story that ticks along steadily, eliciting occasional gasps at Serena’s despicable actions, until it builds to a gripping climax. His characters are multi-faceted; he includes many interesting historical facts and his love of the North Carolina landscape and the mountain dwellers is apparent in the wonderful descriptive prose: “The land’s angle became more severe, the light waning, streaked as if cut with scissors and braided to the ridge piece by piece” and “… the land increasingly mountainous, less inhabited, the occasional slant of pasture like green felt woven to a rougher fabric” are two examples.

Rash gives his young mother some insightful observations: “…what made losing someone you loved bearable was not remembering but forgetting. Forgetting the small things first, the smell of soap her mother had bathed with…the sound of her mother’s voice….the color of her hair……everything you forgot made that person less alive inside you until you could finally endure it” and “It struck her how eating was a comfort during a hard time because it reminded you that there had been other days, good days, when you’d eaten the same thing. Reminded you there were good days in life, when precious little else did”

Rash has once again produced a brilliant novel, and his fans will not be disappointed. It will be interesting to see what Hollywood does with this riveting tale.
Home: A Novel
by Marilynne Robinson
a stirring read (10/29/2014)
“You must forgive in order to understand. Until you forgive, you defend yourself against the possibility of understanding”

Home is the second book in the Gilead series by Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Marilynne Robinson, and is set in Gilead, Iowa at the same time as the first book. This book focusses on Reverend Robert Boughton (closest friend of Reverend John Ames), and his family. Thirty-eight-year-old Glory Boughton, with a failed engagement behind her, returns to Gilead to look after her ailing father, Robert. A letter arrives, and Glory worries about the effect it will have on her father: “…the note might really be from Jack, but upsetting somehow, written from a ward for the chronically vexatious, the terminally remiss”.

Eventually, her disreputable brother Jack, an unemployed alcoholic, returns home after twenty years of virtual silence. Her father is pleased to see this favoured child again, one who went from “a restless, distant, difficult boy” to what Jack himself admits: “….nothing but trouble…….I create a kind of displacement around myself as I pass through the world, which can fairly be called trouble”. Jack is not the only one with secrets in his past, and he and Glory form a bond. His reconnection with his godfather and namesake, Reverend John Ames does not proceed smoothly.

They think back on their youth in the family home: “Experience had taught them that truth has sharp edges and hard corners, and could be seriously at odds with kindness” and “…lying in that family meant only that the liar would appreciate discretion…..as a matter of courtesy they treated one another’s deceptions like truth, which was a different thing from deceiving, or being deceived”. Glory is less than pleased to be in Gilead and dreads the thought of spending the rest of her days there: “To have the past overrun its bounds this way and become present and possibly future, too – they all knew this was a thing to be regretted”

Robinson treats the reader to some marvellous descriptive prose: “Their father said if they could see as God can, in geological time, they would see it leap out of the ground and turn in the sun and spread it arms and bask in the joys of being an oak tree in Iowa”. She touches on the question of racial prejudice and also includes some hints about the life Lila led before Gilead, a subject expanded on in the third book in this series. While this novel is somewhat slow in places, it is a stirring read and the final pages will move many readers to tears. 4.5 stars
Border Songs
by Jim Lynch
Original and utterly delightful. (10/27/2014)
Border Songs is the second novel by American journalist and author, Jim Lynch. After training to join the Border Patrol in New Mexico eight months ago, Brandon Vanderkool is glad to be back home in the familiar northwest corner of his native Washington State. Brandon Vanderkool is NOT cool. Brandon is very tall, well-built, severely dyslexic and awkward around humans: never sure of what to say, mostly incapable of getting the joke, he relates much better to his father’s dairy cows, knows every bird and their call, and spends free time making unusual art.

But Brandon Vanderkool has something that makes him useful to Border Patrol: an innate ability to effortlessly sense what is out of place. He virtually trips over illegal aliens, would-be terrorists and drug smugglers. Soon enough, this draws the attention of the media and funding increases ensure more manpower and technology to protect the border from the Canadian threat. The drug and people smugglers escalate their efforts: locals react in various ways to intrusive technology and lucrative offers for safe passage across their land.

Lynch peoples his novel with a bunch of quirky characters: Brandon’s father, Norm is plagued by worries about his son, his increasingly demented wife, the half-completed yacht in his barn, his bad knee and the ill-health of his unfortunate cows; his across-the-border neighbour is a retired political sciences professor with MS who smokes pot, is busy reinventing common innovations and revels in shouting taunts across the ditch; the professor’s daughter is using her nursery experience to tend basement marijuana crops for the local pot kingpin, while fending off Brandon’s clumsy overtures.

There are farmers who have abandoned dairy for berries, invested in shit-to-power schemes, are opposed to the construction of a nearby Casino and share their opinions on Reader Boards out front of their farms. There is a mysterious masseuse who gathers gossip while sharing none about herself. Ducks are employed in an unusual manner. Brandon’s colleagues in the Border Patrol include a conscientious female trainer and a racist, chauvinist agent counting the days until his retirement. The threat of dairy terrorism, Minutemen, girl scouts, cheap stock feed, a bomb threat, a tunnel, an art show and Alzheimers all feature.

Brandon is a likeable character who is often a lot more insightful than people realise: “Reality is always more complicated than anybody says it is”. His interpretation of bird calls is both unique and charming. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments in this novel and Lynch also treats his readers to some marvellous descriptive prose: “He stared down at the ladies until their heavy eyelashes fluttered like hummingbird wings trying to lift them off the floor” and “…the birds spinning like ice skaters or stunt pilots before lining up side by side and carrying on in high, grating voices that sounded like glass marbles rubbing against one another” are just two examples. Original and utterly delightful. 4.5 stars
The Bone Clocks: A Novel
by David Mitchell
a brilliant novel (10/25/2014)
The Bone Clocks is the sixth novel by British author, David Mitchell. After an argument with her mother and an upsetting encounter with her unfaithful boyfriend, fifteen-year-old Holly Sykes intends to get as far from Gravesend as possible. But Holly is no ordinary teen, and a chance meeting with a strange old woman on a jetty leads to a promise with repercussions many years later.

The story is split into six parts with different narrators: a rebellious teen; a self-centred, self-serving young man; a British journalist hooked on the excitement of the Middle East; an arrogant writer with a guilty secret; an Horologist in his fortieth life; and an elderly grandmother. The narratives of those whose lives intersect with Holly’s relate the major events of her life in a roundabout way while, at the same time, telling a thrilling tale of opposing forces and the inevitable battle that ensues.

The tale is told over some six decades and jumps from small town England to a Swiss ski resort, Iraq, Hay, Columbia, Western Australia, Shanghai, Iceland, New York, Canada and Ireland. Mitchell touches on a myriad of subjects: teen angst, infatuation and true love, career/family balance, literary critics and book fairs, the curse of privilege, socially conscious pop idols, the world’s reliance on technology and the pervasiveness of the internet.

His characters comment on: ageing (It’s not just that you get old and your kids leave; it’s that the world zooms away and leaves you hankering for whatever decade you felt most comfy in”); religion (“..if you could reason with religious people, there wouldn’t be any religious people” and “Prayer may be a placebo for the disease of helplessness, but placebos can make you feel better”); and technological advances (“Some magic is normality you’re not yet used to”).

He gives them words of wisdom (“People are icebergs, with just a bit you can see and loads you can’t” and “Mum said I’d learn betrayals came in various shapes and sizes, but to betray someone’s dream is the unforgiveable one”) and some lovely descriptive prose (“The English Channel’s biro-blue; the sky’s the blue of snooker-chalk.”)

His characters are appealing and readers may find themselves wondering for some time just whose intentions are pure and whose are not; some develop in depth and integrity as the story progresses. Holly is easy to admire, resourceful and engaging; her use of the rolling pin is definitely a laugh-out-loud moment.

This is a wonderfully crafted novel, with mysterious happenings building the intrigue until things begin to fall into place with the fifth narrative. Fans of Mitchell’s earlier novels will delight in (and quite probably be excited by) the connections (characters, locations, themes) with this one. Once again, Mitchell gives the reader a brilliant novel and it will be interesting to see what he does next.
The Imperfectionists: A Novel
by Tom Rachman
A brilliant debut. (10/9/2014)
“What I really fear is time. That’s the devil: whipping us on when we’d rather loll, so the present sprints by, impossible to grasp, and all is suddenly past, a past that won’t hold still, that slides into these inauthentic tales. My past – it doesn’t feel real in the slightest. The person who inhabited it is not me. It’s as if the present me is constantly dissolving.”
The Imperfectionists is the first novel by British-born journalist and author, Tom Rachman. Set in late 2006 and early 2007, each of eleven chapters is like a vignette of the lives of particular characters who are, in some way, associated with the Rome-based International English-Language newspaper that was founded in 1953 by successful Atlanta businessman, Cyrus Ott. The alternate chapters detail significant events in the newspaper’s history.
While the main plot is straightforward: the creation and eventual demise of the publication; there is a myriad of sub-plots involving the various characters, so that each of those chapters is almost a short story itself, involving some characters from the other chapters. This is reminiscent of Rohinton Mistry’s Swimming Lessons (Tales from Firosha Baag).
Rachman gives the reader a cast of quirky characters: a mild-mannered obituary writer whose superior shows such a lack of compassion at his personal tragedy that it elicits a vengeful response; a business editor who finds herself forsaking friends, family and her own values so as not to be single; a young stringer stranded in Cairo with no idea of how to report; a corrections editor who finally learns the truth about an idolised friend; a dying writer resigned to her fate; a jaded Paris correspondent reaching desperation point; a reluctant young heir whose closest relationship is with his basset hound; a faithful reader who lives in the past, avoiding a certain fateful day; a publisher who founds a paper for the sake of unrequited love; a dreary news editor who forces his own worst fear to eventuate; an editor-in-chief who looks for a lover and finds a much-needed friend; a copy editor who feels excluded, persecuted and on the brink of redundancy; and a financial officer whose unwise decision sees her humiliated.
Rachman involves his characters in the petty politics, conflicts and occasional charitable acts that make up a busy workplace and comprise everyday life. He gives them words of wisdom: “We enjoy this illusion of continuity and we call it memory. Which explains, perhaps, why our worst fear isn’t the end of life, but the end of memories” and ‘Nothing in all civilisation has been as productive as ludicrous ambition. Whatever its ills, nothing has created more. Cathedrals, sonatas, encyclopedias: love of God was not behind them, nor love of life. But the love of man to be worshiped by man.” He gives them throw away lines: “Journalism is a bunch of dorks pretending to be alpha males” and “I suspect that revenge is one of those things that’s better in principle than in practice…there’s no real satisfaction in making someone else suffer because you have”
This novel is often funny, sometimes sad, and the reader will be moved to reflect on the ultimate fate of print newspapers in today’s world. A brilliant debut.
Lila
by Marilynne Robinson
moving and thought-provoking novel (10/4/2014)
“She saw him standing in the parlor with his beautiful old head bowed down on his beautiful old chest……….Praying looks just like grief. Like shame. Like regret”
Lila is the fourth novel by prize-winning American author, Marilynne Robinson, and the third book in the Gilead series. Readers of the first book will recall that seventy-six year old Reverend John Ames was married to Lila, a woman thirty-five years his junior who had borne him a son seven years before. Just how that somewhat intriguing situation came to be: how an old man came to marry a much younger woman, a woman with a very different background to that of his first wife; is what Robinson relates in this third book.

As her life with John Ames and her pregnancy progresses, Lila, a seemingly prickly character, thinks back on her life, the events of which are gradually revealed. It has been a life filled with hardship, loneliness and loss (“Don’t want what you don’t need and you’ll be fine. Don’t want what you can’t have”) and Lila finds it difficult to trust her new-found security with John Ames, constantly reassuring herself that she can leave at any time and go back to what she had before, although she is loathe to hurt him (“Maybe I can teach him a new kind of sadness. Maybe he really does care whether I stay or go”). It seems an unlikely match but as Lila reads the Bible and challenges John with all sorts of difficult questions about life, it becomes apparent that both parties benefit from the union. She muses “What would I pray for, if I thought there was any point to it? Well, I guess the first thing would have to be that there was some kind of point to it” and eventually finds that his care “was nothing she had known to hope for and something she had wanted too much all the same. So too much happiness came with it, and happiness was strange to her.”

This is a novel with some beautiful descriptive prose (“She had never really thought about the way the dead would gather at the edge of town, all their names spelled out so you’d know whose they were for as long as that family lived in that place” and “….the fields looking so green in the evening light…Every farmhouse in its cloud of trees. There is a way trees stir before rain, as if they already felt the heaviness”), as well as many words of wisdom (“Any good thing is less good the more any human lays claim to it” and “Thinking about hell doesn’t help me life the way I should”).
This moving and thought-provoking novel, National Book Award Nominee for Fiction 2014, is a heart-warming read.
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared
by Jonas Jonasson
completely contrived and utterly delightful. (9/27/2014)
The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared is the first novel by Swedish journalist, media consultant, television producer and author, Jonas Jonasson. On the spur of the moment, Allan Karlsson resolves to skip his hundredth birthday party at the Malmkoping Old Folks’ Home, despite the presence of the Mayor and a cake. At the bus station, he decides to head out of town, but just before the bus arrives, he finds himself looking after a large grey suitcase on wheels. As Allan travels further and further from the Old Folks’ Home, he is gradually accumulates a band of well-intentioned followers (a hot-dog seller, red-headed divorcee, petty thief in his late sixties, hot-dog seller’s estranged half-brother, Alsatian dog and circus elephant) as well as some pursuers intent on getting a story, on malice or on prosecution (the members of a criminal gang, the police, a prosecutor and journalists). And as they travel, Allen, a seemingly unassuming man with a patent enthusiasm for explosives, relates the story of his long and interesting life, a life that involves worldwide travel, that includes encounters with various heads of state and famous people and that sees Allen experimented on, incarcerated, involved in a momentous discovery and recruited for espionage. There are plenty of laughs and “aha” moments as Allen manages to get himself into and out of some hair-raising situations, always working with the philosophy that “things are what they are, and whatever will be, will be.” This novel has deservedly won international acclaim and is translated from the original Swedish by Rod Bradbury. It is a riotous romp through many of the significant events and people of the twentieth century that is highly reminiscent of Forrest Gump: completely contrived and utterly delightful.
Leaving Time
by Jodi Picoult
a brilliant read. (9/24/2014)
From and ARC kindly provided by Allen&Unwin and TheReadingRoom
Leaving Time is the twenty-first novel by popular American author, Jodi Picoult. Alice Metcalf is a scientist whose field of study is grief in elephants. Alice has been missing for ten years. Her thirteen-year-old daughter, Jenna is determined she will find her mother: after all, Alice would never have voluntarily left Jenna, of that she is certain. Her grandmother is reluctant to discuss it and her dad, Thomas Metcalf is now in a catatonic state in a mental institution. Jenna has done her research into what happened at the New England Elephant Sanctuary, which was set up by her dad, on the night her mother went missing. She has used the internet exhaustively and pored over her mother’s journals. She has saved her babysitting money and uses it to engage a psychic, Serenity Jones, once famous but now disgraced: Serenity is within her budget. She also tracks down Virgil Stanhope, an ex-cop turned PI who was called to the Sanctuary on the night in question. Neither of them, however, is initially willing to help, but before long, guilt, intrigue and a bit of paranormal persuasion ensure their involvement. Serenity warns Jenna that she may not like what she discovers. Of the possible reasons that she has not returned there is the ultimate one: that Alice has died.
As usual, Picoult employs several different narrators to tell the tale. Her characters are well-rounded and appealing: Jenna is a smart, sassy and tenacious teen; Alice is much more human and flawed than the picture Jenna first paints of her; Serenity is a fiery character who once had a genuine psychic gift; Virgil, an alcoholic PI whose conscience won’t let up. Their dialogue is quick and clever: the banter between Serenity and Virgil is delightfully funny, as is the interaction between Serenity and her computer tech. It is impossible not to chuckle and readers will often find themselves laughing out loud, but Picoult also gives the reader many thoughtful moments and a few to cause a lump in the throat. The plot is original; the intrigue makes this a novel that is difficult to put down; and Picoult includes a perfect twist that even the most astute readers are unlikely to see coming.
It is quite apparent that, once again, Picoult has done extensive research, and not just on elephants: this novel explores grief (both elephant and human), the nature of memory, psychics and paranormal phenomena, and the bond between a mother and child; it also touches on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, dreams, bipolar disorder, and missing persons. This wealth of information is conveyed in easy-to-assimilate form that will, none-the-less keep the reader thinking. The comparison between psychic and detective skills is an interesting one, and thanks to the internet, instructions for folding an origami elephant are easy to find (www.origami-instructions.com/origami-elephant.html). While it is not necessary to read the two short stories (Where There’s Smoke and Larger Than Life) that are prequel to this novel, readers who do so will be glad of the extra information they provide. Prospective readers may wonder if Picoult can continue to maintain her usual high standard: with Leaving Time, they can rest assured. This is, once again, a brilliant read.
Code Name Verity
by Elizabeth Wein
interesting, informative and ultimately, very moving (9/16/2014)
Code Name Verity is the sixth novel by British author, Elizabeth Wein. It tells the story of a pair of British women who crash-landed in France during World War Two. The first part is narrated by Queenie aka Scottie aka Eva Seiler aka….., a Special Operations Executive agent, and is written under duress at Gestapo HQ in the town of Ormaie in November 1943. SS Hauptsturmfuhrer Amadeus von Linden has forced from Queenie wireless code for the eleven wireless sets found in the wreck of the plane from which she jumped. What then follows, at his command, is Queenie’s account of the course of events that led to their flight to France and incorporates in that her friendship with Maddie Brodatt, the pilot of the downed plane. The second part gives Maddie’s version of events, and reveals that perhaps one of the narrators is not entirely reliable. Wein’s characters are multi-faceted and realistic: they all have their weaknesses and faults; even the evil ones possess a human side; many are not quite what they first seem. The dialogue, too, is credible and the plot is totally plausible, twists, turns and all. Wein’s extensive research is apparent on every page: a wealth of information is secreted in the story in easily digestible form. There is humour, heroism and horror, and enough heartbreak to bring a lump to the throat of even the most cynical reader. This is a tale of friendship and courage that is interesting, informative and ultimately, very moving
The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry: A Novel
by Gabrielle Zevin
delightful read (8/26/2014)
The Collected Works of A.J.Fikry (aka The Storied Life of A.J.Fikry) is the fifth stand-alone novel by American author, Gabrielle Zevin. Alice Island, a New England summer destination requiring bus and ferry travel, boasts a main street book store. Island Books is owned by recent widower, A.J.Fikry, an opinionated, often cranky man in his late thirties with a (self-described) porcupine heart. Since the unfortunate accidental death of his beloved wife, his plan has been to drink himself to death and drive his business to ruin. This plan is derailed by three occurrences: thirty-six-year-old sales representative for Knightley Press, Amelia Loman makes her first visit to Island Books to present the publisher’s Winter List (and is treated rather shabbily by A.J.); A.J.’s escape valve, a rare and valuable edition of Tamerlane, a collection of poems by Edgar Allan Poe, is stolen; and a bright two-year-old girl named Maya is left in his bookstore. Against all odds, A.J. finds himself (with frequent help from Google and occasional input from the Island’s residents) bringing up a young girl. Zevin has given the reader characters who are appealing despite their flaws, or perhaps because of them. The story has an element of mystery and the plot has a few unexpected twists. Each chapter is prefaced with a paragraph of A.J.’s comments for Maya about a certain literary work: advice for writing and advice for life. It contains many words of wisdom, making it, as others have said, a very quotable book: “Sometimes books don’t find us until the right time” and “We are not quite novels. We are not quite short stories. In the end, we are collected works” will resonate with many readers. This book is filled with lightness and dark, with laugh-out-loud moments and lines that will have the most cynical reader choking up. It is a book for anyone who loves to read or loves book stores, and lovers of fine literature will be especially captivated. This delightful read is one of those books that is almost impossible to put down and most readers will be sorry to reach the end. A keeper.
A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian
by Marina Lewycka
A fun read with a happy ending (8/26/2014)
A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian is the first novel by British/Ukrainian author, Marina Lewycka. Two years after the death of his wife, Ludmilla, eighty-four year old Nikolai Mayevskyj announces to his youngest daughter, Nadezhda (Nadia) that he is going to marry Valentina, a thirty-six year old Ukrainian divorcee with a teenaged son. As Nadia tries to reason with her determined father, she realises that if she is to prevent him being fleeced by this unscrupulous (bottle-)blonde bombshell, she will need to join forces with Vera, the older sister from whom she has been estranged since they disagreed over their mother’s will. In the process of trying to oust Valentina from their lives and have her deported, much of the family’s history is dredged up and Nadia discovers that what she has been told as a child was not necessarily accurate. This is a rollicking ride that encompasses boil-in-the-bag suppers, an undriveable Rolls Royce, a tomcat named Lady Di, a portable photocopier, a baby of unknown paternity, yoga, sheltered housing and some green satin underwear. Nikolai’s theory on the integral role of tractors in the development of Great Depression, Fascism in Germany and Communism in Russia will provide food for thought. The extracts from the book he is writing, the eponymous “A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian” are delightful. This book was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and shortlisted for the Orange Prize in 2005. A fun read with a happy ending.
All the Birds, Singing
by Evie Wyld
A brilliant read (8/26/2014)
All The Birds, Singing is the second novel by British-Australian author, Evie Wyld, and winner of the 2014 Miles Franklin Literary Award. The first narrative starts with Jake Whyte, currently living on an unnamed British island, finding a second of her sheep dead and mutilated, and wondering whether foxes, some other wildlife or the local teens are to blame. Jake’s isolated existence, with only her dog, Dog, and her herd of sheep for company, puzzles the locals. The second narrative starts some three years earlier, with Jake part of a sheep-shearing troupe in Western Australia. It seems that Jake is on the run from something or someone: just who is Otto? And why does Jake have scars on her back? What knowledge is it that another shearer tries to hold over her? The hints and clues will have the reader intrigued as to the events in Jake’s past that have led to her current situation. Astute readers will quickly realise that the events occurring in Australia are told in reverse order. With her evocative descriptions, Wyld sets her scenes, both the isolated, cold British island and the hot, dusty West Australian outback, with consummate ease. Her plot has twists that eventually reveal hidden depths and flaws in the prickly Jake the world is shown. While some of the subject matter can be quite confronting, there is also subtle humour contained in Wyld’s prose. A brilliant read.
The White Tiger: A Novel
by Aravind Adiga
not quite a quality read (8/26/2014)
The White Tiger is the first novel by Indian author, Aravind Adiga. The narrative takes the form of a series of eight rambling emails sent over the period of a week from Balram Halwai aka Munna aka The White Tiger to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on the eve of his visit to India, and describes how Balram advanced from half-baked school boy son of a rickshaw puller to lowly teashop employee in Laxmangarh to chauffeur of rich Landlords in Delhi to fugitive wanted for the murder of his former employer to Bangalore entrepreneur. All this, under the guise of advising the Premier on producing much-needed entrepreneurs for China. Along the way, Balram comments on the divide in India between the rich and the poor, the powerful and the powerless, and details the bribery and corruption that are de rigeur in India. Adiga’s India is slums and sewage, shopping malls and traffic jams, call centres and cockroaches. As the main character, Balram is neither endearing nor wholly odious; in fact none of the characters will hold the reader’s interest for long. Some of Adiga’s descriptive prose is excellent, but this is not really enough to make this a “blazingly savage and brilliant” novel as described on the front cover. Winner of the Man Booker Prize for 2008, this is a pleasant enough read, at times blackly funny, but a far cry in quality from the works by those other Indian authors that won the Man Booker Prize in 1997 and 2006
The Tiger's Wife: A Novel
by Téa Obreht
an amazing debut (7/28/2014)
The Tiger’s Wife is the first novel by Serbian-born American author, Tea Obrecht, and is the winner of the 2011 Orange Prize for Fiction. Young doctor, Natalia Stefanovic is on an assignment with her life-long friend Zora to innoculate the children of a remote Balkan village orphanage when she learns of her grandfather’s death. Her grandmother believes he was on his way to meet Natalia, is distraught that he died alone in a town none of them recognises, and that his belongings are missing.

As she tries to come to terms with the loss of a man who loomed large in her life, Natalia is distracted from her medical duties by memories of her grandfather and also by the strange digging activities in a nearby vineyard. Obrecht employs three narrative strands: Natalia relates what happens on her vaccination excursion; her grandfather, a well-respected doctor, tells of his three encounters with a deathless man; and Natalia chronicles the events of a certain winter in World War Two, when the village her grandfather grew up in was visited by a tiger. In each of the narrations, secondary characters are elegantly given backstories so that a collection of short stories is seamlessly woven into the whole. Obrecht’s characters are interesting and authentic and her descriptive prose is wonderfully evocative: “Pigeons, clustered thick enough to be visible from the hill, shuffled like cowled women up and down the street..”

Against a backdrop of seemingly ever-present war, Obrecht explores superstitions and customs, secrets and lies, fears and rituals, history and folklore, myths and mysteries, love and revenge, and of course, death. This moving and thought-provoking novel is an amazing debut. Readers will look forward to more from Obrecht.
Doctor Sleep
by Stephen King
Another excellent tale from the master story-teller. (7/28/2014)
Doctor Sleep is the 45th full-length novel by bestselling American author, Stephen King, and is the sequel to his fourth novel, The Shining. After a short preface that details an important interaction between young Danny Torrance and an ageing Dick Hallorann, King picks up the story some 23 years after the events at the Overlook Hotel, when Dan is hitting rock-bottom as an alcoholic.

Getting off a bus in the small New Hampshire town of Frazier, he takes a temporary job as a groundsman, begins the AA program and is unwittingly contacted for the first time (of many) by a newborn with an incredibly bright “shine”, Abra Stone. Their paths do not cross, however, until some twelve years later when the actions of a group called The True Knot cause Abra to seek out Dan, now working as an orderly in a hospice, in person. The True Knot are a tribe of people who travel the country in search of children who shine to feed on the “steam” they produce.

As usual, King’s main characters are well-rounded out and appealing. He creates a support cast with plenty of variety to people his tale: a feisty grandmother, a resourceful groundsman, a prescient cat, an alcoholic paediatrician and a bunch of innocuous-looking travellers in RVs with unusual nicknames. He sets the era of events using popular movies, songs and cheeky descriptions of presidents. His descriptive prose is wonderfully evocative: “’I must not look at it.’ Too late. His head was turning; he could hear the tendons in his neck creaking like old doorhinges.” His plot has several twists and turns, plenty of excitement and a gripping climax (or two), all of which ensure this work is another page-turner.

Reading (or rereading) The Shining before this novel is not essential, but it is certainly advisable as many references are made to the events that occurred at the Overlook Hotel some thirty-five years previous and key phrases echo throughout this novel. This is a very satisfying sequel to The Shining; it would make a great movie with the right director (thankfully not Kubrick) and cast. Another excellent tale from the master story-teller.
An Incomplete Revenge: A Maisie Dobbs Novel
by Jacqueline Winspear
an excellent read (7/28/2014)
An Incomplete Revenge is the fifth book in the Maisie Dobbs series by British-born American author, Jacqueline Winspear. James Compton, son of Maisie’s long-time patron, Lady Compton, is in the process of purchasing a large estate at Heronsdene, Kent for the family company, but some incidents of petty crime, vandalism and small fires in the area are cause for concern, so Maisie is engaged to conduct enquiries.

It is early autumn of 1931, and as these cases all seem to occur during the hop harvest, it is especially convenient that her assistant, Billy Beale usually takes his family for a working holiday hop-picking at this time, and is able to contract to the farm on said estate. The waters are muddied, somewhat, by the influx of large groups of Londoners and gypsies, all taking part in the harvest, and the fact that the villagers of Heronsdene seem reluctant to involve the police or fire-brigade.


It appears that the land-owner, Alfred Sandermere, is a poor businessman and not well-liked by his tenant farmers or the villagers. A theft from the Manor house, blamed on two young London boys, sees Maisie visiting the gypsy matriarch in search of information. Maisie notices that the mood in the village is unusual: there is an undercurrent of fear in addition to the resentment and suspicion that the presence of the Londoners and gypsies usually brings. It seems the villagers are still keenly feeling the wartime loss of many of their young men, and are strangely hesitant to discuss the Zeppelin raid that occurred in 1916. In trying to determine if this is a case of sabotage, insurance fraud, opportunistic theft by itinerant workers or something else entirely, Maisie’s investigations lead her to encounters with a determined journalist, a dishonest vicar, a loyal dog, some reticent villagers, a luthier and a very snobbish land-owner.

Winspear touches on school bullying, prejudice against gypsies and anyone who is different, mob mentality and, of course, revenge. Her extensive research into gypsy customs and beliefs and into hops and hop picking in the early 20th century is apparent in every page. This gentle-paced mystery has quite a twist in the tail: a shocking crime that only becomes apparent in the last few chapters. Once again, an excellent read that will have Winspear fans looking forward to the next book in the series, Among The Mad.
The Dinner
by Herman Koch
compelling, thought-provoking novel (7/7/2014)
The Dinner is the sixth novel by Dutch actor, television and radio producer, newspaper columnist and author, Herman Koch, and the first book to be translated into English. Two brothers and their wives meet for dinner at an expensive restaurant to discuss the management of the recent, shocking activities of their teenaged sons. Serge Lohman is the charismatic leader of an opposition party poised to take power at the next election, a few months away, making him a strong candidate for the next Prime Minister of the Netherlands. His younger brother, Paul, has little respect for his brother’s position and posturing, instead being focussed on the happiness of his own small family. The events of the evening are narrated by Paul and are interspersed with flashbacks to incidents that occurred months or years previously. Koch is a master craftsman when it comes to building his main character: Paul starts out as a reasonable, upstanding citizen, although his antagonism towards his brother is immediately apparent. As the story progresses, a different person begins to be revealed by glimpses, at first fleeting but gradually more sustained, and the reader starts to wonder about Paul’s reliability as a narrator. In fact, none of the characters is quite what they first appear to be. Koch uses his novel to comment on Dutch tourists, pretentious restaurants, politics, marriage, parental control and adolescent right to privacy, youth violence and the internet, eugenics, and the instinct to protect one’s young. Koch manages to include blackmail, a hereditary disorder, You Tube clips, quite a bit of violence, some hilarious descriptions of restaurant practices, a plot twist that will leave readers gasping and a chilling climax. This compelling, thought-provoking novel is flawlessly translated by Sam Garrett.
Juliet, Naked: a novel
by Nick Hornby
A delightful read. (7/7/2014)
Juliet, Naked is the seventh novel by British author, Nick Hornby. Thirty-nine-year-old former teacher, Annie Platt is curator of the museum in Gooleness, a dead-end seaside town in the north of England. Duncan, her partner of some fifteen years, is a teacher and the moderator of a website dedicated to a reclusive American singer/songwriter from the nineteen-eighties, Tucker Crowe. Annie has been telling her (rather too judgemental) therapist, Malcolm every Saturday morning that she feels dissatisfied with her relationship, her job, her life. As she thinks about fifteen wasted years with Duncan and wishes for a baby, events conspire to suddenly put her in contact with the elusive Tucker Crowe. Since Tucker’s disappearance from the music scene, the internet chat rooms have been buzzing speculation about the cause of his withdrawal, and reported sightings, none of it remotely close to the truth. Hornby employs narrations from his three main characters as well as Wikipedia entries, emails and website discussion group posts to tell his tale. His characters are realistically flawed, multi-dimensional and appealing: even the nerdy Duncan will strike a chord with readers. As well as examining the fine line between passion and obsession, Hornby touches on the right to privacy, settling for what is convenient and acting responsibly. This novel comments perceptively on the often ridiculous over-analysis in which scholars, connoisseurs and self-styled experts of music, wine, sport, art and literature habitually indulge, when discussing the object of their fervour. Hornby treats the reader to some marvelously descriptive prose: “Consistency and repetition were beginning to make the lie feel something like the truth, in the way that a path eventually becomes a path, if enough people walk along it” and “Mumbled greetings were formed in his sons’ throats and emitted with not quite enough force to reach him; they dropped somewhere on the floor at the end of the bed, left for the cleaners to sweep up” are just two examples. There are some thought-provoking themes, an abundance of laugh-out-loud moments and plenty of wit. A delightful read.

Become a Member

Join BookBrowse today to start discovering exceptional books!

Find out more


Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Where Coyotes Howl
    Where Coyotes Howl
    by Sandra Dallas
    Where Coyotes Howl may appear to be a classically conventional historical novel — a wide-eyed ...
  • Book Jacket: After the Miracle
    After the Miracle
    by Max Wallace
    Many people have heard one particular story about Helen Keller—how the saintly teacher, Annie ...
  • Book Jacket: The Lost Wife
    The Lost Wife
    by Susanna Moore
    The Lost Wife is a hard-hitting novella based in part on a white settler named Sarah Wakefield's ...
  • Book Jacket
    Firekeeper's Daughter
    by Angeline Boulley
    Voted 2021 Best Young Adult Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers

    Angeline Boulley's young adult ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
The First Conspiracy
by Brad Meltzer & Josh Mensch
A remarkable and previously untold piece of American history—the secret plot to kill George Washington

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Pieces of Blue
    by Holly Goldberg Sloan

    A hilarious and heartfelt novel for fans of Maria Semple and Emma Straub.

Win This Book
Win Girlfriend on Mars

30 Copies to Give Away!

A funny and poignant debut novel that skewers billionaire-funded space travel in a love story of interplanetary proportions.

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

S I F A R Day

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.