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A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
by Anthony Marra
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (3/20/2014)
"At the kitchen table she examined the glass of ice. Each cube was rounded by room temperature, dissolving in its own remains, and belatedly she understood that this was how a loved one disappeared. Despite the shock of walking into an empty flat, the absence isn’t immediate, more a fade from the present tense you shared, a melting into the past, not an erasure but a conversion in form, from presence to memory, from solid to liquid, and the person you once touched now runs over your skin, now in sheets down your back, and you may bathe, may sink, may drown in the memory, but your fingers cannot hold it."

A story of three dissimilar people coping to survive in a war infested land. A story not only about war but a story intersecting three characters together through various connections. The trials facing each is the foundation for this poignant story. Marra crafted an irresistible and sensitive debut novel.

A multitude of different perspectives given by the differing three protagonists. With the varying voices and viewpoints this allows the reader multiple points to consider long after the novel's cover has been gently closed. Sonja competent physician, professional. She is overworked and exhausted, her hard exterior is taking a beating. Akhmed a physician but rather be painting. Facing any situation thrown his way with strength and poise. With his artistic ability Akhmed reworks the faces of the 'disappeared' to be recovered by family. Haava an eight year girl suffering the loss of her mother, witnessing her father be taken away forcefully by soldiers and now she is residing in a hospital seeing the carnage of war daily. Other secondary characters are involved in the narrative introducing multiple facets of war affecting people - kidnapping, smuggling and more. Marra does a wonderful job covering a quantity of issues without the narrative being overdone or scattered.

Marra has left quite an impression, unbelievable this was a debut effort. His elegant and lyrically rhythmic prose immediately captured my attention. Wonderfully executed from beginning to end. A memorable novel in numerous ways. A novel unmistakably worth reading.
The Venetian Bargain
by Marina Fiorato
The Venetian Bargain (12/10/2013)
Fiorato does a wonderful job with the historical facts of the time: Constantinople, Venice, the ongoing conflict of Venetians vs. Ottoman Turks, religious issues, the plague, the architect Palladio, the great fire of Venice, medical and medicinal practices of the 16th century.

The main protagonist Feyra, a Turkish doctor torn between her heritage and loyalty not to mention her oath as a physician is a woman with a strong moral compass with humankind her focus. Great to see Feyra stand out as feminist during this period where women were ignored for their intellect and given talents due to their sex. Tireless she tends to the afflicted as well as attempts to desperately discover a cure to fend off the plague.

The narrative is exciting and well balanced combining the plague issues with a gentle love story. Lots of twists and turns as well as the Biblical reference of the Tribulation woven into the storyline very cleverly adding interest. The setting of Venice with all its wonderful references, Feyra a character ahead of her time, the battle of dealing with the plague all make for an enjoyable historical fiction read of the 16th century.
The Girl Who Fell to Earth: A Memoir
by Sophia Al-Maria
The Girl Who Fell to Earth (10/10/2013)
The Girl Who Fell to Earth delves into cultural complexities in an honest manner in which others towing the fine line between two cultures can relate and understand. A great coming of age story all will enjoy, especially those dealing with disparity in ethnicity.

Al-Maria expresses empathy and warmth to her family and her multi-cultural background. As a woman of two different cultures I found this book very appealing and sentiments relatable. I have always embraced my 'uniqueness' and have squelched those that attempted to make me feel differently.

Great read and informative as well, nice to read a book that doesn't paint middle eastern culture in a suffocating negative light.
Buying In
by Laura Hemphill
Buying In (10/6/2013)
I enjoyed this debut novel from Laura Hemphill. Buying In came across as more non-fiction than fiction. A very realistic glimpse into the world of investment baking. The politics, the interactions, the competitive nature and the not so flattering sides of people and the banking industry as a whole all portrayed very well.

Hemphill does a wonderful job with the main protagonist Sophie, as well as demonstrating the obstacles and challenges a female faces in this predominately male field. Her writing style is well formed for a newbie author.

Hemphill presents an absorbing story in a field that was once held in high esteem, with a great cast of characters in a wonderfully presented narrative. A few twists and turns strength the integrity of the plot/characters.

If you are in the finance or business sector you will really appreciate this novel. If your not in the business field this will give you a great feel for the topsy turvy would of business and a storyline that is rather enthralling. Great debut novel, looking forward to future efforts from Laura Hemphill.
We Need New Names: A Novel
by NoViolet Bulawayo
We Need New Names (10/1/2013)
Bulawayo’s style is impressive. She manages to capture Zimbabwe and the United States through the eyes of Darling, a 10 year old girl. Bulawayo's words paint a clear yet lyrical message of life in Zimbabwe, a country in turmoil for decades under autocratic rule. We follow Darling as she assimilates to life in the United Sates - a country so strange to Darling in every way. Searching for her identity far away from home has an air of sadness as well an endearing quality as Darling navigates her way through her new home while yearning for her homeland, family and friends. We Need New Names is a powerful and unforgettable story.
The Fun Parts: Stories
by Sam Lipsyte
The Fun Parts (9/25/2013)
I have mixed feelings about The Fun Parts . I do enjoy Lipsyte's humor - dry, sarcastic, hidden innuendos, and sometimes just plain funny. I chuckled out loud several times and enjoyed it as a whole. A few standouts - "The Climber Room" is the story of Tovah Gold, a 36-year-old pre-K teacher who yearns to write poetry. The central character in "Deniers," the best story in the book, is Mandy Gottlieb, a 30-year-old woman who teaches cardio ballet at the Jewish Community Center in her New Jersey town, the other selections are mainstream and pure Lipsyte.

However, there are an abundant amount of drug addicts as characters in the stories. Another drawback - Lipsyte seems to focus primarily on people dealing with addiction be it alcohol and drugs, infidelity, seeking closure from dysfunctional parental relationships, also haves and have-nots battling it out over social classes. The Fun Parts - good, not bad but could have been better. If you want a laugh or two and your expectations are at a minimum give this collection of short stories a shot, you might find it more than good.
Life After Life
by Kate Atkinson
Life After Life (9/15/2013)
Kate Atkinson's Life After Life asks the question:
What if you could live again and again, until you got it right?

Ursula lives and dies repeatedly. Fortunately for Ursula death allows for a "do-over" thus being reborn with an opportunity to do it over and over until the desired outcome is achieved. The setting takes us to the years leading to WWII will Ursula be able to change history?

I'm not sure if this was a hit or a miss for me. There were times I enjoyed the story, more times I had to push myself to continue. With Atkinson being the author I forged ahead remaining optimistic and tenacious despite the monotony. I am tiring of so many stories having the plot based on interchanging time periods, overdone and unoriginal, also a few scenarios were a bit far fetched. The saving grace for this storyline was Ursula's continuous deaths - definitely adding a unique twist to the alternating time periods.

Although it possesses a uniqueness I can't say it is worthy of all the attention it has received. Tastes vary and yours might differ from mine. Read Life After Life and decide for yourself.
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