Monday, December 31, 2012

"Zorro" by Isabel Allende. ****

  • Originally published 2005
  • Peruvian author
  • Review:  Allende, as always, is a wonderful storyteller

Thursday, December 27, 2012

"The Sculptress" by Minette Walters. ****

  • Audiobook
  • Originally published. 1995
  • English author
  • Review:  I really enjoyed this novel.  The characters were engaging, the multiple storylines were well handled, and i liked the way the plot started with a murderess in prison and worked, essentially, backwards.  The crisp prose made the story move along at a good pace, and there were just enough surprises to keep me on my toes.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

"Noah's Compass" by Anne Tyler. ***

  • Audiobook 
  • US author 
  • Originally published 2009
  • Review:    A nice, quiet Anne Tyler novel.  An unprepossessing man struggles to makes sense of his life and winds up working in a preschool.  Starting over? A quiet, pleasant read.

"The Final Martyrs" by Shusaku Endo. ****

  • Part of year long read of Endo's works on LibraryThing. com
  • Originally published 1959
  • Japanese author
  • From Foreword by the author:
    • "...a good deal of time passes between the point when I drive the chisel into the block of ice and the moment when I can first sense that my characters have begun to move."
    • "...even a character who appeared only once in a short story waits now in the wings, concealed by the curtain, for his next appearance on-stage."
  • Quotes:
    • p.129..."Sometimes as I look into the mirror, I think this face must be what in Buddhism is called the 'face of dark delusion'.  A world where I search for salvation but have yet to discover the light; .....". 
    • p.130..."The appropriate level of darkness and the appropriate clamminess in the room provide me with the same feeling of liberation as that of being in my mother's womb." - describing his ideal writing environment
  • Interesting ideas:
    • room size is described by number of mats.....i.e. a "four-and-a-half mat room"
    • his description of death anxiety mirrors mine exactly!!
  • Review:  The themes in these stories included Endo's usuals:  Catholicism in Japan, martyrdom, loyalty, aging, facing mortality, parental conflict, and disappointment in the frailties of humanity.  The foreword to this collection was written by the author.  He indicates that many of the characters went on to be featured in his novels.  He also confirmed that much of his writing is autobiographical, which adds an interesting layer to the understanding of the themes.  Frankly, I think Endo is a very good writer, but was clearly driven to seek resolution to his own philosophical, spiritual, and personal issues.  Consequently, his plots, characters, and themes are repetitive, more so than other authors, in my opinion.  So, just read a couple of novels and you will be satisfied without being frustrated.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

"The Vanished Man" by Jeffrey Deaver ****

  • Audiobook
  • Mystery/Suspense, Lincoln Rhymes series
  • US author
  • Originally published 2004
  • Review:  This installment of the Lincoln Rhymes series was fast paced and well done.  The evil magician and the novice match wits and the magical tricks really make this a good read!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

"The Last Kind Words" by Tom Piccirilli ***

  • Audiobook
  • Mystery/Suspense
  • Originally published 2012
  • US author
  • Review:  I liked this story quite a bit and will read more by the author.  Generally, the notion of struggling with being a member of a family of criminals and trying to prove that his brother only committed some of the murders he is being put to death for is a unique plot.  What codes of honor exist in families and among criminals is an interesting question. Sometimes I thought too many issues were being tackled at once and the story seemed jumbled.  Definitely worth reading.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

"Women of Algiers in Their Apartment" translated by Assia Djebar *****

  • Short stories
  • Algerian
  • Originally published in 1980
  • Vocabulary:
    • laterite:   a reddish ferruginous soil formed in tropical regions by the decomposition of the underlying rocks.
  • Quotes:
    • p.21..."Hatred! the painter hissed as he brought both tea and whiskey,  We suckle it with the milk of our exploited mothers!  They've understood nothing:  it's not only colonialism that's at the root of our psychological problems, but it's the belly of our frustrated women!  When we're just fetuses, we're already damned!"
    • p.34..."Gold coins don't need to go looking for takers!"
    • p.47..."I see no other way out for us except through an encounter like this:  a woman speaking in front of another one who's watching; does the one who's speaking tell the story of the other one with the devouring eyes, with the black memories, or is she describing her own dark night with words like torches and with candles whose wax melts too fast?"
    • p.48...." this strange city, drunk with the sun but with prisons high up on every street, does every woman live first for herself or for the chain of women once locked in, generation after generation, while the same light, an unchangeable, rarely dimmed blue, continues to pour forth?"
    • p.50..."For Arabic women I see only one single way to unclock everything:  talk, talk without stopping, about yesterday and today, talk among ourselves, in alll the women's quarters, the traditional ones as well as those in the housing projects.  Talk among ourselves and look.  Look outside, look outside the walls and the prisons!...The Woman as look and the Woman as voice....".
    • p.64..."The sobs outside seemed more muffled, but I could still distinguish their singsong.  Their gentle singsong.  This is the moment, I said to myself, when grief becomes familiar, and pleasurable, and nostalgic.  This is the moment when you weep almost voluptuously, for this gift of tears is a gift without end."
    • p.69...:I knew my part, it was one I'd played before; stay mutelike this, eyes lowered, and patiently let myself be examined until the very end:  it was simple.  Everything is simple, beforehand, for a girl who's being married off."
    • p.70...."...for life never comes unaccompanied to a woman, death is alway right behind, furtive, quick, and smiling at the mothers....".
    • p.73..."There are those who forget or who simply sleep.  And then there are those who deep bumping into the walls of the past.  May God take pity on them!"
    • p.121..."Ramadan is the truce of all grudges."
    • p.133..."Thus, Morocco is revealed as the place where dream and its incarnation of an aesthetic ideal meet, the place of a visual revolution."...referring to the paintings of Delacroix
    • p.134..."In these brief and graphic or written annotations, there is an almost feverish hand at work, an intoxicated gaze:  a fugitive moment of evanescent revelation standing on that borderline in motion where dream and reality converge."...
    • p.151/Closing line...."Only in the fragments of ancient murmuring do I see how we must look for a restoration of the conversation between women, the very one that Delacroix froze in his painting.  Only in the door open to the full sun, the one Picasso later imposed, do I hope for a concrete and daily liberation of women."
  • Review:   The title of this collection refers to a painting by Eugene Delacroix, which was allegedly inspired by a brief visit inside the harem of a home in Morocco.  The painting and the stories in this collection depict the emotional and intellectual state of women hidden within walls and the veil.  It is also a collection comprised of haunting, evocative prose which stirs the deepest aspect of the reader's self.  The yearnings, fears, coping mechanisms, faith, belief, and suffering of the women in these stories will forever be imprinted in my heart.  I have rarely read such a marvelous collection.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

"A Natural Woman: A Memoir" by Carole King ***

  • Audiobook
  • Originally published 2012
  • Review:  Carole King has led a life unlike many "stars".  The memoir  is quiet and humble, much as one imagines Carole herself after listening to her narrate the audiobook.  Clearly, a woman who struggled with being dominated in unhealthy relationships, she also was content to compose for others until her peers almost dragged her into performance.  It was a nice book about a nice woman who was huge in my music world.  Glad I read this!

Friday, December 7, 2012

"Gone Girl" by Gillian Flynn ***

  • Audiobook
  • Originally published 2012
  • USA author
  • Review:   Well, where to start?  Double-double crosses?  Meta-metaphor for gamesmanship between the sexes?  Between husbands and wives?  A tale of mental ill health?  A clever murder-non-murder mystery?  Despite being somewhat overblown, I was very engaged in this story.  Some sections made me cringe a bit with gratuitous graphic sex...don't mind non-gratuitous graphic sex, but it seemed contrived at several points.  I think the clever plot twists merit the attention this title has received, but the writing is otherwise run of the mill.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

"Back to Blood" by Tom Wolfe *****

  • Audiobook
  • US author
  • Originally published 2012
  • Review:   Tom Wolfe weaves a wonderful story!  Starting with characters like the Russian who buys his way into Miami high society by endowing an art collection comprised completely of forgeries, a young Cuban American police officer who just tries to do his job and seems unable to avoid publicity, the lovely starry eyed Cuban American ingenue who cannot seem to get her priorities clear, and the W.A.S.P. editor of the local paper who dreads having to print a story which may upset his wife and/or his social standing.  If that doesn't draw you in, perhaps the themes which are embedded in the roiling, cross-cultural morays and expectations in an American city filled with a a wide range of ethnic, financial, and social strata will do it.  It is just a well written story which illuminates issues we see everyday in our lives as Americans.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

"Gabriel's Gift" by Hanif Kureishi *****

  • British Pakistani author
  • Originally published 2001
  • Vocabulary:
    • plimsoll:   canvas shoe with a rubber sole; gym shoe; sneaker.
    • percipience:   perceiving or capable of perceiving.
  • Quotes:
    • p.12..."At night even the most conservative of us becomes an avant gardist....".
    • p.23..."Why would anyone think they could achieve something?  Only because someone believed in them."
    • p.29..."Afterwards she had become too careful with Gabriel, not letting him live for fear he might die."...interesting concept 
    • p.67..."Talent might be a gift but it still has to be cultivated.  The imagination is like a fire or  furnace; it has to be stoked, fed and attended to.  One thing sets another ablaze.  Keep it going."
    • p.67..." dreams the maddest connections are made!"
    • p.96..."Children understood tyrannies, he thought, living with those vicious moody bosses called parents, under a regime in which their thoughts and activities were severely constrained."
    • p.103..."Children always noticed the underneath of things; for a long time, like foot soldiers and servants, they only saw the world from below, a good position for noticing how things worked."
    • p.154..."If you've got it, you get it from yourself and don't you forget it.  You can inherit an old tie but not a gift, that's one thing I know."
    • p.172..."Once hatred is expressed, love has a chance."
  • Notes:
    • the greatest gift in life is imagination or talent
    • the educational system was coercive and "failure was the only sitinction; conformity was a kind of death."
  • Review:  Absolutely loved Kureishi's writing. In a matter of a few sentences the reader is whisked into the mind and heart of an adolescent boy trying to understand the roller coaster which is life.  At the core of this novella is the question of how to hold onto imagination?  How to hold onto losses...a twin, a marriage, the truth, ideals?  Wonderfully crafted, this book is a gem!

"The Crystal Frontier" by Carlos Fuentes *****

  • Mexican author
  • Originally published 1995 in Spanish
  • Quotes:
    •  p.19 ..."...she was seeing only the naked desert, but her life could be like that enchanted city on the other side of the frontier:  golden towers, crystal palaces."
    • p.25..."Properties, customs offices, real estate deals, wealth and power provided by control over an illusory, crystal border, a porous frontier through which each year pass millions of people, ideas, products, in short, every (sotto voce:  contraband, drugs, counterfeit money, et cetera)"
    • p.33..."Now it's late fall, and the forest is denuded, the trees on the mountainsides look like burned toothpicks, and the sky comes two or three steps down to communicate to all of us the silence and pain of God in the face of the fleeting death of the world."...winter in Ithaca
    • p.40..."But prejudices could not be removed over night; they were very old, they had more reality--they did--than a political party or a bank account."
    • p.53..."You have to earn heaven by giving yourself over to it:  paradise, if it does exist, is in the very guts of the earth, its humid embrace awaiting us where flesh and clay mix, where the great maternal womb mixes with the mud of creation and life is born and reborn from its great reproductive depth, but never from its airy illusion, never from the airlines falsely connecting New York and Mexico, Atlantic and Pacific, in fact separating the lovers, breaking the marvelous unity of their perfect androgyny, their Siamese identity, their beautiful abnormality, their monstrous perfection, casting them to incompatible destinies, to opposite horizons."
    • p.60..."The depressing lesson of the movie 'Forrest Gump'.  To be always available for whatever chance may bring...".
    • p.65..."A good Mexican, Dionisio conceded all the power in the world to the gringos except that of an aristocratic culture...".
    • p.110..."What new mixture of oblivion and remembrance awaits them on the other side?"
    • p.188..."They spent several minutes looking at each other that way, in silence, separated by the crystal frontier." executive and a window washer in a high-rise.
    • p.239...".....but Mario knew very well that as long as a poor country lived next to the richest country in the world, what they, the Border Patrol, were doing was squeezing a balloon:  what you squeezed here only swelled out over there."
    • p.266..."...poor Mexico, poor United States, so far from God, so near to each other."....closing line
  • Notes:
    • references to Ithaca, Cornell University, "itaquitas", produced at the local pistol factory and used as the official sidearm of the army of El Salvador
    • Reference to "Being There" as story of a man who only knows what he learns from tv and goes on to become considered a genius
    • narrator refers to only two known Mexicans who speak decent is Carlos Fuentes....those two seem suspicious to the narrator......a little tongue in cheek humor
    • One character crossed the border, ended up in  mall, never found his way out
  • Review:   Just for starters, imagine a man who conjures a different woman to devour for each course of his meal, a racist border patrol officer, a man whose lover is his daughter-in-law, and a woman thwarted in her determination to prove her theory that Mexicans are lazy.  Now, add vivid and compelling prose.  Now add the discomfort of absorbing a lambasting of the ethics, hypocrisy, power, and destructiveness of your home nation.  This is a must read novel, published in 1995 and very relevant today. Guaranteed to make you squirm, to make you think, and to make you feel.  Absolutely a remarkable literary work!