Janine Brown lives in Iowa, and has entered a contest to win a house on the Maine coast. Janine Brown (no relation) lives in Iowa, and has entered an c...moreJanine Brown lives in Iowa, and has entered a contest to win a house on the Maine coast. Janine Brown (no relation) lives in Iowa, and has entered an contest to win a house on the Maine coast.
The contest winner is...Janine Brown of Iowa! Thus starts what at first glance will be a mistaken identity comedy. The two Janine's are opposites in many ways, and are unlikely to ever get along. And which one is the real winner of the house? Author Kelly Harms has made this anything but a mistaken identity comedy (although there are more than enough comedic moments). What happens when the two women actually meet at the house they both are sure they have won? Once the reader gets beyond this delightful confrontation the book gets more serious. Uppermost is the concept of truthfulness (or truthiness). Neither of the women, nor any other significant character is even close to truthful with the others (with the possible exception of 88 year old Aunt Midge). And much of the drama is a direct result of everyone being untruthful. I won't say much more, other than this is delightful reading and has deeper meaning than it appears at first glance. I will mention that food and the preparation of food is central to the story; each chapter begins with a quote from a well known cookbook.
This is a generally believable story of the two Janine's (Janey and Nean), their relationship, the men in their lives, and their histories. The only fantasy is winning a multi-million dollar house on the Maine coast. But it's a fantasy that we can live with.(less)
Reza Aslan came to my attention thanks to Fox News and their incredibly offensive interview, so first of all I must grudgingly thank Fox for leading m...moreReza Aslan came to my attention thanks to Fox News and their incredibly offensive interview, so first of all I must grudgingly thank Fox for leading me to such a learned and readable scholar. I might have found him by accident, but Fox made it a "must read". "Zealot" is much more the Times of Jesus of Nazareth than the Life; that's because so little is known of his real life. Most of what we know has been overshadowed by the myths created by his followers after his death (few of whom actually knew him). Dr. Aslan makes a valiant, and generally successful attempt to separate the man from the myth. We learn of his birth (in Nazareth, not Bethlehem), what little can be be deduced from his early life based in general on life in small rural communities, his large family (~7 siblings). Then on to his ministry, which bears little resemblance to the myths written later. The larger focus is on the times he lived in; a violent, dangerous time, with constant conflict in "Palestine" between the Roman overlords, the priestly class, the wealthy aristocracy, the poor and downtrodden. It was a time of assimilation, with many of the rich "romanizing" their families, just as minorities have done in the 2,000 years since (and probably 2,000 years before). Putting Jesus the man into his milieu is quite revealing; I won't ever see him and his followers the same way again.
I have one minor quibble with the work, which I normally would have downgraded my review to 4 stars for, but the overall impact of Zealot overrode this objection: Dr. Aslan repeats the same incidents, in all of their detail, multiple times (e.g., the story of Jesus curing and cleansing the leper). I attribute this to poor editing; once the story has been told, future references to it should just have reminded the reader of what has already been said rather than repeating it word for word. I suspect this happened because Zealot was probably assembled from a group of papers or lectures where each had to stand on its own. But once combined into a book the editor should have caught the repeats.(less)
There are so many reviews that discuss the structure of the book that there's no point in repeating it. What we have is "alternate universe" scenarios...moreThere are so many reviews that discuss the structure of the book that there's no point in repeating it. What we have is "alternate universe" scenarios, where Ursula Todd makes a decision at a cusp that changes the outcome of the story and her life (except for the first, which is beyond her control; 3 scenarios of her birth, two of which result in surviving into childhood). It's important to note the date of each chapter; if you don't you will be lost forever. The dates tell you alternate universes. For mathematicians it would be possible to create a decision tree that provides a map to all of the alternatives and outcomes; that would be an interesting exercise.
What struck me is that Ursula's choices (again, except for the first) determine her future, and that the choices where she takes positive actions rather than passive acceptance are the ones where the thread of her life continues
Overall Life after Life is a somewhat challenging but very satisfying read.(less)
I very much enjoy McEwan Ian's works; I've never read one I didn't like, and some really stand out. So what was my problem with Sweet Tooth? There is...moreI very much enjoy McEwan Ian's works; I've never read one I didn't like, and some really stand out. So what was my problem with Sweet Tooth? There is the common expression "I couldn't put it down." My problem was "I couldn't pick it up." It would sit on the desk for days at a time; I didn't really want to read further, because the first person narrator seemed shallow, inconsistent, and not terribly likable. Surprising because it is a short work, and could be finished in one or two sittings.
We are told at the very beginning how it will end; Serena botches an Intelligence assignment while working for MI5, is fired, and now, 40 years later, is going to tell us what happened in between. It turns out she had an affair with a writer who has been secretly subsidized by MI5. He bears a striking resemblance to McEwan, and she even summarizes several of his short stories, which are only slightly altered from early McEwan works. To say more would raise spoilers.
Even though it took an effort of will I'm not one to give up, so on a Sunday afternoon I finished it. And was well rewarded. The final chapter is a masterpiece of reversal, and a great opportunity to turn the tables on the reader. So stick with it.(less)
I chose this book based on a review of a non-fiction book on motherhood by the author. The reviewer cited The Gathering as an example of the author's...moreI chose this book based on a review of a non-fiction book on motherhood by the author. The reviewer cited The Gathering as an example of the author's work. Centering around the wake and funeral of the narrator's brother, it explores the relationships within and around a large family (12 siblings) from the perspective of one of them. The narrator is confused and flawed, as are all of us, and this distorts our view of the family. There is, of course, a looming secret that will come out when the family gathers for the funeral; it's a good one, and ties all of the threads weaving through the book together.(less)
This is the great theoretical astrophysicist at his best. It could be subtitled "A Brief History of the Universe", and, as that, it is one of the clea...moreThis is the great theoretical astrophysicist at his best. It could be subtitled "A Brief History of the Universe", and, as that, it is one of the clearest explanations I have read (out of many). Hawking uses the history to disprove the existence of God, applying the purported quote from LaPlace, "I had no need of that hypothesis." Whether you accept that view or not, The Grand Design is an excellent (and short) dissertation on current thinking on the origins of our world and universe.(less)
This short contribution to the centuries old question of whether we have free will takes a different approach - the fact that our brain knows what we...moreThis short contribution to the centuries old question of whether we have free will takes a different approach - the fact that our brain knows what we are going to do before we become consciously aware of it. He thus concludes that free will is an illusion, because our path is already determined before we act on it. An interesting thought, but one that has uncomfortable implications. Worth reading to stimulate thinking.(less)
Skios is a comedy of errors and mistaken identity, taken to an improbably extreme on a Greek Island paradise. But for me it just didn't work. I'm a gr...moreSkios is a comedy of errors and mistaken identity, taken to an improbably extreme on a Greek Island paradise. But for me it just didn't work. I'm a great fan of Michael Frayn, so this was a disappointment for me. It won prizes, which is a mystery to me. Your mileage may vary.(less)
They departed, the gods, on the day of the strange tide. All morning under the milky sky the waters in the bay had swelled and swelled, rising to unhe...moreThey departed, the gods, on the day of the strange tide. All morning under the milky sky the waters in the bay had swelled and swelled, rising to unheard-of heights, the small waves creeping over parched sand that for years had known no wetting save for rain and lapping the very bases of the dunes...I would not swim, no, not ever again.
Someone has just walked over my grave. Someone.
Thus begins John Banville's Booker prize novel The Sea. The opening caught my interest; its mystery is not resolved until the very end of the book, which, in many ways wraps around to this beginning. The narrator has returned to the scene of a significant childhood experience, at a seaside resort his family summered at during his pre-teen years. The events of that summer haunt him throughout his life, through failed attempts to exorcize the memories. Now, in late life, he returns to the scene of the "crime" to write his memoirs. Through a long narrative Max tells us about his life, jumping around in time constantly, tying apparently unconnected events together, including his relationship with the Graces, another family also summering by the shore, his relationship with his wife, her death, and ultimately explaining the opening paragraph. Throughout we are reminded of the fallibility of memory, as the same scene keeps changing in Max's recollection.
The author's prose is beautiful, his descriptions sumptuous, his vocabulary extensive to the point of showing off. I consider my vocabulary above average, but I still had to look up a number of words. (Thanks for the Kindle dictionary!) I chose The Sea on its Booker Prize selection; I have done well with Booker Prize winners, and this was no exception.(less)
Bring Up the Bodies is the sequel to the author's Wolf Hall, winner of the Man Booker prize in fiction for 2009. She promises us a 3rd book in the ser...moreBring Up the Bodies is the sequel to the author's Wolf Hall, winner of the Man Booker prize in fiction for 2009. She promises us a 3rd book in the series; after reading the first two I wait with 'bated breath. What Hilary Mantel has done is take the supposedly familiar story of Henry VIII and his wives, but from the perspective of Thomas Cromwell, who is usually viewed as the villain. See, for example, A Man for All Seasons, the story of the fall of Sir Thomas More, in which More is a saint (literally, eventually) who is martyred by Thomas Cromwell. More does not come off so well in Mantel's telling of the story; he is a zealot who likes to torture (literally) heretics.
In Wolf Hall the author has covered the period of the end of Henry's marriage to Katherine of Aragon and his marriage to Anne Boleyn. Bring Up the Bodies begins where Wolf Hall left off, and takes us through the bloody end of Henry's marriage to Anne, including her execution and much collateral damage, all orchestrated by Thomas Cromwell, Master Secretary to Henry. Cromwell is the consumate politician, who survives and advances his career and fortunes by being able to read Henry and anticipate his needs and desires. Everything is from Cromwell's perspective, so he comes across as a superman who is resented by the nobles of the kingdom both because he is a commoner and because he can outsmart them without breaking a sweat. We have sympathy for him, as he successfully navigates one political minefield after another.
The author's style has improved a little over Wolf Hall, where it sometimes was difficult to understand who was speaking, as she mostly uses pronouns rather than names. Now she says, "he, Cromwell.." rather than just "he..." if there is ambiguity in the scene. But even with this minor nitpick in Wolf Hall it is clear that the author is a superb writer and storyteller. Her books are not to be missed.
An interesting point of enlightenment can be found in the Frick Collection in New York City. This famous art museum has 2 Holbein portraits, one of Sir Thomas More and one of Thomas Cromwell. They are positioned either side of the fireplace in the "family room", looking towards each other. After reading Wolf Hall these portraits and their mounting take on deeper meaning. There is a mystery, also, as between them is a painting of St. Jerome. I seek a hidden meaning in the placement of these 3 works of art, but have yet to find it.(less)
Umberto Eco is a quixotic writer who I usually enjoy (The Island of the Day Before being the exception). His focus on conspiracies and his dismissal o...moreUmberto Eco is a quixotic writer who I usually enjoy (The Island of the Day Before being the exception). His focus on conspiracies and his dismissal of them truly endear him to me. Indeed, in many ways Foucault's Pendulum is the anti-The Da Vinci Code. The Prague Cemetery continues his debunking of conspiracies, as his protagonist creates and destroys them as need's be. Other reviewers have described the story, and there's no point in my repeating them. Eco grabbed me in the first few sentences, describing the contents of a junk shop, and stopped me dead describing "a pair of firedogs that would disgrace any hearth". Eco's use of language, even in translation, is unmatched among modern authors (which probably also makes him the anti-Dan Brown).
What I find most delicious is how Eco has created a protagonist who is truly the most despicable character in modern literature, and possibly in literature of all time. There is nothing redeeming about him; you can feel no sympathy for him, and his activities untimately (in Eco's interpretation) to the Holocaust. He murders when convenient, (expertly) forges documents for a living, betrays friends, befriends foes, is violently anti-Semitic, but also hates everyone else (Catholics, Protestants, Jesuits, Masons, doctors, women, royalty, commonfolk, satanists, even himself). The only pleasure he has in life is good food. Eco emphasizes this by having the scoundrel describe meals in detail, and also occasionally recipes for the dishes in the meals he enjoys.
The Prague Cemetery is also historical fiction. In a postscript Eco explains that all of the characters except his protagonist (even his grandfather) were real people, and their words were things they actually said. (less)
As a disclaimer, I read Lovers and Beloveds because I know the author through a different context. I've also recently read the first two "Fifty Shades...moreAs a disclaimer, I read Lovers and Beloveds because I know the author through a different context. I've also recently read the first two "Fifty Shades" novels. I won't repeat what other reviewers have said about the story line. Instead, I will focus on what this is: A coming of age story set in a mildly fantasy mythos that would be targeted to teens, except that most teens probably won't be allowed to read it due to the explicit (and excellent) sex scenes. I say mildly fantasy because it deviates from our own reality in only small ways. People are people, and act like people. They have desires and emotions that we will recognize, and act in ways that we can understand. The fact that there's a little magic in the story doesn't detract from it.
The sex is far from gratuitous; it is central to the story as Prince Temmin is 18, and his mind is an 18 year-olds. While the same story could be told without the explicitness, it would be weaker overall.
The contrast with Fifty Shades of Grey and its sequels is striking. Lovers and Beloveds is a gripping story with well developed and understandable characters. The Fifty Shades books are excellent pornography, but the characters are not as believable as the fantasy characters in MeiLin Miranda's works. Appreciate the irony.(less)