Archive | August, 2014

Oh, to be Irish in NYC

30 Aug

We are not ourselvesWe are getting close to the release date for Matthew Thomas’s We Are Not Ourselves. I’ve been thinking for a while about how to talk about this massive book (620 pages!). Right off the bat, it reminded me of Brooklyn by Colm Toibin or Someone by Alice McDermott. To an extent. If you read either of those slightly episodic books about young Irish immigrants in NYC and thought “oh, I really loved that, I wish I knew her entire story,” then We Are Not Ourselves is something that will completely appeal to you. If you read either of those other two and thought “this was the perfect amount of story for me,” then steer clear of this one. We meet Eileen Tumulty as a young girl living in an apartment with her problematic parents and follow her well into middle age. The best part of the story, and the meat of it, is her husband’s descent into illness. Which was SO well done. I could picture Eileen so perfectly, down to every detail that even now – weeks after reading it – I can close my eyes and see her right down to her shoes. At times towards the middle/end of the novel, I found myself “remembering” her childhood, it seemed so long ago that I was recalling it as memory, not as something I’d just read (which is weird to try to describe). To sum up, a great Irish-immigrant-gal-in-NYC novel. 4.5 stars (minus .5 for sheer length, it wiped me out!)

A Garrulous Gaggle of Geese

15 Aug

colorlessThe first time I read Murakami, I was a sophomore in college and he pretty much changed my world. I read Kafka on the Shore and was completely blown away by the world that he created. His imagination is CRAZY. During college I read through his oeuvre and have felt a bit of excitement ever since every time a new book comes out. But I haven’t read anything since college. His last one, IQ84 was such a doorstop that I never could work up the nerve to crack it. But this new one, out this past Tuesday, is so cute and little I was excited to start it. And I really liked it! I made a list of things as I was reading that struck me particularly:

1) Tsukuru is passionate about building/designing train stations (how incredibly obscure is that?!)

2) much of the story is based around Tsukuru’s group of high school friends – the four others all had colors in their last names. Names that meant “red pine” and “blue sea” and “white root” and “black field” while poor (colorless) Tsukuru’s last name only meant “builder.” I loved that this was recognized by the friends and also that it gave Tsukuru a complex.

3) I loved that Murakami described some minor character as looking as though she’d been “raised with a garrulous gaggle of geese.” What a wonderful translation – I can only hope it sounded so good in Japanese!

The premise of the novel is that one day, when Tsukuru was a sophomore in college, the four friends abruptly cut him out of the group. He was thrown into a severe depression, and even now, 16years later, it is still affecting him. His girlfriend Sara urges him to find the four friends and figure out what happened, why he was outcast all those years ago. I really enjoyed it, but there were a few threads that I wish had been tied up, a few things that I felt were forgotten about and unresolved. 3.5 stars, but an excellent Murakami to read, especially if you haven’t read him before and find him intimidating (which some people do).

Out of This World

11 Aug

I just finished a novel that is completely outside of my wheelhouse. I’m not even sure where that phrase comes from, but I’m sure it fits.

Martian

The Martian by Andy Weir is classified as “Sci-Fi,” something I tend to stay pretty far away from. Here is how this ended up in my queue: My darling, smart, high-school cousin Ian was looking for recommendations for an upcoming trip. I knew he’d been in a Michael Crichton phase lately, and that The Martian was getting good reviews and felt like it’d be Crichton-y. Guess what? He LOVED it. So into the queue it went. I really liked it. I don’t know if I loved it, but I can definitely see the appeal. Some bad luck and poor weather conditions leave Mark Watney, botanist and engineer, stranded on the planet Mars. MacGyver meet Apollo 13 say all of the jacket blurbs and that may be the best way to think of it. It is also a lot of math (completely above me) – he needs this many liters of water to survive and he can get this percentage here and that percentage there. He needs this many calories a day multiplied by x many days which means he needs to plant this many potato spurs in x-many meters of modified soil etc., etc. If the entire novel had been Mark’s journal while trying to navigate an empty planet I might have given up on it. But fairly quickly we get to see the NASA people on Earth figure out that he is out there and begin working to bring him back. 4.25 stars and an easy recommendation for anyone who likes survivalist/space/action/Crichton-ish novels.

Bashkim for President

3 Aug

What a great year 2014 is for fiction! I continue to be impressed with this years output. My 5 star streak continues with Laura McBride’s We Are Called to Rise.

image

I knew this had promise when my friend Alison called me up from her Floridian vacation spot to tell me it was the best thing she’s read in years. One of my best bookstore friends loved it also. Here’s why: it is amazing. Bashkim is one of the most endearing child narrators you will find anywhere ever. He is one of four voices used to tell the story: 1) Avis, mother of a soldier recently returned home from his third tour in Iraq 2) Roberta, a CASA volunteer (Court Appointed Special Advocate) 3) Luis, a wounded vet recovering from severe injury on his last tour of Iraq and 4) dear Bashkim, an 8-year-old child with an abusive Albanian father and so much worry it makes your heart hurt. All of this info is on the back flap, and reading the flap initially I was turned off. There are so many books about soldiers returned from war, about the horrors of the war on terror. I’ve read a few and that was enough. But this one is much different. It’s about Iraq without being about Iraq. I would compare it to the movie Crash, where all of the pieces come together in the most tragic way and you can’t help but be swept away. 5 great big stars.

A Sweet Summer Story

2 Aug

It seems like a lot of what I’ve been reading lately has been sort of dark and twisted. Dead bodies, snow drifts, heartbreak. What a nice change of pace I found in A Man Called Ove!

oveThere are lots of stories with a similar feel (Major Pettigrew,The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry) but for some reason it is still refreshing. Predictable, but still refreshing. Ove is about a curmudgeonly fellow who seems much older than his 59 years. So much so that I was shocked when I read that he was only 59 (it comes sort of later in the book, in passing). He is described perfectly as “the sort of man who checks the status of all things by giving them a good kick” and he is getting ready to kill himself. In fact, much of the book is him trying to kill himself. His plan is foiled time and time again by his pesky (yet loveable and amazing) neighbors. I think if UP hadn’t been a Pixar film but was in fact based in reality (no talking dogs, no houses floating away under a sea of helium balloons), it would definitely be the story of our Ove. He has pretty much stopped living, stopped feeling alive, since the death of his wife Sonja and it takes a crazy cast of characters to pull him out of his terminal funk and open his heart again. I enjoyed this much more than I was anticipating and it made me cry much less than I would have thought. 4 stars and recommended for anyone who wants a sweet, feel good summer read.

carl_fredricksen