Friday, June 25, 2010

Animal Dreams, by Barbara Kingsolver

Animal Dreams, by Barbara Kingsolver, is the story of a young woman's return to her hometown of Grace, Arizona. It is a Bildungsroman in which our protagonist, Codi Noline, is forced to come to terms with her stern and ailing father, the town's doctor, and understand her ancestry. Motherless and believing herself an outsider in a tightly-knit community, Cody has lived a life without roots and emotional ties. Having secretly miscarried as a pregnant teenager, she is unable to complete her medical school residency after witnessing a difficult delivery.

Believing herself to be a failure, she idolizes her younger sister, Hallie, whom she believes to be beautiful and idealistic. Hallie has gone to war-torn Nicaragua to teach farming methods to the poor. We know of Hallie through her letters and through the thoughts of her sister.

Animal Dreams is a book about love, redemption, and forgiveness. It is about understanding a parent, a lost love, and most important, oneself. Moreover, the backdrop of the silent poisoning of a river at the hands of a mining company is made more pertinent in the wake of the British Petroleum disaster.

This book, originally published in 1990, seems very current 20 years later. Its themes of harmony and change are intended both on a personal and global scale. Never preachy, Animal Dreams is a compelling story to be enjoyed by adults and young adults alike.

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

South of the Border, West of the Sun

South of the Border, West of the Sun, by Haruki Murakami, is a coming of age tale written by a master of mystery and fantasy. Hajime, born in 1951, has grown up in affluence. An only child, he is different from the majority of other children with siblings. His childhood sweetheart, Shimimoto, is likewise isolated by being an only child, and having a slight limp. They understand each other in a profound way. Yet, as often happens with children, once Hajime moves with his family at age 12, the two are separated and lose contact. In high school, he has his first sexual relationship with another girl, Izumi, whom he betrays. During his college years, and into his 30's, he longs for the pure love he once felt for Shimamoto.

Now, in spite of a caring wife, two young daughters, and two successful bars, Hajime is discontented. He loves his wife, yet fails to truly communicate with her. One evening, Shimamoto appears in his bar. They begin a relationship, but Shimamoto disappears without warning. She comes back 6 months later, and their affair takes a new dimension.

Shimamoto is no longer the innocent girl of his childhood. She now has a dark and mysterious past. Indeed, both she and Izumi have ominous qualities. Haruki's obsession with Shimamoto, and his repetitive thoughts of Izumi, represent both his attraction and fear of death.

As in his other works, Murakami examines themes of alienation, death, and human cruelty. Although this novel employs less fantasy, the appearance of Izumi as an evil phantom of Haruki's imagination, an actualization of his bad conscience, contributes some magical realism. Both she and Shimamoto add suspense to the bildungsroman.

Beautifully crafted, this short novel is one that avid Murikami fans will love, and readers not yet acquainted with this fine author will likewise enjoy. Different from his other works, it will be enjoyed by anyone who loves fine writing and an engaging plot.

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Chef by Jaspreet Singh

This is a very intriguing little book that geographically straddles Kashmir and Pakistan. The main character, the chef known as Kip, is a former military chef. We meet him as he is travelling by trian to prepare a wedding feast for the daughter of his former commanding officer, a meal which could save his life. Good writing about food, travel, politics, relationships, this is a quirky multilayered novel that I highly recommend.

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Friday, June 11, 2010

In the Shadow of the Cypress

I picked up this book not knowing if I really wanted to read it. I did and you should put it on your "to read " list.

The story is divided into 3 parts. The first section is the historical setup. It starts in 1906 in China Point, Ca., an enclave of Chinese immigrants. The story line goes into the social workings of the area (Tongs, etc.) and is historically accurate. Throw in a major earthquake and some storms and the story takes off. The story moves along into slightly more modern times through parts 2 and 3. Some of the characters continue through - some new ones are introduced and most of the new characters are descendants on people in part one.

Part 2 continues the story about some ancient Chinese artifacts that are discovered after a large ancient cypress tree falls over. The artifacts are a small statue and a marble tablet inscribed in three ancient languages. The tablet indicates that the Chinese reached America from the west long before the Europeans reached it from the east. The items are purchased by the major ruling tong after they decide that the locals of China Point cannot secure them properly. The artifacts are put on a boat to be shipped to northern California. The boat sinks and all the cargo is lost.

Part 3 is in modern times. A marine graduate student finds some historical papers regarding the documents. He contacts an ancient languages expert and they decide to try and find the now lost items. They launch a salvage operation with the help of his friend's father who turns out to be related to one of the original handlers of the tablet.

The book is well written, but the ending seems a little rushed, almost like Steinbeck didn't know how to end it. But the end satisfies. One aspect of the book I really like was the information on the Chinese immigrants to the U.S. Steinbeck includes not only information about where they lived in the U.S. but also information on their social customs and traditions. After all Thomas Steinbeck is John Steinbeck's son. I liked this book and would recommend it. It's more than just a historical mystery.

In the Shadow of the Cypress

In the Shadow of the Cypress
By Steinbeck, Thomas
2010-04 - Gallery Books
9781439168257 Check Our Catalog

From Thomas Steinbeck, son of novelist John Steinbeck, comes a thrilling story of a group of Chinese immigrants in turn-of-the-century California. …More

Thursday, June 10, 2010


Innocent by Scott Turow

What a smart mystery/suspense/thriller!

If you want a story that will keep you inside on a beautiful spring day, this one should do it!

The court intrigue as well as the personal story behind the plot is mezmerizing and never predictable, as so many thrillers are. Turow is a marvelous story teller as well as an accomplished writer.

I'm reading Turow's past work that I've missed and will keep you posted!

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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

New Science Fiction/Fantasy for the summer!

Hot new sci fi/fantasy for you to check out!

Tor Books

The Sorcerer's House By Wolfe, Gene
BookPage Notable Title
In this contemporary fantasy novel told entirely in a series of letters, a man inherits a huge, magical house and is immediately confronted by supernatural and fantastic creatures and events.

At the Gates of DarknessTen years after the terrible Darkwar finally ended, catastrophe once again threatens to engulf Midkemia and Kelewan, for the Demon King and his Dread Legion are determined to conquer this world of magic and wonder.
At the Gates of Darkness By Feist, Raymond E.

Ten years after the terrible Darkwar finally ended, catastrophe once again threatens to engulf Midkemia and Kelewan, for the Demon King and his Dread Legion are determined to conquer this world of magic and wonder.

Changes: A Novel of the Dresden Files2010-04
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Changes: A Novel of the Dresden Files By Butcher, Jim
The new novel in the #1 "New York Times"-bestselling Dresden Files series. Long ago, Susan Rodriguez was Harry Dresden's lover--until she was attacked by his enemies, leaving her torn between her own humanity and the bloodlust of the vampiric Red Court.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Housekeeper and the Professor

The Housekeeper and the Professor, by Yoko Ogawa, is about an unlikely relationship between a young woman, her 10 year old son, and a mentally disabled former professor. The professor, in his 60’s, is the victim of a traffic accident that leaves him with the inability to remember anything more than 80 minutes. Once a brilliant mathematician, time stopped for him in 1975. He now solves math puzzles and walks around in a suit with reminder notes pinned all over. Aside from puzzles, the professor’s other interest is baseball, circa 1975, and his favorite pitcher is the famed player, Yataka Enatsu.

The characters in this novel are quirky and lovingly drawn. The housekeeper is a fatherless young woman who got pregnant in high school. Aside from her son, she is without a family. Like the professor, her potential has been cut short, and she, too, depends on the kindness of those around her. The people for whom she cleans and cooks often take advantage of her, forcing her to work long hours away from her son.

It is with the professor that this woman forms a bond. Although his memory is short, his love of children is immense. He nicknames her son Root because the top of his head appears flat, and he insists that she bring him to work with her. And because he loves her son, the young woman starts to love him. The nature of her love is left ambiguous.

There is one other character of importance—the widow, who is the Professor’s sister-in-law. She provides yet another sub-plot of the book.

Yoko Ogawa is an amazing storyteller. Ultimately, she explores the impact the mentally disabled can have on those living in the “normal world.” She also explores the nature of memory and love, and asks whether there can be love in a life where memory does not exist.

Beautifully crafted, this short book is a delightful and touching read.

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