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Tag Archives: fiction

Vaclav & Lena by Haley Tanner

Vaclav & LenaAfter reading quite a few glowing reviews of this debut novel, I decided I had to give it a shot.

The general synopsis is: two young immigrants from Russia who are in the same ESL class at school become, well, not ‘unlikely’ friends.  More like inevitable friends, once they are thrown together on a play date and go to Coney Island together.  Starting at the age of five, Lena becomes a fixture in Vaclav’s house, coming over every day after school and staying for dinner.  She is living with her aunt, who is a stripper/prostitute and fails to take basic care of her.  Rasia, Vaclav’s mother, takes Lena under wing and becomes her protector.

Then one day, just after Vaclav’s 10th birthday, Lena doesn’t come to school.  Lena disappears entirely, actually, for seven years.  In this time, Vaclav never forgets his friend and the magic show they had planned to perform together.  He says goodnight to her every night without fail, hoping that it will keep her safe, wherever she is.

The two are reunited after seven years and it serves to help them delve into the time before they met, the time they were apart, and any future they might have together.

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2 States: The Story of My Marriage by Chetan Bhagat

This is the first book I have read written by an Indian author for an Indian audience still living in India. Chetan Bhagat is quite a famous writer in India. Aside from selling many copies of his novels, two of them were made into Bollywood (Indian Hollywood) movies. One of those movies – 3 Idiots – had cross cultural success, with Indian-Americans going to theaters in droves to watch it. I would actually recommend it to non-Indian-American audiences as well. It is a wonderfully directed/written movie, the actors are good, and the songs are entertaining. Did I mention that all Bollywood movies have songs and dance routines? Yea, they do.

Anyway, back to the book. Me thinks this may be based on Chetan Bhagat’s life. I mean, aside from the title saying “the story of my marriage,” the characters bear a striking resemblance to people in his own life. Before I can really get into the story told in this novel, it is important to have an understanding of arranged marriages. And I don’t mean the superficial understanding that leads people to say stuff like, “How can you get married without loving somebody?” or “You’re letting someone else choose your life partner for you?” I’m not saying these aren’t valid questions. I just want to give you a fuller picture of the concept. At one end of the marriage spectrum is the historical context of two people getting together in matrimony. Marriage often served a political purpose. People exchanged heirs to maintain peaceful relationships with foreign powers or tribes. Many people are involved and the two people in the center of this exchange aren’t so much consulted as told of the impending match. Two people coming together for love is on the complete other end of the spectrum. Here, nobody except the two people involved consult about the match. Arranged marriages are somewhere in the middle of this spectrum. These marriages involve the coming together of two families that share common beliefs, cultural practices, languages, etc. The bride and groom are consulted, but everything is seen through a familial lens: how will this person fit in with my family?

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Heads You Lose by Lisa Lutz and David Hayward

Heads You Lose

Heads You Lose by Lisa Lutz and David Hayward

Lisa Lutz, author of the Spellman Files series (which you should pick up if you haven’t) teams up with an unlikely partner for her latest novel: David Hayward, a poet she dated briefly in the 90s.  The resulting book is described by Lutz as “a real crime novel with a dead body and all” – but also eschews as many traditional elements of crime novels as it upholds.

This wacky journey begins when Lacey and Paul, two orphaned siblings in their 20s, find a headless body in their backyard.  Except they can’t call the cops to their home due to the marijuana crop growing in the basement.  The brother and sister decide to investigate on their own, though these investigations manifest themselves very differently and often lead them in opposite directions.

Having two authors with dueling styles and plot development was a bit frustrating for me at first, but as the book found its rhythm a few chapters in I began to enjoy the ride.  Included after each chapter are email exchanges between the authors that shed light on the actions of their characters.  By the end of the book, it is virtually a tug of war between Lutz and Hayward, to the point I wasn’t convinced there was any way to salvage what was left of the plot, clues, and suspect list to form a cohesive ending.  Luckily, I was proven wrong as the loose ends were tied up expertly for a clean finish.

Recommended for anyone who likes serious crime fiction, but isn’t afraid to have some fun with it!

EDIT: I meant to include this video in my post.  It should give you an idea of the back-and-forth that drives this book.

This book was reviewed from an advance copy sent by the author/publisher.

 

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Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Water for Elephants

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

This is one of those books that customers have been recommending to me for years, but I’ve been never felt much of an urge to read myself.  With the movie coming out I figured I would give it a shot, not that I have any particular plans to see the movie, but just to see what all the fuss is about.

We’ll start with the good: Gruen obviously did a lot of research on Depression-era train circuses. She does a good job describing what life on tour with working men, performers, sideshow freaks, and a menagerie of animals might be like.  It’s a very quick, easy read (I read it in two sittings) that moves along at a decent clip.

Some problems I had:

1) Jacob, the protagonist, is debilitatingly passive throughout the story.  He constantly finds himself in circumstances where others take control from him, and he does nothing to stop them.  Other characters make almost all his decisions for him, which is frustrating beyond belief.  For instance, he makes a vow to himself not to let any of the animals be harmed again – but then stands idly by as the elephant is tortured with a hook.  Multiple times.

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Firmin by Sam Savage

Firmin by Sam SavageI bought this book because it had a giant bite taken out of it, and it said it was about a rat who grew up in the basement of a bookstore.  What’s not to like?  (Well, okay, I kind of have a rat phobia, but I was willing to give it a try.)

Firmin is born in a nest made of a shredded copy of Finnegan’s Wake, in the basement of a 1960s-era Boston used bookstore.  He’s the runt of the litter and often gets shorted at feeding time.  As a result, he turns to the books surrounding him for something to chew on and finds that he can’t stop.

Like many things that start as small, illicit pleasures, paper chewing soon became an imperative, and then an addiction, a mortal hunger whose satisfaction was so delightful that I would often hesitate to pounce on the first free tit. (17)

In this way, Firmin becomes a literal consumer of literature.  After a while, however, he learns to read what is written on the pages, and switches to only chewing on the margins.  Soon he is better read than most humans, and he migrates to the ceiling where he watches the bookstore below.  I love his description of what he observes, because it reminds me of the joy inherent in having a bricks-and-mortar bookstore to visit:

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Of Things Lost and Found

The Book of Lost Things

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

My colleague and partner in crime posted some of her favorite books this evening, including The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly.  Since this is one of my all-time favorite books, too, I thought I should elaborate.

A short synopsis, first: David, a young boy growing up in London during WWII, loses his mother and turns to books of fairy tales and mythology for solace.  He soon begins hearing the books whispering to him and catches glimpses of things which don’t belong in his world.  He is eventually transported to a world woven from these stories – but never in quite the way you would expect.

On the surface, this book could be unremarkable.  It’s been done before, many times, this coming of age tale in a fantasy world.  The Book of Lost Things, however, has enough unique and imaginative characters and plot twists to make revisiting the form more than worthwhile.  It is all around well-conceived, well-structured, and well-written.  My kind of book!

In the end, all you really need to know about the book is this: I made the mistake of starting to read it during lunch one day.  My copy still has a large stain on page 6, by which point I was so engrossed that I missed my mouth and dropped a piece of pineapple on it.  If you haven’t had the pleasure yet, drop what you are doing (or eating) and get yourself a copy.  You can thank me later.

 

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From My Library…

What I loved about the lively world of a Book store, was the feeling each day to see what brilliant minds had written. Like a birthday… opening a new book felt like a gift. I am quite opinionated and you will learn more about that later. (But books I recommend looking up are worth buying in hard cover.) Here are some books from my library……

Opening TOO LOUD A SOLITUDE a novel by Bohumil Hrabal changed my life….. “Because when I read, I don’t really read; I pop a beautiful sentence into my mouth and suck it like a fruit drop, or sip it like a liqueur until the thought dissolves in me like alcohol, infusing brain and heart and coursing on through the veins the root of each blood vessel.”  Totally FAB!   Buy It!

So………..

FAB FAVES for Adults:

  • FORESKIN’S LAMENT a memoir by Shalom Auslander
  • THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS by  John Connolly

FAB FAVES for kids:

  • THE BEEJUM BOOK by Alice O. Howell
  • THE PALACE OF LAUGHTER The Wednesday Tales No.1 by Jon Berkeley

That’s all for tonight.

HARDBOUNDandGAGGED

(The former bookseller known as Colby)

 
 

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Something Borrowed – Emily Giffin

Something Borrowed by Emily GiffinOn the night of her 30th birthday, Rachel allows herself to sleep with the man she has desired all throughout law school. And it was great. Dexter Thatcher is great, the sex was great, and she feels great. That is until she wakes the following morning with a slight hangover and her absolute best friend’s fiancé in her bed. That’s right, folks. Dex is none other than Darcy’s long time boyfriend and recent fiancé. In fact, Rachel was the one who introduced the two. Bitch, right?

Quickly Dex comes up with a cover for both of them and they part ways, each feeling guilty. But only slightly. Thereafter, the story unfolds like you’d expect it to. Rachel and Dex sneak around to see each other and manage to hide it from all, save a select few non-judgmental and almost encouraging friends. All the while, though, Rachel – who prides herself on being on the straight and narrow her whole life- questions her actions, her friendship with Darcy, modern feminist arguments of being complete without a man, whether what she is doing is all that wrong, and if Dex really is “the One” or if she is fooling herself or he’s fooling her. Bitch, right?

Well, wrong. At least the way Emily Giffin tells it.

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