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review 2017-08-01 22:02
For discerning readers who enjoy books about the human condition
A Horse Walks into a Bar: A novel - David Grossman,Jessica Cohen

Thanks to NetGalley and to Random House UK, Vintage Publishing, Jonathan Cape for providing me with an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

This is the first book I’ve read by David Grossman. I hope it won’t be the last.

The description probably gives a fair idea of the plot. Yes, we are in Netanya, Israel, and we are spectators of the act of a stand-up comedian, Dovelah Greenstein (or Dov G.). He is 57 years old (as he repeatedly reminds us through the evening), skinny (almost emaciated), and seems to become increasingly desperate as the night goes. He tells jokes, anecdotes, makes comments about the city, the spectators, Jews (yes, the self-deprecation readers of Philip Roth, for example, will be familiar with), says some politically incorrect things, tells a number of jokes (some really funny, some odd, some quite old), and insists on telling us a story about his childhood, despite the audience’s resistance to listening to it.

The beauty (or one of them) of the novel, is the narrator. Yes, I’m back to my obsession with narrators. The story is told in the first-person by Avishai Lazar, a judge who was unceremoniously removed from his post when he started becoming a bit too vocal and opinionated in his verdicts. The two characters were friends as children, and Dov calls Avishai asking him to attend his performance. His request does not only come completely out of the blue (they hadn’t seen each other since they were in their teens), but it is also quite weird. He does not want a chat, or to catch up on old times. He wants the judge to tell him what he sees when he looks at him. He wants him to tell him what other people see, what essence they perceive when they watch him. Avishai, who is a widower and still grieving, is put-off by this and reacts quite rudely, but eventually, agrees.

Although the novel is about Dov’s performance and his story (his need to let it all hang out, to explain his abuse but also his feeling of guilt about a personal tragedy), that is at times light and funny, but mostly sad and even tragic, he is not the character who changes and grows the most during the performance (his is an act of exorcism, a way of getting rid of his demons). For me, the story, sad and depressing as it can be at times (this is not a book for everybody, and I suspect many readers will empathise with quite a few of the spectators who leave the performance before it ends), is ultimately about redemption. Many narrators have told us in the past (The Great Gatsby, Heart of Darkness) that in telling somebody else’s story, they are also telling their own. This is indeed the case here. The judge (at first we don’t know who is narrating the story, but we get more and more details as the performance advances) is very hostile at first and keeps wondering why he is there, and wanting to leave. But at some point, the rawness, the determination, and the sheer courage of the comedian, who keeps going no matter how difficult it gets, break through his protective shell and he starts to question his own actions and his life. If this might be Dev’s last performance, in a way it is a beginning of sorts, especially for the judge.

Readers become the ersatz club audience, and it is very difficult to stop watching something that is so extreme and desperate, but it is also difficult to keep watching (or reading) as it becomes more and more painful. It is as if we were spectators in a therapy session where somebody is baring his soul. We feel as if we are intruding on an intimate moment, but also that perhaps we are providing him with some comfort and support to help him go through the process. Although other than the two main characters we do not get to know the rest in detail, there are familiar types we might recognise, and there is also a woman who knew the comedian when he was a child and, perhaps, plays the part of the therapist (a straight faced one, but the one he needs).

The book is beautifully written and observed. Grossman shows a great understanding of psychology and also of group interactions. Although I am not an expert on stand-up comedy, the dynamics of the performance rang true to me. I cannot compare it to the original, but the translation is impressive (I find it difficult to imagine anybody could do a better job, and if the original is even better, well…).

As I said before, this is not a book for everybody. Although it is quite short, it is also slow and intense (its rhythm is that of the performance, which ebbs and flows). None of the characters (except, perhaps, the woman) are immediately sympathetic, and they are flawed, not confident enough or too confident and dismissive, over-emotional or frozen and unable to feel, and they might not seem to have much in common with the reader, at first sight. This is not a genre book (literary fiction would be the right label, if we had to try and give it one), there is no romance (or not conventional romance), no action, no heroes or heroines, and not much happens (a whole life happens, but not in the usual sense). If you are interested in characters that are real in their humanity (for better and for worse), don’t mind a challenge, and want to explore something beyond the usual, I recommend you this book.

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review 2017-07-13 12:13
For lovers of historical fiction and the French Resistance, a novel based on a true episode of cruelty and destruction that should never be forgotten.
Wolfsangel - Liza Perrat

This is the third book by Liza Perrat I have read, and it won’t be the last one. After The Silent Kookaburra set in Australia in the 1970s, I read the first book in the Bone Angel Series, Spirit of Lost Angels. (Read the review here). This is a series that follows the women of a French rural family through the generations, with big jumps in time. The name comes from a little bone angel talisman these women wear and inherit down the female line, together with a skill and talent for nursing (including knowledge of herbs and natural remedies) and midwifery. While Spirit of Lost Angels is set around the time of the French Revolution, this book follows the main character, Célestine (Céleste) through the difficult years of the German occupation of France during the Second World War and its immediate aftermath.

The book is again narrated by its protagonist, a young girl, eager to prove herself and to lead an interesting life away from her seemingly uncaring and cold mother, in the first person. I know some readers do not like first person narrations although they bring an immediacy and closeness to the proceedings, and help us understand better the main character (well, to the point she understands herself). This device also means that we share in the point of view and opinions of Céleste and we are as surprised by events as she is, as we do not have any more information than she does. I am fascinated by narrators, and although Céleste is not an unreliable narrator by design (she does tell things and events as she experiences them), her rushed and unthinking behaviour at times, her quick reactions, and her youth make her not the most objective of people at times. Of course, if readers cannot manage to connect with Céleste at some level, the novel will be harder to read, but she is a likeable character. She is young, impulsive, and enthusiastic. She is eager to help and will often do it without thinking about the consequences and risks she might be taking. She helps a Jewish family very early on, hiding them on the farm, even when she is convinced her mother will not be happy. She wants to help the Resistance cause and is frustrated by the assumption that she is incapable of making any meaningful contribution to the war efforts because she is a woman. She works hard to prove she can be as useful and courageous as a man and runs incredible risks to achieve her goals.

She is not perfect, though, and her youth is particularly well reflected in her romantic attachment to one of the German officers. As is often the case for young lovers, Céleste seems to fall in love with her idea of romance, having only very limited and furtive contact with the officer. If at first she tries to convince herself that she is only playing a part to gather intelligence (and even her sister Felicité encourages her to try and obtain information), soon things turn serious, proving that she is not as calculating and mature as she would like to believe.

Céleste develops throughout the novel, moving to the city, becoming a true resistance fighter, helping the war effort as a nurse, feeding the prisoners at the station on their way to the camps, spying and passing secret information, and becoming a determined and independent woman. She also proves her strength and determination and survives a terrible ordeal and severe losses.

The cast of secondary characters is also exemplary. Céleste’s family (except for her father that we don’t know much about) are well-drawn and fascinating. The relationship mother-daughter is one of the strongest points and it reminds us of the strong bonds and connections between women (not always straight forward) the series is built on. Felicité, Céleste’s sister, is an amazing character, brave beyond the call of duty and, as we learn later, based on a historical figure. Her actions and her courage are very touching. Her brother is strong and supportive, and also a member of the resistance, and we get to know her friends, the doctor, the priest, and to understand that a lot of the population supported the resistance (some more openly than others), although there were collaborationists there too.

The author creates a great sense of place and historical era. The language, the foods, the clothing, the difficulties of an occupied nation trying to survive and resist are vividly brought to life thanks to the detailed descriptions of the landscape and the events, that make us share in the experience, without burdening the novel with extraneous information. The research is seamlessly incorporated into the story and it reminds us of how close the events are to us and makes us reflect on historical similarities with current times. The style of writing is poetic at times (the descriptions of the forest, Céleste’s love for her home and her pendant…), dynamic and flowing, and it has psychological depth and insight too.

The novel is harrowing and realistic as it describes death and tragedy on a big scale. The events that took place in Oradour Sur Glane in 1944 (and that inspired the novel) are horrific and reading them in the first person helps us understand more fully the kind of horror experienced by the victims and also the survivors.

The ending ties all loose ends together and is perfect for the story.

This is a great book for anybody who loves historical fiction and is interested in the French resistance from a more human perspective. It personalises and brings the readers closer to the experience of the era, at the same time helping us reflect on events and attitudes that are all too familiar. If you prefer your history close, personal, and in the first person, this is your book.

 

 

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review 2015-09-15 03:53
Fairly trite romance
Taken Away - Patricia Yager Delagrange

“I never wanted to be pregnant. I want to paint. I don’t want to burp a baby, feed it bottles, change dirty diapers. Shit! You know that.” – Serena Middleton, wife of Dr. Jessee Bradford

 

Serena never wanted to be married. Never wanted to have a baby. But, she did both. Sophia is a beautiful child, and Serena seems to settle. She is painting, Jessee is working as a veterinarian in a 24-hour emergency animal hospital, and they are happy.

 

Then one day Jessee comes home to an empty house. And neither the FBI nor private investigators can find Serena and Sophia. Kidnapping? Or did Serena simply run, taking Sophia with her? Jessee doesn’t know and, subject to panic attacks and severe depression he decides to leave Santa Monica and return to his home in Iowa to take over his grandfather’s veterinary practice.

 

There, he learns to relax. To enjoy his grandparent’s company, and even finds someone to love. But then? A visit to a gallery changes everything. Is Jessee’s life destroyed? Or will all his dreams come true?

 

There are things I liked about the story, and other things that didn’t quite work for me. The book it written in first person, which sometimes works, but in this case simply led to “telling not showing.” It made the story slow going, and I found myself flipping pages to get past the boring parts. Delagrange also devolves into the trite and corny much too heavily for my tastes. For example, there is an instance at the very end, involving Laura, that was just too ‘smarmy on steroids’ for me. It was OK, but not a book I will keep in my stash.

 

I received Taken Away from the publisher in exchange for a realistic review. All thoughts are my own.

Source: soireadthisbooktoday.com
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review 2014-10-10 15:36
Anna Dressed in Blood - Kendare Blake

** spoiler alert ** I was not hooked from the beginning, but it turns better (although sometimes I still was more interested in my split ends than in the story). It wasn't creepy and spooky as I was hoping, but it was pretty gory, which I loved. All characters were likeable, including the jocks, no idea why I think that.

Even his friends think this, but to me Cas was very Buffy the Ghost Slayer. Thomas was Willow-ish; Carmel kinda like Zander, Anna was Angel-like... Am I just a Buffy-fangirl or was it like this?

I guess that what disappointed me a little bit was the romance. Not that I disliked it, but it changed the perspective I had of this book. And I was also kind of bothered by the murder of Tybalt. I thought the cat was going to be a sidekick or whatever, but he was just a regular cat.

Although I don't usually read the following book of a series, I will this time. It ends well, but in a way that makes you want to know what will happen next.

Score... Mary: 1 ; Anna: 0

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review 2014-10-10 15:29
Falling for the Ghost of You - Nicole Christie

** spoiler alert ** I laughed several times with Violet's thoughts and behavior; I was practically in love with her from the very beginning. Her reactions around Hot Guy, a.k.a, Zane, were hilarious. The way she describes him, he is the most handsome guy in the world. So of course, the most handsome guy in the world (to me) that was pictured as Zane was:


Zane is not Japanese, but still...

I enjoyed their chemistry although I am against man-whores. Which Zane is. Violet has to move with him for a month, while her mother and his father are having a premature honeymoon, so she witnesses the presence of different girls every night. I wonder if Violet would have been so condescending if Zane wasn't such a hottie...

Anyway, they start going out, blah, blah, blah, all very nice. Then turns out he has been hiding a huge secret from her, she misinterprets, yadda, yadda. Sadly predictable. She is hurt, she thinks he has been using her, etc. I wonder, how could she never have guessed he was the popular actor/singer/idol? I mean, if I have been dating Kame (cutie boy in the picture), I would have known the instant I met him it was him. Supposedly Aiden Cross (his celebrity personality) is her favorite singer. And she never saw the resemblance??? The lame excuse of "he died his hair; he had contact glasses" is ridiculous. ALL actors and idols change their looks, but us fans (and sometimes, non-fans) can recognize them.

And that ending... Ugh. Just no. They are, what, 18 and 21? I guess it was the perfect ending for a younger audience... which I am not.

Summary: around 75%, very good. Funny, romantic, etc. Then it turns very angsty, and finally, corny. Going downhill. Booo.

Note aside: I was happy when one of the old ladies was telling Violet her adventures in Paraguay! My country is never ever mentioned, except perhaps in stories concerning drugs, smuggling, etc, so it was a nice surprise! XD

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