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Search tags: NetGalley-books
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review 2018-01-25 04:55
Anything is Possible
Anything Is Possible - Elizabeth Strout

I will preface this, in an attempt at full disclosure, by admitting I am a fan of Elizabeth Strout. I heard her speak at our library lunch after Olive Kittredge came out, and at the time I was not sure if she would be able to top the success of that book. At the event, I grabbed copies of Amy & Isabelle and Abide with Me, which I greedily read not long after. There is something soothing and almost intoxicating about Strout's writing; she draws you in effortlessly, lulls you into complacency, and then shatters it all with a painful reality you might not have even imagined. Her characters are, at first glance, nondescript, often eking out a meager existence; but in her caring hands, they are stalwart, earnest, and beautiful. When Lucy Barton reappeared in this book, it was like catching up with an old friend, and I'm sure I judged her siblings harshly because I defended her. And that is the heart of it, really. I care about these characters. Strout pulls away the curtain, and we see what makes these people tick; we care about them because she makes us care, her words inspire empathy. And, given the state of things around here right now, we could all use a little more of that.

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review 2018-01-25 04:05
Sympathy - Olivia Sudjic

And now, for something completely different. This debut novel, which I agree evokes the writing of Haruki Murakami (in a good way), among others, was one of those where I'm not too sure if I am actually too old to read it. (answer, yes, that's correct) When I find myself relating more to the poor decrepit grandma dying, wholly ignored, on the couch than to the 20-something protagonist, I have to figure that maybe this one wasn't meant for me. Having said that, I thought the writing was strong, I just didn't really care about the characters all that much. To be fair, they didn't care about a whole lot either, except for some over-the-top obsessive longing that never really feels honest. "Tormented efforts to connect" from the summary, though, seems apt, the idea that there are connections of any kind here seems grossly overstated.


Based on the fact that the book was compared to Murakami, I expected a different dimension to the book (not quite literally, though certainly his stories go there); I felt like the plot sort of teased the edges of a line I expected to be crossed. I'm not sure if that makes any sense, but I think that is kind of how I feel about this — sadly, I didn't have a lot of sympathy. But I will say that it is still an impressive debut, and I wouldn't hesitate to read what comes next.

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review 2018-01-25 03:20
My Last Lament
My Last Lament - James William Brown

Ok, so I'm back on the "World War II books from rare perspectives"... is that a genre? This novel was not what I thought it was going to be, given the title, and the concept that the main character is one of the last remaining "lamenters" hired to mourn and celebrate a life in Greece. I was drawn to this idea, and the fact that attending a funeral and offering a eulogy is a paid position in some cultures. But this book's focus is not so narrow, and Aliki's lament is much longer than a funeral and more complicated. Telling her tale into a researcher's cassette recorder, Aliki describes an amazing journey, that is, in turn touching and almost barbaric. This is not the sweet tale the cover would have you imagine, there are events recalled here that are disturbing and decidedly lamentable. Aliki's voice is strong and her story is compelling, though the plot dragged at times and I didn't care about some of the characters I was probably supposed to be worried about or cheering on. But reading it, I could imagine I was in the company of an old soothsayer: wise, thought-provoking and perhaps a little controversial.

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review 2018-01-24 23:34
The Night Ocean
The Night Ocean - Paul La Farge

This is the kind of story recommendation that could go either way. For me, this quirky, well-told tale was a thumbs-up, but I am guessing that the same reasons I liked the story might not compel another reader. I knew next to nothing about the real-life figures written about here — H.P. Lovecraft, Robert Barlow, and others — so I have no problem with the way they were represented, and I will take the author's lead regarding Lovecraft's own skills as a writer. I was a willing reader, with a little Wikipedia on the side to keep La Farge honest. I couldn't even begin to discuss the plot of this one, I think that even if you read the summary on amazon or goodreads you will be no closer to having an idea of what it's about than if you open it cold. So do that. Enjoy the often-beautiful language and even the meandering bunny trails of the plot. This is something new, and different, and I want you to like it as much as I did.

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review 2018-01-24 23:08
Heart Mountain
Heart Mountain - Gretel Erlich

Maybe this is a personal thing, (but judging by the surfeit of books on this topic I'm guessing it's not) but I find stories on Japanese internment camps an interesting counterpoint to the many stories of World War II that find their settings in Europe. It is a similar instinct to watching a train wreck, I think, witnessing after the fact such an obvious breach of the rights and principles we've come to expect as our own. So yes, I get that, and I am a little ashamed for finding it gripping. Heart Mountain was a real place, and the author, who primarily wrote non-fiction before this novel, researched the topic well. This is a good and bad thing, with some parts overladen with the type of facts you don't really see (or need) in a novel.


While I found the topic compelling, some of the characters were barely more than stereotypes, which slowed the story. The tension at the internment site was much more natural and plausible than the accompanying romantic plot line, which I didn't find very credible. I'm not sure how it stacks up against the other books on this topic, but I did think it added an unexplored point of view.


One other note: If you are looking for a summary of the book, you'll find one on Amazon - the Goodreads version is oddly vague.

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