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review 2017-11-11 10:21
All the Names They Used for God: Stories - Anjali Sachdeva

Release Date:02.20.18


All the Names They Used for God, Anjali Sachdeva’s debut release, is a stellar collection of short stories that explores the strangeness that is the human experience and our small stature in the vastness of the cosmos. Rewards abound for the short story lover: science gone awry in “Pleiades”; abandonment and love gone wrong in “Anything You Might Want”; man versus wild (and the call of suicide) in “Logging Lake.” These are intricate, spinning tales that took me off guard.


Does this collection have a theme? I don’t know. Perhaps spirituality is the link (and there is the title to be considered); these stories do ponder the concept of a God and how much say he — or it — has over our lives . . . and how much of what happens to us is pure chance. Bits of magical realism abound (see mermaid tale “Robert Greenman and the Mermaid”), but overall these tales are unwavering, realistic looks at the human condition.


I was pleasantly surprised by these stories. I suspected I would like this collection, but I was knocked for a loop. Compelling and challenging in equal measure, this author is one to watch. I await her next release with baited breath.


Thanks to Netgalley and Spiegal & Grau for the advanced reader’s copy!

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text 2017-09-19 15:39
When Michael Met Mina
When Michael Met Mina - Randa Abdel-Fattah

So no one working on this book has read Skellig?

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review 2017-08-30 00:00
The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector's Story
The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korea... The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector's Story - Hyeonseo Lee,David John This is a somewhat difficult book to read, but also quite interesting. The difficulty is with the subject matter, not the writing. The book is well written.

It begins by telling about life in North Korea when the author was growing up. N. Korea is a highly stratified society, stratified in terms of one's perceived loyalty to the ruling Kim family. So, the author and her brother grew up happily enough. Her parents had adequate jobs, and her mother was more than adept at smuggling and bribery so that she could provide some extras for her family. Smuggling and bribery are ok in N. Korea, in their place. The only unforgivable sin, apparently, is disrespect to the Kims.

The author's family lives along the Yalu River. China is just on the other side. People sneak over and back all the time. One day, as a young teenager, the author decides to go across the river for a "visit". She figures she'll be back within a day or so. She's just curious. But, once she's there, she really can't go back without causing severe problems for herself and her family. She has some distant relatives a few miles inland, and they take her in.

Because she's illegal, she can't go out alone. The Chinese authorities are continually on the look out for illegal N. Koreans. When they find them, they return them. So the author spends her days watching TV and learning Mandarin. She gets so good that she can pass, so to speak.

Her relatives try to marry her off to as guy who is so dull that death seems like a better option. So, the author runs off, and finds a way to survive. Well, time goes on, things happen, eventually, she makes it to Seoul and is taken into the S. Korean society. But she misses her mother and brother and contrives to smuggle them into S. Korea. More weird problems.

So, much of the book reads like "The Perils of Pauline", one damn crisis after another. The author manages to keep up her spirits and things work out in the end. Quite fascinating.

Interesting to read about life under the Kims in N. Korea. Basically, they are a family of marginally competent narcissistic autocrats. Life under such folks is pretty awful. And now, we've elected ourselves a narcissistic autocrat. With luck, our vaunted checks and balances will mitigate the damage. We'll see.
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review 2017-08-19 19:50
How could this be so incredibly dull?
House of Names: A Novel - Colm Tóibín

Had never read anything by Toibin before but I was totally sold on the premise: the retelling of 'The Oresteia'. It's been quite a long time since I've studied the original story for school but I figured I had enough knowledge at this point that a modern "retelling"/fleshing out of the tale would be fantastic. I mean, there's adultery, filicide, matricide, etc. A soapy soap opera.


And this is...not that. I'm not sure if having any experience with the author had anything to with it but this was just dreadfully dull. It's like Toibin just tried a little too hard. I couldn't feel the rage or pain of Clytemnestra. Yes, her child was killed for no good reason. Agamemnon must pay. She wants her revenge. Etc.


There's tons of material to mine and given the sparse source material there's always a fantastic opportunity to flesh this out and make it his own. This isn't it at all. I read Toibin's words but it just didn't elicit any response. It seemed heavy-handed and as if the text was trying too hard.


It also doesn't help that the book is told from many different POVs. As other reviews say: if he had stuck with one POV that might have worked. Or even sticking with each different narrator, perhaps. But going back and forth (plus the switch from first to third person) is a technique I can't stand. 


I waited forever for this book had come through but this wasn't a good retelling of a classic myth. I can't say if you'd like this if you're a Toibin fan, but as someone who enjoyed reading the Greek/Roman myths when I was younger and enjoy retellings I can't recommend this one. If you're *really* interested, I'd recommend you wait for the library, get an ARC or buy it cheap.

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review 2017-08-11 23:33
The Thousand Names by Django Wexler
The Thousand Names - Django Wexler

See review at Book Haunt

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