Posts Tagged Harper
Best Books of 2016 so far. I read a lot of historical fiction and memoir so not surprisingly that’s mostly what makes my list. These are listed more or less in the order read.
The Other Woman by Therese Bohman [Other Press]
–from my review: This novel bursts with intellectual prowess. It’s witty, provocative and thoughtful about money, class, what it is to have less and desire more, to be educated and smart but not particularly suited to anything. Swedish author Therese Bohman examines societal expectations of what makes a complete life: a good job; a happy coupling; a nice place. All the things by which we define ourselves but realize the innate superficiality of it all.
Alligator Candy: a memoir by David Kushner [Simon & Schuster]
—Through compelling prose and devastating emotion this memoir potently addresses murder and its effect on the family. review.
Rare Objects by Kathleen Tessaro [Harper]
–Author Kathleen Tessaro adeptly describes both the immigrant North End and wealthy mansions with vivid detail. Superb writing and research merge to tell this wonderful story. Rare Objects is a page-turner about class, friendship and the things and people we value most. full review.
Lazaretto by Diane McKinney-Whetstone [Harper]
–Set in post-Civil War Philadelphia, this historical novel beautifully explores race, class, gender and family. complete review.
The Vegetarian by Kang Han [Hogarth]
—The Man Booker International Prize 2016 Winner . It’s dark and suspenseful. Entirely original and engrossing. I’ve been a vegan for nearly 10 years and am not too thin. I stopped eating red meat at 12 and everything but fish at 18. So the being deprived and malnourished because she’s not eating meat is bothering me a tad.
Modern Girls by Jennifer Brown
Clear your schedule and make a big pitcher of iced tea. Once you start this wonderful, detailed novel you’ll want to read straight through. review.
We Love You, Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenidge
—We Love You, Charlie Freeman stands out as a thoughtful and provocative novel which effectively and creatively winds together numerous subjects from coming-of-age, first love, adolescence, sisterhood, race, anthropology, history and family dynamics. complete review.
Heat & Light by Jennifer Haigh [Ecco]
—At turns fascinating, sad, infuriating, provocative and authentic, Heat & Light pulls in the reader from the jump. This well-researched, impressive novel exposes many angles of fracking. In order to capture this present day dilemma, Haigh effectively dips into the past with the Three Mile Island disaster as well as coaling. The novel generously addresses an important hot-button topic with sharp prose and a stellar cast of characters as well as an intriguing story-line. complete review.
An Abbreviated Life: a memoir by Ariel Leve [Harper]
–stunning memoir about an adult daughter coming to terms with her childhood and relationship [or lack of] with her mother..
The Sun in Your Eyes by Deborah Shapiro [William Morrow]
–from my review: Shapiro delves into the women’s college friendship and its connection to the present. She offers insight, detail and vivid descriptions that allow the reader to understand each woman, their bond and reliance upon one another. Women’s bonds often become broken due to relationships with men (or marriage and families). To this many women (and likely men) will relate. Vivian’s relationship and later marriage to Andy created a rift between the friends. The road trip allows the women to examine their friendship and determine whether or not they should rekindle their friendship, however tumultuous it may have been at times. Jealousy and differing goals certainly pushed and pulled at its core.
1. The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer [Grand Central Publishing]
–As a feminist and a Boston-based music journalist, I love everything about this memoir. It’s absolutely engrossing. I liked Boston’s The Dresden Dolls and always appreciated Amanda Palmer for her outspoken nature, her feminism and musicianship. Now I truly admire Amanda Palmer and feel we’d be friends if we ever met. I’m wondering if we were ever at a party at the same time at Castle von Buhler—my artist friend Cynthia von Buhler’s former Boston home. The Art of Asking illustrates the importance of making lasting connections through art, love and creativity.
2. My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff [Knopf]
–Everything about this memoir appeals to me from the font to the cover to the 90s setting to the tone. It begins in winter with sections by season, then chapters with titles such as “Three Days of Snow,” “The Obscure Bookcase,” “Sentimental Education” and “Three Days of Rain.” Memoir as literary recollections. It’s lovely and immensely engrossing because we’ve all experienced periods of doubt, periods of reflection, periods of development, our twenties or the 90s (for some of us, our twenties and the nineties were all of that).
3. Working Stiff by Judy Melinek [Scribner]
–a medical examiner’s residency in New York. detailed, gory and completing engrossing.
4. Cured by Nathalia Holt [Dutton]
–Berlin patients. painstakingly researched and explained.
interview with Nathalia Holt
5. Unspeakable Things by Laurie Penny [Bloomsbury USA]
6. Alice + Freda Forever by Alexis Coe [Pulp]
7. The Fall by Diogo Mainardi [Other Press]
–This is a love story. A moving, clever memoir about a father’s relationship with his son Tito, born with cerebral palsy. It’s clever because Mainardi writes in 424 steps like the steps that his son has progressively taken over the years as he grows stronger and more confident in his movement. A poet and journalist, Mainardi writes lyrically as well as in a scrupulously researched manner. It’s beautiful and fascinating.
8. Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay [Harper]
9. Being Mortal by Atul Gawande [Metropolitan Books]
–so much respect for Dr. Atul Gawande and his ability delve into particular medical issues, like aging and death, that prove difficult to discuss. thoughtful text and interesting case studies.
10. Can We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast [Bloomsbury USA]
–amusing and sad: appropriate in describing the aging process.
“I wish that, at the end of life, when things were truly “done,” there was something to look forward to. Something more pleasure-oriented. Perhaps opium or heroin. So you became addicted. So what? All-you-can-eat ice cream parlors for the extremely aged. Big art picture books and music. Extreme palliative care, for when you’ve had it with everything else: the x-rays, the MRIs, the boring food and the pills that don’t do anything at all. Would that be so bad?”
<em>Woman With a Gun</em> by Phillip Margolin. Publisher: Harper [December 2014]. Thriller. Hardcover. 320 pages.
Authors gather inspiration from everything. It can be a picture, a newspaper story, memories or personal experiences. The black and white photograph on the cover compelled author Phillip Margolin to create this thriller and also drew me in. The only unusual aspect of this inspiration is that the author purchased the photograph and it’s used as the cover. I’m not familiar with Margolin’s previous novels so I can’t compare his current work to his past work. There are two stories within this novel: one is that of aspiring novelist Stacey Kim and the other is that of Portland-based prosecutor Jack Booth.
A recent MFA graduate, Stacey Kim lives in New York City and works in an administrative position. Margolin writes: “Stacey’s nonexistent social life and mind-numbing job would not have mattered if she were making progress on her novel, but she wasn’t.” One day Stacey Kim visits the MoMA and happens upon an exhibit for photographer Kathy Moran. The photo “Woman with a Gun” mesmerizes her and she decides she needs to know more. Soon after she quits her job and moves to Portland for novel research when she discovers that the photo links to a cold case murder. The DA in the seaside town of Palisades Heights calls in Jack Booth to help with the Raymond Cahill murder case. Photographer Kathy Moran came upon Cahill’s wife Megan during an after-work walk on the beach and snapped the picture of her holding the gun in her wedding dress. Kathy Moran used to be a defense attorney but was disbarred. Jack Booth prosecuted a case where she represented a dangerous drug dealer named Kilbride. Moran won and Booth lost the case. Later when Moran became a drug addict, Booth and the police worked with her to arrest the drug dealer. Booth maintains an attraction to Moran.
Margolin fails to completely enthrall readers with the story or any of the characters. Particularly that of Stacey Kim and her journey to Portland, Oregon. She doesn’t just stop in for a research visit as most writers do but she quits her job to move cross-country. Generally I can’t stop reading a good thriller. While there are plenty of unexpected twists and turns, I didn’t care that much. Perhaps because the Cahill case isn’t solved until the budding novelist starts digging into the cold case.
Women aren’t positively portrayed in Woman with a Gun. They are gold-diggers or manipulative. On Megan Cahill someway says: “’Parnell, thick as he was, finally figured out that Megan was only interested in the millions he was going to make in pro ball, so he tried to break up with her. But, like I said, Megan has a genius IQ and is excellent at problem solving. She told Parnell that she was pregnant.’” The sexist clichés didn’t sit well with me. The beautiful woman who marries first a pro football player and then a team co-owner.
Then there’s the woman as sex object. When Booth describes his attraction to Moran it’s all sexual. During the Kilbride case: “Jack might have spent time wondering why she had not pursed a plea if he weren’t so preoccupied with wondering how Kathy’s breasts would feel when he cupped them or how smooth her thighs would feel when he stroked them.” When Stacey Kim becomes interested in Glen it’s as a potential relationship. Margolin writes: “But now, after the murder and the way Glen had helped her, she was wondering whether there was some way to make the relationship work, because she found that she was enjoying her time with Glen more than she’d enjoyed being with any man in recent memory.” I liked Booth. He’s dark and intriguing. I didn’t need the sections where he fantasized about Moran or remarked on some other woman’s looks. It brought the novel down several levels.
–review by Amy Steele
<em>FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Harper Collins.</em>
purchase at Amazon: Woman with a Gun: A Novel
<em>Rooms</em> by Lauren Oliver. Publisher: ECCO [September 2014]. Fiction. Hardcover. 320 pages.</em>
“How do ghosts see? We didn’t always. It had to be relearned. Dying is a matter of being reborn. In the beginning there was darkness and confusion. We learned gropingly. We felt our way into this new body, the way that infants do. Images began to emerge. The light began to creep in.”
Starts with an appealing set-up: author Lauren Oliver divides the novel by the various rooms and focuses on one character at a time. There’s Caroline Walker and her two adult children, Trenton and Minna, returning to their childhood home after their father Richard’s death. Minna has a daughter, Amy. The Walkers haven’t been in this home for a decade or more since their parents’ divorce. Two ghosts—Sandra and Alice– currently reside in the house. As this family deals with cleaning up the house and the aftermath of the father’s death, Oliver explores their connections and intermingles some of the characters with the ghosts. We find out about the family. The parents split and subsequently the children become alienated from their father. Oliver also eventually discloses how the two ghosts died in the house. Rooms unfolded with promise but wasn’t quite compelling enough. I could put it down and wasn’t invested enough to pore through it. The solid writing needed to be punched up a notch or two. Sometimes when you tell stories from too many angles and too many points-of-view the stories muddle instead of illuminate. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger remains my favorite novel involving ghosts. Effectively creepy and bewitching. As I read it, I felt chills. I adore that book.
–review by Amy Steele
<em>FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from ECCO/Harper Collins. </em>
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. Publisher: Harper (June, 2012). Literary fiction. Hardcover. 352 pages. ISBN: 9780061928123.
“For eight months after his father’s death, this was the sum of Pasquale Tursi’s life. And if he wasn’t entirely happy, he wasn’t entirely unhappy either. Rather, he found himself inhabiting the vast, empty plateau where most people live, between boredom and contentment.”
Mediocrity. That rut in which most people exist in oblivion. Going to work. Going home. Working out. Eating dinner. Watching television. Going out to dinner and to the occasional film, play or concert. Existing. Then there are those people who want a bit more than an average life. Beautiful Ruins focuses on those people. Every character in this novel wants to be in a better position than she or he is in at the present but seems stuck in some way.
Despite the gorgeous cliff side landscape on the cover, Beautiful Ruins focuses more on character and less on landscape. Before reading this I’d just finished Portrait in Sepia by Isabel Allende and if you want landscape that’s a formidable read. Author Jess Walter features Old World Charm tangling with New World wonderment as an American actress, Dee Moray, in the 1960s stays at a small hotel on a small island run by the young Pasquale Tursi. Suddenly Pasquale’s quiet world turns topsy-turvy because Dee Moray works on the famed production Cleopatra with Liz Taylor and Richard Burton and she holds a big secret. Something to do with the stomach ailment that brought her to the island and Richard Burton . . . so cinematic.
Not to take away from the beauty that is Italy–one-third into the novel– Walter describes the war ruins found on the cliffs—the crumbled rocks and boulders and war bunker amidst lovely cliffs and trees with the vast blue ocean below and beyond. Both Pasquale and Dee seek solace in the ruins. In the ruins one expects major events to happen when sometimes only ordinary or minor events occur in the middle of a major historic event—in this case WWII. The inside of the bunker has been painted with drawings of two soldiers and a woman. Something that many may never see. Who are these soldiers and who is the woman Dee ponders?
Much becomes lost in translation between the pair and that’s part of the fantastical, magical story. I liked how Walter interspersed Italian words into sentences without any interpretation or need for elucidation. The words just made sense. You understood them in their placement. These little touches really enriched the reading experience. Pasquale and Dee suffer language barriers but sometimes you don’t need to say anything to have a connection with someone, whereas with many people you speak the same language but never develop a strong connection. This bond lasts 50 years as Pasquale travels to Hollywood to find Dee.
Walter deftly travels between past and present to tell Dee and Pasquale’s story. In present day there’s a cerebral, eager production assistant Claire Silver, her boss the well-known Hollywood producer Michael Deane [who worked on the Italian production of Cleopatra]—once a legendary figure now resorting to producing awful reality programs. An Italian speaking young man named Shane happens to run into Pasquale on the lot and becomes the interpreter. There’s nothing overly sentimental about it. Instead it’s a sweet reminder of love and friendship. Beautiful Ruins satirizes tourism, war, Americans, Italians, Hollywood and the film industry. It’s a truly creative and unique read that I immensely enjoyed and didn’t want to put down.
purchase at Amazon: Beautiful Ruins: A Novel