This Just In! Summer Reading, by Hilma Wolitzer

Summer Reading, by Hilma WolitzerWhat’s It About? (From Booklist)In this intricate tale of love, loss, and redemption, Wolitzer, author most recently of The Doctor’s Daughter (2006), tells the story of three women whose paths cross during a summer in the Hamptons. Lissy Snyder, an insecure second wife, is uncertain of her place in her husband’s heart and feels intimidated by her stepchildren. To help cement her position in Hamptons society, Lissy decides to host a book club for other young socialites and hires an eccentric former English professor, Angela Graves, to lead the group. Angela guides her pupils through books such as Madame Bovary, inspiring both Lissy and her day girl, Michelle, to reexamine their relationships with the men in their lives. Meanwhile, Angela herself is haunted by a years-old love affair. Wolitzer’s subtle analysis reveals the underlying hopes and tensions that guide each woman’s daily life as she struggles to come to terms with her own choices and mistakes, led, in part, by the heroines of the books Angela has chosen.

Why This? This one was a no-brainer for me since I love reading book where the characters mention or discuss other books, so it should be even better when the characters are discussing other books in a book club.  It’s also fun to see the parallels between the characters in the book and the characters in the stories that they are reading.  Most of the books that I have read which I read that have lots of references to other books have been non-fiction, like Reading Lolita in Tehran, which I loved, and How To Read and Why.  This definitely falls into the less serious side of that category and I am looking forward to learning about the women and hear all about the books that they are reading.  I’ll probably save it to read as a treat after I’ve read some heavy titles.

I just finished my Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger and there were a ton of references to other book.  Some were discussed and others just mentioned.  That made reading the book a lot of fun.  Do you like it when books discuss other books? What books have you read which reference lots of other books?

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Lovehampton, by Sherri Rifkin – Book Review

Lovehampton, by Sherri RifkinLovehampton, by Sherri Rifkin is Recommended.

When Tori Miller’s boyfriend dumps her in the cab ride home from her best friend’s wedding she is devastated and undergoes a severe downturn.  She has no life to speak of for the next two years until her friends, seeing how far she has gotten away from her old self, stage an intervention. Jerry and Jimmy manage to snag her a spot in the pilot for a reality television make over show, promising her that it will never see the light of day, which will serve the much needed dual purpose of giving Tori’s confidence a boost and garnering an important job for Tori’s burgeoning promotion ad agency MillerWorks. Alice, Tori’s best friend, arranges a spot for her in a summer share in the Hamptons.

Tori arrive late at the Hamptons Share House meeting and for some reason the house organizer, Leah, refuses to call her anything but Miller as it appears on her e-mail and the nickname sticks.  She meets her other hosuemates Cassie, Satcy, Mike, Andrew and Jackson; before she knows it she is jetsetting  and attending fabulous parties, flirting up a storm and trying to keep up with all the written and unwrittem rules of the Hamptons.  Of course everune know that her secret make over is probably going to come back to bite her in the butt in some way, shape or form; the only question is when and how?

Though not normally my style, Lovehampton was a pleasure to read.  Tori is interesting and accessible and it is easy to sympathize  and understand how she loses herself after the sudden way that her boyfriend breaks up with her.  You are rooting for er to gp out and have a lot of fun and get things together.  I loved the relationships that she had with her friends Jerry,  Jimmy and Alice.  The way they talked with each other and had real conversations  about the issues in their lives and their relationships was wonderful.  “Miller” also shows a lot of growth as she struggles to balance the ego boost that her makeover has given her with the person that she truly is.

I was surprised in the romance department as Tori meets and mingles with not only the men in her house, but also wealthy real estate mogul, George Daniels.  Her relationship with each guy was so different that it was fun to see them all develop and then zero in on the one that I actually wanted to work out for Tori.  Of course as soon as you figure out which guy you want for her, hijinks and misunderstandings rain down and make there ever getting together seem all but possible. There were lots of humurous situations in this book as I recognized a lot of the beach house “rules” and party scenarios.  It was a great escape for me since New York  has been rather unseasonably rainy this year.  Lovehampton is the closest that I have gotten to the beach this summer.

The first person narrative was refreshing, fun and alternately embarrassing depending upon the situation in which Tori found herself.  I really felt as if I were right there experiencing everything with her.  I can’t say that I didn’t know exactly how this book would end, but it’s one of those things where you wouldn’t have it any other way.

How has the weather been where you are?  It rained all of June in NYC, and then July had better weather but lots of scattered T’storms.  Maybe we will be able to pull out some real summer for August.  In which case I will then come back and bitch about the heat. 🙂

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Shimmer, by Eric Barnes – Book Review

Shimmer, by Eric BarnesShimmer, by Eric Barnes is A Good Read.

Robbie Case is the head of Core, a multi-million dollar company that he unwittingly founds with his cousin Trevor. Dealing in selling blue boxes full of high technology that greatly improves the speed and flow of information, he’s walking around with the secret that none of it works. Each sale and success story brings Core closer to collapse- which could happen at anytime- making Robbie Case a rich man, even as it bankrupts everyone around him who has worked for and believed in Core for the three years since its inception. Robbie only sleeps two hours per night and and spends the rest of his time overseeing Core while trying to save it and the people who work for him from its ultimate demise. Robbie keeps track of the elaborate lie that runs Core with a program that he especially designed called Shimmer, but time is running out and someone is onto Robbie. The race is on to find out who knows his secrets and when that happens there is a big price that he and everyone well have to pay for his lies.

It took me awhile to get into this story. The beginning chapters are a set up of the technology and the company, and I only had the barest grasp of what was going on. As the outline of how it all worked presented itself, and the novel shifted to examine the human element I became more absorbed in Robbie and his cousin Trevor’s distinct personalities, and why each of them would embark on such a risky proposition as the one in which they were involved. Robbie particularly gambles and the only collateral that he has against telling such a monstrous lie is that he has always believed that hard work is the solution to every problem. I’m not really sure that I was ever convinced of Robbie’s theory of hard work motivating him to perpetuate such a lie and a gamble with people’s livelihoods, and even if that were true the reasoning is beyond flawed, but it was enough to move along the story.

The narrative of the novel alternates between Robbie’s own first person perspective and third person mini-chapters outlining the doubts that each member of his senior staff is experiencing about the company. Each of them is highly qualified for their position, intelligent and at the top of their game. Robbie’s staff have different reasons for having committed so much of their lives to Core, usually to the detriment of their personal lives, and each is dangerously close to being able to put their finger on the undefinable thing that is wrong with the bog picture. No one understand how the blue box technology works. Barnes does a terrific job of maintaining the suspense and I was on pins and needles throughout my reading, wondering if the house of cards was going to come tumbling down due to inside forces or to the simultaneous threats coming from outside the company.

Robbie Case is a deeply flawed character- stemming from both his childhood and his strange personality mix of hubris and naivete. Some of the novel started getting a little bit repetitive to me as he goes through the same motions while trying to figure out a solution that will help the company and release him from the burden that he has been carrying. Though I found what Robbie did to be reprehensible I really wanted him to be able to figure things out for the sake of the people that worked at Core.

If you have advanced knowledge of computers and business acumen then it would be very easy to get into this one on the perils of not integrity- or the lack thereof- in big business. The how’s it going to end aspect really keeps the book moving along and it manages to stay interesting even though the entire thing takes place inside the same office building. There are some truly gripping scenes when the blue boxes that Core manufactures come under attack. This was definitely a suspenseful read.

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    Booking Mama

    Would you be able to follow a technology thriller?

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Out of Twenty: 7 Questions for Maria Semple

I had the pleasure of reading Maria Semple’s wonderful book, This One Is Mine. I just have to say that I loved This One Is Mine.  As I first began reading it, I didn’t know that I would love it. I was appalled by the characters, but still almost right away I was rooting for them.  It’s really special when authors help can help you connect with the humanity of someone that you wouldn’t necessarily wanted to hang around with.

I’ve read a lot about This One Is Mine being a satire or a send up of LA, but I’m not sure that I am in total agreement.  Some things were a little ridiculous (and funny!), but I also think that you can get to a place where your life is pretty ridiculous and I felt like these characters were at that point. It was a beautiful thing to see them choose to grow.

Maria, welcome to Linus’s Blanket! Tell us a little about yourself and how you started writing.

I was an English major at Barnard and always thought I’d become a English teacher.  After college, I kind of drifted into TV writing.  I’m sure that sounds disingenuous, but my father was a screenwriter, so I grew up around movie people.  They seemed so glamorous and fun-loving and were way too respected by the general public.  Of course I wanted to be all those things.  I moved to LA and started hanging around assistants and struggling writers.   I soon got my first writing assignment.  It was much easier back then to break in, I think, to get little development deals with the major studios.  I remember figuring that all I needed was 24K a year– 12 for my rent and 12 for expenses.  That’s what I made my first few years, getting a little assignment that lasted a long time.  One thing led to another and soon I had a real TV career.

My mom would be thrilled to know that you worked on Mad About You and I was interested in the fact that you worked on not only that but also 90210.  What made you turn to novel writing?

I loved the camaraderie of writing for TV.   You’re sitting in a room with really smart, funny people, doing your best to make them laugh.  But the hours are long and the end product isn’t really your own.  There’s so much interference from the network and studio and actors.  It grinds you down after a while.  After I had a baby, I thought better of throwing myself back into TV.  It seemed like a young, hungry person’s game.  And I was old and stuffed.  So I decided to go back to the first thing I ever loved, which was literature.

How different is it to work on scripts?  What’s your favorite part of both processes? Do you now have a preference?

I was really afraid to write a novel because, unlike TV,  there’s nobody to help you, no deadlines to motivate you and no network to blame it on if it sucks.  But I love a challenge, and threw myself into it.  I found very quickly how much I loved it.  In fact, my friends who were novelists were worried for me.  They kept asking me how my novel was going, and I said, “Oh great, I love it.  It’s so fun.”  They thought they they had a Shining on their hands.  Or, as my friend Sarah Dunn said, “You were so happy, I thought you were sitting there the whole time doing potato prints, not writing a novel.”  I can’t imagine going back to TV.  Not because it’s so horrible or anything.  I do miss the people and the laughs.  But I moved to Seattle and you really have to be in LA to write for TV.

How did your characters present themselves to you?  Do you make an outline or do they come to you some other way?

I’m a big outliner.  This comes from my work in TV, where you can spend more time “breaking the story” than writing the script.  When I wrote THIS ONE IS MINE, I started with a big structure– a rich woman in a loveless marriage who has a self-destructive affair, plus her sister-in-law who’s on the outside looking in– and spent most of my days simultaneously writing the novel and the outline.

You hit upon a lot of topics and hot button issues in this novel, like drug addiction, hepatitis, depression, Asperger’s, etc…Did you know that you wanted to write a book which included these issues?  Can you tell us a little about how that happened?  Did these things arise out of what was coming from your characters?

Those things came out of the characters.  I knew going in that I wanted Violet’s lover to be less than perfect– it seemed more fun that way.  I had never written prose before so until I sat down to write, I had no idea what kind of writer I was.  It soon became clear that my comfort level was in a slightly amped-up reality.  In order to pull it off, I needed to get the details right.

You mentioned in another interview that while you were working on This One Is Mine you didn’t have the confidence to set it in any other place besides LA, since that is where you were living at the time.  Are you planning on writing another novel, and if so, do you think you still feel the same way?

My new novel is set in Colorado and Seattle, where, not too coincidentally, I’m dividing my times these days.  As a writer, I really get off on the details of daily life, and how they can mess you up– how a simple thing like the school calling a snow day can give you a nervous breakdown.  So I think I’ll always set my books where I’m living.  I’m including some historical sections in my new novel, though, so it’s an exiting challenge figuring out how to bring that same authenticity to people living a hundred years ago.

I saw that you are a Phillip Roth fan.  What types of books would I see if  were to visit Violet and David?  Do they have a library?  Given their issues what book(s) would you suggest for them to read.

Wow, I’ve never thought of that.  I think David rarely reads.  Maybe the new Malcolm Gladwell every few years.  Sally probably carries a dog-eared Eat Pray Love wherever she goes.  Violet, well, I think she re-reads the classics.   As for Violet and David, they need to read some John Gottman books on a healthy marriage.

Thank you so much for stopping by! I am so excited to hear that you are writing another novel and I am really, really looking forward to it!

Giveaway – Maria was gracious enough to offer a copy of her book, This One is Mine,  for me to share with a reader of Linus’s Blanket.  I love incognito giveaways, so this will be one of them. If you’ve read this far, and you haven’t read This One Is Mine, then you’re in luck. Here’s your chance.

In the book, Violet’s husband David looks for a sign that will decide whether he and Violet will end their marriage.  I do this too. I’ll be about to go out and say to myself “If I hear this song while I’m out, X will call me.”  or  “If I see this, then I have to [insert something I’m scared/don’t want to do here].” Silly…I know.  I don’t know if I really believe in this, but I do it.  To enter to win tell me if you believe in signs, what signs you look for and what they mean if you see them happen.  This one is US & Canada only and you can enter until August 8, 2009 EST. Good Luck!

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Wait For Me, by An Na – Review

Wait For Me, An NaWait For Me , by An Na is Recommended.

Supposedly Mina has everything going for her.  She is an honor student on the verge of attending her senior year of college after which she plans on attending to Harvard; but is she?  These are the things that she allows her mother to believe the summer before her senior year. She and her little sister Suna work days at their parents dry cleaners and Mina spends the evenings going to a college prep course at the local library.  Trapped by the lies that she has told her mother, Mina has been siphoning money from her family’s dry cleaners so that she can run away to a new life since she knows that Harvard is not in her future.

I squealed and had a few tears in my eyes after reading this beautiful and thoughtful story of two sisters struggling to find themselves and their way in less than ideal family circumstances.  The narrative alternates between Mina and and Suna in the first and third person respectively.  Mina, being more caught up in the day to day weight of being her mother’s favored child and in being her sister’s protector, has the more active voice.  Suna, who is always trying to escape the world and often unplugs her hearing aid to dodge her mother’s harsh nagging and criticism, is a distant observer and her brief chapters provide a fleeting emotional overview of the sisters’ lives and their limited world.  Even though the narratives and voices are so different the story unfolds seamlessly, and without being consciously aware of it I received information about the sisters and their family history which affects the  volatile dynamics between Umma, the girls’ mother, with Apa (their father) and her daughters as well.

With the exception of Mina, and Suna to a lesser extent, the development of the other characters can be a little thin, but I was okay with that because of the almost dream like quality of the style and writing of the book, and the fact that neither Mina or Suna closely examine the lives of others.  Their narrative gives enough hints of the other characters that you can just begin to sketch out what their lives and motivations might be. They are all the background here since Suna cares solely for Mina, and Mina cares solely for her sister and running away from the lies she has told and the mess she has created.

Umma and her friend Mrs. Kim have a friendship that is fraught with competitiveness over their children- how smart they are and who will make it into a better school (in this case Harvard vs. Stanford) even as Umma humbles herself to looks to take help and advice from Mrs. Kim. Mrs. Kim’s son, Jonathan, is a whip smart teenager taking advantage of the power position that he has over Mina. There is just barely enough insight into his actions to keep him from being one note.  Mina doesn’t really know enough or think enough about Jonathan to understand him, so neither does the reader.

A lot of what Mina does is questionable, I really felt for her and the considerable pressure that she was under that influenced her to make some of the choices that she did. When Ysrael enters into the story both Mina and Suna start to change in ways that are both beneficial and disastrous at the same time.  I really enjoyed the dynamics- the understanding and love- between the teenagers and Suna, who is on the cusp of adolescence but trying  desperately to stay a little girl.  Mina can be more than a little frustrating at times with her inertia and naivete. Like I said before some of the the things that she decides to do just boggle the mind, and you wonder how she thinks it will possibly work out?  But then again when I think of the things that I thought would work out as a teenager, I’m not so hard on her.

The writing in Wait for Me is beautiful and observant, and I think Na does a good job in presenting young people who aren’t necessarily thinking but just doing the best that they can to navigate life. I liked this as a moving family drama with just a touch of mystery running through it. There’s an end in the beginning that has you wondering how it comes about and what comes after.  It’s in the back of your head all throughout the book!

About the Author: An Na was born in Korea and grew up in San Diego, California. A former middle school English and history teacher, she is currently at work on her third novel. She lives in Vermont.

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I find that I usually like to read about most characters, good and bad, if they feel something about what is going on in their lives.  I do run into characters that I want to slap into action, and Mina is on that list. How do you deal with a character’s inertia in books?  Are you sympathetic or does it make you restless? Do you slap them around just a little bit?

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This Just In! The Invention of Everything Else, by Samantha Hunt

The Invention of Everything Else, by Samantha HuntWhat’s It About? (From the back cover) From the moment Louisa first catches sight of the strange man who occupies a forbidden room on the thirty-third floor, she is determined to befriend him.  Unbeknownst to Louisa, he is Nikola Tesla—inventor of AC electricity and wireless communication—and he is living out his last days at the Hotel New Yorker.  Winning his attention through a shared love of pigeons, she eventually uncovers the story of Tesla’s life as a Serbian immigrant and a visionary genius: as a boy he built engines powered by June bugs, as a man he dreamed of pulling electricity from the sky.  The mystery deepens when Louisa reunites with an enigmatic former classmate and faces the loss of her father as he attempts to travel to the past to meet up with his beloved late wife. Before the week is out, Louisa must come to terms with her own understanding of love, death, and the power of invention.

Why This? I love to have the opportunity to explore historical figures through fictional works.   Most often the authors have pored over lots and lots of information in order to uncover the juiciest and most interesting facts.  I get a good story and also a starting point for my own research.  Usually if a book is really good I am curious to know what turned out to be the true facts, and also to explore alternate versions of the facts.  A lot of times historians have interesting and competing theories.  I first heard about Nikola Tesla in high school, and there have not been that many novels floating around about the man that gave us AC electricity and wireless communication, so I was particularly interested when I came across this one.  I also love it when a good mystery is woven into the fabric of the story, so I am looking forward to reading this.

About the Author: Samantha Hunt is the author of the acclaimed first novel The Seas, which in 2006 won a National Book Foundation award for writers under the age of thirty-five.  Her fiction has been published in The New Yorker and McSweeney’s.  She lives in New York.

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Progress: Notes From a Reading Life ~ July 22

I have been working on this post since Sunday.  The date on it has changed four times. I have since finished Lady Audley’s Secret.  I think this is just a slump writing week for me.

The Likeness, by Tana FrenchThe Likeness, by Tana French. So I finished The Likeness and it ended up being about the only thing that I read or listened to for the week, and then after  I finished I couldn’t start anything else.  It’s so good that it requires a certain amount of space around it before you can start anything else.  Trish from Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin’? calls this her favorite book ever, and I can see why.  I love this book.  I was afraid because I was loving it so much that I was going to be absolutely devastated by the ending, but it all worked out. Seriously, read this book.

Lady Audley's Secret, Mary Elizabeth BraddonLady Audley’s Secret, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon:  I bought this on audio and I started listening to the first half hour and I was hooked.  But I realized that it was the abridged edition (my bad); I normally don’t do abridged anything.  I mean, just why?  But then I started listening again because I was curious about the story and the way it ended, and it was a prefect follow-up to The Likeness.  A mystery, but totally different in every way, so I won’t even be able to compare the two and inevitably be let-down. I am enjoying the narrator, Juliet Stevnson, and her British accent and all the voices that she was makes up along the way for each othe characters. She is great!  I figure that if I love it so much that I want to read the book and discover what I missed, I can buy it or get it from the library.

So far, Lucy has managed to snag rich and older gentleman Lord Audley, and her servants have looked through her things and discovered a little baby shoe which they intend on keeping to blackmail her.  Meanwhile, George Talboys who is a friend of Mr. Audley’s nephew, Robert Audley, has just returned from a trip to Australia where he had gone on an expedition to earn money to support his family. George has come back a wealthy man.  He returns home to find that his wife has passed away and spends a year in mourning.  I know that there is more to the story and I can’t wait to find out what it is.  This is so interesting that it makes me wonder if I would like the unabridged edition just as much.  Maybe they cut out all of the slow parts.  Long scenery descriptions which I have typically come to expect in classics have been curiously absent.

The Simplest of Acts: And Other Stories, by Melanie HaneyThe Simplest of Acts and Other Stories, by Melanie Haney: I have been reading a story here and there and I have been loving them.  Lately it’s been hard to find short stories which capture enough of the characters and the story to really enjoy them but Haney manages to do do both.  The stories are full of rich imagery and characterization, and explore some interesting themes- like traveling in other countries and hanging on when you really need to let go. I love that I feel something at the end of these stories.  That’s a a special thing because a lot of the time after readinng short stories, I am left with one word- huh?

The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, Syrie JamesThe Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, by Syrie James:  I just finished reading and loving  The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte and already I am back for more of Syrie James.  Enough said.

What do you do with audiobooks when you’re done with them? Do you delete them, or do you have a massive hard drive? They take up lots of space.

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This One is Mine, by Maria Semple – Book Review

this-one-is-mineThis One Is Mine, Maria Semple is Highly Recommended.

David and Violet Parry are supposed to be living the good life.  He is a successful music executive,  and Violet is now a stay-at-home mom after years of being a successful television writer.  They have a lavish lifestyle, a beautiful toddler and a gorgeous home that Violet has just finished re-modeling, but both are deeply unhappy.  Violet, once a witty and well-read take-charge dynamo, has sunk into a deep depression and only wanders out of her fog long enough to start making self destructive decisions and to find herself in a relationship with often down and out musician Teddy Reyes. David acts out by belittling his wife and lamenting the fact that all of his needs aren’t being fully met to his demanding expectations.

Meanwhile David’s diabetic sister Sally is living her life on the margins of her brother’s success and pines for the days when he was a doting brother. In her mid-thirties she is desperate to get her life in order, and for her that means getting a man.  Always scheming, she thinks that the best way to go about it is to meet and marry someone who is on the verge of of being a breakout success. When she meets Jeremy, a sports writer who has become known for being able to predict the winner of sports matches, she thinks she’s found her man, but gets a lot more than she ever bargained for in a relationship.

I really loved this book, and I think that’s in large part because of the compassionate way that Maria Semple treated and lovingly developed her characters who are quite frankly, obnoxious.  As I started reading the first chapters, and was introduced to Violet and her co-horts I was appalled.  They were self-absorbed, prejudiced, snobs or social climbers, or social climbing snobs whose decision making and actions were completely reprehensible. They have too much, think too little, and take everything for granted; and just as I was wondering if I would be able to stand these people for the course of the book a very strange thing happened, I started rooting for them.  I wanted them to be able to work through their issues and make their family lives work and for them to communicate, and for their relationships to be stronger.

Everyone was so interesting and complex that one moment I would be totally down on them and in the next instant I would gain some perspective on where they were coming from and be on their side.  I railed at David on Violet’s behalf and then turned around and totally wanted Violet to get herself together so she wouldn’t lose the man who still loved her, no matter how flawed that love had become.  I alternated between hoping Sally would  land herself a husband and thinking that she didn’t deserve one.  Teddy, Violet’s sometime lover, is both repulsive and utterly charming and all in all I felt like he was, along with the rest of them, doing the best that he possibly could.  It’s wonderful when you have enough depth to really get a handle on a character and to like them though they may be very, very flawed.

One of the other great things about this book is that you really get a chance to see the flavor of L.A. and some of the communities and people that can be encountered.  The house and property descriptions, Violet buying excessively expensive chocolates and Hermes scarfs to gift to sales people, the over the top yoga retreat which David attends to find himself, and the independent child classes Violet attends with her daughter are all humorously exposed and explored.  The situations are hilarious and absurd, but also representative of a certain lifestyle. I liked to see the characters moving within their different environments. Semple also peppers her stories with every day problems and illness which have to be dealt with such as diabetes, Asperger’s, drug use and depression to name a few.

This book and its characters are memorable ones and they still continue to stick with me and come to the top of my list of books that I recommend, especially if you like great characterizations and drama. It had a bit of mystery as well because I wanted to see how they would all end out and there were a variety of possibilities that I would have been okay with, which is nice.  But I like the one I got too!

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Progress: Notes From A Reading Life ~ July 16

The Likeness, by Tana FrenchJust as I was talking about what a shamelessly promiscuous reader I had reverted back to being, something happened.  I started reading The Likeness, by Tana French, and all of a sudden I’m in a relationship, and just absolutely loving this book.  I mean, love!  Talk about being drawn into the story.  I tried to cheat a little but I kept wanting to get back to Cassie and all the people that she has met while undercover in the life of Lexie Madison.  This book has got it all.  There is the murder to be solved, wondering about the affect that being undercover will have on her relationship with Sam and even if Sam is the right man for her, and then there are her fellow grad students. The part where she is undercover is reminding me of The Secret History, by Donna Tartt with the aloof and exclusive outsider clique happening, and you you just wonder about all the secrets that they are hiding.  Tana French is at the top of her game with this second book. Now, back to my book!

What’s the most engrossing mystery you’ve ever read?

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The Blue Notebook, by James A. Levine – Book Review

The Blue Notebook, by James A. LevineThe Blue Notebook, by James A. Levine is Highly Recommended.

Batuk is a fifteen-year-old girl living in a brothel on Common Street in Mumbai, India.  The bright points in her life are her best friend, Puneet, a male prostitute living a few “nests” down from her in the same brothel, and a notebook which she keeps hidden away in a slit in her thin mattress. Her vivid imagination and knack for storytelling lead her to paint a world of cheerful descriptions of the ragged and decrepit room that she describes as an elaborately painted and decorated nest or cage and the sexual acts that she is forced to endure is misleadingly called making sweet cakes.  Over the course of the novel Batuk tells the story of how she was sold by her father  into prostitution as a nine-year-old to pay off unspecified family debts.

The proprietor of the brothel, Mamaki Briilla, drops a pencil and instead of returning it Batuk steals and hides it so that she can recount her early life, and the last day that she saw the family and the father she still misses after six years. Batuk is an emerging beauty and after one of her “customers” noticing this suggest her for a position outside the brothel walls, but is she better off facing a new situation or staying with the horror that she already knows?

James Levine does an amazing job getting us into the head of Batuk.  Though she has grown up with a family and has had to face the betrayal of those closest to her she tries to make the best of it and always see the beauty in the life despite her horrific circumstances.  Batuk weaves a world of beauty and exquisite stories out of the every day tragedy that is her life.  She creates a world that you want to believe in for her sake though it makes the crushing reality that she faces that much more difficult and painful to witness. The subject matter is dark and movingly in contrast to the light and engaging way that Batuk presents her narrative. It’s short at a mere 200 pages but stunningly rendered. There’s really not much to be said other than, “Read this book.”

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  • Maw Books Blog

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