Book Review | The Lonesome Bodybuilder by Yukiko Motoya

More than surreal, this collection of almost otherworldly short stories are sure to open your eyes wide with the unexpected. I offer a one sentence introduction for each of the 11 tales.

The Lonesome Bodybuilder: A woman working at a department store decides to pursue bodybuilding.

Fitting Room: A retail clerk goes to excessive lengths attempting to find the perfect garment for an unusual customer.

Typhoon: A youth at a train station takes cookies from a stranger who doles out strange predictions about umbrella-wielders in a typhoon.

I Called You by Name: A woman in a business meeting is completely unable to pay attention when she perceives a bulge she thinks may be moving behind a curtain in the meeting room.

An Exotic Marriage: A woman and her husband begin to resemble each other as their marriage progresses and they lose themselves.

Paprika Jiro: A market is repeatedly terrorized by a strange tribe of invaders who may or may not be real.

How to Burden the Girl: The girl next door cries tears of blood and is attacked by a rival gang members, some of whom are killed and buried in the forest behind the house.

The Women: Women challenge their partners to duels and take them to the riverbanks to fight it out.

Q&A: An advice columnist shares truths during a final interview prior to her retirement.

The Dogs: A woman living in solitude on a mountain befriends a pack of wild dogs who encompass her as she sleeps standing up.

The Straw Husband: After taking his wife running, a man made of straw berates her for her careless attitude about his fancy new car.

While some have compared this Motoya collection to writings of Haruki Murakami, I’d have to call the connection slim. Though a few of the stories do bring thoughts of Murakami, for the most part this collection is much farther out there. Though a few tales may leave the reader bewildered, some do provide some food for thought. The book is a quick read and would work well for entertainment while commuting. Check it out from a library near you!

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Book Review | Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami

killing commendatore book cover.jpgAt over 680 pages, this tome may be daunting, but the story is well worth your time. More like Murakami’s earlier writings, specifically The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles and Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the WorldKilling Commendatore is a real winner. The basis of the story is a painter who has recently separated with his wife, goes to live in the mountains as caretaker for the remote residence of another famous painter. Once a diverse cast of characters is introduced, the plot takes a surreal dive into a literal pit the painter is drawn to unearth in his back yard.

Murakami’s signature writing style will have fans smiling from the beginning of this book. The novel includes ample twists and turns, and the author does a fabulous job of weaving together many themes and plot lines. Magical realism works so well as a binding agent for these various subjects. While not all long-time Murakami fans may have enjoyed his last few publications as much as the oldies, this serves as more of a return to his writing roots and is sure to entertain the critics. Check it out from a library near you!

*Fans of Killing Commendatore, may enjoy Taduno’s Song by Odafe Atogun (2017).

Book Review | So Happiness to Meet You: Foolishly, Blissfully Stranded in Vietnam by Karin Esterhammer

so happiness to meet you cover.jpgAfter the recession hits their Los Angeles family hard, Karin, Robin and their adopted son Kai move to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Though they’ve touristed there before, the story of becoming residents in a district where they are the only non-natives is eye-opening. While Robin is able to secure a job teaching English, Karin is left to home school Kai, do freelance work and take care of their home while befriending the neighbors.

Esterhammer’s background in writing makes this book a delightful read. Feelings, humor and challenging situations are shared with great insight and tact. The memoir is a very entertaining and quick read, with frequent chapter breaks, making it easy to pick up and put down. It would be especially appealing to those who love to travel and/or experience other cultures. Check it out from a library near you.

I received a copy of this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating in the giveaway. *Fans of So Happiness to Meet You: Foolishly, Blissfully Stranded in Vietnam may be interested in Songs of the Baka and Other Discoveries by Dennis James (2017). 

Book Review | The Story of a Marriage by Geir Gulliksen

story of a marraige cover.jpgOriginally published in Norway as Historie om et ektenskap, The Story of a Marriage introduces married couple Jon and Timmy, and focuses on the effect of Timmy’s extramarital relation with Gunnar. As neighbors, Timmy and Gunnar are able to frequently participate in physical activities like running and skiing together. At first Timmy denies any romantic interest in Gunnar, but as they spend increasingly more time together, she is unable to deny that her feelings have changed. Jon, as a stay at home dad and author, is left with too much time to reflect on their relationship and identify fears he has about their crumbling romantic future.

Gulliksen has created a searing portrait of an unbalanced marriage. As he tells the story from the husband’s perspective, it is made clear that this in not an entirely reliable narrative point of view. The imbalance in the couple’s thoughts and feelings is palpable and, as their relationship devolves, so is the emotional pain. Readers with a failed love story of their own should be able to relate to the text on multiple levels. (It does involve sex, so if that’s a trigger, maybe avoid.) Overall, well written book. Check it out from a library near you!

I received an uncorrected proof of this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating. *Fans of The Story of a Marriage, may enjoy Shelter in Place by Alexander Maksik (2016) or The Only Story by Julian Barnes (2018).

Book Review | The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter by Margareta Magnusson

death cleaning.jpgIt sounds a bit odd to read a book on the topic of death cleaning, but this little volume is a helpful and thought-provoking piece, which may serve as the welcoming introduction some older folks need. It makes a lot of sense when getting on in years to decrease some of the clutter that may have accumulated over a long life. By whittling away at this cleaning process, heirs may be saved the daunting task of having to rid the recently deceased’s house of years of stuff.

Magnusson provides basic direction for how to undertake such a cleaning by dividing it into more manageable parts. She explains how this project can create positive feelings in both the cleaner and the recipients of the aged person’s belongings as they are passed on. While dealing with a sometimes sensitive subject in death, Magnusson keeps a light and effective tone by incorporating brief personal anecdotes. At times the book even leads to a quick giggle. Some advice was so helpful I immediately passed it on to someone I thought would benefit. This book is certainly recommended for those later in years who may be downsizing or preparing for a more permanent end, but also to those who may be dealing with parents in such situations. Check out this quick and entertaining read from a library near you.

*Fans of The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, may be interested in the book Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life by García & Miralles.

Book Review | Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life – Héctor García & Francesc Miralles

ikigai cover.jpgFor those interested in longevity with happiness and keys to living a longer life, this book will certainly be interesting and thought-provoking.

Ikigai is a quick read broken into digestible chapters covering topics including longevity, diet, movement, resilience, finding your flow, and more. Written for all audiences, the authors have provided insights based on interviews with Okinawan centenarians, observations of their lifestyle and other applicable philosophical scientific information. The book aims to help the reader find the intersection of passion, mission, profession and vocation, also known as Ikigai. Further, the reader will be able to apply the topical introductions and logical observations immediately in every day living. Any reader will be able to take something of this value from this text. Check it out from a library near you!

*Fans of Ikigai, may be interested in the film How to Life Forever by Mark Wexler.

Book Review | We’ll Sleep When We’re Old by Pino Corrias

we'll sleep when we're old coverProtagonist Oscar Martello is a rich and corrupt Roman media producer. He’s named script writer Andrea Serrano as his best friend and shipped him off to an apartment in Paris with his leading actress, Jacaranda Rizzi. The main purpose of their hasty disappearance is to drum up public interest in their upcoming film release, but not everyone is in on the plan and things go unsurprisingly awry.

The Kirkus Review of this title is spot on. While the story flows at a decent pace, with details from the past woven in, some readers may take issue with the author’s use of commas. Many sentences contain such numerous examples that the reader is unable to even remember at the end what has been exemplified. The characters are unlikable, therefore making the book cold and devoid of emotion. A crass voice may also put some readers off. This novel is recommended for those interested in reading about corruption and scandal in European cinema and TV. Though just released yesterday, you probably won’t have to wait long to check it out from a library near you.

I received an advance uncorrected proof of this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating in the giveaway.