Book Review | A Life of Adventure and Delight by Akhil Sharma

IMG_0753.JPGThis collection of short stories, each previously published by The New Yorker, deals with Indian characters, mostly involved in love or interpersonal social issues. The eight included stories share common themes including love, physical relationships, arranged marriage, sickness and other threads of daily life.

These stories of varying lengths are direct and the writing easy to follow. The subject matter is best suited for adults, though scenes of intercourse are brief. Despite being a fairly quick read, I did not find this book to be very enjoyable. The dark humor I was hoping for seemed quite sparse. Certain reader’s may also find some of the female character’s situations to be depressing. That said, the book could serve to increase Indian cultural knowledge for an outsider. Check it out from a library near you!

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

*If you’ve enjoyed reading A Life of Adventure and Delight, you may be interested in Malafemmena by Louisa Ermelino (2016).

Book Review | A French Wedding by Hannah Tunnicliffe

french wedding cover.jpegUsing chapters with alternating character focus, A French Wedding tells the story of a group of university friends from the UK who are reunited in France for one of their 40th birthday celebrations. Max, a musician, plans to propose to his friend Helen. They’ve always shared a close connection. Max’s chef and housekeeper Juliette is drawn into the group as events progress. Plans go awry as faults in the friends’ marriages and relationships are revealed and surprise events lead to a shift in the plot.

Well written and easy to follow, Tunnicliffe’s novel offers an entertaining read with enough depth to be thought-provoking. The story is more character driven than plot driven, and can be considered women’s fiction. Perhaps the cover image does not do justice in attracting all readers who may enjoy this book. Central themes include relationships, cooking and life challenges. Check it out from a library near youI received this bound galley as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating in the giveaway.

*If you’ve enjoyed reading A French Wedding, you may be interested in Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler (2014).

Book Review | Men without Women by Haruki Murakami

men without women.jpegIt’s always exciting when your favorite author comes out with a new book. Last month, Murakami’s newest collection of short stories, Men without Women, was released in the US. With seven stories included, this book was a quick read. Versions of some stories had previously been published by The New Yorker or Freeman’s. As the title suggests, these tales share a similar thread: men without women. The men are affected differently by their lack of women in each story, and Murakami uses the circumstances to share interesting insights about love, relationships and matters of the heart.

Though certainly not a happy, feel good book, it was an enjoyable read. Murakami’s signature style is evident and comforting, like an old friend. The stories jump right in and hold the reader’s attention. The characters are anonymous enough to be relatable for many readers, yet developed and well-rounded. Manageable section lengths make the book easy to pick up and put down. This book most reminded me of Murakami’s previous work South of the Border, West of the Sun. It is more of a return to the quality of the author’s earlier works than some more recent publications may have been. Highly recommended for long time Murakami fans, those who enjoy a short story, and those looking for insights into matters of the heart. It’s new now and there are likely to be several holds, but check it out from a library near you!

*If you’ve enjoyed reading Men without Women, you may be interested in This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz (2012).

Best & Worst of the 23 books I read during 2016

My reading selection for 2016 contained 11 novels, three memoirs, four other various non-fiction works, three picture books, a novella and a play. In an attempt to make this post useful to readers, I’ve created sections to group the books based on my overall enjoyment of the texts. Most, but not all of the books I read during 2016 were released in 2016. The overall selection was heavily influenced by copies I received freely from publishers through Goodreads giveaways. A full list of titles appears at the end of the post.

My four favorite books:

Native Fashion Now* – Accompanies the art exhibition Native Fashion Now and honors contemporary Native American fashion throughout the past sixty-five years.

Paradime* – Doppelgänger story about two men trading lives.

Stepmother– A down-to-earth memoir describing the ups and downs of stepmothering.

The Hating Game* – A romantic comedy about two coworkers who make games of mentally torturing each other before entering a relationship.

After those four, my next five favorite books:

Imagine Me Gone* – Uses multiple narrators to trace the story of a family of five dealing with depression in its members.

The Mountains of Parnassus* – A philosophical dystopian novel about a future society without traditional government or religion by a Nobel Prize winner. To be published 2017.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things – A psychological thriller following a schizophrenic who suffers a breakdown.

The Best Possible Answer* – A YA novel about a high schooler dealing with family issues, first love and panic attacks while trying to prepare for college.

The Journey* – An illustrated book for children dealing with the adult theme of emigration caused by war.

Four books that should have been better:

Ajax Penumbra 1969 – The prequel to Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, this short book details the search for an ancient lost text.

How to Ruin Everything – A collection of essays by rapper and poet Watsky about various life experiences.

Tram 83 – Deals with two very different men trying to make it in a country resembling the DR Congo.

Sunless – A novel showing a family’s decline as they deal with a large prescription drug company.

Four books that I wouldn’t recommend to an enemy:

Mr. Bunny’s Adventure* – A picture book with poor grammar about a bunny meeting a giant.

The Mermaid Girl* – A lady who used to be a mermaid in a tank at the circus leaves her transient life to pursue a family of her own.

Only in Naples* – A memoir by a rich girl about her time spent in Italy for an internship.

The Devil’s Dancer* – A play about the production of a play which mocks everything from pop culture to capitalism.

All titles appear below in alphabetical order by author’s last name. Title links above and below are to book reviews I’ve written. Sloan is the only author I’ve read before this year. I’m happy to answer any questions about these books or provide suggestions for further reading if there’s a certain title you’ve particularly enjoyed.

The Story of a Brief Marriage* – Anuk Arudpragasm
A Cure for Suicide – Jesse Ball
Wisconsin Supper Club Cookbook – Mary Bergin
The Devil’s Dancer* – Victor Bertocchi
Sunless – Gerard Donovan
100 Nature Hot Spots in Ontario* – Chris Earley and Tracy C. Read
Paradime* – Alan Glynn
Imagine Me Gone* – Adam Haslett
Happy Hooker – Xaviera Hollander
The Best Possible Answer* – E. Katherine Kottaras

Native Fashion Now* – Karen Kramer
Stepmother* – Marianne Lile
The Mountains of Parnassus* – Czeslaw Milosz
The Storm* – Akiko Miyakoshi
Tram 83 – Fiston Mwanza Mujila
I’m Thinking of Ending Things – Iain Reid
Mr. Bunny’s Adventure* – Alisha Ricks
The Journey* – Francesca Sanna
Ajax Penumbra 1969 – Robin Sloan
The Mermaid Girl* – Erika Swyler
The Hating Game* – Sally Thorne
How to Ruin Everything – George Watsky
Only in Naples* – Katherine Wilson

*These titles were given to me in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review | Arrows of Rain by Okey Ndibe

arrows of rain coverArrows of Rain takes place in the imaginary African republic of Madia. The scene is set with the death of a prostitute being investigated on a beach. Split into three parts, the book relays the stories of two male protagonists: Femi, younger, a reporter, and Bukuru, older, a vagrant whose sanity is in question. Femi observes the arrest of Bukuru for murder and is later summoned to jail as the press recipient of Bukuru’s life story. This recounting is the meat of the novel and reveals a past riddled by trials of love, violence and political corruption.

Ndibe has received much critical acclaim for this novel. Beginning with a murder is one way to draw the reader’s attention. The text is straightforward and easy to read, with chronological jumps being very clear. Some situations seem more devoid of emotion than a reader may prefer, but this also allows for not becoming too caught up in or disturbed by the violence. This text does have graphic parts that may not be suitable for sensitive readers. Overall, the book was well written, but took longer to finish than I had anticipated because I was not very interested in the outcome, although I did enjoy cultural references. Check it out from a library near you.

Book Review | Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

attachments book coverIn this romantic drama/comedy Beth and Lincoln work together at the newspaper office, but have never actually met. Working in IT security, Lincoln’s job is to screen flagged e-mails. Most days Beth and her best friend Jennifer’s storm of back and forth messages rings the bell. Instead of giving the women warnings, Lincoln decides to let them continue and read their daily banter. In this fashion, he falls for Beth and learns that she is attracted to him, but has no idea who he is.

I wanted to check out Landline, but since it wasn’t available I picked up this Attachments instead. This book is a light read, fluffy is the word that comes to mind. The story was fairly entertaining, but it seemed like something was missing. The supporting characters are pretty flat and though they apparently experience emotions, I didn’t experience any as a reader. I was expecting more from an author who has received so much critical acclaim – maybe this book was just too early in her repertoire. This book could be entertaining for someone who has a secret crush on a coworker or those who enjoy light, fun reads without much substance. Check it out from a library near you.

Book Review | The Last Magazine : a novel by Michael Hastings

last magazine book coverPublished posthumously, The Last Magazine introduces an aspiring, early 20’s employee at an in-print periodical in New York City. Narrated primarily in the first person by fictional Michael Hastings, the story gives a first hand view of the workings involved in putting out the Magazine. The power struggle between two top writers, the field reporting from an international correspondent in Iraq, and Michael’s daily deeds shape the book. The scoop goes beyond the simple day-to-day though, and is supported by racial tensions, sex and drugs and a human desire to stay afloat no matter the cost.

In the past I’ve found workplace fiction to be interesting, so I figured this was worth a try. Hastings’ writing style is conversational, informal and very readable. The book has a journal-like feel with short, dated chapters. The characters, thought not particularly likable, are appealing in their eccentricities. The story carries on smoothly, alternating focus between Michael and A.E. Peoria, an international correspondent. The hefty amount of blatant sexual encounters may put off some readers, but mostly they contribute to advancing the narrative. This novel was discovered and published after Hastings died in a car accident in Los Angeles in 2013. Some sources contend that book characters have real life counterparts with whom journalist Hastings worked. Check our The Last Magazine from a library near you. For an excellent workplace fiction read, try The Company by Max Barry.