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).

Book Review | I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid

reid-ending-things-coverReid’s debut novel, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, is a fast paced psychological thriller. This entertaining book introduces a female narrator / protagonist who is traveling into the countryside with her boyfriend to meet his parents on their farm where he grew up. She seems to be on edge as a result of ongoing mysterious phone calls and dinner with the parents just seems a bit off. When a blizzard closes in, things get tense with the young couple becoming separated in the middle of nowhere.

I was impressed with Reid’s writing and appreciated mostly concise narration, a quickly moving plot and a minimal number of characters. The book was interesting from the start and enough chapter breaks allowed it to be easily read and put down. It is a quick read, could be finished on a longer flight or such. Recommended for fans of psychological fiction, schizophrenia literature or fast reads. There are several books and films that have been produced which follow a similar story theme. Contrary to other reviewers, I don’t think this one will leave me thinking about it later. That said, check it out from a library near you.

Book Review | The Room : a novel by Jonas Karlsson

the room book coverUnder less than perfect circumstances, Björn transfers to a new job at the Authority in Stockholm. He sees himself as a man of the future who is destined for greatness, though his coworkers think he’s quite a jerk. Björn thinks he is better than the lot of them and plots his rise to management. When his colleagues report him for improper behavior, he is forced to examine his own mental state and choose a new path to the top – and balance the time he spends in a special room at work that the others claim doesn’t exist.

Karlsson has penned a winner with The Room. Although Björn is an unlikable protagonist, he serves as an entertaining narrator. This quick read starts strong and keeps the pages turning. The direct writing style clearly depicts scenes and settings. The book takes place in Sweden, but could easily have occurred elsewhere, as the cultural references are limited. The Room is an enjoyable office fiction read and would work quite well for book clubs or to spark a dialogue about workplace ethics. Check out this new release from a library near you.

Book Review | Beautiful You by Chuck Palahniuk

cover beautiful you

In Beautiful Youaverage 20-something Penny Harrigan stumbles into billionaire C. Linus Maxwell and a strange relationship begins. Penny has failed the bar more than once and her law career is worse than at a standstill. Things look up when Maxwell flies her to Paris to live in his penthouse and wine and dine with who’s who of high society. Penny loses control when Maxwell introduces into their relationship a series of erotic gadgets he’s invented. As the final test subject before they hit the market, Penny feels responsible when women begin losing their lives and careers to new pleasurable addictions.

The novel seems divided into two parts. At times the first half reminded me of Fifty Shades and the second half of Tom Robbins stories, but each of these authors proved more successful. While Palahniuk tells an inventive tale that flows better than most of his recent works, it is no match for his original novels (think Diary, Survivor, Choke, Lullaby…). This book is a quick read with a story that decently holds the reader’s interest and includes a few plot twists. The plot and sexually graphic content may be off-putting to some readers, but as other reviewers have noted, the story is fairly unique. If the jacket description sounds inviting, check it out from a library near you.

Book Review | Sad Peninsula by Mark Sampson

book cover - sad peninsula by mark sampsonSad Peninsula is an excellent read, one of my favorite in 2014. This novel actually shares two storylines and protagonists. Chapters alternate focus between Michael, a modern day Canadian man working abroad in South Korea as an ESL teacher at a cram school, and Eun-Young, a young Korean woman kidnapped by the Japanese during World War II and forced to serve as a “comfort woman” for the soldiers in their camps. Michael has come to Korea to escape a journalistic career catastrophe and failed relationship. During a night out on the town with his buddies he meets Jin, Eun-Young’s grand-niece, and they begin dating. Back in 1943 the story begins with the Japanese occupation in Korea and Eun-Young going to school. After she is taken, we experience her trauma as a sex slave in the war camps.

Sampson delves deeply into both of these characters’ stories. He paints clear pictures of the emotions and situations that both Michael and Eun-Young are experiencing. This was a book that I continually wanted to get back to reading. I was interested in the many details shared concerning an English speaker living in Korea and also in the historical aspects of the text. Though some of the passages from Eun-Young’s past were sexually graphic, they were not overdone or without purpose. This book would appeal to those interested in living abroad, historical fiction buffs, and those who enjoy an emotion packed read. Check out Sad Peninsula from a library near you.

Book Review | October : a novel by Zoë Wicomb

october book coverTaking place in South Africa and Scotland, October shares pieces of two women’s lives. Protagonist Mercia grew up fairly well off as the daughter of a teacher in the town of Kliprand with her brother Jake. Wishing to leave racial tensions and other family and village business behind, she left for university and eventually became a respected professor in Glasgow. Though successful in her work, her personal life takes a major hit when her domestic partner abruptly leaves her for another woman. Soon after, a mysteriously terse postcard arrives in the mail from Jake demanding she return home. Mercia obliges and upon returning reaquaints herself with the village ways and Jake’s wife Sylvie and son Nicky. Mercia and Sylvie seem unable to understand each other, but as pieces of the past and present come together, a deeper connection is revealed.

I read Zoë Wicomb’s book You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town and enjoyed it, which influenced my choice of this title. Appropriately, I started it in October but found myself unable to finish it for nearly two months. The characters were imaginable, but unlikeable. The descriptions were precise and allowed the reader to envision scenes clearly, however, it was sometimes hard to ascertain the actual chronological order of events. Within a chapter Wicomb could jump a timespan of over 40 years with only minimal contextual clues. Slices of life were clearly presented, but in a way that made them hard to relate to. While reading I found myself disinterested in what would ultimately happen to each of the characters. This book may resonate better with recently separated women over 50 or those who have struggled with leaving behind their homeland. Check your local library for a copy of October.

Book Review | A Marker to Measure Drift by Alexander Maksik

book cover  A Marker to Measure Drift A Marker to Measure Drift begins after tragic events in Liberia, when 24 year old Jacqueline has fallen into a vagabond lifestyle. Hungry and alone, she wanders from place to place, trying to avoid danger while looking for somewhere to make her new home. Jacqueline is living in a cave on the Greek Island of Santorini, attempting to squelch hunger pains and eat enough to allow her to walk upright all day. She silently battles with past demons by using her intense and immediate needs to block them out. As Jacqueline plods on, the reader is given glimpses into Jacqueline’s past, flashbacks involving her pregnant sister, her government employed father, her drink-in-hand mother and her diplomat boyfriend. The book comes full circle only at the end when Jacqueline’s account of events in Liberia takes us back to how everything began.

This book was a great read. Though most of the book was fairly slow paced, it was very interesting. Maksik’s descriptions allow the reader to visualize each piece of the story. He allows those unfamiliar with day-to-day suffering to get a better understanding of it through the text. A Marker to Measure Drift is certainly not an uplifting book that you would want to read to your kids, but it is a gripping story about surviving that would make a great book club read. Check it out from a library near you.