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).

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Book Review | How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

how to stop time cover.jpgImagine living for hundreds of years, but aging very, very slowly. Haig’s most recent novel, How to Stop Time, presents a protagonist and members of the supporting cast with such a condition. Although the rule for people with ‘anageria’ is not to fall in love, Tom Hazard finds the love of his life and fathers a daughter who shares his condition. Forced to leave her behind in dangerous times, Tom then spends several lifetimes searching for her and reliving memories of interactions with Shakespeare, a witch hunter and Captain Cook to name a few.

This book is interesting from the beginning. Interwoven historical flashbacks are very entertaining and mesh well to tell a story that has been happening for centuries. This thought provoking read keeps a good clip going, with a surprisingly small cast. Recommended to fans of historical fiction and mild fantasy. 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 How to Stop Time, may be interested in Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan.

Book Review | The Coincidence Makers by Yoav Blum

coincidence makers cover.jpgSomewhat surreal, The Coincidence Makers is a fictional fantasy where what seems to be happening by chance is actually carefully planned. Protagonists Guy and Emily have gone through training together and work as coincidence makers who receive special projects that they must enact. Whether making a piano fall from a window unto a passerby or sparking the urge in an accountant to write poetry, the coincidences they create are often life altering. A romantic undercurrent helps drive the novel forward.

Blum has penned a quick and enjoyable read. His relatable characters and relaxed tone make the book easy to get into and maintain the reader’s interest. Some of the concepts he’s developed are a little complicated or convoluted, but the text flows well and the story comes out a winner. This book would be great for fans of surreal fiction or those interested in the inner workings of the universe. Check it out from a library near you.

I received an advance readers’ edition 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 The Coincidence Makers, may be interested in The Room by Jonas Karlsson.

Book Review | Taduno’s Song by Odafe Atogun

tadunos song coverAs Atogun’s debut novel, Taduno’s Song is a real winner. This novel takes place in a present day African military dictatorship. Taduno is a renowned musician who returns home after months away to find the country has forgotten him entirely, save for his voice. The government has kidnapped his girlfriend to use as a bargaining chip to get him to sing their praises instead of using his music to stand up for the people. Involving a colorful cast of supporter’s, Taduno’s quest to regain his voice and save his lover provides a very inviting tale.

This novel is thought provoking and entertaining, relaying a story that will stay with the reader long beyond the book’s end. As soon as I finished reading it, my thoughts were of how to get my hands on more of Atogun’s writing. His clean and concise style makes the text very easy to follow. This is not often an easy task when employing surrealism in literature. This book will appeal to fans of Haruki Murakami, having some stylistic similarities. Readers may also gain insight or additional understanding of the inner workings of a military dictatorship. A highly recommended quick read, check out Taduno’s Song from a library near you!

Book Review | Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar

29567845At the opening of Spaceman of Bohemia, protagonist Jakub is leaving Prague on a solo mission into space to collect cosmic dust. Leaving behind his wife Lenka is stressful for him and it’s not long before she runs away from being the “astronaut’s wife”. Jakub quickly grows weary of his alone time and makes friends with a giant spider-like creature he encounters aboard the ship. Coupled with alternating chapters from Jakub’s youth, the book is an existential voyage of an engaging nature.

For fans of the surreal and thought provoking, this debut novel would be a solid choice. A limited cast of characters and concise writing style make the text easily digestible. Some of the “flashback” chapters are a bit slower moving, but overall the book flows well. References to places in Prague will be appreciated by travelers. Spaceman of Bohemia is definitely literary fiction, not science fiction. 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.

*If you’ve enjoyed reading Spaceman of Bohemia, you may be interested in The People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia (2005).

A Summary of the 27 books I read during 2014 – Best & Worst

The titles are listed below and are mostly novels, but also include art and historical fiction, art history, photography and short stories. In an attempt to make this post useful to readers, I’ve created sections to group the books. Not all of the books I read during 2014 were released in 2014. A full list of titles appears at the end of the post.

My four favorite books:

A Marker to Measure Drift – A Liberian refugee in her mid-20’s is starving as she tries to make a new life in the Greek Isles.

Sad Peninsula – A Canadian ESL teacher in South Korea learns about the Japanese occupation during World War II and Korean comfort women.

The Anatomy Lesson – In 1600’s Amsterdam, Rembrandt paints his masterpiece of a human dissection.

Decompression – A German writer and soap star take a vacation to the Canary Islands to learn scuba diving.

After those four, my next five favorite books:

Hikikomori and the Rental Sister – A man has made his room a prison that he will not leave so his wife hires a Japanese rental sister to coax him out.

The Silence of the Wave – An Italian detective has suffered a breakdown after many years undercover, but things look up when he meets a lady.

A Hologram for the King – A failing business man is sent to Saudi Arabia to broker an IT deal with the king.

The Book of You – An English woman is relentlessly stalked by a fellow university employee.

The Year of the Hare – A man quits his job and leaves his wife and life to spend a year wandering Finland with a hare as his companion.

Four books that should have been better:

Shotgun Lovesongs – High school friends are reunited in smalltown Wisconsin for a wedding.

The Last Magazine – An intern watches a journalist’s career being shredded to protect the magazine.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage – A Japanese man living a quiet life learns the stories that ripped his high school friends away from him.

October – A South African woman returns home after years abroad to face the trials that have torn her family apart.

Five books that were a waste of my time:

Notes from the Internet Apocalypse – The internet goes out and a man searches for a way to restore it.

Rude Bitches Make Me Tired – A lady rants about habits of others that she considers rude and annoying.

The Transcriptionist – A newspaper transcriptionist becomes obsessed with a story about a blind woman being mauled to death by lions.

Monster’s Chef – An ex-convict is hired as the personal chef for a famous musician.

The Way Inn – A man discovers that his hotel is a gateway to accessing the whole world.

All titles appear in alphabetical order by author’s last name. Title links are to book reviews I’ve written. I’ve placed an asterisk by the names of authors whose work I had previously read. I’m happy to answer any questions about these books or provide suggestions for further reading if there’s a certain title you particularly enjoyed.

Hikikomori and the Rental Sister – Jeff Backhaus
Shotgun Lovesongs – Nickolas Butler
The Silence of the Wave – Gianrico Carofiglio
A Hologram for the King – Dave Eggers*
The Coast & the Sea: Marine and Maritime Art in America at the New-York Historical Society – Linda S. Ferber
Notes from the Internet Apocalypse – Wayne Gladstone
Terms & Conditions – Robert Glancy
The Last Magazine – Michael Hastings
Horrorstör – Grady Hendrix
Fifty Shades trilogy – E.L. James
The Book of You – Claire Kendal
Joyland – Stephen King*
A Marker to Measure Drift – Alexander Maksik
Perimeter : A Contemporary Portrait of Lake Michigan – Kevin J. Miyazaki
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage – Haruki Murakami*
The Strange Library – Haruki Murakami*
An English Ghost Story – Kim Newman
The Year of the Hare – Arto Paasilinna
Rude Bitches Make Me Tired – Celia Rivenbark
The Transcriptionist – Amy Rowder
Sad Peninsula – Mark Sampson
The Anatomy Lesson – Nina Siegal
Monster’s Chef – Jervey Trevalon
October – Zoë Wicomb*
The Way Inn – Will Wiles
Decompression – Juli ZehBooks I tried to read, but quit:
Ripper – Isabelle Allende
Cartwheel – Jennifer Dubois
On Such a Full Sea – Chang-Rae Lee

Book Review | The Way Inn : a novel by Will Wiles

book cover the way inn by will wiles

Neil Double is a conference surrogate, meaning companies pay him to go to conferences for them and collect information. He spends his time traveling the globe, living in hotels and attending all manner of conventions. In The Way Inn he meets redhead Dee, an employee of the hotel chain, who shows him that the Way Inn is much more than the average hotel. When things at Neil’s conference go south, he strikes a bargain with a creepy staff member named Hillbert to try to get things back on track, but it becomes the beginning of much worse troubles as Neil and Dee become trapped in the hotel.

While this book is fairly easy to read, it doesn’t really become interesting until more than halfway through. At just over 330 pages, that is quite a long wait. The novel begins as corporate fiction, introducing the reader to Neil, the protagonist, his job, and the conference he’s currently attending. A few characters from his work are introduced, but they have no bearing on the real plot. The story becomes surreal much later as the hotel takes on a life of its own, and though entertaining, it is often unbelievable and sometimes poorly explained. The Way Inn could be of interest to the frequent corporate traveler looking for something (unreal) to pass the time. Check it out from a library near you.