Review: South of the Border, West of the Sun

South of the Border, West of the Sun
South of the Border, West of the Sun

By Haruki Murakami
(Vintage, Paperback, 9780679767398, March 2000, 224pp.)

The Short of It:

Success and happiness don’t always go hand in hand.

The Rest of It:

Okay, guys. My love for Murakami is approaching full-on creep level. If I could shrink him down and put him in my pocket, I’d carry him around all day long. Weird, huh?

I saved this book for a long time because it was the last translated novel that I had not read but when my father passed away and I was unable to pull myself out of bed, I reached for it and Murakami’s writing did what I expected it to. It soothed, refreshed, made me ponder life in a big way, and all of a sudden all these feelings were rushing through me again.

This is probably one of my favorite novels, ever. It’s right up there with Kafka on the Shore and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. It’s a plain, simple story about a middle-aged man by the name of Hajime. He has a loving wife, and two beautiful daughters. He owns a couple of very successful Jazz clubs and enjoys the life he’s earned. But deep down, there’s something missing.

Not fully understanding this sense of longing, he’s reminded of a girl he knew in childhood by the name of Shimamoto. She was his everything but that was a long time ago. Is it possible that she even remembers him?

Memory plays a big role in this story and it’s beautifully handled. Murakami paints vivid, broad strokes when it comes to Shimamoto so it’s easy to see why Hajime is so taken with her. In childhood she’s this beautiful, delicate untouchable thing but when she walks into his club one rainy evening, Hajime begins to doubt his own existence and is no longer sure what happiness is.

This novel is full of romantic interludes but I hesitate to call it a romance because it’s much deeper than your typical romance novel. If you are familiar with Murakami’s writing at all, you know that his books can walk the surreal line. Some of his books are way out there, like Kafka and Wind-up but others are more subtle and this one is definitely one of the quiet ones but oh, how I loved it. That last page! That last line. Sigh.

If I want to try Murakami, which book should I read first?

Everyone always asks me which book to read first. It’s really hard to say. I read Kafka on the Shore first and it was like an acid trip. At page 50 I was about to give up on it and then something clicked. But that’s me. I like it when an author surprises me. But I think about 75% of you would run screaming from a room if you picked that one up first.

So then, to be on the safe side, I usually suggest After Dark, which dips into the surreal but not overly so but if you like excitement then that one might not work for you. Then, there are his short story collections. Some of you adore short stories and some of you don’t. But, I have to say that South of the Border, West of the Sun is the one I will recommend for first time readers from here on out. It’s beautifully written and well-balanced. Not too much of any one thing which makes it a good read for first-time readers of his work.

Just for Fun

Check out this cafe which became a hangout for Murakami fans. I’d like to live there.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: The Rosie Effect

The Rosie EffrectThe Rosie Effect
By Graeme Simsion
(Simon & Schuster, Hardcover, 9781476767314, December 30, 2014, 352pp.)

The Short of It:

A turbulent ride of ups and downs.

The Rest of It:

The Rosie Project was an adorable read. It really was.  It was smart and fun and I loved the characters and the unconventional romance aspect. That book was all about the pursuit of love and what it means to be the “other half” and it was delightfully awkward.

In The Rosie Effect, Don and Rosie are now married and their world is about to change in a huge way when Rosie announces that she is pregnant. This book has little to do with Rosie. It focuses on Don and the fact that he is just not prepared for fatherhood.

It’s  a tad tedious in the telling and to be honest, it took me a really long time to read it. Marriage problems abound and Don’s mannerisms are not nearly as charming as they were in the first book. In fact, he annoyed the hell out of me.

I have little patience for sequels that are just so-so and this one falls into that category.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher via Edelweiss.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: We Are Called To Rise (audio)


We Are Called to Rise
We Are Called To Rise (audio)
By Laura McBride
(Simon & Schuster Audio, ISBN 9781442370791, June 2014.)

The Short of It:

Four, seemingly independent stories collide and the results are devastating for one immigrant family.

The Rest of It:

Vegas is a town that reeks of desperation. Spend a few days there and you’ll know what I mean. In We Are Called to Rise, the Vegas we see is not what you’d expect, but rather bleak and depressing all the same. This is the suburban side, where immigrant families struggle to make ends meet, where people go to basically start a new life. The story is told in four voices:

  • Bashkim – a second grader, living with his Albanian parents and his baby sister. Bashkim’s parents own an ice cream truck and want to live the American dream, but they struggle as there is never enough money to put anything aside, and when Bashkim’s sister falls ill, a trip to the doctor pushes the father over the edge.
  • Avis – a married woman in her 50’s who has just found out about her husband’s infidelity. In addition to her marital problems, she’s struggling to understand her son Nate, a war veteran, who hasn’t been right since returning from his third tour of duty.
  • Specialist Luis Rodriguez-Reyes – he wakes up in a hospital after losing his best friend in Afghanistan. He begins a pen pal relationship with Bashkim as a class project, not realizing how entwined their lives will become.
  • Roberta –  a social worker who becomes involved with Bashkim’s family.

As you can probably guess, something terrible happens to Bashkim and his family. This is a very sad story but it’s also one of hope and renewal. The audio production was very powerful to listen to. There were times where I just had to pause and think about what just happened. The title makes you think this is a book about religion, and maybe there is a little bit of that in there, but it’s not really centered around religion at all.

Overall, it’s a book about second chances. How one small act of kindness can mean so much to an individual and how it’s possible to pick up the pieces when all is lost. I enjoyed listening to it very much and had no problem following the different story lines.

As for discussion, this would make a great book club book. There’s so much to think about and yet it’s a very accessible read. I highly recommend it.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall


The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
By Anne Bronte
(Oxford University Press, USA, Paperback, 9780199207558, May 2008, 441pp.)

The Short of It:

A scandalous novel for its time.

The Rest of It:

Published in 1848, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall tells the story of Helen Graham, a woman whose unfortunate marriage forces her to make some difficult decisions for herself and her son.

This book has a little bit of everything to make a reader happy. There’s the scandalous story of Helen and her husband Author Huntingdon. Probably one of the most self-indulgent men you could ever meet. His love of drink and fine things leads them to financial ruin and Helen has no choice but to  leave him, which of course is frowned upon greatly by society at large. She ends up at Wildfell Hall and introduces herself as a widow.  She quickly becomes the infatuation of Gilbert, who lives across the way. A new, interesting woman that he can talk to. So unlike the frivolous girls he comes across daily. But when another man enters the picture, Gilbert questions her and in return, is handed her diary which tells her sordid tale.

Most of the story is told through diary entries. At first, I didn’t mind this but it went on for quite a long time and I began to lose interest in the story itself, but the real discussion is the history of the book itself. My book club picked this book for June and there was plenty to say about it. For one, Anne Bronte based many of the characters on people she knew, she wrote it under a pen name and it was originally published in three volumes, and when she passed away, her sister Charlotte refused its republication.  It wasn’t until Charlotte’s death that it was published in one volume. Charlotte felt the book was “course” and not fit for publication.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is an important book for many reasons. It deals with some very heavy themes for the time, gender relations, motherhood, alcoholism and  abuse in marriage. Even though it was written in 1848, it has a very contemporary feel to it, probably because many of the issues Bronte includes are issues that we still deal with today.

The one criticism we all shared, was that the ending seemed rushed. Perhaps Bronte’s illness forced her to finish the book quickly or perhaps the book in its republication was cut down when made into one volume? What fascinated me the most was the Bronte family. Such talent and yet, so much tragedy. The three sisters all died from consumption and the brother became an alcoholic.

Overall, I am beginning to believe that I am more of a Bronte gal, than an Austen gal. Last year, I began Jane Eyre and have been reading it slowly (and loving it) and I must say The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was a refreshing surprise.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: The Vacationers


The Vacationers
The Vacationers
By Emma Straub
(Riverhead Hardcover, 9781594631573, May 2014,  304pp.)

The Short of It:

Vacations have the ability to restore within you, what’s been missing all along.

The Rest of It:

The Post family heads to the island of Mallorca for two weeks of much-needed bliss. Franny and Jim have been married for 35 years but after his recent indiscretion with a young woman in his office, Franny is convinced that the marriage is over but goes along with the vacation for the sake of her daughter Sylvia, who is heading to college in the fall and her son Bobby, who is meeting them there and bringing along his much older girlfriend whom no one likes. Along for the ride is Franny’s good friend Charles and his husband Lawrence, both of which are waiting anxiously for word on the adoption they applied for before arriving at the house. Toss in a sexy tutor for Sylvia and this rag-tag group of vacationers is complete.

I can’t say that I really enjoyed any of the characters in this novel, but the interactions between them felt very real to me. Tension runs high as Franny and Jim’s secret comes out. But what impressed me the most is how accurately this family is portrayed. It’s a vacation, on a beautiful island but all is not pretty and that’s typically how it is when you gather a bunch of strong personalities and put them under one roof. There’s bickering and a lot of politics when it comes to sharing meals and beds. Set against the backdrop of a beautiful island it all seems gritty and unpleasant but at the same time, impossible to ignore.

It’s not a page turner, in that you’ll find yourself anxiously flipping pages to see how it all turns out, but it’s an interesting read nonetheless. Given the setting and title, I can see a lot of beach goers adding this one to their summer bag but it’s definitely for readers who enjoy a little dysfunction in their summer reading. I could smell the tanning oil while reading it but I also kind of needed a drink right after. It’s that kind of book.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher via Edelweiss.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Landline


Landline
Landline
By Rainbow Rowell
(St. Martin’s Press, Hardcover, 9781250049377, July 8, 2014, 320pp.)

The Short of It:

Fun and witty with just a little bit of silly.

The Rest of It:

Georgie McCool (seriously, that is her name!) decides to stay home and work through Christmas because the TV deal she is working on is just too good to pass up. Her husband Neal is flying back to Omaha to see his folks and he’s not happy with her decision. As he heads out-of-town with their two daughters in tow, Georgie is well aware of the decision she is making and yet, she can’t bring herself to do anything about it. Her marriage to Neal has been in trouble for a long time and she has no idea how to fix it.

The one thing you will read over and over again about this book is that it’s a fun, light read. It can be read in one sitting and it contains just enough humor to keep it interesting but I tell ya, as much as I loved Georgie’s neurotic tendencies and her poor clothing choices, I had such a hard time with the main part of the story which involves going back to the past via a landline telephone.

She doesn’t technically go back in time, but she gets to know her husband, before he’s her husband and attempts to make things right again. If you embrace the ridiculousness of it all, the book is quite enjoyable. Rowell is known for her ability to work teen angst into a thing of beauty but she is quite adept at handling her adult characters as well.

Besides the magical phone, the only other issue I had with the book was Georgie’s husband, Neal. He’s a real drip in the present AND even in the past. It’s hard to understand why she misses him so much when she has a much better, more interesting guy who happens to be working right next to her. But sure, for the sake of marriage and family you end up rooting for them even though Neal is such a bore.

Overall, I liked this one better than Fangirl but not as much as Eleanor & Park. It has its moments but like I said, it’s a quick, fun read and a perfect way to spend a pleasant afternoon. If you are anxious to get your hands on it, you’ll have to wait a little longer as it doesn’t come out until early July.

Source: Sent to me by a blogger friend.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review & Giveaway: Under a Summer Sky


Under a Summer Sky
Under a Summer Sky
By Nan Rossiter
(Kensington Publishing Corporation, Paperback, 9780758283917, April 2014, 352pp.)

The Short of It:

Faith, love and family in a gorgeous Cape Cod setting.

The Rest of It:

Laney Coleman and her minister husband Noah live in an old, beloved Cape Cod house with their five rambunctious boys. Their lives are full, but happy. With the two oldest boys heading out to college, this particular summer seems bittersweet. Her boys are growing up and when her youngest son is bullied, their lives take on a complexity that threatens to mar this perfect time. But as with most situations, faith and patience is what pulls Laney through and when she finds herself hosting her brother-in-law’s wedding, she decides to embrace the chaos.

If you haven’t read Rossiter’s books before, you are in for a real treat. This book can be read as a stand-alone novel but it builds on the characters introduced in her previous books. It’s really a culmination of all of her novels. It was nice to visit these characters again, given the heartache that some of them endured in the past.

This is one of those books that you reach for and then smile while reading. It’s a feel-good book. You know the type I am talking about. It contains characters that you care about, a gorgeous setting, food talk (think chowder and peach cobbler), and I can’t forget the furry, four-legged members of the family because Rossiter manages to work them into every book. But as pleasant as it is to read Rossiter’s books, I am always surprised as how she manages to weave in the heavier topics. Aging, health concerns, bullying and characters who question their faith are all included here and it’s what makes this family so real.

This is the perfect summer read because it offers up a lot more than just a sunny locale. It’s filled with feel-good moments but at the same time, really makes you think about the issues presented. Rossiter never fails to impress me. I don’t know how she does it! Her books are always a hit with me and I love how she writes about what she loves. She makes it all look so effortless. The inclusion of the some of the recipes featured is a big plus. I have already made the pasta sauce once and it’s about to be made again later this week.

I have suggested Rossiter’s books to more people than I can count so when she offered a copy for me to give away, well… I jumped at the opportunity. If you’d like a chance to win your own copy, check out the details below.


GIVEAWAY INFORMATION

This giveaway is for one copy of Under a Summer Sky and is open to the US and Canada. One winner will be chosen randomly by me. The book will come directly from the author. Only one entry per person. Giveaway closes on June 6, 2014 (pacific). I will contact the winners for his/her mailing address.

CLICK HERE TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY! (now closed)

Source: Sent to me by the author.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

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