Author: Roberta (page 1 of 15)

#BestsellerCode100: Writer’s Analysis of The Art of Racing in the Rain

Let’s take a look at The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein from a writer’s perspective. The discussion began here.

This post contains spoilers.

 

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Plot of The Art of Racing in the Rain

Literary fiction rarely unfolds in strict chronological order. In this case most of the story is an extended flashback as the narrator remembers his life. The very last section flashes forward into the future, which is a bit of a stretch because he is no longer available to tell the story.

Characters

The story is told in the first person from a dog’s point of view.  Th narrator is Enzo, a lab-terrier mix, who lives with race car driver Denny Swift, Denny’s wife Eve, and daughter Zoë.

Having a dog for a narrator has advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, the author doesn’t have to delve as deeply into his human characters. For example, if Denny was the narrator the reader might expect to sit in the car as he races around the track. Because he isn’t the narrator, the reader gets the TV-viewing dog’s analysis of events instead.

Disadvantages include:

  •  Ability to travel is restricted. Enzo can’t go to the trial with Denny, for example.
  • The dialogue is tricky because the dog doesn’t speak. Enzo can only report dialogue he overhears.
  • The dog has physical limitations, like having no thumbs and having limited color vision. The author must keep track of all these differences to realistically limit his character.
  • It also leads Enzo to be a bit unreliable because he can only guess what is going on from his narrow observations and memories.

Setting

The story is set in Seattle, but we don’t get a strong feeling of setting because of the limitations of a dog narrator. It might have been informative if the author had described what Seattle smells and sounds like from a dog’s perspective.

 

Public domain photo via VisualHunt.com

Themes and Symbolism

As a work of literary fiction, The Art of Racing in the Rain has deeper themes and symbolism than a genre fiction title might have. One of the symbols is the toy zebra who runs amok in a surrealistic scene. He symbolizes what can go wrong in life, and possibly helps with foreshadowing.

There is a strong theme of death and dying, and both Eve and Enzo die before the end of the book. There is an emphasis on Enzo’s idea of reincarnation and that death is a step towards becoming human.

On the other hand, it is also about love and relationships, particularly the unbreakable bonds between Denny and Enzo, Denny and his wife Eve, and Denny and his daughter Zoë.

Discussion

Because Enzo could only report what he witnessed, it had the effect of distancing the reader from emotional lives of the human characters. Some readers don’t find that troubling and report crying in all the appropriate tissue-wringing spots. Other readers see the gap between dog’s reporting and what the people are feeling as too artificial. In fact, the author may have added the long stretch of tear-inducing bad luck to counteract the emotional insulation of having a dog narrator.

I think we’ve all known people who’ve had more than their share of misfortunes, such as multiple deaths in their families, economic troubles, etc. That said, the string of bad luck Denny endures seemed unbelievable at best and blatant manipulation of the reader’s feelings at the worst. This isn’t the first time I’ve felt manipulated by literary fiction (see my discussion of Olive Kitteridge, for example), which may be why I don’t enjoy it as much.

Have you read The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 80. Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris (2010) – Discussion begins August 21, 2017
Gothic mystery

The Last Train by Michael Pronko

I loved Barry Eisler’s thriller set in Tokyo, so when the offer to review The Last Train:  A Tokyo Mystery  by Michael Pronko came into my mail, I was intrigued.

 

Blurb:

An American falls in front of an express train and main character Detective Hiroshi Shimizu is called in — even though he’s supposed to investigate only white collar crime — because his boss wants someone who is fluent in English on the case. Questions begin to pile up. Was it a suicide or murder? What was the role of the mysterious woman seen on the security footage? It will take all of Detective Shimizu’s stamina to find out.

Review:

Although the cover says it is a mystery, this book is technically a thriller because the killer is revealed early in the story. Unlike the typical thriller, however, the pace is relatively leisurely as Detective Shimizu journeys around Tokyo gathering clues.

This is not a bad thing. You want Detective Shimisu to wander around Tokyo, because Pronko has a talent for describing all things Japanese in a unique way.

Roppingi pulsed and glowed. Lighted signs listing the clubs inside zipped up the sides of buildings from sidewalk to rooftop. The names shouted over each other — Black Moon, Abrazos, Kingdom Come, Patpong Alibi, ManZokku, Balibago Den… Light cascaded out of these mini-marquees that climbed the buildings like electric ivy.

I’ve seen the neon signs in Las Vegas, and “electric ivy” seems like an apt description.

These sort of clever turns of phrase are sprinkled like gems throughout the book. Take this quote about Hiroshi’s AWOL girlfriend:

Hiroshi could understand now how her loneliness piled up with boredom at teaching and the pressure of adapting to a new culture…– so much so that the pressure pushed her into action and she left. When she did, she handed the loneliness to him.

She handed his loneliness back to him? Incredible imagery.

That is not to say the novel is perfect. It took me some time to get used to the unusual rhythm of Pronko’s voice. It seemed to come in fits and starts, and at times I wanted to pull out my editor’s pen and smooth it out. My guess is it may be because he lives in Japan and he’s subconsciously adopted some of the rhythm of the Japanese language. Anyway it is not a severe issue and many readers probably won’t even notice it.

If you like thrillers/mysteries and have traveled to Tokyo, want to travel to Tokyo, or are interested in learning more about Tokyo, then this book is for you. The Last Train may be Michael Pronko’s first foray into fiction, but it deserves a second look.

 

#BookBeginnings A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Today’s book was a gift from  friend who is a reader and a writer. Let’s look at  A Man Called Ove:  A Novel by Fredrik Backman for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-button-fredrik-backman

A Man Called Ove:  A Novel by Fredrik Backman

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Ove’s middle name is “curmudgeon”. When a young family moves in next door and disrupts his life by running over his mailbox, will they be the next victims of his grumpiness?

First Sentence:

Ove is fifty-nine.

Discussion:

What a simple first sentence. Apparently the author didn’t feel the need to grab the reader with a harpoon.

Here’s the next paragraph:

He drives a Saab. He’s the kind of man who points at people he doesn’t like the look of, as if they were burglars and his forefinger a policeman’s flashlight. He stands at the counter of a shop where owners of Japanese cars come to order white cables. Ove eyes the sales assistant for a long time before shaking a medium-sized white box at him.

Sounds like this novel is going to be character driven.

What do you think? Have you read A Man Called Ove:  A Novel by Fredrik Backman?

#BestsellerCode100: Number 81. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list, The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: Told from the first person (dog) point of view of Enzo, a lab-terrier mix who lives with race car driver Denny Swift.

Have you read The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

Have you written about The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein? Feel free to add a link to your review in the comments.
__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 80. Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris (2010) – Discussion begins August 21, 2017
Gothic mystery

#BookBeginnings The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

Today we’re looking forward to starting the next book in The Bestseller Code 100 challenge, The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-button-hurwitz

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

What:  Told from the first person (dog) point of view of Enzo, a lab-terrier mix who lives with race car driver Denny Swift.

First Sentence:

Gestures are all that I have; sometimes they must be grand in nature…And that is why I’m here now waiting for Denny to come home — he should be here soon — lying on the cool tiles of the kitchen floor in a puddle of my own urine.

Discussion:

I have to admit when I read this book was written from a dog’s point of view, I was a bit concerned. Without a doubt, I envisioned something “cutesie.” The tone of the first paragraph isn’t at all what I expected. Would you have guessed the narrator was a dog except for the “puddle of urine” clue?

I’m looking forward to reading it now.

What do you think? Would you read a book told from a dog’s perspective?

Have you read this novel?

#BestsellerCode100: The Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison, A Writer’s Review

Let’s look at our next book from The Bestseller Code 100 list, The Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison, from a writer’s perspective. (The discussion began here.)

This post contains spoilers.

 

The Silent Wife: A Novel* by A. S. A. Harrison

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

 A. S. A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife explores the dynamics of a marriage on the rocks. It is a treasure trove of examples of writing techniques that aren’t often used in novels.

Plot

Present Tense

Although most novels are written in the past tense, Harrison writes The Silent Wife  in the present tense.

The dog, a golden retriever with a silky blond coat, sits at her feet as she works at the cutting board.

Does it work? Yes. It doesn’t take long to adjust to the change and it gives the book a sense of immediacy.

Prolepsis

By definition, thrillers reveal the killer/antagonist early on in the book. In this case the author states flat out in the second paragraph that the protagonist is going to kill her husband. This is an example of prolepsis, or telling the reader from the start what is going to happen.

Does it work? Believe it or not, the book remains suspenseful regardless of the early reveal. We wonder whether she’ll actually do it, how it happens, and whether she’ll get caught. A twist at the end keeps the reader on tenterhooks the entire time.

Character

One way Harrison is able to pull off the prolepsis is because her protagonist, Jodi, is an unreliable narrator. Normally I’m not a big fan of full-blown unreliable narrators, but this one is mild. She withholds information and shows signs of psychological weakness, but she isn’t a bad person. For example, she says she’s married, but we soon learn she and her partner have lived together for twenty years without getting married. Looking at her routines, we see evidence of an obsessive-compulsive disorder, but she is still functioning fairly well. Her worst defect is her memory issues. She seems to forget many things rather than dealing with them.

The main antagonist is Jodi’s partner, Todd. He lies, he cheats, and when he gets a much-younger woman pregnant, he doesn’t tell Jodi he’s moving out until the last moment. He gives Jodi plenty of motive to kill him.

The novel flips between the point of view of these two characters so we can see that Todd is also crumbling under the stress of his actions.

Dialogue

The dialogue in this book is incredibly sparse. Pages and pages go by without a single conversation. What little dialogue there is occurs mostly in the sections told from Todd’s point of view. Jodi speaks very little, partially because she is alone a lot, but also because she uses her silence to control herself and others (hence the title of the book, as Karen explains in her review.) Her conversations are short and clipped down to the essential conflict.

Limited dialogue is a technique I’d love to learn because I tend to try to carry too much of the plot through conversations. Although writing books suggest breaking up narrative with blocks of dialogue is good because it speeds up the pace, in this case the density of the narrative doesn’t slow things down. The pace remains tight and quick, regardless.

Setting

The novel is set in the city of Chicago. Most of the action takes place in a high rise apartment along the shore of lake Michigan. Her descriptions were good, but the novel could have been set in any city, or almost anywhere for that matter.

Photo via VisualHunt

Discussion

A. S. A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife breaks the thriller mold with some less-commonly-used techniques, but still has the reader guessing what’s going on until the very end.  It is exceptionally well written for a debut novel. Sadly, we can’t find out what more she had to offer, because the author passed away shortly after it came out.

Have you read The Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time after its start date.

The next book is number 81. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein (2008) – Discussion begins August 7, 2017
Literary fiction told from a dog’s point of view

#BookBeginnings The Chemist by Stephenie Meyer

For Book Beginnings on Fridays, let’s take a look at The Chemist by Stephenie Meyer.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-button

The Chemist* by Stephenie Meyer

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

I’m going to be a bit chatty about this one. Yes, I know it has been out for some time and some of you have already mentioned it, but I just got around to picking it up, so here we are.

Summary:  In this gripping thriller, the heroine is the target of a clandestine organization she once worked for and they want her dead. When a former colleague draws her out with an offer of a job, is it legitimate or is it  another trap?

Note:  Stephenie Meyer lives in Arizona. A few years ago I met her at a local bookstore where she was sitting on a writers panel. She was the nicest person and I became an unabashed fan.

I should also note, I have training as a scientist and taught a high school level chemistry class for home schooled kids. So, I was excited at the prospect of a nerd scientist protagonist. I was a bit disappointed because it turns out she isn’t really a chemist, although she does mix up some wild chemicals. She’s actually in the medical profession. Still cool, but not the same.

First Sentence:

Today’s errand had become routine for the woman who was currently calling herself Chris Taylor.

Discussion:

Sounds a bit mysterious, doesn’t it? Why isn’t she using her real name? What’s the errand?

What do you think? Are you interested in reading The Chemist?

Are you a Stephenie Meyer fan?

 

Stephenie Meyer

Photo via Visualhunt.com

#BestsellerCode100: Number 82. The Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list, The Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

The Silent Wife: A Novel* by A. S. A. Harrison

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

 

Sadly, this psychological thriller is both A. S. A. (Angela Susan Ann) Harrison’s first and last novel. She passed away shortly after it came out.

Summary: The Silent Wife is explores the dynamics of a marriage on the rocks.

 

Have you read The Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

Have you written about The Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison? Feel free to add a link to the comments below.
__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time after its start date.

The next book is number 81. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein (2008) – Discussion begins August 7, 2017
Literary fiction told from a dog’s point of view

#BookBeginnings The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison

Today we’re looking forward to starting the next book in The Bestseller Code 100 challenge, The Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-button-hurwitz

The Silent Wife: A Novel* by A. S. A. Harrison

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

 

Sadly, this psychological thriller is both A. S. A. (Angela Susan Ann) Harrison’s first and last novel.  She passed away shortly after it came out.

Summary:   The Silent Wife is explores the dynamics of a marriage on the rocks.

First Sentences:

It’s early in September. Jodi Brett is in her kitchen, making dinner.

Discussion:

Wow, what a soft, low key beginning.The first sentence was so brief I added the second.

It does give the when and who right away, because Jodi Brett and her husband Todd are the main characters. The first two sentences may not be much of a hook, but I do like that the author has given us a lot of information with just a few spare words.

What do you think? Would you continue reading?

#BestsellerCode100: Writer’s Analysis of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Let’s take a look at Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford from a writer’s perspective.

This post contains spoilers.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet* by Jamie Ford

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  In Jamie Ford’s debut novel, main character Henry Lee discovers an artifact that takes him back to Seattle’s Japantown just before the beginning of World War II. He had been friends with a Japanese American girl who was sent to an internment camp with her family and he believes the artifact belongs to her.

Plot

The story moves back and forth between two timelines, one in 1986 and and one in 1942 (with a brief hop to 1945). Jamie Ford deftly intertwines the two until in the end they become one.

Characters

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet has a limited number of characters. The protagonist is Henry Lee, an American of Chinese descent. During the 1942 timeline he befriends Keiko Okabe, a girl of Japanese descent who considers herself to be American and doesn’t speak Japanese. Henry’s father serves as an antagonist. His father came directly from China and has a strong bias against the Japanese because they had invaded China during the World War II. Another antagonist is a bully from school named Chaz. Other characters from that timeline are his friend and protector, Sheldon, and a mentor of sorts, Mrs. Beatty.

In the 1986 timeline, Henry interacts mostly with his son Marty and Marty’s fiancee, Stephanie. Henry had recently lost his wife Ethel, which is in a lot of ways an inciting incident.

Setting

The physical setting is Seattle, shaped by the times. As Karen pointed out in her review, the hotel in the title, Hotel Panama, sets at the interface between Chinatown and the Japanese community. In 1942 few — other than Keiko and Henry — cross the border.

bitter-and-sweet-seattle-setting

Photo via Visualhunt

Discussion

The title is appropriate. It is a bitter tale because of the extreme racial prejudice that drives people apart, but it is also a sweet tale because of the young love that transcends prejudice.

The end the story holds no surprises, but wraps up in a satisfying way. It was a bit disappointing Henry didn’t solve the “mystery” of what happened to Keiko himself. That role fell on future daughter-in-law Stephanie and Marty. Perhaps Jamie Ford didn’t want Henry to seem disloyal to Ethel. In the 1942 timeline, he had been exceedingly brave to be with Keiko so it was surprising he was so passive in 1986, except when viewed in light of the personal cost of his wife’s lingering illness and death.

The historical part of the book is fascinating. I have read other books about the Japanese American Internment and have visited a site of one of the camps near my former workplace in Arizona. I knew some of the things, like that some of the Japanese Americans left the camps to fight in the war, but other details were new. People familiar with the history of the time will probably still enjoy it.

There were a few historical accuracy blips, but mostly from the later timeline. Other reviewers have pointed out that there weren’t computers or CDs in 1986, as mentioned in the hospital scene. It is interesting that the 1942 timeline seemed tighter and more accurate. I must admit I shy away from writing historical fiction because I know I’d find it difficult to remain true to another time. Readers of historical fiction are bound to find and point out those kind of discrepancies.

Overall, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet takes on a difficult topic in a meaningful way. Be prepared to be charmed.

Have you read Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford ? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

Join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time after the discussion begins.

The next book is number 82. The Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison (2013) – Discussion begins July 24, 2017
Genre: Psychological Thriller

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