Author: Roberta (page 2 of 17)

#BookBeginnings And The Mountains Echoed

Today we’re starting the next book in The Bestseller Code 100 challengeAnd the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini 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

 

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

 

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  The novel starts in 1952, when two motherless Afghan children are separated from one another. It follows the waves of events that result from this traumatic beginning.

This is Khaled Hosseini’s third novel, published in 2013. As far as I can tell, he hasn’t published any since? A medical doctor by training, his previous novels were The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns.

First Sentence of And the Mountains Echoed:

So, then.

That’s a pretty short first sentence. It might be a record. Do you know of a shorter first sentence of a novel?

Because those two words don’t tell much, let’s continue with the first paragraph.

You want a story and I will tell you one. But just the one. Don’t either of you ask me for more. It’s late, and we have a long day of travel ahead of us, Pari, you and I. You will need your sleep tonight. And you too, Abdullah. I am counting on you, boy, while your sister and I are away. So is your mother. Now. One story, then. Listen, both of you, listen well. And don’t interrupt.

Discussion:

I like the conversational storytelling tone. It seems natural and realistic.

I also like how we learn the names of the two main characters and their relationship in an organic way. Nothing is forced.

What do you think? Have you read any of Khaled Hosseini’s works?

#BestsellerCode100: Seeking Meaning In Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris is a bit different from the other books we’ve read so far for The Bestseller Code 100 Challenge. For that reason, this review is also going to be a change of pace.

This post contains spoilers.

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: This small book is a collection of short, fable-like stories featuring anthropomorphic animals. Regardless of the format, these are most definitely not tales for children.

Rather than reviewing every short story in the book, I thought I’d pick out one and delve into it more deeply.

The Mouse and the Snake

Number six out of a total of sixteen stories, this fable featured a mouse who kept a baby corn snake as a pet. She adopted the snake when she saw it hatching from an egg. Over time, the mouse became extremely attached to it, even to the point where she began to shun other relationships. She justified bringing home baby toads for it to eat, and lied about the mole she’d captured. One day a mother toad and mother mole stopped by looking for their offspring, but no one answered the door. Just as well, because the snake had eaten its mouse benefactor and would have eaten the two of them as well if it had the opportunity.

Like most of the short stories in the book, this one has a dark edginess. Bad things happen. It may be that Sedaris choose to feature animals as characters to give some distance and perspective to the events, but they are still hard to swallow (sorry).

Each of these stories has layers of meaning. For example, we could interpret the love of the mouse for the snake to represent a bad relationship, when we love people who aren’t good for us. These unhealthy relationships can make us do terrible things and aren’t likely to end well.

You could also interpret the snake to mean a destructive habit, like drug use or alcoholism. Drug or alcohol abuse can make a person do things they wouldn’t normally do, and the addict can’t always see the harm of their actions. Sometimes the addiction (snake) wins.

Although it isn’t a pleasant book to read, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk is complex and at times profound. Each story is short and quick, but the collection is likely to stay with you long after you finish.

Have you read Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris? 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 the discussion starts.

77.  And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini (2013) – Discussion begins September 18, 2017
Genre:  Historical fiction

#BestsellerCode100: Number 78. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 listSquirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris.

This post does not contain spoilers.

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  This small book is a collection of short, fable-like stories featuring anthropomorphic animals.

Note:  Regardless of the format, these are not stories for children. If you’re curious, NPR has a review with an excerpt.

 

david sedaris

 

Have you read Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris? 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 Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris? 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 after the discussion starts.

77.  And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini (2013) – Discussion begins September 18, 2017
Genre:  Historical fiction

#BookBeginnings Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris

Today we’re looking forward to starting the next book in The Bestseller Code 100 challenge, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris 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-david-sedaris

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  This small book is a collection of short, fable-like stories featuring anthropomorphic animals.

First Sentence:

The cat had a party to attend, and went to the baboon to get herself groomed.

Discussion:

David Sedaris’s insights are sometimes coarse and sometimes wry. I have read Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls, which is one of his more typical collections of personal short stories/essays.

The reviews are all over for Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk. Do you think that perhaps at least in part that is because it is so different from his other works?

Are you a David Sedaris fan? Have you read this book?

#BestsellerCode100: Writer’s Review of Daddy’s Gone A Hunting

Time to explore Daddy’s Gone A Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark from a writer’s perspective. The discussion began here.

This post may contain spoilers.

Daddy’s Gone A Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:   Why does Kate Connelly ask a retired employee Gus to meet her at the family’s antique furniture museum at four thirty in the morning? What were they doing when the building explodes, leaving Gus dead and Kate in a coma?  Are they victims or perpetrators?

(Public domain photo via Visualhunt.com)

 

Plot

In the Acknowledgements, Mary Higgins Clark writes that her editor of nearly forty years, Michael Korda, was the one who suggested “DNA” of the plot. As an example of domestic suspense (defined here), it centers around members of the Connelly family.

The story unfolds in a unique way. Clark writes a multitude of short chapters (97!) each revealing a small bit about a select group of characters before jumping to another. Because the chapters are so short, most only 2 to 5 pages long, the pages fly by.

At first it isn’t clear how the characters relate to one another, but over time the different threads start to come together until all is revealed at the end.

Characters

Daddy’s Gone a Hunting has many, many characters. The cast includes the members of the Connelly family, the Schmidts, the Sloane’s, the fire investigators, various police and private detectives, plant managers, lawyers, etc. The list goes on and on. Some characters seem to be included solely to serve as love interests for others. The main character is Kate Connelly, who ironically is in a coma for the majority of the book while others piece together how she ended up there.

As we’ve read through The Bestseller Code list, I’ve noticed a trend that more experienced authors have many more characters in their books than debut authors.  The debut novels The Silent Wife and Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet have a limited cast of characters, whereas Easy Prey, the 11th in a series, has many characters. The most glaring exception is Primary Colors, which has the largest number of characters of any book we’ve read. Perhaps that is due to the fact the author is a reporter with many published articles before he wrote a work of fiction.

In the past I’ve tried to cut back the number of characters in my novel, but based on these bestsellers, perhaps that isn’t necessary or even desirable.

Setting

The setting is various regions of New York City. Clark seems to assume the reader is familiar with the city and treats locations in an offhand way.

Discussion

Although I generally enjoy domestic suspense, I struggled with this novel. Each character was given such brief coverage, and the story jumped around so much, I found myself not caring what happened to any of them. I did wonder, however, if switching back and forth between different characters, plus the topic of family, were the reasons the computer algorithm picked it.

That said, I’m not ready to give up on this author. I’m going to look for some of her earlier titles.

Have you read Daddy’s Gone A Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark? Are you a fan of hers? 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 the discussion starts.

The next book is number 78. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris (2010) – Discussion begins September 4, 2014
Animal-themed humorous short stories

On Creativity And Cat Litter, With Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED Talk

Creativity is a mystery. One day your ideas flow and eight thousand words pour out onto paper in an hour or two. Another time a complete short story arrives at three in the morning, as fast as you can write it down. A few days later, the brakes come on and it is a struggle to write more than a sentence or two. How do you deal with this boom and bust?

Creative Ways To Deal With Creativity Problems

Some writers have come up with coping mechanisms or ways to describe the process that help the words keep coming

For example, Elizabeth Gilbert shares how poet Ruth Stone “captures” a poem.

…she [Ruth] would feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape. It was like a thunderous train of air and it would come barrelling down at her over the landscape. And when she felt it coming…cause it would shake the earth under her feet, she knew she had only one thing to do at that point. That was to, in her words, “run like hell” to the house as she would be chased by this poem.

The whole deal was that she had to get to a piece of paper fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page.

 

Gilbert tells the story during this wonderful TED talk about the fickleness of the creativity.

 

Gilbert suggests it helps to develop coping mechanisms like talking to the elusive creative genius in the corner of the room. Whatever works to get rid of the angst.

Describing the process in concrete ways can help, too. Take Shannon Hale’s quote:

“I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.”

Nice sentiment. Unfortunately, my current work in progress feels more like I accidentally shoveled in kitty litter instead of sand.

Ritual

Some writers resort to rituals, like always using the same pen, drinking coffee from the same mug, or sitting in a certain chair. Shortlist reveals authors who stand up or lie down to write. They report Maya Angelou checks into a hotel where everything has been taken off the walls of the room. If I could produce work like hers, I would certainly give that a try.

Relaxing Sounds

Listening to certain repetitive sounds or music can improve focus and boost productivity. Stimulating your senses can get your creative juices flowing, too. YouTube has a number of videos that run from two to three hours with relaxing background sounds. I’m listening to swamp sounds right now. Blizzard winds are nice, too.

Play

Play stimulates creativity in children, why not adults? Try making friends with your inner child. Toss a ball. Play a game. Dress up as your favorite character. Finger paint. Make some actual sand castles. Whatever sounds like fun at the moment.

Get Feedback From Creative People

Although at times negative critiques can freeze up the writing process, look for one of those positive, imaginative people who energize you and bounce some of your questions off them. They just might help you over the hurdles.

Walk, Nap, Etc.

Taking a walk can get the blood flowing to your brain if you’ve been sedentary.

On the other hand, don’t forget that the type of thinking that writing requires takes energy. Take a nap to recharge those batteries. Connecting with your subconscious isn’t a bad thing, either.

According to an article about thinking in Scientific American, Claude Messier of the University of Ottawa writes:

“The brain has a hard time staying focused on just one thing for too long. It’s possible that sustained concentration creates some changes in the brain that promote avoidance of that state. It could be like a timer that says, ‘Okay you’re done now.’ Maybe the brain just doesn’t like to work so hard for so long.”

So, there you go. Give yourself permission for some R and R, and perhaps that fickle organ will produce something worthwhile. If not, you can always go change the cat litter.

Have you ever struggled with creativity? How did you jump start it again?

#BookBeginnings Daddy’s Gone A Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark

Today we’re looking forward to starting the next book in The Bestseller Code 100 challengeDaddy’s Gone A Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark 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

Daddy’s Gone A Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:   Why does Kate Connelly ask a retired employee Gus to meet her at the family’s antique furniture museum at four thirty in the morning? What are they doing when the building explodes, leaving Gus dead and Kate in a coma? Are they victims or perpetrators?

First Sentence of Prologue:

Sometimes Kate dreamed about that night, even though it wasn’t a dream.

 

First Sentence of Chapter One

At four o’clock in the morning, Gus Schmidt dressed silently in the bedroom of his modest home on Long Island, hoping not to disturb his wife of fifty-five years. He was not successful.

Discussion:

It’s interesting that the book opens with the two characters who according to the book blurb are soon going to be in a coma and dead, respectively.

Mary Higgins Clark is now 89 years old and has written some 51 books. That is a remarkable career!

What do you think? Would you keep reading? Are you a fan of Mary Higgins Clark?

#BestsellerCode100: Number 79. Daddy’s Gone A Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list, Daddy’s Gone A Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark.

This post does not contain spoilers.

Daddy’s Gone A Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:   Why does Kate Connelly ask a retired employee Gus to meet her at the family’s antique furniture museum at four thirty in the morning? What are they doing when the building explodes, leaving Gus dead and Kate in a coma? Are they victims or perpetrators?

Have you read Daddy’s Gone A Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark ? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Daddy's Gone a Hunting

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 Daddy’s Gone a Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark ? 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 after the discussion starts.

The next book is number 78. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris (2010) – Discussion begins September 4, 2014
Animal-themed humorous short stories

#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.

 

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