Author: Karen Gibson (page 1 of 3)

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of The Marriage Bargain by Jennifer Probst

The Marriage Bargain by Jennifer Probst is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  As a romance, The Marriage Bargain provides the reader with a modern day tale of a marriage of convenience, a bargain agreed upon by two adults for reasons having nothing to do with love.  What can go wrong?

This post does not contain spoilers.

The Marriage Bargain* by Jennifer Probst


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Romances

If you are looking for a light-hearted romantic romp in some expensive surroundings with a good bit of sexual heat, then The Marriage Bargain might just be the ticket.  I usually prefer historical romances, as I’m often more interested in the historical settings and times than in the sexual heat of the story.  Even so, this story kept my attention to the end, with only the occasional skimming through the sex scenes.  The characters were engaging and there were enough twists and turns to keep me suitably engaged.

Cliches Everywhere

In a romance, cliches (or the Tropes that Roberta wrote about) are to be expected, but I thought Probst did a good job of presenting a fresh take on some of the more obvious cliches.  I enjoyed the interplay between animal-hating Nick and animal-loving Alexa, especially when Alexa tried to hide from Nick a room full of dogs from the animal shelter.  Seriously, what could go wrong there?

There was really only one section where I actually cringed.  Nick goes to a poetry reading and upon seeing Alexa across the room, thinks:

Her true sexiness lay in her ignorance of her effect on men.

It’s not the first time I’ve read such a statement.  Lately, though, when I see this and similar statements, I have to wonder why anyone would think that true sexiness can only be evident when the woman is least aware of her sexuality. The idea persists that a woman cannot be sexy and still worthy, that somehow knowing she is sexy diminishes her in some way.  Unfortunately, this dichotomy continues to persist in the romance novel world.

Billionaire Series

The Marriage Bargain is the first novel in The Billionaire Marriage trilogy.  I was interested enough to find out what happens to Nick’s sister and Alexa’s best friend Maggie May that I read the next in the series, The Marriage Trap, which I actually liked a bit more than The Marriage Bargain.  In The Marriage Trap we meet up again with Nick’s business partner, Michael Conte, and are then introduced to all of Michael’s Italian family, so there are quite a few more characters in this second novel of the series.  These new characters, plus the fact that this book was set mostly in Italy, made it all the more enjoyable.  I now need to read book 3 in the series, The Marriage Mistake, as it concerns Michael’s youngest sister, Carina Conte.  Writing a series where the characters are related is obviously a good way to ensure readership!

Do you enjoy reading romances?  If so, do you have a particular type you enjoy?

 

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 Marriage Bargain by Jennifer Probst? 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 71. The Bourne Betrayal by Eric Van Lustbader (2007) –  Discussion begins December 11, 2017
Thriller

#BestsellerCode100: Reader’s Review of The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf

The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  Gudenkauf’s novel hooked me from the first page of the Prologue, where young Calli appears out of the woods and speaks for the first time in three years.  Why is there a deputy sheriff on the scene? What happened in the woods that caused Calli to speak?  What did she say?  And why did she quit speaking in the first place?  Who is Petra and why does her father crumble to the ground when Calli speaks?  So many questions to be answered!

This post does contain spoilers.

 

The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Clear Your Calendar

Don’t plan on getting anything else done when you pick up this book.  I stayed up way too late two nights in a row to finish this book.  Several times I put it down to try to sleep and lay there thinking about the characters, wondering what was going to happen next, and then ended up picking it back up to read more.  By presenting the story from the viewpoint of different characters, the plot line moves along quickly and the suspense builds throughout.  Several character options are presented as the possible bad guy and since each are plausible, you really cannot guess who “did it” until the very end.

Silence

At first it seems apparent that the word “silence” in the title refers to Calli Clark, who has been a selective mute for the past 3 years.  Calli’s silence is only the most obvious.  Several other characters employ various modes of silence in order to cope with untenable situations.  Calli’s mother Antonia creates in her mind alternate versions of the episodes of abuse she suffers at the hands of her husband, Griff, hiding from herself how truly bad her family situation is.  Sheriff Lewis kept silent years ago when Antonia told him that she was marrying Griff,  when he knew he should have spoken up and tried to prevent that marriage, and he continues to subsume his love for Antonia, to the detriment of his own marriage.

Difficult Topics

The Weight of Silence deals with some very uncomfortable topics – alcoholism, spousal abuse, kidnapping, child sexual assault – so if these topics are not something you can handle, then you should skip this book.  That said, Gudenkauf handles these difficult and uncomfortable topics in a very tasteful manner, if that’s possible.  Certain subjects are carefully alluded to without being graphic or gory.

Author Heather Gudenkauf hit a home run the first time out with her debut suspense novel.  I’ve recommended my local public library acquire all of her novels and look forward to reading them soon.

Disclaimer:  I had so very much more to say about this excellent book, but have been sick since Thanksgiving Day and my fuzzy brain isn’t working on all cylinders.  My apologies for an abbreviated review.

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 Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf? Feel free to add a link to your review to 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 72. The Marriage Bargain by Jennifer Probst (2012) – Discussion begins November 27, 2017
Romance

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of A Day Late and a Dollar Short by Terry McMillan

A Day Late and a Dollar Short by Terry McMillan is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  Author Terry McMillan is known for her strong female characters, specifically African American women in professional and/or matriarchal roles.  If you’ve not read any of her books, I’m willing to bet you are still familiar with them, as many have been made into big-screen or made-for-television movies – Waiting to Exhale, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, Disappearing Acts, and A Day Late and a Dollar Short.

This post does contain spoilers.

 

A Day Late and a Dollar Short*


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

 

Strong Matriarchal Voice

As Roberta noted in #BookBeginnings, the first voice we hear is matriarch Viola Price, who quickly establishes herself as a woman with strong opinions and the will to voice them. She doesn’t takes guff from anyone and that includes her estranged husband and her four children. Maybe it’s no accident that none of her children live near her or that her husband has moved out and found a new, younger, less strident woman to live with. Vi is about as subtle as a steamroller.

Even though I didn’t know any African American women when I was growing up, I instantly recognized the voices of a couple of my aunts.  The language Viola uses and her patterns of speech might be different, but her fearless and frank admonitions and advice to her children and extended family are similar to those I heard in my childhood from certain aunts.  If they thought you needed a verbal slap upside the head, they didn’t hesitate to give it to you, whether you had asked for it or not.  Don’t we all have at least one relative that calls it like it is?  I believe this is why McMillan’s characterization of Viola rings so true.  And even though Viola dies partway through the book, her presence is still a force to be reckoned with throughout the entire book.

Family Tree

McMillan provides Viola and Cecil Price’s family tree in the print copy of the books (there was not one in the Kindle version, much to my dismay) and, at the beginning, I  definitely referred to this tree often to keep track of all the characters.  Each chapter is presented from the viewpoint of another character, and they are all vivid, memorable, and believable.  Because of this, it doesn’t take long before you recognize each voice right from the first few sentences of each new chapter.

The family tree is our first clue to just how dysfunctional the Price family is.  Almost every member of the family has had multiple marriages and children from those multiple marriages.  As the book proceeds, the Price family members experience a seemingly unending series of crises – teen pregnancies, an abusive step-father, substance abuse, jail sentences, infidelity – and that’s just in the first few chapters!  Each family member does their best to hide these crises from their parents and siblings, presenting the “all is great” facade to the world.  Viola does her best to hold the splintering family together, but she knows she may not survive her next asthma attack.

For a while I found it difficult to believe that so much could happen to one family in such a short time, but then I lost myself in the characters and ceased caring if it was believable or not.  I only wanted to know what would happen next and if they would all come through the flames intact.

Letters from Viola

Even though Viola dies partway through the book, she remains a vital part of the story. I especially liked how McMillan brought Vi’s voice back in the last chapter.  The entire family gathers together at Thanksgiving and they read aloud the letters Vi wrote to her husband and children before her death.  It was an effective way to bring about a reconciliation.  And though the ending might be too neatly wrapped up, as a reader I appreciated the feel-good ending.  I wanted the Price family to have their kumbaya moment and McMillan came through.

I listed in my opening paragraph all the McMillan novels that have been made into movies.  Amazingly enough, I’ve never seen any of those movies, nor read any of her books.  I will be adding all of them to my “must see” and “must read” lists.  That’s how much I enjoyed A Day Late and a Dollar Short.  How about you?  Did you enjoy reading about Viola Price and her family?

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:

__________________

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 73. The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf (2009) – Discussion begins November 13, 2017
Genre:  Suspense

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.

This post does contain spoilers.

 

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Man Booker Prize Winner

The White Tiger won the Man Booker Prize for fiction in 2008.  I wasn’t familiar with this prize, so I did a little research.  Originally, the Man Booker Prize for Fiction was awarded each year for the best original novel written in English and published in the United Kingdom, with the intent being to recognize authors and encourage the widest possible readership, thus boosting book sales for the winner.  The prize is awarded to the book rather than the author and in 2014 the scope was widened to include any novel published in the English language. The prize money awarded to Man Booker winners is one of the largest amounts in the world of literary prizes.

Social Commentary

Adiga’s debut novel is a scathing social commentary on life in India in the beginning years of this century.  As Roberta noted in her Writer’s Review, Halwai, the main character, continually refers to the Darkness as a way to illustrate the demeaning and demoralizing existence of most Indians.  Throughout the book, Halwai strives to escape the Darkness and live in the Light, a goal he achieved and which is represented by the multiple chandeliers he has in his apartment in Bangalore.

There were many references to the caste system of India throughout The White Tiger, and since I didn’t know much about the caste system, I did some more research.  The caste system has held Indians within their rigid heirarchical groups for over 3000 years, preventing upward mobility, economic opportunities, and co-mingling of the groups.  India banned caste-based discrimination in their constitution, enacted quotas for hiring in 1950, and expanded those quotas to encompass more caste levels in 1989.  With the technology boom of the early 2000s resulting in the rise of call centers servicing American companies (most based in and around Bangalore), the caste system has become less adhered to by the younger generations.  It is still followed in the more rural areas of India and, as Adiga illustrates so well in The White Tiger, most people in the supposedly more progressive areas of the country, i.e., the large cities, still cling to the beliefs that the castes really do dictate intelligence level, abilities, and career paths, and discrimination on a personal level is still the norm.

The Orphan Master’s Son

As I read The White Tiger, I was continually reminded of one of our earlier novels, The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson (another prize winning book).  I was struck by the similarities of the two main characters, Halwai and Pak Jun Do, and also by the similarities of Indian and Korean society.  Both Halwai and Pak Jun Do were nameless as infants and assigned names later in life.  “Jun Do” is the English equivalent to “John Doe” and Pak was a name from the list of 114 Grand Martyrs of the Revolution used for orphaned boys. Hulwai is called “Munna,” which means “boy,” until he goes to school, at which time his teacher calls him Balram Halwai.  Halwai is his caste level and it means “sweet-maker.”

In both books the authors make clear that there is no chance for the lower classes to achieve upward mobility or economic stability.  The masses are nothing more than glorified slaves and their continued existence is dictated solely by the whims of those above them, either the higher caste levels in India (the landlords, the wealthy) or by the government officials (both military and non-military) in Korea.  Most never think to question any order given by someone in a position of authority, never think to question their place in the societal hierarchy, let alone dare to think of being free;  economical freedom, intellectual freedom, social freedom – all are equally unattainable and therefore dangerous to consider.  If you step out of line, not only will you suffer potentially lethal consequences, but so will your immediate and quite possibly your extended family members. This makes it all the more astounding that both Halwai and Pak Jun Do do eventually attain economic success (Halwai) and/or freedom of thought and action (Pak Jun Do), although through unlawful means and at great personal costs.

Self-Examination

Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger is a disturbing read, as it is meant to be.  This is not a lighthearted romp, nor is Halwai a lovable rapscallion. As Adiga told in an interview with The GuardianThe White Tiger highlights inequities and indignities of Indian culture and spotlights the dark underbelly of India’s “economic miracle.”

“At a time when India is going through great changes and, with China, is likely to inherit the world from the west, it is important that writers like me try to highlight the brutal injustices of society. That’s what writers like Flaubert, Balzac and Dickens did in the 19th century and, as a result, England and France are better societies. That’s what I’m trying to do – it’s not an attack on the country, it’s about the greater process of self-examination.”

I certainly didn’t enjoy reading The White Tiger, but it did cause me think about some things I had not considered before.  It led me to research the Man Booker Prize, the caste system, and the author himself.  It brought back memories of The Orphan Master’s Son, another disturbing and thought-provoking book.  If nothing else, this 100 Bestsellers Reading Challenge is stretching my brain and my horizons, and those are good things.

What about you?  Did you find The White Tiger to be a stretch from you normal reading choices?  Did you think it was a worthwhile read?

 

 

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:

__________________

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 74. A Day Late and a Dollar Short by Terry McMillan (2000)- Discussion begins October 30, 2017

#BestsellerCode100: Reader’s Review of The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

The Cuckoo’s Calling (Cormoran Strike Book 1) by Robert Galbraith is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  As Roberta pointed out in her Writer’s Review, we all know now that Robert Galbraith is a pen name for J. K. Rowling, author of the iconic Harry Potter series.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

The Cuckoo’s Calling* by Robert Galbraith


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Pen Name

You have to give Rowling props for using a pen name and writing something entirely different from Harry Potter.  She could have easily used her own name and raked in the dough that would come her way as her faithful readers scurried to buy her newest book.  Instead, she wanted her new book to stand on its own, or not, whichever the case might be.  Or maybe she wanted to make a point about how difficult it is for new authors to get noticed.  In any case, even though The Cuckoo’s Calling received rave reviews for a debut book upon it’s release in 2013, sales were mediocre at best until The Sunday Times revealed that the true author was Rowling.

How did the newspaper discover her identity?  Interestingly enough, they received an anonymous tip that Rowling was the actual author.  The newspaper then hired an computer analysis (sound familiar?) of The Cuckoo’s Calling  and some of Rowling’s other books, comparing them to works by other authors.  As soon as The Sunday Times published their findings, The Cuckoo’s Calling immediately went from No. 5076 in sales on Amazon to No. 1.  Rowling enjoyed five short weeks of anonymity after the book’s release before her identity was revealed.  I can only imagine her disappointment that she was unable to remain “behind the curtain” a bit longer.

Great Characters

The Cuckoo’s Calling doesn’t feel like a debut novel.  For one thing, it contains multiple complex characters.  Unlike one of our previous books, Easy Prey, these characters are memorable – no turning back pages trying to remember who is who.  Not only are they memorable, but we care about them, have visceral reactions to them, even if they are only peripheral characters.  Each character seems to be an essential part to the story, and who we thought they were at the beginning is often revealed to be a flawed first impression.  Rowling/Galbraith certainly knows her/his stuff when it comes to writing characters.

Cormoran Strike

As an example, we first meet the main character, Cormoran Strike, as he is spinning out of control from lack of sleep, the break-up of a longterm relationship, and the downward spiral of his business.  He’s homeless, living in his office, which may soon be gone also.  He’s simply not at his finest, yet this is how we first meet him, and our first impression is not a good one.  Who is this bumbling fool?  Surely he can’t be our detective?!  Yet as the story progresses, we learn that he actually brings a lot to the table as a detective:  he has a keen eye for details, listens intently, can easily spot when someone is lying, and is able to weave together the same story from several people’s perspectives to spot the flaws in their recounting.  He’s actually an excellent detective and it’s a pleasure to watch him at work as he pieces together the why’s and where’s and who’s of the crime, or, in this case, multiple crimes, as the body count does rise from the initial murder of Lula Landry in the opening of The Cuckoo’s Calling.

Strike’s Office Temp

Initially I was a bit disappointed in Robin, Strike’s temporary office assistant (a.k.a. secretary).  When we first meet her, she has just accepted a marriage proposal and seemed to be more dazzled by the ring on her finger than the actual man who proposed.  Given the “modern times” we live in, Robin seems quite old-fashioned and it’s a bit surprising that Rowling, as a female author, wouldn’t give Robin a more feminist character.  Of course, Rowling didn’t write The Cuckoo’s Calling; male author Galbraith wrote it.  Maybe Rowling was trying to write this female character as she thought a male author would.  In any case, Robin’s character becomes more developed throughout the book and she and Strike seem to hit some sort of professional rapport by the end of the book, which bodes well for the continuing series.  And obvious seeds have been laid for growth with the Robin character.  I look forward to seeing how her character is developed in the continuing series.

Enjoyable Reading

We’ve now read through 25% of the books from The Bestseller Code’s book list and I feel like we’re finally getting into novels that deserve being on the list.  I thoroughly enjoyed the last book, And The Mountains Echoed, and found The Cuckoo’s Calling to be equally entertaining, albeit a very different manner of entertainment.  I can only hope our next book in the reading challenge, The White Tiger, will keep up this streak of enjoyable reading.

If you enjoyed reading The Cuckoo’s Calling, will you be reading the rest of the Cormoran Strike series?  I know I will!

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:

__________________

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 75. The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga (2008) – Discussion begins October 16, 2017
Literary fiction, won the Man Booker Prize

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  Hosseini is the author of bestsellers The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, both set in Hosseini’s homeland, Afghanistan. In And The Mountains Echoed, he returns yet again to Afghanistan and chronicles the lives of interconnected families and friends over the span of several generations and across multiple continents.  And The Mountains Echoed is about sacrifice, honor, betrayal, love, and, above all, about how the choices an individual makes can impact others for generations to come.

This post does contain spoilers.

And The Mountains Echoed* by Khaled Hosseini

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Sacrifice

Khalid Hosseini is a storyteller who weaves fables and myths into his novels. In the first chapter of And The Mountains Echoed, a father tells his ten-year-old son Abdullah and three-year-old daughter Pari the story of a div (a supernatural entity with disagreeable characteristics) that forces families to give up one of their children in order to save the lives of all the children in the family. It’s a story of making unthinkable choices and sacrifices all for the sake of love of family, and presages the sacrifice this father makes in the very next chapter when he sells his daughter Pari to a wealthy Afghan family. In doing so, he potentially garners the means to enable the rest of his children to survive the upcoming harsh winter.

This sacrifice of the daughter, and splitting up of the previously inseparable siblings Abdullah and Pari, provides the backdrop for the rest of the novel. Almost every subsequent chapter relates how this event impacted the life of another person from their viewpoint, telling their story. There are a couple of chapters about individuals who are only peripherally connected to Abdullah and Pari (“fairy” in Farsi), and those chapters don’t seem to be quite as compelling as the rest of the book. Their stories are important, though, and lend to the overall themes of sacrifice and choices.

Viewpoints

Even though there are chapters that I didn’t find as compelling as others, I enjoyed reading the different viewpoints that each of these chapters bring to the story. Each viewpoint added a new, previously unseen dimension to the story, whether they were directly connected to Abdullah and Pari or not. We learn from Nabi, the children’s uncle, that he originated the idea of the adoption as a way to become emotionally closer to his employer’s wife, an idea that backfires almost immediately. Nila Wahdati, Pari’s adoptive mother, is one of the stories more complex and tragic characters. She’s a French-Afghan poet trying to maintain her independence as a woman and a writer of passionate poetry in patriarchal Afghan society.

The alternating viewpoints lends a rhythm to the story, a cadence that the computer algorithm from The Bestseller Code has shown us is an important component in predicting a bestseller. Each chapter is a story within the overall story, with a beginning, a peak, and an ending. And each story brings us a little further along in understanding the effects of Abdullah’s and Pari’s separation.

Title Echoes

The Bestseller Code tells us that the choice of a title can be a very important component in creating a bestseller. In several interviews, Hosseini explains the significance of the title And The Mountains Echoed. Here’s an quote from Hosseini from an interview by The Huffington Post:

Just as a mountain would echo back a shout, the fateful acts committed before the mountains too emit an echo. They have a rippling effect, expanding outward, touching lives further and further away. I liked the idea of a decision or an act echoing through both place and time, altering the fates of characters both living and not yet born.

The echoes of the sacrifice of Pari reverberate down through the generations in And The Mountains Echoed. In each chapter, the main character faces his/her own penultimate moment of choice, to make that sacrifice or not. Will they sacrifice themselves and their happiness for the good of the family or will they follow their own dreams and desires and abandon their family duties and obligations?

And The Mountains Echoed is a heartwarming story about the strength of familial love. It is filled with interesting, flawed, sometimes tragic characters who will remain with you long after you finish the last page. It’s a story you won’t regret reading.

 

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 And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini? 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 76. The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (2013) – Discussion begins October 2, 2017
Crime fiction/Mystery by J.K. Rowling writing under a pseudonym

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  The full title of this book is Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, A Modest Bestiary.  Bestiaries, a collection of stories using anthropomorphic animals to deliver moral or religious lessons, were a popular literary format in the Middle Ages.  Interestingly, the title used for UK publication is Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, A Wicked Bestiary.  I wonder why the publishers thought “modest” would sell better in the US than “wicked.”  Personally, I think wicked describes these stories much more aptly than modest.

This post does contain spoilers.

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Anthropomorphic Animals

In August we read The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein, which featured a dog, Enzo, as the main character.  As I mentioned in my review, I really liked The Art of Racing in the Rain and the fact that we were inside the mind of a dog, reliving his story from his viewpoint, worked for me.  I cared about Enzo and really hoped he would achieve his goal of being reincarnated as a race car driver.  But throughout the book, Enzo was a dog, with all the limitations of a dog.  He couldn’t actually speak to humans, he couldn’t act in any way that was outside the norms of being a dog.

In Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk we have animals that act as humans, talk as humans, interact with other animals as humans, all while still being animals, and this didn’t work at all for me.  Take the story of “The Mouse and The Snake” that Roberta mentioned in her review.  Early in the story the mouse is talking about her snake to a friend:

She’d then describe how he slept at the foot of her bed and woke her each morning with a kiss.

Um, I’m sorry, but snakes can’t kiss.

Also, if the animals in these stories are able to talk and act like humans, why are not ALL of the animals doing so?  In this same story, the mouse tries to teach the snake to talk.

In those first few months, their lunch was followed by a speech-therapy session.  “Can you say, ‘Hello, mouse friend’? Can you say, ‘I love you’?”

Eventually she saw the chauvinism of her attempt.  Why should he learn to speak like a rodent.  Why not the other way around?  Hence she made it her business to try and master snake.  After weeks of getting nowhere she split her tongue with a razor.  This didn’t make it any easier to communicate, but it did give them something else in common.

In all the other stories, the animals just magically understand each other.  Squirrels talk to chipmunks.  Owls talk to hippos.  Cows talk to turkeys.  There’s no mention of learning another language – they just all understand each other.  But not in this story.

Where’s The Hilarity?

I read the hardcover copy of this book and on the back of the jacket there are several short blurbs from other reviewers mentioning how much this book made them laugh, or how funny they found it to be.  I failed to find any humor at all.  It’s bizarre, it’s dark, it’s strange, it’s horrifying, but funny it is not.  There was more than one story where I simply had to put the book down and not read anymore due to the horrific ending.  Yes, these stories illuminate the oddities and inconsistencies of humans and human interaction, point out the hypocrisy and pretenses that we all have, but does that make them worth reading?  For me, it did not.  More often than not, Sedaris’s intended messages were lost on me.  If anyone can explain the meaning behind the last story, “The Grieving Owl,” I’d be happy to hear it.

The Bestseller List

The bigger question is, why did the computer algorithm pick this particular book to include on it’s list of 100 Bestsellers.  I can see how faithful readers of David Sedaris might have made it a bestseller by purchasing the book when it was first published simply because they loved his other books.  But why did the computer pick it over so many other bestsellers?  After all, we’re not reading and reviewing all of these books just for the fun of it.  These are books specifically chosen by the computer algorithm mentioned in The Bestseller Code, Anatomy of the Blockbuster Novel.  So what did the computer algorithm see that I did not?

The Bestseller Code discusses the similarities between two of the top-selling authors of today, John Grisham and Danielle Steel:

But perhaps the most interesting similarity between Grisham and Steel is that their to-shared topic also happens to be the topic our model found most useful in identifying bestsellers.  It is the topic that is most overrepresented in bestselling books when compared to non-bestsellers, and thus it has considerable predictive power…. It is more specifically about human closeness and human connection.  Scenes that display this most important indicator of bestselling are all about people communicating in moments of shared intimacy, shared chemistry, and shared bonds.

Perhaps it is fair to speculate that the portion of the American public that actually reads fiction likes to read more or less about itself.

The stories in Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk are 100% about human connection, shared intimacy, and shared bonds.  Perhaps the computer algorithm was better able than I to overlook the inconsistencies of animals doing human things and simply see the stories as human stories.  Flawed humans, but humans all the same.

What did you think of Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk?  If you’ve read any of David Sedaris’s other books, how would you rate this one compared to those?

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:

__________________

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: A Reader’s Review of Daddy’s Gone A Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark

Daddy’s Gone A Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.

This post does not contain spoilers.

Daddy’s Gone A Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

The Queen of Suspense

As the author of thirty-seven bestselling novels, Mary Higgins Clark is known as the Queen of Suspense.  According to Clark’s website, her novels have sold over 100 million copies in the U.S. alone.  That’s a lot of books!  As the Queen of Suspense, one would be safe in assuming that Clark has the suspense novel format down pat.  Since this is not a genre I read very often, and I have seen Clark’s books continually on the bestseller tables at bookstores, I expected great things from Daddy’s Gone A Hunting.  And, while I enjoyed it, I didn’t find it to be great.  Yes, there is suspense, but as a relative novice to the suspense novel, even I figured out the major plot twist long before it was revealed.

Too Many Characters

A major issue I have with Daddy’s Gone A Hunting is the massive number of characters throughout the book.  It is difficult to keep track of all the different fire marshals, police officers, and other characters, and several times I had to read back a couple of pages to figure out exactly who was in a particular scene .  Off the top of my head I count 22 characters in a book that is only 352 pages long.  That’s a lot of characters to keep track of.

In addition to too many characters, I felt that Kate, the sister in the coma, is the forgotten character.  It is her memory that reveals the pivotal piece of the story, so why is her character not developed to the same extent as, say, the homeless Vietnam veteran?  I realize it might be difficult to develop a character that spends most of the book in a coma, but more of Kate’s story might have added to the suspense of the novel.

Fast Pace

Even though I’ve not read any of Clark’s other books, I suspect that Daddy’s Gone A Hunting is likely not one of her best.  You don’t get to be a bestselling novelist by writing lackluster stories, but after a few dozen bestsellers, I can understand how an author might write a book that isn’t quite up to her usual.  I do have to wonder, though, why this particular novel of Clark’s is the only one to have made The Bestseller Code‘s list of 100 novels that we should read.  Is it due to the pace, the scene-by-scene rhythm discussed in The Bestseller Code?  Daddy’s Gone A Hunting is fast-paced, creating a feeling of a regular rhythm or beat to the story, and that rhythm kept me avidly reading to the very end.  The chapters are short and alternate between the different characters, keeping us moving forward with the multi-faceted plot.  Daddy’s Gone A Hunting would be a good book to read while on vacation or during a long cross-country flight.

Have you read any of Mary Higgins Clark’s many novels?  Which would you recommend I read that might be a better representation of this author’s bestselling writing? And why do you think none of Clark’s other novels were listed in The Bestseller Code as a must read?

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: Reader’s Review of The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  This novel is categorized as Literary Fiction.

This post contains spoilers.

 

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

I Am Ready

The Art of Racing in the Rain is a rather unusual story, in that it’s told from the viewpoint of a dog, Enzo.  Enzo belongs to Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver.  But Enzo knows he isn’t just a dog; he’s a dog on the cusp of being reincarnated as a man.  Enzo watched television and he heard on a program about Mongolia on National Geographic Channel that, “When a dog is finished living his lifetimes as a dog, his next incarnation will be as a man.”

Not all dogs return as men, they say; only those who are ready.

I am ready.

Themes

Racing is a major theme in this novel by Garth Stein.  Every major plot turn is prefaced with a short chapter describing some aspect of driving a race car.  As a reader that is a race fan, I really enjoyed these chapters that give insight to how a race car driving thinks and reacts when on the track.  Early in the book Denny explains to his wife Eve why he is able to race in the rain more successfully than many other drivers:

“When I was nineteen,” Denny said after a moment, “at my first driving school down at Sears Point, it was raining and they were trying to teach us how to drive in the rain.  After the instructors were finished explaining all their secrets, all the students were totally confused.  We had no idea what they were talking about.  I looked over at the guy next to me–I remember him, he was from France and he was very fast.  Gabriel Flouret.  He smiled and he said: ‘That which you manifest is before you.’ “

This is a recurring thought throughout the novel, “That which you manifest is before you.”  Sounds a bit New Age, doesn’t it?  But Enzo contemplates on Denny’s statement and I have to agree with his conclusion:

Such a simple concept, yet so true: that which we manifest is before us; we are the creators of our own destiny.  Be it through intention or ignorance, our successes and our failures have been brought on by none other than ourselves.

Creators of Our Own Destiny

Roberta stated in her Writer’s Review that she felt manipulated by the string of bad luck that Denny endured.  Was it all bad luck, though?  When Eve became ill, it seemed logical to Denny that Eve and Zoe should with Eve’s parents.  Eve’s parents had more money to provide care, more space for hospital beds and such, and they were retired, so they had the time to devote.  How would Denny cope with illness and hospital beds and Zoe’s care and still be able to work?  And yet he was setting himself up for long-term heartache and legal troubles.

We are the creators of our own destiny.  Be it through intention or ignorance, our successes and our failures have been brought on by none other than ourselves.

 

Enzo, Race Car Driver?

Throughout Eve’s illness and then the subsequent custody battle, Enzo does his best to provide Denny with moral support and companionship.  In one memorable scene near the end of the novel, Enzo is able to change Denny’s mind when Denny has decided to give up on the custody battle, and the way he does so makes his message impossible for Denny to misunderstand.

I first read this book in 2012 and enjoyed it thoroughly then.  Five years later, I found it to be just as enjoyable.  Enzo does his best to provide Denny with moral support and companionship.  In one memorable scene, Enzo is actually able to change Denny’s mind when Denny has decided to give up on the custody battle. In the last chapter, we discover whether Enzo was successful in his desire to be reincarnated as a human, and more specifically, a race car driver.  Was he ready?  I hoped all along that he was.

 

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

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of The Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison

The Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  This novel is categorized as a Psychological Thriller.

This post does contain spoilers.

 

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


*Amazon Affiliate link)

 

In The Silent Wife, we are introduced to Todd and Jodi, a couple who appear to have it all. Todd is a building contractor in Chicago and Jodi is a psychotherapist that sees a few carefully selected clients (no difficult cases or life-threatening issues) from her home. They’ve been a couple for over twenty years and live in a beautiful twenty-seventh floor condo overlooking the lake. Jodi takes great care and pride in keeping herself in good physical shape, careful grooming, and providing the perfect home atmosphere for Todd – fresh flowers, hors d’oeuvre and wine as soon as he gets home. And yet, all is not perfect. Todd often doesn’t come home and Jodi knows the reasons why, but carefully ignores the affairs. Todd’s business dealings are always on a knife’s edge, threatening to implode, but he never tells Jodi about any financial problems. Silence is the name of the game.

It’s The Title, Again

In my review of The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, I wrote about the importance that The Bestseller Code algorithm attributes to the title of a book. In Chapter 5 of The Bestseller Code the authors explain that book titles beginning with “The” are much more common on the bestseller list than those that begin with “A.”

The specificity of the word “The” asks us to trust that this goldfinch has more relevance – enough to hold an entire story symbolically, emotionally, or structurally – for more than three hundred pages.

“The” remains the most successful way to begin a title because it is a word that implies agency focused somewhere, be that focus on a place, on an event, on an object, or somewhere else. The title gives us a clue about how to relate to the story that follows.

In addition to the title beginning with “The,” this title also includes a sociocultural role:

When it comes to sociocultural roles, the word “wife” is popular in bestselling titles, but it is always qualified. The title is not just The Wife. She has more to contend with than this. Titles about a woman in marriage that hit the lists are titles such as The Silent Wife, The Paris Wife, A Reliable Wife. The names of these novels are meant to make us wonder what happens to this woman when put in relationship to Paris, to silence, to reliability as well as, given what “wife” implies, to her husband. How do her options and her likely conflicts change?

…any quick look at the bestseller list will tell you that troubled marriage appears to be a big hook for the reading market at the moment. The books making the lists are evidence of our contemporary fascination with the roles of women in their place in the family, in marriage, and in the public sphere.

The Bestseller Code by Jodie Archer & Matthew L. Jockers. Chapter 5. Pages 150 – 154

Silent AND Wife

So here we have The Silent Wife and both words – silent, wife – have major implications in the novel. Jodi is silent, prides herself on her silence, whether it be about events and issues from her childhood or dealing with Todd’s recurring infidelities. Silence means she can ignore the issue. If it’s not talked about, it doesn’t exist. Both Jodi and Todd view silence as power and it’s been a sustaining feature of their relationship.

He breaks the connection and it dawns on him that this is typical of his and Jodi’s life together: the stubborn pretense, the chasms of silence, the blind forging ahead. He must have known this, but the weirdness of it, the aberrance, has somehow never struck him. Other couples are loud, vocal, off and on again, working things out, but with Jodi and him it’s all dissimulation. Put up a front, go through the motions, don’t say a word. Act as if all is well and all will be well. Jodi’s great gift is her silence, and he has always loved this about her, that she knows how to mind her own business, keep her own counsel, but silence is also her weapon. The woman who refuses to object, who doesn’t yell and scream – there’s strength in that, and power.

Jodi considers herself to be Todd’s wife and passes herself off publicly as Mrs. Gilbert, but she never actually married Todd, even though he proposed to her several times. The lack of a marriage certificate is a major contributor to the complete breakdown of their relationship and, ultimately, murder, and we learn in the second paragraph of the book who will be murdered and who will be the murderer.

Psychological thriller

I don’t consider this novel to be a “thriller” as much as it is suspenseful. As stated above, we are told right off who will be killed and who will do the killing. The questions to be answered are why and how. The suspense comes in watching the disintegration of the “marriage” – Jodi’s carefully structured world and Todd’s lifetime of self-delusion shatter in pieces – and in seeing just how far a person can be backed into a corner before self-preservation takes over. While neither Jodi or Todd are particularly lovable, they are believable and it doesn’t take too much of a leap to understand how any one of us might act similarly, given similar circumstances.

Author A. S. A. Harrison was a psychotherapist, in addition to writer, so Jodi is a believable psychotherapist, at least to one who has never gone through any type of therapy. Sometimes the technical descriptions of psychoanalytical theories is a little heavy, but overall, they play well into the story line and provide insight into both Todd and Jodi’s characters. Both Todd and Jodi had deeply flawed childhoods that impacted who they became as adults and how they view marriage and life, although Jodi is able to gloss over and “forget” the worst of her experiences. Jodi naming her dog “Freud” is a not-so-subtle reminder, though, that no experiences are ever truly forgotten.  They dwell in our unconscious mind and govern our behavior throughout our lives. Harrison’s message in The Silent Wife seems to be that, instead of using silence as an avoidance technique, Jodi and Todd (and maybe each and every one of us?) would have benefited by bringing issues and experiences to the light of day, examining them, and coming to some sort of resolution. Considering the end resolution for Todd in this novel, who can argue with that message?

 

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:

__________________

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

Older posts

© 2017 It's A Mystery Blog

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑