Author: Karen Gibson (page 2 of 5)

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  The Goldfinch (2014) is Tartt’s third novel, following her critically acclaimed debut novel The Secret History (1992) and The Little Friend (2003).  Observe the number of years between each publication date; Tartt takes her time, writing large novels, both in length and in scope.

This post contains spoilers.

The Goldfinch* by Donna Tartt

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Bildungsroman

When I finish a book, I like to read other descriptions and reviews. Sometimes those reviews gel the thoughts and feelings I had while reading the novel, while other times I disagree entirely with the reviewer. While reading through a few reviews for The Goldfinch, I came across a new term (to me): bildungsroman.  Merriam-Webster provides this definition:

literature : a novel about the moral and psychological growth of the main character – a bildungsroman by Charles Dickens

This is certainly an apt description for The Goldfinch, as Tartt leads the main character, Theo Decker, on a decade long journey of life-altering catastrophes, emotional and physical upheavals, grief, and survivor’s guilt, providing plenty of opportunities for moral and psychological growth. As a reader, Theo drew me in from the very beginning, and I followed his journey avidly, hoping he would make it through the storms, while preparing myself for the possibility that he would not.

Descriptive Power

Tartt is a master at descriptive prose. Here we see one of the antagonists, Lucius Reeve, for the first time:

Though he was tight and elegant in his speech and gestures, and his suit was modishly cut for a man his age, his demeanor made me think of a puffer fish—or, alternately, a cartoon strongman or Mountie blown up by a bicycle pump: cleft chin, doughball nose, tense slit of a mouth, all bunched tight in the center of a face which glowed a plump, inflamed, blood-pressure pink.

Usually long passages of description cause me to skim the text, anxious to get to the real action, but this was not the case with The Goldfinch. I soaked up Tartt’s descriptions like a sponge, reveling in the tastes and smells and sights she provided, even when they were unpleasant or painful.

For unknown reasons, the gust of energy that had swept me up and fizzed me around all summer had dropped me hard, mid-October, into a drizzle of sadness that stretched endlessly in every direction: with a very few exceptions (Kitsey, Hobie, Mrs. Barbour) I hated being around people, couldn’t pay attention to what anyone was saying, couldn’t talk to clients, couldn’t tag my pieces, couldn’t ride the subway, all human activity seemed pointless, incomprehensible, some blackly swarming ant hill in the wilderness, there was not a squeak of light anywhere I looked, the antidepressants I’d been dutifully swallowing for eight weeks hadn’t helped a bit, nor had the ones before that (but then, I’d tried them all; apparently I was among the twenty percent of unfortunates who didn’t get the daisy fields and the butterflies but the Severe Headaches and the Suicidal Thoughts); and though the darkness sometimes lifted just enough so I could construe my surroundings, familiar shapes solidifying like bedroom furniture at dawn, my relief was never more than temporary because somehow the full morning never came, things always went black before I could orient myself and there I was again with ink poured in my eyes, guttering around in the dark.

Doesn’t sound like a man engaged to be married and dizzy in love, does it?

By the way, that passage above? It’s all one sentence! The editor side of my brain sure had a tough time while reading The Goldfinch, but Tartt makes it work. The pain and depression that Theo feels would not come across nearly so well in nice, neat, short sentences, would it?

Truisms and Real Literature

Some of the reviews I read blasted The Goldfinch for not being “real literature” because the novel explained too much to the reader and didn’t require said reader to have to analyze the book for its underlying message. The last chapter presents several “truisms” that Theo has come to realize from his bildungsroman, and they are spelled out for the reader. These reviews included long rants about what the term “real literature” means, what makes a book “serious” and “literary” rather than merely a contemporary novel, quickly read and easily forgotten. The same discussion occurs with art. What is art? What makes it art? Tartt addresses this:

You see one painting, I see another, the art book puts it at another remove still, the lady buying the greeting card at the museum gift shop sees something else entire, and that’s not even to mention the people separated from us by time—four hundred years before us, four hundred years after we’re gone—it’ll never strike anybody the same way and the great majority of people it’ll never strike in any deep way at all but—a really great painting is fluid enough to work its way into the mind and heart through all kinds of different angles, in ways that are unique and very particular.

In the end, art is whatever makes us, as individuals, feel. Literature is the same. It challenges us individually. It speaks to us individually. It affects us individually. For me, The Goldfinch is definitely literature, worthy of the time it took to read. It’s a book that I will think about and mull over for weeks to come, and one that I will quite likely read again.

 

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 68. Cross Roads by Wm. Paul Young (2012) – Discussion begins January 22, 2018
Christian fiction

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  Although this book is considered to be Díaz’s debut novel, he published a collection of short stories a decade earlier.  Drown is considered by some to be semiautobiographical; in 10 short stories, Yunior (also our narrator in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao) relates the journey of his immigrant family from the Dominican Republic to New Jersey.

This post does contain spoilers.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Culture and Language

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is steeped in the culture and history of the Dominican Republic, so much so that it includes dozens of footnotes to explain historical references, specifically to the era of its dictator Rafael Trujillo.  I’ve rarely read a novel that included footnotes and one would think these would be helpful. Unfortunately, the few I read were so long that I nearly forgot the storyline while reading the footnote.  Also, in the Kindle version, the footnote numbers were not very noticeable and I missed the bulk of them, not seeing them until the end of the book, at which time they were totally useless.

Díaz mingles English with Spanish, Spanglish, and slang continually throughout the book, with no attempts to translate for the reader.  If you come from a Latin American culture or know Spanish, this probably wasn’t an issue, but for me, it was a huge drawback.   I could glean very little from the context and my Kindle version didn’t translate or couldn’t find most of the words I asked for, so I finally gave up and just skimmed over those sections.  Yes, I could have Googled for translations, but the time that would have taken would have been astronomical.

Wondrous Descriptions

As Roberta noted in her Writer’s Review, Díaz created vibrant images.  He brought alive the people and locations of his novel.  Díaz described the Dominican tyrant Trujillo as the

portly, sadistic, pig-eyed mulato who bleached his skin, wore platform shoes, and had a fondness for Napoleon-era haberdashery.

With a description like this, who needs a picture?

Unfortunately, vibrant word images were not enough to make me care about the characters in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, especially the main male characters, Oscar and Yunior (the narrator).  I felt that the story would have been stronger if the main character had been Oscar’s mother, Belicia.  In an extended flashback, we learn Belicia’s tragic history in the Dominican Republic, but her story essentially ends when she leaves her homeland in her mid-teens, immigrating to New Jersey.  How she overcame her heartbreak, the obstacles she faced in America, could have been more compelling than Oscar’s continual quest to get laid.  While I felt sorry for Oscar in many ways, I felt like a good dose of antidepressants and a personal trainer would have gone a long ways to improve Oscar’s life.  It was difficult to feel sympathy for a middle-class nerd from New Jersey after the flashback to Abelard, Oscar’s grandfather, who ran afoul with Trujillo, was imprisoned and brutally tortured and, in the end, lost everything – home, family, fortune, businesses, and eventually his life.

Not My Cup Of Tea

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao had been on my “want to read” list for quite some time, ever since a friend mentioned how much she loved it, so I was looking forward to reading it. My friend’s taste, though, tends to be a bit different than mine and this book is one glaring example.  While I loved the writing itself – in places it was lyrical and evocative – I didn’t care for the style, the mixture of Spanish and slang, and I didn’t care at all about the main character Oscar.

Several of the novels we’ve read during this challenge have led me to further explore other books by the same author.  In fact, I am currently reading two such books – Us by David Nicholls (One Day, book #92) and Rules of Prey by John Sandford (Easy Prey, book #86) – and I have The Bourne Legacy by Eric Van Lustbader (The Bourne Betrayal, book #71) on my nightstand to start next.  I’m sorry to say that I won’t be looking for any other Junot Díaz books to add to that list.

Have you read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz? 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:

__________________

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 69. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (2013) – Discussion begins January 9, 2018
Literary fiction, won the Pulitzer Prize in 2014

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of The Bourne Betrayal by Eric Van Lustbader

The Bourne Betrayal by Eric Van Lustbader is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  The Bourne Betrayal is Book #5 in the famous Bourne series first written by Robert Ludlum (Books 1-3) and then continued (with approval from the Ludlum estate) by Van Lustbader (Books 4-14).  Van Lustbader is also the author of many thriller and fantasy novels outside of the Bourne series.

Since this is book 5 in a series, there is some back story the author assumes the reader already knows.  If you’ve seen the movies, you have most of that back story.  I was a bit aggravated, though, that I had not read Book 4 in the series, which adds some to Bourne’s back story – I really wanted that tiny wee bit of knowledge, knowledge which this book gave clues to, but didn’t elaborate on.  Otherwise, though, this book does stand alone (if you’ve seen the movies or read the first three Ludlum books).

This post does contain spoilers.

The Bourne Betrayal* by Eric Van Lustbader

 


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Thrillers

I’m glad bestselling novels come in a variety of genres.  Our last book was a fun, sexy romance and here we jumped right into a non-stop action thriller.  And thrilling it is! By now almost everyone is familiar with the Jason Bourne character, thanks to the blockbuster movie series.  Before the movies, though, there were the Robert Ludlum novels, which I loved – all of his novels, not just the Bourne trilogy.  I was unaware that the Bourne series had been continued, though.  I guess I stopped looking for them when I heard that Ludlum had passed away.  So when I saw that this was a continuation authorized by the Ludlum estate, I was hopeful that The Bourne Betrayal would be worth reading – and it was!

In true thriller form, the chapters are short, the action is intense, the characters hop around the globe, the hero is almost superhuman, and sometimes the lines blur between the good guys and bad guys.  While Bourne is chasing the bad guys in Africa and Afghanistan, he gains a useful ally, Soraya, (female, of course) back at the CI in Washington, D.C, a necessity when he is deemed expendable by the Old Man (the head of the CI).  I like the introduction of Soraya – I’m sure she makes further appearances in the subsequent Bourne books, possibly even as a future love interest for Bourne and/or head of the CI.

The short chapters keep the reader bouncing between multiple characters, and each chapter reveals just ever so slightly more bits of the twisting and turning plot that the reader is compelled to read “just one more chapter” and then one more, and then one more.  I spent a couple of very long nights reading way past my bedtime because I simply could not put the book down.

Downsides

Many of the characters in The Bourne Betrayal have Arabic names and I always have difficulties keeping straight characters with unfamiliar names, be it Arabic or Russian or any of the other usual bad guys in spy adventure / thriller novels.  It’s a personal issue, but I was a good halfway through the book before I was able to keep straight the two sets of terrorist brothers.

There were a couple of times while reading where I almost laughed aloud, because so much happens to Bourne physically that he must be superhuman.  There’s no other way to explain how he can just keep going through knife wounds, accidents, attempted strangulations, and explosions.  But then again, this is Jason Bourne we’re talking about.  His superior training and past experiences – many of which he cannot remember – all make him into the ultimate secret agent, the one guy you need to save the world!

The Continuing Bourne Series

I can’t say that Van Lustbader’s writing is as exceptional as I remember Robert Ludlum’s writing.  It’s been far too long since I’ve read any Ludlum novels to be able to make an accurate comparison.  But I did enjoy The Bourne Betrayal and feet that Eric Van Lustbader carries on the intensity and plot twists that were key to the original Bourne trilogy.  I’ve already acquired Book 4, The Bourne Legacy, and queued up Book 6, The Bourne Sanction, to read, if that tells you anything.  If you like non-stop action, exotic locations, and a puzzle to solve, then you’ll enjoy reading The Bourne Betrayal.

 

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 70. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz (2007) – Discussion begins December 26, 2017. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 2008.

#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

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