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#BookBeginnings The Talker by Mary Sojourner

For Book Beginnings on Fridays, let’s take a look at The Talker: Stories by Mary Sojourner.

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

 

book-beginnings-button-mary-sojourner

The Talker: Stories* by Mary Sojourner

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  Rather than a novel, this work is a collection of short stories set in the western U.S., particularly the Mojave desert.

I’m looking forward to reading these. I attended a writing workshop with the author a few weeks ago at a local indie bookstore. She is one of those people that fill a room with their presence. It may be cliché, but there’s no other way to describe her. At the workshop she revealed it had taken her over twenty years to finish these stories.

First sentence of the first short story (“Great Blue”):

“It all started with black olives, the bogus kind, the ones that look like patent leather and taste worse.”

Discussion:

Seems like quite a bit of detail for the beginning of a short story, but it does evoke the desert setting. We can grow olives here and in fact, have a local olive-processing plant.

Some people are surprised to learn olives can’t be eaten from the tree, but must be processed to be edible.

If you’d like to see more from the book, there’s an excerpt of one of the short stories, “Up Near Pasco,” on Mary Sojourner’s website.

#BestsellerCode100: Number 88. The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 listThe Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

This post does not contain spoilers.

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

What it’s about: Three grown sisters return to their hometown when their mother falls ill. Although they grew up together and all were named after characters in Shakespeare’s plays by their father, the three sisters couldn’t be more different. Will the crisis pull them together or break them apart?

Quirky fact:  This book is written in the first person plural.

 

weird sisters

 

Have you read The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first few lines 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 Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown? Feel free to add a link to your review here.

__________________

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.

The next book is number 87. World War Z by Max Brooks (2006) – Discussion begins May 8, 2017

#BestsellerCode100: Unaccustomed Earth Wrap-Up Poll

Time to wrap up the discussion of our latest novel from The Bestseller Code 100 listUnaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri. The conversation started here.

Note: Post does not contain spoilers.

Unaccustomed Earth* by Jhumpa Lahiri

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

 

We are reading these books because they were picked by the computer algorithm in The Bestseller Code by Jodie Archer and Matthew L. Jockers as the best of the bestsellers.  Do you agree with the computer that this book should be on the list?  Why or why not?

 What was your final opinion of Unaccustomed Earth?

Do you agree with the computer that this novel is one of the best of the bestsellers?

 

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.

The next book is number 88. The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown (2011) – Discussion begins April 24, 2017.

No End to Trouble

A month or so ago author Marianna Heusler contacted me about reviewing her cozy mystery No End to Trouble: A St. Polycarp Elementary School Mystery. It is the third book in a series and the fourth is coming out soon.

 

Mrs. Hopwood and Mrs. Johnson are friends who teach at St. Polycarp, a Catholic school. When the head master leaves, the new principal shakes things up. Even worse, a cafeteria lady dies. Will the two be able to figure out who killed her without riling the new principal enough to lose their jobs?

Does it sound like something you’d like to read? Here’s an excerpt from page one to help you decide.

He heard footsteps behind him.
He stopped and saw the shadow of someone dressed in black.
He opened his mouth to ask if the person needed help, but he never uttered a word.
Instead he saw the flash of a metal object come flying towards him and hit his skull with a massive force. He heard something crack and he tasted hot blood, as it poured into his eyes and his nose.

Intrigued? As of today, the Kindle Unlimited e-book version is available for free at Amazon.

Series: St.Polycarp Elementary School Mysteries
Paperback: 282 pages
Publisher: Hilliard & Harris (August 9, 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1591334128
ISBN-13: 978-1591334125

#BookBeginnings The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

Today we’re looking forward to starting the next book in The Bestseller Code 100 challenge, Eleanor Brown’s The Weird Sisters for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

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

book-beginnings-button-eleanor-brown

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

What it’s about:  Three grown sisters return to their hometown when their mother falls ill. Although they grew up together and all were named after characters in Shakespeare’s plays by their father, the three sisters couldn’t be more different. Will the crisis pull them together or break them apart?

Quirky fact:  This novel is written in the first person plural (we, our, etc.)

First Sentence of the Prologue:

We came home because we were failures.

First Paragraph of Chapter One:

Cordy had never stolen anything before. As a matter of pride, when our friends were practicing their light-fingered shuffles across the shelves of Barnwell’s stores in our teens, she had refused to participate, refused even to wear the cheap earrings and clumpy lipstick or listen to the shoplifted music. But here she was in this no-name desert town, facing off against the wall of pregnancy tests, knowing full well she didn’t have the money to pay for one. A Wild West shootout:  Cordy versus the little pink sticks at noon.

Discussion:

I remember seeing reviews of this one when it came out. The third person plural voice intrigued me, but I never picked it up.  What do you think of the tone of the first paragraph.? Would you want to read more?

Aside:  There’s an interesting essay about our interest in the first line of novels at Electric Lit. The author suggests our obsession over the first line is a relatively new phenomenon and may have had it’s roots in the rise of product advertising. He also discusses how the first sentence varies between genre fiction and literary works. In the end he concludes that there’s a danger of putting so much emphasis on having a knocks-you-socks-off first sentence that it will become “orphaned” from the rest of the novel. Perhaps simple is better.

What do you think?

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of Unaccustomed Earth

Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri, is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  For a synopsis of the book, check out Roberta’s Writer’s Review.

This post does not contains spoilers.

 

Unaccustomed Earth* by Jhumpa Lahiri


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Short Story Collection

Unaccustomed Earth is a bit unusual in that it is actually a collection of short stories.  Part One consists of five different stories and Part Two has three stories centered around the same two main characters over the span of several decades.  All the characters are Bengali immigrants adjusting to life in America.

For the most part, Lahiri’s stories were easy to read, with characters keeping secrets and experiencing life’s disappointments and hardships.  Some of the stories were more memorable than others.  A week after reading Part One, I could only remember three of the five short story plots.  In Part Two, the voice changed to first person and took a while to get used to.  Just when I was used to one voice, it changed to the second character’s voice, and then the final chapter was back to third person.

Pervasive Sadness

Lahiri is a Pulitzer Prize winning author who has a penchant for ending her stories abruptly, with no follow up of the characters.  She likes to leave you guessing as to what happens in the future.  Sometimes that works, but more often I was aggravated.  I wanted more and felt cheated.

While I feel I have a better understanding of how immigrants and their children adjust (or do not adjust) to life in a new setting, Unaccustomed Earth left me sad and depressed, like I’d just spent a week without any sunshine.  Lahiri’s characters reminded me of Eeyore, from Winnie-the-Pooh, always thinking, “Woe is me.”   She would have us believe that immigrants rarely experience joy in their new country.  I hope that is not reality.

 

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
  4. After you finish the book, you might want to drop by to take our survey.

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.

The next book is number 88. The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown (2011) – Discussion begins April 24, 2017

#BestsellerCode100: Writer’s Analysis of Unaccustomed Earth

Each writer has different strengths and weaknesses. Let’s examine the book we are reading for The Bestseller Code challenge, Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri, from a writer’s perspective. (The discussion started here.)

This post contains spoilers.

 

Unaccustomed Earth* by Jhumpa Lahiri

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

What Unaccustomed Earth is about:

In this collection of eight short stories the author explores how the lives of people are changed as they migrate from place to place, specifically from South Asia to America. Jhumpa Lahiri asks the question whether — as a quote from Nathaniel Hawthorne suggests — people thrive when they “strike their roots into unaccustomed earth” instead of being “planted and replanted, for too long a series of generations, in the same worn-out soil.”

Narrative

If you are  writer, you have heard the advice over and over to “show, not tell.” Yet, sometimes you need to break the rules. In this case Jhumpa Lahiri has gone into her storytelling roots, mixing showing with big doses of telling.

“She pointed out one of the two bridges that spanned the lake, explaining that they floated on pontoons at their centers because the water was too deep. Her father looked out the window but said nothing. Her mother would have been more forthcoming, remarking on the view, wondering whether ivory curtains would have been better than green.”

Some of the telling results from the constraints of a short story. In a full-length novel Lahiri could have had a scene with mother and revealed her personality with dialogue. In a short story that is a luxury the author can’t afford.

 

unaccustomed earth

Characters

Each short story features conflicts within families. Most of the characters are people of either American and/or Bengali descent. Some of the conflicts arise from differences in cultures, some from differences between the generations, and some come from different goals between men and women in relationships.

Setting

Given that Lahiri is exploring the effect of migration on families, it’s not surprising the  short stories are set in a variety of locations. Most are in New England, but London and India figure in several of the stories. The family in the first short story has moved to Seattle. The characters in the final short story find love/passion in Rome.

The author is writing settings that she knows, because Lahiri was born in London and grew up in New England (Rhode Island).  In 2012 she immersed herself in Italian by moving to Rome, the setting of the last story. On a side note, she became so enthralled by the language that she wrote a memoir in Italian entitled In Other Words, which was translated by Ann Goldstein back to English.

 

Theme

A strong theme running through the stories is people hiding important things from one another. In the first story, “Unaccustomed Earth,” the father goes to great lengths to hide his relationship with a woman he met while traveling from his daughter.  In “Hell-Heaven” the mother hides her infatuation with a male graduate student the family befriended. The passive protagonist in “A Choice of Accommodations” tries to keep his former crush a secret from his wife. A sister covers up the fact her young brother is an alcoholic, not even telling her husband. She sees “Only Goodness.” A man has to choose whether or not reveal to his roommate that her lover is cheating on her in “Nobody’s Business.”  In part two, a family hides the fact the mother is dying of cancer. Later the father reveals to his son he has remarried only after the fact. Finally, a new wife hides her grief over the death of a former lover.

Comments

Even though the characters are from different cultures, they are all universal enough that the reader can relate to them. In fact, the theme of the problems of keeping secrets could apply to anyone. By the end, it is evident that “honesty is the best policy” no matter what the circumstances.

As for the telling/storytelling in the narrative, I found it somewhat difficult to get used to. At times it felt heavy or even pedantic. However, being able to understand and relate to the characters kept me reading.

Did you read Unaccustomed Earth? Did you notice the telling? What did you discover in the short stories?

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.

The next book is number 88. The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown (2011) – Discussion begins April 24, 2017

#BookBeginnings Kinsey and Me by Sue Grafton

Let’s took a look at Kinsey and Me by Sue Grafton for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

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

 

book-beginnings-button-sue-grafton

Sue Grafton’s Kinsey and Me*

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

What it’s about:

This book is a collection of short stories. The first nine are private detective stories featuring the main character of Sue Graftons’s famous series, Kinsey Millhone. The second part includes thirteen stories with Kit Blue, who Grafton reveals is a younger version of herself. In those stories she examines her struggles with being the daughter of alcoholics.

Today, I’m going to give you two quotes. This one is from the dust jacket, referring to the stories in the second part of the book:

“I wish life could be edited as deftly as prose. It would be nice to go back and write a better story, correcting weaknesses and follies in the light of what I now know. ~ Sue Grafton

First paragraph of the first short story:

I squinted at the woman sitting across the desk from me. I could have sworn she’d just told me there was a dead man in her daughter’s bed, which seemed like a strange thing to say, accompanied, as it was, by a pleasant smile and a carefully modulated tone. Maybe I’d misunderstood..

Discussion:

This book seems to have a lot going on.

Regarding the dust jacket quote, isn’t that a particularly lucid way to put what many of us has felt at one time or another?

As for the first paragraph, I love the juxtaposition of the dead body and the pleasant smile.  Does it work for you?

Finally, when I was typing in the quote I noticed all the commas in the second sentence. What do you think of the comma after “accompanied”? Is is necessary?

Are you a fan of Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone series?

#BestsellerCode100: Number 89 Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 listUnaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

Unaccustomed Earth* by Jhumpa Lahiri

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

What the book is about:

In this collection of eight short stories the author explores how the lives of people are changed as they migrate from place to place, specifically from South Asia to America. She asks the question whether — as a quote from Nathaniel Hawthorne suggests — people thrive when they “strike their roots into unaccustomed earth” instead of being “planted and replanted, for too long a series of generations, in the same worn-out soil.”

Have you read Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri? 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
  4. After you finish the book, you might want to drop by to take our survey.

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 Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri? Feel free to add a link to your review here.


__________________

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.

The next book is number 88. The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown (2011) – Discussion begins April 24, 2017

#BestsellerCode100: The Orphan Master’s Son Wrap-Up Poll

Time to wrap up the discussion of our latest novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list,  The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson The conversation started here.

Note: Post does not contain spoilers.

The Orphan Master’s Son*

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

 

We are reading these books because they were picked by the computer algorithm in The Bestseller Code by Jodie Archer and Matthew L. Jockers as the best of the bestsellers.  Do you agree with the computer that this book should be on the list?  Why or why not?

 What was your final opinion of The Orphan Master’s Son?

Don’t forget divs around polls

Do you agree with the computer that this novel is one of the best of the bestsellers?

 

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.

The next book is number 89. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri (2008) – Short story collection – Discussion begins April 10, 2017.

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