Tag: Karen Gibson (page 1 of 3)

#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

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  This novel is categorized as Historical Fiction.

This post does contain spoilers.

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


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

We’ve now read eighteen of the one hundred books recommended by the computer model in The Bestseller Code by Jodie Archer and Matthew L. Jockers.  Most of these books were of genres that I do not usually read and, to be honest, many of them I did not like.  If it weren’t for the fact that I needed to write a review, I would have set a couple aside without finishing them.  I’m happy to say, though, that Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford does not fall into this category.  I really liked this book!

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is set in one location, Seattle, but in two time periods: 1942-45 and 1986.  Ford obviously knows Seattle well, and his descriptions of Seattle during the WWII years really drew me into the story.  I found those sections of the novel to be the strongest in all areas – settings, characters, dialogue, and plot.  The 1986 sections didn’t feel as strong, and I thought that Ford could have done a better job in conveying the relationship between Henry and his son Marty and also in more fully developing the son’s character.  But it still worked for me, mainly because I could envision the lack of communication and the misunderstandings between father and son.  Also, the fog that seemed to envelop Henry due to the long illness and recent death of his wife Ethel was easily attributed to grief and an intentional device by the author, rather than poor writing.

What’s in a Name?

In Chapter 5 of The Bestseller Code, book titles are discussed:

What’s in a name?  Well for a start, sometimes, ten million dollars.  So it is worth thinking a bit about how to get it right.  Some bestselling titles refer to physical settings.  Cold Mountain.  A Painted House.  Black House.  Shutter Island.  Maine.  We learn something from each of these titles about the prominence and agency of place.

The place in these novels provides the impetus for the story, or it will if the novel is well named and well written.  By the end of such a novel, we will feel an intimacy with the fictional place as though it’s its own voiceless character.

The title Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet describes the Panama Hotel, which acts as a keystone to this story.  As Roberta states in her #BookBeginnings post, the Panama Hotel is mentioned in the very first line of the book. In 1942, the Panama Hotel “stood as a gateway between Seattle’s Chinatown and Nihonmachi, Japantown,” thus setting up one of the main themes of the novel.  Henry Lee, who lives in Chinatown, has been indoctrinated by his father to hate all Japanese, including Japanese-Americans.  And yet he develops a school friendship and eventually a romantic relationship with Keiko Okabe, a second generation Japanese American who resides in Nihonmachi and is removed to an internment camp.  In 1986, items stored by the interned Japanese-Americans, including Keiko’s family, are discovered in the basement of the hotel, and Henry is finally forced to acknowledge his long buried feelings for Keiko. So not only does the title tell us something about the place, but also sets up the tone of the story, bittersweet.

Love’s Bittersweet Memories

Anyone who has had a childhood sweetheart or a lost love will identify with Henry and Keiko.  Like Romeo and Juliet, from the start you know their friendship, and then their romance, is doomed to end tragically.  Yet you hope this story will be different.  Henry will find a way to save Keiko from the internment camp.  Or when the war ends, they will reunite and live happily ever after.  But that doesn’t happen, which makes this story all the more believable.  Both Henry and Keiko move on after the war, finding new loves and creating new lives.  But neither of them forgets their first love and what could have been, had the war and Henry’s father not intervened.  Ultimately, even though it takes forty-some odd years, there is a happy ending.

Historical Fiction

One of the reasons I love reading Historical Fiction is the opportunity to learn about specific times and places in history.  If the author has done his/her research well, the story line and characters create the opportunity to more fully understand how people were impacted by a specific historical event.  Such is the case with Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.  Other than a brief mention in my high school American History textbook, I’ve never read anything about the internment camps of WWII, nor the details of how the internment of our Japanese-Americans occurred.  I’ve read that German-Americans were stigmatized and targeted during WWI, similar to the experience of the Japanese-Americans, although internment camps were not part of the equation for them.  I always found it interesting that many German immigrants and first generation German-Americans enlisted to fight in WWI, both as a way to protect their families at home in the States and also to prove their loyalties as Americans.  I was unaware that the Japanese-Americans did the same thing during WWII, even though they and their families were placed in the internment camps. Can you imagine volunteering to fight in a war for the country that had removed you and your family from your home, forcing you to leave behind all but a few meager possessions, and placed you in a internment camp where you were surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards?

Even though most of us in the United States are descended from immigrants, within a couple of generations we lose the memories and stories of what life is like as an immigrant.  We come to believe that our outlook on life, our day-to-day experiences as Americans, are the norm.  It’s good and even necessary to read books like Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet in order to remind ourselves of the challenges and prejudices immigrants face every day, even today.  Especially with the insular political climate of today, we need more books like this, books that allow us to view life from the eyes of immigrants, our newest Americans. For that reason alone, I would recommend adding Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet to your reading list.  The fact that it’s a bittersweet story with a happy ending is an added bonus.

What did you think of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet?  Have you read any other books about the Japanese-American internment camps?  Do you think books like Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet can help us inculcate a better understanding of our current immigrant population?

Related posts:

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

Join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

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

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

#BestsellerCode100: A Readers’s Review of A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge. This novel is categorized as Literary Fiction and was nominated for the Booker Prize.

This post contains spoilers.

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

 

A Spool of Blue Thread is the latest novel (and possibly the last, according to a recent interview) by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Anne Tyler.  In  looking over the list of twenty books she has written, I was surprised to discover that I had not read any of them.  How is that possible, since all of the titles sound so familiar? Literary fiction is not my usual reading choice, though, so that likely explains it.  And I’ve never been one to pick up a book just because it’s popular or on the bestseller shelf.  A Spool of Blue Thread, therefore, is my introduction to Anne Tyler and her character-driven novels.

The Wrong Title

First off, let me state that the book has the wrong title.  While blue is definitely a color that is mentioned throughout the book, the spool of blue thread is a very small part of the book.  Instead, the house that Junior Whitshank built for a client and eventually bought for his family’s residence is an integral part of the story – it could even be considered one of the characters – and so the book might more aptly be titled “The House on Bouton Road.”

Character Driven

Tyler does a nice job of fleshing out her characters, revealing both strengths and foibles through their interactions with family members.  As in many families, birth order determines the characters’ actions and family dynamics.  The opening chapter is devoted to Denny, the youngest child until the family quasi-adopts the younger Stem. Denny’s prickly demeanor, his obstinacy and anger, and the way he distances himself from the family, sometimes disappearing for years at a time with no contact, create issues for the family throughout the book.  His storyline is the nearest thing to an actual plot and resolution that I could find.

Family Stories

As Roberta states in her Writer’s Analysis, the Whitshank family has two stories that they tell and retell.  The family tells these stories with pride, as they show that family members acquired things (or people) they wanted by working patiently to those ends.  But the stories also reveal that these things were acquired through stealth and possible chicanery, and maybe even some amount of lying and backstabbing on the part of Merritt concerning her best friend’s fiance.

One story that is not part of the family lore is how Linnie Mae and Junior met and eventually married.  At the beginning of the chapter that reveals their relationship, it appears that Junior holds all the power and Linnie Mae is his under-aged victim, but by the end of the chapter it is obvious that Linnie Mae is just as intentional and devious as Junior.  Eventually Junior realizes that he’s been the unwitting “victim” of Linnie Mae’s designs to leave her hometown and get married and that Linnie Mae is not the gullible and naive young girl she seemed to be.  I enjoyed this back story of Junior and Linnie Mae as it revealed the quiet power that the matriarch of the Whitshanks had and showed that daughter Merritt’s actions in acquiring her husband might not be totally due to traits she had inherited from her father, but possibly also from her mother.

Why Read Literary Fiction?

As I previously stated, literary fiction is not my normal choice of reading material.  I prefer a book with a well-crafted plot and a satisfying resolution, a book that takes me somewhere I’ve never been and allows me to experience something I’m not likely to do myself.  But Roberta and I have noticed that whenever we read a book classified as literary fiction, we end up discussing family situations and family dynamics from our youth.  A Spool of Blue Thread was no exception.  Roberta’s family took in “strays” when she was a child, as did my husband’s family, and my family had a member who was “farmed out” as a teenager.  Obviously these books, whether we like them or not, are providing us with food for thought and topics for discussion.  Maybe that’s the point of literary fiction – not to take you to some new place, but to take you back to an old place or time in your life and allow you to see it from a fresh perspective.

Are you a fan of Anne Tyler? Do you have a favorite Anne Tyler book that you would recommend, one that would give me a better understanding as to why her books are so popular?

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 83. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (2009) – Discussion begins July 10, 2017.

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of The Klone and I by Danielle Steel

The Klone And I, by Danielle Steel, is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  This is touted as a high-tech love story.

This post does contain spoilers.


(*Amazon Affiliate link)
 

Years and years ago I read several of Danielle Steel’s novels.  I remember enjoying her themes of women struggling to combine career and family and love, trying to have it all.  The women seemed strong and independent, and at the end of the day, the importance of family bonds was always the most important thing.  At least that’s how I remember her novels.  After reading The Klone and I, I have to wonder just how reliable my memory is.

Stephanie, the main character in The Klone and I was a disappointment in many ways. She is indecisive, inattentive, self-centered, and naïve.  I suppose being naïve is not a bad thing, but reading about someone that naïve after the life experiences she had gone through – divorce, raising children – made her unbelievable.  Maybe it was the trust fund that enabled her to go through life without seeming to really commit to life.

And speaking of unbelievable, shall we discuss Paul, the clone?  I had to keep reminding myself that this book was written in 1998 when computers were just beginning to become an integral part of our lives, but still seemed quite magical.  Anything was possible if a computer was involved, including life-like clones.  Paul, though, is so over-the-top that I simply could not buy the whole premise.

I understand why this book made The Bestseller Code’s top 100 list, because it is 100% about relationships, mostly Stephanie and her relationships with her ex-husband, with Peter, and with Paul. Unfortunately, I didn’t like Stephanie.  I didn’t like the dismissive attitude she often had about her children.  I didn’t like how easily she was swayed by the fun and free-wheeling Paul while knowing he wasn’t real and that he was using Peter’s money to buy all the gifts for her.  I found Stephanie to be shallow and self-absorbed. Overall, The Klone and I was a disappointment.

What did you think of The Klone and I?  Did you find Paul believable as a clone?

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. 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.

__________________

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 84. A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler (2015) – Discussion begins June 26, 2017
Literary Fiction – nominated for Booker Prize

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of Easy Prey by John Sandford

Easy Prey by John Sandford is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  This book is #11 in a series of twenty-seven (so far) novels starring Lucas Davenport, a police officer and war games designer.  Interestingly, all twenty-seven books include the word “Prey” in the title.  Does that tell you anything about the series?  In Easy Prey, the body count mounts quickly.  

This post does not contain spoilers.

Easy Prey* by John Sandford

This review is written about the first half of the book, up to Chapter 19.

Police Procedural

Easy Prey is a police procedural novel, which means that the murder mystery is solved by those trained to solve murders, the police, and the story is heavy on the police process.  This is a new type of mystery for me to read and, so far, I like it.  As Roberta mentioned in her Writer’s Review, this book has a lot of characters, but I’ve been able to follow along and keep them all straight without too much difficulty.  I was struck by the amount of detail Sandford gives for each character. For example, in Chapter 6 we are introduced to Lapstrake, a police officer from the Intelligence division.

Lapstrake was a bland, twenty-something guy with a home haircut who wore blue Sears work pants and a blue shirt that said “Cairn’s Glass” on the back.

A blue shirt wasn’t descriptive enough.  Sandford added “Cairn’s Glass” to the back of it.  I had to wonder why Cairn’s Glass, if that would be significant to the story later on, but it did succeed in making Lapstrake’s character more memorable.

Appreciation of Women

Lucas Davenport is not your typical police officer.  For one thing, he’s wealthy; he invented board games to supplement his police income, which turned into computer games and led to his own company selling simulations to law enforcement.  For another, Davenport has an innate appreciation of women, especially beautiful women.  He notices and responds to small things about women that seem atypical of a middle-aged male, let alone a street-hardened cop.  For example, in Chapter 2 he interacts with the wife of a friend:

She and Lucas had always liked each other, and if things had been different, if the Clays hadn’t been quite so happy with each other…She smelled good, like some kind of faintly perfumed soap.

Later, when Davenport is home, he continues to think of her:

Clean, mellow, starting to fade, the memory of Verna Clay’s scent still on his mind, he dropped into bed. He was asleep in five minutes, a small easy smile on his face.

Each woman Davenport interacts with affects him in some physical way, and he interacts with several in this book, in multiple ways.  I feel I’m at a bit of a disadvantage, meeting Davenport midway through the “Prey” series; throughout the book there are mentions of past relationships that I am certain were main themes in previous novels.  He is a character that I want to see from the very beginning in order to watch his growth and learn how far he’s come.

Bodies Galore

I’m only halfway through the book, but the body count is up to six and potentially there are at least two different killers, maybe more.  It’s a lot to keep track of, and even more to consider for motives and means, but I’m hooked.  I’m eager to finish this review so I can get back to reading!  And then I’ll have to track down the first book in the “Prey” series, Rules of Prey.

Do you like police procedural mysteries?  What did you think of Easy Prey?

Related posts (links will be added as posts go live):

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

Join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

The next book is number 85. The Klone and I by Danielle Steel (1998) – Discussion begins June 12, 2017.
Touted as a high-tech love story.

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