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Category Archive for '0-2017 Reviews'

Setting her novel in Jordan, author Siobhan Fallon focuses on Americans who serve abroad in the military, protecting U. S. Embassies, and how cultural differences with their host countries affect their lives. These are subjects that the author knows well. Drawing on her own life in Jordan and her observations and insights about how Americans behave, she creates two characters who act and feel real. Cassie Hugo, who has been in Jordan for two years, and Margaret Brickshaw, who is a new arrival, live near each other, each dealing with her own personal problems unrelated to the setting, but each also hoping that she can find a friend in the other. Cassie is desperate to have a baby but is still childless after nine years. Margaret, a naïve young woman with a new baby, has grown up in a home in which her mother, with a serious, eventually fatal, illness depended on Margaret for virtually all of life’s necessities. Margaret’s unplanned pregnancy and quick, subsequent marriage to Crick Brickshaw, brought her out of the country to Jordan almost simultaneously with her mother’s death. The personal trials and tribulations, both real and imagined, which the two women experience, and the absence of their husbands sometimes for weeks, on trips to the embassies in other countries, leave the women on their own in a foreign culture. Domestic episodes involving love and honor in relationships eventually become broad underlying themes within a multicultural environment, providing much to think about in this well developed and often fascinating novel.

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Though it deals with nothing less than the meaning of existence, the nature of reality, and ultimately, a search for the legendary “City of Dreams,” which has haunted the lives of writers and philosophers for centuries, Found Audio is also great fun. Debut author N. J. Campbell makes his own rules here as he creates a novel which is entertaining and, at times exciting, even as it also deals with philosophical questions which have been the subjects of treatises, novels, plays, and poetry since the beginning of time. Who we are, where we are going, what we see as the nature of reality, how importantly we regard our dreams, and the universal need to give meaning to our lives are questions for most of us, and what Campbell has to say is not new. What is new is his enthusiastic, down-to-earth treatment of these ideas within a novel which is experimental and often charming, drawing the reader into participating in a search for truth through mysterious audio tapes which have been found by an unknown narrator who has traveled the world to exotic places. In a Foreword, which begins the novel, a transcriber has received a manuscript from an unidentified writer in 2006 while working in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. The writer has also provided three audio tapes, and he is prepared to pay her a significant sum in cash for two days of work on the tapes in an effort to determine where they came from, how they were produced, and who might have recorded them. Fresh, often charming, and full of insights into the need for a City of Dreams and what these dreams represent for us all.

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In Jens Christian Grondahl’s Often I Am Happy, Ellinor, a Danish woman who is seventy as this novel opens, is the only survivor among four close friends – two couples – from their earlier lives in Copenhagen. Now alone, Ellinor is reliving her life, trying to gain some kind of resolution and reconciliation for some of the issues she has faced in her life and marriage. Anna, her best friend, has always been very much a part of Ellinor’s life, even though she died thirty years ago when Anna’s twin boys were only five, and as Ellinor revisits episodes in her own long life, she continually “chats” with Anna, her one-sided “conversations” swirling around in time as she shares her feelings and observations with Anna. Gradually, the reader is able to piece together Ellinor’s past and the complex relationship she has had with Anna, with her own husband Henning, and with Anna and her husband Georg. The initially confusing details of their lives together quickly become clearer as the nature of their unbreakable bonds come into sharper focus. The novel which results, mesmerizing as much for the skill of author Jens Christian Grondahl in controlling his release of information as it is for the psychological interconnections among his main characters, is masterfully constructed to reveal both surprises and devastating revelations which the two couples face, often together.

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Set during immediate aftermath of Angolan independence from Portugal in 1975, this novel by Angolan author Jose Eduardo Agualusa reflects the conflicts involved in setting up a new government under the Marxists and Leninists who helped during the revolution. With the war for independence from Portugal over, and many who fought in that war are getting ready to fight anew against the one-party Leninist state which has taken its place. Ludovica Fernandes Mano, the fifty-year-old main character and speaker, has been living in Luanda with her sister Odete and brother-in-law Orlando, who works in the diamond trade, and they now fear the future and their roles in Angola. Originally from Portugal, these residents have found that all allegiances and alliances are now in question, and no one knows, for sure, whom they can trust. One morning, without warning, Ludo wakes to find herself suddenly alone in the family’s comfortable apartment. Her sister and brother-in-law have escaped to Portugal, leaving her behind. Ludo takes surprisingly forceful action, and she does it alone. Using materials left behind the apartment, she bricks up and plasters over the entire entrance to her apartment. Once she has finished, she closes herself in and does not leave for twenty-eight years, essentially disappearing from the earth, and it is no surprise that much of her mental energy is concerned with other disappearances and the memories and the forgetting that are associated with them.

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Just when you might think Maurizio de Giovanni’s Neapolitan mystery series cannot get much better, he outdoes himself, building on everything he has been doing in the past seven novels in this series and creating this one, further developing the most delightful aspects of his characters and their relationships to date, and adding to them in complex ways which I suspect every fan will celebrate. In this novel, author Maurizio de Giovanni retains all the characters and relationships which fans of the series already delight in, and his sense of humor is more obvious here than it is in several of his previous novels. Though the nature of the murder in question (that of a loan shark), its victim and killer, and the motivations for it are well developed, many readers will become more interested in the psychological and social interactions of the characters than in the mystery itself, a situation common in de Giovanni’s work. De Giovanni, consummately aware of the need to provide background information to new readers, dedicates a page or two to each of the major players, and In the course of the novel, several favorite characters also make the equivalent of “guest appearances,” including Dr. Modo, the irreverent coroner who will say anything, the transvestite prostitute Bambinella, who often serves as an informant, and Don Pierino, the tiny priest from I Will Have Vengeance, the first novel in the series, who becomes a counselor both for Enrica’s father and for Commissario Ricciardi. Great fun.

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