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Category Archive for '1-2017 Reviews'

For those who have not yet finished their holiday shopping and/or have not yet discovered the Favorites tab at the top right of my website, here are some of my Favorites for 2017. Not all on this list will appeal to your great-aunt, your teenage grandchild, or your boss, so please take a look at the review, especially the last paragraph, for a few cautionary signs before you purchase a book you do not know :-) Have a Happy Holiday Season!

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At the end of each year, I enjoy checking to see which reviews are getting the most attention on this website, and each year I am always surprised by the number of older books (and reviews) which remain in the Top Ten. For this new list I wanted to see which books published and reviewed in the past FIVE years would be in the Top Ten if I removed the recurrent “old favorites.” Gone from this new, more restricted list are books that have almost become classics (at least on my website’s pages): Jo Nesbo’s The Redeemer (from Norway, 2011), Helon Habila’s Waiting for an Angel (from Nigeria, 2004), Kamila Shamsie’s Kartography (from Pakistan, 2004), Alan Paton’s Hero of Currie Road (March, 2009) are only a few. Here is the new list of new favorites from the past five years, including five recent ones on the list from 2017.

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The latest winner of the Jolley Prize, Australian author Josephine Rowe creates a character novel driven by a father’s inability to deal with the horrors of the Vietnam War and the effects his traumas have on his abused family. In A LOVING, FAITHFUL ANIMAL, she presents the action in six chapters featuring five different members of the same family – the father, the mother, a twelve-year-old daughter, her elder sister, and her father’s brother, each of whom reveals his/her story in a separate chapter. In prose that often feels like poetry, Rowe creates lives for these characters, and the reader comes to know and empathize with them. They are what matter here, as there is little overriding plot, which the reader puts together from the many flashbacks and flash-forwards. Throughout, Rowe uses a series of animals to convey her characters’ connections to the wider world, avoiding the kind of sentimentality that a novel so emotional might suggest. Beautifully constructed, filled with original description and characters connected by vibrant themes, this debut novel establishes Josephine Rowe as a writer to watch for, one whose talents and accomplishments to date belie her thirty-three years. A new author to watch!

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Set in the Greenwich Village enclave of the Macdougal-Sullivan Historic District, Salman Rushdie’s latest novel is pure Rushdie, while also being pure New York. His young narrator, Rene Unterlinden, the son of Belgian academics, has lived in this district all his short life while working to become a filmmaker. The spacious house beside him, owned for over twenty years by a mystery man who has never been seen on the property, has been in the care of professionals – despite its highly desirable address. On the day of President Obama’s inauguration, an “uncrowned seventy-something king from a foreign country and his three sons take over their castle.” Rene confesses that when looking at this man, he “thought of Dr. Frankenstein’s monster,” but before long, Rene begins thinking that this man might, at last, be the unique film subject he has been searching for. Within a few pages. the reader learns that the new residents are from Mumbai and that they have survived a terrorist attack which took place there in November, 2008. About a month after that, the family escaped to their “safe” address in New York City, having planned for this for many years. Rushdie is obviously having the time of his life as he creates and develops these characters, and he certainly enjoys the opportunity to set his story in New York in the heady days immediately after the Obama election. With his immense intelligence, his wild, non-stop imagination, and his ability to see current events as the basis of satiric commentary, he includes music, films, novels, folk tales, and classical references to expand his scope.

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This novel, an epic story of the Faroe Islands, closely resembles a tell-all “confidential” of family secrets over several generations while also providing a broad picture of island history. Written in Faroese by Joanes Nielsen, a native of the Faroe Islands, the novel features a main character who is also a Faroese author, working on a novel about the cultural history of the islands. This fictional character decides to “work some of his own family history into the book,” especially the life of his great-great-grandfather, Nils Tvibur, a violent man, whom he suspects he resembles more than he’d like. Tracing several families through the eighteenth century to the present, Joanes Nielsen creates characters who relish their independence and still resent the foreign countries which have tried to tame them and bring them under political control. The British, Norwegians, and Danish have all occupied and left their marks on the Faroe Islands, and the Faroese characters who live in this book during these periods convey their own individual resentments and, sometimes, act upon them with violence. Filled with surprises, the novel provides many chances to “see” the Faroe Islands in detail and come to know a unique culture.

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