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Category Archive for 'Ic – Iv'

When her husband Sam dies alone of a heart attack in the minutes that she has been waiting to join him at a favorite restaurant in Vermont, devoted wife Antonia makes it her primary focus to create an afterlife for him. She needs something that will enable her to relive memories and past events with him while she lives her everyday life. When Mario, a young, undocumented worker from Mexico who works on the nearest farm, comes to clean her gutters, he eventually asks for a favor – Will she please help him call his girlfriend who is now in the US but far away from him in Vermont? Developing her themes of love and loss in life and death as they affect Antonia, Julia Alvarez creates several subplots involving other characters, all reflecting powerful emotions without descending into sentimentality or maudlin self-analysis. Mario, his girlfriend Estela, and José, his fellow worker on the farm, are one plot, dealing with the problems of illegal immigrants desperate to create new lives in the US. The second plot line revolves around a get-together of Antonia and her three sisters in Massachusetts to celebrate her birthday. The failure of sister Izzy to appear for the celebration, as promised, becomes the all-consuming issue for the other sisters for many days, and the need for Antonia to be present as they and the police all search for Izzy force her to be out of state when some of the issues involving Mario and his undocumented girlfriend are becoming critical. Abandonment, betrayal, the sadness of loss, and anger lead to personal growth, further develop the original themes, and flesh out this dramatic and sensitive novel.

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In this “Tartan Noir” mystery set in 1973, thirty-year-old Harry McCoy, a member of the Glasgow polis, is about to have a week to end all weeks. From July 13, 1973 to July 21, 1973, he will be busy twenty-four hours a day with a series of heinous crimes that will take him from investigations in his native Glasgow to Belfast and back. Several missing persons and some grisly murders, which seem to be the most efficient way to solve difficult problems among the various crime lords of Glasgow, will keep him and his fellow officers so busy they rarely have time to drink, socialize, or experiment with substances. Only a few hours (and ten pages) after the novel begins with the disappearance of thirteen-year-old Alice Kelly, McCoy discovers the body of musician Bobby March, “the best guitarist of his generation,” a man who was not only asked to join the Rolling Stones, but said “no, thank you” to the offer. The noir gets even darker as the novel develops, with more grisly murders and a trip to Belfast by McCoy in search of more information regarding funding for the crimes in Glasgow. The references to Keith Richards and the Rolling Stones give context to Bobby March’s talent, and provide a bit of a break in this very dark narrative.

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With two main characters who have little to suggest that their stories will become the charming, funny, insightful, and un-put-down-able chronicles that eventually evolve, Irish author Rónán Hession demonstrates his own creativity and his own ideas regarding communication and its importance or lack of it in our lives. He ignores the generations-old traditions of boisterous Irish writing and non-stop action in favor of a quiet, kindly, and highly original analysis of his characters and their unpretentious and self-contained lives. Leonard and Hungry Paul, both in their early thirties, are serious introverts with few friends, but events occur which inspire each of them to become just a bit more social. For Leonard, it is a young woman; for Hungry Paul, it is the realization that a new job comes with the possibility that he may have his own apartment, not live at home. I cannot remember when I have read a book which so thoroughly and honestly touched my heart. The writing is intelligent, memorable, real, and very funny, and I am already impatient for Rónán Hession’s next novel.

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This superb historical novel focuses on the power of words to change lives. Curon, a tiny town a few kilometers from the junction of Switzerland, Austria, and Italy, is the setting, and its inhabitants are officially Italian, but they all speak German, instead. When they are forced to learn Italian, and punished severely if they do not, they find themselves caught between Mussolini on one side, and Hitler on the other, as both are coming to power at the same time. Author Marco Balzano tells a dazzling history, and he does so by keeping things simple, letting the action tell most of the story, and keeping his characters and their problems very real. One of the best – and most unpretentious – novels I’ve read all year.

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Author Eshkol Nevo, a highly skilled and very popular Israeli author, takes a unique approach to this novel, simply answering typical interview questions without connecting them thematically – “What motivates you to write?” “What is your earliest memory?” “Do you have a recurring dream?” In the course of almost five hundred pages, his true purpose and his underlying themes emerge, especially regarding a writer’s connections with friends, family, and his own memories. The author soon discovers, however, that answering the interview questions unexpectedly raises additional questions within the author himself. Determined to be completely honest, while also creating “fiction,” Nevo obviously feels the inherent conflict between those two approaches to describing life, and as he slowly edges into some serious self-examination, his skills as a writer get a real workout. Ultimately, his scenes from a writer’s life, including, almost certainly, episodes from his own life, challenge him to maintain the true honesty he has promised himself and the reader, while also recognizing the hurt that such honesty can sometimes bring to those he loves and admires. Filled with insights into life in Israel, life within his family, and life within himself, the author has created a unique look at the writing life and what it means to at least one author, what he has given up for it, and what he hopes to regain from taking it back. Truly unique.

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