* Rainey Royal by Dylan Landis


Rainey Royal is a manipulative twit and a self-obsessed pain in the butt. Sadly, she also lives in a chaotic household, her mother absconded, her father’s best friend is abusing her, and her father seems more interested in his own varied and abundant sex life — so we should feel sorry for her. But she’s just not that interesting.

 

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* One Kick by Chelsea Cain


The heroine of One Kick was kidnapped and held by a child pornographer for years when she was a child, and now she is helping a shadowy figure find two missing children.  A very wild ride ensues — but why she would want to get involved at all with someone she does not know (rather than an official police force, just to take one example) is never resolved, and it bothered me through the very end of the story.

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** The Dog by Joseph O’Neill


Written by the author Netherland, which I liked a lot, The Dog features a similar, lonely male hero whose girlfriend leaves him because he cannot commit to having children (in Netherlands, it was a wife’s desertion that caused the drifting) and who finds a job working for a shadowy family company in Dubai. With a great sense of the absurd, he drifts, mostly alone, in the glittering but anonymous society of expatriates. It will all come of a disastrous end, of course. I loved the well-observed description of Dubai business, although I felt the plot was somewhat amorphous.

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** The Story of Pain by Joanna Bourke


Written by a psychiatrist, The Story of Pain: From Prayer to Painkillers explores how pain has been viewed and managed since the 18th century, and how very difficult it is to both measure pain and treat it, even if we no longer see pain as a God-given method of self-improvement. The author makes a convincing case of how we teach children the “right” way to deal with pain in our culture, making it very different from other medical experiences. Very interesting, even if the language could stand to be less  formal.

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*** Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki by Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami is, of course, the author of 1Q84, the only book so far that earned 4 stars on this blog. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is nowhere near as inventive and beguiling, but Tsukuru is a haunting anti-hero, mysteriously rejected by his close childhood friends and living a life of loneliness and quiet despair, with only a pushy may-be girlfriend by his side. Her only endearing trait is that she pushes him to find out what happened to the lost friendship, and the story of re-discovery will illuminate his whole life (and take him to Finland, a particularly lovely part of the story).

The fragile and returning hero will stay with you for a long time.

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Another Nobel prize winner featured on FT Books!

Congratulations to Malala Yousaifzai , whose memoir, I am Malala, was reviewed here.  At least I did not pan her book as I did for the last Nobel winner I reviewed, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

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*** Soldier Girls by Helen Thorpe


There’s much that is awkward and boring in Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War. Awkward prose, at times, and also the awkward peeking into the very private lives of real women and their families. Boring minutiae of ordinary people’s lives, boring details of who did what to whom, both at war and at home. But I found the book absorbing, as it follows three women who joined the National Guard to get money to go to college, or just get a stable income — and never imagined they would be deployed (and deployed again) to Afghanistan and Iraq. Their jobs are almost mundane, if rehabbing AK -47s can be called mundane. There is no hand-to-hand combat, no heroics, although, as one of the woman finds out, a truck driver can encounter plenty of dangers and death itself.

What I found most interesting is how these three women, with little education and poor job opportunities, blossom in the military, taking on leadership roles, both officially and not, and making serious efforts to better understand the local population. In contrast when they go back home they are swallowed up in the deep problems of their families and making a living, and they seem to struggle much more.  It’s also sobering to see how little is done to help the transition back to civilian life…

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