Monthly Archives: January 2016

*** Rise by Karen Campbell


Rise is the fictional story of another kind of escape into the countryside, from sexual abuse into a small Scotland village. But there are no cliches about abusive relationships, no platitudes about small-town life, and, mercifully, no harangues about the Scottish independence vote, which is about to happen as a minor theme in the story. The story is thrilling but the focus is on the heroine and her complicated feelings and scheming as she burrows into a local family for protection, while the family is imploding, in part because of her actions. Even the ending is properly sober. Highly recommended!

 

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Filed under New fiction

** The Point of Vanishing by Howard Axelrod

The Point of Vanishing: A Memoir of Two Years in Solitude is a memoir by a young man who, after suffering a freak sports accident and a sad breakup spends a couple years in an isolated cabin in the woods, with only isolated trips to the grocery store, which may not happen for weeks when the road plower fails to show up after the frequent winter storms.

He talks movingly about the woods and his relationship with nature, as well as his awkward re-entry into society, along with the events that brought him to the cabin in the first place. A lovely reflection on what busy-ness and noise can destroy.

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Filed under True story

*** Beauty Is A Wound by Eka Kurniawan


Beauty Is a Wound is an epic story of a family, intertwined with the colonial history of Indonesia. It opens with the rising from her grave of the family matriarch, a prostitute with a doomed family–so if you don’t care for otherworldly tales, steer clear.

That said, the story is wonderfully told in chapters that skip from colonial times to the present, and from one character to the other. The reader has to work hard to keep up, especially as ghosts frequently add to the large cast of characters. I would have preferred a less heavy hand on the raping and violence, but much of the action takes place during wars and revolutions so it’s par for the course, I suppose.

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Filed under New fiction

** The Horse by Wendy Williams

 

I don’t particularly like horses but I found The Horse: The Epic History of Our Noble Companion very interesting in its careful recounting of the evolution of the species. The book often reminded me of Domesticated, recently reviewed here, and which looks at a variety of domestic animals. I could have done without the stories of the author’s own horses (she obviously loves them, and finds them intelligent, unlike me) but it was astonishing to see how little serious study there has been on horse behavior– for wild or domestic animals.

If you love horses, you will love this book.

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Filed under Non fiction

** Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg


After her home blows (literally), killing her family, a woman flees clear to the other side of the country, while her mother in law must stay and live with the judgment, however ill-placed, of her fellow townsmen.  Did You Ever Have a Family alternates between the two characters as they attempt to find some peace, and it’s well done, but I thought a little too sentimental and overly neat in its ending. I did enjoy the descriptions of the difficult relationships between the locals and the rich New Yorkers who have second homes there, as well as the wonderful portrait of the mother in law who sacrificed her son to her own desires. She is the most interesting character of the book.

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Filed under New fiction

*** X by Sue Grafton

Whether you have been a fan of Kinsey Millhone since “A” or you are just starting at X, this is a good one! Of course a solid psychopath makes for a good mystery, but there are at least three villains in this story, who intersect but never meet — even as the avid reader tirelessly anticipates how they will! And it’s the little details that make the story, whether it is having to re-read the manual of the answering machine before changing the message (pre-internet, pre-cell phone, pre-everything), or finding ways to meet the drought-mandated conservation measures (the internet did not change that!). I could do without Kinsey acting as a marriage counselor, but I thoroughly enjoyed the story.

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Filed under Mystery

** Islam and The Future of Tolerance by Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz


Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue features an atheist and a Muslim talking about Islam — although I often felt that the former should shut up and listen to the latter, who seems both better informed and more measured. The best part of the book for me was the careful distinctions between jihadists, Islamists, and conservative and reformer Muslims.

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Filed under Non fiction