Thursday, January 14, 2016

Review: Leaving Before the Rains Come by Alexandra Fuller

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads): A child of the Rhodesian wars and daughter of two deeply complicated parents, Alexandra Fuller is no stranger to pain. But the disintegration of Fuller’s own marriage leaves her shattered. Looking to pick up the pieces of her life, she finally confronts the tough questions about her past, about the American man she married, and about the family she left behind in Africa. A breathtaking achievement, Leaving Before the Rains Come is a memoir of such grace and intelligence, filled with such wit and courage, that it could only have been written by Alexandra Fuller.

Leaving Before the Rains Come begins with the dreadful first years of the American financial crisis when Fuller’s delicate balance—between American pragmatism and African fatalism, the linchpin of her unorthodox marriage—irrevocably fails. Recalling her unusual courtship in Zambia—elephant attacks on the first date, sick with malaria on the wedding day—Fuller struggles to understand her younger self as she overcomes her current misfortunes. Fuller soon realizes what is missing from her life is something that was always there: the brash and uncompromising ways of her father, the man who warned his daughter that "the problem with most people is that they want to be alive for as long as possible without having any idea whatsoever how to live." Fuller’s father—"Tim Fuller of No Fixed Abode" as he first introduced himself to his future wife—was a man who regretted nothing and wanted less, even after fighting harder and losing more than most men could bear.
Leaving Before the Rains Come showcases Fuller at the peak of her abilities, threading panoramic vistas with her deepest revelations as a fully grown woman and mother. Fuller reveals how, after spending a lifetime fearfully waiting for someone to show up and save her, she discovered that, in the end, we all simply have to save ourselves.An unforgettable book, Leaving Before the Rains Come is a story of sorrow grounded in the tragic grandeur and rueful joy only to be found in Fuller’s Africa.

And here's what I thought:   
I just re-read this book, because the author will be coming to one of the local libraries by me.   Her books (all three of them) are some of my favorite memoirs.   The first book I read of hers, Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, was a title I read with a nonfiction book group at a library.   We all really liked the book, and it turned out to be one of those books that I kept telling people about (family, friends, library patrons) and I bought a few extra copies and gave them to family.   Then, I read her second book, Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness, and I enjoyed it just as much as her first book.   So, when this book came out, I read it, and then had a nice time re-reading it.

I have no shared experiences with this author, but I enjoy becoming immersed in her world.  It may be odd to say that she's a gifted storyteller, because that's usually what you say about someone who writes fiction.  However, she brings her stories to life, and she has an inspiring, heartbreaking and vivid writing style.

Would it be selfish to say that I'm hoping she writes another book sometime in the future?

First lines:   "Dad says he's going to die next week," Vanessa said.  The phone line from Zambia was good for once.  No echoing no hopping, no static.  Still, I felt the distancing power of the whole of the Atlantic Ocean between us."

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Ok, let's re-start.

This blog is called Fluidity of Time for a reason.  I seriously have no idea where 2015 went.
I can't believe that the last time I posted on this blog, it was February of 2015.  It's a bit frustrating to look back and realize that, especially when I think about how much I enjoy blogging.   But, it's a testament to how time can completely fly when you let stress take over your life.

So what happened?

Last December, I decided I would look for a new job (thankfully, while I was already working).  My job responsibilities (and stress) kept increasing, so by February, I basically just stopped blogging and instead was concentrating on job hunting, sending out resumes, hoping for interviews, etc etc.

But, I got a new job.  !!!   This was exciting, but meant moving to another state.  This, in turn, meant: my husband and I (well, really, my husband did 98% of all of the work) getting our house ready to sell, me finding a short-term leased apartment, me moving, us spending every-other weekend house-looking for a new house (and on the other weekend, working on our first house to sell).   Anyway . . . the details aren't important.  Suffice to say, 2015 turned out to be a heck of a year.

Now that I'm settled, I'm adjusting.   I now have a longer work schedule than I used to, and I have an actual commute (which I didn't have for 8 years).   It's going to be slow starting back up into book blogging, but I'm thinking I can manage at least one post per week.

For anyone reading this, thanks for sticking with me.    :)

Monday, February 23, 2015

Review: Don't Let Him Know by Sandip Roy

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads):  In a boxy apartment building in an Illinois university town, Romola Mitra, a newly arrived young bride, anxiously awaits her first letter from home in India. When she accidentally opens the wrong letter, it changes her life. Decades letter, her son Amit finds that letter and thinks he has discovered his mother's secret. But secrets have their own secrets sometimes.

Amit does not know that Avinash, his dependable and devoted father, has been timidly visiting gay chat rooms, driven by the lifelong desires he never allowed himself to indulge. Avinash, for his part, doesn't understand what his dutiful wife gave up in marrying him -- the memories of romance she keeps tucked away.

Growing up in Calcutta, in a house bustling with feisty grandmothers, Amit has been shielded from his parents' secrets. Now he's a successful computer engineer, settled in San Franscisco yet torn between his new life and his duties to the one he left behind.

Moving from adolescent rooftop games to adult encounters in gay bars, from hair salons in Calcutta to McDonald's drive-thrus in California, Don't Let Him Know is an unforgettable story about family and the sacrifices we make for those we love. Tender, funny, and beautifully told, it marks the arrival of a resonant new voice.

And here's what I thought:   This was one of those stories that sometimes made me smile, and sometimes get a lump in my throat in the next chapter.  As you can see from the summary, many of the characters have secrets in this story.   The characters were all pretty clear, although I admit that I sometimes had to remind myself who was who.   This is because the timeline in the book isn't in a straight line; you go back and forth at times, and the viewpoints change between the characters. While I didn't feel a strong connection with all of the characters, their stories were all compelling. This is an interesting story of how choices sometimes get made for us, and we have to deal with the consequences.  

First lines:  "Ma," said Amit, "I have to talk to you about something."  Dinner was over.  Romola and Amit were alone in the kitchen.  She was putting away the leftovers while Amit wiped the kitchen counters.  June was upstairs with Neel and his homework.  The last traces of a California evening still dappled the neighbourhood in tranquil honeyed light.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Review: The Pocket Wife by Susan Crawford

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads):   An amazing talent makes her debut with this stylish psychological thriller—with the compelling intrigue of The Silent Wife and Turn of Mind and the white-knuckle pacing of Before I Go to Sleep —in which a woman suffering from bipolar disorder cannot remember if she murdered her friend during a breakdown.

Dana Catrell is horrified to learn she was the last person to see her neighbor Celia alive. Suffering from a devastating mania, a result of her bipolar disorder, Dana finds that there are troubling holes in her memory, including what happened on the afternoon of Celia's death. As evidence starts to point in her direction, Dana struggles to clear her name before her own demons win out.

Is murder on her mind - or is it all in her head?

The closer she comes to piecing together shards of her broken memory, the more Dana falls apart. Is there a murderer lurking inside her . . . or is there one out there in the shadows of reality, waiting to strike again? A story of marriage, murder and madness, The Pocket Wife explores the world through the foggy lens of a woman on the edge.

And here's what I thought:  I picked up a galley of this book at the ALA Midwinter conference on Saturday, opened it on the train ride home, and finished it this morning.   Can you tell I had a hard time putting it down?   I found I kept turning the pages, worried for the main character, and wondering what would happen by the end of the book.

As you can see from the summary, Dana is a woman who has issues, and this makes her into a somewhat unreliable narrator.  At times, you have a difficult time telling if something is really happening or is in her mind.  I also felt like I couldn't quite get to know her well as a character, like I was seeing her out of the corner of my eye, but never complete and in focus.   However, I found that I enjoyed that, and how it kept me feeling a bit off balance throughout the story.   It's hard to tell what's real, and who might be telling the truth or lying, and combined with the steady pace, it made for a great thriller.

I do not have any personal experience with bipolar disorder, so I cannot speak to how accurately Dana's character is portrayed.  However, she felt real enough to me that I worried about her, and felt like at times, I was on edge right with her.  I can't say that I really liked her as a character, but I did feel sympathetic towards her.   I actually don't feel it necessary to like characters; what I need is to find them interesting, or the story interesting.   In this story, the off-balance quality that seemed to be careening steadily towards falling off the edge completely kept me reading.

First lines:  The ambulance is still miles away when Dana awakens to the near dark of evening.  It wails ribbon-thin in the smog over the highway as she opens her eyes where she lies sprawled across her couch in a suburb of Paterson, a stone's throw from Manhattan but in a different world entirely.  She wakes to a headache throbbing at the backs of her lids, a library book lying beside her.  She sits up and reaches for the book, marking her place with a tiny corner fold, giving it a little pat as she sets it on the coffee table.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Review; The Magician's Lie by Greer MacAllister

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads): Water for Elephants meets The Night Circus in The Magician’s Lie, a debut novel in which the country’s most notorious female illusionist stands accused of her husband's murder --and she has only one night to convince a small-town policeman of her innocence.

The Amazing Arden is the most famous female illusionist of her day, renowned for her notorious trick of sawing a man in half on stage. One night in Waterloo, Iowa, with young policeman Virgil Holt watching from the audience, she swaps her trademark saw for a fire ax. Is it a new version of the illusion, or an all-too-real murder? When Arden’s husband is found lifeless beneath the stage later that night, the answer seems clear.

But when Virgil happens upon the fleeing magician and takes her into custody, she has a very different story to tell. Even handcuffed and alone, Arden is far from powerless—and what she reveals is as unbelievable as it is spellbinding. Over the course of one eerie night, Virgil must decide whether to turn Arden in or set her free… and it will take all he has to see through the smoke and mirrors.

And here's what I thought:  This is one of those books that is a nearly perfect combination of lyrical writing, great storytelling, and compelling characters.  I got caught up in the story right away, and found I was putting aside other responsibilities (like vacuuming, and reading books for work) so I could steal a few more minutes of reading.   There is a great pace here, with a constant tension and release going on throughout the story.   I also loved that the author mixed in factual details into the story, so it felt very realistic.   For example, she adds in a character, Adelaide Herrmann, who really existed.   Another detail was including the Iroquois Theatre fire in Chicago, and having Arden's performance set during the fire.  

I admit that I may have found this book captivating because I have always enjoyed learning about magicians, illusionists, circus performers, etc.   However, even if Arden hadn't been an illusionist, I would have still found her story compelling.   Part of what I enjoyed reading about was a woman who had to overcome several obstacles in her life, and make her way on her own.    

This is a great book to pair with any of these other books, not just for the subject material, but also because of the storytelling:  The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman, and Rain Village by Carolyn Turgeon.   I would note that the last two books do have elements of the real/historical in them.

First lines:   Tonight, I will do the impossible.   The impossible is nothing new to me.  As I do every night, I will make people believe things that aren't true.  I will show them worlds that never existed, events that never happened.  I will weave a web of beautiful illusion to snare them, a glittering trap that drags them willingly with me into the magical, false, spellbinding world.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Ask the Librarian: My library never has the books I want!!

Yes, Lego Librarian!
I'm going to try something new in 2015, which is posting about some of the questions and complaints that I hear from people about libraries.

Are libraries perfect?  Heck, no!  But, there are always solutions.   

So, today's complaint is:  My library never has the books I want! or They don't have anything by the author I like!

Here's some help:  Maybe your library doesn't always have the books you want (like, maybe their science fiction section is really small, or they never seem to have books by an author you love).  The thing is, you need to speak up.  Don't walk away just because you don't see something on the shelf.   ASK a staff member for help!  The thing is, the book could be in the library's collection and just not be on the shelf, or in the right place (or, there could be a computer glitch and it's not showing up in the catalog).  Library staff can see if the library owns it --- and if they don't, ask if they can get it through interlibrary loan.   Hint: The Library of Congress is one of the few places that seems to own everything under the sun.  For the rest of us libraries, we rely on sharing things with each other.   Interlibrary loan usually takes about a week (or less) and doesn't cost you a thing! 

And here's another idea:  ask if you can suggest a purchase.   At my library, we're always happy to receive suggestions from people about things to add to our collection.  We can't guarantee that we can buy everything that everyone suggests, but we do the best we can. And we never assume that we know about every single book that gets published.  We work hard to stay on top of publishing, but we don't ever claim to know about all the books that come out every year.   That's why we like it when people give us feedback and suggestions.

See how easy that was?  

Libraries rely on input from our patrons to make our library great.  So, we provide tons of ways for people to contact us:  phone, email, instant message, and even comment cards that people can write on and drop into boxes around the library.   

And so, I'm asking anyone reading this to leave me a comment ----  like, is this a worthwhile thing to post about?  Do you have any questions/complaints you'd like me to address in the future?
Thanks for your input!

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Boy Who Killed Demons by Dave Zeltserman

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads):  “My name’s Henry Dudlow. I’m fifteen and a half. And I’m cursed. Or damned. Take your pick. The reason? I see demons.”

So begins the latest novel by horror master Dave Zeltserman. The setting is quiet Newton, Massachussetts, where nothing ever happens. Nothing, that is, until two months after Henry Dudlow’s 13th birthday, when his neighbor, Mr. Hanley, suddenly starts to look . . . different. While everyone else sees a balding man with a beer belly, Henry suddenly sees a nasty, bilious, rage-filled demon.

Once Henry catches onto the real Mr. Hanley, he starts to see demons all around him, and his boring, adolescent life is transformed. There’s no more time for friends or sports or the lovely Sally Freeman—instead Henry must work his way through ancient texts and hunt down the demons before they steal any more innocent children. And if hunting demons is hard at any age, it’s borderline impossible when your parents are on your case, and your grades are getting worse, and you can’t tell anyone about your chosen mission.

And here's what I thought:  I really enjoyed this book, and found it to be a nice mix of a believable main character, an interesting take on the whole seeing-demons idea, and a bit of wry humor. Although the main character seemed a bit mature for his age, I reasoned that that was because of what was going on his life.   As you can see from the summary, Henry can see demons, and as a result, is determined not only to educate himself about them, but to hunt them down.   Henry has a clear voice, and by that, I mean that you can completely envision this kid in your head.   He makes observations not only about demons, but about high school life, his parents, girls, etc.  I liked that he thought out a lot of his approaches to the issue of seeing demons.   For example, he wants to educate himself about them, so he starts to learn German so he can translate an antique book about demons.   He's on his own with this whole thing, as no one else around him seems to notice that there are demons living in their midst.

I will admit, though, that this wasn't a super-scary book.    I worried about what was going to happen to Henry, and the people around him, but I never felt really scared.   This is technically a horror book, so maybe it's just because I'm desensitized by Buffy, Constantine, etc etc.    However, overall, it was an enjoyable story and a page-turner.

First lines:  My name's Henry Dudlow.  I'm fifteen and a half, and I'm cursed.  Or damned.  Take your pick.   The reason?  I see demons.
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