mini-review · stuff I read

Fire Sermon by Jamie Quatro

35412371Summary from Goodreads:
Married twenty years to Thomas and living in Nashville with their two children, Maggie is drawn ineluctably into a passionate affair while still fiercely committed to her husband and family. What begins as a platonic intellectual and spiritual exchange between writer Maggie and poet James, gradually transforms into an emotional and erotically charged bond that challenges Maggie’s sense of loyalty and morality, drawing her deeper into the darkness of desire.

If you like your protagonists deeply flawed with conflicting motivations, get yourself a copy of Fire Sermon. Maggie is a woman struggling to reconcile her faith with her desires. To be a good wife and mother, a poet, a teacher. She loves her husband, yet he is not intellectually stimulating and her sexual desire for him grinds to a halt (their sex scenes together are the most affecting, and possibly disturbing, of the book and so deftly crafted). When she writes an appreciative email to a fellow poet, the relationship becomes a lifeline for her, challenging her as a writer, a thinker, a human. Quatro has given us a deep meditation on temptation, marriage, and partnership told in a non-linear fashion through emails, therapy sessions, letters, diary entries, and scenes from an omniscient narrator to mark the passage of time. One of those books that is very quiet but manages to bowl you over with its sentences.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

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mini-review · stuff I read

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

30288282Summary from Goodreads:
If you were told the date of your death, how would it shape your present?

It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes.

Their prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in ’80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11, hoping to control fate; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.

The premise of The Immortalists is very intriguing: if told the exact date of your death, would it change how you lived your life? Does this mean that the lengths of our lives are predestined, limited to the thread spun, measured, and cut by the Fates of Greek mythology? Four siblings in the waning, hot days of 1960s Manhattan get word that there is a woman who can predict, to the day, when you will die. It doesn’t matter that such a thing is preposterous, or impossible, they feel compelled to tempt fate. This outing fractures the family forever.

The result is a very compelling novel about how perceived fate impacts the Golds’ lives. Some feel compelled to take risks, others to “play” it safe. The first two sections with Simon and Klara read very quickly. Their characters’ lives are vivid, fast-paced, and surreal. I found their stories the most compelling. The third section was Daniel’s and I had trouble with his section for some reason. It felt as if the plot and his life plus his “date” didn’t quite make sense to me. The book picked up again with Varya – her section does have a lot to think about with its focus on longevity (are you getting more years or better years?), asceticism, and self-denial. An excellent book to kick off the reading year.

Trigger warning: If you’re sensitive to animals being hurt, there are some pages in Varya’s section that are rough.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · Read My Own Damn Books · Reading Diversely · stuff I read

Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag

Su30267604mmary from Goodreads:
For readers of Akhil Sharma, Mohsin Hamid, and Teju Cole, a haunting, masterly novel about a family splintered by success in rapidly changing India.

A young man’s close-knit family is nearly destitute when his uncle founds a successful spice company, changing their fortunes overnight. As they move from a cramped, ant-infested shack to a larger house on the other side of Bangalore, and try to adjust to a new way of life, allegiances realign; marriages are arranged and begin to falter; and conflict brews ominously in the background. Things become “ghachar ghochar” – a nonsense phrase uttered by one of the characters that comes to mean something tangled beyond repair, a knot that can’t be untied. Elegantly written and punctuated by moments of unexpected warmth and humor, Ghachar Ghochar is a quietly enthralling, deeply unsettling novel about the shifting meanings – and consequences – of financial gain in contemporary India.

Ghachar Ghochar is a fascinating short novel, barely longer than a novella, about the peculiar inner-workings of a family in Bangalore who started out lower-middle class then suddenly became fabulously wealthy when the father’s younger brother makes a fortune in the spice trade. Things are not always as they seem, though, as the unnamed, diffident narrator puzzles through his family’s suspect foibles at his favorite Coffee House. I only wish it were longer.

Dear FTC: I read My Own Damn Copy of this book that I bought because it was selected as part of the BN Discover program.

mini-review · Readathon · Reading Diversely · stuff I read

Blood of the Dawn by Claudia Salazar Jiménez (transl. Elizabeth Bryer)

29633622Summary from Goodreads:
Blood of the Dawn follows three women whose lives intertwine and are ripped apart during what’s known as “the time of fear” in Peruvian history when the Shining Path militant insurgency was at its peak. The novel rewrites the conflict through the voice of women, activating memory through a mixture of politics, desire, and pain in a lucid and brutal prose.

Claudia Salazar Jiménez (b. 1975, Lima, Peru), critic, scholar, and author, founded PERUFEST, the first Peruvian film festival in New York, where she lives, and won the 2014 Americas Narrative Prize for her debut novel, Blood of the Dawn.

Blood of the Dawn came across my radar when Amanda recommended it on a recent episode of All the Books.  So I picked it up at the library and put it in my readathon stack. And it is an absolutely heartbreaking and stunning short novel set during the time of the Shining Path insurgency told through the voices of three women: a revolutionary true-believer, a Quechua villager, and an upper-class reporter/photographer. Brutal, pain-soaked, and surreal.

TW for rape, which is an unavoidable event during this period in Peru and used against women on both sides of the conflict, and other brutality.

mini-review · stuff I read

How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry

Summary from Goodreads:
The enchanting story of a bookshop, its grieving owner, a supportive literary community, and the extraordinary power of books to heal the heart

Nightingale Books, nestled on the main street in an idyllic little village, is a dream come true for book lovers–a cozy haven and welcoming getaway for the literary-minded locals. But owner Emilia Nightingale is struggling to keep the shop open after her beloved father’s death, and the temptation to sell is getting stronger. The property developers are circling, yet Emilia’s loyal customers have become like family, and she can’t imagine breaking the promise she made to her father to keep the store alive.

There’s Sarah, owner of the stately Peasebrook Manor, who has used the bookshop as an escape in the past few years, but it now seems there’s a very specific reason for all those frequent visits. Next is roguish Jackson, who, after making a complete mess of his marriage, now looks to Emilia for advice on books for the son he misses so much. And the forever shy Thomasina, who runs a pop-up restaurant for two in her tiny cottage–she has a crush on a man she met in the cookbook section, but can hardly dream of working up the courage to admit her true feelings.

Enter the world of Nightingale Books for a serving of romance, long-held secrets, and unexpected hopes for the future–and not just within the pages on the shelves. How to Find Love in a Bookshop is the delightful story of Emilia, the unforgettable cast of customers whose lives she has touched, and the books they all cherish.

How to Find Love in a Bookshop is adorable as all get-out. If you get a kick out of the foibles of the picturesque English villages of Midsomer Murders but could do without the murdering, this is for you. When Emilia’s father dies, she inherits his bookshop – including the financial problems it has – and the array of villagers who want to help her keep it open while dealing with their own problems. There’s about one love story too many plot-wise and extreme heteronormativity among all the characters, just FYI (the laws of probability should give us at least a few people who aren’t straight, the village isn’t that small). This was just the right book for the hot days of late summer with a glass of iced tea or lemonade.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.