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Posts from the ‘Non-1001 Book Review’ Category

Non 1001 Book Review: The Atomic Weight of Love Elizabeth Church

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The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J Church
Published in: 2016
Reviewed by: Book Worm
Rating: ★★★★
Find it here: The Atomic Weight of Love

This ARC was provided by Algonquin Books (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis from Goodreads: In her sweeping debut novel, Elizabeth J. Church takes us from the World War II years in Chicago to the vast sun-parched canyons of New Mexico in the 1970s as we follow the journey of a driven, spirited young woman, Meridian Wallace, whose scientific ambitions are subverted by the expectations of her era.

In 1941, at seventeen years old, Meridian begins her ornithology studies at the University of Chicago. She is soon drawn to Alden Whetstone, a brilliant, complicated physics professor who opens her eyes to the fundamentals and poetry of his field, the beauty of motion, space and time, the delicate balance of force and energy that allows a bird to fly.

Entranced and in love, Meridian defers her own career path and follows Alden west to Los Alamos, where he is engaged in a secret government project (later known to be the atomic bomb). In married life, though, she feels lost and left behind. She channels her academic ambitions into studying a particular family of crows, whose free life and companionship are the very things that seem beyond her reach. There in her canyons, years later at the dawn of the 1970s, with counterculture youth filling the streets and protests against the war rupturing college campuses across the country, Meridian meets Clay, a young geologist and veteran of the Vietnam War, and together they seek ways to mend what the world has broken.

Exquisitely capturing the claustrophobic eras of 1940s and 1950s America, The Atomic Weight of Love also examines the changing roles of women during the decades that followed. And in Meridian Wallace we find an unforgettable heroine whose metamorphosis shows how the women’s movement opened up the world for a whole generation.

Book Worm’s Thoughts: This is a thoughtful book about what it meant to be woman discovering yourself in the 1940’s. At first Meridian seems to have it all, a college education and a thesis studying the language and behavior of crows, and a man who loves and inspires her. However, things start going wrong after her marriage, when she discovers that she is expected to follow her man and sacrifice her dreams in the process.

Meridian is a strong character and she struggles with the confines life has put on her. She tries to be a happy and supportive wife but finds that this is hard to do when you harbor resentment and your husband is oblivious to your feelings. As the years progress we see Meridian sacrifice more and more for a marriage that will not bring her happiness. While I could have quite cheerfully left Alden alone in the desert, it is clear to the reader that despite his faults Meridian still loves the man she first met.

I loved the way each chapter opened with a description about various birds and the crow diaries that Meridian keeps are fascinating. I also liked the desert setting which really added to the feelings of isolation with which Meridian suffers. The title is also very apt as atoms are a central part of the story and the cover is intelligent as well as beautiful, I mean look at it!

Who would like this? Ultimately this is a book about one woman’s life and the choices she makes against the backdrop of what society expects. So I would recommend this to those who like stories with strong female characters and a feminist viewpoint.

Want to try it for yourself? You can find a copy here: The Atomic Weight of Love

We want to hear from you! Have you read this book? What did you think? 

The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

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The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan
Published in: 2013
Reviewed by: Book Worm
Rating: ★★★★
Find it here: The Valley of Amazement

Synopsis from Amazon (as Goodreads had too many spoilers): An expansive, heartbreaking novel from the internationally bestselling author of ‘The Joy Luck Club’.

In turn-of-the-century Shanghai, Violet Minturn is raised by her American mother, the mistress of the city’s most renowned courtesan house. When the revolution comes, a cruel deception forces Violet to become a virgin courtesan.

‘The Valley of Amazement’ is the story of three women, bound by blood and betrayal. But, as she struggles to understand her heritage, it is Violet’s determination to forge her own destiny that propels this bittersweet tale of family secrets, changing identities and lost love.

Book Worm’s Thoughts: I am counting this book for my read different challenge because the author is a female, first generation Asian American and the book is set in Shanghai (different from my own background and location).

I really loved the first 3/4 of this book as we followed Violet growing up in a high class courtesan house run by her American mother. We see how she copes with the change in circumstances that lead to her becoming a virgin courtesan herself.

The details about the life of the courtesans and the etiquette involved in courting a courtesan, as well as the details of what happens to the courtesans when they get older,  was detailed, colorful, and felt very genuine. The characters had a real depth, especially Magic Gourd, who becomes Violet’s best friend and mother figure. The clients were all different. Some were cruel, some kind, but all distinct from each other. The rival courtesans were portrayed as women who could understand each other and sympathise with each other but who would also stab each other in the back to save themselves. Jealousy and competition were rife and in a world where you are judged and valued by your beauty and the male attention you can get, this felt entirely believable.

I also liked the details about Chinese honour and the place of courtesans in family life. It was interesting to see what the change in regime meant for the foreigners who had made Shanghai their home.

I didn’t really enjoy the last 1/4 of the book which explained about the American side of the family. There was not so much depth to the descriptions of the landscape or to the characters and I was left feeling like this section was tacked on simply to tie up loose ends. I know some readers will love the ending, but I felt Violet’s story was enough on its own. That’s not to say the last 1/4 was bad. it just lacked the magic of the rest of the book.

Favourite Quotes:

“To save myself I destroyed another, and in doing so I destroyed myself”

“Only Americans think they have rights,” Magic Gourd said. “What  laws of heaven give you more rights and allow you to keep them? They are words on paper written by men who make them up and claim them. One day they will blow away, just like that.”

“How could any girl think this was a lucky life? And yet if I were Chinese and compared this life with all the possibilities, I, too, might believe over time that I was lucky to be here.”

“Remember this, Violet, when you step on the stage, you are not loved for who you are. When you stop off, you may not be loved at all.”

“I was most puzzled by my own reaction. No matter how American I was -or wanted to be-China was, in my heart, my homeland”

Who would like this book? I would recommend this to anyone who enjoyed Memoirs of a Geisha and to anyone with an interest in learning about Shanghai and the courtesan traditions. I would also recommend this to those who like strong female characters and the relationships between them.

Want to try it for yourself? You can find a copy here: The Valley of Amazement

We want to hear from you! Have you read this book? What did you think? Have you read others by Amy Tan? Which books of hers are your favorites? 

 

Non 1001 Book Review: Shylock is my Name Howard Jacobson

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After a run of Man Booker features we are slowly returning to our regular schedule. Book Worm read this book a while ago and has been waiting for me to get to it too. I have yet to crack open the book so rather than prolonging the process, we decided to go ahead and post her review. Here’s what she thought.

Shylock is my Name by Howard Jacobson
Published in: 2016
Reviewed by: Book Worm
Rating: ★★★
Find it here: Shylock is my name

Synopsis from Goodreads: Man Booker Prize-winner Howard Jacobson brings his singular brilliance to this modern re-imagining of one of Shakespeare’s most unforgettable characters: Shylock

Winter, a cemetery, Shylock. In this provocative and profound interpretation of “The Merchant of Venice,” Shylock is juxtaposed against his present-day counterpart in the character of art dealer and conflicted father Simon Strulovitch. With characteristic irony, Jacobson presents Shylock as a man of incisive wit and passion, concerned still with questions of identity, parenthood, anti-Semitism and revenge. While Strulovich struggles to reconcile himself to his daughter Beatrice’s “betrayal” of her family and heritage – as she is carried away by the excitement of Manchester high society, and into the arms of a footballer notorious for giving a Nazi salute on the field – Shylock alternates grief for his beloved wife with rage against his own daughter’s rejection of her Jewish upbringing. Culminating in a shocking twist on Shylock’s demand for the infamous pound of flesh, Jacobson’s insightful retelling examines contemporary, acutely relevant questions of Jewish identity while maintaining a poignant sympathy for its characters and a genuine spiritual kinship with its antecedent—a drama which Jacobson himself considers to be “the most troubling of Shakespeare’s plays for anyone, but, for an English novelist who happens to be Jewish, also the most challenging.”

Book Worm’s Thoughts: I am ambivalent towards this book. I spent a lot of time thinking would this make more sense if I had actually read The Merchant of Venice. Unlike The Gap of Time this is not a modernized retelling of the Shakespeare play. Instead it is a continuation of the play as we speculate about what happens after Shylock fails to receive his pound of flesh.

From what I can gather the central theme of The Merchant of Venice has stayed intact. There is a Jew who makes a bargain with a Christian which is reneged on, leading to the Jew’s public embarrassment. However, that Jewish man is not Shylock. Shylock has remained away from centre stage while directing the action. There is also the conflict between fathers and daughters suffered by both Shylock and his fellow Jew.

I found the beginning of the book confusing, however as it progressed I began to understand and enjoy it more. What did take away from my enjoyment was the anti-Jewish sentiments expressed by some of the characters. I do understand that these sentiments are central to the story but that doesn’t mean I have to like them.

What I did like about the book was Shylock’s interaction with his dead wife Leah. Although no longer physically here, spiritually she is beside Shylock trying to guide and comfort him. I also liked Shylock’s role as manipulator and conspirator.

This book is very well written I just never really warmed to it.

Who would like this book: I would say anyone like me who is reading the Shakespeare retold series and anyone who enjoyed The Merchant of Venice and wants a new perspective on it.

Want to try it for yourself? You can find a copy here: Shylock is my name.

We want to hear from you! Have you read this book? What did you think? 

Read Diverse LGBT: The Gilda Stories Jewelle Gomez

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June was Pride month and I was looking for something to read that would suit my mood and fit my “read different” goals. I came across this article 10 Books to Read for Pride Month and The Gilda Stories really caught my attention.  Read more

Blog Tour: The Jump by Doug Johnstone

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We are so excited to be involved with Doug Johnstone’s Blog Tour. Mr. Johnstone is an author of thrillers who has been praised by the likes of Ian Rankin and Irvine Welsh. He has written seven books including Gone Again, which is available in the U.S. He is also a freelance journalist, a songwriter and musician, and has a PhD in nuclear physics. He lives in Edinburgh, Scotland.

The Jump is his seventh novel and a fun summer read. Doug has been kind enough write a piece for us on his writing process, specifically he shares how writes about the character of place. I’d like to hand it over to him. At the end of his piece, I’ve included a link to other stops on his blog tour. You’ll also be able to enter to win a copy of The Jump.

Read more

Non 1001 Book Review: Vinegar Girl Anne Tyler

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Next week we should be starting to post some of our Man Booker longlist book reviews so stay tuned for those. Our panel of judges is working hard to work their way through the list. Our contributor Kate predicted this book might make the longlist. Book worm happened to have read it and here is her review… Read more

The Jump by Doug Johnstone

 

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We are excited to be participating in a blog tour for Doug Johnstone’s The Jump, a contemporary thriller with an unlikely heroine. Join us this Saturday for the blog tour when Doug will share his writing process with a focus on how he created a character of place within this novel. You will also be able to enter to win a copy of The Jump. Our contributor, Andrew, read the book. Here is his review… Read more

Nicole’s Reviews – Helter Skelter Vincent Bugliosi

*Caution: controversial (and contains spoilers, but … uh … it’s history so … spoiler alert?!)

tell me, tell me, tell me the answer

you may be a lover but you ain’t no dancer

Helter-Skelter-wallpaper-1-1400x900-1024x658 Read more

Non 1001 Book Review: Good Morning, Midnight Lily Brooks Dalton

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Good Morning Midnight  by Lily Brooks-Dalton
Published in: 2016
Reviewed by: Book Worm
Rating: ★★★
Find it here: Good Morning, Midnight

This ARC was provided by Orion Publishing Group (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis from Goodreads: Augustine, a brilliant, aging astronomer, is consumed by the stars. For years he has lived in remote outposts, studying the sky for evidence of how the universe began. At his latest posting, in a research center in the Arctic, news of a catastrophic event arrives. The scientists are forced to evacuate, but Augustine stubbornly refuses to abandon his work. Shortly after the others have gone, Augustine discovers a mysterious child, Iris, and realizes the airwaves have gone silent. They are alone.

At the same time, Mission Specialist Sullivan is aboard the Aether on its return flight from Jupiter. The astronauts are the first human beings to delve this deep into space, and Sully has made peace with the sacrifices required of her: a daughter left behind, a marriage ended. So far the journey has been a success, but when Mission Control falls inexplicably silent, Sully and her crew mates are forced to wonder if they will ever get home.

As Augustine and Sully each face an uncertain future against forbidding yet beautiful landscapes, their stories gradually intertwine in a profound and unexpected conclusion. In crystalline prose, Good Morning, Midnight poses the most important questions: What endures at the end of the world? How do we make sense of our lives?

Book Worm’s Thoughts: This book was not what I was expecting. When I read Artic “research centre”, “space shuttle”, and “catastrophic event” I expected more to happen in terms of action. Almost nothing does happen. Instead, this is a slow-paced character study of how isolation on Earth and in space affects people, especially when it appears that the rest of the population has vanished.

The story is told from two perspective, in alternating chapters. We have events in the Artic from Augustine’s perspective and then we have the same time period but in space from Sully’s perspective. As the stories evolve, we are drawn into the deepest thoughts and concerns of the characters. As we learn more about the lives of Sully and Augustine, we begin to understand how they have both ended up where they are.

I liked the use of both the Arctic and space as settings since both locations demonstrated how it was possible to be entirely alone with no idea of what was happening in the world.  The descriptions of both environments felt very genuine and highly detailed. The characters were well rounded and flawed and as such they felt very authentic too. I like the way the author ended the book without tying everything up in a nice bow. This kept the realistic feeling of the book.

However, there was one thing that really bugged me and that was the fact that the author couldn’t decide whether the character should be called Augustine or Augie. Within the space of a few sentences, both names were regularly being used. There may have been a point to this switching, possibly to show the confusion caused by isolation, but as a reader I found this switch annoying and puzzling. Maybe it’s just me.

Who would enjoy this book? If you are looking for an action packed adventure story then give this one a miss. Likewise if you are looking for a new way the world could end forget it! If you like stories about people and their motivations, what drives them to do what they do, what they will sacrifice to achieve their dreams, and how they survive when it seems hope is gone then give it a go.

Want to try it for yourself? You can find a copy here: Good Morning, Midnight

We want to hear from you! Have you read this book? What did you think? 

 

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

 

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Shame on me but I’d never heard of Blake Crouch until I saw this book being promoted at Book Expo this year. I like speculative fiction (Margaret Atwood is one of my favorite authors) but I don’t typically read too many books that fall into the genre. I went into this book knowing little to nothing about it and here’s what I thought… Read more