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Blood-Drenched Beard: A Novel
Blood-Drenched Beard: A Novel
by Daniel Galera
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.86

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Can I GIve It 6 Stars?, December 15, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Blood-Drenched Beard is - let me say it straight out - an extraordinary book. It's a book about the limitations of memory, the inevitability of fate, the distinction between myth and legend, and the boundaries of forgiveness.

And if all that sounds too heavy, let me add that it's an extremely accessible tale, expertly translated, with a unique and original character that earns his place as one of the more memorable protagonists in contemporary literature.

The character is unnamed. We know that he is somewhat unmoored, an excellent ocean swimmer, who moves to the Atlantic resort town of Garopaba with his father's old dog Beta after his father kills himself. The town is stingy with its secrets; the man's grandfather, a larger-than-life old gaucho, was supposedly murdered there by fellow villagers. Or was he?

The young man is not only nameless, he also suffers from a rare neurological condition called prosopagnosia; he cannot recall faces, even his own. While he struggles with his own congenital memory black-out, the village seems to suffer from its own; no one can quite remember much about the grandfather and how he died.

In many ways, the character's trajectory resembles Joseph Campell's The Hero's Journey. In this archetypal monomyth, the hero receives a call - a call that he at first ignores - to head off into the unknown. There his guide or magical helper (Beta) appears and together, they cross the threshold into danger, facing a series of tasks and ordeals. In the end, the hero returns, free from the fear of death...which in turn gives him the freedom to live authentically.

Our character is given this advice: "Don't invest too much energy in these things. Folk tales can bury reality forever. You'll only be able to reconstruct what really happened up to a certain point. The rest becomes legend." On his Hero's Journey, our hero discovers the stuff that legends are made of. The tale is mythic and yet grounded and in many ways, foretold and fated.

The book is also beautifully atmospheric. I felt I was right there in Garopaba, and could smell the salty ocean and hear the resort sounds. And any avid dog-lover will connect to this core story of a man and his dog.

One more thing I feel compelled to mention. The Guardian's Justin Cartwright wrote a particularly mean-spirited review about the "shameful translation." I've read a number of translated books and this translation - by Alison Entrekin - is absolutely luminous, drawing me into the novel without hitting a false note. The new year isn't even upon us yet and I think I can safely say that this book will be in my Top Ten for 2015. Bravo!
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 16, 2014 5:41 AM PST


Carson Mustache LumiFlex LED Lighted Book Light
Carson Mustache LumiFlex LED Lighted Book Light
Offered by OpticsPlanet, Inc
Price: $9.99
2 used & new from $9.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best booklight I've ever used, December 12, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
As an avid reader -- I read at least a book a week -- I've been through a number of booklights. My go-to, up to this point, was the Mighty Bright. But this Carson Lumiflex puts it to shame. In fact, it's the best book light I've ever used. Why? For one thing, it has two ultra-bright LED lights, not just one. As a result, I can read quite easily without squinting or eyestrain, even in a very dark room. For another, it's flexible. With a longer-than-average "neck", I'm able to position it from left page to right page with great ease. And lastly, the clip-on feature is the most sturdy I've seen. Last night, I tried it on a print book AND on my Kindle, and it worked well on both. The two 2CR2032 batteries are included. Definitely recommended.


The Jump Artist
The Jump Artist
by Austin Ratner
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.45
102 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "We value the truth or we value nothing...", December 11, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: The Jump Artist (Paperback)
The Jump Artist has so much promise that it pains me to give it less than 5 stars. In the opening author’s note, Austin Ratner quotes Andre Gide: “Fiction is history that might have taken place, and history is fiction which has taken place.” Using that definition, The Jump Artist is based on history: Philipp Halsmann, a 22-year-old Jewish Latvian young man, joins his father for a hike in the Tyrolean Alps. His father temporarily wanders off and is murdered. Despite woefully lacking evidence, Philipp is falsely accused and jailed.

The ensuing story – taking up about half of the book – boggles the mind. In the anti-Semitic Austria of the late 1920s, Halsman is convicted not just once but twice – a foreshadow of the horrific excesses of Nazism. As Halsmann’s lawyer states, “The values that matter here are not the values of Jews or Latvians or Russians or Poles or Swiss or French. The values that matter here are Austrian values, and we value the truth or we have nothing. We may mean well, but without the truth, we could murder our own flock out of fears of mange, when the real culprit may be a wolf.”

Halsmann’s miscarriage of justice attracts the attention of intellectuals the world over, including Albert Einstein. Indeed, the opening of each chapter incorporates true quotations from Halsmann and other key protagonists in this sorry situation.

Had I stopped half-way through, I would have rated this book with the highest star rating. But the second half of the book then moves on to Halsmann’s post-jail life as a famous photographer (Philipp Halsman becomes a well-known portrait photographer of luminaries that include Marilyn Monroe). His character becomes surprisingly inert. I did not gain a sense of Halsmann’s own internal struggles after such a life-scarring event; rather, Halsmann (Philippe Halsman after arriving in France), seems like a one-dimensional character and there’s little sense of connection with his readers.

I suspect that Austin Ratner relies too heavily on the research (not unlike, say, Cold Mountain, which – in my mind – was similarly inert). I wanted Mr. Ratner to dig deeper into the man who was determined to succeed despite the damning label of patricide and the knowledge of the world’s cruelties. I almost felt as if I were reading two books.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 12, 2014 6:01 AM PST


The Diving Pool: Three Novellas
The Diving Pool: Three Novellas
by Stephen Snyder
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.10
88 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A chilling precursor to Revenge, December 9, 2014
Last year, I read Yoko Ogawa’s newest collection, Revenge – spare and unsettling tales of emotionally damaged individuals that contrast elegant prose with often bizarre situations.

The Diving Pool, written nearly a quarter century earlier, provides a context for Ms. Ogawa’s trajectory as a writer. It offers three novellas that start out gently and gradually build in intensity while maintaining their dreamlike state.

In the first, a truculent teen named Aya is obsessed with her younger foster brother, Jun, a diver. As the “only child who is not an orphan” in the orphanage run by her sanctimonious parents, Aya is teeming with resentment…which eventually plays out in near-tragic cruelty to a little girl. Aya is eventually deprived of the illusion of Jun’s comfort: “If he had attacked me outright, I might have been able to defend myself. Instead, he exposed my secret as if offering himself to me.”

Pregnancy Diary, the second of the three, also presents an emotionally detached narrator (as do many of the tales in Revenge). Like the stories in Revenge, food is focal point. When the unnamed narrator’s sister recovers from several months of early pregnancy nausea, the narrator sadistically begins feeding her sister huge quantities of grapefruit jam. “She ate spoonful after spoonful. Her protruding belly made her look almost arrogant as she stood there by the stove, pouring the sticky globs of fruit down her throat. As I studies the last puddles of jam trembling slightly at the bottom of the pan, I wondered whether PWH could really destroy chromosomes.”

Lastly, in Dormitory, a wife – who will soon be joining her husband in Sweden – helps her young out-of-town cousin secure a room in her old college dormitory. There she becomes reacquainted with the manager, a dying triple amputee with one leg. As she becomes drawn into his mad world, the nightmare begins to engulf her.

These novellas are haunting and certainly set the stage for Yoko Ogawa’s later work with three alienated “watchers” whose emotions simmer beneath the surface.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 12, 2014 7:29 AM PST


ERGObaby Organic Bundle of Joy, Navy
ERGObaby Organic Bundle of Joy, Navy
Price: $169.99
6 used & new from $169.00

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ergobaby does EVERYTHING right!, December 7, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
WHOA, baby! This Ergonomic Carrier Bundle of Joy – a baby carrier combined with a new infant insert -- lives up to its name for any new mom who is seeking ultra-comfort and support.

Here are a few reasons I love it: first of all, it’s ergonomic – it’s good for both mom and baby. The baby is held in a natural sitting position so he is comfortably bundled without being cramped. And for mom, there’s a cushy padded waist belt and shoulder straps. As a result, baby’s weight is balanced between hips and shoulders, which means no more aching back (which is a great relief!)

Then there’s the texture – soft organic cotton. There’s no stiffness; it instantly breaks in and machine washes well. The body material is 100% organic cotton canvas and the lining material is 100% organic cotton poplin so no worrying about sensitive new skin becoming chafed.

Another great feature: the shoulder straps are cushy and easily adjust. Even if dad is an entire foot taller than mom, it’s easy to adjust the shoulder strap so that anyone – even a pre-teen sister or brother – can help calm baby and feel close to him.

Also, there’s an easily removable Ergobaby insert – great for extra cradling. The padded back supports the baby’s natural curved spine and an adjustable neck cushion gives extra cradling. The insert can even be used on its own to bring the newborn home!

Ergobaby just does everything right. There’s the peace of mind of knowing that baby is truly supported, and the comfort and convenience of being able to carry little ones for hours on end…and, at the same time, having hands free to take care of other matters (like feeding an older sister!) It’s great for calming down fussy babies and it’s perfect for nursing moms.


There's Something I Want You to Do: Stories
There's Something I Want You to Do: Stories
by Charles Baxter
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Virtues + Vices = A Feast, December 3, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Charles Baxter has a knack for taking disparate characters and weaving them into an almost dreamlike tapestry. It's why I was a huge fan of his novel, Feast of Love, for which he was a finalist for the National Book Award. In his new short story collection, there are threads of that work.

The stories are interrelated and organized into Virtues (Bravery, Loyalty, Chastity, Charity and Forbearance) and vices (Lust Sloth, Avarice, Gluttony, Vanity). But, of course, it's not as cut and dry as that. Characters appear and reappear. For instance, in the first story, we met a doctor named Elijah--the same name as the prophet and wonder-worker - who appears in several of the stories. Is he great and righteous or flawed despite his healing powers? Gradually, we learn more and more about him.

It's the title, though, that is the key to each of these stories. In every story, the key character is approached by another, who, in effect, tells him/her, "There something I want you to do." Whether it's to see that person's authentic self, take an emotional risk, help the character through a crisis, conduct a rescue or something else, this becomes a distinctly moral book, but not in a preachy way.

Mr. Baxter is too good a writer to provide easy answers; his focus is on the ambiguity of life, the crossroads that we all reach. Whether he's writing about a broken-hearted architect who stops a woman - a stand-up comic - from jumping off a bridge to the doctor coming across Alfred Hitchcock's ghost, these are brave little stories that build in momentum as the collection progresses. A little skeptical at first - these stories whisper, don't scream -- I found myself falling under its spell the more I read.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 3, 2014 6:34 AM PST


Authenticity
Authenticity
by Deirdre Madden
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.50
49 used & new from $1.21

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Portrait of the Artist, November 30, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Authenticity (Paperback)
All too often, when novelists write about the artistic process, they treat it as if it is a Serious, Weighty Matter. (I'm thinking of novels like The Blazing World, for one.) As a result, we, as readers, never get the sense of well-rounded characters.

For the most part, Deirdre Madden gets it right. In Authenticity, we meet three artists: Roderic Kennedy, whose single-minded passion for his art has turned him into a success but who leaves behind a broken marriage and severe bouts with alcoholism in its wake...his much younger lover, Julia Fitzpatrick, who is also driven by her artistic muse and who may very well be at a breakthrough in her career...and William, the man she chances upon who has relegated his muse to second place as he dutifully follows his destiny to money and position.

When Julia meets William on a park bench, she senses that he is despairing and quite possibly suicidal. She befriends him; while her relationship isn't sexual, it offers the reader a contrast between the two men. Roderic is - quite literally - bigger than life, a giant of a man with a great sense of charisma. William, who has not followed his art (and his heart), is more diminutive, drained of a joie d'vivre and a reason to live.

The theme is summed up at one point by Roderic: "Unfortunately, William really has made a huge mistake. He's done the wrong thing. It isn't just what he thinks he's wasted his life, he knows he's wasted his life...It's not enough to have a gift. You have to have the courage of your gift as well."

Art, Ms. Madden suggests, is giving up something private and precious. The pursuit of art to someone with the calling is not optional; at least, not if the artist wishes to live an authentic life. Art does not serve the artist; the artist serves the art. In a particularly illuminating passage, Roderic muses, "He thought of his painting as though it were a flame, a fragile lit thing that he had guarded with his life. Entrusted to him, he had succeeded in keeping it from being extinguished in spite of the winds and storms through which he had carried it; in return, down through the years, it had afforded him a subtle and complex joy."

This is a stunningly accurate portrait of the artist. Even though the characters tend to be more reserved - more distanced - than I typically like, the portrayal of those for whom art serves is extraordinarily well done. Definitely recommended.


Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel, 1.7 Ounce
Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel, 1.7 Ounce
Price: $18.98
10 used & new from $12.50

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Refreshing and Silky...But Not Really A 24-Hour Hydration Boost, November 27, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Right around this time of year, my skin begins drying up because of the brutal Chicago winds and I need to “help it along” with a little extra moisturizer. Neutrogena has – in my opinion – a well-deserved reputation for offering quality products at a reasonable cost and I was eager to give this new product a try.

Hydro Boost comes in attractive packaging and the jar feels substantive; the scent is quite fresh and appealing. The gel moisturizer is lighter than air and my thirsty skin lapped it up; in no time, it dries to matte finish. It absorbs completely into the skin without a greasy or heavy residue.

I’m not quite so sure the product delivers on its hydro boost promise, though. Certainly it absorbs beautifully and the texture and slight chill made me feel as if I were giving my dehydrated skin a refreshing drink. But it doesn’t quite have the 24-hour hydration affect of my Blue Lagoon product (from Iceland) that makes my skin feel moisturized and soft all day long. I’d recommend it for women who need mild hydration or have slightly oiler skin or are seeking a very light moisturizer. One more thing: unlike many moisturizers on the market, this one has no sunscreen so if UV protection is important to you, you might want to look elsewhere.


Swissmar SBB8703 3-Piece Mini Cheese Knife Block Set
Swissmar SBB8703 3-Piece Mini Cheese Knife Block Set
Price: $34.25
2 used & new from $17.13

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Say CHEESE!, November 26, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Wow, what a find! My husband and I love to have friends over before – or after – an evening out for wine and cheese. But despite our best intentions, we never got around to replacing our mismatched cheese knives and forks.

This 3-piece mini cheese knife block set is great. First, it’s attractive and compact so it sits easily on or near a cheese tray for convenient serving. Magnets hold the petite cheese knife (for hard cheese), petite cheese fork, and petite parmesan cheese knife right in place and after the utensil is used, it can be easily placed back in a jiffy. As a result, it’s great for fun get-togethers and afterwards, it’s easy to clean and takes up very little counter space. With its attractive walnut look, it looks more expensive than it is. WAY cool!


Black River
Black River
by S. M. Hulse
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "A man like that doesn't deserve to believe...", November 24, 2014
This review is from: Black River (Hardcover)
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Brick-and-mortar prisons have long been used in books as a metaphor for a character's own sense of emotional imprisonment, and so it is here, in S.M. Hulse's assured debut.

We learn early on that former CO (corrections officer) Wes Carver, a stoic man with a stronger sense of right and wrong than most, has long been emotionally imprisoned by a fateful few days where he was held hostage in a prison riot. During that time, his fingers were shattered, depriving him of his greatest joy in life: playing his father's handcrafted fiddle, which he did exceedingly well. When we first meet up with him, he has suffered another massive loss: the death of his wife Claire from leukemia.

This opening setup brings Wes back to his hometown Black River to bury his wife and come face-to-face with his estranged stepson Dennis - now grown -- and also his memories: his torturer is now up for parole.

The rest of the plotting is for the reader to discover. The themes are fair game, and they are universal: is there ever a point when a bad person is entitled to forgiveness? The inmate Williams claims to have found God, but as Wes relates to his pastor, "A man like that doesn't deserve to believe when I spent my whole life trying and still can't do it."

Black River explores what is justice. Can a brutal inmate be freed from the physical walls that surround him when his victim is placed forever into an emotional prison of his own? What is the appropriate punishment when an inmate takes away the only voice that Wes Carver really has - his eloquent fiddle playing (in contrast to his often ineloquent speech). What does it take to move on and is there ever a sense of redemption and self-forgiveness?

From time to time, the plotting is a little too defined (for example, both Wes and his stepson play out their ancient battle through a damaged teen named Scott. Dennis becomes a surrogate father while Wes sets himself up as a mentor). But for the most part, this is a wonderful debut that portends great things for Ms. Hulse.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 25, 2014 6:18 AM PST


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