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Best Money Belt For Travel - Hidden Pouch For Traveling - Premium Undercover Document Holder Wallet - With Gift MONEY CLIP and Lifetime Warranty
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great hands-free, secure travel, April 23, 2015
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The Seven Good Years: A Memoir
The Seven Good Years: A Memoir
by Etgar Keret
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.86

3.0 out of 5 stars Well-written but I wanted greater depth, April 22, 2015
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A memoir is a different animal than a work of fiction. It demands a great deal of self-exposure and vulnerability from the writer without crossing the line into pathos and navel-gazing. It must, I believe, expose the author’s humanity while retaining his core essence.

Etgar Keret is a powerful writer. I was most impressed with his short-story collection, a feat of imagination titled Suddenly, A Knock on the Door. I’ve heard him speak in person and was charmed by his honesty, wryness, and authenticity despite so much absurdity in the world. Put another way, I instinctively liked Etgar Keret and sensed he was the genuine article. I wanted to find out more.

What I find in The Seven Good Years is reason to once again respect Etgar Keret’s writing. The bizarre and sometimes satirical humor is on full display: his son Lev, who makes his debut in the midst of one more senseless terrorist attack, a lamented sister who becomes Hasidic, an irrepressible father who fights cancer, a number of frequented writer workshops and readings. There are funny vignettes of Etgar Keret dodging a telemarketer who is determined to grab his attention, an unsettling talk with other parents about their toddlers eventual military service, and the befriending of cabbies with bursting bladders.

There is a sweetness of sorts in Etgar Keret’s worldview, a touch of the inane, and a generous look at the foibles of family, companion writers, passer-bys in life, and himself. What there isn’t a whole lot of is exposure. This is a memoir that could pass as fictional vignettes. I never get a deep sense of the man behind the words and often felt I was skimming the surface.

I contrast this memoir to Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart – another writer who appreciates and captures a sense of the absurd. Mr. Shteyngart achieved that rare balancing act: his memoir retained the humor that permeated his fiction while also being poignant and unflinchingly honest. When I closed the book, I had a sense of knowing the author, flaws and all. With Mr. Keret’s memoir, there are genuinely poignant and understated moments (for instance, a time when his young son Lev refuses to take shelter during an air-raid until Etgar Keret and his wife create a game of “Pastrami Sandwich”, in which they’re the bread and he lies between them), but I ended up wanting more meat, less bread.


The Days of Abandonment
The Days of Abandonment
by Elena Ferrante
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.76
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Freefall into hell, April 19, 2015
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If The Days of Abandonment were a theatrical play instead of a novel, it would have to be performed in one act. Once begun, it is impossible to wrench oneself away from the extraordinary power of a this narrative of a 40-ish woman who navigates Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s four stage of grief (denial, anger, depression and acceptance).

In clear and non-pitying prose, Olga relates this: “One April afternoon, right after lunch, my husband announced that he wanted to leave me. He did it while we were clearing the table; the children were quarreling as usual in the next room, the dog was dreaming, growling beside the radiator…Then he assumed the blame for everything that was happening and closed the front door carefully behind him, leaving me turned to stone beside the sink.”

Ms. Ferrante is unsparing in her portrait of Olga, without turning this into a maudlin tale or a “poor pity me, the victim” type of story. First of all, the prose is precise and exquisite (examples: Olga’s husband blew away the past “as if it were a nasty insect that has landed on your hand.” Or this: “In those long hours I was the sentinel of grief, keeping watch along with a crowd of dead words.” Or this: “Starting at a certain point, the future is only a need to live in the past. To immediately redo the grammatical tenses.”)

As Olga falls into the void – the “absence of sense” – she falls into a frenzy of self-loathing and inertia. It take a strong stomach to read about her attempt to seduce a neighbor in a near-parody of what “making love” is really all about. During the end of that passage, it becomes clear that Olga’s “days of abandonment” are not caused by her husband Mario’s departure; rather, they are caused by her abandonment of herself. While she reaches rock bottom, she is also responsible for her young son and daughter and the innocent dog with “good dog eyes”, Otto. One feels their sense of confusion and betrayal as well – and commiserates.

I have never read Elena Ferrante before and have rarely read a book with such raw honesty and such ferocious power. I am, fortunately, happily married but anyone who has ever suffered feelings of betrayal (and all of us do, at some point in our lives, through husbands, family members, friends) will gasp in shock at the authenticity of Days of Abandonment. I believe it’s a masterpiece.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 23, 2015 4:56 AM PDT


The Rocks: A Novel
The Rocks: A Novel
by Peter Nichols
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.48

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Rocking Good Story, April 9, 2015
This review is from: The Rocks: A Novel (Hardcover)
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What’s the next best thing to a tropical vacation in Mallorca? Perhaps reading this idyllic book, where the ocean breezes sooth you and the sun illuminates the crevices and rocks. Within this wondrous setting, Peter Nichols gives his readers a passport to an alluring world where family legacy is carefully guarded and preserved.

From the opening pages where two elderly people meet an untimely death to flashbacks that provide insight into the mysteries of their ill-fated romance, this love story moves backwards, not unlike Jim Crace’s Being Dead, to reveal its secrets. I read on and on, not to find out what will happen but to discover WHY it happened. It’s got more gravitas than you’d expect from what may have been an enjoyable beach reader in lesser hands.


Eileen: A Novel
Eileen: A Novel
by Ottessa Moshfegh
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.23

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The self-loathing narrator, April 8, 2015
This review is from: Eileen: A Novel (Hardcover)
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As a reader, I’ve encountered Eileen before. She’s a kissing cousin to Rose Baker, a typist in the NYC Police Department in Suzanne Rindell’s The Other Typist. Like Rose, Eileen works in a seedy environment –a juvenile correctional facility for teenage boys outside Boston – and is flattered and enchanted when another woman, one who is brighter and more beautiful – takes a special interest in her.

The problem is, unlike Rose – who is a complex and fluid character – Eileen’s predominant trait is extreme self-loathing. Over and over, she obsesses on her how dull and anonymous she is, particularly fixating on her appearance: “I was thin, my figure was jagged, my movements pointy and hesitant my posture stiff. The terrain of my ace was heavy with soft, rumbling acne scars…” When focusing on her female attributes, her rage and self-hatred rises to a peak.

Of course, she has reason for all this self-hatred. Her father spews verbal venom on her, hating her very existence. (Her mother, an alcoholic, died years ago). But for almost half of the book, we are inside Eileen’s head, captive to the excesses of self-disdain without respite until we want to say, “Enough! We get it!” Now, don’t get me wrong. I have a very high tolerance for dark books (I’m a big fan, for example, of Donald Roy Pollack) but in this case, I did not sense the nuances that made me really care about Eileen in any sense (either liking or disliking her).

The story picks up when Rebecca enters the scene. The interplay between the two women does rise to Hitchcock standards, as Eileen is drawn into Rebecca’s own sense of weirdness. The last 100 pages are suspenseful in a creepy sort of way as the psychological underpinnings become undone. But for me, it was too little, too late. I wanted more.


Music for Wartime: Stories
Music for Wartime: Stories
by Rebecca Makkai
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.86

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hits All The Right Notes, April 2, 2015
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There are only two types of stories in this splendid collection. Great ones. And outstanding ones. Truly, there is not a clunker in the batch.

Typically, in reviewing a short story collection, I start out with my favorites. But I’d be hard put to choose from among 17 stories (including some short-shorts inspired by Rebecca Makkai’s own colorful family history. Among the most memorable for me: “Couple of Lovers On A Red Background”, which starts, “I’ve been calling him Bach so far, at least in my head, but now that he’s started wearing my husband’s clothes and learned to work a coffeemaker, I feel it’s time to call him Johann.” Yes, indeed, THAT Johann Bach, the 18th century German musician who is living in the piano of a young woman who gradually seduces him. I’ll leave it right there so that others can discover the fun twists.

Then there’s Painted Ship, Painted Ocean; an assistant professor kills the proverbial albatross – literally – discovering to her dismay that she’s known all along that “one little thing gone wrong in her world could unravel absolutely everything else.’ There’s also “The Miracle Years of Little Fork” – a naïve Reverend tries to be useful in a small town where an elephant keels over during the final circus performance and dies of heatstroke. Like in Painted Ship, Painted Ocean, this one event starts a chain reaction, eventually creating a crisis in faith. The Reverend muses, “This was the thing about a crack in faith, he knew, the way one small fissure could spread and crumble the whole thing into a pile of rocks…”

There is irreverence here, flights of imagination, an ample dose of intelligent wit, and a marvel at how little things can quickly become big things or cause major insights. In “The Worst You’ll Ever Feel”, a young boy suddenly gains crystal-clear insight about his dad’s flight to the U.S. when a famous Romanian violinist plays a concert in their home after years of incarceration. In “Good Saint Anthony Come Around”, set at the height of the AIDS crisis, one gay man reflects on another man who always had good fortune when “my only magic was in survival.”

To say I’m blown away with this collection is an understatement. It’s the best short story collection I’ve read in quite some time – and I’ve read some good ones!
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 23, 2015 7:36 AM PDT


The Sunlit Night
The Sunlit Night
by Dinerstein Rebecca
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.26

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Going The Distance To Find Oneself, March 31, 2015
This review is from: The Sunlit Night (Hardcover)
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How far would a person go to get in touch with himself or herself again? This is the core theme of The Sunlit Night, in which two broken and unmoored individuals – 21-year-old Frances and 17-year-old Yasha – find comfort in each other at the “top of the world” above the Arctic Circle in Norway.

Rebecca Dinerstein spent significant time in Norway and it shows. The barren and isolated Arctic landscape mirrors the starkness of Frances and Yasha’s internal selves and provides a backdrop for them to infuse authentic meaning into their lives. Frances has arrived there from NYC to serve as an apprentice to an up-and-coming Norwegian artist who is becoming known for his yellow murals after leaving her boyfriend and finding out about her parents’ impending divorce. Yasha goes there to bury his beloved father Vassily, the owner of a NY bakery, who expressed a wish to be buried “on top of the world”; he has long been estranged from his mother.

“It was as if they were all waking up, waking up their bodies, each still grappling with a question from a dream,” Ms. Dinerstein writes. In this land of isolation where the sun never sets, the two come together to realize gain an understanding that even in times of darkness (death, loss, abandonment), there is always light that shines through. At the same time, they learn to redefine what the word “home” means when that concept is challenged.

The novel is peopled with eccentric and whimsical characters, most of whom fade into the backdrop (with the except of their respective parents). At times, the backstories seem a little derivative; as readers, these New York Jewish characters have been encountered in various iterations and their virtual yet metaphorical journey has also been witnessed in many books such as Richard Wagamese’s excellent Medicine Walk.

Still, there’s something that tugs at the heart in getting to know Frances and Yasha and the haunting landscape continues to mesmerize. This sunlit night illuminates the things that really matter.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 12, 2015 6:39 AM PDT


The Shore: A Novel
The Shore: A Novel
by Sara Taylor
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.63

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Am ambitious work of real talent, March 29, 2015
This review is from: The Shore: A Novel (Hardcover)
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There are many characters that populate this very assured debut novel, but none of them is more enduring and unforgettable than the shore itself. Within these chapters, characters ebb and flow like the ocean, plunging in head first to reveal themselves to the reader and then receding to safe (or not so safe) shore.

Indeed, the structure of the book follows this ebb and flow, starting in current times, heading back to 1876, advancing to a horrific dystopian future over 100 years from now and then leaving shreds of hope. If you enjoy linear books, this is not a novel for you. However, if you have a high tolerance for books that flow seamlessly back and forth before revealing all their secrets, you’re going to love this one.

Ms. Taylor writes, “The Shore is flat as a fried egg; on a clear day from one upstairs porch it feels like you can see into tomorrow, and usually you can just about see the smart smear that is Chincoteague Island off to the northeast. We are one of three islands, off the coast of Virginia and just south of Maryland, trailing out into the Atlantic Ocean like someone’s dripped paint.”

The island comes alive under Ms. Taylor’s deft hand: the smell of the salt water, the crabs crawling up the shore, the noxious smell of Perdue chicken from the killing factory. All the while, the author integrates different styles and tenses: from historical to suspenseful, from southern-gothic to dystopian, from fantastical to conventional. There’s also more than a wisp of feminism philosophy contained within: many of these woman are fighting for survival and self-actualization and a few have special skills such as herb doctoring and controlling the weather. As the novel progresses, clues are dropped how all these stories link and a more universal theme is introduced.

One of the reasons I chose The Shore is that it was compared to David Mitchell and Jennifer Egan’s works. I’m a fan of both. However, I did not really see the connection to either, except for the more experimental form of storytelling. If I had to compare to another author, it would be Flannery O’Connor with a touch of Margaret Atwood and Alice Hoffman. Sara Taylor knows how to tell a story, to rev up the reader’s interest, and importantly, she knows how to sock the reader right between the eyes with some of her story endings.

It’s an imaginative novel, inventive, creative, and beautifully controlled and paced by the author. By the third or fourth chapter, I was willing to suspend belief and let Sara Taylor take me anywhere she chose to go.
Comment Comments (12) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 24, 2015 8:39 PM PDT


I Am Radar: A Novel
I Am Radar: A Novel
by Reif Larsen
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $22.64
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "The audience can decide what it means.", March 24, 2015
This review is from: I Am Radar: A Novel (Hardcover)
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I Am Radar reminds me of a big, frisky St. Bernard puppy who wants to be loved and who ends up making you laugh with delight at all its tricks. What words would I use to describe the novel? Audacious, swaggering, inimitable, bold, ambitious…well, you get the drift.

Despite over 650 pages, it’s remarkably easy to read. The prose is confident and accessible, and the pages are rife with diagrams, newspaper snippets and photos (reminding me just a tad of Marisha Pessl’s Night Film, both in scope and in presentation). And the opening – the birth of Radar Radmanovic, an ebony-black young boy born of two lily-white parents at the height of a New Jersey blackout – gently calls to mind John Irving’s The World According to Garp.

The plot is – to put it mildly – convoluted. Radar’s mother Charlene is obsessed with finding an answer to her son’s blackness, eventually traveling to Norway to meet with some avant-garde scientists, studying altered skin pigmentation. They’re very eager to test out their electrical experiments on him; the results end up opening up a new set of challenges for Radar.

Interspersed with this rather straightforward story, Reif Larsen weaves others: the tale of the Danilovic brothers during the Bosnian war, a look at Cambodian-born physicist Raksmey Raksmey and his adoptive father who believes “all children are experiments.” And interspersed with THAT are studies of performance art – particularly puppetry drama in war zones, quantum physics, father/son dynamics, the definition and costs of liberty and freedom and a whole lot more…including whether puppets are freer than the humans who manipulate them.

The book is so brash and so creatively engineered that it can be easy to forgive its excesses. And there ARE excesses: too much bloat (I could definitely see places where an editor’s firm hand would have been welcome), and times when I felt too distanced from the key character – Radar – because of the 100 pages or so that took me away from the key story. The descriptions of the enigmatic Kirkenesferda – artists and political operatives staging interventions and needing Radar to be part of them – can, at times, plunge the reader (as well as Radar) into the dark.

About half way through, I became a little exhausted with everything going on and put the book down to read another. But then I felt compelled to go back to it and take up where I left off. It’s that kind of book-- fun to read, a little demanding, but ultimately, a feat of imagination.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 29, 2015 6:44 PM PDT


In the Country: Stories
In the Country: Stories
by Mia Alvar
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.86

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hard to believe it's a debut!, March 22, 2015
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I went into this short story collection with few expectations. The draw for me was that this collection was purported to be about character-driven stories focusing on Filipinas from every walk of life. During the past few years, I’ve had the privilege of interacting with a number of Filipinas and wanted to know more about the culture.

Much to my delight, In the Country is a confidently written – scratch that, at times, stunningly written – debut collection with a writer who is primed to take her place with some of my favorites: Jhumpa Lahiri, Tobias Wolff, Francesca Marciano, Claire Vaye Watkins, and Jean Thompson (Alice Munro, of course, is in a class by herself.)

There is almost an O. Henry twist in some of the stories. Most of them focus on the masks we wear, the impenetrability of who we really are – and in that, these vignettes are universal. Elegantly, Mia Alvar explores her Filipina protagonists from all angles – from rich to poor, healthy to disabled, working class to politicians, from expats living in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. to those who remained “in the country.”

In “The Miracle Worker”, for example, Sally is a special-education teacher who is asked to perform a miracle with her young student, a severely disabled young daughter of a wealthy mother who believes she can buy a new reality. The insights into her characters took my breath away. In another, “The Kontrabida”, a pharmacist from the east coast goes home to the Philippines with stolen sedatives to help his mother deal with a tyrannical dying father. In the process, he learns something he never suspected about his mother. In “A Contract Overseas”, a scholarship college student who worships her philandering older brother who works in Saudi Arabia creates versions of his life to keep him alive and safe. And in “The Virgin of Monte Ramon”, a disabled and shunned teenage boy learns this lesson: “Adults I had relied on to explain the world and my life for me – especially when children made that world and life so hostile – had kept the truth from me, then wrecked the fantasy that had replaced it.”

These are just a few of the gems in store for readers. What is illuminated the most is how we often hide behind our stories and fantasies to survive…how reality often shifts from what we believe…how we search for a version of our authentic selves. It’s hard to believe this is Mia Alvar’s first book.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 22, 2015 8:19 AM PDT


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