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The Tsar of Love and Techno: Stories
The Tsar of Love and Techno: Stories
by Anthony Marra
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.63
51 used & new from $13.27

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Even Better than Constellation, October 8, 2015
If there was any doubt that Anthony Marra was a writer to be reckoned with after A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, his ambitious new book should dispel the last of it.

These nine interconnected stories – to my mind, a novel – are masterful. Its theme might be summed up in this sentence: “Nadya knew the sensation, the eeriness of discovering a corresponding point between past and present, of realizing that not all memory is mirage.”

Indeed it’s not. In the first story, set in Leningrad in 1937, Roman Markin, a virtuoso artist-turned-censor, specializes in removing those who have fallen from favor from photographs to ensure those photographs are politically correct. Gradually he begins to insert his own brother’s face, one of the purged, as well as a talented ballerina he’s erasing. He reflects, “For art to be the chisel that breaks the marble inside us, the artist musts first become the hammer.”

All stories flow from this one. In Granddaughters, the next story, we meet Galina, the ballerina’s beautiful granddaughter, who captures the Miss Siberia crown and moving up in life while her first love, Kolya, is sent to fight in Chechnya.

In the particularly poignant A Prisoner of the Caucasus, we meet up with Kolya and his fellow prisoner Danilo. There, he “eats his bread, and sleeps with the knowledge that today hasn’t added to the sum of human misery. For now at least it’s peace of a kind he hadn’t imagined himself worthy of receiving.”

More interconnections follow. We meet the offspring of Roman Markin’s purged brother – a nephew who shows up at the 2013 exhibition of Roman’s work with his own son. And certainly, we recognize the points where past and present intersect.

Throughout, Anthony Marra paints a bold canvas of Russian life from the 1930s to a dystopian future – brushstroking in the paranoia and doublespeak, the labor camps, the lengths young men must travel to avoid being used as fodder in Chechnya (Palace of the People is particularly affecting when Sergei, the grand-nephew of Roman Markin and about to be sent to the front, realizes that he is not an assistant to a legless friend of the family but an apprentice).

For me (and each reader is different), The Tsar of Love and Techno is even better than Mr. Marra’s debut book. It is powerful and profound.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 8, 2015 7:40 AM PDT

The Lost Daughter
The Lost Daughter
by Elena Ferrante
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.03
78 used & new from $7.14

5.0 out of 5 stars An "unnatural" mother, October 7, 2015
This review is from: The Lost Daughter (Paperback)
Here’s what we know about Elena Ferrante’s narrator, Leda: she’s the middle-aged mother of two grown daughters. Her daughters are living overseas with their father. She is a renowned English Literature scholar. And she is, by her own words, an unnatural mother.

In this searing book, Elena Ferrante courageously confronts one of our social taboos: what happens if, despite all our expectations, we feel diminished by motherhood? What if we choose to abandon our roles? What does that say about us?

Leda reflects, “When my daughters had moved to Toronto, where their father had lived and worked for years, I was embarrassed and amazed to discover that I wasn’t upset; rather, I felt light, as if only then I had definitively brought them in the world.”

During her vacation off the Ionian coast, Leda happens across a boisterous and possibly menacing large family, and fixates on the young dissatisfied mother Nina and her cranky young daughter (..there was something off about the little girl; I don’t know what.”) The first-person narration makes us feel almost like complicit voyeurs as Leda studies the family, ultimately committing a simple act that will be a catalyst for self-examination.

There is a raw and uncompromising honesty as Leda reveals this about her abandonment of her girls, “I was like someone who is taking possession of her own life, and feels a host of things at the same time, among them an unbearable absence.” Yet this cannot be read as a feminist parable, because she quickly follows with this, when asked why she went back, “Because I realized that I wasn’t capable of creating anything of my own that could truly equal them.”

As with Days of Abandonment, another masterful work by Ms. Ferrante, there is ferociously good writing here, laced with a great sense of immediacy and a shockingly honest sense of authenticity. It’s hard to turn away as the narrative propels us to its organic ending.

Katherine Carlyle
Katherine Carlyle
by Rupert Thomson
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.32
44 used & new from $3.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Sometimes I have to prove that I exist.", October 5, 2015
This review is from: Katherine Carlyle (Paperback)
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There are many “searching for self” novels but none that I can recall that begin in vitro. Katherine (Kit) Carlyle is n IVF baby who retains misty memories of a life as an IVF embryo. In her words, “I was put together – formed – but then had to wait in the cold, with no knowledge of how long that wait was likely to be, or whether it would ever end.”

The wait, to be specific, was eight years. At that point, she was implanted and became the daughter of Stephanie, who, we learn early on, dies of cancer and David, an absent and self-absorbed CNN reporter. Father and daughter have a challenging relationship, which is heightened by Kit’s belief that her father blames the IVF procedure for her mother’s premature death.

The bulk of this book is Kit’s search for memory and identity; she becomes who she is, ironically, by vanishing. Every occasion—every moment – trembles with a sense of opportunity as Kit looks to strangers to figure out what they are trying to impart. Her vanishing act takes her first to Berlin (a believer in coincidence, she goes there for the flimsiest of reasons: she overhears movie-goers talking about a jilted friend and determines to meet up with him). Even Berlin is not far enough; she journeys to a remote and dismal northern Russian settlement. Her thoughts: “Though I have met new people and visited new places, those aspects of the journey never had much relevance. What has interested me right from the beginning – what has preoccupied me above all – is the prospect of arrival.”

As Kit loses herself – even taking on the portentous new name of “Misty” – potential fantasies of her father’s desperate need to find her crowd her thoughts. This is, perhaps, the one weakness of the book: the “daddy issues” compete with the main theme, the self-search. Still, the book is wonderfully written and every locale is rendered with authenticity. This is an original novel that asks a provocative questions: how far does one go to find oneself?
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 8, 2015 7:45 AM PDT

The Mare: A Novel
The Mare: A Novel
by Mary Gaitskill
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $14.82

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mares and Meres, September 29, 2015
This review is from: The Mare: A Novel (Hardcover)
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There are all sorts of things that might have gone wrong with this premise: a coming-of-age Dominican girl named Velveteen who, through the Fresh Air program, connects with a childless and privileged white woman, Ginger, and a horse named Fiery Girl.

The book could have been preachy or sentimental or reductive or too politically correct or overly clichéd, with its focus on rich and poor, black and white, human and animal. It is none of these things. Mary Gaitskill has written a thoroughbred of a novel, peopled with characters that are often combustible, alienated, and out of their depth.

Surely Ms. Gaitskill named her character with the beloved film National Velvet in mind – the story of a young girl who wins a spirited gelding and decides to train the rambunctious horse to win England’s Grand National race. But while that Velvet exists in a sort of fairy tale, this Velvet is a child of urban damage and dysfunction.

Told alternately from many perspectives – but mostly from Velvet and Ginger’s viewpoint (with a few chapters narrated by Ginger’s husband Paul and Velvet’s highly critical, abusive mother), the book is less about the mare and more about the meres – birth mothers and wannabe mothers, and self-mothering. It’s about stumbling in one’s walk through life and finding inner strength get up and face another day, and defining happiness and success on one’s own terms (for Velvet, it’s often as simple as a veiled compliment from a complicated mother who badly loves, or a text from a boy who may well be trouble but who has seeds of goodness in him).

And, because it’s written by an author who knows her craft, it’s a darn good story about a complex teen who – like many teens – is sometimes easy to love and sometimes exasperating to deal with. In sensitively tackling the nature vs. nurture dilemma – can a child who has everything going against her triumph – it raises thoughtful questions. This is not, by any means, a Seabiscuit; we don’t always cheer Velvet on, but we do feel for her. It’s a moving, ultimately optimistic, story of lives that intersect.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 10, 2015 10:07 AM PDT

At-A-Glance Weekly and Monthly Planner 2016, Collection, Wire Bound, 5.35 x 8.5 Inches Page Size (YP1050716)
At-A-Glance Weekly and Monthly Planner 2016, Collection, Wire Bound, 5.35 x 8.5 Inches Page Size (YP1050716)
Price: $22.65
6 used & new from $15.86

4.0 out of 5 stars Less is more, September 28, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is a simple, no-frills weekly planner, dedicated to the philosophy that "less is more." The cardboard-like cover is stronger than it appears; unlike real cardboard, it doesn't easily tear. You won't find visuals, toll-free phone numbers and addresses, hours of the day, and many of the extras that come with more expensive desktop calendars. What you will find is an efficient way to keep track of your weeks, with tabs that separate each month.

Each month begins with an at-a-glance calendar, complete with holidays. The succeeding pages provide room to jot down appointments and reminders for each day, with a separate section cordoned off for notes. It's that easy. No muss, no fuss, no bother. It's a good value for what they're charging -- organized and well thought-out. Certainly, it's more of a personal planner than a small business planner. If value is important and you welcome simplicity, it's a good calendar, as long as your expectations aren't too high.

The Past: A Novel
The Past: A Novel
by Tessa Hadley
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.88

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The past is not even PAST., September 23, 2015
This review is from: The Past: A Novel (Hardcover)
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As William Faulkner famously wrote in Requiem for a Nun, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” In the latest Tessa Hadley book, the past is very much present. And if the reader has any doubt, there’s a lengthy section that interrupts the flow of a family story, set a generation back in the past.

The book focuses on a trio of sisters (Harriet, Alice and Fran) and their oft-married brother with his latest wife who gather together for a holiday at the family house, sundry children in tow. The complexity of a family brought together is summed up beautifully by Ms. Hadley, “All the siblings felt sometimes, as the days of their holiday passed, the sheer irritation and perplexity of family coexistence: how it fretted away at the love and attachment which were nonetheless intense and enduring when they were apart.” The two outsiders who are caught up in these family dynamics are definitely outsiders: the brother’s Argentinian wife Pilar and Kasim, Alice’s ex-boyfriend’s London-born Pakistani son.

Ms. Hadley mines the roles and interactions of adult siblings with pinpoint precision. Beneath this idyllic country setting, many emotions boil to the surface (or are suppressed before boiling over) and secrets abound. The “meat” in the middle of the sandwich – set in 1968 – provides insight into their childhood, when their mother Jill leaves her neer-do-well husband and takes her three oldest children (Fran isn’t born yet) back to their grandmother, Sophy, and their vainglorious clergyman grandfather. Time after time, the reader is mildly unsettled by realizing how the past repeats itself.

Just as much of a character is the landscape, which Tessa Hadley painstakingly describes. Her portrait of the cottage and the land are lyrical and all the reader’s senses are tapped into. Nostalgic houses in decay (both past and present) are tried-and-true metaphors but even so, The Past is elevated by the sheer beauty of the description. By the time I turned the final pages, I felt that I knew these individual family members very, very well.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 2, 2015 8:18 AM PDT

Mothers, Tell Your Daughters: Stories
Mothers, Tell Your Daughters: Stories
by Bonnie Jo Campbell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.23
44 used & new from $7.42

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Trumpeter Who Hits The Same Note, September 18, 2015
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Bonnie Jo Campell is the trumpeter of the poor, the addicted, the people (often women) who are just getting by. In American Salvage, her last short story collection, she aimed a spotlight on rural Michigan and those who inhabit it, fully penetrating the lives who have learned not to expect too much from life. I loved it.

Not so much this one, which I found to be somewhat uneven. Here, BJC mines the same territory yet the portraits are darker and – in my opinion – less nuanced. Arguably the best, the eponymous story is told in first-person by a hospice-bound mother dying of lung cancer to her bitter eldest daughter who blames her for (among other things) looking aside when she was molested. Written in the style of self-justification, the dialogue rings true and the story is incredibly poignant.

There are others I liked as well: Playhouse, where the uncomfortable dynamics of a brother and sister are highlighted, for example. A Multitude of Sins, focused on an abused woman and her dying husband who can no longer hurt her is also well-written.

Others, though, like My Dog Roscoe, strive for a comic tone and don’t quite make it. Too often, there’s a sameness in the parade of characters who have been molested, raped, or otherwise abused and it all started blending together. Somehow, I wanted more.

Purity: A Novel
Purity: A Novel
by Jonathan Franzen
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.80
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Expectations - Fulfilled, September 17, 2015
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This review is from: Purity: A Novel (Hardcover)
When an author names his main character Pip – a name immortalized in Charles Dickens masterwork, he is almost baiting the reader to make comparisons, so let’s get those out of the way first. Here, Pip is female, not male, although she’s still mesmerized by a charismatic flame (Andreas, a Julian Assange type anti-hero who shines as brightly as Estella), and she, too, is in search of her birthright. The themes are every bit as compelling: love and rejection, wealth and poverty and the predestined triumph of pure over evil (except when it doesn't).

Oh, and of course, the novel is BIG. Nearly 600 pages, to be exact. In a nod to Dickens, there are multiple plot lines, coincidences, and hold-on-to-your-seat dramatic twists. But make no mistake, while Franzen gives a nod to Dickens, this book cannot be construed as a homage to him.

The book is summarized by its title: purity. On the surface, Purity is the birth-name of Pip. But is there such a thing as purity? Can there truly be pure motives, pure ideologies, pure goodness, pure connections, pure love? In this Franzenian universe, the answer seems to be “no.” Everything is tainted by a “moral hazard” (a term Pip learns in economics).

Here we meet characters who are struggling with their own definition of “good”: Pip-the-pure…Andreas, a Snowden (or more aptly, Assange) leaker from East Germany (and later Bolivia) who is ostentatiously for transparency and yet commits a felonious deed for reasons that others might deem as pure…Anabel who forsakes “blood-tainted” family money to live a chaste-like, pure life of poverty…Tom, Anabel’s ex-husband, a muckraker journalist who is a good, yet pliable person and isn’t, by any means, ALL good.

Woven into this tapestry are Important Themes: misguided state ideologies and lack of openness, the vacuity of some experimental films, the failings of feminism, the crush of student debt, the eternal quest for power and connection, the false lure of cults and social media, the narcissism of the famous, and all too often, the damage created by suffocating and often too eccentric parenting. (Parents don’t fare too well in Franzen’s world).

One friend described this book as “flawless” and it’s not quite that; some of Franzen’s romantic dialogue (between Pip and Andreas, for example) made me groan just a bit and some of his female characters skirt a little too close to comfort with being well-written stereotypes (crazy moms, women who want to discuss their feelings ad nauseum, women who only feel lascivious during certain moon cycles). Then again, the men don’t come out smelling like roses either: they are often testosterone-driven, narcissistic, love-phobic.

These quibbles aside, this theme-driven book kept me engrossed well into the night, in ways that his last book, Freedom, did not. Ultimately, Purity is a paradox: an incredibly hopeful book about the folly of moral absolutism, the bequeathing of a broken world and the impossibility of being good.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 21, 2015 3:11 AM PDT

Like Family: A Novel
Like Family: A Novel
by Paolo Giordano
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.58

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "What does it mean to love somebody?", September 8, 2015
This review is from: Like Family: A Novel (Hardcover)
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Paolo Giordano – a 32-year-old Italian physicist – creates portraits of wounded individuals who yearn to bond through companionship yet often find solitude more comforting. I was haunted by them and eager to read his third book, Like Family. I was not disappointed.

When read quickly – and at 146 pages, it can easily be read in one sitting – Like Family at first appears like any other cancer story. A young couple – an unnamed narrator, a physicist who may or may not be partially based on the author himself, and his wife Nora hire a widowed housekeeper, referred to only as Mrs. A. Gradually, her importance in the household increases as she takes over the role as nanny to their son Emanuele, who is not extraordinary enough for his father.

Mrs. A, though, has cancer. As her cancer progresses in its inevitable and programmed way, it also becomes a metaphor for the couple’s own lives (“A young couple can also fall ill, from insecurity, from routine, from isolation.”) In losing her – a woman who is like family – they also begin to lose themselves.

It’s a simple story, really, and one that has been created before. But Paolo Giordano raises this question: All these cancer stories are the same, yes, but does that mean that all lives aren’t unique, deserving of their own story? Can one person become a shield for a young family that’s “a nebula of self-centeredness in danger of imploding” and if so, what happens when that person removes herself from the equation? And perhaps most importantly, what does it mean to love somebody?

As in his other books, Paolo Giordano writes profoundly and elegantly, capturing the pathos of life in a few well-chosen words. His genius comes from his ability to mine the interior thoughts of characters who – by choice or compulsion – cannot break through to nurture themselves or each other. In many important ways, Like Family is a meditation on life, death and most of all, love.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 3, 2015 8:39 AM PDT

Little Live Pets Cleverkeet
Little Live Pets Cleverkeet
Offered by TotallyToys
Price: $72.83
39 used & new from $59.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Tweet it out: Sir Keet's a winner!, September 7, 2015
This review is from: Little Live Pets Cleverkeet (Toy)
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
It's not always the easiest thing to find a toy that's got a "wow" factor for a young girl who has everything. Now I can sing it out or tweet it -- Sir Keet is totally fabulous. Carry the bird around on the perch (included) and he'll echo back things you say -- like "pretty bird" or whatever comes to mind. OR you can ask him a question and he'll give you a random (and often silly) answer.

He'll eat and drink...and "burp." He'll dance to music. He'll shake and swing. He'll react when a child pets his chest. And he won't break when he's dropped (which kids seem to do all the time). Most of all, he'll keep a young child entertained for hours...without the expense, muss and fuss of getting a "real" bird. There's a perch, a mirror and a swing that are included (two required AAA batteries are not). Going to Grandma's? Sir Keet can easily go with you. This one's an easy 5 stars.

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