THE SECRET OF THE NIGHTINGALE PALACE, a novel by Dana Sachs, is a road trip novel but more than that it explores a grandmother/granddaughter relationship. Anna, a thirty-five year old widow has trouble finding her footing after her husband illness and death. Goldie, Anna’s feisty twice-widowed grandmother, decides its time to bury a 5-year rift between the two of them and break Anna out of her rut. The plan is to drive Goldie’s Rolls Royce from New York to San Francisco to return a piece of art in Goldie’s care for 60 years.
The Elephant Keeper’s Children is a nearly 500 page book about a 14 year-old boy’s adventures while in pursuit of his absent parents. If this sound a little like Harry Potter, the similarities end there. Martin Aitken translates Heog’s book to English for the first time, sharing an existentialist journey through Denmark.
Petrus and sister Tilte, precocious beyond their teenage years, are detained by the authorities because their parents have gone missing. It doesn’t take long to figure out that their parents are being pursued by the police and a ragtag team of Danish authorities and it becomes a race against time to find out what their parents are up to before the authorities.
This may sound like a young adult novel but it’s themes and characters are decidedly more adult, than young. Petrus and Tilte are on a spiritual journey that includes befriending a Buddhist sex therapist, a heroin-addicted Count and a prostitute with anger issues.
A 14 year old, obsessed with football and finding enlightenment, is a humorous hero of a winding, entertaining tale. Hoeg is most notable as the author of Simila’s Sense of Sense. You’ll find The Elephant Keeper’s Children a less violent, equally mystical novel.
Thanks for sticking with us dear readers throughout this year. You’ve seen the books we enjoyed, disliked, hated and loved.
And now, as the year winds down, so does our year end best book list.
For the hands down, best book we read this year…at number one…
Soo-Ja , at 22 years-old, wants to leave her father’s home and move to Seoul to become a diplomat but her loving father insists that marriage is her best choice. Not willing to give up so easily, Soo-Ja chooses a husband who is a weak, someone she can convince to move Seoul and pursue her passion. She ignores the feelings she has for another young man, a medical student, and the marriage is arranged. Soo-Ja is convinced her plan will work and is hardly bothered that she is using her new husband to pursue her personal goals.
All of her plans change when Min, her husband, chooses to stay with his family and Soo-Ja’s fate is tied to her husband’s family and her cruel father-in-law.
Park structures Soo-Ja’s story in four parts, meant to represent the Four Gentlemen of Confucianism, chrysanthemum, orchid, plum tree and bamboo. The flowers represent virtue to withstand adversity, humility and nobility, inner beauty, and the integrity in which one yields but does not break, respectively. Soo-Ja’s epitomizes all of these traits as each one of her decisions moves her life in unexpected directions. Perhaps, above of all else, Soo-Ja maintains a naivete that makes her character heart-warming.
Park has created a heroine that readers will cheer for to the bitter end, adopting Soo-Ja’s hope and perseverance. The Korea in This Burns My Heart is a beautiful entree into another world, where tradition and ambition clash, where hope is more important than life, a love story of a beautiful young woman and a love story of a beautiful old country. This Burns My Heart is a novel not to miss and an introduction to an author who will surely deliver again.
This Burns My Heart by Samuel Park was received for free for review by Boston Book Bums
The countdown continues folks of our best books of 2011. We’re at number four on the list…
Those expectations were met and exceeded.
Jamrach’s Menagerie is visceral, beautiful and heart wrenching novel. It is also the best book we’ve read in 2011 thus far.
Jamrach’s Menagerie is the story of Jaffy Brown who, as a child, is nearly mauled by an escaped tiger in 19th century London. It was his second birth and an incident that sets his life on a new course amid strange animals, sea voyages and soul rendering decisions.
Jaffy grows while in the service of an exotic animal collector who taps the young man and his fellow employee-friend-rival Tim to hunt down a mythic South Seas dragon.
From the first page to the last, Birch demonstrates a breathtaking command of language. She conjures up absolute magic with her descriptions of both the gruesome and beautiful. We found it was in the scenes of blood, boil and foam that Birch tossed us emotionally. Grabbed us. Scared us.
Birch’s descriptions of the glory of the whale hunt, part of Jaffy’s sea voyage, as well as the discovery and stalk of the muscular, fast mythic dragon were staggering. Her skill at pushing Jaffy into exploratory emotional dives is unparalleled.
Jamrach’s Menagerie is perfectly laid out prose, at times knotted by rapidity. Other times, beautifully exiguous.
Great novels are about timing; as well as being timeless. The story of street urchins and young men returned from the sea have been explored before. But none in the perfect proportions of Jamrach’s Menagerie.
From Birch’s gift for profound structure to beautiful austerity, Jamrach’s Menagerie has it’s timing down perfectly.
And it’s time is now.
Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch was received for free by Boston Book Bums
Another week is wrapping up, as is our list of top books reviewed on Boston Book Bums. Clocking in at number five…
Sarah Addison Allen delivers again with her fourth novel, The Peach Keeper, released today. Sarah Addison Allen creates another magical story in another charming small town tucked in the mountains of North Carolina.
Willa Jackson returned to her hometown, Walls of Water, North Carolina when her father died six years ago. She moved into her childhood home, visits her senile grandmother weekly and opened an outdoor outfitter shop at the foot at the waterfalls which are town’s namesake. At the time, she promised herself she would give up her trouble-maker lifestyle and grow up, as her father would wish and she has done a good job of it until the town’s past suddenly interrupts her best laid plans.
Meanwhile, Paxton Osgood has always done what is expected of her and never created a wave in her life but now at 30 years old and living in her parents pool house, she realizes that she might just need to shake things up a bit.
Willa and Paxton may not be friends but their grandmothers shared a bond 75 years ago that Willa and Paxton may not be able to ignore. When Paxton takes on the project of restoring the vacant mansion that once belonged to Willa’s family, these two, who travel in separate social circles, will have to work together to unravel a magical mystery.
Add a little bit of unrequited love, a spunky octogenarian, an adventurous brother, a strikingly beautiful dentist and a fun-loving barista and Walls of Water is a town you may never want to leave. The town even attracts a brief appearance from Claire, Allen’s heroine in her first novel, Garden Spells.
Allen crafts a tale of friendship and teaches an important lesson, best summed up by Willa, “Happiness is a risk. If you’re not a little scared then you’re not doing it right.”
The universe that Allen has created in The Peach Keeper, as well as her other novels, is a comfortable, magical home to curl up to, the kind of story that makes your wish your subway commute was a little longer, urges you to turn off the phone and keep your nose in the book until the very last page.
The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen was received for free by Boston Book Bums
If you’ve been reading the blog over the past few weeks, you’ve seen our countdown of best books read this years. Well, like father time, we keep rolling along. Here is our pick for the 6th best book read in 2011.
Daniel H. Wilson’s Robopocalypse is being called by some the World War Z of 2011, a science fiction phenomena that could cross over from sci-fi genre fans to the beach reads of a broader reading public.
The comparisons are more than just about marketing buzz, Robopocalypse is World War Z with robots, not zombies. And that is not a bad thing, it’s a structural thing. Just an honest assessment of a book that chronicles the rapid homicidal rise of robots and humanity’s fight back, told in the first person. And like the zombie juggernaut of 2006, Robopocalypse delivers all levels of 21st century pulp.
Wilson has flashes of chilling brilliance amid some familiar science fiction tropes. The snapshots of data, human experiences of terror in the face of unstoppable automaton destruction, crackle with energy and propel the decimation forward.
There are scenes were your skin crawls, most in the early dialogue of the sentient architect of doom Archos 14. That chill is similar to the hyper-intellectual self-aware homicidal thoughts from Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Robopocalyse is not as sprawling as you would think, but a compactly constructed and relatively short chronology of ‘salvaged’ narratives. Characters include a little girl who will become an oracle hybrid for humanity and a reluctant civilian turned continental conquering soldier, among others.
The two stand-out characters of Robopocalypse are a Japanese man, Takeo Nomura, who becomes an almost prophetic uniting shepherd of robots and humans. And there is a U.S. soldier, Specialist Paul Blanton, serving in Afghanistan who witnesses the start of the robot uprising though to its conclusion.
Wilson’s sketch of a late war Blanton reconnaissance mission to a mountainous Afghan lake concludes with a breathtakingly awesome science fiction vision. The scene had a cinematic sweep and awe. We could have read an entire book of Blanton’s accounts in Afghanistan alone!
Robopocalypse owes DNA to 2001: A Space Odessey, the Terminator movie franchise, Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein and any number of ground breaking Japanese manga author/artists like Shirow Masamune and Otomo Katsuhiro.
Robopocalypse stands on the shoulders of generations of sci-fi icons, successfully nurturing the formula, tweaking here and adding there to become a fun, gun blasting, metal crunching man versus machine extravaganza.
Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson was received for free by Boston Book Bums
This October brought Charles Frazier’s third novel, NIGHTWOODS. You may remember Frazier’s first novel, COLD MOUNTAIN, which was a runaway hit and a starring vehicle for Renee Zellweger, Jude Law and Nicole Kidman. After Frazier’s forgettable second novel, there were rumors that he may be a one-hit wonders but Frazier has redeemed himself with NIGHTWOODS.
In a valley of the Appalachian Mountains sometime in the 1960′s, Luce, a spinster too young to be defined as such, lives as a caretaker to a large abandoned lodge. Across the lake is the town where she was raised but the distance is great enough to isolate her from the judging townspeople and her drug-addled father. Her solitude is broken when her murdered sister’s twins are dropped at her door step. The children are silent pyromaniacs that have no doubt witnessed untold horrors by the hand of their step father, the freed murderer of their mother.
The first half of NIGHTWOODS is descriptive journey of the backwoods, a place and time where rape is acceptable but hope leaves you at a tender age. Frazier takes pains to craft beautiful, poetic statements and only occasionally does the meaning get lost in the abundance of the words.
When the step father, Bud, follows the scent of money and locates the twins in their new home, the novel becomes an intense game of cat and mouse. In a place of no hope, the reader keeps their fingers crossed that Luce and her makeshift family survive the chase.
Frazier’s writing is worth the read for the pearls of imagery but NIGHTWOODS really excels at a climax that is truly about the survival of the fittest.
Nightwoods by Charles Frazier was received for free for review by Boston Book Bums
Lenny Abramov is a middle age man, afraid of dying, who falls in love with a beautiful young woman, 15 years his junior, a theme that transverses time and cultures. Their unlikely romance begins on the brink of America’s crumpling society. Shteyngart imagines a future where intelligence has finally lost out to the shallower virtues of beauty and wealth and a society that bases all social interactions on your credit score and your sexual attractiveness (Shteyngart is a little more explicit about this virtue).
Shteyngart has taken those of us attached to our smart phone a couple steps further in our dependence on technology, all of the characters have “aparrat” (imagine a iPhone the size of the iPod shuffle) that constantly streams data about themselves and everyone around them, ranking individual against each other. Shopping is not only the nation’s pastime but an imperative to maintain the necessary credit score and Juicy Couture takes on new dimensions in Shteyngart’s Manhattan. The population considered LNWI, low net worth individuals, have been rendered homeless and with the luck of fortune-teller, Shteyngart foretells a more violent version of the Occupiers in Manhattan parks.
Perhaps the most terrible in this near future world is the disappearance of books. Reading is so passé that Lenny, a reader and collector of books, brings shame on his girlfriend when he tried to read to her. To have the smell of the books on your hands is a akin to blood on your hands.
The characters are shallow and SUPER SAD TRUE LOVE STORY’s universe is grim however, you cannot debate the effectiveness of Shteyngart’s skill in creating exactly what he must have intended. Shteyngart, a Russian-American, mixes the fatalism of his motherland’s writers and an American’s capacity to meld technology and society into an insightful novel that sometimes hits too close to home.
Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart was received for free for review by Boston Book Bums
Osama is a reverse fever dream. Something you wish were true- that Dar-es-salaam, Sinai bus attacks, the World Trade Center were only fiction. Instead you awake from the dream by putting down Lavie Tidhar’s Osama and realize this mind bending detecitve tale is fiction and the world is still the same. Still thousands have died and a long elusive villain is now dead.
Osama is a story about a private detective sent on the trail of a mysterious author known as Mike Longshott, who penned a series of wildly popular novels about a master terrorist named Osama. You see in Osama, the terrorist we know is a work of fiction.
Tidhar’s Osama is a split-reality Fantomas, the wildly popular super criminal terrorist of France. We were struck when reading Osama how acts of Al-Qaeda wedged into a fictional series seemed that much more horrendous. How could this clandestine Longshott come up with such a calculated, devious and evil mayhem? But wait, it is real. If only Osama bin-Laden was Fantomas, confined to a page.
This reality questioning noir, of a detective searching for a mysterious author, batters your brain and leaves you questioning which way is up. Through opium dens, strange shadows, trippy dreams and violence, you retrace the footsteps of the man who penned an epic literary demon. His fiction is our fact, however.
Also, we must reassure readers this is no tawdry, opportunitistc writing, exploiting the name Osama by tossing about les se faire the memories of those lost by the thousands to the Saudi terrorist’s plottings. No, Tidhar is acutely aware, first hand you see, of the pain and loss. Tidhar had several uncanny and close scrapes with Al-Qaeda as he traveled the world. And but for the grace of god, fate or whatever you may believe in, he was unharmed physically by each more spectactlar attack that erupted near him. So before anyone leaps to conclusions, you should understand this book is a psychological wrestling match that puts some perspective on our reality.
Put a detective on an unsolvable real world case? Emotional folly some would say. Make the case a work of fiction and the demons can be exorcised by simply closing the book.
This book will shake you. It left our reviewer in a hazy nightmare state, left in a waking dream that rattled him for hours. Literally, the complex construction of Osama and rekindled intense collective PTSD of 9/11 woke our reviewer from his sleep.
Osama by Lavie Tidhar was received for free for review by Boston Book Bums