Saturday, October 10, 2015

We Were Brothers: a memoir; Barry Moser

We Were Brothers; Barry Moser
Algonquin - 2015

Every now and then I crave a good memoir, not any memoir, but I generally look for one that I can relate to, one that is apt to stick with me for one reason or another.  We Were Brothers was just such a memoir. In many ways this story reminded me of the sometimes troubled relationship of my own two older brothers who grew up in the late 40's and 50's, both were about the same ages as author and his brother Tommy.

The author and his older brother Tommy were born and raised around Chattanooga, TN, and from an early age racism was ever present in their childhood town. The KKK was in full force and the divide between blacks and whites was present everywhere. Through no fault of their own each brother was raise to believe that white people were superior to black people. In many ways their childhood, minus the racism, was typical of many siblings -- sharing a room, riding bikes and trying to avoid bullies, especially since neither boy was athletic. Both were talented artists and each had childhood afflictions that in some ways made learning and success in school a challenge. Tommy had eye issues which kept him behind a few grades in school and may have attributed to his sometimes volatile personality.  Barry was dyslexic and more laid back and, despite the issues of both brothers they attended military school even though it was only Barry who graduated.

The older the brothers got the greater the divide between them became, because of their adult views on race. While Tommy remained in Tennessee, Barry moved to New England, embarrassed at times by his brother's actions. Although both brothers had families of their own and each experienced professional successes, their views about racism couldn't have been farther apart and, as a result, their relationship turned to ice for a good many years.  Fortunately, unlike many fractured relationships that stay that way to the grave, these brothers were able to eventually come to an understanding and make their peace before it is was too late.

This memoir was short, fewer than 200 pages, and very well written with several beautiful illustrations included. I enjoyed the story of these brothers and finished their story in one seating. I think this memoir will appeal to more mature readers, especially those who have experienced strained sibling relationships in their own families.

About the Author-----BARRY MOSER was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee. His work is represented in the National Gallery of Art, the Metropolitan Museum, the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and other museums around the world. He has illustrated and/or designed over 350 books, including Moby-Dick, Frankenstein, The Divine Comedy, and the King James Bible. His edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland won a National Book Award. He is currently Irwin and Pauline Alper Glass Professor of Art and the printer to the college at Smith College.

4/5 stars

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Beautiful Bureaucrat; Helen Phillips

The Beautiful Bureaucrat; Helen Phillips
Henry Holt & Co - 2015

When I saw that readers who enjoy Murakami and Atwood would likely enjoy this book, I knew I had to give it a try. It's a great choice for book groups with plenty to discuss.

After being out of work for way too long Joseph and Josephine, a 30-something couple move to an unnamed city from the "hinterlands" where Joseph has just found a job. Soon after Josephine is hired as an administrative assistant but, her job and the workplace is anything but ideal.

Josephine's office is a windowless, dingy pink room (9997) with bright fluorescent lighting. Her faceless, boss, known only as, "The Person with the Bad Breath" provides her with files and instructions, Strictly data entry work, file after file she dutifully enters a series of numbers from the files into a database. She is not allowed to ask questions or discuss her job with anyone. She can't even hang a calendar on her disgusting office walls.  Then there's a girl named Trishiffany who calls her JoJo and who knows way too much personal information about Josephine, information that she's pretty sure she has never shared.  It gets more creepy and bizarre from there.  

Josephine's happy that at the end of the day she at least has her husband and the latest horrible place they call home to look forward to.  However, when Joseph doesn't come home one night and then when he does return he becomes more distant, Josephine's anxiety kicks into high gear. She thought their relationship was solid and that she could count on him and they silly routines and word games.

The story is told from Josephine's POV, and although it's  a novel fewer than 200 pages, there's plenty to like about this story. A blend of real and surreal, touching and thrilling and with a good dose of dark humor, The Beautiful Bureaucrat will make you smile and make you wonder. The ending was unexpected and honestly it made me go back and read some of the story again. A good choice for book groups to consider.

4.5/5 stars
(sent by publisher)

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Shantaram fans - a long awaited sequel - The Mountain Shadow; Gregory David Roberts

It's been (11) years since Shantaram had been published. This was such a fantastic (944 pp) novel.  I had read and discussed it with a coworker about 5 years ago, and we both couldn't shut up about it. I'm so excited for this sequel, despite it being another hefty tome at (912 pp). Have you read Shantaram? If not, you should try it sometime -- truly amazing.

The Mountain Shadow; Gregory David Roberts
October 13th - Grove Press


Shantaram introduced millions of readers to a cast of unforgettable characters through Lin, an Australian fugitive, working as a passport forger for a branch of the Bombay mafia. In The Mountain Shadow, the long awaited sequel, Lin must find his way in a Bombay run by a different generation of mafia dons, playing by a different set of rules.

It has been two years since the events in Shantaram, and since Lin lost two people he had come to love: his father figure, Khaderbhai, and his soul mate, Karla, married to a handsome Indian media tycoon. Lin returns from a smuggling trip to a city that seems to have changed too much, too soon. Many of his old friends are long gone, the new mafia leadership has become entangled in increasingly violent and dangerous intrigues, and a fabled holy man challenges everything that Lin thought he’d learned about love and life. But Lin can’t leave the Island City: Karla, and a fatal promise, won’t let him go.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Becoming Ellen; Shari Shattuck

Becoming Ellen; Shari Shattuck
G.P Putnam & Sons - 2015

Ellen Homes is a heartwarming character that was first introduced in Invisible Ellen. Ellen is a physically scarred and emotionally wounded young woman who meets a brother and sister who really care about her and who she begins to trust.

Becoming Ellen picks up where the last novel left off, and IMO, you MUST read Invisible Ellen first. Ellen is now living with brother and sister team, Temerity, a blind violinist and her protective but kind brother Justice.  As Ellen begins to open herself up emotionally, a bus crash and (2) young children who desperately need a caring adult in their lives opens old wounds to the days Ellen spent in the foster care system herself.

While her physical scars are becoming less noticeable and she's lost some weight, she still continues to work at her night time cleaning crew job at Costco, so that she can keep a low profile and not have to interact with a lot of people. Her work life routines and secret hideouts where she can snoop on conversations of the boss and coworkers make her privy to some surprising illegal activities.

Without giving away too much of the story, I'll just say that I thought this was a decent follow-up to Invisible Ellen, but without reading the first book, this story would fall flat IMO.  The first book was all about getting to know Ellen -- the author created a totally believable and endearing character that you wanted to see transform into a happy young adult.  The followup is more about how she is coming out of her shell and some antics that she gets caught up in along the way.  Some of what happens in this one did not feel realistic, but I still enjoyed spending more time with Ellen, an unforgettable character who is worth getting to know.  If you like stories about the underdog - read both of these novels.

3.5/5 stars
(personal copy)

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros ~ Purity; Jonathan Franzen

Every Tuesday I host First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros where I share the first paragraph sometimes two from a book I am reading or thinking about reading soon. (Planning to start this one this week)

Purity; Jonathan Franzen
Farrar, Straus and Giroux - 2015

"Oh pussycat, I'm so glad to hear your voice," the girl's mother said on the telephone. "My body is betraying me again. Sometimes I think my life is nothing but one long process of bodily betrayal."

"Isn't that everybody's life?" the girl, Pip, said.  She'd taken to calling her mother midway through her lunch break at Renewable Solutions.  It brought her some relief from the feeling that she wasn't suited for her job, that she had a job that nobody could be suited for, or that she was a person unsuited for any kind of job; and then, after twenty minutes she could honestly say that she needed to get back to work."

What do you think -- keep reading or pass? 
(Feel free to join in this week by posting your intro below?