Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Walk on the Wild Side: "How to Be Human” by Patricia Cocozza

How to Be Human by Patricia Cocozza begins with a woman finding a baby on the doorstep of the cottage where she lives, and from there develops into the growing relationship between this woman, Mary, and a fox she sees in her garden, which backs a woodsy area. 

Mary is a young divorced woman who got to keep the house in her divorce, and although relieved to be free of her controlling husband, a sense of loneliness now permeates her life.  The fox becomes an obsession for her and a menace to her neighbors. 

This fox is not only a wild creature but seems to sense what Mary needs, besides its  friendship. It begins to shower her with gifts. Gifts which Mary at first finds puzzling but later begins to look forward to. These tokens must mean something. Is this fox, her fox, trying to tell her something?

 Meanwhile, around her, her neighbors visit and squabble and complain. Her ex-husband seems to be lurking in the neighborhood. Her job is a trial and boring. More and more she longs to be done with everything and just spend quiet evenings in her yard waiting for the fox to appear. As she and the fox become closer you get the fox’s viewpoint for some of the events that occur.

What happens in this beautifully written story unfolds slowly and you begin to see how this charming, clever creature would captivate Mary, and the reader and the Militant Recommender, as well! 

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Our house is a very, very, very fine house: "Piranesi" by Susanna Clarke

Piranesi, a young man, and maybe one of only two people in the world, is our narrator and guide into one of the most unusual habitats ever created. His home is a house so big it contains an ocean, with its tides that come and go and affect the way he lives. This impossible house is filled with hundreds of rooms and in each of these rooms are tier upon tier of marble and stone statues.

These statues depict everything from a huge gorilla to a woman carrying a beehive, to a man removing a thorn from a child's foot to a room of Minotaurs. They are so lovingly described and in such detail you can picture each and every one as Piranesi makes his rounds, writes in his journals, cares for several skeletons and fishes in a sunken lake. It seems to Piranesi that he has always been here. There may have been a before the House but it is a vague memory that seems to be just out of reach. It doesn't trouble him as the House provides him with all that he needs.

On Tuesdays and Fridays, Piranesi meets with "the Other", his friend and mentor of sorts. The Other is an older gentleman with a trim beard and always well dressed and looking very dapper despite the chill and damp and the constant presence of the ocean.Sometimes he is so deep in thought, he becomes annoyed with Piranesi, other times he encourages his feedback.

The Other doesn't seem to love the House and its contents as Piranesi does. And where does he go the other days of the week? Piranesi is content living among the statues and the birds who often nest amidst these giant beings. Is there more to this world of sea and stone? Where do the birds come from or go to?  I will say no more! You will have to uncover these mysteries of the House for yourself!

This is a beautifully written book by the brilliant and imaginative Susanna Clarke who gave us the masterpiece Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. She has a unique ability to create a world you totally believe in and while completely different than Jonathan Strange it is no less magical!  Highly recommended! Thank you to Edelweiss for allowing me the pleasure of reading an advance DRC!!!

Monday, June 15, 2020

Don't You Forget About Me: "The Memory Police" by Yoko Ogawa.

Yoko Ogawa's The Memory Police is set in an unstated time on an unnamed island, the population of which live in fear under the supervision of the Memory Police. Under their martial law, anything at any time can be disappeared.These disappearances take many forms, from people to everyday objects to birds and flowers.

The narrator is a young woman, an author of novels that reflect her life and the world she’s grown up in. She lives alone in her parents home, both of whom have passed on. Her mother, a sculptor, was summoned by the Memory Police, and died soon after. Her best friend is an old man who lives on a rusting boat in the harbor. Other than him, her closest relationship is with R. her editor.

The author makes you care for these three characters and the comfort they find in one another despite the bleak and disturbing circumstances in which they live and the ever present menace of the Memory Police that might break down your door and take you away in the middle of the night or on a regular afternoon with everyone watching.

This was a really dark book, even for me! But I couldn’t put it down, either, because I had to know how things turned out. It has elements of 1984, as far as the Memory Police, themselves, and the self enforced brain washing of memories deemed dangerous for the state.

  Simple Minds say it best via the miracle of YouTube!

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Keeping Promises: "The Night Tiger" by Yangsze Choo

11 year old Ren is a houseboy in the home of an old ex-patriot doctor and has made the dying man a promise. In 49 days, Ren must find his master's missing finger. And bury it in his grave. If he does not succeed... his master's soul would be doomed to walk the earth. Set in 1930's Malaya, the Night Tiger sweeps you away to another time and an exotic place filled with the beliefs and superstitions of the people and brought to vivid life by the author.
Ren's search is not the only mystery in this intriguing story. It is also the story of Ji Lin, a beautiful girl and the daughter of a lovely yet weak widow mother who had remarried a successful but critical business man. He brings to the marriage a son, Shin, devastatingly handsome, even as a boy. Ji Lin and Shin become close as children but when they are older, Shin leaves home and Jin Li begins a double life, working at a dress shop by day and as a dance hall girl called Louise by night.
One night, a dance hall customer is being too familiar and by accident she comes into possession of a glass vial containing an odd object. What could it be?
How will all these characters and their lives and secrets intersect?
The Night Tiger will ensnare you in these and other mysterious happenings and make you fall in love with Ren and the other unforgettable characters in this entrancing tale. Yangsze Choo is a remarkable writer and once you've read this one, don't miss her debut work The Ghost Bride! You'll be looking forward to whatever she has in store for us in the future! Very highly recommended!
*I also fell in love with the book cover. Simply exquisite!

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Dream Lover: "The Ghost Bride" by Yangsze Choo

The Ghost Bride, the gorgeous debut novel by Yangsze Choo, is set in Malaya in the 1890s. It is the story of a young girl, Li Lan living with her scholarly but opium addicted father and Amah, a servant who is more like a nanny. Her mother was lost to a smallpox epidemic that also left her father badly scarred.

 Her father's fortunes are in decline, so, one day after visiting with a wealthy acquaintance, he makes a proposal to his daughter. The wealthy family's only son had died, and they would like Li Lan to marry the dead son and be his ghost bride. The upside is she would live very well. The down side, being married to a dead guy. 
Does she give in to this family's wishes? No spoilers here!

This book took turns I didn't expect and the author creates a dream world and a spirit world that become more and more believable as the story progresses. She also created one of the most unique and captivating leading men who will be introduced to us bit by bit until he becomes one of the most memorable fictional presences I can recall in a long time. He will take your heart unless it is made of stone... and while Li Lang tries to deal with the ghostly bridegroom as he haunts her dreams and makes choices that take her on an unexpected journey, this character becomes central to her quest.

I absolutely adore Ms. Choo's work. I read the Night Tiger first and then sought out The Ghost Bride. She is a masterful storyteller and brings the reader right into her atmospheric Malayan setting with its jungles and city landscapes and, in this case, otherworldly settings, and the characters that populate them. 
If you are looking for something that will keep you engaged and reading till the end and that makes you want to go back and reread it so you can stay in that fictional world, then be sure to read the Ghost Bride. I'll be finishing my Night Tiger review shortly, which I also highly recommend! 5 shiny gold stars!

Monday, March 16, 2020

Out of Print but Not Forgotten: "Princess Pamela" by Ray Russell

I have a fabulous co-worker (Katherine!) at the library where I work who told me about a book she read years before and that she used to check out of the library, in the town she lived in at the time, and reread every so often. She has pretty similar taste to mine, so, I searched for that book... and found not one copy, but two, so I was able to give her her own copy! That re-readable book is Princess Pamela by Ray Russell.

It is written in the form of a diary, the diary written by the title's namesake, Pamela Summerfield, Princess being her father's pet name for her as she was born on the same day as Princess Victoria. Pamela is a smart and observant diarist. From the very beginning she takes note of all the news and gossip that swirls around her and her well-off family. Her father owns a brewery, her mother keeps their home in order, managing the staff and acting as a hostess for what are called Saturdays at home, a time when certain friends or family are invited to call. She also has a beloved older sister who has married and moved away, and a brother in college studying for "holy orders" as a divinity student being the grandson of a bishop, his mother's father.

Pamela begins  her diary in 1837. It  is filled with the details of her daily life, descriptions of her family and, it is obvious from the reactions of those around her,  that she, herself,  is a lovely young woman of almost 18. She enchants potential suitors with her wit and intelligence, suitors of which we will learn more as we follow her diary through the months and years.

Pamela's voice is captivating and it is remarkable that the actual author of the book is a man who so  believably captured the innermost thoughts, fears and desires of  a young woman.  We, ourselves, are observers to the plights and passions of these characters, especially Pamela's. Her curiosity regarding the details of these passions often leads her to pester her worldly French hairdresser for advice which, at times, she is reluctant to give.

Princess Pamela is also very informative about the social issues and reforms of that time period, taking note of child labor and toxic food additives among the events and occurrences noted, making this a historical novel as well as a "diary". It is a book that certainly deserves to be remembered and one that can be read and re-read to savor all the details. It seems to be out of print, but used copies are available on both Amazon and ebay and well worth the effort of seeking it out.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Worth Every Penny: "The Lady and the Highwayman" by Sarah M. Eden

Elizabeth Black, a charming and beautiful young woman, is Headmistress of a school for girls. She is also the author of Silver Fork novels that appeal to proper society women. On the side, though, she is the secret author of  a Penny Dreadful series. Books that appeal to a much wider, and often lower class audience of readers. She writes these using a male pseudonym, Charles King, and this series is wildly popular.
So popular, that the reigning king of the Penny Dreadfuls, Fletcher Walker, is becoming more than a little alarmed. The reason for this worry is that he and a group of other Penny Dreadful authors belong to a secret society and one that uses its profits to do good. That is, to help those unfortunate urchins who live on the streets of London and face hardships and cruelty at every turn.
How can Fletcher, a former urchin, himself,  and his colleagues, keep the money coming in when  this Mr. King's popularity threatens to siphon off a good deal of that funding?
The hunt is on to find this mysterious Mr. King and find out his intentions. After being introduced to Miss Black at an event, Fletcher decides to enlist her help in finding Mr. King, of course, quite unaware that this enchanting, witty young woman is the very person he is seeking! What a dilemma! Ms. Eden has written a book that is so much fun and filled with such memorable characters, both our protagonists AND the characters they have created, as we also get the works of Mr. King and Mr. Walker interspersed with the stories of their authors.
I absolutely loved this book and these wonderfully appealing characters and their Victorian London milieu. There is romance! Mystery! And urchins! What could be better? Highly recommended for anyone looking for something enjoyably different. Or anyone that loves a good story!