Tag Archives: Friendship

A Gentleman in Moscow by Armor Towles

Who are these people who didn’t love Armor Towels’ novel A Gentleman in Moscow? Perhaps they are readers who like shorter books (this one was over 400 pages) or are more interested in action novels than character studies (fans of James Patterson?).

Perhaps they felt the entire premise was ludicrous, but I can assure them that house arrest is a common concept, not just in Russia, but throughout the world – even in the United States (think ankle bracelet). While a five star hotel like the Metropol (a real site still in existence in Moscow today) might not be a common locale, it definitely made for fascinating reading.

Then again, perhaps the reluctant reader is not a fan of Russia and found name dropping of that country’s cultural icons pretentious instead of endearing. Oh, Anna Karina (I read that one in college) and The Nutcracker (who doesn’t love a good Christmas time story – I can hear the music and see the dancers as we speak). Or they did not like Towles’ take on Russian History feeling his interpretation of events were too harsh.

Perhaps the reader got bogged down in the details. Towles admits he had to carefully lay out the specifics in the first half of the book in order to manipulate them in the second half providing a full circle of events. While some might have been bored, I found each little tidbit delightful, especially when the pieces were gathered up into a whole bouquet of events. Such a shame for those of you who stopped reading too soon.

There is also the possibility that the reader could not discern the charm of the Count, the very charm which led the authorities to spare his life. The same charm which led to a deep friendship with both the staff and the guests within the establishment. A gentleman through and through, his gentile manner, full of warmth and humor, created a character which should be long remembered in the world of literature.

Then again, these “readers” might not have appreciated the author’s craft, his ability to shape a phrase that elicits a knowing smile or creates three dimensional characters that we grow to love and care about. I feel sad thinking about those who missed out on this opportunity.

It took Towles a year and a half to write this novel and another three years to complete the editing process, fleshing out the historical details (I loved the little footnotes which seamlessly provided a background to events), nicely integrating fact and fiction. I expect though, that as he wrote the characters took on a life of their own and while he followed an outline, the book pretty much generated its own specifics.

Ultimately, I forgot I was reading a book since I was so immersed into the story, like a fly on the wall joyfully watching as events unfolded (some totally unexpected), delighting in the particulars and enjoying the clever turn of phrase. While the majority of the book was written from the Count’s point of view, there were several sections with a third person narration explaining events.

So, when you hear that the premise of A Gentleman in Moscow is about a Russian Count under “hotel” arrest at the Metropol for over thirty years (beginning in 1922), that description is just the tip of the iceberg, it is about so much more with the little things which are sure to create an afterglow as we digest the entire concept that one can live a full and rich life confined to one location.

You know this book is appreciated since it has not yet been released in paperback requiring those who of us tired of waiting for a copy to become available at the local library to purchase our own hardcover. No borrowing since everyone else is hanging on to their copy.

Kudos and a well deserved five stars.

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People Hate People by Ellen Hopkins

At a time when hate has become a common occurrence where children are being held in detention centers while their parents are deported or bombs are being sent through the mail to high profile individuals or a synagogue has become the target of gunfire during a religious ceremony, these events, whether sanctioned or not, are the result of mistrust and resentment towards those who are not considered a part of main stream society. Nationalism (versus Patriotism), a part of the Make America Great Again Community, has become an accepted way of life for too many in the United States to the point where some individuals feel justified in acting out their feelings of hatred towards those they resent – for whatever reason.

Ellen Hopkins uses this darkness as the theme for her newest YA novel People Kill People. In her introduction she decries the rise of gun violence in this country and attempts to explore the reasons why someone might pick up a gun with the intent to do harm. Her unique style of combining freestyle poetry and introspective narratives introduces the reader to a group of struggling teenagers whose lives intersect through their reactions to their individual situations. Each faces varying issues, some dire others seemingly innocuous, but all internalized and possibly life changing.

We have seventeen year old Grace; her homeless boyfriend Daniel; Daniel’s half brother Tim, a skinhead; and Tim’s good friend Silas who is stalking Grace but finds solace in Tim’s cousin, the badass Ashlyn; Grace’s sister Cami who is a teen bride married to Rand with a two year old son Waylon; and Grace’s former best friend Noelle who was seriously injured in a car accident as a result of the shooting which killed Grace’s father. Their interactions create a story which ultimately leads to a shameful calamity.

I personally found this book difficult to read. The details were so tragic, the choices at times devastating, the introspections so negative I was left with a depressed view towards life, grateful that my own trials seemed trivial by comparison. This is definitely not a PG book since the dark subject matter  includes violence, sex, and numerous deplorable activities. Yet these subjects, while fictional, are based on real life events which occur too often in society, so I suppose they need to be addressed and discussed by the upcoming generation if attitudes have any hope of changing for the better.

Hopkins unique style provides smooth transitions as we “Slip into” each character’s skin and then “Fade out”,  helping us understand the motivations behind each of their choices.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Rabbit and Robot by Andrew Smith

Two spoiled teenage kids, sons of the richest men on earth, end up stranded on a luxury liner space vehicle and it looks like they are the last humans alive in the universe, or at least that’s what they think. It’s a world of cyborgs, war, drugs, and a crazy video series featuring Bonk and Mooney in the absurd and at times totally confusing novel Rabbit and Robot by Andrew Smith.

Cager Messer and Billy Hinman have led a sheltered life with carefully selected friends who are interviewed for the position. Basically ostracized from the general world at large, the two boys are usually left to their own devices and watched over by Rowan, Cager’s caretaker since birth. A cynical world is revealed full of curse words, sexual innuendos, bodily functions, and cyborgs who are obsessed with one thing or another unwittingly imparted into their being by disgruntled, happy, or horny workers. While these advancements of technology might be considered useful tools, like a toaster or can opener, their lifelike compositions make them difficult to ignore until, that is, they become infected with a “virus” and begin behaving unlike any modern human being.

Lots of twists and turns, this story is sure to appeal to the gross side of any preteen/teenage boy but might turn off anyone sensitive to antisocial behaviors such as constant swearing, erections, and farting. A “fun” little bit of entertainment with short chapters, lots of sumptuous meals, and some pompous robots who are prone to pontification along with their own fair share of gratuitous violence.

Despite the disgusting details, I’m giving this one four stars with a thank you to Netgalley and Simon & Schuster for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

 

The Light Between Worlds by Laura Weymouth

Our story, The Light Between Worlds, begins in London during the Blitz (the bombings of England’s capitol during WWII) where three children huddle together in an Air Raid Shelter waiting for their parents to join them when suddenly they find themselves in the “Woodlands” where the indigenous  creatures give them haven. Promised that they can return home at any time  to their original time and place, they take up residence in a castle, assisting in diplomatic discussions to prevent a war (which eventually breaks out anyway). After six and a half years, the two older siblings, James and Alexandra, decide its time to return home bringing the surprised and reluctant Evelyn with them. 

Back home they never quite readjust, especially Evelyn, who is living between the two worlds, longing for one while trying to find some sort of peace in the other. Six years later, Evelyn and James are both at their respective boarding schools while Alexandra has escaped the trauma of caring for her despondent  little sis by going to college in America. 

Told in two sections, from both Evelyn’s and Alexandra’s point of view, the past is featured in Italics. Most of the text is introspective as both girls reflect on their behaviors and their relationships. Poor James is also lost, not knowing what to do, and their parents are besides themselves, never understanding why their children are emotionally falling apart. When tragedy strikes, nobody is surprised, but there is enough guilt to go around. 

The author, Laura Weymouth, is from Western New York, my general location, and I was rooting for her debut novel to succeed. Unfortunately, C S Lewis did it so much better, so I recommend the YA population read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe to see how it should be done. I don’t understand why Weymouth would write a book which has so many parallels to the classic The Chronicles of Narnia series. Perhaps this could be forgiven if the text were dynamic, but there is too much lamenting and not enough action. I would have liked to read  a lot more about The Woodlands so I could perhaps understand the attraction. To top it all off, at times I found the narrative confusing. Sorry, it just didn’t come together.

Two stars and a thank you to Edelweiss for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review,  This review also appears on Goodreads.

The Witch Elm by Tanya French

I fear Tana French must be clairvoyant. While her new stand alone novel, The Witch Elm, was being released here in the United States we were in the process of confirming a new Supreme Court Justice whose life parallels that of the main protagonist Toby.

Toby has been living the life of a privileged white male – popular at the Private High School he attended, good in sports with plenty of friends plus supportive parents; a man whose life has fallen into place, including a great job and a loving girlfriend who he’s crazy about (to the point where he’s thinking about hearth and home), when “BOOM” his life explodes with his past, including events which occurred when he was seventeen, coming back to haunt him and threatening to change his life forever.

Of concern is a bunch of distorted truths which if not illegal are definitely immoral, that were possibly behind the burglary which resulted in an injury that permanently affected Toby’s physical and mental health. While trying to put his life back together, a skull is discovered in the backyard of his favorite uncle’s home which leads to a murder investigation where Toby is one of the prime suspects. Complicating it all is his TBI which has blacked out his memories of the details of his teen years.

Of course, this is a fictional tale, not real life, although a news report about an unsolved English mystery involving a skull found inside a Wych Elm in 1943 was the original inspiration behind this story.

The question the reader must ask is if the inherent luck imbedded in our “hero” can get him through the muck and mire which has been thrown in his path. Some might think this smug, SOB deserves all the crap he is forced to endure, others will be more sympathetic since he has worked hard to earn the happiness which now eludes him. Ultimately, while we might believe what goes around, comes around, in truth, some of us fall into a vat of excrement and come out smelling like a rose. Well, maybe not a floral scent, but at least not a putrid odor.

French’s talent lies in her character development as we fall in love with Uncle Hugo and the family homestead complete with Sunday Dinners. Toby’s parents are the best and his two cousins, all only children, bond like siblings (and squabble like brothers and sister). The best friends hover in the background, included in the action since they were a part of those early years. All that’s left is to figure out exactly what happened and whodunit, which an obnoxious detective methodically sets out to discover.

It takes a third of the book to get to the murder, another third of the book to find out the guilty culprit, with the last third adding in some twists and turns. The Witch Elm was a steady read with a breezy style, although I did think it dragged a little in spots, but perhaps that’s because I wanted French to get to the point a little quicker so I could see if my suspicions were correct. I have to admit, there were numerous details I did not see coming.

While this story takes place in Ireland, it could easily be transplanted to any town in the United States.

All I can say is I hope our new Supreme Court Justice fares better than Toby and that recent events do not come back to bite us all in the butt.

Four stars and a thank you to Edelweiss for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

The Dukes Secret Seduction by Donna Lea Simpson

The Duke of Alban, close friends of the King and Queen, is devastated to witness His Majesty losing his mind plus hanging out with the aimless Prinny has become such a bore. In need of a change of scenery, he decides to visit his Hunting Box in Swaledale and reconnect with his beloved Aunt Eliza who has a home on his Yorkshire property. The last time he had been with his aunt was to find comfort and heal after the betrayal of his wife who had not only run off with a courtier but drowned in a freak accident off the coast of Italy shortly thereafter.

Since Autumn was a good time for hunting, Alban decides to invite along the down-in-the-dumps Bartholomew Norton, a close boyhood friend who could also use some time away. Suddenly the group grows to four with the pushy Earl of Orkenay and the unfamiliar Sir John Fitzhenry, a young baronet, tagging along ready for a house party.

The Duke is in for a surprise when his discovers his aunt has become blind and Kitty Douglas, her companion, is not some old biddy, but a lovely young widow whose deceased husband had gambled away their funds forcing her to seek gentile employment. There’s an instant attraction, but the class barriers get in the way of any meaningful relationship. That doesn’t mean there can’t be a flirtation. Luckily, the forward thinking Lady Rebecca DeVere Severn and reticent Hannah Billings, two of Kitty’s friends, both widows, are also visiting, which is an extra inducement for the men to spend time at his aunt’s house.

Everyone pairs up, with Kitty having the attention of both the Duke and the Earl. While their compliments are flattering, the Earl’s attempts at seduction leave her cold, but an accidental touch from the Duke gets her juices flowing. From his letters to Aunt Eliza, Kitty has imagined the man of her dreams, but in person the two are at constant odds despite their mutual attraction. Neither gentleman has marriage in mind, but Kitty is not interested in a transient relationship. Misunderstandings and hurt feelings are inevitable before true love is revealed.

The Dukes Secret Seduction by Donna Lea Simpson was originally published in 2004 as The Duke and Mrs Douglas. Too bad the author didn’t take this opportunity to review her work and do some editing. While the story seemed interesting at first, it dragged on too long with too much repetition. There just wasn’t enough plot to sustain a full length novel, but it would have made an excellent novella. This is one your grandmother could read since a deep kiss is as graphic as it gets, although, for a Regency Romance, some of the language used in polite company would have been shocking. While Kitty was a naive, albeit likable character, the Duke was an obnoxious, self absorbed man who, in my mind, never quite earned redemption. His only saving grace was his love and solicitude towards his Aunt Eliza, especially since I wasn’t feeling the romance between him and Kitty. I wish the characters had been fleshed out a bit more to make their intentions (since everyone seemed to have an angle) more relatable. The mystery of their actions is briefly revealed towards the end of the book, almost as a throwaway thought. Too many lost opportunities!

Three stars (barely) and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant has created her own little world where each day is like any other with minimal variations except the weekends where she drinks enough vodka to remain in a stupor until it’s time to go back to work on Monday. Highly intelligent, she views the world from a particular point of view, judging the actions and behaviors of others, usually finding them lacking. A Type A personality to the extreme, her black or white perspective “colors” her approach to any given task, leaving her questioning the random actions of those she encounters in her daily activities. It is no wonder she remains alone, shrugging off the stares of her perplexed coworkers while toiling away at the low paying job she has held since her youth. Then one day Eleanor falls in love and realizes that she must try to “fit in” to establish a relationship. On her quest to acquire the appropriate accoutrements, she suddenly enters a new realm helped along by a randomly based relationship with a coworker who befriends her after they witness a tragic event and find themselves assisting an elderly gentleman in need of their care. This leads to a series of possibilities which might just change the entire demeanor of the stilted Eleanor (or not).

Ultimately, it’s the humor which raises this book to the next level. First time author, Gail Honeyman, has hit a home run in her debut novel, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. At times Eleanor’s thoughts mirror those of our own – “That much for a purse which is too small to hold anything but a tissue?” or “Another gift collection for another coworker on another special occasion?”. Her quirkiness makes her despicable characteristics somehow endearing and we start to root for her success, even though we all know she’s doomed to fail. And yet, . . . .

The author has the rare talent of forcing the reader to become emotionally involved, making us hope that somewhere out there is a life for Eleanor which is somewhat better than fine. Then when we think we have everything figured out, there’s a twist which changes our whole perspective. Kudos.

Now our only question to consider is who will play Eleanor in the upcoming movie and will they change the locale from Glasgow, Scotland to somewhere in the United States?

Five stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.