Archive for October, 2012

The Light Between Oceans

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

By M. L. Stedman

The Short Take:

Every decision has its repercussions that reach outward like ripples in a pond. This romantic novel explores the repercussions when a lighthouse keeper and his young wife find a crying baby and a dead man in a rowboat beached on their remote island home. Brooding and emotionally charged, this one can break your heart time and again.

Why?

They say no man is an island, but protagonist Tom Sherbourne is about as close as one can get. Emotionally scarred by his WWI years, he has sought the isolated life of a lighthouse keeper, alone on a remote island. He takes every task seriously and is scrupulous in his integrity and his work ethic. This deep morality is both his bedrock and his Achilles heel.

Stedman’s book explores how isolation impacts first a man, then a couple, and finally a family. But it is ultimately about the choices they make. Even when you know their choices are suspect, you completely understand each and every one; you also ache for the inevitable problems to come.

The writing was lovely, with entrancing — if rather desolate — descriptions of remote Janus Rock, a day’s sail south of southwestern Australia. The plot took awhile to get going, but knowing more about Tom’s earlier lighthouse years prepared you for who he was and what he did.

You’ll encounter a lot of pain in this novel, flowing from the loss of children and others. You’ll also find boundless love. It’s a powerful combination. You can’t help but feel empathy for all the main characters. And, you won’t want to put this one down until all is resolved.

A Little Plot:

Tom is the new lighthouse keeper at an island post that only sees a supply ship months apart and with years between shore leaves. Just before heading out, he meets Isabel, a much younger woman filled with energy and joy. She “sets her cap” for him and he eventually brings her to the island as his wife.

She hopes to fill their home and lives with children, yet miscarriages make that hope fade. Then a small boat beaches on their shore occupied by a crying infant and a dead man. For Isabel, it is a miracle. For Tom, it is a terrible conflict: fulfill the dreams of the woman he loves or report the boat and its occupants as duty requires.

His heart rules his head that day, yet his discomfort with the situation continues. Then, he learns something which make his choice almost unbearable. His subsequent actions are devastating for many. Yet, you understand.

You can hear Stedman talk about her novel, as well as see some nice pictures of Australia, by clicking here.

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared

Monday, October 15th, 2012

By Jonas Jonasson

The Short Take:

This book is a pure delight through and through, right down to the last line of the final page. It has a Forrest Gump/Baron Munchausen vibe that is both highly entertaining and truly heart-warming. I had rather high hopes just from the title. They were greatly surpassed.

Why?

While not quite a fantasy, this novel is certainly fantastical. After all, not many ordinary men encounter Truman, Stalin, de Gaulle, Churchill, and a raft of other world leaders. However, these famed individuals have nothing on the colorful characters Jonasson created to accompany the 100-year-old-man of the title. From Albert Einstein’s unfortunate brother to an affable small-time crook, they are unique and highly enjoyable.

The book is awash in gentle humor, along with some sly commentary on world affairs and politics. Yet it’s not simple silliness by a long shot. It is also a celebration of living the life one is handed, a paean to the value of friendships, and a fractured history lesson on the last century.

Originally published in Sweden, this book has been a great success in Europe and deserves the same in the U.S. It’s about as far as you can get from the recently popular dark mysteries from that country. You could say it’s the perfect antidote.

A Little Plot:

The main story line traces what happens to the man who crawls out the window of a retirement home on his 100th birthday because he doesn’t like the way his life is going. That’s basically Allan Karlsson’s approach to life: if things need to change, change them; otherwise simply let it be.

His disappearance becomes a police matter, and the search gets increasingly complicated as other people disappear along Allan’s supposed trail.

These chapters are interspersed with the retelling of Allan’s life, which takes him around the world, introduces him to numerous world leaders, and involves a lot of explosions.

Yes, it is completely unbelievable. And, unbelievably fun to read.

For more about Jonas Jonasson and his book, click here.

This Is How You Lose Her

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

By Junot Díaz

The Short Take:

Díaz’ writing style is so energetic and genuine, it is worlds away from most authors. This collection of not-quite-love stories follows the broken romances of Yunior, Díaz’s recurrent alter ego from his previous books. You could call Díaz a Dominican Philip Roth with a strong street accent. That’s all good in my book.

Why?

Be forewarned, this book is full of X-rated language. However, that is totally in keeping with who Yunior is and how he lives. It’s a down right joy to read something that feels so electric and active. His writing (and Yunior’s world) simply crackles with testosterone and posturing, while barely shielding the isolation and conflicted feelings it overlies.

These stories all deal with love of some sort or the other, but don’t go looking for hearts and flowers romance. Instead, expect tales of the messier types of love: whether it’s a mother’s devotion, pride in a love child, or out-and-out cheating.

They all make for a rollicking read, but actually share much more if you care to listen closely. Please do. Díaz is a treasure for the 21st century.

A Little Plot:

Roughly, the stories follow Yunior’s life, from adolescence through middle age. Each one spins around some ill-fated romance or other. It also encompasses the complicated relationship between Yunior and his brother, who dies from cancer at a very young age.

I have to admit sometimes I wanted to shake Yunior, but in a good way.

If you want to know more about Díaz and his work, visit his website by clicking here.

They Eat Puppies, Don’t They?

Monday, October 1st, 2012

By Christopher Buckley

The Short Take:

It’s another brilliant skewering by Buckley. This time he goes after lobbyists, Washington “think tanks,” weapon systems manufacturers, and the Chinese government; with side orders of Civil War reenactments and international equestrian events. As always, it is outrageously good fun.

Why?

Even though he is the son of William F. Buckley, this Buckley’s books don’t have a partisan political slant — everyone and everything related to the government is fair game. His plots involve schemes that go wrong, layers of complications, a surprising resolution, and caricatures of characters. They are a blast to read.

This one is no exception. Who knew the threat of WWIII could be so amusing? I do wonder how the Dalai Lama will feel about the made-up  controversy his death creates, however. Do you suppose his people read books like this?

A Little Plot:

When a weapons system manufacturer has trouble getting funding for a new system through Congress, he sets his main lobbyist up as a foundation focusing on national security and Far Eastern issues. His goal — to get people as nervous as possible about China so Congress will be glad to buy more weapons systems.

For help, the lobbyist/foundation head enlists the aid of the director of The Institute for Continuing Conflict, which is all in favor of preemptive strikes. The big plan: feed the public the idea that the Chinese are trying to kill the Dalai Lama, inspired by a news item about his being too sick for a scheduled meeting with the Pope.

Of course, the Chinese are involved with the Dalai Lama, but not that way. And the Chinese President is barely clinging to power over his military and security ministers.

So, what could possibly go wrong? Try everything. Except for readers.

Supposedly Buckley has a blog, but I could only find articles about it (not that I spent much time looking), so, once again, it’s Google for you.

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