fiction

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Before the Fall – A Fun Summer Read If You Enjoy Thrillers & Mysteries

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Before the Fall by Noah Hawley
First published on May 31, 2016
Grand Central Publishing
Source: ARC from the publisher via Netgalley
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“On a foggy summer night, eleven people-ten privileged, one down-on-his-luck painter-depart Martha’s Vineyard on a private jet headed for New York. Sixteen minutes later, the unthinkable happens: the plane plunges into the ocean. The only survivors are Scott Burroughs-the painter-and a four-year-old boy, who is now the last remaining member of an immensely wealthy and powerful media mogul’s family. As the passengers’ intrigues unravel, odd coincidences point to a conspiracy. Was it merely by dumb chance that so many influential people perished? Or was something far more sinister at work? Events soon threaten to spiral out of control in an escalating storm of media outrage and accusations. And while Scott struggles to cope with fame that borders on notoriety, the authorities scramble to salvage the truth from the wreckage.” Source: Hachette Book Group.

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Review:

Before the Fall captures the spirit of ‘beach reading’ perfectly: it is a feel-good, semi-philosophical, mysterious page-turner about an event that I’m sure horrifies most people: a plane crash. A story that titillates and keeps the reader engaged through an atmosphere saturated with all the known pleasure-pain triggers: the devastation wrecked by tragedy; the ambiguity and uncertainty of love; the thirst for money and power; the journey into finding personal meaning in a chaotic, senseless world. (more…)

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The Sky Over Lima – A Poetic & Lyrical Meditation on Writing, Love, and Identity

skyoverlima.jpgThe Sky Over Lima by Juan Gómez Bárcena
First English Translation
by Andrea Rosenberg on May 17, 2016
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Source: ARC from the publisher via Netgalley

“A retelling of a fantastical true story: two young men seduce Nobel laureate Juan Ramón Jiménez with the words of an imaginary woman and inspire one of his greatest love poems.” Source: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

4starrating

Review:

“Love is a door left ajar. A secret that survives only as long as it is half kept.”

The Sky Over Lima is an evocatively poetic, lyrical retelling of the stranger-than-fiction true story of the two-year correspondence between Spanish Nobel laureate Juan Ramón Jímenez and two young poets (José Gálvez and Carlos Rodríguez) writing as an imaginary woman, Georgina Hübner.

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The Mastermind – A Gripping & Vivid Portrayal of Life in Guatemala, Based on a Stranger-than-Fiction True Story

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The Mastermind
 by David Unger
First published on April 5th 2016
Akashic Books
Source: I bought it
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“By all appearances, Guillermo Rosensweig is the epitome of success. He is a member of the Guatemalan elite, runs a successful law practice, has a wife and kids and a string of gorgeous lovers. Then one day he crosses paths with Maryam, a Lebanese beauty with whom he falls desperately in love . . . to the point that when he loses her, he sees no other option than to orchestrate his own death. The Mastermind is based on the bizarre real-life story of Rodrigo Rosenberg, a Guatemalan attorney who, in 2009, planned his own assassination after leaving behind a video accusing Guatemalan president Álvaro Colom of his murder. (In April 2011, the New Yorker published an article by David Grann about Rosenberg which has been optioned by Matt Damon for his directorial debut.) This is a fascinating depiction of modern-day Guatemala and the corrupt, criminal, and threatening reality that permeates its society.” Source: Akashic Books.

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Review

“Regrettably, if you are currently watching or listening to this message, it’s because I was murdered by President Alvaro Colom…” (Youtube: The Unspeakable Murder of Rodrigo Rosenberg)
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Binti [the Badass Feminist Heroine] – A Beautifully Written Sci-Fi Novella for Younger Readers

bintiBinti by Nnedi Okorafor
First published on September 22, 2015
Tor Books
Source: I bought it
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“Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs. Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself — but first she has to make it there, alive.” Source: Macmillan.

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Review

How I wish I had been reading books like Binti growing up instead of Nancy Drew! While the latter firmly serves to reinforce all stereotypes known to humanity (blonde = beautiful perfection; brunette = chubby side-kick; non-white = ….. [non-existent]; materialism = rah, rah! etc and so on)- Binti unapologetically forges her own path, seeks her own meaning, explodes structural barriers sustained by history for generations: she is, in other words, one fully badass feminist heroine I’d want my (hypothetical) young daughter emulating.

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A Foreign Take on a Very Personal Experience – Romania under Ceaușescu’s Dictatorial Regime

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The Fox Was Ever the Hunter by Herta Müller
First English Translation
by Philip Boehm on May 10, 2016
Macmillan
Source: I bought it
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From the winner of the Nobel Prize hailed as the laureate of life under totalitarianism, a haunting early novel of surveillance and paranoia. Romania—the last months of the Ceausescu regime. Adina is a young schoolteacher. Paul is a musician. Clara works in a wire factory. Pavel is Clara’s lover. But one of them works for the secret police and is reporting on the rest of the group.” Source: Macmillan.

2starrating

Review

Perhaps I was expecting a bit much of this book in imagining it would touch my soul in a most profound and resonating way. See, The Fox Was Ever the Hunter is the story of a teacher’s life (1) during the last few year’s of Ceausescu’s communist regime (2; 1980s – place and decade of my birth), and moreover, it’s written by a Romanian, also an emigre (3). Considering that’s 3 for 3, I naively assumed this would somehow be the story of my life, the conundrum of my dual-identity explained, the nostalgia for a horrific yet clearer, more certain time expressed in all its contradictory complexity. (more…)

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The World Without Water – Bacigalupi’s Complex Political Dystopian Sci-Fi

waterknifeThe Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi
First published on May 26, 2015
Knopf Doubleday
Source: I bought it
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“In the near future, the Colorado River has dwindled to a trickle. Detective, assassin, and spy, Angel Velasquez “cuts” water for the Southern Nevada Water Authority, ensuring that its lush arcology developments can bloom in Las Vegas. When rumors of a game-changing water source surface in Phoenix, Angel is sent south, hunting for answers that seem to evaporate as the heat index soars and the landscape becomes more and more oppressive.

There, he encounters Lucy Monroe, a hardened journalist with her own agenda, and Maria Villarosa, a young Texas migrant, who dreams of escaping north. As bodies begin to pile up, the three find themselves pawns in a game far bigger and more corrupt than they could have imagined, and when water is more valuable than gold, alliances shift like sand, and the only truth in the desert is that someone will have to bleed if anyone hopes to drink.” Source: Knopf Doubleday Publishing.

4starrating
Review

The Water Knife starts out SO BRILLIANTLY as a detailed and complex story about local water politics. I am a bit obsessed with politics, and I compulsively follow the most local of stories (well, I’m in DC so local politics here is always fascinating, intersecting as it often does with national politics, and frequently mired in corruption scandals). *Swoon* Definitely a “Love at First Page” kind of book for me! (more…)

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And After Many Days – A Personal and Political Story of Nigeria

afterdaysAnd After Many Days by Jowhor Ile
First published on February 16, 2016
Crown Publishing
Source: from publisher via Blogging for Books
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“During the rainy season of 1995, in the bustling town of Port Harcourt, Nigeria, one family’s life is disrupted by the sudden disappearance of seventeen-year-old Paul Utu, beloved brother and son. As they grapple with the sudden loss of their darling boy, they embark on a painful and moving journey of immense power which changes their lives forever and shatters the fragile ecosystem of their once ordered family. Ajie, the youngest sibling, is burdened with the guilt of having seen Paul last and convinced that his vanished brother was betrayed long ago. But his search for the truth uncovers hidden family secrets and reawakens old, long forgotten ghosts as rumours of police brutality, oil shortages, and frenzied student protests serve as a backdrop to his pursuit.” Source: Penguin Random House.

4starrating

Review

1995. The Political.
Nigeria has asserted its independence from Britain 35 years ago, but the devastating aftermath still resonates through all fronts of the post-colonial struggle. The militarized government (overturned and replaced in coups multiple times) executes human-rights activists it labels dissidents (BBC News). University students take to the streets in protest as reports of police brutality percolate the toxic atmosphere. (more…)

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Hauntingly Penetrating Stories – Dinosaurs on Other Planets by Danielle McLaughlin

dinosaursDinosaurs on Other Planets: Stories by Danielle McLaughlin
Published in the US on August 9th 2016 (UK in 2015)
Penguin Random House
Source: ARC from Random House via Netgalley
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“In a raw seacoast cabin, a young woman watches her boyfriend go out with his brother, late one night, on a mysterious job she realizes she isn’t supposed to know about. A man gets a call at work from his sister-in-law, saying that his wife and his daughter never made it to nursery school that day. A mother learns that her teenage daughter has told a teacher about problems in her parents’ marriage that were meant to be private—problems the mother herself tries to ignore. McLaughlin conveys these characters so vividly that readers will feel they are experiencing real life. Often the stories turn on a single, fantastic moment of clarity—after which nothing can be the same.” Source: Penguin Random House

4starrating

Review

I had the privilege of traveling to Ireland just over a month ago. Alas, when I returned, as these things go, my Netgalley request for Dinosaurs on Other Planets, a beautiful debut short-story collection by a budding Irish author, was approved. Having just spent a few days imbibing the soulful atmosphere of Dublin and the melancholy of the fertile but sparsely inhabited countryside of County Cork, I was especially appreciative of McLaughlin’s portrait of Ireland in transition. (more…)

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Poignant, If Overly Romantic, Exploration of Hope and Protest – Sunil Yapa’s Your Heart is a Muscle

heartYour Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa
Published January 12, 2016
Little, Brown and Company
Source: I bought it
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“The Flamethrowers meets Let the Great World Spin in this electrifying debut novel set amid the heated conflict of Seattle’s 1999 WTO protests. In this raw and breathtaking novel, Yapa marries a deep rage with a deep humanity. In doing so he casts an unflinching eye on the nature and limits of compassion, and the heartbreaking difference between what is right and what is possible.” Source: Hachette Book Group

3heartrating

Review

1999 WTO protests.
People around the world live in abject poverty. The mentally ill are out on the streets. Children are starving. Big Pharma is creating monopolies of health. American corn subsidies are impoverishing agricultural nations. The US is shoving hormone treated beef down the throats of unwilling Europeans, under the guise of ‘free trade’. Workers are being exploited. Terrible injustice permeates human existence.

But, there is hope: “He heard them saying in the streets, ‘Another world is possible,’ and beneath his ribs broken and healed and twice broken and healed and thrice broken and healed, he shuddered and thought, God help us. We are mad with hope. Here we come.” And, for those who come together in such displays of hopeful protest, their collective action and standing together is how “they hold the fear in their mouths and transform it into gold”…

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A Not-So-Fine Imitation: A Thin & Cliched Romantic Historical Suspense

fineimitationA Fine Imitation by Amber Brock
Published May 3, 2016
Crown Publishing
Source: theReadingRoom Advanced Readers Program ARC
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“Set in the glamorous 1920s, A Fine Imitation is an intoxicating debut that sweeps readers into a privileged Manhattan socialite’s restless life and the affair with a mysterious painter that upends her world, flashing back to her years at Vassar and the friendship that brought her to the brink of ruin. Vera Bellington has beauty, pedigree, and a penthouse at The Angelus–the most coveted address on Park Avenue. But behind the sparkling social whirl, Vera is living a life of quiet desperation… Vera faces an impossible choice–whether to cling to her familiar world of privilege and propriety or to risk her future with the enigmatic man who has taken her heart. A Fine Imitation explores what happens when we realize that the life we’ve always led is not the life we want to have.” Source: Penguin Random House.

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Review:

“He who is subjected to a field of visibility… inscribes in himself the power relation in which he simultaneously plays both roles; he becomes the principle of his own [subjugation]” ~ Michel Foucault, Discipline & Punish

Basically, what Foucault was referring to is that pervading sense we feel to act in prescribed ways – to discipline ourselves into conformity. We subscribe to the dress-code at work, for example, we observe rules of decorum in our interactions (well, most of us try to), we may even get married and have kids because that’s what’s always been ‘expected’ of us (not least of all by our parents, whom many of us also try to please in various other ways as well…) (more…)