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#TuesdayBookBlog APPLES NEVER FALL by Liane Moriarty (@MichaelJBooks) (@PenguinUKBoos) Family relationships, secrets, mysteries, and a lot of tennis #Booklaunch

Hi, all:

I bring you a novel that is officially launched today, 14th of September, by an author who has become even more popular and well-known recently thanks to the adaptations to the TV of her novels. I’ve read a few of her novels, and I can’t say I’m not surprised. And here comes her latest one.

Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty

Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty 

#1 New York Times bestselling author Liane Moriarty is back with a novel that looks at marriage, sibling rivalry, and the lies we tell others and ourselves. Apples Never Fall is the work of a writer at the top of her game.

The Delaney family love one another dearlyit’s just that sometimes they want to murder each other . . .

If your mother was missing, would you tell the police? Even if the most obvious suspect was your father?

This is the dilemma facing the four grown Delaney siblings.

The Delaney family is a communal foundation. Stan and Joy are the envy of all of their friends. They’re killer on the tennis court, and off it their chemistry is palpable. But after fifty years of marriage, they’ve finally sold their famed tennis academy and are ready to start what should be the golden years of their lives. So why are they so miserable?

The four Delaney children—Amy, Logan, Troy, and Brooke—were tennis stars in their own right, yet as their father will tell you, none of them had what it took to go all the way. But that’s okay, now that they’re all successful grown-ups. Well, that depends on how you define success. No one in the family can really tell you what Troy does, but based on his fancy car and expensive apartment, he seems to do it very well, even if he blew up his perfect marriage. Logan is happy with his routine as a community college professor, but his family finds it easier to communicate with his lovely girlfriend than him. Amy, the eldest, can’t seem to hold down a job or even a lease, but leave it to Brooke, the baby of the family, to be the rock-steady one who is married with a new solo physiotherapy practice . . . which will take off any day now.

One night a stranger named Savannah knocks on Stan and Joy’s door. She says she chose their house because it looked the friendliest. And since Savannah is bleeding after a fight with her boyfriend, the Delaneys are more than happy to give her the small kindness she sorely needs. If only that was all she wanted.

Later, everyone will wonder what exactly went on in that household after Savannah entered their lives that night. Because now Joy is missing, no one knows where Savannah is, and the Delaneys are reexamining their parents’ marriage and their shared family history with fresh, frightened eyes.

https://www.amazon.com/Apples-Never-Fall-Liane-Moriarty-ebook/dp/B08PG6CKZJ/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Apples-Never-Fall-Liane-Moriarty-ebook/dp/B08PG6CKZJ/

https://www.amazon.es/Apples-Never-Fall-Liane-Moriarty-ebook/dp/B08PG6CKZJ/

Author Liane Moriarty
Author Liane Moriarty

About the author:

Liane Moriarty is the Australian author of eight internationally best-selling novels: Three Wishes, The Last Anniversary, What Alice Forgot, The Hypnotist’s Love Story, Nine Perfect Strangers and the number one New York Times bestsellers: The Husband’s Secret, Big Little Lies and Truly Madly Guilty. Her books have been translated into over forty languages and sold more than 20 million copies.

Big Little Lies and Truly Madly Guilty both debuted at number one on the New York Times bestseller list – the first time this was ever achieved by an Australian author. Big Little Lies was adapted into a multiple award-winning HBO series with a star-studded cast including Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon. Hulu is adapting Nine Perfect Strangers into a limited series starring Nicole Kidman and Melissa McCarthy for release in 2021.

Her new novel, Apples Never Fall, will be released in September 2021.

Liane lives in Sydney, Australia, together with her husband, son and daughter. You can find out more at www.lianemoriarty.com and www.facebook.com/LianeMoriartyAuthor

https://www.amazon.com/Liane-Moriarty/e/B00459IA54/

My review:

I received a NetGalley ARC copy of this novel from Penguin Michael Joseph UK, which I freely chose to review.

This is the fourth of Liane Moriarty’s novels I read, and I’m sure it won’t be the last one. She has become well-known, justifiably so, through her writing, and more recently thanks to the TV adaptations of a couple of her novels (Nine Perfect Strangers is available already, and although I’ve only watched a bit of it so far, it doesn’t look bad at all).

If I had to characterise her writing, based on the books I’ve read so far, I’d say she excels at creating lively and totally credible ensembles of characters (sometimes small communities, sometimes neighbours, sometimes complete strangers thrown into a common setting, or, as is the case here, a family and their close contacts), dropping —bomb-like— a mystery in their midst, and observing what happens. The mystery side of the story has the added benefit of getting readers hooked into the story at the beginning, when we don’t know much about the characters yet, because as things progress, and although the author is good at keeping her hand hidden (red herrings, twists and turns, and deceptive appearances are skilfully employed), we get more and more involved with the characters and learn things that sometimes end up being much more interesting than the original mystery. That, of course, depends on the reader’s taste, and I’m a sucker for psychologically complex characters and for books centred on the connections and relationships between individuals going through difficult circumstances. Those types of books that don’t seem too heavy on plot, but they are like ducks on a pond: there is a lot going on under the surface, invisible to the naked eye. One has to be prepared to get wet and go diving.

The description above is quite comprehensive, and as I want to avoid spoilers, I won’t go into a detailed account of what happens. Joy Delaney, a woman in her sixties, a tennis player and a coach, and mother of four children, disappears on Valentine’s Day, after having an argument with her husband, without telling him anything and only sending an unintelligible text to her sons and daughters, which mentions going off-grid. We soon learn that a few months earlier they had a house guest staying with them, a young woman called Savannah, and the novel alternates the two timelines, both chronological: one following on from Joy’s disappearance, and the other going back in time to show readers what happened to all the members of the Delaney family after Savannah came into their lives. The story is narrated in the third person, but from different characters’ points of view, mostly the members of the family (well, not so much Stan, at least not in the beginning), but also from others who don’t play a major part, like friends of the family, neighbours, and also the two police officers investigating the disappearance. This provides us with a choral view of events, and we get very different pictures and perspectives of the family and their relationships as if we were watching them through a kaleidoscope.

This is a long book (and quite a few reviewers have commented that they felt it could have been edited much more tightly, but I enjoyed the pace and the amount of detail, so I won’t complain), which I would describe as a domestic drama/mystery, and there are lots of issues explored: how our perspectives, goals, and priorities change with time and age; changes in the role of women and their own perceptions of themselves in recent generations; who gets to define success and how much of an impact our upbringing has on our sense of self; domestic violence; anxiety; migraines; sibling-rivalry; the world of professional sports, tennis in particular; long-term relationships and marriages; empty-nest syndrome and the toll of retirement… Even COVID-19 makes an appearance. Personally, I was a bit skeptical of the inclusion of the coronavirus in the novel, but although I don’t think it was necessary, I feel it adds a little something to the story, so it’s fine with me.

The six members of the Delaney family provide readers with plenty of room for thought. I was much more intrigued by the parents than I was by their children (although I developed a bit of a soft spot for Amy and quite liked Logan, oh, and some of their partners as well), especially because of their relationship, which we get to learn plenty about. They had not only been successfully (?) married for over fifty years and had four children, but they still played tennis together (doubles) and won and had run a successful business together too. What a challenge! Unsurprisingly, we discover there are some cracks and secrets between them, lies (some they tell each other and some they tell themselves), some skeletons hiding in cupboards, and quite a few things still left unsaid. Although Joy is the centre of attention, for evident reasons, and she is quite a character, I grew fond of Stan as well, and the author does a great job of making us understand why the characters are who they are and do what they do, even when they do pretty unforgivable and appalling things. Savannah is also fascinating, though extreme, and although I am not sure I’d say I identified with any of the characters, I was hooked from the beginning by their interaction and had to keep reading to find out what glued them together and who they really were and would end up becoming.

I have mentioned that the story is told in two timelines, which eventually converge, and it is narrated in the third person from a variety of points of view. The changes in the timeline are clearly marked. As I have read an ARC copy of the book, I am not sure if the formatting of the final version of the novel will be very different from the version I read, so I can’t say if the different points of view will be evident to the naked eye. In any case, I had no problem working out whose perspective I was reading, so I don’t think readers need to worry unduly about that, although I advise them to keep their eyes open and not get distracted. Everything is there for a good reason, even if it might not appear important at the time.

The author’s writing is deceptively simple: she does not overdo her descriptions or use complex words but knows how to insert small details and motifs that create a vivid and compelling picture of the characters, their environment, and their personalities. Even the dog has her own mind. Moriarty knows how to drop hints and sow doubts in our minds, is an expert in leading us down the wrong path, and she takes her time building up the characters, the background, and maintaining the suspense. The reveals are well-timed, and although this is not a page-turner in the usual sense, dedicating plenty of time to exploring the characters’ motivations and going on detours to learn more about the past, the action flows well, and everything fits in beautifully at the end. Even though it does not lack a sense of humour, I found it, in general, more understated when it came to light content and funny scenes than some of her other novels, with many more quietly amusing moments than those that make one guffaw.

I enjoyed the ending and its several twists, although more than one big ending, this is a book that takes its time to tie all the loose threads, so although there are aspects of the novel (more to do with what will happen next than with the actual mystery) left to the reader’s imagination, I particularly recommend it to those who feel frustrated when any aspects of the story aren’t fully explained.

In sum, this is a good example of what Moriarty’s stories are like, full of psychologically well-drawn characters, an intriguing mystery, and a novel for readers who don’t mind taking time to learn about the relationships and interactions within a family or a community, particularly when there are plenty of secrets and lies to uncover. And those who love tennis will appreciate it even more.

Thanks to Michael Joseph/ Penguin Random House UK and the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and if you’ve enjoyed it or know anybody who might, feel free to like, share, comment, and always keep smiling and stay safe!

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview 337 by M Jonathan Lee (@MJonathanLee) A ‘total’ reading experience #literaryfiction

Hi all:

I bring you a pretty surprising (albeit enjoyable) reading experience.

337 by M. Jonathan Lee

337 by M Jonathan Lee

337 follows the life of Samuel Darte whose mother vanished when he was in his teens.

It was his brother, Tom who found her wedding ring on the kitchen table along with the note. While their father pays the price of his mother s disappearance, Sam learns that his long-estranged Gramma is living out her last days in a nursing home nearby.

Keen to learn about what really happened that day and realising the importance of how little time there is, he visits her to finally get the truth. Soon it’ll be too late and the family secrets will be lost forever. Reduced to ashes. But in a story like this, nothing is as it seems.

https://www.amazon.es/337-M-Jonathan-Lee/dp/0995492352/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/337-M-Jonathan-Lee/dp/0995492352/

https://www.amazon.com/337-M-Jonathan-Lee-ebook/dp/B08HQYXLKP/

Author M. Jonathan Lee

 About the author:

M Jonathan Lee is a nationally shortlisted author and mental health campaigner.

His first novel The Radio was shortlisted in the Novel Prize 2012. Since that time he has gone on to publish five further novels. 337 is his sixth novel.

He is obsessed with stories with twists where nothing is exactly how it first appears. He was born in Yorkshire where he still lives to this day with his twins, James and Annabel.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M_Jonathan_Lee

Here you can find an interview with the author:

https://www.hideawayfall.com/meet-our-authors/

337 by M. Jonathan Lee

My review:

I had never met M. Jonathan Lee before but when I was approached by his publishing company and read a bit more about the new story and its background, I had to give it a go. I thank them for providing me an ARC hardback copy of the book, which I freely chose to review.

I was intrigued because they were insistent on sending me a hardback copy, but once I had it on my hands, I knew why. This is a pretty special book, not only because of the way it is written and the story it contains, but also because of the format. At first sight, the book appears to be double-ended. The images on both sides are the same (or almost): the door of a house with several transparent glass panels and a stained glass geometrical design on top and on one side, wood flooring (flooded by light) and a side door (on that door the glass panels on the cover are glossy rather than matte like the rest of the cover) —although perhaps it is a reflection rather than a real door— and the number 337 written (inside a box in a lighter colour) at the bottom on the right hand corner (oh, and the number is also glossy). The palette of colours includes different tonalities of yellows and browns, with a touch of green in the stained window. The other side is the same, but the palette of colours goes from violet to blue, as if this was a nocturnal version of the previous cover. It seems that the name of the author is only written on the spine, but if we pay attention to the title and the typography we soon realise that the 337 of the title, upside down, reads “LEE”.  Whichever end of the book you open, it seems to be the start of the book, with the information about the edition, some quotes about the author’s previous books, a poem, and then chapter one. As I am a bit contrary, I started reading by what I later discovered was the back cover (I guess), the night version of the door, and when I reached page 16 I was greeted by this message ‘Nothing is as it seems…’ and in the next page I was told to turn the book and keep reading from page 16. Several empty pages and pages with geometrical motives followed, so I turned the book, and after checking to make sure I hadn’t missed a different beginning, I kept reading. Yes, not your standard novel, and it got me thinking. However, in case you’re already intrigued and rushing to order the book, please note the double-ended upside-down opening for this book is available in books ordered in hard copy from UK booksellers only. Don’t worry, though, the rest of the book is pretty special as well.

This is a work of literary fiction, even if a quick reading of the description might induce some people to think they are going to read a standard murder mystery book. Although there is an investigation or a process of research going on, there is nothing standard about it, and the book’s description hints at that. The book delves into memories, looks at how we remember our childhood and past events, examines the stories we tell ourselves (both about ourselves and about those around us), the way we protect ourselves from events and feelings, what happens when we are confronted with reality, and also reflects upon the many alternative ways different people deal with trauma in their lives. Some refuse to let it go; some bury it; some chose to try and forget (sometimes aided by drugs and alcohol); some reinvent themselves…

This is a book with very few characters, and in some ways, it reminded me of a play with a very small cast. It also brought to my mind a very well-known (and excellent) Spanish novel by Miguel Delibes called Cinco horas con Mario (Five hours with Mario) where the recently widowed wife of Mario reflects upon her life with him while she seats next to his coffin at the wake. Here, the main character and narrator of the story, Sam (Samuel) tells the story, in the first-person and in the present tense. He is a man leading a life that appears rather meaningless. He still lives in his parents’ house; he has an online job where he just seems to clock hours for doing as little as possible; he is in the process of divorcing his wife (she initiated divorce proceedings); and he seems to live stuck in the past, still trying to understand what happened to his family following his mother’s disappearance and his father’s imprisonment for her murder. The book opens with a dream/memory from the past, a time when his family and his grandparents —on his father’s side— had gone for a picnic to the park, a family annual tradition. There are several dreams/flashbacks throughout the book, and they are so beautifully and carefully described that we get quite a clear sense of what the family life might have been like (in full technicolour detail). Of course, as the book reminds us, things are not always as they seem, and although for much of the book we only have Sam’s own point of view, events, comments, and even memories that intrude into the action make us start wondering how reliable a narrator he is as we keep reading. We also hear about his wife, Sarah, his brother, Tom, his father, his mother (the one whose disappearance is at the centre of the book), his grandfather, and especially his grandmother, who is dying in a nursing home and whom, after much hesitation, he ends up visiting. Despite his initial reluctance, he ends up spending a lot of time with his grandmother, and that makes him reconsider things. We also meet a few members of the staff at his grandmother’s nursing home. And not even there things are as they seem to be.

The writing style is fascinating. I’ve mentioned the beauty of the descriptions, and there are some fabulous similes and metaphors as well. The writing is lyrical and at times reminded me of poetry, both in written and visual form (we might get a white space where there is a meaningful silence in a conversation, or very short sentences written as if they were a prose poem), mixed with some very insightful comments and reflections. We also have access to the conversations Sam shares with others, mostly his grandmother, but also Tom and the other characters that have much to contribute to our understanding, although not perhaps in the way we think at first. The book flows well and there is something very compelling about it, although it is not a page-turner in the usual sense, because nothing much happens for those who love action, while at the same time there is a lot going on.

A few examples of the writing, so you can see for yourselves what I mean (although remember this is an ARC copy):

Random thoughts are now jumping like kernels of corn over heat. They pop and explode inside my head like fireworks in New Year’s Eve.

When you experience some kind of serious trauma at a young age, it stays with you. It’s like a ghost which follows a few feet behind every footstep — a quiet whispered sound that reminds you of your past.

It has always confused me why people who have not got the slightest clue of what somebody is experiencing still believe that it is their right to state their opinion on the subject. I’ve given this a lot of thought. I believe it comes down to guilt.

And here, Sam is ranting (mentally) about the effects of mobile phones on conversations:

We could be locked in some deep conversation, maybe about to open up about some desperate fear or seemingly unsurmountable problem, and instead a screen is thrust in front of us and we have to smile politely at a picture of a surprised-looking cat near a cucumber. It is unbelievable. The number of truly worthwhile moments that have been spoiled by the interruption of mobile phones is limitless.

The ending… I am going to keep my peace and only tell you that I loved the way it is written and I liked the ending itself, although it wasn’t a surprise for me.

This is not a book for people who are looking for a plot-driven book and an intricate story. It has elements of mystery but it is, first and foremost, a subjective reading experience. If you enjoy literary fiction and like to savour writing in the same way you might enjoy a delicate meal or a beautiful piece of music, I recommend this novel to you. It is a ‘total’ reading experience.

Thanks to the publisher and to the author for this very special novel, thanks to all of you for reading, remember to keep safe, and if you feel like it, like, share, comment, click, review, and keep smiling. We’ll get there.

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview PALE HIGHWAY by Nicholas Conley (@NicholasConley1) A wonderful look at Alzheimer’s, with sci-fi, inspiration, genetics and metaphysics thrown in

Hi all:

I hope this week treats you well. I’m trying to catch up with as many of my pending reviews as I can because next week (well, from Thursday this week) I’ll be helping at a book festival in Madrid and I might not have much chance to come and check, but considering it is a book festival I couldn’t allow that to keep me from recommending some more books.

Today’s is a very special book. It does not fit neatly into any genre, as I explain but I’d advise you to check a few pages and see how you feel. It’s extraordinary and, if you have a big of imagination and don’t mind bizarre events, I’d recommend it especially to those who have an interest (personal, professional… ) in dementia.

I shared the review on Lit World Interviews, recently, so sorry if you’ve read it there but I couldn’t risk any of you missing it.

Pale Highway by Nicholas Conley
Pale Highway by Nicholas Conley

Pale Highway by Nicholas Conley

Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Novel – Predators & Editors Readers Poll 2015

“Steeped in suspense, Conley’s novel delves into the darker recesses of the medical establishment. Gabriel is a sympathetic character, and the reader is pulled into his private struggles.” – Publishers Weekly

“Pale Highway brings his struggles for survival along with his fierce desire to hold off his symptoms long enough to save everyone around him to brilliant, beautiful life.” – Examiner.com

Gabriel Schist is spending his remaining years at Bright New Day, a nursing home. He once won the Nobel Prize for inventing a vaccine for AIDS. But now, he has Alzheimer’s, and his mind is slowly slipping away.

When one of the residents comes down with a horrific virus, Gabriel realizes that he is the only one who can find a cure. Encouraged by Victor, an odd stranger, he convinces the administrator to allow him to study the virus. Soon, reality begins to shift, and Gabriel’s hallucinations interfere with his work.

As the death count mounts, Gabriel is in a race against the clock and his own mind. Can he find a cure before his brain deteriorates past the point of no return?

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Pale-Highway-Nicholas-Conley-ebook/dp/B016ALW8PW/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Pale-Highway-Nicholas-Conley-ebook/dp/B016ALW8PW/

Author Nicholas Conley
Author Nicholas Conley

About the author:

Nicholas Conley is a novelist, world traveler, playwright, and coffee vigilante. His passion for storytelling began at an early age, prompted by a love of science fiction novels, comic books, and horror movies.

His novel Pale Highway, the winner of the 2015 Preditors & Editors Award for Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Novel, was influenced by his real life experience working with Alzheimer’s patients in a nursing home. He has written for Vox, Truthout, The Huffington Post, SFFWorld, and Alzheimers.net, and his original radio play Something in the Nothing was performed live on the radio station WSCA 106.1 FM in 2016. He is a member of PEN America, the writers organization dedicated to human rights and freedom of expression. To learn more about him, take a stroll over to www.NicholasConley.com.

https://www.amazon.com/Nicholas-Conley/e/B004M7ITYG/

My review:

Thanks to the author who offered me an ARC copy of his novel that I freely chose to review.

When the author approached me about this novel, I didn’t know what to say. I don’t read a lot of science-fiction (although I’ve really enjoyed some of the sci-fi I’ve read. I think my main problem, and the same goes for fantasy, is that I don’t have much patience for world-building and descriptions) but he explained that although it was classed as science-fiction, and indeed it purports a world that is very similar to ours but with some differences (mostly, the protagonist of the novel, Gabriel Schist, years back discovered the HIV-vaccine but , rather than simply creating a vaccine against that illness, his vaccine reprograms the immune system of the person that receives it and protects them against many other illnesses), it was a bit different to most science-fiction. He told me, as mentioned in his biography, that he had worked in nursing homes and the novel was also about Alzheimer’s disease. I read the description of the novel and was intrigued. And yes, I agree with him, his novel is not a standard science-fiction novel, although it’s true that some of the best sci-fi looks at what makes us human and explores metaphysical issues.

The protagonist of the novel, Gabriel, a famous scientist who won the Nobel Prize for his discovery,  is in his early seventies and suffers from Alzheimer’s, fairly early stages, but noticeable enough. He is trying to hold on to his identity, testing his memory and using tricks to orientate himself and hold onto reality, but it is not without difficulties. The book wonderfully describes the residents of the nursing home, some of their peculiar behaviours, but also the persons behind the behaviours. The novel goes back and forth in time, as does the memory of the character, from 2018 to the 1950s, when Gabriel was a weird young boy (he seems to have presented some traits suggestive of autistic spectrum disorder, likely Asperger’s) already determined to solve the problem of future infectious diseases, and also covering the years when he met his wife, the dissolution of his marriage, his great discovery and how he eventually connected and got to know his daughter. All this is interspersed with what is happening now (well, in the very near future) at the nursing home, as Gabriel never goes out. Suddenly, some of the residents start getting ill, and the virus (if that’s what it is) puzzles everybody as it acts as no known illness. Gabriel starts to have strange experiences that he’s not sure if they are hallucinations or real (the readers are free to make up their own minds about this, although if one chooses to go with a rational explanation, there are enough clues within the story to suggest how his mind might have come up with such weird events) and becomes convinced that he’s the only one who can fight this terrible illness. His is a desperate race, not only against the illness itself but also against Alzheimer’s and the progressive degeneration of his mind.

The novel is written in the third person, although always from Gabriel’s point of view, giving the readers a great insight into the processes and difficulties of a mind coming undone, of the strength of memories of the past, sometimes more vivid than the present, and the style is fluid, with some beautifully descriptive passages, and some very vivid moments, particularly Gabriel’s memories, filled with emotion. Gabriel is a scientist and a keen observer, even in his current state, and that serves the novel well.

The characters are realistically drawn and it’s impossible not to care for them. Gabriel is confused and unclear at times, he hesitates and his self-confidence is marred by his illness and by previous experiences. He feels guilty for letting people down in the past, for his use of alcohol (initially to try and fit in with social expectations, as he was too different and too intelligent for most people, but later he got to like it and used it as a coping strategy but also as something he enjoyed), for allowing his wife to leave, for not being there for his daughter … He also feels guilty because he’s always said that human beings are predictable and not interesting enough and he hasn’t loved or cared for many of them. But his experiences through the novel put him to the test more than once and he discovers that it’s never too late to learn more about yourself. The author, who evidently has first-hand knowledge, depicts well the changes in humour, the confusion, the fear, the loneliness, the disorientation, and also the tenacity and the spirit of the elderly residents, including those moments when their personalities shine through the illness. The character of Melanie, Gabriel’s daughter, and her difficulty coming to terms with the illness of her father (all the harder because of his once brilliant mind), reflects well the difficulties of the families, with their guilty feelings for not visiting more often or for not being able to do more and their difficulty accepting the new circumstances (although not everybody is the same, of course).

The running of the facility, Bright New Day, also rings true. Understaffed, with routines to suit staff rather than residents, and with a mix of staff, some very caring and professional and others not so much. The novel is not an indictment of nursing homes, and other than one of the staff members, everybody works hard and is caring, but it does reflect the difficulties of running such facilities within a limited budget and trying to care for residents as individuals.

The plot is intriguing and the issue of if and how Gabriel might manage to defeat the virus is a page turner, although there are some very quirky aspects of the story that some readers might find challenging (not the scientific part as such. Although I’m a doctor I don’t think readers without medical knowledge will have difficulty with the general concepts behind Gabriel’s discovery. It is a fascinating idea). The story requires some suspension of disbelief although it is also possible to read some of the clues offered through the fragments of Gabriel’s memories as proof that a less fanciful interpretation of events is also possible. That is up to each reader.

I have to confess to feeling very moved by the story and being teary-eyed a couple of times but don’t worry, there are fun moments too and it is not a sad story but a life-affirming one. The ending, whatever interpretation we choose to go with is joyful and positive and might be meaningful to many readers.

This is not an easy novel to categorise in any genre. I think most people who are interested in Alzheimer’s will enjoy it, and people who like books on medical subjects, as long as they have a well-developed imagination. I recommend it also to people interested in memory, identity and in the big questions, and to those looking for a positive and inspiring read.

Thanks to the author for his book, thanks to all of you for reading, and don’t forget to like, share, comment and CLICK! 

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview The Black Notebook by Patrick Modiano. Memory, fiction, writing and we’ll always have Paris

Hi all:

Here I bring you another review, today one by a very well known author.

Review of the Black Notebook by Patrick Modiano
The Black Notebook by Patrick Modiano

The Black Notebook by Patrick Modiano

A writer’s notebook becomes the key that unlocks memories of a love formed and lost in 1960s Paris.

In the aftermath of Algeria’s war of independence, Paris was a city rife with suspicion and barely suppressed violence. Amid this tension, Jean, a young writer adrift, met and fell for Dannie, an enigmatic woman fleeing a troubled past. A half century later, with his old black notebook as a guide, he retraces this fateful period in his life, recounting how, through Dannie, he became mixed up with a group of unsavory characters connected by a shadowy crime. Soon Jean, too, was a person of interest to the detective pursuing their case–a detective who would prove instrumental in revealing Dannie’s darkest secret.  The Black Notebook bears all the hallmarks of this Nobel Prize–winning literary master’s unsettling and intensely atmospheric style, rendered in English by acclaimed translator Mark Polizzotti (Suspended Sentences). Once again, Modiano invites us into his unique world, a Paris infused with melancholy, uncertain danger, and the fading echoes of lost love.

Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

“1960s Paris, a mysterious girl, a group of shady characters, danger . . . Modiano’s folklore is set out from the beginning . . . and sheer magic follows once more.” — Vogue

“The prose — elliptical, muted, eloquent — falls on the reader like an enchantment . . . No one is currently writing such beautiful tales of loss, melancholy, and remembrance.” —Independent

“Sublime . . . [A] magnificent novel that reawakens days long past, illuminating them with a dazzling light.” — Elle (France)

In the aftermath of Algeria’s war of independence, Paris was a city rife with suspicion and barely suppressed violence. Amid this tension, Jean, a young writer adrift, met and fell for Dannie, an enigmatic woman fleeing a troubled past. A half century later, with his old black notebook as a guide, he retraces this fateful period in his life, recounting how, through Dannie, he became mixed up with a group of unsavory characters connected by a shadowy crime. Soon Jean, too, was a person of interest to the detective pursuing their case — a detective who would prove instrumental in revealing Dannie’s darkest secret.

The Black Notebook bears all the hallmarks of this Nobel Prize–winning literary master’s unsettling and intensely atmospheric style. Once again, Patrick Modiano invites us into his unique world, a Paris infused with melancholy, uncertain danger, and the fading echoes of lost love.

“Never before has Modiano written a novel as lyrical as this . . . Both carefully wrought and superbly fluid, sustained by pure poetry.” — Le Monde

Patrick Modiano is the author of more than twenty novels, including several bestsellers. He has won the Prix Goncourt, the Grand Prix National des Lettres, and many other honors. In 2014 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature. He lives in Paris.

Mark Polizzotti has translated more than forty books from the French, including Modiano’s Suspended Sentences. He is director of the publications program at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
About the Author

PATRICK MODIANO was born in 1945 in a suburb of Paris and grew up in various locations throughout France. In 1967, he published his first novel, La Place de l’étoile, to great acclaim. Since then, he has published over twenty novels—including the Goncourt Prize−winning Rue des boutiques obscures (translated as Missing Person), Dora Bruder, and Les Boulevards des ceintures(translated as Ring Roads)—as well as the memoir Un Pedigree and a children’s book, Catherine Certitude. He collaborated with Louis Malle on the screenplay for the film Lacombe Lucien. In 2014, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. The Swedish Academy cited “the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the Occupation,” calling him “a Marcel Proust of our time.”

 

MARK POLIZZOTTI has translated more than forty books from the French, including Patrick Modiano’s Suspended Sentences, and is director of the publications program at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Cover of The Black Notebook by Patrick Modiano
The Black Notebook by Patrick Modiano

My review:

Thanks to Net Galley and to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Mariner Books for providing me a free ARC copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

This is the first of Patrick Modiano’s novels I read, so I can’t comment on its similarities or differences with the rest of his oeuvre or how well it fits in with his usual concerns.

The novel, translated into English by Mark Polizzotti, is a wander through his memories and the city of Paris by Jean, a writer who fifty years ago, when he was very young, kept a black notebook where he wrote all kinds of things: streets and people’s names, references to writers he admired and events he experienced, sentences people said, rumours, he recorded information about buildings that were about to disappear, dates, visits to places, locations…

The story can be read as a mystery novel, as there are clues referring to false identities, strange men who meet in underground hotels, breaking and entering, robberies and even a serious crime is hinted at. There’s a police interrogation and suggestions of political conspiracy/terrorism, as the original events take place shortly after Algeria’s War of Independence, and a few of the characters are Moroccan and have a reputation for being secretive and dangerous. There is also Dannie, a woman a few years older than Jean, who has a central role in all the intrigues, or at least that’s how it seemed to him at the time. What did he really feel for her? Is he revisiting a love story? Although it is possible to try a conventional reading of the novel, the joy of what French theorist Roland Barthes would call a readerly approach to it, is in making up your own meaning, in accompanying Jean in his walks not only around the real Paris, but also the Paris of his memory, those moments when he feels that he can almost recapture the past, through reading his notes, and relive the moment when he was knocking at a door, or observing outside of a café. Sometimes, more than recapturing the past he feels as if he could bridge the gap of time and go back: to recover a manuscript he forgot years ago, turn off a light that could give them away, or ask questions and clarifications about events he wasn’t aware of at the time.

The narration, in first person, puts the reader firmly inside of Jean’s head, observing and trying to make sense of the same clues he has access to, although in our case without the possible benefit of having lived the real events (if there is such a thing) at the time. But he insists he did not pay enough attention to things as they were happening, and acknowledges that often we can only evaluate the importance of events and people we come across in hindsight when we can revisit them with a different perspective.

The writing is beautiful, fluid, nostalgic, understated and intriguing at times. The book is also very short and it provides a good introduction to Modiano’s writing. But this is not a novel for readers who love the conventions and familiarity provided by specific genres and who want to know what to expect when they start reading, or those who like to have a clear plot and story, and need solid characters to connect with. Here, even the protagonist, Jean, remains a cypher or a stand-in for both, the reader and the writer.

I enjoyed the experience of reading this book, although as mentioned it is not a book for everyone. But, if you love Paris, enjoy a walk down memory lane, like books that make you work and think, have an open mind and are curious about Modiano’s work, I recommend it.

Thanks to NetGalley, to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Mariner Books and the author for the book, thanks to all of you for reading, and please, like, share, comment and CLICK!

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Book reviews

#Bookreviews NUMERO ZERO by Umberto Eco and ZERO K by Don DeLillo. Two great writers pushing boundaries #TuesdayBookBlog

Hi all:

I’m still trying to catch up with some of the reviews I haven’t posted yet, and as I was checking, it struck me that two books by two very well-known authors (one who has unfortunately left us since I read the book) had Zero in their titles, and I couldn’t resist to bring them together. I’m not sure there’s much to link them otherwise (one of the writers is Italian, the other from the US, the themes are in no way related, nor are their styles) although it’s true that both of these books are perhaps fairly different to their usual novels. Whatever the reason, here they are.

Numero Zero by Umberto Eco
Numero Zero by Umberto Eco

Numero Zero by Umberto Eco

From the best-selling author of The Name of the Rose and The Prague Cemetery, a novel about the murky world of media politics, conspiracy, and murder

A newspaper committed to blackmail and mud slinging, rather than reporting the news.

A paranoid editor, walking through the streets of Milan, reconstructing fifty years of history against the backdrop of a plot involving the cadaver of Mussolini’s double.

The murder of Pope John Paul I, the CIA, red terrorists handled by secret services, twenty years of bloodshed, and events that seem outlandish until the BBC proves them true.

A fragile love story between two born losers, a failed ghost writer, and a vulnerable girl, who specializes in celebrity gossip yet cries over the second movement of Beethoven’s Seventh. And then a dead body that suddenly appears in a back alley in Milan.

Set in 1992 and foreshadowing the mysteries and follies of the following twenty years, Numero Zero is a scintillating take on our times from the best-selling author of The Name of the Rose and Foucault’s Pendulum.

numero-zero-2

Here my review:

Numero Zero by Umberto Eco. Satire, conspiracy, politics, media… although not sure it’s a novel.

Thanks to Net Galley and to Vintage Digital for offering me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve read some of the reviews by many readers who have followed Eco’s literary career. All seem to agree that this book cannot compare to some of the other novels he’s written, although some like it nonetheless, whilst others are disparaging of it.

For me, Umberto Eco is a writer who’s always been on my bucket list but never quite made it (or perhaps I read The Name of the Rose translated to Spanish many years back, but as I don’t remember it, I’ll assume I didn’t). When I saw this opportunity I decided not to miss it.

I’m not sure what I was expecting, but Numero Zero is quite different from anything I had imagined.

The beginning of the book is very intriguing, and it presents a writer/translator (Colonna) who swiftly explains his current situation. He is convinced that somebody has entered his house and he is in fear for his life.

Following this introduction to the main character, Colonna goes back to describe how he got there. The background to his current situation is what forms most of the novel, and we only return to the original point very late in the book (when there are only a few pages left).

Colonna describes himself as a loser and he has accepted a very strange job: to record the memoirs of a man who is setting up a newspaper, Domani. Only the newspaper will never get published, and the whole project is a way of manipulating contacts, allies and enemies by a third interested party.

There are descriptions of the reporters, a motley crew, fairly quirky, but none particularly talented or known. The ones we get to know more about are Braggadocio, who’s always investigating some conspiracy or other (eventually coming to the conclusion that it is all part of a single huge conspiracy, involving Mussolini, the Vatican, the CIA, European governments…), and the only woman, Maia, who has a very special personality, but seems the only one with some sense of ethics and morals. By a strange process of osmosis, Colonna and Maia end up in a relationship, the one bright and hopeful point of the whole novel, however, weird the coupling seems.

Rather than well-developed characters and situations, Numero Zero seems an exercise in exposing current society (although the story is set in 1992), the press, media, politics… and their lack of substance. Also the lack of interest in serious stories by the population at large, and our collective poor memory.  As a satire I enjoyed it enormously, and although most of the characters experience no change (we don’t get too attached to them either, as they seem to be mostly just two-dimensional beings representing a single point of view), I thought Maia become more realistic, cynical and enlightened by the end of the book. And I found Colonna’s final reflection about Italy hilarious. (No offence to Italy. I think all the countries are going the same way if not there already. I’m Spanish and I definitely had to nod).

I agree with many of the comments that the disquisitions and tirades of Braggadocio are relentless, but reflect a paranoid character (and perhaps, although he accuses Maia of being autistic, there is more than a bit of obsessiveness in his personality), the comments about the newspaper, how to write articles, and the press I found illuminating (yes, and funny), and overall I enjoyed the book, although as I said, it’s not my idea of a novel.

So I find myself in a similar situation to when I reviewed Satin Island. I enjoyed it (not as much as Satin Island, but it made me laugh more than once), but it is a novel that’s perhaps not a novel, with not very well developed characters, and an anecdote at its heart rather than a plot. There you are. You decide if you want to read it or not. Ah, and it’s short. 
Paperback:  $ 14.95 http://www.amazon.com/Numero-Zero-Umberto-Eco/dp/0544811836/

Hardback: $19.14 http://www.amazon.com/Numero-Zero-Umberto-Eco/dp/0544635086/

Kindle: $15.13 http://www.amazon.com/Numero-Zero-Umberto-Eco-ebook/dp/B0110ONP24/

Audio:  $ 17.72 http://www.amazon.com/Numero-Zero/dp/B016QTSTCY/

 

Zero K by Don DeLillo
Zero K by Don DeLillo

Zero K by Don DeLillo. The search for meaning and control

Description

The wisest, richest, funniest, and most moving novel in years from Don DeLillo, one of the great American novelists of our time—an ode to language, at the heart of our humanity, a meditation on death, and an embrace of life.

Jeffrey Lockhart’s father, Ross, is a billionaire in his sixties, with a younger wife, Artis Martineau, whose health is failing. Ross is the primary investor in a remote and secret compound where death is exquisitely controlled and bodies are preserved until a future time when biomedical advances and new technologies can return them to a life of transcendent promise. Jeff joins Ross and Artis at the compound to say “an uncertain farewell” to her as she surrenders her body.

“We are born without choosing to be. Should we have to die in the same manner? Isn’t it a human glory to refuse to accept a certain fate?”

These are the questions that haunt the novel and its memorable characters, and it is Ross Lockhart, most particularly, who feels a deep need to enter another dimension and awake to a new world. For his son, this is indefensible. Jeff, the book’s narrator, is committed to living, to experiencing “the mingled astonishments of our time, here, on earth.”

Don DeLillo’s seductive, spectacularly observed and brilliant new novel weighs the darkness of the world—terrorism, floods, fires, famine, plague—against the beauty and humanity of everyday life; love, awe, “the intimate touch of earth and sun.”

Zero K is glorious.

zero-k

My review:

Thanks to Scribner and to Net Galley for providing me a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve read novels by Don DeLillo before and enjoyed them although I haven’t read all of them. I was curious to read this novel, and I’ve also noticed that Zero keeps appearing in the title of novels I’m reading these days (not sure what it says about me but…).

I’m not sure exactly what to say about this novel. On the surface, it’s a story written in the first person by a character, Jeff, who goes through a very strange experience. His wealthy father, Ross, and his stepmother, Artis, have asked him to go with them to a strange facility, the Convergence, where his stepmother, who is terminally ill, thanks to new scientific processes including cryogenics, is going to be frozen in the hope that in the future they’ll find the cure for her condition and she will live again, seemingly forever. The trip and the experience are confusing and disorienting, as not only is Jeff not sure where he is, but the compound seems designed to make people lose their bearings. Doors that aren’t really doors, rooms stripped bare, strange speeches mixing up seemingly spiritual, philosophical, religious, ecological and economic subjects with a somewhat apocalyptic and sect-like underlying message. Jeff’s father is very wealthy and has invested heavily in the programme, but Jeff isn’t quite convinced. His attempts at finding meaning in the process and get some control over it range from mentally giving names to people, inventing the background for the individuals he meets, trying to imagine their stories… In many ways, that’s the same we, as readers are asked to do. We are not expected to be simply passive receivers of a story or of a meaning but must collaborate with the author and create a joint one.

As a reader, I find it easier to connect to books and novels where I empathise or I’m very interested in its characters. In the case of the main character and guiding conscience of this novel, it’s not a straightforward process. Do we really get to know Jeff? We know how he thinks and what it feels like to be inside of his head, what his relationship with his father and his stepmother is like (at least what he thinks it’s like) and in part two we get to glimpse into a relationship he gets into, although mostly through his references to the adopted son of his girlfriend, a very special boy. Jeff is articulate, erudite, curious, a keen observer and seems to live inside of his head, but he seems to mostly react to others and to the situation analysing everything to death, rather than doing anything or deciding anything. In a way, he’s perhaps as frozen and paralysed as Artis and Ross, but they’ve made a decision, however, egotistical and self-aggrandizing it might be, while he remains the passive observer. For me, Jeff is intriguing, but not someone I feel an easy connection with or I care for. Like him, the novel is engaging at an intellectual level but not so much at an emotional one, at least for me.

This is a novel where action is not the prime component. It is beautifully written and you’ll read some passages many times, as they seem to demand analysis and ongoing exploration. I’m not sure I can say what it is about? Life and death? The future? The meaninglessness of existence? Family relationships? I don’t feel it’s DeLillo’s most accessible story, and definitely, I would not recommend it to somebody who is looking for an easy read and a good story. But if you’re interested in a challenging read and in exploring big themes and personal meanings, this might be the book for you.

Buy links:

Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Zero-K-Don-DeLillo-ebook/dp/B018Y1BEQA/

Hardback: http://www.amazon.com/Zero-K-Don-DeLillo/dp/1501135392/

Audible: http://www.amazon.com/Zero-K/dp/B01DFBQUPE/

Thanks to NetGalley, the publishers and the authors (so sorry about Umberto Eco’s death) for the books, thanks to you for reading, and if you’ve enjoyed it, like, share, comment and CLICK!

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