Sunday, August 20, 2017

In the Country

In the Country
by Mia Alvar

Yet another book focused on a non-American culture, which continues to reflect the composition of the RA staff at NYU.  This book, In the Country, by Mia Alvar, is a collection of short stories which discuss the social issues that arose around the time of government turmoil in the mid-1970s through late 1980s in the Philippines.  Each story reveals different aspects of the culture: political issues, poverty, hardships on women, and government intervention in people’s daily lives.  My favorite aspect of the stories is that, in each one, there is a pivotal “plot twist” that comes as a surprise to the reader.  One of my favorites was The Virgin of Monte Ramon.  In the story, a little boy is born with no feet and lives in his wheelchair, told by his mother that he inherited the deformity from his grandfather who was injured in the army and died a hero with the same physical condition.  For years, the boy and his mother received financial support from many men in town, who appeared to have a “relationship” with his mother.  One man in particular, Dr. Delacruz, visited frequently to provide food, clothes and other amenities.  The boy was picked on by classmates because of his condition and the fact his mother was a recipient of numerous “gifts” from mature men. This left him to be ridiculed as the son of a whore. The twist to the story is that Dr. Delacruz is actually the boy’s biological father….Alvar is a young author on the rise.  Her ability to capture the realities of her culture and the horrors that occurred during the dictatorship of the country illustrate the atrocities on so many levels.  This is a book worth picking up!

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
by Marie Kondo

Went home to clean the apartment and picked up one of the RA Favorite books: The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up – The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo.  This ‘self-help’ book provides the reader with the steps to getting your house in order, which, in turn, will get your life in order as well.  The author explains why people have such a hard time keeping the home organized, suggesting that a little-by-little approach NEVER works.  You need to go full-out to accomplish the task, and the author extends this process to cleaning all aspects of your life (your relationships, your career, your priorities, etc.).  Some helpful hints include: NO storage units; sort by category, not by location; make tidying a special event, not a daily chore; and discard all things you need to get rid of before organizing.  She suggests keeping family away from this process as they usually serve as enablers for a messy life!  Here is the order in which to organize:
1.)    Clothing!  With a sub-order as follows:
a.       Tops (shirts, sweaters)
b.       Bottoms (pants, etc.)
c.       Clothes to be hung
d.       Socks
e.       Underwear
f.        Bags
g.       Accessories
h.       Shoes
2.)    Loungewear
3.)    Books (unread books means you’ll never read it!)
4.)    Sorting papers (get rid of old checkbooks and throw away those old electrical appliance manuals)
5.)    Miscellaneous items

Designate a place for each one.  And once you have this all taken care of, then you will be doing the daily work/maintenance!  She then shares how the ‘magic’ of a new life will appear.  Sound easy?  We will see how well the work I did last night based on the book turns out.  Pretty common-sense ideas done in a fairly quick read, one hour tops!  Excellent reading opportunity when waiting at the DMV…

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Cereus Blooms at Night

Cereus Blooms at Night
by Shani Mootoo

Mystery, intrigue, rape, desperation, hidden secrets….. this book has it and is written in beautiful prose.  The book, Cereus Blooms at Night, by Shani Mootoo, begins with the end and the author brings us to the sordid past – it reminds me of the technique used in Fried Green Tomatoes. Mala Ramchandin, viewed as a crazy elderly woman, is brought to a nursing home by the local authorities after she is found innocent of a murder in her own home.  What we don’t know is what actually happened.  The story-teller, Tyler, is a recently hired nurse at the paradise Alms House.  He is given no real work projects, but, when Mala arrives, he has the opportunity to be her private nurse.  The rest of the book gives Mala’s history and how the dead body ended in her home.  Mala was raised by her abusive father (Chandin) after her mother (Sarah) ran off with her friend and lover (Lavina), who happened to be the woman her father loved.  When her mother escaped the home, she tried taking her two daughters, but they were stopped when her father returned home from work early that day.  Chandin was raised by Lavina’s parents, and grew up as her brother.  The story unfolds with great detail and in a chronological flow, piece by piece.  Mala’s love interest as a young girl is also revealed and the role he plays in all that has unfolded. The mystery is revealed as to whom the dead body is and how it got there.  Love, friendship, homosexuality, incest, rape and guilt are all entwined in the story.  It’s a relatively quick read and also shows that people are complicated as is jealousy.  Add in the annual bloom of the cereus plant and you have a “tight” story that fits very nicely together.

Thursday, August 10, 2017


by Josephine Angelini

Creativity in using the past to tell a story is pretty impressive, especially a story using historical characters from Greek mythology.  You have entered the world of Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini and the story of Helen (yes, based on Helen of Troy). She is a seventeen-year-old high school senior who wants to be average but has the skills and smarts to be above average.  She lives with her father, after her mother died when she was an infant.  The story is set on the beautiful island of Nantucket, where my wife and I had our honeymoon.  Helen has some strange dreams and later has a sudden hallucination of two young girls trying to strangle a classmate.  She goes into action to try and save him, but, in reality, there are no girls there and, instead, Helen attacks her classmate, Lucas, who has just moved into town.  Helen isn’t having hallucinations, as she later learns.  She has entered the world of the ancient ‘reincarnated’ Greek Gods.  Her journey will include falling in love with Lucas, who is unable to share his emotions with her because he thinks he is in her family lineage, discovering who she really is, and that her mother isn’t really dead!  Throw in the arrival of the furies and the warring family factions, the dividing family in Greek times and you have a sinister fantasy novel.  Downsides to this: it’s a trilogy (ugh!), you need to know your Greek Gods, the slow pace of ensuring they get the Greek Gods all in, and it's a “like it if you know the background” story – if you don't, this may not fit the bill.  Still, it is a well-written and fun read.  It’s one of the “adult-book type” reads.  Good for a rainy day in the summer.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Lies of Locke Lamora

The Lies of Locke Lamora
by Scott Lynch

I’m rarely a fan of serial books, so you can probably tell I won’t give this a full 5-star rating.  Combine that with a lengthy storyline with two simultaneous narratives and you have a “ho-hum” from me.  So goes the fantasy tale The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch.  Written in 2006, Lynch presents a “Robin Hood”-type story with robbers trying to do some good for themselves and their clan, but also a repeated story of disguise, escape, and violence.  The main story focuses on Locke and his associates’ fight with the ‘Grey King’ for leadership of the underground world while the secondary story provides context through detailing the history of the town Camorr and the gang called the “Gentleman Bastards”.  The author’s approach in writing this way kept me confused at times and losing interest at others.  I will say there were moments of action that really enlivened the plot, especially the closing sequence.  But then I realized there is a part two, three, etc.  If you like fantasy books, you may enjoy this one – unfortunately, I did not.