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Posts tagged ‘NYJB’

It’s All Good

Happy Ever After by Nora Roberts. From New York Journal of Books.

51gfDegqlHLRight from the start, you know what’s going to happen. The short paragraph on the back cover gives the ending away without saying it. Every lover of romance will instantly understand what the story is about, how the plot will unfold, and what will probably happen with the characters. In spite of the lack of mystery or suspense, millions of readers will devour it anyway. Why? Because it makes you feel good and takes you to a world where everyone meets the perfect mate, has a job they love, and engages in fantastic sex.

A little piece of the book’s best-selling author, Nora Roberts, seeps into the pages when Parker Brown (the main character) says the following about her parents: “The Browns worked. They built and they produced and never, never sat back to laze on accomplishment.” This line seems most apropos for Ms. Roberts, who has published 29 novels, 10 series (with 3 to 4 books in each), The Remember When Collection with J. D. Robb (with 30 titles), 11 anthologies, and has contributed to 7 other compilations. That is close to 100 works of the written word! Ms. Roberts either has a winning formula she pulls out of a hat to produce one title after another, loves writing and/or works her ass off, never stopping to “laze on accomplishment.” Perhaps it is a combination of all three.

Devoted voyeurs will not care what motivates the author, they will simply want to plunge into Happy Ever After and go for the ride with Parker Brown and her best friends Laurel, Emma, and Mac, as they start their wedding event business and look for love. Introduce the fiery, handsome, and unpredictable mechanic, Malcolm Kavanaugh, and you have the makings of a romantic dream come true. There are, of course, ups and downs, separations and coming back together, but the happy ending is never in doubt.

The book is like a Disney movie for grown-ups. The motherly cook to the girls, Mrs. Grady, has all the answers and insights one would expect for her years and having known and worked for the Brown family since Parker and her friends were all little girls; and the four girlfriends are always helping one another and understanding what the other needs, before they do themselves. At one point in the story, Parker sums up this pervading sentiment when she realizes, “Her family, everyone she loved and cherished, would soon be together. And that, she knew, was what made a home.”

There is no need to have read the previous titles in this series, The Bride Quartet. It stands well enough on its own. The work situations at Vow (Parker’s wedding company) seem spot on, and a painful experience from Malcolm’s childhood is beautifully conveyed. Much like Parker, who is the last to see that she is falling for Malcolm, you may find yourself halfway through the book before you realize that it has sucked you in for the ride, in spite of or perhaps because of, its predictability or undisguised happy climax. As Mrs. Grady says about her girl Parker, “The girl wants love, and with it the rest she grew up with; that kind of partnership, respect, friendship. She’ll never settle for less, and shouldn’t.”

For Nora Robert’s fans, Happy Ever After is a story that provides exactly what you want and expect in your relationship with her books. And for the few who are new to this genre or author, it wouldn’t hurt to pick up a copy and let yourself dream of all the good things to come.

Review of American Saint

51DSeMoivLLAmerican Saint: The Life of Elizabeth Seton
Written by Joan Barthel
Reviewed by Gregory J. Wilkin
New York Journal of Books

“Characters like these, and scenes from the siege of New York, as well as the flirtation between Elizabeth and the handsome Antonio Filicchi, along with a very good death . . . all make this perfect fodder for a movie. It’s also perfectly suited to a book.”

Joan Barthel, whose earlier work dealt with murder cases in Connecticut and California that only an act of God could keep from turning into movies, seems to have a winner here with her timely and largely adulatory biography of Mother Elizabeth Seton.

After watching Meryl Streep’s despairing turn as Sister Aloysius in John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt and Barbara Jefford’s as the enragingly venomous mother superior in Judy Dench’s Philomena (as I’m confident He did, on a very big screen), Our Lord may want to get this book made into a movie Himself.

Publicity for the book emphasizes Seton’s wealthy upbringing, her political connections in the young republic, the sad tale of her husband’s early death in Italy, and the way she “resisted male clerical control of her religious order, as nuns are doing today.”

The life Barthels recounts counts in different ways for different folks: Maya Angelou in her foreword to the volume says “Seton’s life and achievements are proof that courage is the most important of all the virtues.”

True enough, Seton had to fight off the harshly overbearing Father Superior, John David, but in doing so, she worked closely with two other French priests and Bishop John Carroll. Courage it took, but to bill her as an early Catholic flouter-of-male-privilege is certainly to engage in a rather crass kind of book mongering.

In her introduction, Barthels situates her biography in the fraught context of the current administrative dispute about American nuns. The Vatican “doctrinal assessment,” which Sister Maureen Fiedler called on NPR “a hostile takeover,” will take five years to be prepared “and no one knows,” Barthels writes, “what will happen in the end.” In one of the least successful segues she pauses, indents, and gives us: “But Elizabeth Seton was there at the beginning.”

These beginnings bring out the best in our author: the early days in the Bayley family in New York are vivid and convincing, full of period detail and useful cultural background. As the young widow and mother takes her charges to Emmitsburg, the narration begins to rely on her letters, at one point quite a few of them rather wearily strung together. But some of this was heroic, loving effort by Seton herself, carried on despite fevers and worsening tuberculosis.

This is a lady who went through a lot. The accounts of the death of her daughters show her face to face with doubt:

“‘Eternity’ had long been her beloved word, her hope and belief. Now she was “uncertain of reunion.” She was kneeling at Anna’s grave when she saw a large, ugly snake stretching itself on the dried grass. Elizabeth was desolate, seeing Anna as ‘the companion of worms and reptiles! And the beautiful soul, where?’”

The takeaway here: doubt for the faithful, even for the saints, is one’s daily bread. Despite it all, Elizabeth Seton keeps her wits and her charm.

Read entire review and more at NEW YORK JOURNAL OF BOOKS

Transhumanist Novel

41uUKy0oEmLThe Transhumanist Wager by Zoltan Istvan
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans
New York Journal of Books
4 February 2014

In-depth philosophical essays and visionary science dressed up as a novel.

If you enjoy philosophy, you’ll love this book. If you’re a science geek you’ll read every word. If you are religious, spiritual, or into the supernatural, you’ll probably dismiss it, misunderstand it, and/or hate it.

Author Zoltan Istvan has taken a thinly disguised autobiography and transformed it into an almost plausible new world thriller that tends to go overboard on pontification and argument by the protagonist Jethro Knights, who becomes the mover and shaker of the Transhumanist movement and literally changes the entire world.

Istvan notes on the last page, “This story, The Transhumanist Wager, is the result of two decades of thought and inquiry into transhumanism and the quest for scientific immortality. I wrote it hoping to change people’s ideas of what a human being is and what it can become.”

A Transhumanist is someone who believes that the human race can evolve beyond its current limitations and can do so by means of technology and science.

The book has its moments. The love story between Jethro Knights and neurosurgeon Zoe Bach is believable and the action sequences in the book are top notch. The philosophy, debates, insights, and vision included in these pages are thought provoking and challenging, as are the observations about the clashes between religious fanatics and fundamentalists and those who believe in science, progress, choice and technology.

From a strictly literary perspective The Transhumanist Wager is nothing more than a collection of in-depth philosophical essays and visionary science dressed up as a novel. There are too many abrupt changes, events, and conclusions taking place in unrealistic periods of time without much depth or nuance to completely engage the reader.

Read entire review and others at NEW YORK JOURNAL OF BOOKS

What She Left Behind

61bLHO4EiELWhat She Left Behind
by Ellen Marie Wiseman
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans
New York Journal of Books
12 December 2013

“What She Left Behind screams with authenticity, depth, and understanding.”

She’s done it again. At this time last year, Ms. Wiseman’s first novel The Plum Tree was released. It was excellent and received deservedly wonderful reviews. It is rare that a writer’s follow up work is as good as their first. Such a rarity has been accomplished with What She Left Behind. The author has once again delved into the lives of teenage girls, albeit in different circumstances than her first work, yet with the same insight, nuance, and raw emotion readers can appreciate and enjoy.

One of the girls in the story is 18 and is living in the 1930s (Clara) and the other (Izzy), lives in the 1990s. Clara is sent to a state mental institution (Willard State), because she challenges her father’s wishes for whom she should marry and Izzy must adapt to a new set of foster parents and her last year in high school, as a result of her mother having killed her father when she was seven. The girls’ lives intersect when Izzy gets involved in a project that unearths suitcases in the now defunct mental institution in which Clara was captive—she finds Clara’s journal and photo inside.

The scenes of Clara’s experience and travails at Willard State are all too real and affecting in part because many similar circumstances actually took place at that mental facility and others around the country for many decades. Izzy’s struggle with a school bully, harming herself, and learning who and how to accept love and whom to trust, is no less impactful than Clara’s chapters.

What She Left Behind screams with authenticity, depth, and understanding of human behavior and what can and has been done to others to maintain control.

Read entire review and more at New York Journal of Books.

Superb Story and Scribe

0670026638.01._PC_SCLZZZZZZZ_A Tale for the Time Being
by Ruth Ozeki
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans
New York Journal of Books

“Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being is one of the best novels of 2013—and will surely inhabit that position for years to come.”

However you envision or conceptualize life, you will never see it quite the same once you’ve read this brilliant story. “Brilliant” is a strong and suggestive superlative, but it fits this story like the insistent tolling of a bell calling for one’s attention.

Down to earth and intellectual. Filled with judgments and acceptance, separateness and interdependence. Complicated, yet simple. Ms. Ozeki’s characters question their thoughts, feelings, and actions—even how they respond to suffering. They ask whether their choices and lives make a difference, what is the meaning of conscience, and how to explain the nature of existence—and they do so in the pages of a beautiful tale of families struggling to survive, understand, and share their love.

Ruth, a novelist who lives on an island in British Columbia with her husband Oliver, happens upon a diary she finds in a sealed lunchbox she discovers among some kelp that’s washed to shore. The diary is that of a sixteen year old in Tokyo, Japan, named Nao.

As Ruth begins to read the diary—which describes Nao’s family, her thoughts of suicide, and her close connection with her 104-year-old great grandmother Jiko (who is a Buddhist nun living in the area of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami)—we are pulled into Ruth’s thoughts and feelings about what she is reading as well as its impact on her, her husband, and others living on the island.

Every person, animal, life form, building, city, town, and forest in this story feels real and congruent. You can almost reach into the book and pet the cat, yell at the bullies, shake Nao’s father, hear the wind, see the crow take flight, and feel the ancient, chilly, wooden temple floor beneath your knees as you bow.

There are so many exquisite lines of prose within A Tale for the Time Being, that it is difficult to choose a few that will give readers’ a taste of this sweet, caustic, entertaining, and captivating novel. Nonetheless, here are a few morsels.

When Ruth first reads the diary, she describes the letters. “They were round a little bit sloppy (as she now imagined the girl must be, too), but they stood more or less upright and marched gamely across the page at a good clip, not in a hurry, but not dawdling, either.”

Nao writes of a moment when she is holding Jiko’s hand. “I was still thinking about what she said about waves, and it made me sad because I knew that her little wave was not going to last much longer and soon she would join the sea again, and even though I know you can’t hold on to water, still I gripped her fingers a little more tightly to keep her from leaking away.”

Ruth speaks of time and how it interacts with attention. “At the other extreme, when her attention was disengaged and fractured, she experienced time at its most granular, wherein moments hung around like pixels, diffused and suspended in standing water.”

It sounds like Haiku poetry when Jiko is telling Nao about her son (Nao’s great uncle) who died in World War II. “A single frog croaked, and then another. Jiko’s words dropped like stones into the silence in between.” Jiko explains to Nao (who had told Jiko about it feeling like there were fish flopping around in her stomach when she felt grief or was being bullied) that the loss of her son was like a whale in her gut and she was learning to open her heart so the whale could swim away.

A Tale for the Time Being is more than a lovely piece of literature; it also explores science, philosophy, nature, history, psychology, biology, physics, Japanese culture, and the nature of consciousness. There is also a healthy dose of Buddhism and meditation thrown in with subtle precision integrated into the characters and storyline without dissemblance or force.

Read complete review and others, at New York Journal of Books.

Move Over New York Times

New York Journal of Books

The New York Journal of Books (NYJB) is the only reviewing journal that releases reviews on the same day as a book is released. The NYJB is giving the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews and other well-known reviewing venues a run for their money (and readers).

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The New York Journal of Books reviewer panel consists of a growing team of talented and experienced reviewers whose expertise and credentials are unique among exclusively online book reviews. This panel includes bestselling and award-winning authors, journalists, experienced publishing executives, tenured academics, as well as highly experienced professionals across a number of disciplines and industries. All bring highly relevant expertise and insight to their reviews. Each reviewer writes about books with a singular, unique voice. Together, this chorus is New York Journal of Books’ singular strength. NYJB’s catalog of reviews has far more in common with respected print reviews than with any other online-only review. In a world where print book reviews are in rapid decline, NYJB aims to preserve the tradition of excellence in book critique. At the same time, NYJB embraces the rich multimedia content that cannot be found in a print publication, providing a singularly rich book selection experience.

Read the respected and relevant reviews at the New York Journal of Books and see what books and stories catch your attention.

White Dog Fell from the Sky

White Dog Fell from the Sky: A Novel by Eleanor Morse
New York Journal of Books. 3 January, 2013
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans

0670026409.01._PC_SCLZZZZZZZ_“. . . a satisfying, savory dish that should be served alongside the best in contemporary multicultural fiction.”

There are not enough adjectives to describe the strength of this story.

Eleanor Morse has written a character driven novel with character. White Dog Fell from the Sky has a life of its own that blends reality, insight, observation, and nuance with such ease and grace you forget you are reading.

Two of the main characters, Isaac Muthethe and the white dog, are immediately dropped into reader’s laps with perfect clarity and timing. Their circumstances and environment can be absorbed and felt, as though you are inside Isaac’s skin as he lifts himself up from the dusty Botswana road.

At its core, White Dog Fell from the Sky is a powerful story of love – love of a person, a people, a land and living with purpose. It involves a medical student (Isaac) who must flee apartheid infested South Africa in 1976, after he witnesses his friend’s murder at the hands of the South African Defense Force and the American woman, Alice Mendelssohn, who he befriends in Botswana. Alice followed her husband to Africa and works for the Botswana government.

When Isaac goes missing, her marriage disintegrates and a new love comes into her life, Alice abandons all pretext, while Isaac tries desperately to save the rest of his family and himself, from the terror, torture, shame and killing in his homeland.

The novel’s insight into land, people, relationships, culture and political realities is superb. It is easy to identify with many people in the story, including Isaac and Alice, regardless of one’s personal background or home of origin. The Africans and Europeans who populate the pages are honest embodiments of fellow human beings we have all known—fragile, strong, abusive, kind, and complicated.

Each individual has his view of the world shaped by his experiences and expectations. When Isaac describes his “friend” Amen, who is working with the African National Congress (ANC) in Botswana and Angola, he sees “. . . an ancient injury living side by side with arrogance. Menace, the child of the union.”

Alice and her marriage are described as, “You could see their hearts were not beating together, the blood in their veins wanted to flow toward different oceans.” Alice realizes that, “She and Lawrence had slid into each others lives in simple, naive faith.”

Eleanor Morse’s story is emotionally riveting, heartbreaking, and at times unbearable, while simultaneously embracing hope, insight, and a sense of perpetual mystery.

Each sentence is more beautiful than the last. Some aspects, such as the mutual respect and understanding that develops between Alice and Isaac, are similar in its depth and ambition to the literary masterpiece by Alan Patton and his characters in Cry, the Beloved Country.

Read entire review and others at New York Journal of Books.

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