Book Review: The Far End of Happy by Kathryn Craft

far_end_happy_Kathryn_Craft Imagine, if you will, a small farmhouse. A store that sells produce grown at the property. A husband-wife team who run the show. Let’s go over to the house – it’s old. But when you enter, you see that each room is lovingly restored. The husband’s built all the furniture in his workshop. The wife has helped strip and paint the walls. It’s homely, comfortable, and has character. Running through the house are their two sons, Will and Andrew, and their dog Max.

Isn’t that a pretty picture? One of love and joy, togetherness and companionship. But, look a little closer, and you’ll see that the woman, Ronnie, isn’t entirely happy where she is. She has a major in journalism, but gave up her career to marry Jeff. Somewhere along the way, she found herself adrift, alone in the marriage, and questioning her very identity. Look even closer, and you’ll see the darkness of depression lurking there in the background. A darkness that is about to come out front and centre and destroy the very fabric of this family, and of the small town where they live.

Ronnie’s husband is supposed to move out today. But when Jeff pulls into the driveway drunk, with a shotgun in the front seat, she realizes nothing about the day will go as planned.

The police manage to get the family out of the farmhouse and away from harm’s way. While they wait for the police to make contact with Jeff,

The next few hours spiral down in a flash, unlike the slow disintegration of their marriage—and whatever part of that painful unraveling is Ronnie’s fault, not much else matters now but these moments.

Tensions build in the firehouse, where the family can do nothing but wait to see how the day will play out. It is from this point on that the story starts to move back and forth between the present and the past. Craft does a masterful job of weaving the back story with events as they are unfolding in the present, so you never feel like you’re being jerked around between the past and the present. The narrative is compelling enough to grip you around the heart, even though you know how the story will end. Given that it is based on a real event from the author’s life, the insight and raw emotion she brings to the story is palpable on every page.

Craft has woven together a wonderful story, one that is likely to linger with you long after you turn the last page. Highly recommended!

A call to mindfulness

In a world that is in constant motion, with distractions everywhere you look, it’s become increasingly difficult to find some quiet space to just be. To think…to dream…to imagine…

orchid_flower

We race through our days, fill them with tasks, with constant phone checking – emails, status updates, tweets – a collection of likes and retweets as our measure of self-worth.

Pond Heron_Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary

How often do we stop to collect some wild flowers? To notice the minutiae of daily life? To watch our feline friends as they play, sleep, or mew for attention? To notice the birds, building their nests, catching food, feeding their young?

Iz eatz yurz earz, ok?

How often do we notice the homeless man? The dejected dog? The dead sparrow lying on the sidewalk? The sun as it rises or sets?

A sacred sunset

This is a call to reclaim life – to watch the moonrise, count the stars, observe life as it lives and dies around us. To be present – for our life, for our loved ones, for our furry friends. For strangers. For the birds – dead and alive. For life.

This post was inspired by Sidewalk Flowers on BrainPickings.

Book Review: Private by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

Former Marine helicopter pilot Jack Morgan runs Private, a renowned investigation company with branches around the globe. It is where you go when you need maximum force and maximum discretion. Jack is already deep into the investigation of a multi-million dollar NFL gambling scandal and the unsolved slayings of 18 schoolgirls when he learns of a horrific murder close to home: his best friend’s wife, Jack’s former lover, has been killed. It nearly pushes him over the edge. Instead, Jack pushes back and devotes all of Private’s resources to tracking down her killer. With a plot that moves at death-defying speeds, Private is James Patterson sleekest, most exciting thriller ever.

I’ve long been a James Patterson fan, primarily of his Alex Cross novels – those are brilliant! But it’s been a long time since I read any of his novels, so when this book came across my radar screen, I thought I’d give it a go.

I dived into the book with high expectations – it’s a James Patterson after all, and a series for which he is teaming up with writers from across the world. I thought it would be interesting. It wasn’t.

In this, the first Private novel that serves as the backbone for the rest of the franchise, we are introduced to Jack Morgan – a former helicopter pilot who crashed out of the Afghanistan war with terrible memories and immeasurable guilt (nothing new here). With the money left to him by his father, he set up Private, a detective agency with state-of-the-art equipment and a free pass to do with it as he pleases.

The most interesting case is the one where they are tracking the dead school girls, but the NFL case just seems to be tacked on as an after thought and I didn’t see any reason why the murder of his best friend’s wife was in any way relevant to the story.

The writing is sloppy, the dialogues are forced, the plot twists are quite predictable. The characters are two-dimensional – the women, especially, are horrifyingly portrayed. The lead police detective on the schoolgirl case, for example, is a fat, angry woman, while Justine, who is leading the investigation at Private, arrives at murder scenes in stilettos. The men are all effortlessly good looking and the cops are pretty much bumbling idiots. It’s very reminiscent of a B-grade Hollywood flick.

I give this book a big thumbs down.

Book review: J by Howard Jacobson

J_Howard_Jacobson“Set in the future – a world where the past is a dangerous country, not to be talked about or visited – J is a love story of incomparable strangeness, both tender and terrifying.”

Kevern, a resident of a small village called Port Reuben, lives in a state of constant fear. Before leaving his house, he kicks the antique silk rug so it looks like something no one would care about, leaves a mug of tea on the table, and then carefully locks his door. But before he goes wherever it is he has to go, he looks into the house multiple times through the post flap to ensure that the house looks like it’s waiting for him to return at any minute. Why the paranoia?

Ailinn is an orphan who is passing through Port Ruben when someone who looks like a “pig auctioneer” points her out to Kevern and gets their paths to cross. She has fears of her own – she fears the unknown, unseen enemy, who she’s nicknamed Ahaab. She doesn’t know who this enemy is or where this enemy will come from. But she knows he’s out there, that he could come for her at anytime.
Kevern and Ailinn fall in love, but they’re never sure if they met by chance or if they were pushed into each other’s arms. But who would have pushed them, and why?

“Hanging over the lives of all the characters in this novel is a momentous catastrophe – a past event shrouded in suspicion, denial and apology, now referred to as WHAT HAPPENED, IF IT HAPPENED.”

And to make sure that WHAT HAPPENED, IF IT HAPPENED does not happen again, Ofnow, the “non-statutory monitor of the public mood”, issues slogans like Let Sleeping Dogs Lie and The Overexamined Life is Not Worth Living. Histories and books have been redacted, and music and culture are controlled by collective consent. The radio plays love songs, jazz is dead because improvisation has “fallen out of fashion”, literature constitutes “rags-to-riches memoirs, cookbooks and romances”, and conversation steers clear of jokes, insults or witticisms. Social media and the internet have been done away with, phones are meant for local calls only and letter writing is back in fashion.

In such a world, where names have been changed to ensure that no one knows anyone’s antecedents, where people say sorry even if they have nothing to be sorry about, where all that you hear are love songs, you’d think violence would be non-existent. However, that is not the case. Brutality has grown commonplace. Snogging (a violent form of kissing) is the norm and rage is on the rise. Because, as it turns out, there is no “other” on whom that anger can be directed. And that “other” is Jews, who have been wiped out, this time for good. So Ofnow steps in with a plan to do something to address the rising aggression, and that plan directly involves Kevern and Ailinn.

The novel raises some excellent questions – on mob mentality; identity and selfhood; belonging, exclusion and “otherness”. There are some incredible insights, like the idea of Twitternacht, which is the event responsible for WHAT HAPPENED, IF IT HAPPENED. And the idea is horrifyingly plausible – social media is awash with racism and fundamentalism of all hues and colors. Could we see a mass slaughter of any racial segment of the society? Unfortunately, if the opinions expressed on social media are anything to go by, the answer is Yes. We live in frightening times, where intolerance is only growing. And this novel paints an even more frightening picture of the possible aftermath of such a catastrophe.

An easy read it isn’t. At times, it’s even a tad frustrating. But still, it is highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher, but the opinions expressed in this are my own.

My Favorite Things: New Year Gifts

It’s almost the end of the year, y’all! And the end of the year means that its time for New Year Gifts! So, without further ado, let me present to you some jaw-droppingly awesome gifts for your literary friends.

You know how those literary types (me included) love to say “so many books, so little time”? Well, how about gifting them this gorgeous pendant that immortalizes the refrain.

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Or for the fashionista in your life – this absolutely stunning Jane Austen book bag!

Jane_Austen_book_purse

Not to leave the men behind – how about this super sexy literary t-shirt for the Murakami fan?

windup_bird_chronicles_tshirt

And for your ebook toting friends, here’s a super cool Kindle cover that looks like, well, a good old-fashioned book!

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And for those who still love their physical books, here are two insanely awesome book ends

Book ends

Happy shopping! Oh, and feel free to send one (or all of these) my way ;-)

Here are some more of my favorite things