Twitter is so very cool! We love Twitter!

and we love you to Hatchette Books Canada!

Today, the Literary Hoarders tweeted their love to Hatchette Books Canada concerning their favourite Tom Wolfe novels, all in order to win his latest (and first to be published by him in years and years!) novel Back to Blood.

I have read (and own) two and honestly both are favourites: Man in Full and I Am Charlotte Simmons.

That very true answer was the Winning Answer! Hurray! WINNING! ☺

Looking Very Forward to receiving a hot-off-the-press copy of:

Audiobook Review: Shine Shine Shine

A heartfelt thank you, thank you, thank you to Audiobook Jukebox and Macmillan Audio for sharing Shine Shine Shine with the Literary Hoarders.  What a wonderful story, and what a marvelously written debut novel!

First, I must warn you not to be fooled by the simplistic phrase “epic love story.”  To do so would be to grossly underestimate this book’s charm, and its power to resonate.  This was, for me, more than a love story.  It swelled and burst with life, and the characters surged from the story with brilliance and enviable candor.  I struggle now to recall a key person in this novel that I did not want to meet.  Each one was deliciously complex, and beautifully flawed.

Shine Shine Shine orbits around Sunny and Maxon Mann, childhood best friends who eventually married and had a child of their own (affectionately nicknamed “Bubber”).  Sunny, now pregnant with her second child, has shoehorned herself and her little family into Virginia’s ideal version of suburbia.  These three exhaust themselves fitting in to the perfect Stepford small-town.

Alas, they are different.  Sunny, born in Burma during a full eclipse, was born strong-willed, wildly intelligent, and completely hairless.  Sunny is bald, has no eyelashes, eyebrows or hair of any kind.  In order to fit in to her perfect world, Sunny has disguised herself with a beautiful blonde wig, and an impeccable taste in craft fairs.  Paired with her pretty cardigans and granite countertops, Sunny passes as everywoman, and blends beautifully with her surroundings.

Maxon (hands down my favorite character) is a genius.  His off-the-charts brilliance has him working for NASA.  As the book kicks off, Maxon is on his way to the moon, for the purposes of robot colonization.  Having been coached how to behave properly by Sunny and Sunny’s mother, Maxon knows when to nod, grimace, respond quietly, or offer scripted condolences.  Typically equipped with an erasable marker, Maxon is always ready to solve any of life’s problems with striking mathematical accuracy (and a completely stoic demeanor).  If you’re not crazy about Maxon by the halfway mark, then you’re not reading carefully enough.  Would love to give the man a bear hug, but chances are excellent that he would have no clue what to do with it.  Besides, he only has eyes for Sunny.

Bubber is an autistic child.  Thanks to Sunny’s effort to control his outbursts, head-banging, and repeated jabbering, he’s heavily medicated.  Bubber must fit in too, just like his father.  His preschool would like Sunny and Maxon to consider more medication.  They don’t like what happens when Bubber doesn’t “get the blue chair” during art class.  They aren’t equipped to deal with… difference.

And then one day, there’s a fender bender in this quiet town, and just as Sunny’s airbag goes off, the wig flies out the window, and into a puddle.  Her neighbors see her for the first time.  Really see her.

And that’s when the story actually starts.  You are then privy to everything from the courtship of Sunny’s mother, to early life in Burma, to a move to the U.S. where a chance meeting with a neglected child from down the street pairs Sunny with the man of her dreams.  There are secrets, longings, love in its purest form, and yes, even a little bit of murder.  See?  I told you it wasn’t just a love story.

Truly, however, I understand this classification.  Because this book is love.  Love through pain, through differences… love between husband and wife…love between parent and child.  It’s also love and acceptance of one’s true self, which is no small feat.

Lydia Netzer’s writing is remarkable.  On more than one occasion, I was pretty convinced that she too must be an astronaut.  How else could she describe Maxon’s complexities with such agility?  How could she hop from discussing robotics, to the umbrella of autism, and then over to the pain of saying goodbye to an ailing parent?  She made it seem so effortless.  Of course, it isn’t.

I could keep waxing rhapsodic about Shine Shine Shine, but instead, I’ll recommend that you get your copy today.  I promise that you’ll be taken aback by Lydia Netzer’s intellect, and her gift for telling a unique and unparalleled story.  If you happen upon the audiobook version, I also promise that Joshilyn Jackson will do justice to the characters, with affection and understanding.  I was surprised at this narrator’s pitch at first, but she then became the perfect fit for everyone in the book.

4.5 enthusiastic stars for Shine Shine Shine, and a plea for Lydia Netzer to hurry and publish a second!

Book Review: 2012 Long-Listed: Alison Moore’s The Lighthouse

Rating: 4
The Lighthouse
A Novel by Alison Moore

2012 / 192 Pages

The Setup: The Lighthouse begins on a North Sea ferry, on whose blustery outer deck stands Futh, a middle-aged, recently separated man heading to Germany for a restorative walking holiday.
Spending his first night in Hellhaus at a small, family-run hotel, he finds the landlady hospitable but is troubled by an encounter with an inexplicably hostile barman.

In the morning, Futh puts the episode behind him and sets out on his week-long circular walk along the Rhine. As he travels, he contemplates his childhood; a complicated friendship with the son of a lonely neighbour; his parents’ broken marriage and his own. But the story he keeps coming back to, the person and the event affecting all others, is his mother and her abandonment of him as a boy, which left him with a void to fill, a substitute to find.
He recalls his first trip to Germany with his newly single father. He is mindful of something he neglected to do there, an omission which threatens to have devastating repercussions for him this time around. At the end of the week, Futh, sunburnt and blistered, comes to the end of his circular walk, returning to what he sees as the sanctuary of the Hellhaus hotel, unaware of the events which have been unfolding there in his absence.

This review was published simultaneously on BookerMarks on 24/08/2012.

So, immediately, you think of the striking similarity in the premise of The Lighthouse as the one in The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (anotherMan Booker 2012 Long List Nominee). Although, I can’t address this too much, as I’m only about 70 pages in to Harold Fry. However, it does veer off in any similarity as you read further through the pages.

This is a story of Futh whom is off on a walking tour in Germany. Futh is an exceptionally socially awkward man (much like Harold Fry?) and the use of his name often in the beginning leads you to believe he’s a slow, dim-witted, unlovable and friendless man. He spends much time reminiscing about the abandonment by his mother and the failure of his marriage, the relationship with his father and his “best friend’s” mother/neighbour Gloria. (Best friend is in quotation marks owing to the fact that Kenny is not really a best friend, or much of a friend really, but was the only one that Futh considered as such.) Although, unlike Harold Fry, this story does not focus on the journey but is more of a character study of the predominant characters Futh and the hotel keeper, Ester.

Futh in all of his glorious awkwardness is forever consumed by the abandonment of his mother at a young age. He keeps her parfume container (a silver lighthouse) with him always and often stops to smell the violet scent in the long-empty container. He replays the last afternoon as a family at a lighthouse over and over again upon his walking tour. After a particularly long and drawn out history lesson on lighthouses by his father, Futh’s mother gazes at him and says “do you have any idea how much you bore me?” And from that moment, Futh understood his family would be together no longer. Moving to reflection upon his marriage, he is married to a woman that barely remembers him from school and cares even less for him in marriage, Futh often compares her to his mother and is saddened by their separation.

Ester is married to Bernard and together they run the inn where Futh stays during his walking tour. She is an un-satisfied, middle-aged woman that is (quietly) abused by her husband. She wears heavy make up and stillettos and has meaningless sex with the men staying at the inn. Ester has a lighthouse parfume container as well, but hers is wooden, and not the expensive silver container that Futh carries.

The series of unintended circumstances between Futh and Ester are excellent, they are brilliant actually. Futh remains so true to his character that he is completely and utterly unaware of how and what these small situations and interactions with Ester mean for her. Wait for it. Wait for it. Just superbly written with nuance and skill.

There are any number of symbolic items and references littered throughout this novel to review, research and discuss that would make any English literature teacher sing with joy. Just a few to ponder: lighthouses; venus fly traps; scent; the perspective and portrayal of the men and women in this story. Just the title, The Lighthouse and the usage of lighthouses throughout the story would fill days of discussion.

What was also striking to me was how Moore portrays the men in the novel, outside of Futh, they are simmering with hate, jealousy and are abusive to the women in their lives. The two main women, Ester and Gloria, are exceptionally lonely and desperate women that use sex to fill the vast void of emptiness in their lives. (Both women have a collection of venus fly traps as well.)

For the 2012 competition, the Man Booker judges appear to be choosing books upon which protaganists are finding and examining oneself, going off on a journey to reflect, discover and examine and also uncovering the many layers of the human condition, such as despair, depression and loneliness. There is also the obvious bent towards new and fresh authors publishing out of independent publishing houses. The Lighthouse, which is Alison Moore’s literary debut, hits on all points and was one of the best Man Booker Long Listed 2012 books I’ve read so far. Hopefully this one is firmly placed on the Short List as it is a well-worthy fit in that group of six. I changed my earlier and anticipated grade of 3.5 to a 4 when I reached The Lighthouse‘s conclusion. I may even need to bump it up just a tad to that 4.5 grade. It’s a good ending. Wait for it.

Audiobook Review: The Cellist of Sarajevo

(clicking on the image will take you to the cello music played throughout this audiobook.)

You can fill up every spare scrap of land with graves, can turn every park and football field and yard with a graveyard and it will still not account for the dead. There are the dead among the living…musings from Kenan.

The Cellist of Sarajevo was an audiobook I checked out from our public library. What was simply the most enjoyable part of listening to this story was the cello music the reader was greeted with at the start of the CD, during some chapter breaks and at the closing of each CD. It was filled with melancholy, yet was utterly beautiful as well. It thrilled me to listen this story in audiobook format.

However, I can’t say the narration was as beautiful as the music. While Gareth Armstrong does a fabulous job of pronouncing the city and street names, his narration was extremely British, overly theatrical and if I can aptly get the point across, it seemed superior and perhaps condescending. I longed for a Yugo reader! Mr. Armstrong often read like he was performing Shakespeare on stage and it just did not suit this story, in my opinion.  The person that most often came to my mind as one I would love to have read this one was Goran Visnjic. But alas, I understood the issue many, many would have if this had been the selected narrator. Goran is Croatian.

To honour the 22 people killed while trying to buy bread the cello player will sit in the market place for 22 days, and play his cello. The cello player is the only connection between the three main characters from whom this story is told. His presence is simply that – a presence – and may perhaps be considered symbolic much how the girl in the road coat appears in the film, Schindler’s List.

Kenan: We first hear from Kenan and the struggles in adapting to the circumstances of life during this time of war. “The men in the hills” have cut off their water and electricity supply but one morning, Kenan discovers he has been shaving by the light working overhead. He wishes to share this excitement with his family and hurries to wake them, dreaming of a cooked-on-the-stove breakfast. Alas, before he can do so, the light flickers off once more. Each week Kenan must make a harrowing journey to the brewery to gather water for his family and his less-than-gracious elderly neighbour. Through Kenan we experience how harrowing it is to simply cross the street which now means risking sniper fire or heavy shelling in the street. He must make it through the streets and across a bridge and a bridge to get to the brewery. Kenan and his wife maintain hope while joking with one another about picking up a dozen eggs so she can make a chocolate cake, but Kenan is exhausted and so very tired of having to make this journey each week just to secure water.

Dragan: Dragan’s family has fled Sarajevo to Italy and he now lives with his sister and her family. Dragan has no desire to leave Sarajevo because to do so would mean relinquishing his identity and the hope that this glorious city will return to its former self. He is from Sarajevo, he is Sarajevo, and should be leave, it would mean he would cease to exist and perhaps the city he knows and loves so well would never return.

Arrow: Arrow is the only one to actually have a direct connection to the cellist. She has changed her identity and become a sniper to fight against “the men in the hills”. Her assignment is to protect the cellist from snipers and through Arrow we find there is common hope between the men in the hills, and herself, or “us”. She finds that the snipers brought in to kill the cellist do not do so, as they too sit with eyes closed mesmerized by the music. She is disgusted and ashamed at what Sarajevo has become and changed her identity until this war has come to an end. Only at the very end of her story and in the final CD does Arrow speak her true name.

The Cellist of Sarajevo written by Steven Galloway is a work of fiction. It is a story of survival and hope and how 3 separate lives endure living in Sarajevo during war. Understanding it as fiction, I realize this is not an authentic piece of non-fiction to turn to concerning historical accuracy or point of view for the events in Sarajevo. I understand that by naming “them” as “the men in the hills” and “us” as the 3 other characters, Galloway is perhaps choosing a point-of-view. However, for some, a work of fiction should not be allowed to play so loose and free with real events. I came across this review written by Walter Trkla questioning if “fiction is a license to lie” and his dismay at Galloway’s take on the war in Sarajevo. You can read that here.

Hearing the different, yet sometimes similar perspectives of this war through the eyes of Kenan, Dragan and Arrow was interesting and heartbreaking. It only begs the question always asked for this, Why?

3.5 stars for me.