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Nightingale’s Nest by Nikki Loftin (2013)

When I first heard Gayle, I couldn’t tell if she was a bird or a girl. All I knew for sure was that the music she made wasn’t like anything I’d ever heard before. It was magic.
Even a kid like me could recognize that (p 1).

NightingaleLittle John first hears Gayle, an orphan being fostered by the town’s poor widow and her bully son, singing as he and his father are pruning pecan trees for the richest man in town. He finds her perched in a nest snug in the branches of a sycamore tree that abuts the Emperor’s property. Gayle, who reminds John of his deceased younger sister, becomes the catalyst to John’s much needed healing.

With an undercurrent of subtle magic that harkens to Hans Christian Anderson’s The Nightingale, this is an enchanting and thoroughly delightful story with deftly drawn characters and sparse, lyrical language. Highly recommended.

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The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion (2013)

I was horrified by the use of the word fault, with its negative connotations, especially as it was being employed by someone in authority. I abandoned my decision not to deviate from the genetic issues. The matter had doubtless been brewing in my unconscious, and the volume of my voice may have increased as a result.

“Fault! Asperger’s isn’t a fault. It’s a variant. It’s potentially a major advantage. Asperger’s syndrome is associated with organization, innovative thinking, and ration detachment.”

A woman at the rear of the room raised her hand. I was focused on the argument now and made a minor social error, which I quickly corrected.

“The fat women — overweight woman — at the back? (p 10)”

Rosie ProjectWhat can I say? I was charmed by this book from the beginning. I could not pull myself away from Don’s voice and perspective. I was immediately and hopelessly enthralled.

Don is a professor of genetics in Melbourne, Australia. As he nears his 40th birthday, he attempts to find a wife via questionnaire. He has specific requirements that a prospective mate must satisfy. Then Rosie walks into his office and disrupts his well-constructed life, simultaneously inconveniencing Don and delighting him.

Reading this as I am also listening to Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon, I applauded Simsion’s perspective on Asperger’s syndrome and his treatment of it as a matter of identity rather than illness.

My only qualm with the book come in the last quarter when the narrative meandered and took on a cinematic (read: wild goose chase) quality. Otherwise, it was a complete delight and I look forward to a sequel.

Library copy | Simon & Schuster | 292 pages | ISBN 9781476729084 | Ages 16+

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The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (2012)

Some infinities are bigger than other infinities. A writer we used to like taught us that. There are many days, many of them, when I resent the size of my unbounded set. I want more numbers than I’m likely to get, and God, I want more number for Augustus Waters than he got. But, Gus, my love, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn’t trade it for all the world. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I’m grateful (p 260).

Fault in Our StarsJohn Green’s most recent best seller is a tear-jerker that has found it’s way to a big screen adaptation (surprisingly, faster than his superior novel, the Printz Award winning Looking for Alaska). In Stars, we meet Hazel Grace, a teen with terminal cancer who meets the deceptively healthy looking and handsome Augustus at Support Group. The two connect, stories and experiences are shared and, predictably, someone dies. Everyone dies, sooner or later… but reading about it makes it feel real. But this is just a book and characters do not have lives outside of the book, as the fictional alcoholic author, Peter Van Houten, brutally informs the pair. Or do they?

Green is most successful when exploring truths about relationships – not through precocious teenage dialogue – but through the genuine reactions his characters have to the suffering of their loved ones and their struggle to find words to describe their myriad (and sometime conflicting) feelings.

In Hazel Grace’s pre-death eulogy to Augustus Waters, she speaks poignantly. Her comments during his actual eulogy are more mundane and rote, a dichotomy I fear will play out in the film adaptation. Will a Hollywood movie capture the unpretty reality of death Green explores or will the movie soften these truths, glamorizing the characters and dumbing it down for a wider audience? If the trailer is anything to judge by, we’re going to get a mundane film with all the components of the book but little truth.

Library copy | Dutton Books | 313 pages | ISBN 9780525478812 | Ages 13+

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This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett (2013)

This is the Story of a Happy MarriageAnn Patchett’s collection of essays is at its best when Patchett writes about writing. Her passion for her craft is evident but its difficulties are not glossed over or romanticized. She talks about her process and the path she took to publication.

When Patchett, in a later essay, shares her experience as co-owner of an independent book store in Nashville, TN, she learns about the process of actually selling books to readers. Anyone with illusions of making millions (or even an income) on self-published titles… take note. Writing and selling books is a complicated and time-consuming business that requires a lot of work. Attempting to circumvent the publishing industry is, in my opinion, a mistake. Patchett has some very insightful things to say on the importance of hard work, publishing support, and an author’s role in selling his or her work. Wanna be writers take note.

Patchett’s closing essay on some nuns, a piece on RVing, her dog and other such frivolities did not hold my attention. Jonathan Yardley of The Washington Post put it well, “… you can take the writer out of the women’s magazines, but you can’t always take the women’s magazines out of the writer.”

Summing up: I like her fiction a great deal more than her non-fiction, but both are worthwhile reading. Get them from your local library or independent book store.

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Gabriel’s Inferno by Sylvain Reynard (2011)

Cover artThis book was recommended to me by a friend’s wife. Looking for a lighter read, I delved in and, much to my chagrin, I was stuck in a quagmire. Like a witness to a horrific car accident or a devastating nature disaster, I was enthralled… transfixed… unable to turn away, all the while my face contorting in disbelief, despair, and finally, the insane laughter of disbelief and mystification.

Never have I read a book so utterly without style, plausibility, or intrigue. The characters were laughable. The author-professed intellect of the two main characters was undermined ever time the author gave utterance to their thoughts or allowed them to speak. There were so many mixed messages and descriptions, the characters lost all form. All supporting characters were inane and frivolous, merely props.

I can’t help but laugh when I think about this book. It’s absolutely ludicrous. How anyone who maintained consciousness through high school English could enjoy this is beyond my comprehension. To call this literature is a great stretch and entirely too complimentary. To say it strings words together to form semi-intelligible sentences is slightly closer to the truth.

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The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker (2013)

The Golem and the Jinni cover artThe golem is a creature of earth, commissioned by a dying man and brought to life by a witch. The Jinni, a being of fire and impulse, imprisoned in a bottle for centuries. When the two arrive, separately, in 1899 New York, they must assimilate or be discovered and, most likely, destroyed. A chance meeting between the two allows a curious and mutually beneficial friendship to ensue. Each will challenge the other and, if lucky, they will survive their circumstances which are revealed to be inexorably linked.

Blending elements of Jewish and Arab folk mythology, Helene Wecker’s  debut novel is atmospheric, even (if slow) paced, and deftly written. This will appeal to fans of Morgenstern’s The Night Circus.

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The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg (2012)

HabitI listened to this book and, while the narrator’s voice was dissonant and annoying (I’m very picky about my readers), the content soon drowned him out. With each new revelation about how strongly habits dictate our lives – individually, at work and in society – I began to examine my own patterns of behaviour. I thought about the successful changes in my life (abstaining from sugary drinks and fast food) and those I have been less successful with (doing cruches at the gym) and how I might alter my routine in order to achieve my goals. Identifying the pattern is the first step. What is the cue that sets you off down a desired or undesirable path? What is the unthinking routine? What is the reward? Some other take-aways: After identifying the need, make a plan that substitutes a new routine to acheive the same reward. Set yourself up for small victories. Then go for another small victory. This will add up to a big victory. Illuminating.