NEW eBooks About Fiction

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Piano Teacher by Janice Y. Lee

The Piano Teacher is complicated, eloquent, haunting and thought provoking.   Not one of the characters is particularly sympathetic, never mind likable.  The story jumps between decades with wild abandon.  The plot is violent and explores the highly disturbing, damaging nature of war and its aftermath.  It is the story of love and ultimate betrayal.

If that sounds negative, than consider my other observations. Janice Lee's portrayal of Hong Kong are so vivid you can almost smell and hear the market place. The description of life in Colonies is pitch perfect; the gossip, the intrigue and the boredom. The language is eloquent.  The plot is carefully constructed. The character development is extraordinary.

The story presents two snapshots of life in Hong Kong.  The snapshots are ten years apart. Life before the war life is circumscribed by social status and ritual.  The Europeans, especially the English have created their own alternative universe right on the top of Victoria Peak.

Once the war is over the survivors (of both the war and the occupation) are deeply scarred.  They emerge forever changed by the circumstances of incarceration. starvation and torture.  And yet, apparently nothing much has changed.  Life has more or less picked up exactly where it left off.  The colony is back in business and the rigid social structures and rituals have survived. 

Claire Pendleton, the piano teacher, provides a stark contrast between the cynicism of the old and the naivety of the new.  In the end, she effectively provides a focus and a rather harrowing catharsis.

This book is a real hybrid; part historical fiction, part romance and part mystery.  I suspect you will either love or hate it.  I, personally, loved it.

In the sweeping tradition of The English Patient, a gripping tale of love and betrayal set in war-torn Hong Kong

In 1942, Will Truesdale, an Englishman newly arrived in Hong Kong, falls headlong into a passionate relationship with Trudy Liang, a beautiful Eurasian socialite. But their love affair is soon threatened by the invasion of the Japanese as World War II overwhelms their part of the world. Will is sent to an internment camp, where he and other foreigners struggle daily for survival. Meanwhile, Trudy remains outside, forced to form dangerous alliances with the Japanese in particular, the malevolent head of the gendarmerie, whose desperate attempts to locate a priceless collection of Chinese art lead to a chain of terrible betrayals.

Ten years later, Claire Pendleton comes to Hong Kong and is hired by the wealthy Chen family as their daughter's piano teacher. A provincial English newlywed, Claire is seduced by the heady social life of the expatriate community. At one of its elegant cocktail parties, she meets Will, to whom she is instantly attracted¿but as their affair intensifies, Claire discovers that Will's enigmatic persona hides a devastating past. As she begins to understand the true nature of the world she has entered, and long-buried secrets start to emerge, Claire learns that sometimes the price of survival is love.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Without Warning By John Birmingham eBook edition

parent-9780345502896 Removing the USA from the world political scene is a daunting task. Birmingham does a credible job of showing what a dangerous place the world would become without our power base.

This book examines a recent past in which the mainland USA was taken out of the world power equation. The plot devices and characters are well enough developed that by the end of this book you are ready for the sequel. Unfortunately, that next book is at least one year away from being published.

I like some of the story lines better than others. By and large though if you are a Science Fiction fan or a fan of the disaster novel this is a good read following an interesting premise.

Without the USA in play the world degrades quickly into disorder, as you might expect. Some outcomes seem likely and strategically correct. Others stretch credulity a bit but are plausible enough to carry your attention.

All in all Birmingham does a good job of drawing lines between the disappearance of the majority of US military power and the increase of chaos worldwide. This is a great spring break distraction or a really nice find if you haven’t read any of Birmingham’s other books. They are all worth reading if military fiction is one of the types of novels you enjoy. His knowledge base is solid and his writing skills are first class, so enjoy.

In Kuwait, American forces are stacked up, locked and loaded for the invasion of Iraq. In Paris, a covert agent, a woman who inhabits a twilight of lies and death, is close to cracking a terrorist cell. And just north of the equator, a forty-foot wood-hulled sailboat, manned by a drug runner, a pirate, and two gun-slinging beauties, is witness to the unspeakable. In one instant, all around the world, for politicians and peasants, from Gaza to Geneva, things will never be the same. A wave of inexplicable energy has slammed into the continental United States.

America, as we know it, is gone. . . . WITHOUT WARNING

Now U.S. soldiers are fighting a war without command or control. A correspondent records horrors for no one. Washington is gone and the line of succession is in tatters; the functioning remnants of government are in Pearl Harbor, Guantanamo Bay, and one desperate, isolated corner of the Northwest. For the jihads, it’s Allah’s miracle. For Saddam, it’s a chance to attack. Iran declares war on an America that doesn’t exist–except in the hearts and souls of the men and women who want it to.

In this astounding work of alternate fiction, John Birmingham hurtles us into a scenario that is unimaginable but shatteringly real: a world of financial ruin where a cloud of noxious waste–from America’s burning cities–darkens Europe, while men and women in offices around the globe struggle to make decisions that cannot hold and opportunists unleash their secret demons.

From a slick Texas lawyer who happens to be in the right place at the right time to a hard-working city engineer in Seattle who becomes his terrified city’s only hope, from the cancer-stricken secret agent to a drug runner off the Mexican coast and a U.S. general in Cuba, Without Warning tells a fast, furious story of survival, violence, and a new, soul-shattering reality. The first in an epic trilogy that will leave readers breathless and astounded, Without Warning offers a world without its policeman, its Great Satan, or its savior–as an unknowable future struggles to be born.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Local Knowledge by Liza Gyllenhaal eBook edition

This week got off to a slow start.  Kinda of like Goldilocks and the tree bears.  I tried three other books before I finally settled down and was able to actually read this one.  When it comes to the original three:  one was too boring, one was too depressing and the last one was written in a style I actually hated. 

So it was a relief to actually pick up a book that I could read more than the first chapter.  Local Knowledge is narrated by Maggie.  She tells the story by alternating along two distinct paths -- the present and the past.

Maggie is a precise and effective narrator.  She tells the story without sparing herself or glossing over her faults.  I could argue that some of the descriptions and the rehashing of the past are too long and possibly unnecessary.  But in the end, all of that background and all of those descriptions made the place and the characters live.  After awhile it was hard to remember that Red River, New York is really a fictional place.

This is a story about change.  Changes in community.  Changes in perceptions.  Changes in attitudes. It is about changing roles.

It is also a story about families and how they shape your life -- the resentments, the feuds, the quiet discontent.  About parents aging and dying and children growing up. 

And finally it is about friendships.  What we invest in them.  How easy it is to prejudge people and how seldom those prejudgments actually hold up. And the tempering of those prejudgments with experience, circumstances and time.  Ultimately friendships can alter us and our world view forever.

For a first novel, this cover a wide range of very complex themes.  It goes on my recommended list.

Here is what the publisher says:

From an exciting debut author, a novel about three people haunted by the mistakes of their past and their plunge into an uncertain future. Maddie Alden has always longed for more than her small town could offer. Now that it's being overrun by wealthy New Yorkers looking for a respite from the city, Maddie has gotten herself a lucrative new job in real estate. And her first sale brings her a charismatic new friend who is everything Maddie longs to be. Little does Maddie realize that the glamorous Anne will shake up her quiet marriage and will force Maddie to face the truth about the past, and the terrible secret she shares with her husband and his best friend.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Black Ops by W.E.B Griffin eBook edition

Henri shares his latest reading experience.

I’ve been on a reading binge and filling my spare time with books that stir up emotions around the themes of war, heroism, and patriotism.  The latest is Black Ops by W.E.B. Griffin.  He has been an author of note for nearly as long as I have been reading.

Griffin entered the military in 1946 and combines his experience with his considerable talent to draw plots and characters that compel you to keep reading.

Griffin’s main character is a blend of virtues and vices that compel me to like him. He is the son of two wealthy families who was raised in Europe and Texas. He has language skills and other capacities that made him stand out in the military roles he played but now he has become a Special Ops Warrior. How Griffin makes all of this work is a mystery to me but it works marvelously.

With Griffin you always feel like you have a seat at the big table and are watching significant events unfold. Black Ops is no exception. I bought it immediately and read it in two sessions separated only by family obligations. As usual it left me hungry for the next novel in the series.

I really enjoy reading novels that explore human values and the strengths and weaknesses of various social and political approaches to life. They do have to ring true in my ear past the fact that they are obviously only works of fantasy. Griffin’s latest book does ring true.

It comes down to something as simple as this, I read fiction to be entertained and if I am happy I chose that book at the end that is all I can ask of any author.

Black Ops delivers.

Here is the publishers take:

The Russian bear is stirring and its hungry in the #1 New York Times bestselling series thrilling fifth novel.The first disturbing reports reached Delta Force Lieutenant Colonel Charley Castillo in the form of backchannel messages concerning covert U.S. intelligence assets working for a variety of agencies suddenly gone missing and then, suddenly, inexplicably, found dying. Or dead. One in Budapest, Hungary. One in Kiev, Ukraine. One in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, mere klicks from the Iran border. And then one in Virginia, along the Potomac River, practically in the shadow of CIA headquarters.Castillo finds the information both infuriating and fascinating, particularly after a recent experience with two CIA traitors whose own deaths were swift and suspicious.

Despite there being some similarities, though, he thinks there's something different with these new cases, something he can't quite put his finger on. At first, its an idle thought, but Castillo expects it's only a matter of time before the commander in chief assigns him and his group of troubleshooters in the innocuously named Office of Organizational Analysis to look into the deaths while all those intel agencies fight among themselves trying to put the pieces together.

Meanwhile, Castillo has problems of his own; fallout from recent missions involving a clandestine rescue of a DEA agent from South American drug runners, and the confiscation of some fifty million dollars from thieves in the Iraqi oil-for-food scandal. He's made more than a few enemies, he knows both foreign and domestic. And then comes another back-channel message, this one delivered personally by his lethal friend, the Russian mobster arms dealer. All that has happened so far, he says, is just a warm-up for what's about to come out of the Kremlin.

Could sabers be rattling for a new Cold War? Or worse? Presidential Agent C. G. Castillo is about to find out. . . .

Filled with Griffin's trademark rich characters and cutting-edge drama, this is another exceptional novel in an exceptional series.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Lost Recipe for Happiness eBook editions

Ghost stories are not my thing.  Nor, frankly are lonely, deeply damaged individuals.  And yet, I was entranced by Barbara O'Neal's The Lost Recipe for Happiness.

It was a lazy Saturday afternoon.  A nap seemed like the thing so I picked this book up as something to read myself to sleep by.  Six hours later, ravenously hungry and snuffling slightly I put the book down with a sigh.  Seems I read the whole thing in one sitting.

The writing is fluid, the plot tight and the characters surprisingly complicated with out being terribly convoluted even if all of the characters are damaged in some way.  On some level, you have to admire them because they have found ways to function and cope. 

These are quintessentially lonely people who almost in spite of themselves begin to recover.  At some point each of them realizes that somehow happiness has crept up on them.  Even when they know that happiness never lasts.

As a sideline, one of my favorite aspects of the book are the recipes between the chapters.  They are bound to make you salivate -- especially if you love good Southwestern/Mexican cooking the way I do.  I might actually try a couple of them. 

O'Neal not only loves food, but she obviously loves the Southwest; particularly Colorado and New Mexico.  Her descriptions of the scenery are beautiful and evocative.  Made me want to take a quick trip to Aspen and/or Santa Fe.

This is a story of recovery, new starts and taking chances.  It will make you laugh and cry.  And I guarantee you these characters will haunt you long after you finish the last chapter. This is a great read; don't miss it!

Here are the publishers notes:

In this sumptuous new novel, Barbara O’Neal offers readers a celebration of food, family, and love as a woman searches for the elusive ingredient we’re all hoping to find….

It’s the opportunity Elena Alvarez has been waiting for–the challenge of running her own kitchen in a world-class restaurant. Haunted by an accident of which she was the lone survivor, Elena knows better than anyone how to survive the odds. With her faithful dog, Alvin, and her grandmother’s recipes, Elena arrives in Colorado to find a restaurant in as desperate need of a fresh start as she is–and a man whose passionate approach to food and life rivals her own.

Owner Julian Liswood is a name many people know but a man few do. He’s come to Aspen with a troubled teenage daughter and a dream of the kind of stability and love only a family can provide. But for Elena, old ghosts don’t die quietly, yet a chance to find happiness at last is worth the risk.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Revolutionary Road eBook edition

When I was in college, Revolutionary Road was one of those books that was considered de rigeur for anyone with intellectual pretensions.  Reading it gave you entrée into an exclusive club dedicated to disparaging the lives our parents lead.

Of course, I read it.

What I remembered was how dreary the book was.  These were dreary characters living in a dreary world.  The had boring, meaningless jobs and lives and were totally unlikable.  Reading it was like being smothered in a thick gray cloud.

So, you can imagine my surprise when the title popped us as a "must see" movie.  And now it is an Awards contender.  I will grudgingly admit that a DiCaprio/Winslett pairing is probably noteworthy, but Revolutionary Road??

Only one thing to do:  I bought and downloaded the book last week.  If nothing else, I wanted to see if my memory was failing.

Well, it turns out my memory was not exactly failing.  But it also turns out that there is a big difference between my young reading self and the adult I turned out to be which should probably be a relief.

What I failed to understand as a young person is the power of Yates' writing.  The vivid and stark simplicity of his narrative, the tight dialog and his quiet, relentless perceptiveness.  My biggest surprise was how humorous some of the dialog really is.  My younger self evidently totally missed that aspect of his writing.

Reading it this time, I actually found myself empathizing with these characters.  I know exactly what it is like to get caught up in a role, how subtly it all happens.  And how you wake up one day and wonder how you got here from there.   That particular theme is timeless -- not some relic of a 50s style American dream.  Surprisingly, the novel is as relevant to life today as it was when it was written.

Revolutionary Road got me to thinking about the subtle ways in which we differentiate ourselves from our circumstances.  The ways in which we hold ourselves above the reality of our daily lives.  And the tyranny of the belief that we are somehow special and different.

My adult self recommends this book for its narrative, dialog and social commentary.  In fact, I am going to got see it tomorrow and find out if Hollywood does it justice.

Here are the publisher notes:

In the hopeful 1950s, Frank and April Wheeler appear to be a model couple: bright, beautiful, talented, with two young children and a starter home in the suburbs. Perhaps they married too young and started a family too early. Maybe Frank's job is dull. And April never saw herself as a housewife. Yet they have always lived on the assumption that greatness is only just around the corner. But now that certainty is about to crumble.

With heartbreaking compassion and remorseless clarity, Richard Yates shows how Frank and April mortgage their spiritual birthright, betraying not only each other, but their best selves.

From the moment of its publication in 1961, Revolutionary Road was hailed as a masterpiece of realistic fiction and as the most evocative portrayal of the opulent desolation of the American suburbs. .

Monday, January 5, 2009

Lady Luck's Map of Vegas eBook edition by Samuel, Barbara

Barbara Samuel is an insightful and graceful author and  Lady Luck's Map of Vegas is an incredible story about love, loss, fear and a road trip.

This is not really a romance so much as it is a quiet family drama that starts slowly and grabs you by the throat.  The first few chapters are choppy as the narrative jumps between India and Eldora.  The styles are very different and the first couple of transitions are jarring.  But as the story builds, the transitions work to move you through the plot.

This novel explores family secrets and how they effect future generations.  What happens when a parent specifically obscures their past?  How important are genetics? What are the ramifications of choices made and roads not taken?  How do you live with the results of the choices made -- especially when they don't necessarily turn out well? 

I suppose I am going to overuse my allotment of cliches about families here, but somehow for this book they seem right.  So here goes:  Love is messy, complex and scary; nothing in life is certain;  relationships and families involve an incredible risk and much forgiveness. 

The synopsis below gives you the story line, but doesn't convey the emotional punch this book delivers. All I can say is grab your Kleenex and settle down to enjoy an incredible road trip.

And as side note (if you aren't up for the story)the book is worth reading just as a guidebook to New Mexico.  Samuel beautifully captures the landscape and the wildness of the west. 

Oh yeah, one more thing, look for Samuel's new book --The Lost Recipe for Happiness which is due out next week.

Here is the publisher synopsis:

A successful Web designer, forty-year-old India has a fabulously hip life in Denver and a sexy Irish lover in New York who jets out to see her on bi-weekly visits. The long-distance romance suits India just fine: Though Jack is the only man who has ever made India feel truly alive, she doesn’t want things to get too serious. But then her father passes away, and India must honor the promise she made to him: to look after her mother when he’s gone.

Suddenly India finds herself back in Colorado Springs with the woman who both intrigues and infuriates her. Eldora is sixty something and exquisitely gorgeous, but her larger-than-life personality can suck the air out of a room. True to form, Eldora throws India a curveball, insisting that they hit the road to look for India’s twin, Gypsy, a brilliant artist who lives a vagabond’s existence in the remote mountain towns of New Mexico. It looks like India can’t avoid her mother’s intensity any longer, especially after she discovers stunning secrets from Eldora’s past.

Thirty years ago, Eldora regaled her twin girls with glamorous stories about her days as a Las Vegas showgirl– stories of martinis and music at the Sahara, back when Frank and Sammy ruled the town. But the story of how she really ended up in Sin City, and the unsavory life she’d run from with her daughters in tow, is full of details she’s never seen fit to share–until now.
As mother and daughter sail down Route 66, the very road Eldora drove those many years ago, looking for Gypsy, while passing motels, diners, and souvenir shops, Eldora must relive a lifetime of memories that have tormented her before she can put them to rest once and for all. . . .

Award-winning author Barbara Samuel brings us a heartfelt story of second chances and unexpected detours. As two women come to terms with themselves and each other, the past unravels and the future spreads out before them like the open road.