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[696] A Moment of Everything – Shelly King

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” Bookstores are romantic creatures. They seduce you with their wares and break your heart with their troubles. All great readers fantasize about owning one. They think spending a day around all these books will be great fulfillment of their passion. ” (Ch.16, p.266)

The Moment of Everything really caught me off guard. The first impression is that it’s a feel-good type of chick-lit featuring a young man who is out of luck with her start-up company in Silicon Valley. Fresh out of a busted relationship, now laid off, Maggie Dupres is between jobs. With the meager savings, she cuts all her expenses, and whiles away her day at Dragonfly, a neighborhood bookstore of used books—cheap and tattered. The owner, Hugo, is a kind-hearted romantic in his late fifties who is not interested in making money. He lets her sit around all day without ever expecting her to buy anything.

There was no perfect love or even a perfect book. But I had a life I loved at the Dragonfly and I wanted to be tethered to it. I wanted to suffer the bad times and feel joy at the good. (Ch.15, p.257)

A chance of networking, in the form of a book club, leads her to a woman who has money, power, and connections. She would curry her favor and hopes to get a job. The copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover she has, fragile with wear and warped, a gift from Hugo at Dragonfly, has notes that see her through the discussion. But she finds more than notes scribbled on margins—a magical conversation between two people, Henry and Catherine, who left notes to each other in this bookstore copy. When she tries to find them, she finds instead answers to questions she didn’t know she had—questions about love, and the right place in life. In proving herself to the potential investors, she pours herself to Dragonfly, turning the shabby hole-in-a-wall into a profitable business. But in doing this, Maggie realizes life is more than commercial success and money. Dragonfly has influenced her with its human touch, with the many relationship Hugo cultivates. For the first time in life she finds herself without the things she had taken for granted.

They were in a constant search for that one, that special book that would satisfy their desire for mind-blowing plots, jaw-dropping wizardry, and emotional knife-twisting all at once. (Ch. 7, p.149)

King has written an ode to bookstores and to readers. Her story has a touch of serendipity, justifying book-lovers and readers’ endless browsing at the bookstores for their endearing reads. The beauty of used bookstore is that they are layered with history, because books have been through many hands and move on to others. King’s writing is so vivid, realistic, at times snarky, that it is easy to see the shelves and smell the books. Throughout the pages she finds the balance between emotional topics like friendship, family issues, finding one’s calling, and love.

274 pp. Grand Central Publishing. Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]

Scary

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I checked in at the Booking Through Thursday blog, which is the host for a weekly book meme or blogging prompt. Here is this week’s prompt:

What’s the scariest book you’ve ever read?

I actually wrote a post about scary and creepy books that stay with me over the years. They are not ones with monsters and ghosts lurking on the pages but more atmospheric, full of creepy suggestion. Books that make my hair stand include The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, And Then Then Were None by Agatha Christie and most surprisingly, the one that never advertised horror, but surprise is in store at every turn of a chapter, Under the Skin by Michael Faber.

For the sake of contributing to this week’s BTT, I would add Stephen King’s The Shining. The evil is encroaching, and it could be that Danny’s shining has empowered it. The book does end with an explosive climax, pun intended, that sends me over the edge. It’s almost like fighting against unknown, unseen evil. The characters understand the hotel is evil; that it sought Danny, his power, and that it would do anything it could to get him. This book is a big spooker, atmospherically speaking, and haunts me tremendously.

[695] Where Are the Children – Mary Higgins Clark

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” Time was running out. Somebody would buy this house and he wouldn’t be able to rent it again. That was why he’d sent the article to the paper. He wanted to still here to enjoy seeing her exposed for what she was in front of these people . . . now, when she must have started to feel safe. ” (Prologue)

My first Mary Higgins Clark book happens to be her first suspense. It’s listed right in the middle of the Top 100 Mystery Novels of All Time by the Mystery Writers of America. It’s a competently written thriller with serviceable characters without much depth, but help propel the tightly written story. The premise is simple but intriguing: A prowler is in Cape Cod stalking a beautiful young mother. Nancy Elderage is formerly Nancy Harmon who, seven years ago, was convicted of willful murder of her two children. The case was dropped only because the only prosecuting witness, one Rob Legler, had vanished.

Nancy reinvents herself, changes her name, leaves California for peaceful Cape Cod, remarries and starts a new life. But she realizes she can never be rid of their past when the two children from her second marriage disappear. She is confronted by the prospect of another murder trial hanging over her head.

Clatk crams a lot of characters into a short space. There’s Dr. Lendon Miles, friend of Nancy’s mother who died in a car accident on her trip to visit Nancy in college. Nancy has blamed herself for the loss. The doctor is savvy of Nancy’s trauma and proves of be valuable in helping her recall the details of her first marriage and the disappearance of the children. Jonathan Knowles is a retired lawyer who is writing a case study book on famous murder trials—and the Harmon case would make the most interesting chapter. He’s the one who first perceives Nancy’s true identity.

The book is very well-paced, suspenseful, with a great twist. The current disappearance of the two children gradually shines light to the case seven years ago, to what really happened and what afflicted Nancy. For it becomes obvious that Nancy, whether she was in hysterical amnesia or just plain dishonesty, never told all she knew about the disappearance of her children from the first marriage. When the truth comes out, it was incredibly outrageous for 1975 when the book was written. Clark manages to insert just the right dose of creepiness in her villain and into the situation without resorting to gore. It’s a gripping suspense and nail-biter.

288 pp. Simon & Schuster. Pocket Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]

Fear Factor

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It’s the time of the year for spooky reading. The most traditional Halloween reading would be the short stories of Edgar Allan Poe. Many horror movies later, surviving vampires, woman climbing out of television, grisly murder with an ice-pick, I have survived the genre. Ghosts and demons no longer scare me; nor does a monster lunging forward trying to eat my head off. I don’t want grisly murders; I prefer atmospheric horror in which one is stalked by an unknown but malevolent entity. The uncertainty is nail-biting, the ominousness stomach-turning.

My current read, Where Are the Children?, is one such book. The main character is haunted by the death of her two children about seven years ago and the shocking murder charges against her. She left California for the peace of Cape Cod, changed her name, dyed her hair, and started over. But her nightmare repeats as one morning her two children are missing. She’s battling against a sociopath, a kidnapper, and a killer.

Books that make my hair stand include The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, And Then Then Were None by Agatha Christie and most surprisingly, the one that never advertised horror, but surprise is in store at every turn of a chapter, Under the Skin by Michael Faber.

[694] The Indian Clerk – David Leavitt

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” Human situations, on the other hand, are complex and multiform. To understand them you must take into account not only misunderstandings, occasions, circumstances, but the mystery of human nature, which is as rife with contradictions as the foundational landscape of mathematics. ” (Part 9, p.447)

I am not sure exactly what “fictive biography” is why it matters, but The Indian Clerk, like many novels in the genre of historical fiction, employs real characters to construct a story that shines light on the immense gulf that divides us culturally, intellectually, and emotionally. The book is dextrously wrought and deviously researched. The Indian clerk in the title is Srinivasa Ramanujan, the celebrated mathematics genius who fetched up at Trinity College, Cambridge, six months before the start of the first world war. Although a fair amount of the narrative is written in the third person, the author’s proxy is Ramanujan’s sponsor, a leading figure in mathematics at the time, H.H. Hardy, who receives the original letter from the Madras shipping clerk and who, with his colleague Littlewood, makes arrangements for Ramanujan’s arrival. The self-taught maverick, rejected by his own society, is trying to prove Riemann hypothesis, a formula for calculating the number of prime numbers. But interspersed with the prodigy’s mathematical feat and life in Cambridge are great issues, focused and rooted in on the human front that makes this novel a gem.

God had nothing to do with it. Proof was what connected you to the truth. (Part 1, p.33)

The Indian Clerk is a study of differences, of oppositions, of human kindness. Hardy and Ramanujan are completely different people. One from west and the other east. Imperial homeland and infiltrating colony. God-disdaining atheist and a Hindu goddess-relying observer. Mathematics is what draws Ramanujan away from the social awkwardness conjoins him with Hardy. Despite his genius, he remains a studiously enigmatic presence in the book, uttering only conventional pleasantries and suffering repercussions of the intolerable situation at home, between his tyrant mother and recalcitrant wife by arranged marriage.

And so when the Hindu adheres to certain prohibitions and strictures for the sake of propriety and decorum, rather than because he accepts the doctrines of his religion as literally true, he is not acting as a hypocrite . . . (Part 4, p.202)

The interaction between Hardy and Ramanujan is on center stage, but the many peripheral characters give the book its social texture and periodical background. Many aspects of the book are very nuanced: the misanthropic, homosexual Hardy’s dealings with his bluetstocking sister Gertrude, his membership in the secret society of which many members are gay, the insularity that the math contest embodies, the don’s wife Alice Neville’s secret passion for Rmanujan, Littlewood’s affair with Ann Chase who would not divorce her husband, and Bertrand Russell’s loss of college fellowship for opposing the war, and a visit by D.H. Lawrence who offers grim opinion on marriage,

The fictionalized account is like a fairy tale in which a Westerner recognizes an undiscovered talent and seeks to unearth and display his luster. But at heart it’s revealing the unlikely but deep friendship of two men and their struggles, rooted in their upbringing and inveterate traditions.

485 pp. Bloomsbury. Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]

A to Z

It’s Friday!

A. Author You’ve Read The Most Books From:
Charles Dickens. Great Expectation, A Tale of Two Cities, Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, The Christmas Carol, and Oliver Twist. Next one on my list is Bleak House.

B. Best Sequel Ever:
I have never read many sequels until this year. My favorite at the moment is the William Monk Mystery by Anne Perry. I read the first three almost back to back.

C. Currently Reading:
The Indian Clark by David Leavitt

D. Drink of Choice While Reading:
I read profusely in the morning so it would be coffee. I also enjoy a cocktail (cosmopolitan) when I’m reading by the pool.

E. E-Reader or Physical Books:
I have a sentimental and emotional attachment to books in print, so until they go extinct, real books would be my choice. That said, I have an e-reader that I bring with me when I travel overseas.

F. Fictional Character You Would Have Dated In High School:
Why in high school?

G. Glad You Gave This Book A Chance:
The Oxford Murders by Guillermo Martinez. I have never heard of the author but was glad I picked up the book at the bookstore while I was on vacation. It’s an intellectual mystery set in academic setting. The author is Argentinian so I wish he gets more attention in the English-speaking world.

H. Hidden Gem Book:
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. Another important discovery when I was in college. His books were banned during his lifetime for the lambaste against Joseph Stalin. This classic is a mixture of literature, history, sci fi, and fairy tale. It explores that whole mandatory co-existence of good and evil.

I. Important Moments of Your Reading Life:
Eleventh grade in high school. For winter break, I had to read Thoreau and Ayn Rand. The daunting size of The Fountainhead and the dry subject matter of Walden dreaded me. But once I started, I could not put either book down and I finished them within the first week of break. That was a serious turning point for me as a young reader who felt compelled to seek out serious literature.

J. Just Finished:
State of Wonder by Anne Patchett. Story of the a mysterious elderly scientist working in seclusion for a fertility drug in the Amazon now makes me want to read The Lost City of Z.

K. Kinds of Books You Won’t Read:
Romance, comics, political propaganda, and most biographies.

L. Longest Book You’ve Read:
I think it must be a tie between Gone with the Wind and War and Peace. They’re both doorstoppers.

M. Major Book Hangover Because Of:
Rebecca by Daphne du Mariner. I stayed up all night to see what would happen because every chapter du Mariner was dangling the carrots. I was in Hawaii so I could sit out on the balcony and read all night.

N. Number of Bookcases You Own:
Eight bookcases lining the three walls of my study.

O. One Book That You Have Read Multiple Times:
And Then There Was None by Agatha Christie

P. Preferred Place to Read:
I like to read on the sofa with an end-table on which I put my journal, pen, and a beverage. I never read in bed because I cannot seem to focus. When I’m on vacation I enjoy reading on a chaise by the pool.

Q. Quote From A Book That Inspires You:
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

R. Reading Regret:
I have not had a chance to devote my whole attention to reading Ulysses, which I quickly read through under constraint of time for a class in college. I have plan to pick it up again but it seems very intimidating.

S. Series You Started and Need to Finish:
All the series I started are open-ended: Anne Perry’s William Monk series, Mark Pryor’s Hugo Marston series (set in Paris), and Maggie Hope series by Susan Elia MacNeal.

T. Three Of Your All-Time Favourite Books:
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, and East of Eden by John Steinbeck.

U. Unapologetic Fangirl For:
Good Christian Bitches by Kim Gatlin. Texas, “Christian”, bitches—how can I resist? I decided to read this for two reasons: the new ABC show and I was mildly intrigued by the premise because, as we all learn by about, ohhhh, 1st grade, there are hypocrites everywhere. I’ve come in contact with one or two individuals who hide behind the cross while promoting their own selfishness, but I see nothing wrong with exploiting this idea for the sake of entertainment. I just love it!

V. Very Excited For This Release More Than Any Other:
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

W. Worst Bookish Habit:
Buying books even when my TBR stacks are unrealistically large. I just can’t help it. And e-readers are the accomplices. At this point, it would take me years to get through all the books I’ve bought but haven’t read yet.

X. Marks The Spot (Start On Your Bookshelf And Count to the 27th Book):
Herzog by Saul Bellow—I have not read this one yet!

Y. Your Latest Book Purchase:
The Blood Thief by Mark Pryor. Hugo Marston series #3

Z. ZZZ-Snatcher (last book that kept you up WAY late):
Lately I have not been staying up late to read a book, because I prefer to get my beauty sleep and wake up early to read.

For a Friend

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I checked in at the Booking Through Thursday blog, which is the host for a weekly book meme or blogging prompt. Here is this week’s prompt:

If someone you know has just published a book, do you feel obliged to buy a copy? Even if it’s not the kind of book you’d normally read?

It really depends on the depth of the relationship. If I just “know” the person but hardly keep in touch, I would browse for it at the bookstore and see what it’s about. If it’s someone who keeps regular contact, most definitely I would purchase a copy to show my support, even if the book is out of my range of preference. But there’s always exception. I have met self-published authors on this blog for whom I meet and arrange reading event.

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