Pages & Paws

Writing, Reading, and Rural Life With a Border Collie


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Gold Standard in Historical Fiction?

Calling all fans of historical fiction and anyone else who can fog a mirror!

Today we’re reviewing three outstanding novels. They’re all historical fiction. All are set during World War II. Anchoring these narratives are strong women who survive and flourish against the odds.

Mom says The Nightingale and Cilka’s Journey are two disturbing but outstanding reads. And that The Things We Cannot Say is one of the year’s best. (And she reads alot. When she’s not out walking with me.)

Taken together, these three novels may represent the “gold standard” for historical fiction. 

So sit tight and get ready to dive in.  Let’s go!

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5 Clunkers You Can Skip & Not Miss a Thing

Your time is valuable, right? Especially when it comes to books.

That’s why Mom and I launched the BKLBITS (Big Kitty Litter Box In The Sky) Awards last summer. It was one of our most popular features. I mean, Holy Meow Mix! No one wants to waste their time on lousy snoozers littered with unsympathetic, cardboard characters we don’t know, don’t want to know, and could care less about.

Mom and me, we like to be helpful. As in, save you some time. So here, without any further ado, we’re rolling out BKLBITS Awards, Part II:

1. Cutting For Stone, by Abraham Verghese

This book gets all kinds of rave reviews elsewhere. It’s supposedly about two brothers “whose fate is intertwined.”

So not impressed.

It takes seven chapters – we kid you not – for a laboring mother to give birth. Yea, verily. We don’t expect or require every book to move at warp speed. But this thing moves with the alacrity of a three-toed sloth. Bye!

2. The Demeter Code, by Russell Brooks

We received a request to review this international spy “thriller” novel in November. It’s supposedly about biological warfare, CIA spooks, Syrian arms dealers, thieves, contract killers and corporate espionage, punctuated by lots of gun play and a seemingly never-ending dead body count.

It was obvious early on that the author did not bother to read our submission guidelines. Or maybe he figured we wouldn’t notice just how majorly this thing sails outside our wheelhouse. Ugh. (Main character Ridley Fox gives stray alley cats a bad name.)

But a request is a request. So here’s our review:

If you gravitate toward trashy “thriller” books of the pulp fiction variety, this one’s for you. Otherwise, feel free to choose something more productive. Like watching grass grow.

 

3. Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, by Katherine Boo

“Beautiful forever” is a corporate slogan for Italianate floor tiles. That matters in Annawadi, a .miserable slum of Mumbai where residents young and old scrape out a meager existence in the shadow of luxury hotels and an international airport. Because this novel is all about mercurial promises that gleam like new tile but crack and crater the moment they’re set down or even lightly jostled.

This colorful novel centers around the “professional competition for trash” that keeps Annawadi barely alive, eking out bare subsistence in a society roiling with corruption, disease, poverty, and squalor.

A Pulitzer Prize nominee for general nonfiction, this story is reasonably engaging. It’s beautifully written. But you may find its pace uneven and the plot plodding.

4. I Will Always Love You, by Ashley Lee London

This book is an ambitious effort, spanning multiple generations and relationships. That’s part of its problem. There’s no real cohesive, unifying theme. It’s all over the place. The result is a confusing, muddled morass of artificial emotion and manufactured pathos. For example, the godfather/goddaughter relationships between Michael and Lori seems artificial. Like it’s trying too hard to make up for deficits in Lori’s upbringing.

There’s also a recurring issue with print quality. Numerous pages sport smudged ink and blurred paragraphs.

Additionally, the characters are hackneyed, the plot humdrum. While the story had potential, much of it is frittered away scampering down multitudinous bunny trails and story arcs that are tangentially connected at best.

Unfortunately, story threads don’t really start coming together until around page 300. Only the most diligent of readers is likely to wait that long before beating a hasty retreat to the nearest exit. (Read our full review here.)

5. The Aviator, by Eugene-Vodolazkin

A man wakes up in a Russian hospital. He has no idea who he is, how he got there, or what year it is. He gradually realizes he’s been in cryo storage for most of the 20th century. Memories of his grandmother reading Robinson Crusoe, a summer dacha, a murder, the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and a barbaric gulag bubble to the surface as aviator Platonov tries to make sense of who he is, where he is, and why.

Reminiscent of Boris Pasternak and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, ‘The Aviator’ is also dense. At times it’s even oblique in the tradition of Franz Kafka.

The narrative is packed with details and rich descriptions of people, events, and observances that are seemingly superfluous or irrelevant. Connecting the dots into some semblance of coherence can be a challenge, perhaps mirroring the mental and physical deterioration of the main character.

Snorefest!

 

Next up:

One of the best historical fiction books we’ve ever read! Stay tuned!


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ALL ABOARD for Adventure With 2 Unique Travel Tomes

  “Car ride! We’re goin’ for a car ride!!”

Wait. We’re not goin’ for a car ride, Mom? Whaddya mean, “Travel by book?” To where? Can I come? Is there food?

Kimber here. Mom says it’s all aboard for two nifty travel-ish tomes she recently read. One takes us aboard a humongous passenger ship making the New York to England crossing in 1915. (I’d bring a really, really good life jacket ‘fize you.) It’s called Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania. The other.is a pert and pretty “travel memoir” about traveling with youngun’s, Passports and Pacifiers: Traveling the World One Tantrum at a Time.

So. All aboard! Let’s go!

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Best Animal Stories EVER!

Happy New Year!

Mom and I are ringing in 2021 right (or write) with our latest Super Duper Awesomeness List of Best Animals Stories Ever. At least that was the plan. Until one of us got sidetracked. Again. (Hi, Mom.)

“There are just too many great animal books out there,” says Her Crankiness. “If we tried listing even a fraction of the excellent stories told from an animal’s point of view or feature animals as the main character(s), we’ll be here till Kingdom come!”

No idea what that means. But that’s where one of us changed plans. So instead of tallying up a list of Best Animal Stories Ever, we’re shifting to a list of Awesome Authors of Best Animal Stories Ever. Because some authors write numerous animal books.

So here to ring in the New Year WRITE is our totally subjective, 100% unscientific list of Awesome Authors of Best Animal Stories Ever and a brief list of their best known books. All are either told from an animal’s POV or an animal is the central character. (You may detect a slight canine bias here. But, hey! It’s me! Ready? Set? Go!)

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SPOON UP 3 Hefty Helpings of Historical Fiction!

You know Her Momness loves historical fiction, right?

“If historical fiction was a flavor, it’d be raspberry white chocolate cheesecake! With double hot fudge!” croweth Mom.

Why she says this, I don’t know. I do know she’s breaking out her Happy Dance. Because we’re reviewing three sturdy historical fiction titles today! All set during World War II.

Break out some extra spoons for Lilac Girls, Irena’s War, and The Orphan’s Tale:

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Warm Up Your Winter With ‘Aunt Ivy’s Cottage’

Aunt Ivy’s Cottage (BookoutureDecember, 2020)

By Kristin Harper

Romance/Woman’s Fiction

Romance and mystery collide in this cozy ‘beach novel’ about loss, love, second chances, and family secrets.

Thirty eight year-old Zoey Winslow arrives at her aunts’ home on Dune Island at a loss. Several losses, in fact. First her parents divorced. Then they both died.  Then she lost her beloved sister Jess to cancer.

Nearly bankrupted by bad investments made by her ex-boyfriend, a “financial planner,” Zoey’s also recently lost her job as a librarian. She comes to Dune Island and Hope Haven to care for her ailing Aunt Sylvia and Sylvia’s dearest friend, Zoey’s elderly Aunt Ivy.

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‘Marley’ Brings Dickensian Character Back to Life

 

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By Jon Clinch

Fiction

It’s December and ‘Tis the Season! So we’re kicking off the month with a seasonal classic. Sort of. It’s more like a twist on a seasonal classic, called Marley.

As in: If you thought Ebenezer Scrooge was a piece of work, wait till you get a load of Jacob Marley.

Yes, Marley. Scrooge’s deceased business partner. He appears briefly in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. He’s the chained and tormented ghost doomed to wander the earth forever as punishment for his greed and selfishness when he was alive (He also looks a lot like Alec Guinness in the 1970 musical, Scrooge).

Back Story

Clinch’s vividly imaginative and enjoyable novel fills us in on Marley’s back story of greed, duplicity, and treachery. This guy makes Scrooge look like a piker. If lying, cheating, and stealing were Olympic sports, Jacob Marley would bring home the gold. Every time.

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‘The Sky Worshipers’ & Echoes of Scheherazade

The Sky Worshipers: A Novel of Mongol Conquest (History Through Fiction, 2021)

By F.M. Deemyad

Historical Fiction

Setting:

Thirteenth century Asia, Middle East, and Eastern Europe

Main characters:

Chaka, youngest daughter of a Chinese emperor and a Tangut Princess of China. Kidnapped by Mongols. Becomes wife of Genghis Khan, founder of the Mongol Empire.

Reyhan, Granddaughter of the last Seljuk King of Persia, kidnapped by Mongols.

Krisztina, Princess of Poland and Mongol prisoner of war.

Lady Goharshad of Persia. In 1398 she discovers a hidden manuscript buried in a hidden compartment under a floor of some ancient ruins in Karakorum, the Mongol capitol.

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Why This Animal Classic Is Worth Another Read

A Forest World (Simon & Schuster, 1942)

 

By Felix Salten

Fiction/Juvenile

Remember the guy who wrote Bambi?  (It was a good story before Disney got ahold of it. But that’s a discussion for another time.) Did you know Felix Salten wrote two other books, Renni the Rescuer and A Forest World? We’ve read both. Both are just as good – or maybe better – than Bambi. Today we’re focusing on the latter title.

A Forest World isn’t necessarily a quick read by modern day standards. But it’s a good one. Here’s why:

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The KIMBER Awards!

You’ve heard of the Academy Awards. The Emmys, Tonys, and Golden Globes. But you may not have heard of The Biggest Bow Wow of them all:

The Kimber Awards.

You may not have heard of this prestigious honor. That’s because I, Kimber, just made it up. Just in time for Thanksgiving.

Well, okay. Mom helped. A little. She lobbied for “World’s Most Super Duper, Seriously Splendid, Extra Excellent, Terrifically Talented, Genuine Genius-y, and All-Around Awesome Author Awards.”

I nixed that. After all. Someone has to be the adult in the room. Besides. Mom and I thought that with all this negative COVID-ish talk going around, something upbeat is in order. (Well, okay again. It was mostly me. But Mom helped a bit.)

Where was I? Oh yeah. The Kimber Awards. …

 

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