Never to be told: a review of Seven for a Secret by Lyndsay Faye

In Lyndsay Faye’s Seven for a Secret, it is 1840s New York City, where crime, social tensions, and playing-for-keeps politics form a potent, sometimes deadly milieu. And whodunit? is never an easy question in this twisty, brilliantly plotted world.Seven for a Secret

“Whimpering, Varker looked up at Val and made a timid effort to pull his hand free.
We heard a grind of loose bone, followed by a tiny shriek. My throat constricted.
My brother is a dangerous man.
‘I haven’t been paying attention,’ Val remarked in a conversational manner. ‘Damned if there wasn’t something else on my mind. So tell me—what play were you aiming to make with that snapper, drawing it like a heathen without a fair warning?'”

– Seven for a Secret, Lyndsay Faye

In Lyndsay Faye’s Seven for a Secret, it is 1840s New York City, where crime, social tensions, and playing-for-keeps politics form a potent, sometimes deadly milieu. Floods of Irish immigrants are arriving daily to escape the potato famine; people die of starvation with regularity, and there isn’t enough work to go around. Excitement, danger, and various illegalities are the norm, and Timothy Wilde, copper star of the newly minted New York Police Department, is doing his best to figure out whodunit. But whodunit? is never an easy question in this twisty, brilliantly plotted world.

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Borrowing from the emptiness: a review of The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng

Remembrance and forgetting guide the multilayered narratives of Tan Twan Eng’s Book-prize-nominated The Garden of Evening Mists. So important are they that they’re personified as statues of twin goddesses within the titular Japanese-style garden that is found high in the mountains of Malaya.

Garden of Evening Mists

“The first stone in my life had been set down years ago, when I had heard of Aritomo’s garden. Everything that had happened since then had brought me to this place in the mountains, this moment in time. Instead of consoling me, this knowledge left me fearful of where my life would lead.

I began to speak.

– The Garden of Evening Mists, Tan Twan Eng

Remembrance and forgetting guide the multilayered narratives of Tan Twan Eng’s luminous, Booker Prize nominated The Garden of Evening Mists. So important are they that they’re personified as statues of twin goddesses within the titular Japanese-style garden that is found high in the mountains of Malaya. Teoh Yun Ling, a senior judge retiring from the Malaysian bench, is caught between different periods of her life, of remembering and forgetting.

Yun Ling has kept the reason for her retirement, and her subsequent return to the Cameron Highlands, secret from all but a few people: she has been diagnosed with aphasia, which means she will slowly lose her memories and her ability to process the meaning of words at all. Terrified but determined, she flees to the tea estate that once belonged to Aritomo Nakamura, a Japanese expatriate fabled for being the disgraced gardener of the Japanese emperor. This is not the first time she has made this journey. When she was 19, she and her sister Yun Hong were captured by the Japanese. The more attractive Yun Hong was pressed into service as a “comfort girl” for the soldiers. Ironically, her only escape came in the form of daydreams about Japanese gardens, an art form she fell in love with when the family visited Japan years earlier.

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How to live with her dying: a review of The End of your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

Will Schwalbe’s mom, Mary Anne, is a human rights activist, a champion of refugees and of world literacy. She has traveled widely, is a formidable fundraiser, an excellent listener, and a voracious reader. And she has been diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer.

“I guess if we keep reading books at more or less the same time, then it’s sort of like being in a book club,” I added….
“But you don’t have time for a book club!” Mom said.
“I have time to read. And we’ve always talked about books. So if we’re reading the same books, and talking about them, why can’t we call that a book club?”

– The End of your Life Book Club, Will Schwalbe

Will Schwalbe’s mom, Mary Anne, is a human rights activist, a champion of refugees and of world literacy. She loves her grandchildren, and theatre, and Vero Beach. She has traveled throughout Africa, to Pakistan and Afghanistan and Burma, to Geneva and London, and many other ports of call. She is a formidable fundraiser, an excellent listener, and a voracious reader. And she has been diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer.

In this simple and moving memoir, Schwalbe details the last two years of his mother’s life, with sidetrips into the experiences of people Mary Anne has influenced or been influenced by. Returning home from a humanitarian trip to Afghanistan, Mary Anne becomes quite sick, and doctors diagnose her with a rare form of hepatitis, not surprising given where she’d come from. But as her condition worsens, the diagnosis changes: cancer, the kind that tends to kill in a matter of months. But while Mary Anne’s cancer isn’t curable, it is treatable. As Will and his mom sit in endless waiting rooms together, in sessions of chemo and waiting for scans and before speaking with doctors, they find themselves asking each other what they’re reading, and Will proposes a very special book club: why don’t they read the same books at the same time and discuss them?

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Multimedia Monday: Goliath, by Tom Gauld, a graphic novel review

In this spare, moving graphic novel, Tom Gauld approaches the familiar tale of David and Goliath from an unfamiliar point of view: Goliath’s. Playing with the idea that we only know the victor’s side of history, Gauld creates a deeply human Goliath who is sweet, quiet, and unassuming. Goliath just happens to be quite a bit bigger than the average soldier.

Multimedia Mondays is a new feature on EditorialEyes Book Blog, including reviews of graphic novels, theatre, ballet, movies based on books, and all things book-related in other media.

In this spare, moving graphic novel, Tom Gauld approaches the familiar tale of David and Goliath from an unfamiliar point of view: Goliath’s. Playing with the idea that we only know the victor’s side of history, Gauld creates a deeply human Goliath who is sweet, quiet, and unassuming. Goliath just happens to be quite a bit bigger than the average soldier. He’s not a monster, a warrior, or even an expert fighter. He’s the “fifth worst swordsman” in his unit. But visually, he’s intimidating.

Meanwhile, the king of the Philistines is presented with an idea, a way to end the stalemate wih the Israelites at a cost of only one or two Philistine lives. The king okays it without a second thought, and before poor Goliath knows it, he’s being measured for impressive-looking but shoddily made armour and is pulled off admin duty, which he quite enjoys. He’s sent into a valley and given a script to shout out to the opposing army.

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The End of the World as We Know It: Review of A.S. Byatt’s Ragnarök

Ragnarök offers a chance to peek into the author’s mind.

“There are two ways, in stories, of winning battles—to be supremely strong, or to be a gallant, forlorn hope. The Ases were neither. They were brave and tarnished.”

Ragnarök: The End of the Gods, A.S. Byatt

This is not exactly a novel. Not exactly fiction, not exactly autobiography, not exactly allegory. Ragnarök: The End of the Gods, A.S. Byatt’s reweaving of the Norse cycle of myths is, for such a short book, epic. Ragnarök is part of the Canongate Myth Series, which since 1999 has published retellings of famous myths by accomplished authors the world over (you might recognize Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad or Philip Pullman’s The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ from the list of Canongate titles).

Ragnarök loosely tells the story of the thin child, an otherwise unnamed waif who is a loose representation of Byatt in her childhood, sent to the English countryside during World War II. She finds herself surrounded by flora and fauna that differs greatly from her city world, and she finds a book about the Norse gods, written by a meticulous German scholar, that opens up her imaginative playground and, indeed, her world view. We follow her as she traipses, book-bag in one hand and gas-mask in the other, through fields of flowers and dreamscapes of great Norse battles, puzzling out what she believes to be true about the world around her. Continue reading “The End of the World as We Know It: Review of A.S. Byatt’s Ragnarök”

Fluidity of ocean and memory: A review of The Cat’s Table, by Michael Ondaatje

The Cat’s Table is one of those rare literary achievements that combines page-turning storytelling with perfectly shaped prose. Each word and each scene has been chosen with care, and the book comes together in a harmony of ideas, memories, and narratives.

“I could see she was beginning to approach her memory of it now, glimpsing a few incidents…thinking deeper into herself.”
– Michael Ondaatje, The Cat’s Table

Amid the excitement surrounding the release of George R.R. Martin’s newest book, A Dance with Dragons, I also heard a common complaint: Martin, many of his truest fans contend, takes far too long between installments, leaving readers hanging for years at a time.

Michael Ondaatje, one of Canada’s literary superstars, doesn’t seem to garner the same complaint, despite breaks of five to eight years between titles. His admirers await his books with patient anticipation. In return, Ondaatje crafts works such as The Cat’s Table, one of those rare literary achievements that combines page-turning storytelling with perfectly shaped prose. Each word and each scene has been chosen with care, and the book comes together in a harmony of ideas, memories, and narratives.

I say narratives because The Cat’s Table encompasses many stories: in its seemingly straightforward telling of a boy’s 21 days on a ship bound from Sri Lanka to England, its deeply complex characters offer glimpses of chance encounters and intermingled lives. Continue reading “Fluidity of ocean and memory: A review of The Cat’s Table, by Michael Ondaatje”