Tuesday, February 19, 2019

A Terrible Country by Keith Gessen

A Terrible Country
by Keith Gessen
narrated by Ari Fliakos

Find out more about this book and author:

Published: 2018
Publisher: Viking
Genre: Contemporary, Russia
Hardback: 338
Rating: 5

First sentence(s):
In the late summer of 2008, I moved to Moscow to take care of my grandmother.

When Andrei Kaplan's older brother Dima insists that Andrei return to Moscow to care for their ailing grandmother, Andrei must take stock of his life in New York. His girlfriend has stopped returning his text messages. His dissertation adviser is dubious about his job prospects. It's the summer of 2008, and his bank account is running dangerously low. Perhaps a few months in Moscow are just what he needs. So Andrei sublets his room in Brooklyn, packs up his hockey stuff, and moves into the apartment that Stalin himself had given his grandmother, a woman who has outlived her husband and most of her friends. She survived the dark days of communism and witnessed Russia's violent capitalist transformation, during which she lost her beloved dacha. She welcomes Andrei into her home, even if she can't always remember who he is.

Andrei learns to navigate Putin's Moscow, still the city of his birth, but with more expensive coffee. He looks after his elderly--but surprisingly sharp!--grandmother, finds a place to play hockey, a cafe to send emails, and eventually some friends, including a beautiful young activist named Yulia. Over the course of the year, his grandmother's health declines and his feelings of dislocation from both Russia and America deepen. Andrei knows he must reckon with his future and make choices that will determine his life and fate. When he becomes entangled with a group of leftists, Andrei's politics and his allegiances are tested, and he is forced to come to terms with the Russian society he was born into and the American one he has enjoyed since he was a kid.

A wise, sensitive novel about Russia, exile, family, love, history and fate, A Terrible County asks what you owe the place you were born, and what it owes you. Writing with grace and humor, Keith Gessen gives us a brilliant and mature novel that is sure to mark him as one of the most talented novelists of his generation.

My two-bits:

THE state of current Russia in regards to people, culture and politics are captured well.

The foodie in me loved the meal scenes.


* Listened to audiobook version.

* part of the Tournament of Books 2019 (here)

Sunday, February 17, 2019

The Master Key by Masako Togawa

The Master Key by Masako Togawa
by Masako Togawa
translated by Simon Grove

Find out more about this book and author:

Published: 2018
Publisher: Pushkin Vertigo
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Crime, Japan
Paperback: 192
Rating: 5

First sentence(s):
1 April 1951: At the Otsuka Nakacho crossroads
On that day, the snow (unusual for April) which had fallen on the night before was still half an inch deep in the morning.

In postwar Tokyo, the K Apartment House for ladies is about to be moved intact in a highly publicized engineering feat. Then, flashback seven years to one of its occupants and her confederate--a man dressed in woman's clothes--as they bury a child's body in an unused communal bath beneath the building. A second flashback tells of the kidnapping of four-year-old George Kraft, son of an American army officer and his Japanese wife. The stage is set. The actors are a few of the present-day occupants of the K apartments--single, lovely, obsessed, neurotic--each life a novel in itself, told in a spare, unembellished style that never lapses into the sentimental. Manipulated by hidden strings, their actions and reactions lead to suicide, murder, and some final surprising revelations. This is a fresh, original novel, superbly crafted and riveting from start to finish.

My two-bits:

Whoa, didn't see that coming. Loved the initial convoluted feeling I got after reading the second to the last chapter.

Different and dark aspects of single women in Japan are portrayed.


* part of Books, Inc. Foreign Intrigue Book Club (here)

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Lovely Books and Things - 2.16.19

Lovely Books and Things
My Weekly Books and Films Update

Linking up with:
Stacking the Shelves (details)
Sunday Post (details)
Mailbox Monday (details)



1. Watching the Oscar nominated short films

2. Receiving unexpected Valentine's Day treats

3. Spotting a bus with eyeballs all over it



The Things She's Seen
by Ambelin Kwaymullina and Ezekiel Kwaymullina
-Thriller, YA, Australia | Goodreads
Release date: May 14, 2019

In for some magical realism.


My Sister the Serial Killer
by Oyinkan Braithwaite
-Mystery, Thriller, Africa | Goodreads

IN preparation for the Tournament of Books 2019 (here).

Author event:

Green Apple Books on the Park, hosted a conversation between Esmé Weijun Wang and R.O. Kwon.

The Collected Schizophrenias: Essays
by Esmé Weijun Wang
-Essays, Mental Illness | Goodreads

An intimate, moving book written with the immediacy and directness of one who still struggles with the effects of mental and chronic illness, The Collected Schizophrenias cuts right to the core. Schizophrenia is not a single unifying diagnosis, and Esmé Weijun Wang writes not just to her fellow members of the "collected schizophrenias" but to those who wish to understand it as well. Opening with the journey toward her diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, Wang discusses the medical community's own disagreement about labels and procedures for diagnosing those with mental illness, and then follows an arc that examines the manifestations of schizophrenia in her life. In essays that range from using fashion to present as high-functioning to the depths of a rare form of psychosis, and from the failures of the higher education system and the dangers of institutionalization to the complexity of compounding factors such as PTSD and Lyme disease, Wang's analytical eye, honed as a former lab researcher at Stanford, allows her to balance research with personal narrative. An essay collection of undeniable power, The Collected Schizophrenias dispels misconceptions and provides insight into a condition long misunderstood.

Green Apple Books on the Park, hosted an event with Johannes Lichtman for the release of his debut novel.

Such Good Work
by Johannes Lichtman
-Literary | Goodreads

Jonas Anderson wants a fresh start.

He’s made plenty of bad decisions in his life, and at age twenty-eight he’s been fired from yet another teaching position after assigning homework like, Visit a stranger’s funeral and write about it. But, he’s sure a move to Sweden, the country of his mother’s birth, will be just the thing to kick-start a new and improved—and newly sober—Jonas.

When he arrives in Malmo in 2015, the city is struggling with the influx of tens of thousands of Middle Eastern refugees. Driven by an existential need to “do good,” Jonas begins volunteering with an organization that teaches Swedish to young migrants. The connections he makes there, and one student in particular, might send him down the right path toward fulfillment—if he could just get out of his own way.

AND watched: in theatre - part of Noir Film Festival

The Crimson Kimono (1959)
Director/Writer: Samuel Fuller
Stars: Victoria Shaw, Glenn Corbett, James Shigeta
-Crime, Drama, Mystery | imdb | my rating: 5

Two detectives seek a stripper's killer in the Japanese quarter of Los Angeles, but a love triangle threatens their friendship.

AND the Asian guy gets the girl! Kinda cool to see an Asian actor in a lead part from a 50's film.

Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)
Director: Robert Wise
Screenplay: Abraham Polonsky, Nelson Gidding
Based on book by: William P. McGivern
Stars: Harry Belafonte, Robert Ryan, Gloria Grahame
-Crime, Drama, Thriller | imdb | my rating: 5

Dave Burke hires two very different debt-burdened men for a bank robbery. Suspicion and prejudice threaten to end their partnership.

INTERESTING to see how racism plays out in this noir film of the past.

AND watched: in theatre - nominated for the Oscar's 2019

Mary Poppins Returns (2018)
Director/Screen story: Rob Marshall
Screen story: David Magee, John DeLuca
Based on book by: P.L. Travers
Stars: Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw
-Comedy, Family, Fantasy, Musical | imdb | my rating: 4

Decades after her original visit, the magical nanny returns to help the Banks siblings and Michael's children through a difficult time in their lives.

THE colors, costumes and set made this a fun whimsical (but serious) tale.

If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)
Director/Screenplay: Barry Jenkins
Based on book by: James Baldwin
Stars: KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Regina King
-Crime, Drama, Romance | imdb | my rating: 5

A woman in Harlem embraces her pregnancy while she and her family struggle to prove her fiancé innocent of a crime.

CAPTURES the beauty and innocence of love with its filming close-ups and overall tinge. Loved the soundtrack.

A Star is Born (2018)
Director/Screenplay: Bradley Cooper
Screenplay: Eric Roth, Will Fetters
Based on screenplay 1954 by: Moss Hart
Based on screenplay 1954 by: John Gregory Dunne, Joan Didion, Frank Pierson
Based on story by: William A. Wellman, Robert Carson
Stars: Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Sam Elliott
-Drama, Music, Romance | imdb | my rating: 5

A musician helps a young singer find fame, even as age and alcoholism send his own career into a downward spiral.

WOW. I have not seen the previous iterations or spoilers of this film and went into cold. Loved it. And loved Lady Gaga's Shallow.

Cold War (2018)
Zimna wojna (original title)
Director/writer/screenplay: Pawel Pawlikowski
Screenplay: Janusz Glowacki, Piotr Borkowski
Stars: Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot
-Drama, Music, Romance, Poland | imdb | my rating: 5

A passionate love story between two people of different backgrounds and temperaments, who are fatefully mismatched and yet condemned to each other. Set against the background of the Cold War in the 1950s in Poland, Berlin, Yugoslavia and Paris, the film depicts an impossible love story in impossible times.

ANOTHER WOW. History, love and music are woven into a beautiful and sad tapestry of life for this polish couple. The haunting melody carries throughout the film and still lingers in my mind.

Oscar Nominated Shorts (2018)
-Live Action

Detainment (Ireland), based on the true story of two ten-year-old boys who are detained by police under suspicion of abducting and murdering a toddler

Fauve (Canada), set in a surface mine, where two boys sink into a seemingly innocent power game with Mother Nature as the sole observer

Madre (Mother) (Spain), about a single mother who receives a disturbing call from her seven-year-old son who is on vacation with his father in the French Basque Country

Marguerite (Canada), about an aging woman and her nurse who develop a friendship that inspires her to unearth unacknowledged longing and thus help her make peace with her past

Skin (USA), in which an innocuous moment sends two gangs into a ruthless war that ends with a shocking backlash.

Oscar Nominated Shorts (2018)

Animal Behaviour (Canada), in which five animals meet regularly to discuss their inner angst in a group therapy session led by a canine psychotherapist

Disney-Pixar’s Bao (USA), the story of an aging Chinese mom suffering from empty nest syndrome who gets another chance at motherhood when one of her dumplings springs to life as a lively, giggly dumpling boy

Late Afternoon (Ireland), about an elderly woman who journeys into an inner world, reliving moments from her life

One Small Step (USA/China), about a vibrant young Chinese American girl who dreams of becoming an astronaut

Weekends (USA), the story of a young boy shuffling between the homes of his recently divorced parents.

With bonus animated shorts Wishing Box (USA) and Tweet Tweet (Russia).


* comment and TELL me what you have acquired for your shelves recently

Thanks for stopping by :-)

Friday, February 8, 2019

The Parking Lot Attendant by Nafkote Tamirat

The Parking Lot Attendant
by Nafkote Tamirat

Find out more about this book and author:

Published: 2018
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Genre: Literary, African American, Ethiopia
Hardback: 240
Rating: 5

First sentence(s):
My father and I are the newest and least liked members of the colony on the island of B—.

A mesmerizing, indelible coming-of-age story about a girl in Boston's tightly-knit Ethiopian community who falls under the spell of a charismatic hustler out to change the world

A haunting story of fatherhood, national identity, and what it means to be an immigrant in America today, Nafkote Tamirat's The Parking Lot Attendant explores how who we love, the choices we make, and the places we’re from combine to make us who we are.

The story begins on an undisclosed island where the unnamed narrator and her father are the two newest and least liked members of a commune that has taken up residence there. Though the commune was built on utopian principles, it quickly becomes clear that life here is not as harmonious as the founders intended. After immersing us in life on the island, our young heroine takes us back to Boston to recount the events that brought her here. Though she and her father belong to a wide Ethiopian network in the city, they mostly keep to themselves, which is how her father prefers it.

This detached existence only makes Ayale’s arrival on the scene more intoxicating. The unofficial king of Boston’s Ethiopian community, Ayale is a born hustler—when he turns his attention to the narrator, she feels seen for the first time. Ostensibly a parking lot attendant, Ayale soon proves to have other projects in the works, which the narrator becomes more and more entangled in to her father’s growing dismay. By the time the scope of Ayale’s schemes—and their repercussions—become apparent, our narrator has unwittingly become complicit in something much bigger and darker than she ever imagined.

My two-bits:

The writing is just as charismatic as the charismatic character, Ayale in this story. Loved how the story unfolds in a flashback fashion.

Got me thinking of power, leadership and cults.


* Named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year
Shortlisted for the Center For Fiction First Novel Prize
Named a Booklist Best Book of the Year

* part of the Tournament of Books 2019 (here)

Thursday, February 7, 2019

The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner

The Mars Room
by Rachel Kushner

Find out more about this book and author:

Published: 2018
Publisher: Scribner
Genre: Literary
Hardback: 352
Rating: 5

First sentence(s):
Chain night happens once a week on Thursdays.

Zombie sighting:
Her eyes glowed a grayish green like this was a zombie film and not a bus ride to a California state prison.
-chapter 1, page 15

It’s 2003 and Romy Hall is at the start of two consecutive life sentences at Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility, deep in California’s Central Valley. Outside is the world from which she has been severed: the San Francisco of her youth and her young son, Jackson. Inside is a new reality: thousands of women hustling for the bare essentials needed to survive; the bluffing and pageantry and casual acts of violence by guards and prisoners alike; and the deadpan absurdities of institutional living, which Kushner evokes with great humor and precision.

My two-bits:

A woman's California prison experience is portrayed with its stereotypes and realities. The sketchy side of San Francisco also plays a part in regards to backdrop. The story is told well in an engaging and sad way.


* part of the Tournament of Books 2019 (here)

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Warlight by Michael Ondaatje

by Michael Ondaatje

Find out more about this book and author:

Published: 2018
Publisher: Knopf
Genre: Literary, Historical, War
Hardback: 304
Rating: 5

First sentence(s):
In 1945 our parents went away and left us in the care of two men who may have been criminals.

In a narrative as beguiling and mysterious as memory itself--shadowed and luminous at once--we read the story of fourteen-year-old Nathaniel, and his older sister, Rachel. In 1945, just after World War II, they stay behind in London when their parents move to Singapore, leaving them in the care of a mysterious figure named The Moth. They suspect he might be a criminal, and they grow both more convinced and less concerned as they come to know his eccentric crew of friends: men and women joined by a shared history of unspecified service during the war, all of whom seem, in some way, determined now to protect, and educate (in rather unusual ways) Rachel and Nathaniel. But are they really what and who they claim to be? And what does it mean when the siblings' mother returns after months of silence without their father, explaining nothing, excusing nothing? A dozen years later, Nathaniel begins to uncover all that he didn't know and understand in that time, and it is this journey--through facts, recollection, and imagination--that he narrates in this masterwork from one of the great writers of our time.

My two-bits:

Loved how this story unfolds with the reveal of the mystery of the protagonist's mother. The sense of time and place and characters comes alive.


* part of the Tournament of Books 2019 (here)

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Lovely Books and Things - 2.2.19

Lovely Books and Things
My Weekly Books and Films Update

Linking up with:
Stacking the Shelves (details)
Sunday Post (details)
Mailbox Monday (details)



1. Girl's night with pizza and a movie

2. Swaine Adeney Brigg umbrella to handle the rainstorms

3. Raindrops on a leaf


Freebie: friend recommended and loaned

Running in the Family
by Michael Ondaatje
-Memoir, Travel | Goodreads

Author event:

Green Apple Books on the Park, hosted a conversation between Seth Kugel and Ross Borden (from travel site, Matador Network) for the release of Rediscovering Travel.

Rediscovering Travel:
A Guide for the Globally Curious

by Seth Kugel
-Travel | Goodreads

AND watched: online

Widows (2018)
Director/screenplay: Steve McQueen
Screenplay: Gillian Flynn
Based on book by: Lynda La Plante
Stars: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki
-Crime, Drama, Thriller | imdb | my rating: 4

Set in contemporary Chicago, amid a time of turmoil, four women with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead husbands' criminal activities, take fate into their own hands, and conspire to forge a future on their own terms.

THIS kind of heist film plays out well with a more serious than fun vibe.

AND watched: in theatre

Balboa Theatre hosted a Tribute to the Tamale Lady with live music from Beauty Operators & The Goat Family.

AND watched: in theatre - nominated for the Oscar's 2019

Green Book (2018)
Director/Writer: Peter Farrelly
Writers: Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie (as Brian Currie),
Stars: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini
-Biography, Comedy, Drama | imdb | my rating: 4

A working-class Italian-American bouncer becomes the driver of an African-American classical pianist on a tour of venues through the 1960s American South.

FEEL good friendship story that evolves from a road trip.

Vice (2018)
Director/Writer: Adam McKay
Stars: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell
-Biography, Comedy, Drama | imdb | my rating: 4

The story of Dick Cheney, an unassuming bureaucratic Washington insider, who quietly wielded immense power as Vice President to George W. Bush, reshaping the country and the globe in ways that we still feel today.

IF you did not already know about Cheney, this was an interesting way to learn a bit about his part in the political world.


* comment and TELL me what you have acquired for your shelves recently

Thanks for stopping by :-)
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