Review: “Claudia’s Story” by Ashley Marie Witter

13504055A beautifully adapted graphic novel version of Interview with the VampireClaudia’s Story retells the story from the point of view of the child vampire. It’s an amazing treat for fans of Anne Rice, even those like me who never particularly liked Claudia. Witter’s illustrations are rich in detail. I love that all of them are in black and white except for any depiction of blood, adding an extra layer of depth to the drawings.

It took me all of an hour to get through, and I’ll be adding Witter’s adaptation of The Wolf Gift to my to-read list as well.

5 stars

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Review: “The Dinner” by Herman Koch

15797938[From the publisher] A summer’s evening in Amsterdam and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant. Between mouthfuls of food and over the delicate scraping of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of politeness – the banality of work, the triviality of holidays. But the empty words hide a terrible conflict and, with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened… Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son. Together, the boys have committed a horrifying act, caught on camera, and their grainy images have been beamed into living rooms across the nation; despite a police manhunt, the boys remain unidentified – by everyone except their parents. As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children and, as civility and friendship disintegrate, each couple shows just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love.

The characters Koch has created in this book are perfect. By that, I mean each one is carefully crafted and developed, people I could identify in real life if they existed. The book is designed in sections, each one pertaining to a course of the meal. The protagonist is relatable and hilarious in his distaste for his brother and the restaurant in which he finds himself. Despite this, I’m not sure that I liked anyone in this book. They are all morally questionable, though that’s really the whole point of the book – what would you do to keep things the way they always have been?

TL;DR: This is one of those books you’re going to want to discuss with someone else. Really enjoyable and thought-provoking.

4 stars

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Review: “Gemini” by Carol Cassella

17742914[From the publisher] Dr. Charlotte Reese works in the intensive care unit of Seattle’s Beacon Hospital, tending to patients with the most life-threatening illnesses and injuries. Her job is to battle death — to monitor erratic heartbeats, worry over low oxygen levels, defend against infection and demise.

One night a Jane Doe is transferred to her care from a rural hospital on the Olympic Peninsula. This unidentified patient remains unconscious, the victim of a hit and run. As Charlotte and her team struggle to stabilize her, the police search for the driver who fled the scene.

Days pass, Jane’s condition worsens, and her identity remains a mystery. As Charlotte finds herself making increasingly complicated medical decisions that will tie her forever to Jane’s fate, her usual professional distance evaporates. She’s plagued by questions: Who is Jane Doe? Why will no one claim her? Who should decide her fate if she doesn’t regain consciousness — and when?

For such a long summary (I left out half of it), I found this book lacking. I enjoyed it, sure. But I didn’t enjoy it as much as wanted to. It was exciting, yet predictable. What I did enjoy was how Cassella developed the intertwine in relationships between characters, and she did a good job of alternating between past and present (something I usually hate in novels).

TL;DR: Fans of love stories and medicine might like this one. Otherwise I think it was over-hyped when it was released.

3 stars

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Review: “Nine Hills to Nabonkaha” by Sarah Erdman

8340728[From the publisher] The village of Nambonkaha in the Ivory Coast is a place where electricity hasn’t yet arrived, where sorcerers still conjure magic, where the tok-tok sound of women pounding corn fills the morning air like a drumbeat. As Sarah Erdman enters the social fold of the village as a Peace Corps volunteer, she finds that Nambonkaha is also a place where AIDS threatens and poverty is constant, where women suffer the indignities of patriarchal customs, and where children work like adults while still managing to dream. Lyrical and topical, Erdman’s beautiful debut captures the astonishing spirit of an unforgettable community. 

I picked this book up because I’m desperate to gather as much information as I can about what my experience with Peace Corps in Ethiopia may be like. And I’m really happy that I did. The book is full of beautiful details about the lives of the people living in a small village in the Ivory Coast. It brings to life a community that we in the West can’t possibly imagine.

TL;DR: A terrific read for anyone interested in Peace Corps or life in West Africa.

4 stars

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Review: “I’ll Be Right There” by Kyung-Sook Shin

shinWhen Jung Yoon suddenly receives a phone call from her ex-boyfriend after eight years, she finds herself thrust back into her college years filled with conflict and loss. She recounts her mother’s long illness, and the anger she felt when her mother pushed her out of the house to live with her cousin, claiming it was better for the young girl. This is the story of Yoon’s childhood and how it connects with who she became in college, where she met two fascinating people who became her close friends, despite the darkness of their past. The entire story is set during South Korea’s contentious student protests and government suppression of the 1980s. I’ll Be Right There is a beautiful book, even if it’s heavy. There is a lot of heartbreak and loss, but there are lessons to be learned here. The book is inspiring and heartfelt, and I wish it had lasted longer than it did. Shin is a wonderful writer, with a style similar to Haruki Murakami in the sense that they both have great insight into human nature and are wonderful at describing the complex relationships between people. As far as I can tell, this is only the second book of hers to be translated into English, which is a shame. But I’ll be sure to check out the other one, Please Look After Mom, which I hear is also heavy.

TL:DR: I’ll Be Right There crosses cultural borders to speak to anyone willing to listen. While heavy, it’s steeped in references to great literature and music, and overall is just very well put together. This is sure to be one of the best-known works of South Korean literature in translation. Available now from Other Press.

4 stars

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Review: “Chasing the Sun” by Natalia Sylvester

sunFrom New Harvest:

Andres suspects his wife has left him—again. Then he learns that the unthinkable has happened: she’s been kidnapped. Too much time and too many secrets have come between Andres and Marabela, but now that she’s gone, he’ll do anything to get her back. Or will he?

Set in Lima, Peru, in a time of civil and political unrest, this evocative page-turner is a perfect marriage of domestic drama and suspense.

I took interest in this book because I have a certain affinity for all things Peru. It’s my favorite country and it has a fascinating modern history, which this story is a snapshot of.

Sylvester has a talent for character development, giving the reader a sense of closeness to the protagonist as the story progresses. I felt Andres’ hope when he thinks his wife may soon be home, and his devastation when those hopes are dashed.

The one character I most disliked, ironically enough, is Andres’ wife, Marabela. She had little sympathy or understanding for how hard her husband worked to bring her home or the agony he endured while she was gone.

This could be a natural reaction on my part, though, since the majority of the book is told from Andres’ perspective. Also, I can’t pretend to know how it would feel to be kidnapped and held indefinitely, not knowing what’s going on at home. Sylvester’s bio suggests that someone in her family was kidnapped when she was young, and so she obviously has a better understanding of how someone may feel in that situation.

TL;DR: Overall, a well-developed and interesting read. Especially good for those with an interest in recent Peruvian history.

Chasing the Sun is available today from New Harvest.

Amazon | Goodreads