Listen to this!
Alice and Mattia are two misfits who gravitate toward each other as teens both scarred by tragedy: Alice has been permanently damaged in a skiing accident and will never be the championship skier she thought, and mathematically brilliant Mattia is responsible for the disappearance of his mentally challenged twin sister. Alice and Mattia interact on and off through the years, each in a parallel orbit, never really sharing the same emotional space. Summary LJ BookSmack
Loved, loved, loved the concept of personifying twin primes (prime= number divisible only by 1 and itself; twin primes= prime numbers sequentially close, separated by an even number) as physically and emotionally scarred young adults incapable of sharing their love or themselves! Suddenly, temporarily, humanity has resolved itself into primes and non-primes for me…..it’s so obvious—people who don’t “fit in” versus popular, “shared” people—I wonder how I could have missed it for so long!
Twin primes, however, make for tough reading. Giordano describes them thus:
Among prime numbers there are some that are even more special. Mathematicians call them twin primes: pairs of prime numbers that are close to each other, almost neighbors, but between them there is always an even number that prevents them from truly touching. Numbers like 11 and 13, like 17 and 19, 41 and 43.
It’s pretty depressing. THE SOLITUDE OF PRIME NUMBERS isn’t labelled as young adult, but I’m wondering if that is his targeted audience. If Giordano is dramatizing the often awful struggles of adolescent relationships (20s too) where you feel stuck in your separateness that is at the same time parallel to others’ separateness…. Does that make sense?
Anyway, be prepared for not terribly likeable people and LOTS of unexpectedly, understandably, prime numbered people not sharing themselves. Giordano helps you understand rather than judge them. Strong book club novel. Resonant psychological read. But sad.
P.S. Surely the cover image represents the opposite of twin primes?!
7.5 out 10 Cautiously recommended to fans of psychological fiction and to readers who like to deepen their understanding of the human condition.
I’m more than a Francophile. I want to be French. There’s one small obstacle though: I don’t speak la langue française. In Flirting with French, I set out to conquer the language I love. Readers will find out if it loves me back. I eat, breathe, and sleep French (even conjugating — badly — in my dreams). I travel to France, where mistranslations send me bicycling off in all sorts of wrong directions, and I nearly drown in an immersion class in Provence, where, faced with the riddle of masculine breasts, feminine beards, and a turkey cutlet of uncertain gender, I start to wonder if I should’ve taken up golf instead of French.
Happily received FLIRTING WITH FRENCH from LibraryThing’s ARC giveaway. Its pages are scattered with linguistic surprises (e.g. your body uses testosterone when learning a new language), errors ( “J’ai un petit problème ” doesn’t mean what you think it means), nuances (when “bon” is “good” or “uh-oh” and lots of hard work from the author. An entire year of emailing, Skyping, TV watching and weekend intensives all in French, William Alexander dots every i and crosses each t. So much so that his wonky heart starts to act up!
All ends well for the author and for the reader too! We learn that even trying to learn another language will improve brain function while upping our “classy” (or should I say “chic”) factor at the same time.
I will definitely be watching for more from William Alexander.
8 out of 10 Highly recommended to francophiles everywhere!
Lena works as the sole remaining transcriptionist of taped interviews and called-in stories at the city’s largest newspaper. One day, while taking the bus to work, a blind fellow commuter strikes up a conversation with her about books, reads her palm, and manages to utter the auspicious, poetic prognostication, “I’m looking inside your cage . . . I see words,” before Lena gets off the bus. After the woman shows up in a particularly gruesome news story (suicide by lion mauling in Central Park), Lena, who is haunted by memories of a mountain lion from her youth, becomes obsessed with the woman’s life, even violating journalistic ethics to get information. In this book, the journey to find information is more significant than the information itself. Summary Boston Globe
Debut novel THE TRANSCRIPTIONIST is not a straightforward read. It’s short enough to be read in a sitting but I wouldn’t suggest doing that. Ms Rowland has pared description and dialogue to the bone, relying on telling details (the colour of the walls in the transcription room says it all) to set the scene for her fable. Lena practically lives at work in her office on the top floor of the Record building. Living her life second hand through the news stories phoned in from around the world, Lena even thinks in other people’s words: esoteric quotations from prose and poetry come faster to her than her own thoughts. Like Rapunzel in her tower, Lena experiences life through another; the phone cord instead of long hair her only true connection to the outside world..
Tragedy touches Lena personally when a woman she met on the bus is found mauled in Central Park’s lion enclosure. Obsessively identifying with her, Lena has to know why this woman committed suicide. She leaves her tower to get the answer and in so doing, comes to terms with her own “lion”.
The lion motif—which I read as the wildness or chaos that seethes just below the veneer of civilization—surfaces just enough to intrigue the reader. The New York Central Library’s lions symbolize humanity’s hubris: words tame the wildness, we think. But do they? Do we think that, like Adam, we exercise dominion over creation by “naming” it? Are we fooling ourselves that borrowed sayings can substitute for lived experience? THE TRANSCRIPTIONIST makes you dig deep.
8 out of 10 Highly recommended to readers who want to stop and reflect on life’s big questions.
It is 1936 when orphaned thirteen-year-old Evalina Toussaint is admitted to Highland Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, a mental institution known for its innovative treatments for nervous disorders and addictions. Taken under the wing of the hospitals most notable patient, Zelda Fitzgerald, Evalina witnesses the cascading events leading up to the tragic fire of 1948 that killed nine women in a locked ward, Zelda among them. Summary BPL
The insane are always mere guests on earth, eternal strangers carrying around broken decalogues that they cannot read.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, in a letter to his daughter, Scottie c. December 15, 1940
With this sweeping statement Fitzgerald sought to—what? Comfort his daughter over the institutionalization of her mother? Dismiss his wife? Author Lee Smith, whose own father and son were at different times inmates of Highland Hospital, asks the question: Aren’t we all guests on earth? My question is: Don’t we all carry within us some conditioning or burdensome moral imperatives we can no longer carry out?
I was happy that Ms Smith depicts everyday life in a hospital for people with “nervous disorders” just like everyday life outside a hospital for people with “nervous disorders”. Both realities feature friendships, love affairs, jealousies, rivalries, work and play, sickness and death.
Narrator Evalina Toussaint, like THE GREAT GATSBY’S Nick Carraway, is a resident and observer of a highly stylized world. At first I was dissatisfied with the “parade” of characters: people who arrive, spend some time at Highland Hospital and then leave; people I felt I never given the opportunity to know. It was like reading a string of short stories connected by one cast. I was looking for an underlying pattern or motif to make the novel feel more—well more novelish. Now I think Ms Smith intends the characters to appear, and the title seems to support this, as “guests”, as “eternal strangers” who have been sent by families/guardians to the hospital where they will be insulin shocked or ice-pick lobotomized into normalcy. Why these “guests” need therapy or what happens to them afterwards, Evalina doesn’t always know. Nor does the reader. That’s life.
Although a fictionalized chronicle of a real institution, GUESTS ON EARTH conveys real attitudes towards mental illness and actual procedures considered ground-breaking during the 30s and 40s. These are sure to make you shudder, at the very least.
The novel could have been much longer. Ms Smith crams lots of Highland Hospital lore into 327 pages; sometimes I felt her research deserved more space. Sometimes I felt the reader deserved more time in the stories.
I received an ARC of GUESTS ON EARTH from Librarything.
7.5 out of 10 Highly recommended to all.
Hanging over the porch of the tiny New England bookstore called Island Books is a faded sign with the motto “No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World.” A.J. Fikry, the irascible owner, is about to discover just what that truly means. A.J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It’s a small package, but large in weight. It’s that unexpected arrival that gives A.J. the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. Summary BPL
A novel about books is to readers as catnip is to cats. We want to see if OUR favourite stories are there, and if not, to discover new ones. It’s like putting the word God in the title: your book is automatically assured an increased level of interest. THE STORIED LIFE OF A.J. FIKRY pleasantly pushes readers to add to our literary shelves and to imagine what titles we would assign to characterize the various chapters of our lives. Brilliant cue for any book group discussion! I haven’t composed a complete list but thus far, it doesn’t share any of FIKRY’s titles. That’s not meant to be negative—after all, I am not a widower who owns a bookstore on a New England island.
A scrim of magical realism hazes over the novel’s three—wait, four— deaths, and a Frank Capraesque plot creates a charming 21st century fairy tale. I think of THE STORIED LIFE OF A.J. FIKRY as the gender-reversed Disney version of Fosca from Sondheim’s PASSION. The homely, obsessed protagonist sings:
I read to live in other peoples’ lives…
I wonder how many readers would identify more with Fosca than with A.J. Fikry? Or am I projecting…..
7.5 out of 10 Recommended to summer readers.
Witch and Yale historian Diana Bishop discovers an enchanted manuscript, attracting the attention of 1,500-year-old vampire Matthew Clairmont. The orphaned daughter of two powerful witches, Bishop prefers intellect, but relies on magic when her discovery of a palimpsest documenting the origin of supernatural species releases an assortment of undead who threaten, stalk, and harass her. Summary BPL
Filled with historical and literary allusions, A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES succeeds in raising the bar for supernatural and paranormal fiction. After reading this, you will want to research her characters to find out which ones really lived and, were some of them as awful as Ms Harkness seems to think. I enjoyed the Old French and Latin bits, also the information on alchemy. Haven’t checked whether Ms Harkness’ supernaturology (my word) jibes with anyone else’s, novelized or not, but it seems cohesive. Of particular note is that—to me anyway—the author implies a connection between the rules forbidding intermarriage among witches, vampires and daemons and current societal regulations on who may marry whom.
Although at times Ms Harkness strayed into Stephanie Meyer territory via a heroine that needs protecting/saving, I tip my hat to the author for shaping her tale in the style of historical rather than supernatural fiction.
7.5 out of 10 HIghly recommended to readers of supernatural fiction. Historical fiction fans will also enjoy the many references to events and people of the past.