Great Reads

Lodge, David. Therapy.

Therapy is a book that has been on my mind for ten years.  Seriously.  I started reading it ten years ago and then lost it—to my despair.  For some reason I didn’t get my hands on another copy right away, and then I forgot the exact title and author—you know how that is—and from time to time I would remember this book as a wonderful pleasurable read and curse myself for losing it in the first place.  But the universe often rights itself, and I recently stumbled upon the title.  Hooray!  Of course, I finished the book in two days: a) because I loved it b) to minimize the chances of me losing it again. 

I had remembered this novel as humorous, charming, and immensely readable—which it is—but what I didn’t initially realize is that David Lodge is a serious—funny—British writer.  Therapy will not be the last David Lodge book that I read.   I am now a David Lodge fan.  He’s funny.  He’s smart.  He’s a fan of Graham Greene.  What more can I ask for?   Anyway, what isTherapy about, you may wonder?  Well, Tubby Passmore is a successful sitcom screenwriter who goes to various therapies for aches and pains and angst.  That’s basically it.  Well, there is a lot more involving love relationships and existential doubt…but you will just have to read it to find out.   

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Saramago, Jose. Blindness.

Blindness is a novel that you will not easily forget.  It is a metaphysical thriller, following a group of people who are suddenly struck blind and find themselves bound together in their struggles and desires.  Eventually, the blindness spreads throughout the society.  This novel is written by Jose Saramago—a writer whom you will want to read at least once during your lifetime.  Awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998, he was a Portuguese novelist whose work examines the human condition and our need to find meaning in this often absurd world.  This novel is highly recommended.  If you don’t find Blindness on the shelf, try any of his other novels.  You can’t go wrong.  

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Marchetto, Marisa Acocella. Cancer Vixen: A True Story.

Cartoonist Marisa Acocella shares her personal battle with breast cancer in a way only a New Yorker can in this illustrated memoir. On the eve of her marriage to a handsome Italian restaurant owner, Marisa finds a lump in her breast and it feels like everything she loves is about to be sucked into a black hole. But with courage, her faithful fiance, slightly crazy Italian mother, brutally honest friends and a little dose of fashion, she manages her eleven month treatment with grace and more than a little humor.

If you never thought a memoir on Cancer could make you laugh-out-loud, think again. With bold, witty and emotionally powerful illustrations, Marisa takes us through one of the most chaotic times of her life. This graphic novel has continually been named one of the best in its genre.

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Coates, Deborah. Wide Open

Coates’ novel, likely the first in a new urban fantasy series, introduces Sgt. Hallie Michaels. Hallie has seen ghosts ever since she died for seven minutes following an insurgent attack in Afganistan.  Now she has returned home to South Dakota on a ten-day leave to attend the funeral of her younger sister Dell.  But Hallie quickly becomes convinced that Dell’s death, considered by many to be suicide, was actually murder. She finds an unlikely ally in local deputy Boyd Davies, whose life-long precognitive dreams predispose him to believing in Hallie’s ghosts. They quickly zero in on Dell’s former employer Uku-Weber, a weather research firm whose new technology seems to rely on forces more arcane than meteorological science. It becomes obvious that Dell knew more about the truth than was healthy and Hallie and Boyd must find a way to take down the dangerous, magic-using Martin Weber before his body count rises.

Hallie—a brash, profanity-prone, emotionally damaged, but appealing character—and Boyd, equally emotionally damaged in his own way but much more the Boy-Scout type—make an engaging pair.  Some slight awkwardness in writing style does not much detract from the characters, interesting plot, and well-drawn setting.

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Bear, Elizabeth. Range of Ghosts

The always-impressive Bear enchants with this new fantasy set in an Asian-inspired land.  Young Temur wakes up on the battlefield having been left for dead. He is the grandson of the Great Khagan and has been supporting his half-brother’s bid for rulership—but they were defeated in a series of terrible battles against the usurper Qori Buqa.  He joins a caravan of refugees fleeing toward the mountains known as the Range of Ghosts and finds himself adopted into another tribe and paired off with the lovely young woman Edene. But his enemies are still hunting him and when Edene is stolen by an army of undead ghosts sent against him, Temur must rescue her. Along the way, he crosses paths with Samarkar, a former princess of the Rasan people and now a newly-minted wizard; and Hrahima, a tiger-woman at odds with her god and her people. The three have similar goals—and similar enemies. Qori Buqa has joined forces with al-Sepehr, a necromantic sorcerer from the Uthman Caliphate seeking to restore his sect’s prominence—and al-Sepehr’s blood magic threatens to bring back the dark days of the Carrion King.

The vivid world-building and unusual, multi-cultural setting and sympathetic, realistic characters are a delight. The parallels to the real-world cultures of the Mongols, Tatars, Chinese, and others are obvious, but each imagined culture nevertheless has a richness that never feels derivative.  A great fantasy for those who may be tired of the same old Medieval Europe-inspired fantasies so prevalent on the shelves.

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