ARRAY(0xb5526474)
 
Profile for Cynthia > Reviews

Personal Profile

Content by Cynthia
Top Reviewer Ranking: 78,283
Helpful Votes: 33

Learn more about Your Profile.

Reviews Written by
Cynthia "Andante Cantabile" (Los Angeles, CA)

Show:  
Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4
pixel
It's Fine By Me
It's Fine By Me
by Per Petterson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 10.76

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nature and Literature, 5 Aug 2012
This review is from: It's Fine By Me (Hardcover)
"It's Fine by Me" is a coming of age story. Audun, the growing boy, has had a tough Norwegian upbringing. His dad is a violent alcoholic who mistreats him, his brother and sister and their mom. The book begins when Audun is thirteen in 1965 just as society is undergoing seismic shifts. Audun is lucky he has one true friend in Arvid. They talk about books and Audun borrows classics from Arvid's father's bookshelves. Arvid's dad also becomes a little of a substitute role model for Audun. The story unfolds slowly with lots of literature references featuring Hemingway and Jack London. Audun is an odd mix of a heavy reader yet a ready scrapper when challenged by local lads. He has the scars and bruises to prove it.

The Norwegian landscape and farmland play a wonderful role in this book. Audun uses them as a restorative when life becomes too difficult. There are as many people who help him as there are those who hinder or attempt to hinder him. He goes his own way. He knows his own mind at a young age. Always determined to be a writer he makes the odd decision to leave school a few months before graduating. `School' continues in rough manual labor and in books. He goes out in nature when things feel overwhelming. He looks rescues himself by rescuing loved ones.

Though this is my first Petterson so it's hard to judge I don't think this would be the best place to start. In places it feels disjointed though perhaps Petterson is inviting the reader to reach your own conclusions. Since the book is loosely autobiographical we know there's a positive outcome but Audun has a singularly tough route to adulthood.


Shine Shine Shine
Shine Shine Shine
by Lydia Netzer
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 7.79

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Robots in Space: A Love Story, 5 Aug 2012
This review is from: Shine Shine Shine (Hardcover)
"Shine Shine Shine" deftly explores the dichotomy between fulfilling your own destiny vs. living to please others. It also explores the nature of illness. What constitutes individuality vs. the pressure of conformity and the need to be part of the group? When does uniqueness spill into mental illness?

As I read I kept trying to define the tone of this book. Quirky? Somewhat but the tone is beyond that. Whimsical? Yes it is that but not in a childlike way. Fanciful? A little but the action feels grounded in reality, at least emotional honesty. In the end I have to conclude there is no exact word that will precisely define "Shine"; it's too unique. Netzer writes in a genre all her own. There are times that the book threatens to spill syrup but she always skirts that stickiness. There isn't a misstep anywhere. She's not hitting you over the head with beliefs, she's exploring with you as an equal. She affirms that everyone has something that makes them feel odd, sets them apart. Some of these traits are superficial, some more profound. We can either change are differences if possible or we can embrace them and attempt to use them to our advantage. Netzer's characters grow into themselves. Their love and regard for one another strengthens. Almost best of all nothing feels inevitable in "Shine". The reader is always left guessing where we're heading. Netzer's is one of the freshest voices of 2012 in my opinion. We're not robots. Uniqueness is grand. I want to stay on her spaceship.


The Year of the Gadfly
The Year of the Gadfly
by Jennifer Miller
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 14.34

4.0 out of 5 stars Surviving to Adulthood, 5 Aug 2012
This review is from: The Year of the Gadfly (Hardcover)
I thoroughly enjoyed this book though at times it made me a little crazy, probably because it was written from a teenager's perspective. Even the part of Jonah, a science teacher who'd attended Mariana Academy as a student a decade earlier, is told in flashbacks to his younger days. Iris, a current day student, and Lily, a contemporary of Jonah's, are the other two narrators. In my opinion Miller excels at writing from a teenage perspective. She's deadly accurate with the angst; the leaps into fantasy, the non fact based conclusions, as well as the shaky skill of seeing past the self to the bigger picture.

This is also a gripping mystery that keeps you turning the pages. It's a little Harry Potter scattered with "Lord of the Flies". The inmates are perceptive and ambitious but they can also be vicious. Some of them haven't learned empathy yet and seek to get a sense of control by exerting cruelty over others. Some of the adults are bumbling though well meaning, they can't conceive that things are as serious as they are. Other adults seem to have the attitude that kids will be kids and the best way they can help them is to keep them safe and talk to them about the issues they're going through. These adults try to guide the students. Of course the kids tell such adults only what they want them to know and ultimately what the adults want to hear. Inevitably there are some parents and teachers who have abdicated their duties towards the children and the kids suffer. This is a long way of saying all HECK is breaking loose and no one's minding the store!

Miller's book seems frighteningly accurate. I found myself underlining some truths about this time in life because they rang so true; Miller reminds us how difficult the teenage years can be. She doesn't back away from issues like suicide, bullying, extreme academic pressures, etc. which seem to be scourging a lot of our young people. Her text instructs adults and kids alike and can be read and enjoyed and enlighten both age groups. This book begs to be filmed. I hope Hollywood is awake....and reading.


The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry
The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry
by Rachel Joyce
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars Where to next Sancho?, 5 Aug 2012
Harold Fry is definitely an unlikely hero. He would also have easily been voted `least likely to go on a spiritual quest'. This makes him perfect for this story because it's about unlikely thoughts, friendships, marriages, what have you. Harold's quest begins with a letter from a former co-worker he thinks of fondly. They've shared a pivotal moment in Harold's life. He reads the letter soon after he retires from said job and he reads it in front of his continually carping wife, Maureen.

Harold doesn't even mean to go on a quest. He scribbles some benign well wishes on a card to his dying co-worker and sets out to mail it and somewhere along that mini quest his journey becomes epic as he decides to walk to her hospice with a vague belief that she'll HAVE to wait to die until he gets to her. His steps will heal her.

He meets many kind, odd, and not so kind people along the way. Mostly he gets caught in his head and in his not so perfect past. He sometimes spins in circles, he has moments of clarity, epiphanies. Usually he just tries to put one foot in front of the other. Even this is a challenge when he realizes he's going the wrong direction or in loops. There is a place in the book where I was afraid things were going to go down an ordinary path. I felt let down. Then Joyce showed the reason she teased us with that route. I loved the humor in "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry". I loved the spiritual quest even more.


Road to Valor: A True Story of World War II Italy, the Nazis, and the Cyclist Who Inspired a Nation
Road to Valor: A True Story of World War II Italy, the Nazis, and the Cyclist Who Inspired a Nation
by Aili McConnon
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 14.37

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well Researched, Inspiring, 22 July 2012
"Road to Valor" is a heartwarming story. I'm not someone who's interested in bicycle racing but I love history. This book has both. Gino Bartali was born at a time, 1911, when the bicycle craze was at its peak. Even as a small boy all he seemed to think about was riding a bicycle as fast and for as long as possible and he was good at it. Of course so were many other Italian boys but not all of them had Gino's discipline and drive. Prior to World War II he began making his name known. During the war he officially and unofficially rode missions for the sake of Italy. He'd always been a devote catholic and believed in democracy so he was conflicted when fascist Mussolini was in power. He searched his soul and found a solution. He combined his faith and his politics and joined with some local priests in shuttling false ID information to printers to help smuggle Jews and other political prisoners to safety. He even personally housed and protected a Jewish family. These activities were gravely dangerous.

Of course none of this was known during most of his lifetime. His bicycle racing prowess made his name. He won the famous Tour de France in 1938 and, miraculously, for such a mature man, in 1948. The '48 race was won at the express request of his government. It was a time of social unrest when the communist leader, Palmiro Togliatti, had been shot and it was feared he'd die. The Prime Minister, Alcide de Gasperi, telegraphed Bartali during the race and asked him to help quell the rioting by giving his countrymen a reason to join together. Bartali was up to the task but at great cost to himself. This is an inspiring story but as I said the detailed racing information stalled the story somewhat. Over all it was an aspiring story.


The Empty Glass
The Empty Glass
by J. I. Baker
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 12.46

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Book Noir, 20 July 2012
This review is from: The Empty Glass (Hardcover)
`The Empty Glass" is an interesting murder mystery told from an unusual perspective. We're kept guessing to whom Deputy Coroner Fitzgerald is recounting his story. It's August 5th, 1962 and Marilyn Monroe has just been found dead in her Brentwood bungalow. Why did it take 5 hours to contact police? Who are all the people in her home when police arrive? Why does the body position look `staged'?

I love how Baker intersperses political and historical information into the story. In fact the book covers some old ground i.e. the Kennedy's connection to Marilyn, US relations with Cuba, possible LAPD corruption, speculation about the role of the Mafia, and possible FBI involvement in Monroe's death, etc. This isn't just a re-hash. Baker includes theories and the why's behind those theories that I'd never heard before and they don't sound like mad innuendo. They seem plausible. Baker's sense of place and time is extraordinary. His descriptions of the city add depth.

Fitzgerald is portrayed as a family man with an estranged wife and a young son he loves. He's had prior scuffles at work so he's perfect to play the fall guy especially since he won't let this murder mystery alone. His family is his Achilles heel and a tool for the bad guys to use. It's his love, especially for his son, that keeps Fitzgerald moving in his investigation. Sadly he's only one step ahead of his pursuers....and sometimes a half a step behind. This is a gritty film nourish book. You can feel the streets of 1960's Los Angeles breath. "The Empty Glass" is as film ready as anything Chandler wrote. My only issue with the book is it feels disjointed and a little too slick. Suspend belief and get ready for a wild ride.

This review is based on an e-galley provided by the publisher.


Eat the City: A Tale of the Fishers, Trappers, Hunters, Forages, Slaughterers, Butchers, Farmers, Poultry Minders, Sugar Refiners, C
Eat the City: A Tale of the Fishers, Trappers, Hunters, Forages, Slaughterers, Butchers, Farmers, Poultry Minders, Sugar Refiners, C
by Robin Shulman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 15.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fun and informative....and hunger inducing read., 14 July 2012
This is a mouth watering, thirst inducing story of culinary New York both past and present. Shulman alternately sketches the history of New York City and its relationship to a particular food or beverage juxtaposed against a current entrepreneur who's attempting to start their own brewery, work their own bee hives, market premium meat, etc. Her descriptions made me want to go out and grab some of whatever she was describing. The fascinating part is that often it was and is recent immigrants who start or build on these industries in an attempt to honor the traditions they've left behind. Germans missed the delicious beer from home, Trinidadians missed fresh seafood dishes, Jews wanted kosher wines to honor the sabot, and the Italians HAD to have wine every day, etc. Now tell me your mouth isn't already watering?? New York City is a fairly small place with a huge population. Each block can change from one ethnicity to another and each group has their own unique palates. I loved the passion of these immigrants and learning about what excited and motivated them. Shulman focuses on groups and making individuals. Her humor is as refreshing as the food. And is there any better, more descriptive title than, "Eat the City"? New York culinary history is not unabated fun however. The history of water pollution throughout the city's history makes the seafood industry depressing. Most of the seafood now served in New York is from out of state. Prohibition almost killed the bear and wine industries and brought a criminal element to these formerly pleasurable industries. On the other hand in bee keeping was made legal again in 2010 and Shulman's jaunt through the city on bee's wings is exhilarating. A fun and informative....and hunger inducing read. I would love if she did a series of books covering other cities. Shulman provides extensive footnotes should you want to explore further or want more explanation.

This review was based on an e-galley provided by the publisher.


The Chalk Circle: Intercultural Prizewinning Essays
The Chalk Circle: Intercultural Prizewinning Essays
by Tara L. Masih
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.04

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Living our past into our future....or not, 11 July 2012
What a wonderful smorgasbord of cultures and outlooks! While many of these essays are interesting and thought provoking though none of them are exactly enjoyable because they discuss such serious topics. Some are written by people who have been born in the USA with American parents but they themselves have grown up outside the country. When they eventually return they outwardly look like everyone around them but have almost none of the shared cultural references. They feel like outsiders. They are outsiders. They tell their stories of adapting.

Some of the essayists are relatively new to the States or have parents from another culture. They straddle the fence of their new and their old culture. They deal expectations for and from both backgrounds. In his introduction David Mura (first generation Japanese American) states, "....as with many Americans, I grew up thinking of race mostly in terms of a dialog between whites and blacks." I inherited that same outlook. I was taken aback when, in my early twenties, I moved to Los Angeles and was told I was `being a white girl'. This was said to me by a Hispanic man who I'd met through my best friend (her parents were South American). What an eye opener. It started me on a path of learning about many different outlooks and how those outlooks had been formed. What a heady experience it was and continues to be! Granted much of my exploration has/is centered on food but, let's face it, food can be a fun entry drug to multi-culturalism. Pass the plates.

I'd like to highlight a few personally favorite essays in Masih's collection. Samuel Autman (`A Dash of Pepper in the Snow') was a young journalist when he accepted a newspaper position in Utah. There he often found himself as the only African American in any group. One day he was asked by a white waitress to pass the salt, when he did she thanked him by saying, "That's mighty white of you". Of course Autman was taken aback. Why would someone say such a racist thing? I'm ashamed to say I grew up in the Midwest hearing just such things....and worse. After several other odd encounters Autman passes through his own exploration of personal growth and realizes that the people saying such things aren't necessarily consciously racist. They were merely ignorant. They hadn't taken the time to look behind such words and so continued to mimic them. I loved that he was able to come to peace and forgiveness in these situations. I'm not sure I'd have been so magnanimous.

Betty Jo Goddard's essay is entitled `Connections'. She lives alone in isolated Alaska often not seeing or talking to anyone for days. I don't want to over romantisize her lifestyle but I was struck by how at peace she was in her choice to being a modern day "hermit". I bet there are more than a few people who long for such a life but are not brave enough to live it.

`Tightrope Across the Abyss' is one of Shanti Elke Bannwart's contributions. In it she writes of her New Mexico neighbor who turns out to be Bettina Goerring the grand niece of Herman Gorring. Herman was Hitler's right hand in helping exterminate millions of Jews and others during World War II. Thankfully Bettina allows Bannwart to talk to her about living with her family legacy. Bettina has lived a haunted life doubting herself and her heritage, worrying that some of her uncle lives on in her. Bettina and her brother, separately, decide to sterilize themselves fearing their blood is tainted. She reaches out to Holocaust survivor Ruth Rich and together they make a movie of their encounter. Miraculously the two come to peace. In part I was shocked that people are still dealing with the Nazi fallout on such a personal level. Thinking more deeply I felt a debt of gratitude that there are those who are still grappling with these issues and reminding people (like me) who might be in jeopardy of forgetting or assuming it can't ever happen again.


Seating Arrangements
Seating Arrangements
Price: 3.99

2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Family, 5 July 2012
I found "Seating Arrangements" hilariously funny. It centers around a very pregnant woman, Daphne, who's having her wedding on Cape Cod. Her father, Winn, who fancies himself an old guard aristocrat, is a consummate narcissist who somehow manages to be lovable. He couldn't see another person's point of view if it came up and bit him on the ankle....which it almost literally does. This makes for pathos and humor. Of course all families have challenging members and in emotional settings, such as weddings, all heck can break loose. Just about everything you can imagine does break loose at Daphne's shindig. The bridesmaids and groomsmen are looking for Mr. and Ms. Right Now. They find them.....sometimes in multiples. Mom is rallying her troops and trying to keep warring factions apart. Hence the title "Seating Arrangements". Who was married to whom but now remarried? Who isn't talking to whom? Who kicked who's dog and didn't even apologize? They must be kept at separate tables.

Each event leads to more mishaps and complications from the initial family gathering at the Cape house, the reunion between family members long apart, the delivery of the flowers, the shopping for the upcoming party, the pre-wedding backyard get together putting together soon to be related families, the makeup rehearsals (what the heck is *this about?), the rehearsal dinner, and then the wedding. Each is fraught.

Relationships are at the core of this tale and Shipstead portrays them with excellence. The Bride's parents are long married Winn and Biddy. They both went to ivy league colleges, have a veneer of old money or aspire to it, Winn has an unspecified important job and makes plenty of money but at heart their marriage is like many others.....complicated. The ever faithful Winn decides that this weekend is his time to give in to his lust. Biddy has always assumed he's done this but is content that he hasn't put it in her face. In the end they surprise themselves and one another. Youngest daughter, Livia, has just suffered the loss of her first and only love. She flounders like a fish out of water trying to find some resolution or at least peace. Throughout the book Shipstead aptly uses nautical references and metaphors much to our enjoyment. The sea and its landscape add depth and atmosphere.

On the surface this book might seem like chick lit or beach fare and it can easily serve as such but in reality its incredibly well written and has astounding emotional depth and as I've already mentioned the humor isn't too shabby either though probably not to everyone's taste. It sure worked for me.


The Absolutist
The Absolutist
by John Boyne
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Yes or No?, 2 July 2012
This review is from: The Absolutist (Hardcover)
It sounds over simplistic but much of life's choices do come down to a yes or a no. Some things are non-negotiable. Our hero, Tristan Sadler, knows who he is, he's always known. His problem is how others react to that. Though it's a gift that he's become clear about his values he still has to fit into the world and he has a sincere desire to connect with others. "The Absolutist" is a coming of age story set against the First World War. This might sound dated but Tristan's dilemmas are timeless. We're still wrestling with human dignity, respect for others, the morality or immorality of war, and who should fight both the wars and resolve social issues.

Tristan leaves home at 16 after he and his parents have a bitter argument. He does what he can to support himself that first year, then at 17 he lies about his age in order to enlist in the Army. During basic training he meets new people and becomes best friends with a Norwich man named Will Bancroft, a vicar's son who's only a year older than him. Will and Tristan both grapple with a fellow soldier's conscientious objector stance. This fellow is scorned by the officers and the other recruits and to a lesser extent even Tristan scorns him. Will is not so hasty. He befriends the objector and begins to be swayed by his doubts. Then all the boys head to France and the hell of war. They live with constant fear and grasp for shreds of humanity wherever they can find it.

Boyne's affecting book begins and ends with Tristan's meeting with Will's sister Marian. Together they attempt to thrash out their versions of morality and truth. They also help one another work through how to love and who to love. This is a melancholy tale but it's not morose. Boyne's world has hope if only in the form learning to cope, to survive. The title, "The Absolutist", is apt Boyne shine's light in dark places, he shows the grays as well as the blacks and whites. His characters are individuals but they're also representations of larger social issues. The story pivots between the recent past and present of the First World War with a short coda in the late 1970's. At the end of the lives both Tristan and Marian still have doubts about their choices. This period in our history was harsh. Boyne shows some poignant parallels with our present. I have no idea how I've overlooked this fine author for so long. With "The Absolutist" I'm a convert.

This review is based on an e-galley provided by the publisher.

4.5/5 stars


Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4