Tag Archives: Ulmer & Berne

Do Not Say We Have Nothing – by Madeleine Thien

“Do Not Say We Have Nothing” is an epic history of China, beginning in 1872 and ending in 2016. The story is told by Jiang Li-ling (Marie Jiang) as she discovers her family history through the violence and tragedy of the cultural revolution. After her father commits suicide in 1989, Marie Jiang lives alone with … Continue Reading

Homegoing – by Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing is a three century long saga of slavery, violence, discrimination, struggle and eventually some progress, beginning and ending in Ghana, with interludes in America. The story starts in 1760 in a Fante village touched by a destructive fire. Fire, its strength and its violence, is an ongoing theme in the book. Effia, a child … Continue Reading

Lincoln in the Bardo – by George Saunders

“’bardo’ (noun) (in Tibetan Buddhism) a state of existence between death and rebirth, varying in length according to a person’s conduct in life, and manner of, or age at, death.” English Oxford Living Dictionaries. “Lincoln in the Bardo” is simply an extraordinary work of fiction, unlike anything else I have read. The novel starts out … Continue Reading

Between Them – by Richard Ford

Richard Ford is one of America’s great writers. He has a way of answering the question “what is the meaning of life?” in the most direct way possible–by writing about living. “Between Them” is two separate memoirs, one of his mother and one of his father, written 30 years apart. In the memoirs, Ford describes … Continue Reading

The Spy – by Paulo Coelho

Mata Hari was executed by firing squad in Paris on October 15, 1917, accused of being a spy, a double agent for Germany and France during World War I. “The Spy” is a fictionalized account of her story. The story is told from two perspectives: first from Mata Hari’s perspective, in the form of a … Continue Reading

I Married A Communist – by Philip Roth

I decided to take a little trip back in time, to a novel published in 1998 by one of my favorite authors, Philip Roth. Maybe I needed a sense of stability in these seeming uncertain times, or maybe I wanted to ensure that I chose a book that would be worth reading. In any event, … Continue Reading

Judas – by Amos Oz

“Here is a story from the winter days of the end of 1959 and 1960. It is a story of error and desire, of unrequited love, and of a religious question that remains unresolved.” This novel’s first two sentences set the tone for the balance of the story, and the error, desire, love and religious … Continue Reading

Anything Is Possible – by Elizabeth Strout

In early 2016, Random House released Elizabeth Strout’s lovely novel, “Lucy Barton”. You can read my review of Lucy Barton in this blog. In May of this year, her new novel, “Anything Is Possible” will be released. Anything Is Possible is a set of nine interlocking stories, with the common link being Lucy Barton and … Continue Reading

The Wonder – by Emma Donoghue

“The Wonder” is a complex story about an 11 year old child, Anna, believed to be a spiritual Wonder for her seeming ability to exist without eating. The story takes place in a small town in Ireland in the late 1800s, where a committee is established to effectively authenticate the Wonder. The committee hires two … Continue Reading

Moonglow – by Michael Chabon

Michael Chabon’s wonderful “Moonglow” is a fictionalized memoir of his family history, based on Chabon’s maternal grandfather’s story, portions of which his grandfather shares at the end of his life. We first meet Chabon’s grandfather in 1957, as he is attempting to strangle the president of the company he works for with the frayed end … Continue Reading

Swing Time – by Zadie Smith

“Swing Time” is an incredibly complex book that delves deeply into a variety of topics, including class, politics, race, friendships and relationships, privilege and culture. The story begins in 2008 when the narrator, whose name we are bewilderingly (at least for me) never given, has been ostracized by her famous employer and is hiding in … Continue Reading

Barkskins – by Annie Proulx

Annie Proulx’s 700 plus page epic, “Barkskins”, is the complex story of two intersecting families and the multi-level impact of one of the family’s greed driven destruction of the world’s environment. When you consider that the story begins in 1693 and ends in 2013, it is an almost masterly accomplishment that the novel runs only … Continue Reading

The Underground Railroad – by Colson Whitehead

Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad” is a chilling story of slavery, focused on Cora and her escape from the Randall plantation in Georgia. The story begins with Cora’s grandmother, Ajarry, kidnapped from a village in Ouidah, and sold over and over again until she found herself in Georgia at the Randall plantation. At the Randall … Continue Reading

Nutshell – by Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan’s “Nutshell” is a most peculiar murder mystery (although not so mysterious) told by a most unusual narrator, the unborn child of one of the perpetrators. “So here I am, upside down in a woman…I count myself an innocent, but it seems I’m party to a plot.” Although unborn, our narrator has certain very … Continue Reading

The Guineveres – by Sarah Domet

“The Guineveres” is a first novel by Sarah Domet, about a group of girls who for a variety of reasons have been abandoned by their families and are living in a convent. Four of the girls unbelievably are named Guinevere and that commonality is enough to bring them together as best friends. The girls must … Continue Reading

The Nix – by Nathan Hill

“Sometimes we’re so wrapped up in our own story that we don’t see how we’re supporting characters in someone else’s.” Nathan Hill’s “The Nix” is a grand tale about Samuel Andresen-Anderson’s search for his own story, told through his family history and his cast of supporting characters, amidst flashbacks to the 1968 Democratic convention and … Continue Reading

Zero K: A Novel – by Don DeLillo

Don DeLillo’s “Zero K” is a novel about…well, I am not really sure what it is about. Maybe it’s about death, maybe it is about the one dimensional life of a grieving outsider or maybe it is a prediction of our dystopian future brought about by war and climate change and our ultimate desire for … Continue Reading

A Gambler’s Anatomy – by Jonathan Lethem

What is a face? Is it a mass behind which we create an identity? Or is it our actual identity? What happens when the face is radically changed? In “A Gambler’s Anatomy”, Alexander Bruno is a professional backgammon player, telepathic, debonair and mysterious, expertly relieving the wealthy and egotistical- frequently one and the same-of their … Continue Reading

The Comet Seekers – by Helen Sedgwick

The Comet Seekers is a first novel about trying to live in the present while struggling to understand the past. The book starts and ends in the year 2017 in Antartica where Roisin, age 58, is studying Antarctica and comets. She chose to go to Antarctica with the British Antarctic Survey to get  far away … Continue Reading

A Gentleman in Moscow – by Amor Towles

Amor Towles’ “A Gentlemen in Moscow” describes a big life in a seemingly small world and paints a vibrant picture of Soviet history from 1922 through 1954. In this beautifully written and captivating story, Amor Towles tells a tale of the triumph of goodness over cruelty and hopefulness over despair. This second novel is as … Continue Reading

The Noise of Time – by Julian Barnes

Dmitri Dmitriyevich (Shostakovich) was a Soviet composer and pianist and a prominent figure of 20th century music. Julian Barne’s “Noise of Time” is a chilling fictionalized history of Shostakovich’s life, focusing on the impact of Soviet politics on Shostakovich’s life and music from the time of his birth (1906) to the time of his death … Continue Reading

Commonwealth – by Ann Patchett

Ann Patchett hits the trifecta with “Commonwealth”–great writing, great story telling and great insight–all told in a matter of fact style with a touch of humor. “Commonwealth” is about family–which means it’s about love and hate, betrayal and forgiveness, expectations and disappointment, life and death. The story begins when deputy District Attorney Albert (Bert) Cousins … Continue Reading

The Vegetarian – by Han Kang

“Her life was no more than a ghostly pageant of exhausted endurance, no more than a television drama. Death, who now stood by her side, was as familiar to her as a family member, missing for a long time but now returned.” This quote sums up the misery that is Han Kang’s “The Vegetarian”, inexplicable … Continue Reading

Heat & Light – by Jennifer Haigh

“Heat and Light” is a story about small town life in Pennsylvania, the impact of fracking and other energy extraction activities and the hypocrisy and opportunism on both sides of the energy debate. Rich Devlin has spent his entire life in Bakerton, Pennsylvania and works as a prison guard and sometime bartender at his father’s … Continue Reading
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