Book Review: The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar

The Story Hour by Thrity UmrigarThe Story Hour: What it is about

Harper (publisher) says: “An experienced psychologist, Maggie carefully maintains emotional distance from her patients. But when she meets a young Indian woman who tried to kill herself, her professional detachment disintegrates. Cut off from her family in India, Lakshmi is desperately lonely and trapped in a loveless marriage to a domineering man who limits her world to their small restaurant and grocery store.

Moved by her plight, Maggie treats Lakshmi in her home office for free, quickly realizing that the despondent woman doesn’t need a shrink; she needs a friend. Determined to empower Lakshmi as a woman who feels valued in her own right, Maggie abandons protocol, and soon doctor and patient have become close friends.

But while their relationship is deeply affectionate, it is also warped by conflicting expectations. When Maggie and Lakshmi open up and share long-buried secrets, the revelations will jeopardize their close bond, shake their faith in each other, and force them to confront painful choices.”

The Story Hour: What I thought

What a beautiful book!

In this story two women are set off against each other. There is the successful psychologist, Maggie, who follows her own path, and the Indian immigrant who has an abusive husband and no freedom. Lakshmi is an imported bride from India and has no idea about American society as she’s kept virtually isolated in the shop and restaurant of her husband.

After a failed suicide attempt by Lakshmi, the women meet in a professional capacity, but soon their relationship changes. Lakshmi has only ever heard of doctors repairing physical issues, so she doesn’t recognize the doctor–patient relationship and insists theirs is a friendship.

Maggie teaches Lakhsmi the ways of the world, and the Indian woman becomes more and more independent. Of course, as the story unfolds, we find out that the situation around Lakhsmi is not as black and white as we, and Maggie, assumed at first.

Bit by bit, the relationship between the women changes, as do their personal circumstances.

As The World We Found, this is a well-observed, very engaging novel about the status of women in society and in relationships.


Rating: 5 (out of 5)

Number of pages: 318

First published: 2014

I got this book: from the publisher for an honest review

Genre: contemporary fiction

Also read by this author: The World We FoundThe Space Between Us

 

Book Review: The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall

The Wolf Border by Sarah HallThe Wolf Border: What it is about

Harper (publisher) says: “For almost a decade, zoologist Rachel Caine has lived a solitary existence far from her estranged family in England, monitoring wolves in a remote section of Idaho as part of a wildlife recovery program. But a surprising phone call takes her back to the peat and wet light of the Lake District where she grew up. The eccentric Earl of Annerdale has a controversial scheme to reintroduce the Grey Wolf to the English countryside, and he wants Rachel to spearhead the project. Though she’s skeptical, the earl’s lands are close to the village where she grew up, and where her aging mother now lives.

While the earl’s plan harks back to an ancient idyll of untamed British wilderness, Rachel must contend with modern-day realities—health and safety issues, public anger and fear, cynical political interests. But the return of the Grey unexpectedly sparks her own regeneration.

Exploring the fundamental nature of wilderness and wildness, The Wolf Border illuminates both our animal nature and humanity: sex, love, conflict, and the desire to find answers to the question of our existence—the emotions, desires, and needs that rule our lives.”

The Wolf Border: What I thought

This was not a page turner. It took me a long time to read this, but that was partially because I was too busy to read. Yes, it is possible to be too busy to read (I didn’t realize this either, until it happened to me).

But it’s a beautiful book about a woman, Rachel, who returns to England after years in the US. Her only acquaintance is an estranged brother. So she starts all over again getting to know people and dealing with them. Although she seems a bit of a loner, it isn’t long before she has friendly and supportive people around her.

The story has a quiet pace, and not really all that much happens. But there are some interesting characters, such as Rachel’s brother Lawrence, and the earl of the estate where she works, that made me interested enough to keep reading. There is a bit of excitement, but only in the last 15% or so.

I loved reading about the wolves that are released in the park and about the scenery around the estate. I wasn’t too attached to Rachel, but when something happened to the wolves, I was more worried about how she would take it than about the wolves themselves. So, somewhere along the way, I started to become sympathetic towards to somewhat cool and detached Rachel.

Read it if you enjoy books about nature, solitude and strained relationships.


Rating: 4 (out of 5)

Number of pages: 448

First published: 2015

I got this book: from the publisher for an honest review

Genre: contemporary fiction

Also read by this author: The Carhullan Army

 

Book Review: Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris

Between You & Me by Mary NorrisBetween You & Me: What it is about

The publisher says: “Mary Norris has spent more than three decades in The New Yorker‘s copy department, maintaining its celebrated high standards. Now she brings her vast experience, good cheer, and finely sharpened pencils to help the rest of us in a boisterous language book as full of life as it is of practical advice.

Between You & Me features Norris’s laugh-out-loud descriptions of some of the most common and vexing problems in spelling, punctuation, and usage—comma faults, danglers, “who” vs. “whom,” “that” vs. “which,” compound words, gender-neutral language—and her clear explanations of how to handle them. Down-to-earth and always open-minded, she draws on examples from Charles Dickens, Emily Dickinson, Henry James, and the Lord’s Prayer, as well as from The Honeymooners, The Simpsons, David Foster Wallace, and Gillian Flynn. She takes us to see a copy of Noah Webster’s groundbreaking Blue-Back Speller, on a quest to find out who put the hyphen in Moby-Dick, on a pilgrimage to the world’s only pencil-sharpener museum, and inside the hallowed halls of The New Yorker and her work with such celebrated writers as Pauline Kael, Philip Roth, and George Saunders.”

Between You & Me: What I thought

As soon as I found out about this book, I knew this was one for me. So when I got an amazon voucher for my birthday, from one of the freelance editors I work with at Book Helpline, I decided this was the perfect book to buy with it, and a perfect birthday present.

Since I’m an editor myself, I was curious to find out what an editor of the distinguished magazine The New Yorker had to say about our profession. I only know The New Yorker from their use of the diaeresis, the double dots on the second vowel in a word such as naïve. I had a fun email conversation with a Dutch author about this once; we researched it and found that The New Yorker is one of the very few publications that still uses it. The diaeresis is discussed in this book, I was happy to see.

Mary Norris starts off her story with her background: her education and her first jobs, and describes how she ended up, many years ago, at The New Yorker. Then she moves on to her editorial pet peeves and other nasty traps an unsuspecting writer may fall into. We also get a peek of her shelves in the office when she describes which dictionaries she preferably uses, and how the first dictionaries came into being. Her love for pencils and pencil sharpeners is described to some detail, too.

The beginning chapters had a certain logical order to them, about Mary Norris’s career and her first steps into the editing world. However, the later chapters seemed like a random selection of topics that interest her. Although I, too, found these topics interesting, for me the book fell apart a little at some point. Still, with her fun, no-nonsense way of writing, Norris managed to entertain me for all 230 pages which I read almost as fast as a good thriller.


Rating: 5 (out of 5)

Number of pages: 230

First published: 2015

I got this book: from an amazon.com voucher that I received for my birthday

Genre: non-fiction, editing

Extra: See also the video’s that Mary Norris made, in which she describes some common spelling and grammar issues: http://video.newyorker.com/watch/comma-queen-comma-queen-series-premiere

 

Book Review: The Cry by Helen Fitzgerald

The Cry by Helen FitzgeraldThe Cry: What it is about

The publisher says: “When a baby goes missing on a lonely roadside in Australia, it sets off a police investigation that will become a media sensation and dinner-table talk across the world.
Lies, rumours and guilt snowball, causing the parents, Joanna and Alistair, to slowly turn against each other. Finally Joanna starts thinking the unthinkable: could the truth be even more terrible than she suspected? And what will it take to make things right?
Perfect for fans of Julia Crouch, Sophie Hannah and Laura Lippman, The Cry was widely acclaimed as one of the best psychological thrillers of the year. There’s a gripping moral dilemma at its heart and characters who will keep you guessing on every page.”

The Cry: What I thought

In this novel, you know more or less what happened from the start. And that’s fine. What we don’t know is, what will happen to Joanna and Alistair, the parents of the missing baby.

They made a bad decision (I believe), the kind that, once you’ve done it, you can’t go back without making things ten times worse. So they stick with it.

After the first chapters are narrated by Joanna, the story moves to Alexandra, the ex-wife of Alastair. She’s worried because, as his ex-wife, she is one of the suspects of the baby’s disappearance. Since we already have a good idea of what happened, it’s interesting to see the continuation of the story through someone else’s eyes, who does not know the truth.

Later, we discover that Joanna is on the brink of collapsing, while Alastair tries to keep it together. Their relationship starts to crumble as their reactions to what happened differ so much, and Alastair tries to force Joanna to follow his example.

An interesting tale, with a few unexpected twists. Fun to read, and a quick read, too!


Rating: 4 (out of 5)

Number of pages: 280 (my Dutch edition: De overdosis)

First published: 2013

I got this book: because a thriller festival that I had bought tickets for had been cancelled. They refunded the ticket and sent me a thriller book of my choice, as a consolation prize.

Genre: thriller

Also read by Helen Fitzgerald:  The Duplicate, Bloody Women, My Last ConfessionThe Donor

 

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