Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf


23602562In the familiar setting of Holt, Colorado, home to all of Kent Haruf’s fiction, Addie Moore pays an unexpected visit to a neighbor, Louis Waters. Her husband died years ago, as did his wife, and in such a small town they naturally have known of each other for decades; in fact, Addie was quite fond of Louis’s wife. His daughter lives hours away in Colorado Springs, her son even farther away in Grand Junction, and Addie and Louis have long been living alone in houses now empty of family, the nights so terribly lonely, especially with no one to talk with.


Traveling from the US East coast to Japan is a long flight. Even if you cheat a little and start in Chicago you’ll spend 12, 13, 14 hours in the air with nothing but your own wits and the in-flight entertainment to keep you occupied. Books are my crack so I load up my ereader with a little bit of everything, hoping something will match my mood in the air.

After the first meal (there are two, plus a snack!) they turn out the lights because the flight goes much faster if you’re asleep. In the dark Our Souls at Night sounded like the perfect book… and it was.

The bulk of the text is dialogue so you learn about the characters on their own terms. The language is beautiful not because it’s flowery but because it’s simple and oh so true.

You’re being too hard on yourself again, Addie said. Who does ever get what they want? It doesn’t seem to happen to many of us if any at all. It’s always two people bumping against each other blindly, acting out of old ideas and dreams and mistaken understandings.

The story unfolds slowly, introducing sons and daughters and the sweet old lady next door. Every character is fully fleshed out and wonderfully characterized. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with Addie and Louis, getting indignant on their behalf when closed-minded townies misunderstand their relationship. I worried when a five year old child is introduced but he acted exactly as a five year old should – wanting to touch baby rats and not saying anything profound. It was quite a relief after a run of plot moppets in my reading.

Themes tend towards the personal and familial – growing old, having regrets, deciding how you want to spend your remaining years (and with whom). Usually it’s not my bag but I loved it here, probably because each issue is dealt with realistically and with respect. Not everyone agrees and there are a few loose ends but they all serve the story.

I really enjoyed Our Souls at Night and, needless to say, finished it in one (long) sitting. Perfect for when you want a quiet read that will make you think about themes without taxing your brain with overly elaborate language.

The Downhill Lie by Carl Hiaasen


6314668Bestselling author Carl Hiaasen wisely quit golfing in 1973. But some ambitions refuse to die, and as the years passed and the memories of slices and hooks faded, it dawned on Carl that there might be one thing in life he could do better in middle age than he could as a youth. So gradually he ventured back to the rolling, frustrating green hills of the golf course, where he ultimately—and foolishly—agreed to compete in a country-club tournament against players who can actually hit the ball. Filled with harrowing divots, deadly doglegs, and excruciating sandtraps, The Downhill Lie is a hilarious chronicle of mis-adventure that will have you rolling with laughter.


My second sports book in a month. I’m not a fan of golf but after the horrible Tales from Q School it deserved a second chance.

Hiaasen decided to get back into golf after decades away and spent a year and a half, a sizable chunk of change, and many hours of frustration trying to get his stroke back. I knew I’d like him from the first line of the preface: “There are so many people to blame for this book that it’s hard to know where to begin.”

What makes this memoir better than the Q School slog is that Hiaasen actually has a life and gets away from the action now and then. There are stories about his dad (a golfer himself, who died suddenly many years ago), how courses have become a refuge for wildlife in highly developed Florida, and fly fishing. All relate back to golf in one way or another and allow a breather from the action.

While plodding at times (especially during the last tourney) the book was easy enough for this non-golfer to follow and enjoy.

The Sari Shop Widow by Shobhan Bantwal


6408205Since becoming a widow at age twenty-seven, Anjali Kapadia has devoted herself to transforming her parents’ sari shop into a chic boutique, brimming with exquisite jewelry and clothing. Now, ten years later, it stands out like a proud maharani amid Edison’s bustling Little India. But when Anjali learns the shop is on the brink of bankruptcy, she feels her world unraveling…

To the rescue comes Anjali’s wealthy, dictatorial Uncle Jeevan and his business partner, Rishi Shah — a mysterious Londoner, complete with British accent, cool gray eyes, and skin so fair it makes it hard to believe he’s Indian. For Anjali, he stirs something a powerful attraction she hasn’t felt in a decade. And the feeling is mutual…

Love disappointed Anjali once before and she’s vowed to live without it — though Rishi is slowly melting her resolve and, as the shop regains its footing, gaining her trust. But when a secret from Rishi’s past is revealed, Anjali must turn to her family and her strong cultural upbringing to guide her in finding the truth…


This book started off well enough but soon got bogged down in the characters’ heads. There’s one scene that you 1) see, 2) see again as the heroine muses over what happened, 3) see again as the hero muses over what happened. I just wanted to get back to the story.

The characterization bothered me, as well. Rishi starts off very happy not being married, and has trouble seeing himself getting married. His live-in girlfriend is just his speed. But then he goes back to England on business, breaks up with her, and starts wooing Anjali hardcore…? What made him all “I want a wife and kid NAO”?

Likewise, Anjali is shown as someone who hasn’t completely gotten over her husband’s untimely death. Totally fair – it’s something she’ll never get over completely. But no one helps her get through the last bit of grief, or walks with her as she faces why, exactly, she has trouble moving on. The only argument she hears is, “It’s been years, it’s time.” That doesn’t really help.

Chekhov’s gun makes a literal appearance – shown once, mentioned afterwards once, never used. Le sigh. So while the family dynamics and depiction of Indian-American culture are nice the book left me with a big “enh”.

The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction by M.A. Orthofer


26633749For more than a decade, the “Complete Review” has been an essential site for readers interested in learning about new books in translation and developments in global literature. Expanding upon the site’s content, this wide-ranging yet user-friendly resource is the perfect guide for English-language readers eager to explore fiction from around the world. Profiling hundreds of titles and authors from 1945 to today, with an emphasis on fiction published in the past two decades, this reference provides a fascinating portal into the styles, trends, and genres of the world’s literatures, from Scandinavian crime thrillers and cutting-edge works in China to Latin American narco-fiction and award-winning French novels.


Orthorfer has read the world so you don’t have to.

No, wait, that’s not true.  He’s read the world so he can guide you through each region and country, pointing out the most important and interesting literary landmarks.  He’s a master at it, making The Complete Review Guide readable both in chunks as mood dictates or straight through, as I devoured it.

However you decide to read be sure to start with the introduction.  It lays out why there is so little translated literature in the US, the state of world literature today, and what to look out for when picking up a translation.  I knew to be wary of a book that doesn’t have the translator’s name featured on the cover but Orthofer adds,

A red flag to look out for is the translation copyright in the name of the publisher, rather than that of the translator, which indicates that the translation was a work for hire, thus giving the translator no rights regarding the presentation of the text.

That’s scary, especially as he goes on to talk about how translations are edited and sections, or even half the text, may be cut.  Good to know.

Once you’ve read the intro dip in to whatever region or country captures your fancy.  Each starts with an overview of the literary scene, both domestic and translated, and how events have shaped it over time.  I found it fascinating that  globalization can lead to originally English language books entering a country, stifling the native language writers already there.

The most important authors get several paragraphs outlining their life and their titles available in English.  Other authors get a few sentences each about their most influential or representative works.  Orthofer comes across as a wise guide, pointing you towards the best while not being afraid to warn about a clunker.  And he has a way of making a book irresistible in a single sentence:

Jang Eun-Lin’s (b.1976) No One Writes Back (2009, English 2013) is a well-crafted and moving road novel that slowly reveals itself to be more than it initially seems.


I especially appreciate the effort he makes to include writers outside of the mainstream.  If a country has a lot of expat authors writing in English he makes sure to include some that have been translated from native languages.  Women are woefully underrepresented in translations in general but he points out many, both those concentrating on the female experience and not.  Most of the books are literary fiction but crime, mystery, science fiction, and other genres get some well-deserved love.

Orthofer hints at novels that aren’t translated yet but may be in the future, combining hope and a plea to the universe to make the translation of such worthy fiction happen. And the reference section is a gold mine of websites and books about literature in translation.  My feed reader became more interesting overnight.

The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction is an easy recommendation to anyone that’s trying to diversify their reading.  But I’d also recommend to people that are in a reading rut, have an interest in a particular part of the world, or simply want to try something different.  Going on a trip to Spain?  Want to read something from Brazil in time for the Olympics?  Orthofer has you covered.  This book instantly earned a spot on my reference shelf and I look forward to revisiting it in the years ahead.

Thanks to Columbia University Press and NetGalley for providing a review copy.

Hexed by Kevin Hearne (Iron Druid #2)


9595650Atticus O’Sullivan, last of the Druids, doesn’t care much for witches. Still, he’s about to make nice with the local coven by signing a mutually beneficial nonaggression treaty—when suddenly the witch population in modern-day Tempe, Arizona, quadruples overnight. And the new girls are not just bad, they’re badasses with a dark history on the German side of World War II.

With a fallen angel feasting on local high school students, a horde of Bacchants blowing in from Vegas with their special brand of deadly decadence, and a dangerously sexy Celtic goddess of fire vying for his attention, Atticus is having trouble scheduling the witch hunt. But aided by his magical sword, his neighbor’s rocket-propelled grenade launcher, and his vampire attorney, Atticus is ready to sweep the town and show the witchy women they picked the wrong Druid to hex.


Yea for reading a book in a day! I was looking for something plotty and Hexed is just that – perfect for sitting down with a cup of tea and forgetting the dreary day (and tomorrow’s early flight, and packing…) for a while.

The good:

  • Plot. Plotplotplot. Great action and flights while revisiting characters I loved from the first book and giving you a chance to breathe when needed.
  • Some new characters emerged that I’m looking forward to meeting again, especially Coyote. The witches seem like a neat bunch, too. Hearne took the time to differentiate the members without listing them off, letting us figure out who is who naturally as the story progressed. I like.
  • Granuaile is a smart cookie – no TSTL apprentices here.
  • As a character Oberon feels more settled and believable. It helps that this book doesn’t hinge on his actions as much as the first.
  • The magic system is holding up very well. Atticus doesn’t power up at all in this novel, but uses the skills he has to best advantage. I like that he has a little reservoir of power that can be depleted, and while he can heal himself some things are beyond his ability.
  • The snark is fun and rarely feels out of place. Characters know how far they can push each other and enjoy skirting those boundaries. Atticus even backs off the irony with his apprentice, as he recognizes that she hasn’t known him long enough to read it correctly.

The neither-here-nor-there:

  • Atticus yet again has sex with a god. It was fine and all, it’d just be nice if women in urban fantasy could do the same. So far Atticus is two for two for hot divine sexy time.

The not-so-good:

  • Granuaile doesn’t do much apprentice stuff besides covering her sensei’s ass. I would like to see her get more learning on beyond sitting in front of a computer to grok Latin.
  • I’m not going to get away from gods and quid pro quo in this series, am I. One of my biggest annoyances is when a scary strong person says, “You owe me a favor. I’ll tell you when I’m ready to collect.” It’s a huge cloud of dread that I have trouble shaking. Your mileage may vary, of course.
  • The whole thing where witches enchant part of their body (their hair, their lips) to be irresistible to men bugs me. They are very powerful, so it seems petty to use sex to get ahead. Second, it’s described as being enchanting to men. What about women who like women, or men who like men? How does it affect them?
  • It also bothered me that Atticus’ dick had the same reaction to bespelled hair, an unnatural attraction, and his apprentice. Maybe I’m giving the guy too much credit, but I thought he was in better control of himself than that.

This is a great series when you need plotty plot to help you fly across an ocean or get out of a reading slump. ~puts the next book in the series aside and writes IN CASE OF READING EMERGENCY on the cover~

Whatever You Like by Maureen Smith (Brand Clan #1)


9068545By day, Lena Morrison is an ambitious grant writer. By night, she’s an escort to some of Chicago’s most successful men. Sex isn’t on the menu—Lena’s job is to provide her elite clients with comanionship and sparkling conversation. She enjoys the extra income, but even more, Lena loves the empowering feeling of being appreciated for her beauty and her brains.

When tycoon Roderick Brand hires Lena as his date for a private party, their electric attraction leads to the most erotic night of her life. Incredible as the experience is, she vows not to mix work and pleasure again. But Roderick is relentless. His irresistible proposal: three weeks fulfilling all his fantasies, in exchange for a million-dollar grant that will guarantee Lena a major promotion.

Lena can play that game. She’ll give him the hottest, wildest sex he’s ever had, then she’ll walk away, leaving him aching for more. But when it comes to desire, rules—and hearts— are easily broken. And the best-laid plans have a way of working out in ways neither could expect….


This book starts well enough – classy escort falls for a super sexy client who happens to be an energy magnate. Sparks fly, she manages to (mostly) stick to her principles, they have hot sex. All well and good… until they jet off to Tokyo.

I almost wailed, “Nooooo!” Japan is so hard to get right, and having lived here for the better part of a decade every mistake sticks out. And wow, there are a bunch. Flowers symbolizing death decorate their hotel room. One of the stickiest snacks ever is used as a “finger food”. Tea ceremony is done with plain ol’ sencha (simple green tea) and called an acquired taste (the correct tea is matcha). They take the bullet train for short hops around town, which is impossible because as a long distance train the stations are few and far between. Many-layered kimonos slip off with a shrug.

And then their whole relationship turns on one candid photo. GRAH! So while the beginning was okay this ended up a one star read for me. I feel kind of bad about it – if the trip to Japan was mentioned in the cover copy I wouldn’t have even picked it up. Ah, well.


Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel

Translated by R.F.C. Hull


103758Since its original publication in 1953, Zen in the Art of Archery has become one of the classic works on Eastern philosophy, the first book to delve deeply into the role of Zen in philosophy, development, and practice of Eastern martial arts. Wise, deeply personal, and frequently charming, it is the story of one man’s penetration of the theory and practice of Zen Buddhism.Eugen Herrigel, a German professor who taught philosophy in Tokyo, took up the study of archery as a step toward the understanding of Zen. Zen in the Art of Archery is the account of the six years he spent as the student of one of Japan’s great Zen masters, and the process by which he overcame his initial inhibitions and began to look toward new ways of seeing and understanding. As one of the first Westerners to delve deeply into Zen Buddhism, Herrigel was a key figure in the popularization of Eastern thought in the West, as well as being a captivating and illuminating writer.


I love this book for many reasons. One: Herrigel describes how a Zen master guides their pupil.

The instructor’s business is not to show the way itself, but to enable the pupil to get the feel of this way to the goal by adapting it to his individual peculiarities.

Watching the author advance in his practice of archery is interesting, but these asides about mastery and teaching/learning a craft spoke to me the most. I see shadows of these techniques in the way I was taught pottery, and plan to use some of the broadest ideas when I mentor others in my own craft.

Don’t think you need to be an artist to get something out of this book – I found all kinds of things I can apply to medical interpreting so I’m sure you’re passion will fit in somehow, too. All in all it’s a thinker of a book that I look forward to revisiting in the years (and hopefully decades) ahead.

The Girl Who Played Go by Shan Sa

Translated by Adriana Hunter


92315As the Japanese military invades 1930s Manchuria, a young girl approaches her own sexual coming of age. Drawn into a complex triangle with two boys, she distracts herself from the onslaught of adulthood by playing the game of go with strangers in a public square–and yet the force of desire, like the occupation, proves inevitable. Unbeknownst to the girl who plays go, her most worthy and frequent opponent is a Japanese soldier in disguise. Captivated by her beauty as much as by her bold, unpredictable approach to the strategy game, the soldier finds his loyalties challenged. Is there room on the path to war for that most revolutionary of acts: falling in love?


This book left me with a big, “Huh. Well.” at the end. While I enjoyed the journey I’m not sure exactly where Sa’s leading me.

The good:

  • The prose is beautiful with some wonderful images and lines.

We think we move forward in time, but we are always prisoners of the past. To leave… that is always a good thing.

I still don’t understand why he said no. Why do we want to run away when we recognize our own happiness?

  • The story has go! I learned go in college and have a soft spot for it.

The neither-here-nor-there:

  • Man, I need to know more about the Japanese in Manchuria. I feel like I would have gotten a lot more out of the novel if I understood more of the historical background.

The not-so-good:

  • While go is in the novel it isn’t described very well. It’s kind of like describing a chess match while only referencing the king and queen – there is so much more depth there.
  • The ending is very dramatic, to the point of being melodramatic.
  • I’m not sure what the author wants me to think about beyond the awfulness of the time and place. The nature of love? Instead of “hmmm, interesting” I thought “huh, okay”.

All in all it’s a well written book but the slightly rushed plot and general “wha?” ness of it left me non-plussed. If 1930s China is your thing (obviously, it’s not mine) you’ll fall right into it.

Rock It by Jennifer Chance (Rule Breakers #1)


18587025Lacey Dawes is a total pro at the talent agency where she works, and it doesn’t hurt that IMO Worldwide Media represents Dante Falcone. The rock god has starred in her fantasies since she was sixteen—and remains her secret crush to this day. So when Dante picks her to be the interim manager on his Dream It tour, Lacey can’t believe her luck. Handling Dante is sure to be the most exquisite, spine-tingling, nerve-wracking mix of business and pleasure ever.

Although Dante is grateful for the adoring fans who scream for one more of his full-throttle, soul-searing songs, being surrounded by a cadre of corporate types backstage is wearing thin. Then Lacey shows up. Yeah, she’s organized, smart, quick to get him what he wants before he knows he wants it—but Dante senses there’s something else going on with sweet, sexy Lacey. One kiss tells him what that “something” might be . . . and makes him hungry for more.


All hail a slump-breaking 24 hour read!

What I love most about this romance is something other people seem to hate – there is no angst or teeth gnashing of any kind. No troubled pasts, no drug use beyond the occasional beer, no Big Misunderstanding. You have two people that, in their own weird way, fall in love.

Is it perfectly believable? Of course not! We’re dealing with a rock star here, and I don’t think anyone would look at the cover and expect down to earth, small town slice o’ life. Instead there’s big shows! Million dollar sponsorships! A tour bus with the most lux shower in the world, including jets in all the right places! Yup, you read that right.

The sex is hot. I appreciate that there’s a slow burn and much common sense between our hero and heroine. The start of the relationship does smack of instalust but I’m surprisingly fine with it. Likewise, some of the publicity stunts seemed like they might unravel if I looked at them too hard… so I didn’t. This isn’t a book to analyze, it’s escapism – perfect for a rainy day or long flight or overtaxed brain. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.