Tag Archives: Putnam Adult

For a Dancer

Five Days Left (nook book)

Five Days Left

Five Days Left: A Novel by Julie Lawson Timmer (Putnam, $26.95, 352 pages)

At first, it wasn’t a conscious decision, keeping her illness from them. She was in denial in the beginning, as loathe to admit to herself that everything was wrong as she was to admit it to them. But then, after her diagnosis, everyone around her became so overly concerned, so insufferably attentive that she started to regret anyone knew… (I)t was infuriating to watch herself deteriorate in the eyes of the people around her. Use the word “disease” and suddenly everyone will instantly treat you like you’re ill, Mara learned, even on days you feel fine.

Five Days Left is a close to perfect debut novel from Julie Lawson Timmer, whose background is in law. This is the story of Mara Nichols, a successful lawyer, wife and mother whose life is put on hold by a diagnosis of Huntington’s Disease. Mara fights to hide her symptoms from her co-workers and family members for months and years, but eventually realizes that her body is breaking down and out-of-control; the disease is going to take her life. So Mara decides that she will commit suicide on her next birthday. The narrative begins five days before the birthday on which Mara will end it all. Or will she?

(Her death by suicide) was a dreadful thing to do to a child, a husband, to such caring parents and friends, but really, who were any of them to judge? How could they ever truly know what she had gone through? Who were any of them to say they wouldn’t have at least considered the same thing?

Timmer does an excellent job of portraying how infirmity can make a coward out of the strongest individual. Mara goes from being a life-long workaholic to becoming a virtual invalid. Once proud, she eventually simply wants everything to be over with and no longer cares about how she’ll be judged upon her self-inflicted demise. It’s a timely, unique look at the mindset of a suicidal person.

Five Days Left (kindle edition)

There’s a secondary character and story that’s not as strong, and that story is a touch unrealistic. But all in all, this is a stunning work from Timmer.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

“…this impressive debut novel heralds the arrival of an extremely talented writer.” Jodi Picoult

Five Days Left is a heart-wrenching drama about a world in which there are no easy answers… This novel feels as true as life.” Christina Baker Kline

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Breakdown

Breakdown: A V. I. Warshawski Novel by Sara Paretsky (Putnam Adult, $26.95, 448 pages; Brilliance Audio, $36.99, 13 CDs)

Once again this reviewer has been moved to extol the virtues of audio books.   Breakdown is the first of Sara Paretsky’s mystery novels that I’ve had the pleasure of hearing.   No doubt the choice of Susan Ericson as narrator was the key to the richness of the experience.   It was almost as though V. I. Warshawski herself came to life and led the circuitous tour of Chicago and its neighboring towns during the hunt for the vampire killer.

Ms. Paretsky is a mystery writer whose works clearly reflect her loyalty to Chicago – Paretsky’s home town.   Happily, the main character, V. I. Warshawski, continues to find mysteries to solve that include her group of buddies; family (niece Petra), neighbors (Mr. Contreras, Peppy and Mitch) and dear friends (Lotty and Max).   Although the recurring cast of characters is wholesome and comforting, the topic of this mystery is dark and unnerving.

The central figure in the tale is Chaim Salanter, a Jewish man who is one of the world’s wealthiest persons.   His past includes a boyhood escape from his homeland, Lithuania, during the Nazi occupation.   Salanter is a grandfather with secrets and an ideal target for anyone who wishes to drag his name through the mud.   Although this novel reaches into the past, it is firmly grounded in the present thanks to the not-so-charming antics of a group of tweens – including Salanter’s only grandchild – who are fixated on a series of books about vampires.   Paretsky also adds into the mix some right-wing politicians and broadcasters who are out to get Salanter and the liberal politician he is backing, which makes this an only-in-Chicago kind of story.

It is worth noting that there is a very large Lithuanian community in Chicago, including the Lithuanian National Cemetery where this reviewer’s maternal grandparents are interred.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

This audiobook was purchased by the reviewer’s husband.

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Coming Up Next…

A review of Breakdown: A V. I. Warshawski Novel by Sara Paretsky.

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Judgement of the Moon and Stars

The Impression

Recently, I was communicating with an author when he happened to reference the “judgment” contained in book reviews.   And that’s when it dawned on me that I don’t see reviews as necessarily being judgmental; instead, I see them as impressions.   A review reflects the way in which a reader-reviewer perceives the book at a particular point in time in his/her life.   As with everything in life, this is subject to change.   It may be, for example, that a novel that a reviewer could not get into while battling an illness would be highly enjoyable at another time.   Many of us have had the experience of reading a particular book years ago and labeling it as a favorite, only to be surprised when we return to that book and find it flat and dull.   Did the book change in any way in the interim?   No, our life – the reader’s life – changed in such a way as to change our perspective of the book.

Let’s think about this in terms of a physical landmark.   Let’s say that I view the Golden Gate Bridge on four occasions – firstly in the middle of the afternoon on a warm and sunny day, next during a rainstorm, then while the bridge is bathed in fog, and lastly on a moonlit night.   Each time the bridge will appear to be different, and I would likely describe the bridge in different terms if I were writing about it.   The bridge itself never changes, but my view of it – my impression – will change based on external factors.

So, one thing to keep in mind while reading a review is that it’s a point-in-time statement.   It’s also something that’s subject to revision.   The reviewer who slammed a book with a negative review might find, to his surprise, that he enjoys it when he looks at it months later.   And the reviewer who loved a book and added it to her personal collection might wonder a year or two later why she loved it – something she’ll ponder while putting it on the giveaway stack.

What does this mean for an author?   Simply that both positive and negative reviews can be discounted.   The book that one reviewer perceived as a flop may be a hit later, and vice versa.   Life changes and so do impressions.

The Choice

The author of a recent survey book noted something interesting about how film and book reviewers are perceived.   According to a study referenced in the book, the authors of generally negative reviews are viewed as more intelligent than reviewers who almost always draft positive reviews.   This is due to the perception that “anyone can say nice things,” while the negative reviewer is seen as a person who must have an extensive in-depth background – otherwise, how would he/she know what to nitpick and criticize?   This does not mean, however, that the average person prefers to read the reviews of a generally negative reviewer.

When given a choice between reading mostly negative or positive reviews, the typical person will more often select the positive ones.   And when asked about the people who write the reviews, most people will select the positive one as the nicer person – the nicer person is, therefore, the one whose reviews are read more.   So this leads to a choice among limited options for the book reviewer.   Do you want to be perceived as smart and well-read, or as the less smart writer whose reviews are more often read?

The appropriate response may be to write a mix of positive and not so positive reviews, so that one is viewed as both smart and nice, if not both at the same time.

Joseph Arellano

Pictured – The Other Life: A Novel by Ellen Meister ($24.95, 320 pages) which will be released by Putnam Adult Books on February 17, 2011.

Note:  After writing this article, I happened to come across the following statement from Robert Christgau, music critic for the Village Voice:  “I don’t usually fluctuate wildly with what I initially thought about an album because I wait to write the review until I know what I think…  My first judgment is solid and secure.   But records do tend to either gain or lose aura as decades pass.”

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Playing hardball with Detective Warshawski

Hardball 6

Hardball: A V. I. Warshawski Novel by Sara Paretsky (Putnam Adult, $26.95, 464 pages)

Author Sarah Paretsky has set her latest V.I. Warshawski mystery in familiar territory, Chicago.   It’s easy to feel the atmosphere of the gritty windy city, both present and past (circa 1967) as the characters move about and around in a complicated story.   This book carries the theme of family, warts and all, amid a class war, politics Chicago hardball style, and V.I.’s memories of her father who was a policeman.

The task at hand is finding a long lost son and nephew for two elderly African American ladies, one of whom is on the verge of passing on.   To complicate matters, Lamont Gadsen has been missing for forty years in a plot angle that calls to mind the TV show Cold Case.   He was known to be present during a 1967 Martin Luther King, Jr. rally in Chicago at which a young woman was killed.   To aid V.I. in her hunt for the missing man, Paretsky introduces a much younger cousin, Petra, who happens to be in Chicago working on a political campaign.

Cousin Petra gets in way over her head when she attempts to be a junior detective.   V.I. does not play favorites when she’s on a case as evidenced by her curt comments to Petra:   “You’re not a very convincing liar, Petra.   You don’t have the guts to come into a burned-out building on your own.   Who was with you?”

Reading this book – the 13th in the Detective Warshawski series – is like catching up with a long-time acquaintance.   Not a friend mind you, an acquaintance.   V.I. as she prefers – not Vicki or Victoria and only occasionally Vic – is portrayed once again as a brusque, nearly unisex character with conflicted identity issues.   Even at the age of 50, she’s far too tough on herself.   V.I. does some considerable soul searching while assuming the persona of a champion whose mission it is to right injustice.

The tale gets bogged down a bit with the intricacies of the multiple plot lines.   The reader may become a bit confused with the large cast of characters.   Yet halfway through the book Paretsky settles into her familiar and enjoyable rhythmic pace permitting V.I. to do what it is she does best – solve the mystery.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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