The International Cinema Society

International Cinema Society coverThe International Cinema Society
Craig McLay
Amazon Digital Services (December 5, 2014),  281 pages
Kindle edition $4.99
I received this eBook free in exchange for signing up for the author’s mailing list,
from which I have received nothing to date.

I very much enjoyed the author’s Village Books, and so decided that the price was right when I had the opportunity to read his second book. Like the first book the story is told in the first person by an author who has sold the movie rights to his book. This story, like the first book, takes place in Toronto. However in an amusing passing reference to the first book the narrator tells us that he is not the same person as the narrator of Village Books.

The narrator runs a money-losing online magazine with his best friend since childhood, RT. The narrator has pretty much lost interest in the venture and leaves it to RT, who has brought in an intern, Siobhan, with whom he is physically and emotionally involved. Siobhan’s writing revives interest in the publication, which nonetheless continues to lose money.

So what of the International Cinema Society in the title? The narrator, RT, and their friends get together once a month at someone’s residence to watch a movie of the host’s choice. This becomes the vehicle for exploring the lives of the various characters.

The book moves along at a relatively even pace until the climax, which is much more intense than the rest of the book. As in Village Books, at the end the author gives us a rundown as to where all of the characters have landed, which, as was also the case in Village Books, is mostly on their feet.

The conclusion of the book is something of a surprise, and interestingly leaves the door open for a sequel.

The novel was well worth the price I paid for it. I can’t advise you as to whether it is worth the $4.99 you would need to shell out. I’ll leave that up to you.

The Comet Seekers

Comet Seekers coverThe Comet Seekers: A Novel
by Helen Sedgwick
Kindle edition $1.99, Amazon hardcover $16.55
Harper (October 11, 2016), 306 pages

I thought that this book was a good deal when I saw it was a Book Riot sale book for $2.99. But as of this writing it is $1.99. Oh, well.

This is a story of interlinking lives across centuries. There is Róisín, who is a scientist fascinated with the study of comments. There is her cousin Liam who has inherited the family farm in Ireland. The two have been close since childhood. As adults they are, for a time, closer than they ought to be as cousins. Then there is François, who creates a career as a chef for himself. His mother, Severin, has conversations with ghosts, members of the family who have died and seem to have unfinished business. The ghosts only appear, however, when there is a comet in the sky.

In fact, each chapter is titled for a comet that appears in a specific year. The book opens and closes in 2017 with the flyby of Comet Giacobini. The story stretches as far back as 1066 with the appearance of Halley’s comet. Róisín and François meet in 2017 at an Antarctic research station where she is there to observe Giacobini and he is there to cook for the scientists and staff. In the years immediately preceding, François is concerned that his mother is mentally ill and gives no credence to the idea of  ghosts. At one point we are given a hint that maybe he is correct about his mother’s mental illness.

I don’t think I am giving too much away, however, when I say that at the end of the book the author suggests perhaps Severin was not crazy and the ghosts really were visiting her.

But read the book. Decide for yourself. At the current Kindle price it is more than worth it.

Churchill and Orwell

Churchill and Orwell coverChurchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom
Thomas E. Ricks
Penguin Press (May 23, 2017)
Kindle edition $14.99, Amazon hardcover $18.30

I have long been familiar with George Orwell, having read 1984 and Animal Farm in high school. I really became fascinated with Orwell the man and Orwell the essayist when I was a senior in college and wanted to emulate Orwell as master of the essay. In my Claremont days after graduation I purchased Orwell’s Collected Essays. I still have the set. How many people can claim that those volumes sit on their library shelves?

More than forty years later my interest in Orwell remains, so when I saw a review of this book I knew it had to be next on my list to read. It was well worth my time.

The author ties Churchill and Orwell together by suggesting that while one came from the right and the other from the left, both were fighters for freedom and both believed that individuals were entitled to the truth, unobscured by propaganda. While he follows both men throughout their lives, much of the book focuses on World War II where both were at the height of their careers.

Churchill is, of course, a giant in modern Western history. Orwell, on the other hand, was not highly regarded during his lifetime. It was only in later decades that his reputation for foresight grew. Ricks writes about the times sales of 1984 spiked. Apparently the book went to press before the election of last November, as there is no mention of the huge surge in sales of the book after the unexpected outcome.

Ricks has a style of writing that is highly engaging and the book moves quickly. More importantly, many of the topics he discusses are more relevant than ever today.

Orwell books

Village Books

Village BooksVillage Books
by Craig McLay
Kindle edition $4.98, Amazon paperback $14.99
Amazon Digital Services LLC (March 28, 2012), 325 pages

The joys of working in a bookstore! This book captures that. Although I worked for a national chain and this novel is about an independent bookstore, I related to the variety of characters working there. It certainly made me think of the variety of people who were employed at B. Dalton/Pickwick in Montclair Plaza in 1975.

The story is told in the first person by one of the managers at Village Books, which, I finally learned about halfway through the book, was in Toronto. The narrator describes the various employees coming from different backgrounds with different levels of motivation. He talks about the store’s general manager who is gay, but in the closet, and who keeps looking up various illnesses to make excuses to his mother who keeps trying to set him up with women. He describes his own relationship with a woman who walks in as a customer and becomes an employee.

There are a number of threads and plot twists and the story remains a page-turner (or iPad tapper) throughout. There is the local pub, the girlfriend who is intent on becoming an actress, the Italian restaurant owner who wants to return home to Italy, and the evil corporation which wants to buy the bookstore and the building.

Village Books is a lot of pleasurable reading for $4.98. The end of the book is somewhat overly cheery (not that I don’t like happy endings) and perhaps a little unrealistic with respect to where everyone lands. The journey getting there, however, is a lot of fun.

Invincible Summer

Invincible Summer coverInvincible Summer
Alice Adams
Little, Brown and Company (June 28, 2016), 321 pages
Kindle Edition $ 7 99, Amazon paperback $10.01

Invincible Summer covers twenty years in the lives of four friends in England. The story begins in 1995 when the group is finishing college. It ends twenty years later in 2015.

Eva comes from a lower middle class background, but forged a career in investment banking. Sylvie is an artist who had difficulty getting her act together until circumstances changed her perspective. Lucien spent years representing himself as a club promoter but actually paid the bills by selling drugs. Benedict is a physicist analyzing data from the Large Hadron Collider.

Each member of the group has his or her own struggles. They had varying degrees of staying in contact and being out of touch. Degrees of success varied as well. They all had serious relationship issues. The author does and excellent job of interweaving the stories and keeping the plot moving forward. Eva takes center stage in her efforts to succeed in the cutthroat world of investment banking, and I found myself wanting her to succeed in spite of the fact that her actions were not always entirely ethical. The others get their fair share of attention as well. While it was easy to be sympathetic towards Benedict and even Sylvie, it was hard for me to develop much sympathy for Lucien and his poor choices.

In the end, I enjoyed the novel, but things were wrapped up just a little to neatly at the close of the book.

The Idiot

The Idiot coverThe Idiot
by Elif Batuman
Penguin Press (March 14, 2017), 429 pages
Kindle edition $13.99, Amazon hardcover $14.16

Author Elif Batuman enjoys paying homage to Dostoevsky. She titled a previous book The Possessed. But Dostoevsky is not why I bought the present volume. I am a sucker for college campus novels and The Idiot is one of those. The novel also received excellent reviews, so I thought it would be worth my time.

The novel begins in 1995. Selin, the daughter of well-educated Turkish immigrants, is entering her first year at Harvard. Email is just starting to be widely used. Selin decides to take a class in Russian. One of the students, a senior, is a brooding figure named Ivan. Selin becomes obsessed with Ivan and develops a friendship with him. When Ivan heads to Cal Tech they continue their relationship via email.

Selin is a very smart woman, but not great at managing relationships. She continues her (strictly non-physical) relationship with Ivan even when she learns he has a girlfriend. She becomes part of a program teaching English in Hungary to be near Ivan over the summer in his homeland.

The writing in The Idiot is engaging and the book kept me entertained. In the end however…

(and here comes a spoiler—something I rarely do)

…we realize that it is Selin who is the idiot for continuing to have feelings for Ivan, who has a serious, ongoing relationship with a woman his age, who is off to study elsewhere in the world, and who will never return her affection.

not so bad, I suppose

I have had an Amazon credit card from Chase Bank for quite a few years now. I have long used the points from that card to buy many of my Kindle books. I would use the points to buy an Amazon e-gift card which I sent to my email address and then enter the redemption code into my Amazon account. I then bought the Kindle book I wanted. It all worked very well.

I went to do that recently and discovered that the option was no longer available. I further discovered that I can’t even use those points to buy a physical Amazon gift card delivered to me by postal mail. I spent several hours being seriously ticked off with Amazon. Then, however, I did some further investigation and I discovered that I could redeem the points as a statement credit on my Amazon credit card. So, I did that and then ordered my Kindle book which was charged to my Amazon credit card and I was done. As I thought about it, it was actually easier than what I had been doing.

Not so bad, I suppose.