Category Archives: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

A Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas

A Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas Title: A Three Dog Life
Author: Abigail Thomas
Publisher: Mariner Books
ISBN: 978-0156033237
Genre: Memoirs
Pages: 208
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

I chanced upon this book through “By the Book” and I think it was one of Elizabeth Gilbert’s favourite books and since I love what she writes, I went by her recommendation and read this one. This book is not a happy read. But it is honest, heart-wrenching, true and hopeful as well.

Abigail’s life comes to a standstill when her husband Rich gets hit by a car and his brain is shattered. He cannot comprehend anything. He remembers her in bits and pieces and her life is completely torn apart. She has to rebuild her life around this tragedy, and her new family is of three dogs and hence the title.

The book is deeply profound and emotional. Abigail’s views on life, death and continuing after the partner is no longer able to even recognize you is extremely touching and strikes a chord with readers. She grapples with guilt, with relationships that exist and with living a single life, thinking about the husband who isn’t dead but isn’t alive either.

The writing is so poignant and yet so hopeful with the dogs providing so much solace and comfort. The bonds that are formed between man and animal are so beautifully portrayed in this book. To me “A Three Dog Life” is a quiet meditation on what life goes through when it falls apart and how it heals and repairs beyond everything and more.

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The Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood & Illustrated by Renata Liwska

The Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood Title: The Quiet Book
Author: Deborah Underwood
Illustrated by: Renata Liwska
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers
ISBN: 978-0547215679
Genre: Children’s Books, Picture Books
Pages: 32
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

The beauty of stillness is something else. Not to forget what happens when there is a certain kind of hush all over the world. There is almost something magical about silences. When no one needs to say a word and maybe that is good enough. In hindsight, maybe that is how the world is supposed to be. And what better place for the world to start learning these lessons than from a children’s book.

The Quiet Book - Image 1

I honestly believe that children’s books aren’t written for children alone. There is a lot that adults can learn from these books and apply in our day to day lives.

The Quiet Book - Image 2

“The Quiet Book” is about simple twenty-nine kinds of quiet that children go through in their daily life. What makes it so special is that it is so relatable even to adults. We have all been children at some point, so we know how it was to experience the quiet before we have to yell “Happy Birthday” surprise (which we still do) and also the kind of quiet when we do something not so good.
There are all types of quiet in the book – happy quiet, sad quiet, also pondering quiet (for instance when you are the last one to be picked up from school) and many more.

The Quiet Book - Image 4

The idea really is to introduce children to “types of quiet” and the serenity they bring to life. Deborah Underwood and Renata Liwska’s combination when it comes to words and illustrations is simply terrific. It is adorable. It is cute. It is a book full of heart and soul.

The Quiet Book - Image 3

No word or illustration is out of place and that is how a picture book should be. I have as an adult read it close to five times now, just because it helps me find my calm. I can then only imagine the effect it will have on children. If you are stuck on what to gift a child, I highly recommend this book.

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The Quiet Book

Book Review: The Creation of Anne Boleyn by Susan Bordo

The Creation of Anne Boleyn by Susan Bordo Title: The Creation of Anne Boleyn
Author: Susan Bordo
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
ISBN: 978-0-547-32818-8
Genre: Non-Fiction, History
Pages: 343
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

If there is any Queen that has been most speculated about, then according to me that would have to be Anne Boleyn. There has been so much written and spoken about her. What was she? Was she really that vicious? Or was she merely misunderstood? What was her nature? We all know (or well most of us do) how she came to be the Queen of England and Henry VIII’s second wife. She was a mistress, a plotter, a woman who was in charge and wanted it all and like I mentioned may be a lot of the parts she must have been highly misunderstood.

I have always been drawn to Anne Boleyn, wanting to know what led to her execution. Did she even deserve it all? There are so many questions surrounding her that it would probably take a lot of books for me to read and movies to watch to get a sense of the person. However, for now I have just finished reading a book by Susan Bordo called, “The Creation of Anne Boleyn”, where she uncovers the persona, the myths in a logical manner about this Queen and her life.

“The Creation of Anne Boleyn” charts the entire life of Anne Boleyn and with it Bordo also talks about the influence of every single form of media that has led to people perceiving Anne the way they do. To make her point, Bordo breaks all myths and conventions with more than enough proof and that had me going page after page. The structure of the book is also simple and quite understandable: the first part speaks of Anne and how she came to be Queen, the second part takes readers through what happened after Anne’s death and the third part is all about the media and how it has come to view Anne Boleyn.

The writing is insightful and shows the research gone into this book. I loved the instances and reasoning provided by Bordo. She takes readers on a fascinating journey of trying to uncover the mystery behind Anne Boleyn and her ambitions. It is a cultural examination which is highly readable and also witty in most places, which is very difficult for a non-fiction or a book of a historical context to achieve. She speaks of Anne as a person – physically and mentally and that clarity is par excellence. At the same time, Bordo takes into account what happened and why. She talks of roles of other members of the King’s court and their role in it. Katherine of Aragon is heavily featured, considering it was she that Henry wanted a divorce from to marry Anne and he waited the longest for it, only to end up executing Anne. This irony and complexity is simply told in this book. For anyone who wants to know more about Anne and the myths surrounding her life, I definitely recommend this one.

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Book Review: Frances and Bernard by Carlene Bauer

Frances and Bernard Title: Frances and Bernard
Author: Carlene Bauer
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
ISBN: 978-0547858241
Pages: 208
Genre: Literary Fiction
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

This has to be hands down one of the best books I’ve read this year. I am not a fan of epistolary novels however this one grasped my attention and did not let it go, till I had finished the book. There are very few books that manage to do that. This is one of them. “Frances and Bernard” by Carlene Bauer is more than just an epistolary novel. It is also a literary homage of sorts to two giants – Flannery O’Connor and Robert Lowell, on whom the characters are based. This made the book twice as much fantastical for me.

Frances and Bernard are very different from each other (but of course, they couldn’t have been similar, given the nature of this book). They meet at a writer’s colony in the summer of 1957 and begin their correspondence. They meet some more times after that and recognize a kindred spirit in each other. They write about almost everything to each other – from friends, to lovers, to affairs, to their writing, their pitfalls, about their manuscripts and even their faith. There are other people whose letters are also in so the reader gets a complete understanding of Frances and Bernard – there is Claire, Frances’ best friend, Bernard’s friend Ted and their joint publisher John. Reading the letters is the perfect way to get into the skin of characters. It is the difference in the characters’ views and opinions that make the story what it is.

The book by covering almost every ground (as mentioned in the above paragraph) only shows us a glimpse of what Bauer’s writing is capable of. The voyeuristic urge is present in every single one of us and novels such as these only cater to them and sometimes even succeed brilliantly in satisfying them. The letters are sometimes rich in their content and sometimes flippant and yet that is what will keep the reader going with every turn of the page. The entire novel is formatted very well and doesn’t seem hurried or too slow. The pace is just perfect.

The love of reading and writing is what struck me and stayed with me long after I had finished reading the book. The ending is unpredictable (of course) and for throughout the novel I could almost imagine Flannery and Lowell sharing correspondences of this nature. As a reader, I could only hoot again and again for the written word and I hope that more people read this gem of a book.

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Book Review: Panorama City by Antoine Wilson

Title: Panorama City
Author: Antoine Wilson
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
ISBN: 978-0547875125
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Some books just have a big heart. Maybe they weren’t meant to be written that way. Maybe they were. Panorama City by Antoine Wilson is one such book. I remember reading it on a Sunday afternoon and could not tear myself away from it for a single minute.

Panorama City opens with the protagonist Oppen Porter who is a lot like Forrest Gump, but I thought he was more intelligent than Forrest. Oppen is a twenty-eight year old man, who is a simpleton. He calls himself a slow absorber. We see him at the beginning of the book, moving from his hometown Madera for the San Fernando Valley and Panorama City, where his aunt lives. He does so as he has just buried his father and wants to leave his hometown to make something of himself. In his words, he wants to be a, “man of the world”.

Oppen’s aunt is weird. She is everything he doesn’t like being around with. She is a control freak and a religious fanatic. She gets him a job at the local fast food restaurant and lines up sessions for him with a local shrink. She wants to treat him as a project and whip him into shape.

Oppen as a character is endearing. You do not think he is challenged in anyway. He drifts from one situation to another and has his thoughts laid out. For instance, one person who makes a big impression on Oppen is Paul Renfro, a so-called philosopher (basically a con man), who meets him on the bus to LA and meets him again in Panorama City.

Oppen questions everything that he goes through in his life. His observations are peculiar and new and funny to a very large extent. He is convinced he is going to die young and wants to leave his story for posterity. He is telling his story into a tape-recorder from a hospital bed as a legacy for his unborn son, Juan-George. Yes that is another twist in the tale which surprises the readers. The book traces forty days and forty nights as the story unfolds.

Antoine Wilson has done something which maybe writers take a long time to do through their books – he makes the reader feel. He makes you relate to Oppen and surprisingly you do, even if you thought you couldn’t to begin with.

Panorama City spoke to me on many levels – on losing a parent, on death, on trying to survive in a world and go through it in a funny manner. Antoine’s writing is bittersweet and presents itself in long monologues, which works beautifully for the structure of the novel. The big questions of life are answered in a touching and funny manner and that is what I loved the most about the book. Panorama City is a sweet and tender book. It is the kind of book that unfolds hope and misgivings of life side by side and makes you hoot for Oppen. Antoine Wilson has done a wonderful job of the book. A must-read.

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