Us Conductors


In this fictional account of Lev Termen’s life, we are presented with how the Russian scientist invented an electronic instrument, known as the theremin. We witness how his government uses this invention as a means to visit America in the 1930’s, making him a spy against his will. He settles down in New York and believes he will stay there after his ideas are shared with American companies.  Although he is married when he arrives in New York, he falls in love with Clara, a young woman who is about fifteen years his junior but who enjoys spending time with him and becomes one of the best theremin players out there. Despite Lev’s success with private theremin lessons and inventing new things, he is watched closely by both his home country and the FBI.  When a job he is sent to do goes horrifically wrong, Lev finds himself panicking and hoping that he can continue to thrive in his new life, without being caught. He insists on being with Clara, despite her rejections and eventual engagement to another man. After pretending to live a normal existence with a new wife, Lev is finally captured and brought back to the Soviet Union, spending years in the gulags and scientific labs. A heartbreaking, yet mesmerizing novel.

Hislit title read-alikes:
If you enjoyed reading Michaels’ novel, you may be interested in the following books:
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Curtain of Death by W.E.B. Griffin
The Voyage by Murray Bail

It is not surprising that Michaels’ book won the Giller Prize in 2014.  I was lucky to have the chance to meet him and see him demonstrate how a theremin actually works!  If you like a musical instrument that looks like a cool gadget and want to experience how it sounds, reading the novel will give you that satisfaction.  Truly something else to witness it in person, though 🙂

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Me Before You

Book vs. Movie

Me Before You (novel)   Me Before You (movie)

I was excited when I found out they were doing a movie of this book.  I somehow knew it would be a gem because it was filmed in the UK and featured British actors.  I was not disappointed in the least.  Yes, the novel has a bit more character development but the highlights of the story were wonderfully portrayed in the screenplay.  My favorite part of the movie was actually seeing the unique style that Lou has in her taste of clothing.  When reading the book, I could only imagine the outfits she wore from the descriptions but watching the bright colors of her clothes on screen, truly brought out her personality.  I especially loved the camera shot on her collection of shoes!  The actors were perfectly chosen.  A special mention goes to Emilia Clarke.  I don’t think anyone else could have done a better job than her—the facial expressions were the best I have seen in a long while.  She really made you love her character.  And what satisfied me the most was how the film ended: as realistically as the novel did, which is good, considering Moyes came out with a second book.  I only hope they produce a movie out of that and succeed in making it just as enjoyable.  What are your thoughts?

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The Penguin Lessons

A Five Star Pick

The Penguin LessonsThis memoir explores the adventure of a young British professor, taking the risk to travel abroad and landing on the other side of the world, to teach at a boy’s school in Argentina—during a corrupt regime.  Although this in itself is already fairly interesting, his life gets more complicated with the addition of a penguin!  Michell happens upon the oil slicked bird, thinking the suffering animal will not make it.  The penguin’s fight to survive and unending gratitude to the author become a fixture in their bond.  Never could you imagine how Juan Salvador’s life is changed and how he changes lives at the school, as a mascot.  There are plenty of lessons to be learned throughout the book:  things that ring true even today and perhaps more so, during these unsettling times in the United States.  How one little penguin could open our eyes is clearly seen, once you fall in love with him.  It doesn’t take long before you consider him a fellow man, despite being a  waddling bird.  Juan is silent, yet friendly and oh so dashing in his permanent tuxedo!  Even his name is charming.  The chapters are illustrated with sketches of Juan that Michell himself had doodled when the penguin was living with him.  It is a memoir that will make your heart swell and bring tears to your eyes … but then again, aren’t all animal anecdotes like that?

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The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend & The Bookshop on the Corner

Book Pairing

readers-of-broken-wheel   bookshop-on-the-corner

There are no two better novels to pair up together than these.  Written just a year apart, it seems there is no shortage of this type of theme occurring often and lately.  That is, the theme of books and how they build and support communities—welcoming even newcomers into the fold.  In both stories, the main character is a woman trying to start over, with the focus of selling books to people who are hungry to read and want to escape reality.  In the first one, Sara from Sweden, is visiting a small town in Iowa to meet her pen pal Amy.  When she arrives, the news of Amy’s death comes as a shock.  To keep Amy’s memory alive and the town interested in books again, Sara opens a bookstore and also finds love.  The second tale features Nina, a librarian working in England, who loses her job due to budget cuts.  To continue what she has always loved doing, she decides to take a leap of faith and buys a van to furnish as a bookmobile.  She starts her business on wheels in dreamy Scotland and helps the community of a village to find the right type of book.  Nina even happens to match herself with the perfect man, even though she doesn’t see it at first.  Each novel has its group of characters that act like a tight knit family, helping the heroine realize her dreams and acknowledging how books are an integral part of it.  Both stories are fun and light—perfect for being curled by the fireside or on the beach.



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Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship With a Remarkable Man


spock-jpegThis book will appeal to anyone who was curious about the relationship between William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy.  It is also another view of the lovable man we all remembered as Spock.  As a ‘Trekkie’, I certainly wanted to know what Shatner would say about the friendship that seemed to fizzle in the final years.  Granted, Shatner’s opinions may be biased but I saw him this year at the Montreal Comic-con and I really thought he was a fun and nice person, so I tended to trust his words in this open and honest book.  I am always willing to give the benefit of the doubt.  This memoir wasn’t so much about the sci-fi franchise, yet it was undeniably the biggest thing that brought Shatner and Nimoy together.  Shatner’s book starts the recollection of their friendship by mirroring his life to Nimoy’s:  their close birth dates, same religious backgrounds, similar childhoods in busy cities and the hardships they encountered when starting out in Hollywood.  They even experienced their own struggles with personal demons (Leonard was an alcoholic at one point and couldn’t quit smoking, while Shatner always got involved with women who were alcoholics).  There are a lot of interesting tid-bits in here, which I would never have known otherwise.  What I think this work represents (first and foremost) is an official apology for any wrongdoings and a sincere, heartfelt goodbye.  It is the product of a complicated yet admirably respectful friendship.  After all, many true and deep friendships thrive for years—despite an absence of communication.  Even men can attest to that.

Hislit title read-alikes:
If you liked Shatner’s book about Nimoy, here are others you may find just as fascinating:
I Am Spock by Leonard Nimoy
Star Trek Memories by William Shatner
Leonard Cohen: Everybody Knows by Harvey Kubernik

It took Shatner courage to face the mystery of a friendship that weaved in an out of difficulties for decades and admit to certain bumps in the road, including his jealousy at times.  The book is a nice gesture—almost like an extended eulogy, which seems to give Shatner a sense of closure.  Whatever his faults, Shatner has shown that he is willing to let bygones be bygones and sing the praises of a worthy comrade.



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The Girl on the Train

Book vs. Movie

girl-on-the-train    girlontrainposter

Those who have read the book first will be slightly thrown off when watching the movie.  The reason is because in this case, there are quite a few differences, even though they are minor or not very important.  The biggest distinction is the location.  The novel takes place in England while the film is set in America.  More details are included in the book, of course but one of these details is how Rachel actually sleeps with Scott and even gets threatened/held hostage by him—as opposed to the distant relationship between them that is shown in the movie.  On screen, Rachel never goes to a job interview set up by her friend Cathy and the red-haired man is a more serious figure, rather than a friendly drinking stranger.  It is also never mentioned in the movie how Megan’s dark past about killing her baby is revealed through the media.  And although the story ends the same way (thank goodness), Rachel’s memory comes back to her differently in the film.  We are meant to think that Tom’s boss’ wife is the one who helps her remember her blackouts.  The readers will know that in the novel, the memories just eventually start piecing themselves together in Rachel’s mind.  I will admit that I watched this in the cinema before I borrowed the book.  It’s possible that if readers really enjoyed the story, they may have issues with how it is portrayed on the big screen.  However, the movie alone, was certainly well done for an entertaining psychological thriller.  The actors were appropriate for the characters.  How precisely it followed Hawkins’ work, remains to be debated.  If you read the novel, do you think the film did it justice?



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Don Quixote

A Five Star Pick

Don QuixoteI’m going way back for this one.  Yes, it is a classic but I just read it this year.  It took me a few months to finish it too.  Not because it was boring or I couldn’t understand it—although good translation is key to old texts, such as this.  It does, however, have over a thousand pages.  When I had borrowed the book, I was also reading other novels, so that is why it took longer than I imagined.  I never studied it in school and the reason I decided to embark on reading it now was because I was due to see a ballet production of Don Quixote in May.  I figured if I was going to see a rendition on stage, I better get somewhat acquainted with the real story.  In truth, I didn’t even get to the end of the first volume when I saw the ballet and what I did read was enough for the ballet’s purpose—as there really wasn’t much in common except for two scenes.  I don’t regret reading it, though.  It was quite something!  I never would have thought it to be as funny as it was.  Don Quixote and his trusty companion, Sancho Panza get involved in all types of mischief, while meeting others on the road and occasionally getting beaten up from their own stupidity.  It truly is about two fools who go around believing that they are a knight and squire, respectively.   Their expressions are hilarious but you also find yourself totally loving these guys.  I was sad to find out how it ended.  If you have the time to immerse yourself in it and the patience to understand old English (not as old as Beowulf, though), then you are in for an entertaining ride!

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