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An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim, Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, US $26.00, Pp 320, July 2018, ISBN 978-1501192555

    The Devoted by Blair Hurley, W. W. Norton & Company, US $28.00, Pp 310, August 2018,     ISBN 978-0393651591

 So Much Life Left Over by Louis de Bernieres, Pantheon/Penguin Random House, US $26.95,  Pp 276, August 2018, ISBN 978-1524747886

Feared by Lisa Scottoline, St. Martin’s Press/Macmillan Publishers, US $27.99, Pp 400, August 2018, ISBN 978-1250099594

An Ocean of Minutes is set 1981 when the world is in the grip of a flu pandemic. It has attacked a large part of the population in America also. When Frank catches the flu virus, his girlfriend Polly is ready to do whatever it takes to save his life. Her only option is to risk everything including her life. Time travel has been invented in the future to kill the deadly virus. As the beginning of the novel says, “People wishing to time travel go to Houston Intercontinental Airport.” Polly signs a contract with TimeRaiser, a company that sends healthy people to the future to work in exchange for medical treatment for their sick loved ones. TimeRaiser is to send Polly into the future to work as a bonded laborer and, in return, pay all medical bills to save Frank’s life. This is the price they have to pay to stay together. In twelve years, Frank and Polly will meet again in Galveston, Texas, when Polly returns. But something unexpected happens as Polly is rerouted an extra five years into the future. When she gets back to the airport in Galveston, Texas, in seventeen years, Frank is not there. He is nowhere to be found. America has hugely changed and become divided during the last seventeen years. She is alone and lonely and has nothing — no career, no friends, and no money. She must find out if Frank is still alive and loves her and, if he is still alive, she must find him. An Ocean of Minutes is a love story about the endurance and changing nature of human relationships and the price we pay if we change when the relationship changes or when we change but the relationship remains the same. It is equally about class, race, and sexism. It is written in beautiful prose with a memorable cast of characters. It is an emotionally charged story about a woman’s struggle to re-find her love. Human beings have been dreaming of time traveling for a long time. It has been a recurring theme in the Western literature since H. G. Wells wrote The Time Machine in 1895. An Ocean of Minutes is an extraordinarily entertaining novel and the continuation of the same theme as The Time Machine.

Thea Lim’s writing has appeared in publications including the Southampton Review, the GuardianThe Millions, Salon, and others. She has an MFA from the University of Houston, and she has received multiple awards and fellowships for her work, including artists’ grants from the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council.  She grew up in Singapore and now lives in Toronto with her family.

*****

Set in New York City, The Devoted is a story of a woman who wanted to flee her Catholic family and find nirvana – the highest state of enlightenment in Zen Buddhism. It is the story of her ecstatic journey in search of peace and spirituality. A little more than ten years ago, as a lonely twenty-two year old, Nicole Hennessy devoted her life to Zen practice at the Boston Zendo in order to seek nirvana and to reinvent herself. Nicole Hennessy’s Zen practice is a source of continuous anxiety for her Irish Catholic family. Another source of anxiety for her family is her involvement with her Zen mentor after ten years of rigorous Zen practice. Her Zen Buddhist teacher is in full control of Nicole. He spies on her to keep his control over her who has her own psychological and spiritual problems. He is grooming her in such a way that she loses control over herself while he can tighten his control over her mind. Nicole turned to Zen practice and joined the Zendo because of her drug-fueled troubled past. Nicole feels guilty because of her Catholic upbringing. Her family had conditioned her to want to become a Catholic nun. She also has a haunting teenage past as a runaway after she realized what it meant to be a nun. Her Zen master knows this and he exploits this. He is sickeningly possessive about her. Nicole found solace in the company of her Zen mentor because he did not follow the patriarchal structure and rules of Catholicism. When his company becomes suffocating, she wants to escape from him also but her body refuses to follow the mind. Their sexual relationship has continued for more than ten years. But every sexual encounter brings new kind of pleasure. In order to free herself from the Zen master’s influence, she moves to New York where her new friend Jocelyn shows her that she can break chains that apparently unbreakable. As she finally succeeds in moving away from the Zen mentor and finds a new mentor and a new Zendo, the Zen master follows her and forces her hand to abandon the new life. She has to either be rid of him completely or submit to him and be possessed by him. The Devoted is not a spiritual story but an attempt at understanding the links between spirituality and sexuality. Blair shows how a spiritual/religious teacher can exercise a psychological and sexual hold on a young woman. It is full of psychological twists and turns. Written in beautiful prose, it is an extraordinarily intoxicating story. If you are looking for good fiction, The Devoted may be what you are looking for.

Blair Hurley is a winner of Pushcart Prize. His work has been published in West Branch and Mid-American Review, among others. A native of Boston, she now lives in Toronto, where she teaches creative writing at the University of Toronto. The Devoted is her debut.

*****

So Much Life Left Over is set in colonial Ceylon — later renamed Sri Lanka — in 1925 where a war hero Daniel Pitt lives with his wife — a wartime nurse – Rosie after retirement from the RAF. Daniel and Rosie are only two main characters in while the story revolves around a sprawling cast. As children, they were inseparable friends. Many of them fought in World War I and lost their lives. Some of those who survived went to foreign countries as far as India and Ceylon and achieved great successes. After the war, the key question before them is what to do with your life if you survive a war in which you expected to die. Although Rosie is again pregnant with their second child, their marriage is not working. Daniel wonders what love must mean and whether he will continue to have access to his children. As their marriage crumbles, they realize their marriage was largely built on lies. As the distance between Daniel and Rosie grows, Daniel becomes closer to other women. Daniel cannot marry either of his mistresses as Rosie does not divorce him. He ends up fathering children out of wedlock. In this situation, Rosie takes solace in religion. At the same time, Rosie’s sisters — the McCoshes who live in London — are also planning their future. Rosie’s mother is behaving strangely and her father has become extremely secretive. On the other hand, Daniel’s brother is unable to be at peace in a peaceful world. As the interwar peace shatters, war again redefines lives for these men and women. Louis de Bernières tries to redefine human emotions such as love, fidelity, belief, and friendship under and between the two wars. So Much Life Left Over is packed with different kinds of emotions and absorbs all your attention from the very beginning. It is a highly entertaining story with a memorable cast of characters.

Louis de Bernières is the author of many award-winning novels, including Birds Without Wings, Corelli’s Mandolin, The Dust That Falls from Dreams, Notwithstanding, A Partisan’s Daughter, Red Dog, Señor Vivo and the Coca Lord, The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman, and The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts. Selected by Granta as one of the twenty Best of Young British Novelists in 1993, de Bernières lives in England.

*****

We rarely hear men suing companies for sex discrimination – or what is sometimes called reverse sex discrimination – but this is exactly what happens when three men sue Rosato & DiNunzio law firm for not hiring them because they were men. Philadelphia’s premier law firm, Rosato, and DiNunzio, is a mostly female legal partnership. On the heels of this lawsuit, the worst came when their only male employee, John Foxman, resigns, claiming that there is a lot of truth to this case. Bennie Rosato, Mary DiNunzio, and Judy Carrier had hired John Foxman as an associate to show that their law firm does not discriminate against men. But, that does not stop Stephen McManus, Michael Battle, and Graham Madden to sue them. But, Rosato & DiNunzio law firm is still not ready to hire another man. The plaintiffs’ lawyer Nick Machiavelli has sufficient evidence to show that John felt like an outsider while he is on the job. Machiavelli is very enthusiastic about this case since he is already holding a grudge against Mary because he has already lost to Mary once. He wants not only to win the case but also to destroy the firm. He is ready to do anything to achieve his goal even after the case becomes deadly. Things rapidly become worse after John leaves the firm. But when John is murdered, Detective Jason Krakoff, of Philadelphia Homicide, discovers that Judy had been dating John until a couple of hours before the murder. Mary and her associates are also determined not to lose the case as the stakes are quite high. At stake is their law firm – their lifetime work. Lisa Scottoline explores what happens when you are stuck in a situation where you have to choose whether you want to be loved or feared. This happens when you succumb to your inner demon. This mesmerizing novel is packed with many twists and turns, you keep asking ‘What next?’ as you read.

Lisa Scottoline is a New York Times bestselling and Edgar Award-winning author of thirty novels. Feared, is the sixth entry in the acclaimed Rosato & DiNunzio series. She has 30 million copies of her books in print in the U.S., she has been published in thirty-five countries and her thrillers have been optioned for television and film. Lisa writes a weekly column with her daughter, Francesca Serritella, for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Those stories have been adapted into a series of bestselling memoirs. Lisa lives on a Pennsylvania farm with an array of pets.

 

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