RidgewayGirl's 2012 Reading
Join LibraryThing to post.
Summary of 2011's Reading
Best of the year's reading:
The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers by Thomas Mullen. If I had to pick a single favorite among the books I read last year, this would be it. Reluctant, conflicted bank robbers, the Great Depression, family relationships and a twist that's both bizarre and oddly believable, made Mullen my new author crush.
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin is a crime novel set in rural Mississippi. Of course it's more than that, examining racial relations both current and past, the dead end of rural, Southern life and a friendship between two boys, now men.
Doc by Mary Doria Russell. I'm not one for westerns as a rule, but this nuanced portrayal of the infamous Doc Holiiday's time in Dodge City, where he met the Earp brothers, was fantastic.
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins is a sensational thriller disguised as an old classic. Collins does things with the pacing that had me biting my nails and staying up late. He also created the best female protagonist in Victorian literature.
Hark a Vagrant is a collection of Kate Beaton's cartoons, which are based on historical and literary characters. From Dude Watching with the Bronte Sisters to Every Lady Scientist Who Ever Did Anything Till Now, these are cartoons for us.
A Place of Greater Safety. Hilary Mantel takes on the bloody sweep of the French Revolution.
Number of books read: 127
Of which, 55, or 43% were by female authors
Of the authors, 78, or 61% were American, 24, or 19% were British and 9, or 7% were Canadian. 16, or 13% of authors were from other parts of the world.
Books read in
Iron House by John Hart
Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake
The Invisible Ones by Stef Penney
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
The Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose
Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson
February by Lisa Moore
The Dark Room by Rachel Seiffert
A Place of Secrets by Rachel Hore
The Crime Writer by Gregg Hurwitz
It Was Gonna be Like Paris by Emily Listfield
The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen
The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall
Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake
1222 by Anne Holt
A Prayer for the Dying by Stewart O'Nan
Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale
The Stories of John Cheever by John Cheever
Neighborhood Watch by Cammie McGovern
The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright
Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada
The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Gone 'Til November by Wallace Stroby
The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall
Titus Alone by Mervyn Peake
Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller
The Complaints by Ian Rankin
The Discovery of France by Graham Robb
Love Wins by Rob Bell
Horoscopes for the Dead by Billy Collins
Trespasser by Paul Doiron
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
Box 21 by Anders Roslund
Mumbai Noir by Altaf Tyrewala
Columbine by Dave Cullen
Very Bad Men by Harry Dolan
My Booky Wook by Russell Brand
Who Cut the Cheese? by Jo Nesbo
A Paragon of Virtue by Christian von Ditfurth
Long Island Noir edited by Kaylie Jones
The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin
Atlas of Remote Islands by Judith Schalansky
Oxford Messed Up by Andrea Kayne Kaufman
The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson
Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns by Mindy Kaling
A Sickness in the Family by Denise Mina
The Wrong Mother by Sophie Hannah
The Dead Lie Down by Sophie Hannah
Ballistics by Billy Collins
Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder by Lawrence Weschler
What Never Happens by Anne Holt
Moral Disorder and Other Stories by Margaret Atwood
Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Books read in
Oregon Hill by Howard Owen
Turn, Magic Wheel by Dawn Powell
Sister by Rosamund Lupton
This Must Be the Place by Kate Racculia
Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick
Vengeance by Benjamin Black
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
Talking About Detective Fiction by P.D. James
Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
Fun and Games by Duane Swierczynski
Mission to Paris by Alan Furst
Kill You Twice by Chelsea Cain
August by Gerard Woodward
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Middlemarch by George Eliot
Jar City by Arnaldur Indridason
Winter in Madrid by C.J. Sansom
The Code by G.B. Joyce
And When She Was Good by Laura Lippman
The Year We Left Home by Jean Thompson
An Unexpected Guest by Anne Korkeakivi
Jane Austen Ruined My Life by Beth Pattillo
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
The St. Zita Society by Ruth Rendell
Blindness by Jose Saramago
This Isn't the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You: Stories by Jon McGregor
Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson
Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden
An Unfinished Season by Ward Just
Next to Love by Ellen Feldman
My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me edited by Kate Bernheimer
The Guardians by Andrew Pyper
Backseat Saints by Joshilyn Jackson
Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross
The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf
The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson
A Wanted Man by Lee Child
District and Circle by Seamus Heany
I've Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella
Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost
Baudolino by Umberto Eco
The Queen of the South by Arturo Perez-Reverte
Lost at Sea by Jon Ronson
The Miniature Wife and Other Stories by Manuel Gonzales
The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson
Doors Open by Ian Rankin
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
A Wedding in December by Anita Shreve
Hi RG. 127 books? What a great year of reading! I had the same reaction to Woman in White.
>2, I love Hark, A Vagrant! Dude watchin' with the brontes is one of the more hilarious things I've ever read.
Wow! 127 books! That is an inconceivable number for me, probably because I get buried in long history tomes and other compelling nonfiction that does not encourage speed reading. But I admire your ability to absorb so much so quickly! Doc is supposed to be high on my reading list, but it's going to have to go on the wish list for now. Russell's The Sparrow was one of my favorite books.
I aim to read several more substantial books this year and so I expect a much lower count. I read a bunch of crime novels last year, which one can zip through in no time.
Firefly Brothers does look good.
Looking forward to seeing your reviews during the year.
Hey! Looking forward to your recs. Like you, I'll be knee deep in Moby Dick and Gormenghast. For relief I'll probably fly through a few crime novels.
Oh, good. I'm forcing people to read about those Firefly Brothers. I read it way back in February and it remained on the top of that year's books all year.
citygirl, I'm throwing in a few crime novels here and there, too. But both Moby Dick and Gormenghast are quite a bit more fun than I'd thought they would be.
I'm having a hard time finding a comfortable position in bed to read Gg. Un-frickin'-believable. Hatching a baby is complicating my literary life!!!
Stopping by to say hi! Remember how both of us won A Small Furry Prayer ! Well, looks like we had a similar take on it. I gave it a grudging 3 stars and I noticed that your review gave it 2 1/2 stars. Dreadful book. I would have enjoyed more info on dog rescue and less of Steven Kotler "musing's on life."
Does anyone enjoy someone else's "musings on life?" I think that it's like descriptions of dreams--tremendously important and interesting to the teller, but deady dull for the listener.
I have resolved this year to read fewer books. I want to tackle longer works and enjoy that feeling of living in a book over weeks. It's making me itchy, though, to have nothing to report. I did just read Iron House, a thriller by John Hart. I'd enjoyed an earlier book of his and thought to enjoy this one as well. Unfortunately, he's gone all best-sellery on me and now writes with much less heart, a lot more glitz and fireworks, done away with nuance and believability and added a helping of torture porn. It wasn't terrible; Hart can still write well enough, but I miss those other things. I may read his earlier books when I need something escapist, but will avoid anything he writes from here on out.
>20 I resolved to read fewer books in 2009 after reading 100 books the year before (I had been in the newly-minted 75 Book Challenge). I am a compulsive reader by nature and I wanted to SLOW DOWN. It's difficult to do when the book culture around you is rewarding you for continuous posting reads and reviews. My solution was to run away and create Club Read 2009 and try to take the emphasis off numbers (well, there were other things I was looking for too). It wasn't a perfect solution, but it has helped. I do read fewer books, but it is likely because of Belletrista and other projects.
My suggestion would be for you to report on your books as you read them. Every few chapters? I wish I had done this with Bellefleur last year. When you feel like talking about Moby or Gorm, do so.
>20 Cripes. Now I don't know what to do with my reams of carelessly articulated musings on life... ;)
I've totally got that "itchy" feeling, having started this year with a 1,000 page tome and reading everyone's posts every day. I find myself hoping to buckle-down and finish it up this weekend so I can get on with it!
>20 - I think I actually prefer the "musings" posts more than actual reviews, to be honest. They tend to give a better sense of how the reader was reacting in the moment, and I think they are more honest - not that we intentionally lie in our reviews. We just want them to sound good, like a polished piece of writing. Smaller posts in the midst of books are fine by me!
Titus Groan is the first book in Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy. Titus is the heir to the seventy-sixth Earl of Gormenghast and it's his birth that begins the story. Gormenghast is an enormous, decaying structure, drowning under the weight of tradition and inertia. The Earl, Sepulchrave, is depressed and his wife has retreated into a world of birds and cats. Into this leaps Steerpike, an unhappy kitchen boy dreaming of power.
The world-building in this book is amazing. Gormenghast is a bizarre place and Peake describes it in a very Gormenghastly-like way. From the fantastic character names - my favorite is Dr. Prunesquallor - to the baroque setting - the Countess's room has ivy invading from the outside - this book is an immersion into Peake's glorious imagination. Every bit as rich and wonderful as Tolkein's Middle Earth or Lewis's Narnia, Titus Groan is an astonishment.
>24 I think the names are a bit of a nod to Dickens.
I have resolved this year to read fewer books. I want to tackle longer works and enjoy that feeling of living in a book over weeks. It's making me itchy, though, to have nothing to report.
Yep. That's where I was last year. I know exactly what you're saying. And after 12 months of tackling longer works, I realize I really do like shorter books. But that's just me--I have several dear friends who love the long book.
So this year I'm reading shorter books and short stories--and yet, here I am in the third week of January, suffering through a tedious almost 700 page novel (Cutting for Stone).
Have fun with your big book project!
I really must get around to reading the Gormenghast novels. I have an omnibus volume with all three of them, and I think it's one of the oldest books on my TBR piles. Every year, I swear I will get to it soon, and every year, I somehow manage not to. I think maybe the sheer size of it is intimidating me, which is silly. Or maybe I've just gotten too used to the tradition of not reading it.
I've had uneven luck with Early Reviewer books. I had two terrible books in a row, the second of which was astonishingly bad. So bad that the idea of writing a scathing review was not enough to pull me through. I really love writing snarky reviews. It's a mean-spirited streak that I have that I don't often find an outlet for. I do pick these books out myself, you know. It's all self-inflicted.
But on the other side of things, I've been surprised many times with excellent novels from the ER program. The Invisible Ones was one of these. I hadn't read Stef Penney's first book and Costa Award winner, The Tenderness of Wolves, although it is, embarrassingly enough, on my bookshelf. The Invisible Ones is similar to Kate Atkinson's Case Histories; a tremendously well-written novel disguised as a mystery. I am forgiving Penney for her pretentious author photo on the back cover and am very much planning to read The Tenderness of Wolves soon.
I really love writing snarky reviews. It's a mean-spirited streak that I have that I don't often find an outlet for.
I do too . . . and I always know that tipping point in a book where I stop giving the author leeway. Sometimes it's on page 2. Does this make us bad people?
Also, guys? I finished Moby Dick. I now understand why it's arguably one of the greatest novels ever and why it tanked when it was first released. It's a book you have to just let take you where it wants to go. There's a tremendous adventure story and then lots of chapters devoted to comparing the sperm whale and the right whale, for example, or explaining how miles of rope are effectively coiled into the whale boats.
I like that style of writing, where the suspense and excitement are built up to near unbearable levels, only to be broken off for an extended period in which the author discusses needle-point or cetology or the landscape of Dorset. It really does work and the only thing similar in modern literature is maybe Steig Larsson with his exhaustive descriptions of money-laundering or IKEA purchases set down in the middle of the action. Those Victorians knew what they were doing.
Nickelini, it totally does. But they deserve it, for writing a sucky book.
And as for that point where leeway is no longer given, in that book it was for me when the protagonist needed to stay awake and so shot herself in the leg. It worked, but geez.
I like that style of writing, where the suspense and excitement are built up to near unbearable levels, only to be broken off for an extended period in which the author discusses needle-point or cetology or the landscape of Dorset.
Thanks for putting it that way. I'm also reading some of the big books in my TBRs this year, and you've motivated me to get back to Stieg Larsson.
And as for that point where leeway is no longer given, in that book it was for me when the protagonist needed to stay awake and so shot herself in the leg. It worked, but geez.
So you're saying you DON'T do that. Okay, got it.
I've been reading Anne of Green Gables with the kids. My son is happy with anything featuring orphans. They liked the first half, but lost interest once Anne stopped doing such bone-headed things like falling off of roofs and dying her hair green. I read the rest and then actually cried over the last chapters. Gah. I should be over this whimsical stuff by now. Instead, I'm eying the next in the series. Some childhood favorites fade over time, but some don't and there's no telling which is which until you reread them. I'd like to pick up Little Women, but I'll have to do it on my own; we've moved on to the next Penderwicks book with still more orphans!
And with a few of you reading John Cheever's short stories, I was inspired to do the same. I usually don't like to read a collection of short stories by the same author (intentionally connected stories like Olive Kitteridge and Life in the Air Ocean are obvious exceptions), because no matter how good they are, they feel repetitive over time. So I'm trying to read just a few stories a week this time round and I'm not reading them in the order presented.
I began with The Swimmer, which is a surreal story told in such a calm, ordinary way that it all seems perfectly rational. A guy is at a summer gathering around a pool and decides that he can get home by swimming across all the pools along the way. Things change along his journey.
Cheever does something similar in a much earlier story called The Enormous Radio, in which a woman discovers that she can eavesdrop on her neighbors through her new radio. There's almost a horror story feeling to this one and the reaction of the woman's husband is just not what it would be some fifty years on. I hope.
1. Snarky reviews are sooo much better to write, which explains why my review output has been low the last year or so: I've gotten better at choosing books.
2. I'm not a big short story person, but Cheever is an exception for me also. He's deceptively poignant.
3. Adding Stef Penney, to the The List of Mystery Authors to Check Out because RG Liked Them.
Just catching up here and enjoying all the terrific advice. I'm unloading my gun as I type. You have got me interested in Gormenghast, and I loved you take on MD.
Oh, and you might like to know I've started reading the first Penderwick books with my daughter (7-yrs-old). We're half way through and she's asks for it every time it's my turn to read to her (my wife and I switch. My wife is reading a Magic Tree House book with her).
The Penderwicks are seriously better than any of the Magic Tree House books. I'm always willing to read an extra chapter.
Cheever again. The Worm in the Apple. Are appearances always deceiving?
Everyone in the community with wandering hands had given them both a try but they had all been put off. What was the source of this constancy? Were they frightened? Were they prudish? Were they monogamous? What was at the bottom of this appearance of happiness?
to the less sophisticated part of #40 - I agree with you, but my daughter makes the most of the MTH books. She can read them on her own and she's been copying out the information lists in a note book.
31/34 - you are so right about leeway! I can spot the same turning point in myself when I start making huffing noises and gesticulating whenever I come across whatever it is that's annoying me. (I do the same thing in the cinema, which sometimes makes my other half move away and sit somewhere else). I generally have to give up the book soon after, since even if it did suddenly improve I probably wouldn't notice by then...
Does this [writing snarky reviews] make us bad people?
Absolutely not! I have been known to write one or two and I simply cannot believe I'm a bad person! And the rest of you ain't too bad yourselves! ;-)
Glad you enjoyed Moby-Dick. I just finished reading it as well. As I said somewhere, it does pack a wallop. I so want to go back to page one and read it again.
I'm a little behind here. February and I'm behind already. Jeez. Personally, I think it's because everybody (else!) is so active at the beginning of this year. By the time I've caught up on a few threads, I'm out of time to post anything here. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
The Unlikely Disciple is Kevin Roose's turn at a stunt memoir, but instead of traveling to obscure corners of the world and learning important life lessons from the natives, Roose went to Virginia, specifically to Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, into the heart of the fundamentalist Christian world.
Roose takes a semester off from Brown and goes to Liberty, living in a dorm and participating in everything, including singing in the choir at Falwell's church. He did his best to fit in and made several friends, dated a bit and tried to view the belief system with as much sympathy as he could. He did find much of value, from the sincere concern of the people around him to their constant battle to live a pure life (Roose goes so far as to join One Man's Battle, a support group for masturbators) and realized that many of his fellow students are highly intelligent people. What he can't get past, however, is the reflexive hatred of anybody gay and that faith is presented as an all or nothing challenge. To be a Christian here is to believe that the earth is 6,000 years old, that men existed alongside the dinosaurs and that global warming is a false doctrine. He also makes a point that, as a straight white man, his Liberty experience was a far more positive one than most people would have had.
Interesting review. It is sad to hear about such intolerance magnified by the reinforcement of numbers of like-minded people gathered in one place.
Well, you do have to admit that the same intolerance happens whenever groups of like-minded individuals meet. I've had some pretty unkind conversations making fun of the Republican candidates. Of course, I don't think they'll burn in hell or deserve to die. I wouldn't mind making them live on the income of an average American and there's one guy I'd like to strap to the roof of my car and drive to Canada, but that's different, right?
one guy I'd like to strap to the roof of my car and drive to Canada,
I don't know which one you're talking about, but I can assure you that we don't want him and he'll be beyond miserable here. Please send him to Mexico instead.
I believe his father was born in Mexico so that might be more appropriate. However, it sounds like his dog ran off in Canada, according to this article
>44 - Sounds like an interesting stunt memoir.
I'm continuing to read John Cheever's stories. I'm jumping randomly through the book and enjoying it. That guy can write. I am tremendously happy to be firmly located in the present. I don't think I'd last long as a woman in the 1950s.
The Bus to St. James is about unhappy marriages and unhappy affairs. It wasn't an overtly unhappy story, but that was what it was about.
She was excited at finding someone who seemed interested in her opinions, and she put herself at a disadvantage, as he intended she should, by talking too much.
Then I read The Chimera, which was about another unhappy marriage, but unhappy in a different way and dealt with in a satirical, darkly humorous tone.
My wife and I are terrible unhappy together, but we have three beautiful children, and we try to keep things going. I do what I have to do, like everyone else, and one of the things I have to do is to serve my wife breakfast in bed. I try to fix her a nice breakfast, because this sometimes improves her disposition, which is generally terrible. One morning not long ago, when I brought her a tray she clapped her hands to her face and began to cry. I looked at the tray to see if there was anything wrong. It was a nice breakfast -- two hard-boiled eggs, a piece of Danish, and a Coca-Cola spiked with gin. That's what she likes. I've never learned to cook bacon.
That's a hilarious paragraph, on several levels. (Everyone knows you don't drink gin and coke!). I must find me some Cheever!
Yes, I would not have done well in the 1950s either.
Regarding "snark" - I think there is a point where snark becomes much more about the reviewer than the book. At that point a review becomes less valuable, imo.
>44 Sounds like a blast from my distant past. This kind of thinking only works when it is grouped together and constantly reinforced. What is so amazing is that there is so little room for the gray areas; which, as we know, is most of life.
We do seem to like easy answers to complex questions. It's not just in religion (which can be thoughtful and complex) but also in our current politics, where people are told to sign on to everything on a long list, without deviation, so that everyone is either A or B, ignoring the fact that it's usually more complicated than that.
Kate Atkinson is one of my favorite authors, occupying that short list of authors whose new books are gleefully pre-ordered without any prior knowledge of subject matter. Upon receiving the book, I'll look it over and then do my best to put off reading it for as long a possible. An unread book that I'm certain to love is too valuable to squander.
So I'm an unreliable reviewer for Started Early, Took My Dog, the fourth in a series of novels featuring Jackson Brodie, an ex-private investigator specializing in missing persons. Here, Jackson is older and still alone, although he is pulled into an ex-girlfriend's orbit by their son, whom he is getting to know. He's looking for the birth parents of a woman in New Zealand and not getting very far. Meanwhile, an aging actress desperately tries to hide her increasing forgetfulness and the head of security at a shopping mall impulsively makes a purchase that will put her outside of the law.
Atkinson's novels are great tangled masses that are flipped over at the end to show an evenly woven cloth. This one seems a little more disjointed at first, a little more melancholy than usual. I don't think that they can be read out of order, you do have to begin with Case Histories.
And at first you think you will not be alone forever. You think the future is infinite. Childhood seems to have been infinite. Downstairs the saw revs and Helen hears a stick of wood fall to the floor. And so will the future be infinite, and it cannot be spent alone.
But, she has learned, it is possible: not to meet someone. The past yields, it gives way, it goes on forever. The future is unyielding. It is possible that the past has cracked off, the past has clattered to the floor, and what remains is the future and there is not very much of that. The future is the short end of the stick.
February, by Lisa Moore is about grief. Helen is a mother of three, pregnant with the fourth, when the Ocean Ranger, the oil rig her husband is working on, goes under off the coast of Newfoundland in 1982. February chronicles Helen's story, from meeting her husband to the life she manages to carve for herself from the wreckage of her earlier plans and expectations. Grief is ever present, and something that can't be shed after a suitable length of time, like an unfashionable coat. Her husband Cal is always somewhere in her mind and she is haunted by her imaginings of his final moments. But life goes on and she has four children, also marked by the loss of Cal, to care for. She doesn't get to give up or give in. The book jumps forwards and back in time to different parts of Helen's life; a good thing, because focusing too long on the intense period of sadness just after the rig went down would be unreadable.
There were long stretches in that phone call where neither of them said anything. Dave O'Mara wasn't speaking because he didn't know he wasn't speaking. He could see before him whatever he'd seen when he looked at his dead son, and he thought he was telling her all of that. But he was in his own kitchen staring silently at the floor.
Looking at his dead son must have been like watching a movie where nothing moved. It was not a photograph because it had duration. It had to be lived through. A photograph has none of that. This was a story without an ending. It would go on forever. And Helen was trying not to faint because it would scare the living daylights out of the children, and besides, she had known. She'd known the minute the bastard rig sank.
#52 I love your enthusiasm for Kate Atkinson's books. It got me to thinking if their were any authors that I would buy as soon as they released something new. Hilary Mantel perhaps.
This would be another good question for avaland's thread.
The Dark Room by Rachel Seiffert is a collection of three novellas dealing with ordinary Germans and WWII. In the first, Helmut has a crippled arm and is unable to join the army at the beginning of the war. Instead, he hides out in the photography studio he worked in before the war. In the second story, Lore and her siblings try to get to their grandmother in Hamburg at the end of the war and in the final story, set in 1997, a young man tries to come to terms with his beloved grandfather's membership in the Waffen SS.
The novellas are unconnected, but photographs play an important role in each story, which looks at how ordinary Germans regarded the war, both while it was happening and as it recedes into history. Seiffert quite wisely chose children as the protagonists of the first two tales, making clear the cost the war on Germany's citizens. The third story is the most difficult. The protagonist, Micha, manages to be both ashamed and sanctimonious, which makes him somewhat unlikeable, although I though Seiffert masterfully portrayed the many conflicting emotions he felt as he dug into his family's past.
So I caught this virus thing from my own children, pestilent creatures, and was only able to read crime novels. That remains my go-to genre for escapist reading and I read two really good ones as I drank herbal teas and felt sorry for myself.
The Crime Writer by Gregg Hurwitz is a fantastic modern take on an old-fashioned LA noir. Drew is a writer of best-selling thrillers, one of which was even made into a very bad movie. He wakes up in a hospital bed with stitches in his scalp and no memory of the preceding day. He may or may not have murdered his ex-fiance.
The Crime Writer used as many worn-out plot standards as possible and manages to both wink with the reader and to make those same contrivances fresh and interesting. It helps that Hurwitz created a fantastic protagonist, charming and believable.
The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen is the first in another crime series by a Scandinavian author and featuring a detective who does not work well with others. A Danish detective was involved in an incident in which one officer died and another was left paralyzed. He's shunted into a basement room and promoted to head up "Department Q", a sort of cold case squad with a head count of two; him and the immigrant sent to make his coffee and sweep up.
The first case they tackle is that of a Danish politician who disappeared on a ferry crossing to Germany and who was assumed to have fallen overboard. She was actually abducted, and the reasons are revealed slowly, over the course of the book. The Keeper of Lost Causes fits well with the other translated Scandinavian crime series and I'll be happy when the next installation is released.
One more thing, since I have time. John Cheever is some kind of writer. His short stories are subtle and almost insidious, but not repetitive and the picture they paint of American life is terrifying. To be a woman fifty years ago was no picnic and a wife may have had more security, but it came at a price. At least those Victorians had laudanum. I'm not sure how I would have survived and many of Cheever's wives are not doing very well.
Cheever's descriptions of his characters are glorious. From The Brigadier and the Golf Widow;
Sitting on her terrace, sitting in her parlor, sitting anywhere, she ground the ax of self-esteem. Offer her a cup of tea and she would say, "Why these cups look just like a set I gave to the Salvation Army last year." Show her the new swimming pool and she would say, slapping her ankle, "I suppose this must be where you breed your gigantic mosquitoes." Hand her a chair and she would say, "Why, it's a nice imitation of those Queen Anne chairs I inherited from Grandmother Delancy." These trumps were more touching than they were anything else, and seemed to imply that the nights were long, her children ungrateful, and her marriage bewilderingly threadbare.
And from The Season of Divorce;
I'd say that Mrs. Treacher is a plain woman, but her plainness is difficult to specify. She is small, she has a good figure and regular features, and I suppose that the impression of plainness arises from some inner modesty, some needlessly narrow view of her chances.
I agree with you about John Cheever, one of the best short story writers. If you haven't read it, then I would recommend The Wapshot Chronicle
baswood, I was wondering if his long fiction lived up to the short stories. I'll have to read The Wapshot Chronicle.
Nickelini, you really should.
Agree about Cheever! I just read my first a couple weeks ago -- The Swimmer -- and want more.
Mid-20th century women also had their "mother's little helpers" -- vitamin/amphetamine pills, Miltown, etc. Today it's benzodiazepines and antidepressants.
The Penderwicks on Gardam Street is the second of Jeanne Birdsall's books about the Penderwick sisters; Rosalind, Skye, Jane and Batty. They live on Gardam Street with their father and Hound, Batty's dog. In this installment, their Aunt Claire tries to get their father to begin dating and the girls come up with a Save-Daddy plan, spearheaded by Rosalind, who is feeling threatened by the idea of a new woman in their lives. Also, they have new neighbors, Skye and Jane do something dishonest and suffer the consequences and Batty insists that there is a strange man spying on them.
Birdsall handles this book with the same sensitivity and light touch that made The Penderwicks such a joy to read. With the four girls ranging in age from pre-school to adolescence, there is someone for every reader to relate to. I read this with my two children, and they both loved it, as did I. It reads like an old-fashioned kind of book, where the siblings are united and courageous, while being very much set in the world of today.
We have three more chapters to on Gardam Street. Skye just fainted. Birdsall does so well at bringing all the characters into any individual scene at once and just filling so much atmosphere.
Intellect, he knew, was not a masculine attribute, although the bulk of tradition had put decisive powers into the hands of men for so many centuries that their ancient supremacy would take some unlearning. But why should his instincts lead him to expect that the woman in whose arms he lay each night would at least conceal her literacy? Why should there seem to be some rub between the enormous love he felt for her and her ability to understand the quantum theory?
John Cheever wrote An Educated American Woman before I was born and it should have read like an curious historical artifact. Instead it just made me angrier. Sorry, I'm feeling a little ranty today, but geez louise, is the next House committee hearing going to debate whether women have souls? And what offensive comments will be made about the next woman to open her mouth?
1222 is Anne Holt's homage to Agatha Christie's style of murder mysteries, taken to modern Norway. Hanne Wilhelmsen is an ex-cop, a paraplegic traveling by train through the Norwegian mountains to Bergen to see a specialist. The train derails near an isolated holiday resort and the passengers are taken by snowmobile to the hotel to wait out the fierce winter storm that prevents them from being rescued. Sometime during that first night, a man is murdered and Hanne finds herself unwillingly heading up a quiet investigation, helped by the red cross worker who rescued her, a doctor and the hotel manager.
Holt excels at the character study and here she has plenty to work with. She remains true to the spirit of the genre, while creating a modern collection of people, who are on edge after surviving the crash and learning that a murderer is living among them. Holt even ends the story in a particularly Christie-like way, while retaining the its very modern setting.
I didn't look at her. Instead I met Geir Rugholmen's gaze. He was still standing on the table, his legs wide apart; he was strong, but there was an air of resignation about him. We were both thinking the same thing.
The people who were snowed in at Finse 1222 had begun to let go of their dignity. And only eighteen hours had passed since the accident.
I just had to come by and tell you I enjoyed your 4 .5 star rating on the Stewart O'Nan book - A Prayer for the Dying . I really enjoyed Emily, Alone by Stewart O'Nan when I read it last year. He is really a wonderful author in my opinion. As for 1222 - I've got on the way to me as a second hand book - I look forward to reading it too!
Stewart O'Nan can write rings around almost anybody. He can take the banal (closing a Red Lobster on the outskirts of a mall) and make it interesting. His writing is never showy, even when it could be, and he tends to use as few words as he can get away with, never embellishing unnecessarily. With A Prayer for the Dying, O'Nan piles one terrible situation after another on top of despair and makes a hopeful novel out of it all.
Jacob Hansen is undertaker, sheriff and preacher to the small town of Friendship, Wisconsin. He's a veteran of the Civil War, fighting memories with a devotion to duty, faith and a deep love for his wife and infant daughter. He's asked to come remove a body found on a farmer's land and as he's hauling the body away, he finds a woman, ill, by the side of the road. He delivers both to the doctor and finds himself at the beginning point of an epidemic that will challenge everything he believes.
A Prayer for the Dying is described as a cross between Stephen Crane and Stephen King, and there is a sense of horror piling on horror in this book, despite the absence of the supernatural. Jacob is the best of protagonists; a deeply thoughtful man of action and integrity, as aware of his own weaknesses as he is compassionate of the people around him. O'Nan has chosen the second person in which to tell the story, which was the only choice for this book; the first person would have brought the suffering so close as to be unreadable, and the third person would have provided a comfortable remove.
Wonderful review! I'm a fan of O'Nan, too, with Lobster being my favorite, so far...
So, my guilty reading pleasure is modern retellings of Jane Austen's novels. Not "sequels" or retellings involving vampires. As if! But I have this inexplicable fondness for Austen-based chick lit. I can't defend it, but there it is. I'd love an explanation, myself.
Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale is set on an English estate that's been done up to hold Regency era reenactments in which actors and paying guests play at being in Austen's world. Charlotte is a newly divorced American who is nice and polite and angry. And then she thinks she finds a dead body and she suspects her romantic interest of the crime. This book was a lot of fun. Hale is an adequate writer and she has an eye for the details of family life and a sense of humor. Midnight in Austenland plays with both Northanger Abbey and Mansfield Park, which are two of my favorite Austens.
I spent a few months slowly reading my way through The Stories of John Cheever and am disappointed to be finished with it. After all, you can only read a story for the first time once. Not all of the stories resonated with me, some have suffered from age, but enough of them said something true. Cheever writes with humor, sometimes with sarcasm, but always with honesty, in ways that sometimes broke my heart.
I've been trying to write a review of some form or another for a while, but given that the stories encompass all of John Cheever's substantial career and given the range of the stories, I'll just say that Cheever's short stories are fantastic and well worth reading. I did read the stories in random order, and over a long stretch of time and I think this enhanced the experience.
I am very slowly working my way through The Stories of John Cheever and second your sentiments, particularly about his honesty.
I then read Neighborhood Watch by Cammie McGovern, which was the kind of book that certainly held my interest, what with all the mental instability, a wrongly imprisoned woman, tawdry love affairs, a brutal murder and a librarian. The narrator was also satisfyingly unreliable. I suspect that it won't stick in my mind for long (I can't remember the protagonist's name anymore), but it was fun.
This is the real way it happens, Isn't it? I mean in the real world there is no one moment when a relationship changes, no clear cause and effect.
Or the effect might be clear, the cause is harder to trace.
The effect walks up, many years later, when you are out to dinner with your new partner and she says, "My goodness. Would you look who it is."
Anne Enright's new novel, The Forgotten Waltz, tells the story of Gina's affair with Sean, a relationship that destroyed their marriages. It's less tawdry than it might have been and it's also far from an idealized portrait of love. Enright writes beautifully, and with enormous skill. I think I'd be happy reading a technical manual, if she wrote it.
I had a hard time picking up Hans Fallada's novel of quiet resistance in Berlin during the Second World War, Every Man Dies Alone. I've read several reviews that had me eager to read it, but it's not the most cheerful of topics, so I put off reading it. But I'm trying to tackle those kinds of books this year, the long, the challenging and the important. So I gathered my resolve and began. And discovered a gripping book, full of the variety of human experience.
Every Man Dies Alone tells the story of Otto and Anna Quangel, a factory foreman and his wife, who decide that they have to resist the Nazi regime somehow. Spurred by the death of their only child, they come up with the idea of writing postcards denouncing the Reich and dropping them in busy places all over Berlin. They envision hundreds of people heartened and inspired to resist, but the reality is a bit different. Where they do not err, however, is in their expectation of eventually being caught.
The book also features a petty malingerer and gambler whose attempts to get by doing very little go badly for him, his long suffering wife, who decides to renounce her membership in the Party (necessary for most jobs) and to move to the countryside. They, in turn, come into contact with other ordinary Berliners, some willing to collude with the state and others keeping their heads down.
She drops her voice further: "But the main thing is that we remain different from them, that we never allow ourselves to be made into them, or start thinking as they do. Even if they conquer the whole world, we must refuse to become Nazis."
"And what will that accomplish, Trudel?" asks Otto Quangel softly. "I don't see the point."
The novel is filled with an overwhelming atmosphere of fear and suspicion. Otto reacts to this by cutting ties to everyone but his wife, which does not help his relatives in the slightest. Holding onto one's dignity becomes an enormous challenge. Despite the grim subject matter, Fallada allows the reader some moments of grace and choses to end his novel with a small moment of triumph.
I'm where you were, I've read the mostly very positive reviews, but I'm hesitant to pick it up. Your review encourages me.
ETA missed words etc. I wonder how you understood my post enough to respond...
It was a page-turner, and while there was a sense of menace throughout, there was also a lot of hope and people continuing to dream about the future. Fallada does a great job of creating a cast of many, but not too many.
Great review of Every Man Dies Alone. I've been kind of turning a blind eye, don't know why, but you've got me interested.
After Every Man Dies Alone I picked up The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian. I'd really enjoyed Skeletons at the Feast and I thought I'd go for something less emotionally wrenching than Fallada's book. I got what I wanted. No involvement at all on my part. Bohjalian writes well enough that I kept going to the bitter end, but I did discover that the horror genre is not for me. I got to a certain point and thought, well, that's just silly now and pretty much stayed in that unfortunate mind set until I turned the last page. I have fond memories of lying in bed terrified beyond being able to move after reading The Amityville Horror in ninth grade. I may not be able to recapture that now that I'm all aged and cynical.
I have an eleven year old daughter who is awesome in pretty much every way except for her choice of music (which I am listening to as well due to the whole responsible parent schtick, but I'm finding it one of the least pleasant aspects of same) and reading material. She's a science and math enthusiast, which seems to mean that her favorite reading material concerns warrior cats or friendly dragons. So when she got all excited about The Hunger Games (which I gave her) I thought that I could discharge my parental duty with a minimum of elves or talking mice.
So here it is: The Hunger Games is a really good book. I liked it. If she were to stick to dystopian YA, I could read everything she does. Sadly, she's moved on to High School Bites and I'm going to have to several drinks before venturing into a paranormal romance set in high school.
which seems to mean that her favorite reading material concerns warrior cats or friendly dragons.
My just-turned-twelve-year-old recently read through 18 of the Warrior Cats books. By the last one, she'd had her fill. Her older sister collected the first 18 before she grew out of them (we used to buy them as they were published). It could be worse, but then I didn't have time to read them. I just heard about them.
And by heard about them, does that mean in exhaustive, but not chronological detail? I love that they're telling me about things they like, but I am secretly sometimes a little bored. It did pay off when I took my son to the bit Mummies of the World exhibit and he knew the names of all the various gods and things that go in Egyptian tombs because he loves the Rick Riordan books.
I think with the Warrior Cats, they told me just enough detail for me to get what they're about. If they told me more detail, I blocked it out. I took them to a meet the author event with the main Erin Hunter (the series is actually written by three people). It was a little disappointing--she was definitely in it as a job, and not out of love of cats or writing.
In Gone 'Til November Sara's doing the best she can. Her life isn't the easiest what with being an officer in the boy's club of a small central Florida Sheriff's office and a single mom to a son with leukemia. Things don't improve when she responds to a call one night for a roadside shooting and find her ex-boyfriend is the cop and he's shot a young man. Everything looks by-the-book, but as Sara looks at things, they don't piece together as well as they should.
Meanwhile, in New Jersey, a drug lord worries when a delivery to a new supplier down south goes missing. He asks Morgan, an old school enforcer with issues of his own, to go and find out what happened.
Wallace Stroby is fantastic at creating reprehensible characters who are, if not exactly likeable, then interesting and compelling. Everything's in shades of gray, including the people; what's interesting is how they deal with what they've been dealt. Morgan isn't a good guy, but you can't help but sigh with him over how the business has changed and how his profession doesn't favor the long-lived. Sara's fantastic; tough and committed to doing a good job both as a cop and a mother, but her weakness for the feckless Billy is understandable. He may always make the wrong life choices, but he has a certain charm.
Gone 'Til November is pure modern noir, full of atmosphere, gunshots and run-down bars with gravel lots.
The Gormenghast trilogy is the brilliant invention of Mervyn Peake, who created a unique, imaginative, bizarre and compelling world in the form of an enormous decaying castle called Gormenghast. It's titular head is the Earl of Gormenghast, but the place is really ruled by the arcane and stringent rituals that define and dictate daily life for everyone from the Earl to the lowliest kitchen boy.
The story begins with the birth of Titus Groan, heir to the seventy-sixth Earl of Gormenghast, Lord Sepulchrave. The Earl hides in his massive library, but can't help being drawn to his only son. His wife retreated years ago into her own mind, and into her love of animals, specifically the birds that visit her room through an ivy-covered window and her hoard of white cats. And Fuchsia, the odd and temperamental daughter of the house who finds that she loves Titus, in spite of herself.
As Lord Sepulchrave descends into madness, a lowly kitchen boy seizes his chance to better himself. Steerpike may have come from nothing, but he's more than a match for the moribund members of the royal family.
Peake named two of the books, Titus Groan and Titus Alone, after the seventy-seventh Earl of Gormenghast, but the real linchpin of the story is the castle itself, even as it moulders, decays, burns and floods. It's a strange, almost indescribable place, which Peake somehow manages to make real, writing in an over-blown style that suits the place, characters and events beautifully.
I'm surprised these books aren't better known than they are. Peake's Gormenghast is an imaginative tour de force that puts places like Narnia to shame. And his characters veer wildly toward caricature, but he never loses control of them. The best of the lot are the sullen and impulsive Fuchsia, the affected and silly Doctor Prunesquallor, who is nonetheless the glue holding a fraying family together, Steerpike, the kitchen boy who will do what he has to do to get what he wants and the imposing Muzzlehatch, with his nose like a rudder and his amazing menangerie.
I love Prunesquallor. It's probably not something I should admit, but I had some faint hope he might elope with Fuchsia away from the nut-castle. Yes, I know, the flimsiest of straws!
Flay was a terrific character too--and the collective presence of white cats.
Prunesquallor is the absolute best. And Peake leads us into thinking he's a cartoon figure-of-fun before letting us slowly see the substance beneath the frothy exterior.
Steerpike, despite his quirks, and murderous habits, is my other favorite character, along with Fuchsia, of course.
I love Mervyn Peake and his characters! Even incidental figures, like the teachers, are unique and fleshed out. People who tend to dislike the books are those expecting your average genre fantasy - and Peake isn't average in any way. I think it was Anthony Burgess who said that Peake was an acquired taste, like a rich, mulled wine.
I definitely prefer Peake over Tolkien, not that one can really compare the works of the two (they surely have difference influences).
So I heard Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller was being made into a movie and since I've had the book on hand for quite some time, I thought I'd read it before the film was released.
Blue Like Jazz is about Miller and his spiritual life told in a series of chatty chapters. He keeps things a bit simpler than I'd like, using short sentences and building ideas slowly. I found this a bit annoying, especially since he's dealing with the some charged issues, primarily the difficulty of having lost faith, not in God or Christianity, but in the church. The American Evangelical church does have some serious issues. When the pastor of a megachurch can go on TV and declare that helping the poor is wrong and when a man in a position of leadership of a large group of churches feels comfortable making racist statements about the Trayvon Martin case, there's a problem. And the easiest solution for many is to walk away. It's how to turn around and find a sense of community and not to be angry that's difficult.
Miller managed to do this and I was very interested to find out how. He skirts the issue for much of the book, but he's too honest to avoid it. He's extremely careful with his words and his solution is to forgive, move on and find a church that doesn't look at others (gay people, feminists, liberals, etc...) with fear and loathing. Pretty easy for a guy in Portland, Oregon to say, but he's probably right.
Miller's a likable guy. Any guy who's had a crush on Emily Dickinson and who was able to successfully navigate moving from a hippie camp site to a religious summer camp job has to be. Blue Like Jazz is, despite the subject matter, entertaining and easy to read. Miller's being dumped on a bit for the mild criticisms he's written, and I'm sorry for that.
I lived in Paris for a year and by the second month I knew that I was living at the center of the world. I felt vaguely sorry for people who thought they were living somewhere important, like New York or Tokyo. And if that's how a temporary resident whose roots were all in North America felt, imagine actually being Parisian.
The Discovery of France is Graham Robb's attempt to write about French history, culture and geography without focussing on Paris. This is quite an accomplishment. Consider that it's impossible to travel from one French city to anywhere, including another French city, without having to get off of one train and travel across Paris to another train.
Moving chronologically, Robb takes on various topics, from how Catholicism interacted with the earlier belief systems to the heroic mapping of France and the building of railways and highways. I found this book to be slow going, not because it was boring, but because there was so much to absorb. Robb combines the informational with some truly fantastic anecdotes. News traveling at up to 8 mph in a country without a reliable road system, early cartographers running for their lives from villagers convinced something evil is going on, boys as young as five walking from the Alps to Paris to work as chimney sweeps and the first Tour de France, where locals supporting one racer beat up the other front-runners. Excellent stuff.
Lucky you to live in Paris for a year. I was only there for a few weeks, but it was enough to be imprinted for life. I purchased The Discovery of France last year thinking I was going to dive right into it, but somehow it got shelved without ever reading it. And I forgot to even include it on my Hope To Read list. But you have reminded me . . .
I enjoyed The Discovery of France and you are right there is so much detail in it, but also there is so much that is surprising and interesting.
I think most Parisians thing they live at the centre of the universe and who is to say that they are wrong. I love the city (but not always the Parisians outside Paris) I will be spending a few days in Paris at the end of next month to take in some exhibitions.
edwinbcn, Peake spent his childhood in China and that influence is supposedly seen in The Gormenghast Trilogy. I'd be very interested in what you'd think of it.
Baswood, Paris so totally is the center of the universe. Don't try to pretend otherwise.
Continuing my uncharacteristic journey into Christian theology, I read Love Wins by Rob Bell. This is a hugely controversial book for American Evangelicals, although having read it, I think that most of the controversy was generated by people who had not actually read this very short book. Basically, the author looks at what Jesus has to say about hell and takes the merciful interpretation. It's a you may be surprised at the people you see in heaven emphasis rather than the more usual idea that heaven's inhabitants will consist only of the very few people whose theology exactly agrees with one's own. Bell also separates what's actually in the Bible on the topic from the cultural constructs that form a huge part of the traditional fundamentalist view of heaven and hell. It's very thought provoking, but not really that shocking, unless you're really, really committed to wanting everyone you ever disliked punished for eternity. The sans-serif typeface drove me nuts, but that's nit-picking.
And this year, I've even read a book of poetry. I know! But Billy Collins is approachable and not at all twee, and over on Le Salon they were fond of posting his poems for a while, so when I ran into Horoscopes for the Dead at the book store I picked up a copy and I've been reading a bit now and again.
I know that the reason you placed nine white tulips
in a glass vase with water
here in this room a few days ago
was not to mark the passage of time
as a fish would have if nailed by the tail
to the wall above the bed of a guest.
But early this morning I did notice
their lowered heads
in the gray light,
two of them even touching the glass
table top near the window,
the blossoms falling open
as they lost their grip on themselves,
and my suitcase only half unpacked by the door.
>104 I like Billy Collins, though I haven't kept up with the last few books (though I think we have all but the one you mention). His output has increased prodigiously since he was Poet Laureate.
I like characters who have a gift for making the wrong decision. Whether it's the guy who always picks trouble or the woman who just grabbed an opportunity and is digging in deeper and deeper to make it work, I find it all fascinating. Usually, the person making the wrong life choices is the bad guy, but in Trespasser by Paul Doiron that guy is Mike Bowditch and he's a game warden in Maine, the guy trying to solve the crime and rescue the girl. Bowditch is hard work. He's insensitive and deliberately rude, self-righteous and a terrible boyfriend. He's got a chip on his shoulder that he refuses to deal with and he's prone to tunnel vision. He's dealing with some destructive off-roaders when he's called to haul a dead deer off the highway. When he arrives, the car that hit the animal is there, but both deer and woman are gone. A state trooper shows up and takes charge of the scene, sending Bowditch home. Bowditch leaves, but something about the situation bothers him and he finds himself going back to the scene and trying to find out what happened long after he's been told to leave it to the officers assigned to the case. He's also increasingly bothered by the scofflaw off-roaders and his attempts to deal with them grow more extreme.
Trespasser was a good, quick read where the plot made sense and the author created a vivid setting in coastal Maine during March, the "mud season". Bowditch is a wonderfully conceived character. I'd never want to know him personally, but he's great fun to follow through a book as he alienates everyone around him. I did want to yell at him a few times - self-righteousness is never a good trait and being inside his head could be aggravating. That said, the supporting characters were a bit thin, from his mentor who likes to call him "young feller" to the people Bowditch dealt with as part of his job - the hardscrabble locals were rendered as caricatures in a political ad, there was not much more than an outline to any of them.
The beginning of The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery was a slog. It wasn't bad, but reading it was a chore, rather than a enjoyment. Around the 150th page, however, the book turned a corner and I started to like it. The story concerns two residents of a posh building in Paris; Paloma, a sullen adolescent who views everyone around her with disdain, and Renee, the concierge, a middle-aged woman who feels compelled to hide her real self behind the mask of ignorance, even as she regards those around her as stereotypes. Their narrow viewpoints change when the building gets a new resident.
It's when Ozu arrives that the book opens up and the two characters become interesting and sympathetic. It's hard to cultivate much interest in a self-righteous, judgmental character, especially when they are narrating the story. But with the new arrival, and the way he refuses to allow them to retreat, they begin to look at the world around them, and especially the people in it, as individuals.
There are some beautiful moments in this book, ones that needed a long, slow march to reach. The ending was tacked on, as though the author just wanted to be done with the book, but I'm willing to ignore the last chapters entirely and pretend they never happened.
>107: Sounds like your experience with The Elegance of the Hedgehog was very similar to mine, except that I find I can't ignore the ending, which left a sour taste in my mouth.
I agree with bragan. I think the ending was a cowardly way out.
Good review of the book.
*maybe spoilerish about Hedgehog* I haven't read Anna Karenina but know how it ends; I wonder if readers who've read both are more represented in the 5-star ratings? I actually hold a half-formed spiritual belief (more about that when I get to my review) that fits with Hedgehog's ending, but I didn't think Barbery earned her use of it.
eta: spoiler notice
You know what my big problem with the ending of Hedgehog is?
Big Spoilers for The Elegance of the Hedgehog!
It's not that it's cheap, or that it feels artificial and tacked-on, or that it's ridiculously cliche, although I think all of those things are true. it's something even bigger than that. Throughout the whole book, Renee clearly feels that having ideas above her social station -- in the most literal sense! -- is something that the world will punish her for if she ever stops hiding it and allows herself to be who she is. And guess what? She's absolutely right! The minute she starts getting uppity and putting her own happiness above the stereotypes society tells her to conform to, Fate, in the form of the author, punishes her for it, fatally and decisively. Worse than that, it turns out that her only role in life is to be sacrificed for the sake of the rich girl. So she was right about that, too. As a member of the lower class, she really is only there to be of use to her betters. Yes, she's dead, but in dying she gave the privileged brat an epiphany, and, after all, that's the important thing, right?
I really, really hope that's not the message the author is actually trying to send, but that's sure the one I'm seeing, and it makes me grind my teeth together just thinking about it.
Akashic Books publishes a series of anthologies of noir-style short stories, each set in a different locale. I've just read Mumbai Noir, edited by Altaf Tyrewala, and what an excellent, atmospheric collection it was. Ranging from a classic hardboiled tale of a fast talking PI to a gently almost-hopeful story about the family of a convicted bomber, there was a enormous range of styles and subjects for a modestly sized book. Akashic includes a helpful map of where each of the stories take place within Mumbai. This was a good introduction to Indian authors and I've made note of several from whom I'd like to read more.
I have a few of the other locations, including Long Island Noir, which arrived courtesy of the Early Reviewers program and I'm looking forward to visiting more places.
Life has been busy, but should slow down soon. I'm going to read crime novels and other escapist fare until it does. I did just finish Columbine by Dave Cullen, but will have to give it some thought before saying anything about it.
I thought Columbine was an impressive feat of journalism! (But it did get a little gorey at the end there, didn't it?)
#114 - I've been thinking about buying the Kindle version of Columbine, but keep finding a reason not to buy it just at then.
>114 I've taken notice of that series for some time now. I think even JCO edited one (NJ noir?). There are still new ones coming out!
The protagonist of Very Bad Men, the second book in Harry Dolan's excellent series, is the editor of a mystery magazine and so his narration is full of asides about publishing:
I have a theory about editing. You can do anything you want with a manuscript, you can rewrite it line by line, as long as your handwriting is very small and very neat. If the pages look tidy, the author'll go along.
and the sort of information one picks up by reading a lot of mysteries:
I read somewhere once that the impact of a bullet is usually not enough to knock you down. If it doesn't stop your heart or blow out your knee, or something along those lines, there's no reason for you to fall. But people do anyway, because they think they're supposed to. They've seen too many westerns and cop shows. When the guy in the cowboy hat or the fedora gets shot, he falls over.
So over they go.
I fell...In my defense, he pushed me.
In Very Bad Men, Loogan receives a manuscript telling him a story of a series of murders. But this time it isn't fiction; two of the men in the story have already been killed. Loogan sets out to make sure that the third murder doesn't happen. The plot twists and turns and grows more complicated by the chapter but, while complex, it never runs out of control. And Loogan himself is my favorite kind of hero; kind and ordinary and occasionally misled.
My primary take-away from My Booky Wook is to never invite Russell Brand to any party I'm throwing. All that other stuff about how heroin is a bad idea, as well as cocaine and indiscriminate sex, I'd pretty much already figured out.
Still, if not instructional (not many people are in danger of wanting to do the things Brand gets up to on an ordinary afternoon), it is entertaining. Brand has a charming, self-effacing wit that extracts sympathy through some very extreme examples of poor impulse control. He knows he's being an enormous jerk, but still, it's all a bit funny, isn't it? And it generally is, not as it actually happened (I suspect), but in how Brand tells the story afterward. The result is a sort of odd mix of Sid Vicious and Michael Palin; debauchery written about by a guy who really loves his Mom and his cat.
"debauchery written about by a guy who really loves his Mom and his cat." - great line.
Scandinavian crime novels have a certain feel to them when read translated into English. A Paragon of Virtue by Christian von Ditfurth was translated from the German, but it has that same linguistic feeling. In it, Josef Stachelmann, a non-tenured history professor, is not doing so well. His doctoral dissertation excited many and led to his teaching position at the university in Hamburg, but he's been unable to write anything further, instead spending his time doing more and more research, until the books and photocopies form what he calls his "mountain of shame". He's contacted by an old friend, a detective working a particularly difficult case; over a long period, the wife and two children of a wealthy businessman have been murdered. The police are examining the past of this philanthropic businessman, trying to find someone who might want him to suffer.
The plot is well-crafted, with roots in Germany's uncomfortable past. Stachelmann, and his old friend Ossi, are well rounded and interesting characters, even if they aren't very cheerful. This is the first of a series of crime novels featuring the history professor and I'm unhappy to report that only this first book is available in an English translation.
My kids still like to be read to. If they remain amenable, I'll be reading to them at night until they leave home. The latest book was by Jo Nesbo, a Norwegian writer with a grim crime series about an alcoholic cop with poor interpersonal skills. We read from his other series; Doctor Proctor's Fart Powder. Who Cut the Cheese? was a funny, suspense filled adventure story featuring an ordinary girl and her odd friends, a failed inventor and a short, red-haired boy with a horrible family and an irrepressible spirit. Lisa's the clever one. In this episode, Norway is taken over by a Swedish despot, everyone's been hypnotized, a singing competition rules the airwaves and there is evidence that deadly moon chameleons are in Oslo.
We decided to immediately download The Bubble in the Bathtub for tonight's reading.
>119 I love Russell Brand, at least from the distance afforded by TV. I abandoned a dvd of his comedy act and so have been hesitant to read his book. But he's fabulous in interviews -- lightning-quick wit and tender heart.
How wonderful that your kids still like being read to. Although I am sure you had everything to do with that. A love of literature is certainly something parents and kids can share forever.
detailmuse, I'll have to watch an interview. I'd only known him by reputation -- the "Sachsgate" scandal, in which he called an elderly actor (Manuel in Fawlty Towers) and left messages about what a slag his granddaughter was -- but the book certainly made me think more kindly of him.
Linda92007, I'm not sure that even by the most generous of definitions, that Doctor Proctor's Fart Powder can be considered literature.
I've read (in different places (I work for a childhood literacy non-profit)) that the greatest impact on whether a child becomes a reader, is whether they see their parents reading for pleasure. And the presence of books in the home is another decisive factor. In my experience, it's getting the child that first book that they truly enjoy and get lost in. After that, they know the possibility exists and will continue to read. Which is why I have changed my attitude toward those authors who write dreadful and dreadfully popular books, like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Captain Underpants and even Twilight. They are gateway books.
Long Island Noir fully fills only the first half of its title; while all of the stories are set on Long Island, quite a few are not noir. Noir is a sort of off-shoot of those pulp fiction hardboiled tales featuring disgraced private eyes encountering the seamy side of life. It focuses on the dark underbelly, and while the characters often inhabit a hard-scrabble world, noir exists equally well in the corrupt actions and pastimes of the wealthy. Long Island Noir often failed in this, with both traditional mystery stories and one that featured neither crime nor struggle. A few needed a little more time, with the slap-dash feeling of an early draft. Still, I found a few of the stories leading me to want to read more by their authors, always a good outcome. Other stories delivered in spades, telling of plans gone awry and lives squandered.
Among the stand-out stories was Anjali's America, in which a young Pakistani doctor encounters a woman whose fate she could have shared, had she not rejected an arranged marriage and completed her education, Gateway to the Stars, where a young man is prevented from finding his younger, drug-addicted brother by an unpleasant cop, and Blood Drive, in which a recently laid-off construction worker finds a new career that is both illegal and morally defensible. The protagonist of this story delivers a monolog that reminded me that appearances can be deceiving.
The disappointments were not terrible, but they didn't deliver. In Terror nothing bad happened. Instead, tragedy visited a browner-skinned, poorer acquaintance of the highly educated, white woman who could afford a summer house in the Hamptons. I found this story both offensive and well written. Past President was a traditional mystery story that could have featured Kinsey Millhone or Rina Lazarus. It was enjoyable and well-crafted, but absolutely not noir. And Semiconscious was certainly dark enough, but it was too angry to be well-written. I was reminded of John Steinbeck throwing away a rough draft and then writing The Grapes of Wrath. This was an early draft of what could eventually become something good.
I really like Malcolm Fox, the protagonist of Ian Rankin's new detective series. In the second book, The Impossible Dead, Fox and his partners have been sent to Fife, where a police officer's misconduct has led to an investigation as to whether his fellow officers covered for him. They're not greeted warmly; not only are they "the Complaints", who investigate allegations against the police, but they're from out of town as well.
Their investigation begins to spread out, as they look back at the actions of the convicted officer and then Fox is drawn farther back in time, to the 1980's, when Scottish nationalism took a violent and anarchic turn and a nationalist is found dead.
Fox is a fantastic character and if I weren't worried about possibility of an outcry, I might even say that I'm beginning to like him more than Rebus, at least the later, angrier Rebus. He doesn't have Rebus's style, connections or in-your-face working methods, but he does have a problematic family; a father whose health is declining and a difficult and prickly sister. He's fought his own demons and does what he can to keep the peace. The rest of his small team are also interesting. Tony Kaye is burly and prone to belligerence, but deeply loyal to and concerned about Fox's well-being. Joe Naysmith is the new guy, the tech guy, fielding Kaye's constant needling and eager to learn. I'm eagerly waiting to find out what they'll be up to next.
And thus the width of a motorway is shown to scale, a large city in Germany is depicted with the same square symbol used for one in China, and a bay in the Arctic Ocean shines in the same blue as one in the Pacific because they share the same depth. But the icebergs towering in the Arctic Ocean are ignored.
Geographical maps are abstract and concrete at the same time; for all the objectivity of their measurements, they cannot represent reality, merely one interpretation of it.
Atlas of Remote Islands by Judith Schalansky is the ultimate appetizer for map heads and globe spinners. A random collection subtitled Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot On and Never Will, it delivers exactly that; a series of two-page spreads with a map on the right hand page and a story about the island on the other side, along with the distances to the nearest landmasses and a timeline of the island's history. Each island is drawn to the same scale, so some islands are thumb-sized, sitting in the middle of the blue sea, and others fill much of the page. Schalansky has published previous works about typography and graphic design and that shows in the simply beauty of this book. There is not a single discordant note, unless it is that there are only fifty islands represented. I could have spent many more happy evenings with this book, if only there were more islands.
Thanks! You just found me part of my husband's Father's Day present. He loves maps and geography trivia and I know he'll love this book!
Atlas of Remote Islands by Judith Schalansky is the ultimate appetizer for map heads and globe spinners
This is going straight to my wish list! Did you know there is a book, possibly in a similar vein, entitled Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks by Ken Jennings of Jeopardy fame?
Oxford Messed Up by Andrea Kayne Kaufman is a deeply flawed and oddly charming book. It's a book with an agenda; seeking to humanize and maybe even romanticize obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). It's a book in desperate need of an active editor and several re-writes, but the writing improves through the book so that the first chapters are terrible and much of the final third of the book is highly readable. It's a fun chick-lit romance novel and brochure about mental illness in one package.
Gloria has a constant companion, a voice that reminds her to work, work, work and to clean, clean, clean, to the point where friendships or even familial relationships are impossible to maintain. Caused by her horrible parents, who want her to both excel and be normal, she is unable to function without her cleaning rituals. She goes off to Oxford University on a Rhodes scholarship. There she meets Henry, who has a horrible father, a past as a drug addict and a calmly supportive sister. They share a bathroom, which is a challenge for Gloria, and a love for Van Morrison's music, which allows them to connect and helps Henry to guide Gloria through Cognitive Behavior Therapy.
I had a hard time with this book. I have a tremendous aversion for sermons-as-novels and this one was so obvious. It's got a lot of clunky dialog and paper-thin characters. The two main characters are both very wealthy, beautiful, intelligent and surrounded by people who exist only to adore or help them. It doesn't make them unlikeable, but it does mean that it takes quite a bit of effort to be sympathetic. Also, the parents in this book are terrible and led me to believe that OCD and drug addiction are entirely the result of bad parenting. But the writing improved as the book went on, leading me to believe that there wasn't much in the way of re-writing or editing involved. The publisher seems to have only published this one book. I think I'll have to make sure to only request Early Reviewer books from more established publishers.
WARNING: there is a swear word in the foliowing review.
The Psychopath Test is just a huge amount of fun. It's not just a book about Hare's famous checklist; it's also a book about Jon Ronson's reactions to the people and entities he encounters while learning about the checklist and his reactions to assorted other people and entities having to do with the mental illness industry. That's not to say I didn't learn quite a bit. I did. Just that this is not a finely focused study or anything like that. In The Psychopath Test, Ronson takes a look at psychopathy in a roundabout way, beginning with these thoughts about the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders):
"I could really be onto something," I thought. "It really could be that many of our political and business leaders suffer from Antisocial or Narcissistic Personality Disorder and they do the harmful, exploitative things they do because of some mad striving for unlimited success and excessive admiration. Their mental disorders might be what rule our lives. This could be a really big story for me if I can think of a way to somehow prove it."
I closed the manual.
"I wonder if I've got any of the 374 mental disorders," I thought.
I opened the manual again.
And I instantly diagnosed myself with twelve different ones.
The Psychopath Test is a stroll through the horrific with a Bertie Wooster-type narrator. He distracts and veers off in odd directions while managing to ask difficult questions in very non-threatening ways. From Scientologists to a captain of industry who enjoyed laying people off to a death-squad leader in prison for mortgage fraud, Ronson gets some very interesting people to speak with him. The most frightening people to me were not the psychopaths, but the conspiracy theorists. Take this encounter where a conspiracy theorist talks about a woman injured in a terrorist bombing that he insists was all a hoax:
"I am also very suspicious of the fact that she refuses to sit down and have a dispassionate briefing about 7/7," David said. "Why won't she allow somebody to patiently talk her through the evidence?"
"She was in the carriage!" I said. "She was in the CARRIAGE. You really want her to sit down with someone who was on the internet while she was in the carriage and have them explain to her that there was no bomb?"
I guess it should be comforting to think that people who deny all actual evidence and cling angrily to some nonsensical idea are actually mentally ill, but it still makes me very, very tired. Having Ronson bug out his own eyes in disbelief now and again made the journey not only bearable but entertaining. In the above encounter, Ronson eventually ends the interview with a very professional "Oh, fuck off."
I guess it should be comforting to think that people who deny all actual evidence and cling angrily to some nonsensical idea are actually mentally ill,
From what I've read about DSM-IV and mental illness diagnostics in general, I think it's only safe to say that these people have been categorised as being mentally ill. Seems to me that in many cases it's a question of convention, some essentially arbitrary choice. Years ago, Harper's magazine ran an especially scathing article about the money-making categories they've added to it, such as caffeine-addiction--increase in lunatics and medical bills in one. Geez, 374 different ways of going mad, and being charged for it.
I wouldn't dream of diminishing the seriousness of mental illness, but I'm afraid DSM-IV does that, AND manages to impoverish and strait-jacket (ha!) the repertoire of ordinary human behaviour. Which is not always or largely pretty! Can't people be nasty or have a mean streak without being out-and-out psychopaths?
And, sure, some conspiracy theorists are probably insane, but all of them? If a firm conviction in something unprovable or blatantly untrue is the basis of the diagnosis, where does that leave all the other firm believers in the unprovable or blatantly untrue?
I'm afraid there's a lot of faddishness in popular science and medicine, especially evident in North America, with its medicated, overdiagnosed and yet, ironically, undertreated population, because "prevention" is, apparently, an unknown concept. There was a wave of ADD, a wave of autism, now it seems it's the psychopath's turn.
Labeling someone as a psychopath does effectively dehumanize them. I find that worrying.
Ronson does touch on the ways the DSM has made mental illness into a big, money-making business as well as how we are diagnosing people as mentally ill who are closer and closer to normal.
It's alarming. For one thing, many non-destructive, generally functioning people who don't conform to social norms are already penalised, passively and actively, be it by avoidance, derision, discrimination etc. Why burden them with making them officially pathological as well?
So much lip service is paid to the "originality" and "uniqueness" of the individual, and so little regard given for the actual complexity of human behaviour and personality. I realise I'm getting close to the conspiracy theorist territory, but I can't help noting that enforcing blandness, some uniform "normalcy", is the best thing ever to happen to business. Advertising already does this, making sure that the greatest number of people buys the same product. More, that we NEED the same product. We are already mostly so many monkeys, doing monkey work for our global circus masters, buying monkey toys we're told we can't live without. What would the other monkeys think! But, oops, this little monkey is mad for coffee! Oops, this little monkey is mad for sex! Bad little monkeys. Such rebels. Confess, medicate (This Drug Will Change Your Life), and sin no more.
Now imagine if in addition those secular saints and gold-plated idols, the medics, got to pronounce the bothersome purple cows and polka-dot cats unfit for society unless/until re-normalised. Who doesn't harbour a purple cow gene somewhere? Who isn't eccentric, crazy or even mad in some way? We live in the world where three month old babies can get raped and millions of people burned or blasted like so much trash. Aren't we mad to live here? Could we live here if we didn't accept the utterly horrible madness of the world? But, hey, the dude in the next cubicle who collects his fingernail parings since he was twelve, he's the one with the BIG problem!
Hmm... is that Brazil I hear? :)
I'm on the fence with labels. Dealing with a label on my 5-yr-old son, and trying to figure out what it implies or doesn't. So far it's been helpful because I have a known problem to work with.
I've always assumed that normality is a fiction, a successful appearance. Anyone unhappy with how they are is going to want to change something. How nice to get a label, establish your problem, and have a ready, medically-sanctified solution (as long as you can keep that label private). I think these diagnoses are real, but many of them are simply variations from normal that go to one or another extreme. I think the push for the diagnosis comes from the consumer who wants a diagnosis and solution to all their problems, then psychiatry just follows along.
I also think psychiatric therapy as industry in the US is seriously ill. Psychiatrists only do medicine, and not therapy, psychologists only do therapy...what the hell? How are these not one thing?
(I have dealt with both - the psychiatrist who pushed medicine on my son based on a 5-minute diagnosis, and told us behavioral therapy won't help any - he was fired; and the psychologist who didn't bother to diagnose my son at all. She went straight to (effective) parenting techniques. (she wasn't fired, instead she got a new job and is quitting her practice...so we are working on option 3, another psychologist))
apologies for the long post.
Alison, I enjoyed your review, and the tension, all the way to the end, of looking for that one swear word.
Embarrassed to say this is the first time I have stopped by. I really liked your review of February, which I thought captured the tragedy beautifully.
There is an old movie of The Swimmer with Burt Lancaster.
Your review of The Psychopath Test, added to those of other LT people, makes me think this might be a good summer read, in the best sense.
Last year, I read Alone in the Classroom and fell in love with Elizabeth Hay's writing. The book itself wasn't great; forward momentum just disappeared in the second half, but the writing was lovely; clear and precise, with ordinary turns of speech mixed with astonishing metaphors. So I was all set for an enjoyable few evenings with her Giller Prize winner, Late Nights on Air.
"I heard Abe Lamont talking about how to shape an interview and write for radio. It's not so different, is it? One thought in each sentence. Not too many adjectives. Simplicity. Intimacy. Directness. That's what I'm after, too."
Late Nights on Air is written in that same clear style, which here reflects the setting of the book; the clear, thin northern air, without unnecessary decoration, but full of the magnificence of the breadth of the country. It concerns a group of co-workers, almost all recent transplants, at a radio station in Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories in the mid-1970s. Beginning when Dido Paris is hired by the station, the story follows the various broadcasters as they adjust to life in the north and as a judge conducts hearings on whether or not an gas pipeline should be built. Inspired by a radio play dramatizing the fate of John Hornby's final expedition to the Barrens, four of them set off on a canoe trip across the tundra. The story is intensely character driven, from Gwen, the uncertain neophyte, to Dido, the charismatic and volatile focus of many, to Harry, the jaded, but wise station manager, Late Nights on Air is all about how living north of the 60th parallel changes them and how their relationships changed or didn't change over time.
I inhabited this book while I read it. I have a fascination for the northern wilderness and the canoe trip that forms the backbone of the book was beautifully described. Yellowknife was almost a character in the book, with so much based on the unique culture of the Canadian north.
I don't really read graphic novels. I mean, of course I've read books like Maus and Persepolis, and I read Shannon Hale's Rapunzel's Revenge series with my kids, but that's pretty much it. I just like words. But Denise Mina has written a few of them and she's one of my favorite authors.
A Sickness in the Family by Denise Mina is dark, with more of a horror vibe than a mystery. A family who buys the flat underneath theirs when the couple who owned it kill each other, knocking a great hole in the floor to add a staircase, soon finds anger and violence spiraling out of control. The youngest son, who is adopted, thinks that what's happening has something to do with a witch, who was burned at the stake in the area.
There's no breathing room in this novel. It's a half hour of relentless foreboding and horror and then it was over. Mina's never been an author to pull her punches, but in the traditional book format, there are spaces and pauses and periods of relative calm. In the concentrated form of the graphic novel, everything is amplified.
I like Mindy Kaling and think she's funny, so I was happy to read her book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns). It was a fun, light book from someone's who is funny and honest and willing to talk about just about anything. The most interesting chapter concerned what happens when she's dressed by stylists, where they just can't figure out how to dress someone who is a size eight.
how to dress someone who is a size eight
A parachute, stage curtain or a yacht tarpaulin first come to mind. But really, the poor woman should DIET.
Interesting sounding comic above. I read yesterday American Born Chinese, pretty good. Recommended for kids especially (with its "free to be me" or "how to be me" theme).
Oh, it's ridiculous. At one point, Kaling was to be photographed for a magazine. They knew she'd be there and still the wardrobe guy had brought nothing larger than a size four. Her reaction was fantastic though. And she ended up with a great picture, too:
Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder begins when Lawrence Weschler wanders into the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City, California, where he encounters an oddly fascinating collection of exhibits. Beginning with the Cameroonian stink ant and the spores of a fungus, which when inhaled, cause the ant to climb upward, eventually grabbing onto the vine or trunk with his mandible, where he dies. The fungus then sprouts from the ant's forehead, raining spores down on the unsuspecting ants below. Other exhibits include a theory of memory, a very small bat and a collection of antlers, which includes the horn of Mary Davis of Saughall.
Weschler is understandably intrigued, and speaking with David Wilson, the museum's owner and curator, adds to his curiosity. Professionally presented, the museum nonetheless awakens seeds of doubt in his mind, which sprout when he researches the exhibits. Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder looks at our ideas about museums and looks at how museums came to be; originating from the wunderkammern of the early enlightenment, where wealthy men collected interesting items and grouped them together in a room or cabinet for the wonderment of his guests. Classification was optional and certainly different, with one collection including
two huge ribs from a whale (out in the courtyard); "a goose which has grown in Scotland in a tree"; "a number of things changed into stone" (in other words, fossils); the hand of a mermaid; the hand of a mummy; a small piece of wood from the cross of Christ"; "pictures from the church of S. Sofia in Constantinople copies by a Jew into a book"; "a bat as large as a pigeon"...
There is a lot packed into this slender book, from the nature of wonder itself to the history of those fascinating and eclectic cabinets of curiosity, which sprang up when explorers to the far east and the Americas began returning with things never before seen and as superstition gave way to reason.
What an interesting book, Alison, I love museums, but have never experienced anything like what Weschler describes!
I've had Weschler on a TBR list for a long time, haven't gotten their yet. Glad to have read your review.
I just came across this book at one of my favorite pencil blogs. It's nice to see an nice coincidental review here.
I arrived at the decision
that I would never make another decision.
Instead of darting this way and that,
I would stand at a crossroads until my watch
ran down and the clothes fell off me
and were carried by a heavy rain out to sea.
There's something about Billy Collins's poetry that appeals to me, non-poetry-reading person that I am. His poems manage to skirt both sentimentality and pretentiousness.
What I forgot to tell you in that last poem
if you were paying attention at all
was that I really did love her at the time.
I mark up the books I read with those tiny post-it notes that you use to indicate where to sign. Some books escape post-it free, library books get theirs removed and my favorite books go back on the shelf colorfully decorated. Ballistics will require some effort to remove all the markers, indicating lines, stanzas and entire poems.
I'm trying to read a bit of what my kids read, so I read Cinder by Marissa Meyer, a dystopian take on the fairy tale with Cinderella a cyborg who repairs robots who is sold for medical experimentation by her stepmother. Also, there's a deadly virus killing people and the earth is being menaced by the genetically altered people living on the moon. I enjoyed this book much more than I'd thought I would and I'll be sure to pick up the next installments in this series -- for my daughter, of course.
Oregon Hill by Howard Owen is pure classic noir in the best possible way. Willie Black is a journalist working for a dying newspaper in Richmond, VA. He was recently demoted to cover the night crime beat and he's got three ex-wives and a daughter who will occasionally return his calls. Black covers the murder of a college student and while the cop in charge is quick to get a confession from her boyfriend, Black begins to find enough to make him question the man's guilt. Of course, digging into an already solved case endears him to no one, from his bosses at the newspaper who are always looking to trim costs, to the cop who solved the case, who knows Black from when they grew up together in the rough and tumble neighborhood of Oregon Hill.
Black is my favorite kind of protagonist. He's messed up his life in many ways and has had plenty of time to thing things over. He's as aware of his own shortcomings as he is willing to understand the shortcomings of those people he has chosen to have in his life and to maybe even find some compassion for the down and outers he's come to know. He's too fond of keeping secrets to be reliable, but he's someone you'd want on your side, even if he might show up late and smelling of beer. The plot moves along quickly, with some interesting twists and the writing is workmanlike, but adept enough to make every character three dimensional and to create a feel for the streets of Richmond.
I felt as if I were groping through brambles in a night so dark I couldn't see my own hands. At my wit's end had been, before this, merely an expression, but now it described a concrete reality: I could see my wits unrolling, like a ball of string, length after length of wits being played out, each length failing to hold fast, breaking off as if rotten, until finally the end of the string would be reached, and what then? How many days were left for me to fill -- for me to fill responsibly -- before the real parents would come back and take over, and I could escape to my life?
Margaret Atwood's Moral Disorder and Other Stories is the story of a woman's life told in short story form. While the stories can stand alone, they work beautifully together to create a portrait of a life. Nell comes of age just before the sixties and seventies upended the social order, turning her from an independent spirit into someone just not adventurous enough. Her life is an ordinary one, but beautifully told. My favorite story is His Last Duchess, in which Nell thinks about the women she reads about in her literature class. While I love Atwood's more adventurous novels, like Oryx and Crake and The Blind Assassin, I think this quieter story allows her writing and nuanced characterizations to really shine.
Moral Disorder and Other Stories sounds fantastic. I don't always like short stories, but I think this sounds great. I've only discovered Atwood since I joined LT in 2008 and I've liked everything I've read so far.
Nice review of Moral Disorder and Other Stories, Alison. I like the idea that the stories can both stand alone or be read together as a portrait of a life. Knowing this makes me more interested in this collection.
She thought of how many times guests would have to drink to Baby's birthday before she went crazy with boredom, and she thought this is the good-wife feeling, this teeth clenched, controlled screaming-boredom feeling. The guilty-wife feeling is better for the whole family, she reflected, that remorseful tender understanding, the seeing all his good traits because your badness has canceled his bad ones. The bad wife was far pleasanter around the home, she could stand a lot from a husband because it eased her conscience.
Dawn Powell has been a revelation to me. I hadn't heard of her at all before Turn, Magic Wheel was mentioned somewhere as a clever novel about the New York publishing industry. Powell was a contemporary with the Algonquin Round Table writers, and her writing has a quick, biting wit that Dorothy Parker would recognize, although Powell tempers it with a broad compassion for all her characters. Powell was little known during her career, and she was never able to make a living from her writing. She was quickly forgotten, but has been enthusiastically rediscovered by a few people, enough to have her novels and memoirs reissued.
Turn, Magic Wheel tells the story of a young author whose novel is just being published. He's written a book about a woman whose famous husband left her long ago, but who lives on as if they are simply briefly apart, basking in his reputation. It's about his good friend, who is understandably crushed by his portrayal of her. Meanwhile, the author juggles his experiences with his publisher, his mistress and his complex feelings for the friend he hurt so badly.
Powell is a master of description, creating vivid characters who she describes without pity, but somehow also with a deep understanding. Turn, Magic Wheel was a delight to read and I'll be hunting down her other novels.
Rosamund Lupton's debut novel, Sister, is a crime novel in the style of Minette Walters. Beatrice's sister has gone missing and so Beatrice returns to England to find her. Living in her sister Tess's tiny and cold basement flat, Beatrice begins to lose hold of her secure American life. She's sure she's on the trail of what happened to her sister, even if the police are openly skeptical and her mother and fiancé think she's losing her grip on reality.
Sister is told in the form of an interview she is doing with a lawyer in preparation for an upcoming trial. As she wades through her recent experiences, she reveals the facts to her interviewer, amplifying the story for the reader with her motivations and thoughts at the time. Beatrice does indeed succeed in finding out what really happened, but she does so in a scattershot way, following every clue or idea as far as she can, occasioning more than one complaint about her behavior. The police start out sympathetic, but quickly grow tired of her relentless pushing.
This is an above average crime novel. I'm happy that there are several British writers willing to pick up where Ruth Rendell and PD James have left off. Sister was satisfyingly plotted and well-written, with a believable twist at the end that fit well with the story as a whole.
I agree that Dawn Powell is not well-known enough, especially in the UK. I read her because a good friend, with excellent taste in books, had several Dawn Powells on her shelves, and I was intrigued because I had never heard of her.
Rosamund Lupton also sounds interesting. I used to love Minette Walters but gave up reading her books because they started to get much too gruesome for me.
I've been eager to read this Talking About Detective Fiction by P.D. James, but I found it to be quite a bit slighter than I had anticipated. James talks a bit about her own writing, but primarily this is a shallow overview of the detective novel, with all emphasis put on the "golden age" of British mystery novels; from the end of WWI to the mid sixties. She does make the interesting observation that while mystery novels published in Britain during that time are best describes as "cozies", and featured gentle English village life, undisturbed by the homicide, which provides an interesting puzzle for the sleuth to unravel, American detective novels were going all hard-boiled.
I'm behind on my reviews and will catch up when I get a chance.
wandering_star, Lupton fits very nicely into that well-crafted crime novelist niche. She is similar to Walters and Barbara Vine.
And I've found a second novel by Dawn Powell to read when I'm dreaming of the Algonquin Round Table.
How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts? And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around to challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but--mainly--to ourselves.
The Sense of an Ending is a brilliant, very short novel by Julian Barnes about the ordinary life of Tony Webster. He's older now, looking back to a friendship formed in school and a college relationship that ended badly. Thoughts and actions matter, but what we remember is often at odds with how others remember those same events.
Again, I must stress that this is my reading now of what happened then. Or rather, my memory now of my reading then of what was happening at the time.
The writing here is clear and beautiful and true, in a way that would have made me happy to have read several hundred more pages, even as the story has been pared down to its essential parts, with no wasted chapters, paragraphs or even sentences. Barnes has often written longer books (Arthur and George is a wonderful book, also about relationships), but here he doesn't need to.
>164 Barnes was on my radar but you slam-dunked this onto my wishlist and I thank you!
I also really enjoyed the Sense of an Ending though I know a lot of people thought it wasn't deserving of the Booker Prize. I didn't read it with any expectations stemming from the award and I think I liked it more that way. I found the look at how accurate our own memories are to be very thought provoking. Enjoyed your review!
When The Sense of an Ending came out many people said they did not like it, and I made a resolution not to buy it. Then, in June I bought it in an impulse. Now, I am glad more and more people write about it positively.
I'm glad that you also enjoyed The Sense of an Ending. I'll probably re-read it this fall, and review it then.
I've grown to depend on Benjamin Black to give me the kind of well-written and dark crime novel that I love best. Happily, with Vengeance, he not only delivers, but exceeds my high expectations. Set in the Ireland of fifty years ago, Vengeance tells the story of two families, unhappily bound together in a successful business. The Delahayes are Anglo-Irish and posher than the Clancys, so while they hold equal shares in the business, there's a social inequality, with resentment on both sides. Then Victor Delahaye takes Jack Clancy's son out sailing and then shoots himself, blowing open all the hidden animosities and closed doors. Quirke, a pathologist, becomes involved through his informal partner, Inspector Hackett, who feels uncomfortable among the gentry. Here, Hackett is more fully fleshed out than he's been in earlier books and the friendship between the two men stronger. As for Quirke, well, he's drinking, but aiming for moderation.
Black revels in showing us the Irish provincialism of the near past, describing it with an unsentimental clarity. He also delves into relationships in all their dysfunctional forms and Vengeance gives him a wide variety to slice open and expose to our view.
Would Norris understand if he spelled it out? He needs guilty men. So he has found men who are guilty. Though perhaps not guilty as charged.
Henry is tired of the queen he fought so hard to be allowed to marry and has cast his eye elsewhere. Who better to get him out of one marriage and into another but his trusted secretary, Thomas Cromwell?
Here's what Hilary Mantel has done. In Bring Up the Bodies, she's continued the fascinating story of Henry VIII's monarchy from Thomas Cromwell's viewpoint, which would be enough for a great book, but she has also shown how Cromwell has changed. Serving a mercurial king and surrounded by enemies, Cromwell has always had to execute an elaborate dance of alliances and arrangements, but when Anne Boleyn falls out of favor with Henry, the members of the court and church as well as foreign powers are all sharpening their knives, looking for the main chance. And many of them would delight in bringing Cromwell down, along with the queen. How he negotiates this morass is an exciting, nail-biter of a read. Mantel is still able to keep Cromwell an immensely compelling and sympathetic character, even as his actions veer into the ruthless.
Thankfully, Mantel plans to continue working her way through the life of Thomas Cromwell.
Those Jack Reacher books are just a lot of fun. They're getting a little thin these days, with any chapter over three pages being a surprise, but you can't beat Lee Child's series for escapist reading. Don't get me started on the movie being made. That Reacher, a bulky, tall and weathered guy who owns only the cheap clothes on his back, an atm card and a toothbrush can be transformed into a blow-dryed and stylishly dressed Tom Cruise in a sportscar (Reacher takes the bus or hitchhikes, dammit!) means that I'll be skipping the movie. So when my brother told that Charlie Hardie reminds him of Reacher, and that he read the first in the trilogy, Fun and Games in one sitting, it was inevitable that I'd be reading it too.
Fun and Games by Duane Swierczynski introduces the reader to Charlie Hardie, a house sitter who just wants to drink and watch old movies. He doesn't do pets or plants, but his police background makes him an attractive choice for those with expensive homes. He flies into Los Angeles, renting a car and driving up to a house in the hills owned my a Hollywood composer. He's a little surprised to find the house occupied by an actress. A terrified and battered actress with an unbelievable story about a sinister group out to get her. And off we go.
This was a fun, page-turning read. Lots happened. Hardie is reminiscent of Reacher, a non-invincible Reacher who really, really just wants a comfortable chair and a dvd player. Swierczynski, who also writes for Marvel Comics, has a talent for describing action and creating atmosphere. I've got the second book ready to go, but it will have to wait until I can read it all at one go.
In Mission to Paris, Alan Furst returns to the tense days at the beginning of the Second World War. Fredric Stahl is a hollywood actor sent by his studio to make a French film. While he's in Paris, the Nazis try to use him in their propaganda and Stahl discovers that it's not easy to say no to determined Nazis. He goes to the American embassy for help, only to be drawn into their web.
Furst has been writing books about good men trying to survive in Europe before and during WWII for some time now. His protagonists have integrity, but they'd also like to continue living -- making for very interesting reading. His plots are well put together and the menace very real, but his real strength is in how he evokes the atmosphere of the various parts of Europe at a very specific time. With Mission to Paris, however, Furst stumbles a little. The plot drops story lines and the characters are thinner than usual. While still an enjoyable book, this lacks the depth and the heart of his earlier novels, feeling more as though it were a quickly-filmed black and white movie than an actual time and place. Moving quickly from Paris to Berlin to Morocco to an isolated Hungarian castle, the book never got a chance to develop. But it was great fun as a fast-paced adventure story and had I not known what Furst is capable of, I would have been happy enough.
It's been a slow reading month for me, partially because I've been immersed in Middlemarch. My copy of Middlemarch is a hefty one, which replaced the mass market copy that was unpleasant to read and so I only got through the first few hundred pages when I tried to read it the first time, a decade ago. Middlemarch is quite the page-turner, but small print and tight margins, combined with an unpleasantly rough paper, were enough to get me to put it down and forget about it. My current copy is a used Modern Library edition; not especially beautiful, but with an effort put into choosing a pleasant font and letting the letters take up all the space they need.
So when I'm out, I bring along something else, instead. One was an excellent, if gruesome, crime thriller thing involving serial killers, but written with a sense of humor and a certain lightness by Chelsea Cain. Kill You Twice was just fun to read, mainly because of a main character, an unemployed reporter who has returned home to live with her hippy mother and her mother's goat.
The other was August, a novel by Gerard Woodward that's hard to summarize because it just tells the story of fifteen years in the life of a family framed through their yearly vacations spent in a Welsh farmer's field. It's beautifully written, full of the atmosphere of Britain in the fifties and sixties, and essentially plotless. I liked it, but I don't mind meandering stories as long as they are well told, and this one is.
I will not be capable of writing a review for Middlemarch, but I will certainly feel free to go on and on about my impressions soon enough.
To be candid, in Middlemarch phraseology, meant, to use an early opportunity of letting your friends know that you did not take a cheerful view of their capacity, their conduct, or their position; and a robust candour never waited to be asked for its opinion. Then, again, there was the love of truth -- a wide phrase, but meaning in this relation, a lively objection to seeing a wife look happier than her husband's character warranted, or manifest too much satisfaction in her lot: the poor thing should have some hint given her that if she knew the truth she would have less complacency in her bonnet, and in light dishes for a supper-party. Stronger than all, there was the regard for a friend's moral improvement, sometimes called her soul, which was likely to be benefited by remarks tending to gloom, uttered with the accompaniment of pensive staring at the furniture and a manner implying that the speaker would not tell what was on her mind, from regard to the feelings of her hearer. On the whole, one might say that an ardent charity was at work setting the virtuous mind to make a neighbor unhappy for her good.
In the small community of Middlemarch, much is happening. Three love stories; one involving a triangle, one a terribly mis-matched couple and one that sounds based on a certain kind of romance novel, involving as it does an irrepressible rake and a strong-minded, but poor girl who works as a companion to dying curmudgeon. There are no less than two wills written in spite, which have long-reaching consequences for the relatives of the dead men. There are a few secrets desperately protected and many impediments to love. The plot is an intricate web of intrigue and misunderstandings, but the real strength of George Eliot's masterpiece lies in how skillfully she draws the personalities of every character in Middlemarch.
Dorothea is a spiritual and passionate young lady living with her sister in her uncle's house. She longs for a Great Work to give her life a purpose and whiles the time away plotting improvements to the lives of the inhabitants of her uncle's estate until she meets the important and self-important scholar, Edward Casaubon. He is older and surprised to have the attention of a young woman, but is eager enough to marry her. Dorothea expects to become his helpmeet in all areas, in order to facilitate his research and writing, but marriage turns out not to be the spiritual meeting of minds that she had anticipated and Casaubon is likewise unsettled by the interruption to his work. Fred Vincy is the only son of a well-to-do family, who was educated at some expense, to enter the church. Fred's a likeable and fun-loving guy, one who is disinclined to become a clergyman. His father is disinclined to give him anymore money however, so Fred will have to find some employment, or at least a way of paying his debts, until he inherits Stone Hall. He has loved from childhood Mary Garth, whose background is not what Fred's family finds acceptable. His sister, Rosamond, is the town beauty. She meets Tertius Lydgate, recently settled in Middlemarch to take over the running of a new hospital, and is smitten. Lydgate enjoys her company, but is consumed with a determination to make a success of himself. He doesn't see himself marrying for some years, but Rosamond has other ideas.
The three relationships form the backbone of Middlemarch, but there are many more stories being told; strands of an intricate web that comes together only in the final pages of the book. Dorothea's uncle becomes involved in politics, and while he is not given to sustained effort, he does have the sense to hire Will Ladislaw, Casaubon's cousin, as an aide and to take charge of a local newspaper. Mr. Bulstrode is prominent in Middlemarch. A religious man, he has founded and is funding a new fever hospital and hires an eager young doctor to put new treatments and medical principles into practice. Bulstrode isn't a popular man and the new doctor, Lydgate, is challenged to build a medical practice when he also works for Bulstrode.
Eliot brilliantly weaves together all the different stories and manages along the way to make each character entirely themselves, from the flawed by impressive Dorothea to the most minor of walk-on parts. I did love this book enormously.
One of the best books ever. I think this puts Eliot right up there with the best of the nineteenth century European writers.
37: "My son is happy with anything featuring orphans"
So, I assume you, or your son, has read Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events then?
(If you've discussed this below, my apologies. I'm starting from the top of your thread.)
53: This sounds like a movie, an incredibly sad movie, but so good, starring an actress who was tremendous and whose name I don't remember, but I know she was in Gosford Park, so I'll have to go from there...
97: I'm one of those 'unfortunates' who have never been to France, but hope to within the next couple of years. I'm definitely going to read this book before I go.
112: Lol! That's exactly how I felt about The Elegance of the Hedgehog.
133: OK, I've succumbed! I want to find out if all the people I think are socio/psychopaths, really are.
164: La la la...fingers in my ears...I'm really looking forward to The Sense of an Ending so had to skip over that one. Did read the first quote, though, and am excited to get started.
176: To be candid, I don't think I would be tempted to read Middlemarch if I were to try to wade through that quote right now. I did love Middlemarch when I read it a few years (decades?) ago, though. But only after I slowed way, way way down and savored each sentence. Great overview!
I think your impressions of Middlemarch make a great review, Alison! I have had this on my Kindle for so long that I tend to forget it is there. Thanks for the reminder!
Sounds like a nice book to be immersed in. For three years I've been meaning to open up my copy (just a mass market paperback version)...will get there...
SassyLassy and japaul22, I am solidly with you on thinking that Middlemarch is amazing. I can't believe it took me so long to read it! I'm inspired to dive into more Victorian novels.
Linda92007, you'll enjoy it, and with it being on the kindle, you won't notice its length at all.
dchaikin, I had a mass market copy years ago, but the small text, tight margins and unpleasant grayish paper urged me to put it down and it was another decade before I managed to pick it up again -- this time as a more substantial hardcover; a battered, well used Modern Library edition. It's one thing to read a "beach book" in mass market paperback, but quite another to devote time and brain space to one! For me, an ideal reading copy is a well-bound hardcover that has been flung around enough by its previous owners to allow me to feel comfortable stuffing it into a tote and reading it wherever I find myself with a few minutes free.
edited because grammar matters!
This message has been flagged by multiple users and is no longer displayed (show)
Want to get the book that you always wanted? Swap them with your old stuff!
Introducing a new alternative platform where everyone can exchange any almost everything for something you love, with just a few clicks! Click here http://godigging.com/
All the transactions between community users are free of charge. GoDigging.com is a place where money or not even any other form of currency exists.
So, everyone is invited, from parents to students, from professionals to businesses to trade old or new stuff and services. The goal is simple: to create a new website where anyone can exchange, share, donate and have fun through an extremely user-friendly platform and a really well designed community page.
Let’s start a community where we get what we want without having to spend money. See you there.
I've liked what I've read of Arnaldur Indridason's crime series set in Reykjavik, so I went back and read the first one. Jar City was a solid Scandinavian-style police procedural. If you like them, you'll like this one. If you aren't drawn to morose detectives with troubled personal lives wandering around in inclement weather, you won't enjoy this. The setting is fantastic, though and the plot interesting and largely based on Iceland's isolated and relatively small population.
I don't generally enjoy graphic novels, finding usually that the content would have better worked as a regular novel. (Now, I haven't read any graphic fantasy, where the magical elements might be more easily described in a series of drawings than with words alone.) There are, naturally enough, exceptions. Take Maus and Persepolis, for example, which might have been lesser books without the illustrations. Memoirs are a natural fit for the graphic novel, with memory, especially childhood memories, amassed not only in words, but in all our senses. Blankets by Craig Thompson is a memoir of sorts, perfectly rendered in graphic form. I don't think the same story could be told as well without the immediacy of Thompson's deceptively simple drawings.
Craig and his brother, Phil, are raised in a house with very little to spare; neither money nor love is in abundant supply. He's an outcast at school, finding solace in his drawings, with his little brother drawing next to him. In high school Craig falls in love with Raina, a girl he meets at church camp, and their relationship is beautifully drawn. I don't want to give anything away, although the plot isn't really the point of the book. Blankets packs an understated but powerful emotional whallop about love and families and how hard it is to find a path in life. The book is divided, roughly, into thirds, with the central section telling the love story of Craig and Raina, and the flanking sections tell about Craig's childhood and his relationship with his brother. This isn't an easy book to read, despite its form, but it's a rewarding book for all that. Thompson expertly shows how the memories we keep change us, and how our memories can be affected by our life experiences.
I'll have to find a copy of Stitches, detailmuse. Childhood memories seem more immediate and authentic in pictures.
Winter in Madrid is set during the beginning of WWII, after Franco has taken over Spain, punishing those who opposed him and siding with the Nazis, while keeping his war-ravaged country out of the war. Harry is an academic asked to go to Madrid posing as a translator in order to spy on an old school friend. Sandy is a businessman, whose close dealings with the Falangists require a closer look. Harry finds his old friend and discovers that he's living with a woman who was the girlfriend of another old school friend -- one he traveled to Spain with before the Civil War and who returned to fight on the Republican side. He was declared missing, presumed dead, but now there is a hope that he has survived and is now in a prison camp. Spying and being spied upon, intrigue and daring escapes ensue.
This was an enormously frustrating book for me. C.J. Sansom's writing is workmanlike; so that while it isn't bad, it also never achieves more than a steady, plodding pace. The setting is fantastic--there have been so many novels set in Western Europe during the Second World War, but few are set in Spain, and the events there are fertile ground for thousands of novels. There were serious concerns that Spain would join the war and tip the balance over to the Axis powers, while life in Spain was very difficult; years of bitter civil war and the subsequent dictatorship had left the economy in ruins. But if the time and place were well described, the characters were straight out of British central casting. In a world of shifting loyalties and shades of gray, Sansom has created his characters to be good or bad, with no surprises or nuances along the way. Despite the Spanish setting, the main characters are all British, each a stock character, straight from the box. This was less annoying than it might have been; after all, the reason they are so over-used is that they go over well. It's just a little tiresome in a book as long as Winter in Madrid to never be surprised by anything they do. Motivations are explained early and often and no one deviates from their anointed roles. I knew who would die in the daring escape long before they even knew there would be one. The plot was likewise predictable; I knew what the climactic scenes would be long before they were discussed. This is the kind of book that I would normally have set aside, but for the setting, which made it worthwhile, if not suspenseful. I'd like to roundly condemn it as a lazily written book that asks nothing of the reader but, oh, the setting does much to redeem it.
Nice review of Winter in Madrid, but I'm sorry that it was such a disappointing read.
I liked G.B. Joyce's first novel, The Code, but I also like hockey, which is a pre-requisite for enjoying this hardboiled-style story. Brad Shade is an ex-hockey player who managed to play in the NHL for several years, although he was never a big name. Now he's working for a franchise, scouting out potential players to draft. His work takes him everywhere, but he mainly concentrates on the big towns and small cities of Ontario, where hockey is the only sport that matters and the teen-age players are a big deal. In Petersborough, Red Hanratty has been the coach for the junior league for decades. He's made the team a winning one and many professional players spent time skating for him. He's out-spoken and a bit of a drinker, but everyone is shocked when he is bludgeoned to death alongside the team doctor in the arena parking lot after an old-timers charity game. Shade was there, called in at the last minute to fill a slot and he was one of the last to see Hanratty alive. Shade was also there to take a close look at one of Hanratty's players, a promising young athlete who seems to have it all. While Shade isn't out to find the murderer, his interests soon make that vitally important.
When we're in the league we're not average guys with average lives. Our normal is no one else's. What we do to each other on the ice would be criminal in any jurisdiction if it were to take place on the street. Even the cleanest bodycheck would be assault. We glory in fighting. We drink to celebrate. Some do drugs, a lot steroids, but I've known some big weed smokers. A lot of guys gamble up to the line of compulsion and beyond. And we rebel against coaches who push us when we aren't inclined to be pushed, which is always, or against GMs whom we're always suspicious of. A team is just a gang by another name, playing hard, partying hard, living hard. Some harder than most. Some unable to behave differently when they hand their skates up to dry or hang them up for good.
Joyce is a sportswriter who has worked as a hockey scout and his knowledge of the inner and outer workings of the game as well as his understanding of hockey culture are what makes this book worth reading. An insider's view of how the minor leagues work is the central focus of the book, making it fascinating reading for a fan of the sport and probably unreadable for anyone else. Joyce aims for a witty hard-boiled writing style and sometimes gets there, but it mostly comes over as overly florid. The plot, while taking second stage to the atmosphere, is put together well enough to hold through the final pages. One thing that did surprise me was the author's female characters, which in this book about an entirely male sport were admittedly few. Joyce's women were as three-dimensional as the men. The love interest was better educated and comfortable in her life and skin than Shade and they interacted as equals.
I'm floundering around in my reading this month. Too busy and scattered to tackle anything substantial, still hung-over from Middlemarch, with which nothing can compare, and choosing books that aren't emotionally demanding (no Room or Darkness at Noon right now, thanks).
That said, And When She Was Good is one of Laura Lippman's best efforts. Telling the story of a suburban madam, it's as thoughtful and entertaining as any of Lippman's books.
The Year We Left Home tells the story of the Erickson family, of Grenada, Iowa, in the last twenty-five years of the last century. Beginning with the wedding reception of the oldest daughter, Anita, at the American Legion Hall, and continuing, each chapter moving forward a few years and telling a self-contained story about a different member of the family, to end, where the children are approaching fifty. Jean Thompson writes with a clarity and an absence of fuss that is a pleasure to read. Each member of the family, as well as some members of the extended family, are beautifully brought to life, from Anita with her desire to make a success of having a family to Chip, the Vietnam veteran cousin who is having some trouble settling down. There's a quiet strength to this book, with its ordinary family trying to get by in a difficult and changing world.
That said, there are some flaws that marred my enjoyment of this book. Early on, there's a silly anachronism, where the family sits down to watch a show that won't be aired for another six years, which made me wary of believing the accuracy of the background of each chapter's events. Each story is very much oriented in time and place, so that careless mistake at the beginning had me doubting the authenticity of each story's setting. There's a sense in which this book is derivative of The Corrections; although they are very different in tone, there are enough similarities in a few of the characters to make comparisons inevitable, and The Year We Left Home is the lesser book.
Hmm, perhaps I would not rate Winter in Madrid so highly as a literary achievement, but did find it a compelling and enjoyable read, that showed a side of the war in Spain I was not familiar with in quite an astonishing degree of detail. I gave it four stars.
edwinbcn, that's what kept me reading; that fantastic time and place. It was certainly well researched.
Anne Korkeakivi's debut novel, An Unexpected Guest, is based on Mrs. Dalloway, with a well-to-do woman (here the wife of a British diplomat) planning an important dinner party while her life is upended. Clare has spent the past twenty years perfecting her job as a diplomat's wife, furthering his career by being discrete, decorative and an excellent guest and hostess. Their time in Paris is drawing to a close and he is angling to be next sent to Dublin instead of somewhere less comfortable and more obscure. A last minute request to host a dinner party could make or break his chances. Clare has never wanted to return to Ireland, after her one disastrous visit when she was twenty, but she's determined to support her husband; it's what she's always done. But the chance of an Irish posting is bringing forth memories, both pleasant and bitter. Her teenage son reappears that morning, unwilling to talk about some nebulous, but serious trouble he has gotten into at his boarding school back in England. The book follows Clare through her day, shopping for flowers and cheese, getting her hair done, delivering a translation she's finished, placating the cook and chatting with the guests.
An Unexpected Guest is a quiet novel; the turmoil is mostly internal, but that doesn't make it uneventful or boring. Korkeakivi writes confidently, and with an assurance not often found in a first novel. It's a pleasure to find a quiet book that isn't trite or whimsical. I'm eager to read whatever she next writes.
Good review of An unexpected Guest and another novel based on Mrs Dalloway.
Oh Ruth Rendell, I don't know how to quit you. You've left behind the subtlety of your prime in favor of lazy stereotypes that often carry a slight whiff of racism, and your intricate and nuanced plots have given way to announcing the culprits from the outset and clumsy set-ups. You still set your books in the contemporary world, but your language choices would be more familiar to someone living five decades ago. Nevertheless, you've retained much of your writing style and a love of oddball characters that make your latest books feel like a karaoke version of the original.
In The St. Zita Society, Rendell tells an upstairs downstairs story told primarily from the view below stairs. In a well-to-do London neighborhood, the help gathers together periodically at the pub on the corner to discuss the various issues to do with life on Hexam Place. Led by June, the geriatric companion to a self-styles princess, she struggles to perform her daily tasks. Then there's Monserrat, the au pair, whose main task is to sneak her employer's lover in and out of the house without the husband's knowledge. There's Dex, who is living on a disability allowance since his release from the mental institute and who now does gardening for some of the residents. So, there's a murder, or two, with a cover-up and a lot of lying. It's an entertaining enough read as long as being surprised by the plot twists is not important and every character behaving exactly as one would suspect given their backgrounds.
Yes, I think I will. Really, whenever a new book comes out, I should dig out something she wrote in the seventies and enjoy myself, but I'll probably, eventually and reluctantly read whatever she writes. What is wrong with me?
I sometimes wonder what it would have been like to have a childhood that was not like mine. I have no real frame of reference, but when I question strangers I've found that their childhood generally had much less blood in it, and also that strangers seem uncomfortable when you question them about their childhood. But really, what else are you going to talk about in line at the liquor store? Childhood trauma seems like the natural choice, since it's the reason why most of us are in line there to begin with.
Jenny Lawson, who writes a popular blog as The Blogess, has written a "mostly true" memoir called Let's Pretend This Never Happened. After that sentence, you'll pretty much know if you want to read her book. It's written in the familiar, humorous tone often used by bloggers and the book sometimes feels like a particularly excellent and lengthy post. Lawson is a deeply weird individual (and I mean that in the best possible way), with a skewed sense of humor, the mouth of a syphilitic pirate, an unusual upbringing and a willingness to bare herself for our edification and entertainment. Let's Pretend This Never Happened walks that fine line between melodrama and humor, writing chapters that mix the very serious with the tremendously funny. This is a very funny book, of the kind not to be read on public transportation or in a Starbucks.
Okay, Let's Pretend This Never Happened is on my waiting-for-the-paperback wishlist.
what else are you going to talk about in line at the liquor store? Childhood trauma seems like the natural choice, since it's the reason why most of us are in line there to begin with.
That's funny! (And sad too.) Sounds like something I would like. Thanks for the review :)
I'll look forward to seeing what you both think. Robert, she does mention things like vaginas, but I don't think it'll veer into chick-lit territory for you, it being entirely unlike Madame Bovary.
Catching up on reviews, albeit slowly. I could rush out a few lines about each, but I don't want to.
Jon McGregor writes with an understated beauty that astonishes me. I read So Many Ways to Begin last year, and loved the quiet story with all the power running underneath the surface. He's a subtle writer. In his new short story collection, This Isn't the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You: Stories, McGregor keeps his understated writing style, but many of his stories take place in a dystopian world set in the near future. There's a lot going on, but the author leaves the reader to discover what's going on in the asides and background. Some of the stories have characters in common, while others only hint that maybe the protagonist is someone we met earlier. It's a surprisingly diverse collection, with McGregor's focus on everyone from a farmer running a successful business to a survivalist under government observation to a father who has a hard time obeying the restraining order against him.
I like to read short story collections slowly, because they can often get a little repetitive. That didn't happen here and I ended up reading it in immoderate chunks.
Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden tells the story of the Bird family of Moosonee, Ontario in the form of alternating chapters from the point of view of Annie and her uncle, who is laying in a coma in the local hospital. Moosonee's way up there near James Bay and is inaccessible by road. Will is a former bush pilot with a drinking problem, and he cares deeply for his friends and family and tries to teach his nieces about tribal traditions and how to survive in the wild and unpopulated lands around James Bay. Annie was always less popular than her sister, but when Suzanne disappears in Toronto, she is determined to find her and bring her home. Suzanne had run away with a man with connections with the drug trade and the gang members are out for revenge.
I began this book with great excitement. Who doesn't want to read a story of life on wild edges of Canada? But a large portion of this book isn't set in northern Ontario, but rather in New York, where Annie becomes a model and party girl. These sections feel more like a series on the CW and fit uneasily with descriptions of setting up a winter camp on James Bay or on the daily life of the inhabitants of Moosonee. I felt like I was reading two different books, one of which I had very little interest in. Likewise, the vengeful drug lord plot, which was too much of a thriller and took away a lot of the strength of the book as a whole. I think that half of this book was fantastic and the other half sheer drudgery. I'm sure many people would love to read a book about a partying model, but they aren't necessarily the same ones who would enjoy a book about ordinary people living in a cold and wild place.
I'm sorry to hear that Through Black Spruce was disappointing, Alison. It was one of the first books I bought for my Kindle and it is still there unread. Given what you have shared in your review, it may just sit there for a good long time. I had also assumed that it would be set entirely in Canada, which was enticing. New York, not so much.
I have heard that Three Day Road is a better book, but I'm not likely to read more by the author. I did really like the parts set in northern Ontario, and especially the part set on the island in Nunavut. Through Black Spruce did win the Giller Prize, so clearly many have seen a lot more in this book than I did.
An Unfinished Season is Ward Just's coming of age story set in Chicago of the 1950s. The year before Wils goes off to college is the year his father sees his control of his business challenged as his workers strike. His mother is frightened and his father begins carrying a gun in a duffel he carries everywhere with him. Wils gets a summer job at a local Chicago paper and spends his time juggling two worlds; the gritty, hyped up atmosphere of the newsroom and the genteel debutante parties he attends several times a week. He's not sure what he wants to do with his life, but he knows he doesn't want to follow along the well worn paths set for the well-heeled sons of the affluent families of the North Shore.
More than the story itself, the center of this book is the city of Chicago and the atmosphere of the 1950s. Just writes beautifully, and here he puts his skills to work describing the politics and manners of a world just beginning to change. Wils is less important than he thinks he is, but what nineteen-year-old is, and its through his eyes we get a snapshot of the world at a very specific time and place. Just is an underappreciated writer of great skill and heart and I'm always happy to read one of his books.
Good review of An unfinished Season, which seems to resonate with Chicagoans.
Beyond changing planes at O'Hare, I've never been to Chicago and so can't comment on the accuracy of the portrayal, but the city Just described was vivid and colorful and has me itching to go see it.
Ellen Feldman's last book, Scottsboro, made my "best of" list in 2009 and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize. It was an amazing, thought-provoking book. So I was very happy to see that she had a new book out called Next to Love. Set during and after the Second World War, Next to Love follows the lives of three women as they watch their husbands leave to fight in the war, with some never returning home and those that do are changed in fundamental ways. Feldman is both a talented writer and a gifted storyteller, so her three women and their stories make for a compelling read. There's Millie who, having lost both her parents young, feels that she can't possibly lose her charming husband, and Grace, who puts great store in the life she and her husband Charlie imagine they'll share when he returns to her and the baby. The greatest focus and most interesting character is Babe who, despite growing up in the wrong part of town, nonetheless falls in love with a boy from a good family and they continue their relationship despite the disapproval of many. Babe is well aware of how and why she doesn't (and cannot) fit in and be accepted and while it gives her an edge, she doesn't allow it to make her bitter. The war gives her more freedom than she could have expected, allowing her to work at the Western Union, instead of cleaning houses or at the five and dime. She's determined to make her own path, even if it's well within the boundaries of her small Massachussetts town.
I had a hard time putting this book down. It's highly readable but, in the end, it lacks the fire and bite of Scottsboro. This is a straight up historical novel with sympathetic characters doing their best at a turbulent point in history. I enjoyed it, but doubt I'll still be thinking about it in a few days. I hope this isn't a direction that Feldman has decided to go, although it's probably a much more salable book than Scottsboro.
Dedicated to Angela Carter, My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me is a collection of forty fairy tales written by an impressively wide array of authors, from Neil Gaiman and Jim Shepard to Aimee Bender and Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, and adapting, reimagining or loosely basing stories on everything from our most traditional fairy tales to mythology to fairy tales from Asia and Japan. Will it surprise you to find out that Joyce Carol Oates chose Bluebeard? Or that John Updike picked the same tale, but told it from Bluebeard's point of view and set it in modern Ireland?
In any collection this diverse, some stories are amazing, a few fall flat and a handful are fantastically bizarre. It took me quite a while to read all forty tales, they not being the kind of thing to read one after another. I liked that the editor, Kate Bernheimer, chose several stories by new authors, some of whom have not yet written a full-length novel and others who are not well known. She also included several non-Western authors, who adapted stories from their own countries and made the collection a bit unexpected; without the easy handle of a familiar plot to anchor the reader they demanded a little more of me. My only complaint has to do with the book's organization; with the fairy tale each story is based on found only in the table of contents and information about each author stuck in the back, I was constantly flipping around before and after each story.
A decent horror story must be the hardest kind of tale to tell successfully. Too much and you have your readers rolling their eyes and laughing, too restrained and the whole endeavor falls flat. I'm not a reader of the genre, generally because my suspension of disbelief is minimal when faced with anything supernatural. A house is a house and I don't jump at things that go bump in the night, even when my SO is out of town. I do lock the doors at night, but walking through an unexplained cold patch just has me putting socks on. I don't read scary stories very often, is what I'm trying to say, but I do end up doing so occasionally, because they've been well reviewed or, more often, because a favorite author has taken a stab at it. I'm usually disappointed.
I've enjoyed Andrew Pyper's books so far. He writes thrillers, with a Canadian flavor; his best ones are set in small towns and are generally well plotted, so that the endings don't feel rushed or implausible. I got my copy of his newest novel, The Guardians, and began it without knowing anything about the plot; had I known it was about an evil-infested haunted house, I would have stuck it on the bottom of my TBR. I'm glad I didn't, though, because The Guardians was both atmospheric and very, very readable.
Four sophomore boys played on the high school hockey team in the small Ontario town of Grimshaw that year and were friends. Then something bad happened, involving a missing teacher, and they all vowed never to tell anyone. Years later, Trevor is coming to terms with his newly diagnosed Parkinson's disease when he returns to Grimshaw to attend the funeral of one of the other boys, Ben, the only one who stayed in Grimshaw, living across the street from the old Thurman house, who has committed suicide. He's determined to keep his stay in his hometown as short as possible, even as he rekindles friendships from decades ago, but then another woman goes missing and he can't help but notice parallels from the incident when he was in high school and it seems he'll have to find out just what is going on in that house.
It's a fairly basic and well-trod set up, but Pyper manages to make it interesting by diving into the lives of small town teen-agers, both the ones who don't see anything but continuing down the paths expected of them and those who dream of escaping the confines of small town life. Pyper evokes life in a small, Canadian town, where the high school hockey players are stars, albeit stars who eventually graduate to manage small stores or work in the construction industry. And the house is creepy. Really creepy. And there's that evil presence from the past thing, but adeptly handled. I never once rolled my eyes.
I wasn't expecting much from Backseat Saints, but I wanted something diverting and not too demanding to read and Joshilyn Jackson's book looked like it'd fit that description. What I found was indeed diverting -- I couldn't put it down. Set in Amarillo, Texas, Ro is the faithful wife of a man she loves and who loves her. He also, periodically, beats the crap out of her and it becomes obvious to her (long after it's been obvious to ER staff and a neighbor) that if she doesn't leave, he will eventually kill her. He's told her many times, however, that that's not going to happen. She is not going to be able to walk away from her marriage. So Ro determines that it's him or her and she decides to shoot him, which is a lot easier to think about when endlessly judging his moods than to actually do.
Ro is a great character. She's made a habit of choosing the wrong men, always ending up with men like her father, who can't help taking a swipe at her, and she's not good at being alone, but she's clear-headed about her future prospects if she stays with her husband. She's a little less clear-headed about how to get herself out safely and sometimes her plans are based more on wishful thinking than on reality, but she's determined to try. Her husband isn't a monster, and their attraction for each other is evident, but he does have both a temper and the belief that she belongs to him. I liked what Jackson did with this relationship; I've read books where I couldn't figure out why on earth the woman was ever within ten feet of the embodiment of evil she married and I think the relationship here is a more realistic portrayal of an abusive relationship, with hopeful times and good times present as well.
Jackson writes with a light touch that leavens the subject matter somewhat. Ro's voice at the beginning of the book is a little too hillbilly, but that settles down after a while. The plot moves along and while you can feel Ro's loneliness and fear, you can also feel her determination to survive and make a life for herself. Also, Ro's dog, fat Gretel, decribed as "dim and lovely", is a character in her own right and reminds me more than a little of my funny girl, currently twitching with doggy dreams at the foot of the bed.
My thoughts on scary stories are very similar to yours, but something in me is always looking for a good one. I'm going to give The Guardians a try--on to the wishlist it goes! Thanks for your recommendation and interesting comments.
Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross
Can marriage save your life, or is it just the beginning of a long double homicide?
David Pepin has fantasized about killing his wife for some time, long enough to even have written a manuscript about it. Then she is found dead and it's unclear whether she committed suicide or was murdered, and David is naturally the prime suspect. The two investigating detectives have marital problems of their own. Hastroll's wife has retired to her bed and refused to explain why and the other detective is Sam Sheppard, the man The Fugitive is loosely based on, who served time for the murder of his pregnant wife, but who later had his conviction overturned.
This book felt misogynistic to me, with every female character consumed with a silent dissatisfaction they are unwilling to articulate to their increasingly desperate and concerned husbands. Marilyn Sheppard is the only woman whose point of view we get to see and she is entirely consumed by her husband's untidiness and infidelity. She doesn't have agency outside of reacting to his activities. (I now understand why so many reviewers fell over themselves to praise Jonathan Franzen's ability to "write women". After this book, I'm inclined to do the same.)
That said, there was much that was interesting about this book. Ross takes many scenes and repeats them from different points of view, and even from the same character's point of view. In a less able writer's hands, this might be boring, but I found these scenes to form the most interesting parts of Mr. Peanut. And the long section detailing the days leading up to Marilyn Sheppard's murder was fascinating, especially the scenes told from both spouses' points of view. In them, Ross vividly demonstrates how one person can be happy in a relationship and convinced it has never been stronger, while the other person is inarticulate with despair. This is the author's first full length novel and it shows quite a bit of promise, if he can get a handle on writing women as people, rather than adjuncts and impediments.
Interesting comments on Mr Peanut. I had no idea that's what it was about when I first saw it at the book sale last week.
Happy to read your review of An Unfinished Season, I don't think I've read much about Chicago in the '50s. I looked over on Amazon and snagged a bargain-price copy.
And the name Joshilyn Jackson got my attention, I just finished her reading the audio of her grad-school friend's debut, Shine Shine Shine. Her voice is very high and girly but she did more than your average reader in differentiating the voices of different characters.
Can I just start out by telling you that The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf is a terrible book? I'm going to be as nice as I can, but I only finished it because I was reading it with a friend and also I have a problem getting rid of books I haven't entirely read, and I wanted to get this one safely out of the house.
So, the basic plot of the book is that two seven-year-old girls go missing early one morning from their small Iowa town. They are best friends and both live in houses that back onto a large forest. Petra is the only child of a middle-aged professor and his younger wife, who struggled for years to have a baby. Calli is the daughter of an abusive alcoholic father and a negligent, but loving mother who has a lot of issues. Calli has also not spoken since she was four and no one knows why, primarily because no one has tried to find treatment for her, although the school does send her to the guidance counselor a few times a week. The deputy in charge of the investigation had a long relationship with Calli's mother before they both married other people and they have a lot of unresolved feelings for each other.
The story is told in very short chapters, switching between several points of view, making this book quite a bit shorter than its page count indicates. Luckily, the name of the person narrating is put up at the top of each segment in large letters, because the voice never alters. The seven-year-old girl sounds exactly like the middle-aged professor who sounds exactly like the under-educated mother. One of the girls has a third person narration, for no purpose I can fathom. There are several weighty issues dealt with in this book, from spousal abuse to child abuse to selective mutism to kidnapping to assault to alcoholism, but since there is so little room to explore each issue, you don't have to worry about taking any of them seriously and, indeed, the characters themselves don't worry about things too much.
Are you wondering if I liked anything about this book? The cover was nice. I mean, it's a standard illustration, featuring the torso of a young girl facing away from the camera, but the clothes and the age of the girl actually correspond with a character in the book and it's a pretty picture. That was good. There was nothing really objectionable in the book; it didn't espouse satanism or have much in the way of swear words, which is something of an accomplishment considering one of the narrators was a twelve-year-old boy. The crime scene people were very tidy, which is nice because who wants to clean up fingerprint dust, right? They also don't find any clues, which are obvious and left to a parent to find, which means they may not have done the best job, but I really hate dusting and would not want to be having to worry about the parents here having to vacuum while their daughters were missing, so it was considerate of them. I think I, personally, might have wanted hundreds of law enforcement officers marching around my home in muddy boots if one of my children had disappeared, but the characters here seemed fine with the half dozen officers mentioned in this book, wandering around, talking about starting a search tomorrow sometime, so who am I to judge? Also, if the police had done their job, the thrilling climax would have been avoided entirely, and we all know that a thriller-like book needs a thrilling and dangerous climax.
Loved your review and I completely understand why you finished such a book! Why do we do this to ourselves? What did your friend think of it?
SassyLassy, she also hated it, but she's a lot nicer than I am, as well as being less vengeful at the book for wasting her time.
Great final para - I liked the way the rage came through! Impressed it still managed a 1.5 rating though...
The cover was nice.
Aha! So that's why we don't judge books by their covers!
Loved your somewhat snarky review.
Thanks for the comments! The real reason to ever finish a terrible book is the fun of writing about it afterward.
Maybe that's what West found so irresistible about Zenia, Tony used to think: that she was raw, that she was raw sex, whereas Tony herself was only the cooked variety. Parboiled to get the dangerous wildness out, the strong fresh-blood flavors. Zenia was gin at midnight, Tony was eggs for breakfast, and in eggcups at that. It's not the category Tony would have preferred.
In The Robber Bride, Tony, Charis and Roz have all fallen prey to Zenia, or rather their husbands and boyfriends have been stolen away along with other things they held dear, like trust and security and chickens. Zenia, a talented grifter, knows how to get each woman to trust her, until she's taken what she wants and disappears. First is the diminutive, studious Tony, an orphan studying the history of war and living in a residence hall where she does not mix comfortably with the boisterous girls enjoying college life. Then she meets West, a music student with whom she forms a close friendship only to discover that he's living with the glamourous Zenia. Charis has learned how to disappear into herself, a necessary skill to surviving her childhood, first with a mother with a mental illness and then with relatives who are willing to do their duty by her. She finds security for herself though, by creating a home in a drafty little house on an island a short ferry ride from Toronto. With the addition of Billy, an American avoiding the Vietnam War and a flock of chickens, she forges a small family for herself and willingly sets out to shelter and heal Zenia, who tells her she's dying of cancer. And then there's Roz, big-boned and loud, who has a family she loves and a burgeoning business empire, for whom Zenia poses as a talented war correspondent looking to start a career in a gentler place.
Often in a book with a shifting point of view, I find myself preferring certain characters and wishing they had more time and others less, or I find it hard to fully involve myself in the story, because the emotional emphasis keeps shifting. Margaret Atwood's so good at what she does, however, that I found myself equally invested in each of these three very different women. While Zenia, a woman willing to betray other women to get what she wants, is the center of the book, the real story is about the friendship between Tony, Roz and Charis, who would not have become close had they not all been deceived by Zenia. Each is vulnerable because they are open to friendship and it is ultimately that openness that saves and heals them.
I've enjoyed every book by Margaret Atwood that I've read. She not only writes with brilliance and clarity, but her books are endlessly diverse.
The Robber Bride is on my bookshelf waiting to be read. Thanks for the great review to push it up the TBR pile!
Thank you, baswood and japaul22. I was unable to express how much I loved this book. I think I'll have to dive into Atwood's back list.
234 - Great review. Atwood has been on my radar for a while, but that quote along with your great review makes me want to run out and buy The Robber Bride
Great review of The Robber Bride, Alison. It is one of those books that I wish I hadn't already read so that I could do so without the guilt of rereads in the face of my growing TBR pile! But I am hanging onto my copy anyway.
Yes, great review of The Robber Bride. It was my favourite of the 6 or 7 Atwood novels I've read. Did you know she wrote a short-story sequel? It's available online
This past summer I was in Toronto and had a LT meet up with Torontoc (Cyrel) and we had lunch at the restaurant from the novel. I thought that was pretty cool.
Thanks, everyone. I'd say The Robber Bride is my favorite Atwood so far, but I'd have to go back and reread Alias Grace and The Handmaid's Tale to make sure, and I want to read the ones I haven't read...
Nickelini, you went to Toxique? It didn't occur to me that that was an actual place. How fun! And thank you for the link.
Nickelini, you went to Toxique? It didn't occur to me that that was an actual place. How fun!
Yes, except it wasn't called that (or it's changed names--I don't know). I didn't know it was a real place either, until Cyrel took me there. But it felt just like I imagined it when I read the book. Also, I was in Toronto when I read the sequel short story, and Atwood references a bunch of places on Queen St. that I had just walked past. That was fun too.
Most kids grow up leaving something out for Santa at Christmas time when he comes down the chimney. I used to make presents for the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
Jeanette Winterson was adopted by an angry woman who rigidly adhered to a fierce pentecostalism. Often told that they'd chosen the wrong child, she grew up love-starved and angry. In Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? Winterson describes her upbringing where being raised by a woman unable to love or to receive love left indelible marks on her.
There are people who could never commit murder. I am not one of those people.
It is better to know it. Better to know who you are, and what lies in you, what you could do, might do, under extreme provocation.
But what should surely be a harsh and difficult read is not that at all. Winterson doesn't gloss over the neglect or the uncertainty or the abuse, but she doesn't dwell on it, either. And she loves her history, her working class roots in a community on the outskirts of Manchester. And she was saved by books.
The library held all the Eng lit classics, and quite a few surprises like Gertrude Stein. I had no idea of what to read or in what order, so I just started alphabetically. Thank God her last name was Austen...
This is one kick-ass book. Winterson here allows the reader to not only experience her fear and lonliness, and she also tries to understand what drove her mother, and she writes about Mrs. Winterson with no small degree of compassion. She made it from living in the back of a mini, after being kicked out of her house at sixteen, to attending Oxford at a time when both being female and working class were strikes against her, to becoming an influential writer. This required no small degree of strength and hope and Winterson tells us the story with an emotional honesty that makes the whole journey well worth taking with her.
Good thoughts on Why be Happy When You Could be Normal. I read it this year and thought it was excellent. Truly inspirational for all those would-be readers and perhaps writers.
Ps I would not fancy meeting Jeanette Winterson alone in a darkened subway.
Baswood, I agree with you. After I'd finished the book I thought that I'd like to give her a hug. I'm pretty sure, though, that it would be unwelcome.
I'm now very interested in reading her novels.
RG, au contraire, I'm sure Winterson would be delighted by your reaction! I met her at a reading in NYC and she's the sweetest person imaginable. (There might have been some flirting going on, though, possibly interfering with objective judgement.)
If you haven't read her novels before, then I strongly suggest you start with Oranges are not the only fruit, IMO her best and most original work. If you find that you like her kind of poetic expression, other novels are even more high-calorie in that regard. Sexing the cherry is almost like a prose poem.
A Wanted Man is the latest installation in the Jack Reacher series by Lee Child. In this one, Reacher, hitchhiking his way to Virginia, catches a ride, which turns into him trying to rescue a kidnapping victim which then turns into a large and complex terrorist conspiracy. Reacher prevails, as usual, but he's chattier these days and crankier, which may just be due to his finding out who is playing him in the movie version.
I've Got Your Number is a chick lit novel by Sophie Kinsella. The plot hinges on events even more contrived and unlikely than usual for this genre, but Kinsella makes it all fun. And if you require plausibility from a novel, you wouldn't be reading chick lit in the first place.
In The Sex Lives of Cannibals, J. Maarten Troost recounts his two years spent living in the tiny Pacific nation of Kiribati (pronounced Kiribass). The thirty-some islands have a very small surface area, but occupy a space the size of the continental US. South Tarawa, the center of government and where Troost lived, is an islet forming part of an atoll. Troost is an entertaining and funny travel guide, coming across as a sort of Jon Ronson/Michael Palin good-natured innocent abroad. He doesn't skirt the less pleasant aspects of living on an equatorial atoll, such as garbage disposal and the poor status of women, but he is clearly charmed by a life as far from American consumerism as it's possible to go.
I've been busy, and have therefore read from a very mixed bag this month. Books-as-entertainment have been a pleasant diversion.
I started flicking through I've Got Your Number in an airport bookshop and was hooked! The only reason I managed not to buy it was that it was one of those 'airport paperbacks' that's the same price as a hardback, and I already had three books with me to read on the plane... I really enjoyed her Shopaholic series too.
District and Circle by Seamus Heany is a slim volume of poetry, although my favorite was the few pages in the middle of the book of what the author called Found Prose -- which were beautiful short descriptions. Most of the poetry was about the author's rural Irish childhood, but other poems wanders into the American Midwest or to the London Underground. Lushly descriptive, they evoke time and place more completely than anything I've read, or even a sepia-toned photograph. In Saw Music Heaney describes a busker in a store doorway:
Flop-wobble grace note or high banshee whine.
Rain spat upon his threadbare gabardine,
Into his cap where the occasional tossed coin
Basked on damp lining, the raindrops glittering
It took me a few weeks to read this book, despite its brevity. Each poem is so rich in imagery that it was impossible to read more than a few at any one time.
Had to look up "busker", but love what you quoted. I have this book but was discouraged at how unreachable I found another of his books, Field Work. I figured I needed to read a lot more poetry before trying him again. Your review makes this one sound more accessible.
I did find the first few poems difficult, mainly because they were set in a long-gone rural Ireland, and told in that voice, but they became more accessible further in, or I grew used to the language. I'm not an experienced or sophisticated poetry reader -- Billy Collins is more my style, and you'll have to admit that he writes for the masses -- but Heany's so good, he caught me up in spite of myself. There are no wasted words.
Nice review of District and Circle. It's on my list of planned books for the month, and I'll start reading it this weekend based on your comments about it.
I enjoyed the lines you quoted from District and Circle, Alison. I read quite a bit of Heaney earlier in the year and have been meaning to get back to him. I agree with you that the best way to appreciate him is just a few poems at a time. They need to simmer in your mind. The more I read poetry, the more I am also coming to feel that it doesn't matter if you don't fully understand the poet's intent, as long as you can find your own connection with the words or the music of the language.
>254 I am also coming to feel that it doesn't matter if you don't fully understand the poet's intent, as long as you can find your own connection with the words or the music of the language.
Wonderfully put and a true encouragement to read more poetry.
Umberto Eco is an erudite guy who intimidates me, but Baudolino is such a fun ride, that I forgot to feel stupid. Baudolino is a young peasant who helps a lost soldier one day, is sold to him by his father and subsequently finds that the soldier is none other than Barbarossa, deep into his conquest of Italy. Barbarossa adopts Baudolino, sends him to the university in Paris (where Eco shows that college students were not that different 800 years ago), where Baudolino develops an interest in finding the mythical kingdom of Prester John, a Christian kingdom in the far, far east. Baudolino is clever and quick-witted, but he (and the other characters) are products of their time, able to believe in the most amazing mythical beasts and in the holiness of relics, even the ones he and his friends make to earn a little extra money to finance their adventures.
Baudolino begins the story by letting us know he's a storyteller first, and one not overly concerned with the truth. And in an amazing twist, he sets the story on its head, leaving me wondering if the events described were supposed to be actual events in the world of this book, or products of Baudolino's fertile imagination.
So glad you enjoyed The Robber Bride, it's one of my favorite Atwood's.
Don't be intimidated RidgewayGirl, I enjoyed your thoughts on Baudolino.
Reviews are getting shorter these days!
The Queen of the South by Arturo Perez-Reverte surprised me. I'd expected something mannered taking place in the past and got instead an adrenalin-fueled ride about the young girlfriend of a pilot flying drugs for a Mexican cartel. When it's discovered he was double-crossing them he is executed and the cartel comes for her. How she survives and rises to run her own illegal empire is an exciting thriller, helped by the quality of the writing.
Lost at Sea is a collection of longer articles by Jon Ronson, author of The Psychopath Test. Ronson is possibly the least threatening person on earth, allowing him to ask the kind of questions that would earn other journalists only silence, or a kick out the door. Here he investigates everything from RLSHs (real life super heroes) who dress up every night and go out to fight crime to the disappearance of a staff member who disappeared off of one of Disney's cruise ships and how the entire event was quickly covered over.
In The Miniature Wife and Other Stories by Manuel Gonzales hijacked planes circle in perpetuity, a man frozen in a contorted position manages to speak through his ears, zombies roam shopping malls and something mysterious is killing the animals kept in an abandoned house. There's a surfeit of imagination here; each short story starts with a premise that would fuel a sizable novel. In the title story, for example, a scientist accidentally shrinks his wife, with whom he had not been getting along. Naturally, shrinking her does not improve their relationship and an odd, unequal battle ensues. Each story is so different from the previous, that reading several at one go never becomes repetitive. My only caveat is that some stories are all about the fantastic hook, leaving a somewhat heartless center to the imaginative shell, but not all of them; one even made me tear up. Gonzales may someday be a literary heavyweight.
I usually enjoy anything that Ian Rankin writes. His long-running series featuring Inspector Rebus has been consistently good and his new series, featuring an utterly un-Rebus-like detective, is even better. So I expected quite a bit from Doors Open, a stand-alone novel. Doors Open tells the story of Mike, self-made millionaire who, having sold his company, is bored. He's started collecting art, which is fun and has made him two friends, a soon-to-retire art professor and a banker who buys art for the bank he works for. They talk about the usual things people interested in art discuss and agree that art purchased for investment and stored in vaults is an abomination. From there, there is a leap to deciding that they would be more appreciative owners and, after not being able to come up with a way to rob a bank, they come up with a cunning plan to rob a museum.
This is where Rankin lost me for a while. Liberating artwork from the unappreciative mega-wealthy is one thing; stealing from the public in order to own a piece of art that can then never be shared is quite another. It turned the book from a fun crime romp into something less fun, for me, anyway. Rankin turns it around, but it took me awhile to see what he was doing. In any case, the final third of the book is brilliant in it's unraveling.
The Finkler Question earned Howard Jacobson the Man Booker Prize and a slew of unappreciative reviews from people on LT whose opinion I value. So I had to see for myself and while I don't think it was terrible, it did fail the Bechdel Test in spectacular fashion. In fact, the only time two female characters interacted, it was to discuss how horrid the protagonist was. In a book as concerned with women as this book is, it might have been interesting to have one three dimensional female character. Still, the book had interesting things to say about the nature of being Jewish in Britain today, even if the delivery was ham-handed and the humor heavy and obvious.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern tells the story of dueling magicians and the mysterious circus that forms the setting of their competition. Morgenstern does an able job of describing the fantastical Victorian world of the novel and the story is enchanting, which makes the flaws of the book unimportant. This is what good escapist reading should be; involving without being the slightest bit challenging.
I enjoy the Ian Rankin crime thrillers and have read nearly all the Rebus ones, I think it sounds like I might enjoy the new series.
The Finkler question does divide the critics, but until you pointed it out I hadn't picked up on the lack of a three dimensional female character. Perhaps reading it from a male perspective clouded my vision a little. I am one of the admirers.
Alison - I find my self thinking more and more about The Finkler Question. There is no doubt that he plays with dehumanizing women, intentionally. A three dimensional woman probably unbalances the book.
This topic is not marked as primarily about any work, author or other topic.