Chatterbox reads -- and reads, and reads, and reads: Chapter 13
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England's cheeky kid brother,
Who bloodily assaulted your august elder
At Bunker Hill and similar places
(Not mentioned in our history books),
What can I tell you of war or of peace?
Say, have you forgotten 1861?
Bull Run, Gettysburg, Fredericksburg?
Your million dead?
Was that the greatest time of your lives
Or the most disastrous?
Who knows? Not you; not I.
Who can tell the end of this war?
And say, brother Jonathan,
D'you know what it's all about?
Let me whisper you a secret -- we don't!
We were all too fat with peace,
Or perhaps we didn't quite know how good peace was,
And so here we are,
And we're going to win....
It's fine to be a soldier,
To get accepted by the recruiting sergeant,
Be trained, fitted with a uniform and a gun,
Say good-bye to your girl,
And go off to the front
Whistling, "It's a long way to Tipperary."
It's good to march forty miles a day,
Carrying ninety-one pounds on your back,
To eat good coarse food, get blistered, tired out, wounded,
Thirst, starve, fight like a devil
(i.e., like you an' me, Jonathan),
With the Maxims zip-zipping
And the shrapnel squealing,
And the howitzers rumbling like the traffic in Piccadilly.
Jonathan, if you could hear them
Whistling the Marseillaise or Marching Through Georgia,
You'd want to go too.
Twenty thousand a day, Jonathan!
Perhaps you're more civilized just now than we are,
Perhaps we've only forgotten civilization for a moment,
Perhaps we're really fighting for peace.
And after all it will be more fun afterwards --
More fun for the poets and the painters --
When the cheering's all over
And the dead men buried
And the rest gone back to their jobs.
It'll be more fun for them to make their patterns,
Their word-patterns and color-patterns.
And after all, there is always war and always peace,
Always the war of the crowds,
Always the great peace of the arts.
With the war beating in great waves overhead,
Beating and roaring like great winds and mighty waters,
The sea-gods still pattern the red seaweed fronds,
Still chip the amber into neck-chains
For Leucothea and Thetis.
When the Marseillaise screams like a hurt woman,
And Paris -- grisette among cities -- trembles with fear,
The poets still make their music
Which nobody listens to,
Which hardly anyone ever listened to.
The great crowds go by,
Fighting over each other's bodies in peace-time,
Fighting over each other's bodies in war-time.
Something of the strife comes to them
In their little, high rock-citadel of art,
Where they hammer their dreams in gold and copper,
Where they cut them in pine-wood, in Parian stone, in wax,
Where they sing them in sweet bizarre words
To the sound of antiquated shrill instruments;
And they are happy.
The little rock-citadel of the artists
Is always besieged;
There, though they have beauty and silence,
They have always tears and hunger and despair.
But that little citadel has held out
Against all the wars of the world
Like England, brother Jonathan.
It will not fall during the great war.
There is always war and always peace;
Always the war of the crowds,
Always the great peace of the arts.
The good news? I've passed the 350 books mark, and am closing in on the "book-a-day" level, and it's still only early October.
I usually keep tabs on my books one by one as I read them, and probably will finish five separate batches of 75 books over the course of the year. When I wrap 'em up, I'll post a mini-review or other comments here. I'll also post comments on the essays that I read for the categories challenge, but these will NOT be included in the total # of books read (unless I complete an entire book of essays.) I'm not doing so well on the essay front, I confess. Actually, I've been doing VERY badly, so I've dragged out some books by Virginia Woolf to dip into this month.
Anyone curious about the essays can follow that thread: http://www.librarything.com/topic/161117 Although I'm making NO progress there whatsoever.
I'd like to keep re-reads to about 25% of my total reading, and the target for non-fiction is about the same. So roughly 50% of the books I read this year should be "new to me" books, whether by authors I've never read before or old favorites. I'll mark all re-reads with an asterisk (*), and note whether a book is fiction or non-fiction, and also whether it's an audiobook.
A guide to my highly subjective ratings system. Don't treat it as gospel or anything more than my opinion. I'm not trying to second guess the rest of the world, just chronicle my own experience with a book. With fiction, I value strong and compelling characters, a convincing plot (that doesn't have to move at the speed of light) and what, for want of a better phrase, I can only characterize as unpretentious writing. By which I mean, I have a strong and ever-growing aversion to authors whose primary goal seems to be to demonstrate how clever they are, rather than to write a great and convincing story. Clear and elegant prose trumps convoluted and overly structured Big Themes and Ideas every time.
Genres? Well, I'm an avid mystery fan; I read a reasonable quantity of chick lit, and have taken some baby steps into fantasy, mostly via dystopian lit. I also read a reasonable amount of "classics" and literary fiction, although I tend to take a wary view of the "insta-classic": the novel by a previously unknown writer who is suddenly hailed as the next Salinger/Kafka/Bellow/Thomas Mann/Tolstoy/whoever. The publishing industry has a strong incentive to promote this kind of stuff; I've got an equally strong instinct telling me that about 75% of this stuff will be merely OK reading and only some of it will survive to earn the title of classic in 50 years' time. In the world of non-fiction, I look for a strong narrative arc and a clear, coherent voice and thesis -- and readability, above all. I tend to shun polemical stuff -- there's enough of that flying about elsewhere. I'm somewhat reconsidering my aversion to memoirs, although not the "I had a tough and horrible life event/disease/abuse situation, and I'm writing about it now because memoirs make money" sub-genre, which I loathe with a growing passion. The grief memoir is a prime example of this. At the other end of the spectrum are books about books, history tomes and books that make me look at the world in new ways and via a different prism.
1.5 or less: A tree gave its life so that this book could be printed and distributed?
1.5 to 2.7: Are you really prepared to give up hours of your life for this?? I wouldn't recommend doing so...
2.8 to 3.3: Do you need something to fill in some time waiting to see the dentist? Either reasonably good within a ho-hum genre (chick lit or thrillers), something that's OK to read when you've nothing else with you, or that you'll find adequate to pass the time and forget later on.
3.4 to 3.8: Want to know what a thumping good read is like, or a book that has a fascinating premise, but doesn't quite deliver? This is where you'll find 'em.
3.9 to 4.4: So, you want a hearty endorsement? These books have what it takes to make me happy I read them.
4.5 to 5: The books that I wish I hadn't read yet, so I could experience the joy of discovering them again for the first time. Sometimes disquieting, sometimes sentimental faves, sometimes dramatic -- they are a highly personal/subjective collection!
1. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (2.85), STARTED 8/3/14, FINISHED 8/21/14 (fiction)
2. Tuesday's Gone by Nicci French (4.3), STARTED 8/21/14, FINISHED 8/22/14 (fiction)
3. Isaac's Storm by Erik Larson (4.8), READ 8/23/14 (non-fiction)
4. One Plus One by JoJo Moyes (3), STARTED 8/22/14, FINISHED 8/23/14 (fiction)
5. Broken Harbor by Tana French (4.5), STARTED 8/23/14, FINISHED 8/26/14 (fiction)
6. Scoop by Evelyn Waugh (3.9), READ 8/27/14 (fiction)
7. Dear Daughter by Elizabeth Little (4), STARTED 8/26/14, FINISHED 8/28/14 (fiction)
8. The Dog by Joseph O'Neill (3.6), STARTED 8/28/14, FINISHED 8/29/14 (fiction)
9. Summer of the Dead by Julia Keller (4), STARTED 8/27/14, FINISHED 8/30/14 (fiction)
10. Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada (5), STARTED 8/29/14, FINISHED 8/31/14 (fiction)
11. Helium by Jaspreet Singh (4.15), STARTED 8/30/14, FINISHED 8/31/14 (fiction)
12. *Cromartie vs the God Shiva by Rumer Godden (3) STARTED 8/28/14, FINISHED 8/31/14 (fiction)
13. *Nemesis by Agatha Christie (3.25) STARTED 8/29/14, FINISHED 8/31/14 (fiction)
14. The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob (4.35), STARTED 9/1/14, FINISHED 9/2/14 (fiction)
15. The Orchard of Lost Souls by Nadifa Mohamed (4.1), STARTED 8/25/14, FINISHED 9/3/14 (fiction)
16. An Unwilling Accomplice by Charles Todd (3.2) STARTED 9/3/14, FINISHED 9/4/14 (fiction)
17. *The Young Pretenders by Barbara Leonie Picard (3.35), STARTED 9/4/14, FINISHED 9/5/14 (fiction)
18. The Doctor of Thessaly by Anne Zouroudi (3.9) STARTED 9/6/14, FINISHED 9/7/14 (fiction)
19. Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera (4.1) STARTED 9/6/14, FINISHED 9/8/14 (fiction)
20. The Heist by Daniel Silva (4.2) STARTED 9/4/14, FINISHED 9/9/14 (fiction)
21. Sea Creatures by Susanna Daniel (3.75), STARTED 9/9/14, FINISHED 9/10/14 (fiction)
22. The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters (5), STARTED 9/10/14, FINISHED 9/12/14 (fiction)
23. The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West (3.7), STARTED 9/13/14, FINISHED 9/14/14 (fiction)
24. *Into the Blue by Robert Goddard (4.3), STARTED 8/24/14, FINISHED 9/14/14 (fiction)
25. Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan (4.7), STARTED 9/12/14, FINISHED 9/15/14 (fiction)
26. Back Channel by Stephen Carter (4.15), STARTED 9/15/14, FINISHED 9/16/14 (fiction)
27. Remember Me Like This by Bret Anthony Johnston (4.25), STARTED 9/16/14, FINISHED 9/18/14 (fiction)
28. The Gurkha's Daughter by Prajwal Parajuly (4.4) STARTED 9/13/14, FINISHED 9/18/14 (fiction)
29. Shadows in the Vineyard by Maximillian Potter (2.6) STARTED 9/19/14, FINISHED 9/20/14 (non-fiction)
30. The Pierced Heart by Lynn Shepherd (3.5) READ 9/20/14 (fiction)
31. The Nazis Next Door by Eric Lichtblau (4.4) STARTED 9/20/14, FINISHED 9/21/14 (non-fiction)
32. City of Jasmine by Deanna Raybourn, (3.3) STARTED 9/5/14, FINISHED 9/22/14 (fiction)
33. Arctic Summer by Damon Galgut (4.25) STARTED 9/22/14, FINISHED 9/24/14 (fiction)
34. The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson (4.3) READ 9/25/14 (fiction)
35. Lisette's List by Susan Vreeland (2.9) STARTED 9/13/14, FINISHED 9/25/14 (fiction)
36. Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett (3.5) STARTED 9/25/14, FINISHED 9/27/14 (fiction)
37. North of the Tension Line by J.F. Riordan (2.6) STARTED 9/17/14, FINISHED 9/28/14 (fiction)
38. The Long Way Home by Louise Penny (4.3) STARTED 9/27/14, FINISHED 9/28/14 (fiction)
39. The End of the American World Order by Amitav Acharya (4.25) STARTED 9/10/14, FINISHED 9/28/14 (non-fiction)
40. The Visible World by Mark Slouka (4) STARTED 9/3/14, FINISHED 9/28/14
41. The Furies by Natalie Haynes, (3.9), STARTED 9/28/14, FINISHED 9/29/14 (fiction)
42. The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje, (4.5), STARTED 9/8/14, FINISHED 9/29/14 (fiction) (audiobook)
43. *The Eye in the Door by Pat Barker (4.3), STARTED 8/28/14, FINISHED 9/30/14 (fiction)
44. A Division of the Spoils by Paul Scott (4.6)
45. Old Flames by John Lawton (4.1)
46. Breaking Creed by Alex Kava (3.25)
47. The Children Act by Ian McEwan (4.7)
48. The King's Curse by Philippa Gregory (3.65)
49. *Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert (4)
50. The Darkest Hour by Tony Schumacher (2.8)
51. Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth (4.3)
52. *Happy Endings by Trisha Ashley (3.8)
53. Florence Gordon by Brian Morton (3.6)
54. The Lady of Sorrows by Anne Zouroudi (3.4)
55. The Good Girl by Mary Kubica (3.2)
56. The Wife, the Maid and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon (4.1)
57. The Marquis: Lafayette, Reconsidered by Laura Auricchio (4.4)
58. A Map of Betrayal by Ha Jin (2.7)
59. *The Founder of the House by Naomi Jacob (3)
60. Law of the Jungle by Paul Barrett (4.3)
61. The Reckoning by Rennie Airth (4.4)
62. The Lost Book of Mormon by Avi Steinberg (2.7)
63. *The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier (4.3)
64. Some Luck by Jane Smiley (4.5)
65. "First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen" by Charlie Lovett (3.2)
66. Best American Essays 2014 ed. by John Jeremiah Sullivan (4.5)
67. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (4.7)
68. The Secret Place by Tana French (3.8)
69. One Step too Far by Tina Seskis (2.8)
I'm going to see how many of the Man Booker longlisted books I manage to read. So far, the count is four, of which only one is something I personally would have tapped to move forward (shadow judge that I am!) I'll keep track over the coming weeks...
1. To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris **READ JUNE/JULY** **THUMBS DOWN**
2. The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan **FINISHED 9/15** **THUMBS UP**
3. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler **FINISHED 8/15** **THUMBS DOWN**
4. The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt **READ JULY** **THUMBS UP**
5. J by Howard Jacobson
6. The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth
7. The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
8. The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee
9. Us by David Nicholls
10. The Dog by Joseph O'Neill **FINISHED 8/29** **NEUTRAL**
11. Orfeo by Richard Powers
12. How to Be Both by Ali Smith
13. History of the Rain by Niall Williams
Ironically, the Nicholls book that I was so ambivalent about reading, is the one that I got a free ARC of from Amazon...
I'm setting myself some sub-challenges here: to read or re-read 20 books with a theme that revolves around World War I, its causes or its aftermath. These can be any kind of fiction or non-fiction. I'm also going to try to read 20 books published by Europa Editions. These are starting to pile up on my TBR mountain and it's a shame as they often are very good and a way to discover new to me writers. Indeed, one of the most interesting non-fiction books I have read of late was Valery Panyushkin's analysis of the opposition to Putin, Twelve Who Don't Agree.
Herewith, the tickers and the place I'll log these in addition to the "main" list. I'll list the books I intend/hope/plan to read, and check 'em off as they are completed. Subject to change!!!
World War I: The Great War, its Causes & Its Aftermath
1. The Beauty and the Sorrow by Peter Englund
2. The Final Whistle by Stephen Cooper FINISHED 1/30/14, 3.8 stars
3. The Cartographer of No Man's Land by P.S. Duffy
4. The Archduke's Assassination by Greg King
5. The Unending Vigil by Philip Longworth
6. The Ways of the World by Robert Goddard FINISHED 1/26/14, 3.75 stars
7. *The Great War and Modern Memory by Paul Fussell
8. *The Missing of the Somme by Geoff Dyer
9. Vimy by Pierre Berton
10. Roses of No Man's Land by Lyn Macdonald
11. Death's Men by Denis Winter
12. Undertones of War by Edmund Blunden
13. Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning by Jay Winter
14. Peacemakers by Margaret MacMillan
15. *Night Shall Overtake Us by Kate Saunders FINISHED 1/30/14 3.7 stars,
16. The Wars by Timothy Findley
17. The First Casualty by Ben Elton
18. The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West
19. *Regeneration by Pat Barker FINISHED 4/13/14 5 stars
20. Rising Above the Ruins in France by Corinna Haven Putnam
21. At Break of Day by Elizabeth Speller
22. Singled Out by Virginia Nicholson
23. Dead Man's Land by Robert Ryan FINISHED 3/18/14 4.35 stars
24. Fallen Soldiers by George Mosse
25. Stella Bain by Anita Shreve
26. The Happy Foreigner by Enid Bagnold
27. The Absolutist by John Boyne
28. Wake by Anna Hope FINISHED 3/25/14 4 stars
29. The Forbidden Zone by Mary Borden
30. Gossip From the Forest by Thomas Keneally FINISHED 1/31/14, 4.5 stars
31. Empires of the Dead by David Crane
32. 1914: A Novel by Jean Echenoz FINISHED 1/29/14, 4 stars
33. War Horse by Michael Morpurgo, READ 2/10/14, 3.4 stars
34. Dark Invasion: 1915: Germany's Secret War Against America by Howard Blum, FINISHED 2/11/14 4.5 stars
35. The Trigger by Tim Butcher FINISHED 5/22/14
36. Paris at the End of the World by John Baxter FINISHED 6/23/14, 3 stars
Europa Editions: Old Friends & New Discoveries
1. The Man in the Wooden Hat by Jane Gardam READ 1/4/14, 4.2 stars
2. Last Friends by Jane Gardam FINISHED 1/20/14 3.8 stars
3. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
4. The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante
5. Zeroville by Steve Erickson
6. Lazarus is Dead by Richard Beard
7. The Have-Nots by Katharina Hacker
8. The Dream Maker by Jean-Christophe Rufin
9. Bound in Venice by Alessandro Marzo Magno
10. Summertime All the Cats Are Bored by Philippe Georget
11. Garlic, Mint and Sweet Basil by Jean-Claude Izzo READ 1/7/14, 3.85 stars
12. Bone China by Roma Tearne
13. The Thursday Night Men by Tonino Benacquista
14. Dispute Over a Very Italian Piglet by Amara Lakhous
15. Last Train to Paris by Michele Zackheim FINISHED 6/30/14 2.7 stars
16. Cecilia by Linda Ferri
17. The Frost on His Shoulders by Lorenzo Mediano
18. Heliopolis by James Scudamore
19. The Nun by Simonetta Agnello
20. Twelve Who Don't Agree by Valery Panyushkin FINISHED 5/24/14 5 stars
21. In the Orchard, the Swallows by Peter Hobbs
22. The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price by Wendy Jones
23. Revolution Baby by Joanna Gruda
24. Seven Lives and One Great Love by Lena Divani FINISHED 6/21/14 3.4 stars
25. Time Present and Time Past by Deirdre Madden FINISHED 6/25/14 4.2 stars
Congrats on reaching the 350 mark with your reading.
>7 avatiakh: I think you may like it even more than I did, then. I found the historical fiction aspect most enjoyable, and appreciated the structure while sometimes finding it frustrating.
>8 nittnut: >9 scaifea: Thank you!
OK, back to work, with pounding head, dammit.
Booker longlist reading looks to be going well though, I have avoided it this year and I feel a little left out because of it. I really enjoyed last year getting caught up in it all. It helped that a local gal took the prize at the end of it all too!
David Mitchell should do better than David Nicholls I am guessing, based on the one from each of theirs that I have sampled.
I have Bitter Greens on my wishlist, but I am not sure how it will go down with me, guess I will try to make this one a library book.
352. Happy Endings by Trisha Ashley
This was a re-read of a novel by one of my favorite 'chick lit' novelists, although what I like about her is that she writes about older women who are anything but conventionally chick lit types. They tend to be iconoclastic, a bit offbeat, and wouldn't be caught dead in a pair of Jimmy Choos. For instance, the heroine of this novel, Tina, may write romance novels, but doesn't want to live one: she's involved with a hunky retired ballet dancer turned yoga guru, but strictly on a once-a-week basis and does NOT yearn after matrimony; her romantic entanglements in the novel are decidedly unconventional, and that's half the fun. The plot? Well, when things get going, her career looks as if it's heading into the toilet -- her publisher has been taken over, her new editor is her ex-husband, who wants cute, chipper blonde bombshells as authors, not older brunette types who kinda earn out their advances but never do spectacularly well, and then her agent decides to focus on higher-earning types, too. Not bad enough? Her manuscript critique business attracts a hostile accountant client and then a stalker. But then a weird misunderstanding results in some unexpected publicity for Tina's new novel and things start to turn around... Fun, but not my favorite. Still, better than Ashley's latest books, which are becoming drearily conventional chick lit, alas. 3.8 stars. I listened to the audiobook, which was fun, as it's written as Tina chattily confiding details of her life to a dictaphone style device that someone gives her as a gift.
353. Florence Gordon by Brian Morton
This novel -- by a new-to-me author -- is more interesting as a love letter to New York city than as a novel in its own right. The title character is interesting in the same way that the central character of An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine was interesting -- Florence, a feminist icon now in her mid-70s, is a curmudgeon who just wants to be left alone to get on with her intellectual pursuits, but her family won't let her. And the author won't let the reader focus on Florence. Instead, we learn about her daughter-in-law's lust for a professional colleague, her son's woes, her granddaughter's problems, etc. etc. It's too scattershot, and not fresh or interesting or engaging enough. The setting and backdrop are, and Florence is, but that's not enough to carry the whole oeuvre. I suspect I'm in the minority here, based on the early ratings, and the writing is very good, as are the character sketches, but this will be a novel I forget very rapidly. 3.6 stars.
354. The Lady of Sorrows by Anne Zouroudi
The next in the "fat man" mystery series, and the weakest to date, alas, perhaps because the characters were the least well developed and the mystery rather grim and depressing. The three previous novels have seen the guilty punished and the good receive some reward -- here there seem to be no "good" folks to be rewarded. In any event -- the plot revolves around an allegedly miracle-working icon that may not be all it seems, a family of icon painters, some gypsies, and some mysteries catacombs. I'll keep reading, but this was a disappointment. 3.4 stars.
I hope the head stops hurting and the anxiety levels off... immediately!
It's odd, but a friend of mine had posted something on FB about a young woman with stage 4 glioblastoma, diagnosed a few months after she was married. She and her family -- husband, mother and stepfather -- moved to Oregon earlier this year so that she would have the right to end her own life, and she plans to do so on November 1. When I read that, the idea of having a pre-determined date left me kind of gasping. Then, when I was almost crying with pain in the middle of the night, I realized that if I had had a bottle of whatever it is she had that promised a quick and permanent end to it, I would have taken it at that moment. It was a kind of unnerving realization, because I'm not suicidal at all. I am just tired of nights like that and knowing that they'll come back. And then having them mess up my life so seriously. Really, the Topamax had been helping so much and now it has become so difficult again -- or at least, it's all going in the wrong direction again. Gah.
Oh well, only managed three hours of sleep last night, so I need to catch up tonight so that I can get caught up on work tomorrow and get ready for my mother's visit, because that will be exhausting.
I live with anxiety, too, although not with physical pain. I hate when I wake up with my heart pounding -- like, isn't sleep supposed to be relaxing and restful?? I feel lucky that I can still run 3-4 days a week because that is absolutely the best antidote to my anxiety. It keeps me sane.
Sending you good thoughts....
Gin does more than Milt or Malt
to let us know its not our fault.
I'm not really losing my marbles, just -- fed up. That's all. And I really don't have that much to kvetch about.
But then this morning I read this...
Let's hope they aren't reading my LT threads!
Another bad migraine all day today.
355. The Good Girl by Mary Kubica
356. The Wife, The Maid and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon
357. The Marquis: Lafayette Reconsidered by Laura Auricchio
358. A Map of Betrayal by Ha Jin
359. The Founder of the House by Naomi Jacob
360. Law of the Jungle by Paul Barrett
361. The Reckoning by Rennie Airth
362. The Lost Book of Mormon by Avi Steinberg
363. The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier
364. Some Luck by Jane Smiley
365. First Impressions by Charlie Lovett
366. Best American Essays 2014 edited by John Jeremiah Sullivan
367. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
368. The Secret Place by Tana French
369. One Step Too Far by Tina Seskis
370. Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas
371. The Winter Guest by Pam Jenoff
372. Off Course: Inside the Mad, Muddy World of Obstacle Course Racing by Erin Bersini
373. Empire of Sin by Gary Krist
& sorry you are feeling so terrible off and on. Here's hoping it becomes more often off than on! I've been so ill that that thought as crossed my mind too before. Fortunately not for a really long time. It's not a good place to be.
I've been over and read a few of your Vine reviews. :) Concise and useful, as always. I was particularly curious about the Avi Steinberg book as I thought it had potential. Too bad.
I just finished up the third in the All Souls Trilogy. The second book was by far my favorite. The third was a great read, complex enough to be interesting. But. Really. Did we have to go there with the love triangle and Gallowglass? Seriously? It's like there's a rule that says If You are Writing Paranormal Romance, thou Shalt insert a Love Triangle. Somewhere. YErgh. :)
I just got the 2014 Best American Essays....I am looking forward to diving into it.
Hope all's well there, you're suriving both Mother's visit and migraines with equanimity and grace.
Yes, the headaches have been bad, one doozy every four to six days, then a recovery day required. Saturday was a headache day and so was today, but I had to finish writing my Guardian piece which is about all the hullabaloo surrounding Margo Howard's piece about Vine reviewers (of whom I am one)
... and about Kathleen Hale's author-stalking, which also ran in the Guardian.
As some of you know, I acquired my own author/stalker as a result of an LTER review I posted here in early 2012, and the column begins with that experience, and how it contributed my decision to stop blogging. So I'm kinda nervous. I don't mention LT or the author's name, though. I'll post the link when it runs.
Meanwhile, I'm going to be on Al Jazeera tomorrow talking about my last column:
I must have been demented. The show -- The Stream -- airs live tomorrow at 3:30 p.m. Eastern. Have I ever said how much I loathe doing TV??
eta: sorry about complaints. Good to have you back.
It is a new world out there as we more and more often turn to personal reviews on the internet for information on companies we are planning on dealing with, movies we may want to see and, of course, books we might want to read.
I guess it's a fine line between taking advantage of any free advertising that comes their way or taking umbrage when that said free advertising doesn't pan out the way they had hoped.
Hope the migraines are lessening and yes, the story coming out of Ottawa today, and Montreal a few days earlier is heartbreaking.
I like the last paragraph. :-) (And the rest of it too.)
Loved the column!!
For quite a long time, as you know, I was hoping to achieve Amazon Vine status. Not so much anymore.
The news out of Ottawa is heartbreaking. I can't believe it.
How did your visit with your mom go? Sorry to hear about your sequence of migraines--I really hoped you were past that.
ETA yes, I remember that discussion at the time. The author is STILL suspended, and there are 24 1 star reviews on Amazon. Many more 5 star reviews, of course.
Will try to catch up on updates when I'm not exhausted/way far behind on everything.
>44 lindapanzo: Linda, the array of books on offer via Vine has been disappointing of late. It's much harder to nab the interesting stuff under the new system. My "queue" currently contains two books, some wood furniture polish, some hand lotion, a thermostat, a doll, mouse traps, a cover for an iPhone that I don't have, and a tablecloth. What a weird hodge podge. And it's been like that since July. I have to wait until books tumble into "Vine for All" and fight for them then. Sigh.
Great column, Suzanne!
>47 LizzieD: Money doesn't come to any of us easily, does it? Even time is scarce.
>49 Copperskye: I'm not going to read her books, but only because even with improvement, I can't seem them (for me) exceeding three stars. And that just isn't enough to make want to think about investing the time in them. It's one thing to go in and hope for a four-star book and find it's a three star read -- hey, that happens. And if I don't have to review something, and it's a two-star book or less, it can simply be a DNF.
What is REALLY weird is that my Chasing Goldman Sachs page on Facebook has picked up 89 page views. Today. For a page that hasn't been updated in four years. Related? I betcha. (as Kathleen Hale might put it).
Hope the Al Jazeera thingy went well despite the icky TV-ness of it!
Where's My Good Review?
October 25, 2014 3:30 p.m.
Trinity Forum 206 Clarendon St.
There have never been more opinions about books in the media. But what has happened to critical argument? Is there a difference between debates online and in print? Need there be? Books pages in the press are shrinking and books sections have closed while literary discussion is thriving on social media. But who has the responsibility for keeping criticism alive? Join a conversation with Sir Peter Stothard, newspaper editor, prize-winning author, and for the last twelve years, editor of the Times Literary Supplement. For more than a century the TLS has stood for the most searching criticism of books and ideas. Join in its analysis of the problems and opportunities ahead. Sponsored by the Times Literary Supplement.
I suppose I could go to that session and be a little late to see the game --- If you were planning on being there.
There were a few other sessions earlier which looked interesting as well. I was thinking of the Claire Messud/Meg Wolitzer one and then the history keynote thing by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Goodwin ends at 3:15 and the Stothard thing is right next door...
Are you game?
Here's the complete schedule of events. Everything I'm interested in is free.
There's a 5 p.m. session on creativity that is interesting, too.
If I didn't get to the Messud /Wolitzer talk, I was thinking about the one on Fitzgerald, Joyce and Zweig, which is still too early for you. I think I'll take a pass on the suspense one.
However, the suspense one is at the Carver room in the Commonwealth Hotel which is not far from Trinity Church. Shall we met on the steps of Trinity Church for the Goodwin one and then make our way later to Stothard?
I'll have to bow out after that to meet up with John, but the creativity session does look very interesting.
Sound like a plan?
Your response was very gracious!
I loved Station Eleven; I thought it was immensely clever and intriguing and I was very dismayed when it was over. I listened to the audiobook.
OK, lunch, and the end of The Secret Place, now that I've finished my next Guardian column and the edit of a hedge fund report. Wow. headachey again, but that's because I haven't eaten, I fear.
It's actually worse than that. I still haven't managed "lunch", and now it's 9:20 p.m. Good grief. Going to reheat leftover chicken pot pie RIGHT NOW.
I'm glad you got work done. I neglected to say that, and I'm glad not to have to worry.
I hope the headachiness is gone by now - and that you have had a chance to eat.
I'm sorry you are having yet another bout of migraines...no fun indeed!
Met with Marianne before my first session and her second at the Book Festival yesterday but alas -- she got in to see Doris Kearns Goodwin but my session involving thriller writers was full up -- including standing room (much smaller venue), so I puttered around until meeting Marianne for the Stothard session. His views on reviewing haven't mellowed, but they are more nuanced and detailed than have otherwise been reported -- he made a good case for the need for well-reasoned argument over opinion and emotion, for instance, and shot down, rather politely and witheringly, his final questioner, who showed that she hadn't been listening at all when she said that she struggled to review or commission reviews about books she didn't like because they weren't worth her time. He pointed out that a book doesn't need to be likeable to be worthy and essentially told her that she was part of the problem... (Ouch) but in the politest possible way... That said, he also didn't really have much of an answer for why opinion on mundane books and the kind of literary criticism he conducts couldn't coexist. Since most blogs aren't treading on the kind of territory he's talking about -- that of bona fide literary criticism -- and no one is really going to take seriously an Amazon review of a new very literary novel over that of, say, someone in TLS or NYRB, it felt someone silly.
I'll try and pull together some more thoughts on this later.
Yes, headaches have been bad and more frequent than over the summer, although not lasting more than a day, typically, which is still better than it was in the "bad old days". Still, I had begun to get accustomed to a different pattern, so it's a bummer.
My mother was here two weeks ago, and she really enjoyed herself, I think, although she has a lot more difficulty in moving around. Arthritis/sciatica atop her heart condition (congenital -- it's an abnormality that killed her great-uncle in his 50s and nearly killed her at about the same age) mean that she has slowed down a LOT but given that she is now 77, an age, she didn't ever expect to reach, it's not that bad, really. I picked her up at the airport in Boston & brought her back to Providence. An acquaintance of mine is CEO of Waterfire, and arranged for us to be on one of the boats that go up and down the river here (google Waterfire and Providence and you'll see what I'm talking about) after dinner that night -- an "access boat" that she could get on, and she loved that. A friend of mine drove us down to Newport the next day (my bad migraine day) with a stop in Bristol for brunch, and we did a bit of sightseeing on the following day before coming back (on the Rhode Island bus system, for $2!) The B&B we stayed in is apparently haunted, and my room was apparently one of the haunted ones, but no ghostly apparitions. Apparently, they visited the woman in the room beneath me (the other haunted room), who was aware that her room was haunted (I had heard that the house was, but not which rooms). Evidence that predisposition brings confirmation?? So, another day so in Providence, and I took her back to Boston to the airport, turned around and came back home. Good to see her, but it was tiring, expensive (a month's income, essentially...) and I am still trying to catch up on work.
>29 tiffin: That is an elegant way to phrase it, Tui -- and very apposite!!
>30 nittnut: I'll try to get going with my reviews a little bit later. I was VERY disappointed with the Avi Steinberg book; it was all about this kind of tortured hipster persona obsessed with the Book of Mormon and on a personal literary pilgrimage. I could see the arguments that he was trying to make, but it didn't hang together. Had the structured been more robust, the tone would have irritated me less, I think.
>31 alcottacre: I think I owe you multiple waves by now, Stasia! Glad to see you're spending more time hanging out here...
>32 Cobscook: The Essays, as ever, were a motley collection this year, Heidi, but as I commented for my Amazon review, a very personal collection. There were some that I loved, and a few that moved me deeply. A hilarious one by a woman about becoming sixty-five - perfectly pitched, light indignation, and some serious thoughts underneath it. Those anthologies are just wonderful to have on my shelves.
>36 Smiler69: >37 Smiler69: Sorry, Ilana, I can't really agree with you on that. I have to say I'm glad that no one else was hurt. It's a tragedy, and would have been more so had the PM been injured -- whatever we think of his policies. There's a point at which the office becomes more important than the individual, and it's in a situation like this. I do think this autumn has been particularly bad for anyone struggling with neurological pain of any kind; hope things are better now...
>39 DeltaQueen50: Judy, yes, vendors are trying to strike back or act pre-emptively. There was a case recently of a B&B in the Hudson River valley that indicated that anyone leaving a negative review would have their credit card charged $500 or something absurd like that. And if it was in conjunction with a wedding, it would mean the forfeit of the wedding party's deposit. Just -- wow. In journalism, we'd call that "libel chill".
>41 cbl_tn:, To every book, its reader, right? Just not necessarily us... I just want people to make their minds up based on the books, not an author's behavior. I really do hate it when people slap a one-star rating on a book they haven't even read, simply because of an author's public statements, behavior or beliefs. If you haven't read the book, IMHO, you shouldn't rate it. Just don't bother. Ignore it. Doesn't matter if you think that the author is devil's spawn.
>43 Chatterbox: Amazon Vine isn't what it used to be. I can still find books, but it requires spending more time on the site and the forum to figure out what is there, and when it might wend its way through multiple "queue" cycles and drop into Vine for All (the leftovers group). Because for the most part I'm not being targeted for interesting books. I will add, hastily, that this isn't absolute -- I was just offered a fascinating book about Kurt Weill, Bertolt Brecht and their circle in Weimar Germany, as well as the Best American Essays collection. I'm even contemplating passing up "Best American Travel Writing" simply because I'm anthology-ed out at this point. But most of the stuff that I'd normally grab I have to fight for, and it's frustrating as can be. I missed Anthony Horowtiz's "Sherlock", for instance, and now I'll have to buy it! Under the old system, that wouldn't have happened. Either I would have been targeted, or it would have been my first pick the next week. Free books are always good, but right now my queue contains weird stuff like a Kindle cover, Mop & Glow, a stylus for an iPad that I don't have, Turtlewax for a car ditto, an energy drink, a weird head thing to be used in martial arts training -- and yes, a few books, most of which are mildly targeted, at least. (Instead of wildly untargeted -- a few weeks ago, it was all, how to run a triathlon and coach a soccer team, or kids' books.)
>45 ronincats: What bemused me about Kathleen Hale is the combination of this very creative writing style and the deeply confessional/personal writings -- that's what all her essays are. After a time, it becomes wearying. I might have tried her novel, but it was YA, which is a genre that simply doesn't interest me that much. Even before all this flared up, it had struck me that this was a young woman that just wasn't terribly interested in maturing even as she "grew up". She's a hipster who almost deliberately sets out to look and act even younger than she is, instead of thinking about serious stuff. I'm not sure that I'm expressing myself clearly, but...
>51 Mr.Durick: Aha, Robert, that explains it! How amusing... Yes, one way or another I can't escape being pinged by my own content. It's funny -- I don't in the least mind seeing my stuff in print, but I hate seeing myself on TV and WILL NOT WATCH. I just loathe it with a passion.
>52 tiffin: That makes two of us. I choose to believe it was a crazy nutcase fan and not the author who did this. No one that unhinged could crank out four books and manage a family and a PR machine, etc. At least, this is what I am choosing to believe. Please don't disillusion me!
>55 flissp: It was a 45 minute show, and 15 minutes of setup beforehand, so an hour staring into very bright studio lights. Not a lot of fun... Also, a debate with three other people, and two AJ anchors, none of whom I could see. I had to stare into a tiny camera lens, trying to look as if I could see what was happening, and appear interested and engaged, and find opportunities to make my voice heard (difficult, the way the conversation unfolded) and not look like a stunned giraffe. Did I mention that I don't like TV? Yes, well...
>56 msf59: Hi Marky-Mark! (see, I'm FINALLY catching up!) I will try and pull together thoughts on the books starting a bit later on today. I'm going to try to limit the time in front of the computer, partly because of the bloody head and partly because I spent so much time working and not moving enough last week that I'm having lower back problems again, as poor Marianne can swear to. (When we had to leave the last event yesterday, it took me a while before I could get my spine straightened out and my legs moving pain free -- and same thing when I got off the train. Shifting positions is -- literally -- a pain!)
>67 banjo123: Thanks for the comment. Yes, any time that an author gets involved in commenting on a review it can be awkward. I suppose that if all it is is thanks, I don't mind. I'll Tweet my reviews sometimes, and I'll sometimes Tweet my #FridayReads, and if it's a book I'm loving, I'll mention the author. A week or two ago, the author of the Lafayette bio acknowledged that and we had a short Twitter dialog, since I had finished the book in Newport, site of many of Lafayette's key achievements, and it was fun. But it wasn't a discussion of my review, which was rather the point. It was about the book and about Lafayette. It was the kind of exchange we might have had had we met at a book fair or similar event.
>75 Mr.Durick: I really should put "eat" on my schedule. I KNOW this is my own fault. It's simply that I get caught up in whatever I'm working on and I know that if I stop/interrupt, it's going to be harder to re-immerse myself in it. Then, too, there are all those times when JUST as I'm about to stop and eat -- it's in the microwave or on the stove -- the phone rings and it's something I need to discuss. I can't just say, sorry, about to have lunch. Sigh. (Cue self pity)
>76 Whisper1: Linda, thanks, but it's just the same BS that I've had all my life, so bad on some days and on others, just normal life. Thankfully, not constant grinding pain of the kind that you and others I know live with 24/7. That would do me in, I suspect.
>77 sibylline: Lucy, YES, I'm convinced it's the season; that, and stress, which is sky-high for me at the moment. I'm going to try to have a quiet day today, although I promised to edit an intractable story for a magazine editor friend and whip it into shape. They're going to pay me, so I'll need to spend some time with it this afternoon. It should at least be amusing -- all about young royals in New York City!
Book reviews/comments to come later. I did just finish reading Barracuda, and once again Christos Tsiolkas has amazed me. He develops unlikable characters that fascinate and intrigue me. I didn't like his Danny Kelly, but at the same time, he broke my heart.
My downfall was spotting the NYRB booth, which I zoomed over to in order to grab a hard copy of the magazine (free); so much easier than the cyber edition (that I subscribe to on my Kindle.
There was a copy of Ian Buruma's latest book, Theater of Cruelty with all its wonderful illustrations, sitting right there. At about 1/3 off. So I grabbled it. And an interesting-looking paperback, Fear by Gabriel Chevalier, which is a WW1 novel by a survivor of the trenches. And while I was paying for those, I spotted The New York Review Abroad: Fifty Years of International Reportage and got that too. Wandering down the booths, I spotted an old acquaintance/friend, one of the publishers behind Europa Editions, and stopped to catch up with him. Picked up a copy of Alina Bronsky's new novel, Just Call Me Superhero, which will add further to my Europa backlog! Again, all of these books on big discounts, since there was no retailer markup to pay. I did pay nearly market price for Alexandria: The Last Nights of Cleopatra by Peter Stothard after the latter's talk, but by then I had given up... So there goes my book budget for the third quarter! I shall have to buy a copy of Passage to India for the book circle, but that's it. And I'll punt my remaining Thingaversary purchases into the New Year!
A belated Happy Thingaversary. My Thingaversary is in November, but I've been making so many book purchases this month as a form of self-medication against the pain that I'm not sure how I'll be able to justify yet more books, but somehow I'm sure I will.
Now, had you made a joke about Harper hiding in the cupboard, preparing to defend himself with a sawn-off flagpole... I find that whole image hilarious, and I do hope the editorial cartoonists go to town on it. (For anyone who has not been following the Ottawa story -- Canada's PM apparently hid himself in a cupboard in the caucus room, unknown to members of his own party, while this was all happening. Great example of leadership under fire, wasn't it?? Nobody knew where he was until it was all over, when he emerged from said cupboard...)
Good luck with Thingaversary shopping; rationalizations are ALWAYS possible, but $$ is simply too tight right now for me to even try. I've got enough ARCs to keep me going, and there is always the library.
>83 DeltaQueen50: Thanks, Judy! I can't believe it has been that long... Although I didn't start dropping in here until early 2010, so not quite five years.
And it was nice to get out again this weekend, even for a day, to the Book Fair events. I do much less of that in Providence, simply because I don't have a social circle here. The downside of working from home...
>94 lunacat: To be fair, I don't think Harper was actually clutching one of the sharpened flagpoles. Other MPs -- in the absence of other weapons -- had taken the flagpoles and broken them in half, having barricaded the doors. I don't blame them in the least, actually, especially having seen that there were bullet holes in the outside of those doors. The gun battle was fought in the hallway right outside the caucus rooms where all the MPs were meeting at the time.
>95 michigantrumpet: Yes, indeed!! I hope you guys had a great time at the hockey game and that the outcome was better than that of the football...
Re: the MPs, terrifying times especially with no accurate knowledge as to how many assaulters, location, etc. One would have thought the PM would have been surrounded by Canadian versions of the secret service and maybe even tossed into the cupboard by one of them. It's not the PM's and MPs' jobs to be heroes here. They needed to be kept safe.
Speaking of broadcasting, stunned by the Jian Ghomeshi reports. Very unclear to me what is what. CBC wouldn't have fired the guy had there not been more than what we are hearing publicly - they had to feel they would be bullet-proof from the lawsuit. At the same time, they knew they couldn't afford a BBC-style scandal, and I find the idea that a jilted ex could whip up something like this (if not whip up this specifically) scarily plausible, given the readiness with which I've seen people accept scenarios for which they have incomplete information, and their willingness to damn people based on that incomplete information. And yet... I also know how hard it is for women to report rape/assault at all, especially when the man is in a position of power and influence. So I'm looking at this in horror. In fact, I think I'll go and look at LOLcats instead to restore my sanity and then go back to work...
I think this is the smartest thing he could have done. He's getting a lot of support from people who don't know the other side (because the women are anonymous and silent and the CBC is a faceless corporation). We can't gauge the other side. We only have this one person, who is presenting an individual story that is reasonably believable. But it leaves out the power dynamics.
I am very, very wary of anyone who thinks they can reach a conclusion based on the information that is out there. The CBC knows more; I suspect the Star knows a little bit more than they have written, but whether it is accurate or not, I don't know. I wonder why women would feel OK about talking to a journalist and not to a cop? (Especially given that Ghomeshi is a journalist and Canada's journalism world is especially nastily incestuous.) On the other hand, I can't imagine the CBC putting itself in harm's way, deliberately -- this suggests to me that there's a biggish fire underneath the smoke. On the third hand, the CBC doesn't want to be accused of repeating the BBC fiasco...
This piece, forwarded by a friend in Toronto, also makes a LOT of sense to me.
Right now am trying to finish Hermione Lee's excellent bio of Penelope Fitzgerald, but what with one thing or another, struggling. My hip is aching and acting up, my teeth are again giving me problems (an urgent dental appointment is clearly needed) and my anxiety levels are off the charts. And all this is terribly tedious, so I shall stop whimpering about it. After all, I am surrounded by snoring cats, which is a Good Thing.
My new audiobook is The Fear Index by Robert Harris. Somehow, I had skipped over that and now I'm wondering how/why I did. It has a blockbuster first chapter.
I have the much more common 'snoring' dog. She sleeps in a bed under my desk and it does get noisy.
>108 scaifea: Ouch, I really hope that this just a lose filling. Good luck with that.... This is, alas, significantly more serious than a one-tooth thing, though, and the latest installment of decades of problems.
Cat snores, in a way, even when they are noisy are soft and reassuring. So much better than people snores!!!!
>109 sibylline: Welcome, as always, Lucy...
>81 Chatterbox: "...once again Christos Tsiolkas has amazed me. He develops unlikable characters that fascinate and intrigue me. I didn't like his Danny Kelly, but at the same time, he broke my heart." Oh, I can't wait to read your comments about Barracuda. I agree that Danny Kelly was an unlikeable character and I had a hard time spending an entire novel in his head, but as a character he is so interesting.
>110 Chatterbox: "Cat snores, in a way, even when they are noisy are soft and reassuring. So much better than people snores!!!!"
So true! I wonder why that is.
The assimilation of Jews especially in Germany is always an interesting topic. Simon Schama covered it quite well in his documentary 'The Story of the Jews'. The second volume of his history of the Jews has just been published which covers this period, The Story of the Jews: When Words Fail: 1492--Present.
>113 avatiakh: Yes, I know you're much closer to Israeli/Jewish fiction as a category than I am, so I suspect your reaction will be different. It's going to be one of those situations where how you respond depends on your historic relationship with the author, your age, and all kinds of other demographic issues.
OK, onto some reviews/comments:
355. The Good Girl by Mary Kubica
Hearing readers draw comparisons between this novel and Gone Girl made me eager to read this, but it didn't measure up. Perhaps part of the problem is that some of the suspense is gone -- we know that Mia Dennett is gone, kidnapped; and we know that she returns safely, at least in body. In spirit? Well, not so much. She is dissociated from reality and can't even seem to acknowledge that her name is Mia, referring to herself as Chloe instead. What happened? Well, we learn, eventually, as we follow three separate narrative strands, both "before" Mia is brought home and "after". One of those voices belongs to Eve, Mia's mother; a second to Gabe, charged with investigating her disappearance; and the third to Colin, the young man who has kidnapped her and who then holds her in a remote cabin in Minnesota.
The problem is that only in the very final pages of this novel, when Mia finally speaks in her own voice, did I get any sense of who she herself was as a character. Until then, she had been an enigma: a beloved daughter, a sought-after victim, a burden. But nothing about the novel gave me any sense of her as a person in her own right -- she was an enigma, and not in a good way. A skilled author can conjure up a sense of a character's personality without having to have her narrate her own point of view chapters; Kubica either chooses not to do so or can't. The problem, then, is that Mia's plight never became real or vivid to me. Colin's problems were far more real, as indeed was his character, but that didn't make him either an interesting or likable character -- indeed, he was simply predictable, and nothing in the book made the way the relationship between him and Mia evolve as he is holding her in the cottage remotely convincing. The words were flat on the page; nothing made them live.
As for the twist... Well, it was a big one, admittedly, but I confess I saw it coming. And for me to find it remotely believable, most of these characters would have had to be substantially more three-dimensional than they were. 3.2 stars.
356. The Wife, the Maid and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon
Every year, on the anniversary of his disappearance in August 1930, the presumed widow of the long-missing New York Supreme Court Judge Crater shows up at the speakeasy where he used to hang out with some of the city's most glamorous showgirls and most dangerous gangsters to drink to his memory. Finally, in 1969, she promises to tell the cop who has been assigned the very, very cold case -- and who has a particularly personal connection with it -- the truth of the matter... And thus begins a rather gripping novel based on Ariel Lawhon's imaginings of what could have been, revolving around the three women of the title. Stella Crater, the judge's wife, is poised and apparently hard as nails, but principled in her own way; Ritzi, the showgirl mistress, is already finding that New York is far from the glamorous world of her imagining when one night she sees and hears far more than she ever wanted to, and finds her own life threatened as a result. Maria, the maid, is the most imaginary of the three: connected to the showgirls, gangsters and cops in unexpected ways, she also plays a series of unexpected and crucial parts in the unfolding drama.
I ended up enjoying this much, much more than I feared I might. Judge Crater's disappearance is history: we know he doesn't come back and, like Jimmy Hoffa, can probably make a reasonably decent guess that he came to a sticky end. The only question is at whose hands and why? Lawhon takes one of the obvious explanations and expands upon it with tremendous creativity. Sometimes the narrative tension flags a bit, and the darting back and forth in time becomes slightly wearing, while the final reveal did end up feeling a bit like a kind of cheat -- as if Lawhon hadn't given the reader quite enough relevant information to figure it out for themselves (a no-no for mystery authors). That said, it definitely makes the grade for a thumping good read, especially if you've got a liking for "puzzle" yarns or true crime transposed to the world of fiction. 4.1 stars.
357. The Marquis: Lafayette Reconsidered by Laura Auricchio
"As sincere an American as any Frenchman can be." That was James Madison's assessment of Gilbert du Motier, Marquis du Lafayette -- better known to history and to Americans, in particular, simply as "Lafayette". Aged only 19, and hungry for the classically aristocratic kind of glory only obtainable through valor in pursuit of a noble cause, as his new biographer so eloquently describes, Lafayette defied the French king to set sail for the fledgling United States early in the revolution. In short order, he became not only one of Washington's right-hand men in the campaigns that followed but also a persuasive advocate for a Franco-American military and then political alliance. That partnership would take an unexpected turn less than a decade after Lafayette's return home to France, when the liberal marquis, encouraging reform, suddenly finds himself briefly idolized by the masses who mistake him for someone who might lead their revolution. But only briefly, as history would show...
The focus of this lively and accessible biography is Lafayette's involvement in these "sister revolutions", as some historians have called them. In the United States, an awkward and wealthy young aristocrat was able to come of age in the battles that led up to the final capitulation of the British forces. But the French revolution would prove to be quite a different kettle of fish, and one of the aspects that I found most intriguing about Laura Auricchio's biography was the way that she was able to contrast the spirit and nature of the two revolutions and how that contrast, combined with the impact of his U.S. successes on Lafayette's personality, may have made him less effective a leader in the interregnum between the fall of the Bastille in 1789 and the rise to power of the Jacobins like Robespierre in 1792. Lafayette sought a a constitutional monarchy, and to some extent seems to have assumed that crafting a constitution and a bill of rights would be a panacea. But the winds of change in France were blowing at hurricane force, and from an unexpected direction, with a very different result.
The author plays with some interesting ideas -- including the idea that Lafayette might have been an early true multinational citizen (not just a migrant but someone owing philosophical allegiance to many nations) -- so that even though it revisits a lot of very well-trodden ground, I still found it intriguing. It's also immensely well-written. 4.4 stars.
This was the second novel I had read by Ha Jin, following his most recent work, Nanjing Requiem, and the two unfortunately share many of the same faults. In fact, I think I can distill the problem down to a single phrase: when read as fiction, they are strangely bloodless. That's particularly strange, since the material that the author is working with is fascinating. In the earlier novel, he wrote what should have been a vivid account of the Nanjing massacre, through the eyes of one of the Western "heroes", someone who saved hundreds of Chinese and yet who couldn't live with herself later. And yet I never felt emotionally connected to the novel's heroine in the least. In this book, the narrative is divided between Lilian Shang, an American academic telling her story in the present day and in the first person, and her father, Gary, who, in the chaos leading up to the Communist seizure of power in China, becomes a valuable translator and worker for the Americans and is evacuated with them, first to Taiwan and Okinawa and ultimately to the United States. But all the time, Gary is a spy for the Communist regime, smuggling information to them over the course of decades before he is finally caught and imprisoned. Now Lilian is teaching in China, and seeks out her father's first family: a sister, and that sister's children, with unforeseen consequences.
That's fairly dramatic, and the themes of betrayal that run throughout the past and present day narratives are powerful stuff; in fact, they may be some of the most powerful literary fare imaginable. But nowhere did any of these characters come alive as individuals for me. Always, it is Ha Jin who is telling me so and so did this or said that -- the dialog is stilted and predictable, there is a lack of narrative tension that runs throughout this. I wasn't expecting a pulse-pounding thriller, with a cliff hanger at the end of every chapter. What I did expect, however, was what I look for in any novel: a feeling that these are real characters, having real conversations, somewhere in a parallel universe. Not what felt like a history lecture/exposition of "how to think about Chinese history in the 20th century" or "what it means to betray, psychologically speaking".
This is a pedantic novel, and as such the 270-odd pages felt like double that number. It's a pity, because the subject matter is so promising, and because Ha Jin is such a talented writer. Based on the evidence that I've seen to date in the form of these two novels, however, I've yet to see proof that he is a talented novelist, with the ability to sweep a reader off into a fictional landscape.
359. The Founder of the House by Naomi Jacob
I read this series -- 7 or 8 books, I don't even know any longer! -- in the early 80s, and really enjoyed the family saga set against the backdrop of antique and art dealing. The Gollantz family has their roots in Paris and Vienna in the early/mid 19th century, and by the end of this first volume, Emmanuel Gollantz, the founder of the title, is heading off to London, where he will create a family business and a dynasty. The problem? This didn't wear well with time, and I don't know whether it's me or the book. The author -- born to a Jewish family but raised in the Church of England -- tends to stereotype Jews in both good and bad ways. There are the bad Jews -- the grasping ghetto kind, who give them a bad name. (Like Emmanuel's uncle, who brings the family to grief.) There are good Jews, like Emmanuel and his father, with principles so high that Austro-Hungarian nobility don't know how to cope when they meet them -- they are supermen, intellectually superior, etc. etc. etc. Both extremes are exaggerated, of course. And none of the characters really convinced. Sadly, a youthful fave that didn't resonate, although the series is being republished now. 3 stars.
360. The Law of the Jungle by Paul Barrett
Do the means justify the ends??? That's the root question here. If you have a taste for good vs evil environmental battles, in which right triumphs over wrong, justice is clearly done, and the hero rides off into the sunset as the final credits roll up the screen, you will be better off in heading to a movie theater than you will reading this book. Because while there are plenty of details about the despoilation of the rainforest lands in Ecuador as drilling under the auspices of Texaco and the national petroleum company of Petroecuador swung into full gear in the 1970s and 1980s -- and the impact of that environmental degradation on the local population, from small-scale farmers trying to eke out a living to the indigenous populations -- this isn't that kind of story. In fact, it's singularly devoid of heroes, although it does contain one larger-than-life wannabe hero, lawyer Steven Donziger, a Harvard contemporary of Barack Obama's devoted to causes, and to keeping himself at the center of the action.
When Donziger stumbles across the havoc that Texaco and Petroecuador had wreaked on the rainforest, he decided he had found his case. It would make history, and it would make him millions in fees -- and make his reputation as a Goliath-killer in human rights law. What Barrett has done, very adroitly, is to remind the reader that reality is very, very rarely as black and white as those as single minded as Donziger (or, for that mater as Texaco and its successor company/acquirer, Chevron) would like to think. From the pesky question of who was responsible for the vast majority of the contamination and how much Texaco actually earned from its Ecuador ventures, to the issue of whether there was enough evidence to prove (in a court of law) a causal link between environmental damage and health, Barrett deftly encourages our instinct to empathize with the local population in Ecuador, while reminding us that this was, ultimately, a legal battle. Donziger's studies at Harvard included a movement known as Critical Legal Studies, or CLS, which taught that laws weren't neutral or abstract, "let alone a clear path to justice". Rather, the law -- in the hands of the powerful -- could simply serve to reinforce political privileges. Donziger's later behavior -- as documented here by Barrett -- gave Chevron the tools it needed to try to destroy him personally. What happens when personalities become as important as causes? When it requires a showman to tackle a corporate oil giant? These are some of the provocative questions that Barrett ends up addressing. The result is a highly nuanced book that is likely to be of interest to anyone with an interest in the whole question of "corporate citizenship" versus the rest of society and the legal situations that we confront as a result of that.
The real losers in this war, of course, are the people who still live in the still-polluted rainforest. Even if Chevron coughed up the enormous settlement, scarcely a penny would they see, thanks to the way Donziger farmed out the economics of the case. Everyone saw them as a means to an end. For the oil companies -- and Chevron/Texaco may have been the least of the culprits -- it was about oil. For Donziger, it was about winning. 4.3 stars.
361.The Reckoning by Rennie Airth
n the (too many) years that elapse between the (too few) detective novels featuring now-retired Scotland Yard inspector John Madden by Rennie Airth, I tend to bemoan the fact that Airth either can't or chooses not to write any faster. Then the next one appears -- at last! -- and I'm grateful, because rather than cranking out a mediocre or forgettable book in a series that rapidly extends to a dozen or even two dozen books (naming no names here...) each book is distinctive, carefully written and is something that I'm happy not just to read, but re-read over and over.
This, the fourth in the series -- each of which can be read on its own, incidentally, if you choose to do so -- is set in 1947. One great war has just ended, and a series of brutal, execution-style murders has begun, connected only by the gun used at the scene -- one that fires a distinctive kind of German ammunition. But if the crimes are clearly linked, the detectives investigating them struggle to find some kind of motive or even a point at which the lives of the victims have overlapped. When a half-written letter to Scotland Yard, mentioning John Madden's name, is discovered on the desk of one of the victims, it sends Billy Styles off to the countryside in search of his mentor, to see what light he can shed on the puzzle. At first, the answer is "not much" -- and the murders continue, much to the disgruntlement of the grand poohbahs, who are annoyed at the prospect that a serial killer running amok might spoil the celebrations for Princess Elizabeth's upcoming wedding.
Then, a series of breakthroughs, by Madden and by a young female detective, crack the case -- and ignite the suspense that makes the second half of the book completely unputdownable. (Literally, in my case...) It turns out that the murders may have connections to two world wars -- and to an injustice that Madden has done his best to push to the back of his mind for decades.
This is a richly-detailed novel, full of believable characters and compelling situations. Sure, there are other mystery writers churning out books set against the backdrop of World War I and its aftermath. But compared to Airth's ability to create a vivid and compelling world for his characters -- I can literally see Madden's home, the garden and the trees, as well as the women's hotel that serves as a backdrop for one critical scene, a parlor where Madden and Styles learn details of their chief suspect's past life, in my mind's eye -- that's all they are doing, churning them out. Airth plots, develops his characters, creates the book's atmosphere, so meticulously that it all springs to life for the reader.
The good news is that I now have four John Madden mysteries that I can re-read from time to time. The bad news is that I'm back to waiting for a fifth book from Airth, and hoping that he continues writing well into his 90s.
"Happy people don't write books," and Avi Steinberg may be the single best piece of evidence of his own dictum, although he intends it to apply primarily to Joseph Smith, the "author" (or transcriber, depending on your religious beliefs) of the Book of Mormon.
I wanted to find this book readable and fascinating. It should have been. Steinberg is a bona fide book addict and author of Running the Books, and I thought this was going to be a journey inside the world of the LDS faith, via the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith. And sure, Steinberg notes that Smith is a great example of a literary adventurer, crafting a epic tale of Hebrews fleeing Jerusalem and ending up in Central America, thereafter enduring trials and tribulations that were recorded on gold tablets and buried in a hillside near Palmyra, New York.
What I thought and hoped that this would be was another of what I have come to think of as "stunt memoirs", in which the author does something quirky or bizarre (spends the year living Biblically, as A.J. Jacobs did, goes on road trips to visit sites of political violence, as in Sarah Vowell's Assassination Vacation or investigates some kind of subculture as Tony Horwitz did with Civil War re-enactors in Confederates in the Attic. But nope. For the most part it felt like a disjointed, rambling collection of observations, ruminations and experiences. I think Steinberg is trying to say something about the significance of authorship and the written word, about the importance of the stories we tell, the ways we tell them and the significant roles they play in our lives. For instance, he comments, in passing, that he sees Joseph Smith as "someone who was both an old-style Biblical prophet and the protagonist of a modern novel. Maybe the Bible could continue to evolve in the modern world -- and not just through new readings but through new writings." But it's just a guess.
Sure, it made me stop and ponder what it means to be the creator of a work of literature, and the role that these works then play in our world, but this particular work was a rambling and intractable mess to try and read. Adding to the problems created by the rambling structure is the fact that Steinberg himself clearly is not a happy guy, and we hear a lot -- a very great deal -- about that. 2.7 stars. All the ingredients are present, but the finished version is a bit like a tossed salad, all jumbled together. Had Steinberg devoted a quarter of the time to seeking out and developing a coherent narrative arc or structural framework for his tale, it could have been amazing. As it stands, it goes on my list of "big disappointments" of 2014. The icing on the cake is that it probably will annoy anyone with religious faith (not just members of the LDS church).
363. The House on the Strand
This was another early favorite, revisited with MUCH better results than the Naomi Jacob novel. The narrator is a displaced publisher, married to an American widow with two young sons; when his longtime friend, an eccentric professor, offers him the use of his home in Cornwall for a sumer holiday, he leaps at it. But Magnus is offering Dick more than just a place -- he's offering him a window into the past, through a drug that enables him to witness, but not participate, in events dating back to the mid-14th century. They do a number on Dick's brain in more than one way, as he begins to blur reality and the past -- and his cross-country jaunts in the middle of the night arouse his wife's suspicion the wariness of neighbors. Then tragedy strikes, in both the past and the present...
I loved this book and still do, especially because of its ambiguous ending. We don't really know what happens to Dick, ultimately... Du Maurier has blended a feasible past scenario for Kilmarth, Tywardreath, Par and places around there (all places I know well IRL by now, too -- in fact, it was passing a sign for Tywardreath when I first visited Fowey that made me aware I was in du Maurier country!) and made Dick's de facto drug addiction to it more than compelling. Chilling and a great yarn. 4.3 stars.
364. Some Luck by Jane Smiley
On the surface, you could argue that Walter and Rosanna Langdon have more obstacles than they do luck in this, the first in a planned trilogy spanning a century in the life of an Iowa farming family. But then, that's just the surface, and the surface -- appearances to the contrary -- aren't at all what this novel is about.
Jane Smiley has simply assembled a series of loosely-linked short chapters, each set in a series of years that follow each other like footsteps, starting in 1920, and continuing -- 1921, 1922, 1923. In each chapter, the reader gets a glimpse into a different aspect of the Langdons and their universe on their farm, beginning with Frank's birth in 1920 and his infant's-eye view of his world. There's a giant storm, and the death of a child; agonizing over the adoption of new technology in the form of cars and tractors; changes in religious and political views. There are domestic challenges, as Rosanna and Walter both struggle, in their different ways, with their different emotions with respect to each of their five surviving children. We are beside them in events large and small, as Frank vanquishes schoolyard bullies and sets off for World War II; as Lillian's maternal instincts blossom with her younger siblings and her own children. We see the highlights, and a bit of the detail, but only if it's relevant. We never see the full range of what is happening. These are like those once-a-year snapshots, not a movie shot over the course of a single week in a life.
The structure of the novel, which at first felt as if it kept me at an emotional distance from the Langdons, ultimately exerted an almost hypnotic appeal. Perhaps as a reader in my early 50s, I've become aware of the way that time seems to be speeding up, so Rosanna's transition from blooming young woman and mother at 20, to the point where she looks at herself in the mirror on the birth of her last child at the age of 39 and recognizes the changes that have been happening while she has been busy getting on with life is almost unbearably poignant. Rather than remain in the hospital, she checks herself out early -- almost staging a breakout. "She knew this was her life. Better to be immersed in it than to see it from afar."
By this point, I was already immersed in Smiley's narrative, in spite of her choice to be very selective in what she chooses to reveal to the narrator. Never once did I feel the lack of information that I felt I needed to understand who a character was, or have a plot twist come completely out of the blue. If you're looking for drama and melodrama, well, here it comes in subtle ways. There is death; there is crisis; there is near-disaster. A well nearly runs dry during the dust bowl. But the drama is low-key -- and life goes on. Because that is what life does. And Smiley's saga will go on, for at least two more books. And that, too, is a very good thing. At least in my opinion. 4.5 stars.
365. First Impressions by Charlie Lovett
There's a certain kind of book that relies on its charm, or whimsy, or quirkiness to win itself readers and fans (think of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry) and another category that pulls in avid readers because it is all about books (Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel being a case in point). When the two meet, you're left with either something that becomes a tremendous phenomenon, like Jasper Fforde's fantasy novels featuring Thursday Next, or something teetering dangerously close to "Love Story" level sentimentality that becomes the focus of a tremendous marketing push by publishers, like The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry
And then there is Charlie Lovett, whose novels I keep wanting to love, because his characters all live their lives surrounded by books -- correction, their lives are shaped by books. Peter, the hero of The Bookman's Tale, was an antiquarian bookseller; that's the career that young Sophie Collingwood, the main character of half of this book (the other half being focused on none other than Jane Austen). What's not to love?
Well, enough that I couldn't do more than whip a somewhat mildly entertained response to the novel. The chapters set in the past, revolving around an entirely fictional friendship between Austen and an octogenarian clergyman, Richard Mansfield (hint, hint?) are stilted in tone and not entirely plausible in content, either. Essentially, the characters felt like waxwork images moving through a historically-correct setting, dropping the appropriate references to remind us of Austen's biographical details. That makes them slow and unconvincing reading, although they're necessary to the more lively present-day plot, in which the ingenue Sophie must cope with tragedy, choose between rival suitors (which is Darcy and which is Wickham? The reader won't have much difficulty figuring it out...) and solve a mystery revolving around the first draft of Austen's iconic novel, "Pride and Prejudice".
Die-hard Janeites can do better. It's just a mildly endearing but ultimately rather forgettable novel. 3.2 stars.
More of these later.
I got this as an ER, and I’ve read several chapters, but it’s not grabbing me. In part because I keep comparing it to Toms River, another corporation vs residents environmental legal case, which was excellent. Can’t entirely say what the problem is, especially since I set the book aside a couple weeks ago, but it’s something about trying too hard to be dramatic before setting sufficient foundation. I’ll get back to it after I tie up some loose ends over the next couple of days.
Oooff!! *clutches chest from imaginary wound* She got me!!
>119 michigantrumpet: So, which one landed??
I am heading to spl.org to put one of the novels by Rennie Airth on hold; I don't know this author at all.
And I just picked up a copy of Some Luck at the library this afternoon. It will be my next read.
You know, Suz, in your essay for The Guardian, you said that you didn't think your reviews would have terribly much impact on an author's sales apart from a few purchases and a few library check-outs. That's probably true, but I do want to say that I find your reviews to be very helpful, usually guiding me toward worthwhile reading.
Some Luck also sounds interesting. I read Moo long ago and loved it (any book set in a university tends to get 4 stars with me before I even start on it) but haven't read any of her other ones. I think I have A Thousand Acres here somewhere. Haven't seen Some Luck on shops yet - is it just out?
I read your Guardian piece and loved it but wanted to echo Ellen's comments - your reviews might not affect an author's sales massively overall, but they have a big impact on my choice of books!
I think I might start by summarizing the Guardian story on my blog this weekend, and discussing Peter Stothard's chat at the Boston Book Festival. See what the response is in terms of traffic, followers, comments. And take it from there.
Rennie Airth's mysteries -- well, I love 'em. I finally started reading them on my China trip in late '06 and I simply couldn't put the first one down. It was hell to put it down to go do interviews. At that point, there were two; now there are four. The problem is that he's now in his 70s.
>124 cushlareads: I haven't read anything else by Jane Smiley; Some Luck is brand new here (within the last week or so.)
>121 cbl_tn: Ha, this was far from being a second reading! Perhaps eighth or ninth, at least, probably more? Although it has been more than a decade since the last time I read it. I know it was frequently re-read in my teens and 20s, when the ratio of available books to my need for books was not in my favor.
>122 qebo: Hmm, that's too bad. Well, I hope it works better for you when you venture back to it.
>123 EBT1002: Tks for the kind words, Ellen. These were some Amazon Vine ARCs, so some reviews had already been written and needed editing, cutting & pasting, etc. Still more to do, though...
It has become an autumn tradition: every October or November, I begin to keep my eyes open at bookstores, looking for the latest edition of this annual anthology of essays. I've purchased a copy of every one, dating back to 1987, and my very first Amazon.com order included the 1998 edition, while I was living overseas. And every year, it's a bit of a grab bag: series editor Robert Atwan turns the selection of the pieces over to a different editor every time, and so each volume I open contains a different them and provokes different reactions in me as a reader.
This time around, the response is one of discomfort, since a great number of the essayists whose work editor John Jeremiah Sullivan has chosen to highlight here emphasize -- sometimes dramatically -- the "personal" in personal essay. Sometimes it's disquieting, in different ways. John H. Culver's tone is almost deadpan in "The Final Day in Rome", writing about a day that is, quite literally, the final day of life for someone he loves -- and it's that flat narrative voice to which I reacted more than I did to the facts that Culver is chronicling in his essay. I then moved on immediately to the next essay (they are arranged alphabetically, by author's surname) to one by Kristin Dombek, "Letter from Williamsburg", that was disconcerting in its frankness about her sexual experimentation.
Then there were the essays that brought me almost to tears. Yiyun Li is an author whose fiction I have loved, and her contribution here, "Dear Friend, From My Life I Write to You in Your Life" was gut-wrenching and beautiful at the same time, and one of the highlights. In "Sliver of Sky", Barry Lopez recounts, in a painful act of catharsis, the story of his childhood sexual abuse and betrayal -- and the subsequent rationalizations by those around him.
I'm not sure why it was, but this anthology's essays seemed to contain a large number of particularly powerful essays by women. Zadie Smith on "Joy", Ariel Levy writing about a Thanksgiving in Mongolia that was anything but an occasion to give thanks (a piece that may be one of those with which readers picking up this collection have already encountered, as it originally appeared in the New Yorker.) In a welcome moment of humor that was sheer delight, Emily Fox Gordon muses on the indignities of aging -- especially to one who was never a raging beauty -- in "At Sixty-Five", an essay that I plan to bookmark and read return to over the years, as I have with many of my favorites in many of these volumes. Mary Gordon ponders the many forms and shapes an enemy can take in "On Enmity", while in one of the more unusual, poignant and appealing pieces, "Strange Beads", Wendy Brenner writes of the way in which an odd collection of jewelry sold on Ebay brought her back to life after an illness and a loss. "Like pain, like art, the collection is infinite," she writes. "It has woken me up. I won't go back to sleep."
Not all of these essays are of equal merit -- and not all readers will respond to the same pieces, especially since this particular anthology is unusually personal in nature, delving deep into the interior lives of the writers and often exposing their greatest moments of grief, hurt or trauma. Many of these do not make for easy or comforting reading. Almost all, I would argue, are worth sampling -- and that's the point of anthologies like this, after all. They are a resource, to return to, week after week, month after month, year after year. I still go to the volumes on my shelves from the 1980s and 1990s, turn to an essay at random and read it, and find that in some way, it speaks to me. This is a more than worthy addition to the that shelf. 4.3 stars.
367. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mendel
I tried this audiobook on a whim and loved it, in spite of the to-and-fro of the narrative structure. Part of it was the timeliness -- a book about the way an epidemic destroys civilization just as we're all fretting about Ebola? How to resist... Add to that, the fact that it's about the enduring need for human connections and the power of storytelling, and I was hooked. Plus, the author can write. And the narrator can narrate.
If you're looking for classic dystopian/sci fi, this may not be it. The author is exploring ideas here, as much as she is trying to develop plausible post-apocalyptic worlds. So, yes, there is a nasty encounter between a post-apocalypse prophet and the traveling theater/symphony group, but that's as much a means to an end as it anything else -- don't expect a detailed analysis of post-apocalyptic theology or anything else. Essentially, this is the tale of a group of characters, connected randomly through a Shakespearean actor and his first wife. The actor, Arthur Leander, drops dead on a Toronto stage while playing King Lear -- his death will go almost unnoticed amidst the much greater catastrophe that is about to unfold. His first ex-wife, Miranda, is the artist who has devoted her non-working life to creating the world of Station Eleven, a graphic novel prototype. Now, 20 years later, two of those volumes are in the possession of one of the actresses in a traveling theater group and, little by little, we learn how her fate is tied to those of other people in the lives of Arthur and Miranda, from a paparazzi to a consultant to a little boy. The scene shifts constantly -- one minute we're in a Toronto high rise apartment with the paparazzi-turned-paramedic, as he bolts the door of his brother's apartment to shut out the flu pandemic and await the end of the world; the next, we see the same man trying to grab an exclusive shot of the actor and Miranda. Once I settled into the rhythm, though, I had no problem with this.
Everything here is interwoven, and very, very skillfully, perhaps to remind us that we, ourselves, cannot existent independently. The Traveling Symphony survives as a troupe; if their motto is "survival is insufficient", we know that independent survival, too, would only be a nominal kind of survival. Very highly recommended; just don't go into it looking for an intensely dramatic, kinetic narrative. That's not what is happening here, or what the author is trying to accomplish. This has made me very curious about the author's other novels, and about what she'll do next. 4.7 stars.
368. The Secret Place by Tana French
The latest, fifth book in the Dublin Murder squad series by Tana French -- one of my best mystery discoveries of the year -- didn't hold my attention quite as forcefully as its predecessors have done, alas. I think part of the problem is that I simply wasn't all that interested in the anguish and torment of a bunch of teenagers, and chapters featuring young Holly Mackey -- French's fans have already encountered her and her father, Frank, in Faithful Place, where he is the narrator, and her father is a character in the second book, as well. This novel, however, alternates between the first person narration of Stephen Moran, and the third person perspective of Holly and her circle of friends. When the book opens, it is with Holly showing up on Stephen's doorstep; still in Cold Cases, he is eager to make the move to the murder squad, and when Holly brings him an anonymous card that had been posted on a bulletin board at her elite private school claiming to know who had murdered Chris, a boy whose body had been found in its grounds the previous year, he sees a way to do just that. First, of course, he has to team up with the prickly and friendless murder detective whose case it is, Antoinette Conway, and then he has to solve it...
It's an odd structure. Moran's narrative -- the solving of the case -- takes place at the school and is stretched over the course of a single very long day, as he and Conway struggle with a group of privileged, spoiled and hormonal teenaged girls at the boarding school, all of them concealing secrets. Then the reader is taken behind the scenes, in the alternating chapters, to the framing narrative -- the story of those secrets, of two tight-knit groups of friends and the relationships with the boys from the nearby prep school that disrupted those ties, over the course of an entire year. Unusually, I figured out whodunnit about a third of the way into the book, which may account for some of my disillusion. I was still interested in some of the details, but it also felt unnecessarily complex and convoluted. Perhaps, too, I just found that the nature of the crime and the reasons for it were far less interesting than French's other plots: this suffered by comparison. The intensity that was there was the wrong kind of intensity: the kind you get whenever cliques of silly people are all closeted together. Some of the themes are interesting -- the contrast between Moran, and his emphasis on being someone who is a bit of a loner without friends, and Conway, who is shunned by her colleagues in Murder because of the way she reacted to hazing, with the almost oppressive and eerie closeness between the four friends, of whom Holly is one. Not the author's best; still adequate, but I hope she gets going at full gear for her next offering! 3.75 stars.
369. One Step too Far by Tina Seskis
I love a great suspense yarn, especially one with a fabulous twist in it. This novel certainly does offer a twist -- quite a dramatic one -- but by the time it shows up it was too late in the game. The premise is intriguing enough. Emily Coleman, when we first meet her, is fleeing her husband and their family home. Why? It's causing her pain and grief, and yet she feels compelled to run away and bury herself under the name of Cat in London, leaving her old life far behind. The chapters in which "Cat" recounts her first person adventures in London -- her new friend, Angel, their shoplifting excursions, her rapid rise in her new job, her drug experiments, the parties -- alternate with chapters offering the reader glimpses into the past.
And this was my problem with the novel. These become unfocused, ultimately -- one minute we're seeing Emily/Cat and her twin sister growing up; then Angel in her childhood; then Emily's mother, Frances; then background into how Emily met her husband; then a glimpse into the life of Caroline, her twin. It's all over the place. In fact, it's so scattershot that I found it impossible to build up any kind of emotional affinity for anyone, including Emily/Cat. By the time the big reveal came -- and it was a surprise -- my reaction was more along the lines, "oh, OK, so that's what it was", rather than "WOW, that's ASTOUNDING; I can't WAIT to see what happens next!" Add to that a convoluted conclusion that waffles back and forth and this turned into a novel that, alas, will prove eminently forgettable. then there were oodles of grammatical and stylistic errors. Sigh. Pulling this off requires having a taut structure and narrative arc, and those are AWOL. Simpler is sometimes better. 2.8 stars; underwhelming. Not recommended. If you want this kind of novel, there are lots of other folks writing 'em and doing a better job.
I have a vague idea about fear being the harbinger of doom for our societies.....maybe I can work that theory into an essay or two next semester!
From your book #367 don't expect a detailed analysis of post-apocalyptic theology or anything else.
Thanks for the 'warning', as was almost drawn to this one! The cover looks very familiar, but I think the surname on the one I am thinking of os Hollinger or something....same colours. Plus, I just bought (on a whim) a re-imagined future/dystopian novel at great discount on the Book Depo. By Jim Crace, and with (again) a forgotten title.
I am clearly not much use here today, but saying hello anyway!
Well at least certain things never change: death, taxes and Suz averaging more than a book a day. xx
Interested to read your reviews of Rennie Airth and Daphne Du Maurier. I am not sure why I haven't gotten around to the first Inspector Madden yet and (possibly because of locales) have always had a soft spot for Du Maurier.
I am organising a British Author Challenge this coming year and would like your input and knowledge to call upon once in a while. Du Maurier is, of course, a possible candidate for inclusion. http://www.librarything.com/topic/182355
>131 nittnut: I really loved the Lafayette bio; I can see myself re-reading it. This week has been meh. I've fallen very far behind on my work, and I've been waiting for two separate sets of payments to arrive. One finally showed up today, but it turns out the large check actually never got signed and mailed. That meant delays in other things, including a trip to NYC. That meant not getting to a work event, not getting to see a long-term cyber-friend from India (I've known her in cyberspace for 13 years or so, she has just moved to Toronto for her PhD, and was in NYC for a few days for an academic conference...) and delaying the trip to the dentist. So I'm irked. And grumpy, clearly!
>130 PaulCranswick: I dunno if it's mid-life crisis or what, but I'm with you on 2014. Not an actively bad year, in the same way that 2012 was, but just dreary, like constantly trying to wade through waist-deep wet sand. Thank heavens for the books and the cats. I've dropped some ideas off on the thread, and will try to come up with some more.
>129 Mr.Durick: Robert, do you have libraries?? If so... There are some books that it's worth seeking out earlier, and some where it's worth waiting. Incidentally, I noted that Station Eleven currently is only $5.99 on Kindle, which strikes me as a bargain. I'm not urging it as a buy on anyone who isn't buying books, just noting that it seems relatively cheap.
>128 LovingLit: I shall have to mosey over to your thread to see which Jim Crace novel you picked up. The Fear Index is based on VIX, I think -- the volatility index, a measure of market anxiety. I am not very far into it, but it seems very interesting. Can't wait to see what Robert Harris tackles next.
>129 Mr.Durick: Don't know why Jane Smiley has never appealed all that much. The one book of hers that I do want to read is The Greenlanders, so that may be my next.
I'm trying to "get into" The Best American Essays 2013. I've had it on my bedside table for a couple of months and I've read a couple of the essays. I love your comments about the current edition and now I feel motivated to spend more time with the one I have. In a nutshell, how did you think the 2013 collection fared compared to other years?
Station Eleven is going right onto the wish list.
>135 EBT1002: It's so hard to compare these volumes... Each has their own zeitgeist. I think the current one is more quirky and edgy in tone, and last year's was more mainstream? The caliber of the writing is probably on the same level, but I don't recall feeling the same level of discomfort last year as I felt reading one or two of this year's offerings. Which is fine, but more unusual. There are always some that don't appeal as much, or that I feel aren't as good, but that's the nature of any anthology.
I don't have a Kindle and don't want one. I do have a Nook and have used it, about three times with about 180 Nook books on it and another few hundred books from other sources.
So I have a waiting-for-the-paperback wishlist with a couple of hundred books on it, some of which will never be printed in paperback. I have over three hundred books on my main wishlist, and I have a couple of other wishlists. I can wait.
370. Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas
The young Danny Kelly has a clear sense of what his own future involves -- to be the best, the strongest, the fastest in the swimming pool. As a half-Greek Australian teenager, with a stocky, dark-skinned and naturally hairy body that he comes to loathe, he yearns to beat the "golden boys" who are the chosen darlings of Australia's swimming establishment. "He hated their blondness, their insincere smiles, their designer sunglasses, their designer swimmers and their designer sports gear. They made him feel dark and short and dirty." But he knows that he can do it -- and grab the spotlight for himself. He has won a swimming scholarship to a posh private school, where his fellow students alternately fear and despise him, but where he can be catapulted to Olympic stardom. If he doesn't allow his own demons to bring him to disaster, that is.
The chronicle of Danny Kelly and his dream -- and the void and self loathing that is all that is left when that dream evaporates, and the catastrophe that follows -- is the second novel by Christos Tsiolkas that I have read, after The Slap, and I had the same response to it: wariness followed by amazement. Would I want to live in Dan Kelly's world? No. It's a gritty, uncomfortable and often unhappy one, inhabited by a deeply troubled man still struggling, in his 30s, to make sense of his teenage years and to find a place where he could belong. But I'm awed by what Tsiolkas accomplished here.
The novel moves back and forth in time, from the adult Dan to the adolescent Danny. Tsiolkas never shies away from the ugly and sometimes brutal ways in which human beings use and view each other. He is trapped, by virtue of his swimming, in between the working and upper middle classes, no longer accepted by either. While this was often a difficult and even painful novel to read -- there is violence, Danny's self-loathing is often acute, and yes, for those for whom this would be an issue, there is graphic gay sex -- Tsiolkos has created characters and situations that fascinated and intrigued me. I certainly didn't always like Danny Kelly, but he broke my heart. As a character, he lived and breathed. Tsiolkas is a master at breathing life into characters, in all their complexity. You may not find them appealing, but you can't quarrel with their authenticity or with the power of his prose.
What I most appreciated about this novel was the raw energy of Tsiolkas's prose, and the way it forces a reader to accept unsettling truths. To me, a great novel is often one that, however uncomfortable it is to read, you simply can't look away from. 4.8 stars.
371. The Winter Guest by Pam Jenoff
I think I'm simply going to have to give up on Pam Jenoff's novels. The last novel, set during the Versailles Treaty talks of 1918/1919, was simply boring and implausible. This at least becomes dramatic, but raises implausibility to fresh heights. The story, at heart, is simple: twin 18-year-old sisters, are raising their three younger siblings in a country cottage in a heavily forested region of Poland, not far from Krakow and outside the village of Biekowice. It's World War II, and while Krakow may be occupied, so far the village has been spared; there aren't even any Jews there -- at least as far as Helena and Ruth are aware. Their father dead and their mother mortally ill in a Krakow hospital, it's already a struggle for survival when Helena almost literally trips over an American paratrooper, on a secret mission to rendezvous with resistance forces. Cue a love plot, a desperate struggle to get the family away from looming danger, and lots of sibling rivalry between the twins.
Now, every novelist takes some liberties to ensure that her characters are able to do and say the things she needs them to. This is especially true in what is essentially a romantic suspense novel that happens to be set against the backdrop of the Holocaust. But once the clues in this novel made me realize when Jenoff had chose to set her novel, I immediately lost all remaining confidence in her as a narrator. Sam, the American soldier to literally lands on Helena's doorstep, is apparently enlisted in the American forces. The Polish resistance talk about the need for the Americans to come and rescue them. And yet Sam warns Helena that 'relations between Hitler and Stalin are deteriorating and there's bound to be war to the east." In other words, the entire narrative is set (given that it's winter) in the winter of 1940/1941, a full year BEFORE the United States enters World War II. Certainly, American soldiers did enlist in the British forces, but Jenoff specifically mentions Sam as having trained in the US; describes him enjoying the camaraderie of a democratic American military. This wasn't the only over-the-top error. Apparently, Sam is counting on some kind of kindertransport network to get Helena and Ruth's younger siblings out of occupied Europe. Again, what on earth?? Those transports stopped cold in September 1939, when war broke out. And how would a junior enlisted man be in any position to have accomplished any of this? The final revelations that the elderly woman narrating this story makes to her interlocutor about her own adopted child aren't impossible, but they require such a suspension of disbelief that I literally burst out laughing in incredulity.
If you're looking for a remotely plausible World War II narrative, this. is. not. it. Never again. 2 stars.
372. Off Course: Inside the Mad, Muddy World of Obstacle Course Racing by Erin Beresini
Well this was -- different. Erin Beresini is a writer and chronicler of outdoor sports -- a world I simply know nothing about. And I think she was writing primarily for people who are in that universe, or at least on its fringes. For instance, she refers to WOD and only a few pages later defines it as "workout of the day", and doesn't seem to be aware when she's getting too "insider-y" in tone or content when she delves into the world of Ironman sports, marathons, etc. The story behind the foundation of rival obstacle racing empires was intriguing, as are the personal stories of some of the characters whose lives are entwined with the sports -- the Spartans and the "Tough Mudders" -- but too soon we veer away from those to the author's personal struggle to train for and then compete in a Spartan event at Killington, which probably was of much more interest to people who will run marathons. To some extent, I might have been the wrong audience for this, but a really good "inside a cool, niche world" tale should be able to persuade even a rank outsider that it IS fascinating and not leave them feeling as if they were still an outsider at the end of the book. 3.35 stars.
373. Empire of Sin by Gary Krist
The city: New Orleans. The time: from 1890 onward to 1920. The topic? Nothing less than vice -- the whole panoply of vice, which in New Orleans of this time, covered quite an astonishing amount of ground, as Gary Krist so clearly documents. When his book begins, the great and the good of the city have decided that enough is enough. While they don't want to kill off the vice trade altogether -- it is, after all, the goose that is laying some very large golden eggs for many of them -- they would like to reform the city's public face. So why not just direct all that vice into a dedicated neighborhood, an area that would become known as Storyville?
Except, of course, that the links between Storyville and the rest of New Orleans would prove far, far harder to break than some of the moralists would have liked, as Krist's dense and sometimes overly-detailed chronicle makes clear. Some of the the elements that make the city famous today -- especially the jazz -- grew up in the saloons and whorehouses of Storyville, and Krist's book tells of the famous players and their pedigrees -- Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong -- as well as other figures who were barely even names to me before reading this, such as Buddy Boldin. The complexities of race relations were, perhaps, nowhere more complex than in New Orleans, where octoroon balls were part of the social landscape. At the same time, New Orleans was also home to some scenes of tremendous violence, ranging from race riots to the attacks of a serial killer known today only as the Axman.
The linking figures in the narrative, more or less, are Tom Anderson, the "mayor" of Storyville who would become wealthy enough to take on a more official role in the wider world, and his friend, the notorious madam, Josie Arlington, who, far from being confined to Storyville, moved herself into a very upscale family neighborhood on the earnings of her girls. This was a sprawling book, that sometimes felt almost too crammed with detail by an author in love with his own subject. Some of it was fascinating; some was much less compelling and my level of interest fluctuated greatly as I read. I think I'm also starting to grow weary of this approach to a book -- I'm sure a lot of people will compare it to The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, and that's a valid comparison. The problem is that there are now myriad books of precisely the same kind in existence, focusing on a specific city and a specific point in time, usually revolving around an event, or set of events (in this case, the birth of jazz and Storyville; in the Larson book, the World's Fair; in two different books by Paul Collins set in New York, two famous murder cases.) I think the basic concept is starting to become a bit long in the tooth, so that an author has to do an exceptionally good job at executing the idea to make an impact on me, or else the city in question (or the story tied to the city) has to be of such compelling interest (or the author has to persuade me that it is) that I am caught up in it to the exclusion of all else. That didn't quite happen here. I was curious; I was engaged; I was interested. But I never reached the point at which I found myself wandering around the house with the book three inches in front of my nose because I couldn't bear to put it down.
This is probably a great book for a historian with a passion for jazz, for New Orleans, or for early 20th century American history, however. For me? Interesting, well written, but sometimes simply too overwhelming. 3.5 stars.
It could also have been an academic scholarship that is "fudged" in such a way to recruit him? In the book (SPOILER ALERT) he is able to remain at the school even after he stops competing. That suggests to me it wasn't a typical sports team scholarship.
>139 lindapanzo: Linda, that's precisely my kind of thinking. Paul Collins does it too. Unless there is something that automatically appeals to me either about the city or the story, I think I'm going to start being more wary of these books in future.
I've read some good ones but I'm going to have a tough time coming up with a top 10 this year.
I'm not sure whether I really like Ford as a novelist, but the ramblings often take me down interesting byways. It's like living inside a character's head -- always a male character, of course, always in a certain era, and always trying to narrowly figure out his own life. In many ways, this is a fascinating book: a 15-year old boy is essentially left to his own devices when his parents commit a bizarre bank robbery "master" minded by his father as the best way to get him out of a financial jam and his mother comes up with an equally strange strategy to keep him out of the clutches out of Montana's social services -- send him to Canada to live with a friend's brother. Out of the frying pan and into the fire... Young Dell isn't in school any longer; instead, he is working for the mysterious and intriguing Arthur in an odd, relatively isolated corner of Saskatchewan. Just as we knew from the first pages that the bank robbery was about to happen, so we know that things will end very, very badly -- just not when, or why. So there are a lot of words leading up to that. And it's that style that I find interesting but ultimately unappealing. Hard to rate -- 4 stars?
375. Common Sense by Thomas Paine
It's shameful that we have no national memorial to Thomas Paine in Washington; perhaps more than any other single thinker, he helped to set the groundwork for the United States. Certainly the idea of democracy as it is practiced today -- one man, one vote, without property qualifications -- is what he advocated in this 1776 pamphlet, dismissed scornfully by John Adams. It's an immensely readable and immensely influential short piece of political writing, and however inflammatory it may have been centuries ago, it reads precisely as its title suggests today. At the time, it was written in response to those advocating hereditary monarchy as an appropriate form of government (and suggesting that democracy in the form of a republic didn't need to be anarchy). I can't help wondering what Paine might write today in response to countries like Turkey, Hungary, etc., who reject democracy as Paine conceived it, and that don't have monarchies, but instead advocate a kind of totalitarian rule. This should be a document that citizens in every democratic country are familiar with by the time they complete their secondary education. I fear it isn't the case. Certainly, I didn't read it until my first year of college. 5 stars.
376. Soul Music by Terry Pratchett
A particularly funny and entertaining Discworld novel -- although I was startled to realize, upon finishing, how few of them are left for me to enjoy. (I don't like the witches novels, which rules out several, and I'm probably not going to read the YA books, so that leaves me with three or four, I think? Wow...) In this, Imp o Celyn comes to the Big City, Ankh Morpork, with his harp, and once that is smashed by a troll sitting down where he shouldn't, finds himself with a magic guitar instead. And music with rocks in it is born. It's a hilarious riff on rock music culture, with the Unseen University wizards getting caught up in the frenzy (and accidentally inventing the process for recording music), and Death's granddaughter, Susan enmeshed in some very funky stuff. The existential weirdness at the end and the music of the universe suddenly altered the tone and knocked my rating down a smidgen, but it was still lots of fun. 4 stars.
377. The Time by the Sea by Ronald Blythe
Well, I bought this for my Kindle a while back because I wanted to learn more about Aldeburgh, the music festival in East Anglia founded by Britten and Peter Pears. I did -- kinda sorta. But Blythe, a famous (to many, less so to me) "country" writer in England, assumes that anyone picking up this book already knows a fair amount about the events and personalities surrounding the era, and so what results is a series of diary-like observations and ruminations. Sometimes these are fascinating. Sometimes they are lyrical. Quite often, they are frustrating. So, we hear a great deal about Imogen Holst. Daughter of composer Gustav Holst, fine. I know she was connected to Britten somehow. But I had to put the book down and resort to Google to discover she was Britten's musical assistant and spent 20 years as musical director of Aldeburgh. Blythe just drops her name, and regales the reader with an anecdote (often having nothing whatsoever to do with either music or the festival...) It's like reading about the Bloomsbury Group, and catching a reference to "Virginia and Vanessa dropped by for tea to discover that Desmond was already here, and Virginia was furious over his decision to publish that essay." If you didn't know that Desmond MacCarthy and Virginia Woolf's husband Leonard were rival magazine editors, it would be meaningless. And that's the tone -- this felt a bit too much as if it were written for those in the know. Not exclusively so -- there are lovely observations about an unspoiled East Anglia of the 1950s, fabulous anecdotes about EM Forster inviting a young Blythe over for tea, and enough about the music to keep me entertained. I was fascinated by Blythe's linkage of Britten's opera "Peter Grimes" with the George Crabbe poems, originally written in the same region, for instance. But I wouldn't recommend it unless you are savvy enough to keep up with the name-dropping better than I could. 3.7 stars.
This is being my experience, too.
I am having good luck with my books right now, too, which is good, since my mood is bleak. (Weather, and waiting on a check that should have arrived a week ago.) One is Lives in Ruins by Marilyn Johnson, a review copy of a very good if not blow the roof off your head intellectually surprising book about archaeologists and their passion; the other is Lamentation by CJ Sansom, which is on my UK Kindle.
Cancelled my order for the Kindle Voyage. It was originally going to arrive towards Christmas, which would have been fine, financially, but can't do it now. Got an e-mail that it was preparing to ship early, which is No Good for me. Would love it, but will make do with my clunky one. (Can't use my Paperwhite right now.)
I'm very annoyed, since I had hoped this $$ would be here before mid-October and now, here we are, in November.
ETA and it is not angsty YA.
It is surprising you haven't read Jane Smiley - she's very smart and versatile. Moo is one of the funniest books I've ever read, A Thousand Acres on the sad side - although, it is one of my least favorites. The novel abt. horse racing and another about real estate (Dutchess or Columbia Cty NY) are great reads. One or two haven't caught me, one the struggles in Missouri around the time of the Civil War (pro-slavery vs abolitionists) and the huge tome The Greenlanders I wish I could have gotten into the latter, and may try again sometime.
The Lafayette is very tempting. He is a very appealing figure.
>157 scaifea: >159 sibylline: Paine was astonishing, way ahead of his time. In some ways, he may still be, at least in the United States...
>158 msf59: Mark, I read Independence Day , and it had the same kind of impact on me -- an almost claustrophobic feeling. I don't quite appreciate what it is that he is trying to do -- the everyman thing. I'm at a bit of a loss to describe it. Perhaps I should try an audiobook of another of Ford's books -- not the Bascombe series -- to see if that helps. Or just move on to another author! Clearly, I have no future as a literary critic if I can't even grasp what it is that they see in him -- I read the comments in NYRB and I'm flummoxed.
>159 sibylline: I will read more Smiley now. I think it's probably because I'm inherently not all that interested in the US midwest? That's why The Greenlanders caught my eye, and has been on my wishlist for some time. At some point, I'll get around to it.
ET: I really do recommend the Lafayette. Very readable. And I like the contrast between his experiences in two revolutions: one that made his name and one that spun out of his control.
A quick update, as I lost a heck of a lot of time trying to sort out logistics for Richard's move last week, leaving me in deep sh*t with one or two of my editors (and costing me a freelance gig as well). It has also spawned a series of hate PMs from some of Richard's close LT friends, who view his now-former friend and former host/housemate, Claudia, as the devil (and I quote). Claudia, you see, happens to be a RL friend of mine, as well, and it's a difficult and complex situation. But only if one ends up viewing it that way, which I had tried to point out. Since I don't like viewing venom-filled PMs when I open LT, there's a chance I'll be taking a step back from LT until the vitriol abates or common sense reigns again. Some of you know how to reach me on FB or via e-mail; I'll also try to keep this thread alive but may not be venturing much further afield for a while.
I may well end up reviving my blog. I am going to be group blogging with a bunch of other Amazon Vine reviewers, as well.
Meanwhile - I am reading the new CJ Sansom, and loving it -- Lamentation, and it is excellent. Not sure when it's out in the US. But if you're a series fan, you will want it... And the excellent new bio of Queen Victoria by A.N. Wilson (an ARC). Both are chunksters, so there may not be much to update anyway.
378. Lives in Ruins by Marilyn Johnson
From disembowling a (dead) lamb to roast it over a firepit with her own handmade obsidian tools, to sifting for pottery shards on a pocket handkerchief-sized island off the coast of Cyprus that may once have been developed by Cleopatra in honor of her son by Julius Caesar, Marilyn Johnson doesn't miss a trick when it comes to grabbing and holding the reader's attention in this whistlestop tour of the main issues in the world of archaeology today, and does a great job at finding compelling characters, too, from the senior citizen with a doctorate who has toiled as a cleaning lady at Newport's grand mansions in order to be able to pursue her passion for marine archaeology, to the military archaeologist charged with ensuring that US forces don't run riot over irreplaceable sites in the Middle East and elsewhere. It's clear that archaeology is the degree most likely to land you on the unemployment line; it's equally clear, that those who pursue this as a career simply don't care. They're in it for love, not money.
This was tremendously a tremendously readable overview, and my only reservation is that this sometimes feels like too much of a whistlestop tour, as Johnson hops, skips and jumps from one kind of archaeology and archaeologist to the next; from one interesting story to the next. It's very episodic, and it never feels as if she is making a broader point beyond the rather self evident "hey, this is interesting and important and we should all pay attention because it's our heritage" or "wow, archaeologists have tough lives." True, but not really enough to serve as the basis for a book. The interesting anecdotes offset that, but after a while, it's like listening to someone who has great small talk and a fabulous repository of stories -- but you wonder what the point of all the chatter is.
I also found myself wanting her to step back more and let the archaeologists be heard more directly. What were the hot and controversial topics in their eyes? (We know what they are in Johnson's...) What is it like inside their world? This remains an outsider's view, offering glimpses here and there. That said, it will probably be perfectly satisfying to most people and it was certainly an entertaining yarn. But it doesn't compare well to the works of Mary Roach, for instance, when she gets into one of her esoteric subjects, and I think there is still plenty of room for anyone who wants to delve into this universe and write a more focused, detailed and yet still accessible work of this kind.
Meanwhile, for anyone who is left hungry for more, the following got big five star ratings from me: Loot by Sharon Waxman and The Future of the Past by Alexander Stille. Neither deals explicitly with the nuts and bolts of archaeology, but both are just as fascinating and deal with some of the issues raised here.
And I have had Canada (>151 Chatterbox:) for ages now, I agree with you that Ford seems to just get you inside someones head. I am thinking of the first 2 of the Bascombe trilogy there!
Wish people would step back and leave you be. I thought your post was thoughtful and considerate.
Writer Matt Haig did a blog post about reviewing books a couple of days ago to try and explain what he meant when one of his tweets or FB posts about blogs and book reviews earned him some nasty comments. I thought you might like to read it - http://www.matthaig.com/a-blog-about-blogging/
>162 LovingLit: Do read the Flanagan. It's tough, but worth it. And I'm not sure that I'm enjoying being inside a Ford character's head. Not because it's a bad place, but because I'm not interested in being there. It's like talking to someone dull at a dinner party, looking at your watch surreptitiously, and wondering when you can sneak off to go home to the books and the cats and the latest episode of "Sherlock".
>161 banjo123: It was a fun book, I just missed having a sense of the author making a broader point, as opposed to having a lot of fun and bringing us along for the ride. That's fun and all, but a five star book is one where I go, wow, this has made me see the world in a new way, or where the writing just stands out. Neither happened here for me. So, amusing and entertaining.
But the Victoria bio and the Sansom "Shardlake" are shaping up to be GREAT reads. So no kvetching.
And we'll be here when you choose to re-emerge :)
Looking forward to the new C.J. Sansom book!
Bought a book yesterday that I can see you've got - Gutenberg's Apprentice by Alix Christie. Have you read it yet or is it just on your WL?
I haven't read CJ Sansom's Heartstone yet and obviously need to hurry up! I think it's in a box somewhere...I started it in Switzerland 3 years ago.
Hope all's well and you're getting the columns done.
Chiming in, too, on the support front - I hope you don't stay away from us too long and I'm sorry that you've had to endure some PM nastiness. I just don't understand why that happens and it makes me sad.
And we would all say " Yes".
Hang in there and take good care of you.
I have just heard that the adorable Mr. Catsby and two of the other five kittens rescued in September, with the very generous help of some LT folks, have been adopted via the cat rescue network that works out of Petco here and who helped me get them out of that unfortunate situation re the shelter that was going to euthanize them for having ringworm. Rita says they have gone to very good homes (she does a LOT of screening), with people who will keep them safe and warm this winter! And the other two will find homes soon, too, she is sure.
Sending purrs of thanks to all of you who helped...
Sad to see you not here much, Suz. :(
I hope today is a pain free one for you.
I've discouraged Lilly, but as soon as she sees me walking toward the bedroom, she rapidly walks ahead of me and stands by the bed with a woeful look.
It is a hopeless situation.
Miss you, but I hope your absence means some good projects and some good reading!!
Glad the kittens all landed on their feet!
>208 qebo: Thanks, qebo. That helps.
I saw 4 messages and thought maybe, just maybe, you'd returned, Suze. Rats!
It's Chrismas Eve's eve, and so I am starting the rounds of wishing my 75er friends the merriest of Christmases or whatever the solstice celebration of their choice is.
Merry Christmas, Suzanne, and a joyful Happy New Year - one in which you're here sometimes!
I was so excited to find out that you are my Secret Santa! I was thrilled with your choices for me, you definitely know my tastes. I had added The Remains of the Day to my WL just a few weeks ago. I am super excited to get to that one soon. Also, I am beyond excited to try another Emily St. John Mandel after loving Station Eleven this year. Of course, I have been wanting to try the Bruno series for awhile and The Unnecessary Woman will help me with my goal to get more diversity into my reading in 2015. Thanks for all the thoughtfulness you put into my gift!
Best wishes to you through the holidays and throughout 2015. I hope to see you posting more again in the new year. I have missed your reviews and thoughtful commentary.
And wishing you all the best this holiday season!
There'll be bluebirds over
The white cliffs of Dover
Just you wait and see
There'll be love and laughter
And peace ever after
When the world is free
Happy Christmas and a blessed New Year
Thanks for all the visits and the comments.
I'm still pondering whether to have a thread for 2015. If I do, it will be a more minimal one, and I'll be trying to keep the discussion focused on books and reading. It was VERY disconcerting to realize how some posters resorted to what I viewed as middle school clique tactics in October/November; including bullying, hostile personal messages and other stuff that frankly I consider to be very, very out of place here. If I do resume posting about my reading, I want to request folks who visit my thread, with the utmost respect and courtesy, to view it as if it were my living room. You're welcome here to discuss books and authors and stuff related to that, but not to make negative comments about other posters, or to rant about other topics (from politics and politicians and their causes, to other pet peeves). There have been a handful of 75 group members who no longer post here because -- for various reasons -- they didn't feel welcome. I don't want to contribute to that in the slightest degree. There are other threads where you can do that, and other online forums. No, I don't view this as censorship -- simply a request for civility on a thread that I host. As far as personal messages go, I'd ask you to use your best judgment: anything further that I get that is offensive will go straight to the LT admins.
I value the friendships that I've made here, both cyber and RL, but my hiatus has demonstrated to me that I can live an LT-free life if need be. I'd love to find a balance -- a way to add value, a place to discuss books and book-related stuff. That may mean that my threads are less active, which is fine. If you believe that I'm being too doctrinaire about any of this, well, LT offers an option to ignore me as a poster, I believe.
I really, really appreciate all the visits and messages -- and a happy 2015 to all!
You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.
-- Winston Churchill
Happy New Year!!
I have always tried to keep the peace on my own thread with varying degrees of success but there really is no place for personal abuse and hostility on what is supposed to be a warm and caring group.
I do hope you invite us into your parlour in 2015. xx
The requests you've set out above are so reasonable that they shouldn't even need to be made explicit in this community (but I get that they now do, after what's gone on for you). I hope the tension dissipates in 2015.
Glad to see you are considering a 2015 thread. Also gutted to see that you are considering NOT having one. I hope you choose to have one, and I for one will be happy to visit and talk books with you in the new year.
*here's to 2015, when happiness abounds*
No matter what you decide, I hope you have a wonderful 2015!
And I realize, too, that this will mean a change in my own interactions with LT -- confining my comments/visits primarily to those threads where the discussion is book focused and much less personal in nature. As Paul C. has noted, it can be difficult to keep the peace on one's own thread, and some of that probably is due to a willingness (perhaps perceived, perhaps actual) to comment too much on non-book stuff. It doesn't matter whether I like or dislike the people who have found this group unwelcoming and who have left, or whether I agreed or disagreed with their political or other views. I find it dismaying that they felt unwelcome and harassed. Sure, I've got opinions, as we all do, but they can ALWAYS be expressed in a civil manner, even when it involves disagreeing with someone else's views. Even if it's just saying, let's agree to disagree and terminate this discussion. Because this is the Internet; people can't read your mind and understand what you mean when you say something. The potential for misunderstanding and taking offense is immense. We don't need to be hyper-sensitive when reading stuff, but on the flip side, we could all be thoughtful about how we phrase stuff. So those are my LT-related New Year's resolutions. It's certainly about me, too.
Meanwhile, I'll starting quickly updating my book list for November and December. It will be VERY brief, and no cover images -- too fiddly for this many books.
November -- in no particular order:
379. Lamentation by CJ Sansom
This may be the best in the Shardlake series yet, and it's about to be published in the US. Henry VIII is dying, but it's a race to see whether Shardlake will finally run afoul of Tudor politics and predecease him as he is summoned to do a final mission for Catherine Parr. A great final scene offers us some hints of what lies ahead for Shardlake. The full 5 stars.
380. The light behind the window by Lucinda Riley
One of those dual narratives, part set in the present and part during the Nazi occupation of France. Blah. Not worth it and I probably won't read any more by this author as this was my second book by her that sounded promising but was trite. 3 stars.
381. Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 by Francine Prose
This was every bit as provocative as it sounds; not for the faint of heart, though. Misfits in 1930s Paris. Chilling. 4.3 stars.
382. A Nail Through the Heart by Timothy Hallinan
Hurray, the discovery of a FABULOUS new mystery series; reviewed on my blog. Set in Bangkok. READ IT. 4.5 stars. I've been reading all the rest and they just keep getting better.
383. *The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan
A re-read of Ryan's Booker-nominated novella; even better the second time around. 4.2 stars; Ireland's economic woes writ small in daily lives.
384. Hiding in Plain Sight by Nuruddin Farah
A disappointment. I don't know whether it's because Farah can't write women as main characters, or because he's trying to set his characters in a Western milieu, but it's stilted and artificial in tone, and predictable in plot. Deeply underwhelming on all levels. 3 stars, and I'm being VERY generous.
385. Woman with a Gun by Philip Margolin
The best thing about this may be the cover illustration, which is ingenious. The plot is full of holes, and the characters are tissue-paper thin. Avoid. 2.2 stars.
386. A Fifty-Year Silence by Miranda Richmond Mouillot
This illustrates the problem with memoirs: what is fascinating to the author (his or her personal life and/or family) often isn't quite as compelling to the reader. I found it quite easy to understand why her grandparents hadn't spoken in 50 years -- they were radically different people. The rather tortured reason she develops -- interesting in its own way -- may have been the icing on the cake, but really is just a marketing device for the book. Meh. 2.9 stars. The author can write, however.
387. Liar Temptress Soldier Spy by Karen Abbott
An absolutely fascinating Civil War yarn -- or series of yarns -- about four intrepid women who were spies for both sides during the civil war. Lively and brisk rather than serious and somber, but a fun read and a different look at the conflict. Unputdownable -- literally. 4.5 stars.
388. Losing Our Way, Portrait of a Troubled America by Bob Herbert
Terribly earnest and probably important, but we've read it all before, over and over again. It's the same issues that have been raised about education, infrastructure, foreign policy, just packaged differently. The final chapter -- forward looking stuff -- doesn't say enough that is new to be worth it. Too late to the party to add value, really. 3.2 stars.
389. The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla by Lauren Willig
Brain candy, but lots of fun. I wish her stand-alone novels were half as good, but they take themselves too seriously. These are delightful, if quite silly. 3.6 stars.
390. The Partnership by Pamela Katz
An amazing and comprehensive look at the short-lived partnership between Brecht and Weill in the late 1920s, and its disintegration -- if you've ever listened to The Threepenny Opera you owe it to yourself to read this, which is more than a look at these two men; it's a look at their circles and the creative environment they inhabited. A bit too much detail about Brecht's lack of personal hygiene but whatever. 4.65 stars.
391. Searching for Grace Kelly by Michael Callahan
I thought this sounded as if it might be the next The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe; instead it's a disastrous attempt at replicating it. Not yet published, but avoid it when it is. 1.5 stars. Forgettable.
392. The swimmer by Joakim Zander
Another disappointment. A thriller that strains credulity to the breaking point (and gets the geography of Brussels all wrong, as well).
393. I am China by Xiaolu Guo
This was a delightful surprise, even though perhaps a bit too structured. An English translator is handed scraps of paper to translate and make sense of; they turn out to be letters and other documents about a Chinese punk musician and his girlfriend/lover, and she becomes obsessed with his fate. Recommended. 4.2 stars.
394. A New York Christmas by Anne Perry
The latest novella in this series, with the now grownup daughter of Thomas and Charlotte Pitt playing a starring role. Interesting for that alone, and less saccharine than some of these, but still not more than 3.4 stars.
395. Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
Given that we're all mortal, you MUST read this book. It's going to be on my best of 2014 list, and is poignant, elegantly written, and substantive and thoughtful. In other words, practically perfect. 5 stars.
396. Color Song by Victoria Strauss
A random choice from Amazon Vine; a YA novel about a runaway novice from a convent with a secret recipe for a pigment and a yearning to paint, who heads for Venice in the era of Titian. Really quite good. 4 stars.
397. The Thing About December by Donal Ryan
This blew me away, but it's also heartbreaking. The main character is mentally disabled; when both his parents die, he inherits their farm and struggles to understand the resentments that build up in the town as the value of the property climbs and he doesn't want to develop it. I feel tearful even thinking of this, and yet it's so beautifully written that he is really alive and fully realized as a character. A must-read. 4.8 stars.
398. A Good Year for the Roses by Gil MacNeil
A nice enough chick lit tale. Nothing special, though. 3.4 stars.
399. Saving Grace by Jane Green
Oh dear. Dreadful and unbelievable. Think single white female, only married white female, and you'll have an idea. Or All About Eve. Or something. At any rate, this is another author I'm giving up on. Sigh. 1.5 stars.
400. Matched by Ally Condie
A Kindle Sale book sitting on my Kindle for eons and finally read; YA dystopian and better than expected. Perhaps a little convoluted and why on earth do all YA books and dystopian series have to be trilogies?? 3.6 stars.
More to come later; this is only part of November.
Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 - This is on my Amazon WL because it sounded interesting, but your description of it makes it sound very compelling.
A Nail Through the Heart - I love Bangkok. Will have to check this one out.
The Spinning Heart - Been on my radar and my WL since you first reviewed it. Must. Get. To. It.
Liar Temptress Soldier Spy - I might try the audio of this, which my library has...
Being Mortal - Between you and Darryl singing its praises.....
The Thing About December - Sounds like Donal Ryan may be a great find!
Glad to see you back, and appreciate the catch-up. I will look forward to the next installment!
401. Asylum City by Liad Shoham
I keep looking for good mysteries set in Israel. This wasn't one, although the plot -- revolving around asylum seekers and corruption -- at first seemed intriguing. Either the writing or the translation was very bad and characterization was dreadful. 1.5 stars.
402. The Fear Index by Robert Harris
Why are Harris's historical novels sooo much better than his contemporary thrillers? That said, this is a creepy book about what might happen if a hedge fund driven by high frequency trading took over -- think HAL for the financial world. I like the fact that Harris doesn't shy away from a grim ending... 4.2 stars.
403. The Ploughmen by Kim Zupan
Much touted and promoted, and interesting, but doesn't quite live up to the hype: a confrontation between a hit man and the cop assigned to guard him in jail. Great writing but ultimately wearing. 4 stars.
404. The Tudor Vendetta by CW Gortner
Final book in a trilogy of historical mysteries; I prefer the author's stand-alone books. 3.3 stars.
405. The Brotherhood of Book Hunters by Raphael Jerusalmy
A new discovery of mine; this author's second novel tackles Francois Villon on an expedition to the Holy Land in quest of illicit manuscripts. Fascinating, if slower in pace than his first book. 4.3 stars.
406. The Queen’s Man by Rory Clements
The latest in the series featuring William Shakespeare's elder brother is actually a prequel, and we see lots of Will and Anne Hathaway in this one. 4.1 stars. Good to set the stage for the series.
407. The Low Road by A.D. Scott
This series, set in the Highlands of the 1950s, is starting to fall flat for me. This turned into a bit of a trudge and it shouldn't have done. 3.4 stars.
408. The Transcriptionist by Amy Rowland
Very, very quirky. The sole remaining transcriptionist, in an era of changing newspapers, becomes obsessed with a woman who crosses her path and later feeds herself to the animals at the zoo. I guess you'll have to read it... 4 stars. Excellent writing.
409. The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare
A childhood favorite as author; the book was one I hadn't read, about a boy's friendship with a native American tribe being pushed off their land in the 17th century. 3.8 stars.
410. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
This didn't work for me; too much fable; the writing and plot were too self conscious. Loved the landscape descriptions. Tried it both as book and audiobook, but I'm still underwhelmed. 3 stars.
411. Migratory Animals by Mary Helen Specht
Gen X/Millennials in crisis and I really didn't care all that much. Does that make me callous? Possibly. It's all about people coming of age just as the recession grips post 2008 and how that changes their expectations, and a bunch of other stuff. Too much stuff, really, all crammed together. Good writing, but that's not enough to save it.
412. Us by David Nicholls
Better than I expected, but I'm still wondering WTF this was doing on the Booker longlist. Deeply bizarre. It's an adequate novel about a couple in crisis, and a father son relationship, but that's about it. Think a not so interesting lad-lit book, for grown up lads. 3.5 stars.
413. There Was and There Was Not by Meline Toumani
Interesting more for the subject -- Turkish/Armenian relationships -- than for the sometimes odd way the author chose to explore them. She'll probably get flak from both sides, though, so I won't pile on. 2.8 stars.
414. Alice + Freda Forever by Alexis Coe
Someone clearly thought a YA book about LGBT love a century ago and a true crime flowing from it was a good idea. What they forgot was that the book would have to be compelling in writing style and structure. This falls woefully short -- very very high concept, but that's it. Avoid. 2 stars.
415. The Murder of Harriet Krohn by Karin Fossum
My second attempt at Fossum's novels, and I'm clearly missing something that others see in this author. Oh well, there are plenty of other fish in this sea. (Like Timothy Hallinan and his Bangkok novels...) 1.8 stars.
416. The Nose by Nikolai Gogol
Sheer satirical delight. Dead Souls writ smaller and better and more coherently. 4.5 stars.
417. The Ayah’s Tale by Sujata Massey
Massey seems to have taken possession of her mystery series and to be reviving it, but also to be publishing new material, including this novella. Interesting, if not great, set in the the Raj.
418. Did You Read That Review? – Amazon reviewers
As funny as promised. Imagine reviews of a tank, etc. Imaginary reviews of impossible and impossibly pricey items. Or just bizarre items. Some by George Takei. This is hiccup-inducing stuff. 4 stars.
That's it for November. December stuff will follow tomorrow, I suppose...
A Fifty-Year Silence is in my TBR stash. Yours is the second lukewarm review I've seen of it. Doesn't sound promising...
Liar Temptress Soldier Spy sounds fascinating. I'll be on the lookout for this one.
The Brotherhood of Book Hunters also sounds like one I would enjoy. It's also going on my list.
I've liked both of the Fossum books I've read, but I can also see why they don't work for everyone.
I have the Prose, but have lost track of it somehow or other. Must find. She was my advisor for a semester in my MFA writing program, what a treat that was!
WLed the Jerusalemy. Looks fun.
And I am thrilled to have you back and I have missed you!
The first batch of December books. Again, in no particular order.
419. The Fourth Watcher by Timothy Hallinan
The second book in one of my new fave mystery series. Bangkok-based Poke Rafferty finds his long-lost father resurfaces, being chased by Chinese triads, even as he and Rose, his girlfriend, become entangled in a North Korean fraudulent money scheme. Very, very good. 4.5 stars.
420. Breathing Water by Timothy Hallinan
Book #3 in this series; Poke and Rose are now engaged and his adoption of Miaow (a former Bangkok street kid) is finalized, but he keeps getting into trouble. This time, he gets entangled with a new kind of Thai power broker, and Thai politics. Not quite up to the standard of the previous books tho still excellent. 4.2 stars.
421. How to be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis
I loved this book (out soon...) in which Ellis revisits all her childhood favorites, from A Little Princess to Wuthering Heights, and even reads pulp fiction to reconsider what it means to be a literary heroine and what she can learn from it. It gets a whopping 4.8 stars from me; rare for a book of this kind, but Ellis doesn't take herself too seriously, and it's very well written.
422. Jane and the 12 Days of Christmas by Stephanie Barron
Mildly entertaining; I've read a few in this series in which Jane Austen turns sleuth. More interesting for period detail, though Barron's tendency to use period spelling is VERY annoying. ("chuse" for "choose"? really???) 3.25 stars.
423. A War of Flowers by Jane Thynne
If you read the David Downing "Station" novels, it's worth checking out Jane Thynne's books, all dealing with Clara Vine's adventures in Berlin in the 1930s. Half English, her half-German mother long dead, Clara heads to Germany to pursue her acting career and is caught up as an occasional spy for British intelligence. Very atmospheric; recommended, even if not quite as nuanced as Downing's best books.
424. A Man of Good Hope by Jonny Steinberg
The fascinating tale of one Somali man, who comes of age moving from one part of East Africa to another, before finally fleeing to South Africa in search of opportunity, only to find that country holds the greatest perils of all. Notable for Steinberg's own honesty in his dealings with his subject. 4.5 stars.
425. Five Days Left by Julie Lawson Timmor
Unbelievably, the second book I've read in which a major character has Huntington's chorea. Too much of a tearjerker for me, though. The plot was ok, but I felt emotionally manipulated. 2.8 stars.
426. An Appetite for Violets by Martine Bailey
A fresh voice in historical fiction, telling the story of a very unusual Grand Tour through the eyes of aspiring Yorkshire cook, Biddy Leigh. It's the 1770s, and Biddy is dragged along in a motley small crowd to visit an Italian villa owned by the uncle of her very odd new mistress. Soon she discovers why... It's really just popular fiction, but great historical detail and an element of suspense, plus the unusual era made it a fun read. 4.1 stars.
427. The Pearl that Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi
Read it for the setting rather than the story -- yes, women draw the really, REALLY short straw in Afghanistan, and I felt as if I had read this or somewhat similar "oppressed women" tales before. Hashimi tries to link it to the phenomenon described by Jenny Nordberg in The Underground Girls of Kabul, which is spasmodically interesting, but it feels more like a plot device than anything else. I loved the detail, but was underwhelmed but the plot. 3.4 stars.
428. Red Rising by Pierce Brown
This was a book bullet from someone else; science fiction isn't my usual fare, but dystopian societies intrigue me. Darrow lives on Mars, and is given the opportunity to infiltrate elite "Gold" society and organize its overthrow from within -- as long as no one figures out that he is really a "Red" and he can survive the brutal initiation. Think Game of Thrones meets Hunger Games meets lots of other stuff of this nature, but it's pacey and exciting. Finishing book #2, which oddly is slower going. This was 4.4 stars.
429. Theft of Life by Imogen Robertson
This was proof that you can read a mystery novel and have a reasonably good idea of whodunnit and still really, really enjoy the ride. The latest Westerman/Crowther tale, set in the 1780s in London and with a plot revolving around slavery is excellent. 4.5 stars.
430. The Girl From Human Street by Roger Cohen
My problem with memoirs is captured here. Yes, Cohen can write well. I'm sure writing this was cathartic for him, as it gave him a chance to address his family traumas. His friends and family care. I found it a bore. 2 stars.
431. December 6 by Martin Cruz Smith
A bit of an over-the-top thriller in which a bloodthirsty samurai-type Imperial soldier who has committed brutal war crimes in China is out to get an American who has spent most of his life in Japan, before the latter can get out of Tokyo ahead of Pearl Harbor. Mildly entertaining. 3.1 stars.
432. After the War Is Over by Jennifer Robson
Her first book was OK, if not much more; this one isn't. I was left wondering why she had bothered. It's a random assembly of anecdotes, with a too-perfect heroine, earnest and saintly, who always knows the right thing to do or say, and does it. Annoying. 1.5 stars.
433. Dead Wake – Erik Larson
Not out until March, but get your pre-orders in NOW, because this tale of the Lusitania's last voyage and the parallel voyage of the U-boat that sunk her will grip you in a way that I couldn't even have imagined. Covers all the ground -- completely unputdownable. 5 stars. More detailed blog review TK later.
434. The Last Enchantments – Charles Finch
Over-privileged scions of the 1% dally at Oxford, and who really cares? Not me. A coming of age novel that left me completely cold and actually annoyed at points. Tone deaf. 1.5 stars. The writing was OK, but why write this drivel?
435. *The Property of a Gentleman – Catherine Gaskin
A re-read of a favorite novel of mine that I read multiple times in the 70s and 80s, but probably haven't read in 20 years. A young woman making her way in the fine art business travels with her boss to a remote Lake District mansion; secrets are unearthed. Other than the endless speechifying by some characters, I was surprised at how strong the writing was compared to some of the writing by those who are writing comparable books now for the same kind of audience that Gaskin appealed to in her heyday. 3.9 stars. Dated, but fun.
436. Farewell, Dorothy Parker – Ellen Meister
The premise is a bit twee, with Dorothy Parker's ghost -- trapped in a guest book enshrined in the Algonquin -- haunting visitors to the hotel and pursuing her own agenda while trying to help a young woman grow a backbone. Mildly amusing. 3.3 stars.
437. Dorothy Parker Drank Here – Ellen Meister
The sequel to the above was better, although logically it doesn't follow as a sequel (can't explain why due to spoiler risk...) We get lots of scenes with Dorothy drinking with fellow guest book signatories before they vanish into the light beyond (including a catty interlude with Lillian Hellman) and a slightly more interesting and complex puzzle involving a past literary scandal and a young woman trying to save her television news show with a scoop. 3.5 stars, but still only for Algonquin Round Table fans.
More to come later...
438. I think you’re Totally Wrong by Caleb Powell and David Shields
Billed as a "life vs art" debate between these two guys over four days, and literally the transcription of their conversation, what this actually sounds like is the chat and occasional squabbles between two Pacific NW writers who actually agree on who belongs to their version of the writer's canon and disagree on a few other things. It's quite annoying, and feels like white men who don't understand how arrogant and smug they sound. 3 stars.
439. *Long Summer Day by R.F. Deldefield
The first in a trilogy about the 20th century in England, from the POV of a young Boer War soldier who buys a country estate in Devon. A family saga; mildly amusing to re-read. 3.25 stars.
440. No One Else Can Have You by Kathleen Hale
The book that caused all the kerfuffle when the author wrote about stalking a blogger who called it the worst book she read all year. It's not the worst book I've read, but it's far from being as fab as the author thinks. 2.9 stars; exaggerated grotesqueries from a wannabe Coen sistah.
441. The Queen of Patpong by Timothy Hallinan
The next in the Poke Rafferty series is where Hallinan really gets going; there are two points in this novel where my heart was really in my mouth, even though in one I knew that the outcome wasn't in doubt. Chilling. All about Rose's background -- and how a figure from that past has come back to take vengeance. 4.8 stars.
442. The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar
A mediocre book about an Indian immigrant woman in an arranged marriage, and her therapist, told by the two in alternating chapters, with the immigrant's chapters being written in a stilted language that was hard to read and very annoying. Grrr. Not necessary. 2.9 stars. Banal plot.
443. Dark Spies by Matthew Dunn
Proof that a mediocre series can come to life; this espionage thriller book is still over the top but much more engaging than its predecessors. Glad I gave it a chance. 3.5 stars.
444. Discontent and Its Civilizations by Mohsin Hamid
I LOVED Hamid's novels; his essays are a motley assortment, but those on art and politics are especially worth reading in this anthology, due out in March, I think. The earlier ones aren't as engaging and there are one or two duds; you can see the evolution of his writing quite clearly.
445. Dreaming Spies by Laurie King
Chronologically, this fit into where I was with the Mary Russell series, preceding The Language of Bees, and dealing with a short adventure Mary and Holmes have in Japan before heading off to San Francisco and then back to England. It's more perfunctory, and there's a smaller role for Holmes, but lots of local color, which helps make up for some of that. 3.4 stars.
446. The Heist by Janet Evanovich & Lee Goldberg
At first, the cracking wise was amusing, then it became wearing. And the heroine was just annoying: how reasonable is it that an ace FBI agent goes weak at the knees with lust eyeing a criminal, however hunky? The sting is fun, but this got old very quickly... 3 stars.
447. The Job by Janet Evanovich & Lee Goldberg
See the above... I had already requested this ARC when I read the first book or I may not have bothered to read the sequel, but had a review obligation. Novelty rapidly turned to tedium/banality -- drowned in an excess of one-liners, eyelash batting and whimsy. 2 stars.
448. Lillian on Life by Alison Jean Lester
This won't be for all readers, but I loved the author's voice, or rather that of her vividly-imagined character, Lilian, who chats openly about her lovers and her life lessons -- everything on the importance of big pockets in skirts to not letting anyone else tell your story. Lillian is a spinster, but quite open about her lovers (married and otherwise) and unapologetic into her 60s or early 70s, and not sorry for herself, either. She just gets on with her life and whatever it brings; all that she asks is that people consider the dreams as well as the actions of those that they judge. A great literary character; I hope this book gets some love. Not as distinctive as An Unnecessary Woman, but a lively short novel. 4.5 stars.
449. The Pocket Wife by Susan Crawford
One of those woman-being-tormented-possibly-by-evil-husband-or-maybe-not? The narrator is bipolar and can't remember whether she killed her neighbor or just witnessed something or... Either way, she knows she's in trouble. You get the picture. Formula fiction, and the suspense doesn't quite click. I had figured out the culprit 1/3 of the way through. 2.8 stars.
450. A Triple Knot by Emma Campion
The author's earlier book was more interesting, focusing on a less-known character; this book tackles the early life of Joan of Kent, wife of the Black Prince and mother of Richard II. The early life, too, is less interesting than Joan's later years, when she was a witness to power politics of the time; as it stands, this is a tale of romance, pretty much. Could have been better and more interesting. 3.5 stars. An ER book.
451. A Passage to India by EM Forster
Read for my RL book circle. Very glad to have read this after Arctic Summer by Damon Galgut, and a fascinating discussion followed. 4.5 stars; a very different Forster to his "Italian" books.
452. The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simison
I simply can't get into this author's whimsy, and don't find the main character remotely charming. He does the same kind of stuff over and over again, and it's like listening to the same joke -- we're expected to keep finding it funny. News flash: I don't. 2.5 stars.
453. Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle
This could have been so much better had the author focused her energy and narrative more. Vivian comes home from an "end times" party to find her parents seem to have been raptured -- there is even a hole in the ceiling. She goes on a quest to find out the truth. Coyle doesn't do enough world-building to make her scenarios remotely convincing, instead focusing on cramming as much character detail and as many events as possible into the book. The last straw was the convoluted and incredible forced conclusion, setting up for a sequel. Bah. 2.2 stars.
454. As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley
A fun departure, literally, for readers and for Flavia de Luce, who is off to a Toronto boarding school in this book following in the footsteps of her mother, Harriet. But there's this problem of the skeleton in the chimney of her room... I had fun with some elements of the book, but generally Flavia without her home is a fish out of water, as she herself is the first to admit. 3.9 stars.
455. The Fear Artist by Timothy Hallinan
More great adventures from Poke Rafferty, as the War on Terror meets a chilling veteran from the final days of vigilante death squads in Vietnam. Poke gets caught up in this by accident when a man runs into him and knocks him to the ground -- and is shot. Dying, he whispers some final words to Poke that some very very scary dudes want to learn about. Less of Miaow and Rose in this, but Poke's half sister, the feisty "baby spy", is a welcome visitor to Bangkok and the tale. Another great suspenseful yarn. 4.65 stars.
456. Midnight in St Petersburg by Vanora Bennett
Bennett had written historical novels set in the 15th and 16th centuries; this was a departure for her, after a long hiatus, and I'm not sure it was as successful, but it isn't without interest. Inna Feldman is a violinist in the Jewish Pale, and travels illegally to Petersburg in 1913; she meets Rasputin, learns to make violins and encounters a young revolutionary and a craftsman in the Fabergé factory. An interesting and sympathetic portrait of Rasputin. 3.25 stars.
I'm sorry you were subjected to that.
Welcome back, and happy 2015!
>274 MDGentleReader: Thanks so much for the kind thoughts & words. I do have to say that anything that I did was far from heroic; it was just a bit of pragmatic logistical stuff to break a logjam. It was probably something I said, rather, than anything I did, that aroused ire. I don't want to revisit any of this, and I do have it in proper perspective -- generally speaking, I don't get my knickers in a twist over what people who don't know me IRL, or even those who don't know me well (or who choose to believe they know me but have invested little time or effort in that) think of me. I'm old enough and cantankerous enough to really care relatively little. On the other hand, there's a difference between not caring and deliberately venturing into a forum where you'll end up with exasperating pinpricks whenever you stick your head above the parapet. (Apologies for the VERY muddled metaphor.) Folks who are angry enough to lash out with vitriol have a lot more going on, obviously. So have I, and I don't want that negative stuff to spill over into my already too-complicated life. So it's not so much about pain (in my case, at least) as it is about irritation/exasperation and trying to resist the temptation to shout "oh, just grow up". Because really, when I think about all the stuff so many of the posters here have had to deal with this year -- off the top of my head, Bonnie's loss of her husband so suddenly at what should have been a time of great joy for them, and Morphy's husband's serious health woes, and that's just the tip of the iceberg among people that I can think of -- using one's energy to be angry at other people you don't know seems so silly and futile. Even to use it to rant at the state of the world, rather than to quietly do something, however tiny, to make it better even for one person, strikes me as a less than optimal use of one's resources...
But I promised no soapboxes in the New Year. So that is my final comment on the matter... :-)
I have to finish my final work projects for the year and my final books. I got a cold for Christmas (yes, I realize that other, luckier folks got gift wrapped packages!) and am just playing catchup.
I did get two books via the LT 75 Christmas Santa Swap; my Santa was Rhian, who gifted me with The Swish of the Curtain by Pamela Brown, a reissue of a childhood favorite book about stage-struck children putting on plays (in an ill-advised move, I tried to stage one of the scenes from it as a play at the age of 11; miserable flop, end to my career as playwright/director) and Lush Life by Richard Price, a novel I'm increasingly interested in reading by a still new to me author. Fabulous choices from my wish list...
I hope you like the Richard Price. We read it a while ago for our other f2f group, and while some thought it wasn't 'serious literature' (whatever that is), I liked it a lot.
I can't think of any Israeli crime fiction that we haven't already discussed, but I did recently enjoy Assaf Gavron's latest novel The Hilltop which is set around an illegal settlement. Probably worth your time checking a review or two. I'm just about to read the third Omar Yussef novel.
Happy New Year!
>279 avatiakh: Thanks for the recommendations, Kerry.
Trying to decide whether to get the Amazon Echo. I have an "invitation" to purchase it at 50% off for the next six days. Thoughts, anyone?? (I also have a gift card that would cover much of the cost...) I think I would need to do a lot of fiddling to get my music to stream properly, but the trivia stuff would be VERY useful for work. I could just ask it a question instead of having to stop and Google stuff. And it would work as a more efficient alarm than some of my desktop tools. I'm tempted, especially since the apps will only get more useful, I suspect. It's not a slam-dunk like the Kindle, but not as pointless (to me) as the Fire Phone.
Also loved the M&M reviews. One of these days I will read the Shardlake books.
I'd also be happy if you opted for the Echo - I'd feel less guilty about my purchase. I got an invitation yesterday and went back and forth about it and then went ahead and ordered it this morning. Not quite sure that I really NEED it, but what the heck...an early birthday present to me.
I flirted with giving up the group mid-year after getting myself caught up in the middle of a disagreement I wanted no part of but on reflection I thought that the good outweighed the bad and decided to persevere with my threads albeit my posting has reduced and personal comments will be self-directed unless they are merely of a supportive nature.
Have always considered you a good friend in the group (and potential partner in a literary adventure re a certain Fowey bookshop!) and am so sorry that your 75ers participation will be altered for 2015. If my personal threads are too much of a non-book zone, please do visit my B.A.C. threads and of course I expect to see you as the invariable top-frog in the TIOLI challenges.
Have a wonderful 2015. I am with you in being slightly relieved that my annus horribilis is done and dusted and I am looking forward to a better year ahead.
Best wishes always dear lady. xx
Trepiditious (is that a real word?) about the latest Flavia but I know I'll read it regardless.
Will do the final "M&M" reports tomorrow.
>285 tiffin: lad may still enjoy it; it may be more of a lad's book; it has that kind of tone, in a low key kind of way.
>284 PaulCranswick: I still think that Bookends would be a great investment. Especially if we could open a pub or restaurant and call it the Debauched Sloth, as per our previous discussion and the Aubrey/Maturin books. I should think about listening to some of those again in the new year.
457. Golden Son by Pierce Brown
Sequel to Red Rising (see above), but it didn't grab me as much. It felt too much like a summer blockbuster movie, all about the action, the technology of space warfare, and character development fell short (or at least, was very, very predictable). It's still an interesting enough series that i'll read the conclusion, but I'm not going to have a nervous breakdown waiting for it. 4 stars.
458. The Untouchable by John Banville
Novel based on the life of Anthony Blunt (here, Victor Maskell), recounted stream of consciousness in the first person, after Maskell has finally been "outed" as a spy, decades after first being enlisted in the cause in the 1930s. Inherently fascinating, as this whole group were essentially snobs, and few more so than Blunt, who accepted a knighthood and was an aesthete, looking down on the "common" man as, well, common, and yet who was an ideological purist. Banville is a superb stylist, too, but after a while the pace flags; it's fun to try to identify the "real" characters (eg Alan Turing) but if you know the story, there's little narrative tension. Recommended if you DON'T know the tale. 4.1 stars, mostly for Banville's writing, all on display here.
459. For the Dead by Timothy Hallinan
The about-to-be published most recent Poke Rafferty mystery, this one focusing on Miaow, his adopted daughter, and a group of renegade Bangkok cops involved in a murder for hire conspiracy. Perhaps a little less taut and exciting a plot that some of the more recent ones, but Miaow is a fabulous character, and this shows her trying to reconcile her early years on the streets with her desire to be thought of as pretty and appealing by her international school classmates. Of course, what she possesses are qualities far, far more important. Moving. 4.4 stars.
460. The Bishop's Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison
The writing was only so-so, I'm afraid; the real reason to read this is the fact that the narrator/protagonist in this somewhat cozy mystery is the wife of a Mormon bishop in a Utah town -- and the author takes an honest view of her own community, from its strengths (the way everyone rallies around to help each other) to the weaknesses (one of the narrator's five sons is still single, and her youngest son, in high school, voices unease about what he sees as the way single people get second-class status in LDS church teachings.) The plot itself revolves around tricky issues of sexual abuse and violence against women, but the author doesn't have a Big Issue she wants to yell about; she's very even-handed. If she evolves as a writer, this could become a good series; as it stands, it's interesting for the glimpse into a world rarely treated even-handedly. (It's either hyper-critical or fringe elements, eg "Big Love", or else its promotional.) 3.25 stars. I got the ARC at BookExpo; it just came out this week.
461. The Paris Winter by Imogen Robertson
I have really enjoyed this author's mystery series and was so wary about her stand alone novel that it has sat unread for more than a year. Sigh. My loss. It turned out to be even better than Crowther/Westerman mysteries, and more evidence that even when you suspect what's happening and where the author is taking you, you can still REALLY enjoy the ride. DEFINITELY recommended, and ending the year on a high note. 4.75 stars.
And that is it. 461 books read this year, 14 short of my target of 475, and equivalent to six 75-book challenges.
I've been eying the Prose because I'm a fan of her Reading Like a Writer and now will definitely get it (although probably when it comes out in paperback). I've also been eying The Brotherhood of Book Hunters and appreciate your encouragement because I still feel iffy about it. Loved Dead Souls and will look for The Nose. Also disliked The Snow Child.
Hope to "see" you in 2015!
As usual, you have said what I want to say --- Here it is again:
I value the friendships that I've made here, both cyber and RL, but my hiatus has demonstrated to me that I can live an LT-free life if need be. I'd love to find a balance -- a way to add value, a place to discuss books and book-related stuff.
Well - I haven't had a real hiatus, but I did get overwhelmed with our talk and read very few threads for the last part of the year. I want to know about your fascinating lives too, but mostly, I want to achieve that balance.
And I hope you decide to come back and find it too.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
>296 vivians: Hurrah, another fan for Euphoria!
>297 Cobscook: I think they are very good in world building, but very violent and even darker than either of the two YA trilogies (which I still found disturbing). Definitely call for pre-screening... There is a lot more deliberate callous violence, whereas in the Hunger Games books, the kids who relish the violence are the anomalies, here they are more the mainstream.