Wednesday, July 23, 2014

the man booker prize longlist is announced

This year's longlist for the Man Booker Prize has been announced -- and well, yeah.

According to the Telegraph, "There are six novels from Britain, five from the US, one from Australia and one from Ireland".  Here they are in that order:

J by Howard Jacobson, 
The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth, 
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell, 
The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee,
 Us by David Nicholls 
How To Be Both by Ali Smith

United States
To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris,
 We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Jay Fowler,
 The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt, 
Orfeo by Richard Powers 
The Dog by Joseph O’Neill

History of the Rain by Niall Williams

The Narrow Road to the Deep North, by Richard Flanagan

Hmph. How did they miss Jonathan Lethem's Dissident Gardens? (US) Or Fiona McFarlane's The Night Guest? (Australia)  -sigh-  Well, anyway, it does look to be an interesting list this year!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Oh - I'm so torn on this one! The Lobster Kings, by Alexi Zentner

W.W. Norton, 2014
352 pp

hardcover --  my thanks to the publishers and to LibraryThing

“The ocean gave us our life and it also took life away.”

The Lobster Kings is set on Loosewood Island, situated between the eastern Canadian coast and the state of Maine, its jurisdiction claimed by both Canada and the United States.  It's been the home of the Kings family since the 1700s ever since Brumfitt Kings, who came to the island with an Irish fishing fleet each year,  volunteered to remain on the island to take care of the companies' drying racks and "keep a permanent encampment" for the others.  When he wasn't working "seeing to company business," and "other chores of survival," Brumwitt spent his time drawing. He stayed alone on the island, happy in its isolation, for three years; the fourth year the men on the island brought in wives from Ireland and England.  He himself did not marry until eight years into his permanent stay on Loosewood Island, and legend has it that his wife came from the sea.  Brumfitt noted the details of her arrival in his journal, along with the dowry that she brought to him:
"his children, and his children's children to each and every generation, would carry a blessing: the bounty of the sea." 
Brumfitt was not just the progenitor of the Kings Family; he was also an artist whose paintings are famous.    The Kings have been harvesting the ocean ever since Brumfitt's time, and have been very lucky. It seems that the legendary dowry has fulfilled its promise, generation after generation, but also according to legend, there is a price to be paid for the promise of the bounty of the sea -- and it has been exacted in each generation with a first-born son.    Cordelia Kings, the narrator of this story, spent her childhood reading Brumfitt's journals and working with her father lobster fishing on his boat. The lobster-fishing community on Loosewood Island is very closely knit, and looks to Woody for leadership when something comes up.  Cordelia, now an adult, is the "heir to the throne" of the Kings family lineage and to the family's position on the island. And something does come up: mainland  James Harbor fishermen are moving out of their own lobster-fishing areas and have moved into the waters off of Loosewood Island, breaking an unwritten but long-held  code that has existed between the two areas about fishing territory. Not only are they putting their traps in the island's waters, but some of the James Harbor contingent are bringing their meth trade into island waters and onto the island as well.  With Woody sort of sidelined with health and other issues, Cordelia steps in, trying to move into her role as the heir to deal with the situation.  

There is so much about this novel to like - but it does have its down side, which is why my reaction is sort of muddled here.  I was very much taken with the family history being so prevalent throughout the story. Cordelia, for example, often turns to Brumwitt's paintings that she's so carefully studied -- Woody once told her that the "history and the future" of the family were to be found in Brumfitt's paintings; he'd "painted all of the memories of Loosewood Island, even the ones that hadn't happened yet."  At one point in the story, she even references a painting during a radio call for help to describe a situation she doesn't want everyone listening to know about.  This same technique is used by the author at various important points where the paintings  mirror what's happening,  helping to  move the action along so that he doesn't have to spend a lot of time describing what's going on. I also liked how he  incorporates the tourists who have at some point decided to stay on the island and who have set up a community of artists, and the "Brumfitt walks" that people can take.  Another positive aspect of this novel is the closeness of this community of  long-time island regulars who now find themselves being invaded by contemporary  issues that are encroaching upon the way things have always been on the island -- the modern meth trade for easy money that substitutes for the traditional hard-work ethic, the arrogance of the seasonal tourists who build their houses and complain about the lobster boats blighting their ocean view, lobster poaching, and outsider views on lobster fishing that pits money against sustainability.  Then there are the characters in the Kings family. The sisters have their spats, which is realistic;  I was most especially drawn to Woody for his ability to reign in his daughter when she got too uppity and gung-ho, and to Cordelia for sticking up for herself, for the value she places on family history and tradition, and because as scrappy as she is, she doesn't always come across simply as some one-sided tough-as-nails person who captains her own lobster boat. 

Now for my  issues:  In the first part of the book, where the author introduces the family's mystical lore,  the island's history,  and the Kings girls during their childhood,  the writing is just so good, flowing very nicely and sucking me right into the story.  I remember thinking at page 84 that if the rest of the book is written like this,  I knew I was going to love it. Alas -  we not too much later take a turn into sheer melodrama, centering on  the drug dealer who came back to the island after his father died. When some of the locals get wind that he's on the island, not fishing but dealing meth, they take care of him in their own way.   Add to this  a murder subplot involving a later showdown at sea,  and the combination of the these scenes left me surprised at how much the book's tone had changed and had become reminiscent of  a western movie or modern-day vigilante flick. The change highlighted for me much overall inconsistency in the writing.  And while I was really into the Kings' family relationship, the ending got plain sappy.  Plus, let's get real: the whole King Lear thing just didn't come across as well as it might have.

I'm really torn on this one.  For the most part, I liked the people in the Kings family, I was taken with the  idea of this small, closely-knit island community facing some tough issues and changes coming  from the outside.   I didn't even mind the more fantastical elements built in to the novel's beginning,  although one later instance in particular came across as a little too far-fetched to be taken in stride as just another moment of magical realism. It's just that the unevenness of the writing got to me after a while and left me kind of shaking and scratching my head.  I'd tentatively recommend it based on the positive aspects mentioned above, and I will say that even though this book may not be a favorite of mine for this year, I'm still going to pull out my other novel by this author and give it a try. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Millions: Most Anticipated Books -- The Great Second-Half 2014 Book Preview

 Just posting this out of interest and so I'll have a record to go back to later.  The full story is at The Millions' website - I'm just listing here.  Will I read any of these? If they have a star * by them, then let's just say I'm very interested and will probably be investigating further.   Sheesh - there are a LOT here I want to look at!

California by Edan Lepucki: -- ordered. But not because of the hype or Colbert's campaign, which I applaud. 

  *Motor City Burning by Bill Morris
 The Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique:
 Friendship by Emily Gould
 * Last Stories and Other Stories by William T. Vollmann *
 High as the Horses’ Bridles by Scott Cheshire
 The Hundred-Year House by Rebecca Makkai

*  Tigerman by Nick Harkaway

Panic in a Suitcase by : Yelena Akhtiorskaya
 * The Great Glass Sea by Josh Weil -- actually, this is Powell's upcoming Indiespensable pick and I'm sooo excited!

* Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

* We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas:  I already have an ARC of this one, courtesy of Indiespensable.
 Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
 The Kills by Richard House: I attempted this one last year. Loved the first book, started the second one and then stuff was going on so I put it aside. I'll give it another go this year.
  Before, During, After by Richard Bausch
 * Your Face In Mine by Jess Row
 Flings by Justin Taylor
 * Augustus by John Williams
Alfred Ollivant’s Bob, Son of Battle by Lydia Davis - I will definitely be buying this for a little boy I know.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
The Secret Place by Tana French
*The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
 Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters - Preordered eons ago!
* The Children Act by Ian McEwan
10:04 by Ben Lerner
* Stone Mattress: Nine Tales by Margaret Atwood
The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher: Stories by Hilary Mantel
* The Dog by Joseph O’Neill
Barbarian Days by William Finnegan
Wittgenstein, Jr. by Lars Iyer

The Emerald Light in the Air by Donald Antrim
* Hold the Dark by William Giraldi
Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas -- already have a copy
Prelude to Bruise by Saeed Jones
Faithful and Virtuous Night by Louise Glück
Gangsterland by Tod Goldberg
Happiness: Ten Years of n+1,  by Editors of n+1
Neverhome by Laird Hunt
* My Life as a Foreign Country by Brian Turner
Wallflowers: Stories by Eliza Robertson
* On Bittersweet Place by Ronna Wineberg.
 * The Betrayers by David Bezmozgis
 How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran
On Immunity: An Innoculation by Eula Biss

Yes, Please by Amy Poehler
cover* The Peripheral by William Gibson
Lila by Marilynne Robinson
Dan by Joanna Ruocco
* A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
Citizen by Claudia Rankine -
Some Luck by Jane Smiley
Reunion by Hannah Pittard
A Different Bed Every Time by Jac Jemc
  * 300,000,000 by Blake Butler
Sister Golden Hair by Darcey Steinke
 Quick Kills by Lynn Lurie
* Limonov by Emmanuel Carrère
The Heart Is Strange by John Berryman
* The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber
 Hiding in Plain Sight by Nuruddin Farah -- A maybe, only because I haven't cracked open the trilogy by Farah that I already own!

* The Laughing Monsters by Denis Johnson
Let Me Be Frank With You by Richard Ford:
 Mermaids in Paradise by Lydia Millet
 Ugly Girls by Lindsay Hunter
* Twilight of the Eastern Gods by Ismail Kadare
 * A Map of Betrayal by Ha Jin

All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews
 Family Furnishings: Selected Stories, 1995-2014 by Alice Munro
Loitering: New and Collected Essays by Charles d’Ambrosio
Why Religion is Immoral: And Other Interventions by Christopher Hitchens -- another preordered eons ago
* The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck
Above the Waterfall by Ron Rash
The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion by Mehgan Daum

* The Big Green Tent by Ludmila Ulitskaya
* Skylight by José Saramago

The rest of the article goes on into 2015, but I'll be stopping here.   

Sunday, June 29, 2014

June Reading Roundup

The summer read plan is progressing nicely, although with a lot more crime fiction and weird fiction/horror reading than I'd originally planned.  It doesn't matter, really -- summer reading is summer reading.  Getting down to business, I give you Part One of three months of very light summer fare:


A Replacement Life, by Boris Fishman

Mr. Mercedes, by Stephen King
Morituri, by Yasmina Khadra
The Three Evangelists, by Fred Vargas
Dog Will Have His Day, by Fred Vargas
The Drowning Pool, by Ross Macdonald
The Summer of Dead Toys, by Antonio Hill (not yet posted)
The Good Suicides, by Antonio Hill (not yet posted)


weird fiction/horror/fantasy/sci-fi
Teatro Grottesco, by Thomas Ligotti (not yet posted)

Now the rest:

1) Wishlisted books:
      A) Crime Fiction:
absolutely nada

       B) General/Literary Fiction
The General of the Dead Army, by Ismail Kadare

       C) The Weird, the Strange, the Supernatural, etc.
 The Amazing Resurrection of Victor Frankenstein, by Thomas Ligotti
The Devil Is Not Mocked and Other Warnings: Selected Stories of Manly Wade Welllman, Volume 2, by Manly Wade Wellman 

      D) Nonfiction:
nothing again!

2) Books bought this month: 

      A) crime fiction 
  The Moving Target, by Ross Macdonald
The Bloody Spur, by Charles Einstein
Angelica's Smile, by Andrea Camilleri
Double Blank, by Yasmina Khadra
According to the Evidence, by Hugh Pendexter
The Farm, by Tom Rob Smith

      preordered: Moon in a Dead Eye, by Pascal Garnier

   B) general/literary fiction
A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, by Eimear McBride
Summer House With Swimming Pool, by Herman Koch
In the Wolf's Mouth, by Adam Foulds
The Antiquarian, by Gustavo Faverón Patriau
Compartment No.  6, by Rosa Liksom
The Rise and Fall of Great Powers, by Tom Rachman
The Last Magazine, by Michael Hastings 
The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea, by Randolph Stow 

      preordered:  Outlaws, by Javier Cercas

      C) the weird, the strange, the supernatural, sci-fi etc. 
  Songs of a Dead Dreamer, by Thomas Ligotti
Pelican Cay and Other Disquieting Tales, by David Case
Tales of Moonlight and Rain, by Akinari Ueda
Fearful Rock & Other Precarious Locales: Selected Stories of Manly Wade Wellman, Volume 3, by   Manly Wade Welllman
The Elementals, by Michael McDowell
William Hope Hodgson (The Centipede Press Library of Weird Fiction)
Algernon Blackwood (The Centipede Press Library of Weird Fiction)
        preordered: The Whispering Swarm: Book One of The Sanctuary of the White Friars, by Michael Moorcock 

     D) Spy fiction
The Whitehall Mandarin, by Edward Wilson

      E) nonfiction
The Thomas Ligotti Reader, by Darrell Schweitzer

Assholes: A Theory, by Aaron James
Good Hunting: An American Spymaster's Story, by Jack Divine, with Vernon Loeb
J.D. Salinger: The Escape Artist, by Thomas Beller
     preordered: In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeanette, by Hampton Sides

3) Indiespensable, Book Passage Signed First Edition, and Politics and Prose Signed First Edition  books for this month:
Indiespensable: #48 will be The Great Glass Sea, by Josh Weil  (and I can't freakin' wait!)
Book Passage:  We Are Called To Rise, by Laura McBride
Politics and Prose: 
The Snow Queen, by Michael Cunningham

4The book group read  Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune, by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell Junior.  We liked it, but differed in our opinions about Huguette Clark's mental status at the time she was signing away her fortune to her nurse.

The group is on hiatus until the end of September, coming back with A Replacement Life, by Boris Fishman

5) Currently reading:
weird fiction: The Elementals, by Michael McDowell (Valancourt Press edition, 2014)
regular fiction:  In the Wolf's Mouth, by Adam Foulds (starting part two after an amazing part one)
nonfiction: nothing at the moment --
crime fiction: The Cold Cold Ground, by Adrian McKinty (Serpent's Tail)

 this month I gave away 11 books! Thanks to all who gave them new homes.

back to poolside lounging now -- it's a great day out there!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A Replacement Life, by Boris Fishman: I liked this one!

Harper, 2014
336 p.

ARC from the publisher, thank you!

So, I went to get publisher info (ISBN, # of pages, etc) from Amazon and I must say that I was floored by the negative reviews of this book.  In my opinion, they are largely uncalled for, but hey - chacun à son goût, as they say.  Personally, I had a great time with this novel and have already recommended it to a number of people; I've also put it on the list for  my book group to read in September when we return from our summer hiatus.  Obviously, I liked it.

Slava Gelman comes from a family of Russian immigrants who had settled  in Brooklyn.  He'd made a conscious decision to "become an American," to leave his grandfather Yevgeny's  "neighborhood of Russians, Belarussians, Ukrainians, Moldovans, Georgians and Uzbeks"  and set his sights on working for  Century, a longstanding and prestigious magazine, "older than The New Yorker and, despite a recent decline, forever a paragon."   Staying in the neighborhood would keep him among the ranks of those who   ". . . don't go to America," except for the DMV and Brodvei," or who "shop at marts that sold birch-leafed switches"  to "whip yourself in the steam bath and rare Turkish shampoos that reversed baldness . . ."  but this is not what Slava wants. He had to leave, in order to
"strip from his writing the pollution that repossessed it every time he returned to the swamp broth of Soviet Brooklyn."
In short, to focus on his writing for Century, he had to get away, to "Dialyze himself, like Grandmother's kidneys."  So it's off to Manhattan and a sparsely-furnished, affordable studio apartment.  As he's about to find out, getting away is not so easy.

from NY Daily News

As the novel opens, it's July, 2006, and just after 5 am, Slava  is surprised by the ringing of the telephone.  It's not  because it's so early, but rather because no one ever calls him, not even his family, since he'd "forbidden" them to call. He doesn't answer it, but the second time it rings, it's his mother telling him that his "grandmother isn't."   She'd died alone in the care facility.  He hadn't seen Grandmother Sofia for about a month, and now she's gone, and as his mother puts it, it's the family's "first American death."  After the funeral, Yevgeny asks him to write a narrative that would allow him to collect reparations as a victim of the Holocaust. He hands Slava an envelope, addressed to Sofia who was registered at  Yad Vashem  in Jerusalem. When Slava notes that this was for his grandmother, not his grandfather, his grandfather tells him to make it up.  As he states,
"Maybe I didn't suffer in the exact way I need to have suffered ... but they made sure to kill all the people who did. "
Eventually giving in, Slava starts thinking about all of the things that his grandparents  never told him, and how he really knew nothing about his grandmother's life and all she'd gone through.  What little he does know goes into Yevgeny's narrative, and the rest he invents but makes fit the story.  His work is so good that word spreads, and Yevgeny pimps him out to write other narratives for friends.   Each one builds a little more on the made-up, missing details of Sofia's life, and Slava begins to find it easier to lie, to fabricate, to make stuff up.  He gets so good at it that he even starts doing it at his job at Century  -- and it also spills over into other parts of his life as well.  However, writing these narratives produces more than just a few unintended results for Slava that he never could have predicted.

A Replacement Life is a book that shows, in part,  that life can't  always be measured in terms of absolute principles of black and white, true or false, good or bad. It's also a story about family relationships and cultural ties, history, and the Holocaust. To his credit, while the Holocaust is a very large part of this story and while Slava writes of terrible things that happened then in his reparations narratives, for the most part Mr. Fishman keeps the terrors in check so that they don't take over the modern-day story.  There are also a number of comical set pieces in A Replacement Life that made me laugh out loud,  especially when it came to the older folk in this book and the insider look at the Russian-Jewish  immigrant culture. As far as the reparations fraud angle, Mr. Fishman knows of which he speaks: I looked this up and discovered that last year, judgments had come down in a real fraud case that netted the perpetrators around 57 million dollars.

One of the most common themes in the less than complimentary reviews is Mr. Fishman's writing style. I don't understand why -- even in my own casual reader sort of way, I found it very easy to read in terms of writing and style, and I easily picked up on a number of literary references here.   Mr. Fishman obviously enjoys playing with language and playing with other writers' words and ideas and in doing so, has created something very different.   Considering that this is his first novel, I think he's done a fantastic job. This is a book I can definitely recommend.

My thanks once again to the publishers, and to TLC book tours for including me!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Maybe it's not a beach read, but it is excellent: The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames, by Kai Bird

Crown, 2014
448 pp

arc from the publisher, thank you!

So, okay, it's definitely not a beach read, but since I'm into history and the publisher mailed me this book a while back, I've just finished Pulitzer-prize winner Kai Bird's The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames.  I'd never heard of Robert Ames before, but now I'll never forget him.

Ames' life and work as a CIA agent and then Intelligence Officer in the Middle East, as well as the glimpses behind the scenes at politics and policymaking are all very well portrayed here, and there may be some small merit in the author's thesis that when Ames was killed in the 1983 bombing of the US embassy in Beirut, a sizeable chance for peace in the Middle East died along with him. He had the both the ear and the confidence of formidable players there,  he worked tirelessly to help put out flames before they became raging fires, and gave up much of his family life in the interests of peace.  A Good Spy is a most excellent read, and it is definitely a book  that  a)I'll never forget b) I urge everyone who has an interest in trying to understand the current situation in Middle East to get a copy of and c) has definitely spurred my interest in further reading.  
I've made a longer post at the nonfiction page of this reading journal; the link is here.  I'm still in a little shock after having finished this book. Well worth every second.

Friday, June 6, 2014

another book to pop in your beach bag: *Mr. Mercedes, by Stephen King

Scribner, 2014
437 pp


Let me just say this and get it out of the way: there is nothing in the supernatural realm occurring in this story,  but there is a monster here. He is neither a vampire nor a ghost;  he is not the dark forces of evil dressed up in a clown costume. He's just a person. And he got away with a horrendous crime.  

While this isn't my favorite Stephen King novel, Mr. Mercedes is a good enough read for a lazy couple of  days in that  laying-on-the-beach kind of book-that-you-can-read quickly sort of way.  It's a crime thriller with no supernatural elements involved, the perfect escape novel when you want something sort of mindless to read while you're relaxing in the summer sun.  I've posted about this book over on the crime page of this reading journal.