Tuesday, November 18, 2014

best of 2014, part five: Publisher's Weekly

Somehow, I overlooked Publisher's Weekly last week, but they've also jumped on the pre-Thanksgiving  best of 2014 books list bandwagon early this year. Less in the mainstream than any other list I've noted here, PW's top ten is a varied mix of nonfiction and fiction, with two books coming from Graywolf Press and one from Europa.   Here's what PW has to say:

"Each November, our reviews editors look back at the nearly 9,000 titles we reviewed over the course of the year and pick favorites in several categories: fiction, poetry, mystery/thriller, SF/fantasy/horror, romance/erotica, comics, picture books, middle grade, and young adult. From those longlists, the editors choose an overall top 10, including five each of the year’s best fiction and nonfiction titles."

 Here's their top ten (offered in the order as they are listed on the website):

On Immunity: An Education, by Eula Bliss  (nonfiction)
Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin and Sadat at Camp David, by Lawrence Wright (nonfiction)
The Corpse Exhibition and Other Stories of Iraq, by Hassan Blasim
Limonov, by Emmanuel Carrère (nonfiction)
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, by Elena Ferrante
A Brief History of Seven Killings, by Marlon James
The Empathy Exams, by Leslie  Jamison (nonfiction)
Bark, by Lorrie Moore
The Dog, by Joseph O'Neill
Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle that Set Them Free, by Héctor Tobar

Monday, November 17, 2014

Stephen King's Revival

Scribner, 2014
403 pp


"...it may be strange, but it is true, and the ancients knew what lifting the veil means." 

My quotation is not from Revival,but rather from Arthur Machen's "The Great God Pan,"  a favorite story that seems to have been an influence on King in the writing of this book. It also influenced author HP Lovecraft, whose influence comes shining through here in no small way.   In fact, there is a lot of literary influence in this novel, but let's just say it won't be appearing on this year's list of my favorite books.  I think having read so much of Lovecraft (and the authors he's influenced over the years) sort of spoiled it for me, so in a way, it's not the author's fault that I didn't like this one as much as I might have.    It's kind of like seeing a movie then going back to read the book -- you already know what's going to happen so there's less of an impact when the ending comes around.  While reader reviews and star ratings rank this book quite high, like usual, I'm fighting the current here. You can click here to discover why.

oops! A part four has emerged: this one from Library Reads

from Shelf Awareness today:

"Library Reads, the nationwide library staff-picks list, has released its inaugural annual "Favorite of Favorites" list--the top 10 titles that public library staff most enjoyed recommending in 2014, in order of voting."  

Here we go:

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin  
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion  
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr  
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt 
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, 
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel  
One Plus One by Jojo Moyes  
Landline by Rainbow Rowell 
Longbourn by Jo Baker  

Kirkus hath spoken: the best fiction books of 2014 -- Part 3 in this year's "best of books" lists

Kirkus has gone all out with its version of the best of the year, offering its readers 100 books it has deemed "best fiction books of 2014."  Here's the full list, in alphabetical order.  Note: Euphoria, by Lily King, won the Kirkus Prize this year. Evidently, I'm reading all of the wrong books.

1. The Fever, by Megan Abbott
2. An Unnecessary Woman, by Rabih Alameddine
3. Song of the Shank, by Jeffery Renard Allen
4. Steles of the Sky, by Elizabeth Bear
5. Broken Monsters, by Lauren Beukes
6. The Bones Beneath, by Mark Billingham
7. Do or Die, by Suzanne Brockman
8. Night Heron, by Adam Brooks
9. The Miniaturist, by Jessie Burton
10. One Kick, by Chelsea Cain

11. A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall, by Will Chancellor
12. The Author and Me, by Eric Chevillard
13.  Monday,Monday, by Elizabeth Crook
14. Romancing the Duke, by Tessa Dare
15. Wolf in White Van, by John Darnielle
16. All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
17. The Wilds, by Julia Elliott
18. Hiding in Plain Sight, by Nurudin Farrah
19.Kill My Mother, by Jules Feiffer
20. Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, by Elena Farrante

21.  All I  Love and Know, by Judith Frank
22. The Secret Place, by Tana French
23.  The Silkworm, by Robert Galbraith
24.  American Innovations: Stories, by Rivka Galchen
25.  The Stories of Jane Gardam, by Jane Gardam
26.  An Untamed State, by Roxane Gay
27.  The Word Exchange, by Alena Graedon
28.  Afterparty, by Daryl Gregory
29. The Magician's Land, by Lev Grossman
30. Tigerman, by Nick Harkaway

31.  In Your Dreams, by Kristan Higgans
32.  The Hour of Lead, by Bruce Holbert
33.  The Blazing World, by Siri Hustvedt
34. The Hunting Gun, by Yasushi Inoue
35. The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing, by Mira Jacob
36. Three Weeks With Lady X, by Eloisa James
37. The Woman Who Borrowed Memories: Selected Stories of Tove Jansson, by Tove Jansson
38. A Map of Betrayal, by Ha Jin
39. Broadchurch, by Erin Kelly
40.  The Last Illusion, by Porochista Khakpour

41.  Euphoria, by Lily King
42. Mr. Mercedes, by Stephen King
43.  Redeployment, by Phil Klay
44. My Struggle: Book Three: Boyhood, by Karl Ove Knaussgard
45. Those Who Wish Me Dead, by Michael Kortya
46. Valour and Vanity, by Mary Robinette Kowal
47. The Moor's Account, by Laila Lalami
48. Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover, by Sarah MacLean
49.  Bird Box, by Josh Malerman
50.  Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

borrowed from http://jackiedana.com/2014/04/15/the-halfway-point/
51.  The Invention of Exile, by Vanessa Manko 
52. The Assassination of Margaret Thacher, by Hilary Mantel
53. The Other Language, by Francesca Marciano
54. The Killer Next Door, by Alex Marwood
55. A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, by Eimear McBride
56.   Thunderstruck and Other Stories, by Elizabeth McCracken
57.  The Children Act, by Ian McEwan
58. Defenders, by Will McIntosh
59. All Our Names, by Dinaw Mengestu
60.  Accidents of Marriage, by Randy Susan Meyers

61. Mermaids in Paradise, by Lydia Millett
62. The Red Road, by Denise Mina
63. The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell
64.  Crown of Renewal, by Elizabeth Moon
65. Arcanum, by Simon Morden
66. The Secret Life of William Shakespeare, by Jude Morgan
67. Big Little Lies, by Liane Moriarty
68.  Florence Gordon, by Brian Morton
69. Family Furnishings: Selected Stories, by Alice Munro
70. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, by Haruki Murakami

71.   The Son, by Jo Nesbo
72. Waiting for the Electricty, by Christina Nichol
73. Boy, Snow, Bird, by Helen Oyemi
74. Alphabet, by Kathy Page
75.  The Long Way Home, by Louise Penny 
76. Heroes are my Weakness, by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
77. Lovers at the Chameleon Club, by Francine Prose
78. The Rise and Fall of Great Powers, by Tom Rachman
79. In the Light of What We Know, by Zia Haider Rahman
80.  Lila, by Marilynne Robinson

81. Children of the Revolution, by Peter Robinson
82. The Remedy for Love, by Bill Roorbach
83. Reckless Disregard, by Robert Rotstein
84. Dominion, by CJ Sansom
85. Lock In, by John Scalzi
86. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, by David Shafer
87. Family Life, by Akhil Sharma
88. Shield of Winter, by Nalini Singh
89. How to Be Both, by Ali Smith
90. The Rhesus Chart, by Charles Stross

91. Mr. Bones: Twenty Stories, by Paul Theroux
92. All My Puny Sorrows, by Miriam Toews
93.  Nora Webster, by Colm Toibin
94. Barracuda, by Christos Tsiolkas
95.  The Cold Song, by Linn Ullmann
96.  The Tao of Humiliation, by Lee Upton
97.   Annihilation, by Jeff VanderMeer
98.  The Paying Guests, by Sarah Waters
99. The Martian, by Andy Weir

and whew!

100. Eyrie, by Tim Winton

Friday, November 14, 2014

Think obscure. Think British women writers of the 1930s. Think Dorothy Bowers. WHO?

I don't mind saying that I have become a bit frustrated with a lot of what's out there in crime fiction/mystery writing lately, and so I'm trading in modern for vintage for a while. While my frustration grows in that area,  I've also developed this incredible fascination with British women writers of earlier decades, so when I discovered Dorothy Bowers, I thought, why not give her a try.  I bought her book Postscript to Poison, which was written in 1938, republished by Rue Morgue Press in 2005, and is the subject of a post I just made on the crime page.  So who is Dorothy Bowers?
Rue Morgue Press, 2005
originally published 1938
190 pp

British author Dorothy Bowers  died ten years after the publication of this novel from tuberculosis.  Bowers had wanted to "make creative literary work" her career, but found herself the owner of  “a fairly regular spate of rejection slips from various editors”  instead.  She also read a great deal, and discovered an "intermittent" attraction to detective fiction, selecting "only ...the best." She eventually started writing mystery novels herself which ultimately led to her being inducted to the detection club in 1948, but her novels soon went out of print.   Thanks to Rue Morgue Press, her works live on and are widely available.  Sadly, she's been overlooked or forgotten at mainstream crime fiction/mystery  info sites like stopyourekillingme.com, an oversight which, imho, needs to be corrected.

There are a couple of good articles about Bowers that you can find online -- here's one of them, written by author Christopher Fowler for The Independent; another one is found at the website of Rue Morgue Press.  If anyone has any other sources of info, please let me know.  I would love to know more about her. 

anyway - I enjoyed her book, am ready to read another, so if obscure British crime-writing women are up your alley, you may want to check out what I have to say about the book. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

thank god. Now we don't have to be bombarded with this stuff any more:

just came in via email:

breaking news from the New York Times :

"Amazon and Hachette announced Thursday morning that they have resolved their differences and signed a new multiyear contract, bringing to an official end one of the most bitter publishing conflicts in recent years."

Seriously - there are so many other huge problems in the world, I haven't even paid attention to this one. But at least everyone can move on now and I don't have to keep reading the anti-Amazon columns in Shelf Awareness any more.  

A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki

Viking, 2013
418 pp

I'll admit that I was not even considering  reading A Tale for the Time Being when it first came out, but it got my notice when it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize last year. I remember thinking "a hello kitty lunchbox" smacks of YA and that I just do not do.  That year I'd also decided to quit trying to kill myself reading longlists and shortlists, but I bought the longlisted books anyway thinking I'd get to them someday.  There it sat on my shelf until I got together with a group of three other women to read it and then I was angry at myself that I'd let it go so long. The three other women weren't so crazy about it, but then again, two of them had left it for the day before we were supposed to talk about it before finishing it, so well, you know. Unlike them, I found this book to be very different from the norm, I was intrigued by the metaphysical aspects of the book and the magical realism, and I got very caught up in how past, present and future all come together here.

Ruth Ozeki goes meta here, as the story begins with a novelist named Ruth who lives on an island off the coast of British Columbia. She has been trying to write a memoir about her mother and is suffering from writer's block. Out walking one day, something catches her eye underneath a "massive tangle of bull kelp" which turns out to be a Hello Kitty lunchbox.  She brings it home, prepared to throw it out, but her husband Oliver  discovers that it's definitely not trash. They pull out a stack of Japanese letters, an old watch and a  book, which turns out to be Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu, or In Search of Lost Time, a title that takes on more significance as the story progresses.  Opening the book, they find that it's not Proust at all, but rather the diary of a teenager named Nao.  Ruth believes it may have been a part of the debris from the 2011 tsunami, and becomes intrigued.  She decides to read the book the way it was written -- meaning that rather than sit down and read it cover to cover, she'll read each of Nao's entries separately each day.  The first thing she reads is Nao's introduction:
"Hi! My name is Nao, and I am a time being. Do you know what a time being is? Well, if you give me a moment, I will tell you. 
A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be. As for me, right now I am sitting in a French maid cafe in Akiba Electricity Town, listening to a sad chanson that is playing somewhere in your past, which is also my present, writing this and wondering about you, somewhere in my future. And if you're reading this, then maybe by now you're wondering about me, too."
As Ruth reads, she learns that this diary is not one that's "filled with pink fantasies and nasty fetishes," but rather Nao's purpose is to relate the "fascinating life story" of her great-grandmother, her Jiko, who is 104, a Buddhist nun, Taisho-era novelist, anarchist and feminist. As Ruth has been having problems writing the memoir of her mother, the life-story aspect strikes a chord, but when she learns that Nao has decided to end her own life, to "drop out of time...Exit my existence,"  Ruth slowly begins to become obsessed with knowing what may have happened to this girl.  As it turns out, she learns  much more in the process of reading the diary.

The novel plays out across space and time, going back and forth between past and present, connecting all of the items found in Nao's lunchbox and becoming a sort of dialogue between Nao and Ruth. There are a number of striking parallels in this novel, which I can't really discuss without giving away much of the show, and there are a number of ideas that pass through the pages -- environmental concerns, ethical dilemmas, the possibilities of different outcomes stemming from one choice or one act, the connections between our pasts, presents and futures, the pain, evil and suffering that exists in the world, and the idea that we need to live for the now.   But it's also a book about writing, reading,  -- and maybe most importantly along these lines, it's about a writer's hopes in finding just the right reader.

I'm the first to admit that I'm not very talented in the writing area, so it is really difficult for me to express how very much caught up in this book I became. I'm no literary expert, so I have trouble waxing on about all of things literary experts wax on about. I'm just a reader person, honest with no pretensions at all,  and I don't read to dissect, but rather to learn, to appreciate, and to find something that actually speaks to me.  Reading this book  wasn't simply about wanting to know what happened to Nao and to everyone else involved in this novel even though I did;  it wasn't that there is so much here philosophically that I think I could read it three or four more times and still come up with something new each time, even though there is.   There was just something about the examination of parallel lives across time and space and the connections between them that in Ozeki's very gifted hands, closed down the real world for me and took me into the world(s) that existed in this novel. That may sound stupid, but it's the only way I can really articulate how intensely I lost myself in these pages. If I were a writer, my guess is that I would appreciate that someone lost him or herself in a world I'd created; as a fiction reader, I can only say that it's my highest compliment to a writer.  I loved this book. Bottom line.