Tuesday, April 27, 2010

and finally, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, by David Mitchell

Random House, June 29, 2010
ISBN: 1400065453

First, a huge thanks to Librarything, where I received this book as part of the LT Early Reviewers' program.  Somehow I think the algorithm is psychic, as I always seem to get the book I want most.

A second thank you to Random House for sending a copy that I had probably requested and forgotten about.  That copy now is going to Librarything as part of its member giveaway program where people who requested it and didn't get it through ER will have another chance.

According to an interview with The Times Online (4/18/2010) The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet  began with the author getting off a streetcar at the wrong stop and coming upon the Dejima museum in Nagasaki in 1996. The idea for the book went into a notebook  years before he wrote Thousand Autumns, but his mistake led to one of the best novels I've read the entire year.If this one doesn't show up on the Booker Prize longlist this year, I'll be more than surprised. 

Without going into the plot, Mitchell bases this work of historical fiction beginning in 1799 on the artificially-created island of  Dejima, the only place that Dutch traders could operate in the closed country of Japan while Japan was isolated from the rest of the world based on its own internal policies. With very few exceptions, the Dutch were not allowed to cross into Nagasaki, and the Japanese were not allowed to cross over to the island. While the Dutch had trading privileges there, over time some Japanese people were eventually allowed to take advantage of the outsiders to learn about "Western" science, medicine, and other teachings, all collectively known as rangoku, or Dutch learning. It is in this situation that we first meet Jacob de Zoet, who has come to Japan with the Dutch East India Company to try to make his fortune and return home to Europe to marry the girl back home. 

What makes this novel of historical fiction work and work very well are Mitchell's gifts with language and storytelling. Mitchell is already a well-known and talented author, but this is very different than anything he's done yet.  The story  takes you from the Dutch enclave at Dejima into the forests and mountains of the Japanese countryside and into the courtyards of small inns along the wide roads used in transit to and from the domain of the reigning Shogun. From there you're off to the high seas once again as more of the world knocks at Japan's door. The world of intrigue, politics and betrayal that exists within Dejima is also a way of life outside of it as well -- the same game played out over and over again in  different venues by different people. The story itself is captivating, and as has been noted elsewhere, you will find yourself tempted to turn to the end to see what happens. But don't. As intriguing and often suspenseful as the novel may be, you must read it slowly, not just because it's a good story, but because you want to catch even the smallest of nuances Mitchell's writing offers. His descriptions have significance and place the reader deeper into the world in which the story occurs. A game of go becomes a verbal duel between two worthy opponents.  A woman's name on Jacob's lips becomes a graphic description of properly articulating phonetic sounds. Moonlight melts glass, and the darkness is alive as "night insects trill, tick, bore, ring; drill, prick, saw, sting." And at times, you'll be reading along and out of the blue a piece of narrative will come out  like a poem, making you go back and reread the passage you've just read so you don't miss anything.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is a long novel, but well worth every second spent on it.  I would recommend it to everyone, although I  believe its best audience will be readers of literary fiction and the already-existing loyal fanbase of David Mitchell.  What a great book!

Hypothermia, by Arnaldur Indridason

Harvill Secker/Random House
ISBN: 9781846552625

There's a subtle elegance to this particular story, considering it's a novel of crime fiction. There are no raging maniacs with axes hanging about, no serial killers, and no serious threats to the people of Reykjavik. In fact, there seems to be a lull in crime as this story opens, and Erlendur has some time to go back to some very cold cases. While pondering the ones that got away unanswered, he becomes involved with a new case, that of a woman who was found hanging in her vacation home. There are no signs to indicate anything other than suicide, but her friend Karen isn't so sure. Karen brings Erlendur a cassette tape of the dead woman's previous session with a medium and gets his attention. Working on his own, with no official police involvement, Erlendur works to find out why this woman took her own life. In a brief phone chat with Sigurdur Oli, when Erlendur notes that he wants to know "why she committed suicide,"  Erlendur explains why:

[Sigurdur Oli asks] " 'What's it to you?'
'Nothing,' Erlendur said. 'Absolutely nothing.'
'I thought you were only interested in missing-person cases.'
'Suicide is a missing-person case too,' Erlendur said and hung up on him."
Given Erlendur's background with the brother who was lost in a blinding snowstorm, his interest in the lost is no surprise.  And it's no surprise that he identifies with the ones left behind, for example, the grieving father who has checked in with Erlendur every year since his son vanished. For this man, time is running out because he's dying, and Erlendur wants him to go with answers. There's another missing persons case Erlendur goes back to as well -- that of a young woman who vanished one day, car and all. But it's the suicide that takes most of his time, as he gets into the head of the dead woman, just trying to figure out why.

Hypothermia is an excellent novel, and will give you pause to consider the nature of grieving and loss as you follow Erlendur throughout. Probably more than any of the previous novels in the series, place is itself a character, especially the cold and  lonely lakes of Iceland.  I loved this book and cannot recommend it highly enough.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Reading Globally

I saw this post over at Weekly Geeks and am pleased to put in my two cents worth here. 

Weekly Geeks asks the following questions (in bold); my answers are in regular typeface.
  • Do you deliberately read globally, and if so, do you track your reading in this area?  -- Yes, actually, I do read globally, but haven't specifically tracked my reading. I will now.
  • Have you joined any reading challenges which encourage reading from around the world? If so, what are they? Currently I'm involved in the Scandinavian Reading Challenge hosted by Amy at The Black Sheep Dances, the Typically British Reading Challenge hosted over at Book Chick City, and the Aussie Author Challenge hosted by Book Lover Book Reviews. Sadly, I haven't yet posted my one Aussie book of the year so far, but I'll get there.
  • Do you visit bloggers who blog outside of your country? If so, what have you learned from reading their blogs? Consider sharing a couple of links to book bloggers who motivate you to read around the world.  I read a few. There's Maxine's lovely blog over at Petrona, as well as The Asylum from the UK; I am always reading Eurocrime, and the list goes on.
  • Where do your reading around the globe book suggestions come from? Magazines? Web sites which feature books in translation? Publishers? Other bloggers? If you have a particularly great site for recommendations, give us a link!  One of my favorite places for books in translation is La Bloga, where you can find Spanish-language books in translation, and there's Words Without Borders.  To find new books I just kind of buzz the internet. 
  • Do you read books in translation as part of your global reading experiences? Share some of your favorite books in translation. Constantly. In fact, I think a huge part of my library consists of books in translation.  Some of the favorites: anything by Jo Nesbo, Arnaldur Indridason, and other Scandinavian crime writers, and I love Arturo Perez-Reverte's early stuff (The Flanders Panel, The Fencing Master, etc.). I have books in translation from China, Japan, India, and several other places. Too many good ones to mention, but I love books by Akimitsu Takagi (e.g. The Tattoo Murder Case), Yukio Mishima, Mo Yan (Red Sorghum), Su Tong (Raise the Red Lantern and Rice), again...way too many to list. Lots of books from Germany and Latin America. Wow. I should start tracking it, shouldn't I?

It's Monday! What am I reading?

 It's Monday again and thanks to Sheila at Bookjourney, I get to catch you up on what I've been reading.

It was a very slow but productive reading week. Most of my time was spent finishing David Mitchell's stunning new book, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. I have yet to write my review because I'm mulling it over in my head before committing myself. In  a nutshell..it was wonderful. I doubt this is going to be a mainstream phenomenon, but if you're a fan of his previous works, you need to get yourself a copy of this one.

I also finished Arctic Chill by Arnaldur Indridason, one of my favorite authors of Scandinavian crime fiction. If you're going to read his books, please start with Jar City, as the characters grow over the course of the series.

On the books-to-movie scene, I finished Big Fish by Daniel Wallace. That's another one of those books where seeing the movie first tended to kill the book for many reviewers. But I liked it.

This week coming up, I'm leaving for another 5-day cruise so I expect to read a lot while laying on the balcony in the sunny Caribbean. So far I haven't decided what I'm taking as far as books, so it will all depend on how I feel on Wednesday when I pack.  I see lots of mysteries and crime fiction in my immediate future.

Currently I'm in the middle of Hypothermia, by Arnaldur Indridason, the last of the Erlendur books to be translated to English and published over here. And I had to buy that one in the UK because as far as I know, it's not in the US yet. I'm listening to Michael Connolly's The Black Echo in the car.

so that's it for now. A week from today I'll just be getting off of the cruise so if I have any energy I'll post, but if not, in two weeks I'll post from Seattle. 

Arctic Chill, by Arnaldur Indridason

ISBN: 9780099542322
Vintage UK

Here we are at book five of six featuring Inspector Erlendur Sveinsson, and I couldn't stand the suspense of waiting for #6 in the Reykjavik Murder Mystery series (Hypothermia) to come out in the US so I bought it from the UK. But then I wonder how long I'm going to have to wait for the next one. Oh well. This series is worth it completely.

As usual, Indridason delivers another good story here...not just a good mystery, but his insights into Iceland as a place and into its problems add to the entire series as a whole.

Just a brief synopsis first: During a very cold Icelandic winter, a young boy, the son of a Thai immigrant and her Icelandic husband, is found dead in front of his apartment building, with his body stuck to its own pool of blood. To make matters worse, it seems that his older brother is missing. As Erlendur and his team (Sigurdur Oli & Elinborg) start to work on the case, several theories present themselves -- was it a crime based on racism? Or was it the work of a pedophile known to be back in the area? Or, even worse, did the missing brother have anything to do with the young boy's death? While all of this is going on, Erlendur is also battling with the case of a woman who disappeared -- and both cases are bringing back his memories of his lost brother.

As anyone who reads Scandinavian crime fiction knows, these authors incorporate their own commentary (via plotline) about current social issues & problems in their respective countries. One of the themes prevalent in this novel is that of the problems of immigration in Iceland, which Indridason handles very skillfully.  It's not just a question of how native Icelanders feel about immigration, but he also reveals the problems faced by immigrants who go there - for example lack of language skills that hinder their ability to fully become members of Icelandic society, and the fact that families bring older children into the country who tend to have problems fitting in with the rest of their peer groups because they feel out of place. Indridason shows the feelings on both sides of the issue, treating the subject with a great deal of fairness toward each.

As always, Indridason's writing, his sense of place, his character development and his ability to create well-constructed plots are all in top form here. However, while  I understand that Erlendur's missing brother is one of those dark parts of his life that make him tick and make him who he is, and explains why he's fascinated with missing persons cases, and that this case of the two brothers reminds him of his own sad past, I feel I must point out that regular readers of this series already know all of this. Is the author maybe throwing this in for people who haven't yet read these books?

Overall, another good one by Indridason, whose entire Erlendur series is highly intelligent, making him one of those authors whose works I just can't wait to get my hands on. My advice: read them in order because these characters are not static and unchanging, but rather they are dynamic and becoming more human with every installment. Recommended to people who like Scandinavian crime fiction as well as mystery readers who want intelligence in their crime.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Used books are great, but not when they're supposed to be new.

Larry and I went to our local Barnes and Noble yesterday to pick up a few books for him to read on our upcoming cruise (yes, another one).  While he was over perusing what B&N stocks as far as Jefferson Bass, I was prowling the new fiction shelves and I picked up Craig Nova's book The Informer (on the wishlist forever) opened it up to page one, and the first thing I saw was a torn page, bottom right corner. Guess what else I saw on that page -- fingerprints that looked like someone had eaten a chocolate-chip cookie and forgot to clean their hands. To add to my woes, that was the only copy B&N actually had in stock. So what if I had wanted to buy it? Okay, I did (I figure buying a cruise read is a good excuse for breaking the self-imposed ban on buying books) but there was no way I was going to buy that particular copy.  How are they going to sell it?

I'm just standing there in a bit of shock, and Larry comes back to find me. I show him the book and start to tell him my opinion on readers who take their cappucinos, chocolate-chip cookies and a clean new book back to the comfy chairs to read and don't bother to clean their hands while doing it. As I'm launching into my tempest in a teapot tirade, a guy grabs a trade paperback off the shelf, sits down with his coffee and starts reading in the chair, and bends the cover all the way back so that only one page is showing.  You know darn well that when his coffee's finished, he's going to stick that book back on the shelf, now with a creased spine.Oh, the horror of it all.

So please people, if you're going to spend a quiet Saturday morning at the bookstore, taking care of your coffee fix and test driving a novel, please be clean about it. And for Pete's sake, please try to think of other people who may actually want to BUY the book you've just bent back or because you forgot to take a napkin with your cookie, you've left chocolate fingerprints on. If I wanted a used book, I'd have gone to a bookstore where I know the books have already been read, and even then, I wouldn't pick up the food-stained ones.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

*Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions, by Daniel Wallace

Big Fish is a quiet little book, not so much a novel as a series of small vignettes about the life of one Edward Bloom, who is now dying. Edward was one of those people for whom a day-to-day life with his family just wasn't enough, so he ended up missing a lot of his son William's life. As he's laying there dying, William begs to know more about his father, but Edward, who is the king of the one-liners, answers his son's questions with more jokes and reminisces of life before William came along. The book is William's way of trying to know and understand his father -- it is William's  construction of Edward's life based on Edward's often over-the-top stories.

Edward's tall tales are like a sign pointing William in a general direction toward the truth of his father's life: no matter what situation Edward found himself in, it was always important to him to be the big fish in the small pond. Edward notes that he always wanted to be a great man, and that he always felt it was his destiny to be so. William's reconstruction, which in many ways mythologizes Edward, is his attempt at making his absent father the great man he always wanted to be, even though William feels that a great man is someone of whom it could be said that he was loved by his son. The "myths" William creates about his father in this book are a step toward not only William being able to connect at some level with Edward before he dies, but are also William's way of loving his father as best he can.

Big Fish is a small book, but read it slowly because there is a lot to uncover here.

A note about the Tim Burton film: the movie picks up these little vignettes and expands them into fuller stories, and is a joy to watch as well as a full-fledged tear jerker at times.  If you haven't seen the movie, read the book first so you get more into William's head.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Book Blogger Hop

This is a regular event at Crazy-for-books, where you can look around and see who reads and blogs about what. This week I found two new blogs that I found interesting (at least so far)

Bibliophile by the Sea and The Reading Life.

If you're so inclined, you might want to take a look at all of these blogs and say hi.

The book blogger hop is a good way to connect up with readers who are like minded. To be brutally blunt, in my case these types of events point out to me that I tend to march to the beat of a different drum in the reading world. So when I find blogs like the two above, I don't feel so isolated, and that's why I like doing these things. I mostly blog for myself, but I do like following others who have similar tastes.

sometimes a book comes along...

where you don't want it to end. And that's where I am with this book, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, by David Mitchell. I'm at the last one hundred pages mark and bemoaning the fact that it's almost over. I will be back with a real review shortly, but if you have received an ARC of this book, get on it and start reading.

Monday, April 19, 2010

It's Monday! What am I reading?

After a weekend that was much too short, here we are at Monday again. And that means that it's once again time for "It's Monday, What Am I Reading," hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. That woman is incredible: runs 5ks, bikes 65 miles, is always on the go and yet manages to read like a fiend and keep up with her blog. So go over, say hello and get inspired!

Let's get down to business. Since last here, I did manage to get in some reading time.  Continuing on with my book-to-movie junket, I started with The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett.  I then moved to Richard Neely's Shattered, a rather twisty piece of noir fiction.  Then moving away from the noir genre, I read The Stoning of Soraya M., by Freidoune Sahebjam, a small but powerful work of nonfiction, followed by Somerset Maugham's The Painted Veil.  Last, but by no means least, I read Christopher G. Moore's soon-to-be-published Asia Hand, a bit of Bangkok noir (if you're wondering why you keep seeing the word "noir," it's because I really like it so read a lot of it).

Currently I'm reading Daniel Wallace's Big Fish and also David Mitchell's new book The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, which will be published at the end of June.  I will be giving this book away when I finish it, since I preordered a finished copy months ago. I've heard already some potential Booker buzz about this one. 

This week I plan to finish Mitchell's book, then I'm going to drop everything and read The Harvard Psychedelic Club. I keep picking it up but it gets put aside. No more. If anything else comes up, you'll find out next week anyway.

that's it...now let's get out there and read!!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

*The Painted Veil, by W. Somerset Maugham

Vintage International, 2004
Originally published 1925

My first book by Maugham, but definitely not my last. If someone would like to recommend a good one by him, I'd be more than grateful. 

As a young man, the author took a trip to Italy, where he studied Italian with a tutor. Maugham began reading Dante's Il Purgatorio and came upon the story of one Pia de Tolomei of Siena. It seems that Pia's husband believed that Pia was involved with another man, so rather than risk her family's displeasure by murdering her, he decided to take her to his castle in Maremma. According to Maugham in the preface to Painted Veil,  the husband figured that the "noxious vapors" of the place would do her in.  He realized that it would make a great story, and later, when in China, he realized that it would be the perfect setting, voilá -- The Painted Veil comes into being. Yet, the finished product actually turns out to be much more character rather than story driven.  

Set in the 1920s, the main character of this novel is Kitty Fane, whose socially-ambitious mother wanted her to marry into a prominent family. Kitty is not interested in marriage until her younger sister becomes engaged to a member of the baronetcy.  It is at this point that Walter Fane, a physician and bacteriologist appears and professes his deep love for Kitty and asks for her hand. Kitty finds it expedient that Walter has to leave immediately for China where he is doing research, because if she marries him she will not have to take part in her sister's wedding and have everyone talking about her. Kitty does not love Walter, but she marries him anyway. Off to Hong Kong they go, and as the story opens, Kitty is having an affair with a married British diplomat, having become quickly bored with her husband.  Walter discovers her infidelity and presents her with a choice that ends up with Kitty following him to Mei-tan-fu, a rural Chinese region where a cholera epidemic rages through the population.  Walter has taken the place of the local physician and also spends much of time researching the disease, while Kitty is left alone to ponder why he has really brought her there. 

While the story belongs mostly to Kitty and how she is able to dig deep and discover certain truths about herself and life in general,  the more interesting character, imho, is Walter, who exemplifies that old adage that still waters run deep.  Underneath his mild and taciturn appearance, a great deal of passion flows through this gentle man's veins, staying largely unrecognized until it  leads him to force Kitty into following him into the heart of a cholera epidemic. But here lies the heart of the story: human beings are often misguided when their actions stem from their emotional natures, sometimes causing them to make serious mistakes. In that sense, both Walter and Kitty are two sides of the same coin.

This was a very good read, certainly recommendable to readers across different genres. Romance readers will find something here, as will chick-lit connoisseurs, and it's a good book of literary fiction. I do want to say something about the 2006 film adaptation: it veers from the book quite a bit, especially at the end, so if you are considering watching it my advice would be to read the novel first to see where Maugham was really going with this story.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

*The Stoning of Soraya M., by Freidoune Sahebjam

ISBN: 1559702338
first English-language edition
1994 Arcade Publishing

Let me begin by offering a quotation from the preface:

"After the shah was deposed and the fundamentalist regime headed by the Ayatollah Khomeini came to power in February 1979, many dubious elements of the population, including common-law criminals who had been jailed for good reason under the shah, were released from the country's  prisons. Taking advantage of the religious fervor sweeping the land, a number of these people, especially those with at least a basic knowledge of the Koran and its tenets, donned clerics' garb, gave themselves the title of mullah, and roamed the country seeing opportunities for self-enrichment or, quite simply, to conceal their past from the authorities."

In 1986, the author was waiting in a small mountain village in Iran for a contact to take him over the border into Pakistan, when he was offered tea by an elderly woman. She then proceeded to tell him that two weeks earlier, her niece Soraya had been stoned to death for being unfaithful to her husband, and that she had been innocent of the charge.  The author's contact showed up and he had to leave, but he promised the woman he'd be back, and he returned some six months later to hear her story, which ended up being the substance of this book. The book recalls a beyond-horrible crime instigated by one of these above-mentioned mullahs in cahoots with Soraya's husband.  This mullah (Sheik Hassan) had been in prison and was running away from the regime that put him there. He had fled to a small village of about 250 people where he was able to quickly gain the trust of the village leaders and become the go-to guy for settling disputes, and he was able to profit monetarily from his position as well. The sheik's background is important, because he represents one of those people whose position allowed him to manipulate religious beliefs for his own gain, and in this particular case, vengeance.

The basic story is this. Soraya's parents had betrothed her to Ghorban-Ali whom she had known since childhood and whom she didn't like even then. He was an abusive husband and later father, who would beat his wife regularly and then start in on his children. He spent a great deal of time turning his two older children against their mother. When he wasn't in the village, he was involved in black-market and other illegal activities until the change in regime, when he became a prison guard and realized his potential for power over others. Once he got a taste for power and life in the city (and the gains he'd made financially and materially in his position as prison guard) he no longer wanted to be a peasant from the village, but instead wanted to live the life of Riley in the city complete with a 14 year old honey that he wanted to marry. The problem was his marriage to Soraya, and how to get rid of her; ultimately with no way out of the marriage, he turned to Sheik Hassan.  And this is when Soraya's life went from one of abuse to one of utter horror.

There are a couple of things worth mentioning. First, there is no doubt that this event actually happened, and there is no doubt that stoning as a punishment for adultery is a reality among some Muslim fundamentalists in some areas. You can go to any human rights organization's website and find out all that you want to know about it there and to be fair, you can go to the website of Al-jazeera (an Islamic news organization) to read about recent developments about stoning as well. It is also an abominable practice that is beyond my scope of comprehension in the realm of human cruelty.

Second, there's no doubt in my mind that as far as the story this book tells, the stoning of Soraya M. a) reflects a plan conceived by a few misogynistic individuals who deliberately used the existing Sharia laws for their own personal gain and b) was allowed to happen as a result of an abuse of power in this small village.

To get the full story, you need to read the book. It is a difficult story but an eye-opening one that you will probably not soon forget. I know I won't. I don't think I need to see it on the big screen, though.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Personal attacks over a book review. How utterly ridiculous.

Today I finished my book, The Stoning of Soraya M, and as is my usual practice, I went to see what other readers of the book thought. My big mistake was starting with the Amazon reviews of this book (actually, I was so disgusted I didn't look at others and turned off my computer for the day).I won't go into specifics, but I looked at several reviews where people's comments were just downright nasty. Beyond nasty. Someone made a comment that said something about the fact that laws about stoning exist in Muslim scriptures, which was followed by someone else telling them they were stupid and knew nothing about Islam. Then that was followed by a lot of anti-Islamic rhetoric and things just heated up from there. Someone who tried to take a middle-of-the-road stance was blasted for being too far left politically.  It made me wonder if people like myself are a dying breed: people who really just like to read and want to sometimes share their opinions about the book itself in case anyone else was ever planning to read it (which is what I thought the purpose of book reviews were).  Why must anyone feel compelled to be downright nasty in responding to what someone says? It has almost scared me off even thinking about writing a review of this book anywhere, including here in my reading journal. I'm still thinking about whether or not to write it. Of course, here I have the option of filtering remarks, but it wouldn't stop them from coming in if someone didn't like what I had to say about this book.

It's like this pretty much anywhere where people can make comments or where people can speak their minds. They hide behind their anonymity and feel free to make ugly statements about anyone or anything. Don't get me wrong. People do have the right to say whatever they want. I object to the utter meanness and nastiness coming out, calling people names and getting in other people's faces when they disagree.  I mean, who ARE these people? Are they small-minded individuals whose voice doesn't really matter anywhere else so they have to put in their two cents worth in an anonymous forum? Or are they like this all of the time, unpleasant and venomous, not giving a crap about what anyone else thinks about them? Do they go to bed at night thinking "I showed him/her! Hah!" God help anyone who tries to make a point with this people. It's like watching the Jerry Springer show unfolding in a forum sometimes. There's no intelligent debate...it's a case of "my way or the highway," or "if I wanted your opinion I'd beat it out of you." And all of this over a book???????? It's just ridiculous.

*Shattered, by Richard Neely

Vintage Crime/Black Lizard
1991 (reissue)

originally published as 
The Plastic Nightmare

Shattered is a work of noir fiction that begins when Dan Marriott awakes in a hospital. His wife, Judith, is by his side, and he learns that he and Judith had been in a catastrophic car accident.  Judith was thrown clear, but Dan wasn't so lucky. Most of the bones in his body were broken, his face was totally disfigured, and worse yet, he has no memory of who he is. After a series of plastic surgeries, he is ready to leave the hospital and to try to piece together his life. Judith takes him home and begins filling him in on their past life together, but little things Dan finds and remarks people make cause him to realize that something is just not right -- and after a few very strange occurrences, he finds it even more imperative to get to the truth. To say more would wreck the story.

Let's just say that this isn't the best piece of noir I've ever read, nor is it the worst. The plot is a good one, and I never guessed the ending (definitely a nice twist) but everything seems to happen so quickly. There's not a lot of time to really get into the characters, and while the story keeps you reading, it would have been better if it had been a bit more in depth.  However, I liked it well enough to pick up another book by this author -- The Walter Syndrome, highly recommended by several Neely fans.

I'd recommend it to readers of noir fiction.

sidebar: the movie based on this book is on IFC Friday night (4/16) 8:45 pm.  From all accounts it's not so hot, but I plan on watching it anyway.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

-interlude - Asia Hand, by Christopher G. Moore

Asia Hand, by Christopher G. Moore
Grove Press/Black Cat
July 2010

Having stumbled upon this series of novels completely by accident with a random choice of The Risk of Infidelity Index while on vacation last month, I fell in deep like with the main character of this series of books, Vincent Calvino, and wanted more. So my thanks go to Grove Press for sending me an ARC of Asia Hand, which will be published in the US in July of this year. And of course, I have to thank the author, Christopher G. Moore, who I think took pity on me after I offered to lobby in person to have more of his books published here to satisfy my Calvino cravings. After reading Risk of Infidelity Index (9) and now Asia Hand (2), I finally got around to buying the first book in the series Spirit House. As I noted in an earlier post, this is a huge deal because I am currently under a self-imposed book-buying moratorium (to deal with the nagging guilt eating at me to read more of what I already own) until the end of this month. But Calvino is worth the added sense of guilt in breaking my promise to myself. Sigh. Oh well, I digress as usual.

Asia Hand is a well-crafted piece of modern noir fiction set in Bangkok, the home of ex-pat and ex-New Yorker Vincent Calvino. Calvino makes his living as a private investigator, and he finds himself embroiled in a crime that starts with the death of one his American friends, Hutton.  Hutton is a young free-lance cameraman, a loser who doesn't get much work thrown his way, so when he is offered the chance to work on a movie at the border of Thailand and Burma, he jumps at it.  Soon afterwards, Hutton is found dead in a lake at Lumpini Park. There is only a single clue left at the scene:  a necklace made of several amulets. Calvino is summoned by his friend Pratt (Col. Prachai Chongwatana, a high-ranking police official fond of quoting Shakespeare), and thus begins his investigation into Hutton's death which  leads him down some dark alleyways and closer to home than he ever thought possible.

The crime is well plotted, intricate and intelligent, weaving up and down different paths that all ultimately converge into a clever solution.  However, what makes this book work is Moore's insights into the interactions between ex-pats/ foreigners (farangs) in Thailand and the Thai people -- not just at the level of officialdom, but also down at street level with the bargirls. There are also several funny moments in this book, especially in the chapter with the explanations of the differences between first and third shifters. I must admit that I laughed out loud reading this part.

Calvino's character is well fleshed out, considering that this is only book two of the series. While he's a very no-nonsense kind of detective, and will stick to a problem like a pit bull, he also has a heart.  Calvino lives by a set of laws (for example, this one: "Whenever someone says 'you must believe me,' the chances are greater than 50 percent he's lying through his teeth.") and he has been in Thailand long enough to understand the way things work there even though life in Bangkok is filled with contradictions.

What I've read of the series is great and beats the pants off of most crime fiction sitting on the shelves of my local bookstore. It's also very different from a lot of what's out there which is definitely a plus.  If you like noir fiction, or if you enjoy intelligent crime fiction set in an exotic locale, you might want to try this one when it's released. You also have the side benefit of learning something about Thailand its people, culture and politics from someone who lives there.  This author can write and he does it well.  I will say that if you have a problem with alternative names for human body parts or with the use of 4-letter words in books, you may not want to pick this one up. Nothing cutesy here...just down and dirty gritty crime in a steamy climate.

and now...let's get those other books published here!

*The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett

first published 1930

Try as I might, I could not get the voice of Bogart out of my head while reading this, nor could I not help but see Peter Lorre or Sidney Greenstreet in my mind when their characters entered the plot. My familiarity with the movie version turned out to be a bit  problematic at times, but not to the point where I wanted to chuck it all and pick up another book.

Since the plot is so well known it needs no explanation. It's a classic noir private-eye novel, and Hammett's only novel featuring Sam Spade.  Aside from the storyline, The Maltese Falcon is interesting in terms of its characters. Spade is an enigma, playing things close to the hilt so that at times he's difficult to read. Hammett does not offer any personal insights from Spade's point of view -- there are no inner monologues and no peeks into the detective's brain to tell the reader what he's thinking at any given moment.  He has a love/hate relationship with the police and authority, and protects himself behind an attorney. Throughout the novel the reader has to decide if Spade has any sense of morality at all.  His actions at times -- sleeping with his partner's wife, demanding a share of the ill-gotten gain, throwing in with the bad guys -- all keep the reader guessing right up to the end when all is revealed. Spade is definitely a masculine kind of guy, who probably always gets exactly what he wants.

The supporting characters are well worth a mention, especially Joel Cairo and the three women.  Hammett describes Cairo as effeminate and mincing with a high voice, clutching at perfumed handkerchiefs, implying that he's a homosexual. Effie notes, referring to Cairo upon their first meeting, that "this guy is queer." Cairo makes Spade (who refers to him somewhere else as a fairy) crazy, but also provides some amusement, and he makes a great verbal whipping boy. Then there are the women. The first is the femme fatale Brigid O'Shaughnessy. This woman is one cold cookie - a liar, a schemer and one who will do anything (and I do mean anything) to get what she wants. Nothing is going to stand in her way. She's a strong character, but is not averse to bringing on the tears and the whining when it suits her purpose.  At the same time, she's woefully transparent and Spade knows it, and has no qualms about playing her own game back at her when need dictates. Then there's Iva, the not-so-grieving widow of Miles Archer, with whom Sam has a history in the sack. Expecting that Sam will take Miles' place after his death, she goes after him with a vengeance while he does his best to avoid her.  It's fairly obvious that he dislikes both women (one because she's strong, one because she's weak, both because they're ultimately "feminine") but when it comes to his secretary Effie Perrine, it's rather telling that he says to her at one point "you're a good man, sister." Hmm.

 By the time I finished the novel, the story of the Falcon itself paled in comparison to the characters. Although modern readers may find these people a little over the top and definitely stereotypes, I think you have to put them back into the context of the times. The characters, not the plot, make this book what it is --  a fine work of noir fiction. I liked it and I would definitely recommend it to people who read in that genre.

Monday, April 12, 2010

It's Monday! What am I reading?

 As usual, I sincerely thank Sheila at One Person's Journey Through A World of Books for hosting this weekly event. I've noticed that this is something I look forward to now every week. Please go over and say hello.

Monday's back again so soon? How the heck did that happen? Last week my sister was here visiting so I didn't have much reading time, but at least it was better than the previous week. Tuesday Larry's off to San Antonio, so I have two choices. I can begin the annual Spring Clean or I can read outside on my patio with some iced tea, a lovely breeze and the smell of honeybell orange blossoms all around. Tough choice. NOT!

So here's where things stand as of today:

Last week, still in keeping with the books-to-movie reads, I finished The African Queen by C.S. Forester, all the while trying not to hear the voices of Katherine Hepburn or Humphrey Bogart as I did so.  At least in the book the Bogart role has a cockney accent, so it wasn't that difficult. And I've just finished The Quiet American, by Graham Greene, which was written in 1955 but still carries a valuable message for today.  Timeless, indeed.  There were two movies that came out of that novel, one from 1958, which I haven't seen, and another from 2002, which I have. The 2002 film features Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser and I loved it. In fact, now that I've read the book, I'll be watching the 2002 film again.  The final book I managed to read was by Christopher G. Moore, entitled Asia Hand, which is book #2 in the Vincent Calvino series set in Thailand. I haven't done the review yet, but it was a great book. Check back to see what I thought of it.

Currently I'm finishing The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett and once again trying desperately to not fill in Sam Spade's voice with that of Humphrey Bogart. Here it's a little tough to do.

This week I'm hoping to get to the following (books to movie):
The Stoning of Soraya M., by Freidoune Sahebjam (based on a true story)
Shattered, by Richard Neely (crime fiction) and
All the Pretty Horses, by Cormac McCarthy ( I still can't find where I put The Road -- poo!)

and for the crime interlude:
Spirit House, by Christopher G. Moore-- the first book in the Vincent Calvino series AND the only book I've purchased in the last month and a half, breaking into to the book-buying moratorium. That's how badly I wanted this book.

and I'm listening to Robert Littell's novel The Amateur on CD in the car.

Have a great reading week.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

*The Quiet American, by Graham Greene

Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition (2004)
originally published 1955

The Quiet American is a somewhat metaphorical novel which  should be read in the context of the political scene in Vietnam before 1954.  At the time in which this novel is set, the Vietnamese are still under French colonial rule.  The nationalists (the Communist Vietminh), have been fighting to take back the country for some time under the leadership of a returned Ho Chi Minh, and the French are losing their bid to keep control.

Reporting the conflicts in Vietnam for the British press is Thomas Fowler, who has been in Saigon now for some time.  Fowler, who narrates the story, claims to be neutral: he says that he does not take sides, get involved or make judgments, but rather just reports the news when the government will let him. He’s a self-proclaimed isolationist.  He lives with Phuong, a young Vietnamese girl, but is still married back home in England, although he’s asked for a divorce from his Catholic wife who continues to refuse him. Into Fowler’s world comes Alden Pyle, “Quiet American” of the title.  Pyle is a Harvard Grad, and is in the country to work ostensibly under the Economic Attaché.  He has adopted the ideas of a theorist named York Harding about  necessity of intervention in Asia, and sees the need to establish a so-called “third force” in Vietnam to replace both French colonialism and the Communists. He has already settled on a General Thé, the leader of an  insurgency group called the Caodists, who has “taken to the hills to fight both sides, the French, the Communists…” (17). Pyle envisions Thé taking power and  settling Vietnam into being a democratic country and helping to prevent the Communist dominoes from falling. According to Pyle, the Vietnamese want to live in a democracy.   While Fowler finds Pyle to be a bit naïve, and argues that most peasants don’t sit in their huts at night thinking about democracy and ideologies, he has to start taking him more seriously when Pyle decides he wants Phuong for himself.  Fowler knows that the younger, more affluent American has more to offer Phuong in material terms, but he’s become comfortable with the way things are. Pyle’s very existence in Saigon threatens Fowler in ways he never realized. But then again, Fowler is the narrator of this story, so beware.

Solid analyses of this novel are everywhere to be found on the Internet and in several books, so I won’t even attempt to go there, but interestingly, even though he was writing in 1955, Greene was able to foresee the quagmire caused by US intervention in Vietnamese politics.  Today one could easily apply his novel to the dangers of intervening in the politics of the Middle East or in the “third world” in general.

It’s an amazing book, definitely one not to be missed. Greene is one of those writers whose works you cannot forget once you’ve read them. Highly recommended and one of my favorites for this year.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

I'd like to thank the academy...

okay, maybe not the academy, but definitely The Book Mole for these awards. According to the rules, I must list ten things about myself, so here goes.

1. I speak and read Chinese, Japanese and French
2. I love Clark bars and make my husband seek them out whenever he travels for business
3. My pet peeve is that people get in the left lane of traffic and go 10 miles under the speed limit (I live in Florida, so this is an ongoing thing - sigh)
4. I get a charge out of finding a rare book at a thrift store, garage sale or used bookstore
5. I'm an introvert through and through
6. My favorite vacations are long cruises where I sit on my balcony and read all day
7. On my I-pod is a mix of Billie Holliday, Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, the Beach Boys (I am a native Californian, after all), and blues by Stevie Ray Vaughan
8. I have a red British telephone booth in my house
9. My cooking specialty is Asian, especially Chinese and Thai and I have a little mini Asian market in my pantry
10. Hell's Kitchen is one of my favorite shows. I love Gordon Ramsay

that's it. Thanks again for the awards. They're on their way to

1. Bookwordlover at her blog Booklover Book Reviews
2. Jeannie at Pine Cottage Books
3. Joy at Joy's Blog
4. Sheila at One Person's Journey Through A World of Books
5. Cym at Cym Lowell (who hosts a really awesome Wednesday Book Review Party each week)
6. Rob at Books Are Like Candy Corn
7. T at Reading Schtuff (because we both love Repairman Jack)
8. Jennifer at Rundpinne
9. Gwen at Chew and Digest Books
10. Becky at Page Turners

now...back to my book

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Scandinavian Reading Challenge

The Scandinavian Reading Challenge is hosted by Amy at her blog, The Black Sheep Dances. This is relatively easy for me, since I read a lot of Scandinavian fiction.  Thanks, Amy, for offering this!

*The African Queen, by C.S. Forester

ISBN: 0316289108
Back Bay Books/Little, Brown and Company
Original publication date: 1935

If you do a quick scan through reviews for this book, quite a number of them read something like this:

...this is one case where the movie was better.
...I should have just stuck with the movie and not bothered with the book
...The book pales in comparison with the movie
...and so on

That's all fine and well. Yes, the movie is excellent. Yes, books brought to life are often much more interesting than the original work itself. But can't books just be reviewed on their own, without having to compare them to their cinematic counterparts? Or is that impossible nowadays? -sigh- Oh well. It is what it is, right?  For now, let's move along.

It's 1914 and the German Army is attempting to claim central Africa. Its local leader has come to a small  mission station on the Ulanga River in what was at that time known as the Belgian Congo, and has taken away the converts, food, materials, anything the Army might need to succeed. The stress of it all has killed British missionary Samuel Sayer, leaving his spinster sister Rose on her own. Luckily, she manages to convince Charlie Allnut, the cockney-speaking skipper of the African Queen, to take her on as a passenger. Her grand plan is to take this rambling wreck of a boat downriver to where the German ship Königin Luise sits, and use the explosives Charlie has stored to make the African Queen one giant floating torpedo and blow it up. In her mind, she'll kill two birds with one stone: she'll get revenge for Samuel's death and they'll be doing "their bit" for England. So off they go on their journey -- and along the way they come to learn exactly what stuff they're made of. 

The African Queen is really more character driven than plot driven, focusing on Charlie and Rose, but mostly on Rose. Brought up in England, now in her 30s, Rose first lived under the thumb of her father and of English society, then traded that for life with her proper missionary brother. But once all of the restraints placed upon her have disappeared, and have no meaning out there in the middle of the jungle, Rose begins to really live for the first time. Many people who have commented on this novel find her newly-found freedom from such deeply-instilled mores a bit unrealistic, and perhaps her behavior on the African Queen is a bit out of character for someone so repressed, but Rose behaving badly works here. And why not? Her plan all along was to go down with the African Queen when it blows up the the Königin Luise, so really, what has she got to lose?  But life, like the Ulanga River, takes some interesting twists and turns, creates obstacles to be overcome, circles back, and catches Rose and Charlie in its flow.

This book was written in 1935, so modern readers may find it slow going. However, if it is at all possible to read the book and not think of the movie, and to get under the surface here, there's a lot to like about it. 

--Next up: The Quiet American, by Graham Greene

Monday, April 5, 2010

It's Monday! What am I reading?

It's that time again folks, the time where I offer up a rundown of what's going on in my reading world via the "It's Monday What Are You Reading" fun.  Sheila at Bookjourney hosts this meme, and for that, I offer my thanks.  You can visit her here.

The word of the day is s-l-o-w. That basically describes the week in reading. Okay...so part of my time was spent perfecting Wii bowling when I could have been reading, but at least I managed to read something!

Last week I actually finished two books. That's a record on the low side for me, but a) there's the new toy in the house and b) I did have a lot of company for Passover.  So all things considered, not too bad.  First there was Australian author  Patricia Carlon's mystery novel Crime of Silence, which I read but haven't yet reviewed. Then it was In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote, as I switch my reading focus to books that became movies.

Currently, I've just finished The Ghost, which is the book that the new movie "The Ghostwriter" came from.  It's a political suspense thriller that will keep you reading until you're done. 

Coming up this week -- well, tonight I'll be starting C.S. Forester's novel The African Queen, published originally in 1935, and the basis of the movie by the same name. It will be interesting to see how the book translated to film, and since it's been eons since I've seen the movie, I'll be watching my brand-new copy, just purchased, as soon as I finish the book to compare.  I also planning on definitely getting through The Quiet American, by Graham Greene. I put down The Road and can't find it, so when next week's spring cleaning extravaganza begins, I'll probably run across it and get started.  I really also want to start a nonfiction book called The Harvard Psychedelic Club, by Don Lattin. 

So that's it. There was another space shuttle launch in the dark this a.m., so I've been up for a REALLY long time.  Now I'm going to grab some iced tea and go sit in the sun.

*The Ghost, by Robert Harris

Simon and Schuster, 2007

I recently saw a trailer for a movie that I thought looked really interesting, filled with political intrigue and action. The name of that film was The Ghostwriter, and it was made by Roman Polanski. -- As a sidebar, Polanski is an awesome director, and I loved his "A Pure Formality." -- Imagine my surprise when "The Ghostwriter" turned out to be based on The Ghost, by Robert Harris,  which I've had sitting on my shelf ever since it came out. I figured perhaps this would be a great time to read it, since I want to see the film. 

To leak much about this novel would be to spoil it, so I won't go into any detail here.   The main character of this novel (whose name we never learn) is by profession a ghostwriter. His biggest project was the memoirs of a has-been '70s rock star, and it is this work that gets him a very lucrative contract to ghostwrite the highly-anticipated memoirs of Britain's most current ex-Prime Minister, Adam Lang. Lang and entourage have stationed themselves at the home of a wealthy friend in Martha's Vineyard. The ghostwriter accepts, and it's off to mingle with the ex PM and get down to work sorting out and cleaning up a very poorly-written, mediocre memoir written by the ghostwriter's predecessor, who mysteriously ended up dead. The new writer's job is to turn it into the multi-million dollar blockbuster the publishers are waiting for.  But just when the narrator/ghostwriter gets to Martha's Vineyard, all hell breaks loose as his subject finds himself on the verge of being the focus of an investigation by the War Crimes Court. I will say no more.

Harris takes his time setting up the story, so it begins slowly, but picks up speed as it goes on and gets more into political suspense-thriller mode.  And if you are even the least bit familiar with post 9/11 politics, you'll notice that quite a few of the characters bear a remarkable resemblance to some of the real-life players, adding a layer of interest that keeps you reading. Sadly, my devious mind figured out a part of the end early on so that was a bit disappointing and there were a couple of plot holes that bothered me, but all in all it was a pretty decent read,  and I liked it. This one I finished in one sitting -- that should say something about the suspense quotient. Now it's off to the movies.

note: If you decide to stick this one on your tbr pile, you might be interested in this "story behind the story" so to speak here, in a 2007 interview with Robert Harris just after this book was first published.

--listed at paperback swap, but if you want this book before it gets taken, first emailer takes it!

NEXT UP:  The African Queen, by C.S. Forester

Saturday, April 3, 2010

*In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote

ISBN: 0679745580
Vintage International

I was actually going to read Cormac McCarthy's The Road, but somehow I misplaced my copy and didn't feel like upending everything so took the next book on the stack.

In Cold Blood is one of those books I've owned forever, and one I take out periodically to reread just because I like it so much. I don't have many of those. Long before there were two biopics about Capote's experiences in Kansas and the writing of this book, In Cold Blood had already captured not only my attention, but my respect as well.

I won't delve into the details of the story because they are so well known it's not necessary to rehash them here. And we all know that with this one work, Capote created a new and at the time rather unique type of quasi-journalistic reporting which led many future writers of  true crime to rework their research into novel-like form.  But unlike many of the writers of that particular genre, there's nothing over the top or sensational between the covers,  neither is there the "just the facts, ma'am" approach. It's an intelligent book that demands participation from its readers.

Part of the reason, I think, that this book works well is that the author works into it some anticipation on the part of the reader. For example, by page 5 we already know that there were "four shotgun blasts that all told, ended six lives," then again on page 13, we find out that that particular day of work for Herb Clutter was going to be his last. And so it goes, with each family member, until we get to the actual killings. Interspersed throughout the story of the Clutters is that of their murderers, and we know that at some point in time the two stories are going to meet up in one tremendous bloodbath. But it's the getting there that is the best of this book -- we have to meet the inhabitants of Holcomb, Kansas, the KBI agent and his family, et cetera et cetera, until Smith and Hickok make that trip down the driveway lined with trees and make their way into the Clutter's home. But even then, Capote doesn't give away what actually happened, but rather moves on to workers coming to do their chores at the Clutter farm, and then the events that led up to the discovery. It's some time before we learn what really happened. The pacing of the book is impeccable. We get to the heart of the matter only after we've spent time with the Clutters, their neighbors, and the killers, getting to know each a bit at a time.

If Capote was trying to evoke some kind of sympathy for the two murderers, he didn't get it from me. There's one spot in the novel where, in trying to make the case that the two killers were legally insane at the time of the murders, someone watching the trial later says something along the lines of  "well, I had a tough life, but I didn't kill anyone," or something to that effect. On the other hand, one of the things I like about this novel is the backstory of Hickok and Smith, because I have this inherent need to know what makes people do what they do. During this reread, during the scenes of the trial, I couldn't help but think that today it would be likely that a defense lawyer could probably a) get both of them off for several reasons, or b) get their sentences reduced to spending time in some sort of institution for the criminally insane. But in the 60s, that wasn't about to happen. There's food for thought right there.

In Cold Blood  remains one of my favorite books, and whether or not it's real or, as some have criticized, a blend of fiction and reality, it doesn't change anything for me. I loved it the first time I read it and I still do.

Friday, April 2, 2010

this Wii thing...or, nostalgia

Wii is becoming a real time sucker. Whereas we rarely watch television anyway, preferring to walk upstairs, pick up books and read at night, now we're trying to outdo each other in Wii bowling.

I also discovered that you could use it as a regular Nintendo, so we bought games that I used to play with my kids when they were younger.  The first few bars of the theme song for Super Mario Brothers brought back memories, but when I heard the music from Bubble Bobble, I had a major flashback. Blast from the past, so to speak.  I was that kind of mom who didn't allow gruesome or shoot-em-up type games in the house.  Being a native Californian who grew up largely during the 70s, I was anti-gun, pro peace, harmony and love at the time so killing wasn't something I wanted done at my home. Even faked. I took it as far as not even allowing super soakers (remember those?) or toy guns.  I figured my kids had enough friends who had that type of stuff at their homes, so I never bought them. When they were little, the boys got carefully meted-out time for playing video games -- they had to match an hour of reading for one hour on the video games and to make sure they didn't cheat I made them do oral book reports on what they'd read.  They hated me, of course, at first, but they eventually went through a lot of books. One went on to get a BA in English and one went on to work at Borders while going to school. Coincidence? Hmmmm. And I must say, those old games were great while I was working on my PhD...when my brain just couldn't take any more, but I wasn't tired enough to sleep, out came the old NES games.

So now if I want to, I can turn on the Wii and just listen to the old Nintendo game theme songs if I need a moment for recapturing some of the past with my kids. My all time favorite Nintendo theme is from the game "Romance of the Three Kingdoms," a great strategy game that we used to play way back when.It's a far cry from bowling, to be sure.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

April: You've Seen the Movie, Now Read the Book!

I LOVE reading books and then watching the movies made from them. In that order. If I know the movie is based on a book, I can't see it first because then I when I go to read it, I have the characters' faces stuck in my head while I'm reading. And that's just wrong. Actually, so was the grammar in that last sentence, but oh well.

Here is the list of possible contenders:

African Queen, by C.S. Forester
The Quiet American, by Graham Greene
The Men Who Stare at Goats, by Jon Ronson
In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote
The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
The Painted Veil, by Somerset Maugham
The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett
Charlie Wilson's War, by George Crile
The Stoning of Soraya M.,by Freidoune Sahebjam
Night of the Hunter, by Davis Grubb

...that's enough for now...I'm sure there are more in the shelves but I haven't found them all yet.

March Reading Roundup

Between two vacations and a week to recover from two vacations in a row, March was a very full month of reading. Out of the ten titles I chose for my "decade of prize-winning fiction" focus, I finished nine. The one missing was Ceridwen Dovey's Blood Kin, which will be a priority read as April begins.  While quite a number of books read in March were in the literary fiction genre, there was also some crime fiction, speculative fiction and an ARC or two. A few were great reads, some were so-so.

The self-imposed book buying moratorium is still ongoing until the end of April.  I have received some books from Amazon that I had pre-ordered some months back, but as far as actually clicking the "buy now" button, I've managed to avoid it. And adding to my pain, I haven't gone into a bookstore and actually bought anything in person either.  I'm a very lucky person, and have been able to buy pretty much whatever I want, whenever I want, but it's created havoc and overflowing shelves in every room of the house. I'm moving books out to Swaptree and Paperback Swap on pretty much a daily basis, donating them to goodwill, or bagging up some of the books to send to troops in Afghanistan where my brother is right now. And my sister's coming to visit, so maybe I'll send her home with a few.

Here's how the actual reading went down -- a freak occurrence because of vacation time that shall not likely soon be repeated:

Under the heading of "A Decade of Prize-Winning Fiction":
  1. Disgrace, by J.M. Coetzee
  2. Spies, by Michael Frayn
  3. This Blinding Absence of Light, by Tahar ben Jalloun
  4. Fox Evil, by Minette Walters
  5. The Time In Between, by David Bergen
  6. The Shadow Year, by Jeffrey Ford
  7. Seeker, by Jack McDevitt
  8. The Amnesia Clinic, by James Scudamore (review to follow)
  9. A Conspiracy of Paper, by David Liss
Under Scandinavian Crime Fiction:
10. The Beast, by Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom
11. The Devil's Star, by Jo Nesbo
12. Woman With Birthmark, by Hakan Nesser

UK Crime Fiction:
13. A Great Deliverance, by Elizabeth George
14. A Thousand Cuts, by Simon Lelic (review to follow)

General Fiction:
15. Solar, by Ian McEwan
16. Forest Gate, by Peter Akinti
17. The Man From Saigon, by Marti Leimbach

Speculative Fiction
18. The Magicians, by Lev Grossman
19. A Dark Matter by Peter Straub

General Mystery/Crime Fiction
20. The Risk of Infidelity Index, by Christopher G. Moore
21. The Executor, by Jesse Kellerman

22.  The Devil and Sherlock Holmes, by David Grann

In other book stuff for the month,

1) my book group read and spent almost two hours discussing Catcher in the Rye, by JD Salinger. If you haven't read it, or perhaps read it when you were younger, you might want to retry it. There's a LOT packed into that little book.

2) At Amazon.com, I felt compelled to comment on (and report) a few more 1-star ratings that had nothing to do with book content (just people disgruntled over the price of the Kindle book). I also added to my wishlist the following:

  Thursday Night Widows, by Claudio Piñeiro
  Voodoo Histories, by David Aaronovitch
  Changeling, by Kenzaburo Oe

3) still working on my library at listology.com

4) Recent ARCs:
  • David Mitchell's new book The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (from Librarything's Early Reviewers Program) which I just now remembered I'd already preordered for June (I see a book giveaway coming here shortly!)
  • The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno, by Ellen Bryson
  • Losing My Cool: How A Father's Love and 15,000 Books Beat Hip-hop Culture, by Thomas Chatterton Williams (also to be a book giveaway shortly)
  • and thanks to Christopher G. Moore, Asia Hand, another Vincent Calvino novel. Once I figure out how the series order goes I'll start this one. Merci bien. 
okay. that's all. Happy April fool's day!