Monday, June 28, 2010

It's Monday! What am I reading?

What? Monday already? Obviously, because it's time for the weekly "what am I reading" segment, hosted by Sheila at her wonderful blog Book Journey. Take a moment and go visit; she's an amazing person.

Extremely slow reading week for me - I managed to finish and review Deadwater
by Sean Burke, a very dark novel of crime fiction from Wales. I also finished Agatha Christie's collection of Jane Marple short stories called The Thirteen Problems.  That particular book has a story in it called "The Blue Geranium," which was the focus of Masterpiece Mystery yesterday evening. I will post a review of the book here shortly.

Currently I'm reading Douglas Brinkley's book The Great Deluge, about Hurricane Katrina. This August will mark the five-year anniversary of that unforgettable storm and its even more unforgettable aftermath.  And speaking of Katrina, you can enter to win a copy of Dave Eggers' most excellent book Zeitoun hereThe Great Deluge is the last of the planned reads for my little "watery titles" mini-challenge this month. This book will probably see me through until the end of the month, since it's huge.

 Next week begins a month of random crime reads, something easy prior to the August and September "she reads the Booker longlist" months, which I do every year. The longlist will be announced at the end of July, so it's just easy reading up until August 1.  On tap for next week: Peter Temple's Truth, Hakan Nesser's new book The Inspector and Silence, and one nonfiction, Murdering Stepmothers: The Execution of Martha Rendell, by Anna Haebich -- a book originally published in Australia. Of course, the verdict is still out as to whether or not I'll finish all of those, but if not, that's okay. I'm not in a hurry.

Time to go grab my coffee and read.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

My favorite book of the month international giveaway contest -- Zeitoun -- through June 30th

To win a copy of Dave Eggers' wonderful book Zeitoun, all you have to do is to leave a comment with either your blog URL or an email address.  You do NOT have to become a follower -- just leave a comment.  The winner will be selected at random at the end of the month. The giveaway is open internationally and you can only enter once. June 30th is your last day, so if you've always wanted to read this book, now's your chance, and for free!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

*Deadwater, by Sean Burke

Serpent's Tail Publishing
186 pp

 It's 1989, the scene is the Cardiff (Wales) docklands area of Butetown, a small community commonly known as Tiger Bay. A prostitute who had been slated to testify against two rather nasty brothers -- Tony and Carl Baja -- has been killed in her apartment after changing her mind and returning home. The next day Jack Farrisey, a local pharmacist, wakes up covered in blood with no recollection of anything that had happened the night before, since he was in an alcohol-induced amnesiac state. The local police want this crime solved, because as of two years earlier, the docklands area had been slated for regeneration and redevelopment, so  unsolved murders or murders in general would not be drawing new businesses to the area. The police latch onto the Baja Brothers, who swear their innocence,  but Farrisey still needs to know exactly what happened to him that night, and he has to rely on his friend Jess for answers. But Jess is chasing his own demons that deal with Jack and his pregnant wife.  Both make statements to the police, along with some other members of the community. But to make matters even more complicated, Jack's wife, an attorney, has decided to take the brothers' case to try to prove they didn't do it.

While Deadwater is a novel of crime fiction, it's also an examination of impending loss and futility.   As a child Jack lived in and fully  experienced the community and its "spectacular noise, of cockatoos, penny-slot pianos, of hurdie-gurdies, irrepressible Breton onion sellers, West Indian newspaper touts and stentorian fish hawkers." He spent time with his dad down on the docks. On the other hand, he also remembered the 1960s, when ethnic groups were relocated in an attempt to clear out the area slums because authorities feared
the sight of a creole community evolving its own way of being, its own ethics of spontaneity, respect and cheerfulness -- without need of statute, politician or book..
And now, with redevelopment and change looming over this area that Jack calls home, the very identity and future of the Butetown/Tiger Bay community is at stake:
The promise of redevelopment seemed less an attempt to rejuvenate than to raze a community with its own, self-regulating and irregular forms of justice and peacekeeping.
Mirroring the community's impending decline and the futility of any kind of hope for its future is the downward spiral of Jack's friendship with Jess, as  it leads him down a path that will ultimately end in betrayal and worse.

Deadwater is not a feel-good kind of novel at all, and stays that way right up until the last word. It is bleak and despairing, dark and gloomy. In tone it reminded me a little bit of Ken Bruen's Jack Taylor novels, in which the reader feels like he or she is watching a train wreck about to happen but is somehow glued to the spot and can't look away.  Sean Burke is a wonderful writer whose prose seems a bit out of place in a crime fiction novel because it is so descriptively lyrical (Yes, I know that "lyrical" for prose is one of those words that is way overdone, but it actually fits here). He's established such a forceful sense of place that it is not difficult to imagine the loud pubs, the dark streets, and the docks while you read. There is nothing to distract from the plotlines, and Jack's character is well defined to the point where he becomes real for the duration.

This is one of those novels that are not for the casual mystery reader - it is filled with tragedy and is definitely not for the faint at heart or people who think there is some measure of redemption in any situation. At the same time, I couldn't help but be blown away by Burke's rather heady writing which captured my attention from the outset and never let me down. I would recommend it, definitely, but beware the darkness.

fiction from Wales

Monday, June 21, 2010

It's Monday! What am I reading?

It seems like forever since I've done this; probably because it has been. Busy busy busy, a death among friends, family stuff, it's all kind of caught up & prevented me from getting back into the flow. But that's all in the past and I'm back.

First, my thanks (as always) to Sheila at book journey for hosting this weekly post. She's so busy, yet always finds time to pursue her passion for blogging and books.

This month marks the beginning of hurricane season, and that brings with it the ever-present 3 in the afternoon thunderstorm. So my personal mini-challenge this month has to do with books that have "watery" titles. It was a bit of a challenge, really, to comb through my library and see exactly what I had that met this odd requirement, but so far I've managed to do okay.

Catching up from 2 weeks ago, here's what I've read:
1. Taken at the Flood, by Agatha Christie (apa: There is a Tide)
2. The Sea and Poison, by Shusaku Endo
3. Water-blue Eyes, by Domingo Villar (a bit of crime fiction from Spain)
4. The Ice Princess, by Camilla Lackberg (crime fiction from Sweden)
5. Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers (not a "watery" title, but a book about Hurricane Katrina - and my favorite this week)
6. The Secret of Chimneys, by Agatha Christie (again...not watery but well, I wanted to read it)

Currently I've just finished
Deadwater, by Sean Burke (crime fiction from Wales - review to follow)

and plan to read the following this week:

The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, by Douglas Brinkley
Gone Fishin' by Walter Mosley
and whatever else strikes my fancy at any given moment

 that's it - I should go read now.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Secret of Chimneys AND how the heck did Jane Marple get there?

288 pp.
originally published 1925

As the novel opens, one Anthony Cade, is working as a tour guide in Africa. At a bar one day Cade meets an old buddy, James McGrath, who has been tasked with the delivery of the memoirs of the now-dead Count Stylptitch of Herzoslovakia to a London publishing firm. But McGrath has decided to seek his fortune in the gold fields, and offers Cade a tidy sum to go to England with the memoirs and a stash of letters that could be blackmail fodder for an unsuspecting Virginia Revel. Cade is off to England, and finds himself caught up between two sides of a touchy political situation. He also finds that he is a target of some very nasty people who are trying to get both the memoirs and the letters. The situation leads him to a house called Chimneys, the home of Lord Caterham, his daughter Bundle, and various diplomats and others interested in the political situation in Herzoslovakia. Upon his arrival, Cade finds himself as a chief suspect in the death of Prince Michael Obolovitch, the heir to the Herzoslovakian throne and negotiator of British oil interests in that country. Enter Superintendent Battle and the hunt for the murderer begins.

As with most Christie novels, there are plenty of suspects, an abundance of motives, and an interesting array of lead characters. Unlike most of her stories, this one is filled with political intrigue, and the reader has to digest the background story of the country of Herzoslovakia before really delving into the mystery. This may be a bit off-putting to regular Christie readers, but it's worth the time and effort to get the story and the list of who's who regarding that nation as it sets an important backdrop to the various criminal activity throughout the book.  It is rather complicated and at times convoluted, but still an interesting read, with a lovely twist at the end. 

If I were a reader who has decided that he or she would like to read through the Christie novels, I would not want to start with this one, since imho, it doesn't deliver the best Christie has to offer. My advice: read through the Poirots and the Marples, then tackle the others for something just a bit different.

Having said all of that, my local PBS station is airing "The Secret of Chimneys" as part of the Masterpiece Mystery! series, which is set to TiVo from my television this evening. For me, there is absolutely nothing like reading a book and then watching it come to life on the screen (in that order).  So wondering who's going to play whom, I went over to the PBS website and discovered that lo and behold, the star of this program is Miss Jane Marple, you know, the newest one, Julia McKenzie.  And then I said "what?????"  Okay, actually my "what" was more like WTF -- this isn't a Miss Marple mystery at all! How does it happen that this nice little old lady from St. Mary Mead is dropped into a murder mystery at an English country home filled with political intrigue and some pretty rotten bad guys when she wasn't even in Christie's original story? And why does the blurb say "based on the novel by Agatha Christie?"

I wonder if the writers of the screenplay (John Strickland, Paul Rutman) were sitting around one day thinking that they ought to throw in Miss Marple just for the heck of it, because surely they actually read the original story.  But perhaps not -- it seems that Miss Marple has shown up in a Tommy and Tuppence adventure as well. As a Christie purist, this really upsets me and takes out some of the fun of watching the televised Secret of Chimneys because I know that Chimneys didn't really host Miss Marple, so what is she doing there? Maybe the screenwriters thought no one actually reads Agatha Christie any more and that no one would notice.

Not that this issue will consume my entire day, but it is rather annoying. Is it too much to ask, do you think, that screenwriters at least get the characters straight? I like my screen adaptations to be adapted -- not made up. Maybe I'll drop a line and see if I get an answer!

 fiction from England

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers

Vintage (paperback)
originally published 2009, McSweeney's Books
337 pp.

In 2005, Abdulrahman Zeitoun and his wife Kathy, along with their family of three children, lived in New Orleans. That summer, life was going on as normal for the Zeitouns - after years of working for others, Abdulrahman ran a successful contracting and painting business, their little girls were watching and acting out the dvd of Pride and Prejudice for the umpteenth time, and Kathy acted as stay-at-home mom as well as business partner for her husband. Life was good for this family. 

But as Katrina approached the Gulf, expected to hit New Orleans and hit it hard, Kathy started getting nervous and grabbed the kids, some clothes and the family dog and left to stay with family in Baton Rouge. Her husband decided to stay back and look after the house & his business interests. Kathy wasn't happy about his decision, but Abdulrahman was insistent.  Then came the hurricane, the breaking of the levees, and the aftermath of it all. After the storm was over,  Kathy, unable to get back into the city, was able to keep in sporadic contact with her husband, who managed to convey that he was okay. Day after day she listened to the news, and as the situation deteriorated there, she grew more uneasy. And then one day, Abdulrahman just stopped calling.

The straightforward prose is easy to read and although the book weighs in at about 300 pages, it captures the imagination quickly as the reader gets caught up in the story.  As it goes on, the intensity picks up to where this book is nearly impossible to put down. The story clearly belongs to Abdulrahman Zeitoun and his family, even though it is Dave Eggers who brings their account to life in a professional and journalistic manner, helped by an army of researchers and fact checkers as well as the Zeitoun family itself.

Zeitoun examines the post-hurricane situation through the eyes of a man who lived it and the effects his experiences had on himself and on his family. It's not just an account of a Katrina survivor, nor is it an in-depth  tell-all about the failures of the local, regional, state and  federal government responses. There are plenty of places where those types of accounts are available. Instead, Abdulrahman Zeitoun's story steers the reader to the point of  a head-on collision between post-9/11 policies, racial & religious intolerance, and the efforts of these agencies to regain any measure of control after the most devastating natural disaster in this country.  The book sends the message that something vital to our sense of well-being as American citizens is broken and desperately needs fixing -- and I'm not talking about the levees in New Orleans.

Read this book, then pass it along to someone you know. If you're not shaking your head in disbelief, let's just say I'll be very surprised.

(sorry about the typeface change...I am having trouble moving from MS word to here.)

Monday, June 14, 2010

*The Ice Princess, by Camilla Läckberg

Pegasus Books
Originally published as Isprinsessan, 2002
trans. Steven T. Murray

Erica Falck, the main character of this story, is a writer of biographies of famous women. However, after her childhood friend Alex Carlgren-Wijkner is found dead, Alex's family asks Erica to write a commemoration of her life for the local newspaper in Fjällbacka, where Alex lived until age 10 and where she was later found dead in her parents' old home.  Erica does the article, but decides that she would like to write more about Alex - maybe a book. While working on her draft, she noticed that
...the material was increasingly taking on the form of a crime novel, a genre to which she'd never felt particularly attracted. It was people -- their relationships and psychological motivations -- that she was interested in; she thought that was something most crime novels had to give up in favour of bloody murders and cold shivers running down the spine. (112)
Lackberg, like her creation Erica Falck, is also interested in the "relationships and psychological motivations" of the people in her novel.  Alex Wijkner, the dead woman, is an enigma. She was Erica's best friend until one day Alex and her family moved away without saying goodbye. As Erica set to work interviewing people who knew her, Erica came to realize that everyone loved Alex, but nobody really knew her, because Alex never really got close enough to anyone to reveal herself.  But evidently someone wanted Alex out of the way, because now she's dead. But why? What possible motivation could anyone have to want to do away with her, since she was so widely admired? As Erica plunges deeper into Alex's life, she realizes that while the who is important, the why also continues to elude her. For help she turns to an old admirer, Patrik Hedstrom, now a police officer, who can go places Erica cannot, and together they begin to peel back Alex's complicated story, layer by layer. They also come to realize that some people will go to great lengths to prevent this story from coming out so as to protect secrets long hidden and buried away. 

The author's unraveling of  "psychological motivations" behind Alex's death is very well done, eked out little by little, creating a good deal of suspense until all is finally revealed. To start with such an enigmatic victim is a good move and a great way to ensure reader interest until the end. And setting the novel in the small town of Fjällbacka emphasizes the fact that a) tensions can run high in a small town or community where everyone knows your business or at least wants to, and b) murder can happen anywhere, not just in big cities. There is also a nice sense of place evoked here, while at the same time a familiar lament comes through regarding the beauty of this seaside town being wrecked by tourists, although the money from people on their vacations is badly needed. All of these things combined make The Ice Princess  a good read.

But perhaps there is too much emphasis on the "personal relationships" mentioned above. As long as the examination of personal relationships and the character development are pertinent and therefore necessary to the crime, I'm very interested. Human beings and their psyches are, after all, at the root of all crime, and one reason Scandinavian crime fiction authors are among my favorites is because they are very good at creating very human and complicated people, both good guys and bad.  But when the characters slip into lengthy romantic interludes or comic diversions that pull me away from the plot, then I'm distracted.  I realize this is a personal thing I have with crime fiction & mysteries, and I had to think about my own reading prejudices before trying to set down my thoughts about this book. I happen to be one of those people mentioned by Lackberg via Erica who prefers the "bloody murders and the cold shivers running down the spine,"  and I like my crime more streamlined, complicated and somewhat creepy.  For me, there was a bit too much time turned over to romance in this story, and in that aspect, it reminded me more of some cozy novels I used to read. While Erica and Patrik's growing relationship probably helps to make them more rounded characters, I found myself doing the quick skim through these parts to get back to the crime. The romance scenes tended to break up the suspense of what was going on with Alex's death and I couldn't wait to get back to the revelations at hand. The same was true with the scenes at the police station, with the parts featuring the ineptitude of a few of the local cops. While those scenes provided some comic relief, I didn't think I needed any -- again, I was much more focused on the crime and getting back to the main plotline. But then again, that's just me.

I failed to guess the who and the why, so that's a very good thing, and overall, the main thrust of the story was well written with a good plotline and good mystery at its core. This book has received many excellent reviews, and I would recommend it, despite my nigglings above. And I plan to read the other books in this series as well, so obviously I liked it.

 fiction from Sweden

Saturday, June 12, 2010

*Water-Blue Eyes, by Domingo Villar

Originally published, 2006 as Ojos de Agua
Translated by Martin Schifino
Eurocrime/Arcadia Books, 2008
167 pp.

Leo Caldas is a homicide inspector in the city of Vigo, which lies on the northwestern coast of Spain in the region of Galicia. His partner is Rafael Estévez, who had recently been transferred there from Zaragoza in Aragón, and who has a bit of a problem understanding local attitudes, not to mention the steep streets or the weather. As the novel opens, Caldas is working at his gig on a local radio talk and listener phone-in show, “Patrol in the Air.”  He’s rather tired of doing this show, because while he waits for someone to bring up the topic of murder, most people call in with matters that are more appropriate for the city police. But just after program #108, Estévez arrives to take Caldas to a high-rise apartment building on the island of Toralla, which sits in the bay off of Vigo, scene of a rather brutal murder of a saxophone player.  It’s the method of death which leads Caldas and his partner to discover where they should begin their search for suspects – the vital evidence which may have helped has been cleaned up by the victim’s housekeeper. 

Villar’s characters are well drawn. As a policeman, Caldas is a professional, but with the arrival of Estévez he has to work a bit harder to keep his partner out of trouble. Caldas has a father who makes wine in the countryside, and the two don’t see each other often because the father is unhappy that his son went to live in the city. He also enjoys good local delicacies and local wines, and was in a prior relationship with a woman named Alba, but due to a disagreement about having children, they’re no longer together. Rafael Estévez is a sort of a sidekick figure, who provides a bit of comic relief here and there, but who becomes easily frustrated with the lack of black-and-white answers he gets from the locals and often flies off the handle. Estévez is perpetually amazed that when Caldas introduces himself during their investigation, people readily identify him with “Patrol in the Air,” which happens throughout the story and provides a bit of a running comedy schtick between the two.

Water-Blue Eyes is just 167 pages long, but crime fiction readers will not be disappointed. There’s nothing extraneous to detract from the investigation --  no long-winded character portrayals, no overly-detailed analyses, and even the murder is described just enough to allow the reader to know what happened without going into overkill.  There is never any desire to skim over long, boring sections because there aren’t any. It also easily offers a good sense of place, so that you can smell the forests as well as the sea while you read, and your mouth will water at the delicious local food mentioned throughout the novel.

There’s another book out by Villar featuring Leo Caldas called La Playa de los Ahogados, but it has not yet been translated; when it is, I’m there. But for now, I can highly recommend Water-Blue Eyes. This is my first work of Spanish crime fiction, and now I’m on the hunt for more. 


fiction from Spain


Thursday, June 10, 2010

*The Sea and Poison, by Shusaku Endo

New Directions Publishing
1992, originally published 1958
trans. Michael Gallagher
167 pp.

Even though Endo wrote this novel in 1958, it is still appropriate all these years later, as it touches upon matters of current debate. The story is based loosely on an event which happened in Japan in May of 1945, just three short months prior to the dropping of the first atomic bomb. A group of American soldiers who survived the crash of their B-29 were taken to the Kyushu University hospital in Fukuoka where they became the subjects of vivisection.

(Fukuoka, Japan)
 In a nutshell (and there are many, many places on the internet that discuss this novel so I'll be brief):
as the novel opens, the author introduces Dr. Suguro, now a physician in a very small town, leading a quiet life. A man who has just moved and needs a physician for pneumothorax treatments asks about a doctor and is directed to Suguro, who is the only doctor around.  Finding out that Suguro is from Fukuoka, when the man goes to a wedding there, he asks about his doctor and learns that he was one of twelve people who took part in the vivisections.

Flash back to WWII and Kyushu University Hospital, where Suguro works as an intern working with tuberculosis patients. The war has taken its toll on the Japanese, both military and civilian.  It has also taken a toll on some of the doctors of the hospital. In a largely dehumanized environment, Suguro genuinely cares about the patients under his care, especially an elderly woman who should have an operation, but it gets put off in favor of surgery on a relative of the late Dean of Medicine. Tension in the hospital is high - two doctors are both vying for the vacant position, so Suguro's boss, Dr. Hashimoto (aka The Old Man) realizes that if he can perform a successful operation, he'll be looked upon with great favor when election time rolls around. However, things don't go as planned - and The Old Man and his group are set back when the surgery does not go well. The Old Man has one chance to fix things for himself and the bid for the position of Dean - and it involves scientific experimentation on a few of the recently-arrived prisoners of war.  Suguro is asked to participate, and he agrees.

Endo examines the questions of conscience, morality and personal accountability for one's actions -- or in some cases, nonactions -- under circumstances that demand participation in an act that one knows is immoral. What pushes people to the point where one's conscience stops being a factor, and how is "conscience" defined for different people? Is one who does nothing in these situations as guilty as those who play an active role?  And, after committing these acts, how does one retain (or is it even possible to do so) one's own sense of humanity when coming to terms with what he or she did?  And where does God come into all of this?

Endo wrote this book in the late 50s, but the questions the novel poses remain relevant when examining such events as the My Lai massacre of the 1970s,  the practice of genocide and ethnic cleansing around the world, or even the recent focus on torture at Abu Ghraib. Although the book is quite short, it's rather deep and extremely serious in tone.

The Sea and Poison is easy for me to recommend. It is a book you will definitely not stop thinking about for a while after you've read it.

 fiction from Japan

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

*Taken at the Flood, by Agatha Christie

HarperCollins (Masterpiece edition)
2008, 224 pp
originally published 1948
apa: There is a Tide

  In 1944, as the German bombs are falling, Hercule Poirot is safely ensconced in the Coronation Club, when he first hears of the Cloade family. It seems the family patriarch & millionaire, Gordon, was killed when a bomb hit his London home, but his young wife was spared. As it turns out, the wife had previously been married to a Robert Underhay, who had mysteriously disappeared in Africa and was presumed dead. Two years later, Poirot receives a strange visit from one of the Cloade family of Warmsley Vale who has received a message from the spirit world that Robert Underhay is not really dead.  Not long after, he reads about  the death of an Enoch Arden in the same village.

Christie then takes the story to Warmsley Vale, and introduces the Cloade family. It seems that all of them were financially dependent on Gordon Cloade, and that this young wife, Rosaleen, has thrown a bit of a monkey wrench into the situation. Living now in Gordon's home with her brother David, Rosaleen was the sole beneficiary to Gordon's vast estate, and David stands between the family and financial assistance. Rosaleen, it seems, is eager to help, but David despises the rest of the Cloades and refuses to lend them a penny. Things go from bad to worse when a mysterious stranger, one Enoch Arden (the namesake of a poem from Tennyson) appears with a bizarre story about Robert Underhay. Pretty soon someone ends up dead. It is Poirot's job to not only figure out who the murderer is, but to get to the bottom of the whole mess. This won't be a simple task.

With several suspects to choose from, Taken at the Flood is one of those stories where the truth is unraveled bit by bit, so that the reader is not really sure of the whodunit until the end. There are plenty of red herrings to sort through -- and just when you think you know who it is, something else pops up to make you think again. Throughout the novel there is a buildup of suspense as you wonder what is really going on here.

Not my favorite of Agatha Christie's novels, it is still an enjoyable read. There is a small peek at some of the hardships of postwar British life that enhances the sense of the desperation of these characters, and Christie manages to keep the underlying tension running throughout the novel.

Taken at the Flood is Poirot's 27th adventure - and he's still going strong, although the earlier Poirot novels of the 20s & 30s were more to my liking. Recommended for fans of Poirot and for Agatha Christie readers in general - these books may be old, but they're still worth reading.

 fiction from England

Monday, June 7, 2010

An open letter to an anonymous nattering nabob of negativity

I am referring to an email that I received from an anonymous poster today about my earlier review of Columbine, by Dave Cullen. Not only did this person attack me personally, but also three of my blogger friends who reviewed the same book.(I have left out the names of my blogger friends -- otherwise the email is as quoted here).

Here's the email
You are all idiots. Dave Cullen is nothing but a lying famewhore and anyone who has even the slightest bit of knowledge about Columbine knows this.

Nancy , the fact that you can read one book on a complex subject like this and think you know so much that you don't need to read anymore shows you as being ignorant and intellectually lazy.
The success of this book shows the sad lack of intelligence in today's book buying public.

As it so happens, I know who sent this email. This person left a string of rants on on several reviews of this same book.  Here's another example of her work re this book:

on Amazon (12/2009):

You obviously work for/with Dave Cullen or his publishing house.
Either that or your mind numbingly ignorant.
Probably the latter.

The only thing that Dave Cullen deserves credit for is being a lying , egotistical famewhore with a gift for making frighteningly stupid people buy into his false, worthless bs.

note the use of the word "famewhore," which led me immediately to and this person. I'd read her comments before.

and again in February of this year, in response to another comment:

However, I do understand why all you small minded folks get upset when someone dares to state the truth about your lying famewhore idol Cullen and his worthless book that should rightly be labeled a book of fiction

How can so many people be so stupid? 
Once again, she uses the word famewhore, this time with such venom that I felt like I needed to stand away from my computer to protect myself.

So let's get this straight, point by point.

1."You are all idiots."
 Neither myself nor my friends are idiots. You don't even know us so how in the world can you say we are idiots? Here is the definition of an idiot:

id·i·ot (d-t)
A person of profound mental retardation having a mental age below three years and generally being unable to learn connected speech or guard against common dangers. The term belongs to a classification system no longer in use and is now considered offensive.

2. "Dave Cullen is nothing but a lying famewhore and anyone who has even the slightest bit of knowledge about Columbine knows this."
 I suppose you were there the day everyone was shot and you know that Cullen is lying because you saw everything firsthand -- you were the star witness of events 10 years ago.
If you read what I wrote in my review, I noted that I wasn't there, so there was no way at all for me to comment on Mr. Cullen's veracity on the subject. I guess since you were there, you can speak to my comment.

 3. "Nancy , the fact that you can read one book on a complex subject like this and think you know so much that you don't need to read anymore shows you as being ignorant and intellectually lazy."

a)Well, why don't you write to my former PhD advisers and the panel for my oral exams and ask them for yourself.  When you're finished with that, I'll send you translations of works in Chinese and Japanese I've done and we'll sit down over a lovely cup of tea and discuss them, along with a quick little conversation about the relationship between state-sponsored Shinto and WWII in Japan. 
b) Then we'll have a lovely chat with former university students I've taught and they can give you the scoop on how truly intellectually lazy and ignorant I was for them.
c) Point your finger back at yourself:  you are a bit lazy in your reading skills, because I never said that I "think I know so much."  Here is the exact quotation:
I think I've read all I want to read about Columbine -- I'm interested but not obsessed, and quite happy with Cullen's book. I'm sure Mr. Kass' book is fine as well, but I'm done with Columbine for now.
d) I have a life. I don't dwell or obsess, especially about something that happened 10 years ago.

4. "The success of this book shows the sad lack of intelligence in today's book buying public."
 Yes. Well, I've just added UFO Kids by Allan Zullo to my Amazon wishlist. You know, the one you reviewed on Amazon with 4 stars, saying
This enjoyable book tells the true stories of some encounters that children and teenagers had with aliens and their spececraft. The names and places were changed of course but these are all real documented cases. Most of the stories involved benevolent , kind aliens but one story in the book was about a group of aliens that seemed to have sinister motivations towards humans.I guess , just like people, they all aren't nice! This book had a fresh perspective in focusing on the experiences of kids and teens because its usually only the encounters of adults that you read about.

5. "Pathetic!"
See #4 above.

You can disagree with me all you want. In fact, I think it's absolutely wonderful that you don't have to think like me, and vice versa. What a dreary world it would be if that were the case. But know this: my thoughts about Columbine came from my head and they're my opinions. You don't have to like them and I don't write my book reviews to win any popularity contests. They're written so I can remember what I thought of a particular book at the time I read it.  To attack me and my blogging friends because you disagree with my opinion (and doing it behind a blanket of anonymity) is just uncalled for.  I have never attacked you or what you've written about any book so why do it to me? You don't even know me.  If you have something to add in terms of discussing the book, awesome. You can disagree, you can state why you think what I'm saying is not to your liking, but quit attacking me and people who share my interests in books. That's just wrong. I've never hurt you nor have I gotten in your business.

So please, just go away and leave me alone. I don't know you, nor do I want to. Discussion about books is fun, but not when you are bullying me or people who write on my blog. 

Sunday, June 6, 2010

*Hard Rain Falling, by Don Carpenter

NYRB Classics, 2009
308 pp.
originally published 1966

A tough novel to categorize, Hard Rain Falling isn’t going to do it for you if you need a book that offers warm fuzzies and a happy, feel-good ending. It is dark, gritty and real, a no-holds barred kind of novel that goes well beyond the much overdone “angry young man” trope to become a story that is intrepidly honest.  Considering its initial publication date of 1966, it’s also a novel much ahead of its time in the way that the author deals with racism, homosexuality and the harshness of unreasoned authority.

The main character is Jack Levitt, whose parents were young and stupid when he was born, leaving him in a hellhole of an orphanage. Jack runs away from there when he is older, lands in Portland, Oregon. 

There he meets Billy Lancing, a young black man from Seattle who gets by as a pool hustler, and with whom Jack finds friendship. But Jack can't stay out of trouble, and eventually lands in a reform school, where he spent much of his time in a dark cell in solitary confinement after nearly killing one of the guards. There 

"At times, all his senses deserted him, and he could not feel the coldness of the concrete or smell his excrement, and the small sounds he made and the sounds that filtered in through the door gradually dimmed, and he was left alone inside his mind, without a past to envision, since his inner vision was gone, too, and without a future to dream, because there was nothing but this emptiness and himself. It was not uncomfortable, not comfortable. These things this did not exist. It was colorless, senseless, mindless, and he sometimes just disappeared into it." (81)

This feeling of utter isolation pervades Jack Levitt's character throughout the novel. Eventually Jack finds himself in San Quentin on a trumped-up charge. It is there he meets up again with Billy Lancing, who maneuvers things so that he and Levitt become cell mates, and what starts out as just prison sex turns into something else, a human and feeling connection between the two, although Jack can't bring himself to admit it until it's too late and Jack is once more in the depths of loneliness.  And even though Jack is eventually somewhat transformed after his release, when he marries and has a kid, the freedom he envisioned in the past continues to escape him.

Hard Rain Falling is a book that is raw in emotion. Every character is real and feels.  This in itself is an incredible achievement - I can't think of another book in which the characters are so powerfully alive, especially Jack. And while so many novelists are into the game of blaming society for an individual's lifelong ills, that's really not the case here. As George Pelecanos notes in the introduction to this story, "the damage done to Jack at his very core can never truly be healed (xi)," and Jack notes that underneath it all, it wasn't really society that had abandoned him, but his parents.

Truly an amazing novel that I can recommend wholeheartedly.

June: Rain in the forecast - "watery" titles

June is the beginning of hurricane season, and it's also the beginning of the daily afternoon downpour that is so regular you can set your watch by it.  The rain is a standard part of the Florida summer experience, so I thought I'd mark it by reading books with titles featuring some form of water.

On the list:
Hard Rain Falling, by Don Carpenter
Taken at the Flood, by Agatha Christie
The Sea and Poison, by Shusaku Endo
Creatures of the Pool, by Ramsey Campbell
Blood River, by Tim Butcher
The Sea Came in at Midnight, by Steve Erickson

and whatever else I can scare up from my shelves that fits. I'll be reading Dave Eggers' Zeitoun and a couple of other books about hurricanes during the month as well. If you have any suggestions, they are most welcome.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Aussie Author Giveaway goes International - through June 20th

If you go on over to this blog (Booklover book reviews), you can enter to win one of these titles from various Australian authors. She's opened the contest up internationally, so the winner could come from anywhere in the world. Why shouldn't it be you? It's very easy to enter -- go take a look!  You have until June 20th to enter. 

Good luck!