Sunday, June 29, 2014

June Reading Roundup

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


A Replacement Life, by Boris Fishman

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


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

Now the rest:

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

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

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

      D) Nonfiction:
nothing again!

2) Books bought this month: 

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

      preordered: Moon in a Dead Eye, by Pascal Garnier

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

      preordered:  Outlaws, by Javier Cercas

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

     D) Spy fiction
The Whitehall Mandarin, by Edward Wilson

      E) nonfiction
The Thomas Ligotti Reader, by Darrell Schweitzer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

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

Harper, 2014
336 p.

ARC from the publisher, thank you!

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

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

from NY Daily News

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 16, 2014

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

Crown, 2014
448 pp

arc from the publisher, thank you!

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

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

Friday, June 6, 2014

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

Scribner, 2014
437 pp


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

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

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

definitely a beach read: Eyes on You, by Kate White

Harper, 2014
320 pp
ARC (my thanks to the publisher)

Eyes on You is a definite candidate for the summer beach bag. It's a mystery novel you can read quickly, the plot is pretty uncomplicated, and while the story gets a little twisty here and there, at its heart the book is a really just an old-fashioned whodunit set in the world of TV journalism.  

After being sidelined for a while, Robin Trainer is finally back in the limelight. Not only has she had a new book published, she's co-hosting a very popular morning TV show.  Her audience loves her.  It's too bad that the admiration of her audience doesn't ooze out into the real world -- some unknown person is making her life miserable. It starts at a book party where she finds a particularly nasty note in her purse, then back at her job things start getting weird.  It seems that someone has it in for Robin, but it doesn't take her long to hone in on a potential suspect. But, like any whodunit, things may not be exactly as they seem.

Crime fiction and mysteries are my favorite genre in the reading universe, and unlike this novel, most of what's being published nowadays is loaded down with extraneous stuff that gets in the way of the main plotline. Eyes on You has its twists, but it is very straightforward, making it very easy to read.    I got caught up in the whodunit aspect of this book and the armchair detective in me was happy to have incorrectly guessed the culprit not just once, but twice. (As an aside, when I guess correctly I never read that author again  -- way too easy).  When the culprit is unmasked, the big reveal, which is a complete surprise, fits well into the plotline and makes sense.   At the same time, I just couldn't get into the characters in this book. They have very little depth, and for the most part, come across as one dimensional and shallow with very little substance. I mean, seriously, it's hard to gather sympathy for the main character when literally the very first thing you read in the novel is her thoughts about her new Chanel "fuck you" shoes.  I felt alienated from this person from the outset.

The fun in this book is in the guessing and trying to figure out who has it in for Robin enough to want to torment her, so I'd say if you want some crime light in this year's beach book bag, Eyes on You just might be the ticket. Even though it's a bit too light for my personal preference, I've read some early reviews where people are loving this novel. 

My thanks to Harper, and to TLC book tours, where Eyes on You is on tour through July 7th.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

So you don't know who Randolph Stow was? Neither did I, but I still liked this book: Moving Among Strangers: Randolph Stow and My Family, by Gabrielle Carey

University of Queensland Press, 2013
228 pp

A few months back while blurb-reading through the longlist for Australia's Stella Prize, the blurb of Moving Among Strangers caught my eye. I have no idea why -- I had absolutely no clue who Randolph Stow was, so really, my interest probably shouldn't have been so piqued.  But it was as if this book somehow managed to exert some strange, weird pull on me and all I know is that I had to have it.  While Randolph Stow, his writing, and his feelings about being a writer in Australia are all  certainly a big part of this book, it is also a very personal sort of memoir of the author, Gabrielle Carey, who, because of her interest in Stow, comes to understand more about her mother and father, and finds herself reconnected to long-absent members of her extended family.  It is indeed a little gem of a book that combines her own family story to the story of this writer who penned the line  "we are here as shipwrecked mariners on an island, moving among strangers, darkly." As I read through her memoir, I came to realize that this line out of Stow's The Girl Green as Elderflower (one of two epigraphs) took on a surprising amount of meaning in both lives.  

I've posted about this wonderful book on the nonfiction page of this reading journal blog; the link is here. It's a book I definitely and highly recommend.

June, July, August: ahh -- the summer reads

The summer is officially nearly here, but where I live it's been summer weather for a while now, making it easy to qualify for being in summer-read mode.  Spending time looking around for what's coming out this summer, I've come upon a few that look good to me.   I have other books that could also qualify, but I'll be focusing on these titles over the next couple of months along with whatever else I already have to throw in the mix.

I'll just go make sure I have enough paper umbrellas for the foofy summer drinks now. 

out in June:
A Replacement Life, by Boris Fishman
In the Wolf's Mouth, by Adam Foulds
Eyrie, by Tim Winton
Mr. Mercedes, by Stephen King --
The Antiquarian, by Gustavo Faverón Patriau --
The Farm, by Tom Rob Smith
Eyes on You, by Kate White -- currently reading courtesy of Harper
The Quick, by Lauren Owen
Summer House With Swimming Pool, by Herman Koch


The Explorers: A Story of Fearless Outcasts, Blundering Geniuses, and Impossible Success, by Martin Dugard

out in July
Herbie's Game, by Timothy Hallinan
A World of Trouble, by Ben Winters -- the final installment of his excellent sf trilogy
The Mad and the Bad, by Jean-Patrick Manchette

A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal, by Ben Macintyre (fyi: I've actually already read this one, but I'm posting it because it's so incredibly good).

out in August:  
The Lotus and the Storm, by Lan Cao 
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, by Haruki Murakami

In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette, by Hampton Sides


Monday, June 2, 2014

hey, American readers -- does anyone want my (FREE) extra copy of Sebastian Barry's The Temporary Gentleman? Did I mention it's free?

Somehow I bought two copies of the same book. Neither of them have been read, so they're in perfect condition.  If you would like to give my extra copy of this book a home, and you live in the US, it's yours. Totally free, no catch -- I will even pay postage. Just be the first to comment on this post here at the blog, and it's yours.

Someone needs to take it! Thanks.

Yay! I found a home for this one!