Tuesday, July 31, 2012

July Reading Roundup

After a month of light reading, the brain is relaxed, just in time to knuckle down for the long 2-month stretch of Booker Prize longlisted novels. Here's how July went:


 crime fiction

odd/weird fiction 
Canada, by Richard Ford


other book-related stuff:
1) The book group is on hiatus until the end of September.

 2) Added to the Amazon wishlist this month:
Tea at the Grand Tazi, by Alexandra Singer
A Private Venus, by Giorgio Scerbanenco
Salvation of a Saint, by Keigo Higashino
The Whores' Asylum, by Kate Darby

 3) Books bought this month:
Swimming Home, by Deborah Levy
The Garden of Evening Mists, by Tan Twan Eng
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce
No Sale, by Patrick Conrad
Hinterland, by Caroline Brothers

4) Currently reading: 
The Devil in Silver, by Victor Lavalle -- and LOVING it, by the way
No Sale, by Patrick Conrad

that's everything, I believe...

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Hanging Hill, by Mo Hayder

Bantam, 2011
432 pp

Hanging HilI is Hayder's eighth book, a standalone novel that I chose based on superlative reader raves.  Then when I read the dustjacket I was even more excited - a mother who is "forced into a criminal world of extreme pornography and illegal drugs," (!) and a detective's "crippling secret...which -- if exposed -- may destroy her" (!!) .  So far, so good -- ooga chooga -- can't wait to get into it.  Without the porn, maybe, this is the sort of thing that is right up my alley.  Or so I thought, and then I read it. Let's just say that the dustjacket blurb is a bit misleading ... and it wasn't all it was cracked up to be. I hate when that happens!

The review is over at the crime section of my reading journal if you're interested. So many people loved this book -- but I am probably the world's toughest crime fiction audience.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Vengeance, by Benjamin Black

Henry Holt, 2012 (August)
320 pp
arc, thank you!!!

"He tried not to think of what was below the surface, of the murk down there, the big-eyed fish nosing along, and things with claws scuttling around on the bottom, fighting in slow motion, devouring each other."

My thanks to Librarything's early reviewers program and to Henry Holt for sending this copy.  Book number five in Black's excellent Quirke novels, Vengeance continues the winning streak of beautiful writing and excellent characterizations found throughout the rest of the series.  Black gets more playful with his language and literary references, the characters continue to deepen in scope, and the mystery is a definite conundrum that will keep you guessing up until the very end.  After I was finished with this one, I put the book down and said out loud to no one in particular, "damn! Now that was one ****ing good book!"  I shouldn't have been so surprised at how very good it is, since it's another one of Black's very intensely satisfying novels.  Feel free to disagree all you want, but after reading all five novels in one fell swoop over the course of a week and a half, my conclusion is that  the Quirke series is definitely one of the best and most intelligently-written out there.

a teaser:

As the novel opens, Davy Clancy is on Victor Delahaye's sailboat, Quicksilver,  after being invited to accompany Delahaye for the day.  Invite isn't the right word, actually, since Delahaye is the big boss of the firm owned jointly by both families, and Davy can't really refuse.  Davy "was not a good sailor, in fact he was secretly afraid of the sea."  Out of nowhere, Delahaye takes out a pistol wrapped in an oily rag and shoots  himself.  Frightened out of his wits, Davy takes the gun and tosses it overboard.  He has no idea how to sail the Quicksilver, and he drifts along, waiting for rescue.  The death is confirmed as a suicide, leading to one question, so beautifully voiced some time later in the thoughts of  Victor's sister Maggie:

"...why had Victor taken him out in the boat -- why him? It had been Victor's way of sending a message, of leaving a signal as to why he had done what he had done. But what message was it, and to whom did he think he was directing it?"

The answer, as Quirke is about to discover, is not one to be revealed quickly or easily.  The Delahayes are a formidable clan -- rich and powerful, but as with most families in Black's novels, filled with secrets.  The wealthy Clancys have their secrets as well, but the Clancy side of the business is viewed with disdain by the Delahayes, who consider the Clancys their inferiors.   When a second death occurs, the mystery only deepens.

  If you want to read more, make your way on over to the Crime Segments for the rest.

John Banville may not have been longlisted for the Booker Prize, but Benjamin Black deserves an award for his crime novels.

John Banville, aka Benjamin Black    
In his more literary life, Benjamin Black is really John Banville, whose The Sea won the 2005 Man Booker Prize, and whose new novel, Ancient Light, is sitting on a shelf here waiting to be read.  Benjamin Black doesn't write the same sort of fiction as John Banville; he's the author of a wonderful series of crime novels set in Dublin of the 1950s, where Black notes "it was a hard time, a hard city, and a dark place to live." His main protagonist is Quirke, a pathologist whose curiosity leads him to examine other people's lives.  Mark Lawson wrote a piece on the fourth Quirke novel for the Guardian just over a year ago, where he notes the following:

"The quirks of Quirke are reassuringly familiar. He is known only by his surname (Dexter's Morse), is an alcoholic chainsmoker (Rankin's Rebus), loves poetry (PD James's Dalgleish), has a difficult relationship with a daughter (Mankell's Wallander) and has difficulty in sustaining relationships (everyone's everyone). Even the fact that, although a pathologist, his involvement in cases goes well beyond the dissection of the body nods to the convention of the forensic investigator popularised by Silent Witness and Waking the Dead on television and Patricia Cornwell in print."
While these books may not have the same familiarity among crime-fiction readers as those of some of the authors mentioned by Lawson, they stand out due to their literary quality and to Benjamin Black's devotion to character. 

I recently received an ARC of Benjamin Black's newest novel Vengeance (published in the US in August  and reviewed in my next post)  and started reading it, but I was so confused!  I had no clue as to who these people are and their backstories, and it drove me a little crazy.   Some years back I had read his Christine Falls and The Silver Swan, but hundreds of books in between later, my recollection of what had happened in those novels was totally nil.  So to do Vengeance justice, I grabbed the four Quirke novels I already have and decided to read them in one lump, then wrote a post about them over on the crime side of my reading journal blog. If you're at all interested, feel free to pop over and take a look.   I love these books -- I don't always like Banville, but I do love Black.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Booker Prize Longlist, 2012

has been announced!  After months of speculation, it's finally here:

The Yips by Nicola Barker (Fourth Estate)
The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman (Sceptre)
Philida by André Brink (Harvill Secker)
The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng (Myrmidon Books)
* Skios by Michael Frayn (Faber & Faber)
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (Doubleday)
Swimming Home by Deborah Levy (And Other Stories)
* Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (Fourth Estate)
The Lighthouse by Alison Moore (Salt)
Umbrella by Will Self (Bloomsbury)
*Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil (Faber & Faber)
Communion Town by Sam Thompson (Fourth Estate)

* -- I've read it already!

All right -- so I just bought all of the ones I didn't have, but it looks like for some of these the reading isn't going to happen until September, so hopefully this time around is not as stressful as some of the past longlist reads have been. 

My plan, once August gets going, is to do weekly updates on my progress through this list, which gives me two entire months and a bit of October to read nine books.

Anyone else going to read through the list this year?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Canada, by Richard Ford

ecco/HarperCollins, 2012
420 pp

"Through all these memorable events, normal life was what I was seeking to preserve for myself. When I think of those times... it is all of a piece, like a musical score with movements, or a puzzle, wherein I am seeking to restore and maintain my life in a whole and acceptable state, regardless of the frontiers I’ve crossed."

Although I'm not one to read books because they're trendy or just because they show up on the New York Times bestseller lists, and although normally I'm drawn to books that most people would never read, after seeing the blurb on the inside dustjacket cover of this book, I knew I had to have it. The first words are what got me:  "First, I'll tell about the robbery that our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later."  I thought, well, if this character is going to take me into his confidence enough to tell me about these things that he and his twin sister went through, why shouldn't I sit down, grab a cup of coffee and listen to him.  This may sound a little bit stupid, but the entire time I was reading this book, it seemed as though I was actually hearing this man's voice talking to me. I can't say that I've ever had this experience with a novel before -- that's how captivating this entire story was for me. 

In 1960 Bev and Neeva Parsons of Great Falls, Montana, left their home one day to carry out a bank robbery that would end up having far-reaching, unpredictable results.  As it turns out, although Dell Parsons, their son and the narrator of Canada, notes that the robbery is "the most important part," a jumping-off point of sorts that led him and his sister Berner to set out on two different and unexpected paths, he's not in any  great hurry to tell us about the specific details of that day, and he has a few other things to say in the meantime.  As he very clearly states at the beginning,
"... the great critic Ruskin wrote that composition is the arrangement of unequal things.  Which means it's for the composer to determine what's equal to what, and what matters more and what can be set to the side of life's hurtling passage onward."
From this point on, it's clear that while we're going to get to the robbery and the events that took place afterward, we have to just be patient and wait a bit. And although the reader may want to get to that most important event, it is Dell, now in his 60s, who is telling the story, and he's going to tell it in his own way and his own time.  We just need to give him the space to do so.

Related in three parts, the novel starts in Great Falls, Montana in 1960, and takes us through life in the Parsons family when Dell is 15.  Actually, it's a while before Dell's name is even mentioned, but this part of the book lays the groundwork for all of the events that will later transpire. It  encompasses, among other things,  his parents' marriage after a night of celebrating leading to her pregnancy, his mother's refusal to "assimilate,"  their transient lives as a military family, his father's discharge from the Air Force and a series of failed jobs and shady schemes afterwards, his sister's growing desire for independence, and his own wish to go to school, play chess and keep bees, which, according to his Bee Sense book, "unlocks the mystery to all things human."  While these things may seem insignificant and perhaps trivial at times, they're all connected in Dell's mind as he tries to explain his parents "edging toward the point of no return,"  as things moved toward "bad as could be."  As he explains:
"It's best to see our life and the activities that ended it as two sides of one thing that have to be held in mind simultaneously to properly understand--the side that was normal and the side that was disastrous--one so close to the other. Any different way of looking at our life threatens to disparage the crucial, rational, commonplace part we lived, the part in which everything makes sense to those on the inside--and without which one of this is worth hearing about."
At the same time, he gives the reader little glimpses as to what's coming, whetting the reader's appetite for more: while we haven't actually heard the events transpiring on the day of the robbery , he tells us little pieces of what he knows about it from newspapers and from what others have told him later. He also shares his mother's feelings leading up to her participation that he later discovers in her prison-cell writings she calls "Chronicle of a Crime Committed by a Weak Person,"  all before he even gets to that event.  But really,  it's not the robbery that is the true focus here: the real meat of this story is found in what happens afterwards. 

In Part Two, Dell has been taken to a new life, to stay with Arthur Remlinger, the brother of his mother's friend, and  a man who crossed the border years ago along with his own secrets that will ultimately lead the reader to the promised murders.  Neeva had made arrangements for the two to be taken to  Fort Royal,  a god-forsaken town on the Saskatchewan prairie, but only Dell has made the journey, Berner having already taken off before their mother's friend shows up to collect them.  He is taken to work with  Charley Quarters, in nearby Partreau, a Métis living in an old trailer who sometimes shows up with remnants of eyeliner or rouged cheeks on his face and  who makes Dell uneasy by his creepy comments. Dell will also spend time working in Remlinger's hotel, which is busy during hunting seasons.  Eager to have more time with Arthur, Dell is happy about the move, and at some point believes that Arthur "needed him to be his special son." He  finds himself allowing his feelings for his parents "to go below the waves" of his thinking, letting himself be "taken up" by Arthur, a "man he felt he could emulate at a later time." 

Part three is only a few pages long, catching Dell at age 66, catching up with his sister who is now terminally ill, and reflecting on the "thousands of mornings" his mother once told him he'd have "to wake up and think about all this." 

 If you've thought about reading this book and the promise of a boy's parents committing a robbery and then later the occurrence of two murders is why you're interested, keep this in mind: it isn't the actual crimes that are important here but it's all about what comes afterward. This is not a novel of crime fiction at all, nor is it a fast-paced thriller of any sort.  Not even close. It's more a book about lines and borders crossed, about boundaries, about family, about how certain things in our lives direct us in ways we may never have considered, about trying to maintain a sense of normalcy in the face of those events.  Without looking back too much on any what-ifs, in later life Dell has come to accept the way his life has turned out, noting that  he believes "in what you see being most of what there is, that "...life's passed on to us empty."  

Canada is just a super book in so many ways. The author's descriptions paint not only pictures but create  full-on tableaux.   His use of dialogue is never overdone, his characters are all fully realized.  The way he describes Dell and Berner growing up in the military, being reluctant to make friends or get used to being in one place was spot on -- I grew up under the same circumstances and the way he wrote about it sent me back to that very lonely way of living. And like Neeva, I really never got the point of assimilating either -- sometimes I still fight it.  But what really got to me about this book was the way in which I could actually hear the older Dell's voice in my head, as if he were sitting here talking to me himself, as if  he had a story that he really wanted me to hear.  It was certainly the only time that's ever happened when I've read a novel, a most unique experience that surprised me.    Although many readers have complained that the book is slow moving and even slow to get started, lacking a plot and boring,  I didn't see it that way at all.  Au contraire -- it's amazing and beautifully written, a novel that will not soon be forgotten after you've finished it.

While mine is only a non-English major/casual reader's review that explains my personal take on this book,  there are some superb professional reviews out there: I would like to especially make note of Theo Tait's review in the London Review of Books , July 5 (I hate to link to a subscriber site --sorry -- but it's an awesome review),  Michael Dirda's review in the New York Review of Books, July 12th, and that of Andre Dubus in the New York Times.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Charles Stross and the Laundry Files

The Atrocity Archives, The Jennifer Morgue, The Fuller Memorandum and The Apocalypse Codex, by Charles Stross

There's something to be said about a guy who can combine HP Lovecraft, various writers of spy fiction, computer geekness and a little of the management nitwitnedness of Office Space and come up with a series of consistently good novels that incorporate all of the above.  After all, as he notes in the afterwords of his first series novel, there are a lot of similarities between Lovecraftian horror and spy fiction, especially the espionage novels set in the Cold War.  Along  the way he throws pointed barbs at iPhones, cults, Power Point presentations, evangelical Christians, handguns and other sources of irritation -- all of which come off as funny, but only because you realize that some of the things he pokes sarcastic fun at resonate with your own fears, peeves, and annoyances.  This guy is Charles Stross, who is the author of four books that comprise The Laundry Files, one of my favorite series of sci-fi/fantasy/horror novels ever written.  If you'll pardon the expletive, I don't know he manages to keep coming up with this amazing shit -- each book is different, sending the main character Bob Howard, computational demonologist,  into perilous adventures as he and the Laundry, the super-secret civil service organization  Bob works for, prepare to save humanity from the onslaught of CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN -- an apocalypse arriving from the multiverse.   The people at the Laundry have developed some very modern and secret technologies that combine the most high-tech electronics with the occult to keep Bob and others like him safe to defend the world -- all based on magic as a form of mathematics.  These novels remind me of old-time adventure stories with a hopped-up occult/geek/horror twist that for some reason unknown to myself I just can't seem to get enough of.  

to keep reading and for a look at these very cool novels, click here.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Flight From Berlin, by David John

Harper, 2012
384 pp.
[ARC -- my grateful thanks to the publisher for sending me this copy, and to Trish at TLC Book Tours for offering it!]

Flight From Berlin is a work of historical fiction, set in 1936 and 1937 in both Nazi Germany and London.  It's a good light-espionage/adventure and action thriller/escape read, populated with historical figures as well as fictional ones inspired by real people of the time (as noted in the end section) and structured in three parts.  The author states that the book came about as a result of a "fascination with history's footnotes," which is an attraction  I just happen to share.

Eleanor Emerson, daughter of a senator and wife of a bandleader,  has just been accepted as part of the US Olympics swimming team. She is on her way to Berlin for the 1936 Olympics, and is expected to follow the team rules while on board the ocean liner taking her across the Atlantic with the rest of the Olympians.  Sadly, her penchant for rule breaking and partying with celebrities gets her kicked off the team even before she reaches Germany, but friends in the press offer her a job as a reporter at the Olympic games.  In the meantime, Richard Denham, a British journalist, finds himself on board the Hindenburg, guest of an old family friend, as it overflies the Olympic stadium during the opening ceremony.  Berlin has been completely transformed for the Games -- the "state sadism" has been  "hidden from view," there are no signs indicating "Jews Not Wanted," and the order of the day is "jollity and cheerfulness."  Denham, who lives and works in Berlin, has been tipped off to an incredible story: Jewish fencer Hannah Liebermann, who had already relocated to the United States, has been called back to compete for the Nazis in the Olympics -- as a guarantee that she'll participate, her relatives have been threatened.  She is also under orders not to win a gold medal.  On the trail of this story, which he wants to break to reveal the  real evil under the Olympics window dressing, he meets up with Eleanor, who is now a guest of the family of American Ambassador William Dodd.  The two become caught up in a very strange situation: it seems that both  British Intelligence and the Nazis are on the hunt for a secret, very explosive dossier, and for some reason, the Nazis seem to think that Denham has it, and will do anything it takes to get their hands on it.  The story tracks back to London, where Eleanor and Richard face a moral dilemma that returns them to Germany before finishing up with an explosive ending.

 Although there is no lack of action in this book,  and although  I was hooked early on,  I was really drawn to what was going on historically around the hunt for the dossier and the ultimate revelations toward the end of the novel.   There is a lot taking place behind the scenes that elevates this book from just another novel of Nazi vs. everyone else.  The author alludes to attitudes about the looming  trend toward appeasement,  the growing belief in the importance of intelligence vs. diplomacy, the reign of terror of the Brownshirts on German city streets, and of course, the fate of the Jews.   There's also a great deal here on the politically-charged 1936 Olympics -- the appeals for boycotts, etc., along with a passing mention of the irony of Jessie Owens' success up against the situation for African-Americans in America's Jim Crow South.  As Eleanor notes,
"The press boys told me that all gold medalists are interviewed on live radio after their competition. Imagine that. A black man's voice is speaking to Germany right now. They wouldn't put him on the radio back home unless he was singing Dixie."
Another really good thing he does here is to reveal that it wasn't only the Nazis who were the bad guys -- there were others lurking in the wings who offered their services without actually wearing  the party insignia.  Aside from the history, David John is really quite good at descriptions and setting; it's also very obvious that he's done a lot of research for this book. I was so taken with his writing on the Olympics that I bought a copy of Guy Walters' Berlin Games after seeing the reference in the Author's Notes.   The romance is light (which made me happy) and the characters are drawn well.   What I wasn't so thrilled with was the last part of the novel -- while it was exciting, it was somewhat predictable and more in tune with a movie version of this book rather than a realistic wind down to the final scene.  But having said that, the book is earning some 4 and 5-star reviews and is getting really good press, so I'd say it's one you have to experience it on your own.

On the whole -- Flight From Berlin is a good read; it may not be the most chilling of all the novels set in that era, but it is one that will definitely keep you turning pages while you soak up some of the well-developed historical background.   One final thought:  it's definitely a hell of a ride and an awesome first novel. I hope it does well.

 *** Flight From Berlin is currently making the rounds with readers at TLC Book Tours -- if you'd like to follow its travels, the schedule is posted here

Monday, July 9, 2012

Cold Harbour, by Francis Brett Young/Sinister House, by Leland Hall

Hippocampus Press, 2008
269 pp

If you like old-fashioned ghost stories big on atmosphere,  I've got two you might want to try.  These books, Cold Harbour, by Francis Brett Young and Sinister House, by Leland Hall, are together in one volume, as part of  the Lovecraft's Library series, published by Hippocampus Press.  It's the perfect pair of reads for a dark and stormy night -- two haunted house stories that are admittedly on the tame side for modern horror readers, but just what the doctor ordered if you're into older (1924, 1919), less gore-driven type of spookiness. You'll find the review here.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Skios, by Michael Frayn

Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt, 2012
272 pp
(ARC - many thanks to the publisher and my apologies for taking so long to read it)

-read in June-

Talk about a light read! While I wouldn't use the term "sidesplittingly funny" to describe this book, it is fun in schticky, farcical kind of way, populated with oddball characters who are the heart and soul of this novel, and set on the Greek island of Skios.  

The basic setup for the novel is as follows: The Fred Toppler Foundation was conceived of as a "center of wisdom and civilization, a place of beauty where the finest minds in the English-speaking world can mix with the leaders of English-speaking society." Prior to the annual Fred Toppler lecture, the residents  have been spending  time at the "Great European House Party," taking  seminars about Minoan cooking, learning traditional Macedonian dancing or Late Medieval flower arranging, followed by afternoons of swimming, "civilized conversation," and other venues for "spiritual refreshment."  The speaker for this year's event is Dr. Norman Wilfred, who is set to enlighten everyone on "The Promise of Scientometrics."  All of the logistical details are handled by Mrs. Toppler's PA Nikki, who as the novel opens, is heading out the door for the airport. For Nikki, the event absolutely must go off without a hitch -- she's got designs on moving up to a directorship and can't afford any screwups.  Nikki arrives at the airport, picks up Dr. Wilfred and returns to the Foundation.  But, uh-oh! The Dr. Wilfred she's picked up is not the real Dr. Wilfred at all, but Oliver Fox, a guy who has recently decided to take any opportunities when they are presented.  When Nikki, holding a sign, sees Fox smiling at her she asks "Dr. Wilfred?" Oliver decides to be Dr. Wilfred. He smiles and says "I cannot tell a lie;" meanwhile, the real Dr. Wilfred has been dealing with a luggage mix up -- all of the information except his lecture notes are in his bag, and he can't seem to reach his PA.   He gets into a taxi where the driver says to him "Phoksoliva?" ready to take Dr. Wilfred to a villa that was supposed to be a temporary love nest for Oliver Fox and a Georgie, a girl he had met in a bar, an arrangement Fox is already sorry he made.  From there it's a crazy muddle, as the real Dr. Wilfred finds himself alone in the villa with Georgie, as Oliver Fox posing as the real Dr. Wilfred is winning friends and influencing people at the Foundation, and as things quickly go downhill on both fronts.  But just when the reader is ready to let the whole farce run its logical course, there are still a few more surprises to be had.

There are some  funny moments in this book that actually made me laugh out loud. There is the story of how Mrs. Toppler came to be Mrs. Toppler and came to Greece after her husband's death (she was formerly Bahama LaStarr, Vegas show dancer; before that she was Apricot del Rio);  in another the real Dr. Wilfred, who while at the villa, thinks he's actually at the Foundation center and calls the main desk to try to get directions to the breakfast area and ends up finding only goats; and the scenes with the taxi driving brothers Stavros and Spiros.  The characters are also quite funny in their own right -- not just the main players, but some of the people who have come to stay in Skios: Cedric and Rosamond Chailey who slip away when "anything so American" is being discussed; Chuck Friendly and his wife Mrs. Chuck Friendly, to name only a few.  Then there's Dr. Wilfred himself, whose egotistical and academic  exterior conceal silk underwear,  a hidden mole fetish and healthy sexuality, among other things.

The fun of this book is not so much in the schticky kind of situations caused by the mix-up of identities, for which, I might add, you absolutely must suspend all disbelief for several reasons, most notably that it's highly dubious that Nikki wouldn't even know what her famous keynote speaker looks like.  I much more enjoyed the characters, the interplay between them and the sheer implausible silliness of it all.   Frayn's wonderful way with detail and description are also plusses, as is his take on in-crowds, reputation, and credulity. 

Skios is funny, but then again, funny is in the eye of the beholder, so it's one of those books you have to experience for yourself.  I'm not a huge reader of farcical kinds of stories, but the novel did  produce a few hearty chuckles and a kind of fun tension wondering if "Phoksoliva" would ever make it up to the podium to deliver the Toppler Lecture.  I'd say give it a try -- its humor, satire and wit make for an easy, light summer read. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Expendable Man, by Dorothy B. Hughes

NYRB Classics, 2012
originally published 1963
245 pp

My favorite fiction is the edgy, gritty kind where some poor guy, for some reason or another,  gets drawn into a hopelessly screwed-up situation and finds that it just keeps getting worse, despite everything he does to try to escape.   These kinds of stories start off innocuously enough, but within just a very short time my tension starts to build, joined by a restlessness and a quickly-growing sensitivity to the fear and paranoia emanating from  the hapless character. When that level of unease stays with me the entire time I've got the book in my hands,  I'm positively elated.  This feeling is precisely what I look for when I pick up a crime novel, and this is exactly what I got in Dorothy B. Hughes' The Expendable Man.  What happens in this novel is nothing less than one man's nightmare played out over the course of a few days of his life; between the lines Hughes pens her own insights into issues pertinent to the time & place of this novel's setting.

Absolutely superb noir that I can definitely recommend. It just doesn't get much better than this -- you'll find the review here.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady by Kate Summerscale

Bloomsbury USA, 2012
303 pp

(read in May)

Set in the Victorian era, Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace is an interesting look at how one woman's diary caused her to fall from a good social position to having absolutely nothing after her husband used her florid journal writing as proof of adultery during his case for divorce. The diary, the ensuing trial and Isabella's inner turmoil are discussed in depth, as are changes in Victorian England that are starting to challenge the period's status quo.  The book is also filled with details that fill in what's going on outside of Isabella's life and her trial. It's a good read, but sometimes the details are a bit too thick when you want to get back to the meat of the book and the author's analysis. Overall, the book is a good read, although it can get a little tedious with so much detail, and you can find my review here.

Blood-Red Rivers, by Jean-Christophe Grangé

(read in May)

The Harvill Press, 1999 (UK)
originally published as Les Rivières Pourpres, 1998
translated by Ian Monk
328 pp

The full review is here --admittedly, this book is not on this year's list of my favorite crime fiction reads -- I liked it fine up until a little past the halfway point when I wanted to toss it across the room because it became a little too  farfetched for my tastes.  But as they say, one person's tossed book is another person's treasure, and this book did grab multiple 4- and 5-star reviews.

The 10 best books of the year so far? According to Flavorpill, yes.

In today's email from Flavorpill, the powers that be have  come up with their idea of the ten best books of 2012 so far.  You can read the whole article here, but here's the rundown:

1. The Orphan Master's Son, by Adam Johnson -- loved it

2. Half-Blood Blues, by Esi Edugyan --  which everyone on the planet loved except for me

3. Threats, by Amelia Gray --  haven't read this one but looks intriguing

4. When I Was A Child I Read Books, by Marilynne Robinson -- which I probably won't read, because again I was the only one on the planet who seems to have disliked her other novels

5. I Am An Executioner: Love Stories, by Rajesh Parameswaran -- already on the tbr pile

6. Narcopolis, by Jeet Thayil -- loved it, absolutely; I'm drawn to bizarrely good books

7.  Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creation, by Tom Bissell -- probably not for me

8. Are You My Mother:  A Comic Drama by Alison Bechdel -- probably not for me

9. Bring up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel -- awesome book, the 2nd in Mantel's Oliver Cromwell series

== and last but not least,==

10. The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker -- this month's Indiespensable pick from Powell's.

Each of their picks has a little blurb and  links directly to Amazon. 


Black Skies, by Arnaldur Indridason

Harvill Secker, 2012 (UK)
originally published as Svörtuloft, 2009
translated by Victoria Cribb
330 pp
(American release date??)

[NOTE: Since this month's reads are all covered under the umbrella of "by-the-pool reads" with no specific targeted focus, I'll be posting the review links for crime fiction, nonfiction and weird fiction here and not just on the sidebar as usual]. 

For Scandinavian crime fiction fans, especially for followers of Arnaldur Indridason's wonderful Erlendur series novels, Black Skies is a no-miss. Even though Erlendur is still absent from the Reykjavik police headquarters, the novel is still a very good read.  The review is posted over at the Crime Segments portion of my reading journal.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

July: by-the-pool reads

Most people label their summer books as beach reads; mine are by-the-pool reads.   It's weird --  we can walk to the beach from our house but rarely go there.  It's way too crowded, there's too much noise, and we like just hanging in our back yard, stretching out on  long lounger chairs next to the pool, just to the left of the steps where the ball is in the picture.  The patio has huge sliders that are steps away from the kitchen and fridge -- no need to lug a cooler anywhere.  And if it gets too hot, well, the pool is right there.   It's the perfect relaxing environment for light reading, and that's exactly what's happening this month.  I see lots of crime fiction (Jussi Adler-Olson's latest -- Disgrace -- to name one), some easy novels (Canada, by Richard Ford, comes to mind), and whatever else I happen to pick up.  It is, after all, the month of calm before the Booker longlist storm hits, and I need my brain to be untired beginning August 1.  Any relaxing reads suggestions are most welcome!