Monday, June 24, 2013

Nairobi Heat, *Black Star Nairobi, by Mukoma Wa Ngugi

Melville House, 2011 
204 pp

I actually finished both of these novels about a week ago; they're books I would definitely recommend, very different than what's on the average crime shelves these days.  In fact, as it turns out, they're much more on the political thriller side, and what makes them move beyond being just another couple of titles in that genre is the author's exploration of  complicated issues of identity, morality, and justice, especially as defined vis-a-vis geography and ethnicity.

Melville House, 2013
267 pp
Personally speaking, I was drawn to these characters, especially in Black Star Nairobi, which was just recently published by Melville House.  Of the two, Nairobi Heat has a less credible plot, but is much richer in character development and the author's exploration of issues.  

You can read about them both on my crime page, here -- and I do recommend both of them, but not for the faint of heart or people who like happy stories.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar, by Suzanne Joinson

Bloomsbury USA, 2012
370 pp


A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar  follows two very different narratives and several journeys taken by a number of characters who populate this novel. One storyline is composed of journal entries from 1923 and the other set in modern-day London.  The journal entries come from Evangeline English, who along with sister Lizzie and a woman named Millicent, a representative of the Missionary Order of the Steadfast Face, have arrived in Kashgar, a predominantly Muslim area in East Turkestan governed by the Chinese.   The second narrative follows a young woman, Frieda, who, while trying to sort things out with herself, inherits the contents of a stranger's flat and meets up with a Yemeni man who has come to England,   has a steady job and friends until his security is threatened and he has to go on the run.  While I enjoyed the book as a whole, the 1923-based narrative was much more engaging.  When I'd move back into the present-day action,  I had the same sort of residual "cliffhanger" feeling I get when a favorite TV show ends with the promise of answers the next week, and couldn't wait to get back to find out what was happening with the three women in Kashgar.  I read this book in one sitting, unable to move until the outcome of the historical narrative was revealed.

While Millicent and Lizzie have come to convert the locals,  Evangeline (Eva) English has accompanied them, bicycle in tow, to gather material for a cycling guide.  The three have put many miles behind them, and as the novel opens, their journey comes to a stop outside of the walled city of Kashgar. There, in the desert, a young girl is giving birth and the three stop to help. There are other people there, but it is Millicent who delivers the baby with forceps. While the baby lives through the birth, the young mom dies, and the group of bystanders immediately put the blame on the three women. They accuse them of killing the girl and stealing her heart to protect themselves from sandstorms, and of planning to eat the baby.  None of the onlookers wants the baby, and Millicent finds herself accused of murder and witchcraft.  Placed under "house arrest" at first at a Muslim inn and home of a Muslim man and his family, they are soon moved to another house outside the city walls to await funds  from the missionary society to pay off the authorities and escape their fate.  While Eva tends to the baby, Lizzie spends time taking photos; as time moves on, tensions begin to surface within the house. Millicent continues her proselytizing in spite of Eva, who disapproves given their situation; outside events also culminate in tension that will ultimately explode, putting the lives of the women in even greater danger.

Kashgar, along the Silk Road, from

Meanwhile, in the modern day, Frieda is a woman whose mother left at a young age and  who has been involved in an affair with a married man with children. Things had been working out for a while, but her lover is a needy sort and she doesn't want to be responsible for "three little boys' battered hearts." Frieda travels for work, lately finding that the cities she's visiting were
"blending into one... just yet another place that was no longer safe for her to be in, being English, being a woman."
While she's trying to sort things out, she meets Tayeb, a young man from Yemen who for political reasons, can't go home.  He shows up on her doorstep, where she hands him a blanket so he can sleep there; the next day she finds he's drawn a bird, a "swirl of peacock feathers," a drawing of seagulls that become a sunset, and some Arabic writing with an English translation:
"As the great poet says you're afflicted, like me, with a bird's journey."

Eventually the two become friends, and Tayeb's story is revealed along the way.  Frieda also receives a notice that she is the next of kin to a dead woman she doesn't know, and that she'd inherited the contents of  the deceased's apartment. She's given x number of days to clear everything out, and takes Tayeb with her to help her, offering him the apartment for a place to sleep until the authorities take back the keys. What she discovers will not only put her back on the road again, but will also help to piece together and connect both past and present.

The author does an incredible job with the past, and honestly, if the entire book had only focused on the story of Eva, Lizzie and Millicent, I wouldn't have minded at all, and it would have been a most excellent work of historical fiction. There's obviously quite a bit of research that's gone into the making of this novel and in capturing the upheaval of a time and place. Unlike some authors who tend toward information/detail overload in establishing and sustaining a sense of place and time, Ms. Joinson avoids that pitfall so that these sections flow naturally. I was less in love with Frieda's story, although the scenes of her childhood were compelling, as was the reunion between mother and daughter which for me, maybe more than anything else, brought home some of the parallels between the past and present, although in a kind of roundabout way I'm still thinking about. I also enjoyed her writing style and the wide use of bird imagery throughout.  On the flip side, I figured out the big "wow" moment out long before it was revealed, and much like when I read crime fiction and can guess what's going on, it was a bit disappointing.

Overall, A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar is a good book for casual readers; there is a lot of bird imagery which is not too tough to ponder, and while the past narrative is much more engaging than the present, both come together quite well. My book group is discussing this novel on Tuesday, so it will be interesting to hear my friends' perspective.  Recommended, especially because the 1923 narrative is so very well done.

fiction from the UK

Monday, June 17, 2013

*Joyland, by Stephen King

Hard Case Crime, 2013
283 pp


"...  when I'm blue --  when life comes down on me and everything looks tawdry and cheap, the way Joyland Avenue did on a rainy day --  I go back to it, if only to remind myself that life isn't always a butcher's game. Sometimes the prizes are real.  Sometimes they’re precious."

Joyland's Amazon page quotes author Stephen King as saying "I love crime, I love mysteries, and I love ghosts."

So do I, to a point.  Maybe when they're not all mixed together -- a crime in the course of a mysterious ghost story is okay, but a ghost in a crime story has never sat too well with me.  But a) it's summer and, more importantly, b) it's Stephen King -- so before even opening this book I already knew that there would probably be some kind of  supernatural element involved, making it much easier to  push the "suspend disbelief" button in my brain.  I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised -- along with the trademark supernatural elements, many of King's most common themes are here as well,  including small-town life, the loss of youthful innocence, the forces of good in opposition to the forces of evil, and nostalgia.  The novel is also permeated with a deep sense of melancholy and loss, but it does have a light touch of humor here and there as well. It's probably not what I would consider "hardboiled crime," which is Hard Case Crime's milieu, but the crime and the supernatural make a very cool frame for the story at the heart of this novel.

Devin Jones is in his 60s, looking back to 1973, which he calls "Devin Jones's lost year." He'd  lost his mother just four years earlier, and is still grieving.  Thinking about the spring of that year, the one he calls the last year of his childhood, he relates his vision of his future with Wendy Keegan,  "practically the girl next door."  In his mind, 
 "There would be a house on a lake in Maine or New Hampshire (maybe western Massachusetts) filed with the clatter-and-yell of a couple of little Keegan-Joneses, a house where I wrote books that weren't exactly bestsellers but popular enough to keep us comfortably and were -- very important -- well reviewed. Wendy would pursue her dream of opening a small clothing boutique (also well reviewed), and I would teach a few creative writing seminars, the kind gifted students vie to get into."
In short, Wendy is the lynchpin of Devin's imagined future happiness, a life that (sadly) will never be because shortly after that spring, she dumps him.  Plans to work together over the summer have changed so that they each take separate jobs away from each other, Wendy in Boston and Devin in North Carolina. Despite their two years together, Devin is still a virgin and  still very innocent for a guy of 21,  and for him,  it looks like his dream of sharing the view of Heaven's Bay from his window of his room at Mrs. Shoplaw's Beachside Accommodations and the room's big bed  will never materialize.  Wendy is rarely available for Devin's calls, or always too busy for them to get together.  Despite Devin's hard work with the carny folk at an amusement park called Joyland, "an indie, not as big as a Six Flags park, and nowhere near as big as Disney World," he's still mopey and mooning after her, and he's not ready to give up. Looking back on it, he notes that
“As June wore on, I started to understand that my relationship with Wendy was as sick as William Blake’s rose, but I refused to believe it was mortally sick, even when the signs became increasingly clear.” 
His friends Tom and Erin come to the rescue trying to wean Devin away from his broken heart and despair.  On a day off when the friends are acting like tourists at Joyland, Tom becomes convinced he's seen the ghost of Linda Gray, the young girl who was brutally murdered during a ride through the Horror House, leading Devin and Erin, a camera-wielding "Hollywood Girl," to become interested in trying to figure out who killed the dead girl.   As the summer winds on, Devin's life takes a few unexpected turns, putting him in various situations where his selfless, innocent goodness comes shining through; he also finds someone who can help him start to move past his pain.  As summer turns to fall, he's in place for the ultimate challenge, as only Stephen King can write it, between good and evil. 
Very cool book, although I have to say that for me the crime and supernatural aspects were secondary to Devin's story and Stephen King's writing.  It's the air of loss and sadness that made me look beyond these elements to the idea that "no summer is endless." This idea is something I can personally relate to -- and I love when a book can take me back into my own past.  In the novel, it's very obvious that as an older man looking back on his 21st year, Devin is still haunted by his feelings toward those he loved and lost during that very short summer at Joyland.  There are other things to like about this book as well  -- the carnies,  a strange group of people with hidden lives whose job it is to "sell fun," not unlike the unseen televangelist in this novel whose job it is to tout and sell religion, and other small-town America character types that somehow seem to make their way from book to book in Stephen King's writing.

While not my favorite of King's books -- The entire Dark Tower series claims that honor followed by The Shining and The Stand -- Joyland is a good read, perfect for summer.  Multiple reviewers have complained about the "deus ex machina" type ending, but I think if you look past the obvious, it's an appropriate way to finish out the story -- a way to say that goodness is always repaid in some form or another.  Don't let the mix of crime and ghost story get in your way of enjoying this book. I didn't.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

*Evil and the Mask, by Fuminori Nakamura

Soho Press, 2013
356 pp
originally published as Aku To Kamen No Ruuru, 2010
translated by Satoko Izumo and Stephen Coates

arc: my most grateful thanks to Soho Press for offering me a copy of this book.


 "When human consciousness stops fooling itself and looks at the situation straight on, it can't cope. "

If you haven't read Fuminori Nakamura's first translated novel The Thief, it is a most excellent novel that zooms in on philosophical/existential issues centering around a master pickpocket in Japan. I really loved that book, but his newly-translated novel (the second of three he's written) is even better. The author delves  below the surface to examine whether heredity, environment or a combination of both is responsible for determining human behavior --or the  possibility that a person's future might just be predetermined and unalterable. 

The main character of this novel is Fumihiro Kuki, who the reader first meets at the age of eleven. His elderly father clues him in on a secret -- Fumihiro was born for the special purpose of becoming a "cancer," "a personification of evil" who will "make the world miserable ... make everyone wish they had never been born ... and "make everyone think that the light of virtue does not shine in this world."   The family has its own line of cancers, born to "spread a stain over the light of the world," a tradition that Kuki's father has revived. Fumihiro never knew his mother; he lives alone in the big Kuki mansion with a housekeeper, his father (who is often away for business) and Kaori, a young girl his father adopted from an orphanage. Fumihiro detests his father, and suffers from serious depression, which he covers with a "mask of cheerfulness."  His situation is untenable, but Kaori is the shining light in his life. It is Kaori he sees in his dreams about his future, having kids, making her happy and living in a house by the sea, and he falls for her hard.  With Kaori, he's able to "squeeze his darkness into a tiny piece buried deep inside him," and all of his "pent-up energy," which was "trapped" by his depression goes into caring for her.  He has been told by his father that when he turns 14, he will show him hell.  As Fumihiro moves into his thirteenth year, he and Kaori have become very close, but when Fumihiro realizes that his father has been using her to satisfy some perverted desire, it becomes clear to him that  the hell he promises Fumihiro for his fourteenth birthday has to do with Kaori.  It also becomes clear that the only way he can prevent his father from going ahead with his vile plan is to get rid of him.

Looking back from adult life, Fumihiro tells of being plagued by several questions about acting on what he knows he must do and what society would say about his actions. He wonders whether or not it is a crime to
"kill someone who was absolutely determined to harm you and the person closest to you? Was this just our selfishness? Weren't we being forced to break the rules to protect ourselves from this powerful madman?" 
 After weighing what he knows the outside world would tell him against  his need to protect Kaori, he is more determined than ever. They might think he was "the evil one," but Fumihiro doesn't care.  As he sets his plan in motion, his father tells him that he's "got what it takes to be a cancer," and that he has "all the makings of a real monster."  Was his father right? By killing his father would he be stepping into his predestined role? Is he truly his father's son?  The aftermath of that act haunts Fumihiro, leading him to some pretty drastic measures, one of which is to have his face reconstructed in his 20s, along with other crimes (including murder) all as a way of preventing worse things from happening.  The story is narrated by the adult Fumihiro, plagued by ambiguity, looking back over his past and relating his present, all the while trying to get a grip on understanding himself and the effects of his "rule-breaking" acts in the bigger, wider world around him.   Is his rational examination of his life and deeds a means of confronting the truth or a way to avoid facing it?

Evil and the Mask is an outstanding novel, extremely well written, and I haven't read it in Japanese but the narrative is never halting or awkward so I'd imagine that as a translation it's quite good. There is a lot to this novel and I've pretty much just skimmed the surface here, but from my own casual reader perspective,  it's an amazing book that throws out conundrum after conundrum to Fumihiro and to Nakamura's readers as well.  I don't know that I'd classify it as a crime fiction novel -- while there are certainly some smoky, seedy bars and private investigators that conjure up visions of the darkest noir, and although there are a number of crimes committed during the course of this book,  it's the philosophical that ultimately takes center stage.  It's very dark in nature, so if you're looking to this novel as a beach read over the summer -- forget about it.

Super book, and I loved every second of it. Most highly recommended. I hope Soho plans to bring out Nakamura's third book as well.

 fiction from Japan

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

*Two from the land down under: The Daughters of Mars, by Thomas Keneally & The Asylum, by John Harwood

 The daughters of Mars, by Thomas Keneally

Atria Books, August 2013 US release date
544 pp

My thanks to both's first impressions program and the publishers for my advance reading copy.

Longlisted for this year's Miles Franklin Award, The Daughters of Mars didn't make it to the shortlist, but it's pretty good all the same, in that sweeping, summer-read sort of way.  It is a well-researched novel of historical fiction that plots the course of the Durance sisters, two Australian women who volunteer to serve as military nurses during World War I.  As a point of interest, according to an interview I read, the author used actual journals written by WWI nurses as part of his research, later reflecting  that "these women are too good not to write about." The story centers around the war and the effect it had not just on the soldiers, but on the Durance sisters and the other men and women with whom they work who have their own private battles to fight as well.

 Two sisters, Sally and Naomi Durance, both nurses, hail from the Macleay Valley. Naomi had left home while Sally stayed on the family farm, working only three miles away.  Their mother suffered from cervical cancer, and after months of suffering bad enough that she just wanted to die, Naomi came home to help out. During that visit, their mother dies; what may or may not have happened on that day leaves both with a burden of guilt hanging over them and bad feelings between the sisters.  It isn't long until Naomi writes home with the news that she's enlisting as a military nurse; Sally soon follows and in her own self-punishing way, hopes to engage herself in something bigger, and in another sense, to be rescued. Off first to Egypt, they're soon on board the hospital ship Archimedes taking them into the waters off the Dardanelles and Gallipoli, where hundreds of  casualties were ferried and put on its decks and small wards to be tended by the physicians, nurses and orderlies.  Later they are sent to France, where their patients now include victims of the new German weapon, gas.  From Gallipoli to the continent, the nurses find that by leaving their small Australian town, they've moved into the center of history -- yet also into lives that are much more complex than they could have ever previously realized. They must also suffer their own indignities and horrors on top of tending to the suffering of the physically and psychologically-damaged soldiers.  As they do so, the war provides a testing ground for individual mettle, resilience and spirit, and -- to paraphrase the author -- a venue for teaching these women about their weaknesses and at the same time educating them in the nature of the kind of women they are.

Australian nurses on board a hospital ship, 1915. From Gallipoli and the Anzacs, Australian Government Dept. of Veterans Affairs

For the most part, I liked Daughters of Mars.  While it's a wonderful tribute to some largely-unsung heroes, if you're looking for a happy story, this is definitely not it, and  it's not a tale for the easily queasyInjuries are described with no sugar coating, as are a number of the treatments the wounded had to undergo.  There  is also a large focus on death and life in this novel: there are soldiers who are aware they're going to die, there is much about mercy killing, and a rather disturbing scene where men are shot for attempting to commit suicide. It's a perfect book for a casual reader although I must say for me it was a bit too long -- and sometimes overly detailed.   I pretty much skimmed the love stories in this novel -- while I know that people fall in love in life, these episodes just went on too long for my taste.  As a warning, there are no quotation marks for conversations, and many reviewers have complained about the surprising ending (definitely a departure from the norm)  which I won't give away.   But overall, definitely recommended.   I will also be reading much more of Keneally's work over the rest of the year. 

  The Asylum, by John Harwood

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013
272 pp


I have to be rather honest here. This is the third book I've read by John Harwood -- I loved his The Ghost Writer, which was longlisted for the Miles Franklin Prize in 2005, and I also enjoyed The Seance, his second book.  Compared to those two, this one is not as good, and for me, not so mysterious as I feel a gothic-style novel should be.  Having said that, let me just say that it's getting multi-star ratings so it's one you need to try on your own.  This is probably one of the ultimate beach reads this year.

I took The Asylum off my shelves to read just days after my book group had read Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey -- you know, the one where young Catherine Morland has become so swept up in reading Gothic novels that it causes her a few problems down the road.  As is my usual habit, I first read the dust-cover blurb:

"Confused and disoriented, Georgina Ferrars awakens in Tregannon House, a private asylum in a remote corner of England. She has no memory of the past few weeks. The doctor, Maynard Straker, tells her that she admitted herself under the name Lucy Ashton the day before, then suffered a seizure. When she insists he has mistaken her for someone else, Dr. Straker sends a telegram to her uncle, who replies that Georgina Ferrars is at home with him in London... Suddenly her voluntary confinement becomes involuntary."

Oooh! oooh! I'm thinking, I can't wait to get into this one! I love Gothic novels and I like Gothic-style novels, and I'm a sucker for historical novels where people end up in an asylum, so this seemed right up my alley.  For a while it was. 

Related in three parts, the novel starts with Georgina/Lucy's arrival and her stay at Tregannon House. She can't help but wonder why she picked the name Lucy Ashton, and starts wondering if whether or not there was some "strain of madness" in her family. Telling herself  "not to think about it," she thinks instead about her childhood with her mother and great-aunt, another interesting story, set on a cottage about fifty yards from a cliff on the Isle of Wight.  An escape only leads to more questions, as she sees Georgina Ferrars in her uncle's home and then returned to Tregannon House.  As she's considering a second attempt, she stumbles upon her old writing case, leading to Part Two, which helps in some ways to clear up the mystery of what's going on, by going back in time to when her own mother was a young girl. 

While Part One held my interest completely; Part Two also intrigued for a while until the story started to become so obvious that I figured out most of what had happened and what was going to happen, so by Part Three, I just wanted to finish the book.  Certainly no mystery there -- and the transparency of it all sidelined my enjoyment. There were also so many implausible things happening here that it stopped being fun.  What I did like very much was the atmosphere the author created from the contemporary present in Tregannon House to a cottage on the Isle of Wight and even further back in time, to the realm of Victorian high society.  He sets up his story so that you don't know who you can trust in this book, which is a plus -- I love dubious characters and trying to sort them all out vis-a-vis their relationship with the main characters in this novel.   But overall, I wasn't that fond of this novel, and felt let down, which is a shame, since I liked his other two books so much. 

The Asylum is  getting really good reviews from several readers so maybe they see something in it that I didn't.  It just didn't do it for me.

fiction from Australia

Thursday, June 6, 2013

*Constance, by Patrick McGrath

Bloomsbury USA, 2013
240 pp


Have you ever come across one of those novels where you can't stand a single character in the book and yet the writing is so good that you are addicted? Or how about this: there are two narrators, and you don't know if you can trust either of them? It makes things a bit difficult, to say the least, while you're reading.

The first paragraph is a dead giveaway that things are not going to go well at all in this story as we first meet the title character.  Constance, it seems, has daddy issues: 
"My name is Constance Schuyler Klein. The story of my life begins the day I married an Englishman called Sidney Klein and said goodbye forever to Ravenswood and Daddy and all that went before. I have a husband now, I thought, a new daddy. I intended to become my own woman. I intended, oh I intended everything. I saw myself reborn. Gone forever the voice of scorn and disapproval, the needling querulous voice so unshakeable in its conviction that I was worthless, worse than worthless, unnecessary."
and judging by the fact that she sees in Sidney a "new daddy," they aren't the kind that aren't going to be going away any time soon.  Constance's need to start over with this new daddy figure and make good is something she calls her "repetition compulsion complex," a strange phrase for someone who, as the reader finds out later, doesn't believe in going to psychiatrists.  For his part, Sidney, “a manipulating, pompous  "authority on Romantic poetry” and much older than Constance with two failed marriages under his belt, is initially attracted by her beauty, youth, naïveté and her aura of "angry untouchability."  His first feelings for her are "strong emotions rooted in lust."  On their first date, over coffee, she begins to unload about her childhood, her sister Iris, and their life in a home with the deliciously Gothic name of Ravenswood overlooking the Hudson. Her story has appeal to Sidney, a "sentimental man"  who, of course, sees it as a "Romantic cliché",
"The old house with its tower on a bluff above the river, and this beautiful girl, clearly in flight from who knows what horrors she’d suffered there, ... But for that I liked it all the more."
Constance's mother died when she was twelve, leaving her to take care of Iris. When she starts talking about her father, Sidney picks up on the fact that Daddy (a retired doctor by the name of Morgan Schuyler) is an issue with her.  At first, she sees in Sidney someone older with whom she can feel safe, and he recognizes a "sickness" in Constance which fosters a desire to love and protect her. He willingly  "took on Daddy’s role as best I could," hoping to be the "source of order  in her life.”  In short, it's a relationship where Constance remains the child, and Sidney is happy for a while to play the dad role;  he also takes it upon himself to lecture her, as he does (or did for a while) with the students he invites to his apartment, trying to impress on her how she should think  -- not the healthiest basis for a marriage. 

The arrival of sister Iris doesn't help much -- she's come to New York, unsure that she wants to go to med school (a dream of their father's) and  falls for an older pianist (a lounge-lizard sort) named Eddie in an old  hotel, a relationship that does not please Constance.  Sidney sees Iris as a person with "messy vitality," and his acceptance and attention to her makes Constance jealous, old patterns repeated. He also sees Schuyler as just a sad old man.  At Christmas Sidney and Constance travel to Ravenswood, with Sidney's young son Howard (whose mother is dying), and they aren't there long before Morgan Schuyler drops a bombshell and "everything properly went to hell."  Aha, but there are more secrets waiting in the wings. As they begin to unravel, so does Constance. She becomes increasingly bitter and self absorbed, swinging into spoiled-brat mode, turning toward rebellion and a need to punish, even using Eddie to put Sidney into “the hell of sexual jealousy.” (As an aside, Eddie is probably one of the more interesting characters in this book, and although he has a strong role here, he's pretty much neglected -- which is a shame.)  Sadly, the psychological fallout of her obsessions with her past rains down on herself and everyone close to her in unexpected ways, for example, during sex when she makes Sidney call her Iris.

From everything I've read review-wise, people are saying that the author's earlier books are so much better than this one, and the general feeling is one of disappointment. I've only read one book of his, Asylum (which I loved), but now I think I need to go back and acquaint myself with the others so I can understand why people feel this way.  This book is chaotic -- chock full of neuroses, a search for identity, self destruction, decline, and death all taking place alongside the demolition of Penn Station, which Sidney sees as unnecessary and just one more sign that civilization is going down the toilet in the city. The author writes a very credible 1960s atmosphere, and there is also a great touch of the creepies and the gothic, especially around Ravenswood. The house is  falling apart, a byproduct of the secrets it has held for years, and there's a strange, almost Danvers-like housekeeper, a woman who "absorbed no light and gave none out”  and stayed on to help raise the sisters after their mother died. Yet, given the atmosphere, and the ratcheting up of tension throughout, I really expected something much darker and more sinister with every new revelation -- instead, and disappointingly,  there's really nothing so earth shattering here -- just a lot of neurotic people for whom I had very little sympathy or for that matter, any empathy. There's so much post-mortemizing of every event on both sides that it tends to get old after a while.  And, as for Constance, she's  by no means a sympathetic character, and frankly, much less credible than I would have expected.   At the same time, there's just something addictive about this book which I just can't put my finger on that kept me reading, waiting for a big payoff that for me, just didn't materialize.  

Sunday, June 2, 2013

June: So much for the tbr challenge: books written this year

With the best of intentions, every year I take up someone's Mount TBR reading challenge and every year I  fail because I get tend to get caught up in what's newly released.  This year looks like more of the same, but I've finally decided I'm not going to stress over it.

This month I'm mostly exploring books that have been written in 2013, with maybe a few exceptions to ease my conscience and to have something to post for my involvement in the TBR challenge.  I don't have a set-in-stone list of books, but I'm considering the following:
  • A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, by Anthony Marra:  this month's Powell's Indiespensable choice as well as the Book Passage Signed First Editions Club choice -- so you can bet at the end of the month this book will be on the book giveaway list)
  • Aftermath, by Rhidian Brook:  a highly-rated novel found while perusing some UK readers' Goodreads shelves for ideas
  • Ghana Must Go, by Tanye Selasi:  another Book Passage Signed First Editions Club choice (this one may also be on the giveaway list since I have two copies)
  •   21:37, by Mariusz Czubaj:  I LOVE Polish crime fiction and according to the back-cover blurb, the action in this book  pushes the protagonist "into the darkest regions of the human soul," definitely my kind of novel 
  • The Panopticon, by Jenni Fagan:  a bonus book (ARC) included with this month's Indiespensable goodies
  • Black Star Nairobi, by Mukuma Wa Ngugi: the second and brand spankin' new installment in a crime-fiction series published by Melville House (part of their June celebration of International Crime Month).  
  • TransAtlantic,  by Colum McCann:  I just couldn't pass this one up after Let the Great World Spin, which I really liked
  • Betrayal, by Giorgio Scerbanenko: His A Private Venus was an amazing first-in-series crime fiction novel so obviously I have to read the second
  • The Professor of Truth, by James Robertson:  Another I found perusing reader shelves
  • The Killing of Emma Gross, by Damien Seaman: I am utterly fascinated with Germany's Weimar period in which this book is set, so I have to give this one a try.
I'll probably not be able to read all of these but I'll definitely give it a try, and I'll be adding my casual-reader thoughts on Patrick McGrath's Constance,  Thomas Keneally's The Daughters of Mars, and in the crime zone, Fuminori Nakamura's newest book, Evil and the Mask.

okay -- gotta fly