Wednesday, December 31, 2014

looking ahead to 2015 -- you know, tomorrow...

The Great American novel. Is there such a thing? Throughout 2015,  I'm going to try to find it, if it exists. Or maybe it will take me a lot longer.  Doesn't matter.

I've been spending an ungodly amount of time going through bookshelves at my house lately, and have come to the conclusion that of all things, there are less American novels here than from any other country.  It  hit me that I'm sorely lacking in  knowledge re my own nation's authors so I've made up my mind to make their work my central reading focus for 2015.  Hours of research later, I've got a list of writers to get me started, in chronological order, no less. I'll pop in from time to time with the contemporary stuff, but I love having a direction, as in the case of my crime reading where I'm focusing on obscure/forgotten women mystery/crime writers.  Any ideas at all will be helpful and most appreciated.

On tap to start: The Coquette (1797) and The Boarding School, by Hannah Webster Foster.

 This is going to be a great reading year.

Monday, December 29, 2014

in short, it's been a terrible month...

this isn't my photo, but it was me for pretty much most of December.  I still have a little moodfunk going on, but it's slowly getting better, and I'm slowly crawling out of it.  It's not easy. But this is a reading journal, not a place where I spill my guts about my personal life, so on with the show.

The joy that I normally get out of a few hours (or in the case of Blood Meridian - a couple of weeks) with a book just wasn't there for me this month, so the reading list is quite short.

First, in the realm of literature, there was Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy, and I have to say that if I hadn't finished when I actually did, I probably would have been even more down than I was.  Thank god for good timing.  And thank god for my online group whose opinions & interpretations of this novel really helped me to understand it better than I could have reading it alone.  I've already shared my experience reading this book -- talking about it with other people whose opinions I value was one of the highlights of my reading year.    Second and last comes a new book from Penguin, Blood-Drenched Beard by Daniel Galera (from Brazil),  which was hard work but trust me when I say that it was well worth the effort. I haven't completely wrapped my head around it yet, but the first thing I did after reading it was to grab my copy of Borges' Collected Fictions and reread "The South," which was mentioned early on in this novel. What a huge difference it made to my understanding of Blood-Drenched Beard, but then again, I'm one of those people who feel like life's answers are all there in Borges' works.  I'll be writing about Galera's novel shortly -- it doesn't come out until January 22nd, but I'm happy I didn't have to wait that long.  It's an oh my god kind of read for the right person.

Next I move on to the crime zone, starting with the latest read, Escape, by Dominique Manotti. A leftie at heart, I appreciated this novel not only for its look back into the past, but for its implications that truth can be so easily buried and controlled by whoever holds the political reins at the moment. This is a novel about using the written word, even  fiction, to "salvage" the truth, and to give a voice to the reality and  to the people who lived it.  Moving on, another very dark read which I probably should have saved until my mental state was a little brighter is Celia Dale's A Dark Corner.  This book is one in my ongoing project to read the work of obscure (or at least forgotten) women crime novelists, and it just laid me flat with its darkness. Not one for the squeamish for sure, but that's more because of the ugliness that lives in one man.  Another one pulled from obscurity that I probably should have waited to read is They Rang Up the Police by Joanna Cannan, but here's the thing: it started out as a kind of silly crime novel written in 1939, complete with bumbling local cops, exaggerated class attitude etc., all the things one would expect of a novel at that time. Then the ending came along, and I was horrified.  On two lighter notes, however, there was The Devil in Montmartre, by Gary Imbinder, and Moriarty, by Anthony Horowitz.  The Devil in Montmartre is historical crime fiction, set in a Paris that's just been through the Dreyfus Affair and Moriarty -- well, a clever little book about the London criminal underworld after the events at Reichenbach Falls.

Only one dark fiction/horror novel in December -- The Cormorant, by Stephen Gregory --   yet another one that did not help in the cheering up department. I haven't really discussed this one (next month, when my mental state isn't still in the toilet) but if depressing is what the author was going for, he did it. Bleak, but not-so-inexplicably excellent in its bleakness.

That leaves the realm of nonfiction, and again, just one book in this department, Ice Ship: The Epic Voyages of the Polar Adventurer Fram, by Charles W. Johnson.  It's a look at a ship, of all things...not just any ship, but the one that on its third voyage took Amundsen to Antarctica when he successfully made a run to be first at the South Pole. That was probably the cheeriest book of them all this month.  I sort of find that a little sad in its own way.

the end, and I hope with the end of this month coming up very shortly here, I can put all of the bleak sh*t aside and move along. There's just something so nice about a new year on its way -- especially for me, especially right now.

Monday, December 15, 2014

another mystery from the vault of obscure: They Rang Up the Police, by Joanna Cannan

Written in 1939, They Rang Up the Police by Joanna Cannan  is quite frankly, unlike any other mystery novel from this period I've read so far in my long mystery/crime-fiction reading career.  It has a psychological aspect to it that is just downright chilling, but one which I can't explore by writing about it since basically it would give away the entire show all at once.  It's a book where I ended up with nothing but total sympathy for the murderer, something that rarely happens and as I noted on the crime page, just felt right to me. There is a lot of craziness in this novel that masks what ultimately turns out to be a downright heartbreaking story where justice just might have been served in its own way.  

This book is #3 in my ongoing quest to read obscure crime-fiction novels written by unknown or forgotten women authors, and so far, I've had extremely good luck.  They Rang Up the Police is another English country house mystery, and my favorite so far.  Trust me. Even if you think you've read them all, there are still some surprises to be found in this genre.  It also ain't Agatha Christie by any stretch of the imagination.  

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

captain's log: reading Blood Meridian: Or The Evening Redness in the West, by Cormac McCarthy

I should make it very clear at the outset that this is not a review of this book, nor is it a post where someone looking for any sort of revelations about Judge Holden, the Kid, or what McCarthy's saying here will discover anything at all.

Instead, it's about two and a half moleskine notebooks (large size) being filled  with close-reading notes, with observations, vocabulary, googled references to Shakespeare, the Bible and other sources,  lightbulb moments, a bazillion questions, and pink and blue highlighting over the course of a couple of weeks.  It's about getting stuck in a world that is difficult to leave, even when you've left it. It's about getting one chapter shy of the end and wondering if I can take any more that day because I was just too depressed to move on.

It's just that kind of book.  And I loved it.

As I made my way through it, I started posting status updates about it on Goodreads.  I started it on 11/19 and immediately realized this wasn't going to be something I could just mark with my little sticky tabbies on the page edges and come back to later.  Each and every paragraph had something in it that made reading it pretty much line by line a necessity.  First real entry, 11/28 with

page 44: 13% -- "Loving every slow second of this book."

page 84: 24% -- "I don't remember the last time I read something this intense. Going slow to get the most from it."
 -- In truth I was really barely crawling through this book, making very s-l-o-w progress. On the home front, Larry was actually here that day (not traveling), and I told an online friend I planned to read all day if he didn't need me. In my head, it was a pretty safe bet that he wouldn't -- as I said to her, "he's pretty busy with writing a speech for work so hopefully that will corral him for a while."  Not four hours later I wrote her that "he's out of his corral.  There may be "Evening Redness in the East" if I keep having to listen to his speech after every addition."

12/01: -- I noted "Super progress today - this book gets darker and darker, but better and better with every chapter."
-- In the real world, I had read up to page 124.  Then at around 4:00 that day, since I'd just been sitting there reading the entire time, Larry comes downstairs and says, "do you know you're wearing the same clothes you had on yesterday? The pants are inside out."  I was absolutely horrified but then I just started laughing. He looks at the table where I'm sitting and I could almost read his mind. There was the coffee cup I'd used that morning, still half full; my half-eaten lunch quesadilla still on a plate on the placemat to the right, a bunched-up paper napkin with dried-up tangerine peels on top of it just sitting there, and the Neilsen tv diaries (most days marked "no viewing")  I was supposed to have mailed 2 days earlier. Oh well. Nothing I can do about that now.  Actually he made me feel like one of those world of warcraft addicts that sits in front of a computer screen all day, and I didn't blame him at all. I just took a shower and changed my clothes.

12/02: -- Page 152, and "Oops. I got so wrapped up I forgot it was my turn to cook today."

Holy crap. How does someone forget to make dinner? Blame it on the book. I was really wrapped up in the novel that day and did not want to stop. Larry came downstairs took a look at the once-again world-of-warcraft station (the breakfast room table) and says "where are we eating tonight?"  In my house that's a serious question because where we live you have pretty much no choices - eating at a decent place requires a minimum 20-minute drive. I was in no condition to leave the house. I had my hair in a scrunchie on the top of my head with strands leaking out every which way; I was wearing a pair of comfy yoga pants that Larry keeps telling me to throw away because the elastic has been pretty much dead for a year and at that point, the thought of going upstairs to put on any kind of makeup and real clothes was just too much work.   We used to go to the neighborhood Italian for pizza when we were desperate, but they closed because the manager's such a cow and had huge staff turnover. There's another smaller little pizza place that smells like cheese the minute you walk in and they don't deliver so you have to go in and face the cheese smell if you want to eat, so that's out. Then there's one nearby Chinese restaurant where you have to be pretty desperate to eat since they give you yesterday's grey, stringy pork in today's pork fried rice and their eggroll drips with so much grease that you take one look at the paper it's wrapped in and just want to puke -- so that was out too. I'm getting desperate  because he's hungry and I'm feeling guilty, so we call the one place left where you won't die if you eat the food. Next day I had to give up reading to atone and made homemade pasta.

12/04: -- by now I've read to page 232, and my status update said: "109 pages until the end. My brain hurts." Well, evidently my brain wasn't even functioning at that time, because there are 351 pages in my book so I was off by like 10 pages. I wasn't joking though. My brain really did hurt.  By now I also started feeling like the South Park kids in that episode where they're all playing world of warcraft and can't leave their computers so they get really fat (of course, while I'm reading this intently, my regular exercise has become a freakin' chore I just don't want to do).  I'm also neglecting things again.  Larry came down at one point during the day and asked me when the dogs had gone out last and I swear I couldn't remember.

 I'd looked in on the group at the end of the day to see how everyone was progressing, and the discussion about what the letters branded on one of the character's face meant had come to a close. My friend in the group says something along the lines of "well, we can all sleep soundly knowing that we've answered a few questions today," and I figured that she's so right -- not because I was thinking about questions answered, but because I was just exhausted from spending my days so focused on reading this novel. I mean, this is NOT the easiest book to read because it's pretty philosophical and you absolutely must pay attention to language use in this novel, and on top of that, it's emotionally draining to get through scenes of scalping, wanton violence and murder, etc.

12/05 -- no updates, but  as it happened, I reported back to the group that morning in response to the "sleep soundly" post,  that
"I'm giving the book a pass today. I didn't sleep soundly -- I was dreaming of being in Texas in the desert and seeing St. Elmo's fire, so I think I need to walk away for a day."
It was true. Instead of a horse, though, I was in a car and on the side of the car was a huge red white and blue logo in the shape of the state of Texas and as I was being driven through, all kinds of horrible stuff was going on all around.

I also noted that
"I can't remember a book that has so gotten under my skin that it reproduces itself in nightmares. And it wasn't even the violence -- I've been thinking about it all morning and it was more my ongoing idea as I've been reading that the landscape in this book reminds me of hell. I'm not religious at all, but dreaming of being in hell is never a good thing. "
Let's just say that I've read books that were so creepy that I couldn't get to sleep -- but this nightmare thing was new.

The weekend comes along now, and so I actually need to spend time with my spousal unit who has to leave Monday for a week, so I read a little but not until Sunday. That night I had to go to a neighborhood Christmas party and that day I realized just how far I'd let myself go being stuck in this book for so long -- I went to the grocery store and bought Nestle's pre-made refrigerator cookies, stuck them all on 2 baking sheets and threw them in the oven. That was my contribution. I love to cook, but I had absolutely zero energy ... I just wanted to read.  I went for an hour or so -- thankfully they put desserts in the back room so I didn't have to claim ownership. The store-bought cookies remained anonymous.  So - at the same party, someone asked me what I was reading and I opened my mouth to say Blood Meridian but I was afraid she would ask me what it was about and I didn't want to go there.

12/08 --
My coffee pot died this morning.  My faithful workhorse grind-and-brew Capresso coffee maker just quit working after seven years, so now I'm down to the pod machine. That is not real coffee by any stretch of the imagination.  The day started out poorly. I made a note about it on Facebook because my friends and family know that coffee for me is the elixir of life. Yes. A first-world problem, but still.  I need coffee when I read.

I shouldn't have spent the entire day reading with no one here to give me a reality check. Larry left in the morning, but not before telling me that a guy from A-1 leak detection is coming on Thursday to take a look at our pool to see if he can find and fix the leak, and that I needed to fill it on Wednesday.  I knew deep down that I would totally forget and the guy would show up so I actually had to write down on the calendar for Wednesday that I needed to fill the pool and at what time.  Otherwise, and I swear this is true -- he would have shown up Thursday probably to a completely empty swimming pool.  Also, to prove that I could actually get away from the book and do what needed doing around here, I threw a load of laundry in the washing machine. It was still there when I went to bed that night. Ah, but that was the day when I started the dreaded chapter 22, which was so disheartening I had trouble sleeping that night. Laundry getting moldy in my washing machine was nothing in comparison. I forgot to eat today.

12/9 -- Today's evening update entry reads
"Today chapter XXII damn near did me in. I have to say, this book is so incredibly outstanding - but probably the most emotionally pulverizing."
 I wake up and remember after wondering where the hell's my coffee maker that it no longer exists. I walk to the pod machine (it's in this little niche where there used to be a wonderful huge pantry, but no, the former owners of this house decided to make it a stupid and useless butler's pantry) and open the coffee pod drawer and it's filled with Larry's latte pods, some decaf espresso and then paydirt -- "real" espresso so I fix that. Gross. I can't take the coffee situation any longer so I decide to do something about it. . Like getting takeout, that's easier said than done where I live.  The only place to buy a coffee maker without driving 20 minutes is the local grocery store. Have you ever seen the selection of coffee makers at your local grocery store? I hadn't either.  My choice was Mr. Coffee 4-cup brew or the 12-cup model.  So I decide on the 12-cup and put it in the basket. Taking it out of the cart to put it up onto the checkout counter thingie I twisted my back somehow and it was all I could do to get home and throw on a heat wrap so I can make it through the day. I was supposed to go to lunch with my friends but now I'm sort of stuck at home.  So instead of feeling really awful about missing lunch, I think "oh cool. I can finish the book today!"  which is terrible, because the purpose of the lunch was to help cheer up a woman whose  very young son had just passed away.

That final chapter was just so draining and downright depressing that at some point during the day, I posted to the group

"Can we read like "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm" or its equal next?"

 By the end of the day I only have 4 pages to go ... but I can't take any more so I have to stop reading.

12/10: "marked as read."

Up at 4:30 a.m. and enjoying my coffee, although I must say that Starbucks Rwanda Rift Valley is less than perfect  through a Mr. Coffee machine. I look over at the table (which once again, now that Larry's not here. looks like the good old world of warcraft station) and the book is beckoning.  I can't do it. I haven't had enough coffee yet to get through the horrors of those last four pages.  Later I go out and turn on the hose to fill the pool, setting the timer on the microwave so that I won't forget to turn off the water in my reading haze because I would have.  I finally have enough guts to get started on the book and I finish the last chapter. Then I puzzle through the epilogue, filling more pages in my notebook, and  adding even more questions I want to bring to the group.  I must say, I would have done a happy dance after having finished it but a) it's not that kind of book and b) if you've read it, the words "happy" and "dance" just don't sit well together, especially in the last chapter.

I'm glad it's over, but now I'm sort of feeling like I'm suffering from book-related PTSD. I can't explain it any better than that. The killer part is that reading it was the easy part -- now I have to go through and put things together in my head and relive it all over again.  But it's well worth it. It turned out to be the epitome of book excellence.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

November reading roundup

How appropriate this little piece of art is at the moment, since I am currently reading McCarthy's Blood Meridian with my online group.  I've only just started chapter five but without a doubt, it's definitely the best book I've read this year.  Forget those lists of 2014 favorites I've been writing about  -- Blood Meridian blows them all away. I'll be hard pressed to find another book that I love this well over the next year.

down to business now. The books I was well in the mood to read in November are:

A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki 
This Dark Road to Mercy, by Wiley Cash

Dark Prophecy, by Marjorie Alan
Postscript to Poison, by Dorothy Bowers
Build My Gallows High, by Geoffrey Homes
Rustication, by Charles Palliser
Double Indemnity, by James M. Cain

The Disunited States, by Vladimir Pozner 

weird fiction/horror/fantasy/sci-fi
Revival, by Stephen King 
Our Lady of Pain, by John Blackburn (Valancourt ed.) 

other stuff in my reading life this month
 The book group is on a break, returning mid-December to discuss The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown.  I've already started to hear negatives from people -- based on comments, here's my thinking: people are way too caught up in little details and are missing the bigger picture.  

the smaller book group   just read A Tale for the Time Being this month -- again, the grumbles about detail. 

currently reading
Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy -- I have to say that the people in my online group are  incredibly intelligent and insightful, and it makes for an excellent reading experience.

Moriarity, by Anthony Horowitz

that's it -- I'm discovering that going with my gut on reading choices and not trying to be any kind of trendy is so liberating. Everyone should try it.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

new from indieville: the demon who peddled longing, by Khanh Ha

Underground Voices, 2014
291 pp

paperback; arc  - thanks!

 Khanh Ha is a Vietnamese author whose book Flesh I read sometime back and enjoyed. He is a three-time Pushcart nominee as well as the recipient of Greensboro Review’s 2014 Robert Watson Literary Prize in Fiction. His work has also appeared in several magazines and journals.   His newest book, the demon who peddled longing is just now out,  published by Underground Voices.
In this book, the author unearths the darker side of human nature as his young (19 years old)  protagonist, known only as "the boy," sets out on a quest for revenge. What happens to him during his journey is the focus of this very interesting novel.

In a better time in his past, the boy had fallen in love with his cousin, the daughter of the uncle who raised him. He makes no apologies for the situation, and one day out of nowhere, she simply disappeared.  When he finally finds her, she's been dead for two days, and had been brutally raped. To make matters worse, his uncle was bitten by a venomous snake while making a visit to his daughter's grave. The boy has kept that hurt with him since and it has caused some deep pain and psychological damage which he's carried with him on his mission to find the two men who caused her death. He knows only that he's looking for two brothers, and he's been roaming around trying to find them and make them pay for what they did. His travels lead him to some very interesting encounters with different people who have to shoulder their own torments just to carry on living.

At its heart, the demon who peddled longing is good story, and the wide variety of characters rule this book from its beginning. The tale of the boy has a circular feel with the end returning to its beginning as though the boy has returned with life lessons under his belt and gets a chance to start over again. It also examines the continuing legacies of the war in Vietnam. And as original as the story may be, I just wasn't in love with the book as a whole.  My biggest issue here is that the writing is really uneven. There are sections of the book that flow along so nicely and then it's like you hit another section where words just sort of explode all around you and the flow just stops and starts in on a ramble. I get that every writer has his/her own style, but the effect is pretty jarring to the reader. There are also a number of scenes that imo were way too drawn out, going on too long -- for example, do we really need to be repeatedly put through a man's boils bursting and pus oozing, etc. etc.? Or did we really need an entire page on a wife ministering to her impotent, wheelchair-bound husband? Sometimes less is so much more ... I think more judicious editing would have been a really good thing.

I read this book as part of a book tour, and even though I've quit accepting so many of these requests, I took on this one because I have a soft spot for  the author whom I first became aware of with his earlier novel Flesh.  I remember how in that novel I was wowed by his descriptive talent, something he showcases here as well. Despite my own issues with this book, it is garnering several four and five-star reviews among its readers. I hope it does very well.


Monday, November 24, 2014

think obscure -- part two. This time it's Marjorie Alan.

MS Mill, 1945
originally published in England as Masked Murder
188 pages


Talk about obscure -- while researching this author, all I could find on her is the following: 

real name: Doris Marjorie Bumpus
born: 1905
number of books: eight, published between 1945 and 1956 

One would think that a crime writer with eight novels under her belt would be more widely known, but I've scoured the internet and have come up with absolutely nothing other than what I've written here, absolutely bupkus on Bumpus. If anyone at all has any information about this author, please share -- I would love to know more.  In the meantime, she wrote an okay mystery novel of the English country home murder variety, the first of her eight called Dark Prophecy that I've written about on the crime page.  

popping out all over! More best books of 2014 -- part six

Just in time for Black Friday (sorry, but I'm a cynical person), more best of 2014 lists have appeared.

Let's start with "The Ten Best Books of 2014" from The Washington Post.
 (in order of appearance)

1. A Brief History of Seven Killings, by Marlon James
2. Fourth of July Creek, by Smith Henderson 
3. The Narrow Road to the Deep North, by Richard Flanagan 
(...that's good to know, since I'm going to read it here shortly)
4. The Paying Guests, by Sarah Waters 
(I'll definitely agree)
5. Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel
6. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, by Atul Gawande
7. Berlin: Portrait of a City Through the Centuries, by Rory MacLean
8. Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder and the Battle for Modern New Orleans, by Gary Krist
9. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, by Elizabeth Kolbert
10. Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh, by John Lahr

As an added bonus, you can also find the Washington Post's selection of the best fifty fiction books of 2014 in the same issue. 

Moving right along, Tim Martin of the Telegraph in the UK says, "forget Amis, McEwan, and the Booker winner" -- he has his own standouts for the year (or at least up through Christmas...same thing).  After sweating through Kirkus' top 100, I'll just leave you the link to Martin's choices. They are legion. 

Flavorwire has its own take on the top books -- "2014's Best Indie Fiction and Poetry Books of 2014." There are fifty books in this list, so again, I won't reproduce them, but  I will say that while I don't often read Flavorwhile, kudos to them for focusing on the smaller publishing houses.  You can see them for yourself in the article, but I'll mention a few here:

Two Dollar Radio
New Directions
Melville House
OR Books

and many, many more.  It's about time these little presses were publicly acknowledged in a wider reading venue -- and good on you, Flavorwire for doing so. 

That's it for now -- I'm sure that the cheap TVs, toys,  DVD players, gaming systems and other such things people stand in line for over a period of hours will be the hot ticket items again this year, but  all of those things will become obsolete next year, and books never go out of style. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

best of 2014, part five: Publisher's Weekly

Somehow, I overlooked Publisher's Weekly last week, but they've also jumped on the pre-Thanksgiving  best of 2014 books list bandwagon early this year. Less in the mainstream than any other list I've noted here, PW's top ten is a varied mix of nonfiction and fiction, with two books coming from Graywolf Press and one from Europa.   Here's what PW has to say:

"Each November, our reviews editors look back at the nearly 9,000 titles we reviewed over the course of the year and pick favorites in several categories: fiction, poetry, mystery/thriller, SF/fantasy/horror, romance/erotica, comics, picture books, middle grade, and young adult. From those longlists, the editors choose an overall top 10, including five each of the year’s best fiction and nonfiction titles."

 Here's their top ten (offered in the order as they are listed on the website):

On Immunity: An Education, by Eula Bliss  (nonfiction)
Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin and Sadat at Camp David, by Lawrence Wright (nonfiction)
The Corpse Exhibition and Other Stories of Iraq, by Hassan Blasim
Limonov, by Emmanuel Carrère (nonfiction)
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, by Elena Ferrante
A Brief History of Seven Killings, by Marlon James
The Empathy Exams, by Leslie  Jamison (nonfiction)
Bark, by Lorrie Moore
The Dog, by Joseph O'Neill
Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle that Set Them Free, by Héctor Tobar

Monday, November 17, 2014

Stephen King's Revival

Scribner, 2014
403 pp


" may be strange, but it is true, and the ancients knew what lifting the veil means." 

My quotation is not from Revival,but rather from Arthur Machen's "The Great God Pan,"  a favorite story that seems to have been an influence on King in the writing of this book. It also influenced author HP Lovecraft, whose influence comes shining through here in no small way.   In fact, there is a lot of literary influence in this novel, but let's just say it won't be appearing on this year's list of my favorite books.  I think having read so much of Lovecraft (and the authors he's influenced over the years) sort of spoiled it for me, so in a way, it's not the author's fault that I didn't like this one as much as I might have.    It's kind of like seeing a movie then going back to read the book -- you already know what's going to happen so there's less of an impact when the ending comes around.  While reader reviews and star ratings rank this book quite high, like usual, I'm fighting the current here. You can click here to discover why.

oops! A part four has emerged: this one from Library Reads

from Shelf Awareness today:

"Library Reads, the nationwide library staff-picks list, has released its inaugural annual "Favorite of Favorites" list--the top 10 titles that public library staff most enjoyed recommending in 2014, in order of voting."  

Here we go:

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin  
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion  
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr  
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt 
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, 
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel  
One Plus One by Jojo Moyes  
Landline by Rainbow Rowell 
Longbourn by Jo Baker  

Kirkus hath spoken: the best fiction books of 2014 -- Part 3 in this year's "best of books" lists

Kirkus has gone all out with its version of the best of the year, offering its readers 100 books it has deemed "best fiction books of 2014."  Here's the full list, in alphabetical order.  Note: Euphoria, by Lily King, won the Kirkus Prize this year. Evidently, I'm reading all of the wrong books.

1. The Fever, by Megan Abbott
2. An Unnecessary Woman, by Rabih Alameddine
3. Song of the Shank, by Jeffery Renard Allen
4. Steles of the Sky, by Elizabeth Bear
5. Broken Monsters, by Lauren Beukes
6. The Bones Beneath, by Mark Billingham
7. Do or Die, by Suzanne Brockman
8. Night Heron, by Adam Brooks
9. The Miniaturist, by Jessie Burton
10. One Kick, by Chelsea Cain

11. A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall, by Will Chancellor
12. The Author and Me, by Eric Chevillard
13.  Monday,Monday, by Elizabeth Crook
14. Romancing the Duke, by Tessa Dare
15. Wolf in White Van, by John Darnielle
16. All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
17. The Wilds, by Julia Elliott
18. Hiding in Plain Sight, by Nurudin Farrah
19.Kill My Mother, by Jules Feiffer
20. Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, by Elena Farrante

21.  All I  Love and Know, by Judith Frank
22. The Secret Place, by Tana French
23.  The Silkworm, by Robert Galbraith
24.  American Innovations: Stories, by Rivka Galchen
25.  The Stories of Jane Gardam, by Jane Gardam
26.  An Untamed State, by Roxane Gay
27.  The Word Exchange, by Alena Graedon
28.  Afterparty, by Daryl Gregory
29. The Magician's Land, by Lev Grossman
30. Tigerman, by Nick Harkaway

31.  In Your Dreams, by Kristan Higgans
32.  The Hour of Lead, by Bruce Holbert
33.  The Blazing World, by Siri Hustvedt
34. The Hunting Gun, by Yasushi Inoue
35. The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing, by Mira Jacob
36. Three Weeks With Lady X, by Eloisa James
37. The Woman Who Borrowed Memories: Selected Stories of Tove Jansson, by Tove Jansson
38. A Map of Betrayal, by Ha Jin
39. Broadchurch, by Erin Kelly
40.  The Last Illusion, by Porochista Khakpour

41.  Euphoria, by Lily King
42. Mr. Mercedes, by Stephen King
43.  Redeployment, by Phil Klay
44. My Struggle: Book Three: Boyhood, by Karl Ove Knaussgard
45. Those Who Wish Me Dead, by Michael Kortya
46. Valour and Vanity, by Mary Robinette Kowal
47. The Moor's Account, by Laila Lalami
48. Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover, by Sarah MacLean
49.  Bird Box, by Josh Malerman
50.  Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

borrowed from
51.  The Invention of Exile, by Vanessa Manko 
52. The Assassination of Margaret Thacher, by Hilary Mantel
53. The Other Language, by Francesca Marciano
54. The Killer Next Door, by Alex Marwood
55. A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, by Eimear McBride
56.   Thunderstruck and Other Stories, by Elizabeth McCracken
57.  The Children Act, by Ian McEwan
58. Defenders, by Will McIntosh
59. All Our Names, by Dinaw Mengestu
60.  Accidents of Marriage, by Randy Susan Meyers

61. Mermaids in Paradise, by Lydia Millett
62. The Red Road, by Denise Mina
63. The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell
64.  Crown of Renewal, by Elizabeth Moon
65. Arcanum, by Simon Morden
66. The Secret Life of William Shakespeare, by Jude Morgan
67. Big Little Lies, by Liane Moriarty
68.  Florence Gordon, by Brian Morton
69. Family Furnishings: Selected Stories, by Alice Munro
70. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, by Haruki Murakami

71.   The Son, by Jo Nesbo
72. Waiting for the Electricty, by Christina Nichol
73. Boy, Snow, Bird, by Helen Oyemi
74. Alphabet, by Kathy Page
75.  The Long Way Home, by Louise Penny 
76. Heroes are my Weakness, by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
77. Lovers at the Chameleon Club, by Francine Prose
78. The Rise and Fall of Great Powers, by Tom Rachman
79. In the Light of What We Know, by Zia Haider Rahman
80.  Lila, by Marilynne Robinson

81. Children of the Revolution, by Peter Robinson
82. The Remedy for Love, by Bill Roorbach
83. Reckless Disregard, by Robert Rotstein
84. Dominion, by CJ Sansom
85. Lock In, by John Scalzi
86. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, by David Shafer
87. Family Life, by Akhil Sharma
88. Shield of Winter, by Nalini Singh
89. How to Be Both, by Ali Smith
90. The Rhesus Chart, by Charles Stross

91. Mr. Bones: Twenty Stories, by Paul Theroux
92. All My Puny Sorrows, by Miriam Toews
93.  Nora Webster, by Colm Toibin
94. Barracuda, by Christos Tsiolkas
95.  The Cold Song, by Linn Ullmann
96.  The Tao of Humiliation, by Lee Upton
97.   Annihilation, by Jeff VanderMeer
98.  The Paying Guests, by Sarah Waters
99. The Martian, by Andy Weir

and whew!

100. Eyrie, by Tim Winton

Friday, November 14, 2014

Think obscure. Think British women writers of the 1930s. Think Dorothy Bowers. WHO?

I don't mind saying that I have become a bit frustrated with a lot of what's out there in crime fiction/mystery writing lately, and so I'm trading in modern for vintage for a while. While my frustration grows in that area,  I've also developed this incredible fascination with British women writers of earlier decades, so when I discovered Dorothy Bowers, I thought, why not give her a try.  I bought her book Postscript to Poison, which was written in 1938, republished by Rue Morgue Press in 2005, and is the subject of a post I just made on the crime page.  So who is Dorothy Bowers?
Rue Morgue Press, 2005
originally published 1938
190 pp

British author Dorothy Bowers  died ten years after the publication of this novel from tuberculosis.  Bowers had wanted to "make creative literary work" her career, but found herself the owner of  “a fairly regular spate of rejection slips from various editors”  instead.  She also read a great deal, and discovered an "intermittent" attraction to detective fiction, selecting "only ...the best." She eventually started writing mystery novels herself which ultimately led to her being inducted to the detection club in 1948, but her novels soon went out of print.   Thanks to Rue Morgue Press, her works live on and are widely available.  Sadly, she's been overlooked or forgotten at mainstream crime fiction/mystery  info sites like, an oversight which, imho, needs to be corrected.

There are a couple of good articles about Bowers that you can find online -- here's one of them, written by author Christopher Fowler for The Independent; another one is found at the website of Rue Morgue Press.  If anyone has any other sources of info, please let me know.  I would love to know more about her. 

anyway - I enjoyed her book, am ready to read another, so if obscure British crime-writing women are up your alley, you may want to check out what I have to say about the book. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

thank god. Now we don't have to be bombarded with this stuff any more:

just came in via email:

breaking news from the New York Times :

"Amazon and Hachette announced Thursday morning that they have resolved their differences and signed a new multiyear contract, bringing to an official end one of the most bitter publishing conflicts in recent years."

Seriously - there are so many other huge problems in the world, I haven't even paid attention to this one. But at least everyone can move on now and I don't have to keep reading the anti-Amazon columns in Shelf Awareness any more.  

A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki

Viking, 2013
418 pp

I'll admit that I was not even considering  reading A Tale for the Time Being when it first came out, but it got my notice when it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize last year. I remember thinking "a hello kitty lunchbox" smacks of YA and that I just do not do.  That year I'd also decided to quit trying to kill myself reading longlists and shortlists, but I bought the longlisted books anyway thinking I'd get to them someday.  There it sat on my shelf until I got together with a group of three other women to read it and then I was angry at myself that I'd let it go so long. The three other women weren't so crazy about it, but then again, two of them had left it for the day before we were supposed to talk about it before finishing it, so well, you know. Unlike them, I found this book to be very different from the norm, I was intrigued by the metaphysical aspects of the book and the magical realism, and I got very caught up in how past, present and future all come together here.

Ruth Ozeki goes meta here, as the story begins with a novelist named Ruth who lives on an island off the coast of British Columbia. She has been trying to write a memoir about her mother and is suffering from writer's block. Out walking one day, something catches her eye underneath a "massive tangle of bull kelp" which turns out to be a Hello Kitty lunchbox.  She brings it home, prepared to throw it out, but her husband Oliver  discovers that it's definitely not trash. They pull out a stack of Japanese letters, an old watch and a  book, which turns out to be Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu, or In Search of Lost Time, a title that takes on more significance as the story progresses.  Opening the book, they find that it's not Proust at all, but rather the diary of a teenager named Nao.  Ruth believes it may have been a part of the debris from the 2011 tsunami, and becomes intrigued.  She decides to read the book the way it was written -- meaning that rather than sit down and read it cover to cover, she'll read each of Nao's entries separately each day.  The first thing she reads is Nao's introduction:
"Hi! My name is Nao, and I am a time being. Do you know what a time being is? Well, if you give me a moment, I will tell you. 
A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be. As for me, right now I am sitting in a French maid cafe in Akiba Electricity Town, listening to a sad chanson that is playing somewhere in your past, which is also my present, writing this and wondering about you, somewhere in my future. And if you're reading this, then maybe by now you're wondering about me, too."
As Ruth reads, she learns that this diary is not one that's "filled with pink fantasies and nasty fetishes," but rather Nao's purpose is to relate the "fascinating life story" of her great-grandmother, her Jiko, who is 104, a Buddhist nun, Taisho-era novelist, anarchist and feminist. As Ruth has been having problems writing the memoir of her mother, the life-story aspect strikes a chord, but when she learns that Nao has decided to end her own life, to "drop out of time...Exit my existence,"  Ruth slowly begins to become obsessed with knowing what may have happened to this girl.  As it turns out, she learns  much more in the process of reading the diary.

The novel plays out across space and time, going back and forth between past and present, connecting all of the items found in Nao's lunchbox and becoming a sort of dialogue between Nao and Ruth. There are a number of striking parallels in this novel, which I can't really discuss without giving away much of the show, and there are a number of ideas that pass through the pages -- environmental concerns, ethical dilemmas, the possibilities of different outcomes stemming from one choice or one act, the connections between our pasts, presents and futures, the pain, evil and suffering that exists in the world, and the idea that we need to live for the now.   But it's also a book about writing, reading,  -- and maybe most importantly along these lines, it's about a writer's hopes in finding just the right reader.

I'm the first to admit that I'm not very talented in the writing area, so it is really difficult for me to express how very much caught up in this book I became. I'm no literary expert, so I have trouble waxing on about all of things literary experts wax on about. I'm just a reader person, honest with no pretensions at all,  and I don't read to dissect, but rather to learn, to appreciate, and to find something that actually speaks to me.  Reading this book  wasn't simply about wanting to know what happened to Nao and to everyone else involved in this novel even though I did;  it wasn't that there is so much here philosophically that I think I could read it three or four more times and still come up with something new each time, even though there is.   There was just something about the examination of parallel lives across time and space and the connections between them that in Ozeki's very gifted hands, closed down the real world for me and took me into the world(s) that existed in this novel. That may sound stupid, but it's the only way I can really articulate how intensely I lost myself in these pages. If I were a writer, my guess is that I would appreciate that someone lost him or herself in a world I'd created; as a fiction reader, I can only say that it's my highest compliment to a writer.  I loved this book. Bottom line.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

part two in this year's "best of books" lists --

Just over an hour ago, CBS news published's list of top 10 books of 2014.  There is always an ongoing "best books of the year so far" kind of thing at Amazon, but according to the news article, the editorial team at Amazon chose the top 100 out of 480, and decided that these books were top-ten worthy. Here's the list:

Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng
All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeanette, by Hampton Sides*
The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League, by Jeff Hobbs
Redeployment, by Phil Klay
Revival, by Stephen King
Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism and Michael Rockefeller's Tragic Quest for Primitive Art, by Carl Hoffman
The Book of Unknown Americans, by Cristina Henríquez
Big Little Lies, by Liane Moriarty
Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

There's only one book that repeats from the Hudson Booksellers' list, and that is All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr. 

I would love to join the editorial team at Amazon -- getting paid to read? What a great concept! Can I telecommute? 

stay tuned...I'm sure there will be many more "best of 2014" lists to come.

*Take that, Amy Poehler!   Hampton Sides' book is absolutely stunning and deserves a spot on every "best of"  list that comes out this year. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

This Dark Road to Mercy, by Wiley Cash

Wm Morrow, 2014
242 pp


my copy from the publisher, thanks!

The premise of this novel  is a really good one. Two little girls, Easter, twelve and Ruby, six, are taken into foster care at a place described as a facility for youth at risk when their mother dies. Their dad, ex-minor league baseball player Wade, is long out of the picture, having earlier signed away his parental rights. Now he's back again and he wants his children back. He tries to do things above board, but of course, that doesn't work, so he feels his only recourse is to take them.  But he's got a huge problem: while he's on the run with the girls, trying to keep them together as a family and to be a dad,  someone with a financial motive who also wants revenge is hot on Wade's trail, and so is the girls' guardian-ad-litem, an ex-cop whose past continues to haunt him. Yet, even with such a good premise behind this story, there was so much potential for depth here that just wasn't brought out in the telling.

My main issue with this novel is that  I think the author did his readers a disservice by shifting points of view among three different characters. The most poignant voice of the three is Easter, coming across realistically as a twelve year-old girl trying to make sense out of a world that's been upended for her and her little sister more than once. It is really her story -- left without a mom, she's now in the hands of a dad she really doesn't know, and on top of that, she's got her little sister to think of.  Through her voice it becomes obvious that Wade has no clue about how to raise children -- that he wants them because they're his and in his mind, family should be together.  The author's really done a good job with her -- so why move from viewpoint to viewpoint? The story would have been much more powerful, and the theme of the "emotional pull of family" as described on the back cover would have come across so much more powerfully if we saw this story through Easter's eyes.  Brady, the guardian-ad-litem, has his own past issues, and despite his breakup with his wife who got custody of their daughter, he's a good, attentive dad with a kid who has had a happy childhood. The third perspective, that of Pruitt who's after Wade for a combination of personal and monetary reasons, just takes the reader through a long and violent journey that keeps Wade and the girls on the run.  I get that the reader needs the backstory, but still ... I was so taken with Easter that I couldn't wait to get back to her chapters.

I went into this book without any expectations, but in my opinion, there's a lot missing here. As just one example, the reader is introduced to the girls' mom Corinne pretty much just as she's dying from an apparent drug overdose.  We learn later that she met Wade in Alaska, they fell for each other, and ended up in Gastonia, North Carolina, where Wade played minor-league baseball. There's no mention of how she got to such a low point that Easter is reluctant to even call 911:
"I knew how people would think of us when they came inside in a few hours to get Mom and take us away to wherever we'd be going. they'd see that we didn't have any furniture except for a plastic deck chair and two folding chairs that you might take to the beach. And they'd see that me and Ruby didn't have beds but just slept on mattresses on the floor that had mismatched sheets on them. They'd know that I' called them from the corner store because we didn't have a phone, and they'd see that even if we'd had food we didn't have no clean plates to eat from."
Basically, we have no idea what's happened -- and it might have made a difference in whether or not I would have  rooted  for Wade to succeed. Was she a bad mom? Would the girls have been better off with their father?  We don't know.  For that matter, we know very little about Wade,  except that he grew up in North Charleston, played baseball for a while, then got involved in some shady doings.  We know that he's back for another chance at being a dad. That's pretty much it.

Finally, although Wade ultimately steps up to the plate (pardon the pun) and shows how much he cares for his girls, there just isn't enough emotional tug that develops from him  to have made me cheer or clap or say "hey, way to go - now there's a great dad."  Frankly, I had zero sympathy for him at all -- I wasn't, to use the stock phrase, all that much invested in his character.

However, let me say that while this book just wasn't a good fit for this reader, it's getting screaming good reviews everywhere -- people are loving it. There I go swimming upstream again --  I just wanted more depth where I felt there wasn't very much.  I will say, however, that his A Land More Kind Than Home looks really intriguing, so I am definitely planning on picking up a copy.


I read this book for the lovely people at tlc book tours, and I seem to be the last stop on this tour. However, if you want to check out what other people said about this book, you can click here