**spoiler alert** Okay, wow, mind blown. That's the first thing that comes to mind having now finished reading Harlen Coben's fantastic 2001 thriller...more**spoiler alert** Okay, wow, mind blown. That's the first thing that comes to mind having now finished reading Harlen Coben's fantastic 2001 thriller "Tell No One." I almost gave this page-turner (and it really IS a page-turner) FIVE STARS, except one thing. Upon reading the last pages of the book, where the final shocking details finally come out, I sat stunned for a beat, then realized that with everything revealed, I am uncertain if the story makes any sense in the end. In fact, I am pretty certain that the story doesn't make sense at all.
Since I have the "hide entire review because of spoilers" button firmly checked, I can say that Harlan Coben abused the most cherished of all story devices: first-person narrative. I mean, if you pick up a book, and the majority of the story is told in first-person narrative by the protagonist (in this case, Dr. David Beck), one would automatically trust that the narrator as being truthful. Otherwise, the story doesn't have a leg to stand on. Better put, if the author lies to its reader, its a cheap, dirty, nasty, trick. Hitchcock did it once with one of his films (I won't say which one), and I had read that he lived to regret it.
So, here I am, reading and/or salivating at Beck's every word, turning each and every page anxious to find out what Beck will say next, empathizing with this poor innocent man caught up in violent, treacherous mess that has almost nothing to do with him, when it is revealed in the end that he is a murderer after all!! So, when Beck talks of who killed "Brandon Scope?," he is actually lying to us, as he himself pulled the trigger. Oka....NO! You can't do that! I mean...that changes everything, and turns the story from being great, to being non-sensical.
Think about it: Beck kills Brandon Scope in self-defense after being attacked in his home, then...what, he does not consider any and all repercussions??? After he was attacked, and his wife was abducted and murdered, didn't Beck just put two and two together? Also, if Beck killed Scope, he would NOT have had the life he had for the previous eight years, nor would he go through what he went through for the entire book, and some of the clues Beck finds...he already knew! WHAT????????!!!!! In essence, Harlan Coben went too far with all of his twists and turns to the point where he negated his entire novel!!! I should give "Tell No On" ZERO stars just for that alone...
...but I won't. The reason is simple: despite logic, despite its overzealous attempts to twist and turn and shock to the point of absurdity, "Tell No One" is STILL a fantastic book. How can that be, you ask? Well, the fact is...Harlan Coben is such a good writer, and his novel is so free, and easy, and compelling, and nail-biting, that I can't help but love it anyway. I loved it even though I saw the TELL NO ONE movie six years ago, and knew some of the plot points. Alright, Harlan Coben is guilty of an overreach, and cheaply tricking his reader, but did I have a good time reading "Tell No One"? You bet your sweet ass I did. Was I able to put the book down? No. "Tell No One" is a page-turner if there ever was one. Harlan Coben may be a literary criminal, yet all is forgiven.(less)
As much as I admire the work of Dr. John Sarno, and got a lot out of reading his book "The Mindbody Prescription," I struggled to oblivion reading his...moreAs much as I admire the work of Dr. John Sarno, and got a lot out of reading his book "The Mindbody Prescription," I struggled to oblivion reading his "The Divided Mind: The Epidemic of Mindbody Disorders." First off, Dr. Sarno only writes half of the book, a half that only serves as a repeat of everything he wrote about already in "The Mindbody Prescription." Sure, I appreciate Sarno's reinforcement of ideas in order to drive the point home as to the importance of understanding TMS. However a reading experience, it was bloody torture.
The second half of "The Divided Mind: The Epidemic of Mindbody Disorders" consists of other doctors that Dr. Sarno hands the book off to: general practitioners, orthopedists, etc..to get their own professional take on TMS. Yet few of the doctors offer anything of value, aside from repeating the same thoughts and ideas previously expressed by Dr. Sarno. One doctor at least makes an attempt to describe in detail the psychotherapeutic approach to healing TMS, yet the rest only speak in generalities, and offer up the same old boring stores about this or that patient who suffered from X, Y and Z, only to be cured after a few office visits. The physicians take the time to be self-congratuatory, yet do not take the time to go into any specifics as to what exactly happened in this or that patient's. Instead, it was always "John Smith had back pain. He came to see me. I diagnosed TMS. Now he's fine." Not that I doubt the merit of the stories, it's just their repetitive nature mixed with a scarcity of details left me bored, with no new knowledge gained. Okay, even if there was NOT any more to these patient stories, then why waste pages after pages on them? I'd rather the space used to further enhance my knowledge of TMS. I mean, wasn't that the point of the book?
TMS is a terrible condition, and I do applaud any literature that attempts to educate the public as to its workings, and the importance of understanding the unlimited power of the brain, and the unconscious. True, perhaps had I not read Dr. Sarno's "The Mindbody Prescription" first, I would have appreciated "The Divided Mind: The Epidemic of Mindbody Disorders" a lot more. Yet the fact is, I came into reading "The Divided Mind: The Epidemic of Mindbody Disorders" in hope of gaining further insight not covered in Dr. Sarno's other book. Unfortunately, that's not what I got.(less)
**spoiler alert** There's nothing like a Harlan Coben book. No author instills charming, self-assured attitude and humor mixed with nail-biting, page-...more**spoiler alert** There's nothing like a Harlan Coben book. No author instills charming, self-assured attitude and humor mixed with nail-biting, page-turning suspense like Harlan Coben. All of his books (at least the five books I have read so far) are all expertly written and structured with a strong focus on entertainment, and mystery. "Mystery" being the key word, as Coben's stories are complex puzzles that can only be pieced together until the very end. "Just One Look" is one of Coben's most complex puzzles, that keeps you wondering and guessing even after the very last page. However, the book's strength is also its weakness.
The story starts out simple enough: after a mysterious vintage photograph is found, Grace Lawson's husband, Jack, disappears in the night, and is never heard from again. While raising two children, Grace investigates her husband's disappearance, only to find herself way over her head having to deal with U.S. Attorneys, estranged family, the police, hired killers, mob bosses, murdered journalists and more. A survivor of the Jimmy X Band "Boston Massacre" concert 15 years prior (a gunshot-inspired riot which left her crippled), Grace struggles to get to the truth of how and why her husband disappeared, yet the closer she gets to uncovering the mystery, the more her life, and the lives of her children are in danger.
In a way, I admire the risk the author took, in creating such a complex, multi-layered, spellbinding page-turner, with really no resolve in sight. On the other hand, the story is SO multi-layerered, SO complex, that it infringes on the suspension of disbelief, as well as the enjoyment of the book itself. There were times were the reveals were so twisted, that I had to put the book down in order to digest what I just read, and wonder if it all fits. By book's end, I was left scratching my head, and confounded more than I was impressed by the book. So, to giver me some resolve, and to help me understand what I just read, I will attempt to piece together the story as it would have played out in chronological order:
SPOILER ALERT: Twenty years ago, two bands played a gig at a small club. One band featured Jimmy X, the other band was called Allaw, which featured John Lawson, Shane Alworth, Sheila Lambert, and Geri Duncan. A few years later, Jimmy X became a huge star with the Jimmy X Band, due to the massive success of their hit "Pale Ink." Years later, prior to a Jimmy X Band gig at the Boston Garden, the members of Allow, along with John Lawson's sister Sandra, and Shane Alworth's new girlfriend Grace, attempt to confront Jimmy X for stealing their song "Invisible Ink," and making a hit with it on "Pale Ink." Grace flirts with security guard Gordon MacKenzie, distracting him long enough for the others to sneak backstage. Shane Alworth, seeing how drunk and high his friends are, changes his mind, and instead takes Grace to the pit area on the floor in front of the stage. Meanwhile, Lawson, Lambert, Duncan and Sandra Lawson go backstage and confront Jimmy X for his alleged theft. John Lawson goes violent and crazy and threatens Jimmy X with a knife. Security guard Gordon MacKenzie rushes to help and ends up shooting John Lawson, killing him. Inside the arena, the crowd hears the gunshot, and panics. Making things worse, a stoned drug dealer named Wade Larue, in response to hearing the gunshot, takes out his own gun and fires shots in the air, creating a full-on riot and stampede that kills 18 kids, including the son of mobster Carl Vespa. Grace is severely injured in the stampede, and is sent to the hospital, where she recovers yet has no memory of the incident, nor of the days prior. Wade Larue goes to jail, and forever blamed for being the cause of the Boston Massacre.
After the disaster, Gordon MacKenzie spoke with Jimmy X. To the public, MacKenzie was the hero of the night, as he opened locked doors at the Boston Garden, and saved many lives. He was made a national hero, which soon lead him to promotion after promotion until became Captain of the Boston Police Department. To make things easier on everyone, Jimmy X and Gordon MacKenzie chose to stay quiet about what really happened that night.
Meanwhile, Shane Alworth, Sheila Lambert, Geri Duncan, and Sandra Lawson all get away, and take John Lawson's dead body with them out of the Boston Garden. Sandra Lawson was an ambitious defense lawyer, whose family was very rich and powerful due to the company they held. However, now that John Lawson was dead (and he had voting rights and controlling shares), the family was in danger of losing control of the company. Plus, Sandra was in danger of losing her reputation as a defense lawyer on the rise. So, Sandra Lawson and her father decided to take action. Threatening to take them all down, Sandra forces the surviving Allaw members to keep their mouths shut about what happened, since the "Boston Massacre" was a huge nationwide scandal, and any link to it would be the death knell for all of them, especially Sandra. In addition, in order to preserve their control over the family company, Sandra forces Shane Alworth to give up his life and assume a new identity as Jack Lawson, so the Lawson business could continue as before, with no change. To make things easier, "Jack Lawson" left the U.S. to be away from it all, yet also with purpose. Grace, after spending months in the hospital, with hours of media and grieving parents (like Carl Vespa) decides to get away from it all and move to France. Shane/Jack follows her there, even though she has no memory of him. He deliberately runs into her, and soon they fall in love, again, live happily, and eventually move to the U.S. and start a family.
Yet there was a problem. Shane/Jack had dated Gerri Duncan prior to Grace, and unbeknownst to him, had gotten her pregnant. By this point, Shane/Jack had run off to France and assumed a new identity, so Gerri was at a loss as to how to find him. Sensing that Gerri might get too inquisitive as to Jack's whereabouts, and that she might spill the beans about what really happened at the Boston Massacre, Sandra Lawson hired notorious hit man Monte Scanlon to murder Gerri, and make it look like an accident, via arson.
For 15 years, there was no trouble. What changed was a cataclysm of events. First, Monte Scanlon makes a jailhouse confession to Gerri Duncan's brother Scott, a U.S. Attorney. Scott Duncan, having learned the truth of his sister's death, leaves his job to pursue to those responsible. His first suspicion was Shane/Jack, as it was he who dumped Gerri to be with Grace, and disappeared right at the time of Gerri's murder. To "rattle the cage," and see what happens, Scott Duncan pays a Photomat worker $500 to place an old photograph of Allaw and their friends (taken a day or two before the Boston Massacre) into Grace Lawson's developed photos, to see how she and her husband would react. Gerri's face is deliberately X-ed out on the photograph. Grace, upon finding the photo, is perplexed, and confronts her husband. Shane/Jack denies everything to Grace. Secretly, he decides to investigate. On his computer, Shane/Jack finds out for the first time that Gerri died a fire, and immediately suspects murder. He first calls Sheila Lambert, to see if she is okay. Shane/Jack ends up speaking with Sheila's husband Bob instead. Next, he calls Sandra in a panic, and is told to meet her that night in a parking lot to discuss. Jack drives off to meet Sandra.
Meanwhile, Wade Larue is out for revenge. Near death from disease, Captain Gordon MacKenzie visits Larue in jail, and confesses that it was he, not Larue, who fired the first shot at the Boston Massacre. After 15 years of a brutal prison sentence, Larue is now enraged that he was falsely imprisoned, and blames Grace Lawson for testifying against him at his trial. Larue wants to hurt Grace Lawson, so asks his cell mate Eric Wu for help. Wu is a vicious lethal weapon, who's an expert on torture and murder. At the same time, Larue wants to stay alive, especially since he was up for parole, and most likely would get out. His lawyer was none other than Sandra Lawson, who chose to represent Larue in order to keep him close, as a safety precaution. To ensure his safety, Larue makes a private deal with the man who wants him dead, mobster Carl Vespa. In exchange for the information he now how had from Captain MacKenzie, Larue wanted to stay alive. Vespa eventually agreed to not kill Larue, and instead chooses to work with him and Eric Wu to kidnap Shane/Jack out of revenge on his own part, and to find out more about what happened that night his son was killed at the Boston Massacre. Vespa never got over his son's death, and wanted to murder those responsible.
In addition to all of this, Sandra Lawson learns about Larue's plan for revenge, and decides to help him by also working with Eric Wu to take down Jack, and hopefully have him killed. You getting all of this, Larue, Vespa AND Sandra all working with Wu in order to bring Shane/Jack down. Meanwhile, Scott Duncan spies on the Lawson family via an hidden camera in their home, and also hires a private investigator, who hires ex-football star Rocky Conwell to spy on Shane/Jack, wherever he goes. At the proposed parking lot rendezvous with Sandra, Shane/Jack is confronted by Eric Wu, and is taken down, then kidnapped. Rocky Conwell tries to stop this, and is murdered by Wu.
With her husband missing, Grace investigates. When the trail leads to Sandra, Grace shows Sandra the old Allaw picture. Sandra chooses to take action. Seeing that Shane/Jack freaked out on her over the phone regarding the picture, Sandra first made sure that Shelia Lambert was going to keep her mouth shut, so Sandra had Sheila's husband Bob murdered in order to show Shelia that she meant business. Then she worked with Larue and Wu to go after Shane/Jack. When Grace was getting too nosey about Sandra, and uncovering the truth, Sandra hired the same thug who murder Sheila's husband, to threaten Grace and her children, in addition to Eric Wu.
Meanwhile, both Carl Vespa and Scott Duncan don't trust Grace, and choose to be closer to her in order to learn how involved she was with the Boston Massacre, as well as Gerri Duncan's murder. So, now we have Vespa, Duncan, and Sandra all after Grace in some way or another. No one is to be trusted. What ends this complicated nightmare, is that Shane/Jack sacrifices his life by attacking Wu as he drove he and Grace to a meeting point, giving Grace enough time to get out the gun (given to her by Vespa) and shoot Eric Wu dead.
Then...I think, Carl Vespa who had hit men to kill off both Wade Larue and Johnny X, as held them both responsible for his son's death. Or perhaps it Vespa who had Johnny X killed, and Sandra had Wade Larue murdered? It was all Sandra? Harlan Coben doesn't strive for clarity on this point. So, I still don't know. I also still don't know what side of the fence Scott Duncan leans on, nor what to make of "Just One Look"s ambiguous ending.
More to the point, "Just One Look" is way too complicated for its own good, and Harlan Coben paints himself into a corner with all of the twists and turns...then rushes to a vague and unsatisfactory ending. Yet, despite all of this, Coben's general ideas are terrific, and I love his prose. Okay, he almost pulled it off with "Just One Look," almost made a thriller masterpiece, yet it could not sustain its complexity, and falls apart in the end. However, was it an enjoyable read nonetheless? You bet.
**spoiler alert** So-so military thriller about a lawyer seeking a wrongful death suit after an American soldier is killed in Iraq under questionable...more**spoiler alert** So-so military thriller about a lawyer seeking a wrongful death suit after an American soldier is killed in Iraq under questionable circumstances. The idea of the story is quite good, yet author Robert Dugoni's prose never rises above average, and his storytelling is slow, leaves a lot of plot holes, and results in the reader scratching his head in the end, wondering what the hell was "Wrongful Death" all about?
The hero of Dugoni's story, David Sloane, is on the surface a solid character. He's an orphan, an ex-marine, a top defense lawyer, a new husband and step-father. Yet for inexplicable reasons, Dugoni gives David Sloane a background from hell, that not only makes little sense, yet also seems completely superfluous to the story at hand. Worse yet, it's a bizarre distraction that adds nothing to the character, as least as written by Robert Dugoni. So, Sloan was once a child of Mexican rebels, who used him to start a revolution, and thus caused the merciless murder of his mother and the inhabitants of the village he was born in, due to a report given by his future best friend Jenkins??? WHAT???? And ZERO of this information was followed through in the story, zero. This was just background, and why, WHY???
The pacing of "Wrongful Death" is slow, making the 366-page novel feel like a 700-page epic. Part of the problem is that Dugoni keeps the forward momentum of Sloan's investigation at an even, predictable pace. Not helping matters is that Dugani tries to incorporate jump-ahead story structure, in which the author leaps ahead of the story thru-line, and then explains away what happened after the fact. Normally, this would be okay, except that Dogoni's post-game explanations are either too explanatory...making one question why he choose the jump-forward structure in the first place, or they simply make no sense.
As the book progresses, Dugoni leaps further and further away from logic, resulting in plot points that I did not understand, and expressions of triumph that I felt completely out of sync with. I mean, I get that the bad guys at Argus were exposed, but I don't get why the judge STILL rejected the Ford's family claim for wrongful death, and that Sloan was happy about that, and is made a hero by James Ford's family. What? Did Kessler's memory come back? How did ANYONE know the exact details of what happened in Iraq, with the actual dialogue and all? I don't get it. That's the most frustrating thing of all after finishing reading "Wrongful Death," I just don't get it.
**spoiler alert** Challenging epic from the great Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky. In fact that book is just like a Karamazov: enthralling, difficul...more**spoiler alert** Challenging epic from the great Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky. In fact that book is just like a Karamazov: enthralling, difficult, proud, dull, stubborn, complex and heartfelt. To read "The Brothers Karamazov" is to experience all of the pain, joy, love, and misery that the characters of the novel experience. Dostoyevsky's prose takes on your life, leaving little room for anything else (let alone a 2nd book to read on the side). No, "The Brothers Karamazov" demands your full attention, otherwise you're simply not going to get it.
It took me no fewer than TWO attempts to get through "The Brothers Karamazov" in its entirety. The first attempt stumbled at around page 30, where incidents and character histories got the better of me. It is too easy to get terribly confused and dismayed while reading a Dostoyevsky novel, and find oneself closing the book...never wanting to open it again. The reasons are many.
At 800-plus pages, reading "Crime and Punishment" or "The Brothers Karamazov" requires a full, time-consuming commitment. Plus, when one reads Dostoyevsky, one does not read for pleasure. No. When one reads Dostoyevsky, one embarks on an intense study of the joy, pain, love and madness of the human soul. Light reading, this is not. In addition, Dostoyevsky prose is very 19th Century Russian, with words, phrases and sentences that may spike the brain in their foreign expression. In addition to all of that, many characters names are often similar to one another. You will have a Snegiryov in one scene, and a Smerdyakov in another, for example, and it's very important for the reader to distinguish one from the other. To makes matters more complicated, Dostoyevsky refers to his characters through several different names. For example, "Dmitri Fyodorovich Karamazov" is also referred to as "Mitya," and "Alexei Fyodorovich Karamazov" is also called Alyosha." "Agrafena Alexandrovna Svetlova" is also called "Grushenka," and "Grusha." Dostoyevsky provides no consistently as to when he chooses one name over another. Truth be told, it takes a good, 200-300 pages before one finally gets a gasp on The Brothers Karamazov," and understand how to read it properly, and accept the way Fyodor Dostoyevsky chooses to tell his story.
On a very basic level, "The Brothers Karamazov" is a simple story about a wildly dysfunctional Russian family featuring an unloving, wealthy, tyrant father, and his three legitimate sons...each with three distinctive personalities. The oldest, Dimitri/Mitya is a strong impulsive ruffian, with a huge heart, a great sense of pride, and a giant appetite for obsession and love. The second oldest is the smart, sensible Ivan, a struggling atheist who suffers from too much pride, and not enough love. Alexei/Alyosha is a saintly young man who bears the weight of the family's sins, and turns them all to love, a love of God, of love of people and community. Alyosha spends the majority of the book caught in the middle of the conflict between Mitya, Ivan, and their selfish, scoundrel father: Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov. As it is too often hinted, I will also include the much disliked valet Smerdyakov as a "Brother Karamazov" as well, since Dostoyevsky portrays him in such a manner that the novel begs for Smerdyakov to be the illegitimate child of Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov that everyone suspects he is. Also, the whole question of Parricide follows a more profound path if Smerdyakov shares Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov's blood.
That there is an alleged Parricide in "The Brothers Karamazov" is both significant and irrelevant. On the one hand, Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov's murder was inevitable, and its status as an alleged Parricide brought to its action a fair amount of poetry to it, as in poetic justice per say. Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov never loved his sons, never cared for his sons, and was by all means cruel in his denial of fatherly duties. It brings up what Mitya's defense lawyer later questioned as to what makes a man a father, and what makes a man simply a blood relation? Is a blood relation also automatically a father? If not, how can Mitya be accused of Parricide in the first place?
In terms of being irrelevant, Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov's murder was only a reactionary plot point, as the majority of the novel focuses on exploring the Karamazov men, and their problems. Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov lives in fear of his violent, vengeful son Mitya, and at the same time obsesses about his passion for the infamous Grushenka. Mitya is a violent, drunken irresponsible spendthrift, who not only also obsesses about Grushenka, not only obsesses about the three thousand roubles he insists his father owes him, not only tortures himself daily for being a scoundrel to his betrothed society woman Katerina Ivanova/Katya, yet he also lives in constant jealousy that Grushenka will run off with his own father. Ivan can not make up his mind if God exists, and if there can be good in the world without God? He also has an unbearable, unrequited love for Katya, his older brother's put-upon betrothed. Such unhappy men. Curiously, Dostoyevsky spares Alexei/Alyosha the suffering that his other family members endure. Ayosha suffers a little when his mentor, The Elder, dies and leaves a smelly corpse, otherwise he is a most stable man.
The women in "The Brothers Karamazov" however, are far from stable. Every one, every single woman in the novel is crazy. Katerina Ivanova shifts between sane and rational to insane and hysterical. The woman can not seem to make up her mind about anything. She loves Mitya, no Ivan, no its Mitya, it was Ivan she loved, or is it? Grushenka is a mess and a half. She cruelly teases both Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov and Mitya with her love, yet loves neither. No, she loves her Polish lover from the past, who spurned her, No, turns out she loves Mitya all along. How bout that young, crippled girl? What was her name, Lise? Lise confessed her love to Alyosha, then took it back, then had wild tantrums, then seemed to have something going on with Ivan. Crazy. Snegiryov's wife? Mad and childish. Women, they are impetus of high drama and misery in The Brothers Karamazov."
And what of The Elder, or Ilusha the dying boy? Dostoyevsky spends a significant amount of time on both in an attempt, I believe, to bring out more of Alyosha's character. The Elder perhaps represented Alyosha's soul: deep, full of great foresight, and full of love. The coming together of all of the brothers with The Elder at the beginning of the novel was an excellent example of the great disparity between them. However Alyosha was the first to admit, that at the end of the day, he too is a Karamazov, with the potential to do as much evil as his father, and his brothers. Illusha represented Alyosha's heart, filled with composition and empathy, even for those who bite him. Heavily influenced by The Elder, Alyosha provides a calming influence and tremendous inspiration to others, which is why he is the most beloved of the Karamazov family.
Needless to say, I got a lot out of reading "The Brothers Karamazov," even though I spent weeks upon weeks struggling through it. As stated before, Fyodor Dostoyevsky writing provides for a difficult, punishing, and not particularly enjoyable read. However, what Dostoyevsky offers in his dense prose is more than what you will ever expect a writer to offer, making "The Brothers Karamazov" with the time, patience, effort and pain...
**spoiler alert** What is it with Donna Tartt, I wonder? Better put, what is it with Donna Tartt stories that grabs the public's attention? Her 2013 e...more**spoiler alert** What is it with Donna Tartt, I wonder? Better put, what is it with Donna Tartt stories that grabs the public's attention? Her 2013 epic blockbuster "The Goldfinch" has been declared a masterpiece, awarded a Pulitzer prize, and continues to remain on the bestseller list. I just don't get it, especially after reading both "The Goldfinch" and now her first bestselling novel "The Secret History." Further astounding is the fact that, though published over twenty years apart, both novels tell them same story.
Both "The Goldfinch" and "The Secret History" are written in the first person, and are centered around a serious crime. Both books feature a young, male protagonist who is more or less orphaned by his respective parents, and who is extremely cultured, with a vast, practically infinite knowledge of literature, art, language, architecture, etc.., and who easily indulges in all kinds of drugs and booze, AND has an unrequited love for some woman friend, AND has a wise, old sage father figure whom they learn much from, yet ultimately let down, AND who can not maintain a lasting relationship to save his life. In addition, both books begin the same, and more or less end the same. So, okay, what gives?
I mean, I suppose its...acceptable for an author to repeat his or herself; many authors have been accused as such. Two of my favorites, Gillian Flynn and Harlan Coben have called out as "Story-rehashers." The only thing is, for me, their respective novels are so good, that I never notice it. The reason is simple: if you're enjoying yourself, you don't notice nor care that you're treading on ovely-familiar ground. Guess when it comes down to it, I simply don't enjoy myself when I read a Donna Tartt novel. In truth, I have to force myself to read them. Why, you ask? Well, Donna Tartt's books sell like gangbusters, and she is highly praised. So, I read because I am curious, really curious what the fuss is all about.
...and I still don't know. The Goldfinch" is not a fast read; it took forever to get through its 700-plus pages. "The Secret History" is only 500-plus pages, yet it FEELS like 900. Tartt sets it up nicely enough: a brilliant poor California kid named Richard goes to college in Vermont, and cons his way into an elite class of spoiled rich kids, who also happen to be extremely cultured, with a vast, practically infinite knowledge of literature, art, language, architecture, etc.., and who all easily indulge in all kinds of drugs and booze. The class is taught by a wealthy, cultured, genius scholar, and the members of the class are an extremely tight group: Henry, the cold, calculating, absurdly cerebral leader, Frances, the gay, buoyant, trust-fund life of the party, Charles, the down-to-earth, friendly dark alcoholic and his twin sister Camille, a not-so-innocent femme fatale, and Bunny...the obnoxious freeloader with poor spelling. After Henry accidentally murders a farmer during a confounding pagan ritual in the country, the elite rich idiots decide to hush it up, and later murder Bunny over fear he was going to spill the beans, and then...well, nothing happens.
I mean, sure, things happen. The same things happen, over and over and over again, for hundreds of pages. Post-murder, the murdering youths all freak out in their own way. Frances visits Henry. Charles visits Richard. Richard visits Camille. Richard visits Henry. Someone visits someone and says "I need to talk with you," and then hides some mysterious secret. Someone visits someone else and says "I need to talk with you," and then hides or reveals some mysterious...whatever. Who cares?
I mean, is there a single likable character in "The Secret History"? At least, in "The Goldfinch," the protagonist/narrator has such a horrendous background that you can't help but feel sorry for him. Richard, though? He had an abusive, cruel father, and his family was poor, which is sad. Yet he overcame his adversity by getting into a college of his choice, and then lie, take drugs, and be an accomplice to murder. Sorry, TWO murders. Great guy, right? As for the rest of them (Charles, Henry, Camille, Frances), I mean...I couldn't care less. They committed murder, and never looked back.
I kept plowing through the sometimes torturous pages of "The Secret History" hoping that it would all somehow, in the end, pay off. For my reward for turning the page, and encountering the same story dynamic again and again, with no end in sight, I received a "Where Are They Now?" summary in the Epilogue, and some dream that Richard has about Henry's ghost. That's it. No pay off. And no, I definitely do not consider Henry's suicide a payoff. The book just ends with the surviving classmates continuing to do what they do, or being forced to do one thing or another. Ho-hum. Who cares?
So again, I beg the question: What is it with Donna Tart? What is it with her readers? Do her fans get all of the art and literary references that Tartt throws in for the sake of her own indulgence? I know, I didn't. Or does Donna Tartt expert all of her readers to be extremely cultured, with a vast, practically infinite knowledge of literature, art, language, architecture, etc...? Whatever. "The Secret History " is a bestseller, and Donna Tartt is a superstar. Go figure?(less)
Exhaustive 589-page biography of the late great, actor, dancer, choreographer, director Bob Fosse. Written and extensively researched by Sam Wasson, F...moreExhaustive 589-page biography of the late great, actor, dancer, choreographer, director Bob Fosse. Written and extensively researched by Sam Wasson, Fosse gives the reader and excellent overview of Bob Fosse's entire life, and presents a strong profile of who Bob Fosse was, and why is his legend still holds true today.
Fosse never set out to be a choreographer, nor a director. He remained, to his dying day, a dancer through and through. Taken with the art of movement as a young boy, Fosse's commitment to the art was striking as it was natural. Yet unlike many of his peers, Fosse was also enamored of showbiz. Vaudeville had a huge impact on Fosse's work, and its style instilled in him a compulsion to entertain. His heroes, Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly danced with finesse and pure joy. Fosse took what he could from their work, yet his take on dance, and entertainment came from a much darker realm.
As a boy, Bob Fosse was traumatized by the burlesque clubs he worked in as a dancer. Naked women running around, and harassing the young teenage Fosse was too much for him at such a young age. Fosse felt his parents did not protect him from such things, the way they should have, and felt they were negligent in their duties. As a result, Fosse grew into an unstable, insecure man, a serial-womanizer incapable of maintaining a monogamous relationship. Fosse never recovered from his three failed marriages, and spent the rest of his life haunted by the memory, and the guilt.
Forever in doubt, and in pain, Bob Fosse harmed his mind and his body with excess, work, women, pills and cigarettes aplenty, Fosse rarely gave himself a break, rarely was able to relax and rest. Insecurity drove him. Pills drove him. Fear drove him. Art drove him. Fosse lived and breathed show business, and he also hated show business. Yet his biggest love affair, as stated by his wife Gwen Verdon, was with death. Fosse's ALL THAT JAZZ was filled with his death fantasies.
However, the life of Bob Fosse was not all gloom and doom. He had many close friends, lovers and ex-lovers. Fosse's best pals were writers Paddy Chayefsky and Herb Gardner. Lover-turned-wife-Gwen Verdon was forever loyal to Bob Fosse despite losing him in the late 1960's. Their child Nicole was the love of Fosse's life. Former lover Ann Reinking also stayed forever loyal to Fosse, as did his agent Sam Cohn. Bob Fosse won a Tony, an Oscar, and an Emmy all in the same year (1973), and had found a peace away from Broadway and Hollywood at his homes in Quogue, a small town in Long Island.
Despite his constant doubt about such a thing, Bob Fosse was a truly a great artist. As Sam Wasson deftly points out, Fosse changed Broadway with his creative use of past and present to present a thoroughly modern musical, Fosse's way, then he did it again with film. Can you imagine a Broadway without "Sweet Charity," "Pippin" and "Chicago"? Can you imagine a world without CABARET, LENNY and ALL THAT JAZZ? A world without Bob Fosse would be a very sad, dull world indeed. Sure, he wasn't the ONLY choreographer/director of stage, television and film, and he did borrow much from others and himself. And yes, Fosse did make mistakes, especially towards the last few years of his life. However, the fact is is that Fosse was a genius, and no one put on a show like he did.
Sam Wasson's research is indeed, very impressive, as his work on the book proper. Choosing a countdown-to-death as a theme for each and every chapter, Wasson stages each piece as a marker for how many years Bob Fosse had left (i,e, "fifteen years, "two years", etc...). Thankfully, Wasson refrains from any form of personal commentary, and instead sticks with the facts. and quotes from the hundreds of interviews he did for the book. "Fosse" tells the story well enough, though never rises above its effort to present a life one beat at a time. No matter, Sam Wasson's "Fosse" is a commendable work for sure, and definitely worth the read.
**spoiler alert** Another excellent mystery/thriller from one of my favorite authors: Harlan Coben. Better still, "Long Lost" features Coben's alter-e...more**spoiler alert** Another excellent mystery/thriller from one of my favorite authors: Harlan Coben. Better still, "Long Lost" features Coben's alter-ego/key literary creation: Myron Bolitar, the snarky, sensitive, romantic, former Duke basketball star from New Jersey turned law student turned Federal agent, turned sports agent turned all-around agent turned master sleuth and brave hero. First introduced in Coben's fantastic 1995 novel "Dealbreaker," "Long Lost" is the ninth Bolitar novel, and (as far as I know so far) one of the best.
This time around, Myron Bolitar is in way over his head, as a call from a former lover soon has the New Jersey native entangled in an international conspiracy involving the French police, the CIA, and a horrendous group of anti-American terrorists. The danger Myron Bolitar places himself in is impossible to manage, and almost costs him his life...again and again. In "Long Lost," Bolitar is beaten, shot, drugged, and tortured for two straight weeks. He risks everything, including his friendships, his business, and of course his life all in the name of what? Truth? Justice? Money? Nope. As usual, despite his six foot plus height, his wise-guy comments, and his prowess with his fists and a gun, Myron Bolitar is a softie when it comes to love.
Unlike his best friend Win (a wealthy playboy and lethal weapon), Myron Bolitar longs for women only in the sense of love, longing and relationship. Sex without love is not on his radar. With Terese, a gorgeous former CNN anchor with a dark past, Myron falls hard. Their sexual chemistry is through the roof, as it was when they had their brief affair ten years prior, yet more than sex, its the tenderness, the intimacy that draws him in. When Terese returns into his life, Bolitar soon gives in (to love) completely, and would do anything for Terese, anything.
Though never underestimate Myron Bolitar. He's wickedly smart, and has mad sleuthing and survival skills. Rather than make him a lone wolf superhero though, Coben's creation is a man who can not do it all on his own. Bolitar, more often than not, needs help. His eight-hundred pound gorilla is his blood-brother Win, a fiercely loyal friend who will fight, steal and even murder in the name of protecting Bolitar. Win is a terrific literary character, reminding me a bit of the direwolves that protect the Stark family in George R. R. Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire" series. Win is Myron Bolitar's alter-ego manifested in flesh and blood. While Bolitar is a hopeless romantic, with a conscience, and willingness to hold back in the name of the common good, Win is a ferocious animal, who craves loveless sex and any excuse to commit horrible violence upon Bolitar's foes.
Also helping Win is the former wrestler, turned secretary, turned law student, turned mother and business partner Esperanza. If Win is the brawn, Esperanza is the brain (though Win is quite intelligent). Win represents Bolitar's masculine side to the hilt, while Esperanza represents Bolitar's strong feminine side, a rational woman who empathizes with Bolitar's emotions, and yet still makes sure to point him in the right direction in love, and business.
When I read a Harlan Coben book, I often ask myself "should reading be THIS easy and fun?" Coben is not just a great storyteller, he also speaks a language this is smart, funny, intelligent, and very down-to-earth. The reason a Harlan Coben novel is so easy to read, is not because they lack complexity, or poetry, or depth. No. Coben's books are easy to read because he makes them so. Coben understands that when you read one of his novels, the reader is putting his time, his faith, his trust in Coben's hands. Taking that responsibility to heart, he not only refuses to waste your time, Coben also insists upon engaging and entertaining you to oblivion...to the point where you don't want to put his book down.
Such is the case with "Long Lost," a book I could not put down, and when I did, I could not wait to pick up again. It's a page-turner for sure, with a reveal at the end that I did not see coming...further proof that my time with Harlan Coben (and Myron Bolitar) was once again, well spent.
It's tough to write about a book when you have strong, yet mixed feelings about it. There is a part of you that wants to expound on the good, and igno...moreIt's tough to write about a book when you have strong, yet mixed feelings about it. There is a part of you that wants to expound on the good, and ignore the bad. Then, there's that other part of you that just wants to talk about the bad. With Robert Ludlum's 1979 complex, 600-page thriller "The Matarese," I found myself swaying from one position to another, with clear winner at the end. However, the cost of such as a position has not been forgotten.
In simpler terms, it took me a few hundred pages to finally become fully engaged in Ludlum's story...perhaps half the book. For too long, each page felt as if it took an hour to get through. Ludlum's prose is far from easy to digest. It's not that the author speaks (writes) in riddles, it's just that his great story ideas, and plot points are filtered through words and sentences that seem to come from a language only Robert Ludlum seems to understand. Though I don't believe I lack the intelligence to comprehend a Ludlum novel, I too often found myself reading and re-reading pages over again, just do I could get a clearer picture as to what was going on.
What's frustrating is that story of "The Matarese Circle" is very good: two brilliant, seasoned intelligence men (sworn enemies from fiercely opposing camps) have to team up in order to defeat a horrendous, extremely powerful foe who threatens to destroy the world as they know it. The enemy, "The Matarese," is one the greatest antagonists I have ever read.
It's an amazing set-up for sure: US intelligence agent Brandon Scofield (aka Beowolf Agate) is a very human superhero, with knowledge and capability beyond that of most men. His rival, KGB legend Vasili Talenieko (aka The Serpent), is just as brilliant and extremely capable as Scofield. Both men are the absolute best at what they do, no one could compare. Because of the Cold War (still prevalent in 1979, when the book was first published), these men found themselves hurting each other, and hating each other in the worst way possible. They were enemies who swore to murder each other. Then comes along The Matarese.
What I loved about the idea of The Matarese organization, was that it was ubiquitous, all-powerful, yet not illogical.. Ludlum does well in making sure the reader has a deep, and thorough understanding of The Matarese. However sets the timeline of one's understand based on how much our protagonists find out each step of the way. More to the point, as each clue is uncovered, the complexity of The Matarese, and the book for that matter, starts to make more sense. Once you've read it all, and finally understand it all, you realize how brilliantly efficient The Matarese plan was. It all makes sense.
...however it takes forever to get there. At 400-500 pages, "The Matarese Circle" could have been a great book. Yet with 600 pages to slog through, one finds oneself struggling with a slow story, and too much repetition in the story beats (i.e. Scofield and Talenieko have to go through many Matarese personnel the same way, learning nothing just about each and every time). I loved the last quarter of the novel, with a very satisfying climax and conclusion, and felt good when I finished the book: "good" in the sense that was impressed where the story went, and how it ended up. Kudos to Ludlum for that. If only the previous three-quarters of the novel were as good, I would have enjoyed "The Matarese Circle" so much more. (less)
**spoiler alert** Gillian Flynn's first novel, "Sharp Objects," reads as it were written by a veteran author of twenty-something novels. It's rare, I...more**spoiler alert** Gillian Flynn's first novel, "Sharp Objects," reads as it were written by a veteran author of twenty-something novels. It's rare, I would think, to find an author's first work THAT good, but it is. Having now read all three of Gillian Flynn's books, I am convinced that she is the best mystery/thriller author alive today.
"Sharp Objects" takes its time getting under your skin. At first, you feel indifferent to the story of Camille, a Chicago reporter assigned to cover a series of child murders in her small hometown in Missouri. Seems cut and dry, the idea that a woman has to face her past while trying to uncover a mystery. However, never underestimate Gillian Flynn. Just when you think you know everything (as it pertains to the story), you discover you don't. Just try to outsmart the author, and you'll fall flat on your face. Sure, it's okay to takes guesses as to "Whodunnit?," yet don't ever think you know the full story. Better still, even when I DID guess correctly on one aspect of the murders, it didn't matter, as I STILL was not aware of the entire story.
Flynn's characters really get you, the ones you like and the ones you hate. In "Sharp Objects," you can't help but loathe Adora, a cold, vile, vain and snobbish mother to the damaged Camille. Camille is is a wonderful heroine, a severely troubled woman who fights like hell to keep her head above water, and her hands off sharp utensils. She has never gotten over the death of her little sister Marian, and will never, ever recover from Adora's abuse. Then you have Amma, the worst of Adora's victims, who is damaged beyond repair, and uses cruelty as currency. Before you can cry "worst family ever," you find yourself taken by these women, all victims of long running chain of abuse.
Yes, there are men in the story too, yet they are only filler for the meat of the story. "Sharp Objects" is a woman's story. A story covering the best and worst of womanhood: beauty, vanity, style, intelligence, ambition, motherly instinct, motherly abuse, sex, dugs, insecurity, neediness, kindness and cruelty. This is a book about women abusing other women, for both pleasure and pain. The "sharp objects" that Gillian Flynn refers are not just forks and knives and such, but flesh and blood women...as weapons against each other, and themselves.
A Gillian Flynn book is like a great party. You arrive as you are, bringing all of the weight you carry with you from the outside world. Eventually, you settle in, and slowly begin to focus on the party itself, taking in all of the people and surrounding. Eventually, you get engaged in this or that person, group, or conversation, and start to have a good time. By the end, you're having such a great time, that you don't want the night to end. You allow the party to just, take over, and willingly swallow you whole. "Sharp Objects" tricks you into thinking its just your average book, then slowly but surely, it swallows you whole...and you like it. (less)
A Harlan Coben novel is like your favorite restaurant. Each time you go there, you KNOW you're going to enjoy your meal. That's how I feel about Harla...moreA Harlan Coben novel is like your favorite restaurant. Each time you go there, you KNOW you're going to enjoy your meal. That's how I feel about Harlan Coben's books. "Missing You" is the third book I've read of Coben's, and it shares a strong commonality with its predecessors in its prose, structure, and pacing. In other words, "Missing You" delivers the goods, and it a fun, fast read.
The book's protagonist, "Cat," is a lonely, no-nonsense NYC cop. Cat is smart, arguably smarter than most, so you like her. Though the set-up to her story mirrors a bit too closely to Coben's previous books, it still provides for a thought-provoking plot point that gives extra depth to Cat's character as she struggles to unravel the A-story of the novel.
Conflict in "Missing You" is palpable enough to keep you on edge as you turn each and every page. Though not as much a page-turner as Coben's other work, one is still is inspired to read on to find out what happens next.
Though it all, Harlan's Coben's prose is always engaging, and fun. His writing is very relaxed, and easy-going...a welcome relief from other writer's tendency to overindulge the reader with too much detail about say...the setting, or clothing, or what a certain character had to eat. No, like all Harlan Coben novels, his stories are tight, with neither tangents nor filler.
Though I loved where the author took the story in the end, I was not always in love with the story itself. Despite Harlan's Coben excellent technique, the story didn't sustain my interest as long as his other works. So, "Missing You" suffers by comparison. Hence the artist's toughest competition is always his/her's previous work. That said, I still liked "Missing You" very much, and would recommend it to those who enjoy reading a good, tense, and fun modern thriller.(less)
**spoiler alert** Long, slow, plodding, and occasionally fun and exciting, George R.R. Martin's "A Dance With Dragons" (the fifth book in the Game of...more**spoiler alert** Long, slow, plodding, and occasionally fun and exciting, George R.R. Martin's "A Dance With Dragons" (the fifth book in the Game of Thrones: Song of Ice and Fire series) was a difficult to get through, for a number of reasons. Having ignored them in the previous book ("A Feast For Crows"), Martin spent the majority of "A Dance With Dragons" focusing on characters with the slowest stories (Arya, Daenerys, and Jon Snow), and spent the rest of the book telling slow stories involving some of the best characters in the series, such as Tyrion Lannister, and Asha Greyjoy.
This would have easily been no more than a 2-star book if it weren't for the fact that George R.R. Martin, after dragging the reader through hundreds of hundreds of pages, FINALLY delivers the goods in the final quarter of the book...in particular the EPILOGUE at the very end. Sure, I had to plow throw over a thousand pages to get there, yet the ending of "A Dance With Dragons" is quite fantastic. In fact, I believe it may be the best ending in ALL of the books in the series. So for that, I raised the rating of "A Dance With Dragons" from two stars to three stars. However, as awesome as the ending is, it took WAY too long to get there.
Eight hundred pages would have been plenty for this fifth installment of the series. Nine hundred pages would have been bloated, yet acceptable. However, at eleven hundred plus pages, the page-count of "A Dance With Dragons" is brutal, and arguably ruins the novel as a whole. Reading a Game of Thrones book is the equivalent of spending time at a fun, and occasionally fascinating party, that runs too long. As much as I might enjoy meeting people, and enjoying myself, I'd want to head home after say...four hours or less. "A Dance With Dragons" is a fifteen-hour extravaganza, with at least half of it slow and rather dull.
Take Tyrion Lannister, for example. In the previous four books, his wisdom, folly, japes and jibes were among the best things about the series. However, when you take him out of King's Landing, he becomes just another put-upon dwarf. The problem lies in the fact that Tyion works at his best when he can utilize his inner strength, cunning and wicked intelligence. At his worst, well, there's not much going on. Throughout "A Dance With Dragons," Tyrion is a prisoner, a captive, subservient to whomever holds him, and utterly powerless. Take away Tyion's power, you take away what's most interesting about him.
In theory, I liked the conflicted trajectory of Daenerys Targaryen through her troubled rein in Mereen, In theory, I also liked the growth and emerging terror of her dragons. However, in practice, her chapters were a struggle to get through, which is a shame. It was great, after four books, to FINALLY have the Daenerys story touch base with other characters in the book...to actually see how her story is connected to the Song of Ice and Fire as a whole. It's frustrating, as Martin lays the conflict on thick with Daenerys' story (which is great), so her chapters should move faster. Instead, the reader must take a long, slow walk through each and every step.
As much as I enjoy the Jon Snow character (and the tales from The Wall), his chapters tend to be the dullest in all five books. Again, the conflict is palpable (what with the Wildings, Wights, Stannis, Melissandre, and his own Black brothers), yet the execution is painfully slow and steady. That said, Jon's action against Janos Slynt was bloody brilliant...a rare spark in otherwise dull atmosphere. Same can be said of what happened to Jon, the shocking twist as the end of his share of chapters in "A Dance With Dragons." Jon's finale was fantastic, and devastating.
Bran's and Arya's tales were the strangest of them all. Worse, Martin choose to write only a few chapters on Bran in a "A Dance With Dragons." He disappears from the book about maybe, halfway through? His journey to the far north was not as exciting as I had hoped, and I am uncertain what exactly Bran is now...a wise tree? Arya's story in Bravos has gotten very weird, as she learns to not be herself once more, with more profound consequences. Both Arya and Bran seem to be on the path towards a higher plane of existence, yet their journey is not half as interesting as it should be.
Martin breaks protocol by inserting several random chapters in the book, with no consistency. Cersei Lannister has a few chapters, which are quite good, yet they don't begin until late into the book. Jamie Lannister has one or two chapters, then disappears, leaving a million question marks behind. Victarion and Asha Greyjoy get a few chapters each, however none of them are that interesting. Sir Ballister Selmy gets a few, uneven chapters as well. Even Kevin Lannister gets a few chapters, which aren't bad. The randomness of the chapters drove me crazy at times, however I do like that George R.R. Martin always keeps you guessing.
Which brings me to Reek aka Theon "Turncloak" Greyjoy. Theon's story was perhaps the most engaging of the book, as his character was nibbled down to the nub by Ramsey Bolton. Theon's take on things, his point of view of Roose and Ramsey Bolton, his vicious, violent comeuppance was a pleasure to read and explore, as awful as it was. Not sure how he survived the escape from Winterfell, yet I was pleased as punch to see him reunited with his sister after such a tortuous journey.
Much of the Game of Thrones books are about set-up, and payoff. The only problem is, with some of the books, the payoff takes forever, or just doesn't happen at all. In "A Dance With Dragons," George R. R. Martin pays a few set-ups off, and quite well at that. I only wish he would have adhered to the notion of brevity, and stayed his hand when temptation rose to describe yet another meal, or gown, or suit of armor. His detail is to be commended, yet Martin's focus (all due respect) should be questioned. I only can hope that the next book pays off more, and takes less time doing so.(less)
**spoiler alert** Interesting, mostly engaging book about the storied, troubled fictional life of the survivor of an atrocity, a tragedy, poverty, neg...more**spoiler alert** Interesting, mostly engaging book about the storied, troubled fictional life of the survivor of an atrocity, a tragedy, poverty, neglect, danger and strangely enough...love. Donna Tart's "The Goldfinch" is, in a way, an epic poem...a love letter to art, to destruction, to longing and despair, to abandonment and abuse, to embracing one's nature.
Theodore Decker is, in one way, a 21st Century Holden Caulfield, and in another way...a brisk and brittle, debauchery-inclined Hunter S. Thompson. He's a young man struggling (and failing miserably) to overcome trauma-upon-trauma. Blessed with a smart, loving, cultured mother, Theo thrives in the world of art, and history, and has an appreciation of classic films, classic art, and classic furniture. Unfortunately, Theo is also cursed with a miserable, alcoholic, gambling, hustler, and not particularly lovable deadbeat Dad, whose presence and lack of presence in Theo's life colors his world to a morally questionable palate. That Theo essentially turns into a version of his father, makes his story all the more sad, and tragic.
However, Theo's tale is not entirely without comfort. He befriends a wild friend from the Ukraine, Boris, who (arguably) changed Theo's life for the better, and the worse. Boris is perhaps Theo's alter ego. He's a young man with a horrendous home life, who evolves into being a shady, hedonistic, drug-abusing criminal. His heart is in the right place, and it isn't. Boris's view of love, of life, of morality, is flimsy, excessive, and highly corruptible...just like Theo. Boris is what would have happened to Theo if he had no mother, had never experienced trauma, and had no positive influence in his life. In essence, Theo would be Boris if not for The Goldfinch.
Boris and Hobbie, Theo's two best-ever friends, were the most fascinating of characters; two men from two very opposite ends of the spectrum who both have a major impact on the life of the book's protagonist. Then of course, there's Pippa, whose connection to Theo was strong even before the their lives were forever altered by tragedy. Pipa is the only, living breathing souvenir from that fateful day...and thus, she eludes him despite all efforts.
As eloquently written in the novel, the 17th century Carel Fabritius painting "The Goldfinch" has a special place in Theo's heart, and NOT just because its a masterful, rare piece of fine art. No. "The Goldfinch" is Theo's tangible connection to that fateful day where his life changed forever. It was a day where he lost his entire world, and gained a brand new existence. "The Goldfinch" painting was his only link to his former life...the life with his mother, perhaps the only person on Earth who ever truly loved him. In his life, he is used, and abused...he is deceived, and abandoned. Yet Fabritius's painting was a constant..."immortal" as Theo so aptly puts it.
Donna Tartt is a fine writer, who does incredibly well writing about a young man's life in New York Las Vegas and Europe, considering she's a woman born and raised in Mississippi. In her intelligent, imaginative prose, Tartt gives the reader a broad range of story and characters to sink one's teeth into, along with an educated perspective on culture, and fine art. There were times where I enjoyed her acerbic wit, and her clever cadence. Other times I felt frustrated by her tendency to go into (what felt like) stream-of-conscience writing...with ideas in the clouds.
As much as I appreciated "The Goldfinch" novel, I never found myself falling in love with the story, and often found myself wondering why the book was going in this or that direction. At 771 pages, I often felt as if the tale had outstayed its welcome, and Tartt was only treading water on Theo's life...especially towards the end of the book, where Tartt has Theo going off on a philosophical rant which is beautiful in one sense, and dull and unsatisfying in another.
Reading "The Goldfinch" was not exactly a thrill, and Theodore Decker is not exactly a character (nor a story) that I liked. However, I did feel for him...and his plight, his trajectory from trauma into a scary, unstable, unforgiving world. Regardless of how I felt about the book, I can not deny that Donna Tart can be a compelling writer, and her novel "The Goldfinch" has enough curious and compelling moments to make it all worth while.
**spoiler alert** At 700-plus pages, George R.R. Martin's fourth book in the Song of Ice and Fire series is a mixed bag of the intriguing and the...an...more**spoiler alert** At 700-plus pages, George R.R. Martin's fourth book in the Song of Ice and Fire series is a mixed bag of the intriguing and the...and the not so intriguing. There are characters absent, who are sorely missed. There are new characters who have their own chapters, and older characters who have chapters for the very first time.
The absence of Tyrion was hard to take, yet thankfully Martin choose to include Cersei in her own chapters...all of which are a fast read, and filled with just the heightened drama that we always come to expect to all things Cersei Lannister. Same thing for Jaime, who has become one of the best characters in the books. His chapters continue his fascinating transformation from evil, impulsive child to mature, and dare I say...moral adult.
The Greyjoy chapters were a bit of a struggle to get through. Aeon "Damphair" has his own chapters, yet he still remains a mystery. We never really get to know him. I enjoyed the never-ending conflict between the Greyjoy brothers, yet still found myself lacking a connection to the stories...even though I liked where it was going.
The slowest chapters, of course, were the Brienne and Sam Tarly chapters. Yet again, despite a slow pace, Martin still leads you to an interesting point of engagement (and/or conflict). Though I was vastly disappointed that there were only hints of the newly revived, post-dead Lady Stark after Martin teased us with her shocking appearance at the end of "A Storm of Swords," I was pleased that Brienne's journey FINALLY led her back to where she started. As for Sam, well, he has grown to be not so craven after all, what with fighting singers of The Watch and having sex in boats and the lot.
As for Dorne, well, there were some very interesting story beats, such as the debacle over the kidnapping of Princess Myrcella, I found the conflict in Dorne wanting. Nonetheless, Martin saved the best for last with the revelation of what the Prince's plans REALLY are, which makes one wonders even further what will happen to the Prince's rebellious daughter, let alone the Red Viper's imprisoned brood.
The Stark sisters have the most curious stories in "A Feast for Crows," yet Sansa's new life as the "daughter" of Little Finger, and caregiver of little Robert Aryn is a bit dull, as it stands so far. Arya's new identity in Bravos has a mystery to it that I like, especially with how her story ends in the book. There's a lot of promise there, which I really hope will be fulfilled in the next few books.
As Martin so boldly put it, "A Feast for Crows" is merely the first half of a greater book, which is why he choose to leave out the Mother of Dragons, Bran and Rikkon, Tyrion, Jon Snow and all things The Wall, Stannis and Davos, and Theon Turncloak from this book. Not my favorite of the series, though "A Feast for Crows" still succeeds in wetting one's appetite for the next book, and the one after that,(less)