Six installments into the Jack Caffery series....and I'm plenty hooked, but unsure if it's more a guilty pleasure or genuinely a good read. As always,Six installments into the Jack Caffery series....and I'm plenty hooked, but unsure if it's more a guilty pleasure or genuinely a good read. As always, the back story (between Jack and MisPer diver Flea Marley) is by far more compelling than the main story (in this case, centering onr a young adult man in a mental hospital accused of killing his parents, and diving his fellow hospital residents to kill themselves.). As always, the usual caveat applies: THESE ABSOLUTELY MUST BE READ IN ORDER! Ms. Hayder is definitely worth reading, but this British police procedural series is only as good as the sum of its parts....more
Way too much ambiguity and author James Scott's unnecessarily ornate writing style stand in the way of The Kept from being a novel to savor.2.5 stars
Way too much ambiguity and author James Scott's unnecessarily ornate writing style stand in the way of The Kept from being a novel to savor. It's a shame, too, as this had plenty of potential to soar with the greats.
Try this premise on for size: Elspeth Howell, an upstate early 1900s midwife, trudges home through the snow in the dead of winter to her husband and five kids... only to find them murdered (well, all but one son, 12 year-old Caleb, hiding in the pantry, who, fearing the murderers have returned, mistakenly shoots his mom, then sets the house on fire. All of which happens in the first two chapters).
As you might expect, this is one frightfully bleak novel, that, unfortunately, never really climbs above anti-climax. The bulk of the novel alternates between explaining (with laconic pacing) how and why this depravity was perpetrated, and what mom Elspeth (recovered from being shot) and son Caleb plan to do to avenge their family's murders..
Had Scott stuck closer to the advancement of the story and spent less time trying to dazzle with flowery, go-nowhere prose, he probably could've struck literary gold here, but instead flounders to provide an ending that's even remotely as interesting as the promising start.....more
My second shot with A.M. Homes' brand of familial dysfunction was much better than my first (the decidedly one-note short story collection Things YouMy second shot with A.M. Homes' brand of familial dysfunction was much better than my first (the decidedly one-note short story collection Things You Should Know). This one, a particulary more ferocious novel Music for Torching is, at its finer moments, as good as anything written by a few of her East Coast-based Pulitzer-winning kings of dysfunction fiction predecessors (John Updike and John Cheever immediately come to mind), though refreshingly with a female-centric perspective. While I generally loathe books that feature relationships wracked by infidelity (c'mon authors, there are other ways of portraying familial dysfunction without racing to the obvious) there's something with this couple, Paul and Elaine, that beg a little deeper examination.
White Plains NY-adjacent, 2.3 children-bearing Paul and Elaine are utterly average, the perfect middle class, cocktail- and dinner-party-throwing paradigm,, but are completely bankrupt in feelings for each other. (Ok, that's not true: they despise each other. Elaine hates Paul for his all but overt line-up of neighborhood vajayjay, Paul hates Elaine for moralizing and overall bitchitude). They ate completely stymied and seemingly running headlong into divorce-land when they come up with the ridiculously bizarre idea to shake up the marital stasis: burn the house down while barbecuing.
Paul and Elaine are loathsome creatures (Paul, of course, quite a bit more loathsome than Elaine), but Ms. Homes gives them just enough humanity that you actually care they are trying something, anything to save their marriage, even as it becomes increasingly clear their actions are futile.
This book just about got 4 stars from me, but the ending (which ordinarily I'd applaud for depicting karmic comeuppance for characters behaving badly, was just too WTF, too ugh-eliciting to embrace. Still (not counting the crud ending) Ms. Homes travels down a well-beaten path that I rarely enjoy traveling down, and succeeded in keeping me in it to the end....more
Rebecca Scherm's debut novel Unbecoming cannot escape comparison to Donna Tartt's Pulitzer Prize winner The Goldfinch, with the young, mora2.5 stars
Rebecca Scherm's debut novel Unbecoming cannot escape comparison to Donna Tartt's Pulitzer Prize winner The Goldfinch, with the young, morally confused protagonists, the antique restoration/art heist/forgery plot, and the circumnavigated settings (Paris by way of NYC and Garland, Tennessee). Whether a coincidence or by design, it almost seems like a calculated effort by Ms. Scherm to replicate Ms. Tartt's success.
That's not the reason for my middling rating, though. While I liked The Goldfinch plenty, there was ample opportunity to pare the bloat and still be left with a taut thriller. It seemed upon first impression that's what Ms. Scherm was going for here. The story was taut, but completely lacked any sense of suspense. Absent any twists, the reader is left with a convoluted character study that strained credulity.
We begin with Grace (reinventing herself as Julie) in Paris, restoring antiques for a less-than-scrupulous back-alley outfit, pondering the imminent release from prison of two of her closest male friends, incarcerated for the robbery of a local museum back in her home town of Garland, Tennessee, a heist that was entirely conceived by Grace. The bulk of the novel tells Grace's story in her formative years growing up with her first love Riley and his best friend Alls(ton) and what led these otherwise intelligent kids down the path of a life of crime.
The blurb's comparison to Gillian Flynn does this novel a huge disservice. You expect a suspensful thriller, but Ms. Scherm isn't that kind of writer, and it' becomes clear that isn't where she was going with this anyway. Still, that expectation loomed in the back in my mind that there was going to be some kind of payoff at the end, some kind of.shocking denouement to make Grace's rather tepid character study worthwhile. Her behavior was certainly unbecoming from what you'd expect an aspiring Art History major to be, but novel-worthy? Sorta-kinda, but ultimately, not really....more
You probably wouldn't have wanted to read my original review that was lost in the ether (as apocalyptic fantasies not grounded in some semblance of reYou probably wouldn't have wanted to read my original review that was lost in the ether (as apocalyptic fantasies not grounded in some semblance of reality don't really do anything for me) but China Miéville's Young Adult (or so they say, but good luck, young readers parsing this "Railcreole") homage to Moby Dick (with a decimated world covered with seas of railroad tracks, poisoned lands, and ruled by burrowing, larger-than-life animals like antlions, earwigs, blood rabbits, naked moles (with guillotine teeth) and, of course, the king of the railsea, the epic moldywarpe) is richly rendered, but thoroughly lacking in character development. Fantasy lovers will probably love dissecting Mieville's symbolism (including, even, That Apt Ohm, or God and Heaven), but the characters (including Sham Yes ap Soorap, young doctor's apprentice on moletrain Medes) and Captain Naphi (the Medes' female captain whose life's obsession is hunting the moldywarpe that removed her arm) get short shrift in the intricate world rendering....more
I'm pretty sure that when I finally get around to reading Heidi Julavits' fiction, I'm going to enjoy it. As evidenced by her "diary" The Folded ClocI'm pretty sure that when I finally get around to reading Heidi Julavits' fiction, I'm going to enjoy it. As evidenced by her "diary" The Folded Clock she's plenty intelligent, has a keen, self-deprecatory sense of humor, and a vivid imagination. There was something about her quirky, neurotic musings with this that just left me scratching my head. I don't know if it was the fault of the book or just me, but I didn't quite love this as I'd hoped.
The diary format you'd think would work well with someone whose life is as full as Ms. Julavits'. This is not exactly a conventional diary though, and what seems at first a fresh idea starts getting stale at about the tenth entry. The entries (there are 92 of them) are randomly inserted (not in any chronological order, from what I can ascertain) and all start Today I... (like "Today I went shopping online for skirt suits...") but then meandering off into anecdote-land, often nothing to do with the the thing she did that day. You can tell she's had a rich, full life, but you just get these snippets that often times just aren't very interesting (or as funny as she thinks they are) . Her favorite topics of discussion: Maine (where she summers with her writer/husband and kids when not living in NYC and teaching at Columbia U.), shark attacks, artist colonies she's frequented across the globe, watching The Bachelor with het husband, antiques shops, Googling stuff, her penchant for losing stuff, dinner parties with her writer/artist friends (dishing gossip on which of their neighbors is sleeping with whom.) If it wasn't for Ms. Julavits' unconventional delivery and occasional humor this would've been a snooze-fest. You'd think that with a "diary" format you'd get some of her innermost. thoughts, and plenty of candor. Well, kinda yes, but mostly no. Most every entry is barely glossed over, usually with the aim to tell another anecdote (with varying degrees of humor), but candor? Well...I guess so.
The conversations she has with herself are charmingly neurotic, and whet my appetite for what kind of fiction she might concoct, but this diary is ultimately more dizzying than enlightening....more
Rub enough elbows with the literary cognoscenti, you're bound to hear glowing praise about Lydia Davis' short stories. I was delighted to see1.5 stars
Rub enough elbows with the literary cognoscenti, you're bound to hear glowing praise about Lydia Davis' short stories. I was delighted to see The End of the Story, her first novel, made available to our library system's e-book exchange to see what the hoopla was all about.
Delight turned to unalleviated boredom rather quickly, followed by utter exasperation with the realization (at about page 40) that it never was going to get any better. It's further frustrating that many GR folks found beauty in this, when all I could find was an excuse to keep my Extra Strength Tylenol nearby. This was one painful slog disguised as art.
Its 240-page entirety is devoted to the first-person obsessions of a 35 year-old woman obsessing over every single micrometer, ångstrom, tissue-thin sense memory of a failed relationship with a man (really, barely older than a kid) twelve years younger than her. That's it. Just a.part-time university professor/translator/aspiring novelist (perhaps not unlike, um, Lydia Davis?) exhausting every detail of what really amounted to little more than an ill-advised fling. Worse yet, it's obsession times two, because not only does she obsess about the relationship, she feels the need to write a novel about the experience. Yeah, okay, we've all chalked up a crummy relationship or two in our dating CV, but few of us feel the urgency to dissect the experience, then novelize the attempt to write the novel.
Allow me to share with you a snippet of this, not of the protagonist's recalling the relationship (which is plenty bad enough), but of her describing the process of sorting through the memories to write the novel:
"But at other times I am really confused and uncomfortable. For instance I am trying to separate out a few pages to add to the novel and I want to put them together in one box, but I'm not sure how to label the box. I would like to write on it MATERIAL READY TO BE USED, but if I do that it may bring me bad luck, because the material may not really be "ready". I thought of adding parentheses and writing MATERIAL (READY) TO BE USED, but. the word "ready" was still too strong despite the parenthesis. I thought of throwing in a question mark so that it read MATERIAL (READY?) TO BE USED but the question mark immediately introduced more doubt than I could stand. The best possibility may be MATERIAL--TO BE USED, which does not go far as to say that it is ready but only that in some form it will be used, though it does not have to be used, even if it is good enough to use."
This is just her thought process in compiling the material for this failed relationship (a relationship, by her very admission, she had no business being in). This to me is just a protracted, pointless exercise in nothingness. It's not an achingingly poignant, artistic exposition into the mind of a woman in a failed relationship. This is a few rungs above gibberish. Maybe Ms. Davis' style of writing works better in short story format, but in a 240 page plot-less novel, it escapes me how this was even published.
(Just recalling this dreck brought my headache screaming back; I was gonna round up thanks to some really odd non sequitur dream recollections toward the end that made me chuckle, but nah.)...more
Anyone interested in Southern US contemporary fiction who hasn't yet made acquaintance with Tom Franklin needs to do so. If you prefer a slice of theAnyone interested in Southern US contemporary fiction who hasn't yet made acquaintance with Tom Franklin needs to do so. If you prefer a slice of the old South, 2003's Hell at the Breach , while super violent, is just a terrific (and terrifying) fictional account of a real skirmish in South Alabama. If the old stuff doesn't float your boat, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter : part thriller, part examination of race relations in today's Mississippi. If you're a Cormac McCarthy fan (an author that Franklin cites as an influence on his Goodreads profile page), you may want to give Smonk a try. Anyone that knows me at all on here is probably done hearing my rants on McCarthy's annoying penchant for ditching quotation marks. Not only does Frankin try with Smonk to emulate McCarthy, it's almost like he's trying to purposely out-McCarthy McCarthy here, right up to ditching the quotes and adding as much violent imagery and degredation as possible. The violence is so gruesome here it's almost comedy (and is hilarious, if your tolerance for said base behavior is high.) What I cannot understand: why Franklin felt compelled to completely copy McCarthy's style. He'd already established his own distinctive style before 2006's Smonk, why make an overt attempt to emulate McCarthy? - Smonk's complete title Smonk, or, Widow Town: being the scabrous adventures of EO Smonk & of the Whore Evavangelina in Clarke County, Alabama, early in the last century pretty much gives you the idea that this is not going to be your typical western. Nope, not by a long shot. From the git-go, you know this Smonk guy is one bad (and disgusting) dude. We see him hauled into court in Old Texas, AL with a laundry list of offenses, from prostitution to murder.(not to mention he's begoitered and has a glass eye that pops out at inopportune moments).
We find out quickly why Old Texas becomes known as Widow Town (as you might intuit, Smonk pretty much mows down the male populace of the town.) and also find out the role of the Whore Evavangelina (it's not exactly for comic relief as that cumbersome name might indicate).
Despite this being an overt McCarthy smackdown of sorts, and disgustingly violent, I still liked this, just nowhere near as much as Hell at the Breach. There are threshholds of violence one can endure when that violence becomes so pervasive it turns into parody. I'd really only recommend Smonk for die-hard Franklin fans (with iron constitutions); otherwise, avoid this and read anything else of his. But make sure you do read something of his. You won't regret it....more
Y'all never mind me. I'm just really cranky. I hate being the one nay-sayer in the crowd when a book starts picking up in popularity, It seem2.5 stars
Y'all never mind me. I'm just really cranky. I hate being the one nay-sayer in the crowd when a book starts picking up in popularity, It seems like several books I've been reading of late have required the reader to suspend disbelief to buy the premise, the plots having one far-fetched coincidence after another that you have to buy before it has any chance to work. As long as the story is fresh and interesting (like Stephen King's 11/ 22/63 and Emily St. John Mandel's The Lola Quartet, the coincidences were easy to overlook as each were solid page-turners. When the coincidences become part of a gimmick, as they do with Kevin Swanson's The Kind Worth Killing, it's impossible (for cranky me, anyway) to ignore them. It doesn't help when you've read so many iterations on the disgruntled spouse theme, you just want to move on and read something more ambitious.
At Heathrow Airport in London, Ted Severson, a millionaire from Massachusetts (with, surprise! marital issues) is overseas on business waiting on his plane when he meets in the bar an enchanting lady named Lily Kintner from Connecticut, also awaiting a plane back to the States. After a few drinks, Ted reveals he hates his wife, who he caught. (from afar, unbeknownst to her) cheating on him. Lily draws it out of Ted that he (hypothetically) wishes to kill his wife, and proceeds to show him how it can be done, essentially playing a psychopathic devil's advocate, in goading him to murderous activity, effectively telling him that wives that brazenly cheat on their husbands are the "kind worth killing".
To be honest, I hated this book at first, but a few surprise twists (involving the aforementioned coincidences) between Parts I and II warmed me up to it somewhat. Had it been played in a bit more satiric vein, this might've worked better for me. Instead, it was played mostly straight, and the surprise twists started becoming transparent, turning what was a fairly good story into a predictable and limp thriller. (It's pretty bad when I, never one to figure out thrillers like these in advance, had intuited the ending about 2/3rds the way through. Ultimately, this was ok, but didn't do much for me. (But, again, I'm cranky, you might latch on like many Goodreaders have seemed to thus far.)...more
Ok for what it aspires to be (which I'm guessing is a coffee table compendium on pizza history) but its jokesy writing and uneven photography rarely eOk for what it aspires to be (which I'm guessing is a coffee table compendium on pizza history) but its jokesy writing and uneven photography rarely elevate this above a curiosity, a sort of pizza history textbook. I did learn that St.Louis and New Haven each have their own style of pizza: St.Louis' cheese blend evidently features liquid smoke to simulate smoked provolone flavor. Yum!...more
This will probably satisfy Harry Brandt Richard Price fans jonesing for a double shot of his brand of gritty crime verité. Does he cover new ground hThis will probably satisfy Harry Brandt Richard Price fans jonesing for a double shot of his brand of gritty crime verité. Does he cover new ground here, though? Not particularly. I felt like I read versions this NYPD cop-centric yarn in several other Price-penned forms, most better than this. Lots of hand wringing presaging blustery moralizing to do the right thing that ultimately doesn't amount to much.
(And why oh why do authors feel compelled to use pseudonyms midway through an established career? Even Uncle Stevie and Aunt Joyce Carol Oates would probably agree: unless you're an author gamely trying to reinvent yourself, the use of pseudonyms "this late in the game" smacks of "desperation" (Richatd Bachman pun intended)....more