I read about Ernest Gann in a magazine article and decided to give one of his novels a try. Band of Brothers was one of the few titles available throuI read about Ernest Gann in a magazine article and decided to give one of his novels a try. Band of Brothers was one of the few titles available through my library, so picked it up. Through the first half of the story, I found Gann's characters and storyline intriguing. The writing itself is pretty pedestrian, but not bad. However, in the second half of the book, Gann's story really becomes disjointed. The actions of the characters don't mesh together and the conclusion is nearly invisible even though it was very predictable. Band of Brothers is more than 40 years old at this point and unfortunately it hasn't held up very well. I found it very interesting that the copy my library had hadn't been checked out in almost ten years before I did. I guess there was a reason for that....more
As Roland Nair contemplates his future, sitting in Freetown, Sierra Leone, he wonders why he let himself beMore reviews at The Story Within The Story
As Roland Nair contemplates his future, sitting in Freetown, Sierra Leone, he wonders why he let himself be drawn back to such a hopeless place. Meeting up with self-styled African soldier-of-fortune Michael Adriko and his fiancée Davidia, Nair journeys across the desolate African landscape in pursuit of one last money-making scheme. But between the Ghanaian army, American Green Berets and packs of mercenaries, Nair will be lucky to make it out of Africa with his life.
“In an instant the day ended, night came down, and the many voices around us, for the space of ten seconds, went quiet. A few hundred meters away the buildings began, but not a single light shone from the powerless city, and the outcry coming from the void wasn’t so much from horns and engines but rather more from humans and their despairing animals.”
Denis Johnson has written many successful novels – Train Dreams and Jesus’ Son among them – and has won many awards. Unfortunately for me, The Laughing Monsters is my first exposure to his writing. There is simply no way to sugarcoat this – this story is a complete mess. It bills itself as high-suspense espionage. It isn’t. Not even a little bit. The main character, Nair, literally wonders around Africa aimlessly, with no agenda at all, hoping that his unreliable friend might come through with a scheme to make him rich. He supposedly is spying for the government. But which government? It doesn’t matter because he doesn’t care himself. Even when captured, Nair just sits around until they let him go and he wonders off to the next scene so he can be captured again, do nothing, and be let go again. High-suspense spy novel? Not even by a longshot.
So Nair is an unreliable narrator? Possibly. Unreliable is good. Uninteresting is not. Unreadable is even worse. The narrative flow is…well…there just isn’t any. It’s as if Johnson ran the draft of The Laughing Monsters through a shredder and handed it to a 5-year-old to paste back together. The writing isn’t avant-garde. It isn’t ethereal. It isn’t gritty. It is just bad. Twisting the writing rules to create something unique is a quality I like. Not caring enough to give the reader something remotely resembling a plot or a point is inexcusable, especially from an award winning author.
The only positive commentary I can give The Laughing Monsters is that it was mercifully short. I can’t help but feel like Johnson mailed in his first draft and the editor was out sick that day so they just said “to hell with it – he’s good – print it.” I hope that is the case, because the alternative is that they actually wanted this book to turn out like this. Don’t waste your time on The Laughing Monsters, unless you want the laugh to be on you. ...more
Of the first three Gabriel Allon books that I have read (and loved all of them) The English Assassin is my favorite. There is a certain nuance to theOf the first three Gabriel Allon books that I have read (and loved all of them) The English Assassin is my favorite. There is a certain nuance to the storytelling where everything ultimately makes complete sense, but the twists and turns are completely unexpected. Gabriel's spycraft is as much intellectual as it is physical - and this is what makes these stories so gripping. He isn't just another superhero. He makes mistakes and he doesn't win every fight. But he perseveres and ultimately makes it through, but not always in the way we would expect. In addition, the artistic eye Silva brings to his storytelling is as beautiful as the art pieces he mentions. I have this entire series on my self and I expect I'm going to saver every single installment. The English Assassin is a book - and a series - everyone should give a try....more
One of the original hard boiled private detectives, Chandler's Philip Marlowe epitomizes the early twentieth century gritty gumshoe. One of the firstOne of the original hard boiled private detectives, Chandler's Philip Marlowe epitomizes the early twentieth century gritty gumshoe. One of the first - and certainly best - of the noir style, The Big Sleep provides a look into the thinking, language and culture of that time period as well. This was cutting-edge story telling in its time, and it has held up better than most in the eighty years since it publication. Definitely worth reading for any crime reader. It give a great perspective on where thousands of writers found their inspiration. Looking forward to reading more....more
There is a certain beauty in the descriptions La Seur evokes in The Home Place and the coming home story is always one that can deliver competing emotThere is a certain beauty in the descriptions La Seur evokes in The Home Place and the coming home story is always one that can deliver competing emotions in a reader. The trouble is La Seur both overreaches and overwrites this story.
Overreaches because she loads up every stereotypical family malady she can come up with and douses the Terrebonne family with every single one of them - to the point where you just don't care about any of them. The story is so focused on everyone's foibles, that we never develop any feelings to hold on to. In addition, all of her characters sound like the same person and fail to show very much emotional depth.
Overwrites because La Seur simply can't go even three lines into a conversation without diverging into a multi-page flashback that invariably has little to do with what her character is currently experiencing. The use of flashbacks to fill back-story is so hackneyed that I had difficulty continuing past the first 100 pages.
When I did, I was very disappointed that the fertile ground of the life of a gay man in such a conservative place and the serious impact of mining on rural America are both introduced and then glossed over in favor of the cliche-riddled mystery that truly misses the mark as well.
Unfortunately, there is little about The Home Place that I can recommend. ...more
A good detective thriller based in Iceland. The story is the best part of the book, with many twists and turns along with a very interesting ending. IA good detective thriller based in Iceland. The story is the best part of the book, with many twists and turns along with a very interesting ending. Inspector Erlendur is a solid main character, but there is something lacking in all of the characters Indridason create - a lack of real depth that would take this story to another level. While Jar City was an enjoyable story, it was missing that intangible quality that would lead me to continue the series. Solid but not engrossing. ...more
A great follow-up to Only Time Will Tell. Archer loses none of the momentum of the first installment and builds on the lives of the characters. I wasA great follow-up to Only Time Will Tell. Archer loses none of the momentum of the first installment and builds on the lives of the characters. I was engrossed from start to finish. This is a series that is impossible to put down. Already ordered the next two in the series and can't wait to read them....more
I really enjoyed both the writing and characters in All the Light We Cannot See. Doerr took an unusual route with this depiction of World War II in EuI really enjoyed both the writing and characters in All the Light We Cannot See. Doerr took an unusual route with this depiction of World War II in Europe, and that really took this artful book to another level. The intertwined lives of Doerr's characters is so well done, and he never stoops to cliche. I'm not going to go so far as to say it was perfect. Not every piece fit together and it was a bit longer than it needed to be. That said, All the Light We Cannot See holds that quality that so few books can lay claim to - it is unique. Well worth a read....more
Young antiquarian bookseller Peter Byerly grieves for his beloved wife, continuing to see and hear her all aMore reviews at The Story Within The Story
Young antiquarian bookseller Peter Byerly grieves for his beloved wife, continuing to see and hear her all around him as he tries to avoid the world in a secluded English town. When he comes upon a tiny watercolor portrait inserted between the pages of an eighteenth-century book, he is startled to see Amanda’s face looking back at him. As Peter desperately tries to solve the mystery of the portrait, he unknowingly uncovers a link to potentially the most important discovery in literature – proof that William Shakespeare of Stratford was the true author of the Shakespeare plays. But someone doesn’t want Peter to succeed – and is willing to commit murder to keep it that way.
“What about the most valuable relic in the history of English Literature—would that be worth killing for?”
The Bookman's Tale really has me split. For starters, anything centered on books, book collecting, bibliophiles...it is going to have my instant attention, as long as it gets it right. Lovett gets it right. I can tell that he has a passion for books just by the way he writes about them and understands the book-lover's mindset. For me, the best part of The Bookman's Tale is how Lovett creates his main character of Peter as the embodiment of the book-lover trapped inside of so many of us. In addition, he surrounds Peter with such a clever piece of literary history - the ongoing search for the proof of who William Shakespeare really is - that drives the plot forward. Left to just this, The Bookman's Tale would have been one of my favorite stories of the year.
So what happened? Why only three stars? Frankly, it really should be two stars and Lovett is only catching a break because of my love of any story set in the book world. For some reason, Lovett decides to drop a murder-mystery/thriller plot right in the middle of the story. Unfortunately, Lovett is not David Baldacci. The action is hackneyed and cliche. There are too many coincidences and too many convenient things falling in the characters' laps to make it feel at all realistic.
The Bookman's Tale really is two stories folded on top of each other. Unfortunately, one is very well done and one is amateurish. If it is possible to enjoy a book and be annoyed by it at the same time, this is the one that does it. I want to praise it and lambaste it at the same time. In the end, a split 4-star/2-star rating ends up with a 3-star average...but The Bookman's Tale only avoids a lower rating because of my passion for book collecting. Nothing more....more
Very few movies can boast the sort of ensemble cast and cult classic staying power that The Princess Bride hMore reviews at The Story Within The Story
Very few movies can boast the sort of ensemble cast and cult classic staying power that The Princess Bride has enjoyed for 25-years. Both timeless and truly an adventure story for all ages, The Princess Bride is a favorite that garners praise from nearly everyone and a spot in the American Film Institutes and Writers Guild of America's top 100 lists. But how did a movie that went nearly unnoticed upon its release reach this level of acclaim? Cary Elwes - who played the lead roll of Westley - takes us on a journey into the making of The Princess Bride. Combined with interviews with costars Robin Wright, Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal, Christopher Guest and Mandy Patinkin, As You Wish provides all the perspectives you could hope for.
“That particular take was the one that ended up in the film. So when you see Westley fall to the ground and pass out, that’s not acting. That’s an overzealous actor actually losing consciousness.”
There is a timeless beauty to the movie The Princess Bride that has allowed it to not only endure, but become something much more than a movie - it has become a master work of art. If you have ever wondered how it is that something that seems so simple now came into being, the Cary Elwes guided tour - As You Wish will give you exactly what you are looking for. Between the stories from his fellow actors, along with those of screen writer William Goldman, producer Norman Lear and director Rob Reiner, there are no holes in this memoir of a movie.
Like the movie, As You Wish is not garish. There are no drunken brawls, squabbling actors or egomaniac directors to spill the beans. Instead, Elwes gives us a clever peek into the past. Filled with humor, friendship and heart, As You Wish really is a perfect companion piece to the movie. Filled with anecdotes from the actors and directors, it fills in the blanks of the challenges of making the perfect fairy-tale.
As You Wish will make you go out and watch the movie again and again, but you will never look at it quite the same way once you know its beautiful backstory. I don't think I have ever read a non-fiction account with more heart than this. This is a book I will read again and again....more
A much quicker read than his seminal work, A Gentile Madness, Nicholas Basbanes creates a book that is both an enjoyable read and a handy reference onA much quicker read than his seminal work, A Gentile Madness, Nicholas Basbanes creates a book that is both an enjoyable read and a handy reference on the does and don'ts of book collecting in the age of the internet. Even though it was published in 2002, it has held up remarkably well. In fact, most of the websites that he references are still going strong 13 years later. Among the Gently Mad is certainly not a comprehensive reference work. It is light on information and Basbanes loves to name-drop all the collectors he rubs elbows with. But this is part of what makes it an enjoyable read rather than a trudge. If Among the Gently Mad does nothing else, it will inspire you to add some better choices to your own collection....more
The Goldfinch really is a great character study. Told from the first-person perspective of Theodore Decker from young boy to adulthood, Donna Tartt crThe Goldfinch really is a great character study. Told from the first-person perspective of Theodore Decker from young boy to adulthood, Donna Tartt creates one of the multi-dimensional characters that really sticks with you long after you finish reading. Theo is far from a heroic character, but we feel for him through his desperate attempts to simply survive a life that overflowing with trauma. What makes him so real is that some of the trauma is self-inflicted. There are many points where I cringed when I saw a choice Theo would make knowing it would turn out badly – but I could never take my eyes away from the inevitable train wrecks. Yet, we still hope from beginning to end that he will find a way to beat the odds and actually find happiness. In that vein, I think The Goldfinch’s ending serves the story so well because it doesn’t take the convenient, obvious ways out as most writers would do.
For such a dark tale of destruction (and sometimes self-destruction) The Goldfinch has a strangely uplifting quality to it. Tartt weave in information early and often that doesn’t seem to mesh with the story, only to have the plotlines intersect for a satisfying “ah ha” moment on multiple occasions. Tartt also does an exceptional job of surrounding Theo with highly interesting characters that are never one-dimensional and are unpredictable – just like real life. Nothing felt contrived or unrealistic. In fact, it might be a bit too realistic for some people to enjoy. Tartt has a way of pulling away just the right threads of society to allow us to see what is hiding underneath without throwing out the whole cover. There is a subtlety to the storytelling that allows for complex themes without overburdening the reader. A true storytelling gift.
The Goldfinch is not for everyone. It is long. It lacks continuous action. It certainly isn’t filled with happily-ever-after moments. But it is authentic and it is compelling. It is a story that will force you to see the world through different eyes and Theo is a character who you will be forced to know, even if you never really understand him. And to me that is what makes him a great character. I never truly understood him – but Theo forced me to understand myself a little better. That is the make of a great piece of literature. ...more
In spite of being born mute, Edgar Sawtelle lives a happy life on his parent’s Wisconsin farm, breading highMore reviews at The Story Within The Story
In spite of being born mute, Edgar Sawtelle lives a happy life on his parent’s Wisconsin farm, breading highly trained companion dogs. This is epitomized by Edgar’s lifelong companion – Almondine. But when tragedy strikes, Edgar is forced to flea and fight for survival in the wild with three young dogs. Faced with the choice of returning home or leaving forever, Edgar must confront his worst fears and contend with an unsolved mystery that could be his undoing.
“Life was a swarm of accidents waiting in the treetops, descending upon any living thing that passed, ready to eat them alive. You swam in a river of chance and coincidence. You clung to the happiest accidents- the rest you let float by.”
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is really a tale of two books for me. On the one hand, the writing is beautiful, almost lyrical. I fell in love with David Wroblewski ‘s writing style and the effortless way he brings his characters to life. In particular, Edgar Sawtelle is a fully realized person from beginning to end. Even the way Wroblewski brings out the personalities of the dogs is well done. The premise of Edgar’s story is also unique and creates an interesting foundation for the story. Unfortunately, that’s where the trouble begins.
While the writing is wonderful and the characters interesting, the story simply wanders around for most of the hefty 608 pages. Wroblewski apparently felt that we needed to read about every single thought that Edgar had over the course of his life. Two hundred pages could have been stripped out of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle and it might still have dragged on too long.
Anton Chekhov once said that if you have a rifle hanging on the well in the first chapter, it must go off later in the story. If that’s true, then Wroblewski left a pile of unused guns all over The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. There are too many pages devoted to scenes that go absolutely nowhere and have no relevance later in the story. I literally had to force myself to keep reading several times. And my reward was an ending that made no sense and really had no relation to the rest of the story.
I really had high hopes for The Story of Edgar Sawtelle and was left very disappointed. While Wroblewski’s writing is gorgeous, the story as a whole failed to entertain me at all. Finishing it was work rather than pleasure. ...more
With Endgame, Frank Brady has penned one of the most evenhanded accounts of Bobby Fischer – the chess genius who became the only American world champiWith Endgame, Frank Brady has penned one of the most evenhanded accounts of Bobby Fischer – the chess genius who became the only American world champion by staring down the Soviet chess machine at the height of the cold war. However, that is only one facet of a life filled with contradictions. While Fischer was unflappable at the chessboard, he was insecure in the rest of his life. He was a voracious reader, he self-educated himself – often times with treaties by neo-Nazis and religious charlatans.
Brady goes deep into the conditions that spawned a great champion and ultimately condemned him to paranoia and madness in later life. The book pulls no punches, but Brady never treats his subject unfairly. You won’t get a simple answer to the complicated man that was Robert Fischer. Instead, you will gain a better understanding of Fischer’s complexities and see how his unique attributes served him so well in chess and so poorly in life.
Few people knew Bobby Fischer for as long or as well as Frank Brady did. It is unlikely that anyone understood him better or could have revealed Fischer’s life as completely and expertly as Brady has with Endgame. Never dry and never cliché, Endgame is required reading for anyone who wants to understand the mystery that was Robert Fischer. ...more