One of the few Louise Penny mysteries that doesn't have a Three Pines connection or setting, and I enjoyed it for that change-of-pace reason as well a...moreOne of the few Louise Penny mysteries that doesn't have a Three Pines connection or setting, and I enjoyed it for that change-of-pace reason as well as the usual good writing and great characterization. Loved the fact that one of the mysteries solved was more than 400 years old and that it wasn't Gamache who solved it. (less)
Rebus is back as a civilian police consultant working on cold cases and considering reapplying to the force. Malcolm Fox is not best pleased, and whil...moreRebus is back as a civilian police consultant working on cold cases and considering reapplying to the force. Malcolm Fox is not best pleased, and while the Rebus/Fox dust-up is really just a skirmish, you know it's only the opening salvo in a battle that will leave both men wounded. That's only a subplot though - Rebus in his inimitably annoying to all his colleagues fashion manages to get a serial killer into custody and solve five murders instead of just one. As he himself would say, 'Result!'(less)
My copy of this book was called Dead Cold as well. My least favourite of the five or six Armand Gamache novels I've read to date. Felt this one had a...moreMy copy of this book was called Dead Cold as well. My least favourite of the five or six Armand Gamache novels I've read to date. Felt this one had a fair number of loose ends, gaps, and implausibilities. But Penny is a wonderful writer and that doesn't change even when plotting and characterization falter. And I was reminded in this one that Gamache learned English at Oxford. That wouldn't make him speak English with a British accent. And it doesn't make Nathaniel Parker a more credible choice as the small-screen Gamache. But it makes him a less outrageous choice.(less)
Although I preferred the movie of The Kite Runner to the novel and I can no longer remember A Thousand Splendid Suns (maybe I didn't read it? will hav...moreAlthough I preferred the movie of The Kite Runner to the novel and I can no longer remember A Thousand Splendid Suns (maybe I didn't read it? will have to check), I was delighted by this novel. Hosseini is an assured, skilled writer at this point in his career, capable of both subtle characterization, great plotting and evocative scene-setting.
Life in Afghanistan has probably always been complicated, but perhaps never more so than now, after the alliance with the Soviets, invasion by other foreign powers, and the ongoing issues created by the Taliban. The novel is far less a primer on Afghani geo-socio politics and the diaspora they've created though than it is an extended meditation on family, aging, love, the decisions we make and their often unintended consequences. Have to disagree with this line from the review below: 'Description holds the narrative together more effectively than plot, and small moments ring truer than momentous events—a jealous sister’s wicked act of vengeance feels melodramatic; a kindly doctor’s colossal failure of a child he cares for seems unlikely.' Perhaps it's because I've experienced familial separation and deception engineered by dominant family members and enjoyed subsequent unlikely reunions (one of my cousins was not so lucky - by the time she confirmed she was adopted after being lied to for years and tracked down her birth mother she was dead) that have left me profoundly grateful for the ease of finding the long lost via the internet (we can't all afford to hire private detectives!). All the characters in this book and their behaviours rang true for me. I loved the fact that the plot was complicated and that so many characters were 'fat' in the Forster sense rather than 'thin' (which is a criticism I think can validly be made of Wayne Johnston's The Son of a Certain Woman which I reviewed here earlier today although I didn't think of it at the time - only two developed characters in an almost 400-page novel with a reasonably large cast. Both novels have characters caught in the 'love that dare not speak its name' conundrum - I'm always amazed at the random synchronicity of themes in my reading).
Very brief review. I reluctantly read this trilogy (trust me, I have been 'trying' with science fiction since 1974 and it's not working). Liked the fi...moreVery brief review. I reluctantly read this trilogy (trust me, I have been 'trying' with science fiction since 1974 and it's not working). Liked the first two in the series to my surprise; found this one a rather unsatisfying end and less than compelling. But hey, it's over now, and I can always go back and reread the Atwood novels I love, like Alias Grace, The Robber Bride and yes, The Edible Woman. Erm - not edible in the Rob Ford sense of the word.(less)
I love Wayne Johnston's historical fiction, whether it's his tales of Newfoundland or of Brooklyn. When I was reading this one, I tweeted that I was e...moreI love Wayne Johnston's historical fiction, whether it's his tales of Newfoundland or of Brooklyn. When I was reading this one, I tweeted that I was enjoying it (I was at about the one-third point then), and @JanetSomerville tweeted back that it was 'Irving-esque.' That can be a good thing - and a bad thing, as Irving's work is very uneven (I realize I cannot get back the time I spent reading Son of the Circus, the book I've heard was published with a no-editing clause). I assume Janet was referring to better Irvings, like A Prayer for Owen Meany or Cider House Rules.
Once again, I'm never sure how much my mood affects what I'm reading, so perhaps I would have liked this one better if I'd read it at a different time. Both Percy Joyce and his mother, Penelope, are 'different' at a time and in a place where religious, sexual and social conformity are prized (St. John's in the 1950s and early 1960s - although that was true throughout North America). Percy is born out of wedlock (sorry to use that phrase, but trust me, that was the condemnatory phrase that was used for at least the first 20 years of my life - Percy and I are contemporaries) with serious physical issues, a syndrome that means his face is covered with a huge 'strawberry' birthmark and grotesquely oversized hands and feet. The local Archbishop takes Percy under his wing to ensure he isn't bullied or beaten up at school, and also decrees that corporal punishment (standard at the time, we've all heard the tales of strapping and stropping and caning by headmasters both in the UK and in religious and public schools in Canada) is not appropriate for Percy no matter how he misbehaves. He also helps Penelope by giving her Archdiocese work she can do at home.
But this novel just didn't work for me, I'm afraid, and the problem lies not in the writing but in the believability of the characters. Why would a very attractive woman who's an avid reader be attracted to an illiterate character who is not particularly attractive? And why would that attraction persist for more than 20 years? For me this is reminiscent of Germaine Greer saying at one point that educated women should date blue collar men. Opposites may well attract but I'm not so sure they're the basis for many long-term relationships, and those we choose in adolescence are rarely those we'd choose in our 40s. Is it believable that a woman like Penelope would react to being forced to conform by flouting society's conventions even more, in private? Like the Quill and Quire reviewer, there were portions of this novel I found tedious, and I struggled to finish it.
I'm liking this series a lot, especially Malcolm Fox's character development and his vulnerability. Investigating fellow officers' misdeeds isn't desi...moreI'm liking this series a lot, especially Malcolm Fox's character development and his vulnerability. Investigating fellow officers' misdeeds isn't designed to make you popular within a police force, and Fox is well aware of this. But the fact that he starts to question his talents as an investigator (can he cut it in CID?) is a nice twist. This novel stretches back 30 years and in that way it's a bit like the Life on Mars series, where the clash is between old and new police methods and behaviours, and issues like transparency and accountability, and the underlying question is, 'what is it acceptable when you need to get a result?' Also interesting to learn a little of the history of the Scottish National Party and its transformation from a radical to a mainstream movement.(less)
I'm not the world's biggest fan of Andre Dubus III. I struggled with The House of Sand and Fog (although it was made into a fantastic movie, one of th...moreI'm not the world's biggest fan of Andre Dubus III. I struggled with The House of Sand and Fog (although it was made into a fantastic movie, one of the few instances when I've preferred the movie to the book - The Kite Runner was the other one). And I have no memory whatsoever of The Garden of Last Days, although I remember liking it better than Sand and Fog.
Initially I found this memoir of Dubus' childhood and youth a bit of a struggle. But I persevered, and I'm very glad I did. I wouldn't agree with the blurb that this is a meditation on violence. It is, rather, a meditation on love, acceptance, and appreciation of the fact that we are all inherently flawed.
Somehow Dubus manages to deliver a very real portrait of both his parents: a largely absent father who's astonished to discover his son knows nothing about baseball but doesn't quite manage to put the pieces together, i.e. doesn't realize that his near-total absence from his childrens' lives means no one's ever taught them to throw a ball or take them to a baseball game; and a mother who's largely absent because she's struggling to support four children while working full-time and commuting well over two hours a day. Somehow he manages to love and to forgive both his parents for their neglect, and to appreciate the struggles and sacrifices they've made, which is what makes this such a remarkable book. Good to read in the context of Martin Amis' memoir of his father, Kingsley Amis (Experience). (less)
I'm sure I'm not the only one whose reading develops an odd and unintended synchronicity now that it's self-directed. It fascinates me that given the...moreI'm sure I'm not the only one whose reading develops an odd and unintended synchronicity now that it's self-directed. It fascinates me that given the vagaries of a reading schedule that's now driven by library holds arriving whenever, books loaned to me by friends as well as books bought, that I'll end up reading two novels within a month of each other that focus on brother-sister relationships. So, having just finished Pat Barker's Toby's Room, in which Elinor's quest is to find out how her brother died in WWI, the next novel I read was this one, in which another woman struggles with her relationship with her brilliant but tragically - for all who encounter him - flawed brother.
I will confess it was the beauty of the cover that first attracted me to this novel (and it's interesting to me that the cover of this book is the single most repinned item I've attached to a Pinterest board, so I'm obviously not alone). In fact, ALL the covers I've seen for various editions of this book are gorgeous.
Briefly: Oscar, a care assistant at a nursing home, by chance meets two King's College Cambridge students, Iris and her brother Eden Bellwether. Both accomplished musicians, Iris is following in her father's footsteps and taking a degree in medicine; Eden is doing a master's in music and is not only a virtuoso organist but composer as well. Throughout the novel, Iris struggles with the developing love she feels for Oscar and the murky and complex love she has for her brother. She alternates between believing in her brother's mad theories about the power of music to heal and the suspicion that he's deeply troubled and a danger not only to himself but to others.
This is a remarkably accomplished first novel and I'm surprised it hasn't won any awards (although it's been nominated for a few). It is, however, an oddly old-fashioned - or perhaps I should say uncontemporary - novel to have been written by such a young man (Wood was at most 31 when it was published). Even though Iris and Eden's father has made a bundle investing in a telesurgery company, these characters could easily be living in the 1930s. Personally I thought that gave it a timeless quality, but for others it may strain the bounds of verisimilitude. Except for the prelude, its structure is almost entirely linear, and there are no experimental pyrotechnics here. But it's a fascinating psychological thriller, and I think the review below is more than a little uncharitable. Oscar's character is not so much mysterious as understated, and as a reader I don't mind not being clobbered by an author who insists on showing rather than telling and asks that the reader bring their mind to the reading table.
My first reading adventure with Emily St. John Mandel, and it's made me want to read more of her work. She's an interesting and accomplished writer, a...moreMy first reading adventure with Emily St. John Mandel, and it's made me want to read more of her work. She's an interesting and accomplished writer, and stylistically the words glide off the page (although I'd say her writing style is a lot closer to the honey of Chet Baker's classic ballad trumpet playing than Django Rheinhardt's jazz guitar - but then I tend to think all jazz guitarists are wankers).
Gavin Sasaki is a journalist turned real estate foreclosure repo man and amateur private eye who returns to his home town of Sebastian, Florida after he's fired for plagiarism. There are moments of real humour in this dark tale, especially Gavin's outrage that his newspaper plagiarizes the Jayson Blair/New York Times apology when commenting on his own misdeeds. His mission is to track down his high school girlfriend and the daughter he fathered. Along the way he encounters the members of his high school jazz quartet again (of the title), all of whom have pieces of the puzzle of what's happened to his high school girlfriend Anna. Mandel does characterization very well, and there's a lot of subtlety here as well as some pretty intricate relationship-weaving. In many ways this novel is about trust, and about how an inability to trust can cause harm. Sometimes the inability to trust means not making oneself emotionally vulnerable; other times it means the inability to trust the fact that we're not the same people at 30 that we were at 17.
Towards the end of the interview she claims she doesn't read 'reader reviews' on sites like this one or Amazon. I think she's missing out, from the response I'm seeing here. We're not all mean, illiterate turds, Emily. Really. ;)(less)
Strange to read the cover blurb and learn that the novel supposedly follows the fortunes of four inhabitants of NW (actually a much smaller area of Lo...moreStrange to read the cover blurb and learn that the novel supposedly follows the fortunes of four inhabitants of NW (actually a much smaller area of London NW, Willesden). It really only follows three, Leah, Felix, and Natalie (who has reinvented herself as a barrister and rarely answers to her given name, Keisha). The fourth character, Nathan Bogle, is the shadowy object of Leah's teenaged desire, and really only makes a direct appearance in the novel at its end.
I just don't quite know what to think of this novel. It's readable, which is good (I wasn't able to read White Teeth and I didn't bother with Autograph Man although I liked On Beauty and Smith's essays on literature are things of beauty). I'm not even sure I can identify its theme(s) - and I don't know whether that's my fault or the author's. I suppose a case could be made for the overarching theme being, 'wherever you go, there you are' - which is rather bleak. There isn't really any textual explanation for why even the upwardly mobile characters in the novel can't seem to escape Willesden. Both Leah and Natalie/Keisha go to non-London universities - but neither one of them seems to consider for an instant not returning to their home turf, even though they're able to cut their family ties significantly. But when Natalie/Keisha not only passes her bar exams but marries 'well,' she insists on buying first a flat and then a house in Willesden, even though the only childhood friendship she retains is with Leah, and over the protests of her husband.
Felix too triumphs over his upbringing for a while, conquering addictions, finding love and hope. But he never leaves the 'hood.
Perhaps this Guardian review will shed more light on the novel:
After reading Petterson's I Curse the River of Time a month or so ago, I plunged into Out Stealing Horses with gusto. Despite the fact Out Stealing Ho...moreAfter reading Petterson's I Curse the River of Time a month or so ago, I plunged into Out Stealing Horses with gusto. Despite the fact Out Stealing Horses won the 2007 International Impac Dublin Literary Award, I still prefer River of Time. But this novel is quite wonderful, and I'm rapidly developing a huge crush on Norwegian novelists (ok I confess the only other Norwegian novelist whose work I've read is Knut Hamsun - who else has been translated into English?).
Moving back and forth in time from the present day to the narrator's childhood during WWII, this is a moving meditation on fatherhood, love, loss, and the pain we inflict on others accidentally and intentionally. While carefully paced and movingly written, what I liked best about this novel was the fact that not all the loose ends were tied up at the end and yet it was no less satisfying a read as a result.(less)