As a retired financial planner, whatever made me think I'd enjoy a comedy about falling off the desperate financial edge of 2008... not to mention the...moreAs a retired financial planner, whatever made me think I'd enjoy a comedy about falling off the desperate financial edge of 2008... not to mention the added aggravations of drug dealers and an unfaithful spouse? Well, I didn't actually enjoy the book so much as I needed it; for other readers, it might be comedy, pure and simple.
This is my first reading of a Jess Walter novel, and I must say I was impressed. Mr. Walter's work confirms his deft ear for dialect, his unwavering tropism for irony, and his masterful grasp for plotting the unexpected. (less)
"The Fencing Master" by Arturo Perez-Reverte is a throwback to another time... in fact, even within the 1868 time setting of the story, the protagonis...more"The Fencing Master" by Arturo Perez-Reverte is a throwback to another time... in fact, even within the 1868 time setting of the story, the protagonist (a fencing master, go figure) is a throwback to another time, an era of pure honor and purer scruples. Of course, such an era has never existed, but within any moment there exist those Quixotic souls who live as if one might transcend the hungry groveling of politics, economics and sexuality.
Such behavior may be fantasy, but in my opinion so are most poetic and religious concepts. Does this worry me? Not terribly. Anyone who has loved "Don Quixote," "The Lord of the Rings," "The Old Man and the Sea," (and so many more) will understand what I'm trying to describe: Only by keeping alive the illusions of perfection, trust, sacrifice and love -- only by deluding ourselves just a bit -- can we face the random Darwinian cruelties of existence.
And in that sense, "The Fencing Master" is an existential story. One may not be able to effect change or impose codes of behavior upon the evolving whims and demands of human society, but one can choose to uphold those tenets in spite of the futility.
I'm not certain what impresses me more about "The Fencing Master:" that the book is so good, or that Sr. Perez wrote it at age thirty-seven. Precocious fellow.
(Hats off to Margaret Jull Costa for this exquisite translation from the original Spanish.(less)
The time is 1957, or is it 2013? Or maybe 1985?… oh well, something like that. The setting is along a stream in Appalachia, or is it aboard a Sputnik...moreThe time is 1957, or is it 2013? Or maybe 1985?… oh well, something like that. The setting is along a stream in Appalachia, or is it aboard a Sputnik large enough to carry a cryogenic crypt, an organic recycling fuel center and a menu of pork and beans? Or is it maybe in the basement of a Scottish computer lab?
The story is dead serious speculative fiction… or is it maybe a Mark Twain tongue-in-cheek country-boy tale? Or a Douglas Adams spoof on both? And the existential attainment of peace of mind makes great sense, but does it really compute? Speaking of computing, wouldn’t you just love to command your own time travel agenda with an antique Commodore 64 home computer that makes friends with a ready-to-serve-you robot, the Iapetus-Five (your basic Yappity-Guy?)
If you want questions for all of your answers, shouldn’t you be reading The Telstar by Samuel J Addison? (less)
I read this book more than a decade and a half ago, so I won't attempt an in-depth review. The book touched me quite deeply--mostly shoring up beliefs...moreI read this book more than a decade and a half ago, so I won't attempt an in-depth review. The book touched me quite deeply--mostly shoring up beliefs about humankind's place in the world--but there was a kind of smarminess about it that has also stayed with me.(less)
Río Penitente, Angus Brownfield's newly-published tour de force set in Mexico and California, proves that masterfully executed literature has claimed...moreRío Penitente, Angus Brownfield's newly-published tour de force set in Mexico and California, proves that masterfully executed literature has claimed a natural homeland in the cyberworld of the eBook. ## Río Penitente chronicles the physical and metaphysical journey of three unlikely companions: Robert Gattling, Berto and Conchita. They move through an assortment of the sages, goddesses. fools and ferrymen that seem to inhabit such journeys. ## The financially comfortable Robert Gattling, a Hemingway-esque Californian steeped in Catholic concepts of sin, regret and expiation, strikes a bargain with his own soul. He will serve as mentor, savior and border-crossing coyote for two unschooled peso-less Mexican vagabonds, Berto and Conchita, a young couple whose worldview is shaped by an admixture of campesino traditions, envy, violence and pop culture. If Gattling's quest succeeds, if Berto and Conchita can be led to their mythical Promised Land, then Gattling's life sins will be forgiven (at least that's his delusion). But what happens if there are problems: sexual, cultural, legal? Well... that's why we have a story, isn't it? ## Notwithstanding Gattling's Christian/guilt background, Río Penitente is an existential book; thus forgiveness is an expensive commodity indeed. It's neither simple nor cheap. It cannot be purchased for a Communion wafer and a sip of wine. ## I was first drawn to Brownfield's Mexico mythos in his earlier novel, El Maestro (available as an eBook via several vendors), which I read in another format a decade ago. Brownfield expands and hones the vision created in the earlier book. He is a mature craftsman at the height of his artistic power.(less)
As the author of the book, I'll recuse myself from the task of judging "Spirit Thorn, A Tale of Parallel Worlds," by Zacharias O'Bryan. There are many...moreAs the author of the book, I'll recuse myself from the task of judging "Spirit Thorn, A Tale of Parallel Worlds," by Zacharias O'Bryan. There are many others willing both to praise and criticize the work. To those who have praised it: Thank you! Everyone can use a little reassurance. To those who have criticized it: Sorry it didn't meet expectations. No one knows better than I the shortcomings of the book.
What I can say in an author review, is that, for me, the book succeeds partially. As we move into an era of human knowledge and belief systems derived from science, I have been intrigued with issues of spirituality. Tribal desert gods of certain Mideastern tribes of several thousand years ago do not speak to me. So the book is one piece of a growing, universal question; my own entry into the dialogue out of which new spiritual answers will someday emerge: What kind of cosmology will blend the growing knowledge base of science with our need for story, myth and spirituality?(less)
I'll keep it short, because most everything has already been said. The book absolutely dominated my attention for a week or two. The alienated Midwest...moreI'll keep it short, because most everything has already been said. The book absolutely dominated my attention for a week or two. The alienated Midwest upbringing, the almost violent rebellions (usually for no real reason)-- it all rang perfectly true. That's the first half of the novel. It has the kind of close focus of books by Kerouac and Henry Miller.
At about the halfway point, Dow's person saga intrudes on the book his real-life descent into madness. Via the book, I felt each dip and swerve as Dow Mossman's life unraveled. This is the only chronicle of schizophrenia worth reading that I'm aware of. It's an amazing ride, and because the book is a coming-of-age book, this is one man's story. Novel? Memoir? Yes to both.
Why 4-star instead of 5-star on the review? Because I longed for some kind of closure -- I wish I could re the book he SET OUT TO WRITE before the voices in his head became too loud to ignore.
Reommended for those who are patient readers. Most of us have spent some time with the severely mentally ill. Such a conversation requires patience. Imagine reading a thick book set in the heart of delusion.(less)
In some ways similar to "The Exorcist," Williams' "War in Heaven" crosses genre, being both a horror book and a theological speculation. It doesn't ha...moreIn some ways similar to "The Exorcist," Williams' "War in Heaven" crosses genre, being both a horror book and a theological speculation. It doesn't have the driving force of "The Exorcist," but its roots are the same: a Manichean Christianity in which good guys and bad guys war over the souls of the undecided.
The book is quite personal, focusing the battle upon a small group of English men and women, along with one child, who are drawn together by the re-emergence of the Holy Grail--or "Graal," as Williams preferred. But this is no King Arthur tale. The Graal, having been the serving vessel at the Last Supper, is a power object: a focus of spiritual forces that may be used for good or evil. The evil, as in most of these books, is somehow more interesting than the good... but that was probably Williams' intent. If power for power's sake were not intriguing, who would bother?
The character of the country clergyman interested me thoroughly-- a bit of the calm Sage which has entered Western literature via Eastern thought. He was a very believable hero -- though, once again, no shining armor.
Though I share almost none of Mr. Williams' theological views, I very much enjoy his storytelling. The book may be 70+ years old, but human nature has changed very little in those years.(less)
Just finished Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, the fictional account of an Ethiopian-born surgeon, raised at a mission hospital, trained under v...moreJust finished Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, the fictional account of an Ethiopian-born surgeon, raised at a mission hospital, trained under very primitive conditions, caught up in a bizarre love affair and a revolution.
Like a John Irving book (in fact, Irving is a friend of Verghese), this is an epic on a personal scale. Beautifully done, in spite of a slow start. The fact that it took Verghese over 100 pages to truly introduce the protagonist ends up having a pay-off, as every protagonist of every story is rooted in the history that surrounds his time and place.
Give it a try... but, as with a 19th Century Russian novel, don't expect the pacing to knock you out of your shoes. (less)
The Amulet, by Alison Pensy, succeeds on several levels. Set in England and the world of Faerie, the book chronicles the adventures of Faedra, a young woman of mixed human and faerie blood, as she awakens to both her hereditary powers and responsibilities. As an adventure, the book certainly does not disappoint. There are chases, betrayals, loves and surprises aplenty.
Beyond storyline, the book also succeeds in blending the mythology of the Celtic Age with the wants and needs of current-day youth: friends, celebrations, dogs, horses, a much-loved father, and a fondly-remembered mother. Pensy wisely does not dodge the early dawnings of eros in her heroine, and we rediscover the joy and trust that define erotic love early in one’s life.
Perhaps most important for girls of the 21st Century, The Amulet is an allegory of empowerment for our own daughters and sisters. At the end of the rainbow, today’s young women can anticipate fulfillments greatly surpassing silk gowns, glass slippers, and a handsome prince or two. Pensy’s heroine is every bit as likely as the hero to make a wise decision, face a danger, or deal with the inevitable set-back.
People of both sexes and any age will enjoy the story, but it will appeal most viscerally to girls between ages 9 and 15.
The book opens a three-book set. I predict Alison Pensy will become well-known and loved in the world of young adult books. (less)