I know I just added this book yesterday, but I opened it at 1 pm when it arrived, let everything else go, skipped dinner, and read the entire night th...moreI know I just added this book yesterday, but I opened it at 1 pm when it arrived, let everything else go, skipped dinner, and read the entire night through because I could not put it down. I guess you might say that I LOVED this book:
a) It's about polar exploration, probably my favorite nonfiction reading topic in the universe, b) it's by Hampton Sides, who has not let me down yet with any of his books, and c) it's just so engrossing that I couldn't stop reading it. I'm pretty tired and cranky right now, but what the hell -- it was so worth it. Once again Hampton Sides has proven that he is not only a master of his topic but also a master of storytelling.
I've written up my thoughts about this book at the nonfiction page of my online reading journal; feel free to click on over. For now, I'll just reiterate how fanbloodytastic I found this book.
I seriously can't do this book the justice it deserves, but In the Kingdom of Ice is an absolutely phenomenal story told by a master storyteller, and it deserves as wide of a reading audience as possible. Even readers who might not normally be excited about the history of polar exploration would love this book -- the story is harrowing enough, but Mr. Sides highlights the humanity and the sheer bravery of these heroic men facing the unendurable in one of the most unforgiving environments in the world. The book literally reads like a novel, complete with cliffhangers, moments for rejoicing, and above all, page-turning scenes making it impossible to set the book down. It's an ultimate true "rollicking adventure" story, one that should be on everyone's reading list. To answer other reader criticism, yes, there's a lot of detail involved, but none of it is wasted space or used as padding as so often seems to be the case. I cannot recommend this book highly enough -- on the favorites list of 2014.
... someone should get in touch with Ken Burns -- this would make a fascinating PBS special.(less)
There are very few novels that have ever a) made me squirm while reading them and b) made me feel like I really ought to go and wash my...more3.75 rounded up
There are very few novels that have ever a) made me squirm while reading them and b) made me feel like I really ought to go and wash my hands each time I set the book down, but this one succeeded in doing both. At the same time, the novel is compelling enough so that I couldn't not pick it up again -- the characters are so repulsive that I just had to keep reading.
If you want plot outline, etc., you can click here to go directly to this entry in my reading journal blog; otherwise, read on for what I think about this book.
Summer House With Swimming Pool leaves the reader to examine the motivations of each and every character in this novel, especially those belonging to Schlosser, who as narrator is the only source for what actually happened. The reader knows from the outset that there's something not quite right with him; as he goes about dispensing his own observations on his world, he interjects the teachings of one of his old university profs whose own bizarre beliefs got him tossed out of the academic world. Parenthood, especially the raising of daughters is a huge theme -- here these young girls are thrust into a space of irresponsible adult behavior that creates an obviously sexually-charged environment. How do parents protect their daughters in this situation? The question of violence and what might set it off in otherwise outwardly "normal" seeming people is also examined. And as noted above, the adults in this novel are pretty repellent -- and one would think that the good doctor would learn something from his experiences, but well, I leave it to the reader to decide whether or not this is the case.
There's always more going on underneath the surface in this novel, and despite its repulsive characters and very difficult material (especially as the parent of a young daughter), I couldn't help but remain mesmerized throughout. It's twisted, disturbing, and definitely not for the squeamish -- and despite all of the uncomfortable squirming in my chair while reading it, it's even sometimes darkly funny. However, it was always compelling me forward. My only criticisms of this novel are a) the ending sort of faltered -- for one thing, the main character just sort of ran out of steam in comparison to the rest of the novel, and for another, considering the tone of the rest of the novel, it just didn't pack as big of a punch as I would have expected; b) the action sort of sags in the middle before it picks up again. Bottom line though: I liked it and would easily recommend it. I probably should have started with Mr. Koch's The Dinner; I'll be pulling that book out here very shortly. And I'll also say that should another one of this author's books be translated and published here, I'll be one of the first people to buy it. (less)
I have a lengthy review on the crime page of my reading journal, so if you want the longie, click here. Otherwise, read on.
As Sorrow Bound opens, DS Aector McAvoy in Hull, East Yorkshire, is called to a horrific murder scene which might be gang related - McAvoy's boss tells him that the murdered woman had recently spoken out publicly against street dealers wrecking the neighborhood. When another woman is murdered, the police make a discovery that throws the gang-related theory right out the window. However, while Aector is busy with the police-mandated shrink, moving his family into a new home and trying to function in this investigation with very little sleep, a drug runner makes a serious error that will bring a cocky, self-styled "prince of the city" drug dealer with a lot of serious, well-placed protection behind him crashing into the life of one of McAvoy's colleagues and into the lives of McAvoy's family.
David Mark's third entry in this series featuring DS Aector McAvoy is the best he's written and also the darkest of all three books. For some people the dark tone of the novel may be a drawback, but for me, it's a definite plus. He ratchets up both the tension and the darkness, and there's nothing at all formulaic to complain about in this series of police procedurals. Once I picked it up, I didn't want to stop reading it.
So here's the big niggle (which is really hard to scoot around since I don't really want to give anything away): one of the main recurring characters does something that is so totally out of character and so completely unexpected that it absolutely threw me into "WTF?" mode. Then not long afterward, the same person, who you'd think would be so frightened as to listen to advice at this point, does something so foolishly stupid as to be just plain dumb, also very much out of character. I suspect that the repercussions that may follow for the last scene in this novel will lead to a major game changer for what's next in the series, and to an even bigger angst-fest than I've seen in any of the McAvoy novels so far. And since I'm a big fan of both McAvoy and of David Mark, I will be waiting right here to see it all unfold.
While you most certainly can read this book as a standalone, I'm a true series purist so my advice is to start with The Dark Winter and continue with Original Skin before reading Sorrow Bound. I found that by now I have a better feel for the very angst-laden DS McAvoy and what drives him. Just a heads up: this is no cutesy little cozy.
My thanks again to Blue Rider Press for the lovely copy they sent me to read. (less)
I don't think it's fair to give a star rating to this book when I'm so torn. Maybe a 3, I don't know -- I'm not a big critical reader, more on the cas...moreI don't think it's fair to give a star rating to this book when I'm so torn. Maybe a 3, I don't know -- I'm not a big critical reader, more on the casual side, but this book has some issues.
I have a longer entry about this novel at my reading journal, where I do a plot summary as well as what's written here, so click if you want that, hang here if you don't.
To be very honest, I'm sort of torn in my reaction to this novel. There is quite a bit about this novel to like - but it also has its down side, which is why my reaction is sort of muddled here. I'll start with the positives.
I was very much taken with the family history being so prevalent throughout the story. Cordelia, for example, often turns to Brumwitt's paintings that she's so carefully studied -- Woody once told her that the "history and the future" of the family were to be found in Brumfitt's paintings; he'd "painted all of the memories of Loosewood Island, even the ones that hadn't happened yet." At one point in the story, she even references a painting during a radio call for help to describe a situation she doesn't want everyone listening to know about. This same technique is used by the author at various important points where the paintings mirror what's happening, helping to move the action along so that he doesn't have to spend a lot of time describing what's going on. I also liked how he incorporates the tourists who have at some point decided to stay on the island who have set up a community of artists, and the "Brumfitt walks" that people can take. Another positive aspect of this novel is the closeness of this community of long-time island regulars who now find themselves being invaded by contemporary issues that are encroaching upon the way things have always been on the island -- the modern meth trade for easy money that substitutes for the traditional hard-work ethic, the arrogance of the seasonal tourists who build their houses and complain about the lobster boats blighting their ocean view, lobster poaching, and outsider views on lobster fishing that pits money against sustainability. Then there are the characters in the Kings family. The sisters have their spats, which is realistic; I was most especially drawn to Woody for his ability to reign in his daughter when she got too uppity and gung-ho, and to Cordelia for sticking up for herself, for the value she places on family history and tradition, and because as scrappy as she is, she ultimately ends up not coming across as some one-sided tough-as-nails person who captains her own lobster boat.
Now for my issues: In the first part of the book, where the author introduces the family's mystical lore, the island's history, and the Kings girls during their childhood, the writing is just so good, flowing very nicely and sucking me right into the story. I remember thinking at page 84 that if the rest of the book is written like this, I knew I was going to love it. Alas - we not too much later take a turn into sheer melodrama, centering on the drug dealer who came back to the island after his father died. When some of the locals get wind that he's on the island, not fishing but dealing meth, they take care of him in their own way. Add to this a murder subplot involving a showdown at sea, and the combination of the these scenes left me surprised at how much the book's tone had changed and had become reminiscent of a western movie or modern-day vigilante flick. The change highlighted for me the overall inconsistency in the writing. And while I was really into the Kings' family relationship, and wanted them to turn out well, the ending got plain sappy. Plus, let's get real: the whole King Lear thing just didn't come across as well as it might have.
I'm really torn on this one. For the most part, I liked the people in the Kings family, I was taken with the idea of this small, closely-knit island community facing some tough issues and changes coming from the outside. I didn't even mind the more fantastical elements built in to the novel's beginning, although one later instance in particular came across as a little too far-fetched to be taken in stride as just another moment of magical realism. It's just that the unevenness of the writing got to me after a while and left me kind of shaking and scratching my head. I'd tentatively recommend it based on the positive aspects mentioned above, and I will say that even though this book may not be a favorite of mine for this year, I'm still going to pull out my other novel by this author (Touch) and give it a try.(less)
3.25 stars. Let's put it this way...not one of my favorite King novels.
This is the short review; the longer one is at the crime page of my reading j...more3.25 stars. Let's put it this way...not one of my favorite King novels.
This is the short review; the longer one is at the crime page of my reading journal.
Detective William (Bill) Hodges has recently retired, and sits watching mindless television day after day, often with a gun in his lap and thoughts of suicide not too far off. When he left the force, he left behind a few unsolved cases he'd been working on, but the one that haunts him most is that of the Mercedes Killer, so named because he drove a big Mercedes into a gigantic crowd of people waiting in line behind ropes for the opening of a job fair (promising 1,000 jobs) on a foggy morning, killing several including a baby. But Bill's ennui is about to be lifted -- he receives a letter from someone who says he's responsible, telling Bill that since he is such a big failure, he should just kill himself. The letter writer, who just a few pages later we're told is Brady Hartsfield (aka the "Mr. Mercedes" of the title), tells Bill that he can communicate with him via a very private chat/social site called Under Debbie's Blue Umbrella, where the "perk," as he calls himself, has already set up Hodges with a user name. Bill knows that he should probably turn the letter in to his old partner Pete, but he's intrigued -- and he wants to nail this guy. Rather than inspiring Bill to eat his gun, the letter gets his blood flowing again, and he decides to take this bad guy on -- but on Bill's terms.
Mr. Mercedes is a good enough read for a lazy couple of days in that laying-on-the-beach kind of book-that-you-can-read quickly sort of way. It's definitely a crime thriller with no supernatural elements involved, the perfect escape novel when you want something sort of mindless to read while you're relaxing in the summer sun. I'm afraid I didn't enjoy it as much as others seem to have, but that's okay. I'm sure that even without my vote it will become a huge bestseller. (less)
Wow. I went to get publisher info (ISBN, # of pages) from Amazon and and was floored by the negative reviews of t...moreARC, courtesy of Harper -- thank you!
Wow. I went to get publisher info (ISBN, # of pages) from Amazon and and was floored by the negative reviews of this book. In my opinion, they are largely uncalled for, but hey - chacun à son goût, as they say. I mean, there are a lot of books I didn't like that people absolutely loved, so whatever. Personally, I had a great time with this novel and have already recommended it to a number of people; I've also put it on the list for my book group to read in 2015. Obviously, I liked it. A lot.
Slava Gelman comes from a family of Russian immigrants who had settled in Brooklyn. He'd made a conscious decision to "become an American," to leave his grandfather Yevgeny's "neighborhood of Russians, Belarussians, Ukrainians, Moldovans, Georgians and Uzbeks" and set his sights on working for Century, a longstanding and prestigious magazine, "older than The New Yorker and, despite a recent decline, forever a paragon." Staying in the neighborhood would keep him among the ranks of those who ". . . don't go to America," except for the DMV and Brodvei," or who "shop at marts that sold birch-leafed switches" to "whip yourself in the steam bath and rare Turkish shampoos that reversed baldness . . ." but this is not what Slava wants. He had to leave, in order to
"strip from his writing the pollution that reposessed it every time he returned to the swamp broth of Soviet Brooklyn."
In short, to write for Century, he had to get away, to "Dialyze himself, like Grandmother's kidneys." So it's off to Manhattan and a sparsely-furnished, affordable studio apartment. As he's about to find out, getting away is not so easy.
As the novel opens, it's July, 2006, and just after 5 am, Slava is surprised by the ringing of the telephone. It's not because it's so early, but rather because no one ever calls him, not even his family, since he'd "forbidden" them to call. He doesn't answer it, but the second time it rings, it's his mother telling him that his "grandmother isn't." She'd died alone in the care facility. He hadn't seen Grandmother Sofia for about a month, and now she's gone, and as his mother puts it, it's the family's "first American death." After the funeral, Yevgeny asks him to write a narrative that would allow him to collect reparations as a victim of the Holocaust. He hands Slava an envelope, addressed to Sofia who was registered at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. When Slava notes that this was for his grandmother, not his grandfather, his grandfather tells him to make it up. As he states,
"Maybe I didn't suffer in the exact way I need to have suffered ... but they made sure to kill all the people who did. "
Eventually Slava gives in, and he starts thinking about all of the things that his grandparents never told him, and how he really knew nothing about his grandmother's life and what she'd gone through. What little he does know goes into the narrative, and the rest, he invents but makes fit the story. His work is so good that word spreads, and Yevgeny pimps him out to write other narratives for friends. Each one builds a little more on the made-up, missing details of Sofia's life, and Slava begins to find it easier to lie, to fabricate, to make stuff up. He gets so good at it that he even starts doing it at his job at Century -- and it spills over into other parts of his life as well. However, the narratives he writes also have a few unintended results for Slava that he probably never could have predicted.
A Replacement Life made me laugh out loud in a few spots, especially when it came to the older folk in this book and the insider look at the Russian immigrant culture from someone who is part of it. On the other hand, it's also very touching, not only in terms of family relationships but also because of the history that's recalled in this book. Another positive: the Holocaust is a very large part of this story, but the terrors of the Holocaust, for the most part, are kept in check so you can focus on the modern-day narrative. And I don't understand why people have complained about the writing style: it's obvious that Mr. Fishman enjoys playing with language and playing with other writers' words in his own way. I found it very easy to read in terms of writing and style. This book I can definitely recommend -- and not simply as a summer read. (less)
A 3.75 rounded up. I have to say that imho, this is the best of Ms. Datlow's Best Horror of the Year collections so far. Sure, there are some stories...moreA 3.75 rounded up. I have to say that imho, this is the best of Ms. Datlow's Best Horror of the Year collections so far. Sure, there are some stories that didn't work for me, but that's to be expected in an anthology. Recommended for readers of horror who prefer to be frightened cerebrally rather than by gore splattered all over the pages.
My favorite in this book: "The House on Cobb Street", by Lynda E. Rucker. Listed below is the table of contents; I've given an overview at my reading journal's weird fiction/horror page so if you want the long version, feel free to click through.
“Apports” by Stephen Bacon “Mr. Splitfoot” by Dale Bailey “The Good Husband” by Nathan Ballingrud “The Tiger” by Nina Allan “The House on Cobb Street” by Lynda E. Rucker “The Soul in the Bell Jar” by K.J. Kabza “Call Out” by Stephen Toase “That Tiny Flutter of the Heart I Used to Call Love” by Robert Shearman “Bones of Crow” by Ray Cluley “Introduction to the Body in Fairy Tales” by Jeannine Hall Gailey “The Fox” by Conrad Williams “The Tin House” by Simon Clark “Stemming the Tide” by Simon Strantzas “The Anatomist’s Mnemonic” by Priya Sharma “The Monster Makers” by Steve Rasnic Tem “The Only Ending We Have” by Kim Newman “The Dog’s Paw” by Derek Künsken “Fine in the Fire” by Lee Thomas “Majorlena” by Jane Jakeman “The Withering” by Tim Casson “Down to a Sunless Sea” by Neil Gaiman “Jaws of Saturn” by Laird Barron “Halfway Home” by Linda Nagata and “The Same Deep Waters as You” by Brian Hodge(less)
Like 3.5 stars seems about right. I have a longer post about this book at my online reading journal; if you want a rundown on the short stories and a...moreLike 3.5 stars seems about right. I have a longer post about this book at my online reading journal; if you want a rundown on the short stories and a bit of controversy over one of them, go take a look.
There are eleven very weird stories by Philip M. Fisher (1891-1973) in this book. I'd never heard of him before, but now I'm going to try to find some of his other stuff.
*= I really liked this story
Introduction by Stefan Dziemianowicz "The Recent Demise of Professor Manried" (1917) "Queer" (1918) * "The Strange Case of Lemuel Jenkins" (1919) "The Ship of Silent Men" (1920) * -- One of my personal favorites in this volume, maybe the best one here. "The Master of Black" (1920) "The Man Who Put Himself Into His Work" (1920) [originally titled "Into His Work"] "Worlds Within Worlds" (1922) "Lights" (1922) "The Devil of the Western Sea" (1922) * "Fungus Isle" (1923) * "Beyond the Pole"(1924),
Beyond the Pole is basically a better-than-good, not great collection of strange tales. Some you have to use a mental machete to hack through the scientific jargon, making the stories a bit tedious in the reading, but even those are underpinned by otherwise cool storylines. It seems like the author wanted to make sure that his readers understood the science, so he added long sections of exposition to make everything clear. When authors do that sort of thing, though, it has the opposite effect on me -- I just get bored. And that's my biggest critique of this book -- the author's style. Other than that, I'm very happy to have found this guy -- I love weird, I love pulp, science fiction is okay and when you throw all of that in the mix, that's what you get in this volume.(less)
Actually, I finished this a little while ago, not today. I really, REALLY liked this book. I'm just posting a way shorter version of the longer post I...moreActually, I finished this a little while ago, not today. I really, REALLY liked this book. I'm just posting a way shorter version of the longer post I wrote at my reading journal blog; if you want the longer one, just click here.
A few months back while blurb-reading through the longlist for Australia's Stella Prize, the blurb of Moving Among Strangers caught my eye. I have no idea why -- I had absolutely no clue who Randolph Stow was, so really, my interest probably shouldn't have been so piqued. But it was as if this book somehow managed to exert some strange, weird pull on me and all I know is that I had to have it. While Randolph Stow, his writing, and his feelings about being a writer in Australia are all certainly a big part of this book, it is also a very personal sort of memoir of the author who, because of her interest in Stow, comes to understand more about her mother and father, and finds herself reconnected to long-absent members of her extended family. It is indeed a little gem of a book that combines her own family story to the story of this writer who penned the line "we are here as shipwrecked mariners on an island, moving among strangers, darkly." As I read through her memoir, this line out of Stow's The Girl Green as Elderflower (one of two epigraphs) came to take on a surprising amount of meaning in both lives.
Considering that I had no clue who Randolph Stow was when I first picked up this book, by the time I got to Ms. Carey's description of coming upon the location of the original merry-go-round by the sea in Geraldton, I was actually compelled to buy a copy of Stow's book of the same name. Moving Among Strangers is a lovely book that has a bit of a painful personal edge throughout that a reader can't help but to notice, offering a much more in-depth experience than say a straight-out biography of Stow would have. Ms. Carey also expresses herself in a straightforward way so as to make her book extremely reader friendly and accessible. I am not a big memoirs person, but truthfully, given that I was unfamiliar with the subject of this book, I was completely engrossed in this book the entire time I was reading it. It is definitely a book I can most highly recommend. (less)
Just a super book, and you can read more of what I think at the weird fiction page of my online reading journal if you aren't happy with the short ver...moreJust a super book, and you can read more of what I think at the weird fiction page of my online reading journal if you aren't happy with the short version here.
Here, in The Complete John Thunstone, all of Wellman's John Thunstone's stories have been collected in one volume, and while they're not all spine-tingling extravaganzas, the book is amazing, providing me with hours of pure weird and pulpy pleasure. First in this book comes all of the short stories, in some of which Thunstone takes on his arch-nemesis Rowley Thorne, who Ramsey Campbell says in his introduction "Manly Remembered" is Thunstone's Moriarty.
Thorne also returns in Wellman's novel-length story "The School of Darkness," at the end of this volume. Thunstone's love interest appears in these stories as well: Sharon, Countess Monteseco, although Thunstone does everything he can to prevent himself from getting deeply involved with her because of the threat to her from Rowley.
Aside from Thorne, Thunstone finds himself doing battle with the Shonokins, who claim to have existed long before "the Indians," who "took this country from creatures too terrible...to imagine, even though they are dead and leave only their fossil bones." According to one of them, the Shonokins "allowed the Indians to come," and retained only a few limited domains. When people trespass into these "limited domains," they meet with trouble -- and Thunstone is not far behind. The Shonokins have a ring finger longer than all of the fingers on their hands; they also can't tolerate being in the presence of their own dead.
Thunstone meets up with strange magic and powers not just with the Shonokins or Rowley Thorne, but comes across an Eskimo wizard, a woman who won't stay dead and buried, and regular people who somehow find themselves entangled in bad juju, usually because of their own greed.
After the short stories is Wellman's novel What Dreams May Come (not to be confused with the movie or Matheson's novel), where Thunstone, already in England, hears about a strange ritual in the village of Claines and decides to go and witness it for himself, only to be caught up in some very strange experiences.
The collection ends with "The School of Darkness," which wasn't nearly as good as What Dreams May Come, but still fun. Thunstone and three others participate in a symposium where they are to talk about their research and experiences, but of course, they get sidetracked with the return of who else? Rowley Thorne. The college where they are speaking has a long history involving witchcraft and diabolism, and Thorne becomes involved with the local coven whose leader and members have their own agenda for the future. Thunstone and his fellow participants have to combine their strengths to fight off a powerful enemy, whose tricks involve murder. I liked this one, but parts read like a group of superheroes who come together, put their respective rings together that go "bzzzzt" and voila, their powers are strengthened. Here they all smoke a pipe filled with magically-protective materials rather than wear rings to touch together, but still.
The Complete John Thunstone has moved into the ranks of favorite books in my library, and I can most definitely recommend this work of pulpy goodness with just the right touch of weird. There are a couple of Lovecraft mentions as well as a reference to the Necronomicon included, the stories are good, old-fashioned cool pulpy delight, and when it comes down to it, this entire book is 600+ pages of fun. (less)
4.5 rounded up. Forgive the uber-long review, but I loved this book and really want to share.
I don't know the last time I've ever been this unsettled...more4.5 rounded up. Forgive the uber-long review, but I loved this book and really want to share.
I don't know the last time I've ever been this unsettled by a novel. I started it, was intrigued, picked it up again the next day and read until just after 3 a.m. when I finished it. Then I couldn't sleep for another hour and a half, mulling over what I'd just read and trying to calm the anxiety this most excellent book had caused me. The Night Guest is author Fiona McFarlane's first novel and if this is her first outing, I will probably buy every book this woman writes.
Harry and Ruth Field bought a lovely beachside home up the coast from Sydney after Harry's retirement. Sadly, it isn't too long afterwards that Harry dies, leaving Ruth alone. She's 75, with two sons, one in Hong Kong who is always busy and one in New Zealand. Ruth gets through her day through "symmetry," for example, always starting her journey up a flight of stairs on her left foot, ending it on her right, or believing that if dinner was ready by the six o'clock news, her sons would be there for Christmas. As the novel begins, Ruth awakens at four in the morning after hearing noises in the house. She'd heard these noises before, at a German zoo: "loud and wet, with a low, guttural breathing hum punctuated by little cautionary yelps, as if it might roar at any moment ... like a tiger eating some large bloody thing..." A phone call to her son Jeffrey in New Zealand puts her mind at rest and reminds her that the tiger was likely nothing more than a dream, but she realizes that "something important" was happening. The next day, looking out at the sea, Ruth tells herself that "If one person walks on the beach in the next ten minutes, there's a tiger in my house at night; if there are two, the tiger won't hurt me; if there are three, the tiger will finish me off."
It is then that Frida arrives, sent by the government to be Ruth's carer. A quick conversation with Ruth's son Jeffrey establishes how Frida came to be there:
"A state programme. Her name was on file, and a spot opened up...An hour a day to start with. It's more of an assessment, just to see what's needed, and we'll take things from there."
Jeffrey is delighted at the "good use of taxpayers' money," but Ruth is "not sure about this," thinking she's "not doing badly." But then again, Ruth is somewhat assured because Frida is "Fijian," since Ruth spent part of her childhood in Fiji with her missionary medical parents. And, Ruth tells herself, she's only 75, and her mother had been over 80 "before things really began to unravel."
Things seem to be going well for Ruth with the addition of Frida into her home. Frida extends her hours, and Ruth seems happy when Frida takes on the shopping, bill paying, cleaning, meal preparation and banking. Soon enough the two settle into a comfortable routine. Ruth tells Frida about her life in Fiji, Frida tells her about her brother and her family, and Ruth comes to depend on Frida's help. Up against Frida's boisterous personality, Ruth's own fragile state starts to become obvious, and the reader senses that for Ruth it is somewhat of a blessing to be in Frida's company. But a visit from a friend from Ruth's past starts a long series of waking nightmares that quickly jolt the reader into realizing that all is indeed not well, and events occur that bring Ruth's dreams of being stalked by a predator into a waking reality.
The Night Guest is not an easy book to read on an emotional level. While I won't give away much, first, a lot of what happens is viewed through the lens of Ruth's mind. It's obvious early on that there's something not quite right with her -- she forgets to wash her hair for weeks, she's let her lovely garden become overgrown to the point where the sand is overtaking it, and chores that used to be done dutifully are also neglected. As things begin to take a turn for the worse, it is difficult to pinpoint whether or not Ruth's version of things are anywhere close to lucid and coherent, especially since there is an alternate point of view that gives the reader an impression that maybe Ruth's deteriorating and disoriented mind is imagining things, just as she imagined the tiger in her lounge room. This constant tug between versions of reality (and one of the best uses of reader manipulation I've experienced in a long time) is one of the best features of this novel -- the reader is always trying to decide what's really going on here, and in my case, the tension and sheer aura of menace produced by this story continued to grow up until the very end. Second, this book is incredibly sad and depressing -- there is not one iota of happiness in this book when all is said and done. However, unless the reader's heart is made of stone, the story ultimately should inspire a deep, beyond--gut-level empathy, and make you want to call one of your aging relatives more often. And even though I'm far far away from Ruth's age, I also came away feeling like "Oh my god, I hope I NEVER find myself in this position."
The only niggling thing is that explanations at the end come tumbling in a rather rushed manner, but by that time they don't really matter. As with so many books, in this one, it's more about the journey. The fact that this writer was able, with only words, to produce so much unease inside of me speaks to how well written I found this book to be. There are relatively few books I've read that move me like this one, that keep me up at night, and that still resonate days after reading them. I seriously cannot recommend this one highly enough. I loved this book. (less)
The Last Pirate is a wonderful book, very entertaining but at the same time very serious. It charts both the rise and fall of a man whose career gener...moreThe Last Pirate is a wonderful book, very entertaining but at the same time very serious. It charts both the rise and fall of a man whose career generated millions but whose addictions ultimately left him living under a bridge in Miami. It also examines how the author's life was affected by The Old Man's highs and lows, leaving him without a dad throughout his childhood.
When the author, "Little Tony" Doukoupil was six, "The Old Man" walked out on his family. In the author's first six years, Big Tony may not have qualified as father of the year (leaving his kid alone in a Disney hotel, doing heroin while his son had a bout of serious croup), but all the same, Little Tony adored his dad. Before Big Tony left, the family lived off the proceeds of Big Tony's wide-ranging, and very profitable dope-smuggling enterprise, which lasted more or less over a 20-year span of time. His crew consisted of a very small group of trusted friends, but their cleverness & caution fed the big machine of sellers and users in the U.S. After Big Tony's departure, the money started to dwindle, and when needed most, Big Tony was in such a cocaine and heroin-addled state that he couldn't remember where he'd buried the coolers of cash he'd stashed from New England to New Mexico. It was a big step down in the author's life -- going from one of the top private schools in Miami to becoming the poor kid was only part of how his father's absence affected his childhood. The author grew up from age six on without his dad, who in his mind's eye would become an outlaw and a pirate, engaging in the same sorts of renegade activities as pirates and smugglers of earlier times. Just recently, though, Tony Dokoupil the younger became a dad, and haunted by his absent father, set out to find out what he could about him. According to the author, it was his first Father's Day card that made him "terrified of the genes I carry and the man I may become." It also prompted him to discover his father's story so as to find some loophole in the account of his "father's rise and fall," something that would tell him that genetics aren't everything.
From various sources, the author has recreated as much of his father's history as possible, trying to form a better picture of who this man was and what he did. All he knew about his dad before starting to research this book had come to him only in "scraps." He goes into his father's family and childhood, then looks at the early days of his dad's dope experiences and how from there he became the head of one of the biggest pot-smuggling operations in American history. It's often funny, and at times eye opening, revealing for example, just how close America came in 1970s to totally decriminalizing marijuana, or a drug-related scandal in DC starring Peter Bourne, Jimmy Carter's chief drug policy adviser, or how DEA agents in South America would turn a blind eye for their own cut of the business. But on a more personal level, the story is much more on the troubling side, as Big Tony's family gets caught up in his decline primarily because of Big Tony's addictions, his "passion." The book also reveals, among other things, a brief history of the early days of marijuana legislation, and how the golden years of pot smuggling started to decline later on due to a) Reagan's policies and the War on Drugs, and b) the rise of less-risky homegrown, better-quality marijuana.
There's so much more to this book, and I've only briefly touched on it here. It's very honest, so much so that at times it's downright painful to read, but at the same time, some parts of this book are actually funny, and it definitely provides a perspective on the beginnings of the rather pointless war on drugs. When all is said and done, though, the author leaves the reader with the point that it's all about the choices people make in life -- and he's absolutely correct. What a good book! Definitely recommended. (less)
this is the short discussion; the longer one is at my online reading journal here.
Every Day is for the Thief is a story related by a young Nigerian m...morethis is the short discussion; the longer one is at my online reading journal here.
Every Day is for the Thief is a story related by a young Nigerian man currently living in New York who has returned to Lagos after an absence of fifteen years. As this unnamed narrator notes, “It feels longer still because I left under a cloud.” The story behind that cryptic remark is left nearly until the end. In the meantime, as he's being driven, rides on a bus, or walks throughout the city, he notices things at particular moments that capture his attention and weaves it into his own narrative about the issues he finds facing people there and how the people have just sort of let things happen. He also considers whether or not he could seriously live here again, especially considering that now he's gazing at his "home" (an ambiguous concept in this book) through the eyes of someone who's been away for so long. The book is structured in a series of vignettes, linked together partially through the discoveries he makes, partially by the narrator's "inquiry into what it was I longed for all those times I longed for home, " and by his search in this city for hope for its people's future. I couldn't put this book down -- I was so wrapped up in the city of Lagos that I read this book in one sitting.
There are a number of reasons I like Every Day is for the Thief besides the fact that it offers a look at a place I'm never going to be and a place I've been interested in reading about for years because of how the oil companies have changed this country and because of the environmental issues. The main one is that I'm walking away from this book with the idea that there is a lot of life and excitement to be found in Lagos despite the negatives, which are generally what the media covers. The narrator notes that the city is a place of "a million untold stories," where "There is no end of fascinations." But I also believe that the author is angered or dismayed by the attitudes that have helped the city (and the country) to become what it is now, and that this book is a vehicle through which he can express both views.
I'd recommend it to people who are interested in Nigeria (like myself); to people who are interested in urban culture, and to people who want something very different in terms of fiction writing. (less)
Considering that I'm not at all a sports person, it seems odd to me that I would even be reading a book about the University of Washington crew team....more Considering that I'm not at all a sports person, it seems odd to me that I would even be reading a book about the University of Washington crew team. I didn't know what to expect, but after reading the first chapter I was totally hooked. It only got better from there. The brief review is this: I loved this very well-written, carefully-researched and compelling book, and the bottom line is that it's one I can recommend very highly -- a book that absolutely should not be missed. You don't have to know jack about crewing (I certainly didn't) -- the story will move you anyway. In terms of nonfiction, it's probably the best I've read this year.
The longer version of this brief review is at my online reading journal nonfiction page, so feel free to click and read it there. (less)
The Frozen Dead is definitely not a cozy read; it's more of a police procedural where the cops are faced with some pretty grisly crimes. So...morelike a 3.8
The Frozen Dead is definitely not a cozy read; it's more of a police procedural where the cops are faced with some pretty grisly crimes. Some of the storyline seemed a little out there at times, but more on that later. Overall, though, it definitely held my interest and the nearly 500 pages flew by because I got so caught up in it all.
[if you want plot, you can click through to the crime page of my online reading journal; here you'll just get what I thought of the book.]
There are really three mysteries at the heart of this story. First, of course, is the mystery of who is behind a series of murders; second (related to the first) is the connection that links all of these deaths together, and third is the puzzler behind what's going on at the Wargnier Institute that houses the worst of the worst of the criminally insane. As a whole, the book is well crafted and suspenseful enough to keep the reader turning pages, with an added bonus of a number of plausible suspects to keep the reader guessing. I thought I had it figured out twice and was way off the mark both times. For me, that's the sign of a good crime writer -- if I can't guess the who or the why, well, I'm happy that the author didn't make things so easy, appealing to the armchair detective in me. This is also a very atmospheric book -- and not just because of the inclusion of an asylum for the criminally insane. The author is very good at ratcheting tension, always maintaining an aura of suspense throughout. Plus, the story goes back in time to revisit the sins of the past and how they've come to haunt the present. Another appealing and well-crafted aspect of this novel is the author's evocation of place -- not only the physical locale (which made me want to bundle up and visit there in the winter) but also in terms of the social ills of the times: senseless violence as an outlet for the younger generation, the state of mental health treatment, corporate greed, power and influence, and much more.
Turning to the niggles: the biggest one is that while I was okay (and surprised) with who the culprit turned out to be, the ending was off somehow -- it was like the author put in so much time and detail into the overall investigation and then well, there's the end of the book. Very quick, very short, and not enough explanation to make it completely satisfying. There's also the time spent in this book on Servaz's relationship with his daughter and his past -- this is a personal preference, and I realize that authors want their main characters to come off as real as possible, but there are ways to accomplish this without clogging the main flow of the crime story. I know most other people don't seem to mind this aspect of crime novels so much -- but to me, it just gets in the way of what's going on in the investigation. It also adds a lot of a) distraction and b) unnecessary page count.
I have to say that even with the niggles I really liked The Frozen Dead, and I'll be eagerly awaiting the release of other books from this author. This isn't a book for the fainthearted cozy reader, and it's much better than many police procedurals I've read in the past. It's a clever mix of mystery and suspense that will keep the reader guessing right up until the very end. Definitely recommended for fans of translated crime fiction and those readers who want something with much more edge than the average police procedural. (less)
Mysteries of the Worm made me think back to a lot of the strange Egyptian stories I couldn't get enough of as a kid and absolutely loved -- mummies re...more Mysteries of the Worm made me think back to a lot of the strange Egyptian stories I couldn't get enough of as a kid and absolutely loved -- mummies returning for vengeance, strange curses that fell on people who opened tombs, etc. While not all of Bloch's writing in this volume consist of his Egyptian tales, the book as a whole left me with inner squeals of delight. Sure, there are some pieces that are not so hot, but overall, this is a great read.
Robert Bloch was not just the author of Psycho, the book most people would associate with him, but early on in his career, he joined the ranks of the "Lovecraft Circle," which as Lin Carter notes was a
"band of aspiring or season writers scattered across the country whose common links were their enthusiasm for macabre fiction in general and Weird Tales in particular, and their friendship with Lovecraft."
Judging by what I've just finished reading, and by books I've already read, there is no doubt that he made sufficient contributions to the "tales that define the mythos," as the cover blurb notes about this entire series of books. While perhaps they're not the most bone-chilling of stories as a whole, a) they're fun and b) it's really interesting to watch the development of Bloch's writing over time in this volume from being a producer of Lovecraftian pastiche to coming more into his own both in terms of story and style. A big thumbs up for this book. Once again, Chaosium has come through with an anthology of stories where the good tales far outweigh the not so great ones. Definitely a no-miss not only for weird-fiction readers, but also for anyone who enjoys Bloch's writing in general and wants to visit the work of his earlier days. What a great group of tales!
If you want to peruse the table of contents and read small (no spoiler) synopses of each, feel free to click to the weird-fiction page at my online reading journal. (less)