If you sharpen a knife for too long, you ultimately have nothing left. This novel treads closely to that eventuality. Lahiri has removed everything reIf you sharpen a knife for too long, you ultimately have nothing left. This novel treads closely to that eventuality. Lahiri has removed everything readers look for in a work of fiction, presenting us with a plotless, episodic story told in short chapters out of which most of the unnamed, middle-aged female protagonist's soul has been honed away.
Nonetheless, each rather mundane moment, hanging as it does between engagement and lack of engagement with the world packs a punch that can be likened, perhaps, to a velvet hammer or the piercing shiv that remains of the original knife. The overall effect is reminiscent of a child standing that the ocean's edge, eager to plunge into and experience the water and yet content to stand in the littoral zone between land and sea--or, in the character's case--between stubborn loneliness and interaction with others.
Her father is dead and her relationship with her mother is strained. Yet she meets others, casual friends and/or acquaintances on the street, even lovers sometimes, without undue suffering. In fact, she tentatively seeks others out but stands back from total or long-term commitment.
There is hope here even though everything human seems transitory, like leaves that will soon be blown away by the wind. And yet, she waits and ages.
Excellent close-up photographs by the late Danny On. Perfect for use in the field when identifying plants. Purchased my copy in 1979 and have used it Excellent close-up photographs by the late Danny On. Perfect for use in the field when identifying plants. Purchased my copy in 1979 and have used it well ever since. Flowers arranged by color: a handy idea.
(The data listed with this book incorrectly states that it was first published in 1981 and leaves out Danny On's name.)...more
This gem of a novel is an accurate immersion into campus life in the 1960s, especially the protests and the discussions of university censorship of stThis gem of a novel is an accurate immersion into campus life in the 1960s, especially the protests and the discussions of university censorship of student materials. Inspired by an event at Florida State University (FSU) in which the president banned a short story from the college literary magazine due to the use of a few "dirty words," the story begins with a grim sense of reality.
Shaara (1928-1988), who taught creative writing at FSU at the time would have known about the incident as well as the machinations within a university faculty. The true event was resolved more amicably than the fictional event in "The Rebel in Autumn" which, for readers, presents an opportunity to see how in a time of national stress over the Vietnam War, segregation, and other issues a relatively mundane matter can spiral out of control to be the point of a looming threat of violence.
The characters--both students and faculty--are well developed and display multiple points of view about the prior restraint (pre-publication censorship) that had generally vanished from the American scene (except within student publications and college administrations).
Just how to "fix" the situation is more difficult than it sounds when you have a university president following the letter of the law that says he is the publisher of all student publications and can restrict what is released. As one faculty member said, the president had the power to ban the short story, but not the right.
Every character in the book is at risk one way or the other. Faculty members can be fired or demoted; students can be expelled. Anyone can be harmed if outside agitators or the National Guard (as we saw at Kent State in 1970) appear on campus. Shaara paints the evolving sense of danger perfectly down to the dramatic conclusion.
Kudos to Shaara's son Jeff and daughter Lila for overseeing the posthumous publication of "The Rebel in Autumn" as well as other Shaara novels that had gone out of print. His Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "The Killer Angels" (1974) has remained in print. The family chose to publish "Rebel" as is rather than second-guessing the changes Shaara might have made during the editing and revision process that occurs once a manuscript is accepted. I agree with their decision with one exception, that being the lack of a blank line or a printed separator between scene changes; this would have reduced the confusion that occurs when scenes run together.
Disclaimer: I was a friend and a student in Shaara's creative writing class at the time he was working on this novel. I didn't know about the novel then, but students and Shaara had many discussions about censorship and other issues both in and out of class. My potential bias is enhanced because I was fired from a college after a long-running debate about its censorship of student publications of which I was the academic advisor....more
When General Billy Mitchell wrote a report in 1924 that not only predicted the Japanese would attack Pearl Harbor but how they would do it, it was rejWhen General Billy Mitchell wrote a report in 1924 that not only predicted the Japanese would attack Pearl Harbor but how they would do it, it was rejected out of hand.
Those who've seen documentaries and feature films such as "Tora! Tora! Tora!" know before they pick up Jeff Shaara's accurate and well written "To Wake the Giant: A Novel of Pearl Harbor" that military commanders and diplomats in the late 1930s and early 1940s continued to reject a Japanese attack out of hand.
Having read all of Jeff Shaara's historical novels, often about subjects I've studied, I'm accustomed to his impeccable research as well as the fact he makes history so human and readable that by the end of each novel, one feels like s/he was there. Unfortunately, some early Amazon reader reviews said Shaara's research on "To Wake the Giant" was sloppy. Subsequently, those reviews were shown to be inaccurate.
Unlike battles that last for days or weeks or months, the attack itself was short. So this book had to be a little different, focusing for many pages on the events leading up to 8 a.m. (25 minutes later than Mitchell's prediction) on the morning of December 7th, 1941. The events prior to the attack not only demonstrate the viewpoints of the major political and military players but show the attitudes of men serving onboard the Arizona and other ships in Pearl Harbor. Shaara the attitudes and emotions of those involved months in advance but while the attack is underway.
The human factor looms large in this novel and that's one of its major strengths. Once again, Shaara has put us into the action in a way we'll never forget....more
Innocence Projects track down individuals who appear to have been wrongly convicted, analyze their cases, and seek to have them exonerated by proving Innocence Projects track down individuals who appear to have been wrongly convicted, analyze their cases, and seek to have them exonerated by proving that the original trials were flawed, witnesses lied, evidence was improperly handled, or possibly that everything beginning with the arrest was a total and expedient fabrication.
John Grisham turns in another winning and compelling novel with The Guardians, about a nonprofit innocence project that runs on a shoestring with dedicated personnel and a thorough and tenacious approach to the law that gets results.
Lawyer and priest Cullen Post believes Quincy Miller's 22 years in prison for a murder he did not commit represent not only a miscarriage of justice but brought additional power and financial gain to a small-town Florida sheriff and the criminals he sheltered, aided, and abetted. Proving Quincy Miller's innocence is a tall order, perhaps impossible, especially when those who framed him want him to quietly rot in prison dead or alive.
The book is an exciting mix of courtroom work and investigative work. The courtroom work can be slow. The investigative work is slower because after 22 years those two lied at the original trial have scattered on the winds and don't want to be found, much less recant. The more successful The Guardians is in exposing flaws in the original arrest and trial, the more likely thugs will come out of the woodwork--and they don't place nicely.
The book reads well, keeps the excitement and tension at a high level, and exposes readers to the concept of innocence work and how it is done. The reader becomes aware early on that neither Cullen Post nor Quincy Miller has any guarantees that they'll make it out of this novel alive....more
Protagonist Chet Thomlin is more or less a regular guy. He runs a pet store where he treats the animals right and then goes home resigned to the fact Protagonist Chet Thomlin is more or less a regular guy. He runs a pet store where he treats the animals right and then goes home resigned to the fact that his mother is still living in his house. There's a lot of depth to this character as portrayed via Pat Bertram's trademark pragmatic, carefully crafted prose. Suffice it to say, Chet has enough on his plate, so--like most reasonably sane people, doesn't believe a guy named Bob who appears on TV and says he's working for God and will be supervising the conversion of Earth into a theme park.
A joke, right? Some new dystopian TV series? Or, perhaps an advertisement for God knows what. Chet hardly notices it until stuff (such as people and buildings) starts disappearing. This is urban renewal in spades, including new landforms and other projects that shake Earth to its foundations while making believers out of everyone. The thing is, believers in what?
Bob and Chet converse by phone until Bob gets tired of it, which might be just as well since he's rather vague about the project. While vastly different from the classic novel "Earth Abides," "Bob, The Right Hand of God" brings that old book to mind as people try to cope with the disappearance of everything they know.
The book is many things: highly readable, realistic and believable in portraying how the characters react and interact, dystopian in that everything we know is gone and the replacement plan isn't providing anything better, and (yes) playful. Should the reader laugh or cry? Hard to say. While the ending was predictable, this well-written novel is highly recommended. ...more
Imagine this: You live in a huge, seemingly infinite house filled with statuary and ocean tides; you have never been outside the house because the houImagine this: You live in a huge, seemingly infinite house filled with statuary and ocean tides; you have never been outside the house because the house is all you know and all you can know; your life's mission, as you see it, is exploring this house to length and breadth of possibility and, as you walk and climb and stay away from the highest of those tides, you catalogue everything you see in a series of journals that may potentially become infinite in number and detail.
The protagonist is called Piranesi--perhaps in deference to the great printmaker of the 1700s, though Piranesi doesn't know this--by the other living human being in the house. Piranesi doesn't believe "Piranesi" is his real name, nor does he know the real name of the other man in the house, so he calls him "The Other." Their researches into the ways and means of the house are, at first, beneficial. However, their co-operation begins to wear thing when Piranesi discovers that The Other is seeking advanced and secret knowledge he believes to be hidden inside the house. Piranesi thinks nothing can be more important that the beauties and scope of the house itself.
There are some dead in the house, not many, and where and when they died is unclear. Piranesi has taken care to arrange them in an orderly fashion and to keep them out of reach of the tides. The Other says there's somebody else in the house, a person who hides, perhaps, in unknown rooms, and he suggests that that person wishes to harm Piranesi. They refer to him or her as "16," since--when you include the dead--that's the number of people in the house.
There's deep and quiet magic in this masterpiece, and it becomes more evident as Clarke's novel unfolds. There are hints that there may be a past Piranesi has forgotten or misconstrued. He becomes unsure of some of the entries in meticulously kept journals. There's a growing worry about The Other's truthfulness in some manners. Is anything what it seems? Piranesi can only wonder and proceed from room to room and tide to tide with due care.
For those who don't require fire-breathing dragons or the snap of lethal energies flung from the hands of protagonists and antagonists in epic battles, this book is a treasure to be savoured like fine wine. ...more
Good Girls Lie is deftly written with a plot to die for: yes, there are a few casualties. And, there's more lying than the prestigious Goode Boarding Good Girls Lie is deftly written with a plot to die for: yes, there are a few casualties. And, there's more lying than the prestigious Goode Boarding School's honor code allows. The dean's mother, who previously ran the family-owned school in Virginia was fired when a student died on her watch. Now her daughter Ford Westhaven is in charge and the intrigues are spinning out of control, almost enough to damage the prep school's reputation, heaven forbid.
This school is for the daughters of the rich and famous. Most of them do well and are subsequently accepted into the best universities. The protagonist, Ash Carlisle expects to follow the same route into the world of the elite after escaping an abusive father in the U. K. A stipulation in his will (yes, he and his wife seem to have died recently in a murder/suicide incident) says that Ash will inherit the money when she's 25 if she has a college degree by then.
The author, who attended Randolph-Macon Woman's College knows how boarding schools for women work; she uses her first-hand experience to bring reality into the sheltered world of the Goode School--how the students interact, the secret societies, the honor code, and daily life on the campus. She points out, however, that Goode is pure fiction and that the novel is not a dissertation about Randolph-Macon.
The plot is a delightful tangle of lies, strange relationships, bullying and hazing, student-teacher interaction, and everything else that makes a fantastic thriller and--for the characters--a rather dangerous education. By the end of the novel, readers might wonder if they can trust anybody; and they have cause worry. After all, things at Goode School can't be all that good when the story begins with a dead girl hanging from the front gate....more
John Hart's books are among the darkest I've read, and "Iron House" is no exception. The story begins with an orphanage where the amenities are few, cJohn Hart's books are among the darkest I've read, and "Iron House" is no exception. The story begins with an orphanage where the amenities are few, care and supervision is lapse, and groups of bullies rule the corridors and terrorize the weaker children. The darkness doesn't begin or end here. The story features an assortment of characters nobody will like, the cruel upbringings where they were reared, and the violent lives many of them wore like armor in order to survive.
Michael has lived on the streets of New York as part of an organized crime organization that is feared above all others. When he falls in love with Elena, he wants a fresh start. However, his "colleagues" don't want him to have any rest other than a grave. Michael is efficient, practical, and savvy, but as the plot turns in on itself with dark secrets falling like dominoes, he may not be strong enough to solve the mysteries that stand between him and saving those he loves--including Elena.
I've given the book four stars because I think some of the descriptions of violence and torture are excessive. However, those scenes do show the total inhumanity and animal nature of the bad guys, so they're not totally out of place in the novel. The novel has two strong points in addition to the strong characters. First, it keeps the reader guessing because the mysteries and secrets get deeper and darker as the complex plot unfolds; second, the main characters, Michael, Elena, and Michael's long-lost brother Julien are always at risk--and with each breath of air, the risk becomes greater as the story proceeds.
The novel shows the worst of human nature on many fronts--and perhaps the often misguided best....more
The first whisperings of the three novels in "The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club" series can be found in Theodora Goss' doctoral dissertaThe first whisperings of the three novels in "The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club" series can be found in Theodora Goss' doctoral dissertation "The monster in the mirror: late Victorian Gothic and anthropology." In fact, the members of the club--Mary Jekyll, Diana Hyde, Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherine Moreau, Justine Frankenstein, Lucinda Van Helsing, and Lydia Raymond--often call themselves monsters because they were created by amoral mad scientists.
Athena club members and other primary characters in the series are drawn from (or inspired by) the works of H. G. Wells, Bram Stoker, Robert Lewis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle, Mary Shelley, Nathaniel Hawthorn, Arthur Machen, and Oscar Wilde. The genius behind these multi-layered novels comes not only from their accuracy of the Victorian era and its literature but from the fact that Goss has taken characters from multiple books and fit them hand-in-glove into a delightfully inventive and readable series.
Several years ago, Goss told an interviewer, "What really inspired me was reading the original texts for my Ph.D. in English literature. I wrote a doctoral dissertation on late-19th-century gothic fiction and started noticing that there were a lot of mad scientists running around in the 19th century — and that a lot of those mad scientists either thought of creating or actually created female monsters."
The monsters of the Athena Club--who often quibble with each other in specially formatted bits of conversation--about the progress of "The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl" solve mysteries using (somewhat) the approach of Mary Jekyll's friend and mentor Sherlock Holmes. While their powers of deduction aren't as pure as Holmes', their special powers provide them with talents Holmes doesn't have. (Inspector Lestrade doesn't like them and they don't like him.)
They react to bad things that happen; this time it's the simultaneous disappearance of their household maid Alice, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson and, as it turns out, a threat against the British empire. Near the end of the book, when the women in the club are admonished to stay out of of mischief, Mary Jekyll says, "We don't get into mischief. It sort of happens to us, or around us, or in our general vicinity."
Most readers will see that comment as an understatement and as part of the charm of the books. The Athena Club is not a covert black ops group but a family of good monsters who often finds itself trying to thwart the plans of evil monsters. In this series, the women prevail as those who are setting things to rights. On the way to saving the day, the Athena Club's debates tend to keep everyone grounded, such as when Catherine Moreau, who's ostensibly recording the group's adventures, says, "You realize that to a puma, you're all just meat?"
Sure, they can all kill each other, but going after the bad guys is more fulfilling.
This 1950 police procedural is told in a very straight-forward manner like books that ended up in noir movies. The protagonist is former newspaper repThis 1950 police procedural is told in a very straight-forward manner like books that ended up in noir movies. The protagonist is former newspaper reporter Jake Harrison who works for a PR firm that's representing a man currently being investigated by the government. Add to this, the fact that former WWII-era socialite May Laval is planning to write a tell-all memoir that might include the details of her potentially sordid relationship with the man Jake represents. In fact, it might contain details about a lot of past relationships. She kept everything about her day-to-day intrigues in a diary.
Nobody can, including Jake, can talk her out of writing the memoir, much less divulging who (if anyone) might suffer the slings and arrows of earlier escapades.
When she is murdered, there are plenty of suspects. The diary seems to be missing from the bedroom murder scene. Who has it? Everyone wants it and everyone seems to have an alibi.
This slim volume is well-done until we get to the ending. The ending might have worked in 1950, but most readers have--by now--seen movies or read detective stories where all the suspects are called together in a room while the main character tells them what happened to May, what happened to the diary, and why people did what they did.
On the plus side, who killed who is a surprise. On the minus side, the ending--by 2019 standards--is a bit hackneyed. Detective story aficionados may nonetheless enjoy this old novel....more
This novella, and "The Museum of Mysteries," represent everything a good novella should provide for readers: strong characters, mysterious stories basThis novella, and "The Museum of Mysteries," represent everything a good novella should provide for readers: strong characters, mysterious stories based on heavily researched history, conflicts that are not easy to resolve, and a compelling storyline that leaves the reader wishing the book went another 500 pages farther than it did.
This story focusses on the Cathar religion, a system of beliefs that the Catholic church considered heretical and then killed the adherents in a crusade launched in 1209 and later during the inquisition. However, Cathars still exist today, and it's about them--and the discoveries of an old Cathar book of hours--that's the focus of this story.
An old book is found on a construction site, and suddenly opposing Papist and Cathar individuals insert themselves into the story, creating a dangerous game for the protagonist Cassiopeia Vitt. Old conflicts die hard, it seems, as those who believe and those who don't believe put Vitt's life, wealth, and company in danger.
Books like this not only have compelling stories but teach readers a lot about the subject matter. In this case, the authors' note at the end of the book what separates fact from fiction so that readers can see what's true, what's imaginary (but possible), and where to follow the historical record for themselves.
The characters in this novel (both the ones you like the and the ones you don't like) not only have great depth to them, but they're experts in their fields and savvy about everything that surrounds their areas of interest. If you have an interest in the Cathars, you will enjoy this novella. But even if you don't, the fascination of a well-told tale will keep you reading....more
This powerful story needed to be told. That power comes, in part, through Whitehead's restraint as he tells a fictionalized story about Florida's notoThis powerful story needed to be told. That power comes, in part, through Whitehead's restraint as he tells a fictionalized story about Florida's notorious Dozier School (called Nickel in the novel) in a straightforward, almost deadpan style. That is, he lets most of the atrocities speak for themselves rather than resorting to purple prose and sentimentality.
Floridians, who grew up in the panhandle and knew Dozier was a hell hole before the authorities knew (or admitted) it was a hell hole, will appreciate the care Whitehead took with his research into the school itself, the environment, and the Tallahassee neighborhood where college-bound Elwood Curtis grew up. The random and unfair vicissitudes of life for African Americans are aptly and horrifyingly demonstrated early on via the event that sends Curtis to the Nickel School.
Yet, I was disappointed in this novel and ended up with mixed feelings about it. One flaw came from the sudden uses of an omniscient author to explain Nickel customs and realities that should have been communicated to readers via dialogue or through the actions of the characters. Suddenly, Whitehead was more reporter than novelist.
Without giving away a spoiler here, suffice it to say that the authorial trickery in several places where the narrative jumps into the future are intolerable. The sections are not only jolting when they suddenly appear out of sequence with the chronological story but mislead the reader so that Whitehead can enhance the drama surrounding Curtis near the end of the novel. The realities here are interesting and make for an engaging subplot that could have been written without lying to the reader.
The protagonist's near-worship of Dr. Martin Luther King, especially King's belief that no matter what was done to the African American race, it should return only love--serves as an effective counterpoint throughout the novel. Can Curtis love his tormentors? The Nickel School tests Curtis over and over again, making it difficult for him--and the other "students"--to maintain a true sense of self in a land where the realities inside the school are similar to the realities outside the school.
The book is strong. It could have been stronger. I recommend it in spite of the flaws....more
Rosemary-Poole-Carter, an adept within the Southern Gothic genre, brings us a deliciously tangled post Civil War novel in Only Charlotte in which threRosemary-Poole-Carter, an adept within the Southern Gothic genre, brings us a deliciously tangled post Civil War novel in Only Charlotte in which three intertwined lives--Leonore James, her brother Dr. Gilbert Crew, and Charlotte Eden--rise and fall like storm-tossed lily pads in the brackish waters of the swampy morals of New Orleans.
Thrice-married Lenore (who is now alone again) opens up her house to her younger brother who uses it as a base for establishing a medical practice. In sections narrated by both Lenore and Gilbert, we see that the young doctor has become infatuated with Charlotte while treating her children. At the outset, Lenore sees nothing less than catastrophe coming out of this while Gilbert sees a young wife whose troubles go deeper than is generally known.
Lenore and Gilbert grow in sense and sensibility throughout this novel. Lenore, who sees herself somewhat in the role of Paulina in Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, is especially cautious about the problems Charlotte may or may not face because she is older than her volatile brother and well-schooled in the society's rules and traditions. In a sense, Gilbert has a "damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead" approach that might be based on his obvious love for Charlotte more than on the actual dangers she faces.
The novel is perfectly paced in a manner befitting a southern gothic novel, brings us multi-dimensional characters who have the capacity for change in an era in which "stagnant" and "corrupt" are watchwords, and a twisted mystery that is like a spiderweb in the dark. The prose is lyrical and exceptional and historically well-grounded in this highly recommended novel. ...more
Suffice it to say, Sutton and Ethan aren't enjoying a marriage made in Heaven. We learn as we read that they were not 100% truthful with each other whSuffice it to say, Sutton and Ethan aren't enjoying a marriage made in Heaven. We learn as we read that they were not 100% truthful with each other wherever they said their vows and that, as time went by, the truth of the matter (any matter) became more blurred and got no better when Sutton disappeared and people started wondering if Ethan killed her. Or worse.
Some authors build tension by using an unreliable narrator. So, we can stipulate that both Ethan and Sutton are unreliable in multiple ways and that Sutton's friends can, quite possibly, be trusted as far as one can throw them. Ethan learns this in spades: rather than receiving the support he presumes is due a husband whose wife has disappeared, he faces hostility.
In "Lie to Me," J. T. Ellison has--to use an old fashioned phrase--created a dandy thriller that keeps readers chasing leads along with the police. Since the first part of the novel is told from Ethan's point of view, we know he didn't kill her. At least, we think we know that. Everyone is a suspect, it seems, and that's what makes this--as lame as it is to say it--a page-turner.
The gossip about what might have happened to poor Sutton gets thick and vicious, and quite probably some of those gossiping have an agenda or an axe to grind. The reader doesn't quite know. The beauty of Ellison's plot--and our building knowledge about Sutton and Ethan--is that everything is in limbo and, perhaps, always has been.
Then, of course, we have to consider their dead child. Sutton never really wanted a child. So, did it really die of SIDS or was it something else? Both husband and wife are grieving the child's death, so one must consider that they simply needed time away from each other. Whatever happened, Ethan is the one in the hot seat and Ellison's great success over time has brought her all the tools she needs to keep her readers guessing and her characters squirming.
This is a very satisfying mystery from a master of the genre.