Thursday, May 30, 2013

Booking Through Thursday: Ideal

This week, BTT wants to know about the ideal reading experience: location, sounds, clothing, etc.  Well, this is pretty close to my ideal....

Front porch, good book, gorgeous weather, baggy clothing, no bugs.  A nice cool drink would make it even better -- let's pretend the hubby is bringing one out any minute.  Life is good.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Teaser Tuesdays: Inferno

This week my teaser lines come from Dan Brown's new novel, Inferno.  It's the fourth book in his Robert Langdon series and I really should not be reading it right now -- I've got a couple of ARCs  that I need to get through before the year gets much older.  But I really couldn't resist -- at the moment, I just feel like I need me some Dan Brown.  This snippet comes from the end of Chapter 1 (not sure about page numbers, since I'm reading this one on my Kindle):
Outside his window, hidden in the shadows of the Via Torregalli, a powerfully built woman effortlessly unstraddled her BMW motorcycle and advanced with the intensity of a panther stalking its prey.... She checked her silenced weapon, and stared up at the window where Robert Langdon's light had just gone out.
Classic Dan Brown, right?  Mysterious woman on a motorcycle with a gun.  In Italy, of course. Ah, guilty pleasures, guilty pleasures.

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by mizB at Should Be Reading. If you'd like to read more teasers, or take part yourself, just head on over to her blog.

And please feel free to leave me a link to your Teaser Tuesday post in your comment here.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Review: The Flamethrowers

Written by Rachel Kushner
Scribner, April 2013; 400 pages

Publisher's Description:

The year is 1977 and Reno—so-called because of the place of her birth—has come to New York intent on turning her fascination with motorcycles and speed into art. Her arrival coincides with an explosion of activity in the art world—artists have colonized a deserted and industrial SoHo, are squatting in the East Village, and are blurring the line between life and art. Reno meets a group of dreamers and raconteurs who submit her to a sentimental education of sorts. She begins an affair with an artist named Sandro Valera, the semi-estranged scion of an Italian tire and motorcycle empire. When they visit Sandro’s family home in Italy, Reno falls in with members of the radical movement that overtook Italy in the seventies. Betrayal sends her reeling into a clandestine undertow.

The Flamethrowers is a fearless novel, an intensely engaging exploration of the mystique of the feminine, the fake, the terrorist. In the center of it all is Kushner’s brilliantly realized protagonist, a young woman on the verge. 

My Thoughts:

First, I want to say I'm very grateful to Scribner's for sending me an advance copy of this book and introducing me to Rachel Kushner's work.  She's an excellent writer, and I did enjoy the first fifty (or so) pages of the book.  After that, though, my interest level dropped enormously and I almost abandoned it midway through. It was all just taking too long.

As I said, Rachel Kushner is good at her craft. Indeed, there's an awful lot of very fine writing in The Flamethrowers. But it never seems to get anywhere.  I found the two major storylines -- Reno's and that of the Valera family -- scattered and hard to follow.  Well, not exactly hard to follow; just not compelling enough to keep my attention for very long.  It's true that the book explores many aspects of the period -- feminism, art, the "counterculture," terrorism, and more; but all that exploration never really comes together to form any sort of cohesive whole.  After a while, it began to seem like a set of very elaborate notes for a book -- there's a novel in there somewhere, if someone could just put it all together.

I did enjoy the brief narrative about Reno's early months in New York City; Kushner does a very good job of portraying the art scene and the general craziness of the period. But once she left that time and place, the book began to drag: the speed trials and all the talk about motorcycles and their history just didn't hold my interest. And the story about the Valera family is so rambling and scattered that I simply couldn't maintain any enthusiasm for it.

I think, for me, the book's major problem was the main character.  I just never could bond with Reno, or understand what made her tick.  She seems so oddly disengaged from everything around her, never really in control of any of her actions.  She does seem to be hovering "on the verge" as the book's blurb says -- but never becomes a fully formed character. 

But even though I wasn't able to connect with her work this time, Kushner is an author I want to keep an eye on.  The Flamethrowers probably isn't a book for all readers; but if you decide to take it on, you'll need a lot of real dedication.

Note: This review refers to an advance reader's edition of the book that I received free of charge from the publisher, through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program. No other compensation was received. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

WWW Wednesday

WWW Wednesday is a weekly reading event hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. To play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…
  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you recently finish reading?
  • What do you think you’ll read next?

  • Right now I'm reading:
& Sons: A Novel, by David Gilbert
(Just opened this one, so I'm not sure how I'll like it.)

  • Last week I finished two books:
Fer-de-Lance, by Rex Stout
(My first Nero Wolfe. Loved it!)

The Flamethrowers, by Rachel Kushner
(Had trouble finishing it. Would not recommend.)

  • Up next:
A Fatal Likeness, by Lynn Shepherd
(Looking forward to this one!)

Monday, May 20, 2013

Review: Farewell, Dorothy Parker

Written by Ellen Meister
G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2012

Publisher's Description:

When it comes to movie reviews, critic Violet Epps is a powerhouse voice. But that’s only because she’s learned to channel her literary hero, Dorothy Parker, the most celebrated and scathing wit of the twentieth century. If only Violet could summon that kind of strength in her personal life. 

Gripped by paralyzing anxiety, Violet visits the Algonquin Hotel in an attempt to pull strength from the hallowed dining room, where Dorothy Parker and so many other famous writers of the 1920s traded barbs. But she gets more than she bargained for, and the feisty spirit rematerializes . . . hitching a ride onto Violet’s already troubled life. An irreverent ghost with problems of her own—including a refusal to cross over to the afterlife—Mrs. Parker helps Violet face her fears, becoming mentor, tormentor, and, with any luck, friend.

My Thoughts:

Whenever possible, I try to write my reviews of LibraryThing's Early Reviewer books before I read any other reviews of the work -- that just seems like the fair thing to do. But I have to be honest here: While I was trying to form my thoughts about Ellen Meister's Farewell, Dorothy Parker, I glanced at another review and noticed that the reviewer said something about it being "chick lit" and not to her liking -- and I had one of those ah-hah! moments.  (Or maybe more like Doh!) Something about the book had been nagging at me, and I now realize that's it. Chick lit is what it is, and that's where the problem arises -- I don't generally enjoy that genre.

But I really didn't dislike this book; I just felt it didn't live up to its potential. The idea behind the story -- a magic book housing the ghost of Dorothy Parker -- sounds wonderful, and I was expecting to be wowed. Well, I wasn't wowed by Meister's novel, but I think it had some very good moments.

My main problem with the book is just that I never really warmed to its central character, the annoyingly weak-willed Violet Epps. The Dorothy Parker character was much more entertaining (of course), but she only showed up now and then. But it was a brisk read, with lots of action and conversation, so all in all a pretty pleasant experience.  Could this mean I should rethink my opinion about "chick lit"?

Note: This review refers to an advance reader’s edition of the novel, provided free of charge by the publisher, through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program. No other compensation was received.

Review: The Heat of the Sun

Written by David Rain
Henry Holt and Company, 2012

Publisher's Description:

Ben "Trouble" Pinkerton first appears to us through the amazed eyes of his Blaze Academy schoolmate, the crippled orphan Woodley Sharpless. Soon Woodley finds his life inextricably linked with this strange boy's. The son of Lieutenant Benjamin Pinkerton and the geisha Madame Butterfly, Trouble is raised in the United States by Pinkerton (now a Democrat senator) and his American wife, Kate. From early in life, Trouble finds himself at the center of some of the biggest events of the century—and though over time Woodley's and Trouble's paths diverge, their lives collide again to dramatic effect. From Greenwich Village in the Roaring Twenties, to WPA labor during the Great Depression; from secret work at Los Alamos, New Mexico, to a revelation on a Nagasaki hillside by the sea—Woodley observes firsthand the highs and lows of the twentieth century and witnesses, too, the extraordinary destiny of the Pinkerton family.

My Thoughts:

I liked David Rain's The Heat of the Sun much more than I expected I would at the outset. It begins as a typical boys' boarding school narrative which is not one of my favorite genres -- seems to me they're all pretty much the same story over and over. Fortunately, it gets better once the boys are out of school and on their own in the years leading up to World War II and during the war. I enjoyed all the many plot twists and turns, even though some of the coincidental meetings and developments were just a bit implausible.

It was a little difficult to accept that the Madame Butterfly story was real and that there had never been a famous opera based on the tale -- that was an awful lot of disbelief to suspend. I guess secretly I kept thinking that sooner or later one of the characters was going to say something like, "Hey, doesn't this all sound really familiar?" But that's a problem I have with a lot of historical fiction, and it wasn't enough of an issue to keep me from being thoroughly entertained. Definitely a good read, if you give it a chance.

Note: This review refers to an advance reader’s edition of the novel, provided free of charge by the publisher, through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program. No other compensation was received.

Review: Cold Remains

Written by Sally Spedding
Sparkling Books Ltd, 2012

Publisher’s description:
When Jason Robbins arrives at the eerie Heron House in deepest Carmarthenshire for a writing course, he soon meets its two weird servants who seem to exercise a sinister power over their scheming employer, Monty Flynn. Another newcomer is Helen Jenkins, a cook, to whom Jason is instantly attracted. Together they discover what dangers really lurk behind those ivy-clad walls; how the terrible post-war past bleeds into the present when the tormented soul of the young woman haunting them will stop at nothing to have her story told. But is the ghost's version of events to be trusted? And at what cost to Jason and Helen when they attempt to find out the truth? 

My Thoughts:

Sally Spedding’s Cold Remains has been called a “noir-ish thriller” -- a darkly atmospheric mystery novel with supernatural elements. And I suppose, strictly speaking, that’s a fair description; I agree it’s a very dark tale. And I generally love that. But something about the book just kept repelling me, and I don’t think it was spookiness. (It also wasn’t the fact that every other sentence seemed to be about Helen's menstrual cycle -- that was pretty repellent, too, but it was there for a reason.)

For one thing, there were at least two storylines going on, in two different time periods, and a host of characters to keep track of, in each. That’s fairly standard for novels these days, I know -- and I know it shouldn’t bother me by now, but in this case it did. Also, it seemed to me that Spedding never really decided if she was writing a mystery or a supernatural thriller. Most of the time, that supernatural part of the book felt really tacked-on.

A lot of the action was confusing, too -- jumping around in time and from place to place. And throughout the book, I had trouble understanding exactly what motivated the characters, and that kept me from caring much about them. I suppose that might have been part of the mystery -- not giving too much away before the big reveal at the end. But it just didn’t work for me.

Note: This review refers to an electronic edition of Cold Remains which was furnished free of charge by the publisher through No other compensation was received.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Booking Through Thursday: Returns

This week's BTT question/topic:
What book(s) do you find yourself going back to? Beloved children’s classics? Favorites from college? Something that touched you and just makes you long to visit? (Because, doesn’t everybody have at least one book they would like to curl up with, even if they don’t make a habit of rereading books? Even if they maybe don’t even have the time to visit and just think back longingly?)
Well, to be honest, the older I get, the less I'm tempted to "think back longingly" about any of the books I've read in the past -- there are just way too many books to be read, and WAY too little time left to read them!

But I'm certainly not opposed to re-reading, and I do have favorites that I've read more than once: Lewis Carroll's Alice books, Huckleberry Finn, Wuthering Heights, Orlando by Virginia Woolf, Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier, The Aspern Papers and The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, The Ox-bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark, Nabokov's Lolita, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, and most of Barbara Pym's novels (actually, I can't think of anything by Pym that I haven't read more than once). Also The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody by Will Cuppy -- one of the funniest books ever written.  I'm sure there are others, but those are the ones that come to mind.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Monday Reading Update

So here we are in the midst of May already.  Can you believe it?  Where did April go?  Could we slow the year down just a bit, please?

Probably not.

Anyway, back to the subject.  April was another not-too-great month for me, reading-wise.  I only finished two books -- Lawrence Durrell's Clea (last book in his Alexandria Quartet), and The Gordonston Ladies Dog Walking Club, by Duncan Whitehead.

Hope to get reviews up soon.  Actually, I have a bunch of reviews I need to get posted -- I'll be working on that later in the week.

Right now I'm trying to finish up The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner

(which I'm having a lot of trouble staying with), and Rex Stout's Fer-de-Lance

(which I'm enjoying, but keep putting aside to finish other things).  Also just started The Seduction by M.J. Rose,

and I have a feeling that one is going to nudge me into putting all the others aside, yet again.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. If you want to let the world know what books you're going to be reading this week, head on over to her blog and leave your link. It's also a great way to discover new books and new blogs.