Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Gordon Lish Praises Care Giver!

The novel I've just recently reviewed and praised now has the maestro, Gordon Lish himself, in its corner!

"I'm sold. I'm so sold I read this book four times before--trembling, trembling--sitting myself down to write this comment. You want to know what the business of the mind is going to be as the body declines into its notorious bankruptcy? Like this, like Care Giver, like the stuff in the braided sentences that constitute the telling of Blanchard's true story. Oh, and the person in the pic on page six?--that's the object of desire for you, perfect and, of course, lost, yet never the least lost."

We're not kidding, folks. This is some kind of wonderful. Please...go pre-order before release on 20 May!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Yuck ick bleurgh

Medical misery tour. Most of today lost to medicine's side effects. Yuck! There have never been any unmixed blessings in my world, so I shouldn't be surprised....

Saturday, April 27, 2013

New Advance Review Post for 27 April 2013

I love getting the Livingston Press catalog. They publish things I want to read. I ask for ARCs of everything, pretty much anyway, and almost without fail enjoy the heck out of reading them.

No failure here. A short novel, illustrated with snapshots of calming simplicity, about the ever-more-important topic of dementia and its depredations. This time, we experience the loss from within, and the author is unsparing while never resorting to sentimentality to soften velvet blows.

CARE GIVER in Literary Fiction & Story Collections

Friday, April 26, 2013

A day without a new posted review!

Sad, but true. I was working on a review of a book that I found myself floundering around trying to explain my reaction to, and realized that meant I didn't understand it. So I'll have to look it over again and see what I failed to see the first time. Failing that, I'll have a better shot at explaining my response being so wibbley-wobbley timey-wimey. (Whovians will get it.)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Review Posted for 25 April 2013 (the Pink Full Moon)

A CARRION DEATH in Mystery Series

The first Detective Kubu mystery by Michael Stanley, it's set in Botswana. He makes it sound like a beautiful place to be murdered, and Kubu will catch the killer!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Okay, I lied. Review of COOKING WITH FERNET BRANCA


COOKING WITH FERNET BRANCA
JAMES HAMILTON-PATERSON

Europa Editions
$18.00 trade paper, $10.99 ebook platforms, reissue available now

COOKING WITH FERNET BRANCA also appears in Literary Fiction & Story Collections

I was reminded of this review of a 2019 reissue by a stray comment, and I loved the book so much I decided to tart up the review and post it here. I so so wish someone would go get John Barrowman by the sleeve and gently but firmly make him understand that a movie of this book starring his beautiful self would be dynamite!

Rating: 3.75* of five

The Publisher Says: Gerald Samper, an effete English snob, has his own private hilltop in Tuscany, where he wiles away his time working as a ghostwriter for celebrities and inventing wholly original culinary concoctions-including ice cream made with garlic and the bitter, herb-based liqueur of the book's title. Gerald's idyll is shattered by the arrival of Marta, on the run from a crime-riddled former Soviet republic. A series of hilarious misunderstandings brings this odd couple into ever closer and more disastrous proximity.

James Hamilton-Paterson's first novel, Gerontius, won the Whitbread Award. He is an acclaimed author of nonfiction books, including Seven-Tenths, Three Miles Down, and Playing with Water, He currently lives in Italy.

My Review: Cooking With Fernet Branca is part of oddball publisher Europa Editions's sinister plot to make Murrikins like me aware of the strange and sinister world of lit'rachoor published beyond our shores. Muriel Barbery owes her Murrikin presence to them, too. We all know how *that* turned out....

Well, before moving any farther along in this review process, let me send out the call: Does anyone know how to get hold of (wicked double entendre optional) actor John Barrowman? You know, Captain Jack Harkness of Torchwood fame? He is literally missing the key to Murrikin stardom by not reading, optioning, and making this book into a Netflix movie. It suits every single national prejudice we have: Eastern Europeans as sinister lawbreaking peasants who eat strangely shaped, colored, and named things and call them foods (like Twinkies, Cheetos, and Mountain Dew are *normal*); Englishmen as dudis (you'll have to read the book for that translation) who do eccentric off-the-wall things with food that are repulsively named and gruesomely concocted (spotted dick? bubble-and-squeak?); and Italians as supercilious effete cognoscenti of world culture, who possess the strangest *need* for vulgarity.

The characters in this hilarious romp are the most dysfunctional group of misfits and ignoramuses and stereotypes ever deployed by an English-language author. They do predictable things, yet Hamilton-Paterson's deftly ironic, cruelly flensing eye and word processor cause readerly glee instead of readerly ennui to ensue. The whole bizarre crew...the lumpenproletariat ex-Soviet composer, the Italian superdirector long past his prime, the English snob who refers to Tuscany's glory as "Chiantishire" and "Tuscminster"...gyrates and shudders and clumps towards a completely foreseeable climactic explosion (heeheehee). And all the time, snarking and judging and learning to depend on each other. In the end, the end is nigh for all the established relationships and the dim, Fernet Branca-hangover-hazed outlines of the new configurations are, well, the English say it best...dire.

Read it. Really, do. And I dare you not to laugh at these idiots! Don't be put off by the sheer hideousness of the American edition's cover, in all its shades-of-purple garish grisliness. The charm of reading the book is that one needn't look at that...that...illustration...on the cover, but inflict it on those not yet In The Know enough to be reading it themselves.

And seriously...John Barrowman needs to know about this. Pass it on!

No Review Posted 24 April 2013

The book I planned to review was so horrible that I don't even want to mention it, and the one I had as a back-up was pretty dire, too. So disappointing. I always WANT to love the books I pick up, and each one starts out with five shiny, hopeful stars. Bitter, rank disappointment was my lot today.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

New Review Posted on 23 April 2013

THE FABRIC OF REALITY is an excellent explanation of the reasons a Multiverse replaces a theistic Universe. In Science, Dinosaurs & Environmental Issues

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Monday, April 22, 2013

No Reviews for 22 April 2013

After two-plus years of no gout medication, and several very very painful flare-ups, I have spent every last dime I possess at the doc-in-a-box and the pharmacy...but I have meds! Just in time.

But I'm worn out and can't manage to do much of anything, sorry.

Fresh Review for 21 April 2013

I've finally put up my review of THE DOG STARS in Literary Fiction and Story Collections.

So near and yet so far.

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Saturday, April 20, 2013

Fresh Review for 20 April 2013!

I finished this last night and had to think. And cry. And think some more. But here it is:

CRAPALACHIA: A Biography of a Place in Literary Fiction & Story Collections

Outstanding memoir of a rural upbringing in a part of the country I know little about. Scott McClanahan can write!

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Friday, April 19, 2013

New Review Extra for 19 April 2013

My book circle meets on Monday to discuss THE MAN IN THE GRAY FLANNEL SUIT by Sloan Wilson. It's sixty years old, more or less, and still extremely timely.

Read it.

ETA But DON'T watch the movie! What a complete bore. Gregory Peck was awful as Tom Rath!

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THE MONTY HALL PROBLEM, Posted 19 April 2013


THE MONTY HALL PROBLEM: The Remarkable Story of Math's Most Contentious Brainteaser
Jason Rosenhouse

Oxford University Press
$24.95 hardcover, available now

Rating: 3.5 bumfuzzled stars of five

The Publisher Says: Mathematicians call it the Monty Hall Problem, and it is one of the most interesting mathematical brain teasers of recent times. Imagine that you face three doors, behind one of which is a prize. You choose one but do not open it. The host--call him Monty Hall--opens a different door, always choosing one he knows to be empty. Left with two doors, will you do better by sticking with your first choice, or by switching to the other remaining door? In this light-hearted yet ultimately serious book, Jason Rosenhouse explores the history of this fascinating puzzle. Using a minimum of mathematics (and none at all for much of the book), he shows how the problem has fascinated philosophers, psychologists, and many others, and examines the many variations that have appeared over the years. As Rosenhouse demonstrates, the Monty Hall Problem illuminates fundamental mathematical issues and has abiding philosophical implications. Perhaps most important, he writes, the problem opens a window on our cognitive difficulties in reasoning about uncertainty.

My Review: I'd rate it higher if I understood it....

Twenty years ago, a brouhaha erupted in Parade magazine, of all unlikely places, about a probbility problem, of all unexpected things. It's an exercise in applied probability mathematics. Here's the famous statement of the problem:

"Suppose you're on a game show, and you're given the choice of three doors: Behind one door is a car; behind the others, goats. You pick a door, say No. 1, and the host, who knows what's behind the doors, opens another door, say No. 3, which has a goat. He then says to you, 'Do you want to pick door No. 2?' Is it to your advantage to switch your choice?"

Okay, so the answer is, "Always switch." You'll win about 64% of the time if you always switch, vs 31% of the time if you DON'T switch. This has been demonstrated again and again and again and again since the problem surfaced in 1959 (under a different name). People are *still* arguing about it! People with advanced degrees in math are arguing against the mathematical proof! (Which reinforces my absence of respect for the mere possession of an advanced degree.)

This book contains formulae and equations, so the phobic should pass it by. Being barely numerate, I skipped anything that had italic x's or y's, curly brackets, extra-large parentheses, or other quick identifiers of mathspeak, and I did okay.

What did I learn? 1) Jason Rosenhouse has a sense of humor and a quick way with a zinger. 2) Always switch doors on "Let's Make a Deal." 3) Rein in my curiosity about subjects I don't grasp readily...getting books via InterLibrary Loan means one has to read them too quickly for comfort!

Should you read it? Probably not. It's not a subject of interest to most people. If it is of interest to you, make sure you have ample time to revisit the more baroque sections. And run run run like a bunny if you see the word "Bayesian!" That way mouth-breathing, drool-dripping, eye-crossing befuddlement lies!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

New Reviews Posted for 18 April 2013

RIVER OF GODS in Bizarro, Fantasy & SF it's a big gulp, but the swallow is superb

DESOLATION ROAD in Bizarro, Fantasy & SF after 25 years, it's still about the best Mars-colonization story there is

BETTER LIVING THROUGH PLASTIC EXPLOSIVES in Literary Fiction & Story Collections is a very mixed bag, some stories are excellent...but winning the Giller Prize?

THE LAST REFUGE in Mystery Series introduces very noirish hero Sam Acquillo, reluctant amateur detective in the Hamptons...hey, he drives a '67 Grand Prix and I'm supposed to not read these? Fuhgeddabouddit

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Today's Review Posts for 17 April 2013

LAZARUS IS DEAD in Literary Fiction & Story Collections

HOUSEKEEPING vs THE DIRT in Books About Books, Authors & Biblioholism

PALACE OF JUSTICE in Mystery Series

Quality stuff one and all! Come and look.

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Today's Review Posts for 16 April 2013

It's an all-science Tuesday. Five memorable science/environmental issues titles:

THE VIEW FROM LAZY POINT well, let's say it gets better from here

WICKED PLANTS I may never stop scratching!

THE BIG NECESSITY time we stopped squirming and started talking about sewerage issues

THE LOST CITY OF Z adventure, discovery, death!!

HOW TO BUILD AN ANDROID the chronicle of the loss of PKD's head. Even odder than it sounds

Stop by and see what takes your fancy!

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Monday, April 15, 2013

Today's Review Posts for 15 April 2013

It's Monday, so I figured I'd do my least favorite of the genres: YOUNG ADULT ewww ickickick.

So moving and fixing and tarting up eight of my YA reviews, I was surprised to find more positive ratings than negative ones. Good writing is good writing, no matter where it's shelved.

Here are today's smorgasbord nibbles:

SHINE blech

THE HUNDRED AND ONE DALMATIANS the original, not the bastard Disney nonsense

THE ASTONISHING LIFE OF OCTAVIAN NOTHING, TRAITOR TO THE NATION both volumes, The Pox Party and The Kingdom of the Waves, are superior to much of the adult writing in historical fiction

TELL THE WOLVES I'M HOME ~meh~

COMET IN MOOMINLAND timeless delight

THE BOY WHO HARNESSED THE WIND there *is* hope for the future!

THE GIRL WHO CIRCUMNAVIGATED FAIRYLAND IN A SHIP OF HER OWN MAKING simply excellent luminous and transcendant

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Today's Review Posts for 14 April 2013

Sunday's theme is "Hillbilly Noir," a term for rural-set unflinching social-issues fiction that I like a lot. The South, the Midwest, the Appalachians, Maine...wherever there's poverty, there's a fertile ground for noir-themed writing to explain the world. It seems to me that it's the only explanation, most times.

Everything is in Literary Fiction & Story Collections.

KNOCKEMSTIFF

THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME

AMERICAN SALVAGE

ONCE UPON A RIVER

CROOKED LETTER, CROOKED LETTER

SWAMPLANDIA!

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Saturday, April 13, 2013

REASONABLE DOUBTS, third Guido Guerrieri procedural set in Bari, Italy

REASONABLE DOUBTS (Guido Guerrieri #3)
GIANRICO CAROFIGLIO
tr. Howard Curtis
Bitter Lemon Press
$9.99 Kindle edition, available now

Rating: 4.9* of five

The Publisher Says: Lawyer Guerrieri is asked to handle the appeal of Fabio Paolicelli, sentenced to sixteen years for smuggling drugs into Italy. Everything seems stacked against the accused, not least because he initially confessed to the crime. His past as a neo-fascist thug also adds credence to the case against him. Only the intervention of Paolicelli’s beautiful half-Japanese wife finally overcomes Guerrieri’s reluctance. Matters get more complicated when Guerrieri ends up in bed with her. Gianrico Carofiglio, born in 1961, is a judge and anti-Mafia prosecutor in the southern Italian city of Bari. Bitter Lemon Press introduced him to English-speaking readers with his best-selling debut novel, Involuntary Witness.

Book One reviewBook Two reviewBook Four reviewBook Five review

THIS BOOK WAS BORROWED VIA INTERLIBRARY LOAN. SUPPORT YOUR LIBRARY!

My Review:
Third in the Guido Guerrieri Italian legal procedural thrillers, this outing finds Avv. Guerrieri tilting at windmills again, with a twist: He's running an investigation into the client's story. He's taken the case of an imprisoned drug courier who insists he's innocent of knowingly transporting 40 kilos of cocaine from Montenegro back to Bari in the car carrying himself, his wife, and their small daughter. He was a small-time crook before, yes, and (unknown to the client) was even a nasty Fascist gang-bully in the 1970s who beat young Guido up in the street. But to imperil his own wife and daughter by doing something so stupid as to run a hundred pounds of cocaine across international borders?! Never!

But word in the prison-yard is that Avv. Guerrieri is a good one, a lawyer who does the job he's hired for, and makes the case work for the client. This time, though, Guido faces something a little bit tougher than just a client probably guilty and just denying it out of embarrassment at involving his family, or even the long-ago beating he got at the client's hands (which the client's clearly forgotten): Don Quixote de Guerrieri has met his Dulcinea, the client's beautiful half-Japanese wife Natsu.

And here Guido Guerrieri is, single and everything, since Margherita left for New York and a new life (the rat!). And here Natsu is, unsure of her husband's innocence, unsure of her future, unsure of how to tell her daughter that Papa's not coming home from his business trip until 2025...what can you expect a woman to do when a handsome older gent with sad eyes and a penchant for reading strange books, a sophisticated palate that can really appreciate her cooking, and a way with soothing her deeply unhappy daughter's nightmares falls into her lap?

In the end, as always, Guido sees justice served, and sees his services amply rewarded in the process by solidifying his excellent reputation among the criminal classes, with the local narcotics officers, and the Italian judiciary, all at the same time. Not for the first time, Carofiglio weaves a believable resolution to a plot he seems to have set in motion specifically to challenge the clockwork universe into crushing our Don Quixote hero with the windmill blades.

At the end of the last book, Guido and Margherita were celebrating Christmas together! He'd even jumped out of a plane to impress her! And in one short passage at the very beginning of this book, Carofiglio dispatches her to the same place that all happy-making things go in the lives of hard-boiled sleuths. I was a little bit surprised at first, then I remembered the cardinal rule of noir: No one is happy for long.

A doomed affair with a client's wife is a great noir touch, too. No one even moderately sentient can doubt for a second that, once Natsu appears, Guido's going to succumb to her and that she's going to offer up the goods. All progresses apace, and the expected complications ensue; and perhaps that's why this installment isn't quite so thrilling to me as the previous two. I suspect that the far greater emphasis on the investigative parts of the case as opposed to the actual court arguments and examinations might contribute to my lack of superhappy. But the elements are there, just in smaller proportion to previous outings. All I can hope is that the series doesn't become all PI instead of procedural.

I really like the translations of these books, I must say, since they give me credit for being intelligent enough to need the occasional reinforcement of the book's Italian setting by using actual Italian in some non-critical but very practical ways. My favorite example is the characters calling each other, when culturally necessary for them to do so, by their job titles, eg Guido being called "Avvocato" or "Lawyer-man" in professional contexts, exactly as they would in Italy. Grace notes like this are very important to my sense of pleasure in a book, and greatly enhance my willingness to read more of the series.

I continue to enjoy these books, and wait eagerly for the next installment. That's saying something from a man whose "to be read" shelf has over 1000 titles on it.

Friday, April 12, 2013

THE OTHER WES MOORE, not my personal preference for positive reading about race in the US


THE OTHER WES MOORE: One Name, Two Fates
WES MOORE

Spiegel & Grau
$13.99 Kindle, available now

Rating: 3* of five

The Publisher Says: Two kids with the same name lived in the same decaying city. One went on to be a Rhodes Scholar, decorated combat veteran, White House Fellow, and business leader. The other is serving a life sentence in prison. Here is the story of two boys and the journey of a generation.

In December 2000, the Baltimore Sun ran a small piece about Wes Moore, a local student who had just received a Rhodes Scholarship. The same paper also ran a series of articles about four young men who had allegedly killed a police officer in a spectacularly botched armed robbery. The police were still hunting for two of the suspects who had gone on the lam, a pair of brothers. One was named Wes Moore.

Wes just couldn’t shake off the unsettling coincidence, or the inkling that the two shared much more than space in the same newspaper. After following the story of the robbery, the manhunt, and the trial to its conclusion, he wrote a letter to the other Wes, now a convicted murderer serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. His letter tentatively asked the questions that had been haunting him: Who are you? How did this happen?

That letter led to a correspondence and relationship that have lasted for several years. Over dozens of letters and prison visits, Wes discovered that the other Wes had had a life not unlike his own: Both had grown up in similar neighborhoods and had had difficult childhoods, both were fatherless; they’d hung out on similar corners with similar crews, and both had run into trouble with the police. At each stage of their young lives they had come across similar moments of decision, yet their choices would lead them to astonishingly different destinies.

Told in alternating dramatic narratives that take readers from heart-wrenching losses to moments of surprising redemption, The Other Wes Moore tells the story of a generation of boys trying to find their way in a hostile world.

My Review: Chronic overachiever and Marine Wes Moore gets captivated by the fate of his fellow Baltimorean, who is a convicted murderer, Wes Moore. They meet and become friends, leading to this book.

More's the pity. This damn thing is like getting a sunshine enema. One feels far crappier about disliking this book than a mere novel, or a tendentious political screed from some libertarian or conservative wingnut *coughHannitycough*. I'm all for interrupting the prevailing narrative of Black failure and the misery of existing as a Black male in our society. I'd just prefer to have that experience without the regressive reminder that "there but for the grace of God go I" (wonderful, useful phrase but origin unknown despite my belief that John Bradford said it first). One certainly empathizes with Author Moore, his relief that he's not the one in the cell is palpable, but so is his compassion...and his quietly judgmental satisfaction. Or so it felt to me.

The author's breezy, anecdotal style is perfectly adequate to the task of telling his story. It's in no way unique or even very interesting, but the points are made, the language is limpidly clear, and I never once thought the publisher was crazy for acquiring but not copyediting (meaning there are only a few errors of spelling or grammar) the book. This is an increasingly rare feeling on my part.

So what's with the curmudgeonly reaction to it? I loathe being preached at. This book feels preachy and smug to me. I can almost feel Jesus in every word, and this is a most disturbing and disagreeable sensation to me. The entire time Author Wes is reporting the conversations he has with Murderer Wes, I wished the murderer was the one I was listening to...I am that averse to being chirped at.

I didn't like it, and I doubt I'd like either Wes Moore in the flesh either. I'm glad I read it, but I don't recommend it to anyone not in search of the Wonderbra experience: Uplifted beyond that which is natural (not to mention desirable).

Thursday, April 11, 2013

THE YELLOW BIRDS, a poet's first novel of the Iraq War

THE YELLOW BIRDS
KEVIN POWERS

Back Bay Books
$14.99 trade paper, available now

Rating: 4.75* of five

The Publisher Says: "The war tried to kill us in the spring," begins this breathtaking account of friendship and loss. In Al Tafar, Iraq, twenty-one-year old Private Bartle and eighteen-year-old Private Murphy cling to life as their platoon launches a bloody battle for the city. In the endless days that follow, the two young soldiers do everything to protect each other from the forces that press in on every side: the insurgents, physical fatigue, and the mental stress that comes from constant danger.

Bound together since basic training when their tough-as-nails Sergeant ordered Bartle to watch over Murphy, the two have been dropped into a war neither is prepared for. As reality begins to blur into a hazy nightmare, Murphy becomes increasingly unmoored from the world around him and Bartle takes impossible actions.

With profound emotional insight, especially into the effects of a hidden war on mothers and families at home, THE YELLOW BIRDS is a groundbreaking novel about the costs of war that is destined to become a classic.

My Review: I do so wish publishers would stop using the phrase “destined to become a classic” because, even if I agree with them (in this case I do), it's so obviously a sales pitch that it's a turn off.

No one knows for sure what the future will consider a classic. No one in 1955 would've given The Lord of the Rings future-classic status. No one in 1851 would've known about Moby-Dick, it was such a flop! The Great Gatsby? Please! Out of print by 1940!

This book, fragmented like PTSD memories, written in deceptively simple sentences by a *shudder* poet of all things, earns my admiration for its beauty, its simplicity, its sheer raw emotional up-front-ness. It has these, and many other, things in common with books that have stood the test of time and become classics. It is a first novel; it is about a young man's journey into a unique hell of memory and the maze he travels even to imagine daylight guiding him out; it is, one strongly suspects based on the author's CV, a roman à clef. So far, so good, for the oddsmakers' guess it will become a classic; so did The Naked and the Dead, so did The Sun Also Rises, and so on. I think it will be a classic. I hope it will, and I offer this passage as support for my hope and conviction:

When we neared the orchard a flock of birds lit from its outer rows. They hadn't been there long. The branches shook with their absent weight and the birds circled above in the ruddy mackerel sky, where they made an artless semaphore. I was afraid. I smelled copper and cheap wine. The sun was up, but a half-moon hung low on the opposite horizon, cutting through the morning sky like a figure from a child's pull-tab book.

We were lined along the ditch up to our ankles in a soupy muck. It all seemed in that moment to be the conclusion of a poorly designed experiment in inevitability. Everything was in its proper place, waiting for a pause in time, for the source of all momentum to be stilled, so that what remained would be nothing more than detritus to be tallied up. The world was paper-thin as far as I could tell. And the world was the orchard, and the orchard was what came next. But none of that was true. I was only afraid of dying.”
That, for me, is a lovely moment of mortal fear's hyperreality-inducing sensory twist. Never having been in war, I can't say it's what a soldier would feel, but having been afraid for my life from external causes, I can say that is the kind of sharp-edged seemingly odd clarity of perception that happened to me. The author was a soldier in Iraq. I suspect he saw and felt these exact things, and because he's *gag* an MFA-havin' poet, he remembered them with extreme precision.

Kevin Powers is One To Watch. This book won the 2012 Guardian First Book Award; the 2013 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award (which recognizes books that have made important contributions to our understanding of racism and our appreciation of the rich diversity of human cultures); the 2013 Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction (a $5,000 award administered by the American Academy of Arts and Letters); and the 2013 Prix littéraire étranger Le Monde, given by the French newspaper Le Monde. I strongly suspect this could be the best novel we see from him unless he gets back on the authorial horse to do better than his previous best. I hope he does, and I pray it doesn't blight his ambitions to be so successful so early in his novel-writing career. I most urgently petition the Muses for his beautiful, beautiful talent to survive intact the horrors of commerce, where the agonies of war built a palace for him.

The 2017 film stars Alden Ehrenreich as Bartle, gets a solid 4 stars of five from me, and is available free to Amazon Prime members. Alden Ehrenreich, from that Star Wars movie that got so much hate, is Bartle; and Toni Collette plays his mom; and Jennifer Aniston plays Mrs. Murphy, the mother who entrusts her son to Bartle. All three, as well as the other actors, give very creditable performances in a script that was of decidedly less exalted quality than the novel was. Not bad, not great, better than average by a hair or two; that is not high praise. The story itself makes the experience of watching the film satisfying.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A WALK IN THE DARK, second Guido Guerrieri procedural set in Bari, Italy

A WALK IN THE DARK (Guido Guerrieri #2)
GIANRICO CAROFIGLIO
tr. Howard Curtis
Bitter Lemon Press
$9.99 Kindle edition, available now

Rating: 4.9* of five

The Publisher Says: When Martina accuses her ex-boyfriend—the son of a powerful local judge—of assault and battery, no witnesses can be persuaded to testify on her behalf, and one lawyer after another refuses to represent her. Guido Guerrieri knows the case could bring his legal career to a messy end, but he cannot resist the appeal of a hopeless cause. Nor can he deny an attraction to Sister Claudia, the young woman in charge of the shelter where Martina is living, who shares his love of martial arts and his virulent hatred of injustice.

Book One reviewBook Three reviewBook Four reviewBook Five review

THIS BOOK WAS BORROWED VIA INTERLIBRARY LOAN. SUPPORT YOUR LIBRARY!

My Review
: In the second installment of the Avv. Guido Guerrieri legal thriller series, Our Hero has accepted the case of an abused woman who wants to bring civil suit against her battering, stalking ex-lover. Who just happens to be the son of the most powerful criminal judge in the city of Bari. And he didn't get that way by passing out Christmas hams to the needy, if you get my drift. Martina, at considerable risk to herself, wishes to put an end to the charm in her ex's charmed life by making him face publically the harm he's done her; he isn't, unsurprisingly, prepared to let this happen, and he retains the meanest, most sick-making kind of silk-upholstered shit-sack of a lawyer one can imagine. (The author being a judge, I suspect this character is a sarcastic payback on someone or someones he's dealt with in his anti-Mafia trials.)

Cue Guido's Don Quixote music! Saddle up, Sancho Reader, we're going for a tilt at the windmill of privilege, social and societal. Guido hears about the case with aplomb...she's gotta be kidding, so he slapped her around, this isn't a criminal case, c'mon! stalking? what, a man can't walk down a street?...until a combination of a feminist martial artist/nun, a female public prosecutor, and the head of the local deviant crimes unit all singing the same song makes him listen, and re-evaluate. Then they tell him who is alleged to have committed the crime.

Whoa Nelly! Career suicide help line, my name is don't do it, please tell me everything...and by god, Guido does the amazing and the improbable: He learns to accept that male privilege is a mindset, and society doesn't even notice it. (I'd add straight privilege if it was relevant, which it's not here, but it's equally virulent.) He's already sure he wants to take down the son of the local bought judge because he's an old leftist. (Old, hell, he's a puppy of forty.)

And Guido works his most sneaky, ju-jitsu-inspired magic in the trial that ensues. He really gives it a twist this time. So does the author. SUCH a twist, with nuns and cops and lawyers and sleazeballs all enmeshed in a fracas that had me, no exaggeration, gasping and jumping up and down.

In a paltry 215pp, I lived through the entire range of my emotional reactions to violence. Each of them. In turn, simultaneously, in order of virulence, and finally in catharsis.

I am not a subscriber to the Woman is Saintly Victim school of thought. I do not believe that men are abusers and women victims by nature, despite the crap that infests our fictional bookosphere. The issue of stalking, and its nastier ancillary complexes, is a very real one and a very scary one. The world has mean, nasty, horrible people in it, and by all that's holy, they need to be put away, stopped, found out and exposed. This novel satiated my strong need for that to happen, and it did a brilliant job of it.

The ending, while emotionally intense and not entirely pleasant, came close to being perfect. Close, so close...one event did not happen, and that is my one cavil with the whole thing.

I'm a big fan of the less prurient, more procedural style Carofiglio uses in these books, compared to the confessional, almost pornographic closeness to the dramatis personae most American procedurals use. Don't be surprised if your take on the style changes...from con to pro, but possibly the reverse...in this installment. It's a balancing act, as it always must be, to decide what details to present, what relationships to flesh out, what to suggest and what to explain. Carofiglio makes the most use of suggestion of any crime writer I've found.

Me likey. A lot.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Today's Review Posts for 9 April 2013

MORE BATHS, LESS TAKING in Politics & Social Issues

MURDER IN THE RUE ST. ANN in GLBTQ (Chanse MacLeod #2)

WICKED BUGS in Science, Dinosaurs & Environmental Issues

THE PALACE OF ILLUSION in Literary Fiction & Short Story Collections

STILL LIFE (Chief Inspector Gamache #1) in Mystery Series

All reviews posted in this blog are subject to Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Today's Review Posts for 8 April 2013

ZEITOUN in Politics & Social Issues

THE BIG SLEEP in Mystery Series

FLOWER CONFIDENTIAL in Science, Dinosaurs & Environmental Issues

THE GALAXIE AND OTHER RIDES in Literary Fiction & Short Story Collections

TALL TALES WITH SHORT COCKS Volume 1 in Bizarro, Fantasy & SF

All reviews posted in this blog are subject to Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

PREDATOR NATION, a seven-year-old wake-up call as trenchant now as it was then

PREDATOR NATION: Corporate Criminals, Political Corruption, and the Hijacking of America
CHARLES H. FERGUSON

Currency
$15.00 trade paper, available now

Rating: 5* of five

The Publisher Says: Charles H. Ferguson, who electrified the world with his Oscar-winning documentary Inside Job, now explains how a predator elite took over the country, step by step, and he exposes the networks of academic, financial, and political influence, in all recent administrations, that prepared the predators’ path to conquest.
Over the last several decades, the United States has undergone one of the most radical social and economic transformations in its history.
· Finance has become America’s dominant industry, while manufacturing, even for high technology industries, has nearly disappeared.
· The financial sector has become increasingly criminalized, with the widespread fraud that caused the housing bubble going completely unpunished.
· Federal tax collections as a share of GDP are at their lowest level in sixty years, with the wealthy and highly profitable corporations enjoying the greatest tax reductions.
· Most shockingly, the United States, so long the beacon of opportunity for the ambitious poor, has become one of the world’s most unequal and unfair societies.

If you’re smart and a hard worker, but your parents aren’t rich, you’re now better off being born in Munich, Germany or in Singapore than in Cleveland, Ohio or New York.

This radical shift did not happen by accident.

I BORROWED THIS BOOK FROM THE LIBRARY. THANK GOODNESS I HAVE A LIBRARY NEAR ME! SUPPORT YOUR LIBRARY FOR A BETTER WORLD.

My Review
: I am second to none in my passionate love for and gratitude to the United States of America for the astoundingly amazingly wonderfully free-from-want life I lead.

And as that life is, day by day, taken from me piecemeal by the rich, the greedy, and the stupid, I am going to shout and point and wave my arms a lot to get the attention of the few, the many, the unwilling or willing, to see if I can't effect some small change to build on.

Count on it.

This library book was a fourteen-day loan, and I've had it seventeen days. I couldn't read much at a time because it made me furious, hysterically angry, livid to the point of stroke. I am disabled by a chronic, genetically transmitted condition that causes severe and painful acid buildup on my joints and near areas that have tendons. (Check the photos on my profile...that claw-lookin' thing is my left hand.) I have health care AND get prescriptions for the medicines that ameliorate my disabling condition. As they are given under regular supervision, I am able to avoid the problem of renal failure that comes with more than one of the medications, not to mention horrible gastric consequences, which I just have to put up with.

And in this rich nation, would you like to know what the princely payout to me, to enable me to survive? A little under $1200 a month. Food stamps, $150 a month at most, can't be awarded to someone in assisted living. Medicaid and Medicare, working in tandem, keep my illnesses from becoming *dire*. These programs, which here in New York State are more generous than most places, are part of the privilege I experience as an old white man with friends whose positions of experience and power were used to my benefit in acquiring my safety net. And, were it not for the charity of friends, not please be assured my family members, oh nay nay nay, never dare even to ask them for help (well, now, one aunt handed over $4000 as I was losing my house, which put off the evil day for several months), I would've been completely unable to face the wall of bureaucracy still less get what I need. Imagine that case, ill and despairing and truly at rock bottom, without my white male privilege. The COVID-19 plague's ravages fall disproportionately on poorer communities; many of those people are wage-earners on the ragged edge already; their employers are firing right and left, unemployment is running out, and many are simply unable to make do without private charity. Which has a limit.

And then what? I don't know.

I am, as you see, not alone in my predicament. I am, in fact, a reasonably common-or-garden recipient of the fucking that corporations and CEOs and banks are doling out to each and every one of us not in their club. It's not new, this phenomenon. It was for millennia the norm. Then, one day in 1773, a group of rowdy, angry, sick-of-it colonists in Boston (of all places) said “oh fuck you” to king and church and country. Go Massachusetts!

Now, 240 years on, the rotten sleazy fucks we kicked out of power are back with a vengeance, thanks to 1) greedy politicians, 2) evil, evil, evil preachers, 3) stupid, complicit conservatives and “libertarians” (aka the Authoritarian's Best Friends League), and last but not least the laziest, most astoundingly selfish population of “future millionaires” (tip: if daddy wasn't a millionaire, you won't be either, sure as the sun rises in the east) ever fattened up for the slaughter on the American Dream (of what? for whom?).

No. I don't mean the immigrants. I don't mean the union workers. I mean you. The person who doesn't know who his/her state senator is. Who the county tax assessor is. Who watches fucking idiot-box crap and not presidential debates because it's too hard, it's boring, it doesn't matter anyway.

Welcome to what happens when you're not paying attention.

And you deserve it.

I, on the other hand, who have voted and shouted and waved my arms about this shit since 1980, do not. But here I am in the same goddamned boat as the lazy, the stupid, the religious, the conservative or libertarian. Is that in any way fair? No. It sucks wookiee balls. (Nobody likes hair in their teeth.)

But still, there it is. Hate is written into state constitutions because the Jesus Brigade for Tradishnull Fambly Valyews (aka Focus on the Family, et alii) doesn't like faggots. State senators, the same goddamned fucks in the GOP who authorize spending hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on casinos, *still* want to cut funding for public health IN THE MIDDLE OF A PLAGUE.

And this angry, prescient book details how it got this way, why it stays this way, and, in one short ending chapter, what possible means there are to combat it. I am not, by nature, an optimistic person. I sincerely believe that humans love one thing more than hate, and that's group hate. Food, sex, money...all significantly farther down the list. Hate is the killing ape's favorite pastime. What else (as we see increasingly obviously in 2020) is fandom, sports or TV or celebrity? What else is religion, politics? So I expect things will get worse, because the haters like that. Everyone should suffer!

And so we do. In our billions, we suffer. Unnecessarily, inexcusably, preventably. And so it goes.

But it does not have to. Everyone, and I mean every last one, of the US's eligible voters has a moral duty to vote in the November 2020 elections. The entire House of Representatives, a third of the Senate, and the Presidency of the United States of America need to be elected. All of those offices need to be held by people whose ideas and goals for the USA are in line with yours...and I am willing to bet that a lot of y'all have undergone some sort of shift in those goals.

So get out and vote!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

DEFENDING JACOB, routine courtroom drama redeemed by a wallopin' good ending; Posted 6 April 2013

DEFENDING JACOB
WILLIAM LANDAY

Bantam Books
$17.00 trade paper, $12.99 Kindle edition, available now

Rating: 3.25* of five

The Publisher Says: Andy Barber has been an assistant district attorney in his suburban Massachusetts county for more than twenty years. He is respected in his community, tenacious in the courtroom, and happy at home with his wife, Laurie, and son, Jacob. But when a shocking crime shatters their New England town, Andy is blindsided by what happens next: His fourteen-year-old son is charged with the murder of a fellow student.

Every parental instinct Andy has rallies to protect his boy. Jacob insists that he is innocent, and Andy believes him. Andy must. He’s his father. But as damning facts and shocking revelations surface, as a marriage threatens to crumble and the trial intensifies, as the crisis reveals how little a father knows about his son, Andy will face a trial of his own—between loyalty and justice, between truth and allegation, between a past he’s tried to bury and a future he cannot conceive.

Award-winning author William Landay has written the consummate novel of an embattled family in crisis—a suspenseful, character-driven mystery that is also a spellbinding tale of guilt, betrayal, and the terrifying speed at which our lives can spin out of control.

My Review: Courtroom legal thriller. Nothing new there.

Redeemed from two-star basement by two things: The ending, which I am surprised to say I didn't see coming. It was a gut-punch.

And also two quotes, things I closed the book and nodded sagely after reading, things that were So Well Said I had to take a pause for absorption:

It was as if there was a place called After, and if I could just push my family across to that shore, then everything would be all right. There would be time for all these "soft" problems in the land of After.
Yes, yes, anyone who has ever lived through A Tragedy knows this feeling intimately, knows how this sentence encapsulates the aching need to be normal and better and fixed...that never comes....

And this:

At some point as adults we we cease to be our parents' children and we become our children's parents instead.
Anyone who has read some of my more dyspeptic posts on Facebook will realize how little I think of the adolescent exceptionalism that pervades our adult culture. You don't have a *right* to own a gun, unless you're in a "well-regulated militia," you have a stupid-ass paranoid fear that results from imaging They are out to get you. It's a symptom of a brand of stupid arrogant vanity, a sense of self as Uniquely Valuable, that is ridiculous and borderline mentally ill.

No one is so damned important that They are Out To Get You. And that sentence, that piece of Landay's wisdom, explains why it should be okay to say "Oh just STFU and grow up!" to more people more often.

Anyway. Up from a rocklike two all the way to three and a quarter stars. An enjoyable read redeemed by surprise and wisdom...helluva job, Landay!

2020 UPDATE FOUR TV-SERIES STARS Chris Evans plays Andy Barber with a complexity and focus that made me invest even more heavily in the AppleTV+ adaptation than I had in the book (as the ending approached). I like Mr. Evans's style of acting in general, but he sets the knobs to 11 and then wraps every-damn-thing in lead shielding as Andy's universe shreds...and then there's the slightly altered ending, which was pretty big stuff for Evans to play.

Still, eight episodes was two too many in my estimation, leading Michelle Dockery's performance as Laurie Barber to wear thin. It's hard to watch her reach deeper and deeper into herself and come back with much the same intensity...nonetheless, anything mildly critical I say shouldn't keep you from signing up for the free trial, binging the series, then canceling. Whatever you do, don't give those sleazebags any more of your money than is impossible to avoid.

Friday, April 5, 2013

THE SHAPE OF WATER, first of the late Camilleri's Montalbano novels

THE SHAPE OF WATER (Inspector Montalbano #1)
ANDREA CAMILLERI (tr. Stephen Sartarelli)
Penguin Books
$6.99 ebook platforms, available now

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: Andrea Camilleri's novels starring Inspector Montalbano have become an international sensation and have been translated from Italian into eight languages, ranging from Dutch to Japanese. The Shape of Water is the first book in this sly, witty, and engaging series with its sardonic take on Sicilian life.

Early one morning, Silvio Lupanello, a big shot in the village of Vigàta, is found dead in his car with his pants around his knees. The car happens to be parked in a rough part of town frequented by prostitutes and drug dealers, and as the news of his death spreads, the rumors begin. Enter Inspector Salvo Montalbano, Vigàta's most respected detective. With his characteristic mix of humor, cynicism, compassion, and love of good food, Montalbano goes into battle against the powerful and the corrupt who are determined to block his path to the real killer. This funny and fast-paced Sicilian page-turner will be a delicious discovery for mystery afficionados and fiction lovers alike.

My Review: Television made me do it.

No. Really. There's an Inspector Montalbano mystery TV series made in Italy, filmed in Sicily, and all in Italian with subtitles. Since there are no Italian people in New York City and environs, our local PBS stations AND the city's wholly owned TV station neither one carry it. {/sarcasm}

It was left to a not-very-cultured bud of mine in **DAYTONA, FLORIDA** of all the lowbrow, low-rent places, to gush and rave and generally make a to-do over scrumptious Sicily and handsome Montalbano blah blah blah. Wench. And oh the insufferable coos of "Really? Truly? You haven't even *read* the books? No! Get out!"

THEN, to add insult to injury, who but a cyber-siren (second class) reviewer and friend should pop up with more rapturous flutings about Camilleri and Montalbano and well, you see?? See?! How on earth is one two-eyed human supposed to resist a cyber-siren's enticements? Okay, she's not up there with the Goodreads Gods yet, but just a few more eye grafts and it's Katie bar the door!

So fine fine, I give, five lights, I'll go get the blasted thing. I did, at 2:10pm yesterday. I finished the second read at 4pm today. It's short, obviously, but it's just completely fabulously delicious. It's wry, it's witty, and it's got my favorite quality: Good people do the right thing, even if it's illegal, and bad people don't get away with dick.

Montalbano's got a lover in Genoa, a hot chick who happens to be his friend's daughter, and she's all worked up for him, as well as a murder suspect who is an Italian man's wet dream: tall, blonde, Swedish, racing car driveress. Does he cheat on the lover? No. Does he seem to want to? Not so much, he really can't be bothered about silly stuff like that when the local party big-wig is found half-naked and dead in the local errr, mmm, uuuh "playground" shall we say. The man's widow, completely unfazed by this, helps Montalbano see the details that are wrong, the little discrepancies that shouldn't be noticeable, but when added up make the whole picture...askew.

The resolution to this case is one I wish some publisher would allow an American author to get away with. I just can't say enough about the rightness of it all. Sicily needs me, I must fly there immediately! Well, via Camilleri's books. And over a smallish Northeastern city, where I plan to *bomb* a Certain Cyber-Siren Party's residence.