Thursday, June 27, 2013

Two new reviews posted 27 June 2013

My real-life book circle's 160th book was Hadji Murad, the last book Tolstoy ever wrote. Really, it should have been left in the drawer. Terrific story, though, especially as it's true.

At Shelf Inflicted, the group blog, I posted my kick-off review of Jay Lake's farewell tour...he's dying of cancer, and holding the Jay Wake which is his own pre-mortem funeral...with a review of Rocket Science. It was Lake's first novel, and it's darn funny, as well as exciting.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

THE HOURS with MRS. DALLOWAY, Amazing Political Stories for the Internet Age


Picador (non-affiliate Amazon link)
$12.99 Kindle edition, available now

Rating: 4.5* of five

The Publisher Says: In The Hours, the acclaimed author Michael Cunningham draws inventively on the life and work of Virginia Woolf and the story of her novel, Mrs. Dalloway, to tell the story of a group of contemporary characters struggling with the conflicting claims of love and inheritance, hope and despair. In this edition, Cunningham brings his own Pulitzer Prize–winning novel together with Woolf’s masterpiece, which has long been hailed as a groundbreaking work of literary fiction and one of the finest novels written in English.

The two novels, published side by side with a new introduction by Cunningham, display the extent of their affinity, and each illuminates new facets of the other in this joint volume. In his introduction, Cunningham re-creates the wonderment of his first encounter with Mrs. Dalloway at fifteen—as he writes, “I was lost. I was gone. I never recovered.” With this edition, Cunningham allows us to disappear into the world of Woolf and into his own brilliant mind.

My Review: Three women mirror the facets of the life of Clarissa Dalloway, heroine of the novel Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. One life is Mrs. Woolf herself, shown in the depths of despair as she convalesces from one of her crippling bouts with depression in the suburban aridity of Richmond while pining for life in London's Bloomsbury, writing her novel of the exquisite nature of the quotidian. Another is the life of Mrs. Laura Brown, dying a million deaths every day in suburban Los Angeles, raising a son and pregnant again by a good man she doesn't love, as she reads Mrs. Dalloway and ponders escape. Lastly the life of Clarissa Vaughn, whose long unrequited love for Richard Brown, her gay poet/novelist friend, has led her to care for him tenderly in his final years as an AIDS patient. He long ago nicknamed her “Mrs. Dalloway,” both for her first name and for her exquisitely self-abnegating strength.

Over the course of one day in the life of each woman, everything she knows and feels about her life is sharply refocused; it is made clear to each that, to escape the trap she is in, she must accept change or die in the trap. The ending of the book brings all three strands to their inevitable conclusions, with surprising overlaps.

I first read this when it came out in 1998. I fell in love instantly, as I had with Mrs. Dalloway at a slightly earlier date. I loved the imaginative structure of interwoven lives, commenting on each other and riffing off the events in each world, echoing some facet in every case the events in the iconic novel Mrs. Dalloway.

I can't give it five stars because, in the end, I wondered a bit if the clever-clever hadn't gotten in the way of the emotional core of the book, which I saw as the gritty determination of the women to live on their own terms and in their own lives not dependent on convention. In making the book conform to this ideal, I felt that some plot strands weren't honestly dealt with but rather forced into a shape required by the author's plans.

That cavil aside, the book is beautifully written and wonderfully interestingly conceived. I'd recommend it heartily, and suggest reading it in conjunction with the movie.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

UNDER THE DOME, Stephen King Book & TV Review Posted 25 June 2013


$10.99 ebook platforms, available now

Rating: 4.25* of five

The Publisher Says: On an entirely normal, beautiful fall day in Chester's Mill, Maine, the town is inexplicably and suddenly sealed off from the rest of the world by an invisible force field. Planes crash into it and fall from the sky in flaming wreckage, a gardener's hand is severed as "the dome" comes down on it, people running errands in the neighboring town are divided from their families, and cars explode on impact. No one can fathom what this barrier is, where it came from, and when — or if — it will go away.

Dale Barbara, Iraq vet and now a short-order cook, finds himself teamed with a few intrepid citizens — town newspaper owner Julia Shumway, a physician's assistant at the hospital, a select-woman, and three brave kids. Against them stands Big Jim Rennie, a politician who will stop at nothing — even murder — to hold the reins of power, and his son, who is keeping a horrible secret in a dark pantry. But their main adversary is the Dome itself. Because time isn't just short. It's running out.

My Review: Chester's Mills, Maine, is having itself an ordinary morning, and its citizens are gettin' up to all the usual things: Spending too much of their husband's money, killing girls, beating up people they don't like and driving them out of town, making evil brews, only thing missing really is a bonfire and a faggot. Business as usual for the human race, in other words.


Down comes the Dome.

No way in, no way out, no one can understand the nature, the origin, or the purpose of the Dome inside or outside of it. National security issues crop up. The town misfit, an Iraqi war vet, is called back into national service to solve the mystery. And then things get **really** ugly: The local used car salesman takes control.

Think Nixon with a mean streak and a Big Fat Secret to protect.

"From Bad to Worse" could be the subtitle of every Stephen King novel, but this time it's so so so so bad and then it gets so so so much worse that the reader is calling out to Divine Providence for the mercy of Death...and then comes The Twist. The Dome is revealed to be...but no, you have to read it. Because Stephen King = what Chuckles the Dick would've been if he'd had talent.

Just sayin'.

I hated liking this book. I resented the demands on my gouty wrists and fingers, supporting its mammoth weight, flipping the pages faster and faster and faster as I got more and more sucked in to the story. I snorted snobbily at myself, caught up in this not-terribly-sophisticated narrative. None of which stopped me finishing the book and sighing with mitigated contentment at its sudsy, gloriously cinematically trajectory. I can see the miniseries...I want to see the miniseries! soon please!...unfold in my mind. It's what Stephen King does brilliantly: Tells you a story of human nature, irrefutably making points that need making about Mankind and its flaws, while wringing your withers with fear, excitement, and sadness.

The Dome was a really cool narrative device. I liked its unknowability, I was completely on board with mystery forces causing it who-knows-why...and then we find out why. I wasn't especially interested in that part, and felt it was a tidge unimaginitive coming from Mr. Shock-and-Awe himself. what...I had over 1000pp of reading pleasure. It's like potato-chip sex. The kind you have because you can. It still feels good, and no way are you gonna stop just because it's meaningless.

(I suppose this last isn't comprehensible to my girly readers of either gender.)

Relax. Enjoy. Don't think too much. You'll end up in a much better mood than you started out in.

UNLESS, of course, you watch the TV series that King himself participated in...from a premiere of over 13 million viewers to a finale of just under 5 million in three short seasons!

It had very pretty actors, and it had some terrific episodes, but it was plagued by a series of changes made to the storyline for no obvious reason. Fans of the book were, understandably and predictably, pissed. So why do the creatives insist on doing this? They weren't even changes made to ease filming or reduce cast! (The cast was staggeringly large.)

King himself addressed the irritated fans from his website, speaking ex cathedra:
Many of the changes wrought by Brian K. Vaughan and his team of writers have been of necessity, and I approved of them wholeheartedly. Some have been occasioned by their plan to keep the dome in place over Chester's Mill for months instead of little more than a week, as is the case in the book. Other story modifications are slotting into place because the writers have completely reimagined the source of the dome.
Sadly, they did not respond positively, and took their toys home in a snit. I'm not sure they were right, to be honest, and found the series more than entertaining enough to keep me watching from season one through the finale.

But I'm not one of the gatekeeping fanboys in any fandom. I find those sorts of people tiresomely similar to religious nuts in their insistence of Being Right. And I ain't down with that.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

AMERICAN HONOR KILLINGS, revolting crimes committed by disgusting people

AMERICAN HONOR KILLINGS: Desire and Rage Among Men

Akashic Books
$15.95 all editions, available now

Rating: 5* of five

The Publisher Says: In American Honor Killings, straight and gay guys cross paths, and the result is murder. But what really happened? What role did hatred play? What were the men involved really like, and what was going on between them when the murder occurred? American Honor Killings explores the truth behind squeamish reporting and uninformed political rants of the far right or fringe left. David McConnell, a New York-based novelist, researched cases from small-town Alabama to San Quentin's death row. The book recounts some of the most notorious crimes of our era.

Beginning in 1999 and lasting until the 2011 conviction of a youth in Queens, New York, the book shows how some murderers think they're cleaning up society. Surprisingly, other killings feel almost preordained, not a matter of the victim's personality or actions so much as a twisted display of a young man's will to compete or dominate. We want to think these stories involve simple sexual conflict, either the killer's internal struggle over his own identity or a fatally miscalculated proposition. They're almost never that simple.

Together, the cases form a secret American history of rage and desire. McConnell cuts through cant and political special pleading to turn these cases into enduring literature. In each story, victims, murderers, friends, and relatives come breathtakingly alive. The result is more soulful, more sensitive, more artful than the sort of "true crime” writing the book was modeled on. A wealth of new detail has been woven into old cases, while new cases are plumbed for the first time. The resulting stories play out exactly as they happened, an inexorable sequence of events—grisly, touching, disturbing, sometimes even with moments of levity.


My Review
: It is no secret that I'm a leftist, anti-religion queer. I loathe the existence of the systems of "Rightness" that the murderers in these crimes use to justify their actions. The mere ability of a person to point to a bible and have any segment of society secretly or not-so-secretly justify or even agree with the heinous crime of murder is shameful to us as a society.

That said, it's still true. These accounts of the motives and actions of some seriously mentally ill young men, certain that they are Right and they are Correct in the actions, are enlightening and chilling. The cases are appalling...Scott Amedure was shotgunned by a man he confessed to having a crush on on national TV, and his killer is now walking free after serving twenty years...the legal teams for the prosecution of the hate criminals are hampered by public sympathy for the killers, and the culture changes so so slowly....

I spent most of the time I read this book alternating between scaring my dog with loud, rasping screeches of outraged indignation that such stupidity is allowed to exist by this gawd person most of these boys, their families, and their communities profess belief in, and miserable, hopeless weeping of sympathetic pain at the agonies of loss, grief, and longing that the families, the parents, the loving friends of the murdered men will spend the rest of their lives experiencing, because the so-called "Holy Bible," actually full of holey babble, and its hellspawn idiot-friendly "christian values culture" don't like the idea of men having sex with each other.

Who cares what you think? Did someone ask you? Drag your mind out of the prurient gutter of thinking about what other people do in their bedrooms. It's often this fear of People Knowing that motivates a hate criminal to kill a gay victim...take the Matson and Mowder murder committed in 1999 by the Williams brothers. They were Living Faith Fellowship zealots who got too violent for even those yahoos. They ended up with an anti-semitic hit list, a list of synagogues to burn down...motivated in part by questions around their sexuality. Can't have people thinking we're fags...let's go kill the unclean scum infesting the world!

McConnell has written a book as horrifying and as necessary as In Cold Blood, and as likely to stand the test of time as a document of the consequences of sociopathic thinking. I can't recommend that you read it; but really, you should. Depressingly, most of you won't. It's not YOUR friend, brother, cousin, so why bother?

Because until people confront the horrible consequences of their smug, exclusionary language of "salvation" and the like, this won't be the last time a book like this is necessary.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

TransAtlantic, Colum McCann's polyphonic piece of Irish Abolitionism meets Aeronautical Achievement meets the End of the Troubles


Random House
$17.00 trade paper, available now

Rating: 4.85* of five

The Publisher Says: National Book Award-winning novelist Colum McCann delivers his most ambitious and beautiful novel yet, tying together a series of narratives that span 150 years and two continents in an outstanding act of literary bravura.

In 1845 a black American slave lands in Ireland to champion ideas of democracy and freedom, only to find a famine unfurling at his feet. In 1919, two brave young airmen emerge from the carnage of World War One to pilot the very first transatlantic flight from Newfoundland to the west of Ireland. And in 1998 an American senator criss-crosses the ocean in search of a lasting Irish peace. Bearing witness to these history-making moments of Frederick Douglass, John Alcock and "Teddy" Brown, and George Mitchell, and braiding the story together into one epic tale, are four generations of women from a matriarchal clan, beginning with Irish housemaid Lily Duggan. In this story of dark and light, men and women, history and past, fiction and fact, National Book Award-winning novelist Colum McCann delivers a tour de force that is his most spectacular achievement to date.

My Review: This is an ambitious book indeed. McCann refines storytelling techniques he used in Let the Great World Spin, and layers in more complexity than he created in that National Book Award-winner. For that reason alone, I'd give him high marks.

But as a work of social commentary on Ireland, on its colonial past and its enraged present, the book comes alive. Without ever leaving his focus on the personal lives of people, he limns the results of the struggle of his homeland to be its ownself. Frederick Douglass, an escaped slave, is in Ireland to raise money for Abolition in the USA. Isn't that a nice cause for turn-about, with the IRA raising money in the USA for its militancy?

Webb took him out onto the verandah by the elbow and said: But Frederick, you cannot bite the hand that feeds.

The stars collandered the Wexford night. He knew Webb was right. There would always be an alignment. There were so many sides to every horizon. He could only choose one. No single mind could hold it all at once. Truth, justice, reality, contradiction. Misunderstandings could arise. He had one cause only. He must cleave to it.

He paced the verandah. A cold wind whipped off the water.
The water, the recurring use of the water, the wind off the water, being in the water, all of it the Atlantic, all of it marking transformation and immersion in the moment of transformation for each character...that's lovely.

The toughness and surivorhood of Ireland's women is a major part of the story. So is the deep-seated need of the Irish to Be Irish.

She stood at the window. It was her one hundred twenty-eighth day of watching men die. They came down the road in wagons pulled by horses. She had never seen such a bath of killing before. The wheels screeched. The line of wagons stretched down the path, into the trees. The trees themselves stretched off into the war.

She came down the stairs, through the open doors, into the wide heat...The men had exhausted their shouts. They were left with small whimperings, tiny gasps of pain...One soldier wore sergeant's stripes on his sleeve, and a gold harp stitched on his lapel. An Irishman. She had tended to so many of them.
So is the quixotic character of men, pushing boundaries that separate them (in their minds) from Glory. (The transAtlantic flight of the very male in its pointless bravado, and in its gauntlet-flinging results of commonplace transAtlantic air travel.)

It was that time of the century when the idea of a gentleman had almost become a myth. The Great War had concussed the world. The unbearable news of sixteen million deaths rolled off the great metal drums of the newspapers. Europe was a crucible of bones.
That's plain old-fashioned beautiful phrase-making.

But in the end, the story large and small is about the strength of women to carry on. The struggles of men against the futility of their existence, a mere accident of evolution's need to stir the pot to keep the soup of life boiling merrily instead of burning irretrievably, are as ever and as always propped up, supported, allowed to exist, by women, evolution's one essential ingredient, carriers of whatever life the planet holds and makers of whatever future the men leave alone in their ceaseless tinkering.

The tap of his cane on the floor. The clank of the water pipes. She is wary of making too much of a fuss. Doesn't want to embarrass him, but he's certainly slowing up these weathers. What she dreads is a thump on the floor, or a falling against the banisters, or worse still a tumble down the stairs. She climbs the stairs before {he} emerges from the bathroom. A quick wrench of worry when there is no sound, but he emerges with a slightly bewildered look on his face. He has left a little shaving foam on the side of his chin, and his shirt is haphazardly buttoned.

...The ancient days of the Grand Opera House, the Hippodrome, the Curzon, the Albert Memorial Clock. The two of them out tripping the light fantastic. So young then. The smell of his tweeds. The Turkish tobacco he used to favor. The charity balls in Belfast, her gown rustling on the steps, {her husband} beside her, bow-tied, brilliantined, tipsy.
Worry for the present...nostalgia for the past...awareness of the short horizon of the future. She will bear it all. He will be borne to his bourn-side bier on the shoulders of this woman.

And the wonder of it goes on.

Friday, June 14, 2013

New Post for 14 June 2013

For them as has been paying me any attention at all, it will come as no shock to you that I've been bingeing on books here lately. I've been influenced by my many friends on Goodreads and LibraryThing, and their hugely acquisitve impulses as recorded there.

I got my latest installment (fifteen books!) of Keeping-Up-with-the-Biblioholics books today. All of them are from Livingston Press, all of them are hardcovers, and all of them were half price with free shipping. That is one HELL of a bargain. They publish story collections, good, solid literary fiction, and good, old-fashioned fun books by unknown or underknown authors. And, as a bonus, the annual Tartt First Fiction Award gets $1000 and publication for its prize winners. The titles with asterisks beside them have my review on the Goodreads book page linked. I praise them all, and I mean my praise. Too few publishers have the freedom that Livingston Press has to publish good work.

Take advantage of the sale, plus help support indie book publishing! When I get their catalog, it's like a crack dealer made a home delivery. Until 21 June, you can get books half price with free shipping in their Moving Sale!

We Have A Pie 4 stars
The Brick Murder: A Tragedy, and Other Stories 4 stars
The Galaxie and Other Rides 4.5 stars
Green Gospel 4 stars
For You, Madam Lenin 4 stars

The sale ends on 21 June 2013. It is so very worth a browse through their website. Half price and free shipping...take a chance!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

My latest mystery-series reviews 13 June 2013

My reviews of the first Chet-and-Bernie mysteries, with a bonus short story, at up now at Shelf Inflicted! Go! Fetch! Read!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

I'm being interviewed! Like I'm famous or something!

"So, being cynical and believing the worst that can happen is but a prelude to the true hell to come, it seemed and seems to me likely that Amazon's ownership of Goodreads will mean happy-clappy fivestarland with extra soma for all is but a breath away."

That's me, in my Shelf Inflicted interview posted today. Life, reviewing, friendship...I go for them all with pinking shears.

Please come read all about it!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Big treat for 11 June 2013!

A BIG TREAT today! Superreviewer Nataliya talks Goodreads, reviews, and Being Awesome over at Shelf Inflicted! Come one come all! Learn the secrets of a Russian immigrant who went through medical school, did an internship, and is now a resident...all while reading and writing reviews of great and telling beauty.

I am such a slacker.

Monday, June 10, 2013

New and Notworthy this week

All this month! Shelf Inflicted, my group blogging home, features the Forbes 25 Most Influential Goodreaders. Take a look! We've got lots of good reviews, too...Tana French reviewed by James, The Dispossessed in all its ambiguous glory considered by Sesana...lots of quality food for thought. Join us for a course or two.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

New Review Posted on 5 June 2013

I've got a fondness for books that speak to me, directly to me, so I'm quite fond of WEST OF BABYLON, reviewed in my Kindle Originals category because the author send me a PDF (ugh) of the book. It's a four-star read. I think most of us over 40 can find common ground with the boys in the band!

Monday, June 3, 2013

My Wicked, Wicked Ways

I blog, as y'all know, in a group blog called Shelf Inflicted. It was started in a furious reaction to Amazon anaconda-ing up Goodreads. (The fallout from that is still to come. I still don't think it will be at all good for honesty and transparency in reviews. Another discussion for another day, that.) In the run-up to the sale, Forbes magazine ran a piece on Goodreads, touting its market position as largest and most trusted independent market for reviews. The article featured the 25 most influential, measured by "like" votes received, reviewers. I, he noted modestly, was #14 on their list.

Shelf Inflicted's founding spirits, in fact, are mostly from the Forbes 25, and Dan Schwent (Leader of the Shelf Inflicted Pack and #8 of the Forbes 25) decided to interview the whole lot of us for a day-by-day peep into the habits and ideas of the Cool Kids. All this month, the interviews...with a few missing persons...will appear at Today's interview is #23, Baba, who's a Swiss reader of English-language romantic fiction. You can imagine that ereaders play a large role in this.... #24 is Greg, a New York-based bookseller and reviewer, with the Industry Insider viewpoint on the Amazon merger. #25 MJ Nicholls, a Scottish youth, was first up.

All have a very interesting take on reviews, Goodreads, and reading. Go take a look!

My own review of a first-in-series mystery, LAKE ON THE MOUNTAIN (, appeared recently. It's a Canadian gay noir thriller published by Dundurn Press, the best unsung-by-Americans publisher around. Many very interesting titles in their catalog! This one will have a sequel later this year or early next.

And now you're caught up.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Forbes 25 Interviews continue! ALL THIS MONTH! Shelf Inflicted interviews the Forbes 25 Most Influential Goodreads Reviewers (I'm #14)! Today it's the turn of #24, Greg. He's a Buns and Nubile bookseller here in NYC.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

New at Shelf Inflicted! All month long we're featuring interviews with the Forbes 25 from Goodreads. This spring, Forbes magazine featured Goodreads' 25 most influential reviewers (I'm #14) in a piece about the huge added value of social media to book purchases. First up: MJ Nicholls at #25