Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Round House by Louise Erdrich: 2012 NBA Winner

The Round House
Rating 3
The Round House
A Novel by Louise Erdrich
Winner the 2012 National Book Award for Fiction
2012 / 264 Pages (ebook) 
Goodreads Synopsis 

The 2012 National Book Award Winner, The Round House by Louise Erdrich, is a coming of age story of a 13 year old Native American boy.  The story takes place in 1988 and is told from the point of view of the now adult, Joe.   It takes place during Joe's summer break; although with all that was packed into those months, the time period seemed much longer.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers

A Hologram for the KingRating 3
A Hologram for the King
A Novel by Dave Eggers
Nominated for the 2012 National Book Award for Fiction
2012 / 217 Pages (ebook) 
Goodreads Synopsis

On the surface, A Hologram for the King is a book about a character that needs Viagra in the worst way. The main character was as limp and impotent as, well, I will just leave it at he was limp and impotent.  At first it surprised me that this book has been tossed about for a run at the Rooster and is a National Book Award Nominee.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk: A NovelRating: 5
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
A Novel by Ben Fountain
Nominated for the 2012 National Book Award for Fiction
2012 / 268 Pages (ebook)
Goodreads Synopsis

Thirteen of the last eighteen books I have read would be considered "British Literature".  So I was looking forward to reading some "American Literature" when the National Book Award nominees were released.  However, I cringed to see two "Iraq War" stories in the list of 5 fiction NBA nominees.  Blech!  I love WWI and WWII historical fiction, but just don't have a care in the world to read anything about current events - especially something as controversial as the dang Iraq War.  I chose to go ahead and get one of the two "Iraq" books out of the way by mimicking my friend Aaron and reading the NBAs in the same order he did.  As he chose Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk to read first, I did too.  And I was blown away! Billy Lynn... was one of the best books I have read all year!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Book Review: 2012 Long Listed: Alison Moore’s The Lighthouse

The LighthouseRating: 3
The Lighthouse
A Novel by Alison Moore
2012 / 192 Pages

For my part of the Bookermarks Collaboration, I finished 6.5 books - all of the short list (except for the last half of Umbrella) and not counting the long listed Teleportation Accident in which I will finish sometime in the near future.  The fourth book I read was Alison Moore's The Lighthouse.  Finishing it over a month ago, I still have not written the review for it.  Why? Because I just don't know what to write about.  I liked it - but I just wasn't impressed enough with it to discuss it.  It wasn't bad, but it wasn't great either.

Book Review: 2012 Long Listed: Jeet Thayil’s Narcopolis

NarcopolisRating: 3.5 
A Novel by Jeet Thayil
2012/292 Pages

When the Man Booker long list was released, I eagerly read the synopsis for each book and then listed them number one through twelve on a sheet of paper in the order in which I wanted to read them.  Bringing Up the Bodies and Garden of Evening Mists topped my list of books I could not wait to read.  Narcopolis was the very last book on my list.  From the cover art to the description of the book, nothing attracted me to this book.  I did not want to read it for any reason - ever; yet, it made the short list, so as part of the Bookermarks project, I would have to read it.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Book Review: 2012 Short Listed: Will Self’s Umbrella

UmbrellaRating: 2
A Novel by Will Self
2012 / 416 Pages

How do you write a blog about a book that:
1.  You have not finished and don't want to finish?
2.  You did not like?

Well, that is what I am going to attempt to do in this blog.

Will Self has written a very difficult book for the reader.  In fact he states that he does not write for the reader and he does not care if he wins the Man Booker prize for his book Umbrella.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Book Review: 2012 Long Listed: Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up The Bodies (Review #2)

Bring Up the Bodies (Wolf Hall, #2)Rating 4.5
Bring Up The Bodies
A Novel by Hilary Mantel
2012 / 407 Pages
Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel is the second novel in a trilogy about King Henry the VIII and Thomas Cromwell.  Mantel starts Bring Up the Bodies without missing a beat after the ending of Wolf Hall.  From the opening pages, we find the wonderful compassionate side of Thomas Cromwell as well as the tale tell signs of King Henry's disillusionment with Anne Boleyn and their marriage.  Most of us know before we start how this book is going to end.  The fact that we know how the book will end and we still read it as an exciting page turner is why this book has been nominated for the Man Booker long list.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng

The Garden of Evening Mists
Rating: 4.0
The Garden of Evening Mists
A Novel by Tan Twan Eng
2012/350 pages

The day the Booker long list was released, I immediately started looking up the titles and reading the synopsis of each book in order to pick out my 3 books for the BookerMarks project.  I knew I would chose Bringing Up the Bodies as I had really enjoyed Wolf Hall.  My surprise in the list was The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng.  Not only did the title grab my attention, but the story seemed so intriguing.

Yung Lin Toah, a former prisoner of a Japanese work camp during World War II, retires to Malaya, her home for a short period several years after escaping the work camp.  We discover early on that Yung Lin was the only survivor of the Japanese work camp, where she and her sister day dreamed of creating their own Japanese gardens as a way to escape the torture they were forced to bear.  In memory of her sister, Yung Lin embarks to find a way to have a Japanese garden created for her.  Conveniently located near the tea plantation of a family friend, sits the only Japanese garden in Malaya, Yugiri. Interestingly Yugiri was designed and is maintained by Arimoto, a former gardener to the Emperor of Japan.

First and foremost, this is a beautifully written book.  Tan Twan Eng describes in intricate detail using all of the senses many of the physical attributes of the garden and the Malayan surroundings.  There is one passage detailing a heron landing near the garden pond in the mist.  I will remember this passage every time I see a heron, especially when riding my bike along the Reservoir in the rain. Eng is able to make me taste the tea, feel the pain of the tattoo, smell the dirt, hear the swallows and see the intricate surroundings.  His passages are almost poetic they are so beautiful.

However, Eng was never able to allow me to connect with the characters.  Yung Lin was and her imprisonment were so superficial.  I am sure Eng was not writing the book to expose the Japanese as sadistically cruel captors, but he really glossed over the detail of the travesties that occurred in these war time work camps.  Not that I would want to re-read Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken again.  I was never able to connect to Aritomo.  One could see that Yung Lin grew very quickly to care for the man even though he was Japanese and she supposedly hated the "Japs".  None of the other minor characters played a large enough plot to really care about either.  I would have liked to have seen Fredrick developed more, but the reader knew his feelings even if Yung Lin did not. 

The foreshadowing in the book was too precise.  It was like having one's hand held down the path to the end of the book.  Nothing was left for the reader to figure out.  I could tell you where the gold and lost camp happened to be half way through the book.

I am giving the book a 4 although 3.5 may be more accurate.  For literary style and its beautiful descriptions, it does deserve a 5.  For lack of intriguing plot and characters a 3 which would tie it with Harold Frye in my Booker tally.  Hmmm, how do you set up a tie breaker?  Do you give a book that you really enjoyed without much literary style the edge or will the beautifully and artfully written book win out?  Let's wait until I have read Bringing up the Bodies to make any more decisions...

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Book Review: 2012 Long Listed: Rachel Joyce’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Rating: 4
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
A Novel by Rachel Joyce
2012 / 336 Pages

Some books one picks up just hit a nerve, touch off a series of memories that have been repressed.  They can remind you of a person, place or thing with such a choke hold that you can't put them down for  fear of forgetting about the experience that book has opened back up to you.  When you do put the book down you reminisce about the person,  place or thing before getting up to continue about your day.  The Tigers Wife by Tea Obreht was one of these books for me and now Rachel Joyce's The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is another.
Have you ever woken up one morning and realized you have wasted X number of years of your life?  Have you ever realized that you have allowed a person, place or thing use and manipulate you to the point that you no longer know who you are and what you want out of life?  Have you ever woken up to realize how short life is and you only have the opportunity to live life once?

Well, on January 1, 2009, I woke up and realized that I had lost the two previous years of my life - 60-65 hours a week - given it to my employer for a paycheck in return.  Like selling your soul to the devil.  So, that very morning I started taking back my life and started my pilgrimage. By the time my pilgrimage was over I had ridden a bike across the United States (and found a new employer).  The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Michelle Williams...

So begins the Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.  Harold is an typical Englishman.  He has woken up one morning and sat at his kitchen table eating breakfast just like every other morning.  His life is ordinary and he has spent more time trying to fade into the background than he has trying to be noticed.  His marriage and his relationship with his son seem to be failures.  He has allowed something to come between him and a good friend - allowing her to become "someone he used to know".  Then he receives a letter from this friend, Queenie, and his pilgrimage begins.

Harold's march across England is not much different that any adventure story.  He meets interesting characters and encounters obstacles including his own self doubt along the way. His pilgrimage not only gives him time to reflect on the past but it also allows his wife Maureen time to reflect on the past as well.  The result is a very heartwarming story of reconciliation, forgiveness and true love.

This book was an easy piece of literature.  The reader did not have to struggle with a complicated plot nor with trying to figure out the underlining history weaving its way through the book.  One need not google a phrase or refer back to a list of characters in order to keep the Thomases and the Henrys separated.  My co-conspirator at BookerMarks, Aaron (Opinionless), believed that the book was contrived and Ms. Joyce did not leave anything for the reader to figure out on his own  Indeed the reader did not have to think about anything while on the journey with Harold - unless they wanted to.  Does this make the book un-Booker worthy?  Yet, when a piece of literature can touch a persons inner being, making them stop to think about their own lives, their own past relationships, doesn't that make this book special?

So, what are the standards books should be judged by?  The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is a very good heartwarming story.  The question is - is it Booker worthy?  Stand this next to last years winner, Julian Barnes' The Sense of an Ending, and I would probably lean towards Harold Fry.  Stack it up next to Wolf Hall the 2009 winner - the two books are night and day different.  Wolf Hall wins on literary scope and style alone.  Stack this up against anything that David Mitchell wrote (Cloud Atlas and Thousand Autumns of Jacob DeZoit and the unfortunate Harold is left on the starting blocks. Can you give a book a score for readability and a score for literary greatness?  I will be recommending Harold to many people.  I will recommend it over Wolf Hall and The Sense of an Ending to most of the readers I know.  I give the book 5 stars for just being a good book that I enjoyed reading and a score of 3 for literary greatness - for an average score of 4.  Let us see how Harold stacks up against the other 11 long listed Booker nominees...

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The World Without You by Joshua Henkin

The World Without You The World Without You
A Novel by Joshua Henkin
Published 2012 
Rating: 4 stars
The World Without You is a book I read for the Opinionless book club.  It is definitely not a book I would have ever picked up to read otherwise - I do not care for books with current political struggles nor do I care for books with family conflict and this one has both.  However, the book is well written with good character development.

The World Without You is about a upper class New England family who lost a brother, son, husband while he was working as a journalist in Iraq.  The book takes place in 2004 or 2005 the few days before the July 4th holiday and the one year anniversary of Leo's death.  The book centers on the struggles the family has dealing with the death; yet, brings up the question, how does the death of a close family member effect the rest of the life of the family?

The book is told primarily from the alternating perspective of mother, Marilyn; sisters  Clarissa,  Lily, and Noelle; and wife/widow Thisbe.  What the author Joshua Henken does so well with this book is the character development of these women.  He wrote in such a way that you were irritated with the mom and sisters, absolutely hating Noelle.  I absolutely loved and sympathized with Thisbe.  His portrayal of sibling rivalry was so spot on it was difficult for me to read as my relationship with my brother is much that of Lily and Noelle.  The anger I felt as I read Noelle was astounding.

Politics has an underlying role in the book and even though the author said he did not want to leave the reader with the impression that he had a political stance one way or the other, the book leaves no question in my mind that Mr. Henkin certainly did not take a tax deduction for a contribution to the Rupblican Party.  A brief mention to the Florida hanging chad "debaucle" was mentioned and brought a smile to my face.

Will I ever read this book again?  No.  Will I recommend it to others - yes, but with caveats  that it is full of family strife and not really a fun book to read.  Personally, I would probably only give the book 2 stars for subject matter, but the fact that the author could rile me and evoke such strong emotions throughout the book I must rate it higher - 4 stars.  Will I read the author again?  Yes - I am adding his book Matrimony to my to read list - however, I will probably need a large buffer as I am not in the mood to read another book anytime soon that might evoke similar strong emotions.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

2001 Man Booker Winner: The True Story of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey

True History of the Kelly GangI listened to the True History of the Kelly Gang on audio.  I chose to read it at this time in preparation of the BookerMarks project.  I have found that I would prefer to read an authors earlier more acclaimed works before reading their newer hyped books as sometimes I think they get accolades for writing crap just because an earlier piece of fiction was fantastic (see Marriage Plot by Jeffery Eugenides - I may never go back to read Middlesex...).

The "Kelly Gang" is a historical fiction novel based on the life of the "folk hero" Ned Kelly. Ned was Australia's Jessie James. He was a bush ranger (outlaw) and bank robber, yet heralded as a Robin Hood.  His story details the reasons that he became who he was and that the corrupt police system at the time drove him to act as he had.  Interestingly, in an interview with author Peter Carey, it is revealed that in Carey's opinion,  Ned is Australia's number one hero.  Whereas the US has Jessie James in a similar background and story, our heros are Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, Boon and Crockett and so many many others.  Yet the story of the bush ranger, Ned Kelly, tops the list of heros for Australians.

Ned Kelly was born in Australia into a poor family.  As his father had questionable dealings in his past, the local law enforcement, most of them corrupt themselves harass the Kelly's regularly.  Young Ned was highly influenced by the treatment he and his family received by these constables.  As a young man it was proven that he was a man of integrity trying to live an honest life earning a humble living.  However, circumstances would not allow him to live his life out as a loyal son, brother and simple farmer.

So, as Ned realizes his fate and that he is going to be a father he begins to pen a "letter" to his daughter to tell her the true story of the Kelly Gang.  The narrative is in the first person from Ned's perspective.  The narrator for the audio book is Gianfranco Negroponte, a marvelous voice for Ned with a great Australian accent.  Carey wrote the book as if he were Ned and used the actual manuscript that Ned used along with the newspaper accounts of his exploits.   Interestingly, as the book was written for his daughter, he would use swear words, yet soften them. So when listening all one heard was effing this, s that.  Apparaently, Ned thought that the word bugger was also a swear word and in the manuscript wrote it out as b----r.  However it was read aloud as bugger in the audio version.

In the audio version the word "adjectival"  was used repeatedly.  As I had never heard the word, I had difficultly figuring out exactly what was being said.  So I downloaded the sample version of the ebook to see if I could figure it out.  I was amazed to find that the actual book is written very crudely.  Little capitalization or punctuation.  Apparenly, Carey wrote it very similarly to the original manuscripts.  Seeing this, I realized how much one does miss listening to the audio version of a book.  The actual art, the craft, of this book was lost in the audio production.  However, I never would have been able to work it into my to read list with out the audio.  I also understand that reading the book in its form made it difficult for some to follow and a bit more tedious to read for others.  Oh, and "adjectival" is just a form of the word adjective.  Well, this was some adjectival book!

2008 Man Booker Winner: The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

Rating: 3.0
The White Tiger
A Novel by Aravind Adiga
2008 / 276 Pages

I don’t even know how to begin to review this book. I listened to it on audio as it is in my Man Booker prize winner reading list and it was buy one get one free on
So, lets just say it is a whack book – slightly off kilter. It is about a man, Balram, from a small village in India becoming a driver for a wealthy man in New Deli. Balram is telling his life story in letter format to the Prime Minister of China. There are parts that are laugh out loud funny and the whole book is very entertaining. I do not know how much of the “background” concerning the customs, politics, and cast system are true. As I listened, I wondered about reading some of the other more popular books based in India for a more accurate description as Balram may not have been the best source for the information.  Interestingly, early on in the book you find that Belram is wanted for murder, but the way the story is written, you really don’t care.  It is just part of the books whacky-ness.

The narrator, John Lee was a fantastic reader.  He read with a very understandable and unmistakable Indian accent.  I honestly thought he was Indian even though he as a very ordinary name.  However, I recently began the 2005 Booker Winner, The Sea, and John Lee narrates it as well, but with a very English accent!
White Tiger was not poetic and beautiful nor a piece of finely crafted literature, but it was a very original, crazy story that I enjoyed listening to while driving…

Monday, July 23, 2012

2009 Man Booker Winner: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

 Wolf Hall: A Novel

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel was on my to-read list as part my goal to real all of the Man-Booker and National Book Award prize winners for the last decade.  It shot to the top of my to-read list when the members of The Opinionless Book Club all decided to start the project - a project where 7 bloggers will tackle the Booker long list to read and rate the books choosing our own short list and eventual winner. 
Wolf Hall was the 2009 winner of the Man-Booker and Hilary Mantel released her second novel in the trilogy, Bringing Up The Bodies, this year making it Booker eligible.  This book will surely make the long list and I am certain will also make the short list. So to not start a trilogy with the second book, I tackled the first, first.

As with most historical novels set outside of the revolutionary or civil war, I knew nothing of the story line except very vague details of Henry VIII, Ann Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell.  These three characters and umpteen thousand more are central to Wolf Hall.  The storyline details the true history of the time but is told from the point of view of Thomas Cromwell.  Basically, King Henry VIII has been married to Queen Katherine for some 20 years but she has get to give birth to a male heir.  In comes Ann Boleyn who will not give the king any honey without a ring on her finger (or being corinated as queen).  So back in the day, a divorce was much harder to come by and basically a power struggle ensues between the church ( think Roman Catholics and the Pope) vs the King and his minions.

The secondary plot line running through the book is the advent of the protestants (not yet mentioned as such). Key characters to the secondary plot line are Thomas More, William Tyndale who had recently finished translating the Bible into English and mentioned briefly is Martin Luther.

What impressed me about Wolf Hall is the attention Mantel has to detail.  She has long beautiful and flowing descriptions that allow the reader to feel the surroundings and to get a glimpse into exactly what Cromwell is thinking.  I love Mantel's characterizations especially of Cromwell himself.  She is able to show such a grand compassionate side and at the same time show his ruthlessness.  As he is portrayed so deliberately with both personas, I could not help but admire him and all he was able to accomplish - good or bad.  As I write this review, I think of Cromwell as more of a tender man than the tough as nails person he probably was.

My struggles with the book come from my lack of knowledge for this period in history.  I caught myself wanting to  understand the back ground story and so as I read the book I kept my cell phone with my Wikipedia app handy.  I found that after I had researched a person or event, I then felt compelled to re-read the passage that influenced the research.  For the first 200 pages or so I felt as if I was reading the book twice.   My other struggle with the book was unfortunate timing and not related to the book itself.  I have been able to sit down and read consistently for most of the year; however, with the beginning of Wolf Hall, my reading time has diminished.  This is a book more easily read in a few sittings of an hour or more.  For me this book did not work well in 15 minute snippets.  I found myself re-reading any passages that I read in a snippet as I had not read enough to follow and remember what was happening.  The third struggle was with the third person pronoun "He".  Fortunately I was fore-warned that the pronoun was used continuously and that most often it was not accompanied with its reference noun.  Luckily I was told that 95% of the time "he" referred to Thomas Cromwell.  There were many passages though that I had to read and re-read and re-read again to get the proper voice and understanding.  Many times  I still could not be certain to whom a passage was actually referring.

My struggles aside, this was still a very fascinating and thrilling book.  I could not wait to pick it up and was frustrated at my lack of time to sit down and read consistently.  Fortunately this weekend, I had plenty of reading time and was able to read the last 300ish pages in two days.  I can not wait to read Bringing Up the Bodies and I will be shocked if it does not make the long and the short Man Booker lists.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Man Booker Project

I am very pleased to be a part of a group of literary bloggers that will be participating in a project to review all of the Man Booker long listed books! Check out the details at BookerMarks.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Tournament of Books Update

Today's (March 23rd) Tournament of Books match up is between Teju Cole's Open City, which I have not read, and  The Marriage Plot by Jeffery Eugenides, which I did not care for.  Bracketwise, I should want The Marriage Plot to continue, but it won't bother me to see Open City advance.  I do intend to listen to Open City via audio and since I will be going to Texas next weekend, I should be able to get at least half way through it.  Yes, ToB will be over by then, but I will at least know what it is about.  Here is the link to today's ToB Match:  If this is not the correct match, just scroll to the proper one on the right hand side of the page.

Well, the tournament is not going how I would like it to.  First round, Salvage the Bones was tossed by some piece of light porn trash, Lightning Rods which then tossed Sense of an Ending in the next round.
Tigers Wife survived its first round match with The Stranger's Child but then was tossed by 1Q84.  This was very upsetting to me as I believe Tigers Wife to be superior to 1Q84.

On the other side of the Bracket, I don't care as much and Sisters Brothers took down State of Wonder and Swamplandia!  This is okay and even though Sisters Brothers is not a favorite of mine, I can see its charm and why it has lasted into the third round.

So, we will know who makes it to the next round in a couple hours.  Although none of my favorites will make it to the end, I am still having a good time watching the tournament progress.

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell (Tournament of Books)

Yesterday's Tournament of Books match up was between Swamplandia by Karen Russell and Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWhitt.  My review for The Sisters Brothers is here: Sisters Brothers.

I did not love either of these books, but as the tournament continues, I am pulling for Sisters Brothers.  I did like it a bit more than Swamplandia!  Follow the tournament judging commentary here:  This may take you to the most recent match up so scroll to the correct set of books on the link to the right of the TOB site if that is the case.

Anyway, I have not yet posted my review of Swamplandia! so, here is the synopsis from Goodreads:

I listened to Swamplandia on audio. It was recommended by Ann on Books on the Nightstand, was a front runner for the Tournament of Books, and was high on many best of 2011 lists.

I thought the book was going to be about a teenaged girl growing up in a family that ran some sort of amusement park/gater boat ride. I was looking forward to the book because in the umpteen times I have ridden my bike in New Orleans I always think about taking one of those air boat cruises to see the gators. Plus, I was tickled to death the time I did see the gator in the overflow water off the levy when the Mississippi flooded last year.

I did not realize the book was going to be narrated by a young girl. The "teenager" I was expecting the protagonist to be was 12. Nor did I know that the main male character would be played by an older man who was the voice for a 17 year old.

I did not know that the book would have a heavy dose of magical realism or is this surrealism? Anyway after reading Murakami's 1Q84, I would have preferred a book that did not include ghosts, possessions (not things you own but your body being inhabited by said ghosts, and other far fetchedness.

Swamplandia was a book about a 12 year old girl, Ava, whose parents produced a carnival of sorts or maybe more of a circus with alligators instead of clowns. However, as the book starts we learn that the main draw to the park/island is Ava's mother who is dying of cancer. The rest of the book tells the awkward story of how the family copes. Oceola, Ava's older sister, ends up dabbling in the occult and her brother, Kiwi, goes to the mainland to work for Swamplandia's biggest competition while their father disappears to find investors for his next idea to save the park.

The story had a lot of potential, but I just did not enjoy it. I really got frustrated with the whole ghost/occult thing. This story line trudged in the murky swampy water for far too long. In the middle of the whole magical realism thing the author decides to walk firmly on the dark side by having the realism in "magical realism" slap you in the face. This incongruent incident bothered me in the context of the rest of the story and then nothing concerning this incident is ever addressed sufficiently in my opinion during the ending.

Kiwi's storyline was a little more light-hearted but still the book just did not seem plausible to me. And I just did not connect with the Chief or Osceola.

I would love to sit down with someone who enjoyed this book and discuss it further, but I don't know that I would recommend it to anyone.