Thursday, December 29, 2011
I've always liked the circus and find the stories of people who join the circus fascinating. Morgenstern weaves a tale that utilizes the magic of the circus as a backdrop for a wager between two magicians—Hector and Alexander. Each conjurer thinks that he is the superior prestidigitator. Hector bets that his daughter, Celia, can compete and win against any student Alexander sets up against her.
They don't know the boundaries of the contest—where it will take place or even how the winners will be determined. Even the two children will not know of the contest.
Each conjurer prepares their charge, often in frightening ways. Hector breaks Celia's bones and cuts her fingers so that she can learn to mend things. Marco, Alexander's charge is taken from an orphanage and spends years reading. Neither child has a normal upbringing—they lack friends, family and love.
In order to tie everything together and move the plot along Morgenstern conjures up a theatre producer who wants to create an entertainment that envelopes the viewer and is unlike any previous circus. And the circus that emerges in 1886 is unlike any other circus. It is easy to become so infatuated that you never want to return to ordinary time.
It is in this circus that Marco and Celia, as adults, work. Celia transforms things while Marco tends the white bonfire that is the engine of the entire production.
Setting this up allows Morgenstern to involve herself in utter play—things shift and are transformed. But even with these wonderful enchanting delights there's an ominous sense about the entire circus.
Obviously, if you've been brought up on fairy tales, you know that Marco and Celia will fall in love and that will complicate the test.
Despite the engaging characters and the magical sequences and the ominous signs, something is missing. The lead characters in the pageant need to be better developed especially as the story moves ahead and everyone involved with the circus realizes that it all may implode at any moment.
In time a trial involved hundreds of witnesses and years and years of hearing testimonies.
Puelo describes the history of molasses in this country from the Triangle trade —rum, slaves and molasses to the use of molasses for munitions. Molasses was an essential component of the munitions industry and significant money could be made by being the supplier of distilled molasses. When the "industrial grade molasses" was distilled into alcohol it was widely used in the manufacture of explosives. With the world embroiled in WWI the need for explosives was high.
The huge tank was built by the United States Industrial Alcohol Company in 1915— the company was intent on providing the necessary molasses quickly and garnering huge profits. Because there were shipments of molasses arriving the final construction of the tank was hurried and normal, for that time, safety precautions were eliminated. Instead of filing the tank up with water to check for leaks and weak areas, the tank was only minimally filled. The amount of water used would not be sufficient to uncover structural weaknesses.
From the beginning it was obvious that there were issues with the tank. Molasses seeped out of of seams and ran down the sides of the tank. Neighborhood children often took pails to the tank and filled them up with the dripping molasses.
Puelo traces the stories of some of the immigrant families living in the area. They were poor, without power, and unable to stand up to the mega company. One man, Gonzales, who worked for the company heard groaning inside the tank and was so concerned about the danger of a rupture that nightmares kept him awake. He often ran through the North End streets to the tanks's location to check up on the tank and assure himself that it wasn't going to erupt—that night.
The company, attempting to disguise the leaks, had the tank painted the color of molasses —thus making the leaks less obvious. Several times they had the seams strengthened, but to no avail.
This time period is one of increased visibility for the anarchist movement. Luigi Galleani was deported, Sacco and Vanzetti's trial and subsequent execution claimed the headlines of newspapers across the country as did the bombing of the New York stock Exchange in 1920.
The judge for the ensuring civil suit was Hugh W.Ogden. He listened to hundreds of hours of testimony. The defense attempted to lay the spill at the feet of the anarchists who they said placed a bomb within the tank. The plaintiff's attorneys decreed that maladroitness and greed were the causes of the spill.
By the end of the trial 25,000 pages of transcripts were generated detailing the arguments. Hugh Ogden ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and held the company liable.
While the book sometimes meanders, the subject itself is riveting.
Friday, December 23, 2011
February--City of Dragons by Kelli Stanley
March--Gone by Mo Hayder
April--March Violet by Philip Kerr
May--Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett
June--Death in Vienna by Frank Tallis
July--Down River by John Hart
August--Reservation Roadby John Burnham Schwartz
September-- Iron House by John Hart
October--Murphy'sLaw by Rhys Bowen
November--Surgeon by Tess Gerritsen
December--The Body In the Sleigh by Katherine Hall Page
The first book in this series dates back to the early '90s; however, it was easy to pick up on the relationships in this her fifteenth or sixteenth book. Faith, a minister's wife, and her husband and two children are on an island , probably Deer Isle, in Maine. Tom, a minister, is recovering from an illness, and instead of being in a pulpit over Christmas he along with his family are staying at their summer vacation home in Maine.
Faith discovers a dead woman in a sleigh. The body isn't of a stranger, but of someone well known to the community of 3000 all year dwellers. I gather that Faith makes a habit of coming across bodies.
A parallel story , which by the end of the book dovetails with the dead woman's story, concerns Miriam and Mary. Miriam is Christopher's mother. Mary , a rather reclusive woman in her early forties tends goats and makes homemade goat cheese and has never married. During the summer she runs a B & B where you not only get a room, but you can also partake of farm-like activities which include taking care of the goats.
Mary discovers that someone has left a newborn wrapped in an afghan in her home. The child's name -- Christopher. The mother also left $50,000 in one hundred dollar bills and a note asking Mary to bring up the child because she's sure that under Mary's charge he'll be a good man.
Faith is able to discover the mother's name and goes to her house, thus becoming embroiled in a rather frightening run in with drug dealers.
All the incidents are rather preposterous, despite this I found myself enjoying the details about Maine. I had visited a numberof the towns mentioned and even eaten at Lily's , the restaurant where Faith met up with the local law enforcement agent.
I expect that most of the other books also have events that strain credibility, but Faith is likable and it is Christmas and I want Miriam to get her life in order, and for Christopher to grow up on the goat farm under Mary's tutelage.
Now if it was possible for the young woman who was found in the sleigh to recover---
I'm pleased that Tom is feeling more like himself and I will try and get to Lily's for breakfast next summer.
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
The book sat on a table for a week while I finished other books—in the same place all week until I picked it up and added it to a rather heavy book bag.
River Jordan, a fiction writer, a radio host, and a workshop leader, describes herself as introverted and someone who makes New Year's resolutions , but has difficulty adhering to them for any duration of time.
At the end of 2008 her two sons were going off to war. One deployed to Iraq and the other to Afghanistan.The Christmas holidays gained more importance. That year she didn't spend time prior to New Years thinking about resolutions, but quite suddenly she said one "drops down" into "her spirit."
She would pray for a stranger every day.
That's exactly what she did. Most often she simply knew who needed someone praying for them. She approached the person and explained that she had made a New Year's resolution to pray for a stranger each day.She asked for a name—but often they responded by sharing with her a need for a prayer. Perhaps someone had a need for a job, someone was sick, they needed a home or a person felt down and was delighted that someone had singled them out for a prayer.
She didn't look for someone who appeared down and out, homeless, depressed. Many of the people looked like everyone else save that she began to intuit that a particular person was her stranger for the day.
River didn't stand there and pray—she did so later. Many of the people she felt drawn to shared stories with her, some were fleeting moments. Occasionally she didn't tell the person, but then felt something was missing.
Over the year she began to write down her encounters—encouraged by her husband to keep track and share her experience with others. She began to realize that the blessings fell both ways—she was gaining from these encounters.
Occasionally paths would cross again and people told her how things were better, how much they appreciated being selected.
You can't read this book without thinking that you too want to follow her lead. Imagine, she asks, what the world might be like if millions of people prayed for strangers.
She does acknowledge that living in the south makes people a bit more amenable to listening to a stranger tell them about her resolution and how they were selected that day. Somehow I expect that people in the Northeast might react a bit differently.
She writes: " I ask you to try. I know that's personal but I mean it. t doesn't have to be your resolution, or your everyday discipline. I simply ask you to be aware of the multitudes—one person at a time."
"I don't know why people pray. I only know I do...Sometimes I can feel my heart in my prayers, sometimes my mind, and other times actually a shifting kind of power. As if my prayers hold weight and water. When that happens I feel as if I've made a difference in the natural world somehow."
The book moved me and felt like a gift.
I'll start with the elderly woman who occasionally comes into the coffee house where I write. She buys a coffee and a sweet, takes out a book—usually a mystery, and reads. After fifteen or twenty minutes she cleans her table, pushes in her chair and leaves.
Taylor is interested in ways that the spiritual and physical worlds act towards one another—how they illuminate each other. She sets out her reasons for leaving the church, but not her faith. Belief, she believes, is rooted in specific beliefs and nature. Genesis 28:16 provides a framework for this belief.
In an interview about the book she said, "As Christians, we have allowed our faith to go to our head." What is left out, she believes, is a melding of Spirit- and- Flesh, Heaven- and divine."
She continues, "What I'm talking about is paying attention." Paying attention reminds us that the wall between these seemingly opposites is quite thin and we may see the sacred in the ordinary.
God's ladder may appear anywhere. Spiritually alive moments can occur in ordinary moments. She suggests that we can practice mindfulness—pay attention to what is around you, feel your feet on the earth. She tells the story of how Moses goes to investigate the burning bush. Taylor tunes into her surroundings and displays a gratefulness for the ordinary which, in fact, is extraordinary. Who can ever think that a blade of grass or a rock or pebble is ordinary?
She also reminds us to marvel at our bodies—to watch where we walk. To consider the "lilies of the valley". To do so with reverence. Squeezing oranges for juice is more than a routine event. Taylor quotes from a wide variety of religious sources to make her point—to create a level of thankfulness and a drawing closer to God. While she speaks of her Christian faith this is a book that can be read by people of any faith.
Taylor is most interested in her readers exploring how the physical world aids us in our worship of the the spiritual world.
"And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not."
She wasn't raised in a church and therefore didn't know how to describe what it was that she experienced when in a natural setting. Later on she attributes those transcendent moments to an encounter with God's creation and thus with God.
She majors in religion while in college and then goes onto the seminary where she is not yet attached to a particular Christian sect. Eventually she chooses the Episcopalian faith. Her first church is in urban Atlanta, Georgia.
In time she feels the need to leave the urban environment and find a rural church. A church in Clarkesville, Georgia is in need of a pastor and she applies for that position. She and her husband move to that area and in time buy a plot of land and build a house.
Her ministry is quite successful—despite initial qualms some congregants had regarding a female pastor. The church grows in size—in part due to Barbara Taylor's preaching. As her ministry grows she is confronted with increasing demands on her time which gives her less time for the spiritual health and growth she needs and receives from quiet time and time in nature.
When her congregation discusses homosexuality she takes a neutral position intent on listening, but she finds herself disturbed by the narrow definition of God's circle of inclusion. She finds that some Christians have made an idol of the Written Word. She perceives that one great issue facing her and the church is how to hold together disparate groups—which she refers to as the center and the edge. At one point she says that , "dumbfoundedness is what all Christians have most in common." Synonyms for dumbfounded include—awed, awestruck, wonderstruck.After five years she receives a call from a local college offering her a position teaching religion.
That call is not out of the blue—she has gained a national reputation for both her preaching and her writing. The offer is accepted and she sets out on a different path. That path energizes her Christian faith and her closeness to God.
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
The Goal: To finally read 12 books from your “to be read” pile (within 12 months).
1. Each of these 12 books must have been on your bookshelf or “To Be Read” list for AT LEAST one full year. This means the book cannot have a publication date of 1/1/2011 or later (any book published in the year 2010 or earlier qualifies, as long as it has been on your TBR pile –
Caveat: Two (2) alternates are allowed, just in case one or two of the books end up in the “can’t get through” pile.
1. The Messenger by Daniel Silva
2. The Secret Servant by Daniel Silva
3. Close Range by Annie Proulx
4. To the End of the Land by David Grossman
5. Ghostwalk by Rebecca Stott
6. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
7. Old Men at Midnight by Chaim Potok
8. The Grace of Silence by Michele Norris
9. The Bone Vault by Linda Fairstein
10. The Ha-Ha by Dave King
11. Silent Girl by Tess Gerritsen
12. Stalin's Ghost by Martin Cruz Smith
13. Uneasy Relations Aaron Elkins
14. Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris
This challenge will run from Jan 1, 2012 - Dec 31, 2012.
Anyone can join, you don't need to be a blogger. If you don't have a blog, feel free to sign-up in the comments. You can post reviews to any book site (i.e. Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, Goodreads, etc).
Any genre or length of book counts, as long as it is in ebook format.
You can list your books in advance or just put them in a wrap-up post. If you list them, feel free to change them as the mood takes you.
When you sign up in the linky, put the direct link to your post about joining the E-Book Reading Challenge.
You can move up levels, but no moving down.
Sign-ups will be open until Dec 15, 2012, so feel free to join at any time throughout the year.
Floppy disk - 5 ebooks
CD - 10 ebooks
DVD - 25 ebooks
Memory stick - 50 ebooks
Hard drive - 75 ebooks
Server - 100 ebooks
Human brain - 150 ebooks
Since I usually read "physical books" I'll sign up for the lowest number and see if I increase that level.
Anyone can join.
You don't need a blog to participate. If you are a Non-blogger please leave a comment with a link (if you review elsewhere) to your review or with the book(s) you read.
Audio, ebooks (some libraries allow ebooks to be checked out), bound books are ok.
Create a sign up post and post the link in the linky below.
Challenge goes from January 1, 2012 - December 31, 2012
Level 1 - Read 12 library books
Level 2 - Read 24 library books
Level 3 - Read 36 library books
Level 4 - Read 37+ library books
Sunday, November 20, 2011
She was born in 1700 into an aristocratic family, although one on the bottom rung and without much money. Her early life included being married at the age of seventeen to a boorish sixty-year-old man. After seven years he died and she reveled in her freedom—including twenty years of freedom from matrimony.
During this time she kept up a voluminous correspondence with her sister Anne. The letters Anna kept enabled Molly Peacock to understand Mary Delaney.
At the age of forty-three Mary met Patrick Delaney, a Protestant Irish minister and she moved to Ireland. She and her husband resided in Ireland for over twenty-five years. Over time they created a beautiful garden and it is there Mary learned about the particulars of flowers.
Patrick died when Mary was sixty-eight. Their marriage had been blissful and she was distraught. For awhile she couldn’t find a way to proceed as a widow. Her good friend the Duchess of Portland took it upon herself to look after her and provide a place for Mary to live within her own home.
At the age of seventy Mary Delaney noticed the shape and color of a geranium petal that had fallen onto a dark table. Isolated from the flower she examined the petal and noticed that there was a piece of paper of a similar shade. That moment triggered her exploration into a world of collage.
She began to create paper flowers—“imitating flowers”. In order to do this accurately she took apart and studied flowers. Some of her compositions were made up of hundreds of pieces of paper. The Duchess owned a huge and quite imposing natural history collections and both encouraged Mary and championed her art. Soon Mary began to receive specimens from the Royal Botanical Gardens as well as specimens from different parts of the world.
Mary Peacock is obviously enamored with the story of Mary Delaney and weaves some of her own memoir into the story. At times that works seamlessly and at other times it is a stretch.
Reading The Paper Garden is a bit like being taken on a journey into a fairyland. Mary Delaney started on this journey at the age of seventy and completed close to one thousand flower collages by the time she reached eighty-three.
At some point in time I’d love to see her collages—up close—at the British Museum.
Monday, November 14, 2011
Rizzoli is the only female on the Boston Homicide Division. She's a bit prickly because as a woman in a men's domain she feels that she doesn't get the respect she's earned. She and her partner are called upon to investigate a brutal murder.
A serial killer is loose. One whose manner of killing is quite horrific—before slashing his female victim's throat he cuts into their stomach with a scalpel and removes their uterus. He is dubbed the surgeon.There were similar murders in Savannah, Georgia several years prior to the Boston murder. The killings stopped when his last victim shot him just as he was prepared to slice into her. That last victim was Dr. Cordell, a noted cardiac surgeon in a Boston hospital.
A number of incidents indicate that the victim the surgeon is really after is Dr. Cordell. The question — since Dr. Cordell killed the killer, who is this new killer? Is he a copy cat killer?
Gerritsen utilizes her medical background to be quite specific and detailed when writing of the killing; however, her writing is taut, controlled and the pace is quick. I found myself totally absorbed in the story and the side stories.
Would her partner Detective Thomas Moore, whose wife had died, continue with his relationship with Dr. Cordell.
I'll definitely continue with this series—I can always skim some of the more graphic scenes.
Thursday, November 10, 2011
They were born in Scotland in 1843. Their father, widowed and bringing up the twins, didn't stint when it came to their education. The family of three traveled extensively and to encourage the acquisition of languages he offered travel to any country whose language they learned. That resulted in trips to France, Germany, Spain and Italy.
Both girls ease with languages eventually extended to Hebrew, Greek, Arabic, and in time old Syriac. Their upbringing included Biblical studies and church going. If you read and reread the Bible there's a curiosity regarding the land of the Bible.
Several years ago Bruce Feiler wrote, The Bible: A Journey by Land Through the Five Books of Moses. He was infatuated with the same yearning that propelled Margaret and Agnes.
The first time they set out to see the biblical land they employed a chaperone. Given the time two young women traveling alone was not really acceptable. Soskice writes of their mishaps and the difficulty with their guides. Despite these setbacks they were smitten with the land and were to return many times.
While they both married their marriages were not to last more than several years. Both husbands died; however, Agnes's husband was a scholar and through him Agnes met a number of progressive male scholars.
Having heard and read about James Rendel Harris's discovery of The Apology of Aristides at St Catherine's Monastery near Mount Sinai they both yearned to visit.
In 1892 they set out for the monastery in the hopes of discovering some ancient biblical manuscripts. They took photographic plates and cameras to substantiate any finds.
Janet Soskice vividly paints a picture of the monastery and the disheveled manner in which some of the oldest manuscripts were stored. What follows is as exciting as a mystery novel. Not only do the twins make a remarkable discovery in a small dark room—having been told of the room by James Rendel Harris, but the translation and ensuing battle with two male biblical scholars makes for a fascinating read.
Their discovery: The Sinai Palimpsest— the words of Matthew and Luke written in Syriac, a "dialect of the Aramaic Jesus had spoken". And the translation "it preserved was even older, dating from the late second century A. D."
Listen to an interview with the author, Janice Soskice.
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Perhaps I'm the wrong person to write this review because the entire book was like a long soap opera; however, Molly was quite endearing.
She had run away from rural Ireland because she had accidentally killed the man who was attempting to rape her. She knew that given the time and her social status that the law would not be kind to her.
Now without a ticket to some place far way and without money she couldn't get far, but she meets someone whose husband is in America. The woman, Kathleen O'Connor, is worried about her children because her husband sent over tickets for the family to make the journey and join him in New York, but she has TB and is probably dying. She knows that she will be returned to Ireland when the doctors discover that she is ill.
Meeting Molly is fortuitous for both women. Kathleen convinces Molly to take her ticket and pretend to be her. Molly will shepherd the children to their father in New York City. The children are prepared to be complicit in this play.
Rhys Bowen peoples the boat with a series of stock figures and a death at the end of the trip. She had made a friend aboard the ship and he is one of the chief suspects as is Molly because she had argued with the murdered man.
Enter Molly who is determined to solve the murder. She meets the policeman assigned to the case, Daniel Sullivan, and is smitten with him.
Molly is the narrator of the story and it is through her eyes that we meet the O'Connor family and enter their home. And what a chaotic home it is-- dirty and peopled by a disagreeable lot. Kathleen's husband is heartsick, but appreciative and hopeful that his wife will heal.
Some of the particular details about life in New York City in 1901 boosted the stereotypical plot and characters. When Molly attempts to get a job at as a seamstress she discovers that it is an Italian shop and only accepts Italian women. Bowen does a good job of describing the immigrant in New York City and the ensuing class struggles.
Coincidence upon coincidence moves the story along. It doesn't matter if these occurrences are believable, it is Rhys Bowen's way of propelling the story forward.
Despite this Molly is a likable narrator and I can understand why she has a following. Perhaps at some later date I'll try another book in the series. I do want to know if she can establish herself as a private investigator and if she and Daniel do get together.
Saturday, September 24, 2011
When I vacationed in Maine I chanced upon this book in a favorite bookstore.
In 1971 Susan Shetterly and her husband moved to an unfinished cabin on sixty acres of land in Down East Maine. The rigors of that life took its toll and the marriage faltered.
Shetterly moved to another area in Maine, which over time altered. It's rural setting pecked away by developers. Her home, however, is on the edge— so she still enjoys the woods and the wild. It is this locale that she explores. Her love of the woods began in childhood.
At one point in the book she says of someone that he was "...one of the first people I knew who loved a sense of place."
It is the sense of place that Shetterly so aptly explores and writes about.
Non-Fiction Challenge ( nature)
At some point in Open City a reference is made to Julius, the narrator, being a flaneur— a wanderer, an ambler. He is an American psychiatrist training in Manhattan. He's biracial— German and Nigerian and acutely aware of how people of color are perceived.
The book is often a prolonged interior monologue of Julius's peregrinations throughout the city. We read a series of snapshots rather than a linear narrative. He does meet up with a number of people and is the recipient of their stories, but then moves on to the next encounter or social or cultural commentary.
Julius appears to lack a sense of joy as he meanders through the landscape. Yet by the choices he makes and his narration a picture of Julius emerges out of these glimpses. Each experience is a layer and when peeled back reveals some of what is beneath.
Despite the lack of movement, save in his rambles, I found myself caught up in his daily walks, possible because I grew up in New York City and enjoyed the familiarity of some sights. I appreciated the tension between the concrete experiences and the subjective interpretations.
In the midst of these fragmentary episodes there is one alarming narrative by someone he once knew—Moji. As a reader it is apparent that we're dealing with an unreliable narrator so the veracity of the story isn't definitive. But if it is true, Julius resembles a person who has disconnected from himself and his actions. He then is only a repository of what he sees and hears—a compartmentalized individual with no moral compass.
Thursday, September 1, 2011
This is a story of two brothers—nine and ten, one much weaker and more sensitive or fragile than the other. The older brother takes care of the younger brother even after decades have passed and they haven't seen each other for years. The story begins rapidly—Michael, the older brother, is running through the woods. He carries a knife and he is covered with blood.
Then the story backs up to give us the details behind the scene. Michael and his younger brother Julian had been living in a home for unwanted children. The home called Iron House was located out of the way in the mountains of North Carolina. It is there that brutality plays out when children who aren't able to defend themselves are set upon by bullies. Julian is continually selected by a gang of bullies who torment him both physically and emotionally.
On one occasion one of the boys attacks him and Julian stabs him in the neck. Michael takes the blame for the death and runs away. That's the scene that begins the book.
Prior to the stabbing a wealthy woman had been visiting Iron House and wants to adopt both boys. When it's apparent that Michael might not return she adopts Julian.
The trajectory of their lives takes very different turns. Julian grows up in the home of a wealthy U.S. Senator while Michael wanders homeless in the streets until he's taken under the wing of Otto Kaitlin, a ruthless crime boss known for his iron fist and ruthless style. Michael is schooled and loved like a son by Otto and becomes a successful killer.
Years go by and Michael falls in love with Elena. When Elena tells him she is pregnant with his child he thinks about leaving the mob and establishing a life with her. Michael tells Kaitlin that he wants to quit the mob. At that point in time Otto is gravely ill. Usually people cannot leave —save in a casket, but Otto tells everyone that Michael has his permission to freely leave.
Otto's son who has always felt that his father looked upon Michael as his son and won't contest his father's wishes until his death—which is imminent.
When Michael tells Elena the truth she leaves unable to live with knowing that he is a killer. Michael pursues her because she gives his life a meaning that has been missing.
From that point on reading Iron House is akin to following a high speed car chase. Otto dies and the mob hunts for Michael as he hunts for Elena. They are a ruthless bunch; however, he also is an accomplished killer.
Meanwhile Julian's life is disintegrating. Members of the Iron House gang who bullied and tormented him are turning up dead in a lake near his home. Hart introduces multiple plot lines: the senator's wife and her past as well as the explosive past of the senator. There are accusations made—and the implication is that Julian lured the men to his home and then killed them and threw their bodies in the lake.
Then there is the crazed and bitter woman and her disheveled daughter with secrets to be revealed.
I liked Michael and felt somewhat guilty about liking a character who was such an accomplished killer and while killing didn't have any qualms about his occupation.
Michael Hart's writing engages the reader and I found myself simply letting the story unspool and enjoyed the narrative vigor.
( Mystery and Suspense challenge)
Sunday, August 7, 2011
Once I started reading the hard back I didn't want to stop—even for dinner. On a simple level this is a story about ordinary people caught in a difficult moral muddle and dealing with a devastating loss.
One evening Grace and Ethan are returning home with their two children. The younger girl insists that she needs to stop to use the bathroom—going in the woods is not an option. Ethan has taken a short cut and they finally find a gas station on the remote Reservation Road. Grace takes Emma to the bathroom and Ethan stays with his son Josh until he realizes that he needs something at the gas station. He leaves and his son remains standing besides the car.
The second family implicated in the drama is a splintered family. Dwight and his wife were divorced and it is only recently that he has regained the right to see his son. That particular Sunday they had attended a baseball game and Dwight is unable to get back at 7:00pm. He's speeding and takes Reservation Road because it's a short cut.
It's dark, Dwight looks away, his son is asleep and he's driving on a twisting road. Josh has wandered onto the edge of the road. Then the horror—Dwight hits the boy and instead of stopping he guns the car and leaves the scene.
His son is awakened when the thud of hitting the boy shakes him up and he hits his head on the side of the car. Dwight tells him that they have hit a dog.
For each of the individuals involved the tragedy plays out in a different way. Ethan feels guilty because he left Josh besides the car and didn't remind him to stay close to the car. Emma thinks that her brother's death is her fault because she wanted to stop at the gas station rather than wait until they arrived home. Grace falls apart and can't continue with day to day activities.
Dwight hides his car with its broken front light and thinks about giving himself up , but doesn't have the moral stamina. Arno, Dwight's son, is different after the accident. It's almost as if he knows that there's more to the story.
The moral dilemma that effects each individual plays itself out against the backdrop of a seemingly uninterested policeman. What, for me , makes this a suspense novel is the fact that the driver can not be found and the police give up. Ethan continues the search and follows up on every scrap of new information until he determines who was guilty of the hit and run accident.
Too often writers arrive at the end of a book and the ending is either a let down or not compelling. This is not the case with Reservation Road. The ending is compelling. It's a book that stays with the reader—in a good part because of the writing and the honesty.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Downstairs a small nook with a number of well-stocked shelves contains their mystery selection. Despite the small size I always find a number of intriguing mysteries --many new to me.
John Hart, well-known to many a mystery aficionado, was someone I discovered. I tend to read mysteries during the summer.
Down River by John Hart
While the New York Times review found that Hart had a " furiously overwrought voice", I disagreed with their hyperbolic description. They did own that his tale was not dull.
John Hart is a storyteller and spins a fast paced tale. Adam Smith, the protagonist, had been tried for murder five years prior to his return to his family home in North Carolina. After his acquittal he leaves for New York City. His stepmother had wanted him gone and most of the townspeople harbor doubts about his innocence.
Only after his long-time friend, Danny Faith, contacts him does he return. Danny is the one person who has always trusted in Adam's innocence.
The story is peopled by an interesting set of characters: Robin a past lover, is now a policewoman; Grace, a young woman who was brought to the farm as a baby and cared for by a man who worked for his father as a caretaker on the farm.
In some ways the characters who people the novel are like the eccentric or broken characters we might find in a Southern Gothic novel. They are bigger than life and may be metaphors for a larger view of the story. Adam is the prodigal son and the fight to save the farm and the land from the developers of a nuclear plant pits townspeople against one another.
Hart captures he regional flavor of the setting, the complexities of secrets and the corrosive effects of unmoderated self-interest.
My interest never flagged.
Friday, July 8, 2011
Jack and his mother live in a square eleven by eleven foot room— and it is the only space Jack has ever known. Within this contained space his mother creates a world for Jack. Each important object in the room is named and capitalized and they become more than inanimate objects—they are friends.
His mother arranges their day within a set of rituals to give Jack a structured environment. While there is a television within the room Jack only watches it for short periods of time. Despite the television Jack is unaware of the larger world beyond the confines of the room.
Jack is also unaware of the circumstances that resulted in his living arrangements. He doesn’t know that the man who takes away their garbage and brings food is keeping his mother against her will. Since Jack sleeps in the wardrobe and is forbidden from being seen or seeing this man when he occasionally comes into the room—he only hears the sounds of the bed. He is too young to understand what is happening beyond the confines of the wardrobe.
This book is more than a view from the room and its occupants. It is also about the choices people make when in situations they didn’t chose. And when and if the person gets out then there is the prolonged difficulty of adjusting to a world that is different, a world that may not understand all of their decisions, a world that may be insensitive. The new space can be harrowing and require a new mindset.
In time and with some ingenious plans made by his mother they both escape the confines of the room. Being absorbed back into the world is both a long process and an emotionally draining process.
People on the outside make judgments based upon a dissimilar paradigm. Jack’s mother was still breast-feeding him at the age of five. When she’s questioned she responds by both becoming angry and making her questioners feel small. How do we on the outside know enough to question?
Donoghue’s ending doesn’t gloss over the pain of giving up what he knew and the halting acceptance of a bigger world. His mother must confront the fractures and losses of her life and move slowly back into the world.
Room is both a particular story and a metaphor for all those situations where an individual is forcibly removed from familiar surroundings and held as a hostage or prisoner by another individual or group of people. Some people survive by creating alternative universes while others die. But for all the reintegration is arduous and some don’t make it and remain on the edges of society.
Take a Chance Challenge
Challenge 5: Blurb— Donoghue wrote a blurb for Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman
Thursday, June 30, 2011
There are two protagonists—although this story is told primarily through the eyes of Max Lierbeman, a psychiatrist. Oskar, a police inspector and good friend of Max, often asks him for help or desires to consult with him about puzzling aspects of a case. The two men are good friends and their meetings usually take place at coffeehouses replete with strong coffee and delectably sounding pastries.
The case in review is the enigmatic murder of Fraulein Lowenstein who has been found inside a locked room in her home. What is perplexing is that while she has been shot in the heart no bullet is found nor is there an exit wound. The Fraulein was a spiritualist and some of her admirers, her circle of followers, suggest that she probed too deeply and unleashed “dark” spirits and those forces caused her death. Despite a suicide note the inspector does not think that her death was anything but murder.
It is the other story lines that add so much to Death in Vienna. Max’s romantic attachment and the disconnect the reader feels between his chosen and Max, the Anti-Semitism endemic at the time and the split between some of the methods employed by psychiatrists and the newer methodologies.
Thursday, June 16, 2011
Mike's mother not only encouraged him, but at a time when educating a blind youngster in a sighted class was unheard of, she pursued that goal--and won.
With family backing and a spirit of insatiable curiosity Mike pursued life full tilt. That included trying things that would be frightening for a sighted person like skiing with a wild abandon down the hardest trails.
When an Opthamologist informed him that he was a good candidate for revolutionary surgery to regain his sight he initially had doubts, but eventually opted to proceed. A successful surgery brought a series of set backs.
When someone hasn't seen since that early an age they will have visual processing deficits. Mike's depth perception was insufficient for navigating--he stumbled off curbs and walked into objects. He was bombarded with visual stimuli and no clue as to what he was seeing.
Learning to read was too tedious so he continued to use Braille. Until he worked out how to navigate between the two worlds -- sighted and blind, his days were exhausting. In time he created ways to recall faces and some objects.
He still used a guide dog to get around because there were elements of vision that won't return such as depth perception.
Non-Fiction Challenge — Science
Sunday, May 29, 2011
Often the young are encouraged by their elders to enlist. In Remarque's book it is a school teacher who inspires young men to enlist in the German army. At the beginning of World War I Paul Baumer is one of the young men who volunteers. He is the voice we hear, the eyes we use to contemplate the world of Paul and his friends who are sent to the Western Front.
Survival is day to day, hour after hour.The conditions are deplorable, the food is meager and small parcels of land are both won and lost—passed back and forth like a checker game. This is a book that pushes the reader into the trenches. It is a book that holds up the losses. Of course there's death, limbs amputated, eyes blank, but there are other losses. Many of Paul's comrades die in the field or at a hospital. Others , including Paul, become alienated—lose their souls.
In one poignant scene Paul kills a French soldier who has entered his physical space. He is devastated when he hears the soldier gurgle before he dies. When Paul looks him in the eye he promises that he'll take care of his widow, his children. This man looks just like him—simply a man. Of course he will not look ater the widow or the children, but he does ponder the carnage and the question the why of war.
" ...a mountain in Germany," Paul says, "cannot offend a mountain in France. Or a river, or a wood, or a field of wheat."
When these men return home they are alienated from those who haven't experienced war.
Take a Chance Challenge
Saturday, May 21, 2011
A Continental Detective Agency "Op", is sent to "Poisonville" —which is a mining town in Montana—possibly Butte. When a newspaper editor, Donald Willson, intent on cleaning up the town is murdered his father hires the "Op". The town is corrupt, including Elihu Willson, Donald's father. The cast of characters who navigate around the town is priceless. There's a series of crooks, a corrupt police chief, thugs who fight the union and Dinah Brand—a femme fatale and a lover of money. She also has amassed squalid information about most of the characters in the story.
The police chief's brother had been murdered many years before and another strand of the story explores who is responsible for his death. Criminals are played off against one another as the "Op" and two additional agents—Foley and Linehan track down leads. Bootleggers appear, a warehouse is bombed, the "Op" is drugged and ends up alongside Dinah who has an ice-pick in her breast.
If you're looking for a logical plot this may not be the book for you. What makes this book a wonderful fun read are the plethora of characters that walk in and off stage. Add to that the language.
"I had done two-thirds of the distance when an automobile came down towards me, moving fast, leaking gun-fire from the rear."
Vintage Mystery Challenge
Mystery and Suspence Challenge
Sunday, May 15, 2011
In Fateless Gyororgy's father was sent off to a concentration camp; however, the way his Hungarian family handled the situation Gyorogy was unaware of the implications of his father's situation. While the family exhibited sadness he seems aloof from the reality. Of course the fact that the family shopped for essentials, including a knapsack, appeared to belie the gravity of being sent to a labor camp.
Not too long after his father's leave-taking Gyorogy and other boys are sent off to Auschwitz and then Buchenwald and then he is sent to Zeitz as a worker. Because he lied about his age he is saved from a sure death. It's difficult to appreciate or fathom the manner in which he adapts to his surroundings. There's a dispassionate tone to his way of seeing what is happening all around him. On the surface it appears that he lacks a compass, a moral stick to measure the baseness of the degradation.
Initially Gyorogy is under the delusion that he'll be working as a laborer. When he first sees the men with their prison striped clothes he wonders about the prisoners, but doesn't understand that he, too, will be issued the same clothing.
Perhaps his reaction to what is happening around him is less about detachment and more about dissembling–or removing himself from the reality by standing off and observing what is happening and acting as an objective observer.
Is it that he becomes inured to the daily humiliations or that by seeing them day by day they become part of an orderly pattern? He displays little outward compassion and when he compares the lean tight bodies of the Nazis to the emaciated prisoners he describes the Jews in less than faltering terms. He had never resented wearing the yellow star, or if he did he didn't react to the star other than liking the pattern.
Over time his body wears down and he, like so many others, does what is necessary to live. That includes allowing someone else to be taken away in his stead. But is also includes not allowing anyone to define him as a victim.
Eventually the war ends and he returns to Budapest where he feels lost and he is unable to relate to others. When he tries to explain how events uncoiled bit by bit —step by step, his listeners recoil from his conclusions. It sounds as if we are all responsible for what has happened and that is too monstrous to contemplate.
Take -A-Chance Challenge
Near East Challenge 2011
What ensues in 1998, when he first begins walking this path, is a look at the inner soul of the three religions that occupy a narrow piece of land. His walk includes praying with a Sufi master whose mission is to seek religious peace, an encounter with a Sufi healer who is also an exorcist, dialogues with an Armenian monk who also suffered from a holocaust and an encounter with nuns who belong to an order called the Beatitudes intent on reconciliation with Jews. One of the nuns teaches him about mediation and contemplation. He also meets a monk whose life's work includes being a conduit for reconciliation between the occupants of the Holy land.
Along the way Halevi meets people who are intent on forging dialogues between the groups. While the Sufis welcome him they are the only Muslim group that he is able to enter.
Halevi doesn't walk alone on this pilgrimage, he engages the help of Eliyahu who has forged friendships with a number of Sufi religious men. When he phones Eliyau he is greeted by these words: Shalom aleichem, Salaam aleikum.
Abu Falester, a Sufi, says, "Make your mind and heart a fit place for God to live."
Sister Johanna says, "You don't give your life to God once, you do it every minute, in the choices you make."
But Halevi isn't an observer who stands on the sidelines watching, he joins the celebratory observances. Those are some of the most moving parts of the book. It isn't as if he relinquishes the teachings of Judaism; it is the recognition of the commonality of transcendence and prayer.
"Each of us was entrusted with a minuscule piece of God's plan. Impatience was futile; only the massive accumulation of small acts of good would ultimately ensure the plan's success..."
By the end of the book many of his perceptions have been challenged and he is left with several paradoxes. If in Judaism one is not to do to others what has been done to you then how do you deal with the occupation? And how do you deal with the reality of the other?
Perhaps one needs to read Emmanuel Levinas to grapple with an understanding of the Other? What Halevi offers is a beautiful book that enters into the soul of two other strands of worship.
He quotes from Paul Lakeland: "Faith is a primal force... Faith is the dynamic element in life, what keeps us in process, in becoming , in possibility."
Monday, May 2, 2011
Peter's grandfather is a pivotal force in the novel. His loss of identity involves his desire to wipe out the family's Judaism. But society has determined who he is and it isn't easy to become someone else.
I found this book uncomfortable—in so far as following the action. Often events felt like they lost their moorings and floated into a stream of consciousness. Peter's thoughts tended to hover and lose their logical narrative—but he is a child narrator.
What is intriguing is how a child's reality differs from the adult reality, thus fiction and imagination or fantasy meld and the reader is dependent upon her own understanding of events.
Read East 2011 Challenge
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Bernard is hired by a wealthy industrialist whose daughter and son-in-aw were found shot to death in their bed and after they were killed a fire was set. Missing from a wall safe is a diamond necklace.
Rather than stay with the simple case, Bernard finds himself drawn into a much wider case which involves corruption and the Gestapo. Kerr is quite descriptive when describing the methods employed by the various police groups.
Eventually Hermann Goering hires Bernard to locate someone who he believes stole some papers hidden in the same safe that contained the diamond necklace. The job is not one that Bernard can refuse. Eventually Bernard is forced to go to Dachau as an undercover agent—his job is to find out where the papers are hidden.
Bernard is not fond of the Nazis, but he has few options when told to go to Dachau in that capacity. If he refuses he will still go to Dachau, but as a prisoner whose chances of getting out might be slim.
This is a noir piece of writing with lines that often are snide comments about the third Reich or lines that are overdone hard-boiled noir.
While the plot does become a bit over plotted the tenor of the times is captured and it is the first in a series so I expect that some of the excesses of language and plot will be tempered.
In the course of our conversation she suggested this book as a good way to view the situation from two viewpoints. I read the book and it has stayed with me. Sandy Tolan spent seven years researching the material for the book. This is not a hastily collaged piece of journalism. There are pages and pages of bibliography—each fact is substantiated. Conversations that happened a long time ago are not made up of whole cloth, but the remembered snippets of speech from either the participants or observers.
The first part of the book outlines the history of Israel from the time of the Balfour Resolution to 2008. Tolan documents the realities for Israel and how those realities have forced them to resort to tactics that would be anathema to how they want to act. Tolan doesn't take sides. He shows how both sides feel that they are right and that is an intractable obstacle to peace.
This is ultimately about one house and two families. The Palestinian family—the Khairis— had lived in their al-Ramia home for decades and were forced out of the home when Israel forces moved into that area. Bashir al-Khari was a young boy when they were forced to leave. He grows to manhood believing that those who were displaced should be able to return to their ancestral homes.
Dalia Landau was born shortly after her parents left Bulgaria in 1948. They, like many others who immigrated to Isreal had suffered during
the Holocaust. Her family was told to select an unoccupied home in al-Ramia because the previous occupants had left. When she grew up that story seemed implausible.
In 1967 Bashir, desirous of visiting the home he knew as a young child, travels to his childhood home. Dalia invites him in and enjoins him to walk around and revisit the home. The Lemon Tree his father had planted still grew in the backyard and still produced lemons.
That first visit begins a long relationship between the two and while they have different perspectives on what should happen to the land they become close friends. Irrespective of their differences, and sometimes biting words, they persevere and continue talking.
Tolan's narrative is spellbinding as are Bashir and Dalia. For there to be peace dialogues must embraced.
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
One day a suitcase is left on the convent steps—inside the suitcase is a newborn baby boy. The child means something different to each of the nuns. For Maria Ines he is God's gift, redemption. For Sister Ana the baby represents a demonic visitation. Sister Carlotta pays little attention to the baby. She's mostly concerned with a pack of stray dogs she's rescued from city streets. Sister Teresa is most interested in the gramophone records she has hidden in her room. Sister Beatriz is the only nun helping Sister Maria with the care of the baby.
Because Sister Maria believes that the baby is a gift from God, she wishes to keep him in the convent rather than have him brought up in an orphanage. Another character in the monastic mystery is the Bishop. He visits the nuns once a month, says mass, hears confession, stays over, and then returns to an unnamed city.
He gave the convent an old car so that they can get to the city to purchase provisions. Sister Maria is the chief mechanic. When she was a young woman she was in love with a naval cadet—became pregnant,and had an abortion while he was in the war. When he died she dealt with both the wish to die and the wait for God's punishment. She spent a year in Africa and accepted penance for her sin by refusing an offer of marriage and deciding to take her final vows as a nun. The baby represents God's forgiveness. When she recognizes that some of the nuns question keeping the child her judgement becomes tainted.
The question remains—who is the mother and why was the baby left on the convent steps? When Sister Ana discovers a bloody sheet she is convinced that a ritual had been held and the devil is afoot. She visits the Bishop and relates her fears. He is well aware of her ambitions and after a visit to the convent he must decide on what is best for the child and all concerned. But a series of revelations—for the reader—limit his choices and the choices of some of the characters.
One must completely accept a series of improbable events, but the story is interesting and even though the twists at the end are what a reader might be anticipating, the story moves along at a quick pace. I did want another chapter—and then and then...
Mystery Book Challenge
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
In this story, the first in a series—Horatio Leavenworth, a wealthy unmarried gentleman who lives with his two nieces in a 5th Avenue mansion is found dead in his own library. This is a locked door mystery. Because the library door is locked, the key missing and the weapon—his own pistol— is found in its usual place, it is assumed that the culprit is either a family member or one of the "servants."
His two nieces, Mary and Eleonore, both had motives for the murder. The two cousins brought up together are not accorded equally under Leavenworth's will. Mary stands to inherit all his money while Eleonore will receive a small stipend.
An inquest, held at the scene of the crime—usual for that time period—uncovers circumstantial evidence pointing to the guilt of Eleonore—or at least implicating her in the murder. To add to the melodrama in the household a member of the staff, Hannah Chester, disappears the very night of the murder.
Mr Everett Raymond, a young lawyer and an assistant to the family lawyer, narrates the story. Because the head of the firm is away on business, Mr. Raymond arrives at the house to render some legal advice to Mary and Eleonore. While there the body of Mr. Leavenworth is discovered.
Ebenezer Gryce, the detective, is broadly painted as an eccentric character in both his looks and behavior.
Green touches on a number of motifs throughout the book. Mr. Leavenworth is obsessed with an intense dislike of the English and forbids his nieces from even contemplating a relationship with someone who is English. Mary has surreptitiously married an Englishman who she sends away because she doesn't want to lose her inheritance. Her uncle is clear about what will happen if she ignores his wishes. His estate will go to Eleonore and Mary will receive nothing. She has a strong motive for wanting her uncle dead.
Early on in the book Mr. Raymond and Gryce pair up. Gryce notes that he is not a gentleman and it's more difficult for him to deal with the wealthy and upper class. Another motif—class and money distinctions.
It is the detective using his deductive skills, avoiding the lure of circumstantial evidence and apparent motives , who hones in on the real killer.
All ends well—save for those who have died. The nieces mend fences, Mr Raymond smitten with Eleonore begins to court her, and tthe detective displays his adroitness.
I read a free digital download because my library didn't have a copy of the book. Then I discovered that there is a recently released Penguin Classic edition with a forward by Sims. In the foreword Anna Katherine Green's lineage from, "Gryce to Holmes to Poirot" is explored as well as" another of Green's creations, spinster Amelia Butterworth to Agatha Christie's Miss Jane Marple."
I throughly enjoyed The Leavenworth Case and my delight was enhanced by reading of the first accorded both the novel and Anna Katherine Green—first detective novel by a woman in any country. Her career spanned five decades.
I is An Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor and How It Shapes the Way We See the World by James Geary
In the first few chapters Geary explores the meaning of metaphor and the implications of that meaning. Having taught children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, I found his explanation of why these children and adults cannot understand metaphors or figurative language illuminating.
His explanation of why young children only comprehend simple metaphors is also a succinct look at how we grow into metaphors. You must have experiences in order to make connections.
And he reminds the reader that, "Metaphors, whether in poems or advertisements, only work with our active collusion. Metaphors are born plotters and we are their eager co-conspirators."
Take a Chance Challenge
Non-Fiction Challenge: Art Category
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Kooser is a master of metaphor—and the images he chooses are alive and informed—as well as intimate.
Here he describes a limestone quarry two miles from his house:
Kooser savors items his family used—the mere mention of his mother’s cutting board unleashes stories about his mother. He quotes Proust who has “…the taste of biscuit … take him back in time.”
His character sketches may be short, but the particular details give dimension to the figures. I think I’d recognize some of the people if I met them in person.
And since he’s sixty when he begins writing Local Wonders he does reflect on time and age.
Take a Chance Challenge
Monday, March 28, 2011
What follows goes back and forth in time and celebrates an array of eccentric events—a dead body falling through a ceiling, a man digging graves in a volcano—and some events that while humorous were lewd. Rips discovers that his grandparents ran a brothel and his father spent a good part of his youth being brought up in that brothel.
His father ran an eyeglass factory and many of the people he hired were eccentric and social misfits. And they—each and every one— were important to him.
Mixed in with the flamboyant characters and events Rips engages in a number of philosophical outpourings. It is Levinas whose thought captures his imagination. In fact there are times that Rips leaves his search to explicate Levinas's thoughts, but by the end of the book we understand that there is a connection.
Rips uses a Bearded Priest — "before becoming a Bearded Priest, he had raised bird dogs and before that worked in a lumberyard...Now he spent his time reading Emmanuel Levinas and fishing off a pier on Fourteenth Street."— to ponder consciousness and ethics.
The humor of the book, the blurring of the line between a documentary retelling of the story, the surreal landscape of events— and the philosophical writings create a stepping stone to a discovery about his father.
"We live at the edge of change, but refuse to see it, until something pulls us out the window or sucks us up a chute ..."
Take a Chance Challenge
Saturday, March 26, 2011
Not only is Separate From the World an interesting mystery, but it also explores the complex relationship between the " English" and the "Amish" as well as the difficulties of living under the yoke of being Amish.
Professor Michael Branden is approached by an Amish man who contends that his brother's death was not an accident. The fact that both brothers are dwarfs plays into a developing fraction within the Amish community.
While he us telling his story to the professor they are interrupted by a commotion outside. A young woman has fallen off a bell tower. It appears to be suicide.
Professor Branden and Pastor Cal as well as the Sheriff, Bruce Robertson, are all involved in the investigation of both deaths.It soon becomes apparent that there is a link between these deaths.
At the same time there is a backdrop to this investigation. Some in the community have been involved in generic research conducted by university students. The Amish, because of intermarriage within the sect, are prone to several medical anomalies. The incidence of dwarfism is more pronounced in the Amish community.
One group of Amish wish to follow a leader who desires to have the community avail themselves of modern medicine. The presiding Bishop warns against those who depart from traditional Amish ways.
Gaus's knowledge of the Amish allows him to present the case for "English" medicine and the temptation that poses in juxtaposition with the choices that the Amish make and their acceptances of those choices.
Mystery and Suspense Challenge
Monday, March 21, 2011
Kate Stanley, whose thesis is on the Occult in Shakespeare, is directing Hamlet at the Globe theatre in London. When Professor Rosalind Howard, Kate's former mentor, arrives in London with a box which she says holds an important Shakespearian find she tells Kate that she wants her to help in uncovering the find.
She does not have an opportunity to tell kate anything else because a fire breaks out at the theatre. The date of the fire corresponds to the exact date that the original Globe Theater was consumed by fire. After the recent fire is extinguished Roz's body is found. That's the first death—however many more will follow.
Kate is convinced that Roz was murdered because of the box and she begins a long circuitous path to discover the answer. Along the way she is helped, or hindered, by a wide cast of characters. At various points during the narrative Kate isn't certain who is befriending her and who is doing the killing. The reader is also unsure.
The trail includes wild escapades across both England and the United States—all in search of answers. There are a number of discussions regarding the authorship of the plays and the different groups purporting to know who is the real author.
The reader needs to suspend disbelief when it comes to some of the scenes where they are either racing from place to place or miraculously assuming a new identity. The fact that some of these disguises appear with a nary a moment to spare does not take away from the suspense or fun.
Carrell engages the reader with the murders—each one aping murders found in one of the Shakespearian plays.
If you enjoy academic mysteries and want to be drawn into the many speculations revolving around the authorship of the plays you'll find this an intriguing read.
Mystery and Suspense Challenge
Friday, March 11, 2011
For the past few years I've been drawn to lyric essays where association and collage holds sway over a strict linear thread; however, not all lyric essays merit reading. In art before you can do a successful abstraction you need to learn how to draw, how to use perspective, and how to observe light and then to paint objects with that awareness.
Shields refers to Reality Hunger as a Manifesto. Perhaps it is an encyclical to the writing community. Shields proclaims his boredom with traditional novels, with plot. He asks his reader to read his book without looking at the sources at the end of the book. If you follow his advice it is a seamless read with marvelous quotable tidbits. I find myself quoting his lines which have been appropriated from a superfluity of sources.
I copied this down," The hybrid, shape-shifting, ambiguous nature of lyric essays makes a flowchart of our experiences of our world." and I wonder is that Wallace or D'Agatha. I can check it at another time.
This collage that Shields created is seamless—it flows with an energy that doesn't feel truncated or staccato. Everything fits neatly. He does say that he often needed to form the quote or cut some words. Isn't that what fiction writers do—create a form or shape for their narrative?
Some critics question what is real and what is fiction within this book, but when Shields was questioned about that he said that he wanted the reader to accept the facts as facts. Filling in the spaces between facts is done by many professions. The archeologist makes educated guesses from shards, the paleontologist who doesn't find all the bones engages in acts of reconstruction. Writing Bibical Midrash means filling in the spaces between the words. There is much left unsaid—the stories between the words or between the spaces. Lot's wife looks back and turns to a pillar of salt—what was she looking at and why did she risk taking one last look? That question warrants a response—
Shields wants "Reality" present in our written work, but not the faux reality we're surrounded by—reality television which is anything but real. He is bored by traditional novels, by writers that write voluminous texts. Novels do not interest him. He sees little in them that is real.
I love losing myself in a good piece of writing, in a novelist who creates characters that speak to me and engage me. I like plot driven novels—that create a place for me to enter and follow the steps of another.
But I also enjoyed this book. I didn't need to compare it to something that it wasn't. I envied his ability to quilt together so many ideas.
Shields makes you think—even those of us who love narrative. I also love lyric essays and collage. I'm fascinated with his appropriation of phrases, with his ability to subtract words and add others. With the way he melds together differing pieces— a crazy quilt of ideas. He goads writers to think. He even has the audacity to suggest that, "You make something of your limits."
— Walt Whitman
— Joseph Conrad
Reality Hunger succeeds by prodding, by getting critics to agree, disagree, disregard, or stamp it as the new manifesto. There's a part of me that thinks that Shields is having a great deal of fun playing a part—both totally sincere and totally delighted with shaking up the establishment.
Personally, I'm glad I read Reality Hunger, but there's no need to swallow it whole or dismiss it. It's like a banquet—some dishes are delectable, others pale in comparison, and some are downright uneatable.
I think it has prodded me to try to spread out and try some new things, but not to replace the narrative—but to add some new shapes and forms.
Take a Chance Challenge
Martin had, before his death, told some men in his platoon that there was a treasure buried in his old family home on the French coast. One of the men, a rather unscrupulous individual, Jack Havoc, hatches a plan while he is in prison— his aim is to find the treasure.
Add a score of colorful minor criminals, Albert Campion's decidedly good uncle Canon Avril, and a plot that includes the kidnapping of Gregory, a murder, and a connection between the Canon and Havoc and his mother. For good measure stir in the ingredients of good and evil, gallantry and jealousy and you have a plot worthy of Masterpiece Theatre.
Vintage Mystery Challenge
Monday, March 7, 2011
Because I hadn't read the two previous detective Jack Caffery and police diver sergeant Flea Marley books I appreciated it when Mo Hayder brought the reader up to date about key events in the previous two books.
In Gone Hayder creates a suspect who steals cars, but these aren't empty cars. In each car there is a child. Within a short period of time two girls are abducted this way. Hayder builds up the suspense while she also gives the reader some insight into the families of the missing girls. The suspense mounts as the police seem unable to get inside the mind of the person responsible.
Caffery , as well as teams of police are searching everywhere. Flea meanwhile is convinced that the tunnels and a buried canal are relevant. Hayder does a remarkable job describing the search in those tunnels. One can almost feel the sludge and smell the fetid air.
Both Caffery and Marley are aided in their search by two "people" outside of the pale of reality. Caffery's Walking Man—who some critics think is his alter ego—goads him into thinking outside of the box. Marley hears the voice of the deceased father.
They both seek to find a pattern which eludes them. Mo Hayder builds the story and the suspense until things fall into place. It's a riveting story with an unexpected ending. What I especially enjoyed was Hayder's characters—major and minor. their stories added to this polce procedural.
Mystery and Suspense Challenge
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
The book starts when Carol Ann Page cuts her thumb when trying to cut threaded tape wrapped around a package. The cut at first seems minor but eventually requires surgery. While in the hospital she first notices that the wound glows. But she is not the only one—all over the world wounds send out a glowing light.
An individual can stand anywhere and observe the pain and the sickness.
In a recent essay in the Writer's Chronicle Brockmeier is noted as being a master of the grand metaphor.
One thread carried throughout the book is the peregrinations of a journal that belonged to a woman killed in a traffic accident. The journal contains a compilation of daily love notes — notes from her husband. He left her a love note a day and she copied them into her journal. Carol Ann Page shares the hospital room with this dying woman who tells her to take the journal.
That starts a series of stories—all connected in some way to the journal and the love notes. Six people have contact with the writings—Carol Ann, a widowed photographer, a mute boy, a solitary missionary, a writer, and a mentally ill homeless man.
From Jacob Appel's essay in The Writer's Chronicle:
Early on Brockemeier poses this question: " Were we outlived by our pain? How long did it cling to the world?"
The Illumination has staying power. It can't be put down and forgotten. It's a book to discuss, a book to ponder, and a book to reread —not only for its ideas, but for its writing.
Take a Chance Challenge—Staff Member's Choice
Friday, February 25, 2011
Later on Djata learns the truth. His father had been sent to a labor camp at the Danube Canal for his protest against the government. Because of his father’s outspoken stance, Djata is expelled from Communist Youth organizations and his mother is no longer employed as a teacher. Djata’s life continues and is framed against some of the anti-father figures he encounters including a sadistic coach.
His grandparents detest his mother because she is Jewish and offer the family no support. When Djata sees his grandfather once a year, it is a formal visit. His mother has forbid him from accepting and keeping any gift from his grandfather.
In the midst of this repressive society, Djata engages in some colorful escapades that indicate that even in the most closed societies boys will find adventures worthy of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. Once Djata and his friend discover a cache of pornographic movies when they sneak into the backroom of a theater. When the two friends decide that a quarry has gold ore in its walls they climb over a chain link fence to enter the area. They stumble upon two ferocious dogs and the son of the old man who had lived there until his recent death. What follows is an escapade worthy of a picturesque novel.
But there are many difficult times for the boy who wants to believe that his father will return. Life in a totalitarian regime is rife with indignities and pressure and the adult world is filled with horror and sordid details.
The ending of the book is a painful awareness of the constrictions and abuse that await those who oppose the regime.
Read East Challenge
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
In Appleby's End Michael Innes allows his considerable wit full rein and the result is pure delight.
Inspector Appleby of Scotland Yard finds himself in a train compartment with an assortment of rather odd individuals. Because of circumstances he is unable to debark at the station he anticipated and is invited by a Mr Everard Raven to spend the night at his home. Before getting off Appleby discovers that each person in the compartment is a member of the same family. Oddly—the name of the station that they pull into and where they all will all get off the train—is named Appleby's End. And that begins a series of coincidences.
The family is eccentric and in the middle of a series of odd happenings—all of which relate back to a stories penned by the Victorian novelist Ranulph Raven, a relation. It's almost as if his stories are being played out in real life.
I found myself laughing out loud when Innes describes the behavior of a milkmaid who thinks she's a cow. Incident after incident allows Innes to indulge his delicious wit in this delightful story.
Of great importance to all mysteries is the solution and explanation for all the happenings. The Inspector not only is able to piece together why all these happenings are occurring, but the why behind the pranks.
I must add that one of my delights was in the language— words and names. Villages named: Boxer's Bottom, Linger, Abbot's Yatter, Snarl. And characters: Gregory Grope, Hannah Hoobin.
—"...fleeting and hebdomadal mythology..." A weekly mythology. I'll have to find a use for the word.
"...without the otiose superaddition of novelty.." —such pointlessness
"...exiguous wooden scaffolding..."— don't put the window washer on a scanty scaffold
"...Judith shook her head darkly over this squirearchal sentiment..."
Michael Innes was a Professor and an extraordinary scholar —he delighted in dropping literary allusions into his stories. For those who are interested here's a site annotating the literary references in Appleby's End.
Where Does That Come From?
Vintage Mystery Challenge
Friday, February 11, 2011
The story opens when Miranda witnesses the last moments of a dying teenager—a young man dying in Chinatown. Because he’s Japanese and there’s blatant racism in the police department, the police are not interested in investigating and they want Miranda to back away.
Miranda is not going to be put of by the police even when their attacks on her are of a personal nature. Her investigation proceeds. Shortly after her initial contact with the police a woman whose husband was found dead in a hotel contacts her. The police are calling the case death by heart attack. His wife thinks he was murdered. Her stepdaughter is also missing. Miranda’s job—find out what happened and find the daughter.
Not only does the reader get a look at San Francisco’s Chinatown at the time of the New Year’s celebration, but Stanley also writes about the relationship between the Chinese and the Japanese. She writes of the blatant racism of the era, the drug trade, police brutality, trafficking in the exploitation of foreign women, and the gangs.
Miranda—drinks too much , smokes too much, is no slouch when it comes to colorful language and has a difficult time with intimacy. Early on we find out that she was in love with a man named Johnny who lost his life during wartime. That experience colors her life.
Stanley does introduce a policeman, Gonzales, who may appear as a romantic interest in later books.
I rarely read mysteries that are called hard-boiled so I found myself a bit dissatisfied with all the machinations of the noir novel. Miranda ties all the pieces together, acts as the person who allows the two people in love—one Chinese and the other Japanese—to marry, move away and I assume live happily ever after.
In a “harrowing scene” perfect for an action movie, bullets fly, dead and wounded are splayed out all over the room and Miranda must fire her Baby Browning, which had been secreted in a trick cigarette case. Even with that gun she is able to kill one of the gang members. I never doubted that she’d emerge victorious.. Yes, she did need to replenish her body with sleep and rest.
One other point—she’s the well-educated daughter of an alcoholic professor of Classics who shows up inebriated and when in need of money. Even in that state he’s able to quote poetry.
After having said all that I did find Miranda rather interesting. Perhaps she’ll go on the wagon, cut down on the smokes, refine her language—but then she wouldn’t be Miranda.
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
I recalled being totally confused when once studying the War of Roses and hoped that Tey didn't dwell on that particular period. My plans, cancelled because of the icy conditions, gave me the luxury of settling into the book.
As Bacon wrote: "Truth is the daughter of time, not of authority." With these words as the ballast—the story unfolds. Inspector Grant, of Scotland Yard, had the misfortune of falling through a trap door and thus finds himself flat on his back in a hospital bed. He amuses himself by staring at the ceiling patterns and growing increasingly grumpy. His actress friend, Marta, knowing that Grant is considered somewhat of an expert when it comes to faces, brings him a stack of portraits.
At first he can find no single portrait of interest, but when he sees a portrait of Richard III his interest is piqued. Richard has been vilified by history and is depicted as an evil man who murdered his two nephews in order to assure his ascent to the throne.
When Grant reads the portrait he sees in the artist's likeness of Richard III quite a different character. Instead of the evil qualities usually attributed to him, Grant imagines him as a much maligned character in history. Even the physical description of Richard as a hunchback has no validity.
Since he is confined to lying on his back on a hospital bed he must do all the research through books. He even solicits the opinion of two of his nurses—what did they think of Richard III?. They parrot what they have read in their "normal" school texts. They assert that the nephews were smothered with a pillow by someone who took orders from Richard. One nurse had kept all of her school books and he borrows her history text where the same story appears as "truth".
He asks Marta to bring him two heavy tomes—one was written by Sir Thomas More. Later on he realizes that More is a contemporary of Henry VIII and whatever he wrote was not a first hand account.
The story really gets into gear when Marta introduces him to Carradine, an American researcher for the British Museum. Carradine is immediately fascinated with Grant's hypothesis — Richard III never murdered his nephews —nor anyone else. While Grant remains prone on his bed he directs the investigation. Carradine becomes his legs and researcher.
All of the stories are simply Tudor propaganda—but this must be proved. When all the names were thrown out on the page, like laying down the gauntlet, I found myself putting the book down and doing my own research. I forgot about the snow as I looked up the women who were mentioned, the regal lines, Bill of Attainder, and even a bit about that War of Roses.
Grant builds up his case for proving the innocence of Richard III. The hunt for evidence so fascinates Carradine that he plans to write a book about their findings. Along the way there is a discussion about how the veracity of historical events may be a distance from the reality. Once a story gains momentum it is often difficult to present another version. The story becomes accepted as truth and to pry it away from its moorings is difficult.
Someone conversant with the research pointed out that Tey doesn't use all the research relevant to the case—but the facts she does employ certainly suggest that the case is far more complex and there's a good possibility that the boys were alive when HenryVII ascended the throne.
By the end of the novel Grant is able to leave the hospital—but still must remain in a reclining position for a half a day.
A number of other writers have used the framework of Richard's reign and the story of the nephews disappearance as the plot line for their own novels.
Even when shoveling my mind was wrapped around the machinations of royalty.
Vintage Mystery Challenge