Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Telegraph Avenue- The End of the Road

Picking up Telegraph Avenue late last week for my daily 20 pages, I decided I didn't want to continue. This is definitely a case of the "not for me's". I'm a plot reader; there just wasn't enough of a plot to keep me going. I gave it a chance for as long as I could but in the end the simple fact is I wanted to read something else more than I wanted to finish this.

I want to thank Emily of As the Crowe Flies (And Reads) for running this great readalong and for including me. She went above and beyond the call of duty to make me feel welcomed and I really appreciate all her hard work and enthusiasm. I also want to thank HarperCollins and Michael Chabon for their willingness to do a pre-publication readalong, provide the copies and let us bloggers report back honestly.

I'm not soured on Chabon; I have a couple of his books in my TBR and they're not going anywhere soon. I'm interested to read The Yiddish Policeman's Union and Kavalier and Clay and I promise to keep an open mind. Not every book works for every reader, and this one just didn't work for me.

Finally, I'd like to pass my copy along to someone who might be a better fit. So if you've followed along these past few weeks and you'd like to give Telegraph Avenue a go, tell me so in the comments and I'll pick a winner at random by next Tuesday. I can only ship to the United States at the moment. Also, I tend to be slow about shipping, but I'll do my best to mail it by the end of next week.

Monday, July 30, 2012

REVIEW: Oil on Water, by Helon Habila

Oil on Water, by Helon Habila. Published 2010 by W.W. Norton. Literary Fiction.

Oil on Water is a fascinating, often brutal story about the effect of the oil industry on the Nigerian delta, as told through the eyes of Rufus, a journalist on a perilous journey to find Isabel Floode, an Englishwoman who has been taken hostage by a gang of militants in an effort to extort money from her husband, an oil executive. Rufus travels with Zaq, a disgraced reporter, and things don't go very well.

Along the way, Helon Habila mixes in stories of how both men came to this point in their lives, including the influence of the most important women in each man's life. For Rufus that would be his sister Boma, disfigured in an oil fire and abandoned by her fiancé. Zaq's great love falls victim to drugs, and then there's Isabel herself and her own tragic story. Rufus and Zaq suffer many setbacks on their journey; violence and illness, privation and danger stalk them heartlessly.  By the end, it's not really clear how anybody will come out on the other side.

I really enjoyed Oil on Water for the suspense and the meditations on life and love, and the insight into some of the problems created by the oil industry. I can't say that the political rhetoric was very surprising perhaps because the tale Habila tells is all too familiar, a story of greed and corruption and naivete and the kind of short sightedness that can happen when too much change happens too quickly.  I would recommend Oil on Water for those interested in social issues and in African fiction. I didn't love it but I enjoyed it well enough and I think it's a strong read that many readers will enjoy.


FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

LIFE OF PI Movie Trailer!

Are we excited or what? I can't wait for this movie to come out. Life of Pi is one of my favorite books; I loved its magic and beauty and lyricism, and the questions it asks about the nature of truth. I'm so intrigued by the trailer and I really hope the movie is as great as it looks so far! It hits theaters in 2D and 3D on November 21. I think this is going to be this year's Thanksgiving movie!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Friday Finds- It's Been A While

So I'm not doing as many memes any more, and I think that's a good thing even when the blog is dormant for a day or two, but I kind of miss telling you about my new books each week. So I'm going to try Friday Finds again for a while. If it turns into a big chore I'll stop, but we'll see. Anyway, hai! I've missed you.
Eric Newby's memoir Love and War in the Apennines covers his time in a World War II POW camp, his escape and the time he spent hidden in a remote Italian village. A bookstore customer sold this book to me as a must-read about Italy. I sold him my favorite book about Italy on the same night, Carlo Levi's Christ Stopped at Eboli, so I couldn't really refuse his. I hope to read it in September.

Ian McDonald's The Dervish House was highly-thought-of science fiction set in Istanbul from last year's ReaderCon. I waited until it came out in paperback to pick it up. It's set in 2027 and seems to be a mix of futurism and fantasy.

Solea, by Jean-Claude Izzo, is the third and final installment in his Marseilles trilogy. I'm planning to read book 2, Chourmo, soon, and want to have the last book at the ready. I loved the first, Total Chaos.

Two fall books came to me from my friendly friends at HarperCollins:
Louise Erdrich's latest, The Round House, is out in October. 
The Stockholm Octavo, by Karen Engelman, is out in November. Both look like very interesting reads and I will dip into them soon and read them in their entirety closer to their respective release dates.

What's new on your shelf this week? See more at ShouldBeReading.wordpress.com.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

REVIEW: Freedom in Exile: The Autobiography of the Dalai Lama

Freedom in Exile: The Autobiography of the Dalai Lama, by Tenzin Gyatso, Fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet. Published 1990 by HarperOne. ISBN 9780060987015

I became interested in learning more about the 14th Dalai Lama after reading a brief manga biography about him late last year; that book gave a kind of pencil sketch of his life, from when he was recognized as the reincarnation of the Buddha of Compassion at the age of 2 and sent away to be trained to be a political leader and religious icon through his exile in India. This book covers much more ground and in more detail, through almost the present day.

The Dalai Lama tells his story in a pretty matter-of-fact way, laying out facts and chains of events from his childhood through around the time of the book's publication in 1990. He presents a vivid picture of pre-invasion Tibet, recounts with candor his initial interest and respect for Chinese Communism, his growing disillusionment with Mao and his government, and later, his growing and painful knowledge of Chinese atrocities committed against Tibet and Tibetans. I really got the sense of a lost world, or at least a world in some kind of stasis as the diaspora community tries to maintain a sense of its culture and figure out where to go from here, all the while Tibetan culture inside Tibet is being swallowed whole. I also got the sense of a very thoughtful man who was brought up to expect something rather extraordinary out of life, and found that life had something else to offer entirely.

 Every once in a while a little of his cranky, silly personality comes through, but I wish there were more personal touches. His hobbies include gardening and scientific inquiry, and one of my favorite passages recounts what happened when he tried to build a place for birds to perch near his window:
...I constructed a bird table just outside my study window. It is surrounded by wire and netting to keep out the larger birds and birds of prey, which tend to scare off their smaller brethren. This is not always sufficient to keep them away, however. Occasionally, I am compelled to take out one of the air guns that I acquired shortly after arriving in India, in order to discipline these fat, greedy trespassers. Having spent a great deal of time as a child at the Norbulingka [palace] practicing with the Thirteenth's old air rifle, I am quite a good shot. Of course, I never kill them. My intention is only to inflict a measure of pain in order to teach a lesson.
Air rifles? Shooting birds? This is not what I expected, but I was sort of delighted to read about these kinds of shenanigans. This ordinary tone persists throughout the book. Frequently I had to remind myself as I read about this often very ordinary-seeming man that he is not ordinary at all, that he is a holy man to millions, although it's clear at every turn that the life he is leading is anything but the life of an ordinary person. I only wish he had offered us even more in the way of personal thoughts and insights; even anecdotes like the one I quoted above seem made ready for public consumption, and while I don't begrudge him his privacy, I was hoping for more reflective musings.

But you know what? On the whole, Freedom in Exile is a really fascinating book that I can recommend to just about any reader. The Dalai Lama illuminates not just the events of his own life but the ongoing troubles of Tibet and its relationship with China. And I'm still interested to read more about the Dalai Lama, too. I feel like this book is another piece of the puzzle and that there's still a lot more to learn.


FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Telegraph Avenue Readalong: The Saga Continues

It's been a really busy week for me; I worked six days starting Monday although usually I just work two, the thing about this one being that I'm subbing for a couple of people, and then I agreed to take an extra Wednesday shift, and then I wanted Friday evening off to have dinner with my husband (otherwise I would not have seen him for dinner between Tuesday and Sunday) but the best I could do was to work Thursday and half of Friday, so the time I've had for reading has been really limited but I tried nonetheless to do my 20 pages per day of Telegraph Avenue, starting with Part 3, which was pretty short, and moving on to Part 4, which was pretty long and pretty dense as usual, and it was more of the same, you know, the plot kept moving along at its characteristic glacial pace, and the prose was characterized by the same lack of brevity and conciseness which has come to characterize the entire book, but that's fine, I'm used to it by now; the most interesting parts for me are anything to do with Gwen and Aviva, since I find that Chabon has a great feel for the chemistry between these two women as shown by their dialogue and how things move along when they interact, and now we have one week left in the readalong and one smallish section of the book to complete by next Tuesday, and I'm looking forward to finding out how it all ends, though I will admit that with my schedule and running around and the beautiful weather we've had in New England this past week I didn't quite finish Part 4, but I think Part 5 is short enough that I should be able to wrap the remaining pages into my daily reading quota and have some things to say about it when I post my final post next week, and as always you must visit Emily at As The Crowe Flies (And Reads) for more readalong posts.

Monday, July 23, 2012

REVIEW: The Ghosts of Belfast, by Stuart Neville

The Ghosts of Belfast, by Stuart Neville. Published 2009 by Soho Crime. Crime Fiction.

Lately I've been on a bit of a crime-fiction bender, and it doesn't look like I will come in any time soon.

The most recent book I've finished is Stuart Neville's very-good-indeed The Ghosts of Belfast, about IRA veteran Gerry Fagen and his quest for nothing more than peace. Gerry is a "retired" assassin and terrorist for the Irish Republican Army; he served a stint in prison and now times have changed. The IRA, through its political arm the Sinn Fein, wants respectability and the freedom to pursue its criminal agenda unimpeded by its public-relations and law-enforcement difficulties. Gerry wants respite too, from the ghosts of his victims, who continue to haunt him in the form of twelve spirits from his past. (The original title of this book was The Twelve.)  Unfortunately, putting these spirits to rest means more people must die.

The first man to die, Michael McKenna, draws the ire of Paul McGinty, a former IRA leader trying to refashion himself as a decent public figure. Suspicions pile up alongside the bodies and soon McGinty and David Campbell, a double agent, are on his trail. Complicating matters is Gerry's relationship with Michael McKenna's niece Marie, on McGinty's bad side after a relationship with a police officer which resulted in a little girl named Ellen. Gerry is drawn to Marie and Ellen and the normal life they represent, but life with Marie and Ellen may be a dream not destined to come true.

From here the book takes off like a shot, a series of fights, flights and suspense. Quite violent and gritty, Neville has written an intense, gripping literary novel about the lives left ruined in the wake of Irish sectarian violence. He paints the IRA as a bloody criminal organization and its members as ruthless greedy thugs, hardly as the romanticized freedom fighters many Irish-Americans think of them being. On the contrary, Neville goes out of his way to disabuse readers of this particular illusion.

I really, really enjoyed this book. As I said, it works as a literary novel as well as a page-turning thrill ride.  Neville creates characters that got under my skin- good and bad- and situations I had no idea how to resolve. I just had to keep turning those pages to find out. I strongly recommend The Ghosts of Belfast for readers looking for a really smart thriller, one to keep your paper-flipping-fingers moving as well as your brain.

Neville has a new one coming out this fall, Ratlines; I plan to read it in the next month or two and get back to you around its release date.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Soho Press.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Six-by-Seven: A Midyear Summary

I stole this from JoAnn at Lakeside Musing, one of my oldest blogging buddies. If you aren't reading her blog, go over there, read it, and come back.

Okay, you're back. Like JoAnn did, I tweaked mine a little too, to reflect my own reading habits and priorities.

Six new-to-me authors:
1. Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya
2. Sayed Kashua
3. Derek Raymond
4. Andrea Camilleri
5. Patrick Flanery
6. Niccolo Ammaniti

Six tried-and true authors:
1. Massimo Carlotto
2. Amara Lakhous
3. Dan Chaon
4. Stephen Benatar
5. Tayeb Salih
6. Angela Thirkell

Six books I loved:
1. Absolution by Patrick Flanery
2. The Goodbye Kiss by Massimo Carlotto
3. Moffie by Andre Carl van der Merwe
4. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons (review coming soon!)
5. He Died With His Eyes Open by Derek Raymond (review coming soon!)
6. Second Person Singular by Sayed Kashua

Six Countries I've Visited:
1. Italy
2. South Africa
3. Gabon
4. Israel
5. Sudan
6. India

Six blogging events I enjoyed:
1. ArmChair BEA
2. Telegraph Avenue readalong (ongoing)
3. Europa Challenge
4. Pin It and Do It challenge
5. Booker Challenge
6. Secret Garden readalong (though I forgot to post about it)

Six bookish things I'm looking forward to:
1. Reading Don Quixote on vacation
2. Finishing The Twelve
3. Boston Book Festival this fall
4. Book shopping in Italy!
5. Pin It and Do It,  Round 2
6. Holiday book swaps

Six bookish things I'm happy about in 2012
1. All that crime fiction I'm reading now!
2. I love being a bookseller!
3. The Europa Challenge is still going strong.
4. My husband hasn't lost patience with my biblio-addiction.
5. It's fun to go outside my comfort zone sometimes.
6. It's fun to stay within it, too!

What's your mid-year summary look like? Any surprises, or has everything gone as planned?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

REVIEW: The Absolutist, by John Boyne

The Absolutist, by John Boyne. Published 2012 by Other Press. Literary Fiction.

The Absolutist is a very fine novel about war, the affects of trauma in its various forms, the definition of cowardice and bravery and the attempt of one man to make peace with some very serious and irreversible decisions he made literally under fire. It's about forgiveness, the inability to forgive, and acts that by their very permanence can never be forgiven. It's also about families broken forever and lives change irrevocably.

The story starts in 1919, when a young man named Tristan Sadler (that's a lot of sadness) goes to Norwich to meet the sister of his very close friend Will, who was killed in the trenches of World War 1. Tristan and Will meet during basic training. Neither is particularly eager for war but Will, who comes from a loving family, wants to do his part. Tristan's family has disowned him; military service is a kind of last-resort suicide mission for him. Their friend Wolf is a "feather man," a conscientious objector who believes it's wrong for governments to order men to kill each other. Wolf's fate is the first nail in the coffin of Will's, and of the complete breakdown of Tristan and Will's relationship. By the time the war is over and Tristan is home, memories and secrets are all he has, and he gives these up to Marian, Will's sister, over tea one day in September.

Tristan starts the novel experiencing post-traumatic stress and the dissociation common with returning soldiers. He holds life at a distance and Boyne communicates that distance through over-precise and cautious prose. I found the novel a little difficult and almost unapproachable in its first sections until I realized that this effect is most likely deliberate. It is interesting to note that Boyne writes the present-day sections of the book in the past tense, and the sections taking place in the past, or during the war, in the present tense, as if it were those events of the war that still hold the most immediacy for Tristan and therefore for the reader. I don't want to tell you too much about Tristan's secrets; if you decide to read this book, and I hope you do, let them roll out the way Boyne intends. They're not all surprising; I guessed the reason for the disowning both accurately and quickly. But the final blow knocked the wind out of me and changed the whole book in an instant. I love it when an author does that.

The Absolutist is not a happy book and it doesn't have a happy ending, but it's haunting and eloquent and beautiful nonetheless. Boyne asks some tough questions and doesn't always answer them the way you think he will. Tristan has a lot to answer for, a lot to atone for, and it's not clear he ever really does. Is he doing Marian a favor by sharing his secrets with her, or is too much to ask? Should some things be left buried? Does it do him any good to let it all out? This is a challenging book and not a light read at all. But it's worth it.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

ReaderCon, SF and Independent Bookstores

This past weekend my husband and I made our annual trek to Burlington, Mass., (actually about 20 minutes from Cambridge) for ReaderCon, that celebration of science fiction and fantasy literature. It's four days of panels, readings, signings and shopping (the dealer room is always a highlight).  I've always gone because I learn a lot; I'm not a hard-core (or even medium-core) SF reader, so ReaderCon is my opportunity to learn about the latest and greatest in the genre and take that back with me to enrich my reading and my understanding of the book world. Working as a bookseller, I had an additional motive- to gather some information that might help the bookstore where I work serve its fan customers.

As I said, the dealer room is a major highlight of the show. Booksellers as well as publishers gather to share and promote their books. The publishers include Small Beer Press, Prime Books, Tachyon, and others; some of them will be familiar to you but many are small presses that will not. All of them have generous selections of their offerings and knowledgeable representatives as well as authors present. Over the course of the weekend, several sessions focus specifically on the year's best books, many from these smaller presses as well as big houses like Random House and HarperCollins. Both the sessions and the opportunity to shop and talk with small presses represent valuable opportunities for booksellers.

The weekend included sessions on the year's best short fiction and novels; Sunday featured the presentation of the Shirley Jackson Awards for horror, psychological suspense and the dark fantastic, and many of the books that make these lists are probably already in the bookstore ripe for display. This year's Year in Novels panel included mention of books like Kim Stanley Robinson's latest 2312, two China Mieville books (Embassytown and Railsea) and Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin. Glen Duncan's The Last Werewolf was nominated for a Shirley Jackson award; it's out in paperback now and its sequel, Tallulah Rising, is hot off the presses. The dealer room featured interesting things like Tachyon's The Secret History of Science Fiction, an anthology featuring literary authors like Margaret Atwood, Michael Chabon and Jonathan Lethem alongside genre standbys like Connie Willis and Robinson and more, as well as the only James Tiptree Jr. short fiction anthology currently in print and gems from Kelly Link, Ekaterina Sedia and others.  Lots of these things folks probably already know about and stock, but there are so many discoveries waiting to be made and seeing them here helps me see them in a new light.

I've only been a bookseller for a short time, but even this experience coupled with a lifetime of book shopping and reading has taught me that many independent bookstores give genre short shrift. A well-stocked general fiction section tended to by literary-bookish staff is wonderful but often other areas, like mystery, romance and science fiction, are scanty at best, stocked with the bestsellers but little else. So what happens to those customers? They go to specialty shops, and shop them loyally, or, in the absence of a strong SF bookstore, they go online, all the while thinking indies don't care about them or understand their needs. I've seen this phenomenon over and over again and I believe there's a real opportunity for general-interest indies to make inroads into the fan community, if only they'll take the time and interest.

I understand that there are constraints. Shelf space is limited. Staff time is limited. Small presses often present unattractive selling terms that make it difficult or impossible for many bookstores to buy from them. But I also believe more can be done. Put George R.R. Martin and Robert Jordan on a spinner and fill the shelf with a deeper selection from mainstream presses and bigger small presses, keep a copy of Locus in the staff room and find someone on staff to make a project of the section, including creative displays and events. Promote to the fan community. Small efforts can add up.

I would really love to see more booksellers attend ReaderCon and put all this information to use in their stores, and for ReaderCon to include more people from the local literary community as well. SF specialty stores are rare; independent bookstores have an opportunity to find something different for their shelves and reach out to the fan community through displays, small-press evenings and other events- just by getting to know it better. I'd love to see ReaderCon reach out to independent bookstores in the Boston area especially, since the conference takes place here every year. And I'd love to see booksellers included on panels like the Year in Novels and others, to bring that perspective to the event and build relationships between booksellers and the very knowledgeable critics who routinely attend and participate in the conference. I was surprised to learn how few of the people I know in the local book world even know about Readercon. That should change!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Telegraph Avenue Readalong: The Church of Vinyl

So things are moving along in the lives of Michael Chabon's characters, albeit slowly. Gwen's mishap from part one is developing consequences, as is Archy's from 12 years ago if you want to put it like that. The fight over the future of Brokeland Records intensifies as the community rallies to support it at the same time that expectant father Archy is offered a job with Dogpile, the company moving in to build an urban superstore in Berkeley.

Telegraph Avenue is very definitely a style- and language-driven novel. As others have mentioned there are many quotable and memorable lines throughout the book; Chabon writes with a deliberate rhythm and verve. I wish his plot kept pace with his linguistic acrobatics. Reading the book itself is going very smoothly for me; I float along on the crest of Chabon's word-waves, letting the current pull me into the shore (plot) every now and then, but mostly enjoying the musicality of Chabon's language. I am a plot reader so books whose primary appeal factors are not plot are not usually books that hold my attention. But this one is.

I'm looking forward to seeing where it all leads.

You can follow more readalong posts at As the Crowe Flies (and Reads). Thanks to Emily and HarperCollins again for the readalong.

Pre-order from Powells.com:
Telegraph Avenue
by Michael Chabon
I'm a Powell's affiliate and receive a small commission on sales.

I received an ARC of this book from HarperCollins in exchange for participating in the readalong.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Readercon 2012- Some of the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year and What I Bought

So one of the big reasons I attend ReaderCon, the annual festival/conference of science fiction and fantasy every year is to attend sessions on the best books of the year and get ideas about what to read. I don't read a lot of science fiction but I like to dip my toe in a little and learn. And every year I come back with ideas and lots of new books.

I bought three books this year:
Redemption in Indigo, by Karen Lord, was on last year's list of best science fiction and fantasy. It's a retelling of a Senegalese folk tale about a glutton whose wife leaves him, and the powers she gains. It's published by the great Small Beer Press.

Her Smoke Rose Up Forever is a collection of short stories by James Tiptree Jr., and some of Tiptree's only work that's in print. Tiptree was the pseudonym for author Alice Sheldon. She was known for edgy, feminist science fiction and so far I'd have to agree with that assessment! I see a lot of Margaret Atwood in Tiptree.

Finally, and this is more fun, I picked up 24 Frames into the Future, a collection of essays about science fiction film and movie culture by John Scalzi, author of many novels and stories. Each essay is about 2-3 pages long and many are very, very funny.

But what made folks' best-of lists this year? Four critics gathered for the Year in Novels panel, offered their picks and then asked for audience favorites.

ReaderCon's Year in Novels tracks novels from the ReaderCon year rather than the calendar year, so from July 2011 through July 2012.

The panel was made up of four critics: Don D'Ammassa, Natalie Luhrs, Gary K. Wolfe and Lisa Gruen Trombi. Several agreed that Kim Stanley Robinson's recent 2312 was a standout and also enjoyed China Mieville's Embassytown and Railsea as well. Caitlin Kiernan's The Drowing Girl received a lot of praise, and Wolfe said that Tim Powers' Hide Me Among the Graves was "the best fantasy of 2011." It's a historical fantasy about the Rosettis, telling the "secret history" of the family between the lines of known history. I may well look out for that one!  

The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun, by N.K. Jemisin, stood out for its "great worldbuilding"; inspired by ancient Egypt, one critic called it "multilayered" and "wonderful." Osama by Lavie Tidhar is unavailable currently in the U.S. but was praised for the risk-taking by author Tidhar, who recreates the real world as fiction within fiction. Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore was a YA pick with Cashore receiving praise as one of the most thoughtful writers for young adults.

The audiobook of Bitterblue was noted as a standout as well, as was the audio of John Scalzi's Redshirts, narrated by Wil Wheaton.

Audience picks included A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. The critics noted great early buzz for Iain M. Banks' forthcoming Hydrogen Sonata and Paolo Bacigalupi's Drowned Cities, which is out now.

On Sunday the 2011 Shirley Jackson Awards were handed out to the following writers and works:

  • "The Corpse Painter's Masterpiece," by M. Rickert, won in the Short Fiction category. It appeared in the Sept./Oct. 2011 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.
  • After the Apocalypse: Stories, by Maureen McHugh and published by Small Beer Press, won for Single Author Collection.
  • Ghosts by Gaslight, edited by Jack Dann and Nick Gevers, published by Harper Voyager, won for Anthology.
  • "Near Zennor," by Elizabeth Hand, won for Novella. It was published in A Book of Horrors, published by Jo Fletcher Books.
  • "The Summer People" by Kelly Link won best Novelette. It was published in Tin House 49/Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories, Candlewick Press.
  • Witches on the Road Tonight, by Sheri Holman, won Best Novel. It was published by Grove Press.
The Shirley Jackson Award recognizes horror, psychological suspense and the dark fantastic. This year Jackson's daughter Sarah Hyman DeWitt honored us with an appearance and wonderful stories about her mother,  a very kind and loving person.

Of the books mentioned, I want to read 2312, Witches on the Road Tonight and Hide Me Among the Graves. I tend to wait for paperbacks so I'll get them later on.

Now you know what to look for on the science fiction shelf of your local independent bookstore! Happy reading!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

REVIEW: The Shape of Water, by Andrea Camilleri

The Shape of Water, by Andrea Camilleri. Published 2005 by Penguin. ISBN 9780142004715

Since there aren't enough Massimo Carlotto books in English to sate my need for Mediterranean noir, and because I've become interested in the genre, I've been looking for more Italian mystery/crime writers to read, and foremost among them seems to be Mr. Andrea Camilleri, author of over a dozen books starring Inspector Salvo Montalbano, the most respected detective in the Sicilian town of Vigàta.

Like the rest of crime-fiction Italy, Vigàta is a cesspool of corruption and vice. "The Pasture," a stretch of territory given over to a seedy nightlife of prostitutes and drugs, is central to this corruption, and it's here that Silvio Lupanello is found dead, exposed with his pants around his knees. His death appears to be via natural causes, but that doesn't stop the rumor mill, and it doesn't stop Montalbano, who smells a rat.

As Montalbano digs into Lupanello's family and business dealings, he opens up the usual hornet's nest of scandal, secrets and sex. What makes this book so much fun is Montalbano, a brainy, funny, genuinely nice guy who is nonetheless fully cognizant of the dark side of humanity. Oh, and he likes a nice meal now and then, too. The solution to the puzzle was one I hadn't anticipated but it made sense and it was the kind of thing I've come to expect from reading Carlotto. That doesn't mean it was dull or predictable though! And if I didn't mention it, it's also funny.

I really enjoyed this first entry in the Montalbano series and have already purchased the second, The Terra-Cotta Dog, to read later this summer. I don't know if I'll make it to all 14 that Penguin has published but I'm definitely going to keep this series on my radar. It doesn't hurt that Penguin is publishing them in beautiful and highly-covetable paperbacks. Already when I see them at the bookstore I always take a minute to put them in correct series order so that fans like me can easily pick the next one off the shelf. If you like crime fiction, do take a look for them!

Rating: BEACH

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Telegraph Avenue Readalong- Dream of Cream

So I'm through part one of Telegraph Avenue, entitled "Dream of Cream" after the favorite pastry of Archy, one of the main characters. The first part is composed of several strands of action and characters, but the main thrust involves two families and the demise of the American Dream in the form of a used-record store, a hip little decades-old joint serving collectors of rarified jazz and recent gems.

The owners are a Jewish family who've served the community for years, built a community of music lovers. A big company wants to build an all-purpose superstore of urban music and culture- including a used-record department- in a local mall. At the same time, Archy's got problems. His wife's pregnant and convinced he's cheating on her. She is a midwife with problems of her own, and there's more than that.

I will admit I have a somewhat shaky grasp on the characters and their relationships to one another. Chabon's style strikes me as flowery and almost over-descriptive; this is the first book of his I've read, and I've been reading a lot crime fiction and noirs lately, which are very different in style. I've therefore been finding the book a little difficult to penetrate. When I can force myself to slow down and linger over his lengthy descriptions, asides and tangents, it's fascinating and absorbing, and he is certainly an excellent stylist with a skill with language.  I'm going to read the rest of the posts from the readalong bloggers, then take a deep breath and dive into part two.

I'll be back next Tuesday with another post! Check out As the Crowe Flies (And Reads) for the rest of the readalong.

Pre-Order from Powell's:
Telegraph Avenue
by Michael Chabon
 I'm a Powell's partner and receive a small commission on sales.

I received an ARC of Telegraph Avenue, out in September, from HarperCollins for the readalong.

Monday, July 9, 2012

REVIEW: Bandit Love, by Massimo Carlotto

Bandit Love, by Massimo Carlotto. Published 2010 by Europa Editions. Fiction. Crime Fiction. Translation.

The thing I really enjoy about Massimo Carlotto's novels, or at least about the four that I've read, is that they're all really different from each other in style and tone, but they all retain the distinctive Carlotto attitude and cynicism. Case in point: Bandit Love, which I understand is the fifth in his "Alligator" series about ex-con/private investigator Marco Buratti, is refreshing and different from the other books of his I've read, but you can still tell it's a Carlotto, full of both the verve and the bitterness I've come to expect, and every bit as much trashy fun as his other books.

The story concerns the kidnapping of the girlfriend of one of the Alligator's buddies; Sylvie is a beautiful dancer who is snatched off the street in retaliation for- what exactly? Finding out what's behind Sylvie's kidnapping and finding her takes up about the half of the book. Once Buratti and company have penetrated the Serbian/Kosovar narco-ring that took Sylvie, they have to clean up the aftermath, and that's when the real fun begins.

Typical of Carlotto's books, we have corruption, drugs, sex, violence and money. Atypically, we have a hero/good guy who's actually a good guy, albeit one willing to use deadly force. In the other Carlottos I've read, either the hero is a messed up antihero as bad as his opponents (Death's Dark Abyss) or a gleeful psychopath you love to hate (The Goodbye Kiss) or just kind of a no-account you don't care about one way or the other (Poisonville). I liked Buratti's blasé attitude, wisecracking and loyalty, and I liked his buddies too. Basically all they want is to do the right thing, protect themselves and those they care about. Also typically we have women taking the brunt of the abuse but we also have a femme fatale who manages to elude capture and justice, and whose fate appears to be the subject of the subsequent book, which I believe is not translated yet.

I had fun reading Bandit Love. It's not my favorite Carlotto (that would be The Goodbye Kiss) but it was a fun, entertaining and page-turning noir from one of my favorite practitioners of the genre.  If you read crime fiction, you really, really need to add him to your pile. And Europa Editions, if you're reading, please bring me more Massimo, pronto. I only have one left and I'm going to need more soon.

This is the 10th book I've read for the 2012 Europa Challenge.


FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Saturday Snapshot- Where I Spent Last Week

I spent most of last week sitting on various lawn chairs and sofas on beautiful Nantucket, Mass., with my husband's family. There were picnics, shopping, beaches, fireworks and more. It was a great week! (There was reading, too- 4 crime novels, with reviews coming soon.)

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy Fourth of July!

Happy Fourth of July to my American readers. I hope you have a great day of barbecues, fireworks, music and whatever else you do to celebrate. Enjoy!!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Telegraph Avenue Readalong, Oh My!

I am thrilled and delighted to be participating in a pre-publication readalong captained by Emily of As the Crowe Reads of Michael Chabon's new novel Telegraph Avenue! The book comes on on September 11, 2012, but thanks to Emily and HarperCollins we not only get to read it early but we are sanctioned to blog about it early!

Emily is a superstar bookseller at Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley, Mass., and she put this together with cooperation from Chabon and his editor as well as the great folks at HarperCollins. If you're not reading Emily's blog, do it!

So, I chose to participate in this readalong because I've never read Michael Chabon's books before and I thought this would be a great opportunity to check him out and have a fun community activity. I know some of the participating bloggers but not all, and I think Emily is just amazing. I collected a few of Chabon's books when I was in the synagogue library biz but somehow never got around to actually reading them, this despite the universal praise and fandom he's garnered. So there! That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Now I'm gonna go check out Chabon's!

I'll be back with readalong posts each Tuesday in July.

You can buy the book online from Powells.com:

Telegraph Avenue
by Michael Chabon
I'm a Powell's partner and receive a small commission on sales.

Monday, July 2, 2012

REVIEW: The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, by Jan-Philipp Sendker

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, by Jan-Philipp Sendker. Published 2012 by Other Press. Literary Fiction. Translated from the German by Kevin Wiliarty.

As a bookseller, my job is to sell books to customers, but almost just as often they sell books to me. I'll start to talk to a customer about a book he or she is looking at, and before I know it I'm hearing all about how that book is a favorite of hers or his, and how I should read it right away. Such was the case with Jan-Philipp Sendker's lovely The Art of Hearing Heartbeats; the customer told me it was the perfect light love story, just delightful. Of course it didn't hurt that the customer in this case was the woman who heads the house that published it, so of course I was going to take her advice and get the book!

And right she was. The Art of Hearing Heartbeats marks German author Jan-Philipp Sendker's English-language debut, and it is a charmer. It's the story of a young woman named Julia whose enigmatic Burmese father has disappeared, and she's taken off to Burma to find him with no more than a mysterious love letter to a woman named Mi Mi for guidance. What she learns surprises her, angers her, moves her and finally changes her.

Julia's father, born Tin Win and orphaned young, never wanted to talk about the first twenty years of his life. His American wife and daughter knew an intensely private man who loved them but kept them at a distance; when he left them he destroyed what remained of their family, and Julia is filled with rancor. She wants to confront him, ask him why and get an answer. She finds out that his life was something she never imagined, that Mi Mi was also something different from the temptress she and her mother made her out to be, and that his fate is almost enough to break her heart.

More than that I don't want to say because the pleasure of the book is letting these lives unfold on the page. I sort of wish Sendker had told Tin Win's story without Julia; she didn't add much and I wish I could tell writers that it's okay to tell a story like this one without some modern American person as a framing device. Readers can handle people from the past or people from other cultures speaking for themselves, and those modern characters always seem to come loaded with modern baggage, pop psychology rants and other nonsense that distracts from the main thrust of the story.

Besides that I really enjoyed the tenderness and the sweet love story that develops, as well as its tear-inducing ending. The writing is fluid and the plot moves along smoothly. It's definitely a literary hammock book, perfect armchair travel for a sunny summer day. I think lots of readers would enjoy this very enjoyable book.

Rating: BEACH

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.