Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Review: SUMMERTIME, ALL THE CATS ARE BORED, by Philippe Georget

Summertime, All the Cats Are Bored, by Philippe Georget. Published 2013 by Europa Editions.

Summertime, All the Cats Are Bored is the perfect mystery beach read with what might be the best title ever. It evokes sun, ennui and long days filled with both. (The original French title is L'été, tous les chats s'ennuient) Set in the Mediterranean resort town of Perpignan, the story concerns a series of murders and kidnappings in which the victims are mostly young Dutch women on vacation. First, a retiree finds a dead woman on the beach. Then, detectives Gilles Sebag and Jacques Molina are brought in to investigate the disappearance of a Spanish cab driver which quickly becomes tied to the kidnapping of a second woman, and then we're off to the races.

I have to say, I loved this book. I did not want to put it down. Unburdened by anything resembling important social issues, it's just a good old fashioned thriller with a delicious sense of place and setting. Sebag is a happily married man with kids, an anomaly among detective-novel detectives, and his thing is he loves his coffee, so we are treated to some very descriptive scenes of him enjoying (or not) his java.  And the whole thing just feels sun-drenched and beautiful despite the horror beneath. I could see All the Cats being made into a really great art-house whodunit on the big screen. Even though I know who did it, I would totally go see it.

So this one gets a big thumbs-up from me for crime fans. It's satisfying, enjoyable and riveting; Georget alternates the perspectives so we hear from the detectives, the kidnapping victim, and the kidnapper in turn, and he builds some wrenching suspense along the way. The case makes Sebag a little crazy; he starts imagining that his beautiful wife is unfaithful, and this plot adds some urgency and creepiness that I thought worked well. All in all I think this is a great fun book!

This is my 13th book of 2013 for this year's Europa Challenge.

Rating: BEACH

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

Monday, July 22, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I finished Fallen Land, Patrick Flanery's new book out last month, and enjoyed it a lot. It's a fever-dream of horror and suspense. Flanery seems really interested in issues of paranoia and safety in a suburban landscape; his book Absolution covered this ground in a different way and I really enjoyed the way he raised these issues in both books. I think Fallen Land will be more relatable as it's set in America in a milieu more familiar to American readers, but he distorts it not unlike Margaret Atwood distorted America in The Handmaid's Tale. The trick with Fallen Land is it's not technically a dystopia. Or is it?

I'm still in the thick of The Son, Philipp Meyer's future classic about the Comanche wars and Texas. I also started Swimming to Elba, a coming of age story by Silvia Avallone set in a gritty Italian town not far from the eponymous island.  It was a finalist for the prestigious Strega Prize.

I also started Ruth Ozeki's dark and delightful A Tale for the Time Being, about two women, one in Japan and one in America, one of whom communicates with the other via her diary which washed up after the tsunami of 2011. It's a wonderful book and I can't wait to finish and tell you more.

On the audio front, I've started How the Irish Saved Civilization, by Thomas Cahill, which I'm enjoying also. I wanted to get in some extra Irish history before my trip in the fall. It's delightful!

What about you? See more at BookJourney.wordpress.com.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

15 Day Book Blogging Challenge: Day 2

I saw this meme on Magical Doorways, a new-to-me book blog written by the very cool blogger and all-around book person Helen. She's great and I love her blog, so I decided to crib this meme which originally came from GoodBooksandGoodWine.com
It's a 15-day series but I will do them on a now-and-then basis. 
Day 2's topic: What's your bedtime reading ritual?
I keep a nonfiction book by my bedside for bedtime reading; I read one chapter a night. That's it. I don't read more than that; it's usually just enough so that I'm tired enough to sleep by the time I'm done. If the chapter is longer than 20 or so pages I'll just read until I feel like stopping but I try to end each night's reading at the end of a chapter. I don't read in bed every day so when I do I like to stop at a good stopping point so to speak.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Review: DOUBLE CROSS, by Ben Macintyre

Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies, by Ben Macintyre. Published 2012 by Broadway. Nonfiction.

Earlier this year I read the great book Agent Zigzag, about World War 2 double agent Eddie Chapman, an Englishman recruited by the Germans to spy on the British, then recruited by the British to spy on them. Chapman was part of a program run by MI5 called Double Cross, a system that  MI5 used to feed misinformation to the Germans throughout the war, involving many agents from different walks of life. These agents were used in a variety of operations, the most spectacular of which was the deception leading up to the invasion of Normandy, the crucial turning point for the Allies on their way to victory.

Double Cross tells the story of the program and the way that five agents planted the deception and helped it grow. Dushko Popov, a Serbian playboy, Lilli Sergeyev, a Franco-Russian artist, Elvira Chaudois, a Peruvian socialite, Juan Pujol Garcia, a Spanish civil servant, and Roman Czerniawski, a Polish military intelligence officer, worked independently with MI5 handlers to manipulate agents of the Abwehr, the German intelligence agency, into believing that the D-Day landing would take place on the Pas de Calais and not the Normandy beaches. A sixth agent, Johnny Jebsen, was also pivotal to the deception and could be said to be the true hero of the Double Cross system; Macintyre also tells his story here, and it's one you won't forget.

The story of Double Cross is really the story of the relationships between the spies and their handlers, both German and British, and Macintyre tells us much about how both intelligence services worked. We meet characters like Thomas Argyll "Tar" Robertson, head of the Double Cross system and other handlers like John Masterman and Guy Liddell. How they did or didn't get along with their charges would have a big influence on the success of the deception. Macintyre goes into each agent's story in detail so by the time they are needed for the D-Day operation, we know their stories in depth. Macintyre also tells us about other aspects of the deception, such as the story of the double-agent pigeons and various crises that threaten to blow the whole thing.

I loved this book. I was hooked on it from beginning to end and hung on every word. John Lee, narrator of the audio, does a great job holding the listener's attention. He brings the characters to life with accents and mannerisms that flesh them out without being distracting. He is particularly effective with the more comic elements of the story also. There is just so much to enjoy about this book. Macintyre's writing is fresh, engaging and accessible; he combines the thorough research of a top-notch journalist with the punchy writing of a detective novelist into a thoroughly enjoyable, fascinating and memorable package. I've already bought his book Operation Mincemeat and can't wait to get to it. There are so many crazy stories behind World War 2, so many improbable, unlikely and just plain bizarre things that went on and Macintyre illuminates a corner of the espionage game here and in his other books.  If you are interested in World War 2 history you have to read this guy!

Rating: BUY!!!!

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

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Review: WINTER JOURNAL, by Paul Auster

Winter Journal, by Paul Auster. Published 2012 by Henry Holt. Nonfiction. Memoir. Audiobook narrated by the author.

I've been a fan of author Paul Auster since college; after I read The New York Trilogy I was hooked for life. Which is not to say I've kept up with his fiction completely because I haven't but every now and then I dip in to his work and always enjoy it. Naturally I was intrigued by his memoir and the good reviews it got. And it did not disappoint.

Auster tells the story of his life (so far) in the second person- "you," which was alarming at first but I settled into it quickly. If anything, and maybe particularly because I listened to the book, it was nice not to hear "I, I, I" over and over. Narrating it in the second person created an intimacy and an immediacy the first person could not, because it forced me as the listener/reader to place myself within the story.

And it's a very engaging story. For the first part of the book, Auster uses the many places he has lived as a framing device. We go with him from his parents' house to various apartments both in the United States and France, where he lived on and off for years, to his home with his first wife (unnamed in the text but she was Lydia Davis, the renowned author and translator), then his second (respected writer Siri Hustvedt), along with his two children. All this comes to an end with the death of his mother, clearly a central event in his life. After the death of his mother the narrative loosens and becomes a series of anecdotes and stories about her, his father, his childhood and his later life with Hustvedt and the family they create.

I followed every word with interest. Auster tells his story beautifully, full of detail and character and personality. He also reads it very well; he's an excellent narrator of his own story. Sometimes I get a little nervous when I see "narrated by the author" on an audio book because narration is a particular skill that's sometimes best left to professional actors, but Auster carries it off with polish.  In the end Winter Journal is a very moving and engaging meditation on life, love, family and coming to the end of life. For memoir and biography fans, and fans of Auster, I can't recommend it highly enough.

Rating: BUY

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

Monday, July 15, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

So last week I finished a couple of books:  Summertime, All the Cats are Bored, a great thriller from Philippe Georget, and The Bone Man, by Wolf Haas, which has to be a silliest crime novel I've ever read. This month I'm reading only 2013 releases, but the books I'm reading now are meaty and substantial and will probably take me the rest of the month to finish. Therefore, you may be hearing about them in Monday posts for a while yet.

The Son, by Philipp Meyer, is an amazing-so-far Western set mostly in Texas and detailing the lives of several generations of the McCullough family. Eli is taken hostage by a Comanche group after his family is killed, and grows up among them. His son Peter deals with his father's complicated legacy in a bloody and merciless world. Peter's granddaughter Jeanine is an oil executive in the modern era, elderly and questioning her life. So we get an adolescent, an adult and an elder, looking at different points in their lives. It's fascinating and multilayered. So far I really recommend it for literary fiction readers.

Then I'm reading Fallen Land by Patrick Flanery, which is out next month. Flanery wrote the stunning book Absolution and so far this follow up is very promising. It's also about a legacy of violence, this time set in middle America and concerning racism and greed. Which The Son is sort of about, too.

So that's it for me. I expect these two to take me a while so I don't know how many more books I'll read before August and England/Ireland Month. What are you reading?

See more at Bookjourney.wordpress.com.

Friday, July 12, 2013

15-Day Book Blogging Challenge: Day 1

I saw this meme on Magical Doorways, a new-to-me book blog written by the very cool blogger and all-around book person Helen. She's great and I love her blog, so I decided to crib this meme which originally came from GoodBooksandGoodWine.com
It's a 15-day series but I will do them on a now-and-then basis.  Here's the full list:
(1) Make 15 book related confessions
(2) What's your bedtime reading ritual?
(3) Who are your blogging BFFS?
(4) What's the last book you flung across the room?
(5) Recommend a tear-jerker.
(6) Describe how you shop for books
(7) Talk about your blogging quirks.
(8) Quick! Write 15 bullet points of things that appeal to you on blogs.
(9) Why do you blog about books?
(10) How do you choose which book to read next?
(11) Show off! 5 of your best blog posts.
(12) How do you fight blogger fatigue?
(13) Describe one underappreciated book EVERYONE should read
(14) Tell us your deal breakers.
(15) Who are your book blogging mentors?

  1. I own an e-reader and hardly ever use it. I'm a print lady. Even if it means my house is overflowing with books, I can't really get into e-books. I do use my e-reader sometimes when I travel, but rarely, and basically I don't know where my e-reader is right now it's been so long since I've had any desire to use it. I tried, but... nah.
  2. I'm a border-line book hoarder.  I do weed sometimes, but only so I can clear a path from my door to my furniture.
  3. I use my books as coasters and tables sometimes. I have a couple of paperbacks that have been ruined by spaghetti sauce and tea. I ruined a book by spilling yogurt on it once. Ewww.
  4. I dog-ear. I'm trying to be more consistent about using bookmarks but I don't always. Even though I make and sell fabric bookmarks, and make some for myself too, I still dog-ear. My husband and I have had semi-fights about my poor reading habits in this regard.
  5. I'm a collector. I collect first editions of Booker Prize winners, hardcover illustrated copies of Jane Eyre and other first editions, particularly of my favorite authors Margaret Atwood and A.S.Byatt. I own nothing particularly valuable but many that are valuable to me.
  6. I never had enough books growing up. I think that's why I have so many now. My parents would seldom buy me books and I relied on the library, yard sales and when I was lucky enough to have a little money, the used bookstore. Now that I review, work for a bookstore and live in a used-bookstore-rich community, I can have all the books.
  7. I've collected over 100 books published by Europa Editions, between review copies and what I buy new or used. I've read about 50.
  8. Crime novels have been my guilty pleasure for a long time. I read The Silence of the Lambs in high school after seeing the movie and loved it. Before I discovered classy crime novels by publishers like Melville House and Soho and Europa, I read James Patterson. I... don't do that anymore though.
  9. When I was a kid and spent a lot of time in libraries, I would procrastinate so much on returning books that I had my library card revoked twice. This is part of the reason I'm a buyer and not a borrower now.
  10. I can agree that sometimes people in independent bookstores can be snobs. I work really hard to treat all my customers with respect and to be thankful for them, regardless of what they ask me for or what they're buying. I can't stop myself from thinking things sometimes though!
  11. Sometimes I get tired of trying to be open-minded about genre fiction and just want to read my snooty little Euro books. Sue me.
  12. I prefer paperbacks to hardbacks. This is one reason I like galleys. I can have a new book and it's a softcover. If I can't get a galley of a book I want, I will usually wait for the paperback. When I buy hardbacks I almost never read them right away. Usually because of the size of my TBR piles I don't get to it till the paperback comes out anyway and then I feel like an idiot.
  13. I sometimes daydream about better ways to organize my books, but seldom follow through and change anything.
  14. I hate double-stacking books on the shelves but I have to do it because there is simply not enough room.
  15. I used to be really fussy about arranging my books in descending order of height, but I have too many to be that particular anymore.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Review: A DARK REDEMPTION, by Stav Sherez

A Dark Redemption, by Stav Sherez. Published 2013 by Europa Editions. Fiction. Crime Fiction.

Well, this one's definitely going to end up on my best list this year.

A Dark Redemption is a gripping, gritty and violent mystery set in contemporary London involving an African warlord, the phenomenon of child soldiers and a secret in the past of Detective Jack Carrigan, one of two investigators assigned to the case of Grace Okele, a Ugandan student found dead and mutilated in her London flat. His partner, Geneva Miller, has been assigned to him as a kind of spy, to keep an eye on his work and report back to her superior. Their relationship forms of the core of the story, which takes Carrigan back to his student days, a tragic vacation to Uganda with his friends Ben and David, and more deaths.

Ben and Jack  have kept in touch over the years, though their friendship strains under the weight of their shared trauma and the fact that Ben is married to the love of Jack's life, Olivia. Their idyllic family life contrasts with Carrigan's self-imposed solitude. Why do detectives always have to be bitter single men? Actually they don't; in the book I'm reading now, Summertime All the Cats Are Bored, the detective is married with two kids. But I digress. Carrigan is a more typical example of the slightly misanthropic bitter loner. He doesn't trust Miller and he shouldn't, but she warms to Carrigan and they have a very Mulder and Scully vibe which I liked.

That aside, it's a great book. It's very suspenseful, full of twists and turns, and offers a satisfying ending. Carrigan isn't perfect; he makes a couple of bonehead moves like not telling Ben when pictures of Ben's kids show up to indicate they're being stalked but you shouldn't worry too much about that. I loved how the issue of the child soldiers added urgency and tragedy to the story; I like it when crime writers bring up social issues and problems and weave them into their page-turning plots. It makes the books more than just light entertainments; I learn something, too.

Anyway I loved this book. The next book in the Carrigan/Miller series, Eleven Days, is out in the UK now and will be out here next year, but I'm not going to wait. When I go to London this fall I'm going to be sure to pick it up, and I strongly recommend crime readers pick up A Dark Redemption as soon as possible!

This is my 12th book for the 2013 Europa Challenge.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Europa Editions.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


The Illusion of Separateness, by Simon Van Booy. Published 2013 by HarperCollins. Literary Fiction.

Simon Van Booy has made a name for himself in literary circles with his lovely, poet writing, beautiful love stories and moving short stories. I feel like his latest, The Illusion of Separateness, will be the book that brings him to the attention of the wider reading public.

It's a series of connected short stories about a cast of characters whose stories range much of the 20th century and into the 21st. Martin is a French baker living in California; Amelia a wealthy blind woman living in the Hamptons; John is a British soldier in World War 2; Victor Hugo is a disfigured and amnesiac older man living on the margins. Their stories, and those of other characters, are connected in ways both known and unknown to each other. Van Booy's characteristic poetic writing weaves them together beautifully.

The Illusion of Separateness is definitely a character- and voice-driven book, not long on plot but containing rich character studies and memorable writing. At the same time it raises questions about our responsibilities to others and to ourselves, and how we should view the disadvantaged among us. Who knows who that person might be, what his story is, how his life might touch or have touched our own. There but for the grace of God, as they say.  Illusion posits that we are all closer than we think to each other, that our stories overlap and interlock in ways that might be unlikely or strange but nonetheless true, and asks us to think of others in this way and treat them accordingly. I think it would make an excellent book club choice as there is much material for discussion. It's a lovely, moving read that many readers would enjoy.


FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the publisher.

Monday, July 8, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Well, crime-fiction month finished strong with Stav Sherez's great A Dark Redemption, a mystery about a murder tied to African warlords and child soldiers. It's seriously one of the best books I've read all year. It's violent and gritty, with great twists and turns and stars a terrific investigating duo.

This month's theme is 2013 releases, which will be easy because I have a stack of galleys right next to my reading chair just begging to be opened. I read two already; Jenni Fagan's debut The Panopticon and Simon Van Booy's much-lauded The Illusion of Separateness. Both were good in their own ways but the winner was Illusion. I think lots of readers would really love that. Panopticon is a different kind of book, flashier I think, but Van Booy's is really excellent.

Now? Now I'm reading Summertime, All the Cats Are Bored, by Philippe Georget, another entry in Europa Editions' World Noir series and a truly gripping noir set in the Roussillon region of France. It's another winner.
Also really great so far is Philipp Meyers' The Son, a sprawling epic about the American West. I've heard it described by people who don't work for HarperCollins as "a classic," and so far I'm impressed.

I'll get back to regular blogging soon. Life has been topsy-turvy between being sick and having two deaths in the family in the last six weeks. I'm lucky if I know where I'm waking up from day to day. I miss you guys!

More What Are You Reading at BookJourney.wordpress.com.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

What's New On The Shelf?

Lots of things.

I went on a Reinaldo Arenas binge and bought The Doorman, Old Rosa and Hallucinations; his books show up relatively rarely in used or new bookstores, so when I see 'em, I grab 'em. I'm still missing volumes 3 and 5 of his Pentagonia series; they're just really hard to find.

I got Old Rosa at the Strand in New York and the other two at Raven Used Books in Harvard Square. I love those stores!
I got London Under by Peter Ackroyd from work; it's a history of the underground of London, not just the public transportation system but all the stuff under the sidewalks of the city. I thought it would be fun to read to prepare for my trip.

I picked up The Book and The Brotherhood by Iris Murdoch at one of my favorite used bookstores, the Montague Book Mill. Because you can never have too much Iris Murdoch in your life.

What's new on your shelf this week?