Monday, February 27, 2012

Voice of the Violin

I think I need to start wearing my reading glasses while i take pictures. Focusing without them isn't working for me with the camera.

Voice of the Violin is the 4th book in Andrea Camilleri's Inspector Montalbano series and is one of the ones The Husband bought me for Christmas. I've enjoyed each of these in this series. The plots are interesting and the characters fun to read.

from the back of the book:
Montalbano's gruesome discovery of a lovely, naked young woman suffocated in her bed immediately sets him on a search for her killer. Among the suspects are her aging husband, a famous doctor; a shy admirer, now disappeared; an antiques-dealing lover from Bologna; and the victim's friend Anna, whose charms Montalbano cannot help but appreciate....

EuroCrime says it's "a perfect example of all that is good about this series." The Crime Segments says, "The core mystery is excellent -- as is the path to its solution" and concludes, "Definitely recommended to all readers of crime fiction, whether you like your crime deep and satisfyingly bad or a bit on the lighter side." Kirkus Reviews says, "Camilleri has ample opportunity to showcase Montalbano’s droll misanthropy in his shaggiest adventure to date."

I've read these:

1. The Shape of Water
2. The Terra-Cotta Dog
3. The Snack Thief
5. Excursion to Tindari
6. The Smell of Night
9. The Paper Moon
10. August Heat
11. The Wings of the Sphinx
12. The Track of Sand

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski has been in my tbr stack for what seems like years. It can't have been that long... This is the author's debut novel, published in 2008. I enjoyed the book and found it a good and fascinating read, but I admit I'm not planning on a re-read very soon.

publisher overview:
Born mute, speaking only in sign, Edgar Sawtelle leads an idyllic life on his family's farm in remote northern Wisconsin where they raise and train an extraordinary breed of dog. But when tragedy strikes, Edgar is forced to flee into the vast neighboring wilderness, accompanied by only three yearling pups. Struggling for survival, Edgar comes of age in the wild, and must face the choice of leaving forever or revealing the terrible truth behind what has happened. A riveting family saga as well as a brilliant exploration of the limits of language, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is destined to become a modern classic.

The author has a site here. Oprah featured it as one of her book club selections and has a reader's guide here. The Washington Post calls it an "American Hamlet". The Chicago Tribune calls it "meaty, masterly" and "ambitious, accomplished" and even likes its few flaws, saying, "Is it not, after all, the blemish in beauty that most enchants us?" EW gives it an "A". Kirkus Reviews concludes:
An auspicious debut: a boon for dog lovers, and for fans of storytelling that eschews flash. Highly recommended.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party

The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party by Alexander McCall Smith is the latest in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series and is just as enjoyable as the others. I got this one in a hardback edition for Christmas, so it doesn't match the others on the shelf. I know, I know, life's so hard.

from the dust jacket:
The latest installment in the beloved, best-selling series is once again a beautiful blend of wit and wisdom, and a profoundly touching tale of the human heart.

At a remote cattle post south of Gaborone two cows have been killed, and Precious Ramotswe, Botswana’s No. 1 Lady Detective, is asked to investigate by a rather frightened and furtive gentleman. It is an intriguing problem with plenty of suspects—including, surprisingly, her own client.

To complicate matters, Mma Ramotswe is haunted by a vision of her dear old white van, and Grace Makutsi witnesses it as well. Is it the ghost of her old friend, or has it risen from the junkyard? In the meantime, one of Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni’s apprentices may have gotten a girl pregnant and, under pressure to marry her, has run away. Naturally, it is up to Precious to help sort things out. Add to the mix Violet Sephotho’s newly launched run for the Botswana Parliament and a pair of perfect wedding shoes—will wedding bells finally ring for Phuti Radiphuti and Grace Makutsi?—and we have a charming and delightful tale in the inimitable style of Alexander McCall Smith.

Memphis Reads has a summary. The Washington Times says, "This is Mr. McCall Smith at his benevolent best". Kirkus Reviews likes it.

I've read these others from this series:

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency
Tears of the Giraffe
Morality for Beautiful Girls
The Kalahari Typing School for Men
The Full Cupboard of Life
In the Company of Cheerful Ladies
Blue Shoes and Happiness
The Good Husband from Zebra Drive
Tea Time for the Traditionally Built
The Miracle at Speedy Motors
The Double Comfort Safari Club

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Strangers on a Train

I've never read the book or seen the movie, so I didn't know quite what to expect. I enjoyed this book -fascinating characters, interesting plot. I'm not sure how it happened that it took me so long to get around to this. It's worth reading more than once. Strangers on a Train is Patricia Highsmith's first novel.

from the back of the book:
The Psychologists would call it folie a deux...

'Bruno slammed his palms together. "Hey! Cheeses, what an idea! I kill your wife and you kill my father! We meet on a train, see, and nobody knows we know each other! Perfect alibis! Catch?"

From this moment, almost against his conscious will, Guy Haines is trapped in a nightmare of shared guilt and an insidious merging of personalities.

The Literature, Arts and Medicine Database calls it a "chilling psychodrama" and says, "The most disturbing aspect of this tale is its horrifying plausibility." The Post Gazette says,
one is struck by how Highsmith uses crime as a lens to peer into the sinister machinations of human behavior. At the core of her philosophical tales lurks a deep belief in our malleability -- we will do anything as long as it suits our needs.
The Wall Street Journal closes its review with this:
"Strangers on a Train" began Highsmith's career-long tour of the minds of characters who aren't comfortable in the world, and her edgy, original thrillers have always defied easy categorization. Even more popular now than when she was alive and writing, Highsmith stands as an utterly unique genre writer. She is, in the words of Graham Greene, a "poet of apprehension" whose work offers "cruel pleasures."

Saturday, February 18, 2012


It finally came to an end. Not much happened on the way there, though, and now I just want to move on, hoping Hand's trilogy has more to offer.

Glimmering is a 1997 post-apocalyptic science fiction novel by Elizabeth Hand.

from the back of the book:
It is 1999. The Last Days, or some say, the First. The climate has warmed dramatically, the cities have imploded into riotous shards, and the sky is a glimmering array of reds and greens and golds.

In fin de siecle New York, a millionaire publisher, a jaded rock star and the girl who, in her own way, loves them both are watching the waters rise as the cults begin the frenzies of the Night of the Thousand Years.

This breathtaking novel is Elizabeth Hand's audacious attempt to capture in one explosive story both the unspoken dreams and the unspeakable nightmares of her generation.

And she succeeds.
Dave Langford says, "Glimmering is enjoyable to read, though -- full of humanity and wit, lushly told". Infinity Plus is torn but ends up not liking it, saying, "It's as if there are two novels struggling for space here, and unfortunately the wrong one wins." SF Mistressworks says, "Hand has invented lilac prose." Chaotic Compendiums closes with this: "it takes us on a journey through what the end of the end may look like. To quote Kurt Cobain, "Here we are now. Entertain us."" Green Man Review has this:
I suspect that the ending of this story was meant to be transcendent on some level. I'm afraid that by the time it finally happened, the only reaction I could summon up was, "Yeah? So?" Take away the pyrotechnics in the sky and this story could have come out the gay literary establishment in the 1980s: HIV+ protagonist, ex-lover who's the bane of his existence, straight best friend who commits suicide, pretty young boy who's unavailable, a couple of wild parties, lots of introspection on the meaning of it all. The one difference is that Jack has sex with Nellie instead of his new love. Couldn't see that one coming, could we?
watch this instead:

It's all about 1999, and I found it much more enjoyable.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Man Walks Into a Room

A friend gave me this book some time ago, and it leapt out of the tbr stack and onto my bedside table, being tired of my neglect. It was a quick read but lacked resolution. Perhaps that was intentional. Man Walks Into a Room, the first book by Nicole Krauss, is a 2002 novel about a man who loses all memory from after he was 12 years old as a result of a brain tumor.

from the back of the book:
The brilliant debut of a new voice in fiction, hailed by Esquire magazine as "one of America’s best young writers."

Samson Greene, a young and popular professor at Columbia, is found wandering in the Nevada desert. When his wife, Anna, comes to bring him home, she finds a man who remembers nothing, not even his own name. The removal of a small brain tumor saves his life, but his memories beyond the age of twelve are permanently lost.

Here is the story of a strikingly intelligent, sensitive man returned to a life in which everything is strange and new. An emigrant in his own life, set free from everything and everyone who once defined him, Samson Greene believes he has nothing left to lose. So when a charismatic scientist asks him to participate in a bold experiment, he agrees. What he gains is nothing short of the beautifully painful revelation of what it means to be a human being.

EW says, "Krauss' prose is casually dazzling, as are the ideas she explores through Samson [the protagonist]" and calls Samson "a thoroughly riveting character." The Village Voice calls it "a chilling addition to the annals of amnesia lit" and says, "It's a novel that grapples with the ephemeral experience of being human". The NYTimes doesn't like it, saying it "fails to unite the myriad thematic strands involving memory and solitude, including many heavy-handed biblical allusions ... into a coherent whole." Kirkus Reviews opens its review with this:
There are some lovely moments (and echoes of early Saul Bellow) in this interestingly conceived first novel, but its somewhat attenuated account of an amnesiac’s quest for his missing years trails off into improbability and inconclusiveness.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Titus Awakes

It's all so sad. I remember when I first heard that a Gormenghast sequel had been found squirreled away in the author's attic. Exciting! As I heard more, I found that the sequel was Mervyn Peake's planned 4th and final novel in what I'd always known as the Gormenghast trilogy. Then I heard he hadn't completed it but that his author wife Maeve Gilmore had finished the book and that it had been found in her attic by a daughter (or a grand-daughter, I've read it both ways) after Gilmore's death. Not quite as stunning, but still... Only after I received the book for Christmas did I discover that Peake had left a completed first chapter and an outline. I worried a bit at that point. I read the first chapter with delight and fond memories of when I read Gormenghast long ago.

I wish I'd stopped after that first chapter. The rest of the book was hard to wade through. Although I'm sure Gilmore's work was of deep meaning and satisfaction to her, she did not seek its publication, and I think the Gormenghast legacy was better off without this addition.

from the back of Titus Awakes:
In Titus Awakes the 77th Earl of Groan leaves the crumbling castle of Gormenghast and finds the larger world even stranger than his birthplace.Confronted by elemental and human threats – snowstorms, shipwrecks and attempts on his life – Titus’ bravery is tested and he must fight to free himself from the claims of his past.

Peake began this fourth and final volume of the Gormenghast stories but died having only written a few pages. Using notes and the fragments he left behind, his wife, the writer and painter Maeve Gilmore, has created a richly imagined sequel that fans of The Gormenghast Trilogy will delight in.

The Telegraph says,
Maeve Gilmore’s book is a rather limp curiosity, and to attach it directly to Peake’s oeuvre was not a kindness. Furthermore it is an anorexic version of what Peake had already done in Titus Alone.
The Guardian has an article by their son, who says,
My mother was so moved by the tragedy of his early death, that she wanted to pick up the thread of his imagination and art by continuing the story herself. Little by little as the novel moves on, her voice comes through, so that by the end you are reading Maeve Gilmore, not Mervyn Peake.
The Los Angeles Times calls it "a fascinating, intensely personal homage."

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Lincoln Lawyer

The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly is the 1st book in the Mickey Haller detective series. I wasn't far into this before realizing I'd read it before and clearly remembered it. It's a good book, though, so I went ahead and re-read it. It's been adapted for the big screen, and most of the reviews I find are for the movie. The book is one of the most-awarded mysteries.

from the book jacket:
Mickey Haller has spent all his professional life afraid that he wouldn’t recognize innocence if it stood right in front of him. But what he should have been on the watch for was evil.

Haller is a Lincoln Lawyer, a criminal defense attorney who operates out of the back seat of his Lincoln Town Car, traveling between the far-flung courthouses of Los Angeles to defend clients of every kind. Bikers, con artists, drunk drivers, drug dealers — they’re all on Mickey Haller’s client list. For him, the law is rarely about guilt or innocence — it’s about negotiation and manipulation. Sometimes it’s even about justice.

A Beverly Hills playboy arrested for attacking a woman he picked up in a bar chooses Haller to defend him, and Mickey has his first high-paying client in years. It is a defense attorney’s dream, what they call a franchise case. And as the evidence stacks up, Haller comes to believe this may be the easiest case of his career.

Then someone close to him is murdered and Haller discovers that his search for innocence has brought him face-to-face with evil as pure as a flame. To escape without being burned, he must deploy every tactic, feint, and instinct in his arsenal — this time to save his own life.

Princeton Book Review calls it "a fast paced book that captivates your attention early and feels real".

I've read other books by this author but none other in this series.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

The Snack Thief

The Snack Thief is 3rd in a series of novels by Andrea Camilleri about Sicilian detective Inspector Salvo Montalbano. These make entertaining reads. The Husband gave me several of these for Christmas, and I'm pacing myself and not reading them all in a row. Some of the books have been dramatized, including this one, but I haven't seen them.

from the back of the book:
Never has Inspector Montalbano's character -a unique blend of humor, cynicism, compassion, earthiness, and love of good food- been more compelling than in The Snack Thief.

When an elderly man is stabbed to death in an elevator and a crewman on an Italian fishing trawler is machine-gunned by a Tunisian patrol boat off Sicily's coast, only Inspector Montalbano, with his keen insight into human nature, suspects a link between the two incidents. His investigation leads to the beautiful Karima, an impoverished housecleaner and sometime prostitute, whose young son steals other schoolchildren's mid-morning snacks. But when Karima disappears, and the young snack thief's life -as well as Montalbano's- is endangered, the inspector exposes a viper's nest of government corruption and international intrigue.

Eurocrime says, "Unflinching in its descriptions of life in the raw, yet with a sweet sense of place and yearning for simpler times, the tone is unerring." Memphis Reads has a review by Memphis librarian Doris Dixon which includes this:
In particular, I appreciated the insights the author offers into Sicily's politics and culture and the lives of its Tunisian immigrants. His depictions of the many people who annoy the Inspector are humorous. Other readers will no doubt enjoy Camilleri's lush descriptions of Sicilian cuisine.

I've read these:

1. The Shape of Water
2. The Terra-Cotta Dog
5. Excursion to Tindari
6. The Smell of Night
9. The Paper Moon
10. August Heat
11. The Wings of the Sphinx
12. The Track of Sand

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Bleak House

Bleak House by Charles Dickens is The Younger Son's favorite of Dickens' work. And now that I've read it, I understand why. How can you fault a novel with a death by spontaneous combustion? It is worth reading for that alone, and there's much more there to keep your interest. The characters are many but varied and not easy to confuse. The plot includes elements concerning both major and minor characters, both of a personal nature and concerning the legal system's dealing with conflicting wills. It contains one of the first English detectives in fiction -according to Wikipedia, Bleak House is "the first novel in which a detective plays a significant role". I find it fascinating. It was originally published in installments. It can be read online.

from the dust jacket of my Modern Library edition:
Dickens' great novel, famous for its attacks on the venerable court of Chancery, is an impassioned account of the celebrated Jarndyce versus Jarndyce court case. The heroine is Esther Hawdon, the illegitimate daughter of Lady Dedlock and Captain Hawdon. Esther is the ward of Dr. Jarndyce and together they live at Bleak House. When Lady Dedlock's lawyer Dr. Rulkinhorn hears of her guilty secret, and is later found murdered, Lady Dedlock becomes the prime suspect -until she is found dead herself.

Monday, February 06, 2012

@Reverend Mommy

Hi, Reverend Mommy. I've tried several times to comment on your blog, but, though I've been able to in the past, it won't let me now. Whether or not you ever see this, I just wanted to comment on this from your latest post:
Another thing I have learned is that social interaction on the web can have real world implications. Such was my conflict with this homeschool group. I could not sign their statement of faith, but I really wanted to join this group. I suggested to the group that I my statement of faith found in the UM Book of Discipline was equivalent (except for infant baptism). After much discussion, they decided “no.” This got to me. I’m all about inclusivity. The more people at the party, the more fun you can have. I love getting to know people that are different that I am – I believe they enrich my life. But I could accept that they wanted a homogenous group and I could have taken that rejection. My children could not. And then the children of the other moms got involved. They began to troll my blog and made a few horrible comments.

I'm glad my kids never got dragged into any of my disagreements with what I grew to call "the fundies". I actually enjoyed some of the arguments, but I'd not have thought they were in any way fun if my kids had suffered from that kind of abuse. I'm so sorry yours did. How awful!


Embassytown by China Miéville is one of several books The Husband got me for Christmas and the first one I've read. It's not my favorite of Mieville's books, but it's up there towards the top. I felt like I was learning a new language as I read -an immersion of a kind- and I enjoyed that process. There were times I felt I should care about something that had happened, when something happened that I thought was meant to be shocking or tragic, and I just did not care enough about the characters for it to matter to me.

from the dust jacket:
China Miéville doesn’t follow trends: he sets them, relentlessly pushing his own boundaries as a writer —and in the process expanding the boundaries of the entire field. Now, with Embassytown, Miéville has crafted an extraordinary novel that is not only a moving personal drama but a gripping adventure of alien contact and war.

In the far future, humans have colonized a distant planet, home to the enigmatic Ariekei, sentient beings famed for a language unique in the universe, one that only a few altered human ambassadors can speak.

Avice Benner Cho, a human colonist, has returned to Embassytown after years of deep-space adventure. She cannot speak the Ariekei tongue, but she is an indelible part of it, having long ago been made a figure of speech, a living simile in their language.

When distant political machinations deliver a new ambassador to Arieka, the fragile equilibrium between humans and aliens is violently upset. Catastrophe looms, and Avice is torn between competing loyalties: to a husband she no longer loves, to a system she no longer trusts, and to her place in a language she cannot speak yet speaks through her, whether she likes it or not.

The Guardian reviewer is Ursula LeGuin, who says,
In Embassytown, his metaphor – which is in a sense metaphor itself – works on every level, providing compulsive narrative, splendid intellectual rigour and risk, moral sophistication, fine verbal fireworks and sideshows, and even the old-fashioned satisfaction of watching a protagonist become more of a person than she gave promise of being.
SF Site says, "The novel joins the shortish list of significant SF novels about linguistics" and closes with this:
it is very good, very thought-provoking, and a true Science Fiction novel in the pure sense. And: more evidence that China Miéville is a writer whose every novel we must await with great anticipation.
The Telegraph says,
Miéville has constructed a breathtaking world of understanding: a new system of measuring time and neologisms that crackle in nearly every paragraph, adding style to the plot
SF Signal closes by saying,
It is impossible not to recommend this book if simply because of the weight of the imagination behind it. The setting is complete, the idea is compelling, and the world too aching for good science fiction. Though not an instant classic as many had hoped, Embassytown is good entertainment and that’s enough.
The LA Review of Books calls it "a miracle of a novel" and describes it as
a novel of ideas — a novel about the philosophy of language, about how language is linked to ethics, and about our “biopolis,” the structure of the links between individual humans and the larger human community.
The Christian Science Monitor closes with this:
"Embassytown" isn't a perfect novel – it is infuriatingly dull and plodding in places – but it's also original, sophisticated, bristling with subversive ideas, and filled with unforgettably alien images.
io9 calls it one of the author's best and says it's "perfectly balanced between escapism and otherworldly philosophizing." Kirkus Review's bottom line: "A major intellectual achievement that, despite all difficulties, persuades and enthralls."

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Dead Man

I heard about Dead Man when I read some notices that it was showing at the Brooks Art Gallery. The Husband happened to be out that night and picked the dvd up for $6.99. It's a 1995 black-and-white Western with Johnny Depp and Robert Mitchum (in one of his last films) and featuring the poet William Blake. Billy Bob Thornton, John Hurt, Iggy Pop and Lance Henrickson also have roles. Gary Farmer plays Nobody. The Younger Son and I both liked it -I liked it better than he did- and The Husband did not like it at all at all. Dead Man chronicles Johnny Depp's adventures after crossing the country to take a job as an accountant. Things do not go as he had planned. Neil Young did the music.


The Film Journal says,
Dead Man results in one of the most effective pairings of literary inspiration and contemporary filmmaker. William Blake and Jim Jarmusch, separated by over 200 years of history, met by chance and created the most original, effective and moving film of the 1990s.
Slant Magazine gives it 4 stars and calls it "likely Jim Jarmusch's most stunning achievement." Spirituality & Practice concludes, "Blake's arduous journey toward death is a wonder to behold." likes it and its music and explains why in lists. EW says, "the film's meandering quirkiness is, finally, a big bore". Roger Ebert gives it 1 1/2 stars and says, "a strange, slow, unrewarding movie that provides us with more time to think about its meaning than with meaning."

Saturday, February 04, 2012

The Quick and the Dead

The Younger Son and I had seen bits and pieces of this on tv but hadn't seen the film itself, so when he bought a dvd we watched it. The Quick and the Dead is a 1995 western starring Gene Hackman, Sharon Stone, Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio. Gary Sinise plays a character who appears in flashbacks. Woody Strobe (this was his last film) also has a small role. It's directed by Sam Raimi.


EW closes with this:
The Quick and the Dead is too light to pack the dramatic punch of a true Western and too flat to pass as cheeky revisionism. It ends up in its own amiable, slowpoke limbo.
Rolling Stone calls is "deeply shallow and damned silly." Roger Ebert -honestly, I'm surprised at how often I read Ebert's reviews and wonder if we saw the same film. I often don't remember key plot points the way he does- says, "The movie's story, as you have grasped, isn't much. But "The Quick and the Dead" is not without its good points."