Thursday, December 26, 2013

Happy Boxing Day

Any excuse for another holiday is good for me! Enjoy all the leftovers!

Review: The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

 The publishing blurb says: It is 1866, and young Walter Moody has come to make his fortune upon the New Zealand goldfields. On the stormy night of his arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of twelve local men who have met in secret to discuss a series of unexplained events: A wealthy man has vanished, a prostitute has tried to end her life, and an enormous fortune has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. Moody is soon drawn into the mystery: a network of fates and fortunes that is as complex and exquisitely ornate as the night sky.

Richly evoking a mid-nineteenth-century world of shipping, banking, and gold rush boom and bus,
The Luminaries is a brilliantly constructed, fiendishly clever ghost story and a gripping page-turner. It is a thrilling achievement for someone still in her midtwenties, and will confirm for critics and readers that Eleanor Catton is one of the brightest stars in the international writing firmament.

Winner of the 2013 Man Booker Prize, this is a difficult book to get one's brain wrapped around.  It is dense, lengthy, and gimmicky,  often leaving the reader wondering when the story would ever pick up.  There are at least 15 major characters deeply involved in a mystery.  The mystery itself is revealed only as the story goes along.  The reader has to decide was there a murder?  If so, where is the body, and who committed the crime?  If not, then is there simply a missing person?  Why is he missing? where did he go?

As each player in the mystery tells and re-tells the story from his or her various perspectives, it becomes somewhat repetitive and is only tolerable because there is enough new/extra material revealed to keep tantalizing the reader to continue with the story. However, it wasn't until I got to page 600+ that I felt invested enough in the story to want to complete reading the book. At 848 pages, it requires a serious commitment of time, and is not easily read in short clips.  Often I found myself having to backtrack to refresh pieces of the story I hadn't yet committed to memory.

It is certainly a complex book, with layers of meaning, and a unique structure.  Catton frames the story on an astrological chart that is meaningful only to those who are conversant with the science.  To others, the use of this device is distracting and actually detracts from the story by making the reader feel the need to either ignore the astrological allusions and ponder what he might be missing or constantly take the time to go look up the references and lose track of the story itself.  I also felt the characters were not as strong as I would have liked.  Several were two-dimensional, and needed more development.  It would have really helped to know more about the motivations of those involved.

Overall I enjoyed the book, and felt it was worth the effort, but I know that I will have to read it again to see everything I know I missed.  This would actually be a book I would expect to be discussed, dissected and scrutinized at length in a graduate level English literature course.  Not for the faint hearted, but definitely worth the trouble for anyone who enjoys a good mystery or who is interested in the setting or time period. I also listened to portions of the book read by Mark Meadows.  The audio was published by Audible LTD.  I bought the audio copy for my own library.

Title: The Luminaries
Author: Eleanor Catton
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; First Edition, 848 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Subject: Astrology, , New Zealand gold rush
Setting: Hokitika New Zealand
Source: Review copy from the publisher
Why did I read this book now? It's on the long list for the Maine Reader's Choice Award

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Monday, December 23, 2013

Review: A Dying Fall - Elly Griffiths

The publisher tells us this:
Ruth Galloway is shocked when she learns that her old university friend Dan Golding has died tragically in a house fire. But the death takes on a sinister cast when Ruth receives a letter from Dan written just before he died.

The letter tells of a great archaeological discovery, but Dan also says that he is scared for his life. Was Dan’s death linked to his find? The only clue is his mention of the Raven King, an ancient name for King Arthur.

I love this series but wonder if Griffiths is getting bogged down (pardon the pun if you're familiar with the series). Ruth and/or Harry need a big push to get something more going in these tales of old bones, single moms and skittish fringe friends.  While the mystery plot on this one was more linear than some of the earlier volumes in the series, it also felt flatter.  There were moments when I thought that Griffiths was actually trying to develop her main characters, and we certainly got more introspection scenes with Harry, but it still fell a bit flat. 

Although this one isn't as satisfying as previous episodes, I'll definitely check out another in the series when it appears in another year or so. Readers who enjoy this series have too much invested in these characters and Ruth's forensic paleontologist career to leave it dangling here.

Clare Corbett's narration is delightful.  She manages the many dialects and accents of various characters so well, that the listener instantly recognizes who is speaking.  Not only does she get the accents correct, but she manages to infuse her voice with an excellent rendition of the individual's personality. 

Title: A Dying Fall
Author: Elly Griffiths
Publisher: Quercus Publishing audio 2013
Narrator: Clare Corbett
Genre: Mystery (forensic detectives)
Subject: identity of ancient bones
Setting: Norfolk UK
Series: Ruth Galloway Mysteries
Source:  my own shelves (audio book)

Friday, December 20, 2013

Review: Fin & Lady by Cathleen Schine

A surprise - one of my required MRC long list books. Slow take off, but I  found that once launched, I couldn't put it down. Quietly spell-binding. Not a barn burner, but deep, multi-dimensional character development driving a mundane plot.

The story has all the elements of a stereotypical quirky beach romance, but it manages to rise above the chick-lit level by having the story narrated by an 11 year old orphan Fin who goes to live with his uber-bohemian older half-sister Lady after his mother dies.  He is forced to leave his beloved farm in Connecticut and learns to fend for himself under Lady's benign neglect.   The story is a gentle, charming and bitter-sweet tale of his coming of age living part time in Greenwich Village and on an island off the coast of Italy, while  Lady decides whether to marry as she goes through a succession of male companions trying to choose a mate from among them.

The surprise ending brings the story full circle. I don't want to spoil it for you.  A delightful and satisfying read.  Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

Title: Fin & Lady
Author: Cathleen Schine
Publisher: Sarah Crichton Books (2013), Hardcover, 288 pgs
Genre: Literary fiction
Subject: sibling relationships
Setting: Greenwich Village; Capri, Italy
Source: Review copy from publisher
Why did I read this book now? It's being considered for the Maine Reader's Choice Award.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Review: Someone : A Novel by Alice McDermott

Here's another definite candidate for consideration for jumping to the next level of the Maine Readers Choice list: Someone, A Novel, by Alice McDermott.  Suffice it to say, this lady can take an absolutely ordinary woman, put her in a dull and lackluster setting, throw in a handful of nondescript characters and spin pure gold as the story of her life. Somewhat slow starting, but at only 231 pages, definitely worth the time spent. It's absolutely mesmerizing, and difficult to review.  The whole time I was reading it, I kept waiting for something exciting to happen, and then suddenly had that "AHA" moment when I realized that the excitement comes from the blessings of the ordinary.  McDermott certainly deserved a National Book award for this one. Short, sparse, spectacular. Would make a great christmas present.

Title: Someone: A Novel
Awards: Longlist for National Book Award 2013
Author: Alice McDermott
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2013), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 240 pages
Genre: literary fiction
Subject: one woman's life
Setting: Brooklyn
Source: Review copy from the publisher
Why did I read this book now? It's was on the long list for the Maine Reader's Choice Award.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Review: By Stone, by Blade, by Fire by Kate Wilhelm

I've now read all the Barbara Holloway Mysteries.  This latest is every bit as intriguing, convoluted and engaging as earlier ones in the series.  Barbara Holloway, maverick defense attorney reluctantly takes on client Travis Morgan  after

  ..two witnesses swear they saw Travis Morgan walk into his father's house and shoot the man at his desk. Although he admits to a passionate hatred and fear of his father, a fundamentalist preacher, Travis swears he is innocent. Barbara Holloway believes him, and as she investigates, the case explodes into a dangerous conspiracy, causing Frank, Barbara's father and part-time associate, to hire a bodyguard to protect her.  (So says the publishing blurb). 

Much of this episode is similar to earlier entries in the series: Barbara still gets obsessed with her clients and neglects not only her health but her relationships with partner Darren and her father. There are still enough red herrings thrown in to keep the reader guessing well into the story not only about the murder but all the clues and issues needed to be developed to resolve the story.  Barbara's ageless and charming father Frank, the irrascible PI Bailey, and bubbly perky brilliant associate Shelley are still here, and seamlessly woven into another great courtroom drama.  It is particularly intriguing with its focus on the veracity of eye witnesses. 

I especially enjoy these in audio format. Carrington MacDuffie's narration is perfect for the personalities portrayed.  Let's hope Wilhelm has some more adventures for this intrepid attorney tucked away.  I can't wait.

Title: By Stone, By Blade, By Fire
Author: Kate Wilhelm
Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc. (2012) 
Narrator: Carrington MacDuffie
Genre: Courtroom drama
Subject: Clearing an innocent man; veracity of eyewitnesses
Setting: Oregon
Series: Barbara Holloway novels #13
Source: public library download
Why did I read this book now? I needed a good mystery as a break from heavy literary fiction.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

It's Snowing! Great glee and perfect reading time

I don't remember where I came across this graphic, but I've been saving it for today. Our first true snowfall is here, the Tutu family's wood pile is stacked, the slow cooker is wafting delicious aromas of a good hearty beef stew, Christmas cookies are in the oven, candles and batteries and bottled water are at the ready.  I'm primed for several uninterrupted hours of reading and writing some long overdue reviews. And if the plow guy can't get here, then I'll just have to skip that holiday party out on "the island", and miss choir practice tonight.  I may even be able to finish three books I have going at once. Just check my sidebar to see what's in my pile.  But at least, it really feels like Christmas is getting close. 

Stay warm and safe all.