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The Girl in the Spider’s Web: A Lisbeth Salander novel

By David Lagercrantz, George Goulding (Translator)
A continuation of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Series

September 23, 2015

Lizbeth Salander Novel, Millennium Series

Lizbeth Salander Novel, Millennium Series

Lizbeth, the Swedish computer whiz with tattoos and piercings, returns. She is the focus of an international conspiracy involving NSA surveillance, an autistic savant who witnessed a murder, international cyber-criminals and a mole within the government security forces. Reporter Mikael Blomkvist is ready to scoop the big newspapers, while Lizbeth Salander does the heavy lifting as she defeats the criminals, breaks into NSA computers and exacts a little revenge for past wrongs. Fans of the Dragon Tattoo will love this book.

I enjoyed reading this continuation of the Millennium series, and I think the plot will make a great movie. I hope they film in Sweden, with English subtitles. However, this is not a well written book; nor is it well translated. It reads like a project done in a hurry; there is much repetition and endless explanations of cyber security terms and algorithms.

Lagercrantz writes in a similar style to the deceased Stieg Larsson, originator of the series, and deserves credit for continuation of the series. However, excessive narrative and exposition reduce the impact of the story (a fault other reviewers have noted about Larsson’s original Millennium novels).

Translator Goulding is prone to use stock phrases, many of which are outdated. On the whole, the novel is easy to read and the plot moves along quickly (slowed only by the overly long exposition). My advice, skip the book; wait for the movie.

Carto (***)

Blood of the Tiger

Feb 13, 2015

Blood of the Tiger, Judy Mills

Blood of the Tiger, Judy Mills

This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Blood of the Tiger is a compelling memoir of Judy Mills’ 20-year efforts on behalf of endangered wild animals. Her story began when, as cub reporter for a small Washington newspaper, she wrote a story about a fatal Grizzly mauling. The story took her to Montana where she interviewed international wild bear conservationist Chris Servheen. Later, she and Chris married, which led to a reporting assignment in Asia where wild sun bears were being killed for use in Traditional Chinese Medicine. While in Asia, she learned that wild asian tigers were being killed for human consumption and tiger bone wine. When she discovered that the Chinese government was creating Tiger Farms to supply the market for luxury tiger consumables she made a promise to help the wild-animals: the self described mall-rat from Federal Way, WN would join the international conservation movement.

This memoir shines when Ms. Mills writes of her experiences in Asia working for international agencies that protect endangered species from exploitation, but becomes somewhat polemic when she advocates the causes she believes in so strongly. I enjoyed traveling with the author to Thailand , China and Africa, and was saddened when the battle turned against her (and the few remaining wild tigers, bears and rhinoceros).

She ends the book on a high-note of optimism for the future: the next generation of humans seems less interested in consuming wild animals, and buying ivory/bone products. Also, the use of wild-animal ingredients in Traditional Chinese Medicine is declining. However, the number and size of wild-animal farms is increasing in Asia and many thousands of wild-animals have been captured for household pets in the USA. So, there is work to be done says Ms. Mills.

For more information on this interesting subject: Panthera has a selection of tiger farm images from a village in China and photos of bottles of Tiger Bone Wine from the International Tiger Coalition. http://www.panthera.org/node/1466

Carto ( *** )

The Business of Naming Things, Michael Coffey

The Business of Naming Things, Michael Coffey, 2015

The Business of Naming Things, Michael Coffey, 2015

Jan. 2015, This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
These short stories touch on many themes. Have you ever thought of the feelings of a mother toward the recipients of her dead child’s donated organs? What about the conflict of a successful executive who’s great at naming corporate products, but a failure at naming his children? Other stories: a priest who has troubles with his vows, and a gay couple make a new friend. Lastly, the epigraph is from James Joyce’s Ulysses, and, in the last story a writer proposes a university course in “Finishing Ulysses”. I have always wanted to finish Ulysses, maybe this is my chance.

These stories are written by a now retired publication editor, and are, for the most part, about people close to the publishing industry: editors, writers and others at the edge of literature who are troubled by some aspect of their life. The stories evolve slowly and sometimes take forever to get to the point, but, eventually, the point is made. I enjoyed most of these stories and am happy to recommend them to others.

Carto (***)
Jan. 7, 2015

Descent, Tim Johnston

Descent, Tim Johnston, 2014

Descent, Tim Johnston, 2014

Nov. 2014, This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Johnston’s psychological thriller is set in the harsh, unforgiving mountains of Colorado, where famous ski resorts like Breckenridge and Estes Park, share the land with high-altitude survival training venues like Camp Hale, home of the 10th Mountain Division.

The action begins in a resort on the scenic Trail Ridge Road that winds through the Front Range of the Colorado Rockies. It’s summer, and the Cortlands (Grant and Angela and their teenagers, Caitlin and Sean) have come to the Rocky Mountain Nat’l Park on vacation so that distance runner Caitlin can train at high-altitude.

As the novel opens, Caitlin is leaving the motel for an early morning run. Younger brother Sean is following her on a rented mountain bike. They climb higher and higher and Sean struggles to keep up with Caitlin. He falls behind and suddenly a speeding vehicle bears down on him. Sean is injured and wakes in the hospital. But what of Caitlin? She is missing. The remainder of the novel tell of the search for Caitlin and her family’s attempt to cope with their loss. The story is told in 60 chapters that range from 1 to 10 pages. Each chapter deals with a vignette or detail of the story.

Parts of this novel were not to my liking: first, I could not believe that a flatlander, even a high-school cross-country runner, could arrive in Colorado and run at altitudes above 9,000 ft. on her first day. Second, the mountain scenes are exaggerated: the author writes of lush mixed forests at altitudes where only scrub forest can survive, he gives us a animals not found in the high mountains such as a pair of Northern Cardinals. I also disliked the author continually referring to Sean as “the boy” and Caitlin as “the girl”— I felt that these terms kept me from knowing the characters as people. Finally, some chapters seemed brief and cryptic to the point loosing their meaning. But these complaints did not keep me from enjoying the novel.

This is not a slasher novel or a soap opera, but a carefully crafted psychological thriller. The novel reads well and the plot moves forward at a quick pace. If you like experimental fiction in the thriller mode then this may be a good choice for you.

Carto (***)
Nov 17, 2014
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As of 11/6/2014 there were 30 reviews.

30. Howard Elman’s Farewell (Darby Chronicles) by Ernest Hebert

This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Howard Elman’s Farewell is a romping good read, sometimes hilarious, often outrageous, with a fast-paced plot that has many twists and turns (not all of which are predictable). Sinister forces within Darby are planning to obliterate the traditional New England way of life enjoyed by the townsfolk. Only the town’s unpaid constable, 87-year-old Howard Elman stands in the way of this sinister evil.

At first, things go pretty good for the forces of evil: Elman is set to retire and move to Texas when tree rustlers cut down the last living elm tree in Darby. The crime enrages Elman ( the elm was his “naming tree”) and he puts off his retirement. He dons his Darby constable cap and begins to investigate: strand by strand he uncovers a tangled web of deceit and treachery involving his own kin, townies, flat-lander video gamers, geek graphic artists and a fake Indian from a long forgotten New Hampshire tribe who wants Darby to approve a gambling casino on the Connecticut River. Holy Cow!

But, there is only so much a volunteer constable and his 100-year-old side-kick, Cooty, can do— in the end it all boils down to a vote of the citizens of Darby at Town Meeting. Will the lure of lower-taxes sway the Darby voters? Will they sell their birthright to corrupt developers? It could go either way, readers.

The ending is way over the top, but Howard Elman’s Farewell is a worthy wrap-up for the Darby Chronicles. Read and enjoy, and while you’re at it read the other novels in the series. Start with The Dogs of March to get the backstory on the Elman family, Cooty, the Jordans (many of whom are common criminals) and the other remarkable characters that live in Darby.

You won’t find Darby, NH on any map (except in the Darby Chronicles), but it lies, so to speak, in the shadow of Mt. Monadnock, East of Keene along the Connecticut River. Darby is the home of three generations of Elmans and Jordans.

Thanks to University Press of New England for reprinting the series in paperback and eBook formats. It would be a shame to lose this bit of New England lore. Ernest Hebert’s website is:

http://erniehebert.com

Carto Nov 3, 2014

29. Prison Noir (Akashic Noir) by Joyce Carol Oates

This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
These 15 stories by prisoners focus a spotlight on the isolation and loneliness of prison life—pretty grim stuff, in my opinion. The introductory essay by Ms Oates is excellent; she briefly reviews the stories and introduces the authors. Read the essay and the stories and then reflect on prison life in the US. Well worth the effort.

Carto Sep 26, 2014

28.Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
A beast is loose in the ancient sewers of Barcelona, Spain— get out the silver bullets.

Adventure, horror, and zombie-like beasts— surely Marina is Ruiz Zafón’s homage to Mary Shelley and Frankenstein— it works for me; I liked it! The 15 year old narrator, bored with school, seeks adventure and is nearly overcome by what he finds. In the end, however, he also discovers love and companionship. What’s not to like about that plot?

This young-adult novel is an excellent introduction to the Barcelona setting of Zafón’s
international best-selling trilogy: The Shadow of the Wind, The Angel’s Game and The Prisoner of Heaven. The English translation by Lucia Graves is very readable, but at times falls into humorous cliché. In one case the result is a minor profanity that is inappropriate for very young readers.

The Spanish edition of Marina is also easily readable so give your high school Spanish a workout. I used the English language paperback as a crib while reading the Spanish language paperback and recommend these editions for young readers and older folks too. ( )

Carto Aug 6, 2014

27. The Rise & Fall of Great Powers: A Novel by Tom Rachman

This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Tom Rachman is a gifted story teller, who can drag you along from chapter to chapter even if you are bored or sleepy. He did that in The Imperfectionists and he does it again in The Rise and Fall of Great Powers: while reading, I kept saying to myself: “Maybe I’ll read just a few pages more.” And then, the novel was finished—where did the time go?

Rise and Fall is the story of Tooly. We meet her in 2011 as a 32 year old owner of a nearly bankrupt bookstore in Wales near Hay-on-Wye (site of the famous book festival). Tooly and her assistant Fogg are looking at the sales ledger. Then, in the very next chapter, it is 1999 and we find ourselves in New York: Tooly is a naive 20-year-old small-time criminal who is thinking of scamming Duncan, a guileless law student. And then in the 3rd chapter, it is 1988: Tooly is 10 years old, and she is packing to fly from Australia to Bangkok, Thailand with her father, Paul. (Unknown to Tooly, Paul has kidnapped her from her dysfunctional mother.)

In Bangkok, Tooly’s unstable mother, Sarah, appears. Sarah is under the spell of Venn, who is a callus, handsome rogue. Sarah and Venn have sinister plans for Tooly, but a Russian chess-playing bibliophile named Humphrey enters the story to take Tooly’s side. We’re just starting to read and the novel has become unbelievably complicated. The story goes on chapter-by-chapter until these threads of Tooly’s life converge in New York City.

Somehow, Rachman moulds this unlikely cast of characters into a true ensemble, and by the final chapter we know Tooly’s story and have a glimpse of her possible future. Nice work, the narrator has tied up all the loose ends of this rambling novel. My only problem with the novel is that I don’t really care for Tooly, and Venn, while never being abusive, is too evil for me to enjoy— my favorite character is Fogg, Tooly’s assistant at World’s Books. He is destined for greatness.

Yes, I liked this novel and recommend it to those readers who like rich characterizations and fast-paced storytelling.

Carto Apr 21, 2014

26. Cathedral of the Wild: An African Journey Home… by Boyd Varty

This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Londolozi Game Reserve, South Africa: Boyd Varty, the author, and his sister Bronwyn were raised in a safari camp in the thorny bush savannah of Eastern South Africa during the final years of the apartheid rule of F. W. de Klerk when Nelson Mandela was in prison. Their home was a camp in a lion hunting reserve that had been purchased years before by their great-grandfather. The camp was being converted into an eco-tourism center for wildlife photography by their mother, father and uncle.

Their mother was occupied with the day-to-day management of the camp, and their father and uncle were out in the bush every day— this left the Varty children in the hands of their Shangaan nanny. Boyd tells many stories of his adventures growing up in camp. The stories are full of close encounters with snakes, elephants, alligators and other wild creatures that inhabited the thorn veld that surrounded the camp. He writes in an informal style suitable for an evening around a campfire. He is enthusiastic, but skips over details, which sometimes left me confused. I would like to have been told more of the daily life in the camp, especially the life of the Shangaan, who were native to that part of the veld.

In the later pages of the book the writing style changes. There is more narrative and the pace picks up: Mandela visits the camp, Boyd and Bronwyn leave the veld for boarding school, but return to be home schooled by an Afrikaner. Finally, Boyd’s confidence is shattered by an incident in Johannesburg and he writes of loosing his way and his search for meaning in his life. Some of the best writing is in these latter pages of the memoir. The author’s acknowledgments of help in his period of searching and help in writing and publishing his memoir are particularly moving— indeed, it often takes the help of many people to produce an author’s first book. It’s nice to read an especially sincere thank you.

However, most readers should stay away from this memoir; missing are descriptions of daily life in South Africa and the development of the eco-tourism movement. Younger readers and adults who once were dragged along with their parents on safari will enjoy the fireside stories of the author’s heroic encounters with the animals of the veld.

If you decide to read this memoir, you can read the stories selectively— pick and choose by the title in the Contents — But don’t skip the last 80 or so pages where the author searches for meaning in his life. Remember, the author is still young, he is 30 something, and he has time for another book, or two.

The author’s story is located in:
“Londolozi Game Reserve, a stand-alone family run operation, has traversing rights over 25,000 acres of prime game viewing land in the heart of the Sabi Sands Game Reserve in Kruger National Park. With large breeding herds of elephant, buffalo and white rhinos, more than 17 leopards under observation within the Londolozi traversing area, and the first game reserve in the world to be accorded Relais & Châteaux status, visitors to Londolozi fall under the magical spell of South Africa, creating memories that last a lifetime and that call them to come back again and again.”
http://www.londolozi.com/en/?gclid=CO_2o6Ocw7wCFQtqfgodpE4AhA

Carto Feb 12, 2014

25. The Book of Jonah: A Novel by Joshua Max Feldman

This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Choosing to bring a classic story of the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) into the 21st century must have taken courage on the part of the editor and the author. Surely, there are many ways the project could have failed, but The Book of Jonah works for me. What sold me on the novel was the author’s story telling skills: Joshua Max Feldman can describe anything and make it interesting to read— the pages of his novel turn easily.

There were a few slow parts and some dragged out philosophizing, but I was always anticipating the next turn in the plot. The secondary characters are also well written and not dominated by stereotypical New Yorkers. The author surprised me by interweaving into his text a second biblical story, that of the widow Judith who decapitated the Assyrian General Holofernes (think of the painting of her by Caravaggio). Jonah and Judith, what a pair they make.

Thoroughly a pleasure to read this novel; I recommend it, but first refresh your knowledge of Jonah (and perhaps Judith too). The chapter headings will tell you where the modern protagonists are in their corresponding biblical stories.

The full review is on Carto’s Library Blog
http://wp.me/p14mpp-qd

Carto Dec 15, 2013

24. Breaking Clean by Judy Blunt

Breaking clean with your past is never easy. Memoirist and poet Judy Blunt described leaving home this way:

“I left Phillips County with a new divorce and an old car, with three scared kids and some clothes piled in back. We followed the sun west for hours. Climbing mountain passes, crossing river after river, until we spanned the final bridge into Missoula.” —Breaking Clean, P. 295.

She grew up on a homestead settled by her grandparents at the turn of the century. Ranch life was all she knew. Blunt arrived in Missoula, enrolled in UM and got on with her life. Years later, after graduation and a MFA, she wrote this memoir. The book is a well remembered look at ranch life in western Montana from a woman’s point-of-view. Fascinating reading.

Reviewed on Carto’s Library Blog.
http://wp.me/p14mpp-pK

Carto Nov 5, 2013

23. Photoshop CC: The Missing Manual by Lesa Snider

This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
O’Reilly books and the ‘Missing Manual’ series have done a great job in making this Photoshop CC manual useful. The index is extensive and the page numbers in the index are hot links (at least in Adobe Reader). The index and chapter headings (and all chapter sub-divisions) are bookmarked so it is easy to navigate to the index or scan the chapters by name and navigate directly. I loaded the DRM free copy into dropbox and was able to easily read the manual on my Mac and MacBook with shared annotations. Reading on my iPad is clear but no shared annotations are available. The iPad Adobe Reader app worked fine with the book also using the ‘Open With’ feature of the reader. Four stars for O’Reilly in producing the manual for easy electronic viewing; who wants a paper manual that weighs more than my portable computer?

The content by Lesa Snider is readable and clear.I checked her descriptions of the features I use most often (e.g. image straightening, import and export), and felt that they were covered adequately. She did an especially good job outlining the new features of Photoshop CC and there is a full page note that explains the implications of Adobe’s new rent-forever Photoshop. All in all, I think this manual is a useful addition to the pile of manuals already out for Photoshop CC, but the competition is fierce.
Carto Sep 12, 2013

22. Castro’s Secrets: Cuban Intelligence, the CIA, and the Assassination of John F. Kennedy… by Brian Latell

This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Author Brian Latell has added an new introduction to his compendium of conjectures about the assumed conspiracy surrounding the assassination of JFK. If you are new to this tempest in a tea pot then read the intro and skip the rest of the book–mostly anecdotes and stories told by Cuban defectors. Ask yourself: what do the 50-year-old, self-serving statements of Cuban defectors have to tell us today? Better yet, wait a few years to 1917 when the court will unseal the assasination records and historians will have a field day. ( )

Carto Aug 18, 2013

21. The Sound of Things Falling: A Novel by Juan Gabriel Vásquez

This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
In 2009 a hippopotamus was shot to death in the Magdalena Valley 250 kilometers or so north of the Colombian capital of Bogotá. The poor beast was an escapee from a zoological park built by infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar who died in late 1993. News of the shooting was reported widely, and the story was followed with interest by law professor Antonio Yammara in his Bogotá apartment:

“Bit by bit I began to notice, not without some astonishment, that the death of that hippopotamus put an end to an episode of my life that had begun quite a while ago, more or less like someone coming back home to close a door carelessly left open.”
“And that’s how this story got under way. I don’t know what good it does us to remember, what benefits or possible penalties it brings, or how what we’ve lived through can change when we remember it, but remembering Richard Laverde well has become an urgent matter for me.”
—The Sound of Things Falling, p. 5.

The narrator, Yammara, begins his story with the description of an assasination in 1996; he and Laverde were walking on the streets of Bogotá when a motorcycle swooped up behind them and shot Laverde dead at point blank range. A stray bullet left Yammara critically injured, and he would recover, but why was Laverde killed? Three years later, Yammara discovered that Laverde left a daughter, Maya Fritts. Yammara, who was obsessed with uncovering Laverde’s history, joined Maya and together they work to carry the story forward.

Juan Gabriel Vásquez slowly and patiently develops Laverde’s story through the narration of Yammara. This is a story of duplicity, drug trafficking, and violence, but the actions are muted, occur off-stage and are often implied rather than explicit. The underlying tone is literary, not exploitive. The reader is left pondering the subtle effects of the so-called “war on drugs” on the people and culture of Colombia.

The novel is slow starting, but there are some beautiful narrative passages that made the reading worthwhile. The translation by Canadian Anne McLean is very clean with only a few funny slip-ups. The translation reads well, but the original Spanish put me at ease, made me feel like I was there in Colombia, a witness to the events of Vásquez’ slowly unfolding story. So, if you can, read the novel in Spanish, El ruido de las cosas al caer, Alfaguara.

Carto Aug 1, 2013

20. Octopus: Sam Israel, the Secret Market, and Wall Street’s Wildest Con… by Guy Lawson

This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Octopus is the story of a stock trader who steals from his investors and looses the money in an outlandish gamble. The stock trader is not a likable guy: “My name is Sam Israel and I am a Criminal,” he said, “I am a liar and a cheat. I would like to believe that is not what I am, but it is certainly what I have become. The whole time I wanted to make back the money I had lost. I spent a year chasing dreams to do so.”

In 2005, Sam Israel and Dan Marino pleaded guilty in Federal Court to conspiracy and fraud. Sam and Dan were each sentenced to 20 years in prison and Sam was ordered to forfeit $300 million stolen from the Bayou Hedge Fund, which Israel had founded and operated. Canadian journalist Guy Lawson interviewed Sam Israel in prison to get his version of the how the fraud came about. Lawson cross-checked Sam’s unreliable and self-serving testimony with public records to write an account of the swindle that is readable and informative, but the story left me shaking my head in disbelief.

On his way to turn himself in for incarceration, Sam tried one last con: he staged his own death. That didn’t work either; Sam lived to serve time and tell his story to the author of this book. If you enjoy a wild lie or a tall tale you may enjoy this tale, I did.

Carto Jul 11, 2013

19. The Transplant by Alexandra Ulysses

This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The author or authors of The Transplant tell the story of two undocumented immigrants: Agata, a Polish nanny, and Mario, a Mexican laborer. Chance brings Agata and Mario to North Chicago where they meet and begin living together — their unrealistic goal is to become American citizens.

As Book I opens, Agata is talking to her father in America. In a series of vignette’s the author takes Agata from Poland to Germany and then to Detroit. Agata searches for, but cannot find, her father. Eventually the nanny is cast aside by her sponsor and she must try to survive on her own without papers. As she evades the ICE she finds herself in Chicago.

Book II is Mario’s story; as the book opens, Mario is in the Sonora Desert. He is being smuggled into the US by a janitorial service to work in Illinois. The workers are their own worst enemies; they fight, they steal from each other, and, eventually, Mario splits from the group and goes to Chicago.

In Book III, Agata and Mario met and become a family, Mario returns to Mexico because his mother is ill and Agata’s prospects for citizenship look dim, but …

The story is told through vignettes’s that often show undocumented immigrants preying on each other. Many of the vignette’s are imaginative, but they are weakly told in language that is riddled with cliche and overused and obsolete expressions. Neither of the principal characters were able to maintain my interest or sympathy. The authors decided to turn the novel into a thriller in the last 40 pages, but by then it was to late to save the novel.

I do not recommend this book to any reader.

Carto Jun 23, 2013

18. Paint the bird by Georgeann Packard

This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
When the Early Reviewer galley of Georgeann Packard’s novel Paint The Bird arrived, I quickly opened the package and read the jacket notes:

“The Reverend Sarah Obadias is broken, bitter, and stripped of the reassurance of faith when she walks into a West Village restaurant in Manhattan. Here she encounters Abraham Darby, a rumpled but well-regarded painter who seduces the minister into his life of excess and emotional intensity.”
–Paint The Bird, liner notes.

Whoa! Not my kind of reading, I thought, but I opened the book thinking: A deal is a deal.

A short poem by the author introduces the title of the book and then the reader meets Sarah: she is tall, black and beautiful, and is on the cusp of her 70th birthday. There’s more—she is having a crisis of faith, which she shared with the congregation of her church, and Sarah’s husband is having an affair with her best friend. Fortunately for Sarah, she didn’t share the latter with the congregation.

The action in the novel quickly moves to the eatery mentioned in the liner notes where Sarah meets Abraham and they share confidences (he is having a crisis also). After dinner, they take a taxi to Abraham’s studio. It’s a one-night-stand, Sarah thinks, but Abraham has an unusual favor to ask…

The short novel is fast paced and tightly written: there is sex, adventure and mystery as Sarah and Abraham wrestle with their fears and doubts, but no one is murdered or seriously harmed. I liked this unusual novel and was tempted to read it straight through, but common sense prevailed and I rationed it over three days to savor it longer.

The production of the softbound galley draft by Permanent Press was gorgeous; nice dark print in readable Adobe Garamond as explained in the colophon by the author.

Give this novel a read: If you are young, read it and find out what your grand parents are up to; if you are old, read it to see what problems your cohort is having; if you are really, really old (I’m 76), read it to remember!

Carto May 12, 2013

17. The Flamethrowers: A Novel by Rachel Kushner

This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The opening scene of The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner takes place near the Isonzo River in northern Italy during the First World War, 1917. An Italian motorcyclist named Valera is fighting a German trooper. Valera wins and goes on the create Valera Motorcycles.

Kushner’s story then moves to Nevada and 1976. Reno a young art school graduate packs her Bolex Pro movie camera and sells her beloved ‘65 Moto Valera to buy a ticket to New York where she plana to make movies.

Like a fairy tale, one year later, her dreams have nearly come true; she has a job with a small movie studio and she is back in Nevada on a brand new Moto Valera GT650 (a gift from her boy friend Sandro Valero the wealthy grandson of the founder of the Valera Company).

Kushner’s story then goes to NY and the arts scene of the late ’70s and then it is off to Italy where the reader is introduced to the Valera family and the Red Brigade.

Not a dull moment in this novel–I liked it. It is hugely improbable, but I liked it.

The Flamethrowers is reviewed on Carto’s Library Blog:
http://wp.me/p14mpp-oD

Carto Mar 15, 2013

16. Enter At Your Own Risk: Old Masters, New Voices… by Various

This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The Old Masters of Dark Fiction in this collection include Poe, Lovecraft, Bram Stoker, and other eminent storytellers from the late 19th and early 20th century. Most stories are brief, fewer than 10 pages, and could help pass time in a waiting room, bus or train.

The New Voices in this collection are a bit rough and their stories are in need of editing. But, many of the stories show potential and may appear re-edited in other collections or on the web. A story by Mari Adkins piqued my interest: a young woman is idly browsing a record story when a detective approaches her. He wants her help locating a murder victim—after dinner and sex, she agrees to use her paranormal powers to help the detective, but as they search for the victim she slowly becomes aware that she may soon become a victim herself. The eerie conclusion is shocking and suitable for this anthology.

This collection is your chance to check out some new writing in the context of proven masters of horror.

My review copy of Old Masters/New Voices came in the email as a PDF. Unfortunately, the table of contents was corrupted and would not display with Adobe Reader. (I rebuilt the TOC using PDFpenPro, nice app to have around.)

If you like classic horror or stories of the weird and are willing to build a table-of-contents for your PDF reader then you may find this anthology worthwhile for your smart phone or tablet.

Carto Jan 16, 2013

15. The Stone Lion by William Eisner

This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The time is 1980. Driving past the solitary stone lion that guards the front door of his headquarters, Dr. John Lowell has an ominous feeling of impending disaster; his photoelectric control business is beginning to crumble. Sales are falling because a better controller from Germany is being aggressively marketed directly to Dr. Lowell’s customers. If the trend continues, the business, which he spent his life developing, will be destroyed.

Dr. Lowell is the tyrannical founder, president and major stockholder of ETI, the dominant US manufacturer of photoelectric controllers, which are an essential part used to control manufacturing assembly lines. ETI may go bankrupt if a new controller is not developed quickly, but Dr. Lowell is 72 and suffers from blackouts and occasional tantrums. In desperation he hires an unemployed manufacturing specialist, George Breal, to help him re-invent the company. Yes, he is gambling his company, and there is no going back.

After years of neglect while he focused on growing ETI, Dr. Lowell’s family life is a mess—his wife left him long ago and he disowned his daughter in a rage 20 years ago. His daughter has returned in dire need of money and his live-in housekeeper (a former schoolmate of his daughter) is sullen and vindictive at the prospect of the daughter and her children becoming part of the household. Even more worrying for Dr. Lowell are the blackouts, which are occurring more frequently.

Author William Eisner, a former businessman himself, narrates the business details with precision using jargon-free language that makes the reinvention of ETI believable and interesting. Mr. Eisner seems less sure of his characters: they are reasonably plotted, but are one-dimensional and at times they are too predictable.

If you read the book, look for the manufacturing scenes and imagine the turmoil in the company as the lives of the employees are changed, not always for the better. Try to guess the ending; it may surprise you.

The Stone Lion is good book for a long coast-to-cost flight on that next business trip. There is a little romance, some suspense and you can imagine ETI rising from its ashes like a phoenix.

Review based on a pre-publication bound galley provided by The Permanent Press.

Carto Jan 16, 2013

14. Point Omega: A Novel by Don DeLillo

19. From: Iraq: A Haiku War?
http://wp.me/p14mpp-gb

DeLillo’s novella Point Omega is short (only117 pages), and it is written in a minimalist style—the reader is often left to puzzle over the author’s meaning.

To me Point Omega is about the Iraq war viewed from an unusual angle. What of the civilian war planners that helped bring the war about?

The main character in the novel is a troubled neo-conservative “thinker” who once worked in the innermost ring of the Pentagon helping to plan the initial attack of the Iraq War.

In the summer of 2006, and Elster is worried about the course the war has taken. He has abandoned Washington for the isolation of the California desert, but he cannot free his mind from thoughts of the war he was partially responsible for starting.

In his delirium the former military planner says: “Haiku means nothing beyond what it is. A pond in summer, a leaf in the wind. It’s human consciousness located in nature. It’s the answer to everything in a set number of lines, a prescribed syllable count. I wanted a haiku war. I wanted a war in three lines.”

Point Omega is an interesting, if cryptic, novella. In my opinion, it is not DeLillo’s best, but I found it worth reading.

Carto Dec 15, 2011

13. A treasury of Stephen Foster by Stephen Collins Foster

From Stephen Foster: Darkies, People and Great Music
http://wp.me/14mpp

An invitation to attend “An Evening with Stephen Foster” had me searching my library for a book I last remember reading 50 years ago. Incredibly, I found it in a stack of music on the bottom shelf of a cabinet—A Treasury of Stephen Foster, illustrated with preface, historical notes, and arrangements.

Stephen Foster was born on the Fourth of July in 1826, slavery was the law of the land and California was still part of Mexico. Foster died 38 years later in 1864. He was dead broke with 38 cents in his pocket.

In his short life he left a grand musical legacy that includes such standards as: “Oh! Susanna”, “My Old Kentucky Home”, “Beautiful Dreamer” and “Hard Times Come Again No More”.

This book, if you can find it, is a great introduction to Foster, his times and his works—illustrated and with the music.

Carto Oct 17, 2011

12. The Niagara River: Poems (Grove Press Poetry)… by Kay Ryan

From: A Poet Whispers In the Ear of Congress
http://wp.me/p14mpp-e9

Fairfield, California poet Kay Ryan is the winner of many awards, the latest being a MacArthur Grant. Her work is impressive, short easy-to-read poems with a punch. The collection Niagara River contains 60 plus of these poems. I especially like the title poem, which has a Zen like message comparing time to the flow of a river.

For the above blog posting I used her poem Home to Roost to encourage Congress to be a little more responsible.

This is a good collection of short poems on many topics. I have a problem reading collections of short poems— my mind wanders after reading one or two. Perhaps I would like them delivered by email: one or two a week would be special.

Carto Sep 23, 2011

11. Ballad of the Sad Cafe Novels & Stories 1st Edition… by Carson Mccullers

From: Georgia: An Echo of Sounds of the Chain Gang
http://wp.me/p14mpp-dZ

Carson McCullers’ The Ballad of a Sad Café, is a novella of greed, love, deceit, and revenge, which is set in a remote town in rural Georgia where “The largest building, in the very center of town, is boarded up completely and leans so far to the right that it seems bound to collapse at any minute.”

The building appears deserted, but “on the second floor there is one window which is not boarded; sometimes in the late afternoon when the heat is at its worst a hand will slowly open the shutter and a face will look down on the town. It is a face like the terrible dim faces known in dreams—sexless and white, with two gray crossed eyes which are turned inward so sharply that they seem to be exchanging with each other one long secret gaze of grief.”

Carson McCullers’ The Ballad of a Sad Café is not a happy story and the principal characters do not arouse our sympathy as they suffer. Amelia, the woman peering out of the second story window had her moments of glory in the little town, but she lost everything and ended up isolated and alone.

Fortunately for readers, the The Ballad of the Sad Cafe has been republished and is available as an eBook on Kindle and Kobo. Take advantage of the opportunity to read stories of Georgia and the South in the 50s as told by a skilled and provocative story teller.

Carto Sep 20, 2011

10. Bojagi & Beyond by Chunghie Lee

From: Bojagi: Art by the Women of Korea
http://wp.me/p14mpp-dM

Bojagi (Bo-Jah-ki) is a textile art form developed by Korean women during the male dominated Joseon Dynasty (1392–1910). The sewing and embellishment of patchwork wrapping cloths was one of the few creative activities allowed women in that long period of subjugation.

Today the art and craft of making Bojagi are having a renaissance and textile artists throughout the world are creating new innovative pieces. Many of these pieces were assembled for the exhibition Bojagi and Beyond, which is documented in this catalog by exhibit curator Chunghie Lee, a visiting professor at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD).

The catalog explains and illustrates the history of Bojagi and the use of wrapping cloths in Korean society today. There are color photographs of the pieces in the exhibit and illustrations of traditional gift wrapping using Bojagi.

This is an excellent introduction to this unusual art. The photographs and illustrations are especially well done.

Carto

9. Terrorist by John Updike

From: John Updike: His Novel Evokes Feelings of Sept. 11 Tragedy
http://wp.me/p14mpp-dH

John Updike has written an evocative response to the Sept. 11 tragedy in New York. It is my favorite of the many novels spawned by the attack. I re-read the book this week, not in memory of 9/11, but as a ‘book of the our times.’ In that sense, I found it thoughtful and to the point—A book about the inner city and the problems faced by young people as they cope with the environment they are given.

I think that this is a brilliant novel that ranks among the most provocative of his distinguished career. It is the story of an alienated American teenager who spurns the materialistic life he witnesses in the New Jersey town where he lives (Updike modeled it on Patterson, NJ). He turned to the words of the Holy Qur’an as expounded to him by his imam. Ahmad devotes himself fervently to God, but gets recruited into terrorism. He could easily have been recruited into the Peace Corps to serve in a Muslim country, but he wasn’t.

Updike’s novel seems to raise more questions that it answers, but it is definitely worth reading. ( )

Carto Sep 6, 2011

8. The Score: A Parker Novel (Parker Novels) by Richard Stark

From: The Parker Novels—A Criminal’s Life. Fiction, Of Course
http://wp.me/p14mpp-dB

The Score is the fifth novel of the Parker series. In this caper Parker will put together a gang of a dozen hardened criminals including several safe crackers. The gang will raid an oil refinery to steal the payroll, and while they are at it open every safe in the company town built up next to the refinery. The crooks plan to open safes in two banks, a jewelry store and several other businesses, while holding the fire, police and telephone systems captive. Imagine that!

Of course, this ambitious crime gets complicated and as in all Parker novels, something goes wrong. That is when we see Parker at his best. To be sure, this is pulp fiction, but it reads well with no frills, no long descriptions of the scenery or inner dialogs of the victims—you can read this on your iPad or other eBook reader and enjoy the misspent time.

If you like pulp fiction with an ample dose of clean violence and don’t mind that the criminals seem to fare somewhat better than the police, you might want to give the Parker eBooks published by the Chicago University Press a try.

Carto Sep 4, 2011

7. The Whole Truth by James Cummins

From: Perry Mason—The Case of the 24th Sestina
http://wp.me/p14mpp-do

The 24 poems (all are sestinas) of this volume are witty and cleverly written; clearly, meant to be read aloud and enjoyed. Some of them are courtroom drama; others show the Perry Mason characters offstage, interacting with one another. These latter poems can be sexy, erotic, sometime shocking, but always in good humor—I enjoyed the reading.

Carto Sep 1, 2011

6. Johann Gutenberg and his Bible : a historical study… by Janet Thompson Ing

From: The Bible: Gutenberg’s Printing Shop, Year 1439
http://wp.me/p14mpp-d7

This book is a concise history of the search for the printer of the oldest known Bible, now known as B42 (42 lines/page Bible). The task was difficult and took centuries to resolve—the major problem was that in early times, books left the printer unsigned, undated and unbound.

The author, Janet Ing, was a librarian at the Scheide Library in Princeton, NJ. The Sheide is an ideal place for a historical study of Gutenberg because it is one of 6 places in the world where the first four printed bibles are together in conservation. One of these Bibles is B42 from the press at Gutenberg’s Printing Shop in Mainz, Germany.

This history is well written and readable history of an important moment for Western Civilization.

Carto Aug 24, 2011

5. Oedipus of Lucius Annaeus Seneca by Lucius Annaeus Seneca

From: Oedipus—A King in Torment
http://wp.me/p14mpp-c4

See also: Seneca’s Oedipus adapted by Ted Hughes, (Introduction by Peter Brook; Illustrated by Reginald Pollack) Doubleday, 1972

The lights dim in the theater and the packed audience hushes. The lights come on again, dimly. Chorus appears at the edge of the empty stage and we hear the Seneca’s lines of welcome:

“I’m glad you’ve come.
It’s important to know there’ll be witnesses.”

Chorus turns and leaves as he came. Eerie sounds fill the theater and lights come up to reveal a large white nylon ground cloth that covers the still empty stage. From our right, a bearded, half-naked man wearing dark colored pantaloons enters the theatre—the man is Oedipus, King of Thebes.

We are watching Seneca’s Oedipus—the Roman version of the ancient Greek classic Oedipus, The King by Sophocles. This is the tragic story of an unwanted son purposely abandoned on a hillside to die of cold. But, the boy survives and he grows to manhood a prince in a Greek city-state near Thebes.

Oedipus leaves his home in search of adventure; along the way he kills an arrogant traveler in self-defense. Continuing on, Oedipus enters Thebes and becomes King when he defeats the Sphinx that had been holding the city hostage. Tragically, the Queen of Thebes, his new bride, is the mother who abandoned him to fate, many years before.

Mother and son, unaware of the incest, live together happily and prosperously for 15 years, but, as the play starts, a plague has struck Thebes and Oedipus is in torment because he can do nothing to alleviate the city’s suffering.

Oedipus is a terrified, guilt-ridden king trying in vain to heal a country that is dying from the plague; he is obsessed by dark fears, distant and vague memories of events he cannot bring to mind … an ancient prophesy of doom, a king’s death unavenged.

This play is a joy to read, but, even better, is watching a theater presentation. What a good way to spend a couple of hours and reflect on the torment of Oedipus; kings and leaders have problems, real and imagined, not known to those governed.

Carto Aug 1, 2011

4. The inner side of the wind, or The Novel of Hero and Leander… by Milorad Pavić, Christina Pribicevic-Zoric (Translator) (1993).

From: A Slavic Love Story: Hero and Leander Retold
http://wp.me/p14mpp-bR

The myth of Hero and Leander, the ill-fated lovers divided by the sea, was already well known in the time of the Roman poet Ovid, who wrote about them in Heroides (Heroines). In 1993, this love story was told again in prose by the Slavic author Milorad Pavic. His novel, set in modern Serbia, tells of two lovers separated by “the waves of time”: Leander lived at the turn of the eighteenth century and Hero lived in the twentieth century.

As published, Pavic’s novel can be opened and read front-to-back or back-to-front: the reader has the choice—read Leander’s story first or turn the book over and read Hero’s story first. Each story ends in the middle of the book where Hero and Leander meet for the first time. This is unusual, to say the least; you have to see it to believe it.

I read Leander’s story first. The story opens as young Leander is leaving home: “All futures have one great virtue: they never look the way you imagine them,” said the father to Leander.

Leander learns to read and becomes a builder. His fate is to build churches that are destroyed by the invading Turks.

Turning the book over, the reader meets chemistry student Heronea Bukur who lives in Belgrade. Heronea takes a part-time job as a French tutor. Her student, a young boy, is reading a French version of the Hero and Leander.

The boy confuses Heronea, his teacher, with Hero. Heronea/Hero must leave her job when she develops a language block and forgets the present and past tenses completely—she can no longer conjugate verbs. Eventually, Heronea joins a theater group presenting a play of Hero and Leander by a famous (but fictitious) Slavic grammarian.

Oddly enough, this strange version of the old love story captured my fancy—I enjoyed reading, but when I had read to the middle of the book for the second time I was at a total loss. What was I to deduce from the blank page separating Hero from Leander? Oh well, there is much that I don’t understand about that region of the world.

My congratulations to translator Pribicevic-Zoric who must have found her work challenging. I recommend this book to those readers who enjoy a charming story spun with a good number of absurd situations and no really satisfactory ending.

Carto Jul 26, 2011

3. Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution… by Jack N. Rakove(1996).

From: Our Founders: How Did They Do It?
http://wp.me/p14mpp-bI

Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution, Jack N. Rakove

The cover of the book boldly declares that this history is: “A deeply satisfying account of the political world from which the United States Constitution issued.”—The New York Times Book Review. I won’t argue with that assessment.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident”—this remarkable assertion begins the Declaration of Independence as written by the founders of the country in 1776 after considerable heated debate and 11th hour compromises on wording. Some few years later, in 1789, the framers of the constitution began an extended and bitter debate that at times approached or exceeded the limits of polite argument. The goal, to write the U. S. Constitution for ratification by the people.

How did the framers manage to overcome their differences and compromise to create our constitution? I’m amazed that they could make any headway at all, but they did; and according to Rakove’s analysis the key was disciplined, open argument and, ultimately, compromise.

In the lexicon of American politics, writes Rakove, few words evoke as ambivalent a response as compromise. Compromise means fairness to some and moral failure and defeat to others. Rakove adds: “[Compromise] suggests a preference for consensus over confrontation, a willingness to meet opponents halfway rather than strive for ideological purity. … Compromise, in all its ambivalence, is a staple theme of most narrative accounts of the Federal Convention of 1787, and with good reason. In the end, the framers granted concessions to every interest that had a voice in Philadelphia, …”

I like this book, it is hard reading at times, but the research is accurate and detailed—the reader, of course, can agree or disagree with Professor Rakove’s opinions.

Carto Jul 23, 2011

2. Un Dulce Olor a Muerte (A Sweet Scent of Death, tr. Alan Page), Guillermo Arriaga (Mexico, 1994).

Un Dulce olor a muerte (Sweet Scent of Death) (Spanish Edition)… by Guillermo Arriaga
From: Sorghum Justice: Murder and Vengeance in Mexico
http://wp.me/p14mpp-bx

This novel is an excellent profile of life and death in the rural Mexican countryside. The story takes place in a time before the proliferation of AK-47s and drug cartels—drug dealers and drug use do not play a part in the novel. Read and enjoy Guillermo Arriaga’s first published novel, written long before he became famous for his movie work (Amores Perros, 21 Gramos and Babel).

The opening scene of this rural crime drama takes place in the farmlands of eastern Mexico inland from Tampico near Ciudad Victoria. A child shrieks an alarm and a young man follows the sound to a ripening sorghum field. As he enters the field, Ramón sees an unclothed girl lying face down in her own blood. He takes off his shirt to place it over the girl’s nakedness. As he approaches closely, he sees her face; it is Adela.

Ramón scarcely knew Adela, but the whole town thought he was her boyfriend. She was meeting another man, but now she was dead and Ramón was in trapped in his lie.
Because of the intense heat, Adela’s body must be quickly prepared for burial. The author describes the embalming of the corpse by the local butcher, and poignant dressing the corpse for burial. It is powerfully written and easily visualized by the reader.

After the burial, the men of the village meet in the store to discuss the murder. They decide that a contraband dealer known as the Gypsy is the likely murderer and the boyfriend is bullied into promising to carry out vengeance. Ramón is free from suspicion of murder, but must carry out the horrible sentence of the people’s court—he must murder the Gypsy.

Guillermo’s sparse, direct story telling is dramatic and visually strong, but the writing doesn’t translate well into English. The literal translation by Alan Page seems overly formal, somewhat choppy and lacks the power of the original, so, if you can, read this book in the author’s Spanish edition.
Carto Jul 22, 2011

1. Moby Dick; or, The Whale by Herman Melville

From: The Whale—The Lure of the Sea
Moby Dick, Herman Melville (1851)

As I pick up my copy of Herman Melville’s epic story of obsession Moby Dick; or, the Whale. The memorable and dramatic opening lines of the narrator come to mind.

“Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.”

How many young men have taken to the sea with the words of Ishmael in their mind?

No whaler left New Bedford without a dose of the preacher’s bitter medicine:

Father Mapple rose, and in a mild voice of unassuming authority ordered the scattered people to condense. […] He paused a little; then kneeling in the pulpit’s bows, folded his large brown hands across his chest, uplifted his closed eyes, and [began the sermon]

The ribs and terrors in the whale,
Arched over me a dismal gloom,
’While all God’s sun-lit waves rolled by,
And left me deepening down to doom.

This terrifying sermon by the Minister, he being a seafaring man, warns of the dangers of the whale. Did any reader still hope for a happy ending?

Ishmael had been at sea aboard the Pequod for several days before Captain Ahab appeared on the quarterdeck and addressed the crew:

This is slow, sometime tedious, reading, but the images are powerful, well though out and rewarding; I was introduced to Moby Dick by a children’s edition and once, on a challenge, read the book from cover to cover. I now enjoy browsing through a few chapters from time-to-time. That way, I reacquaint myself with the story and rediscover how Melville tells his story, and then I put the novel back on the shelf.

A new adaptation of Mobt Sixk for TV is about to appear on cable, maybe its time for readers to re-visit this classic.

Carto Jul 17, 2011

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