Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Into a Raging Blaze-Andreas Norman

Into a Raging Blaze-Andreas Norman
the facts
satisfaction: side
pages: 592
gender: M
nationality: Sweden
year: 2013
novel in translation
After being given a document, Carina Dymek, part of the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, accidentally leaks a classified document-something that would have long term consequences. Bente Jenson is tasked to find out how the document was leaked and how it is linked to extremist Islamic groups.
I don't know why but I just expected more intrigue. Maybe I'm just too inured by years of American and British espionage and bureaucratic corruption novels that the Scandinavian version was too subtle and civilized. There was just too much backstory. I'm not usually the sort who dislikes developed backstory but there was too much detail and I retained so little of it by the time the action picked up that I no longer remembered what had been explained to me. To write this summary, I had to relook up what the bureau involved was. I mean, yes, it added to the whole trusting the author that this could happen but still there was a lot that could have cut out and the novel would have benefited. And the actions of the characters really didn't improve things because there was such naivety at play within Carina's actions. She seems to not really think anything through.

Beyond my bellyaching, it is Bente who saves the day. The investigator is on top of her game and intelligent. She acts rationally and calmly as she shows a strength of character unmuddled by the blind governmental workermanship of Carina. It is definitely a brief of fresh air to read a novel in which the American and British agencies are the bad guys but the overall pace was far too slow.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Hollow Ground-Natalie S. Harnett

Hollow Ground-Natalie S. Harnett
the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 336
gender: F
nationality: USA
year: 2014
novel
Set in the 1960s during the beginnings of the infamous underground coal fires of Central Pennsylvania, the Howleys struggle with their personal demons, the government, poverty, and a family 'curse'.
One of my favorite moments in my undergraduate science classes was our trip to Centralia. We stood there in the midst of overgrown streets (my archaeologist training meant I could see the town plan clear as day) and loosened our winter coats due to the heat rising from our feet and breathed in shallowly the pervading stink of coal fire watching smoke rise from fissures in the ground. Our professor lectured about coal seams, acidic levels, and mining waste and I stood there thinking about the people who had lived there. This was, then, the perfect book for me. Harnett draws a charming character with her narrator, Brigid. Brigid yanks at your heartstrings as she struggles to grow up fast and understand her dysfunctional family. There is a perverse pride within the family about their misfortune even as it wrecks their lives. Working class issues clash with this family's particular secrets amidst the failure of the government. The novel has its flaws with some plotholes that seem to be there only to irk but at its heart, it is a sincere story.


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Perfect Heritage-Penny Vincenzi

A Perfect Heritage-Penny Vincenzi
the facts
satisfaction: side
pages: 753
gender: F
nationality: UK
year: 2014
novel
The House of Farrell was the it brand of the 1950s under the helm of Athina Farrell via Cornelius Farrell. However, it's not doing well in the modern world and Bianca Bailey is sent in to revamp the corporation/brand. The two headstrong women clash while we learn secrets about the past from Florence Hamilton, the head of sales at the flagship store since its heydays.

I honestly was far too stubborn to stop reading this one. This is not my sort of novel:cosmetic company with a clash between the high powered corporate rehabilitator and the overbearing matriarch, how on earth did I end up picking this up? I mean, just look at the names involved! So I suppose it's down to Vincenzi's pacing and charm. I hated most of the people in the novel (vapid, unbelievable, and one dimensional), was surprised by little in the novel (most of the secrets were so anti-climatic!), and felt like I was reading the novel equivalent of the telenovelas I also avoid and yet I read the whole thing? It was like good quality junk food-a contradiction of terms that nevertheless keeps you snacking.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Island of a Thousand Mirrors-Nayomi Munaweera

Island of a Thousand Mirrors-Nayomi Munaweera
the facts
satisfaction: side/up
pages: 256
gender: F
nationality: Sri Lanka
year: 2014
novel
Two girls, one Sinhalese and the other Tamil, are caught up into their country's civil war. Their experiences never intersect but their shared humanity is emphasized.

Please excuse me while I rock myself here in this corner. This is so not an easy book as it clearly and in detail explores the unspeakable violence of the Sri Lankan civil war. The emotional devastation was really total. Maybe it was the gorgeous and lush prose that so effectively flipped between the beauty of the country and the carnage of death and trauma. This is not a reductionist kind of novel, both sides are depicted as brutal and the violence as senseless as an abstract and justified as personal narratives. It's a tough line to walk and Munaweera walks it by focusing on the fact that these are normal women who were simply caught up in this national tragedy and transformed into...protagonists of it. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Gone Are the Leaves-Anne Donovan

Gone Are the Leaves-Anne Donovan
the facts
satisfaction: side
pages: 336
gender: F
nationality: UK
year: 2014
novel
Set in the castle of a Scottish laird, Feilamort has a beautiful singing voice. The lady of the house wants to preserve it and Dierdre the young seamstress loves him for himself.

Dierdre is a bit of an annoying narrator. She is perhaps too naive for my taste and much of the book felt like it dwelled so much upon the whining of this sheltered character-chapters of I Miss My Mother and I Don't Know What's Going On But I Can't Do Anything. Which, in the time period of the novel does make some sense however, I really most enjoyed the chapters written by other characters. Unfortunately, these other characters are never fully realized as people and you are basically left with Dierdre. I felt frustrated throughout the book with the glimpses of something more interesting happening around Dierdre. Then when the book comes to its climax, I just could no longer really care and considered Dierdre so daft I could not actually trust her accounts which just frustrated me so much more. Other characters in the book were so much more proactive or able to inform themselves, why did we have to hear so much from the one character who couldn't?

And no, my frustrations were not from the Scots dialect in which it was written. Though I have awful hearing comprehension of Scottish accents and dialects, the Scots Donovan writes in is lighter and clearer than other such books (I'm looking at you Trainspotting).

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Brutal Youth-Anthony Breznican

Brutal Youth-Anthony Breznican
the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 416
gender: M
nationality: USA
year: 2014
novel
St. Michael's is a school on the down plunge. Budget problems means that delinquents, bullies, and religious are in charge, both within the student body and among staff. Peter Davidek visits on a day when a taunted upper-classman is driven to desperation. The people he connects to on this day prove to be his saving grace as they struggle to survive their freshman year.

Did you want a realistic novel about a parochial high school? Look elsewhere. That is not to say that there aren't elements of realism in Breznican's school (oh, there are) but rather that this is a study in extremes. I loved it. There is such a subtle, dark wit to Breznican's observations and writing that really charmed me to my bones. His prose would periodically part to showcase some brilliantly simple but beautiful lines. The intensity is never decreased (though thankfully, it never increases) and the book is brilliantly structured to show that evil arises during situations that call for it. The characters are so well drawn, you have sympathy, you have horror, and no one is good or bad but rather everyone is good and bad. I think you, as the reader, end up with almost every emotion that it is possible to have about fictional people and situations and yet at the end, I thanked Breznican for it. This is not an easy book and it is a little long but I thought it was totally worth it. I have a lot of feelings.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Bitter River-Julia Keller

Bitter River-Julia Keller
the facts
satisfaction: up/side
pages: 400
gender: F
nationality: USA
year: 2013
novel
Bell Elkins is a prosecuting attorney in a small West Virginian town. Her personal life has all sorts of entanglements and she has to figure what happened to Lucinda Trimble, who was found pregnant and dead in the town river.

I enjoyed the small town. Keller captures the incestuous entanglements and stand-offishness of a small town. Everyone knows everyone and their business but self-interest means that even if everyone knows something is wrong, they won't help (or maybe I'm as bitter as the river in this title). This novel though is about Bell Elkins. She is an interesting protagonist and the focus is definitely on developing her as a character. This is less of a murder mystery and more of a character study as even her investigations into the murder are merely background to Acker's Gap, the town, and Bell's relationships with the people around her. Not that this is a bad thing, mind you, merely that Lucinda's mystery is almost solved without you noticing it.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Dance of a Sham-Paul Emond

Dance of a Sham-Paul Emond
the facts
satisfaction: side
pages: 96
gender: M
nationality: Belgium
year: 1979
novella in translation
A breathless sentence of a novella featuring a single narrator-who may be who he tells you he is.

There is only one sentence in these 96 pages so the structure and rythm must be taken at the 120km/hr it is written to carry you along. It's successful and very well structured from a writing style view-it's hard to tear yourself away even as the sentence mutates and you realize just how unreliable the narrator is. I love unreliable narrators and this narrative starts with admiring his friend and mutates into talking about himself which is usually a big draw for me. However, I ended up a bit miffed at the structure. I understand that it was meant so that you couldn't take breaks and perhaps reflect on how much truth is really being said but it also meant that the progression was not as subtle as would have been amazing. Instead, I felt a bit like I had been cornered at a party and forced to listen to someone I could barely understand over the noise of the party to whom I would have said almost anything to escape. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Bringing It All Back-Nicola Lagioia

Bringing It All Back-Nicola Lagioia

the facts
satisfaction: side/up
pages: 138
gender: M
nationality: Italy
year: 2014
novel(la) in translations
Following three friends, this is a coming of age story set in the optimism of the 1980s that quickly sours.

This wasn't bad but it felt too short. I don't mean this in the "wish it never ended" way but rather that too much went unsaid. The narrator talks about investigating the events that changed his life but never actually says what those events were. If he did, it was buried or was not something I personally could consider life-changing. As I am obviously not Italian, a boy/man, nor did I spend my childhood in Bari in the 1980s, I really found the characters so inexplicable and therefore very opaque. I'm not going to blame Lagioia however, as that is how I feel about every Italian male I've ever met so perhaps it's actually just a personal flaw. You see, despite my complete loss of the point/events and the characters I failed to understand or really care about, I still recognized that this was really well written. The translation lost none of the flow I associate with Italian texts and the phrases were sometimes so well written so as to expose such impressive literary literacy. And the setting was well-populated with pop-culture and little touches that made it clear that this was the experience of the young