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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Review: 'I'd Know You Anywhere'

By Laura Lippman
Crime Fiction
August 2010
William Morrow
ISBN: 978-0-06-202429-9

What happens to the girl who lives through her kidnapping and the murder of other girls? What made her different? How does she put her life back together? How does her family cope? And what happens if she buries it all but the past comes back to try to reclaim her?

These are some of the questions Laura Lippman addresses in her new standalone novel, I'd Know You Anywhere. That these questions are addressed through the action of the story and by what the characters do shows what a strong book this is, even stronger and more subtle than her brilliant last standalone, Life Sentences.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Upcoming reviews

After finished Laura Lippman's new brilliant novel, I'd Know You Anywhere, it became clear this late summer and fall publications are going to offer some fascinating reading.

A review of Lippman's latest standalone is next up here, while September reviews will include debut novelist John Addiego's Tears of the Mountain from Unbridled Books. October's offerings will include another debut novel, Mr. Toppit, by Charles Elton from Other Press, and the mammoth Best American Noir of the Century, edited by James Ellroy and Otto Penzler, from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

In Progress: 'Best American Noir'

Not only should short stories not be read one after another after another, without pause for the effect of each one, but noir short stories definitely should be allowed to breathe on their own.

Take Dennis Lehane's entry in the upcoming Best American Noir of the Century (October 2010, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Although Lehane is best known for his contemporary and historical novels of Boston, his 1999 story "Running Out of Dog" is set in the south. It's a post-Vietnam tale of three friends, Elgin, Blue and Jewel Lut, and how adulthood has not treated them well.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Good Words: 'Tinkers'

On occasion, posting an excerpt from an ongoing read is done only to highlight the lovely language. For example, there is this from the early part of Paul Harding's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Tinkers:

When he imagined the inside of that clock (an 1801 walnut-cased grandfather's clock), dark and dry and hollow, and the still pendulum hanging down its length, he felt the inside of his own chest and had a sudden panic that it, too, had wound down.

When his grandchildren had been little, they had asked if they could hide inside the clock. Now he wanted to gather them and open himself up and hide them among his ribs and faintly ticking heart. (pp. 33-34)
I love this passage for its haunting portrait in miniature of a man who is dying. This is what it must feel like for someone who knows what is happening to him, and who has lived with love.

Musings: 'Mockingjay'

Mockingjay, the third book in Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games trilogy, has little choice except to be brilliant, considering the first two books. The third novel, which comes out next week, is bound to be action-filled, since book #2, Catching Fire, ended in a cliffhanger revelation.

What I'm interested in seeing is how much control Katniss has over what happens to her. In both The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, she had to react much of the time. She becomes a tribute for the games because her little sister's name was drawn. She agrees to the schemes of her sponsor Haymitch in order to stay alive. She responds to her fellow tribute, Peeta, based on what she thinks he is doing. She agrees to form alliances in the second book in order to achieve her goal of keeping Peeta alive.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Review: 'Past Midnight'

By Mara Purnhagen
YA paranormal
Harlequin Teen
September 2010
ISBN-13: 978-0-373-21020-6

I know a lot about ghosts. More than the average person and way, way more than any other seventeen-year-old. Except for Jared and Avery, but most of what they know they learned from me this year, when things got crazy. I know a lot about things going crazy, too, thanks to my parents. They're paranormal researchers, and let's just say they like to bring their work home with them. And sometimess, their work follows them home.

For good.
And so begins the tale of Charlotte, a girl who has been moved around by her parents her entire life while they making documentaries debunking ghost stories. Charlotte, about to begin her senior year, is the quiet one of the family. Her more beautiful older sister, Annalise, is the one who has on-camera experience being a trigger for energy that her parents do believe in, even if they don't believe in ghosts.

But when the family checks out a restaurant in Charleston, S.C., it's Charlotte who the energy seeks. That energy will change what everyone in her family has assumed about their life's work.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Soapbox: Pigeonholing

Pigeonholing and putting down those who don't share your reading taste is right up there on my hot button list. Doesn't matter if it's literary people putting down genre folk or, genre folk bad-mouthing literary people. So when I see those who refuse to let their own reading or influences be limited to these arbitrary pigeonholes, attention must be paid.

Case in point today is a wide-ranging interview of fabulous crime writer Don Winslow at the new Mulholand Books site ( ) -- a site to bookmark and an imprint to support. Winslow writes brutal, fascinating novels about corruption and drugs. They are not breezy reads but they are complex, serious, riveting and very rewarding. He's got a new one coming out, Savages, that I plan to obtain as soon as possible.

Among his influences? Victorian novelist George Eliot's masterpiece, Middlemarch. This is the ultimate British novel during the height of its influence. I think even more highly of it than anything by the other Victorians I revere most. Here's a link to the whole interview:

Good writing is good writing. Good storytelling is good storytelling. And the best authors, no matter where their own works are shelved, know this.

I thought highly of Winslow before but he's definitely riding even higher now.

And check out the Mulholland Books site every day for a new author interview.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Review: 'Lay Down My Sword and Shield'

February 2010
Gallery Books (Simon & Schuster) (reprint edition)
ISBN: 978-1-4391-6545-4

Hackberry Holland came on the literary landscape in 1971, talking about the bullet holes in his porch left by John Wesley Hardin when the outlaw confronted Hack's grandfather before relating how, as an up-and-coming politician, he ended up far from the corridors of power.

In 2009, Hack was seen again in Burke's brilliant Rain Gods. Now, Hack's introduction, Lay Down My Sword and Shield, has been reprinted.

Son of a congressman, Hack is on the verge of becoming one himself. All he has to do is live through endless cocktail parties, meetings with donors and pretending to be happily married to his ice queen wife. Anyone who survived being a Korean prisoner of war should be able to put up with a few wealthy Texas housewives and a senator, right? Instead, Hack is drinking himself into oblivion.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Review: 'Brodeck'

By Philippe Claudel
June 2009
Nan A. Talese/Doubleday
ISBN: 978-0-385-52724-8

A small Alpine community appears to have recovered from a great war in which young men from the village died. Most did not return. But one did. Brodeck survived a prison camp by degrading himself, crawling on all fours while wearing a dog collar to amuse the guards. He writes reports now, chronicling the changing of the seasons and noting the passage of time.

Time passes very slowly for the village, as well as for Brodeck, his wife, daughter and the woman who raised him as her own child. It's not quite a time of healing. It is a time when the townsfolk give the impression they are not ready to live again.

They don't have much of a choice, though, when a stranger arrives. A larger-than-life figure with a donkey and a horse, who follows people around. Then comes "the thing that happened", when the stranger is killed. The leaders of the village charge Brodeck with writing a report to explain what happened, to justify any actions taken. Brodeck also resolves to write his own version, keeping it secret.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Review: 'On Folly Beach'

By Karen White
Women's Fiction
May 2010
NAL Accent
ISBN: 978-0-451-22921-2

You know how you have a favorite author who just seems to get better and better? And so you know it's going to be a wonderful reading experience when that author's latest book comes out?

Well, what if the expectation isn't matched by the actual experience? This is hard to say, because this author, formerly a delightful correspondent on CompuServe's old Litforum, appears to be trying too hard. On Folly Beach has some wonderful ideas and retains Karen White's wonderful outlook on life, family and loving, but it was far too convoluted for what should have been a memorable story.

In Progress: 'Mr. Toppit'

Contrasts in fiction can be a powerful technique to convey ideas. Although I've read only about a third of  Mr. Toppit, a debut novel by Charles Elton coming out next month (Other Press, September 2010), contrasts abound. And they're making the reading experience richer.

Luke Hayman's father, Arthur, turned him into Luke Hayseed, the young protagonist of his beloved children's novels. Luke Hayseed isn't Luke Hayman, although of course people don't quite believe him. It's even worse for his sister. She has the Hayseed legacy but is not in the books, and this contrast is a heavy burden for her.
There also is the contrast between the Hayman family and Laurie Clow, an American who happens to be on the scene when Arthur is struck in the street and lays there dying. The contrast between the main narrative, from Luke's perspective, and a section about Laurie's drab life, is so apparent that I'm going to be looking for comparisons as well.
Elton's writing style has a flexibility to it that enhances these contrasts, throwing them into sharper focus. He also does a lovely job of the portions of Arthur's books, which are gleaming examples of British children's literature.
One of the highlights of the novel so far is that Elton does not use this technique with a heavy hand. It's not until the family returns to its Dorset cottage that I had the "aha!" moment. In Arthur's books, the forest is dark; it's where the mysterious Mr. Toppit lives. In real life, it's the woods where Luke and his sister, Rachel, find sunshine and love to play. Their house is dark, set against a hill and not a refuge.
I'm definitely looking forward to reading more tonight.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Review: 'The Man from Beijing'

By Henning Mankell
February 2010
ISBN: 978-0-307-27186-0

Although Henning Mankell is known primarily for his crime fiction featuring Wallender and his family in Sweden, The Man from Beijing is truly an international work of fiction. And although it begins with the discovery of a savage massacre in a remote Swedish village, this is not really crime fiction.

Instead, The Man from Beijing is a story of empire-building corruption, family ties and revenge that spans China, old Europe, new America and Africa.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Excerpt: Cornell Woolrich

Short stories should not be skimmed or read in a hurry or in succession. That's why I'm still reading Best American Noir of the Century (good thing there are still a couple months before the October release). But tonight I hit a story with some eerie musing that can only be Cornell Woolrich, and is:

Every life is a mystery. And every story of every life is a mystery. But it is not what happens that is the mystery. It is whether it has to happen no matter what, whether it is ordered and ordained, fixed and fated, or whether it can be missed, avoided, circumvented, passed by; that is the mystery.
From his last published story in 1968, For the Rest of Her Life. In these days of prologue-happy crime fiction, can't think of one that does a better job than the start of this story.