Sunday, November 30, 2014

November 2014 Reads Part II

The second half of my November reads had some dark and heavy content. End of the world as we know it, a massacre, terrors of 1970s Phillipines, racism in New Orleans, Kafkaesque surrealism, and aimless wandering in post WWI Europe. I need to start December with some light, silly, romantic, fluff.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
 Library book. Excellent dystopian fiction. This was a finalist for the US National Book Award. I decided to read it based on the author's reading at the pre-award function.

That Dark Remembered Day by Tom Vowler
 From author via blog raffle win at Scott Pack's Me And My Big Mouth As the title suggests, this is a dark story. In 2012, Stephen reluctantly returns to the village of his youth to visit his ailing mother. A tragedy happened here when Stephen was fifteen and he has spent his life trying to put it behind him. We know that it involved his family but the depth of the 1983 tragedy is revealed slowly as the novel progresses. The events of 1983 are told from three points of view: Stephen's; his mother Mary's, and his father Richard's.
 Vowler's pacing is exquisitely suspenseful both piquing the reader's curiosity and preparing us for
magnitude of what is to come. Hard, at times, to read but impossible to put down.

The Descartes Highlands by Eric Gamalinda
  Finished copy from publisher through LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. This dark, gritty narrative is scattered over time, place, and viewpoint but at it's heart is the terrible underworld of the Philippines in the early 1970s. This is a "you will love it or hate it" kind of book.
  Two men, one raised in the US and one raised in France, are half brothers who were sold as infants by their draft-dodging American father in Manilla. Their mothers were Filipinas. As adults, they set out separately to find  some answers to the riddles of their pasts and possibly the meaning of life.
 The book is filled with  graphic descriptions of sex, torture, and an abortion. F-Bombs abound.
There is also love of various kinds, a mish-mash of philosophy and religion, politics, friendship, betrayal, and strange characters. Did I mention drugs? That too.
  I hesitate to say I liked it. When I finished it I shook my head and asked myself "WTF did I just read?" Whatever it is, I'm not sorry I read it, I'll re-read passages and it will stay with me.

Dollbaby by Laura Lane McNeal 
  Library Book. I gave this novel set in New Orleans four stars on Goodreads. That's slightly generous, maybe three and a half, but I went up instead of down because of the well drawn characters and the overall quality of the writing. The time period is 1964, 1968, 1972. It is primarily a family story, but the civil rights issues do enter the story. Another promising debut novel.

The Investigation by Philippe Claudel; John T. Cullen, Translation
 Library book. I'd rather re-read Kafka.

Flight Without End by Joseph Roth
 Library book. See my German Lit Page for brief notes.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

November 2014 Reads Part I

One surprise (Zupan), one disappointment (McCullough), one difficult to review (Hahn), some fun (Lakhous), plus some other good reading. All in all a good batch.

The Ploughmen by Kim Zupan
 Library book. I read this 272 page book in one day, I put it aside a couple of times, but picked it up again. Goodreads description says "A young sheriff and a hardened killer form an uneasy and complicated bond in this mesmerizing first novel set on the plains of Montana." That would not have sold me. I picked it up off the new book shelf, read a few paragraphs and was sold by the descriptive language--particularly of the landscape. Warning: the descriptions of murders and other deaths are graphic and gruesome, but necessary to the plot and character development. I was surprised that I liked this one.

Shorter Days by Anna Katharina Hahn; Anne Posten, translation.
 My copy (on Kindle). Am trying to write a review of this for German Lit Month. The problem is that I had so much fun reading it that the experience turned out to be so personal. Memories kept taking over.  I loved the book.

Dispute Over a Very Italian Piglet (Enzo Laganà #1) by Amara Lakhous; Ann Goldstein, translation.
 Library book. Lots of fun as reporter Enzo Laganà works on two different stories--the "feud" between Albanian and Romanian immigrants and the case of a piglet whose actions have upset the balance in Enzo's own neighborhood. Amid the humor are serious reflections on prejudice, journalistic ethics, and family.

Just a Human Being and Other Tales from Contemporary Cambodia by Teri Shaffer Yamada, editor
   My copy. As I suspected, life in Cambodia isn't easy. Many of these twelve stories concern the plight of the urban poor and such social problems as crime, access to health care, immorality, and greed.
About the translation: In the acknowledgements, Yamada points out that it was a team effort and "...are not direct translations but renditions created with the intent of maintaining the initial meaning of the text."
Worth reading.

Defiant brides : the untold story of two revolutionary-era women and the radical men they married by Nancy Rubin Stuart
 Library book. This is a very engaging piecing together of the lives of two women who are little known in United States history.

Seven Japanese Tales by Jun'ichirō Tanizaki; Howard Hibbett (Translator)
  Library book. Published by Knopf in 1963, this collection covers a wide span of Tanizaki's literary career from 1910 through 1959.  The subject matter includes relationships of obsession, bordering on the sinister and forbidden. The most haunting is "Bridge of Dreams" (1959) which is about a man's strange relationship with his stepmother. "Terror" (1913) deals with a man's phobia with train and other forms of transport.  "Aguri" (1922) and "The Tattooer" (1910) are stories of men obsessed with adorning women--one with clothes and jewelery, the other with his art. Two deal with blindness: "A Portrait of Shunkin" (1933) and the historical novelette "A Blind Man's Tale" (1931). The most straightforward tale is "The Thief" (1921) a rather predictable story and the least interesting of the seven. It is an excellent sampling that makes me want to read some of his longer works.

Bittersweet by Colleen McCullough.
 Free finished copy from publisher through the Goodreads First Reads Program. Didn't live up to my expectations. Brief review cross-posted on LibraryThing and Goodreads. 

Three Novellas; by Thomas Bernhard; Peter Jansen (Translator), Kenneth J. Northcott (Translator)
Brian Evenson (Foreword)
 See brief review on my German Lit Page
“Incident on the 405” by Travis Richardson.  One of 13 short crime stories in Criminal Element's e-collection, The Malfeasance Occasional's Girl Trouble issue. Reprinted here in its entirety, this is the story of a minor accident that provides an opportunity for major revenge.

Tomorrow Is Waiting By Holli Mintzer. Published online by Strange Horizons, November, 21, 2011.
 A futuristic tale of Kermit the Frog.

Also there are a couple of links to articles about Berlin on my German Lit Page.