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Maine Colonial's Reading Room (non-mysteries)

Discussion in 'Member Book Reviews/Journals/Blogs' started by Maine Colonial, Mar 29, 2014.

  1. pontalba

    pontalba Well-Known Member

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    I remember it used to be said that Australia was decades behind the US in social attitudes and I never believed it, but this made me wonder. The women in this book went to Tupperware parties, cared a lot about keeping a perfect home, and were very church and school-oriented.

    2.5 stars for me.[/QUOTE]


    I thought of this post earlier this afternoon as we passed a very noticeable pink sign on the side of the highway, in front of a large subdivision advertising a Huge Tupperware Party this weekend. I hadda laugh. :rofl
     
  2. Maine Colonial

    Maine Colonial Moderator Staff Member

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    I would have cracked up too. I wonder if Tupperware reps these also do those other parties, like the lingerie ones.
     
  3. Maine Colonial

    Maine Colonial Moderator Staff Member

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    [​IMG]

    Boris Fishman: A Replacement Life (4.5 stars)

    When I read the description of A Replacement Life, I thought: Are you kidding? A book about a writer helping Russian Jews falsely claim Holocaust restitution funds? Considering we still have plenty of anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers around, it just seemed like breathtaking––maybe even offensive––chutzpah to write this.

    But although this scheme is what moves the plot along, it's secondary to the real subject. The book is really about Slava's complicated love for his grandmother, who has just died. Slava has always wanted to be a writer, but he's not getting anywhere in his job at Century magazine. He uses his best writing to tell her story through these affidavits.

    When I was little, like most kids I was so self-centered I had barely any curiosity about the pasts of my parents, grandparents and other relatives. That changed when I got older, and I was lucky enough to hear some of their stories. Now that they are gone, though, I wish I'd found out so much more. Same thing with Slava, and with the loss of his grandmother, he realizes her generation won't last much longer. These stories are his way of connecting with them, and honoring his grandmother and her fellow survivors of World War II and the anti-Semitism of the Soviet Union.

    Boris Fishman has the kind of half-drunk love for the English language that you only see in writers for whom English is not their first language. It's a delight to read his flamboyant descriptions, unique associations and colorful depictions of the lives of eastern European immigrants in Brooklyn. These are characters and a side of immigrant America you won't see as a tourist.

    Thanks to the publisher, HarperCollins, and Amazon's Vine program for providing an advance review copy.
     
  4. Maine Colonial

    Maine Colonial Moderator Staff Member

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    [​IMG]

    Peter Mayle: The Corsican Caper
    3 stars: More of an hors d'oeuvre than an entrée

    I'm a francophile and I've read all of Peter Mayle's nonfiction books about Provence, his three Sam Levitt caper books and his other French novels Hotel Pastis, Anything Considered, Chasing Cezanne and A Good Year.

    With his last Levitt book I joked that whenever Mayle needs some more cash to support his Provencal lifestyle, he dashes off one of these books. That quip seems not to be so much of a joke at this point. This is a very short book, more of a novella than a novel. It made me wonder if Mayle had to raise funds quickly for some urgent repairs on his villa in the Luberon.

    As with the other books in the Sam Levitt series, the plot of The Corsican Caper is simple. Somebody does something threatening to a friend or acquaintance of Sam's, he and his girlfriend Elena travel from Los Angeles to Marseilles, and they and their wide circle of friends there (in both high and low places) outwit the bad guys–––in between sessions of eating plates of lovingly-described delectable food and drinking glasses of palate-pleasing wine.

    As usual, Mayle manages to plug into currently popular prejudices; he chooses a Russian oligarch/thug for his villain. Billionaire Vronsky wants to acquire Sam's friend Francis Reboul's Marseilles estate and will stop at nothing to do it, despite Reboul's adamant refusal to sell. A cat-and-mouse game begins, as Vronsky plans his underhanded attack on Reboul, while Sam and his compatriots simultaneously put together a counter-plot against Vronsky.

    Don't get me wrong; this is an entertaining book(let). But it will take you no time at all to read it and you'll have forgotten all about it in about as much time as it took to read. If you've read The Marseilles Caper, you will find this extremely similar––only shorter and a soupçon less charming. It's worth reading as a quick bit of fun, but I'd borrow it from the library.

    Thanks to the publisher, Knopf, and Amazon's Vine program for providing an advance review copy. The Corsican Caper will be published on May 16, 2014.
     
  5. Maine Colonial

    Maine Colonial Moderator Staff Member

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    Daniel O'Malley: The Rook
    2 stars

    For quite awhile, it bothered me that I wasn't enjoying this book. So many people loved it that I decided it must be that I don't much care for the paranormal in my reading. Finally, though it's definitely true that I could have easily lived without the yucky descriptions of people with their viscera on the outside, killer fungus and the like, that wasn't the problem. The problem is that the book is a big old mess.

    The story is told in the first person by Myfanwy Thomas, a Rook in Britain's powerful secret paranormal intelligence service, the Chequy. Actually, it's told by two Myfanwy Thomases, because the current Myfanwy is the one who wakes up surrounded by dead bodies wearing latex gloves, and no memory at all, including how the bodies got there and whether they were the ones who beat her up. She soon learns that the prior resident of her body, also Myfanwy Thomas, but whom our current Myfanwy refers to as just Thomas, heard from mysterious strangers that she'd be killed by conspirators within the Chequy. Thomas left letters and a big notebook so that Myfanwy could successfully take over the Rook position and find out who killed Thomas.

    OK, so that's supposed to be the story, but it turns out it really isn't. Instead, we have alternating narratives. One is these long, long, long info-dump excerpts from Thomas's notebook, which serve to fill us in on the history of the Chequy, its current personnel and Thomas's experiences with recent cases and colleagues. It's pretty heavy going, as is usually the case when you get your background information in this style.

    The current Myfanwy's story describes her various encounters with putting down paranormal threats (including that killer fungus thingie) and battling internal traitors who have betrayed the Chequy to the organization's centuries-old nemeses, the Grafters, who had been thought to have been wiped out long ago. The revelation of who killed Thomas and why is left for the very end of the book, pretty much of an afterthought.

    In addition to the deadly dull exposition bits of the book, the story violates a whole laundry list of other how-not-to-write-a-thriller rules. For nearly all of the book, Myfanwy is a too-stupid-to-live heroine, in addition to being a dull-as-dishwater charisma-free young woman. A villain commits the errors we're all familiar with from early James Bond movies. There is a lack of pacing and no real excitement. The characters are one-dimensional. The execution was a waste of an intriguing concept.
     
  6. pontalba

    pontalba Well-Known Member

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    :D Oh well, I'm one that loved it. I thought Myfanwy was interesting, and rather quick witted in the way she nicked onto what she had to know. Of course the long journal she left herself was a great touch I thought.

    Although I could have done with less viscera.......o_O :eek:
     
  7. Maine Colonial

    Maine Colonial Moderator Staff Member

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    You're in the majority. Most people do seem to have loved it.

    I was glad I listened to the book, which meant I was only "reading" it while I was out walking, not while eating!
     
  8. Maine Colonial

    Maine Colonial Moderator Staff Member

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    Joël Dicker: The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair
    0.5 stars

    I only have two problems with this book: (1) the ludicrous and lurid plot, and (2) the stunningly amateurish writing. It was increasingly painful, but I read every bit of the book, mostly because I just couldn't believe this could be the same book that has been such a huge best-seller abroad. I figured it had to transform itself into something great, but if anything, it just got worse with each passing page.

    I'll keep the plot summary brief, since you can read that just about anywhere. The protagonist, Marcus Goldman, is a young writer who hit it big with his first novel and is now hopelessly blocked. Under tremendous pressure from his agent and rapacious publisher, he flees to the seaside town of Somerset, New Hampshire, to get help from his college mentor, the literary lion, Harry Quebert.

    Shortly after Marcus's visit, Harry is arrested for the murder of a teenage girl, Nola Kellergan, who disappeared over 30 years later and whose body has just been found buried under Harry's lawn, along with the original manuscript of Harry's most famous novel, The Origin of Evil. Marcus decides he must investigate to clear Harry, and submits to his publisher's pressure to write a book about what is being called the Harry Quebert Affair.

    First of all, it's downright creepy that the then 34-year-old Harry had a love affair with a 15-year-old girl. And we get to read a lot about it and other similar events. But at least there is a little comedy value in that reading, with deathless prose like this:

    "As soon as he saw her, he felt his heart explode. He missed her so much. As soon as she saw him, she felt her heart explode. She had to speak to him."

    Unfortunately, those exploding hearts were not fatal. Harry and Nola continue to play their parts in Somerset, a burg whose citizens behave like cartoon versions of that old-time celebration of small-town sin, Peyton Place. There are shrewish wives, henpecked husbands, tongue-tied swains, gossipy diner denizens, a hideously-scarred chauffeur with a speech impediment (and, yes, his dialog is presented with the impediment); but most of all, there are people with deep dark secrets.

    I realize the prior paragraph might make the book sound kind of fun, in a campy soap-opera-ish way. But it isn't. It's just so ridiculous, clichéd and repetitive. A good couple of hundred pages could have been edited out of this thing. (It would still be bad, but at least there'd be less of it.) The author, Joël Dicker, really needed a firm editor to take him in hand, and especially to rein in his love of hyperbole (everything is the best or most or greatest), his constant explaining rather than showing, and embarrassing lavishing of love on authors. We get to read a lot about Marcus and Harry, because they are writers, and writers are extraordinary, as we are told over and over. I never figured out what made Marcus and Harry so extraordinary, though. They both seemed like self-absorbed bores to me.

    At last, in the final one-third or so of the book, we learn what happened. Or do we? Over and over, the mystery appears to reach a resolution, but then we find out that the resolution was wrong. It was like that terrible movie Clue, where they just keep changing the ending, but each ending presented is equally silly. Dicker pulls a few other rabbits out of his hat along the way, but they're about as impressive as nine-year-old learning magic tricks.

    Before I posted this review, I decided to try to find out why some people thought this was a great book. I found a couple of newspaper reviewers who talked about what a terrific satire this is of the publishing industry and how interesting it is as a piece of metafiction--because it's a writer (Joël Dicker) writing about a writer (Marcus Goldman) writing about a writer (Harry Quebert). To me, the real satire of publishing is that this joke of a novel was published at all. And as for metafiction, well, no matter how "meta" this might be, that bit of cleverness can't elevate the terrible writing and plotting.
     
  9. pontalba

    pontalba Well-Known Member

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    :) I'm surprised you have it half a star! :D

    Sounds perfectly awful. Satire ain't easy, for sure.
     
  10. Maine Colonial

    Maine Colonial Moderator Staff Member

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    "Perfectly" awful is just about right! I haven't seen an author get it so completely wrong in quite awhile.
     

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