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book reviews & comments
This section includes the date Vicky posted them, and how many stars she gave the book and then a short review
. Most of these reviews and comments were posted on Library Thing, and before that, on Good Reads. Because of the purchase of Good Reads by Amazon, Vicky moved all of her book listings to LibrayThing.


goat mountainluminariestale for the time beingfoal'sholy order
Goat Mountain: A Novel
by David Vann
January 7, 2014 / Library Thing - starstarstarstar1/2
David Vann is not for the easily shocked. His novels are extremely violent and very intense, depicting highly dysfunctional family life that you hope no one ever has to experience but of which you are afraid the author has intimate knowledge. Vann's prose is brilliant and Goat Mountain reads like a strangled cry for help.
_____

Luminaries
by Eleanor Catton
November 20, 2013 / LibraryThing - starstarstarstarstar
Catton's Booker winning The Luminaries is a brilliant feat of storytelling wherein we follow the action through what the characters tell each other...which proves to be an intimate and exciting way to bring the reader into the tale. The characters are complex and inspired. My only criticism is the book's size which at over 800 pages and in hardback was very hard to read in bed but won't prevent me from rereading it soon.
_____


A Tale for the Time Being
by Ruth Ozeki
September 28, 2013 / LibraryThing - starstarstarstarstar
I've had a few special experiences with books I've read where I'm not quite sure what transpires...mind-meld, time travel, out-of-body happenings are all possibilities. One explanation that I've grown to like is that the author has been able to construct a reality that my mind is able to enter, literally. Ruth Ozeki's notion in A Tale for the Time Being deals with quantum mechanics and Buddhism and serves as another fine way of looking at this phenomena. Setting these considerations aside and on many other different levels, the novel enthralls and ultimately works. I loved this book.
_____

Foal's Bread by Gillian Mears
September 2, 2013/ LibraryThing - starstarstarstar
The Foal's Bread is a sad, haunting story of an Australian family of jumpers before WW11, doing what must be done to survive in an unforgiving atmosphere of hardscrabble living. Mears' beautiful prose verges on poetry.
_____

Holy Order
by Benjamin Black
July 27, 2013 / LibraryThing - starstarstarstar
Holy Orders is not strictly a mystery and not strictly a piece of fiction. The mystery meanders through the major character's life as a backdrop while the main action concerns what Quirke is experiencing in his head which is beautifully constructed by Banville. The only false note of the novel is Quirke's daughter, Phoebe, who seems unable to talk, relate to or interact with anyone. I've read only the first of the Quirke series besides this one, so I'm hoping that the backstory from the intermediate books will tell the story.

enontransatlantictime
Enon
by Paul Harding
June 9, 2013 / LibraryThing - starstar1/2
Most of my books have ratings of 4 or 5 (stars)...I usually don't finish those that haven't hooked me in some way. I made myself get through Enon because I felt obligated to be able to write a review but it proved to be a hard, really hard, slog. The first person protagonist, Charlie, has lost his daughter Kate to an horrendous accident at the start of the novel and for the next year of his life he wallows in grief, addiction and delusion and he drags the reader along with him. Harding's prose is adequate and, even at times, beautiful but didn't ring true to me....Charlie's internal monologue with his endless metaphors and illusions bored me beyond tears. I found it hard to comprehend someone so self-involved that he was unable to find any compassion or offer any comfort to his wife who, one assumes, must be going through the same hell. She, understandably, leaves him shortly after Kate dies and Charlie is left to fall into a downward spiral of his own making. His musings on the daughter are borderline creepy...she was his obsession and seemed to be his only reason to live. It's an understatement to say that I didn't enjoy my time spent with Enon.
_____

TransAtlantic
by Colum McCann
May 15, 2013 / LibraryThing - starstarstarstarstar
A brilliant, thought-provoking novel of connections told by an author who clearly loves his characters. McCann's prose is beautiful, his story is unique and completely engaging and the book has become my favorite thus far in a year of very fine reading.
_____

Life After Life
by Kate Atkinson
May 4, 2013 / LibraryThing - starstarstarstar1/2
This is the best book I've read in the last six months...well written, interesting characters and a plot that turns on itself to reveal a multi-layered world. Experience the novel for yourself before reading explanatory reviews.


innocent bloodsalvation of a Sainthide and seekcleaprayer of the dragon
Innocent Blood
by P.D. James
March 16, 2013 / Good Reads starstarstar
James' prose is very well crafted but Innocent Blood was overwritten, heavy-handed and, most of the characters, unlikable. I stayed with it to watch the plot developed but, here, too was disappointed because it was not believable. 
_____


Salvation of a Saint
by Keigo Higashino
January 20, 2013 / Good Reads starstarstar
I was intrigued with the first book in Higashino's series and hoped that this one would be as interesting but, at one point in the narrative, I thought that if I had to read one more sentence about the preparation of a particular cup of coffee that I would loose it.
_____


Hide and Seek by
Ian Rankin
January 10, 2013 / Good Readsstarstarstarstar
Traveling back through time to Rankin's second Rebus novel illuminates, for me, just how consistently good this series has been. Nobody does it better. 

_____


Clea (The Alexandria Quartet, #4)
by Lawrence Durrell
September 29, 2012 / Good Readsstarstarstarstarstar
Although it took awhile to get into the mode of leisurely exposition, once there, I fell in love with the Alexandrian Quartet again. Durrell examines questions of love, illusion and motivation and, as a by product, creates a locale (Alexandria) that has as many facets as a well-rounded character character.

_____


Prayer of the Dragon
by Eliot Pattison
September 12, 2012 / Good Readsstarstarstar
This mystery contains some great cultural material and interesting history but falls short on development of character and motivation, mostly because of a strong underpinning of action, action, action. I felt like I was in a movie I wanted to leave but I stayed with it to glean the really bleak but informative picture of Tibet under China's oppression.


age of miraclesthe neruda casecanadathe uncoupl;ingmoonwalking with einstein
The Age of Miracles
by Karen Thompson Walker
August 24, 2012 / Good Readsstarstarstarstarstar
Simply told, this is a beautifully spun tale of a possible future. Karen Thompson Walker's spare prose gives Julia, her main character, a lovely, lonely voice that haunts the story. Resist reading too much about the novel before reading it yourself...appreciate the revelations through the book's pages. Magic.
_____


The Neruda Case: A Novel
by Roberto Ampuero
August 13, 2012 / Good Readsstarstarstar
Although I appreciated learning a bit of history (1970's Chile, Neruda, Cuba, etc.), the story was framed in a clunky manner (possibly translation problems) with really strange metaphors strewn throughout (maybe more translation issues). Add to these complaints my disappointment in the lack of any real mystery in this novel and you get a half-hearted recommendation to read it.

_____


Canada
by Richard Ford
August 1, 2012 / Good Readsstarstarstarstar
Although Ford used a very strange, unbelievable narrative voice to tell this story, I wanted to know what had transpired. Viewing the novel as a character study of a person who doesn't seem to be able to ask questions of those around him so that he can understand what is happening makes some sense but this was a definitely odd reading experience.
_____


The Uncoupling
by Meg Wolitzer
Jun 30, 2012 / Good Readsstarstar
Having read Wolitzer's article in the N
YTimes about the great unfairness in treatment of women's literature compared to that of men's, I set out to read one of her books and discover what I was missing. If she was suggesting that her books deserve more review space and should be treated with more gravitas, I must have chosen the wrong Wolitzer novel. This book was almost unreadable, filled as it was with obnoxious flat characters and truly bizarre metaphors. I could not relate.
_____


Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer
May 31, 2012 / Good Readsstarstarstarstarstar
I've never enjoyed a non-fiction title as much as I did this one...informative, well-written, not too serious, filled with really interesting digressions. I'm ready to fill a memory palace with this book.


salvage the bonesthe poison treejustinenameless damethe quiet american
Salvage the Bones
by Jesmyn Ward
May 20, 2012 / Good Readsstarstarstarstarstar
I wish there were points between 4 and 5 stars...this novel comes close to a 5 on my rating scale. Ward creates a finite world of imperfect but sympathetic characters who won my respect and love. The storytelling component is excellent, building to a hurricane force blowout that reveals what we guessed about these folks before they were tested. My only bitch, and it's a tiny one, is Ward's overuse of metaphor. Most of them worked well but a few just didn't and served as a distraction.
_____


The Poison Tree: A Novel
by Erin Kelly
May 09, 2012 / Good Readsstarstar
Poison Tree was overwritten, not very suspenseful and, concerning the main turning point of action, not at all believable. I would have stopped reading very early in this book but thought there had to be a big payoff. How wrong I was.
_____ 


Justine (The Alexandria Quartet)
by Lawrence Durrell
April 09, 2012 / Good Readsstarstarstarstar
This will be my fourth reading of the Alexandrian Quartet. It feels like spending time with an old friend who still has the power to surprise and delight you.
_____


Nameless Dame: Murder on the Russian River
by Bart Schneider
March 11, 2012 / Good Reads starstarstar
I had high hopes for this mystery set in a special region for me but, try as I might, the book did not deliver. Quirky but annoying characters and a storyline that kind of petered out left me disappointed and disinclined to read another of Schneider's series. 

_____


The Quiet American by Graham Greene, Robert Stone (Introduction)
February 14, 2012 / Good Readsstarstarstarstar
Directed to this classic by Pico Iyer's excellent book on Graham Greene (and much more), I was not disappointed. Such assurance, such power in storytelling, no avoidance of moral questions...a completely satisfying read.


the man within my headbelieving the lielacunathe marriage plot
The Man Within My Head
by Pico Iyer
February 14, 2012 / Good Readsstarstarstarstar
It's not often that the book I'm reading directs me to my next choice with such compelling force but Iyer's book did. He wove Graham Greene's work so well into his own life story that I had to experience it myself so I went to
The Quiet American and was, once again after a long while, reminded of how lovely it is to feel that you're in the hands of a storytelling craftsman with ideas.
_____


Believing the Lie (Inspector Lynley, #17) by Elizabeth George
Jan 28, 2012 / Good Readsstarstarstar
For the first time I felt that some of the characters I've grown to like and depend upon were being used to advance the, sometimes, dumb plot. This novel needed some editing.
_____


The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
Jan 06, 2012 / Good Readsstarstarstarstarstar
By far the best of Kingsolver's books, The Lacuna touches on important issues and features Frida, Diego, and Trotsky as really interesting characters making history come alive in a reflective fashion.
_____


The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
November 12, 2011 / Good Readsstarstarstar
After Middlesex, which I loved, this novel was a real letdown. Although I appreciated Eugenides' clever use of lit criticism from which to frame the story, the characters were not engaging. They were, in fact, just annoying. Jane Austen managed to take unlikable people, shed light on their circumstances and create an atmosphere of understanding that allowed the reader to know them, sometimes to come to real affection for them. Didn't happen with the
Marriage Plot.  




other book reviews & comments

7.02.11


the sisters brothers Feeling a little guilty that I've been so engrossed in reading some really great books and, not wanting to break the mood, unable to put coherent thoughts to reviews, I've thrown a list of my favorites on a Recommended Titles list as a stopgap and to remind me what I need to spend time thinking about. It's been a long, satisfying run of really excellent books that, for me, was extraordinary. Now, not so much. I've started and put down about six books that just didn't do it so it's time to reflect on just what IT is...let's discuss.

Patrick deWitt's The Sisters Brothers was a real find. I won an ARC from the 3guys1bookwebsite, enjoyed a quirky, funny, engaging tale of the old west and discovered a new author to follow in the bargain. This book felt almost like a screen play...I could visualize the movie and hope it does what the book was able to achieve with likable, flawed characters caught up in a crazy attempt to complete a job destined to create havoc.



  4.06.11 


What a pleasure it is to discover that someone else loves a book as much as I do...Donna Leon, on Shelf Awareness, lists Bleak House as the book she would like to read again for the first time. Yes, me too.
paul bowles website
And what a pleasure it has been to read Paul Bowles' The Sheltering Sky. Our move back to Oakland has gotten in the way of much cohesive thought about anything but this book was perfect for that circumstance as it was pure experience. This was my introduction to Bowles (where have I been?) and it won't be my last. After finishing this gorgeous novel, I wanted to watch the Bertolucci adaptation and was reminded that, even though the film can match the beauty of the book, it usually can't equal the book's mindtrip. This book left me mystified and wanting more of the story yet, strangely satisfied...can that make sense? The film did none of those things and, except for the lovely cinematography, was not worth the time.


 

3.23.11  

Having had one of my nights-with-little-sleep last night, I was able to finish When Will There Be Good News? and feel compelled to start lobbing superlatives at anyone who will listen. Kate Atkinson is an intelligent, funny, unpredictable storyteller or, as one reviewer called her, "a genuinely surprising novelist". Not only does she fulfill all the requirements of a good mystery writer, she is just simply (I'm making it sound easy...it's not) an artful writer, penning sentences and paragraphs worth rereading throughout her novel. Here's one: "Love. Love wasn't sweet and light, it was visceral and overpowering. Love wasn't patient, love wasn't kind. Love was ferocious, love knew how to play dirty." Add to this general mix of great reasons to read Atkinson the fact that these Jackson Brodie books take place in Scotland and England, two of my favorite locals to be while reading.


And on a slightly related, but mostly different matter, I wonder if you've picked up on the cacophony of complaints in the last six months by some women writers that my gender hasn't been fully represented in the publishing world with enough reviews and/or enough prizes. I noticed this before Christmas, when Jonathan Franzen took the oxygen out of most of what got written about books with his newest novel and one of my favorite picks from last year, Freedom. I think that he deserved the space...discussions, reviews, prizes that seemed heavily weighted toward Franzen reflected the excitement that the book caused. If any one of these pieces were responsible for getting someone to read the book, it was all to the good. The carping about the attention Franzen received seemed to be soaked in a thick marinade of bitterness. Generally, for my taste, not enough is written about books but the reading public has limited time to consume reviews and criticism and, again, generally, books worth reading do get press.

One response to this perceived inequality was the UK's Orange Prize, inaugurated in 1996, for the female author of a novel written in English. The Prize has garnered controversy almost every year with the nominees, the choices and the aftermath. A.S. Byatt has called it a "sexist prize" and has instructed her publishers to refrain from allowing her novels to be placed in nomination. How would a prize created for male authors only be received?

Looking over my reading list reveals that the last six books have happened to have all had women authors...all were excellent novels, three of which got more than the usual amount of attention. The New Yorker's 20 Under 40 list, which turns a spotlight on young authors worth watching, was half women. I think the publishing community does a fairly decent job of getting good books for women and for men to the commercial world. From my perspective of being a bookseller for more than 30 years, the big problem is that we don't have enough readers of either gender.

 

3.21.11 

when will there be good newBut until I track them down, I've begun When Will There Be Good News? which is the third novel of Kate Atkinson's about private detective Jackson Brodie. Case Histories and One Good Turn are the first two...I'm having a hard time calling these books mysteries or thrillers, although they all contain components of those genres. Atkinson, like many other authors, creates fictions that blur the line from fiction to mystery, making life more difficult for booksellers deciding where to shelve them and for readers to find books that fit into their criteria for choosing what they will read next. But, putting aside minor concerns like those, I'd like to encourage anyone who likes well-written prose, well-drawn characters and complex, winding plotlines to read Atkinson's intelligent novels.

 

 

 

 

 

3.20.11   
a visit from the goon squad
It's rare for me to start reading a book and, immediately, feel as if I've found something different, something fresh and exciting but that's what Jennifer Egan's newest novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad, presented. I regularly check best book lists, mostly to get an idea of what readers are reading (so that I'll know what to buy for the store) but, also, to take inspiration for my own next selections. There were very few of the 2010 lists that did not include Egan's...with good reason. The novel is episodic and not chronological. One chapter is written with graphs. A chapter will mention a minor character who turns up in another chapter as the main protagonist, many years away from the last place that he turned up...a whole picture emerges, piecemeal, stunningly. Finished, wanting more, now I get to catch up with Egan's earlier books and hope that they are anywhere as wonderful as this one was.

 

 

 

water ghosts  super sad true love story    cookbook collector  await your reply

open book Shawna Yang Ryan’s Water Ghosts offers a haunting, hallucinatory experience that weaves the lives of the residents of the small California delta town of 1920’s Locke with Chinese myth and American history. The writing is exquisite, the story unforgettable. Read this novel and come under the spell of this assured, rewarding debut by an author well-worth following. 

_____

 

open book Super Sad True Love Story
So, are we really headed for a future where the U.S. has become a third world country, where illiteracy abounds, where we're judged to be either Low-Net-Worth (LNW) or High-Net-Worth (HNW) and where the most incredible means are employed to stave off death? Or, are we there?
Shteyngart's vision is extraordinary and he manages to create a funny, sweet but sad world. His prose can be lovely. I found myself going back to reread portions to enjoy the word play. Shteyngart has been given multiple awards after publication of each of his three novels for good reason. Super Sad True Love Story is an entertaining, totally satisfying novel. Read this book!

_____

 

open book My take on The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman. Is Allegra Goodman a modern-day Jane Austen? Many of the reasons I love Austen's novels apply to The Cookbook Collector: it is a completely charming, romantic story with astute revelations into its characters relationships. The novel creates a world, not quite as isolated as Austen's, but a distinct world where I was happy to be. The storyline revolves around two very different sisters...one works at an antiquarian bookstore and takes on the very challenging job of cataloging a valuable cookbook collection. The other more responsible sister makes a fortune in Silicone Valley. Their competing philosophies of life create the novel's conflict. The Cookbook Collector was a lovely, satisfying read, as, indeed, all of Jane's novels are.

_____

 

open book Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon is a mystery wrapped in identity. The book operates on three frequencies that, finally, coalesce into an almost complete whole. My attempt to get you to read this compelling, well-written novel is hampered by my not wanting to give anything away. A good part of the fun is in the discovery but, to quote Janet Maslin from her NYT's review, "...the real pleasure in reading Mr. Chaon is less in finding out where he's headed than in savoring what he accomplishes along the way." Read this novel...you won't be disappointed.

freedom driving on the rim holy thief

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

open book Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
My favorite novel of 2010 is this one, easily. Franzen storytelling skills are extraordinary and his ability to create full-blown characters is something to behold. I read this large volume in just a few days and was sad to see it done. The storyline follows three major characters through more than 20 years after meeting in college. I feel as though I know and really like these people.

_____

 

open book Driving on the Rim by Thomas McGuane
I think of Tom McGuane as the west's answer to early-mid Richard Russo (Nobody's Fool)...his characters being smart, sad, hilarious people who can't seem to manage their lives well, complain mightily, yet would never stand for a well-ordered ordinary existence. Driving on the Rim is a joy to read and, with Berl Pickett, McGuane has created a memorable character.

_____

 

open book The Holy Thief by William Ryan
The Holy Thief is a well-crafted historical mystery that takes place in 1930's Stalanist Moscow. Korolev is an investigator in the Criminal Investigation Division and he's been asked to look into the particularly gruesome murder of a young woman whose body is found in a church. William Ryan shows a mastery of historical detail - the novel is wonderfully compelling in the telling.

 



 open book and here Vicky turns her attention to some children's book

 

   of thee i sing     art & max  three classic children's stories   how the nobble was finally found

open book of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters by Barack Obama
From the standpoint of a bookseller, President Obama is a godsend. His books have all been great draws because, unlike most politicians who try their hand at writing, his prose is eloquent and engaging. And, in this love letter to his daughters, he has created a lovely heartfelt homage to America and its ideals. of Thee I Sing honors thirteen famous Americans and asks the reader to find himself in these worthy people. It's an encouraging message that we hope all children receive from those who love them. 

_____

 

open book Art & Max, David Wiesner's splendid new picture book plays with the artistic process through an exploration of media, working outside of conventional ideas and, along the way, throwing homages to Dali and to Harold's Purple Crayon! This all sounds way too artspeaky to be describing what it is...a truly great kids' book. Max, the beginner, approaches Arthur, master lizard painter, with a request to join him in a painting session and what happens is a multi-colored, multi-media extravaganza. David Wiesner's books are always wonderful and, excepting Section 7, Art & Max is my favorite.

_____

 

open book Three Classic Children's Stories  - text by James Donnelly and drawings by Edward Gorey
This charming edition of three classics, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack the Giant-Killer and Rumpelstiltskin, points to how much of a difference the retelling can make. James Donnelly does not talk down to his audience and enlivens each story with great vocabulary. When the guessing of his name begins in Rumpelstiltskin, we're treated to gems like Calfspital, Wimple Pluckstring, Trample Stackscone, and Spangle Pigstain, which are not only fun to hear but fun to say. Edward Gorey's illustrations are always engaging and, in this case, add to the overall sense of playfulness. Three Classic Children's Stories is an excellent choice for a read-aloud selection.

_____

 

open book How the Nobble Was Finally Found is the happy collaboration between Pulitzer Prize- and National Book Award-winning poet C.K. Williams and Caldecott Medal winner and writer Stephen Gammell. The Nobble of this picture book has been alone, undiscovered, for about four thousand three hundred and twenty-three years, not because he is invisible, but because the places where he goes, like the space between Wednesday and Saturday, are where nobody else ever ventures. This is why he's decided to set off to find some place or something so he isn't alone anymore...and that journey of discovery is where this joyful book takes us. Williams' excellent text along with Gammell's fantastic illustrations create absolute magic.
Any book written or illustrated by Stephen Gammell is worth hunting down: The Relatives CameOnce Upon Macdonald's Farm, Old Black Fly, My Friend, The Starfinder, Old Henry, Song and Dance Man and sadly, out of print, The Wing Shop and Monster Mama are inventive, fun-to-read titles, great choices for an kid's book collection.

 


 


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