Reviews, reviews, reviews!

Posted: February 23, 2011 in Book Reviews, Review Books

My (mostly) great reading streak continues! I’m getting spoiled. I’m also getting really overwhelmed with review books. Ain’t that a shame?

Here are a few I either already have (some digital, some the regular, old fashioned book) or are on the way:

Small Memories: A Memoir by Jose Saramago

The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine by Alina Bronsky

Afterword: Conjuring the Literary Dead – Dale Salwak, ed.

Why Jane Austen? by Rachel Brownstein

At Midnight in a Flaming Town  by Lorraine Bateman and Paul Messenger

Acadiana Carl A. Brasseaux

And I better stop before I start a riot.

Now, a few of the books I’ve finished lately:

Not to Disturb by Muriel Spark

Imagine a manor house near Geneva. Locked behind their library doors are the Baron and Baroness and their secretary. Meanwhile, downstairs, the servants wait, planning for what they already know will be a tragedy. For their employers, that is. For them it will bring a very big fortune.

Weird enough?

“They haunt the house,” says Lister, “like insubstantial bodies, while still alive. I think we have a long wait in front of us.” He takes his place at the head of the table. “He said on no account to disturb them. Not to be disturbed, Lister.” You should have seen the look on her face. My mind floats about, catching at phantoms and I think of the look on her face. I am bound to ventilate this impression or I won’t digest my supper.”

Two words: creepy and creepier.

A strange, dark book with a gothic influence. Recommended for those who don’t mind feeling discomfort, and uncertainty in their fiction.

  • Paperback: 96 pages
  • Publisher: New Directions; Reprint edition (June 29, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0811218678
  • ISBN-13: 978-0811218672
  • [I read my personal copy of this book.]

    Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter  by Tom Franklin

    Those of us native to Mississippi will be familar with this method of learning to spell the state’s name: M-I-Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter – I – Crooked Letter, Crooked Leter – I – Humpback, Humpback -I.

    That’s where the name of this novel comes from, which is pretty clever, though a bit obscure if you don’t know this mnemonic tool. And look what you learned today!

    Franklin’s novel is a great read:  atmospheric, great plot, characters the reader cares deeply about, and a gripping mystery that drives the story. At the center of the book is Larry Ott, a middle aged man considered the prime suspect in the disappearance of a teenage girl twenty years prior. As he was the last person known to have seen her alive, the weight of suspicion naturally falls on him.

    However, when no body is found, no charges can be pressed. In any case, the small community in which he lives shuns him, trial or no trial, ruining his auto mechanic business, dooming him to a lonely existence on the fringes of the town. His only hope for business are visitors from out of town who stop by, unaware of his grisly reputation.

    As we get to know Larry Ott, his inherent gentleness and patience become apparent. Resigned to his fate, he spends most of his time – when not at work – sitting at home reading novels, eating the same Kentucky Fried Chicken meal for dinner every day. A reader since childhood, he is, for the most part, content with his limited life.

    Silas (known popularly as 32 – the number on his high school football jersey) Jones, a black man now the town sheriff, grew up a neighbor and friend of Larry Ott’s. He also shuns him, though there  is at least some feeling of humanity underneath, presumably as a result of their formerly close relationship. Of course, in 1970s Mississippi a friendship between a white and black child was – to put it mildly – discouraged, creating many difficulties for them. His reluctance to associate with Ott may lie as much with a desire to keep their former relationship secret as the town’s belief he’s gotten away with murder.

    When a second murder of a beautiful teenage girl occurs, Larry Ott is under suspicion all over again.

    Recommended for lovers of suspense fiction, especially those who enjoy southern settings.

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: MacMillan (January 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0230753051
  • ISBN-13: 978-0230753051
  • [Free review copy.]

    Mr. Toppit  by Charles Elton

    Arthur Hayman, author of a children’s book series, is hit by a truck and killed very early on in the novel. At his side is an American stranger – Laurie Clow -on vacation in London. Her kindness helps soften some of his last hours on earth.

    During the short time she spends holding his hand, talking to him, she develops what she feels is a very close bond, and decides to ride in the ambulance along with him to the hospital. When his family arrives they’re confused as to the woman’s relationship with Arthur, though in their grief they’re more accepting of her than they would have been otherwise. Laurie accompanies them home, helping them struggle through the funeral, staying until they’re back on their feet.

    But her fascination with Arthur Hayman doesn’t end there. Determined in her effort to bring him fame, once she’s back in the U.S. she works tirelessly to promote his books, resulting in him skyrocketing to fame posthumously.

    Hayman’s books are set in the woods near his house, his son Luke the model of the series hero. And Mr. Toppit is the villain, an unseen, ill-meaning force who is Luke’s nemesis. Luke also had a sister, Rachel, who was completely left out of the books, causing her much hurt and resulting depression.

    Once this most interesting part of the book is past, things take a rapid nosedive. From what could have been a charming tale of British eccentrics the plot turns to the world of Hollywood celebrities, changing the character of the story.

    As a result, I can’t recommend the book. It was too uneven, too jarring in its transition. What I expected to be a charmingly English story turned into an Oprah-influenced bore of a book. I’m not sure what Elton was thinking, or why he chose to depart from the main theme of the story – the books themselves and the discovery of the influence behind the character of Mr. Toppit.

    A very disappointing, disjointed and long (400 pp.!) read.

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Other Press; 1 edition (November 9, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590513908
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590513903
  • [Free review copy.]

    Lit  by Mary Karr

    The fact the memoir market is bloated, filled with books written by everyone and anyone with a life story to tell (which is, actually, everyone), is unfortunate. In a genre so overwhelmed it’s difficult for any one author to stand out; the truly great books can get lost in the shuffle.

    Mary Karr’s memoir is exceptionally well-written, a difficult life story told without a shred of self pity. Despite an ongoing battle with alcoholism, as well as an unfulfilling career that threatened to crush her literary ambitions, Karr’s strength of character is an inspiration. But her story is one thousands have gone through. That in itself isn’t exceptional. What makes this book stand out from the crowd is Karr’s graceful, seemingly effortless prose. This is one memoir truly worth reading.

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; 1 Reprint edition (June 29, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060596996
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060596996
  • [Free review copy.]

    Several more reviews to come, as soon as I can get to them. I’m so far behind it’s pathetic. If I developed an actual system that would help, eh? Oh, but that makes too much sense. And it would “stifle my creativity.”

    Anyone buying that? I tried.

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