UT | Member Since 2009
Like setting the star on top the tree, Christmas is complete when we've heard at least some version of Dickens's A Christmas Carol -- and as much as I've enjoyed every one of the many homages to Dicken's Carol, (from Alastair Sim to Mr. Magoo to Bill Murray to Scrooge McDuck) nothing warms the cockles like the original icy Scrooge..."tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner, hard and sharp as flint"... without Mr. Scrooge, there is something missing in Christmas. "Marley was dead..." those opening lines send shivers of memories and delight through me each year I hear them anew. Stupendous production, Curry's expressive and distinctive voice alone is an ensemble; for 3 1/2 hours I was as mesmerized as the first time I read the story. Dickens is always a favorite, but perhaps at his wisest and timeless best here.
Because I am a klutz with crutches, I've had to "stay off that foot", so I've read enough print novels to blister my thumbs and listened to less audiobooks lately. Once I could navigate the 3 floors to my computer, I decided to review only a few of those novels, and that The Paying Guests would be first--with apologies to several GR friends that recommended the book to me. With multiple 5* ratings, an author that "has earned a reputation as one of our greatest writers of historical fiction," as well as earned a 3-time Man Booker Shortlist seat, this one has a *triple-dog-dare-you* not to find the novel magical. Well; I didn't, and I take umbrage at novels that sell themselves as one thing, when they textualize something quite different.
This is not historical fiction, not, not, not. There is more feel for post WWI London in the summary than in the novel; there is no sense of the politics of 1920's London, the social atmosphere, the changing economics as Britain began its decline as a world power and women rose to a position of more social power. What Waters did was a trending tactic...take a timely social issue from today and place it in the context of another era in history. I did not say immerse it, because this *issue* sits atop 1920 London like a drop of oil on water. She did not blend in any facts or knowledge that expand on that London. The paying Guests is simply (and more accurately) a lesbian love affair. The lovers are dressed in costume and dropped in London -- there's your hx. Change the costumes...change the historical time...voila! another *historical* novel. The history, what little there is, is foggier than a November morning in London.
This is the third such novel I've read recently, where there is no accurate description, or mention in the summary of the actual content other than: *forbidden love* that will *disrupt* society and families, or in this case: "the routines of the house will be shaken up in unexpected ways. Little do the Wrays know just how profoundly their new tenants will alter the course of Frances' life - or, as passions mount and frustration gathers, how far-reaching, and how devastating, the disturbances will be." *-sigh-* Haven't we advanced enough socially to just call it what it is?! Just say it...lesbian love affair--or just love affair if you prefer. This is a lesbian love affair set in London sometime after WWI. The history, in the context of this book, seems irrelevant, or at least contrived.
Now, it is a different book to rate and would probably get a better review from me because I had a knowledgeable choice of what I was getting. But putting a fictional love affair in period piece costumes and calling it historical is a ruse and I slash points for that kind of tactic. Good grief, call it what it is and stop blindsiding readers with these tales of !shocking! forbidden love that aren't so shocking or forbidden. I understand such a love affair would be eyebrow raising in any period of history (including 2014 to some people), and if I want to read that, I expect to read that in the summary and make that choice.
So, buy the book if you want to read about a lesbian love affair set in London circa 1920. It is narrated superbly and is an interesting story of two women falling in love during some period is time when it was difficult... It is also an example of attempted sensationalism... (but not history). For a great historical novel I highly recommend Lovers at the Chameleon Club. Perhaps it was reading that superior novel of historical fiction that in comparison, made The Paying Guests seem so vacant.
Other than a few great card tricks (and some drink recipes that sound intoxicatingly good) NPH doesn't have much up his sleeve these days since coming out of the closet in '06. Anyone with a TV is familiar with the former child actor Dr. Doogie and has seen his successful transitions to adult actor, Broadway star, multi-talented host and entertainer, and committed partner and parent (absolutely darling twins, you should look up their yearly Halloween photos!). It's clear that in a relatively un-tumultuous life (by Hollywood showbiz standards) the guy has had a pretty smooth trip chasing his destiny toward the big bright lights. He's kept his cute little boyish nose clean, side stepped a few bad reviews to keep plugging away, and stayed pretty steady.
So, keeping it all humble... what could possibly carry the autobiography of an actor that has only lived 40 something years...without a drug addiction, reality show, or other scandal or dark deed featured on a magazine cover in the checkout line at the grocery store? Wait for it...showmanship, gratitude, and pizzazz in spades. Harris is even entertaining in print; funny enough to laugh hard at himself, down to earth enough to talk about the humility of being able to be a parent, and real enough to express the love he has realized by having his own family.
Sure it's largely gimmicky owing to the format--but this is personal revelation and show biz at it's most fun. The magic tricks alone sound worth the practice to awe your family and friends; the drinks good enough to make a few trips to the liquor store; and the instructions and recipes are PDF included!! (And I howled out loud with laughter when David disappeared off the edge of the mountain while they were...read and find out--this is very funny stuff, I'm laughing again right now!) Like a Broadway show itself; fun entertaining book--and don't miss the PDF download. Sometimes it's nice to hear from a person that could have anything, that family and friends matter most.
As far as just the facts ma'am...Navarro does a good job giving a detailed, no frills outline of psychopathy. It reminded me a little of watching one of those films in high school where everything is boiled down to rudimentary facts..."if a, b, c, d are present then you may be dealing with a psychopath. You're life is in danger. Get help immediately..." He knows his material and presents it in an easy to understand format for any level of reader, though a bit bland and blunt, very textbook.
Navarro gives a criteria checklist at the end of each chapter, containing over 100 items; when you're done tallying your own score, or your neighbor's and friends, you are convinced you are all psychopaths -- a problem inherent in these armchair psychology books. But before you schedule analysis, or turn your neighbors into the FBI, consider what Professor Robert D. Hare has to say. Hare is the criminal psychologist responsible for the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised which has been adopted worldwide. Hare's assessment tool, in contrast, uses a list of 20 criteria:
"On average, someone with no criminal convictions scores 5. It’s dimensional" says Hare. “There are people who are part-way up the scale, high enough to warrant an assessment for psychopathy, but not high enough up to cause problems...“psycho-pathy”, the diagnosis, bleeds into normalcy."
If you are seriously interested in this subject, I highly recommend Hare's book Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths. I sat in on several of his presentations while I was working in the field, and he was always fascinating. Navarro refers to Hare and the PCL-R often in this book.
Navarro is precise and accurate, narrates the book clearly, and his professional record clearly gives him authority in this field. He also responsibly advises readers with concerns to get professional advice. While he drops a few names that we all relate to heinous crimes, (Ted Bundy, Henry Lee Lucas, Jerry Sandusky, John Wayne Gacy) I felt he missed the chance to tie in the predators with their profiles which would have more narrowly defined the many traits on his lists. His professional/cautionary approach make this book read more like an informative report than the really chilling and interesting read it could have been.
What a great pleasure it is to pick up a read, even one you are already so familiar with, and be totally immersed in atmosphere; a pace that proceeds with urgency; and writing that takes you to foggy old England and holds you there so convincingly that real-life seems like a fuzzy distant intrusion while you are reading. There is here that kind of precise balance of the writerly elements -- you can count on them with Sir Arthur. So easily, the reader can slip into the inner circle of Watson and Holmes.
When I was a child, I saw the film version starring Peter Cushing as Sherlock Holmes and Christopher Lee as Sir Henry Baskerville; a Hollywood version for sure, Doyle may have rolled once or twice in his grave, but it inspired me to read the book. Minus the grandiosity of Hollywood, the book lacked nothing, and still contains magic that even Hollywood can't trump. On a calm enough evening, sitting with your family, The Hound of the Baskervilles might even be able to compete with Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty, Warlord, Doodle Jump. What's that old saying..."They just don't make 'em like this anymore"...they do, but not very often. Great production, and worth re-visiting.
It's October; who doesn't like a ghost story this time of year; Garth Stein has a pretty impressive track record (The Art of Racing in the Rain); lots of high ratings; fellow well-credentialed authors gave some enticing blurbs...if it sounds like I'm thinking aloud, I'm trying to figure out where I went wrong -- because this was the wrong book for me. I'm not sure whom this book is for.
My biggest complaint, and one that is consistent when I'm duped, is that it is presented as one thing, "a ghost story," but is something very different, but what I'm not sure. It could be a message about conservation, a spiritual philosophy, a Puget Sound Broke Mountain (melodramatically, "the dark past of his forefathers"), but it's not a ghost story.
The *ghost* element seems more an excuse, or a utilitarian connection to history; the ghosts themselves limp and (NPI) lifeless -- dancing in ballrooms, turning out the lights, writing messages through human Ouija boards. The story had an over reliance on the diaries and their expository dialogue, which could have been passable but came across as a lazy means to move the story forward. Stein is heavy-handed with the philosophy that's suppose to bolster the plot, and spouts it often and unnecessarily, from the mouth of a temporarily possessed grandfather. The 14 yr. old narrator Trevor also possess an uncanny repertoire of philosophy and literature. Like all of the characters, there was a thinness, a randomness, even a falseness to Trevor. Both the characters and the plot seemed to fall apart under the weight of an ambiguous sense of importance.
There is plenty of restless wandering here, but not from any ghosts. In my opinion, an unsuccessful melding of too many random elements, not well thought out or executed, and not particularly well written. Only Hope propelled me -- battling all the while with contrivance, predictability, and banality -- as far into this novel as I got. I don't like to write mean-spirited or pernicious reviews, and I like to think I could say anything I write face to face with the author...I heard Stein's other books are good, but I can't say the same about this one.
After a handful of Hiaasen novels, my hypothesis is that your first Hiaasen experience is the best. From that introductory experience, the thrill of it all either drops a notch and maintains a level of mildly humorous material guaranteed to lighten your mood, or you find the giggles slowly sliding into eye rolling, until you have to break up with Hiaasen. (Which reminds me of my first fiancé -- eventually everything I found so charming about him in the beginning, I later cited as reasons to loose the guy.) Hiaasen's humor still makes me smile, but I resort to it only when I need a little pick-me-up. It relies a bit on Murphy's Law mixed with ridiculousness, so there is an element of predictability after 2 or 3 of his books. Native Tongue had it's moments, and the expected characters, but it was a little dated, and a lot ridiculous. My fave is still Skinny Dip, my first experience with Hiaasen. NT is still the silly fun I've come to expect from Hiaasen, but at my 5th outing with the author... most of the thrill is gone. Let's just say I laughed AND rolled my eyes.
I can't say what kind of apocalyptic society member I would be. A religious, rapture-ish event... I'd have to brush up on my survival skills, but a nuclear event or count down to Armageddon, and I would place my chair at Ground Zero, because I wouldn't want to be without the people I love, nor would I choose to live in a world where there was not some form of beauty, or sense of community. Alone, fighting just to survive, I would wind up as mad as King Lear. Station Eleven opens with a scene from the Shakespeare play and expands on the themes of survival and meaning.
Opening night, the lead actor suffers a heart attack and passes away. The news that night pronounces the actor's passing, and barely mentions a mysterious illness that has people flooding hospital ERs. Within 3 weeks, 99% of the world will die from a flu pandemic. Forward: Twenty years later, a troupe of actors and musicians called The Travelling Symphony moves from one outcropping of survivors to another performing plays and music. Their mission statement sounds enlightened and magnanimous, an ode to the arts... “Because survival is insufficient,” it is a quote one member recalls from a Star Trek episode he watched as a child. The troupe includes a woman that was a young child in the King Lear production the night the actor had his heart attack on stage.
At times, author St. John Mandel is eloquent with understated visions of a broken world. Her museum of artifacts is a centerpiece that connects people and stories, including the actor Leander. His personal life, his celebrity, is captured there in articles from the celebrity magazines left intact. She doesn't go into the breakdown of society or the aftermath of the pandemic, but focuses on the emptiness and melancholy borne of lost loved ones, simple pleasures only remembered, and the connections that remain stretched across a barren world, traversed by The Travelling Symphony. Here, the author is a mighty gentle giant.
Beyond the difficulties of surviving day to day, there is a menacing group of brutal men ruled by The Prophet, but sadly,he makes only a brief appearance and whimpers away. Just when I was hoping for a little trouble-maker to take my mind off the moping and memories, and roasting venison over burning tires, again. Once you get the general premise, you better be ready to dwell on it. Mandel writes beautifully and has created a world that is eerie and surreal, but I started to feel swallowed by the melancholy. For all the hype, all the great reviews, all the promises that I would be haunted by this powerful story, I wasn't feeling it. From my frame of reference, it's been done before. Mandel thinks outside the apocalyptic genre box, but doesn't enlarge the real estate.
The book stays high centered in that world of reflection, the menagerie of meandering melancholics mourning the past, hoping for a better future, chewing deer meat, occasionally appreciating the arts, coming up with some profound thoughts--wallowing in sentimentality. I recommend the book, in spite of my sarcastic, irreverent nature; but not to hard-core apocalyptic/dystopia fans, or anyone that believes the saying "you can't move forward with one foot in the past." (I think Mr.Spock said that in an episode.) It is a lovely novel, written beautifully-- my head tells me so.
There's nothing wrong with pretending you know what's going on...sometimes you are along for the ride and will get it later. (Take Cloud Atlas for instance.) Mitchell does that best, and at a speed that sometimes reminds me of trying to have a conversation with a hyper active person at the height of their hyper arc (and pharmaceutically enhanced). His brilliance and out-there creativity require a catch-up period; you don't wait for the story to develop, you wait to catch-up with the story. I'm not a member of the Mitchell cult, but I've read many of his books and recognize an author with a rare creative talent and freshness that almost promises there are still great books to come. The Bone Clocks was a good one, (it was long-listed for a Man Booker before it was even released). I liked it enough to say Mitchell fans will be okay with it, but it is a departure from his more sophisticated novels.
Bone Clocks is not just a journey through time at warp speed, it is a frenetic jump in and out of ages with the future periods reflecting on some I-told-you-so moments that are frighteningly timely (global warming, Iraq, etc.),major issues to us presently, but just back ground for an eternal battle raging between the forces of good and evil. He obviously has a message for his readers in here.
Mitchell bends the boundaries, as usual, with connected characters, engaging backstories, and places in time, but pinning down which character you are with, and at what moment and where, is tricky. The constant present tense, the static back and forth, and the similarities in the characters, present challenges -- and not the kind intended by the author. The audio version is probably an advantage in some ways, (the presentation is done well) but the voice alone doesn't tell you when or where. Mitchell's presence is always looming subconsciously; Bone Clocks seemed to be lacking separation from the author.
The level of writing and creativity have already been expounded on by reviewers. Worth mentioning again is Mitchell's superb "ventriloquistic" style that pulls you in while the story unfolds around you. The story itself expands on Mitchell's on-going play with fantasy; he gives us a version of *vampires* -- soul sucking fiends that feed on children. But, these are Mitchell's vampires, so I am pretending I get it... that these undead might just be metaphors for something deeper and more meaningful.
The story is enjoyable and reminded me a little of the fantastical film, Highlander (the movie with the Scottish swordsman that battles the evil immortal, the two swordsmen popping in and out of time periods and places). It wasn't exactly the book I anticipated, but I saw plenty of glimmers of Mitchell's brilliance. Worth the read, but probably not worth the Man Booker.
Months ago I finished this novel, attempted to review, but my fingers hovered over the keyboard and my head felt scrambled -- the condition is called being *dumbstruck.* As a reviewer wrote, Summer House is "uncommon" and if you read Koch's previous novel, The Dinner, you know the author has a blunt-force style that is anything but common. He is out of the box, out of bounds, and you need to brace yourself for a style that might leave you a little dumbstruck. It's not that he is offensive -- he is completely unique and captures his characters in sticky icky situations, at the edge of civility, then pushes it to places we hope we are incapable of falling to ourselves.
Subject matter is borderline, of course, it's Koch, and if just hearing *lecherous older men and barely-into-their-teens young girls* already has you grimacing -- not your book because that is just the beginning. (I had to keep in mind that nude sunbathing and swimming is de rigueur in some cultures.) Throw in lots of alcohol, a doctor that is repulsed by the human body, adultery, rape, and nude frolicking on the beach... it's gritty and uncomfortable (like getting sand in places usually covered by your bathing suit). And as if it isn't already prickly enough, there are plenty of moments where you shouldn't be laughing, but you are...that watching someone stumble and ride down the stairs laugh. Koch connects with a part of us that some of us don't want to know is there, and that is what is the most discomforting.
Koch is a good writer and does what he sets out to do well. He keeps you engaged even when it's uncomfortable -- but so does an electric fence. I occasionally like a book where I am expected to boo and hiss the bad guys -- it's all good fun. But, I think Summer House crossed MY line by featuring too many taboos. In the end (and what about that end??-huh?) I recognize the author's uniqueness and talent, but Summer House "enriched me not" and left me feeling almost guilty, "poor indeed." If you think you have the mental fortitude, you don't have bouts of depression triggered by icky situations, you love to hate the characters and dark deeds, don't mind sand in cracks...this may be your book.
I started at the beginning with Relic, moved onto Reliquary, became a fan of Pendergast, continued, even outside the series with Riptide, Thunderhead, and Ice Limit because I enjoy a clever, original thriller. Like most fans, a P&C release guaranteed an entertaining read to me, and I believe fans will again be entertained with The Lost Island.
Increasingly, I've found myself less intrigued by the prolific duo's stories, relying more and more on my devotion to the pair than the satisfaction I have been getting from their novels. White Fire, I didn't even review -- it tested my endurance and left me a little sickened. The sensationalism trumped the writing. The Lost Island not only tested my endurance, it asked me to venture way outside the limits of my reasoning until I felt like I was being dragged through nonsense for the sake of entertainment. I finished this, but without a sense of satisfaction. There isn't much depth (other than the deep blue sea), the story seems flat, contrived, and I hate to say it, but, silly. In fairness, I haven't read other books in the Gideon series...but I don't feel compelled to do so after reading this one.
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