27 January 2011

Booking Through Thursday: Heavy

What’s the largest, thickest, heaviest book you ever read? Was it because you had to? For pleasure? For school?

Since I love huge books, this is a tricky one to answer ... there are so many possibilities!

Probably the biggest I’ve read were my Year 11 & 12 Psychology textbooks - large, thick, and hardback. Unlike every other textbook I’ve owned, I read them cover to cover; I had enough interest in the subject to want to read more than just the sections I had to.

In the realm of fiction, perhaps the biggest and heaviest of all the big and heavy books I’ve read is Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke. Or The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber - I read both of them in hardcover! I’ve also read enormous volumes by authors like Sharon Penman, Diana Gabaldon, Alexandre Dumas, Charles Dickens, but in paperback. Books in paperback feel much more compact than hardcover ones; if I can carry it in my handbag it doesn’t count as big.

Obviously I had good luck with required reading at school - I never had to read a huge book for anything other than pleasure!

18 January 2011

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from - that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

Miss Squeers had been spending a few days with a neighbouring friend, and had only just returned to the parental roof. To this circumstance may be referred her having heard nothing of Nicholas, until Mr. Squeers himself now made him the subject of conversation.

From Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens, p. 112.

16 January 2011

Book Review: Deliver Us from Evil by David Baldacci

Deliver Us From Evil Shaw works for the Agency, an organisation which does the things “civilised” countries don’t want to tarnish their reputations by pursuing through official channels. His current job: Snatch Canadian businessman Evan Waller during his holiday in Provence. In exchange for talking about his plans to traffick enriched uranium to terrorists, Waller will be allowed to return to his other sideline - trafficking underage girls. Shaw isn’t at all happy with this deal, but he isn’t in a position to complain.

Unbeknownst to the Agency, Evan Waller is actually fugitive Ukranian war criminal Fedir Kuchin. As Kuchin, he’s attracted the attention of a British vigilante group which has run out of Nazis and now hunts any monster it can find. Leading their team on the ground is Reggie Campion, a talented assassin who’s not about to let anything - or anyone - stop her killing Kuchin during his holiday in Provence.

I have a serious case of location envy. Provence sounds wonderful. Art exhibits in caves, fields of lavendar and sunflowers, colourful markets, a village filled with buildings rendered in the local ochre, sunshine... Can I just pack my bags now?

Okay, the book. You could read it without having read the preceding novel, The Whole Truth, and part of me wishes I had. It’s so hard to review and rate it on its own merits, and not compare it to the one before. But then, I never aimed to be an impartial reviewer, just to say what I thought and and give the grade best reflecting my opinion.

I couldn’t help comparing. And I thought it lacked most of what had me ploughing through most of The Whole Truth in a single night. It didn’t have the emotional impact. I didn’t like Reggie as much as I did the women in the previous book, and thought her reason for following her unusual career was rather hackneyed. And Waller/Kuchin is your garden-variety psycho, doing evil things because that’s just the way he is. Certainly some of his acts are memorable, but there’s little to make the man himself stand out from the general population of thriller-novel psychos.

But it’s still an entertaining read; perfect for the holidays and a holiday for the brain. I’d like to know more about Reggie’s boss/mentor/Svengali/whatever, Professor Mallory; there’s clearly more to him than has been seen so far. Katie James made a welcome reappearance; it’s such a refreshing change to see a platonic relationship between two main characters of opposite genders. I enjoyed seeing a softer side to Frank Wells.

And I defy anyone to read the introductory description of Alan Rice and not think of Julian Assange.

Rating: B-

06 January 2011

Book Review: The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld

The Interpretation of Murder New York City, 1909: Sigmund Freud has arrived, with Carl Jung in tow, to lecture at Clark University, which has sent budding psychoanalyst Stratham Younger to accompany its guest. Two sets of circumstances soon arise to dampen their enthusiasm. Someone starts attempting to sabotage not only the forthcoming English translation of Freud's work, but the entire standing of psychoanalysis. And someone is attacking beautiful young women.

The first victim is dead. The second is suffering the loss of both her voice and her memory. With Freud’s encouragement, Younger takes on Nora Acton as a patient and tries to uncover the memories repressed by her conscious mind. When the clues start pointing to one of the city’s most influential men, the analysts and the police alike will find a difficult job has become that much harder.

Between the time period, the setting, and the involvement of psychiatry, it’s impossible not to draw comparisons with The Alienist. Which is unfortunate, because I greatly preferred The Alienist.

Which is not to say that The Interpretation of Murder is a bad book. It has several good points, chief among them Detective Jimmy Littlemore. Dismissed by the coroner as an idiot, he does more work towards solving the case than all the shrinks combined. I liked him, and I liked watching him put the pieces together through hard work and simple logic. On the history of New York City and psychoanalysis it’s educational, which is a positive in my view even if it does read a bit like a textbook at times. (And even if, during my two years of high school psychology, I never thought much of psychoanalysis.) Younger, a Shakespeare fan, comes up with a new interpretation of Hamlet which has me itching to re-read the play. (No ... no ... must get TBR pile down to the top of the box first...) And the last 150 pages had me hooked.

The first 350 ... not so much. Younger's treatment of Nora is the only connection between the attacks and the analysts, yet the whole premise of the novel is to provide a fictional explanation for Freud’s dislike of America. It hops between too many viewpoints, including the omniscient history-lesson-dispensing one which seems to be talking from the present day. I didn’t warm up to any character other than Littlemore, and beyond intellectual curiosity didn’t much care about whodunnit. (The analysts were more concerned with the sabotage, and if multiple principle characters don’t care about something, why should the reader?)

And speaking of characters... I hate Rubenfeld’s way with women. There are only two of importance: Nora Acton is beautiful and neurotic, Clara Banwell is beautiful and manipulative. (In both cases, emphasis on the beautiful.) And that’s about the sum total of the characterisation of those two ladies. Not that the men were much better, but at least their stunning good looks - if they had any - weren’t described ad tedium. Or in the case of the attacks, ad nauseum. There are far too many adjectives lavished upon the beauty of the victims both during and after, and since the scenes aren’t from the perspective of any particular character, it feels as if it is the author who’s seeking to present these bound and tortured girls as objects of desire. The author being male just adds to the creepiness. If there had been much more of it, I couldn’t have continued reading.

Rating: C

Booking Through Thursday: Resolutions

Any New Year’s reading resolutions?

I have two:

1. Read more books than last year. I didn’t hit three figures last year, which by my standards is pretty pathetic.

2. Complete each and every reading challenge I sign up for.

Since my non-reading resolutions list includes “stop procrastinating” I might actually have a chance of success.

04 January 2011

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from - that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

“In my head it's perfect. We'll see how it flies on the ground.”

From Deliver Us from Evil by David Baldacci, p. 63.

01 January 2011

New Year Wishes

Goodbye 2010, and hello 2011.

Normally this would be where I enumerate some worthy but overly-optimistic resolutions, like “review all books read” and “leave more comments”. Right now, though, there are just two things I want from 2011:

  • For my aunt and her family in Rockhampton not to be flooded out when the Fitzroy River peaks.

  • For my cousin and his family to have a home to go home to when the floodwaters recede enough for them to get back to Chinchilla.

When you have relatives facing natural disasters, fussing over books reviews seems a little trivial.

(Oh... and I would like no more huntsmen in my bedroom. I would say no more huntsmen anywhere near me ever again, but I think that really would be too optimistic.)

Edited to add: They’re all safe and dry!

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Header image shows detail of A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, c. 1776