THE BEST OF 2013...REALLY? (12/31/2013)



So many lists...But this one seemed a bit unusual. John Freeman of The Boston Globe published an unconventional, refreshing, and interesting mix. The Goldfinch is notably missing along with other books that made every 2013 best book list! Yes, there's some award winners, but what was he thinking? Do you agree with these choices?







"The Isle of Youth" by Laura van den Berg (FSG)
If the decade-long wait between Lorrie Moore collections is causing hives, here's your cure. Teenage bank robbers, lovers on the lam, and head cases of all types speak hilariously to the losses that make them lonely in this tremendous second collection by van den Berg.


"Claire of the Sea Light" by Edwidge Danticat (Knopf)
A girl goes missing in a tiny island village at the beginning of this moving novel. From one chapter to the next, Danticat paces the limits of this disappearance, conjuring a lost, innocent world, and the family ties that keep it alive.


"The Story of a New Name" by Elena Ferrante (Europa)
Imagine an angry Jane Austen, and you'll get a sense of what it's like to plunge into Ferrante's ongoing tale about Lila and Elena, two Neapolitan women in the 1960s who marry, fall in love, and slowly suffocate from the pressure of it all.


"The Hired Man" by Aminatta Forna (Grove/Atlantic)
The secrets of a war-torn Croatian hamlet come back to haunt the hero of Forna's fabulously controlled third novel, which reads like a Balkan "Remains of the Day." Instead of a butler, there's a silent handyman telling the tale here.


"How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia" by Mohsin Hamid (Riverhead)
Hamid demolishes all the clich├ęs of the South Asian economic miracle in this barbed, political fable about a young man from a village who makes it big, but loses his heart along the way.


"My Struggle, Book Two: A Man in Love" by Karl Ove
Knaussgaard, translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett (Archipelago)
Karl is a writer and bored and struggling with his family. Yes, it sounds suspiciously like Proust, but if you think more of Woody Allen while reading this mesmerizing second of the six-volume epic, its digressive intensity becomes also comic.


"The Good Lord Bird" by James McBride (Riverhead)
Four decades later, "The Confessions of Nat Turner" finally gets a proper response in this ecstatically narrated novel, which recreates John Brown's fatal revolution through the eyes of a 12-year-old girl.


"The Woman Upstairs" by Claire Messud (Knopf)
"How angry am I? You don't want to know," says the narrator of Messud's ferocious fifth novel as the curtain rises. Here's what happens when dreams dry up.


"Bleeding Edge" by Thomas Pynchon (Penguin)
In this barbed love letter to Gotham, Pynchon peers into millennial New York and finds, amid the tinkling Zima bottles and dot-com burnouts, a city on the verge of erasing its past.


"Vampires in the Lemon Grove" by Karen Russell (Knopf)
Russell lets her nocturnal imagination get its full freak on in her cond collection. Bloodsuckers, human larvae, talking horses all testify about their heartache with spooky clarity.


"The Tenth of December" by George Saunders (Random House)
No American writer has turned the emptiness of our language into such profound art since John Ashbery began writing poems. These stories of people on the edge of danger are deep, but, like, awesome?



So, what are your thoughts? Was a favorite book excluded? Please leave a comment or email me at jssherr@gmail.com

VACATION READS (12/27/2013)





I just returned from the Caribbean and am slowly getting accustomed to snow and 10 degree temps.

Flying to St Maarten, I was distracted by the film, Blue Jasmine which Jet Blue was featuring. I'm a Woody Allen fan so reading was put on hold...and what a film!  Loved it...

So back to reading..... Wally Lamb's book, WE ARE WATER held my interest until arrival...fabulous..disturbing ...but the best book I've read in a long time.

Once settled by the pool, I picked up THE LOWLAND by Jhumpa Lahiri..slow moving at first, but then totally mesmerizing..another good one..

A few days later, DIRTY LOVE by Andre Dubus, which I have yet to complete. Interwoven short stories..all about disillusioned people in love and out...complicated characters..complicated situations..another good read. I plan to revisit it.

After all the angst, loss and dysfunction in the aforementioned books, I craved something light and predictable..Hello, John Grisham!

My son was reading SYCAMORE ROW and gave it a thumbs up...and so I was in..and really into it in five minutes. Entertaining and zesty, so typically Grisham...Just the prescription I needed. (I like dysfunctional storylines, but how much can one person tolerate?!)

So there it is, vacation reads..a good recipe for distraction and R and R.  I'm now ready for some fantasy and THE FIRST PHONE CALL FROM HEAVEN by Mitch Alboum's is next on my list or maybe it's time to return to DIRTY LOVE.... 

Definitely ready to return to St Maarten!



These books are included on the blog. Enter the title in the SEARCH BOX at the top of the blog.

PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLERS (12/23/2013)




 


What a great year it's been for crime fiction. So many skilled storytellers are releasing books here and abroad.

Bookreporter.com highlighted the following books, great gifts for the thrill seeker in your life....
  

http://bookreport.pmailus.com/pmailweb/ct?d=cfbBogBlAAH-----AAefkg

DEAD EYE BY MARK GREANY (THRILER/ADVENTURE)
From #1 New York Times bestselling co-author of THREAT VECTOR by Tom Clancy comes the fourth installment in Greaney's own internationally bestselling Gray Man series. Ex-CIA trained master assassin Court Gentry has a price on his head --- and more than one of his previous employers want to see him taken out of the game. Infamous for his ability to disappear at will, existing only in the shadows, Gentry is an unparalleled assassin. Or so he thinks...

Unable to track down Gentry with their own operatives, the CIA hires private contractor Russ "Dead Eye" Whitlock to get the job done. A graduate of the same top secret CIA training program that turned out the Gray Man, Whitlock is the greatest threat Gentry has faced yet --- a man who thinks like him, moves like him, kills like him. But the thing about free agents is they always have their own agenda...





ALICE CLOSE YOUR EYES BY AVERIL DEAN (PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLER)
Ten years ago, someone ruined Alice Croft's life. Now, she has a chance to right that wrong --- and she thinks she's found the perfect man to carry out her plan.
After watching him for weeks, she breaks into Jack Calabrese's house to collect the evidence that will confirm her hopes.

When Jack comes home unexpectedly, Alice hides in the closet, fearing for her life. But upon finding her, Jack is strangely calm, solicitous...and intrigued.

That night is the start of a dark and intense attraction, and soon Alice finds herself drawn into a labyrinth of terrifying surrender to a man who is more dangerous than she could have ever imagined. As their relationship spirals toward a breaking point, Alice starts to see just how deep Jack's secrets run --- and how deadly they could be.

Author Information 

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THE GOLDFINCH...SLIGHTLY TARNISHED? (DECEMBER 2013)







I like Donna Tart's  haircut. A little severe but nothing a good volumizer couldn't remedy. However, her new book THE GOLDFINCH  has too much "volume" and needs an editorial cut!  Overall blog readers found it "slowmoving  and overly descriptive" and that's a favorable comment.


I belong to a Facebook Book Group which consists of members worldwide but predominantly the UK. They always say it like it is...after all it's Facebook.

Below find a comment from one of the members.... 



THE GOLDFINCH by Donna Tartt

"With a stronger editor it could have been an enjoyable read – as it is, it seemed to me that the author was simply showcasing her (considerable) writing skills taking 784 pages to write what could have been so much better in 300 or so pages. For huge chunks of the book it was like listening to a bore droning on and on without getting to the point. This is the 51st book I have read (or in this case endured) this year and is by far the most disappointing, probably because I had such high hopes for it. I have been bored to sleep most nights after only 2/3 pages when I would normally read a few chapters. I actually feel like I have wasted a whole month of my precious reading time I started this on 5th November - After the first hundred or so pages - which were possibly over-descriptive but engrossing, I kept trudging through it probably because of the hype. I am finally admitting that I really don't care what happens either to the characters or the painting and removing it from my kindle - 2 stars from me!!"

And here's another comment from blog reader, Nancy B:

"After reading many of the comments on your blog about THE GOLDFINCH, I felt the need to voice my own. Yes, a 700+ page book caused me to be hesitant , but as I have always been a devotee of Tartt's previous books, I thought I'd give it a try and I am SO glad I did. Am loving the book - the plot, the characters that tend to leap off the pages, the NYC sights and sounds and so much more of which I could elaborate, but I'm no spoiler. Possibly, some of the criticism may be coming from readers who, unfamiliar with NYC, may not be interested in the descriptions of the City and allusions to some of its locales.

But for me, it's all about the marvelous characters and the growth. Donna Tartt is truly a masterful writer - it is a joy to revel in every page of The Goldfinch."



What Do I Think?
Yes, there are some good reviews out there. Everyone agrees Tartt is a skillful writer and many called her "Dickensian"....a compliment, I presume.
Some readers have called it a masterpiece...compelling and hypnotic...

I think I'll wait for her next book...Or maybe I'll just focus on her funky haircut! Or maybe I'll give it a try. It's resting comfortably on my kindle...


MORE INFORMATION:

 





BOOKS FOR THE UNCONVENTIONAL (DECEMBER 2013)





Here's a quick look at books that may be slightly obscure.  You won't find them on any bestseller list, but if you're searching for a gift for an atypical reader, here's some good suggestions.
By Jill Lepore

"Jane Franklin was an amazing woman who raised her children and grandchildren while still having the time to read and think for herself. We can only see into her mind because her correspondent was famous and because a vastly talented biographer reassembled her for us."

New Yorker writer Lepore (History/Harvard Univ.; The Story of America, 2012) masterfully formulates the story of Benjamin Franklin's youngest sister, who will be virtually unknown to many readers, using only a few of her letters and a small archive of births and deaths. (Kirkus Reviews)


THE SEARCHERS: The Making of an American Legend
 By Glenn Frankel

A gracefully presented narrative of the 1956 John Ford film The Searchers, which was based on a 1954 novel that was based on an actual Comanche kidnapping of a white girl in 1836.

Pulitzer Prize–winning former Washington Post reporter Frankel (Journalism/Univ. of Texas; Rivonia's Children: Three Families and the Cost of Conscience in White South Africa, 1999, etc.) focuses on the American Southwest and the relationships between American Indians and whites.

The author begins in 1954 with a shocking moment—director Ford, well into his cups, punching Henry Fonda in the nose.
And away we go on a remarkable journey from Hollywood to Monument Valley and into the past as Frankel digs into American cultural history, unearthing some gold....


THE APARTMENT
BY GREG BAXTER

Following the lead of James Joyce, Don DeLillo and others, the novel takes place over the course of a single day in the life of its protagonist as he makes his way across an unnamed European city in search of the titular apartment.

Christmas approaches, but the 41-year-old American seems immune to the holiday spirit and to much in the way of human warmth, as he obliquely recounts the life of dislocation that has brought him to this place that might serve as a final destination but never home.....


CITY OF GLASS 
BY Paul Auster

In this fast-paced thriller, poet and essayist Auster transforms a conventional detective story into a post-modern theoretical diversion, without sacrificing intrigue or readability. The first volume of his New York Trilogy, it represents the latest entry in this small press's New American Fiction Series.

A wrong number in the middle of the night ensnares Daniel Quinn (once a serious poet and essayist, now the pseudonymous author of pulp mysteries) into a case far more bizarre than any he's invented in his fictions. Peter Stillman's father, an insane scholar who kept his son in a room for nine years, is soon to be released from the sanitarium. Quinn's assignment is simple: Keep the old man away



MORE INFORMATION:
www.kirkus.com

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Click on the Amazon Search Box in the blog sidebar or click on the book in the graphic. A percentage of book sales goes to charity.   

POLITICAL JUNKIE ALERT! (DECEMBER 2013)



With all that's been written about the 2012 Presidental primaries and the election, one would think there was not much left to say.  So not true!

Mark Halperin and John Heilemann have lots more info to offer in DOUBLE DOWN, a book that many critics have labeled "the best political read in years." 

Gary S. is the nonfiction reviewer, politcal pundit on my blog and his astute comments below will elaborate on this "behind the scenes" glimpse into all the insider action. (And who doesn't like a little insider action?...)


 


DOUBLE DOWN BY  MARK HALPERIN AND JOHN HEILEMANN

Gary S. writes:

I really liked Double Down! If you liked Game Change (about the 2008 Presidential election), then you will like the sequel about the 2012 election. Initially I thought the book was too long in certain sections, but as I got half way through, it really grabbed my attention.

The authors portray an 'in the room' approach to private meetings with candidates, donors and spouses—with direct quotes of conversations or quotes from private emails, which was really interesting. The book is great at breaking down the election as a war—with generals (campaign managers), weapons (money) and intelligence (polling data).

My favorite parts were the strategy sessions preparing for the Presidential debates—and how Obama almost blew it in Denver at the first debate.

Despite the accolades for the book, I think it will have limited appeal because, unlike the 2008 election, the characters in 2012 were less colorful. In 2012, there was no Sara Palin or John Edwards to entertain us, so we had to rely on Michelle Bachman and Herman Cain, and they dropped out too early to gain traction in the book. 

I think DOUBLE DOWN will appeal to those who are political junkies (ok, that's me) and those that were pleased Romney lost (yup, that's me too). It's sort of like reading a book about your favorite sports team. You have to like sports—and of course only if your team won the championship.


MORE INFORMATION 

REMINDER
To order click on the Amazon Search Box in the Sidebar. A percentage of your purchase goes to The Vineyard House on Martha's Vineyard, a facility for people in recovery.


 

THE ALL-GIRL FILLING STATION LAST REUNION (12/12/2013)






I haven't read any books by Fannie Flagg, but after all the morose, disturbing books I've been reading lately, I need a break. Actually I enjoy angst and dysfunction (in books, only), but my mental state is craving resuscitation, so this is a perfect remedy. (Other than booze....)

I loved Fried Green Tomatoes (The film, that is...) by Fannie Flagg...so when I read a review of THE ALL-GIRL FILLING STATION'S LAST REUNION, I immediately hit "download."

This latest novel by Flagg is about women, as usual, but women looking for "something that will give them their rightful place in life." Reviewers called it "sharp, funny, enlightening and the beauty of family"


 M. M. from Facebook Book Group said the following...

"What a lovely fun, charming, humorous, light read. It was like a breath of fresh air and a wonderful book to read in between the heavier books or even on holiday. A bit of fascinating WW2 history thrown in too. Great characters..."

MORE INFORMATION:

Click on the Amazon Search Box in the Sidebar to order.
BUY FOR THE HOLIDAYS!

HIGH OCTANE READ (12/08/2013)







If  you're in the mood for a good thriller, THE BOURNE RETRIBUTION is fast paced and action filled. I've read some of the earlier Ludlum books and always find them mind boggling...I guess that's a good thing. Reviews have been excellent...Hollywood is hovering....

Fans of the Jason Bourne character will love this white-knuckle tale. There's a hefty mix of betrayal, vengeance, love, loss and mystery....another great gift idea for the Ludlum fan on your list.


THE BOURNE RETRIBUTION 
by Eric Van Lustbader  

Jason Bourne is back in this new novel in Ludlum's legendary series. Bourne is drawn back into the fight between Mexican cartels when he learns that his nemesis Oiyang Jidan is involved.
Determined to discover the connections, Bourne sets off for Shanghai where he'll face the greatest threat to date.
And so it goes.....

REMINDER:

Be sure to order from this blog. Click on the Amazon Search Box in the Sidebar. All profits go to The Vineyard House on Martha's Vineyard, a home for people in recovery.


HOLIDAY ESCAPES






I just upgraded my Kindle for the third time. I now have the newest version of the Kindle Paperwhite. Did you know you can gift someone with e-books or a Kindle directly from this blog?

A percentage of any Amazon purchase goes to The Vineyard House, a home for people in recovery on Martha's Vineyard. Just click on the Amazon Search Box in the blog Sidebar.


The following book suggestions are December releases, all recommended by a variety of editors and book critics. ( I assume they know their stuff...) Add them to your gift list, travel list or "to be read" list.

  






MY MISTAKE By Daniel Menaker


A longtime New Yorker editor and the former executive editor-in-chief at Random House, Menaker could be forgiven if his memoir were a celebration of his many accomplishments. Instead, in this wry and touching look back at this life (which he was prompted to write after being diagnosed with lung cancer), he freely admits his missteps and shows how he persevered despite setbacks. From the untimely death of his only brother—for which he felt responsible—to his often hilarious dealings with New Yorker colleagues, Menaker offers an honest and revealing look at a literary life.

THE APARTMENT By Greg Baxter

Baxter's widely praised debut novel follows an unnamed American narrator as he searches for an apartment in a snowy European city (also unnamed). The story takes place on a single, bitterly cold day in December, as the narrator—a U.S. Navy veteran who worked as a contractor in Iraq—traverses the foreign city with the help of a local acquaintance, Saskia. Told in quietly powerful prose and punctuated with flashbacks and anecdotes, the novel has the feel of an allegory, one that raises important questions about American power in the world and the relentless pull of memory.

INNOCENCE By Dean Koontz

In Koontz's mesmerizing and poetic new thriller, two loners meet late one night in the reading room of a city library. Fleeing a violent pursuer who may have murdered her father, Gwyneth rushes into the library stacks and encounters Addison, a horribly deformed 26-year-old who ventures out into the city only at night. Linked by their status as outcasts, the two will lead readers on a riveting and fantastical journey that pits good against evil, hope against despair. Innocence is one of Koontz's most satisfying stand-alones, a genre-bending, atmospheric blend of suspense and morality tale.