Cocky author writes a book #cbr6

The book is hard to write about without giving away some of the plot. Because that is the main attraction of the book, I’ll try not to reveal much. The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair was written by Joël Dicker, a Swiss writer, and won the 2012 Grand Prix du Roman de l’Academie Francaise. The French apparently LOVE this book. I thought it was fine when reading, but after a week of thinking about it … well…9780143126683_custom-eefd5935dbbad9ac94e138162eb68bde28d24bcb-s6-c30

Two stories are interwoven throughout the book. The first is a young successful author’s attempt to write his second great novel. While he’s trying to write and consistently failing he visits an old college professor and friend in a small New England town to help him “find his story”. In the meantime, his friend becomes the primary suspect in a decades old murder after a young woman’s bones are found in his yard (they are found while digging up an area for some bushes, which made me wonder how far you have to dig in the ground for bushes, but whatever). This brings in the second story of the the fifteen year old girl’s disappearance and, surprise!, her statutory rape-tinged romance with the author’s friend (hello, pedobear!). The author decides to help his former professor, because obviously he isn’t guilty if he was in love with the 15 year old, and in the process ends up writing his next great novel based on the case.

The book is definitely a decent mystery with a thousand twists and turns in the plot. The twists aren’t that hard to see coming though, and you realize that basically everyone in this small New England town is guilty of something, everything. It reminded me so much of some film or TV show I’ve seen where basically everyone ends up trying to kill a guy who is already dead (If you can think of what the show is, let me know). There are actual clues to what is happening in the story, which is kind of clever, but made me think I was making up a different story in my head while I was reading (keep a close eye on the mother).

In the US its translation has been getting mixed reviews. On Goodreads people seem to either LOVE IT or HATE IT. Admittedly, there were two things about this book I started to hate. First he begins his chapters with cliched writing advice (from the professor to the author), most of which sounds like it came from the pages of The Artist’s Way (writing is like boxing and more blah, blah, blah). Also, for whatever reason Dicker sets the novel during the 2008 Presidential primaries. I can’t really understand why except that he wants characters to spout off random inane political comments. Purpose? Maybe to show that this is a truly American novel. Or to make it more realistic? I did hear a lot of inane political commentary in that period. Anyway, it just seems misplaced and a waste of words.

But in the end, I thought the book was fine. Despite the main character’s over the top confidence in his abilities and tendency to mansplain to everyone (even male cops), I enjoyed the story. It is a good page-turner, but at the end of the day so are Dan Brown’s books (which is why I curse myself the entire time I’m greedily reading those dumb dumb books). And at least Dan Brown doesn’t have the pretension of being, you know, award-winning literature.

Serena Serena

Serena is one scary, scary woman. serena

I loved Serena by Ron Rash except on the nights after binge reading when I woke up from nightmares about jaguars and eagles and death. Yeah, not so much fun that. This book is not for the faint of heart. It is a brutal story, but not one that feels gratuitous like Game of Thrones can at times (After watching the Red Wedding I felt completely punk’d, but that’s a story for another day). It is a tragedy in the Shakespearean sense and, beyond its literary allusions, it is a gripping story.

Set in the Depression era North Carolina mountains, it is the story of a timber empire led by Serena and her new husband, Pemberton, and their machinations to become the most powerful (and frightening) couple in the forest. In so doing they compete with interests that would like to preserve the forests, as well as the surrounding impoverished community that is simultaneously beholden to the Pembertons for income and repulsed by their brutality. From the literary angle, there is a Greek chorus timber crew that comments on the action throughout while simultaneously trying to survive under horrific conditions (cold, falling limbs, death) where nature is an adversary and rarely a friend.

While it is almost impossible (for me at least) to relate to Serena, her husband is a much more sympathetic character. When he attempts to help his illegitimate child, he unfortunately stirs the ire of Serena, which leads the plot to its closing. At the same time that I can’t relate to her as a character, I absolutely loved reading this book and count it as one of my recent favorites. I can’t image Jennifer Lawrence as Serena in the upcoming film, but I will definitely be one of the first to see it. Here’s hoping it’s as good as the book.

Book! the white princess #cbr5

My first negative review of the year was for a Philipa Gregory novel, The Kingmaker’s Daughter (The Cousins’ War #4)Keep in mind that I’m not a Gregory hater, but I fully realize that she is a certain type of historical novelist and there are certainly better writers out there. She can spin a decent yarn and they go by quickly.  This one just goes quickly.

So, The White Princess is the newest in the series. I had to finish out The Cousins’ War series just because I can be a purist. The Cousins War is a fictional retelling of the War of the Roses from the perspective of the primary women–Jacquetta, Margaret Beaufort, Elizabeth Woodville, Anne Neville, and Elizabeth of York–each book dealing with a different woman. Elizabeth of  York who marries Henry VII is the subject of The White Princess. Apparently there will be one more book on Margaret Pole, Elizabeth of York’s sister.

While Elizabeth of York is a much more compelling character than Margaret Beaufort (windbag) and Anne Neville (dull, dull, dull), there are some definite flaws in the telling. For one thing, Elizabeth constantly talks about how she was born to rule and Henry VII wasn’t and yet she seems amazed that a king in a troubled kingdom might want to dispose of some pesky rival heirs to his throne.  Plus she seems amazed to find out that, yes, her mother, Elizabeth Woodville probably did scheme against Henry VII. Even if you could overlook Elizabeth of York’s lack of worldliness, the paltry love story doesn’t hold much interest for them or the reader. I didn’t even feel sorry for Elizabeth and Henry when they finally realize they hate each other. Basically I could see why.

I applaud Gregory’s tenacity in wanting to tell the story from all sides, but some historical figures just don’t make for interesting reading. Elizabeth of York in The Kingmaker’s Daughter was an interesting minor character, especially when she begins her affair with King Richard III. But after she marries Henry VII she turns into a mind-numbing doorpost. She’s just there to help tell the larger story and, oh, to have Henry VIII. That’s it.

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THPPFT.

Beach read. Maybe. Goes by quickly.

Books! When Germany waited and a man fell from a mountain #cbr5

I tend to read books in pairs. I get restless with one so I need something different to switch my focus. I thought it might be fun to write about the two I just finished even though I can’t find much in common between them. The two from this week are dissimilar on so many levels.

I just finished In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson. I enjoyed Larson’s Devil in the White City quite a bit, so I was excited to see a new book from him. I read a few negative and lukewarm reviews but considering it was Larson I thought it had to be good. He’s a great writer! Well, I was wrong.

Don’t misunderstand me, Larson’s writing is a pleasure to read. The problem is the subject matter. Larson is focusing all of his excellent writing ability on an American family that moves to Germany after the father becomes the first American ambassador in Hitler’s world. They arrive in the mid-1930s, right when things start going downhill. This is a great set up, right?! But what happens? Not a darn thing. They go to parties. They drive around. The daughter has sex with everyone and supposedly (maybe, not really) becomes a potential Russian spy (we think). The father pines for his farm and his unwritten masterpiece on the Old South. To his credit, he tries to warn the US that something is going to happen, but is ignored. The mother perseveres in the face of the stupidity around her and then dies. A cast of German (to be) killers passes in front of us looking like a bunch of clowns and buffoons for the most part. Basically it is the chronicle of when Germany waited…and waited…for something to happen.

There are moments when it becomes more exciting. The Night of the Long Knives is the most interesting part of the book. The problem is that this episode came after I had read through 2/3rds of the book. As my husband said, no one should have to wait that long before getting to something interesting. I kept with it because I like Larson. If I hadn’t read him before I might have given up like so many others. If you are really interested in Hitler’s Germany and REALLY want to know what the American ambassador was doing then (and who his daughter was doing), this is a book for you.

Sad to say, but I got so bored with this book that I kept picking up Sanctus by Simon Toyne. While I’m not a fan of religious conspiracy thrillers, I have read my share of them (cast offs from my mother and yes I will read most anything). I have to say this one is pretty good. In the story, a man throws himself off of a mountain monastery in an ancient city in Turkey and it goes live on television. Through some convoluted detective work they find his long lost sister in America who journeys to Turkey to find out what happened to her brother. She then becomes the central character in an attempt by the monastery to cover up everything (and basically kill off anyone involved). Ultimately the monks are covering up the true nature of the Sacrament inside the walls of the monastery, which if uncovered would change the world. Basically it is the set up for his next book in which the sister gains some bad-ass powers and stuff happens (haven’t read it yet).

In comparison to In the Garden, this one kept my attention. He has the Dan Brownesque style where each chapter is a ‘scene’ and drives the momentum of the reader. In contrast Toyne tends to make things up whereas Dan Brown “reinterprets” already existing reality. So, for example, the town in which all the action takes place is fictional and there are other elements created to suit his purpose. With the exception of a few groan-worthy moments (I won’t give them away), he does a pretty good job of inventing a mythology and keeping the reader invested in the action. If you like religious conspiracy action novels and are looking for a fun beach read, this is definitely one to find at your local public library.

I will leave you with this. As un-PC as this is, apparently there is a Hitler is bored video meme. I leave you with “Hitler and the bunker are really bored”. He must have read In the Garden.