Tag Archives: Five Star Review

GREAT EXPECTATIONS

2 Mar
First published in three volumes by Chapman and Hall 1861  493 pages including alternate ending  Rinehart V Co., Inc. 1958 (well read) soft cover  Coming-of-Age Fiction

First published in three volumes by Chapman and Hall 1861
493 pages including alternate ending
Rinehart V Co., Inc. 1958 (well read) soft cover
Coming-of-Age Fiction

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“ ….. Great Expectations shows a plot which leads the reader to a wrong solution before the correct explanation for Pip’s expectations is revealed. In the matter of suspense and motivation of mysterious action gradually explained to the reader, Great Expectations is Dickens’ best novel.” Introduction (in part) by Earl Davis 1948 – soft cover 1958 edition (mid-page vii).

Many years ago, I met a small stature of a boy by name Philip Pirrip who became known as Pip, so Pip is what we called him.

One dark ending day, in an old English churchyard cemetery, in marsh country down by the river, young Pip stood crying over the tombstones of his parents whom he had never met nor knew of their liking. The mist began to thicken the night as it cooled across the nettle-covered yard with its ghostly shrouded graves. A night where a runaway convict hid in the shadows, and watched. A night where a promise uttered in fear would forever change the course of one boy‘s life.

“….. Orphaned Pip is apprenticed to the dirty work of the forge but dares to dream of becoming a gentleman, and one day, under sudden and enigmatic circumstances he finds himself in possession of great expectations. ” (in-part) Goodreads

This is a story about lost love and the mystery that surrounds an unexpected gift. This is a story about paradiso perduto. A story with characters so vibrant that you will be hard pressed to delineate true from fiction. A story that will haunt you long after the final page is turned. This is Charles Dickens ……

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THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

1 Mar
Original publication: Little, Brown and Company 1951 A Signet Book published by The New American Library 1960 Fiction paperback-192 pages

Original publication: Little, Brown and Company 1951
A Signet Book published by The New American Library 1960
Fiction paperback-192 pages

“This is the story of a sixteen year old Holden Caulfield, who wants desperately to find himself, but who goes underground in New York for forty-eight hours when he is overwhelmed by the perplexing circumstances of his life.” (in-part) back-cover.

This book, though censored and banned (bad language, vulgarity, sexual references) was required reading in High School during the 1960s. My paperback copy cost me fifty U.S. cents (.50$), and it has been in my literary arsenal since beginning my exodus into a new ’world’.

When I was young, Caulfield was a relatable character in that he was a teenager, and spoke to us with a voice of adolescent angst (if you can recall that age, you’re certain to remember it); later, when I reread the book, no longer within the realm of relate-ability, Holden Caulfield became the psychoanalytical interpretation of the ones who knew him best: the Beat (1950s), and the Hippy (1960s) generations.

J. D. Salinger (1919-2010) was an extraordinary writer. Not only do his characters come alive but they seamlessly lead their readers ‘inside’ within the first few pages. Always a rare treat to read a great writer.

This is J. D. Salinger’s first novel.

THE JER1CH0 DECEPT10N

24 Dec
West Hills Press/a division of Hundreds of Heads Books, LLC soft cover fiction 409 pages

West Hills Press/a division of Hundreds of Heads Books, LLC
soft cover fiction 409 pages

This is such a good book. Intelligent subject matter coupled with believable, likeable characters and a storyline that will have you stymied all the way through to the end.

Yale neuroscientist Dr. Ethan Lightman has made a ‘God Machine’ that uses electrical stimuli to create spiritual ecstasy in human test subjects. When Lightman’s colleague and friend is murdered it is discovered that the Logos (God Machine) is being replicated by a top secret CIA program to establish a world-wide belief system in Christianity. Lightman, with the help of a graduate student and an imprisoned Muslim doctor, is thrust into a web of treachery as he attempts to stop the foes before they create a Holy War.

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Jeffrey Small lectures on Religion and Spirituality. He graduated summa cum laude from Yale; magna cum laude Harvard Law; and holds a Masters in the Study of Religion from Oxford University in England. He also studied Yoga in India, and practiced Buddhist Meditation in Bhutan.

His first book Breath of God, reviewed here, earned him a Nautilus Book Award Gold Medal for best fiction in 2012; and this book The Jericho Deception garnered the Gold Metal for Best Suspense Fiction by the Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPY) 2013.

He is also a sought-after speaker on religion and spirituality. Jeffrey Small lives in Atlanta, Georgia with his wife and daughter, where he is an active member of the Episcopal Church.

Side note: In 2011, Small wrote a very interesting article about mythology and the Bible, for The Huffington Post. If you’re interested, I’ve linked it here.

“…. fighting wars over religion is like arguing about who has the best imaginary friend.”

Yasser Arafat

NIGHT FILM

18 Dec

This is the story about Scott McGrath, a journalist investigating the death of Ashley Cordova, the daughter of a prominent reclusive horror film director, Stanislas Cordova, a man whom some say does not even exist. This is the story about the readers’ interaction with that investigation. And, it is the story about Cordova, a Brando-esque character who is the ‘……product of the author’s imagination…. not to be construed as real …’ (?)

Random House 2013 Softcover 590 pages Psychological thriller-fiction

Random House 2013
Softcover 590 pages
Psychological thriller-fiction

Pessl’s first novel, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, reviewed here was bold, and written in the author’s genius. This second endeavor, always in my own opinion of course, has far surpassed that brilliance. “Sometimes you read a book so special”, as Marcus Zusac wrote: “that you want to carry it around with you for months after you’ve finished just to stay near it.” This is one of those.

Peppered with visual imagery, Night Film is a dark, chilling and twisted thriller. Psychologically disturbing in a clandestine underground sort of way that if you are in the slightest bit skittish, you probably don’t want to find yourself in the company of this book.

HISTORY OF THE RAIN

13 Dec
Bloomsbury USA/a trademark of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. 2014 Hardcover fiction  (eccentric narrative in form) 355 pages Superbly edited by copyeditor Sarah-Jane Forder

Bloomsbury USA/a trademark of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. 2014
Hardcover fiction (eccentric narrative in form) 355 pages
Superbly edited by copyeditor Sarah-Jane Forder

This book is haunting. It carries a soft strange tune. Strange not as in weird, but as in different. Niall Williams writes this book in the voice of an Irish female character: his words, his tone, and the expressions. As I read it, I can actually hear Ruth Swain’s Irish accent.

History of the Rain, exquisitely written, was to be my downstairs read, but somehow, it followed me to my sleeping quarters upstairs, breaking a cardinal rule: when reading two books at the same time, one will only be read at night, the other during the day.

The literary anecdotes, ancestral timeline, and the sheer heartbreak of this young narrator writing in her own style, regardless of grammatical rules, is a page turner. Ruthie Swain is a young adult confined to her attic room, in a small Irish fishing town, surrounded by all her father’s books, all 3900+ of them. Books she inherited. Books that will help her understand her father, a poet who loves writing so much that he forgets everything around him.

“When I call my father Virgil Swain, I think he’s a story. I think I invented him. I think maybe I never had a father and in the gap where he should be I have put a story. ….. human beings are not seamless smooth creatures, they have insoluble parts and the closer you look the more mysterious they become.” pg 169

In search of her father, we meet Ruthie’s grandfather who wrote a book about ‘The Salmon in Ireland’. A book which we are privy to read in short excerpts, a little at a time, in sporadic chapters of this book-in-hand. There is a method to the madness. Trust me.

At first, whilst reading, I had to find out who the heck edited this book, because something wasn’t right here: capital letters mid sentence; punctuation marks askew; and, strange goings-on with style and structure. I can be so dense sometimes. This is a book you will want to read again. Not because of the nuances you want to catch second time around, but because you just don’t want to let go of Ruthie.

My favorite part among favorites, is how she describes ‘her’ books:

“I love the feel of a book. I love the touch and smell and sound of the pages. I love the handling. A book is a sensual thing. You sit curled in a chair with it or like me you take it to bed and it’s, well, enveloping. Weird I am. I know. What the hell? As Bobby Bowe says to everything. You either get it or you don’t.” pg 62

EXACTLY!

Niall Williams (1958 - ) Dublin, Republic of Ireland MA Modern American Literature/University College Dublin Longlisted in July 2014 for the Man Booker Prize for fiction

Niall Williams (1958 – ) Dublin, Republic of Ireland
MA Modern American Literature/University College Dublin
Longlisted in July 2014 for the Man Booker Prize for fiction

THE BIRDS OF PANDEMONIUM

8 Dec
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I live in an area surrounded by mountains, most of which skirt the pacific ocean. There are wild animals of all shapes and sizes, on land, in the water and in the air – some of them are my friends. There is a Murder of Crows that seem to think they are the boss of me, perching on wires and cawing incessantly as they wait, not quite so patiently, for the daily food treat they’ve become accustomed to getting. Whenever I venture out for a walk, there they are above me, keeping a keen eye lest their meal ticket encounters danger. They know who I am. They recognize me. And I revel in their protective nature.

Birds are an amazing group of vertebrates with feelings and emotions much like our own. This book, cleverly written, takes pleasure in, and imparts an intelligence that most humans only wish they had.

This is the true story of a woman who built an avian sanctuary in the backyard of her home in northern California and filled the nearly 50 colorful aviaries with 362 rescued exotic birds representing 34 species. This is the true story of the birds who taught her a thing or two about life.

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The only Review I can give on this book is to introduce you to its cast of characters, and to tell you this: if you love birds and think you know them, think again. A magical read.

Michele Raffin, MBA Stanford University; president and owner of Pandemonium

Michele Raffin, MBA Stanford University; president and owner of Pandemonium

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THE LAST FINE TIME

11 Nov
Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 1991 Hardcover First Edition 202 pages Non Fiction

Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 1991
Hardcover First Edition 202 pages
Non Fiction

“Snow begins as a rumor in Buffalo, New York.”

This is a book I’ve had since 1991 but never got around to reading. It is a non-fiction telling about a time of innocence and nostalgia – about much cooler nights in a postwar era on the east side of Buffalo – about a family owned Polish-American tavern that later became the swank nightspot of the neighborhood, and about the people who lived in The Last Fine Time.

Eddie Wenzek inherited the business in 1947, and along with George, Eddie‘s brother-in-law, they turned the neighborhood workingman’s bar into the neighborhood’s gathering spot for the prosperous. Today, 722 Sycamore is an empty parcel of land where the memories swirl in the minds of those who knew it well; of those who shared the laughter and a Highball or two; and, of those who were lucky enough to have lived it.

This isn’t just the telling of a nightspot, it’s Klinkenborg’s homage to a culture long forgotten. Of what it was like to live in the aftermath of WW2. Of what it was like to live in the quiet time between 1947 and, what was later to be known of the 60s as, the end of innocence. George and Eddie’s closed its doors for the last time in May of 1970.

Klinkenborg asks us to imagine as we become drawn-in and fall in love with the calmness that was once America. An America, that even if you didn’t live it, you will miss – because of this book.

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On the cover of the paperback edition, there is this photograph. Imagine it is Eddie with Regina, and George with Freda, their wives. Imagine you hear Vic Damon in the background over the tinkling of glasses and through the swathing of tobacco smoke. Outside “…. the streetlamp illuminates the snow on the ground.”

The photograph, of course, is not inside George and Eddie’s, nor is it anything like I said.* But Klinkenborg wants me to imagine, and so, I do.

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Verlyn Klinkenborg (1952 – ) has a Ph.D in English Literature from Princeton, and has written several books including: Making Hay, and Several Short Sentences About Writing. He lives in upstate New York.

 

 

 

 

*anonymous patrons inside Buffalo’s McVan’s Nightclub, during the 1950s. The photo is courtesy of Robert Petruzzi.

NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND

26 Oct
Dell publishing Company 1960 Paperback edition/three short novels 511 pages in total Translated from Russian by Constance Garnett Fiction or so we’re led to believe - *

Dell publishing Company 1960
Paperback edition/three short novels 511 pages in total
Translated from Russian by Constance Garnett
Fiction  *

Notes was first published in 1864 in the Russian literary magazine Epoch which was owned and operated by Fyodor Dostoyevsky and his brother Mikhail. This existentialistic novella of 140 pages depicts an unnamed narrator (often referred to as ‘underground man’) who has chosen to retreat from society to write all the woes that beseech his grim and darkly lived life.

The underground man is sick, hopeless, sad, very opinionated, dislikes himself and is offensive without apology. To have to listen to this neurotically self-absorbed, tortured intellectual, page after page after page is exhausting, but where the underground man wears thin, Dostoyevsky is exhilarating. At times, I had the most eerie feeling that this fictional character was looking right at me. I was reading words, for God’s sake. And yet, the feeling of something ‘actual’ was ever present.

Written in two parts, the discursive part one in which we are privy to the man, takes place in the 1860s; then to the more dramatic part two where he begins to recall his past. The nameless narrator takes us back to 1840 where we catch a glimpse of his youth. Of his life. And as we enter part two, having thoroughly extinguished all hope of ever finding any semblance of tribute, we begin to slowly slide down the rabbit hole and into the snare set for us by Dostoyevsky and his underground man. Brilliant, I tell you. Simply brilliant!

“Which is better – cheap happiness or exalted suffering?”

David Denby, staff writer for The New Yorker wrote a superlative piece about this book back in 2012. Take a look if you‘re interested.

*When I snapped the photo of my books for this review, it was my intent to read both Notes From Underground, and Crime and Punishment then review them here.  I’ve since received Tartt’s Goldfinch – started reading it last night and into the wee hours of this morning. I don’t think I’ll be reading Crime anytime soon.

ABSOLUTE MIDNIGHT

3 Oct
Joanna Cotler Books/an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers 2011 Beautifully illustrated by Clive Barker/hardcover first edition - 569 pages Young Adult Fantasy Fiction

Joanna Cotler Books/an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers 2011
Beautifully illustrated by Clive Barker/hardcover first edition – 569 pages
Young Adult Fantasy Fiction

My night jasmine slowly withered away into death’s grip last winter when the freeze was too much for it to stand. It slowly returned a few months ago, a phoenix. And so this journey through the Abarat – withering away into death’s grip. It too, a phoenix.

Within these books are the words that awaken the imagination. There are visions to be seen, and sentiments to surface; there are manners of dread that will linger long after the page is turned; you will choose your allies and think you know your adversaries. From within the pages of Barker’s fictional Abarat characters, you will become fond of some and loathsome of others. And you will join in the fight to stave-off the darkness. No question.

This third installment into the land of the Abarat, finds our heroine and her band of friends unraveling ‘…. a secret plot, masterminded by the diabolical Mater Motley, who is obsessed with becoming Empress of the Islands.’*

The books of the Abarat are scuro. To say the least. But none more-so than Absolute Midnight. The darkness prevails not so much in the absence of light but in the primordial presence of daunting fright.

The Abarat books live within a quintet. Three have already been published, with two brewing, nearly ready to be served. And, whilst there are many writers to capture your fantastical imagination, and are very good at it, Clive Barker, in my opinion, stands-up where others stand-down.

I do hope to find you waiting in the Abarat when book four is released – let us be amazed together.

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*taken, in part, from oft the dust jacket front flap.

THE POISONED PILGRIM

26 Sep
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The Poisoned Pilgrim – Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company/First Mariner Books edition 2013 – First published in German 2012 by Ullstein Buchverlag GmbH as Der Hexer und die Henderstochter. English translation (beautifully done) by Lee Chadeayne/Historical Fiction – 496 soft cover pages including the Afterword, and the Andechs Monastery Guide

Rarely do I come across a writer with such finesse of rhythm in his writing than words penned by Oliver Potzsch. The knit between the historical authentic and the fiction is so precise that one can not make out where each individual strand ends and the other begins.

The first telling of Jakob Kuisl, a Hangman by profession (Die Henkerstochter), first published in Germany in 2008. It was translated into English in 2010, followed by its sequels: The Dark Monk; The Beggar King; and, thusly The Poisoned Pilgrim. All these stories are set in Germany during the 1600s, giving us a clear picture of the life and times of a dishonorable hangman. In and around that life, Potzsch weaves his magic and herein begins the fiction. Especially appealing is that the author himself is a direct descendant of the main character, Jacob Kuisl who was indeed a hangman as his father before him and his father before him …….. and so on, as behind so forward.

The Poisoned Pilgrim venerates the Bavarian Holy Mountain at Andechs where once stood the Andechs Castle, dating back to the early 10th century, and destroyed in 1248. Shortly thereafter, atop the castle’s underground catacombs and dark, dank tunnels the Kloster Andechs Pilgrimage Church and Monastery was born, the oldest pilgrimage church in Bavaria. And, this is where our story begins:

Leaving Schongau to begin a religious pilgrimage to the Bavarian Holy Mountain to celebrate the Three Host Festival, the hangman’s daughter and her bathhouse surgeon husband find themselves embroiled in something more sinister than the history of the church itself when the duo stumbles upon a dark and sinister plot surrounding the brutal and tortuous murders of three monks. Wrongfully jailed is Brother Johannes, who was formerly a hangman and best friend of Jakob Kuisl. When Kuisl hears of this, he begins his own pilgrimage to the holy mountain enlisting the help of his daughter and son-in-law to find the real killer before the torture of his friend begins.

Oddly enough, or perhaps serendipitously, tomorrow September 27, 2014, begins the real pilgrimage of the Three Host Festival of the Andechs Monastery on the Holy Mountain in Bavaria, where Christ is worshipped in the sacrament of the Eucharist (thus the reference ‘three blood hosts’).

Potzsch gives us the experience of his stories through sight, sound and scent. His words do not read, they feel. A stellar storyteller, and this one is by far the best in the line of the Hangman tales.

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