Kindle, Modern Masters, Read-a-longs

The Great Gatsby – Read-a-long Part 2

“Perhaps it’s because she doesn’t drink. It’s a great advantage not to drink among hard-drinking people. You can hold your tongue and, moreover,  you can time any little irregularity of your own so that everybody else is so blind that they don’t see or care.”

Catching up with Wallace’s read-a-long of The Great Gatsby:

This middle section is quite strange. There’s a fair piece of character exposition on Gatsby; all the parties, Daisy’s history with him, his warming to Nick.

I’m not sure what function Jordan Baker is serving in all of this; she seems to be a vaguely interesting confidante-type information conveyor. FSF makes her interesting in that she lies and drives terribly, but mostly she seems to be there to give us Daisy’s history with Gatsby.

As for the dreadful tea party: ohmygoodnesstheawkwardness. Eeek. No wonder poor old Nick wanted to just leave them to it and go for a wander in the rain. But why is Nick so overawed that he permits himself to be pushed around like this by Gatsby? Gatsby is clearly a bit clueless and puppy-in-love-ish, but even Nick could have seen that Daisy would not be comfortable having Gatsby restored to her so suddenly, and what good could come of it?

Not so sure.

Kindle, Modern Masters, Read-a-longs

The Great Gatsby – Read-a-long Part 1

“And so it happened that on a warm windy evening I drove over to East Egg to see two old friends whom I scarcely knew at all.”

This is the only one of my reading intentions for 2012 which I’m currently able to fulfil: Wallace’s read-a-long of The Great Gatsby. Having struggled to pick up a copy from the library thanks to the Christmas/New Year closures, I’ve finally found an e-copy and got cracking. The read-a-long is up to page 90 (50%) but I’ve already got so much to say at 25% that I thought I’d only catch up one week this time.

I was a little put off by the first page, in which Carraway pronounces himself as one able to reserve judgement and thus an unwilling receptor of strange men’s confidences. Nevertheless I persevered and I’m so glad I did.

What strikes me most is Fitzgerald’s (hereafter FSF) use of tiny detail to convey huge amounts about his characters. Tom’s brutal nature is handed, pre-captured, to the reader when he pronounces upon the dominance of the white-skinned race. Daisy’s depression is encapsulated in her words upon hearing she has given birth to a girl:

“‘All right,’ I said, ‘I’m glad it’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool – that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.'”

I’m expecting a dramatic suicide from Daisy. Her friend Jordan Baker seems a facilitator for facts at present (Tom’s infidelity, a vehicle for Carraway’s social ease at Gatsby’s party) but there is clearly potential for a side storyline here.

Of course Tom is vile. He is bullish to his college friend, openly cheating on his wife, shows no interest in his daughter, and beats his mistress. Wallace pointed out that during the Roaring Twenties, in which time period this is set and written, there was a very specific set of circumstances contributing to social norms. Both the passing of the law of prohibition and the enfranchisement of women in 1920 clearly influence FSF, given the flowing champagne in “glasses larger than finger bowls” and strange treatment (thus far) of women.

FSF has a beautiful and tender way of writing which I didn’t expect based on the first page; Carraway seems pompous and dry before he starts his narrative. Thereafter he softens and is bleakly or off-handedly amusing:

“Instead of being the warm center of the world the middle-west now seemed like the ragged edge of the universe – so I decided to go east and learn the bond business.”

“I had a dog, at least I had him for a few days until he ran away, and an old Dodge and a Finnish woman who made my bed and cooked breakfast and muttered Finnish wisdom to herself over the electric stove.”

There are occasional moments of pretentiousness, with which I will swiftly lose patience if they come back, but so far I’ve glossed over them:

“As I walked on I was lonely no longer. I was a guide, a pathfinder, an original settler. He had casually conferred on me the freedom of the neighborhood.”

I’m still a little confused by moments where FSF seems to have got distracted, or decided to abandon the accepted method of storytelling and abruptly move to his next idea: Tom’s breaking of Mrs Wilson’s nose, and the strange, dreamlike recollections of Carraway after he rides down in the elevator with Mr McKee are quite disconcerting and I don’t know what to think quite yet.

Anyway, I’m intrigued and loving TGG. I’ll be catching up to pace with the read-a-long asap!

Kindle, Thriller

The Human Race – O. C. Heaton – 2/10 (DNF)

In this thriller by O. C. Heaton, Uma Jakobsdottir has developed some world-altering technology, and British entrepreneur Ethan Rae is helping her to expand it. But when Uma’s office is broken into and two journalists are killed driving through a storm in Iceland, it seems that someone with rather sinister intentions has found out about their little project…

If that seems a rather scant synopsis, it’s for two reasons:  I had serious difficulties with this book (to be enumerated below) and that is as far as the turbo-charged plot had got, 25% of the way in; and it’s a serious thriller in that every page reveals critical plot points which can’t be revealed in the synopsis for spoiler reasons!

OK, the reasons I didn’t get on with this book:

1. It was not what it was marketed as: the synopsis from Amazon is

 “Ever had a secret so big that the very knowledge of it consumed you? Uma Jakobsdóttir has one. A huge one. And if it falls into the wrong hands it could obliterate mankind. Unfortunately two men have discovered it. Ethan Rae, Britain’s richest man, is counting on Uma’s secret to finally seal his position as the greatest deal maker of all time.

Across the Atlantic, Samuel Reynolds III, playboy CEO of Reynolds Air, is battling to keep the airline his granddaddy built alive. Once the largest company in America, it’s now facing bankruptcy as the fallout of 911 cripples the airline industry. He desperately needs Uma’s secret to ensure its survival.

From the leafy suburbs of London to the frozen wastelands of Iceland, in the shadow of Ground Zero and under the barren dryness of the Mojave Desert, both men will stop at nothing to get what they want. There can only be one winner and the fate of the human race hangs in the balance as they battle it out. The race is on…”

which doesn’t indicate the hefty dollop of science fiction that this book contains. I think readers deserve an honest description; I’ve written about misleading marketing before.

2. Very short chapters coupled with an inordinately long expository introduction (first 25% of the book and counting). Short chapters (as I’ve written about before) drive me crazy and often here the chapter break was simply so that we could have a new date and time at the start of the chapter; there’s got to be a more elegant way to indicate a small change in time.

3. Serious editorial oversights: a couple of errors which ought to have been caught by a copy-editor (it can’t be 1815 in New York and 1015 in Reykjavik – the truth would be vice versa) and large sections which should have had a red pen taken to them energetically (“Next, he called his assistant, Scott Adams, with the news that his plans for the next three days had changed, and to rearrange all of his appointments. Scott quickly ran through the changes to Ethan’s schedule and rang off, having confirmed that he would call a limo to pick Ethan up…” DO YOU SEE WHY THIS MAKES ME STABBY???). Throw in some stilted dialogue (“I still cannot fully believe what we saw today…” from one young, cool journalist to another) and there is not enough tea in my kitchen to make me happy about this book.

4. I was taught at school that dying characters can’t bequeath thoughts: “The last sound he remembered, as the four-by-four toppled to meet the patiently waiting lava fields below, was his passenger’s piercing scream, followed by a blinding flash”. Also, surely he would hear the sound, not remember it, as she pre-deceased him by only a few seconds. Grump.

This book would appeal to:

– people who were not in my Year 8 English class with Mrs Highfield.

– end-of-the-world thriller devotees who don’t mind some scifi with their plot

Cover image comparison

This book actually came to my attention via Judith’s Ugly Covers Competition, which featured the original cover:

The book is now into its second edition and onto the Kindle with a much better cover:

which, for me, is much less repulsive and conveys the idea of the the world falling apart… Not quite sure which of our characters is supposed to be holding the world in his hands (which reminds me of this most excellent West Wing episode), but there we go. Much better cover.

Additional info:
This Kindle copy was kindly provided by the publisher via Leeswammes Blog.
Publisher: Rookwood Publishing
Order The Human Race from Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards giveaways.
Kindle, Non-fiction

The Immigrant Advantage – Claudia Kolker – 8/10

“As a lot of us do, I’d grown up acutely aware how much I owed to being American. My insouciance about the future. My unhindered education. The chutzpah to go, as a single woman, anywhere that I pleased.”

In this very interesting non-fiction exploration/memoir, Kolker examines 8 behaviours and cultural concepts brought to the USA by immigrant groups, and how these behaviours lead to far higher quality of life than would be expected for these groups, taking into account income levels, dislocation from family and community support networks etc. She also relates her attempts to implement them in her own life.

Kolker must be a really interesting person and this comes across straight away in her writing. Part Jewish, part Mexican, and having done stints as a journalist in Haiti and other exotic American locations (and I use American in the North, Central and South sense), she spends time in Houston and Chicago with a young family and her photo-journalist husband.

She has also managed to pick 8 very varied cultural ideas, including money clubs, the cuarantena (quarantine) applied to new mothers, com thang (a sort of communal meals-on-wheels business), the benefits of front-stoop-perching – really something from every aspect of life.

Kolker moulds her research into her own life, and I found it fascinating to see how she makes the principles work for herself – her founding of a money club, her digging out and patronage of a com thang business (I tried to do the same but it appears there are not enough Vietnamese people in London).

I would absolutely advocate this fairly quick, simple read for anyone interested in examining how other people live and picking up a few life tips along the way. I’ll certainly be trying to give the cuarantena a shot when there comes to be a RFBT family!

Additional info:
This was a review copy from GalleyGrab.
Publisher: Free Press (Kindle edition)
Order The Immigrant Advantage: What We Can Learn from Newcomers to America about Health, Happiness and Hope from Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this, which goes towards giveaways.
Fluff, Kindle, Review copies, Thriller

Black Diamond – John Dobbyn – 6/10

“To one who starts every day with a double jolt of Starbucks’ caffeine-drenched special, the offer of a cup of tea was like offering tofu to a carnivore.”

Michael’s childhood friend Danny is thrown from his horse during a race and dies of his injuries. A rival jockey, accused of pushing Danny off, comes to Michael’s legal practice for criminal defence. Certain that something bigger is afoot, Michael takes the case, but it is his loyalties to Danny’s wife that cause him the most danger in his quest for the truth, which will take him from Boston to the heart of Ireland…

I’m in two minds about Black Diamond. On the one hand, it was a rollicking crime novel, with level after level of baddie until Michael works his way right to the top. Any number of unsavoury characters and doubling-backs of plot avert our hero from justice.

Michael is a pleasant enough character but he’s altogether too flawless (multilingual, brilliant legal mind, rose from nothing so can establish a seamless rapport with both the poorest and the rich, beautiful girlfriend who seems prepared to rescue him from pretty much anything and never see him) and generally a bit stupid – he charges headfirst into all sorts of situations for which you’d think he’s too smart.

However, and this is a big however, the writing is pretty pedestrian. Clichés abounded  and the tone was, on the whole, too conversational – it might have worked brilliantly for an audiobook (particularly if the narrator was inclined to a Gaelic lilt), but it doesn’t work in print. And you can’t have an Irish character called Seamus McGuinness living in Killarney Street. It’s just too Irish. Like those huge green faux-velvet leprechaun hats worn by Guinness-chugging rugby fans. Most of the writing is a bit too Irish – I know that the point is to root the novel in a community, but EVERYONE was Irish (apart from a few Hispanic jockeys). Danny, Colleen, Erin, Mr. Devlin, Billy O’Connor… see my point?

“You could cut the profound silence with a cleaver” was the worst offence of the poor writing – the metaphor is somewhat mixed – surely pretty much anything can be cut with a cleaver; the indelicacy of the implement belies the point.

On the other hand, sometimes Dobbyn hit the right spot with a sentiment (see the tea comment at the start):

“I never lie to my secretary, except when it’s necessary to subdue her mothering instincts. This time, it took a bit of method acting. I was sure it was Scully, and no one had called him “harmless” since he left the crib.”

I wanted to give the book 8/10 for its devious mystery and Mafia-style baddies, but it loses 2 points for poor writing.

Additional info:
Kindly supplied by the publisher via Netgalley for an honest review.
Publisher: Oceanview Publishing, hardcover, 280 pages.
Pre-order Black Diamond from Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards giveaways.
Fluff, Kindle, Review copies

Rules of Civility – Amor Towles – 9/10

“One must be prepared to fight for one’s simple pleasures and to defend them against elegance and erudition and all manner of glamorous enticements.”

This is one novel I wish I’d listened to in audiobook – and I may try to get it in audio just so that I can. Towles has chosen to set his social study in carefree late 1930s Manhattan, choosing as his heroine a witty, smart, ahead of her time daughter of a Russian immigrant, Katya (now Katey) Kontent. Katey lives in Mrs Martingale’s boarding house with Evey Ross, and the two of them go out for New Year’s Eve on 1937 and befriend Tinker Grey, a young socialite banker. An awkward double romance develops but when Evey is disabled in a winter accident, Tinker throws his lot in with her. Katey moves on through New York society but every road seems to lead her back to Tinker eventually.

Towles has chosen to frame his story through the perspective of Katey as an older woman, reminded of the escapades of her youth by a photographic exhibition she attends with her husband. The first person narrative is slightly limiting, but by having Katey as the sensible one and Evey as the one whom trouble follows, we do of course get an interesting story. And this is an era with which I am entirely unacquainted! Most of my reading is set in pre-1900 or 1960+. The glamour and optimism of the late 30s in the USA, Manhattan before cell phones and yellow taxis and fear of terrorism, even the immigrant experience of the USA (it’s only really in Daughter of Fortune and Snow Falling on Cedars that I have run across it before) – all are new to me in literature and they were wonderful.

One of the things I love about reading on the Kindle is how easy it is to highlight passages and then come back to them when I am writing the review. Towles has a beautiful writing style, using words and phrases like “fabdabulous”, “the wine was older than me” and “a burgeoning taste for flawlessness”. Some of the ones I marked as I went through Rules of Civility:

On starting on page 104 of a Hemingway novel:

“Bit characters stood on equal footing with the central subjects and positively bludgeoned them with disinterested common sense. The protagonists didn’t fight back. They seemed relieved to be freed from the tyranny of their tale. It made me want to read all of Hemingway’s books this way”

Other quotes:

“He felt elaborately around the bag until he brought out a cinnamon donut perched upright on his fingertips. Which, as it turns out, is all it takes to secure a place in my affections.”

“It’s terrific, I admitted. But I can’t help thinking how much better it would look on you, given the color of your hair. If I may be so bold, Miss Kontent, the color of my hair is available to you on the second floor.”

“At peace with the notion that he would join them soon enough in that circle of Elysium reserved for plot and substance and the judicious use of the semicolon” possibly my favourite book quote ever.

Well worth the read. Get your hands on a copy if you can, and even better if it’s in audio!

Other reviews: NPR, Just William’s Luck, Jennifer at Literate Housewife, Nicole at Linus’ Blanket; USA Today

Additional info:
This was supplied by the publisher through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
Publisher: Penguin Group USA, read on Kindle. The hardback has 352 pages.
Order this from Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards giveaways.
Fluff, Kindle

William Walker’s First Year of Marriage – Matt Rudd – 2/10

“She sings like someone being stabbed in a shower: all commitment, no tonal control. This is not being she’s singing and fighting back the urge to vomit. This is how she normally sings. It is one of her endearing qualities.”

This is pretty much the story of an angry man not coping with his wife’s male best friend. He does ridiculous things, like throw cold tea over work experience peons, and get trashed and play computer games instead of showing the flat to the estate agent, and is basically the worst stereotype of a useless husband that there is. This is Nick Hornby-lite – so those who particularly enjoyed High Fidelity or How To Be Good might disagree with me entirely and find this rather enjoyable.

We started out with such promise, a new husband being a rather unusual (from my experience) protagonist, but the entire plot was patently ridiculous and the witticisms were the only aspect of this dire work that kept me going to the end.

“I expected some sort of fanfare, going back to work. To be treated differently. I feel different. Very grown-up. Last time I saw everyone, I was Single Man, now I’m Married Man. I speak the language of Married Man. I’m part of the Holy Order of Married Men. I know the Code. I can do mother-in-law jokes”

“This is something that Isabel is good at: twisting an argument so that what a minute ago sounded fair and reasonable coming out of your mouth sounds like something about as acceptable as kitten-stamping.”

“Before Johnson ‘went soft’ and came to work on Life & Times magazine with me, he was a hard-bitten crime reporter… somewhere along the line, he has muddled his time working the sink estates, covering stories of social decay, organised crime and young lives wasted with marriage. He sees them as the same thing.”

The final nail in the coffin of clichés in this book was the atrociously twee ending. I won’t say what it is, but as I got towards it, and release from this prison of a book, it did occur to me that the last chapter might reveal a next step, a future as an ending, and lo and behold, a beautifully neat conclusion just wrapped itself in a bow and jumped into my eyes.

Mostly, this is how I feel about this book:

(credit to Bookalicious Pam, who tweeted this image)

It gets two points and two points only because there are some funny lines.

Additional info:
This ended up on my Kindle after I’d had the free sample for a while – either The Physicist bought the full version or it downloaded itself for free…
Publisher: HarperPress, read on Kindle. The paperback has 302 pages.
Order this from Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards giveaways.