Saturday, January 14, 2017

moonglow

Moonglow is subtitled 'A Novel' but it reads like a memoir, my guess is that its somewhere between the two; so I guess you could say its a memoir styled novel, based partly in reality. Its almost as if Michael Chabon was able to determine a little bit about his family history, and found some of it to be intriguing, but not quite exciting enough for a memoir. Then, wishing there were some more interesting facts, or at least interesting mysteries, he began to spin a tale.

Of course, I could be wrong and it could all be Bologna.

What Chabon does pull off is the intricately woven, dappled, and complicated history of an American family, and how their history makes the inheritors of that legacy what they are today, whether its actually the author's history or not, doesn't really matter.

Chabon peppers the story with 'facts' that at least seem to give the story an anchor in reality, and of course, he's told the story in first person, stepping back and forth in time from chapter to chapter, some of them in the present day, or recent past, in which he (or the narrator) is a character himself.

The story Chabon has spun, centers on the life of his maternal grandfather, a German Jew, ex-US military intelligence officer, from New Jersey, who meets his wife at temple function, where she is being held out like bait in a bear trap by gaggle of women who'd like her to meet someone else. Actually the women are dying to introduce her to Chabon's grand uncle, the newly-minted, handsome young rabbi. Due to a slight miscalculation when the two brothers enter, its Chabon's grandfather, and not the rabbi, who meets his future grandmother. And it becomes pretty clear that the rabbi brother wouldn't have stood a chance.

The story pops between their early romance, his grandmother's history in Europe and her escape from the Nazis, his grandfather's work in Germany at the end of the war, searching for Nazi rockets, and his lifelong love of rockets and space travel. There are tiny details, tics, hobbies, loves, hates, tastes, obsessions, secrets, habits, and beliefs that makes us what we are, and Chabon has built his characters brick by brick by examining these traits and how they color what people do. This reminded me of Philip Roth's American Pastoral. A family history is built on stories, and Chabon has strung this family's stories together in a way which reminds us of our own, and therefore tells the story of all of us.

I think this book showed up on a lot of must-read lists. My oldest gave this book to me as a Christmas gift; thanks honey!

Read this book.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

niceville

Niceville was another weird one, but ended up being a great additional to my recent catalog of paranormal books. I'm thinking about many of the books I've read this year, which are all listed in "the books" tab at the top of the page. Niceville is a character driven crime or mystery story with a little bit of weirdness kind of creeping around the edges. In fact, the book probably would have read just as well without the weirdness, the paranormal bit was really just another sub-plot, that just as easily could have been jilted love, or spousal abuse. And both of those sub-plots were in there anyways.

Niceville is not so nice. Obviously the title name of this imaginary southern town, close to the Blue Ridge Mountains, is tongue-in-cheek, and is what drew me to the book in the first place. No one names a book Niceville, and then writes about how nice it is. It also happens, that Niceville is the first in the Niceville Trilogy. I bought this book used, but the book jacket nor the notes inside mention it being part of a trilogy, maybe Carsten Stroud didn't know that when it was published. But then, I'm not sure what goes on the book jacket is up to the author in most cases.

There is a huge cast of characters, and we get bits of the story from the viewpoint of many of them, all living their own lives, and up to their own deeds and thoughts, until their stories all begin to knit together. Its a story-telling technique we've all seen before, and takes some research in the form of cranking through the first hundred pages or so, until you've learned enough about these characters to see the patterns emerge. Being the first of a trilogy presumably means we won't have to do this again, and can take what we've learned into the next two books.

I'm not sure there is a main character or characters, I get the feeling this is cast driven thing, more like Game of Thrones. Everyone in Niceville seems to have a story, so I won't be surprised if some or all of these characters show up in the next books, altho I expect that some may not, and some new ones will probably appear as well. I'm not really expecting the dead ones to show up again, but who knows, there is that paranormal twist I mentioned right? To say nothing of the possibilities of stories from an earlier time period, which I guess is also possible.

Stroud's writing style seems aggressive, short. Staccato is a good term for it. His dialog is not as loose and slangy as Elmore Leonard's, but he does tell a lot of the story with the dialog like Leonard, which I like. I did notice that he used the same simile within a half dozen pages at one point, which struck me as odd, but maybe I missed the point of it. felt like a mistake in the text to me. meyh, what do I know

I'll keep my eye out for the next installment, but I'm not burning down the house to get my hands on it. It was entertaining, and I did find myself spending more time reading than I normally do, but then I've been sick all week, and laying in bed, soo...


the dispossessed

I'm trying to get down my thoughts on all of the books I've finished in recent weeks, but haven't had the time with the holidays, and being sick during the holiday week.

Merry Christmas to all, and Happy New Year!

I still have a number of books from Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea Cycle on my reading list, but I haven't seen them at my library and haven't had the time to bother asking for them to be delivered. This one however, I found in the library's book sale, apparently weeded from the collection. The Dispossessed is another of Le Guin's looks at society and its norms via SciFi. She has a knack for disassembling societal problems, winnowing them down to their core, and then rebuilding them in an artificial form so that she can examine them more clearly. In this case, she's created a twin world; two planets that revolve around each other--each the others' moon--one green and lush, the other dry and barren.

The green world, Urras, is much like ours, and 175 years ago, a band of dissidents who believe in freedom, and self rule, leave their home to colonize the dry world, Anarres, and build a new world of self rule, collective anarchy. Its a thought provoking look at pure social communism, with no centralized government, no rules, no currency, no ownership, and no laws, built around the believe that in order to be completely free, everyone must do exactly what they want, by agreeing as a society that part of what they want is to help and support one another. A collective anarchy.

After 175 years of this planet-wide experiment, Le Guin looks in at how a society like this might be faring, and compares and contrasts it with the world the anarchists left, and no longer have any contact with. The original colonists, and their children are long dead, and generations of people have been born and raised in this experimental society, completely untouched and uninfluenced by the governments and currencies of their home world.

One scientist from dry, isolated Anarres, decides that perhaps its time to re-connect with the people of Urras, and share what he has learned; the new science that he has developed. But Shevek finds that sharing and giving don't have the same meaning in a society based on currency and centralized governmental control. He also finds that having a new idea, which is normally celebrated in his own society, can be threatening, when that new idea includes reaching outside of that long closed society. Threatening to the isolationism that many on Anarres believe insulates them from the evils of Urras.

If you aren't interested in this type of outside look at anarchy, and what society means, this may not be for you, but if you can get past the preaching which underlies the story, the story itself is an interesting look at different ways of life. And some pretty hippy-dip space-time theory, which or may not, in some form, be actually pretty close to true.

Le Guin is still kickin' it at 87. She has recently released a collection of novellas entitled The Found and the Lost.

By the way, The Dispossessed is part of a series called the Hainish Cycle, but the order of this series of books, is a little loose, and from the way it sounds, not really critical. FictFact has it listed this way, why I'm not sure, as it seems to be in opposition to the advice from Le Guin herself on what order to read them in, if that is important to you in this case. For her advice, go here and search for the phrase "in what order should I read" or the word "Hainish."

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

everlasting nory

The Everlasting Story of Nory is an odd little book by Nicholson Baker. I picked this volume up at the book sale at a library I visited to do some work between meetings. I don't know a lot about Nicholson Baker, but from what I've read, he tends to focus on stream of consciousness storyline involving adults. Not the case here.

Eleanor (Nory) Winslow, is a nine year old American girl, whose family has recently moved to England. Nory tells her story of assimilating into English school culture, how she feels about bullies, and their victims, mixed in with her remembrances of life and friends in America. It seems as though Baker has tried to channel a 9-year-old girl when authoring this, so there are misspellings, tangential meanderings, and a fair number of tortured idioms throughout. Nory tells the story of her first year in her new school, how she made her way, what she had to put up with, and describes the differences between where she used to live, and where she now lives, all from her quirky, story-telling way.

It appears that Nicholson Baker has a pretty dedicated following, so if you're a Baker fan, you may enjoy this, but without knowing any more about him, I'm not sure I'd recommend this book as a starting point.


Saturday, December 17, 2016

fallen angel

Fallen Angel reminded me of The Bridges of Madison County. It's romantic. It's comes at a time of transition in the protagonist's life. There's a little mystery involved.

Its also completely absurd.

There is a certain amount of 'suspension of disbelieve' that a reader needs to bring to every book I read sci fi for pete's sake but Snyder asks us to go one further when he asks us to believe that people will act as he indicates in this one.

In this case, our guy is kind of a jerk. Left his childhood home in Maine to escape the life his parents--mostly his father--made for him, and scrabbles around in different jobs for years til he ends up representing talent in Hollywood. you know, that old trope of washing dishes until your a movie producer Now he finds himself at forty with nothing to show for it but a small pile of money, and then...drama.

So his earlier life reaches out for him and he ends up back in Maine rediscovering what he had run from all those years ago.

And it's Christmastime.

I picked this one up at the library book sale without knowing much about it, but I was surprised. The Christmas bit was a surprise too. It's not a terrific book, just sort of sweet and season appropriate. Don J. Snyder has apparently done this kind of thing before, I just haven't read them. If you liked Bridges, then this one is probably worth a read, otherwise don't bother. Or you can just check out the Hallmark made for TV movie, which probably ran at Christmastime. on the lifetime channel

yeah I made my little notes red and green on purpose

Thursday, December 8, 2016

gathering of shadows

It would have been really nice if it was more clearly indicated (read: indicated at all) on the book jacket that this is NOT the first book in a series. It became clear that something was up about 100 pages in, maybe earlier. By 200 pages, I was pretty cranky that I was clearly reading a sequel. As it turns out, A Gathering of Shadows in the second in a trilogy by V.E. Schwab. Schwab's other titles were listed in her credits, including a special note that the only other adult fiction she had published was something called Vicious. That is clearly not the case, the first book in the series* is titled A Darker Shade Of Magic.

So yeah, thanks Tor Books! imagine the preceding literally dripping with sarcasm

Anyhoo. That being said, this was a fun book. And the glimpses back at what happened in the first book, seemed to indicate that that book was probably fun too. Schwab has created a universe where magic is the norm, and presumably runs parallel to own our (less magical) world. This is a trope that we've seen before, from Narnia, to superhero comics, but its still got some legs.

There are a few main characters, that readers of the first volume will recognize, I'm sure. And I'm also guessing that there are some new characters here as well. Schwab does a nice job of bouncing them off one another as they try to come to some kind of understanding about each others' needs and wants, and how they fit into each others' lives.** This is the kind of stuff I would expect to see in some of this author's YA writing, so I'm not too surprised to see it here.

Notwithstanding my ire at Tor Books, and their obvious omission of part 2 in the series, or something similar, I will probably look for the first book, and if that's good I'll watch for part 3, due out in February according to the fictfact page I linked to above.

* The title of the series is 'Shades of Magic.'

** Corrected 17 Dec 2016. Check out Compound Possession.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

survivor

The Survivor is the 14th installment in the Mitch Rapp series written by Vince Flynn.* My wife asked me to pick this book up for her at the library while I was there but they didn't have it, and the librarian couldn't find it either. After doing some research on line, I found out that this was planned as the next in the series, but Vince Flynn didn't finish the manuscript before he died in June 2013.

According to Emily Bestler, who has this long title: Senior Vice President, Editor-In-Chief Emily Bestler Books, an imprint of Atria Books at Simon & Schuster, Simon & Schuster classified the then forthcoming Survivor book as postponed indefinitely, until they could look into it with Vince's family etc. The eventual solution was to turn to Kyle Mills to finish Flynn's manuscript, and they also contracted with him to write two more Mitch Rapp novels. This change of author credit may be why I had trouble finding this book at the library. My wife ended up buying it in paperback.

I've read a few of these if I remember correctly. But its been a while, the Mitch Rapp character didn't ring a bell with me. It could be that my wife has read all of them and I just see these titles around the house. Like a lot of series, there is a fair amount of spill over from previous stories into this one, so it assumes some prior knowledge of some of the basic facts from the previous books. After checking, I read the last one, so some of the character names did sound familiar, even if I don't remember them as characters.

Mitch Rapp works as a heavy for the CIA. He's your standard, slightly tortured, hard-to-kill bad ass, super spy. He puts a small team together, and does his best to play catch up on a huge--and widening--international plot to bring down the CIA, perpetrated by some bad hombres.** I found the bad guys to be a little TV-typical, and the action to be well scripted, but mostly predictable. It is what makes these books so fun and relaxing to read, however. I found myself spending extra time reading, just to see what would happen. Now, is that me really hanging on the edge of my seat to see what will happen next, or am I really on the edge of my seat waiting to see if I'm right about how it will end? Does it matter? I don't think it does. This isn't fine literature we're talking about, this is just fun.

And fun it is. Best wishes to Vince Flynn's friends and loved ones, and good luck to Kyle Mills as he takes on the mantle.


* Just to clarify, what I mean here is that Vince Flynn wrote all of the earlier Mitch Rapp Books. Kyle Mills has taken over where Flynn left off. 

** Is it okay to say that, when you're making fun of people who say stuff like that? I hope so.

Friday, November 18, 2016

thirteenth tale

The Thirteenth Tale: A Novel is by Diane Setterfield. This was Setterfield's first book, as far as I can tell, and her second was released 7 years later in 2013. I wonder if this means what I think it does, namely; that she began writing later in her life, and that she spends a fair amount of time writing and re-writing. I'm guessing about the re-writing, but that's based on how well this book was plotted, and how well she maintained the tension, and mystery in the story. And when I finally did figure it out, it was only when Setterfield wanted me too.

Setterfield seems like a reader to me, a trait which is reflected in her protagonist, with whom she shares not only a love of reading, but specifically, a love of older English Romance tales, with a Gothic tilt; think Jane Eyre. And that's how this spooky, mysterious novel feels to me as well. It was a great follow-on for the recent books I've read, especially The Supernatural Enhancements. Setterfield sets a wonderful tone from the very beginning of the book, as she introduces the young, quiet, bookworm of a woman, who lives upstairs from her father's bookshop, and has felt something missing from her live for as long as she can remember. Her relationship with this loss, is almost a comfort to her as she does her researches into the old books in her father's shop, and tries to bring the old authors back into to the light. Wondering all the while whether or not these long-dead authors felt a wisp of acknowledgement, when she opened their forgotten writings.

Her researches capture the attention of a very popular but aging British author who invites the young woman to her mansion so that she can finally tell her life story. The tale of Vida Winter's long and interesting life is slowly spun out, and gets spookier and stranger as time goes along. So strange that the young author goes off to do some investigating of her own, and the story just gets stranger The history of Winter's family includes sudden deaths, possible murder, metal illness, physical abuse, illegitimate births, neglect, a crumbling family estate, mysterious happenings, and you know... a ghost or two.

I enjoyed this one very much and I'll be looking for Setterfield's second novel: Bellman & Black. Read this book.


[edited for English and grammar: 1 Jan 2017. If you see something, say something.]


Saturday, November 12, 2016

nerax north 2016

NERAX North is the smaller, quieter cousin of the original NERAX (New England Real Ale eXhibition.) The NERAX used to be held in Somerville, very close to where I worked, in Davis Square, at the Dilboy Post of the DAV. A few years after our office moved to Union Square, so did the NERAX; bouncing from the American Legion, which was convenient, to Aeronaut Brewery, more about them in a moment which was ridiculously-conveniently, next door. Then NERAX moved to somewhere in South Boston, and because it sometimes takes an hour to drive 5 miles from Somerville to South Boston during Friday Rush Hour, I gave up NERAX for lost.

The first time I attended NERAX North, was last year, and even though I did try some fine beers, and did take some notes as I normally do, AND had the pleasure of bringing my newly turned 21 daughter for the first time, I never put my notes into a blog post for some reason. Last year NERAX North was held at the Barking Dog Ale House, in Haverhill, where, I understand it had been held for a number of years. This year, we were at the Knights of Columbus on Washington Square, in Salem. I was again joined by my daughter; we sampled quarter pints in a room that was about half full, and sported a smaller number of beers (I think) than last year. There was food there, but we didn't try it, and I'm not sure who was catering. They had a number of dishes that you might see at a wedding buffet; things like chicken Marsala and rice pilaf. Looked good.


No lines, no waiting, so we didn't have time to pore over the program as I have done in the past, standing in line for an hour. We walked in and checked the board and Aeronaut was right up there near the top, as all of the nights samplings are noted alphabetically. Lets get to it!

Hop Hop and Away - Aeronaut Brewing Co., Somerville, Mass., USA (ABV 4.8%)
I've had a number of brews at Aeronaut, including some very early, experimental beers, that and the lower alcohol level was all it took to convince me to start here. I put my nose deep into this glass and it filled my head with aromatic fruit, Alessia said it first: Peaches. Peaches and the oil that squirts from the skin of red grapefruit. Pale, cloudy yellow with a wispy head that was gone after the first sip. The taste was crisp, and softly bitter, which left the mouth a lingering dry. The finish was super clean and bright with notes of chalk, stone, and minerals. Delicious, and a great way to start.

Robust Porter - Smuttynose Brewing Co., Hampton, NH, USA (ABV 6.2%)
Rich coffee brown color, with a syrupy, sticky consistency and a creamy, pale brown head. Molasses, wet tree bark and light leather on the nose. Dried fruits and fruit cake notes after a few more sniffs. This one is complex. Velvety mouth feel, eggnog, and that molasses comes through right away. A malty sweetness balances nicely with a background hop bitterness. Smoke lingers.

That - Teme Valley Brewery, Knightwick, Worcestershire, England (ABV 4.1%)
Pronounced TEM, I'm told. Sounds like Tim, with an E. "You wanna' try That?" the barkeep asks with a smile, "Lots of jokes about That, tonight," he adds when my smile isn't as large as he'd hoped. "Enjoy that," he ends, turning to help Alessia, who is still deciding. This one is very light on the nose, but what wafts up out of the glass is a yeasty stank, almost. Its so light, its not unpleasant but one gets the impression that some of those yeast strains weren't invited, they've just been in the brewery for 200 hundred years. But the first sip is surprising: I think its violets. Caramel yellow with a very light head, just a bit of creaminess from the carbonation. There is a nice balance of malt and hops, and a little basement aroma sourness. Hops are complex with a slight dark chocolate edge.

Reanu Keeves - Far From the Tree Cider, Salem, Mass., USA (ABV 5.5%)
We had to try it, just because of the name. Alessia asked for a sip, which we both tried. Alessia almost spit it out. I asked the barmaid to pour it out for us. It had an off smell, lemonade color, strong lemon flavor. Think Easy-Off (where are the apples?) After you swallow, whats left? Salt! I know, right?

Whammy Bar 2 - Clown Shoes Brewing, Burlington, Mass., USA (ABV 6.5%)
Pie! and berries on the nose. Alessia said blueberries when she smelled it, I'll buy that. Thin and light honey color, with a yellow, bubbly head. Malty and rich. Mint scented paste we used to use at the Lynnhurst Elementary school. Flavors dissipate on the palate with a clean, hop bitterness, and an herbal dry finish.
Green Beacons - Brecon Brewing, Brecon, Powys, Wales (ABV 4.3%)
Lightly carbonated, medium color pale ale. Slightly sour nose: feet and cranberries. Sharp, clean, and really dry. White, lacy head and tangy yeast on the back of the tongue. Tree fruit finish.

For Peat's Sake Imperial Stout - Paper City Brewey, Holyoke, Mass., USA (ABV 9.5%)
We had a fire in the yard last night, when I went out there this morning, it had rained and the fire pit had water in it. The coals were cool and soaked through... on the nose. Brown-black and leggy with a thin, bubbly head. Looks like the last sip of coke. Sweet, crusty smoked pork with lemon and rosemary, but just the crust. Burned caramel sweetness with the tang of burnt ends. You know that taste when you smoke a bunch of different things together, and then they all have a similar, nondescript flavor? Yeah, like that. Mild bitterness of hops is slayed by black smoke. Take this one in sips only, and maybe only after a rich meal when your palate has been tamped down and you need something to break through. Complex roasted fruits and vegetable notes. An interesting way to end the night.