Monday, September 29, 2008

Devourer of Books Celebrates 100th Review Milestone!

Congratulations to my friend from Library Thing Devourer of Books who has reviewed her 100th book on her blog! She is celebrating this impressive milestone by giving away up to five great books from her stash. Be sure to check out her blog and enter her giveaway contest.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Broad Street - Pre-Review and Giveaway

I'm so excited! A couple of weeks ago, I was asked by PS Books if I would be interested in reviewing Broad Street by Christine Weiser, the first novel published by PS Books, a new division of the literary magazine, Philadelphia Stories. Being somewhat new to this book blog business, I jumped at the chance, though I admit I was a bit trepidatious about what I was getting myself into. I'd never heard of Philadelphia Stories magazine or Christine Weiser and would hate for my first publisher-solicited review to be negative, but it was too good an opportunity to pass by.

I received the book (and a second copy) today, and already started reading it. Nine pages in, I have to say that I am impressed! Ms. Weiser managed to hook me, not only by the story but by her elegant writing. If the rest of the book is as good as the first bit, I am in for a treat!

A brief synopsis of the book from the publisher: Kit Greene has just been dumped by her philandering rock musician boyfriend. A friend persuades her to go to a party where she meets Margo Bevilacqua, who is currently dating another philandering rock musician. At the party, the two women make a drunken pact to form a band with the sole purpose of outshining the musical men in their lives. This is where I left off, and I must say I can't wait to get back to the story and find out more about them and about their struggle for success in the male-dominated, mid-90s Philadelphia rock scene.

A little about the author, also courtesy of the publisher: Christine Weiser is a professional writer and editor and co-publisher of the literary magazine Philadelphia Stories (founded in 2004). She is co-author of Ask Mr. Technology, Get Answers (Lindwood 2007) and is managing editor for Tech & Learning magazine. She was the bass player for Philly girl band Mae Pang, and her current band, The Tights, can be h eard in clubs in and around the Philly area. Broad Street is her first novel.

If you would like to share the experience of reading Broad Street with me, leave a comment by the end of the day October 6. I will raffle off a copy of the book on October 7. Be sure to leave your email address or link to your blog if you want to be entered in the raffle. If you mention my pre-review in your blog and link to it, you'll be entered twice.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana

I have read most, if not all, of Anne Rice's previous supernatural and gothic novels, and enjoyed most, if not all, of them. So it was with some trepidation that I began to listen (on audio) to the Christ the Lord series, beginning with Out of Egypt and continuing with The Road to Cana.

I needn't have worried. These are excellent novels, not sanctimonious or even overly pious. In fact, they are very matter-of-fact about Yeshua's combined humanity/divinity and holy mission.
Out of Egypt, which I read a year or so ago (also on audio), begins with Yeshua as a young boy, when he brings a playmate back to life. The other Jews of Alexandria, where His family had fled to escape Herod's massacre, just cannot abide a kid who holds that much power. Although unplanned, it turns out to be a good time to return to Israel, so the family packs up and trundles back to the Holy Land ~ Joseph, Mary, and Yeshua, James the first son of Joseph by a previously deceased wife and his wife and children, Yeshua's uncle Cephas and his wife and children, Little Salome, Yeshua's sister, and assorted other relatives. Before they leave, one of the most influential of the Pharisees (I think that's what he was) of the city pleads with them not to take Yeshua away, as he has the makings of a brilliant biblical scholar, but they leave and take the child Yeshua with them. This novel adheres relatively closely to the New Testament, which made it sometimes a bit dry, though I enjoyed it anyway, perhaps because it was being read to me.

Anyway, The Road to Cana takes up when Yeshua is just about to enter his 31st year and begin his ministry. All the years between settling in Nazareth and now, He has kept hidden his knowledge and power, from those outside his immediate family particularly, but also from then and, as far as I can tell, also from Himself. Now, however, a sense of urgency, of mission, begins to beat in his soul, and he is impelled to break away from His large and loving family, seeking solitude yet feeling isolated. He also begins to struggle in earnest with the natural desires that He cannot help but have in his humanity but which cannot be satiated for the sake of his divine mission.
All is told in Yeshua's voice, with a charming simplicity that allows us to know His deepest sorrows and His even deeper love of Mankind. Much of this second novel of the four-novel series is written without recourse to biblical authority, since much of this part of Yeshua's life is not referred to in the bible, and I found it beautiful.

I've heard the story of the Baptism in the Jordan, the Forty Days in the Wilderness, the Temptation of Satan, and Wedding at Cana before ~ I go to church and have read the New Testament a number of times ~ but Anne Rice makes it all seem fresh and exciting, bringing the "characters" to robust life in all their glory and blemishes. I think I would enjoy the novel even if I were an agnostic, although since I'm not I can't be sure. I only know that I am very much looking forward to Rice's next installment of the life of Yeshua, Christ the Lord.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Mr. White's Confession - A Review and a Giveaway

Mr. White's Confession by Robert Clark
Trade Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Picador (September 2, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 031242812X
ISBN-13: 978-0312428129

Winner of the Edgar Award for Best Novel, 1999

In the beginning, two police detectives are drinking coffee at a local White Castle when they happen to notice a bald, rotund, funny-looking man eating hamburgers at the counter. One of them muses that the odd-looking man sits on his stool "like an egg in an eggcup." That was only the first of many moments of pure enjoyment I have had from this murder mystery, which is much more than a whodunnit, and I am looking forward to many more, since I am only at about the halfway point in the novel.

It is late in the autumn of 1939, and St. Paul, Minnesota is still reeling from the effects of the Great Depression when the murdered body of a beautiful red-haired dime-a-dance girl is discovered on a hillside. Coincidentally, the investigation by the two detectives initially leads them to suspect Mr. White, the Humpty-Dumpty of a man they had noticed a week or so earlier at the White Castle.

Now, it turns out that Mr. White has a faulty memory ~ he cannot remember middle-distance events. He can recall in detail memories from his youth, and he is pretty good at remembering things that happened within the last day or so, but between that ~ nothing. As a substitute, he has devised various ways to keep track of his life: he is an avid photographer (particularly of dime-a-dance girls), and he keeps scrapbooks of his photos as well as newspaper articles of current events. On the day of his unknown encounter with the detectives at the White Castle, he had also decided to keep a diary. This diary becomes an integral part of the narrative and is, I think, the best part of Mr. White's Confession. In his diary, Mr. White's voice is formal and innocent and, most of all, blind to his own desires. In the first pages of his diary, recalling a visit by Ruby Fahey, one of the dime-a-dance girls he photographs, he writes: "She went back to my bedroom to change, and I must say I felt a huge sort of breathlessness at the idea that she was in my room shedding and then donning her garments, rather as if some mystery of great enormity were taking place right here in my humble quarters!"

The detective's portion of Mr. White's Confession seems to be a conscious parody of the hard-boiled Chandleresque detective novels, and occasionally it gets a little over-the-top, but overall it works to balance the almost dreamy ruminations of the diarist. So far, anyway.

September 26, 2008 ~ Review continued!
It is always exciting to find a good novel by an author whose work I haven't read before, but when that author is brand new, as in this is his first novel ever, well, that's nothing short of magical.

"Mr. White's Confession" is sort of a cross between a Chandleresque whodunnit and a noir fictional memoir. It tells the tale of an odd-looking and -acting young man who, mostly due to his strangeness, is suspected of murdering a young, beautiful dime-a-dance girl in 1939 during the Great Depression in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is not only socially inept and odd-looking, he has a memory disability. Because of his disability he keeps track of his life in journals and scrapbooks, and that makes up one part of the story. The part that focuses on the police investigation is told mostly through the eyes of the detectives, Lt. Wesley Horner, a chain-smoking, dogged, rough, but honest cop, and reads like a dime-detective novel from that era.
When the story begins, the two protagonists ~ Mr. White and Lt. Horner ~ are eons apart in personality and experience, but, as the novel continues, their lives begin to parallel each other.
I found Mr. White a sympathetic character, perhaps because he is also into photography, and I understood his descriptions of the photographic process and identified with his pleasure at watching an image appear from nothing. I also found his ruminations on the metaphorical aspects of photography as it relates to memory, love, life itself, really quite astute. I also sympathized with him for the way he was looked at ~ as a freak and a creep and even a murderer ~ only because he wasn't fashionable or good-looking. In this story, things got way out of hand because of that bias. I eventually started to like Lt. Horner too, rooting for his redemption when he made the decision that would result in a terrible loss, and feeling his pain over that loss when it occurred. I feel that the character of Lt. Horner grew as much as Mr. White's did until, by the end of the story, they both resembled the kind of quiet heroes the world needs more of but never really seems to appreciate fully.
The novel was a little slow in portions, but the writing itself was so good that it was always enough to keep me going until the pace would pick up again. Toward the end, maybe the last 50 pages or so, the story got so intense that I had to force myself to just keep reading and not skip to the end to see what happened. I did sort of figure out more or less who the murderer was, although it was never 100% certain, due to the ambiguities of Mr. White's faulty memory and everyone's intentional and unintentional falsehoods.

One other thing that bothered me (not about the novel but about one of the issues brought up in the story) was the way the criminal justice system in effect at the time could be so brutal and unfair. There were few of the checks that keep the system in line today, like the requirement for Miranda rights, the rights of the accused to representation and a fair trial by jury, the rights of a criminal not to be subjected to brutal, inhumane punishments, etc. While the criminal justice system today has flaws, they are nothing to what it was like back then. Some of the things that happened to some of the characters infuriated me, and I had to keep telling myself "it's only fiction," and "that was then, it's not like that here anymore."

Needless to say, I really enjoyed this novel and am looking forward to more from this author!
On October 1, a copy of "Mr. White's Confession" by Robert Clark will be raffled off to one lucky reader who leaves a comment below. Please be sure to include your email or blog address in your comment if you want to enter. Mention this contest on your own blog and add a link to the above post, and you'll be entered twice to win. (Open to U.S. and Canadian readers only.)