15 February 2012


Do yourself a favour and check it out :

The 2012 TOURNAMENT OF BOOKS is almost here!

This is a wonderful annual event that run by The Morning News that pits 16 books against each other. Kickoff is the 7th of March

So far, of the 16 in the tournament, I have only read :

Swamplandia! ~ Karen Russell
The Tiger's Wife ~ Tea Obreht
The Sense Of An Ending ~ Julian Barnes
The Cat's Table ~ Michael Ondaatje
State Of Wonder ~ Ann Patchett
The Sisters Brothers ~ Patrick deWitt
The Marriage Plot ~ Jeffrey Eugenides
Salvage The Bones ~ Jesmyn Ward

... so will concentrate on the reading list for the next few weeks. Alphie is currently reading IQ84).

Of those read, my favourite would be Salvage The Bones, followed by The Sense Of An Ending.

This is the link to the 2011 Tournament (and from there you can check out the results of previous years).

Finished 1Q84 ... it took weeks!

I haven't read all books in the draw but here's my selection:
My pick in italics. Winner in bold

Sense of An Ending V The Devil All The Time
Lightning Rod V Salvage The Bones (my pick for overall winner !!! shows what I know!!!)
1Q84 V The Last Brother
The Stranger's Child V The Tigers Wife
State of Wonder V The Sisters Brothers (didn't like either!)
Swamplandia! V The Cat's Table
The Marriage Plot V Green Girl
The Art of Fielding V Open City

Sense Of An Ending V Lightning Rods
1Q84 V The Tiger's Wife
The Sisters Brothers V Swamplandia!
The Marriage Plot V Open CityROUND 3
Lightning Rods V 1Q84
The Sisters Brothers V Open City


Lightning Rods V The Sisters Brothers (zombie choice) 
Open City V The Art of Fielding (zombie choice) 

The Sisters Brothers V Open City

So there you go ... either "there's no accounting for taste" or "what would you know?".
The Sisters Brothers
was knocked out in an earlier round by Open City but got a second chance as a Zombie selection and then won convincingly.
Not my cup of tea.LONG LOVE THE ROOSTER
Already eagerly awaiting next year's tournament

10 February 2012

The Marriage Plot ~ Jeffrey Eugenides


Finalist : National Book Circle Critics Award 2011
Tournament of Books : 2012

Shallow narrative with depth of research
A homage, a trope, for the Victorian romance

How can a book be both shallow and deep when you describe it? But this one was!

The narrative was the basic Victorian romance : girl rejects hero to fall for cad; romance turns bad; hero comes to the rescue ... and that is the Victorian "marriage plot". But this book was very long-winded in its delivery of the plot because it put so much into the characters. Everything you needed to know about their upbringing, their faults and foibles, their motivations and desires ... it's all there.

The first 20% of the book had an enormous wank factor for me ... fine if you are an English major but the reading references were out of my league. It was a struggle.

The about-to-be college graduates are appropriately self absorbed as they sort out their futures and relationships. Much research has gone into this book (the character padding) : The heroine (beautiful, brainy, well off) has an interest in Victorian literature; the cad (impoverished, brilliant, dysfunctional family) has a mental illness; the spurned hero (steadfast, genius, whimpish) is into comparative religion. And all these topics are covered in depth, though nicely segued and never seeming to appear as research notes.

If you want a Victorian novel, read Wuthering Heights. Yes there is a twist with Madeline/Cathy marrying Leonard/Heathcliff and then being rescued by Mitchell/Edgar ... who then turns around and lets her go!!!

This book, by virtue of its name, by virtue of the plot, by virtue of Madeline's literary passions, is to meant to be a trope to the entanglements of the Victorian romances. But it is over padded. Too much to read for too little story.

Trope : figurative language in literature, or a figure of speech, or something recurring across a genre or type of creative work; a recurring motif or device not done to the point of exhaustion (whereby it becomes a cliche).

09 February 2012

The Cat's Table ~ Michael Ondaatje

** OK **

Tournament of Books : 2012

Hmmm, another of those picaresque novels
More like a dog's breakfast than a cat's table

Labelled a "novel" but read like a "memoir". The author took his childhood voyage from Colombo to England and fluffed it up to make a novel.

Sometimes it helps to be already famous because you mustn't have to pitch as hard to publishers! This book was short on character development and human insight, though the conflict/resolution was convoluted enough to make up for other areas lacking depth. If a picaresque novel has a rogue as a hero then maybe this doesn't fit ... he is just another naughty boy having escapades while without adult supervision.

It was a good enough read but the Oronsay stayed on course better. Many of the little chapters were pointless as far as character or plot development, seeming to be just fleeting recollections from the voyage. Vignettes and flashbacks and flashforwards were piecemeal. The writing style is as gently mesmerising as a boat rocked by the waves but it doesn't take you anywhere.

08 February 2012

Salvage The Bones ~ Jesmyn Ward

**** RECOMMEND ****

National Book Award : Winner 2011
Tournament of Books : 2012

Brutal and beautiful
From the heart, disarming and emotional

This is a slow build over a few days. And these are the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina. An already devastated family, coping with death and poverty, is about to face the wrath Karina and deal with further loss. The family is poor, black, motherless, and living in a Mississippi bayou.

It could all be so melodramatic. But it's not. It could all be so depressing. But it's not. There is wonderful emotional depth. There is a lot of brutality and neglect but the overall story is of family loyalty and support. It is told through the eyes of a young girl, old before her time, and spoken with a clear and haunting voice.

This is one of those novels you want to describe with "___ and ___" descriptions :
lyrical and savage; poetic and raw; poverty and resilience; uncompromising and confronting; unsettling and uplifting; powerful and real ... and I could go on ... all these and more.

I may have to come back and change this from "recommended" to "favourite" ... I have a feeling that it is one that will haunt!

07 February 2012

Swamplandia! ~ Karen Russell

** OK **
Tournament of Books : 2012

Been on best seller lists, Nominated for Orange Award
But not for me

This book is inhabited by screwball characters a la Garp or almost anything by John Irving (replace bears+wrestlers with alligators+ghosts). It has larger-than-life characters with complex family relationships (Franzen style). It has a wonderful exotic setting ... "Swamplandia!" is an alligator theme park beset by financial difficulties. The author has a lyrical, descriptive, writing style.

But for me ... I just didn't get it. I just didn't engage.

While it is all vividly brought to life, it was too much of a scatter gun approach, too much jam packed into the narrative. This made it like a rich brocade that was threadbare in places. And one of those places was the climax of the narrative, so having stuck with it, I didn't even feel rewarded at the end (the ethereal rape scene lacked poignancy because it was so surreal).

Too many characters. Not enough depth to the separate narratives that followed either Kiwi or Ava. And enough with the ghost story (how did that barge story add anything but more pages???).

06 February 2012

Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark ~ Guillermo Del Toro

~ OK ~

Hmmm running out of things to read on Alphie's Kindle
A book that would be better read as a hard copy

This book didn't grab me. I was definitely ready for a change of genre and probably shouldn't have even started it when I did.

Given the diary style narrative interspersed with the reference catalogue of fairy research, I think I would prefer a hard copy where you could flip through and have a better display of graphics ... the book lends itself to being visual and this was lost on the Kindle.

In the end, I skimmed the catalogue sections and just read the diary extracts. The catalogue covered the research into fairy gentry across the world, much of which I was already familiar with, ie folklore. (And besides ... where were all the nice little fairies???).

The narrative was about the researchers obsession which all came to no good and a grisly end. And it was only the thin mortar between the bricks. Ho Hum as a read but could have been good as a coffee table style illustrated book.

05 February 2012

Alice In Deadland ~ Mainak Dhar


Currently not reading >>>>
A lesson in life ... a bargain isn't one if it is junk

Again, like The Old Man And The Wasteland ... an Amazon bargain of 99c. And again, like TOM&TW, it has rated its head off on Amazon (220 review = 4 star average). Ridiculous! But obviously good to have a support group (Inde Writers United?)

Hey this sounds like a good idea ... let's mix Zombies with conspiracy theories and play around with Alice In Wonderland ... and don't bother too much with editing or sentence structure or grammar or characterisation or repetition or ... whatever.

Life is too short

04 February 2012

The Old Man And The Wasteland ~ Nick Cole


Old Man And The Sea + The Road = this book
Respectful homage? Plagiaristic copy? Creative laziness?

This was an Amazon Cheapie (99c) ... but was it a bargain?? It rates 4-and-a-half stars with Amazon with 573 reviewers. Man ... this guy has a lot of friends because there is no way it should be rating higher than the books it blends (hmmm a much nicer word than rips of!)

I am still not sure about how to review it. It mimicked the style of The Old Man And The Sea with a storyline that that mimicked The Road. And it did this in a slim volume that read well ... but the creativity was as thin as the book.

It was an easy read that became repetitive and there was zero character development. Throw in some ravenous wolves (and tell the story through their eyes ... sheesh!!), some moronic cannibals, and a heroic (but dead) survivor who left "composition books" of instructions ... and still it was all lightweight.

* Now realise that the correct term is "trope" rather than homage ... making this tripe trope

03 February 2012

To Kill A Mockingbird ~ Harper Lee

****  RECOMMEND ****

Winner : Pulitzer Prize 1961

A reading experience for any age group
A classic to be reread and reread

Classic Catchup.
Had a bit of a glitch ... half way through the paperback and there was a major printing error so this reading was actually spread over two months ... had to wait for a back up copy.

This book is brilliantly written. It is a classic read not just because of the storyline but the excellent writing, the wonderful readability. Lee gives so much social background and so much personal background by weaving it deftly into the plot. There is never that sense of blah-blah-blah pages that often annoy in current narratives (that strike me as author's notes that force the characterisation on the reader rather than it being gained by osmosis).

This is an encompassing experience : such a vivid portrait of the times, of childhood, of growing up, of bigotry ... of so many, many things. It is a slow, warm, endearingly evocative insight into the world of the Scout, Jem and Atticus. I was sad to leave them at the end!

02 February 2012

The Night Eternal ~ Guillermo Del Toro & Chuck Hogan


#3 in The Strain Trilogy
I found this a strain

I have a problem with trilogies that shouldn't be. Why say it in three books when a thoughtful edit will present a tighter narrative in one? Is is because the author puts out #1 without a clear path to the conclusion? What is wrong with a two-book series?

Does it seem like I just didn't get into #3?

This read like one of kick-high action movies. It was one eternal chase sequence interspersed with fights. There was little development of the story ... which is fine because the background and narrative has been set up in #1 & #2 ... but there needs to be some reason for #3 existing other than just "It's a wrap".

The religious explanation was a bit "meh" and Eph's behaviour was a stretch. I really felt a lack of verisimilitude with the way they lived in the middle of the vipers' nest, found petrol, caught trains, hack multiple vamps etc. And that Saturday Matinee scene with Nora and Mr Barnes ... OMG cheesy! The solution was a little overly coincidental given that there were three books getting to this point (like ... thank goodness someone/God spoke in the ear of that lonely astronaut so that her ship became a flaming star ... it's a sign, it's a sign)

01 February 2012

The Fall ~ Guillermo Del Toro & Chuck Hogan

< OK >

#2 in The Strain Trilogy
The Master takes control ... but Guillermo loses it!

Moving right along from #1, this is an action packed sequel. Not a lot of time is wasted in going back of the how-we-got-to-this-point from Book 1 which makes for great reading when you are reading the trilogy in sequence.

In some ways I felt that #2 actually was more involved in providing the history of the vampires. There was a fair amount of flashback and info fillers making it longer than it needed to be (don't famous people need an editor??). Yes, it is important to establish the Vampire Lore and expose the truth of their existence but this was a little too wordy at times.

There was more excitement in #1 and I felt the characterization was more compelling. I felt there wasn't a vivid picture of the chaos and mayhem that New York and the world would have been spiraling into.

But I am still cheering for humanity ... even though the Master seems to have the upper hand. So it is on to #3 ... and hoping it is as compelling as #1 rather (though Alphie liked #2 better! No accounting for taste!!)