Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Frederick is my man

Just finished Frederick Forsyth's The Negotiator (1989) - totally riveting read.

I'm a little shocked to find myself enjoying and also promoting FF's books to friends. I mean let's face it I'm not really his 'target market' of heterosexual, middle aged males into action - actually mark me down as totally the opposite!

But so far, I've read:
  • The Day of the Jackal (1971)
  • The Odessa File (1972)
  • The Fourth Protocol (1984)
  • The Negotiator (1989)
  • The Deceiver (1991)

so I'd guess you'd say I'm a bit of a fan;-)

I don't think anyone out there does the whole action/ thriller/ political spy genre as well as FF (although I have been recommended John Le Carre).

FF is able to easily combine fact, fiction and history and wrap it all up in a rivetting narrative. There is no doubt his books are page turners, but what I also enjoy is his writing style: a sparse and factual style with no self-conscious attempts at 'literary flourish'.

What I admire is FF's ability to tell often very complicated multi-faceted stories in a very clean, minimal but above all highly effective manner.

I love his slightly wry but detailed descriptions of the intelligence community, ie. M15, M16, CIA, FBI and KGB. Also his incisive comments about the relationship between the British and American governments is fascinating stuff.

I also detected in The Negotiator a very dry, self effacing humour. Throughout the book there are very sly (and funny) digs at politicans, Americans, the British and also even writers too!

I'm currently working my way through his latest The Afghan - can wait!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Crush on Mr.Burr continues

My crush on Chandler Burr continues.

Reading his analysis of a new fragrances in Scent Notes, makes me smile.

He has an ability to write about fragrance in such an original, witty and evocative way. Take for instance his description of Hilary Duff's new perfume:

"...a scent one might encounter were one lucky enough to be hugged close to the suntanned neck of a pretty volleyball player on a Malibu beach: a bit of sunscreen, a hint of the breeze from the California hills and the smell of a girl who really knows how to play at the net."

So good. Sigh.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The thrill of the hunt - discovering an author

My accidental find, Connie Willis Doomsday Book has become one of the most enjoyable reads. I can’t put it down, but I don’t want it to end either - a most delectable combination of feelings.

I am a big fan of the time travel genre, but Willis does it so well with characters that are so human and believable they make you laugh. I love the twining of historical facts, myths with fairy tales riffs throughout the book.

But the star of the book is Agnes- the petulant, spoilt five year old daughter of the medieval family that the main character Kivrin finds herself back with during the period of the black plague. She’s is such an uber brat, but so funny and adorable.

There is nothing more thrilling than discovering an author, then also discovering their back catalogue. I didn’t realise Connie Willis was such an acclaimed sci fi writer, but these are the books now on my list:
  • Remake (1994)
  • Bellwether (1996)
  • Promised Land (1997) (with Cynthia Felice)
  • To Say Nothing of the Dog (1998) (Hugo Award)
  • Passage (2001)
Nothing like the joy of making my way through a list!

Monday, July 21, 2008

'It's just not working out” - books that I haven’t finished

Tseen's comments raise tricky questions for all book lovers:
  • how long should you stay with a book before you throw in the towel?
  • are you obligated to stay to the end?
  • should you persevere and be rewarded?
Sometimes I feel guilty about not finishing a book. It's so Gen X, ‘instant gratification’ type of cultural attitude. But then, what the hell life is too short right?

Here’s my game plan:
  • if it doesn’t grab me within the first few chapters I’ll put it down
  • return to it in a couple of days
  • but if still a no go, then it is definitely a Stop, Do Not Pass Go moment.

Maybe it all about timing too? You want a page turner and instead you get a meandering character study. And sometimes a book is just not what you expected, despite the rave reviews and recommendations.

Other times something better comes along and gets your immediate attention.

Below are 2 books that just didn’t work out. To be fair there a few that I did return to, but still Do Not Pass Go moment.

Susanna Clarke: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell - A Novel
Attempts: 2

A little too twee and clever for my liking, the whole footnote ploy really started to annoy me. I did get further on the second attempt, however still couldn’t get involved as the story was too slow. Way too many long winded descriptive paragraphs - when I was screaming on the inside "Show me the MAGIC!".

And oh yeah, totally put off by size - a freakin tomb. I really couldn’t invest that much time on something I was very so ambivalent about.

Maybe, I’ll just wait for the movie, when they condense the story down to the main bits and action. (Now, that is very Generation Y sorta attitude!)

Patrick Rothfuss The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, Day 1)
Attempts: 1
I was so looking forward to this, it got really good reviews too. I kept reading and reading, hoping it get better but in the end I was really quite bored. Powerful magician retells his life tale -sounds a bit familiar?

A little too derivative of Ursula K. Le Guin’s masterful Earthsea trilogy. I kept thinking this is a bit too shallow and wanted to see Ged/Sparrowhawk appear to give it some depth. You know you it's not going well when you wish for a character from another book to appear!

Other books I've left:
  • Michael Faber: The Crimson Petal and the White (2 attempts)
  • Matthew Pearl: The Poe Shadow (2 attempts)
  • Anne Tyler: Digging to America (3 attemps - I really tried)
  • Kathleen Tessaro: Elegance
  • Matt Rubinstein: A Little Rain on Thursday
  • Curtis Sittenfeld: Prep

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Browsing and scoring a find

Just finished Beautiful Fall - was a great read that I wanted to continue. I wish Drake could have gone into the 1990s in more detail, especially as that was when KK's (Kaiser Karl) career really went crazy. But as the title says it focused on 1970s.

The epilogue was also juicy with her detailing of how KK sued her for publishing the book and lost! Juicy, juicy to the last page. As she notes it wasn't for defamation but for privacy, so he was not alleging that the contents of her book were untrue, just that they damaged his right to privacy.

But as Drake argues in her defence, KK already spilled his guts out many times in many interviews, so just how much privacy was there left to protect?

Browsing local library (I do old school borrowing, none of this book mooching stuff - that is another story!) and happened to pick up something that I cannot put down.

It is Connie Willis - Doomsday Book. Plot - young student goes time traveling as part of an academic program to the Middle Ages but gets stuck when there is a glitch in the computer.

Fascinating, page turner which I am about to go back to NOW.

I love accidental finds because it is the universe telling you to read this book. Providential.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Books that won't be put down

For Lucy, my list of great reads/page turners:

Warning: If you start one of these book, be prepared for late nights!

Genre: Thriller
Tom Rob Smith - Child 44
Suspense novel set in Stalin’s Russia.
In this intelligent ‘hunt for a serial killer’ thriller, Rob Smith evokes the heightened paranoia of a society forced to spy on itself. Perhaps one of the best first chapters ever, setting the scene for a thoroughly enjoyable journey.

Genre: Ghost Story/Gothic
Dianne Setterfield - The Thirteenth Tale
The page turner of the year for me. Brillant gothic novel about the dark side of story telling and the power of reading.

I loved the fact that the heroine of the novel is bookish amateur biographer named Margaret Lea, who lives with her father in their bookshop. Also loved the way this book captures the Brontë and du Maurier genre in a very contemporary manner.

John Harwood - The Ghost Writer
Thrilling, gothic suspense novel set in Australia and London. A playful reworking of the modern ghost story within a story.

From the blurb:
"An anonymous portrait, a green velvet gown, a porcelain doll, even an entry in a library catalogue can open the way to nightmare."

How can you resist?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

When the latest disappoints

Settling down with the latest in a series from a favourite author is always a fraught affair - Is it going to be as good as the last one? Or as my friend T. say's “is it going to be a phone in”?

There is something comforting about going back to characters you really like and connect with. But because you have so much invested already, you can also be greatly disappointed.

One of my biggest disappointments so far this year is Lee Child's new Jack Reacher novel: Nothing to Lose. Crushingly disappointing and anti-climatic. What happened to the thrills, suspense and action Lee? I thought this was meant to be a thriller - why so boring? You expect Jack to be the good guy again, that much is always taken for granted, but at the end of this one you kinda don't really care anymore.

The one author who is consistently good is Jeffrey Deaver. His latest Lincoln Rhyme novel: The Broken Window lived up to all my expectations. I think the difference is that you feel that Deaver cares about his characters.

And nobody does dialogue like Deaver. Razor sharp and witty. The banter between Rhyme and Thom is classic, I love the way these characters express their affection for each other by using sarcasm.

Damn, now I have to wait another year or so the next Rhyme. Should have taken time to savour it instead of demolishing it over 2 nights!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Bit of a french moment

My reading has taken a bit of distinctly fashionable french turn lately. It all started with Chandler Burr's fascinating account of the French perfume industry: The Perfect Scent: A year inside the perfume industry in Paris and New York.

I must confess the start of a big crush on New York Time's perfume critique Mr Burr. His writings on perfume are so addictively good. He is sharp, insightful and funny too. What more could one ask for?

He kinda makes me wish I had paid more attention in chemistry class! Plus, he is not afraid to pull punches such as his absolutely crushing critique of Hugo Boss fragrances - I must banish my Hugo Boss Elements now.

Another addictive read so far is Alicia Drake's Beautiful Fall, her account of the parallel careers of Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Largerfield. Who knew they were so closely connected and at one time shared the same boyfriend! C'est shocking! C'est horror! C'est bon!

Can't wait to read Yasmina Reza's account of her year with current French prez Nicholas Sarkozy too.