26/40: Night Film (by Marisha Pessl)

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Night Film

by Marisha Pessl

Release date: 08/20/2013 by Random House

WHO: Scott, McGrath, a discredited journalist…

WHAT: investigates the apparent suicide of the daughter of an outre filmmaker who also happens to be the man who discredited him.

WHERE: The investigation takes McGrath from the streets of New York City to The Peaks, a massive estate in the Adirondacks (upstate New York,) and back, with some serious head trips in between.

WHEN: Ashley, the filmmaker’s daughter was found dead in an elevator shaft on October 13, 2011 and McGrath’s inquiry into the girl and her family takes place over the course of a few weeks.

WHY: McGrath’s suspicion and paranoia, fomented when he attempted to run a story on the girls’ father and was subsequently, professionally ruined, drive McGrath…

HOW: and with the help of a drug dealer and a homeless girl, McGrath tilts at his windmill.

Do you believe what you see? How about what you don’t see? What proofs do you require?Night Film challenges the skeptic of the metaphysical or paranormal to reconsider what the truth of human nature is, to break free of the conventions which govern our perceptions of ourselves and, to challenge ourselves as to what is accepted and acceptable in reality.

+ There is a lot of material to dissect in terms of symbolism, metaphor and/or allegory which should make for interesting discussions. In particular, the series of events at The Peak, which best exemplify the shifting paradigms of reality and truth bear further scrutiny. 

Illustrations include created screen shots and other media snip-its which provide visual interest and augment the story.

– Night Film starts out with promises of a walk on the dark side, but doesn’t quite deliver in that regard. In fact, the whole of the novel more easily qualifies as a Mystery or in the Thriller/Suspense genre than in the Horror. Night Film may suffer a bit form overexposure or overuse of superlatives, i.e. you may be expecting something along the lines of Clive Barker or Stephen King, but it’s more akin to Stieg Larson’s Millennium Trilogy crossed with the movie, Inception.

 Characters are colorful, but not particularly well developed. Motivations are not strongly delineated and  there is no sense that any of the characters undergo fundamental change. 

OTHER: I acquired an unsolicited ARC of Night Film (by Marisha Pessl) from a kind friend in the publishing industry. I had heard about Night Film through a Books on the Nightstand podcast last December and, actually held a copy of the ARC in my hands for all of five minutes before it was taken from me in the BooktopiaWA Yankee Swap. Finally, someone who knew of my disappointment, sent me an ARC 🙂

I receive no monies, goods or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.

I have challenged myself to read forty books this summer. Many books will be backlist titles as I’m trying to clear the stacks; but I have no doubt that new releases will make their way in too! 😉

25/40: The Honourable Schoolboy (by John Le Carré)

The Honourable Schoolboy

by John Le Carré

Book #2 in the Karla Trilogy

Book #4 in the Smiley Series

Book #7 in The Circus novels

Originally published in 1977

Mass Market Paperback edition published in 1978 by Bantam Doubleday Dell

WHO: George Smiley, now the head intelligence officer at the Circus…

WHAT: detects a money laundering scheme (a Gold Seam)…

WHERE: runningfrom Moscow to Hong Kong…

WHEN: that has been exposed in the aftermath of the events of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Saigon has fallen and the post-Vietnam War landscape of Asia is rife with military “leftovers.”

WHY: Smiley has professional and personal motives in exposing the purpose and persons involved in the operation.

HOW: Sequestering himself in his office at the Circus and talking walks through London, Smiley attempts to puzzle out case. He runs other intelligence officers and agents that he can trust; but he also requires support from Whitehall and from the CIA (“The Cousins.”) 

NOTE: You don’t need to read Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy before The Honourable Schoolboy, but doing so will give you a better understanding of what drives Smiley during this story.

Everything I wrote about Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is equally true for this sequel. So yes, you should click on the title link in the line above and read the review (no spoilers.) 🙂

+ Le  Carré’s second novel in the Karla trilogy is rich fare: Characters are well developed in all their flawed glory, at times flying with delusions of profound truth, at other times bowing to political expediencies, always conflicted and acting accordingly. The physical settings are richly detailed, from the wreckage of the offices in London to the ruins of a Tuscan villa to the scramble of life in China.

The major plot, basically a story about auditing, is rather cerebral and not terribly sexy though Le Carré does provide color by drawing in the life drama of key charactersAlso, the reader has to thread through the socio-political context of Asia after the American pullout, which while not indecipherable, needs the reader’s attention if it is unfamiliar terrain. Overall, The Honourable Schoolboy is not a novel to rush through. Still, we’re spitting hairs of excellence when we’re talking about the difference between Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Honourable Schoolboy. I would rate Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy  five stars or an “A+” grade and, The Honourable Schoolboy four-and-a-half stars and an “A-” grade. 

OTHER: I acquired a used print copy of The Honourable Schoolboy (by John le Carré) from Rogue Book Exchange in Medford, OR.  

I receive no monies, goods or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.

I have challenged myself to read forty books this summer. Many books will be backlist titles as I’m trying to clear the stacks; but I have no doubt that new releases will make their way in too! 😉

24/40: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (by John le Carré)

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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
by John le Carré
Book #1 in The Karla Trilogy
Book #3 in the George Smiley series
Book #6 set in The Circus
Originally published in the US in 1974 by Random House
Movie Tie-In edition featured above published in 2011 by Penguin
SPY THRILLER

WHO: George Smiley, former British intelligence officer…

WHAT: is recalled, under extremely discrete auspices …

WHERE: to “The Circus” (the service itself which derives its name from its headquarters’ address at the Cambridge Circus, a roundabout in London)…

WHEN: in the early 1970s (less than a decade after the UK intelligence service was rocked by The Cambridge Five scandal, IRL (see Kim Philby’s memoir, My Silent War))…

WHY: to flush out a mole.

HOW: George must puzzle out who the mole is through archival evidence, witnesses, and his understanding of people and spy craft.

+ It is impossible to overstate le Carré’s brilliance as a writer. The antithesis of Ian Fleming’s novels (i.e. James Bond,) le Carré’s books are smart and sophisticated in their world-building, plot construction, character creation and suspense. Once written as contemporary works to the story lines within, le Carré’s novels are now considered historical fiction reflecting The Cold War era and are a far cry from the pulp that you might expect when you see them categorized as spy thrillers. While this can be said of much of le Carré’s work, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is especially well done: tight, plausible and thrilling.

+ Though part of a series, any of le Carré’s novels can be read as a stand alone and/or in any order. Le Carré doesn’t ham-fistedly insert recaps, instead referring to past story lines artfully and without undue emphases. That said, there is still a richness to the stories that accrues having read le Carré’s works in order of publication. 

+ In light of recent events in the U.S. (Assange and Snowden,)  Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is particularly relevant, moved from being a dated fiction to an insightful modern allegory. 

If you are looking for flashy cars, sexy men & women and, clever gadgets, this is not the book/series for you. Le Carré’s characters are human: flawed and often sordid. There is a darkness to The Circus, stemming from the vivd depictions of seeming moral ambivalence and unpleasant outcomes. 

QUOTE: I love this NYT Book Review interview, “James McBride: By the Book”  for the quote about George Smiley, “Smiley understands. Smiley takes it across the face. Smiley’s got a job to do. Smiley’s got a broken heart. Smiley can take it.” 

OTHER: I purchased a used print copy of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (by John le Carré) from Green Earth Books via Alibris.com.  

I receive no monies, goods or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.

I have challenged myself to read forty books this summer. Many books will be backlist titles as I’m trying to clear the stacks; but I have no doubt that new releases will make their way in too! 😉

23/40: Mystic River (by Dennis Lehane)

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Mystic River

by Dennis Lehane

Cover by Chip Kidd

Originally published in 2001 by William Morrow

“Chip Kidd” edition published in 2003 by William Morrow Paperbacks

WHO: Nineteen-year old Katie Marcus disappears one night.

WHAT: Her father, Jimmy Marcus (an ex-con) and Sean Devine (state police detective), once childhood friends-of-a-sort, both work to find out what happened and whodunit along separate lines of inquiry. Another childhood compatriot, Danny Boyle, gets mixed up in the mess.

WHERE: The story takes place in the last of the old Boston neighborhoods, Buckingham Flats…

WHEN: as 21st century developers encroach to make over Southie.

WHY/HOW: Sean is coming in after a week-long suspension for a professional infraction. He is chosen by another detective to work the case that has fallen in state jurisdiction. The  fact that Sean knows the Marcus family seems not to be a conflict of interest. Anyway, Jimmy, though having gone legit as a shop owner, is still connected and has the resources to pursue the matter.

+ Brilliantly constructed plot-wise.

+ Evokes the old neighborhoods in terms of look and feel of the way things were. For those who remember the neighborhoods, even as late as the the early to mid-eighties, this is powerfully nostalgic.

+ Characters are realistic, meaning they aren’t caricatures (like Bubba from the Kenzie/Genaro series) or cinematic in vision. 

+ There are scenes of intense poignancy, which make it worth reading even if you saw the movie (which is also very good even though a plot spoiler if you saw it before reading the book.)

This makes the Kenzie/Genaro series look like crap. It’s especially hard to explain Moonlight Mile (2010) after you’ve seen what Lehane can do. Actually, Moonlight Mile is difficult to explain as anything but a tired write-off of the series, but still the difference in quality between Moonlight Mile and Mystic River is leagues apart.

OTHER: I purchased a print copy of Mystic River (by Dennis Lehane.)  I apologize, but I do not remember who I purchased it from! I am also saddened to say that I left my copy of the book at a cabin in Maine and did not note the passage that I wanted to quote in reference to Chip Kidd’s cover. In essence, Sean Devine is in a car cruising along the highway at night and the colors and light are sweeping past him. The passage is easy to blow past, but to me it stood out as a direct link between the story and the art work.

 I receive no monies, goods or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.

I have challenged myself to read forty books this summer. Many books will be backlist titles as I’m trying to clear the stacks; but I have no doubt that new releases will make their way in too! 😉

22/40: This Side of Paradise (by F. Scott Fitzgerald)

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This Side of Paradise

by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Introduction and Notes by Sharon G. Carson

This Side of Paradise originally published in 1920 by Scribner

Barnes & Noble Classics trade paperback edition published in 2005 (by Barnes & Noble)

Classics

WHO: Amory Blaine,…

WHAT: recounts his life as he comes of age, goes to boarding school, college, war, and falls in love a couple of times.

WHERE:  Blaine hails from the Mid-West, goes to Princeton and makes occasional forays into New York City to participate in social life.

WHEN: The narrative covers roughly ten years, from 1908-1918, with very little time spent on Blaine’s military service in 1917.

WHY: Blaine seeks to define himself philosophically…

HOW: by taking into consideration his experiences, what he has been taught formally and through the mentorship of a priest.

+ This Side of Paradise is a unique diary in form that functions as a thinly disguised autobiography of F. Scott Fitzgerald himself.

Without an academically informed approach, This Side of Paradise comes across as a self-indulgent account of a spoiled brat. With bad poetry.

OTHER: I purchased paperback copy of This Side of Paradise (by F. Scott Fitzgerald; Introduction and Notes by Sharon G. Carson ) from Barnes and Noble (the retail store in Medford, OR.) I did not read theIntroduction and Notes by Sharon G. Carson. I learned to never do that when reading the Classics (unless the Classic is a re-read) as the academics who write these things often include spoilers. I receive no monies, goods or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.

I have challenged myself to read forty books this summer. Many books will be backlist titles as I’m trying to clear the stacks; but I have no doubt that new releases will make their way in too! 😉

21/40: Domestic Violets (by Michael Norman)

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Domestic Violets

by Matthew Norman

Published by HarperCollins Publishers on 08/09/2011

General Fiction

WHO: Tom Violet, an aspiring writer living in the shadow of his Pulitzer Prize- winning novelist-father…

WHAT: is stuck in a dead-end job and a deteriorating marriage…

WHERE: while doing time at the office and returning home to the upscale neighborhood of Georgetown (Washington, DC.) 

WHEN: In the weeks between the announcement of the Pulitzer Prize winners and the acceptance ceremony, Tom Violet’s father moves in with his son, adding to Tom’s struggle to remain afloat in a sea of implicit and explicit expectations. 

WHY: Tom walks a fine line between self-destruction and survival as he determines who he is…

HOW: through his self-deprecating wit and boldness, and by negotiating the relationships of those most important in his life.

+ This is a light read with an original and interesting, plot twist. Matthew Norman keeps a tight rein on the satire, keeping the tone suburban and never succumbing to the temptations of becoming too dark, scathing or maudlin.  

 The resolution of the story is somewhat awkwardly executed and vaguely unsatisfying. I’m not really sure I buy it as the story itself doesn’t sell it: There is a lack of narrative to support the transition from the selfish to the noble.

The same sensibility that kept the overall timbre of the novel light also denied the story the gravitas which would have hooked the reader to feeling Tom’s angst as opposed to watching it.

OTHER: I purchased and dnloaded a digital eBook copy of Domestic Violets (by Michael Norman) during an eBook sale that HarperCollins was running in May, 2012. For some reason, I thought this was a lit-fic novel and had been putting it off until I was in the right frame of mind; but when I started reading it, I realized that the novel was more comedic in tone. I receive no monies, goods or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.

I have challenged myself to read forty books this summer. Many books will be backlist titles as I’m trying to clear the stacks; but I have no doubt that new releases will make their way in too! 😉