Print Review: Summer House with Swimming Pool

9780804138819

Summer House with Swimming Pool: A Novel
By Herman Koch; Translated from the Dutch by Sam Garrett
Penguin Random House | Hogarth
Release Date: June 03, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-8041-3881-9
LITERARY FICTION/PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLER

Marc Schlosser is a middle-aged general practitioner in a Dutch-speaking country [presumably the Netherlands as that is where the author lives] in the 21st century who, for a medical doctor, shows a surprisingly sordid and prurient interest in the human body. Koch has created an unlikable character who nonetheless represents a member of the professional bourgeoisie, shorn of naïveté, confident of his own intelligence and decisions. However, as the narrative of Summer House with  Swimming Pool begins to unfold, it is clear that Dr. Schlosser’s hubris may not be enough to shield him from the inquires of a medical board which is looking into the circumstances surrounding the death of one of Marc’s patients. To complicate the professional crises, it is clear that there was a personal relationship between the doctor and patient as well, and that the death of the actor is somehow tied to events that occurred at a vacation rental the previous summer. The whole of Summer House with a Swimming Pool is an exposition of biological imperative that also serves as the driving force behind this taut psychological thriller told from Dr. Schlosser’s point-of-view. Some readers may be tempted to cheat and peek at the end pages, while others will rabidly devour pages in anticipation of what happens next; but care should be taken to not blow past a seemingly innocuous or irrelevant phase or sentence that proves to be otherwise. Though without Ian McEwan’s sense of humor, those who liked Solar and/or Saturday will also probably enjoy Summer House with Swimming Pool as well.

 

OTHER: I received an Advanced Reader’s Edition of Summer House with Swimming Pool: A Novel (by Herman Koch) through the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program on August 3, 2014. 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.

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Print Review: Vienna Nocturne

Vienna Nocturne

Vienna Nocturne
By Vivien Shotwell
Penguin Random House | Ballantine Books
Hardcover: February 25, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-345-53637-2
HISTORICAL FICTION

Vienna Nocturne is a novel that traces the career and relationships of the 18th-century soprano Anna Storace as she moves from England to Naples, and then to Vienna. The primary focus of the story is Anna’s intimate relationship with Mozart, who would create the role of Susanna in his opera buffa, Le Nozze di Figaro for her to act & sing. Shotwell’s knowledge of opera, the basics of Anna’s life as well as the rumors that circulated the young star are not to be denied; but the lushness of the settings, the passions of Anna’s various love affairs, and the richness of the musical culture are all oddly muted by stilted writing and a naive approach to matters of the heart.

• Passages are composed of short, simple sentences that offer nothing in the way of lyricism or poignancy.
• There is a lack of transitional grace. At some points, years lapse between chapters, in others only days – which creates an arhythmic pace as well as a vacuum in which the texture of the story could have been enriched.
• The application of artistic license (e.g. fudging the time lines) was used to advance the less credible aspects of Anna’s life, while the known facts of her life were left in the background. As extraordinary as Anna’s life was, and as rich fodder that could have been for Shotwell’s narrative, the author chose to feed into the rumors instead.
• At the same time, there are many opportunities for the imagination to take flight, but such chances seem to be tethered by overly conscious nods to historicity via exposition. It was if the author was saying that we couldn’t take the fictional aspects too far as, after all, these were real people.
• Finally, the novel lacks inherent tension: Villainy and adversity, as well Anna’s triumphs, run second to the melodrama each extreme creates, and as a result neither functions as the whetstone by which the other can be sharpened.

At the most basic level, the story provides some interesting color for the era; but fails to elicit sympathy for any of the characters, or engage in the fulsomeness of either Vienna or Anna’s life.

OTHER: I received a hardback edition (finished copy) of Vienna Nocturne (by Vivien Shotwell) through the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program on March 25, 2014. 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.

Album Review: Terms of My Surrender

Terms of My Surrender

Terms of My Surrender
John Hiatt
New West Records, 2014 (NW5083)
COUNTRY ROCK

Nice warm, round tones, inevitable lyrics (rhyming “tender” and “surrender”) that make it seem like you already know the song, and a rich blues & country sound make listening to this album feel like that perfect moment when you go out drinking (right before you have that one drink too many) – a good, happy buzz

#soundslikeanalog

OTHER: I purchased the LP, Terms of My Surrender (John Hiatt) from Music Coop in Ahsland, 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.

Print Review: Every Dead Thing

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Every Dead Thing 
By John Connolly
Charlie “Bird” Parker Series, Book #1
Pocket Books, US & Canada Paperback, July 2000 
ISBN: 9780671027315
MYSTERY/SUSPENSE/THRILLER

Charlie “Bird” Parker is an ex-cop who left the NYPD in the wake of the double homicide of his wife and daughter. The crime created a cloud of doubt, guilt and suspicion over Parker, who is haunted by ghostly images and memories. Now doing scut detective work for bail bondsman and the like, a former colleague asks him to discreetly look into a probable missing person case which has mob implications, and which takes Parker from New York to Virginia and eventually to pre-Katrina New Orleans.

Every Dead Thing is a character study of a grief stricken man who struggles to get his life back on track even as he is unsure  of the ground upon which he stands. The action of the novel is carried by two cases which are related by the type of criminals ultimately pursued, serial killers. Some of the victims are children and on the whole the carnage is graphic and gruesome. Acknowledging that the antagonists are the foils against which the protagonists are defined and developed, and that Connolly makes feints at speculating at the natures of the killers, the homicides still have the effect of polarizing the readers into viewing the killers as irredeemably evil and thus rendering the antagonists as as one-dimensional. Richly descriptive detail and with a touch of mysticism, Every Dead Thing is a Southern Gothic tale that evokes some visceral responses and is not for the faint of heart. If you liked the movie, Seven Deadly Sins (starring Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey, and Gweneth Paltrow) and/or R.J. Ellory’s, A Quiet Belief in Angels, it is likely you will like Every Dead Thing as well.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Does a well developed antagonist (e.g. back story, motive understood…) make  the antagonist more sympathetic to a reader? Does having a well developed antagonist steal focus from the protagonist, or make for a more balanced (more interesting?) narrative?

OTHER: I purchased a mass market paperback edition of Every Dead Thing (Charlie Parker series, Book #1 by John Connolly) from AMZN on February 9, 2013.

Album Review: Half the City

Half the City

Half the City
St. Paul and the Broken Bones
Single Lock Records, 2014 (SL003)
SOUL

Hmmm, Half the City, the album released by St. Paul and the Broken bones was a bit of a disappointment. I first saw and heard Paul Janeway and his band on NPR, and later they turned up in my FB feed courtesy of a friend’s interest. I purchased the LP directly from Single Lock Records and finally dropped the needle on it this evening. Part of the appeal of the lead vocalist is the unexpected sound of soul coming from the rather energetic form of a white accountant, some great press and well produced videos. But gimmickry aside, without the visuals and simply listening to the music on Half the City, you can’t help but notice that 10 out of 12 of the songs are remarkably similar in displaying Janeway’s sound, and that the other two songs are different only for having a slower tempo. Side B shows a little bit more variation, but not much  :-/  The album is not nearly as well mixed as the videos: There is a denseness to the session/backup musicians’ sound. The saxophones in particular threaten to drown out Janeway, and the whole of the brass section is very hard. And finally, there’s something else missing: Janeway sings soul, but does he really have the heart for it? I have to ask, but because, seriously folks, I’m not feeling it. It would be better to pull out some Sam Cooke, or even The Commitments soundtrack (Andrew Strong.) Still, I wouldn’t mind seeing St. Paul and the Broken Bones in concert 🙂

Album Review: Mathematical Hands

Mathematical HandsMathematical Hands
Small Mountain Bear
(Not on a Label), 2012 (SMB-001)
FOLK MUSIC

It’s been a little too hot to fire up the amps, but fortuitously, much of the new vinyl that’s been coming my way also has dnload codes for mp3 tracks. Today, I got Mathematical Hands (by Small Mountain Bear) which actually included a CD edition as well as the LP instead – which works too! This album was cut from the proceeds of a Kickstarter campaign and released in 2012. The band has since disbanded; but the lead vocalist, Will Read, recently sent out 50 copies to vinyl enthusiasts on reddit.

The album is very mellow folk music with guitars, a dobro, and a banjo that give it a little country flavoring. In all honesty, even after having listened to it a couple of times, this album is a little too “soft” for me: None of the tracks really pop. The instruments are on par with the backup vocals, and the lyrics aren’t driven enough to capture my attention so it all becomes background music as I fuss on the internet or make lunch. While I don’t think this album is for me however, you may love it if you are into the less distracting kind of music that provides a pleasant hum to your day.

You can hear the whole of the album at the official band site, http://www.smallmountainbear.com/ 
Below, “The Ballad of Jimmy Bean” which Will Read posted to YouTube.com: