Friday, December 6, 2013

Oscar Wilde and the Candlelight Murders by Gyles Brandreth

Oscar Wilde and the Candlelight Murders by Gyles Brandreth
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Historically accurate? Yes. Fun? Less so.

I have no doubts the author has the background knowledge to write this story, he proves it with a four page bio at the end. But when you write a story about Oscar Wilde, and include a 1.5 page bio of him at the end, should the bio on yourself be 3 times longer? It seems a little conceited, and that’s not the only time this comes up. The author, as the narrator Robert Sherard, is taken into Wilde’s confidence a little too effusively, it begins to grate. For example, Wilde recalls his wedding night to Constance with explicit XXX detail and the narrator stops him, saying “No, Oscar, ça c’est sacré” which seems over the top to me, like who does the author think he is reproaching Wilde?

Another thing that is brought up with the sacré quote is the homosexuality in the book. Everyone is gay in this book except Wilde. Wilde surrounds himself with rent boys who he knows are gay and are attracted to him, who write him long notes of their infatuation, and Wilde never acts, is never tempted, and is portrayed as being purer than driven snow. The one time Wilde mentions sex in the book, the sacré quote above, it’s about a woman. I glanced through a biography of Wilde as this seemed out of place, and in fact a similar story was relayed about Wilde talking explicitly about his wedding night, however that author seemed to think it was him covering for his homosexuality by boasting about his heterosexuality, something not considered here.

Also I think as a reader we are looking for Wilde to be gay. The story involves lots of gay sex, a young male prostitute, the author is not shy about the subject, to an unbelievable extent for Victorian times. Yet in this hyper-sexualized setting we are presented with the sexless Wilde of The Green Carnation and something doesn’t gel.

I will say that I cannot imagine a time when you weren’t identified by your sexual orientation as there was only one, that the word homosexual didn’t exist. I can’t imagine being gay in these circumstances and I would imagine it was a little like what the author presents, but then how can that be reconciled with tales of gay sex that Wilde tells explicitly, in front of women no less?

The mystery was over-complicated, I knew it did it a few pages before it was revealed but not way before, which was good. Who did it though was really over-shadowed by the ornate over-the-top aspects of the reveal, so that was less good. Overall enjoyable enough, but not really what I was looking for when I picked up the book.

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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Maeve's Times by Maeve Binchy

Maeve's Times by Maeve Binchy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book.

Someone once said reading Maeve Binchy is like sitting down to a cup of tea with an old friend and it’s the perfect analogy. I met her only once at a book signing but I loved her and I felt like I knew her through her writing.

She wasn’t the most thin and attractive woman but I believe this helped develop her fantastic personality which shone to the corners of the earth. She once said of her books that she didn’t believe the ugly duckling had to grow up into a swan, that it could mature and become a very nice duck, thank you very much.

These fantastic stores all illustrate a long career with the Irish Times, something I had never known about previously. There’s a real cross section here, all written in the trademark Binchy style. Some of them will make you laugh, almost all make you think, and generally I really appreciated having a window into her life. It was like an autobiography of sorts at times and I loved learning more about this amazing woman.

The Jewish story floored me, the story about the abortion was fantastic and should be required reading for those opposed to legalization. Some stories lost me a little, there was a lot of coverage of royal weddings and while I appreciated learning more about Maeve’s past, that she had been to the weddings of three of Elizabeth’s four children, it was more than I cared to know in detail so I skipped some of these parts.

I would like a sequel, I’m sure there’s more articles that could be reprinted.

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Monday, November 25, 2013

The Absolutist by John Boyne

The Absolutist by John Boyne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A great book that I really enjoyed which veered a little to melodrama at the end.

The book starts with a secret and it kept me going to find out what it was. Sometimes I find this device tiresome, as I would prefer to be let in on secrets, not have them kept from me. This book however the story and writing is good enough to carry you to the end on its own. The story of life in the World War One trenches was captivating, I had heard of the battles but never to this extent.

There were very moving passages, such as when the author spoke of coming home after a kiss, or of meeting new recruits who think “the only reason this blasted war is still going on is because the likes of him have not yet been involved in it.” Early on I looked for other books the author had written as the book was written so well.

I read this for my book club and only remembered four days before the meeting. Still this was a very engaging read and I quickly got through it in two days. A great story slightly let down by the ending.

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon by Alexander McCall Smith

The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon by Alexander McCall Smith
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This latest outing isn't as good as the previous one.

The best part of the series is when you open the book you find yourself instantly transported back to Botswana like there's a hole in the floor you fall through. Nothing else around you registers and you lose track of your physical body. That's good writing, and why I have stuck through 14 books in the series, and will continue.

This being said, McCall Smith could use an editor. This volume clocks in at almost 500 pages, although I will say I read it easily in a day or so. The problem is I kept getting distracted and pulled out of the book by Mma R's ramblings, I really felt a few should have been cut to tighten the story. For example, while on the way to interview a suspect Mma R will wax philosophical about the meaning of life and the place of the creator for two pages. I know she does this often, and I appreciate the ruminations on the Botswana of the past and her father's cattle, but in this volume it's really overdone.

The two mysteries in the book, I enjoyed them, but not really on the level I had enjoyed others. I found I didn't care enough about the people involved. Also the mysteries were solved at the end, but we never got to see the resolutions play out, which I found disappointing.

Finally, I had brushed it out of my head that they had met Clovis Anderson as I found it too far fetched, so I didn't really like that this was brought up again. Also more of the talking shoes, which I don't love, and I don't remember it ever being said before that the #1 agency wasn't profitable? I didn't like that.

Still some time spent in Botswana is always welcome and I enjoyed the series continuing.

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Monday, November 18, 2013

The Occasional Man by James Barr

The Occasional Man by James Barr
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I wasn’t sure I was going to finish this book but I did.

I originally got my e-reader for some library books and the odd one you find online, I thought I could save some money that way. Who knew it would be so easy, so convenient, that now when I go back to a regular book it seems a chore.

The pages are small, the writing is small, holding it for extended periods flares up my carpal tunnel, you need the light of a thousand stars to see it, it doesn’t flow. How did I not notice all this before?

I came across this book from the place I volunteer, the Canadian Gay and Lesbian Archives. Barr’s Quatrefoil is the more famous of his novels, but this one was a duplicate and unwanted, unloved, so I picked it up.

The book itself is pre-Stonewall and embodies all the problems of gay literature from that period. Melodrama, suicides, depression, yuck. I enjoyed the time capsule component of the work and some of the themes were timeless, such as an older gay man taking a younger man under his wing to show him around and such. What bugged me the most was the hypocrisy the main character David displays constantly. He’ll tell everyone in lengthy paragraphs exactly what’s wrong with them (sometimes resulting in a face slap), but he’s so messed up he’s decided to drink himself to death. He plays it cool with Gus, not leading him on, not saying the word love, not talking too much, then in the next page they’re exchanging wedding rings. He’s heavily flawed so why does he take so often to sitting on the mount proclaiming what’s wrong with others?

I liked the characters Gus and the black next-door neighbour, Hermie, although what kind of a name is that? I enjoyed the scene of a gay party, even if it was a little too fanciful. Another hypocrisy moment, David hated his ex-partner Claudie (another stupid name) going in drag but it’s all a great time when he kicks up his heels.

It was enjoyable enough and a decent if flawed portrait of 1960’s gay life. I think though you can find better.

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Friday, November 1, 2013

Kapitoil by Teddy Wayne

Kapitoil by Teddy Wayne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was good, not great. I enjoyed it enough.
I read this book as I really enjoyed Wayne's second book, The Love Song of Jonny Valentine, and wanted to read something else by him. This book is written in a very similar style, but here it's taken a little too far, where the main character almost presents as autistic or is somewhere on that spectrum.

Wayne writes well with lots of emotion and feeling, never afraid to tug at the heart strings and be accused of being sentimental. It's an enjoyable journey through the life of a newly landed immigrant and as I say, I enjoyed the story, but it was just missing that little something. Perhaps relatability? I have little in common with a nerdy computer programmer with Qatar living in America, but the logic behind his thinking processes is presented so heavily that it was hard at times to care or be heavily invested in him.

Recommended, but with a small r.

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Friday, October 25, 2013

Rocky Horror Picture Show at LOT





 The amazing lead and costume designer, Adam Norrad.
 Andrew Ball as Rocky had the best body I've ever seen, and could sing!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison

The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Marketed as a "chilling psychological thriller" and it's not. I’m at 72% going “When is the thrill part going to happen?”

One thing I would say is good is it reads like a thriller, it’s a very quick light read that I finished easily in a day and a half.

The negatives, this is not Gone Girl. It’s not better than Gone Girl.

The wife is okay, but the husband was so annoying I wanted to stop reading the book. He would do things wrong and blame the women in his life, which pissed me off. “And he wouldn’t have felt the need to hide it from her, he added, if she weren’t so damn controlling.” At the same time it didn’t piss me off enough, I didn’t hate him, he seemed wishy-washy and like an overgrown baby and I just wanted him out of my life. Also I wanted to know how old he was and I kept waiting for a LONG time, like 80% finished, to find out he was 46.

I didn’t care about the characters enough. There’s a subplot of childhood trauma that isn’t fully explained and never goes anywhere and has no relevance.

It’s kind of a “So what” book. I’ll forget it by tomorrow.

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Monday, October 21, 2013

Spreadeagle: A Novel by Kevin Killian

Spreadeagle: A Novel by Kevin Killian
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I got to 65% of the book, and I think I’m done.
I heard of this book when it was nominated for a LAMBDA Literary award, although the awards people themselves don’t speak well of the book:
“…the initial bulk of the story feels disjointed, making it difficult to follow the plot, and hard to initially become invested in the fate of the protagonists. If you’re able to make it through to Part II, however, you’ll be rewarded with an engrossing and compelling examination of a small-town gay man’s descent into obsession, addiction, and crime that comes close to making you forget about the fractured nature of the preceding chapters.”

So I made it to Part II, holding out hope as the review suggests. Part one was indeed difficult to follow, fractured, and in bad need of a re-write. This was made worse by the ebook version I purchased for the Kindle from the publisher which didn't have divisions or page breaks between sections so it all ran together and one character would switch to the next without any notification. Also poorly formatted in lots of parts, don't know why no one could be bothered to fix this.

I get to part two and I read:
“Maybe the genius who invented cellophane came to it by accident, just started seeing through everything one hundred per cent because he (or she) was in love with someone who would turn out to be all wrong for them.”

This didn’t seem to make any sense to me. I also started reading of a subplot to defraud people out of money by making them HIV positive, and thought to myself “What the hell am I reading?” Like John Irving’s In One Person, I’m reading it, kind of going along and not liking it or disliking it, and then something happens you really dislike and I go “What the hell am I reading???” and stop.
I liked the fact that everyone thought the author in part one was Armistead Maupin. Other than that, I had real trouble figuring out who was who and why I should care.

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Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Survivors by Sean Eads

The Survivors by Sean Eads
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked this book up after reading The German. This was also nominated for a LAMBDA award in the SciFi category and the premise appealed to me.

While The German was very light on the sci-fi, almost to the point of being non-existent, this one goes deeper. I don’t think I’ve read sci-fi before, this plot reminded me a little of Doctor Who in the David Tennant years, which was a good thing.

The book zooms along well, I love the little details which gross you out but also give you a reaction, it’s a great way to hook a reader, such as the purple dripping semen. I felt the book went a little too far into it’s own world, near the very end I was kind of looking for the escape button as I became a little too uncomfortable, but I suppose that’s the sign of a good author as well. Lord knows I couldn’t stop once I hit 75% or so I had to read to the end or die trying. Similarly there’s a few scenes of violence that I felt uncomfortable with, but I wasn’t sure who’s side I was on, the side of the human or the side of the alien, so I like the moral ambiguity as well.

One thing I would say, there are tricks an author can do to make his main character more likeable or relatable, I would have appreciated a bit more of that. Well Craig was nice enough, I’m not even sure that’s his name, and I was far more invested in the story than in him. Similarly the ex-boyfriend, Scott I think, I didn’t get why Craig cared about him at all. Guy seemed like an idiot, and I felt for us to be invested in him turning bad, we would have had to believe that he was ever good, and I didn’t, so a full star off for that.

This being said the book is very well paced and a fun exciting read that you won’t soon forget and I highly recommend it.

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Monday, October 7, 2013

Nuit Blanche 2013














Fraud: Essays by David Rakoff

Fraud: Essays by David Rakoff
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I read this book for my book club.

I didn’t find the book humorous, a couple of times I thought to myself, that was smart, but I don’t think I really laughed.

The highlight of the book is the author describing the origin of the term “23 skidoo” which I never knew.

The book is a series of unrelated essays, some on elves in Iceland, others on cancer, others on nature retreats.

I think my biggest problem was the author and I don’t think the same way. I don’t know of anyone who things this way though. Regarding the possibility of forced laughter, the author says:
“I’m suddenly reminded of that legendary medieval torture wherein infidels and malefactors, their chests constricted by tight leather straps, have salt poured on their feet. Goats are then brought in to lick the salt off and the victims expire in horrible, suffocating guffaws, unable to escape or draw their next breath.”
It seems a bit extreme.

In one paragraph we have the words jute, apparatchiks and gestalt. On one other page synecdoche, anodyne and thrum. I don’t know what any of these 6 words mean, and this was on three paragraphs. There’s an important lesson that when you have to explain the joke, it’s less funny. Similarly always using the dictionary function of my Kindle took away from the story. I don’t know what I would have done if I was reading the paperback.

The narrative felt strained, over-thought and over-worked while only being mildly amusing.

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Friday, October 4, 2013

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

A difficult book that I can’t say I enjoyed.
The book is narrated by 15 different characters over 59 chapters. Faulkner writes in a verse somewhere between poetry and riddle, as in:

“We picked on down the row, the woods getting closer and closer and the secret shade, picking on into the secret shade with my sack and Lafe’s sack. Because I said will I or wont I when the sack was half full because I said if the sack is full when we get to the woods it wont be me.”

You can’t actually understand it. I read ever word of the book but I didn’t understand most of it. I had glimpses of understanding, as well as glimpses of greatness, with passages like:

“She prayed for me because she believed I was blind to sin, wanting me to kneel and pray too, because people to whom sin is just a matter of words, to them salvation is just words too.”

I feel this book was done a million times better when it was called The Grapes of Wrath. I feel like Darl and Tom are very similar and both stories, written around the same time, involve a family crossing the American south in a wagon with a dead body.

This one was just too confusing. I read the Wikipedia article to understand the story after I finished it and I was amazed at how much I missed. Also the parts I did get, like the abortion mission, were so disjointed as to appear to be part of a separate story. I just can’t get behind this. To me Faulkner’s 4 am stream of consciousness does not deserve to be up there with Steinbeck’s thoughtful and well-researched masterpiece.

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