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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