Month: June 2015

Monthly Review – June 2015

Posted June 30, 2015 by Michael Kitto in Monthly Reading / 5 Comments

Double IndemnityAs I look back at the first half of 2015, I tend to wonder where all the time went but I also think about the 55 books I have read so far this year. As most people know, I have decided to do some more re-reading and focus on translated fiction; in particular Russian literature, where I am determined to specialise and become somewhat of an expert. Sure, it is a big task but there is something about the challenge that excites me. It has revitalised a joy for literature that I feel was missing. This does not mean I am going to stop reading and reviewing other things, I just have a goal in mind.

However, this has not translated too well to my blogging at the moment. Ever since taking a few weeks off to go to New Zealand, I have struggled to get back into reading and reviewing. I did get sick for a few weeks and I was feeling stressed with work but I plan to get back into the swing of things. I did think maybe BookTubing was causing me to neglect my blogging but I do not think that this is the case, but only time will tell. I am still determined to have my blog document my reading journey and BookTube is just allowing me to explore different options and hopefully get better.

I have read a very small amount in June, nothing too bad; I managed to finish six books this month. The first was a very interesting book called Sweetland by Michael Crummey, which explored the concept of isolation and heritage. The story started off a little shaky and I found myself being more interested in the secondary characters but then it really kicked into high gear. This novel was picked for my real life book club and I am not sure if I would have read it otherwise, but I am glad I did. One thing I love about book club is having books picked for me to read and discuss; I have discovered so many gems because of it.

I also read The Russian Debutante’s Handbook, which is the first novel by Gary Shteyngart. I love Shyteyngart and have wanted to read everything he has written. I would have disliked this book if I did not know anything about Gary Shyteyngart or have read his memoir Little Failure. There are a lot of autobiographical elements, which I may have missed if I had not been interested in this writer. I also read a novel, which might well be my favourite for 2015, Girl at War by Sara Novic. This is the perfect book for me, it reminds me of my love for All That is Solid Melts into Air last year and A Constellation of Vital Phenomena the year before. There is something about these books that I love, I think it is my interest in the eastern bloc and the people’s struggle that I am drawn to.

Next I read How To Be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis, a literary memoir where the author went back to all her old favourites and looked at the women within the books. This was part literary criticism but I had issues with the author’s opinions towards the theories and really effected my enjoyment of the memoir. I then picked up Dog’s Heart by Mikhail Bulgakov, which was translated by Antonina W. Bouis, to continue my interest in Russian literature and Bulgakov as well. This novella is also known as Heart of a Dog but this depends on the translation. Finally I read Double Indemnity for the Literary Exploration book club, which was a re-read for me and I posted a review for this book yesterday.

I am starting to get back into the swing of things and I hope to get back to reading and blogging as well. I am currently reading a heavy book that happens to be over 700 pages as well and that is A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, I am enjoying the novel but it is taking some time to work through it. Also I am reading One Night in Winter by Simon Sebag Montefiore, I am loving this novel and I do not want it to end, so I think I have been taking my time with the book. That was my reading month; it was not my best but it also was not that bad. How was your reading month?

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Double Indemnity by James M. Cain

Posted June 29, 2015 by Michael Kitto in Book of the Month, Pulp / 0 Comments

Double Indemnity by James M. CainTitle: Double Indemnity (Goodreads)
Author: James M. Cain
Published: Vintage, 1936
Pages: 114
Genres: Pulp
My Copy: Personal Copy

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When small time insurance man Walter Huff meets Phyllis Nirdlinger, her beauty quickly seduced him. The wife of a wealthy oil executive convinces him to help get rid of her husband, but not before a substantial policy was taken out on him. Accident insurance often causes suspicion but when Phyllis’ husband dies from what looks like a train accident, double indemnity kicks in and Walter’s bosses suspect foul play.

James M. Cain is the master at noir with books like The Postman Always Rings Twice, Mildred Pierce and recently The Cocktail Waitress was released posthumously.  Double Indemnity is one of his most notable pieces of work and was adapted into the 1944 classic film noir movie of the same name. The movies screenplay was written by fellow master of pulp Raymond Chandler and has been dubbed culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant by the US Library of Congress.

Double Indemnity is a clause often found in accident insurance policies where the issuer agrees to pay double (or more) if the accident happens in certain conditions. It is often used to make the policy more appealing but applies to low risk incidents. Death by train accident is one of these examples and when Phyllis’ husband died in these conditions the insurance company was naturally suspicious.

This classic pulp novel follows Walter Huff who plots the perfect murder all for the beautiful Phyllis Nirdlinger. What he didn’t count on was that he was seduced into helping a femme fatale and now he was under her thumb. In true James M. Cain style, Double Indemnity holds nothing back, both in style and plot. Everything you expect in a 1930s noir novel can be found in this thrilling novella.

This is a re-read for me of Double Indemnity and I must admit I was so happy to return to the style of James M. Cain. Everything you expect from the pulp style and dialogue can be found within this classic story. I know I need to dive into some more of Cain’s novels, with some re-reads and completing his bibliography. I have no words to describe the feeling of returning to a much-loved author and I know I need to re-watch the movie. If you have never read Cain or anything from the classic pulp genre, then you can never go wrong with a book like Double Indemnity.


H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

Posted June 28, 2015 by Michael Kitto in Non-Fiction / 0 Comments

H is for Hawk by Helen MacdonaldTitle: H is for Hawk (Goodreads)
Author: Helen Macdonald
Published: Vintage, 2014
Pages: 300
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

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Helen Macdonald has always had a fascination with birds, since a young age she was determined to become a falconer. She would read books on the topic; one book in particular had stuck with her, The Goshawk by T. H. White. When Helen lost her father, grief struck her in a big way, and soon her obsession in training her own goshawk was her own way out. H is for Hawk is a memoir on both dealing with grief and obsession.

I heard so much about this book and when it was assigned for book club, I was excited. Although in the back of my mind, my thoughts on falconry were sceptical. I find falconry to be a barbaric and cruel practice that is no longer required within our culture. To starve and cage a raptor for your own amusement seems unnecessary. With these thoughts going into the book, I had a hard time appreciating the memoir.

I know Helen Macdonald repeatedly stated that she was not starving the goshawk, I still thought of it as a cruel practice. I learned a lot about falconry, some stuff was interesting but there was so much information to process. The book never changed my feelings towards falconry, only cemented them and that become my fundamental problem with H is for Hawk. I enjoyed the parts about The Goshawk and I love reading memoirs about reading books but there was not enough there to hold my interest.

I thought I would try annotating this book, it is a habit that I want to start and thought it would be fun. However I did have to stop with the annotation, as I started to feel like Helen Macdonald was over playing her grief just to make the story more interesting. I did not want to be the heartless person that criticises the author’s emotions, especially when it comes to grief. So I quickly abandoned my annotations and I continued to try to get into the habit.

While H is for Hawk has some wonderful writing, I had a very difficult time enjoying this book. I wanted Helen Macdonald to return to talking about The Goshawk through out the entire memoir. I am interested in seeing what Macdonald will do next, she certainly can right. I hope her next book, whatever that may be, will be something I can get behind.


What You See in the Dark by Manuel Muñoz

Posted June 26, 2015 by Michael Kitto in Crime / 0 Comments

What You See in the Dark by Manuel MuñozTitle: What You See in the Dark (Goodreads)
Author: Manuel Muñoz
Published: Algonquin Books, 2011
Pages: 272
Genres: Crime
My Copy: Library Book

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When a famous actor and director arrives in Bakersfield, California (1959) scouting film locations for an upcoming movie about madness, the local gossip columns begin to speculate why they are here. However, when a murder at a roadside motel is discovered, this dusty, quiet town is turned on its head. Unfolding the same way the Hitchcock’s movie Psycho, almost frame for frame. No one ever predicted that life would rival anything that this director could capture on the screen.

Manuel Muñoz has been dazzling the world with his short story collections for a while now, often been compared to Junot Díaz or Daniel Alarcón. What You See in the Dark is his debut novel and it explodes onto the scene to explore the deliciously sinister side of desire. Heavily influenced by Psycho, Muñoz tries to capture that iconic feel of this classic movie.

What I found fascinating about this novel is the way it did try to mimic Hitchcock’s Psycho, trying to capture the feel and style. While it does not always work I was very impressed with just how much did translate to the page. Manuel Muñoz is a very impressive writer and I went into this book expecting something light and fluffy but ended up being captivated by the style.

What You See in the Dark is a very stylistic novel that tried and often succeeded in playing with the imagery, however it often did stick to what novels do far better than movies, and that is the internal monologues. The book is not without its flaws, there are times where it tries too hard at mimicking Hitchcock and there are other times where it feels flat or dry. In the end, this was an enjoyable book with a perfect title. What do you see in the dark? Hitchcock knows and he has the answer.