Month: October 2012

Monthly Review – October 2012

Posted October 31, 2012 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Monthly Reading / 0 Comments

As October comes to a close, we have a quick look back at the month of the book club on Goodreads and our book of the month, The Satanic Verses.  This book got some mixed reviews from the group, there are some unique aspects to the book but it was a very difficult book to read. I’m sure most people are glad that they have now read the book and it does offer some interesting discussion points. I know some people weren’t able to read the book because of the controversy that has kept this book banned in some countries. But that was the risk we took when we decided to support banned book week.

Next month we will celebrate Halloween by reading the creepy and unique book House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. This is part of the Horror theme and while I’ve read some horror novels I don’t think I’ve read a book that would be considered purely horror. So it’s going to be good to read a literary horror book (when it gets here).

For my reading this month I’ve had so much fun reading some great novels and talking books with everyone that listens. Highlights include The Cocktail Waitress; finally James M. Cain’s last novel has been released. Everything you love from the Noir master you will find in the amazing story of the young widow Joan Medford. Also the book that I wanted to win the Man Booker, Swimming Home by Deborah Levy; the Daily Telegraph called this book ‘stealthily devastating’ which pretty much sums up this beautiful book, perfectly. What have you read this month?

The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie

Posted October 30, 2012 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Book of the Month, Literary Fiction, Magical Realism / 0 Comments

The Satanic Verses by Salman RushdieTitle: The Satanic Verses (Goodreads)
Author: Salman Rushdie
Published: Picador, 1988
Pages: 561
Genres: Literary Fiction, Magical Realism
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

To celebrate Banned Book Week, the book club decided to read The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie. For those who don’t know, the book tells the story of two Indian actors falling to earth, transformed into living symbols of angelic and evil. Both actors struggle to piece their lives together and this novel tries to put it all together from the terrorist hijacking that leads to them falling to earth and surviving to their live their struggles. Farishta is a Bollywood superstar and Chamcha is a voiceover artist in England but The Satanic Verses is a clash between Eastern and Western culture and the effects it has on their Hindu faith.

I started off really enjoying this book; it was bizarre and I had no idea where this book would take me but after the millionth dream sequence I did feel very lost. I don’t begin to understand the religious aspects of this book or the life of Muhammad so I felt like I was missing a lot from this novel. I did end up asking a friend about life as a Muslim and the issues she faced with religion in western society which did lead to her fully venting and while it was great to get her opinion, I was left with more questions than answers. I finally had to try and accept that Rushdie is just trying to vent his own issues about his personal dilemmas about faith and being disillusioned with both cultures.

While this book is considered to be both controversial and acclaimed, I found it hard to see this book as either. Of course I understand if people take issues with this book but for me it felt more like Salman Rushdie needed to express his concerns and it was more a personal problem than a stab at the entire religion. As for the critically acclaimed aspect, sure the books was beautifully written but the magical realism was probably turned up to the extreme in this novel and it was difficult to piece together. Also if you want to understand this book fully you may need to study theology and migrate to a place that clashes with your cultural ideals.

Overall this book was confusing and made my brain feel like it was melting; there is so much weirdness and depth to the book I have a feeling I will never grasp it in a way I would like to. The amount of dream sequences didn’t help this book as made it a lot harder to keep up with. I would love to know what someone that has a similar issue with religion and culture butting heads thinks of this book.

I would be interested in reading this book again, maybe when I have a degree in literature and have the tools to fully analyse everything in this book. But for now it was too intense for me to get full enjoyment out of it. I’ve heard Salman Rushdie is not an easy author to read and I can see why. This book’s final rating is not a reflection of my enjoyment of the book but more of the proses and the fact that it has stuck with me well after I’ve finished it. I don’t fully understand it but I now appreciate what he did with The Satanic Verse.

The Cocktail Waitress by James M. Cain

Posted October 28, 2012 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Pulp / 0 Comments

The Cocktail Waitress by James M. CainTitle: The Cocktail Waitress (Goodreads)
Author: James M. Cain
Series: Hard Case Crime #109
Published: Hard Case Crime, 2012
Pages: 270
Genres: Pulp
My Copy: Hardcover

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Joan Medford is a young beautiful woman in an unhealthy marriage, but when her husband dies in a suspicious car accident, does that mean her life will improve? No, she now has to take a job as a cocktail waitress to make ends meet and somehow make enough money to finally be able to take her son back from her mother in law. On the job, two men take a special interest in her, one really gets Joan’s blood racing and the other is a very wealthy older man who tips very generously if she gives him her attention.

It’s no secret that I’m a huge James M. Cain fan; The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity are two classic noir novels that I highly recommend but there is another side to this author. Cain wrote a very emotionally charged noir novel called Mildred Pierce which makes up the top three essential Cain novels. The Cocktail Waitress really reminds me of Mildred Pierce, you have all the noir elements plus the female protagonist not to mention the emotionally charged plot. This is a previously unfinished novel by Cain but don’t let that worry you, he did finish the novel but he had not finished the revisions before he died, but it took over thirty years for this book to finally come out. The editor, Charles Ardai used Cain’s notes to finish the revisions of this book and it still reads and feels very much what you expect from a book by this Noir master. He was even quoted in saying; “Together with Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain is universally considered one of the three greatest writers of noir crime fiction who ever lived, and for fans of the genre, The Cocktail Waitress is the Holy Grail. It’s like finding a lost manuscript by Hemingway or a lost score by Gershwin – that’s how big a deal this is.”

Joan is everything you want from the protagonist; strong, witty and beautiful. She knows what she want (her son back) and she is determined to make her life better on her own. But the drama of working in a cocktail lounge might be a little too much for her. Her mother in law is now convinced that cocktail waitress is just code from something more. Joan’s on a mission and won’t let anyone or anything stand in her way; which makes her a great femme fatale.

The Cocktail Waitress is a fast paced, hard hitting novel with complexity; a well-crafted book that was just a joy to read.  I loved the sinister elements that transported this from just an emotional journey to a classic James M. Cain style noir novel. I’m so glad that Charles Ardai took the time and effort in finishing this book so we can all enjoy it. If you liked Mildred Piece then you are going to love reading The Cocktail Waitress.

“Here, long after anyone would have expected it, is the voice of James M. Cain, as fresh and as relevant as ever. The Cocktail Waitress will involve you, and then shock you with an ending you’ll never forget. This is a true rarity: a reader’s novel that’s also a literary event.” – Stephen King

My Experience with the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die List

Posted October 27, 2012 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature / 29 Comments

One of my favourite bookish podcasts is The Readers; if you haven’t heard it before go and subscribe, it offers random book-based banter which has been both enjoyable to listen to and offers some interesting ideas for future blog posts. This post is inspired by the latest episode about the “1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die” list.

With the newly revised book being released earlier this month, I thought I would share my experience with this list. As most people know I was never much of a reader, I think I read about one or two books a year. In 2009 something clicked in my head (thanks to Craig Schuftan) and I wanted to read everything I could get my hands on. But I had a problem; I really didn’t know where to start. I found plenty of books that looked interesting but I wasn’t sure if they would fulfil my yearning.

So with no idea of what my literary tastes were and not knowing what books would be required reading. I turned to a “1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die” list which I found while searching books that were considered required reading for everyone. The thing I loved about this book was the fact that it was a combination of old and new books ranging from all different genres. This helped start my literary journey and find a real joy in being a literary explorer.

While I don’t read many books from the list now, I discovered the types of books and genres I really like and what hasn’t worked for me. Personally I would love to read every book on the list but as I discovered there are now four different editions. Do you read the entire list from one edition or combine the lot and read every book ever mentioned? I’ve come to the conclusion I would rather use the list as a guide in addition to discovering new books on my own accord as well.

I will always hold this list close to my heart because it did nurture my newly formed love of reading but it also helped my pretentious level as a book critic. I wish the publisher released a list of the books that have been removed from the new edition, I know there was a spread sheet that had the first three lists on it, so you can see which ones disappeared from each update and tick off all the books you’ve read but sadly that was taken down for copyright violations.  The publisher should look into something similar as I’m sure there are people out there that are willing to pay a small fee to have access to all the lists for referencing.

As a point of reference since beginning my reading journey back in 2009, I’ve now read over 400 books and seventy six of them were from the “1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die” list. The list is still a point of reference for me when I feel like I’m not reading books that are literary enough. While the list covers most genres and offers an interesting perspective on your reading life, it never really felt like it was full of highly literary novels. For me it was just a way to explore and cover the essentials in reading. Here are ten books from the ones I’ve read that I loved and highly recommend;

  1. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  2. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  3. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
  4. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
  5. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  6. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  7. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
  8. Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco
  9. Perfume by Patrick Süskind
  10. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

Mystic River by Dennis Lehane

Posted October 26, 2012 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Crime / 0 Comments

Mystic River by Dennis LehaneTitle: Mystic River (Goodreads)
Author: Dennis Lehane
Published: William Morrow, 2001
Pages: 401
Genres: Crime
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Dave, Sean and Jimmy where childhood friends, but things changed when Dave gets into a stranger’s car and the others don’t. Twenty five years later all three are completely differently people.  Sean is a detective, Jimmy is an ex-convict and Dave is just a shell of a man; never quite recovering from the emotionally scarring events of his past. Their lives come together again when Jimmy’s daughter is found brutally murdered, Dave returns home covered in blood and Sean is put on the case to find who killed Jimmy’s daughter.

Mystic River is a psychological thriller that never really felt right. Not to take anything away from Dennis Lehane; while this is the first book of his that I’ve read I think he has the talent to write dark, noir-ish psychological thrillers but maybe this is a bad example of his ability. The book opens with the childhood and Dave being abducted by the child molester, which while a terrible thing to happen it didn’t feel like Lehane hit the mark with the attempt to be dark and disturbing with this situation. Then the book seemed to drag on and on until the book finally started to pick up pace about half way through.

When it comes to the crime, I found it rather weird that they would assign the case to someone that knows the victim’s father. Sure it was twenty five years ago but to me it still felt like a conflict. Sure I don’t know too much about police procedure but to me that just doesn’t seem right. Overall, this book didn’t feel dark enough, the writer did seem to make it a dark thriller but I felt like it never got there and fell more into the area of predictable. When I read a psychological thriller, I expect a complicated and twisted story and I don’t think I got it here.

The book was entertaining and I’m glad to have read it but it wasn’t something I would recommend anyone else read. I hope Dennis Lehane’s other books are a lot better because while I can see what Mystic River is trying to achieve I think it fell too short. I think the emotions within this novel were too flat and this was the overall problem. I’ve not seen the movie but I wonder if the tension and emotion worked within it since this adaptation was well received.

Redshirts by John Scalzi

Posted October 24, 2012 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Humour, Science Fiction / 0 Comments

Redshirts by John ScalziTitle: Redshirts (Goodreads)
Author: John Scalzi
Narrator: Wil Wheaton
Published: Tor, 2012
Pages: 320
Genres: Humour, Science Fiction
My Copy: Audiobook

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

When people talk about a book being “meta”, I have to admit that I often wonder what they are talking about because it really doesn’t say anything about the book itself but it is a good way to sound pretentious. John Scalzi’s Redshirts is so meta; I think the author must have had a lot of fun writing this novel and playing with the red shirt concept. For those people that don’t know what a Red shirt is; it’s a concept made famous by Star Trek in which the character wearing the red shirt on a mission was always the one that died for dramatic effect.

The book Redshirts follows a copy of characters who decided why there was a high mortality rate for the people on missions with high ranking officers. Through their research they found that the only other ship with the same mortality rate was the USS Enterprise. This drives the story in a comedic dig at science fiction television shows.

This book starts off so strong, it has an interesting premises but it turns out all downhill from there. I really think this book would have worked a lot better as a short story and I think Scalzi was just adding filler in to make the book longer. I did enjoy the meta elements of this book and I found it was an entertaining look at the Star Trek storylines but once you hit the halfway point you might as well stop reading. Think of it as Star Trek parody meets Stranger then Fiction jammed together in a very sloppy way.

I listened to the audiobook version of this book and I think that was one of the best parts of my experience of this book. The audio version was read by Wil Weaton adding a whole new element of meta to this book. As a geek, I’m a fan of Wil Weaton and this was the main reason why I read this book. Redshirts could have been an entertaining book, but I don’t think it really came together as well as I was hoping for. Luckily it was a very short book; which could have been shorter. The comedy and meta elements of the novel were worth checking out but the rest of the book didn’t work.

The Dead of Winter by Lee Collins

Posted October 22, 2012 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Fantasy, Western / 0 Comments

The Dead of Winter by Lee CollinsTitle: The Dead of Winter (Goodreads)
Author: Lee Collins
Series: Cora Oglesby #1
Published: Angry Robot, 2012
Pages: 384
Genres: Fantasy, Western
My Copy: ARC from Netgalley

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

I didn’t know much about this book apart from the tag on the front of the book ‘True Grit meets True Blood’. This was enough to get my attention and I felt like a western paranormal urban fantasy novel might be a fun read. Cora and her husband Ben are hunters, but for things that should not exist in the world. When the Marshall of Leadville, Colorado calls her in to help with a series of mysterious deaths, Cora feels she may have finally met her match.

I’m not sure how to classify the novel; is it a Western, paranormal, dark fantasy or even urban fantasy novel? The Dark of Winter seems to mash all these elements into the one book, and it does a decent job at doing that. I was hoping that Cora would be as sassy as Mattie Ross in True Grit but she was just a bitch, plain and simple. In fact the only True Grit element in the book was that this book is a western. I felt a little disappointed in that, I wanted sassy, but I got bitchy. I did get over that pretty quickly and was able to settle in to enjoy the plot. The characters never seemed to be developed enough for me, but this may have been due to my expectations.

On the whole, I felt that there was just something missing from the book; the characters just didn’t come together properly, but there was some chemistry between Cora and the English hunter. The writing of this book was good and the pacing of the plot was decent enough but for some reason I still think the book needed something else to improve the story. I’m not sure if it needed the sass, or maybe some wit or humour but I think adding an extra element like these would have helped the book overall.

A Vampire Western novel seems very unique and there was a sense of mystery throughout the novel but there was always some cliches which counteracted the good parts. Its adventure elements were let down by the dialogue between the characters. It just felt like for every good element of this book, I had an issue with something else. I’m sure some people will really enjoy this book I just felt like the pros and cons of this book just equalled out to make it feel like an average read. I’m not sure if I’ll read the sequel when it comes out but I know I won’t be rushing out to get it.

This Dark Endeavour by Kenneth Oppel

Posted October 20, 2012 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Young Adult / 0 Comments

This Dark Endeavour by Kenneth OppelTitle: This Dark Endeavour (Goodreads)
Author: Kenneth Oppel
Series: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein #1
Published: Simon & Schuster, 2011
Pages: 304
Genres: Young Adult
My Copy: Audiobook

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Most people know my obsession with Frankenstein so I wanted to give This Dark Endeavour a go; since the author Kenneth Oppel calls this a prequel. Victor’s brother, Konrad, has fallen ill and no doctor has been able to cure him. Victor’s determination to save his brother has turned to alchemy to find the forbidden Elixir of Life and save his twin brother. With the help of his beautiful cousin Elizabeth and best friend Henry, Victor pushes the boundaries of nature and science in a treacherous search for the ingredients to help Konrad.

This is book one in The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein series which I believe is being made into a trilogy. My first thoughts were that a YA novel about Victor Frankenstein was  never going to work, but then after a bit of a look at the book I decided to give it a go anyway. I thought maybe if his research of Frankenstein is in-depth enough and he keeps to the dark and gothic elements of the original classic it might work. I really should have stuck to my first thoughts because from the very start I hated this book.

First of all this book follows the same old paranormal young adult formula which means not so much dark and gothic elements but lots and lots to do with a love triangle. I really hate love triangles in books and this novel felt like the entire plot was centred around the love triangle. Sure, they search for the Elixir of Life but there was more to do with Victor’s feelings toward Elizabeth than the actual alchemy.

Personally I wish I never read this book, it really did nothing for the Frankenstein story and love triangles are always annoying. There is a small steampunk element in this book but that felt like the author was jumping on the bandwagon to help market this book to the readers that want Steampunk, Paranormal, Love Triangle filled Young Adult romance. If you want gothic and dark YA like I do, then this book is not for you. But if you like the idea of a romance with paranormal elements in it, then maybe give this book a go.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Posted October 18, 2012 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction, Science Fiction / 0 Comments

Cloud Atlas by David MitchellTitle: Cloud Atlas (Goodreads)
Author: David Mitchell
Published: Random House, 2004
Pages: 529
Genres: Literary Fiction, Science Fiction
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Cloud Atlas is a really difficult book to review; it starts off as a Journal circa 1850 documenting a voyage home from the Chatham Islands, then it’s a series of letters from a 1930’s English musician to a Belgian composer, then a journalist from 1975 investigating for a novel that will blow the whistle on a new nuclear power plant , a 21st century publisher is fleeing from gangsters in a  movie dramatization, a dystopian future story told from genetically-engineered clone’s perspective and finally the post-apocalyptic future where technology is all wiped out. Confusing? Well this book does all come together to make Cloud Atlas a truly interesting book to read but I don’t think it worked as intended.

I think author David Mitchell is too clever for his own good in this book. The stories do all come together and he really shows off by writing each section in the best genre style to suit what is happening but he is just doing too much in this book. I feel like I’m just starting to get invested in the story of one protagonist and then Mitchell jumps to the next one without any sense of resolution. Sure he does return to each story a second time around but by then I feel like it’s too late for me.

David Mitchell really flexes his literary muscles in the book and he is a wonderful writer but there is so much happening and I never felt like he achieved what he was hoping for. I’m not sure cutting from six to three or four story arcs would have helped the book but it might have helped the reader become more invested. I particularly liked the thriller style of the investigative journalist and that gangster story line of the publisher but when their story is just getting exciting it’s all over and we have to move on to the next one.

Cloud Atlas is an interesting, clever book but this doesn’t make it a good book; I enjoyed parts of it and other parts infuriated me. I will say I’m glad to have read it before the movie adaptation is released but it’s not something I ever want to revisit again. I get that he is trying to do a novel about evolution or reincarnation; as each protagonist bares the same birth mark but that element of the book never really went anywhere. I know some people really love this book but I felt like it was too much of a show off. I’d like to read a David Mitchell book where he sticks to one genre instead of all of them.

Swimming Home by Deborah Levy

Posted October 16, 2012 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 0 Comments

Swimming Home by Deborah LevyTitle: Swimming Home (Goodreads)
Author: Deborah Levy
Published: Bloomsbury, 2012
Pages: 178
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: ARC from Publisher

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

A group of tourists holidaying in the French Riviera arrive at their summer villa only to find something floating in the swimming pool. One of them thinks it’s a bear, but it turns out to be a very naked stranger. The woman Kitty, having nowhere else to go, joins the group and ends up being a big disruption to the group in this deeply psychology dark novel.

Ok, I’ll admit that the main reason I decided to read this book was because it was short listed for the Man Booker award but let’s face it, after reading what the book was about, I thought it was my type of book. These characters are rich and the addition of a very explosive character made for a fascinating read. At times during the book I felt reminded of that 90’s psychological thriller Wild Things; there was so many unanswered questions that really helped drive this story along. Sure, it is not as twisted as that movie but the psychological aspects are there; at times there are even shades of noir coming through.

Deborah Levy does so much with such a small book; the joy of reading the book is seeing what she doesn’t say. In this aspect I think I would compare her to someone like Kafka, where what she says has so much depth and meaning that it’s really what makes this book so great. Womanising and depression maybe the catalyst but my joy came from the dark and witty elements found throughout this writing.

I’ve not read any of the other books shortlisted for this year Man Booker but I’m hoping this book wins; it has so much in it and I think winning this award would give it the exposure that this book deserves. I’m sure there are many elements of this book I might have missed but I enjoyed the book so much that I’ve already started reading through it again. A literary highlight for my reading journey this year; Swimming Home is well worth picking up.