Tag: ARC

October 2015 Mini Reviews

Posted October 27, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary, Crime, Literary Fiction, Thriller / 2 Comments

October 2015 Mini ReviewsTitle: World Gone By (Goodreads)
Author: Dennis Lehane
Series: Coughlin #3
Published: William Morrow, 2015
Pages: 416
Genres: Crime
My Copy: Library Book

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

Ten years after the events from Living by Night by Dennis Lehane, World Gone By, tells the story of Joe Coughlin in a changing world. Prohibition is now dead, the world is at war again and Joe’s enemies have destroyed his empire and killed his wife. The novel is set in both in Cuba and Ybor City, Florida and World Gone By explores the implications of Joe Coughlin’s past. A novel of crime, revenge and the moral complexity of a criminal past while being a good example for his son.

I am somewhat discontent with the state of popular crime fiction and find myself longing to be surprised. Normally I am a fan of crime novels and like to explore the psychological or gritty nature of the plot. World Gone By seems to offer something different, I did not connect with Living By Night, but the synopsis of its sequel was enough to raise my interest. Sadly, this was unable to deliver, and I felt disconnected to the plot due to the fact that it was overly cliché. I wanted to enjoy this book; the time era and the premise are two elements I love in fiction and I had heard such good things. I need to stop listening to hype, or maybe I should give up on crime fiction all together.

October 2015 Mini ReviewsTitle: Mislaid (Goodreads)
Author: Nell Zink
Published: Fourth Estate, 2015
Pages: 288
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Library Book

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Set in 1966, at the campus of Stillwater College, Mislaid tells the story of Peggy. A freshman with literary aspirations, Peggy finds herself falling for Lee, a poet and one of her professors. Peggy falls pregnant and the two end up married. The only problem is, Peggy identifies herself as a lesbian and Lee as gay. This turns into some wry joke; they are an odd couple that has been mislaid.

Nell Zink takes it upon herself to explore the complex issue of sexuality with a mismatched pair stuck in a marriage that neither are interested in. The problem with Mislaid, is that this is such a complex issue and Zink was unable to handle the novel in a way it deserves. From the first chapter when the term ‘Mecca for lesbians’ was used, I felt uneasy about the way the GSM (Gender and/or Sexual Minorities) community was being treated. Then the wit found in Mislaid did not work for the majority of the novel. I was less than impressed with this book; it could have been a great story but nothing seemed to come together the way I expected.

October 2015 Mini ReviewsTitle: Bad Nature, or With Elvis in Mexico (Goodreads)
Author: Javier Marías
Translator: Esther Allen
Published: New Directions, 1996
Pages: 57
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

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I do not know how I found this little gem, I would like to know who recommended it so I could personally thank them. Bad Nature, or With Elvis in Mexico is a short novella that tells the story of Ruibérriz de Torres who is brought in to translate for Elvis Presley who is in Mexico to film Fun in Acapulco. While in town, Elvis and his entourage, find themselves in a seedy bar where they get into a little trouble with a local kingpin.

Javier Marías has managed to create a punchy story that explores a complex life of a translator, on one hand he has a big famous singer/actor that the world idolises and adores but his entourage has got him into trouble with a crime lord that is feared in Acapulco. Ruibérriz de Torres is stuck in the middle unsure if he should be translating the words that could get everyone into a fight. Should he censor the words for either Elvis or the kingpin just to keep the peace? This novella explores the idea of translations and the second hand nature of words, in a very meta way since this novella was translated from the Spanish into English by Esther Allen. This is only fifty pages long, but manages to explore a complex issue in a very interesting way; I have not been able to stop thinking about the ideas found in Bad Nature, or With Elvis in Mexico.

October 2015 Mini ReviewsTitle: Leaving Berlin (Goodreads)
Author: Joseph Kanon
Published: Simon & Schuster, 2015
Pages: 384
Genres: Thriller
My Copy: ARC from Publisher

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

Almost four years after World War II, Berlin is a mess, divided in two. The east is occupied but the political ideas from the Soviet Union and the Allies are trying to control the west. This power struggle will later divide Germany into two with the erecting of the Berlin wall in 1961. Alex Meier is a young Jewish writer who managed to flee Nazi Germany to find a home in America. Only he found himself in the crosshairs of Joseph McCarthy during his “Red Scare” witch hunts. Alex and his family are now facing deportation; that was until he was given an alternative by the CIA but is this a solution at all?

The setting for Leaving Berlin is fascinating, the rebuilding and restoration of Germany is interesting enough as it is, but then you have the political struggle and influences of America and the Soviet Union as well. The American propaganda towards communism plays a big part in this espionage novel, and reading a book about a country being torn apart by the Cold War was really interesting. I am very interested in the history behind the Cold War, especially when it comes to the way the media was used to manipulate and of course I am interesting in the Soviet Union. As far as this novel goes, it was entertaining and I enjoyed reading it, however the setting and political history interested me more than the plot. I would have enjoyed a non-fiction novel of post-war Berlin more than Leaving Berlin, but that does not mean I regretted reading it.

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

Posted October 3, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 0 Comments

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny OffillTitle: Dept. of Speculation (Goodreads)
Author: Jenny Offill
Published: Knopf Doubleday, 2014
Pages: 182
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: ARC from Netgalley

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

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill tells the story of an unnamed narrator known only as The Wife. This novella charts the narrator through all her uncertainties, as she overanalyses everything in her head from the small things to big things like her marriage. The analysis can invoke anything from Kafka to doomed Russian cosmonauts. The title comes from the letters the wife exchanged with her husband which are postmarked as Dept. of Speculation; the letters were a way to voice her uncertainties. However as the two drifts further apart she starts to lose this outlet, which could be her inherit downfall.

This novella offers a very real look at a person’s life who overanalyses everything. Now I am not going to tell you whether or not this narrator is unreliable or anything like that. I think this is something the reader needs to determine for himself or herself. It doesn’t matter either way, this book takes something intensely real and, at times, this can be a little too real. The way Offill has captured this character’s thoughts and emotions is what makes this book both deep and meaningful.

There is however a huge flaw in this novel, something that was pointed out by a friend before I went into this book. In the edition I read there was a huge amount of italicised text and not all of it was referenced. There are times that the author states who said the quotes and then for the most part leaves quotes unreferenced. While normally I have no problem with no referencing within fiction, but when it takes up a large chunk of the writing, it starts to become a problem. Especially when you find text that speaks to you but it is italicised.  Was it a famous quote and was she trying to pass this off as her own words?

There is great beauty within this novella and there is a lot to love about it. This large flow I found with the novel really caused a problem which is a shame. I love books that explore complex human emotions and thoughts, Julian Barnes does this really well and Jenny Offill is just as good. I wanted to love this book and jump on the bandwagon but I couldn’t. I try to wonder if I would have the same problem if it wasn’t pointed out to me before I started this novel, I like to think I would but this friend always puts me to shame when it comes to critical analysis.

My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff

Posted May 17, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Non-Fiction / 4 Comments

My Salinger Year by Joanna RakoffTitle: My Salinger Year (Goodreads)
Author: Joanna Rakoff
Published: Bloomsbury Circus, 2014
Pages: 272
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: ARC from Publisher

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When Joanna Rakoff takes her first bookish job for a New York literary agency in 1996 it was like stepping back in time. As an office girl, her job was to type up correspondences, answer the phones and whatever else needed to be done. However there was one strict rule, ‘never give out Jerry’s address or phone number’. Given the time she automatically thought Jerry Seinfeld but soon learned that the Jerry they were referring to was J.D. Salinger.

This memoir is a unique look at not only at how old-fashion the publishing world can be but at J.D. Salinger himself. Joanna Rakoff takes an almost outside view at Salinger as she spends time responding to all of the iconic author’s correspondences. Salinger is an author that has cut himself off from the world and Joanna had to inform all correspondences that their requests cannot be fulfilled; J.D. doesn’t give interviews and doesn’t want to read any of the mail.

My Salinger Year reminded me of Mad Men; while this was a memoir, the whole literary agency was like stepping into the past. The publishing world was running like they are still in the 1960’s, which gave this memoir both a quirky feel to it and exposes the reality of just how old-fashioned this industry can be. Then you have Joanna’s life outside her job, which reminds me very much of the New York literary scene that I love to read about, full of intellectuals, pseudo intellectuals and bohemian socialists. This scene is a lot of fun to read about; these are my kind of people and one of the reasons I read books about this literary scene.

Not only is there the memoir but also there is an element of literary criticism as a selection of books are analysed and discussed within the pages of this book. This changes things up slightly and I found it interesting to explore the works of Salinger in this kind of detail. I never really enjoyed The Catcher in the Rye when I read it but I struggle to find a reason for that. Holden was an unlikeable character that is always complaining about everything but this is not a reason to dislike the book. I’m always standing up for books with unlikeable characters, I feel like I may have misjudged the novel. Now that I have some more experience in critical reading I may need to pick up The Catcher in the Rye one more time.

Even if I don’t reread The Catcher in the Rye, I’m interested in the life of J.D. Salinger and will pick up a biography of this iconic author. I know there was a biopic/documentary about Salinger as well; I might have to check it out. He has really peaked my interest; the reclusiveness and introversion makes for a fascinating person. My Salinger Year is an interesting journey into the publishing world, the New York City literary scene and J.D. Salinger; I enjoyed reading this memoir and recommend anyone interested in these topics to check it out.

Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch

Posted May 16, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 8 Comments

Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman KochTitle: Summer House with Swimming Pool (Goodreads)
Author: Herman Koch
Translator: Sam Garrett
Published: Hogarth, 2014
Pages: 304
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: ARC from Netgalley

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

Herman Koch has a unique ability for taking something that seems so normal and turning it into something much darker. If you’ve read his amazing novel The Dinner then you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about; that book sets up a style that I was hoping continued for this Dutch author. Luckily I wasn’t disappointed; Koch’s second novel to be translated into English is Summer House with Swimming Pool. The novel tells the story of Dr Marc Schlosser who is forced to conceal a medical mistake that costs Ralph Meier, a famous actor, his life. The only problem with that is the truth doesn’t stay hidden for too long.

Fear not, much like The Dinner, Summer House with Swimming Pool is much more complex than it appears on the surface. Herman Koch likes to take a dark and graphic look at the world and raise the questions of morality, this is something seems to pull off effortlessly, but I will try to avoid giving spoilers. We spend most of the book following around the general practitioner who seems like an unsympathetic character and rather unlikeable. Koch likes to play with the idea that everything is not as it seems and this novel does this really well.

I can’t remember if I went into The Dinner with the same expectations as I did for Summer House with Swimming Pool but I suspect I might have had a similar reading experience. It is hard to review a novel like this because you want to talk about it but there is a voice in the back of your mind telling you not to spoil it for everyone else.

One thing that I find interesting with Koch’s novels is the number of characters and scenery. I thought this about The Dinner as well, these novels are perfect for a small stage production; they have just the right blend of dark satirical plot and moral questions to make for a thrilling stage play. I wonder if these books have been converted to the stage, I would love to see a production of The Dinner.

I’m rather annoyed with this review, there is so much I want to say but everything will say too much. You will all have to read this book so we can discuss it. Herman Koch’s books are perfect choices for a book club; there is just so much to discuss. I wonder if I can convince my local book club to do this book as well; they normally don’t like to do the same author too many times but Koch is too good to resist.

The Fever by Megan Abbott

Posted May 15, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary, Pulp / 12 Comments

The Fever by Megan AbbottTitle: The Fever (Goodreads)
Author: Megan Abbott
Published: Little Brown and Company, 2014
Pages: 320
Genres: Contemporary, Pulp
My Copy: ARC from Netgalley

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

If you have not read Megan Abbott before then you need to do so as soon as possible. Originally working in the noir genre she has recently switched and become the Queen of suburban noir. Combining the elements we all know and love about noir and adding it to a modern back drop. Dare Me was a dark glimpse into the world of competitive cheerleading; think Mean Girls but meaner. Now Megan Abbott is back with The Fever, set in a small community, a mysterious contagion is threating their suburban utopia.

I may have said this before; just because a book has a teenage cast does not make this a YA novel. Dare Me may look like chick lit or YA but it is not; don’t let the cover fool you. I’ve seen on Goodreads that The Fever has been shelved as YA and horror and I can’t help but shake my head in disgust. While I’m sure plenty of young adults may enjoy this novel, I see nothing that connects The Fever with the YA genre. There are no horror elements within this novel either, a little suspense and I’m guessing this genre tag came from the cover. Now that my rant is out of the way, time to look at the novel.

Like Dare Me (and I’m sorry to keep mentioning this novel, I really need to read more Abbott) The Fever is a compelling noir that exposes the secrets that might be hiding in a suburban community. The Fever is a dark and chilling story that explores the ideas of desire, guilt and secrets. The mysterious contagion that is causing seizures to a group of girls is also promoting mass hysteria in the community. In an effort to make sense of this mystery, the community focus their blame on anything they can think of, from HPV, vaccinations, toxic algae and whatever else might make sense of the situation.

At the heart of this novel, I found an interesting exploration into sexuality, especially between the groups of teenage friends. These girls are in the midst of blossoming into women; their emotions are running wild and boys are become a popular source conversation. In the darkness and confusion they are dealing with these changes all alone. Abbott is putting the focus of the community on the contagion and this really amplifies that feeling of being alone and dealing with a budding sexual awaking without any help or guidance.

The Fever has everything you expect from a Megan Abbott novel; it is deliciously dark and sinister, it packs a huge punch and in the end you are left contemplating life. She has once again got the voice of the teenage generation perfect, not only the way they talk and interact but their thoughts as well. I like how Abbott integrates mobile phones and social media into her novels so effortlessly, I’ve seen it down poorly far too many times.

I know I’ve only read two novels to judge Megan Abbott on but she continues to impress, I know The End of Everything will be consumed pretty soon before moving onto her old school noir novels. I love her modern suburban noir style, she has really found her voice and style and it is working well for her. Don’t go in expecting a nice coming of age story; this is gritty and this is what Megan Abbott does better than anyone else.

The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Posted May 14, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 6 Comments

The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle ZevinTitle: The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry (Goodreads)
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Published: Little Brown and Company, 2014
Pages: 243
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Paperback

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

Who doesn’t love a story about a bookshop or books? The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry (or in the US, it’s weirdly named The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry) tells the story of Island Books and its quirky owner, A.J. Fikry. Following the death of his wife, the angry, middle aged loner is finding out just how much he relied on his wife, the people person. The novel starts off with Amelia, a newly employed book rep for Knightley Press, she is passionate about the books she is offering but one of her new clients is Island Books.

This independent book shop on Alice Island just off the coast of Massachusetts sports the motto “No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World.” While the bookshop sounds like a quaint little indie store, Her first impression of A.J shook Amelia. He’s an old fashioned man set in his ways;

“I do not like postmodernism, post­apocalyptic settings, postmortem narrators, or magic realism. I rarely respond to supposedly clever formal devices, multiple fonts, pictures where they shouldn’t be — basically gimmicks of any kind. .?.?. I do not like genre mash-ups à la the literary detective novel or the literary fantasy. Literary should be literary, and genre should be genre, and crossbreeding rarely results in anything satisfying. I do not like children’s books, especially ones with orphans, and I prefer not to clutter my shelves with young adult. I do not like anything over four hundred pages or under one hundred fifty pages. I am repulsed by ghostwritten novels by reality television stars, celebrity picture books, sports memoirs, movie tie-in editions, novelty items, and — I imagine this goes without saying — vampires.”

I have to love A.J. Finky; he is a cranky literary snob and he reminds me of Richard Anger from Books or maybe he reminds me of myself. That is until he finds a two year old abandoned in his bookshop and his life changes completely. The story is a cute and quirky, but fairly predictable story but in all honesty, who really cares? The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry is a fun and bittersweet novel, it is hard to criticise a book that you enjoy reading from start to finish.

Everything you expect to happen happens and in the end all loose ends are wrapped up in a nice neat bow. While I think it is a little too neat, the tone of the entire novel is light and I can’t measure The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry any other way, no matter how much I might want to. A straightforward novel about love, family, loss, joy and more importantly books. I love all the little inscriptions that Fikry leaves for Maya in all those books. While I’m a little annoyed that the book that bring Fikry and Amelia closer together is the only fictional book in this novel.

Gabrielle Zevin did a great job here; all the characters are great, in particular Fikry and Maya. I have to admit, if I were to have a child I would want them to be like Maya. She is so smart, unrealistically smart, but I don’t care, I had fun with the novel. Zevin has written a fun novel and a winning formula for her, I must admit I’ve never heard of her and this is her seventh novel. She seems to be more known as a YA author, which explains why I’ve never heard of her.

The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry is an optimistic love letter to the independent bookstore, as a book lover I hope they remain strong for a very long time. I’ve always been a fan of the indie bookstore and books about books so this was a real thrill for me to read. I admit that Books was a better novel but two great books about books so far this year is a good effort. Especially when both books have a great independent bookstore at the centre of their plots. All book lovers should pick up both novels.

Shovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh

Posted May 13, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Dystopia, Science Fiction / 0 Comments

Shovel Ready by Adam SternberghTitle: Shovel Ready (Goodreads)
Author: Adam Sternbergh
Published: Hachette, 2014
Pages: 256
Genres: Dystopia
My Copy: ARC from Netgalley

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

He is only known as Spademan, former garbage man in New York City – that was until a terrorist attack on Times Square killed his wife. Now he is taking out more than trash; a gun for hire, he will do your bidding as long as you are willing to pay. “I don’t want to know your reasons. I don’t care. Think of me as a bullet. Just point.” Shovel Ready is a fast paced science fiction thriller set in the wasteland, which use to be known as New York City.

Adam Sternbergh combines his favourite parts of neo-noir, cyberpunk and science fiction and mashes them all together to make an action novel that is crying out for a movie adaptation. Shovel Ready is so dialogue heavy that one might think it is written in a way that could be converted into a screenplay without any effort. Only problem with this is the publisher’s choice to leave out quotation marks. I hate when they do this and in a book with so much dialogue it really can be a deterrent.

Spademan is a strong protagonist, an anti-hero with strength, wit and his own set of morels. “I kill men and I kill women because I don’t discriminate. I don’t kill children because that’s a different kind of psycho.” I understand why he turns from killer to protector of his target, the runaway daughter of a wealthy US televangelist. However something didn’t sit right; a hitman is often an unemotional, uncompromising character but Spademan wasn’t. He reads like a psychopath but then every so often his actions feel uncharacteristic and that really throws me out of the novel.

Take out Spademan and just look at the world Sternbergh has created and you won’t be left wondering where he drew inspiration from. This world feels like Bladerunner and the virtual reality world know as the limnosphere reminds me of The Matrix mixed with Surrogates. In fact, it feels like the author borrowed so much from different science fiction movies and novels it is hard to pick an original thought.

When reading Shovel Ready everything whisks along and the reader never has time to stop and think about anything. I really enjoyed the novel but once I finished reading it I noticed just how much was borrowed from other mediums. I do, however, wonder if Shovel Ready was really trying to explore the issue of social disengagement that our world is heading towards but during the reading of this novel I never picked up anything so in depth.

For a fast paced science fiction/action novel, then Shovel Ready is the book for you. I do believe the film rights have already been acquired and we may see an adaptation. Adam Sternbergh is also working on a second Spademan novel and I’ll probably read it. Despite all the flaws, it was a fun, quick read and I did enjoy the experience; it was only after I got mad. Don’t expect anything deep or life altering in Shovel Ready but sometimes you just need some light entertainment.

The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit

Posted May 9, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction / 2 Comments

The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea NesbitTitle: The Wives of Los Alamos (Goodreads)
Author: TaraShea Nebit
Published: Bloomsbury, 2014
Pages: 240
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: ARC from Publisher

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

It wasn’t until the attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941 that the Americans really got involved in the Second World War and they did this in a big way. It was often referred to as Project Y, a secret laboratory that sourced scientist from all over the country to help the allies in their war efforts. The Laboratory was located in Los Alamos, New Mexico and the secret project was The Manhattan Project.

TaraShea Nebit’s debut novel The Wives of Los Alamos explores the birth of the atomic age. Although many may have wondered what it was like for the wives of these scientist. The secrets their husbands had to keep and somehow convince their wives and families to move to an undisclosed location. If we took the time and really thought about what it would have been like, we might have come up with the same answers as Nebit.

However TaraShea Nebit did the research (resources used are mentioned at the end of the novel) and then set out to write this unique novel. The Wives of Los Alamos is written in the collective voice of the wives of Los Alamos, which takes a while to get used to. The plural first person perspective is rather odd and it tends to keep the reader at arm’s length and never really allows an intimate look at the feelings these women must have been going through. With lines like “We married men just like our fathers, or nothing like them, or only the best parts.“ I get the sense that the author is generalising the feelings and while I appreciate the research she did, this type of writing feels more like speculation rather steaming from truth.

I find it difficult to review this novel, there is no protagonist and the plot is a very basic look at different aspects of life set out to drive the book along. TaraShea Nebit is very clever and the novel pushes the reader to actually imagine what life would be like for these families. In a time where everyone is concerned with war these families are uprooted and forced to live with a completely different sets of worries in mind. Secrecy can tear families apart and the importance of The Manhattan Project demands that this secret be kept. I can’t imagine a life like this but The Wives of Los Alamos offers some idea.

I found it difficult to connect with the women in the story, they were nameless and faceless. Their collective voices all sang the same tune but really people are not all the same that I never got a look into the emotions and thoughts of just one of the women. A biography from one of these women would have been better; The Wives of Los Alamos gives you a taste but left me wanting so much more.

This was a fascinating novel but it never went into any great detail of the social complexities facing these families. I would have liked to explore the psychological effects this great secret had on the family and relatives. Even have a peek into the cultural effects of birth of the atomic age, considering the Los Alamos National Laboratory played key roles in both the Atom and Hydrogen bomb. It is a fascinating period of American history and science, The Wives of Los Alamos has whet my appetite and I might look at some of the books TaraShea Nebit mentioned at the end.

The Black-Eyed Blonde by Benjamin Black

Posted March 28, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Pulp / 6 Comments

The Black-Eyed Blonde by Benjamin BlackTitle: The Black-Eyed Blonde (Goodreads)
Author: Benjamin Black
Series: Philip Marlowe #10
Published: Mantle, 2014
Pages: 256
Genres: Pulp
My Copy: ARC from Netgalley

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

Resurrecting iconic literary characters is tricky business and when John Banville (under the pseudonym Benjamin Black) signed on to write another Philip Marlowe novel, I was worried. Most people know I am a huge fan of Marlowe, the hard-boiled detective created by Raymond Chandler, but something in me had to know if The Black-Eyed Blonde was any good. Now I’m left to decide if to review this as a Philip Marlowe novel or cliché pulp.

The premise is simple; a blonde bombshell, Clare Cavendish, seeks out Marlowe to find her missing lover Nico Peterson. If we look at the tropes of pulp fiction, in particular hard-boiled detective novels than we must suspect Clare to be the femme fatale and the case would be full of unexpected twists and turns. In both aspects The Black-Eyed Blonde failed to deliver anything interesting; Clare was attractive and seductive but never really had an air of mystery about her and the case felt too cut and dry.

Now let’s look at the protagonist; clearly not Philip Marlowe but someone trying to impersonate this great detective. Marlowe is a modern day knight in shiny armour; in a world of corruption he is incorruptible. He is also a flawed character; Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe is a loner, bitter, cynical, quick witted with a silver tongue. The Marlowe portrayed here was a much older, slower babbling mess; nothing really rang true. You can look at the amount of alcohol Chandler’s Marlowe drinks and wonder just how a man can function but in this novel while he drank a lot, the Mexican beers don’t sit right. Also you have to wonder about the dialogue; the Marlowe in The Black-Eyed Blonde talked differently, I tried to place the way he spoke and all I could think was this character was from Brooklyn.

Since nothing in this book felt like a Philip Marlowe novel, I tried to read The Black-Eyed Blonde in the same way I would read any other pulp. I tried to separate my love of Philip Marlowe and Raymond Chandler’s writing to give a fair review but it is hard to separate the two. Even if I judge The Black-Eyed Blonde as a standalone novel I still feel like the whole thing was a bit flat. There are some decent moments in this book and I was mildly entertained, however I doubt I will ever read a Benjamin Black novel again based on this experience.

I really want to see more Philip Marlowe stories but everyone who attempts it seems to butcher the character. The Black-Eyed Blonde was better than Perchance to Dream but the bar was set so low that I think Benjamin Black must have tripped over it. Do yourself a favour; stick to Raymond Chandler. If you’ve never read a Philip Marlowe novel start with The Lady in the Lake, it is a good introduction to the character and the style without being overly complex. For me, I may just reread the series (an excuse to blog about them) and try Chandler’s short stories.

The Echo by James Smythe

Posted January 10, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction, Science Fiction / 0 Comments

The Echo by James SmytheTitle: The Echo (Goodreads)
Author: James Smythe
Series: The Anomaly Quartet #2
Published: Harper Voyager, 28-01-2014
Pages: 320
Genres: Literary Fiction, Science Fiction
My Copy: ARC from Edelweiss

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

Twenty years after the Ishiguro vanished, two brilliant scientists have been asked to help answer the many questions surrounding this disappearance. Identical twins Tomas and Mirakel Hyvönen have been interested in space travel since children. Not space, just the equipment. Can that find the Ishiguro, will they solve the mystery or will this just lead to more questions.

This is the sequel to The Explorer, so it is going to be hard reviewing this book without giving anything away. Already I might have said too much about the first book but I highly recommend reading The Explorer anyway. This series is off to a fantastic start and I’m already eager for the next book, which unfortunately may not be till next year.

If you have never read James Smythe before, I recommend him highly. His books The Explorer and The Machine book made my top books of 2013; that is a rare and incredible feat since I had so many books to pick from. Smythe writes literary science fiction that not only keeps you on the edge of your seat; they will also get you contemplating humanity.

The Echo has that philosophical and bleak style you come to expect from James Smythe. While this book sounded like there weren’t any thrilling moments, I was wrong; I was addicted to this book as much as The Explorer and it kept me up late at night. I love the way this author looks at life and sanity; there is so much he wants to say and I’m beginning to wonder if the planned four books series is enough.

I really want to say more about this novel but I’m afraid anything I do say will be a spoiler. I hate leaving a review so short but I highly recommend this series and that is all I can really tell you. James Smythe has another book coming out this year, so I have something to look forward to. I’m sure The Testimony will also be read during the course of 2014 as well.