Friday, August 29, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: Out by Natsuo Kirino

Just when you think it can't get any worse ... it does. This novel is a great example of noir literature. It has the usual noir elements of darkness, despair, hopelessness and betrayal. Layered on top of this noir novel is a very black comedy of gender warfare.

A young mother, living in the Tokyo suburbs and working the night shift at a boxed lunch factory, wants out of her miserable marriage to a philandering and abusive husband. Her solution? Strangle him. Unfortunately, this solution creates a new problem ... a dead body that needs to disappear. Fortunately, this young mother has empathetic lady friends who are equally desperate to get "out" of their own miserable circumstances and are therefore willing to help dispose of the body.

Unfortunately for these ladies, they find that the nightmare has just begun and this one act has pulled them into the "violent underbelly of Japanese society." In usual noir-ish fashion, all does not end well and no solutions are offered to resolve the hostilities between the sexes.

This is not my favorite type of reading, but I thought the story was well done and was an excellent example of noir and black comedy. The translation, by Stephen Snyder, seemed extraordinarily good to me; I never once thought about the fact that I was reading the book in translation.

Rating: 4 out of 5

This title was read as part of the Japanese Literature Challenge II hosted by Bellezza.

Note to other reviewers: If you've written a review for this book, please let me know by posting the permanent URL for your review in the comments. I'll be happy to add a link to your review with my post.

Also reviewed at:
In Spring it is the Dawn (Tanabata)
Musings of a Bookish Kitty (Literary Feline)
Book Sanctuary (Tracey)
Dolce Bellezza

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

It's Wednesday, Where am I?

I'm obviously a day behind! This weekly meme is usually titled, "It's Tuesday, Where are you?" and is hosted by raidergirl3. I've got a great excuse for being behind. It's called "my job that pays me money so I can pay my bills." OK ... now that I've got my excuses out of the way ...

I just left the suburbs of Tokyo. Since I've been hanging around the "underbelly of Japanese society," I'm a little depressed. It has been a very noir experience. (Out by Natsuo Kirino)

I'm about to enter the world of Dante scholars who are trying to solve a murder in Boston in 1865. (The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl)

Friday, August 22, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

First line:"This is the story of what a Woman's patience can endure, and what a Man's resolution can achieve."

I've really waited too long to write a proper review for The Woman in White. I found it difficult to write a synopsis because the plot is quite intricate, and I didn't take very many notes while reading this large tome. So I offer up a few comments that might provide a small sense of the novel and act as a reminder to my future self that I did indeed read it even though I can't remember a thing about it!

Collins has written strongly developed characters, an intricate and well developed plot, a clever use of narrative, and a wonderfully suspenseful novel. All of these elements, plus the social critique that runs throughout, kept me reading this 600+ page book. The Victorian melodrama was a bit much, but the positives more than compensated for my low tolerance for melodrama.

Favorite quote: "The best men are not consistent in good -- why should the worst men be consistent in evil?"
This quote refers to the villainous Count Fosco, one of the most disturbing characters in literature.

Interesting tidbit: The novel is believed to be loosely based on an actual court case.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Note to other reviewers: If you've written a review for this book, please let me know by posting the permanent URL for your review in the comments. I'll be happy to add a link to your review with my post.

Also reviewed at:
Bookfest (Queen of Carrots)
Framed and Booked (review is not quite half way down the list of 2007 book reviews)
Trish's Reading Nook
Musings of a Bookish Kitty (Literary Feline)
Things Mean a Lot (Nymeth)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: White Nights by Ann Cleeves

Title: White Nights: A Shetland Island Thriller
Author: Ann Cleeves
Publisher: Macmillan
Date of publication: September 2008

White Nights follows Raven Black in the Shetland Islands Quartet, but it is not necessary to have read these books in order. I didn't feel that I was missing anything by skipping straight to book two.

I'm always curious about the titles of books and how they fit into the story. The phrase "white nights" refers to the constant daylight during the summer months in the extreme Northern hemisphere. Several characters mention the somewhat maddening and sleep disturbing effect that the lack of darkness has on some people and the reader is left to wonder if this will play into the murder mystery. White Nights is primarily a who-done-it that I found to be well crafted. I was not able to guess the identity of the murderer. The author did a wonderful job developing the story and keeping me in suspense. I was able to put a few pieces of the whole together before she revealed the identity and motivation of the murderer, but I did not guess the ultimate reveal ahead of time.

The characters in White Nights were developed well enough to make me care about them and I hope that some of them are/will be recurring in her other Shetland Island books. Beyond the mystery, the author brought up issues regarding the place of family, community and belonging that helped further connect me to the characters.

I was very satisfied by the atmosphere of the book. It reminded me somewhat of an Iris Murdoch novel that I read years ago (the title eludes me right now). The extreme Northern setting and harsh landscape of the Shetland Islands gave the novel an edge and a haunting quality that I thought suited the story as did the cloistered atmosphere of a small village where secrets are kept for many years.

I've already purchased Raven Black and will be running out to buy books three and four in this series when they become available. I highly recommend White Nights to mystery lovers and those who like atmospheric reads.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Advance Review Edition graciously provided by the publisher through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program.

Note to other reviewers: If you've written a review for this book, please let me know by posting the permanent URL for your review in the comments. I'll be happy to add a link to your review with my post.

It's Tuesday, Where are you?

I just left the Shetland Islands off the northeast coast of Scotland where Inspector Perez has just solved a triple homicide. This involved some knowledge of the few residents of Biddista and their histories. It also involved some skill at communicating with the rather cloistered atmosphere one encounters in a very small village. I can't wait to go back and see what is happening in the Shetland Islands in future. Quite exciting for such a small place. (White Nights by Ann Cleeves)

I'm on my way to a suburb of Tokyo where I expect to encounter a brutal murder and "the violent underbelly of Japanese society." (Out by Natsuo Kirino)

Join raidergirl3 at An Adventure in Reading and let her know where your reading is taking you this Tuesday.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Sound Travels: Matt Dusk

Two Shots

Today I'm traveling around with Matt Dusk. If I didn't know better, I'd think he was one of the Rat Pack, singing in a smoky Las Vegas lounge, in about 1964. I can even hear the clink of ice cubes in highball glasses as they melt into the scotch. The title song, "Two Shots," was written by Bono/U2 for Frank Sinatra.
"On this record, every song is a situation, every song is a moment, every song is truth, and every song is real."

from the liner notes of Two Shots

Click here to listen to samples or buy MP3s.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

It's Tuesday, Where are you?

Today I'm in Seattle with Detective J.P. Beaumont as he tries to solve the murder of a 5-year old girl who appears to have belonged to a cult. Beau has his own demons that plague him as he tries to solve his case, so this should get interesting quickly. (Until Proven Guilty by J.A. Jance)

Join raidergirl3 at An Adventure in Reading and let her know where your reading is taking you this Tuesday.

Monday, August 11, 2008

I'm Back ... Kinda

I've made it back from my interstate travels and am trying to ease myself back into day-to-day life. My blog reader was insanely full, so I simply marked everything as read and will start afresh even though I feel like I'm jumping into the middle of conversations without knowing what is happening.

The interstate trip included Arizona, Colorado, and Utah. The first stop was Flagstaff, Arizona where I was the matron of honor at my sister's wedding. It was lovely and so was she. Also lovely was the opportunity to eat at Macy's European Coffee House each of the five mornings I was in town. If you are ever in Flagstaff, you really should stop at Macy's for a coffee, at the very least (and, no, it doesn't have anything to do with the department store Macy's).

After the wedding in Flagstaff, Mr. Distortion and I continued on to visit family in Colorado. Colorado ... sigh. Let me just say that if Mr. Distortion wasn't bound to his job by the golden handcuffs of future retirement income, I really think I'd be blogging from Colorado rather than California. Our time in Colorado was much too short.

We started home via Utah and spent a day in Cedar City, Utah (Shakespeare Festival anyone?) so that I could visit the used bookstore (Braun Books, for those familiar) and eat at the rustic Rusty's Ranch House where I was surrounded by mounted deer and elk heads while I ate my steak (my apologies to those who find this distasteful). Utah was followed by a drive-by of Las Vegas which sizzled at 111 degrees and was then upstaged by Baker, CA at 116 degrees. I was rather happy to come over the Cajon Pass and wallow in temps that were only in the mid 90s.

My reading took a back seat to people during our trip and so I don't have any book reviews at this time. I came home from our trip craving some reading time and so haven't checked into blogland until now. I managed to finish Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell last week (I couldn't believe how LONG it took me to read it; nearly 4 weeks) and spent this last weekend reading Breaking Dawn so that I wouldn't stumble into any spoilers. Next I'll be reading some books from my 1st in a Series Challenge list in order to catch up.

I hope to catch back up with regular blog visits soon!