Friday, August 18, 2017

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

The Sense of an EndingThe Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Sense of an Ending starts out with the reflections of a retiree, Tony Webster. He is thinking back to his days in secondary school: his teachers, his friends, and his relationship with his first girlfriend, Veronica Ford. Then the novel takes a twist when one of his childhood friends dies and Tony is forced to reacquaint himself with Veronica and the history they share. The Sense of an Ending is a powerful, psychological novel about relationships and memories that clash with reality. The plot and style reminded me of The Secret History by Donna Tartt, another novel I loved.

Steve Lindahl – author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul


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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Sirens Over the Hudson by MJ Neary

Sirens Over the HudsonSirens Over the Hudson by M.J. Neary
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

MJ Neary’s book Sirens over the Hudson follows the lives of a number of people with too much money and too little respect for themselves or others. The plot focuses mostly on the spoiled children of rich investment bankers and people who work in the media. Yet the adults have their own share of problems. Marital affairs are common, but less as results of broken marriages than as efforts to fight boredom or advance careers.

The story follows Gregory King, a high school student of partial turkish descent (a fact he takes pride in). Gregory climbs a tree to spy on his friend Stephen Schussler, a straight A student and accomplished athlete, while Stephen is having sex with his girlfriend, Cyntie van Vossen. Gregory decides he wants what Stephen has and Cyntie, who doesn’t appear to have much will of her own, goes along with Gregory’s wishes. Trouble ensues.

Although the book covers racism, assault, and islamophobia, among other controversial topics, its primary focus is on the problems faced by people who have everything except purpose. It’s a book that makes its readers think.

Steve Lindahl – author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul


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Saturday, August 12, 2017

The North Water by Ian McGuire

The North WaterThe North Water by Ian McGuire
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The North Water is a violent, brutal novel, but also a beautifully written one. Here's a quote: The ache he feels is his body speaking its needs, talking to him—sometimes a whisper, sometimes a mumble, sometimes a shriek. It never goes silent; if it ever goes silent then he will know that he is finally dead...

The story is about Patrick Sumner, a British, army surgeon who lost his position due to a combination of bad decisions and bad luck. His options are so limited he signs up as a medic on a whaling ship with a crew that has more than its share of corrupt sailors. Henry Drax is one of the harpooners and a brutal man, willing to do anything for a chance at riches. What plays out is both upsetting and fascinating.

Steve Lindahl author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul


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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese

Cutting for StoneCutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I almost gave up on Cutting For Stone. The beginning of this long novel had too many detailed descriptions of medical procedures and seemed to spend more time than necessary on the back stories of some of the characters. But once the twins were born, it became a great read. It is a story about growing up and surviving in Ethiopia during a time when the country was suffering from fighting among power hungry, ruthless leaders. There is a lot of information about the wretched conditions in Addis Ababa, which is fascinating, especially when set in a hospital. But this is also a story of love and ambition in many different forms. The mixture of politics and human emotion reminded me of one of my favorite books, The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera.

Steve Lindahl – author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul


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Monday, July 24, 2017

Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver

Prodigal SummerProdigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Prodigal Summer didn't hook me at first, but in the end I thought it was another five star read for Barbara Kingsolver. After three chapters, I began to wonder if this was a collection of short stories rather than a novel. The three subplots were disconnected and seemed to reach conclusions rather than push me forward. Also, it took a while for the personalities of the characters to come through, so at first I thought Kingsolver was more concerned with getting a message across about animal behavior than about human behavior. As I read on, I realized that in addition to fascinating facts about luna moths and coyotes, this novel shows the need for human relationships, among old, young, neighbors, in-laws, and all sorts of other people.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul, White Horse Regressions, and Hopatcong Vision Quest


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Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

The Maltese FalconThe Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The classic hard-boiled detective novel, The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett, was one of the earliest books in that genre. The main character seems cliche at times, but only because so many imitations have followed. According to Wikipedia: “Raymond Chandler's character Philip Marlowe...was strongly influenced by Hammett's Spade.” There are many lesser known examples as well.

The main women in the story, Ruth Wonderly, Effie Perine, and Iva Archer, are all drawn to Spade's tough personality, but each in her own way. They are clearly from decades past, but they are fully developed, interesting characters. The same is true of the men, although I thought Kasper Gutman (the fat man) was a little weaker than the others. There were some implausible aspects to the plot, but everything came together in the end.

I listened to the audio while on a trip with my wife and daughter. The book was narrated by William Dufris and I was impressed by his reading. He was influenced by the film and did a wonderful Peter Lorre imitation while keeping true to all the other characters as well. It's a great book to listen to while driving.

Steve Lindahl – author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul


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Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

The Dog StarsThe Dog Stars by Peter Heller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I listened to the audio of The Dog Stars by Peter Heller and wondered why the narrator, Mark Deakins, seemed to pause between every phrase. When I looked at a written version, I discovered the reason. There were lots of short sentences. Here's an example:

There is a pain you can’t think your way out of. You can’t talk it away. If there was someone to talk to. You can walk. One foot the other foot. Breathe in breathe out. Drink from the stream. Piss. Eat the venison strips. And. You can’t metabolize the loss. It is in the cells of your face, your chest, behind the eyes, in the twists of the gut. Muscles, sinew, bone. It is all of you.

The reason for this style seems to be that the main character spends a lot of the book alone, thinking about his life and life in general. To get that internal thought process across, Heller resorts to moments that get close to stream of consciousness writing. It took a little while to get used to his style, but once I did, it worked.

Hig is a widower who loved his wife. He is living in a world where most of the people have died from a flu epidemic and a blood disease that followed the flu. In this dystopian world most everyone is out for themselves, fighting off any strangers that show up in their territory. Hig lives with two companions. The first is Bangley, a violent man who believes in killing anyone who shows up in his territory. The second is Hig's dog, Jasper, with whom he shares all his thoughts.

Hig is a pilot with a working Cessna. He flies patrols along the perimeter of the area he and Bangley have declared their own. If he identifies intruders, Bangley kills them. They appear to have a lot of ammunition and a decent amount of airplane fuel.

The world they live in has problems beyond the flu and blood disease. The climate is changing and certain species are extinct or nearly extinct. There are no more trout and very few, if any, elk. However, other animals such as deer are still prevalent enough to hunt.

The novel's greatest strength is the depth of the main character's thoughts. He spends a great deal of time thinking about his past life and the limited possibilities for his future. For example:

Life and death lived inside each other. That's what occured to me. Death was inside all of us, waiting for warmer nights, a compromised system, a beetle, as in the now dying black timber on the mountains.

At times the novel feels like an outdoor life story, dwelling on the joys of fishing, hunting, and being alone in the wilderness. It also spends a decent amount of its words on radio technology, airplanes, and guns, which, along with the point of view remaining with Hig, gives it a macho feel. I had a few issues with the plot, mostly with the random changes to the world, but also one specific incident late in the story that had a simple way of being much less dangerous than it was. I won't say more than that, but I had trouble believing Hig didn't think of it.

Steve Lindahl – author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul


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