2013 Man Booker Shortlisted: Harvest #2

HarvestRating: 2.0
Harvest
A Novel by Jim Crace
2013 / 224 pages

I feel like I have been transported back in time! It is 1987 and Mrs. Edmunson has assigned us Harvest by Jim Crace for grade 12 novel study. “You must read it so try to enjoy it” she says. “Come on! There are some great things in here! There is violence and witches and even magic mushrooms!”

Start to read. Ah. The harvest is done, there is going to be a celebration.

~~I wonder what we are going to do for Anthony’s birthday next Friday. Veronica wants to take the bus to his house. Better ask my mom~~

Oh. Walter Thirsk, he’s an odd duck. Kind of lame and boring.

~~Do I have any money? Duran Duran AND David Bowie in T.O.??? We are GOING! We ARE GOING!! WE ARE GOING!!!!~~ $(KGrHqNHJEgFButCzFv3BQiVP7yj3!~~60_35

Well, a fire. This should get things going.

~~”No one move a muscle as the dead come home!” Who sings that song? That video scares me. Shriekback! Yep, it was Shreikback!~~

1306417I don’t think they are punishing the right people! Mob mentality? This reminds me of The Lottery.

~~What grade did we read The Lottery in? Grade 8? Miss Bailey? Is that you?!!~~

ūüė¶ ¬†Poor horse! Sad that he was killed. Skipjack? Willowjack? Slap that?

~~Buddha is purring! She is trying to lay down on my book. Kitty cat marching!! SO CUTE when she gets ready to sleep!~~

Mr. Quill, Master Kent. Mr. Quill, Master Kent. Bedlam. Bedlam. Bedlam. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

And then it was over. Back to 2013– I have to mop my kitchen floor this Saturday.

This one really felt like a school assignment that I was forced to read (sorry to steal your line Mike!) and I was day-dreaming the entire time I was reading. I feel like I should have gotten a lot more out of this one but, alas, I did not! The best thing about this book was our fellow BookerMarker, Jen’s awesome graphic diagram in the Why It Will Win series (here).

2 stars (at Literary Hoarders this means: Bad. But not without merit– the merit being that the prose of this absolutely boring book was beautiful ~~sigh~~)

Scan 48This review was posted simultaneously on BookerMarks.

Audiobook Review: God’s Spy

spyBlood.  Child abuse.  Murder.  More blood.  More child abuse.  A psychotic killer. Dismemberment.  Blood.

I’m happy it’s over.

God’s Spy, a thriller that has averaged well on Goodreads, had a promising plot:

Goodreads:

In the days following the Pope’s death, a cardinal is found brutally murdered in a chapel in Rome, his eyes gouged and his hands cut off. Called in for the grisly case, police inspector Paola Dicanti learns that another cardinal was recently found dead; he had also been tortured. Desperate to find the killer before another victim dies, Paola’s investigation is soon joined by Father Anthony Fowler, an American priest and former Army intelligence officer examining sexual abuse in the Church, who knows far more about the killer than Paola could possibly imagine.

As Paola and Father Anthony struggle through a maze of tantalizing clues, they begin to question whether someone in the Vatican is aiding their cause or abetting a murderer. And when evidence leads them to powerful figures within the Church hierarchy, their own pursuit of the truth may make them the next pawns to be sacrificed in a terrifying and deadly game.

I suppose I should have felt warned. ¬†Gouged eyes, torture, hands cut off… indeed the details of each murder scene left little to the imagination. ¬†What originally intrigued me was Paola Dicanti. ¬†I had guessed that she would be a formidable protagonist, with such a remarkable skill set. ¬†Touted as a gifted criminal profiler, she was to provide details of the killer that would facilitate his capture. ¬†I can say “his,” because his identity was revealed shortly after the book’s start. ¬†The story was instantly transformed into a cat-and-mouse chase, as opposed to a mystery.

The “mystery” that was unveiled throughout, however, was the killer’s background. ¬†No surprise that anyone who was capable of such atrocities had an unpleasant childhood. ¬†(To put it mildly.) ¬†The reader is supplied with ample detail of why the killer became a monster; some of which was overdone. ¬†The question eventually (and I mean eventually) became: was he acting alone, or was he a soldier of something far more sinister? ¬†By the time this reveal was unearthed, I no longer cared. ¬†I just wanted out.

Paola Dicanti was a disappointment.  While highly intelligent and skilled, she second guessed herself too often.  Father Anthony Fowler proved much more interesting, but his back story was offered via tidbits, and in the end I still had questions about his character.  The killer was a twisted creature who was so badly damaged by his childhood, his adulthood and his questionable therapy that he was a lost cause right from the start.  The surrounding characters were drawn well, but I could not connect to a single one.

Beyond the story’s repeated (and grotesque) violence, I had trouble with the dialogue. ¬†It felt forced and predictable, and too often, made the characters appear as though they were simply going through the motions. ¬†Even when Paola offered what was supposed to be a heartfelt soliloquy¬†beside her slain partner, the words had a canned quality that I could not overcome. ¬†Without beating around the bush, it was terrible. ¬†I winced through the entire speech. ¬†The plot just could not break through such distractions.

Was the story original? ¬†Not exactly. ¬†Catholic conspiracies, cover-ups, meddling journalists, questionable cops…. the book has also been described as being written in complete admiration of The Da Vinci Code. For this Hoarder, the novel could have used an enormous dose of originality.

This audiobook was narrated by Kate Reading, and I must say that she did a very good job, considering the material.  It could not have been easy to narrate such a story, but I found her voices well suited. Next time, I would very much like to hear her read something pleasant.

2 stars for God’s Spy.

Audiobook Review: Island Apart

Many thanks to Audiobook Jukebox and AudioGo for sharing this title with the Literary Hoarders.¬† I’m afraid, however, that Island Apart was not the book for me.

From Goodreads: Claire Doheney, recovering from a serious illness, agrees to house-sit in an oceanfront mansion on Chappaquiddick island in Martha’s Vineyard.  The New York book editor hopes to find solace, strength, and sufficient calm to finish her biography of the iconoclastic psychotherapist, Wilhelm Reich. The last thing she expects to find is love. 

Then she meets a mysterious man the locals call the Hermit.  No one knows his real name or where he lives.  To their mutual surprise, Claire and the stranger discover that they share a passion for cooking that soon sparks something more.

But Claire‚Äôs new friend has a terrible secret that threatens to drive them apart forever.¬† The clock is ticking.¬† Can Claire let love into her life once more before it’s too late?

Why did I think I would like this?

If you tossed a Harlequin Romance into a blender with a Martha’s Vineyard cookbook, you’d wind up with Island Apart.¬† This is a book that tries to propel a serious plot, but instead comes across as a trite story that describes its food with more passion than its people.¬† I hate writing negative reviews, but I would be remiss if I did not admit that I was extremely anxious for this to end.¬† There’s only so much eye-rolling a person can stand.

A book about a woman who fights cancer and falls in love with a local eccentric should be anything but shallow, but the book was peppered with so many unnecessary details of affluence that they distracted from any effort to be profound.¬† The purr of “twin Bosch dishwashers;” slipping a CD into a “Bang & Olufsen;” turning on the “Bose” sound system; choosing “Polo” jeans; donning a pair of impossibly expensive boots (sorry, the brand name is escaping me); wine labels with rare names and years; cooking classes taken abroad; endless referrals to Jaguars, BMWs…. for heaven’s sake, enough.¬† We understand.

The cast of characters was commonplace.¬† Betrayed protagonist, philandering soon to be ex-husband, chirpy best friend, unfair boss, rebellious teenage daughter, comic-relief client, and mysterious love interest.¬† Will the Hermit’s secret be overcome in time for Claire to permit herself to truly fall in love?¬† I won’t give it away, but I will say that predictability is the least of this novel’s worries.¬† In a book that addresses everything from breast cancer to trust issues, it was a surprise to find so many one-dimensional characters.¬† That’s not to say that there was no effort behind them, but they just didn’t click.¬† Their dialogue was also hopelessly simplistic, with far too many “ouch!” and “shit!” responses.¬† It often bordered on juvenile.

The descriptions of the cooking, however, were the book’s high points.¬† Each time Claire or the Hermit created some edible piece of art, the detail had the power to made the reader downright hungry.¬† The very first time someone whipped up a dish in Island Apart, it quickly became evident that the true love story was with the food.¬† If as much texture and temptation were offered by the characters of this novel, then it truly would have been something to behold.

This audiobook was read by Susan Boyce, and she offered a very good narration.  Her range was effective, and her enthusiasm was evident.  She also embodied the voice of Claire extremely well, and could easily switch between each of the characters.

Alas, Island Apart could not decide what it wanted to be: a romance, or an ode to haute cuisine.  Because it tried to be both, it wound up being neither.  I wish very much that I had liked it more.

2 stars.

Review: The Mirage

First, I have to note that I love the work of Matt Ruff.  I gave 5 stars to Set This House in Order and 4 stars to Bad Monkeys.  He has other books that are on my to-read list, and I look forward to tackling every one.  Matt Ruff is clever, creative, and spins incredibly complicated tales that only a true author can pen.

Ok, now the bad news.

I did not enjoy The Mirage at all. ¬†I tried. ¬†I tried with all my might and patience to get involved, to feel invested, to care about the characters the way I cared for those in his other novels. ¬†I also had the other reviews hanging over my head — rave reviews… and I kept wondering what the heck I was missing. ¬†So, I tried harder. ¬†I read more…. and more….and then, it was done. ¬†And I was terribly disappointed.

The Mirage is a twist on history.  What if the attack on the Twin Towers was actually reversed?

Goodreads blurb:

11/9/2001: Christian fundamentalists hijack four jetliners.  They fly two into the Tigris & Euphrates World Trade Towers in Baghdad, and a third into the Arab Defense Ministry in Riyadh. The fourth plane, believed to be bound for Mecca, is brought down by its passengers.

The United Arab States declares a War on Terror.  Arabian and Persian troops invade the Eastern Seaboard and establish a Green Zone in Washington, D.C. . . . 

But what if this is not real? ¬†What if it is nothing more than… a mirage?

Ruff went to extraordinary lengths in this book to alter everything we know. Definitions were turned upside down. ¬†Historical events were retooled. Important figures were assigned new goals and different personalities. ¬†Ruff even included regular excerpts from an¬†online¬†“Wikipedia” of sorts, which included modifications to the truth that had the power to leave the reader spinning. ¬†Everything served as an alternative history. ¬†Everything was a surrogate reality. ¬†But whose eyes were being covered by the wool?

Thematically, there’s no question that the plot was creative. ¬†Where I grew most weary, however, was in reading about actual people, who were morphed into different characters for the book. ¬†“President¬†Osama¬†Bin Laden” was one. The “Quail Hunter of Texas” was another. ¬†David¬†Koresh…. Timothy McVeigh….. they all had roles to play in the mirage.

‘That is the official story,’¬†Mustafa¬†said. ¬†‘And given the bloodthirstiness of some Christians, it might well be true. ¬†But remember a key element of the mirage legend: America is the real superpower, while the individual states of Arabia are just that, independent nations. ¬†Weak ones. ¬†When a weak state is drawn into a fight with a superpower, what happens to it?’

Samir¬†shrugged. ¬†‘It gets its ass kicked.’

Mustafa¬†looked at¬†Amal. ¬†‘What did¬†Rumsfeld¬†say America did, in response to 9/11?’

‘Invaded Iraq,’ she said. ¬†‘His story about what¬†happened¬†to the Hussein family was heartwarming, but when I asked what the war did to the rest of us he pretended not to understand the question.’

‘Wait,’ said¬†Samir. ¬†‘So you’re saying that in this alternative reality of¬†Rumsfeld’s,¬†Osama¬†bin Laden is an Iraqi?’

Herein lies the nagging problem that I could not shake. ¬†The tale became such a reach, so outlandish, and I’m sorry to say, so….. hokey, that I could not muster attachments. ¬†The end of the book also felt rushed; after such a build-up, I was left shaking my head at the resolution.

Judging by the average rating on¬†Goodreads, I am in the minority here, and I’m sure Mr. Ruff will continue to enjoy great success with this newest novel. ¬†I love to see authors enjoying the fruits of their labor. ¬†I guess I just can’t like all of the finished products.

I’m sorry to say….. only 2 stars from this Hoarder.