Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall (A Tournament of Books Selection)

A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall by: Will Chancellor

Source: Purchased
Synopsis: (Goodreads)
Owen Burr, a towering athlete at Stanford University, son of renowned classicist Professor Joseph Burr, was destined to compete in the Athens Olympic Games of 2004. But in his final match at Stanford, he is blinded in one eye. The wound shatters his identity and any prospects he had as an athlete.

Determined to make a new name for himself, Owen flees the country and lands in Berlin, where he meets a group of wildly successful artists living in the Teutonic equivalent of Warhol’s Factory. An irresistible sight—nearly seven-feet-tall, wearing an eye patch and a corduroy suit—Owen is quickly welcomed by the group’s leader, who schemes to appropriate Owen’s image and sell the results at Art Basel. With his warped and tortured image on the auction block, Owen seeks revenge.

Professor Burr has never been the father he wants to be. Owen’s disappearance triggers a call to action. He dusts off his more speculative theory, Liminalism, to embark on a speaking tour, pushing theory to its radical extreme—at his own peril and with Jean Baudrillard’s help—in order to send up flares for his son in Athens, Berlin, and Iceland.

This book was a sleeper for me. I didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I did - but the truth is I found it extremely enjoyable. Honestly, between you and me, I saw 'athlete' in the description and stopped reading the description. I'm such an anti-sports snob. I know. Get over myself.

The writing was excellent, the characters were strong and well developed. I found Owen's living in Berlin without a penny to his name to be a little unbelievable, but this didn't trouble me enough to ruin the enjoyment of the book. Owen was also a bit of a little shit, but I think he grew throughout the novel. 

As far as Prof. Burr (Owen's dad) went - his story was quite the wild ride as well, despite the two narratives being vastly different worked well to compliment each other Prof. Burr's disastrous speech in Athens (all undertaken to help him look for Owen) and Owen's disastrous 'debut' into the art world parallel nicely.   

This book is a commentary on the intersection of art and life, which made it very compelling to me. I also loved the commentary on modern art and what drives the prices of it. I've always been a big fan of modern art museums, if for nothing else than finding the absurdity in them. Tate Modern in London is by far my favorite - probably because during one visit there I found a display of a hermetically sealed can in which the artist had preserved his feces. (If anyone knows the artist or the name of the piece, hit me up because I've long since forgotten it.) But, I'd also be remiss if I didn't share my love for The Centre Pompidou in Paris too. 

Owen and Prof. Burr's journey into Iceland was a bit surreal as well - but again - I felt like it fit with the book and I really enjoyed the atmosphere and descriptions of Iceland. It actually inspired me to finally read Burial Rites. Absolutely a fabulous debut.

Art! What a glorious thing. What about you, Reader? Do you have a penchant for modern art? Or any other visual art styles?

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Sneetches: A Lesson

If you were born after 1961, (or had kids after that time) chances are you have a passing familiarity with Dr. Seuss's The Sneetches. Just in case you don't let me refresh you with the first few stanzas of the story.

"Now the Star-Belly Sneetches
Had bellies with stars.
The Plain-Belly Sneetches
Had none upon thars.

Those stars weren't so big. They were really so small
You might think such a thing wouldn't matter at all.

But, because they had stars, all the Star-Belly Sneetches
Would brag, "We're the best kind of Sneetch on the beaches."
With their snoots in the air, they would sniff and they'd snort
"We'll have nothing to do with the Plain-Belly sort."

...the rest of the story.

The story ends with this... 

And he laughed as he drove
In his car up the beach,
"They never will learn.
No. You can't teach a Sneetch!"

But McBean was quite wrong.  I'm quite happy to say
That the Sneetches got really quite smart on that day,
The day they decided that Sneetches are Sneetches
And no kind of Sneetch is the best on the beaches.
That day, all the Sneetches forgot about stars
And whether they had one, or not, upon thars.
©1961, 1989 Dr. Seuss Enterprises L.C.
What I want to say is this...

So we've been quite unhappy, these past couple months
In the book blogging world and it's driven us nuts.
It's time now we each learn something new from old sources
And realize that what we all need is supportez.

Whether new blogger or established
The snark should stop now on Twitter.
Passive aggressive and vague tweets help none of us critters.

Let's all decide bloggers are bloggers
And respect each other thusly.
Calling out the bad with respect all quite justly.

Upholding the good and respecting our differences
Understanding the negativity is a terrible hindrance.

We can all come together and enjoy
The community again,
If we can ignore all the egos
Can I get an amen? 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Must Read Monday: Our Endless Numbered Days

Our Endless Numbered Days by: Claire Fuller

Release Date: 26 February 2015
Source: I received a copy in exchange for honest review consideration.
Synopsis: (Goodreads)
1976: Peggy Hillcoat is eight. She spends her summer camping with her father, playing her beloved record of The Railway Children and listening to her mother's grand piano, but her pretty life is about to change.

Her survivalist father, who has been stockpiling provisions for the end which is surely coming soon, takes her from London to a cabin in a remote European forest. There he tells Peggy the rest of the world has disappeared. And so her life is reduced to a piano which makes music but no sound, a forest where all that grows is a means of survival. And a tiny wooden hut that is Everything. Peggy is not seen again for another nine years.

1985: Peggy has returned to the family home. But what happened to her in the forest? And why has she come back now?

I can't say that this is a book that I would have necessarily picked up on my own, but Allison from The Book Wheel more or less pushed it into my hands and insisted it was going to be the next big thing.

I think she's right. 

Peggy's dad is a survivalist in England before survivalism was cool. The narration takes the reader back and forth between the nine years that Peggy spent in the woods with her father beginning in about 1976 to her attempt to re-acclimate with general society in 1985. The narrative style is done flawlessly and makes an excellent point/counterpoint between Peggy's life in isolation and what it means to try and come back to a society that you hardly remember. 

This novel does everything and it does it very well. There's action, the characters are complex and flawed, they grow and change as the story progresses, there are themes on family and marriage, and the tension that runs between family and career - not just in 1976, but today as well. 

This is a fantastic and clever book that will appeal to many readers because of the breadth of the themes that Fuller explores within the pages. 

What about you, Reader? How do you feel about survivalists? Could you live in the woods with only one companion and few supplies for nine years? 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Sunday Salon: All Over the Place

Time //  1:02 p.m. EST

Place // Couch perch

Reading // I knew I was reading too much too fast and that the slump was going to be inevitable - so here we are! I'm looking for something arresting to grab my attention and shake me up... again. But I'm listening to the audio of Zorba the Greek and A Brief History of Seven Killings - both are just kind of... meh. 

Feeling // Tired. Weary. Inadequate. A little depressed, this could be a part of my reading slump. But I'm also excited about the Tournament of Books actually getting underway. I need an internet sabbatical. 

Also grateful for all the support that has been lent my way over the past few months. I'm bad at saying thank you. But seriously, thank you.

Looking Forward // To moving forward. Remembering why we blog and remembering what the really important things in life are.

Around the internets today // There have been a few posts that have really been fantastic, so I'm going to link 'em up.

Blogging // Still racing against the clock to get all my reviews of the Tournament books up before 9 March! 

How's your Sunday going, Readers? I'm a little all over the place today. :) 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Silent Saturday: Silence Once Begun (A Tournament of Books Selection)

Silence Once Begun by: Jesse Ball

Source: Purchased
Synopsis: (Goodreads)
Over the course of several months, eight people vanish from their homes in the same Japanese town, a single playing card found on each door. Known as the “Narito Disappearances,” the crime has authorities baffled—until a confession appears on the police’s doorstep, signed by Oda Sotatsu, a thread salesman. Sotatsu is arrested, jailed, and interrogated—but he refuses to speak. Even as his parents, brother, and sister come to visit him, even as his execution looms, and even as a young woman named Jito Joo enters his cell, he maintains his vow of silence. Our narrator, a journalist named Jesse Ball, is grappling with mysteries of his own when he becomes fascinated by the case. Why did Sotatsu confess? Why won’t he speak? Who is Jito Joo? As Ball interviews Sotatsu’s family, friends, and jailers, he uncovers a complex story of heartbreak, deceit, honor, and chance.

I think I might be an outlier on my feelings about this book. While I appreciate the structure and style of this novel I have a thing about gimmicks. The gimmick here is that journalist "Jesse Ball" is obsessed with the "true story" of Oda Sotatsu. So I'm irritated right off the bat - what's true? What's imagined? Is this historical fiction or straight up fiction? 

That being said, the writing is quite lovely in this novel and the structure is unique. Told (mostly) in a series of interviews with people connected with Sotatsu, it felt a little like Solomon the Peacemaker (which you almost definitely have not read, but totally should). Outside the gimmick the story itself is compelling enough until you get to the end. Here I'm going to put a big fat...

Kind of Spoiler Alert

I'm sorry kids, but the ending was flat out lifted from that awful Kevin Spacey movie The Life of David Gale, or maybe David Gale's ending was lifted from the maybe real-life occurrences outlined in Ball's novel - either way - all I could think of was that movie. Unfortunately the motivation and execution of the characters in the movie were a lot more plausible than that of those in Ball's novel. 

Done Possibly Ruining Your Reading Experience

As far as the Tournament goes, this is pitted against Redeployment in the first round - which is interesting because Redeployment reads as stories that should be true (and probably are in spirit) while Silence Once Begun is claimed to be a true story (maybe it somewhat is, I haven't researched it) as sort of a gimmick, but otherwise fails to really reflect reality. What's interesting about the two novels is that they are both protest literature of sorts. Obviously I'm rooting for Redeployment and I feel like it will probably win the first round over this - but you never know what those crazy judges are going to do. 

Have you read this one, Reader? Do you know what I mean by 'protest literature'? Do you have any examples? 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Weekend Cooking: Magical Truffle Salt

Have you heard the good news? No, not Jesus. Truffle salt. 

Guys, I'm a salt lover by nature - I pretty much can be counted on to salt everything. I also love gourmet foods so a little truffle shavings on my gratin works just fine for me thank you very much.

You can get truffle salt at World Market and other high end grocery stores. Of course you can also get it through Amazon as well. A few weeks ago I made a very boring crockpot pork chop recipe, I added some truffle salt and holy poop on a stick, I could not stop eating those pork chops. 

What else? Popcorn, y'all. Instead of using Morton's to salt your popcorn whip out that truffle salt and it turns popcorn into an amazing gourmet fancy treat. 

So far I've been using it willy-nilly on things that it seems like it might be good on, but pretty soon I'm going to check out some real recipes and report back. For now here are 15 Delicious Ways to Use Truffle Salt.

Hopefully I'll remember to link this up to Weekend Cooking on Beth Fish Reads.

Do you have a favorite seasoning or spice, Reader? 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

What Was That? Wednesday: All the Birds, Singing (A Tournament of Books Selection)

All the Birds, Singing by: Evie Wyld

Source: Purchased
Synopsis: (Goodreads)
Jake Whyte is the sole resident of an old farmhouse on an unnamed British island, a place of ceaseless rains and battering winds. It’s just her, her untamed companion, Dog, and a flock of sheep. Which is how she wanted it to be. But something is coming for the sheep – every few nights it picks one off, leaves it in rags.

It could be anything. There are foxes in the woods, a strange boy and a strange man, rumours of an obscure, formidable beast. And there is Jake’s unknown past, perhaps breaking into the present, a story hidden thousands of miles away and years ago, in a landscape of different colour and sound, a story held in the scars that stripe her back.

This was one of the most enjoyable novels that I read for Tournament of Books. The prose is gorgeous and I found the structure to be really unique. Though it only has one narrator (technically) the chapters alternate between telling the story of Jake's present and telling the story of Jake's past - backwards. It's a delightful and surprising structure that made the novel really enjoyable for me. 

This is another one of those books (kind of like Annihilation) that defies hard categorization. Though it is a suspenseful novel I have a hard time calling it a suspense novel. If that makes any sense at all. As I said above - the structure of this book is what makes it so unique - it really gives the reader a sense of push and pull, dread and understanding, of what Jake is going through. 

The ending is a point of contention for many readers (I'm going to just leave it there), but no matter how you feel about it, All the Birds, Singing is one of those novels that sticks with you for a long time after you've read it. 

Unique and thoroughly enjoyable, I think that readers of literary fiction (and yes, suspense novels) are likely to really appreciate this book. This would also make an EXCELLENT book club pick because it's relatively short and there are lots of things to talk about.

As far as the Tournament goes, (brackets came out today!) I have a hard time predicting how it will do up against A Brief History of Seven Killings, I'm only about a quarter of the way through that one and while it feels deep and important - it's not very readable.

Excellent reviews also from:
Michael at Literary Exploration
Shannon at River City Reading
Katie at Bookish Tendencies

What was the last book that you read that really stuck with you, Reader?