The Dinner by Herman Koch

dinnerPublished by Hogarth, 2009 *****

This book had so many things going for it: a plot that kept me guessing, a unique narrative device, and a narrator who initially seems trustworthy only to reveal himself as unreliable. The story plays out as Paul is having dinner with his wife, his brother, and his sister-in-law, and throughout each course of the meal, Paul reveals more about the two families’ circumstances. There are some aspects he is deliberately vague about, but it was effective in maintaining a level of ambiguity about the overall conflict.

It was about halfway through the novel that I realized how utterly bat-turd crazy all of the characters were. Paul seems fixated on punching people in the face, knocking teeth out, and creating a bloody pulp. His wife indifferently turns a blind eye to her son’s violent and criminal behavior. Paul’s brother is a politician (enough said). The final pages demonstrate Paul’s instability and how he, his wife, and their son are so totally effed up. I loved the deviousness, the way Paul misled me to think he was just a regular guy, when there is something much more sinister beneath his (usually) calm demeanor. If I were to write a one-word review, I would say: Unscrupulous.

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Smarch

 

Of course Smarch is a fictional month a la The Simpsons. But March has so much promise: spring, daylight savings, hopefully more sun and less snow.  Realistically, it could be a mixed bag here in Chicago.  But here’s what I know I can look forward to:

  • Rach and I will be reading and eventually bantering Pride and Prejudice.  This is her first time, and a re-read for me.  I’m hoping now that I’m familiar with the movie, I’ll appreciate it more this time around.
  • I will have written my 700th review!
  • The tour I’m  most looking forward to is Inspector of the Dead on March 26.  The first in the series was pretty darn good, and this time I get to interview David Morrell!
  • Another upcoming tour is The Tusk that Did the Damage.  I’m always intrigued when a story is told from an unusual perspective – the elephant narrates part of it.  Stay tuned March 25.
  • I’m finally getting my new tooth!  After over a year of having dental work done to restore my implant, I will finally be able to chew on the right side of my mouth!
  • A girlfriend got me tickets to Les Miserables for my birthday and she and I are going to see it at the end of the month.  I’ve seen it on Broadway in Chicago about 10 years ago, but this is a different production and theater, so I’m excited. (No, I’ve never read it).

Happy March!  Is there anything in particular you’re looking forward to?

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Prince of Fire by Daniel Silva

prince of firePublished by Putnam Adult, 2005 *****

When the Israeli Embassy in Rome is bombed, who else but Gabriel Allon can find the perpetrator and seek justice on behalf of his people? This may be the most intense novel in the series so far, and it delves into the historical hostilities of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and its inherent violence. Usually Allon is recruited as a contract player to uncover some nefarious plot lingering from WWII. But now that his cover as an art restorer is blown, he must return to Israel to work directly for the Office to track down a ruthless terrorist. For once his enemy is two steps ahead of him and Allon is at his most vulnerable. I was intrigued by the historical justification of Palestinian entitlement and Israeli defensiveness. This book certainly conveyed the complexities of the region and Allon’s own reticence about the role he plays protecting his nation.

Books 1-4 in the Gabriel Allon series:

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The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney

the long and faraway gonePublished by William Morrow, February 2015 ****1/2

I rarely give a book a four and a half star rating, but this one is definitely an exception. While it wasn’t The Best Book Ever, it was certainly captivating and quite well-written. It’s the type of novel I could easily read 50 pages and not realize an hour had passed.

Anyway, the plot… Private Investigator Wyatt returns to his hometown of Oklahoma City 26 years after he survived a robbery that left 5 of his theater coworkers dead. He’s there doing a personal favor for a friend and while he’s trying to figure out why his client is being harassed (and who’s doing the harassing), being in the proximity of the crime brings back the familiar question: Why did he survive? In another part of the city, Julianna is still haunted by the unsolved disappearance of her sister Genevieve the same summer of the theater massacre. Julianna’s desperation to find out what happened to Genevieve often clouds her judgment. Despite her obvious intelligence, it can be frustrating, but it also demonstrates her fierce loyalty to her sister. Wyatt’s experience as a PI makes him clever and deductive, a likeable smart alec. I became so engrossed in their stories, which is a testament to how solidly crafted the characters were. In their quest to find answers to their most troubling questions, Julianna and Wyatt occasionally cross paths, but not in a way that seems too contrived. The conclusion isn’t tidy, but it is certainly intriguing and satisfying, with both characters coming to terms with their tragic histories.

I received a complimentary copy of this book via TLC Book Tours.

tlc-tour-host

 

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The Alchemist’s Daughter by Mary Lawrence

alchemist's daughterPublished by Kensington, April 2015 ****

While not exactly a Tudor mystery per se, it is a mystery that takes place during the reign of Henry VIII, though he’s scarcely mentioned. So don’t expect court intrigue or rubbing elbows with nobility. But it does convey the marginal society outside of London: apothecaries, muckrakers, peddlers, silversmiths et al. The title character, Bianca, is accused of poisoning her friend and must prove her innocence. She is wily and resourceful, though stubborn and headstrong. While I appreciated her strong will and independence, her vulnerability came through occasionally.

What is best about the book is the atmosphere. The filth and stench of Southwark is palpable, and it illustrated the terrible conditions of the 16th century. Rats and pestilence abound. As Bianca and her friends look for clues, something is lurking that could wreak havoc on London. Bianca’s murdered friend could hold the key to proving her innocence and preventing a city-wide catastrophe.

I will be interested to see how Bianca matures in future books in this new series. I anticipate seeing how her alchemy and her relationships evolve and what intrigue she will find herself involved in next.

I received a complimentary (signed!) copy of this book from the author.

alchemist sign

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Wonder by R.J. Palacio

wonderPublished by Knopf 2012 *****

This is absolutely the sweetest little book. August has sever craniofacial abnormalities and has endured dozens of surgery, but nothing so far has prepared him for 5th grade. Previously home schooled, Auggie must endure the stares of his classmates and the inevitable teasing that comes with looking different. Despite all of the uncomfortable situations, there are so many positives that made me smile, and I enjoyed his whole experience. Witnessing Auggie make friends and put on a brave face was inspiring. He is one of the most heroic characters I’ve ever read, even though all he had to do was get through 5th grade.

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If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie

if i fall if i diePublished by Hogarth, January 2013 ****

The beginning of this book really hooked me and I was intrigued by the premise of a boy and his agoraphobic mother. Life in their home is almost otherworldly and Will has no experience with the Outside, so his innocence and naiveté is endearing. Learning about his mother’s lifestyle and the psychology of her phobias was compelling. Then Will’s curiosity gets the best of him and he ventures Outside, eventually convincing his mother to send him to school. As he becomes familiar with everything the Outside has to offer (including skateboarding), the novel takes a dark turn. The crippled economy of Thunder Bay and its seedier elements include criminals, bootlegging, missing orphans, and poor race relations with Native Americans.

There was definitely a malevolent undertone to the second half of the book, which went in a different direction than I anticipated. There were some aspects that were predictable, and an odd little narrative thrown into the middle. Overall it was about struggling with mortality and loss, which was so debilitating to Will’s mother. But Will’s bravery and determination to overcome these insecurities was inspiring. I enjoyed witnessing him flourish outside of the confines of his mother’s rigidity and paranoia.

I received a complimentary copy of this book via the Amazon Vine program.

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