Review: Boxer, Beetle

Boxer, Beetle
Boxer, Beetle by Ned Beauman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m glad I didn’t read this first novel by Ned Beauman before I read The Teleportation Accident. Not that Boxer, Beetle isn’t good—I just think that Beauman’s style is a little more polished in his later work, and I’m not such a great reader that I would have picked up on his genius in his debut work.

Because Beauman has this way of filling up a novel, so many people and places and silly little events, and yet it comes across very light, easy to digest. I’m guessing there’s more there than meets the eye, too (see above, re: I’m not the best reader) so a subsequent reading may be in order.

Homosexuality is used in the novel as a lens for the reader to consider what it meant to be Jewish back then. We look down our noses at such racism, but any reader today will have living memories of gay men and women being talked about in exactly the same way. There’s my sophomore college thesis statement. Let’s move on.

Like The Transportation Accident, this novel plays on the edges of World War II, without getting right into it, although with this work he’s much closer than in the other. Hitler is mentioned several times, although the book doesn’t touch on the holocaust, leaving that darkness for the reader to remember on his or her own.

This dark edge doesn’t overwhelm them book, however—Beauman manages to keep things just silly enough that one doesn’t get bogged down by lecturing. Part if this accomplished by contextualizing things in a modern-day thriller pastiche, although its more of a device than anything else, a means by which to add a “plot” without worrying about, you know, plotting,

View all my reviews

Review: The Burglar Who Painted Like Mondrian

The Burglar Who Painted Like Mondrian
The Burglar Who Painted Like Mondrian by Lawrence Block
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I do like these Lawrence Block novels and I am willing to give the man the benefit of the doubt, and put my trust in him, even when I think maybe he’s phoning it in. Like how all these Bernie novels have a scene where he gathers everyone in a room and does the big reveal, right?

So I’ll let that go. But not random sex with a chance encounter when Bernie’s burglaring an apartment. Even putting aside the gratuitous side of things, it’s just not believable. At all. And even if you find a way to twist things to fit some kind of scenario where it wasn’t a “chance” encounter, still: Bernie shouldn’t be so stupid.

Otherwise this is just pandering, this is just fantasizing, and I don’t have any patience for it.
That’s my only complaint. The book is what I expected it to be on every other page. Bernie burgles, stumbles on a corpse, then another, the cops think he did, but let him prove he didn’t, he paints some fake pictures, and we get an intriguing title.

Take out the other unbelievable nonsense, and the book would be fine.

View all my reviews

Review: Triple

Triple
Triple by Ken Follett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Been trying to write a spy novel, and have been struggling, so I figured I’d read a few. Tried some Len Deighton, but that didn’t go well. Tried this here Ken Follett. Went better. At least I finished the book.

Learned some things. Spy novels always have nuclear weapons in them. At, least, so far, all the one’s I’ve read. This time around, Israel’s trying to get ahold of some. Good for them, I guess. Send in their toughest, hardest, most emotionless agent to pull off the impossible.

Oops, he falls in love along the way. I didn’t care for this part- I’m supposed to be okay with him having the hots for a woman more or less his own age, one who has a young daughter, and then when things don’t work out, and the mother’s dead later, and the daughter’s all grown up? No thanks.

But let’s skip that. Because otherwise, there’s lots of fun to be had. There’s three governments involved, and each government has their inner intrigues. There’s daring-do and dead drops, subterfuge, intrigue insubordination, gun fights. You know, spy stuff.

So, all told, not a bad little primer for a wannabe like myself. And for you hard-core spy novel fans. Well, I’m guessing you’ve already read this one. It’s a classic.

View all my reviews

Review: Behind Closed Doors

Behind Closed Doors
Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Creepy.

There’s your one-word review. And I defy you to find anyone who’s read this book and disagrees. My wife listened to the audio-book version, and that’s the word she kept saying over and over as she was trying to get me to read it. Her sister, too. I do like a good atmospheric piece, a well-wrought tone. So rather than wait for the literally hundreds of people waiting for the book ahead of me at the library, I shelled out ten bucks and tossed it onto my e-reader.

Which ended up being both good and bad. I’m not sure the experience was worth ten bucks. But then I’m glad I didn’t let months of anticipation build up into an even greater disappointment. I plowed through Behind Closed Doors because I wanted to get it over with, and I’m glad it’s over now.

Not just because it’s creepy and made me feel uncomfortable. Rather, I didn’t care of B.A. Paris’s prose style. It contained all of the things we find dull about exposition and managed to achieve that even in dialogue and active description. When the characters spoke it was so structured and wrought, completely unnatural. I understand we readers need to bring a willingness to suspend our disbelief, it was difficult to do so. I was too distracted by the robotic language.

And while I appreciate the need for pacing, the book’s Past/Present device of telling the story in a non-linear fashion meant I knew what was going to happen before I got to the end, which stripped away all pretense of suspense. Again, the whole thing came across as purposefully-built, not organically grown.

All that said, I’ll mention something I did appreciate: there was a character in the novel’s beginning that I couldn’t stand, who ended up being a fairly decent person at the end. So there’s that.

View all my reviews

Review: The Burglar Who Studied Spinoza

The Burglar Who Studied Spinoza
The Burglar Who Studied Spinoza by Lawrence Block
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Finished this a few days ago but haven’t been able to think of much to say. Bernie burgles, someone gets murdered, Bernie uses his lockpicking skills to hunt down clues, doesn’t tell the reader anything, gathers everyone in one place and reveals whodunnit.

Its satisfying in its way, neat and tidy, the kind of book that people who devour books can pop in their craw and masticate and move on from. I mean, to keep the food analogy going, Lawrence Block isn’t cooking at The Four Seasons but he’s not slinging hash at a greasy spoon, either. You won’t get a belly ache after reading this book, you’re not going to need any Maalox.

My mom used to read two or three romance novels a day, and if she was a mystery reader, this would be the sort of thing she’d get through. I guess what I’m getting at here is a kind of aesthetic that has nothing to do with the plot of this 4th burglar novel. I mean, who cares what the plot is, right? These books kind of write themselves.

At least they do in the hands of a skilled pensmith. Don’t get me wrong, these are competent reads. Quick, fun, easy. And if I need to say something about this one in particular- the Spinoza stuff? Completely unnecessary. A sprig of parsley on the side of the plate.

View all my reviews

Review: The Club Dumas

The Club Dumas
The Club Dumas by Arturo Pérez-Reverte
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There are some folks who love books and I don’t mean reading them. They love the physical things themselves, and the older the better. Leather bindings, heavy paper, oh that smell, oh that heft. Books are better than the stories inside them because stories are about people and people are awful.

The Club Dumas is about these folks, these book lovers, and if you’re a book lover too this is going to read like pornography for you. I am not a book lover, myself, preferring the easy accessibility of my trusty e-reader. That’s how I read this book about books, bringing my can of soda-pop to the Queen’s banquet, as it were.

But I do like stories about books. Umberto Eco and Ruiz Zafon and those fellows. The Club Dumas almost holds up to those guys, at least in scholarship; even if everything that Arturo Pérez-Reverte wrote is made up, it sure feels smart. Where it loses me, though, is in the story: you know, that thing I like most about reading.

There’s a lot going on, stuffing together Alexandre Dumas, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Dante Alighieri, Dan Brown. But for all that, it seems a bit mashed together. Like the author got two ideas and decided to write them at the same time and see where they’d link up. But they didn’t.

Sex, gin, satan, rainy nights. There’s enough here to keep you going until the last page, I guess, but at the end all I could think of was, that’s it? Thankfully I didn’t have to reshelve the thing when I was done. I just turned my e-reader off.

View all my reviews

Review: The Couple Next Door

The Couple Next Door
The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’ve read a lot of terrible books in my day, and this is one of the better ones. My wife listened to the audio version, and this is how she described it: “The woman reading it sounded like every word coming out of her mouth was a curse word.”

We’ve got multiple points of view, which is fine, and lots of introspection, which is fine too. But these individuals characters, thinking to themselves, hide things from us, the reader, until it’s convenient to add a little twist to the plot. That, in my opinion, is not fine. I’m okay if it’s a book about people dealing with deep, hidden emotions, struggling to reconcile with some terrible truth or deep trauma in their pasts… but the shenanigans that were pulled literally hours before the events of the novel even began? No. That’s just sneaky.

And then there’s the simple inconsistency between what people say they want, and what they do. I’m being vague because I don’t want to give it away. My point is: not believable. Not for a second. I guess that’s the problem with these heavily plotted novels where all of the plot happens before the book begins. All we have left is characters mooning about “reacting.”

All of it narrated in a terse prose, which, I’ll allow, was at least tight, and reads very quickly. Like I said, a pretty well crafted novel for how awful it was.

View all my reviews

Review: The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This review is 18 months late. So don’t read it. Just go read the book. I gave it three stars, but then I’m picky. You might like it. I’ll tell you this: if you’re going to hate it, you’ll figure that out in the beginning before you’ve invested too much time.

At least, that’s the way I remember it. It’s not the sort of book I tend to pick up, but I like to read the books my wife listens to on tape. (We still call them books on “tape,” even though they’re downloads straight to her iPhone, blue-toothed through her car speakers on the way to work).

Which leads one to the topic of “women’s” lit versus literature in general, this idea that there are books that “women” read. Yeah yeah, the man writing this review said sardonically. The thing is, I think there’s more women getting published these days, and there’s more women buying books too, which might just be just the way the dice roll these days. My point is, you don’t have to be a woman to get into The Girl on the Train.

I mean, this is no Lee Child, no Tom Clancy. But it’s not Catherine Coulter or J.D. Robb either. Even if the marketing people at Massively Profitable Publishing like to spin them all that way. But you, you’re a discerning reader, you don’t judge books by their covers, or the shelves they sit on, or the company they’re forced to keep.

(Full disclosure: I’ve never read Coulter or Robb. But I’ve met them. Literally shaken their hands. These are a couple if really smart people. And I know more than one person who loves their stuff, and these, too, are discerning readers who don’t put up with bad writing. My point is to denigrate the marketers, not the authors).

The Girl on the Train will get you through a plane ride, or a few hours on a balcony at your hotel, or a lazy weekend when there’s no good games on the TV. There’s a twist ending, which you’ll see coming from a mile away, and there’s a few women’s issues themes that are very trendy to write about these days. So it’s not breaking new ground, but so what. Books don’t have to be brilliant to be good reads.

View all my reviews

Review: The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This review is 6 months late. So don’t read it. Just go read the book. I gave it three stars, but then I’m picky. You might like it. I’ll tell you this: if you’re going to hate it, you’ll figure that out in the beginning before you’ve invested too much time.

At least, that’s the way I remember it. It’s not the sort of book I tend to pick up, but I like to read the books my wife listens to on tape. (We still call them books on “tape,” even though they’re downloads straight to her iPhone, blue-toothed through her car speakers on the way to work).

Which leads one to the topic of “women’s” lit versus literature in general, this idea that there are books that “women” read. Yeah yeah, the man writing this review said sardonically. The thing is, I think there’s more women getting published these days, and there’s more women buying books too, which might just be just the way the dice roll these days. My point is, you don’t have to be a woman to get into The Girl on the Train.

I mean, this is no Lee Child, no Tom Clancy. But it’s not Catherine Coulter or J.D. Robb either. Even if the marketing people at Massively Profitable Publishing like to spin them all that way. But you, you’re a discerning reader, you don’t judge books by their covers, or the shelves they sit on, or the company they’re forced to keep.

(Full disclosure: I’ve never read Coulter or Robb. But I’ve met them. Literally shaken their hands. These are a couple if really smart people. And I know more than one person who loves their stuff, and these, too, are discerning readers who don’t put up with bad writing. My point is to denigrate the marketers, not the authors).

The Girl on the Train will get you through a plane ride, or a few hours on a balcony at your hotel, or a lazy weekend when there’s no good games on the TV. There’s a twist ending, which you’ll see coming from a mile away, and there’s a few women’s issues themes that are very trendy to write about these days. So it’s not breaking new ground, but so what. Books don’t have to be brilliant to be good reads.

View all my reviews

Review: The Burglar Who Liked to Quote Kipling

The Burglar Who Liked to Quote Kipling
The Burglar Who Liked to Quote Kipling by Lawrence Block
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wanted to read this book, but not yet, dagnabbit. I wanted to read Club Dumas by Arturo Pérez-Reverte first. But somewhere between the library website, my PC, and my e-reader, some wires got crossed. So, in a fit of pique I grabbed Bernie #3 instead.

And by coincidence, like Club Dumas, The Burglar Who Liked to Quote Kipling is also a murder mystery about books. (I mean, I think that’s what Pérez-Reverte’s novel is about. I’ve only read a few pages!) Block’s novel is about a burglar who moonlights as bookseller, gets involved in a scam that goes sideways, and has to solve the crime to keep from being convicted of the murder himself.

So, yeah, like I said, I didn’t want to read this one yet, even though I was going to get to it eventually. But at least it’s kind of in the same realm. And while a good book in a cozy room on a frosty day is a treasure, when the book is about books, it just makes it that much more satisfying.

I’m not going to say that Block wastes the subject matter on his silly little thief, because Block writes too well for any of his reads to be a waste. But I do have to wonder what a writer of his talents could do if he decided to go full Pérez-Reverte. Or Ruiz Zafon. Or even full Eco. Because this quick little book (I polished it off in a few hours while work was slow) is chock full of either precise research or an obvious love of bibliophilia.

If that’s not your bag though, never fear: it’s also chock full of lock picks and stolen cash and semi-crooked cops. Also, we get a new side-kick for Bernie, a good-luck Pontiac, and a Polaroid camera to keep us rooted in the late 70s.

I’m going to try the library website again, but don’t surprised if my next read is The Burglar Who Studied Spinoza, because what else am I going to do this afternoon?

View all my reviews