Sunday, February 14, 2016

Sanibel Sunday: Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine's Day! Not only am I celebrating with my husband and the twins, but my sister and brother-in-law are visiting. It's winter break week in the Great White North, and here in SW Florida the sun is shining and temperatures are finally warming. Our plans today include the Farmer's Market, an Art and Crafts Show, and maybe steaks on the grill for dinner.

With last week's cooler temperatures, we did a lot of biking.... though still no resolution on the gear issue. I mentioned in an earlier post that my husband has an 18-speed trail bike and I try to keep up with him on my no-gears 'beach cruiser'. One of us is working a lot harder, but that beach cruiser is just so darn cute.

Our bike travels took us through a nearby wildlife refuge. There was a flock of white pelicans hanging out and I saw my first roseate spoonbills! They are beautiful pink birds with an unusual shovel-shaped beak, and such fun to observe through binoculars. Unfortunately, I couldn't take a decent photo with my iPhone.

As for the books//
I didn't finish anything last week and am currently reading...

What Maisie Knew by Henry James
Slow going, but wonderful. It's surprising how modern this 1897 novel about a child custody battle feels. I'm probably behind the readalong group, but plan to finish by the end of the month.

Death With An Ocean View by Noreen Wald
This cozy mystery set in south Florida is my 'fun' reading. It's perfect for evenings when I'm too tired to concentrate on Henry James. I've only read a few chapters, but am enjoying it so far.

On the blog//
Tuesday Intro: Death with an Ocean View
Review: City on Fire  by Garth Risk Hallberg

In the kitchen//
The White Chicken Chili Dip I made for the Super Bowl was a hit! This week I'd like to try New England Clam Chowder from the CIA... or possibly a new recipe for Quick & Easy Fish Stew.

The week ahead//
I'll be stepping away from the blog this week while my sister is visiting.

Hope you're having a great weekend, and reading a good book.
See you next week!

This post will link to It's Monday, What Are You Reading?  hosted by Kathryn at Book Date.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg

City on Fire
by Garth Risk Hallberg
Knopf, 2015
944 pages
source: ebook borrowed from library

narrated by Rebecca Lowman (and others)
Random House Audio, 2015
37 hours and 53 minutes
source: purchased with audible credit

Goodreads summary:

New York City, 1976. Meet Regan and William Hamilton-Sweeney, estranged heirs to one of the city's great fortunes; Keith and Mercer, the men who, for better or worse, love them; Charlie and Samantha, two suburban teenagers seduced by downtown's punk scene; an obsessive magazine reporter, Richard, and his idealistic neighbor, Jenny, - and the detective trying to figure out what any of them have to do with a shooting in Central Park on New Year's Eve.

The mystery, as it reverberates through families, friendships, and the corridors of power, will open up even the loneliest-seeming corners of the crowded city. And when the blackout of July 13, 1977, plunges this world into darkness, each of these lives with be changed forever.

City on Fire  is an unforgettable novel about love and betrayal and forgiveness, about art and truth and rock 'n' roll, about what people need from each other in order to live... and about what makes the living worth doing in the first place.

My thoughts:

You might remember City on Fire for the astronomical advance its author received last year... the nearly two million dollars raised even more eyebrows going to a debut novelist. Or you might remember the wonder that Knopf would publish a 950 page novel in this day and age. Those factors, combined with a 1970s NYC setting, made the novel seem irresistible. Could it really be worth that advance?  I had to read it myself and find out.

And I did. It took nearly a month to get through all 944 pages. I opted for the ebook version since I doubted my ability to support such a massive tome for extended periods of time, and soon added audio to the mix as well. (The production is excellent.)

I found myself completely immersed in the New York City of the late 1970s... and most of that experience was truly remarkable. City of Fire  offers an intricate, complex story, with a wide array of well-developed characters. There is history, a mystery, philosophy, psychology, and it all culminates with the great blackout of 1977. I've even seen this novel compared to Bleak House.

In addition, the writing is excellent... at times, even brilliant. And Hallberg makes it seem so effortless. I marveled at his vocabulary. Where did he ever come across some of those words? I've never appreciated the ebook dictionary function so much.

The physical book is creative and attractive, too. A variety of fonts and formats, especially in the interlude sections, makes for a visually appealing product.

I was enthralled for most of the journey and remember thinking this was easily a 4-star book.

And then...

The 'resolution' began. It continued for 300 pages, maybe more, and... NOTHING. What? Did the author simply get tired of writing? Was 944 pages all he had in him? After investing so much reading time, I felt entitled to an ending. This was completely unsatisfying. To be clear, I have no problem with open-ended or ambiguous endings, but this just seemed lazy. I felt cheated.

And the length? I don't think this story really warrants 944 pages. A good editing would have cut three hundred pages, probably more. Reading about the 70s punk scene got pretty boring after a while... though to be honest, it didn't interest me much back then either.


Despite all the positives (writing, plot, characters), the lack of an ending after reading almost one thousand pages was too much of a disappointment for me to overcome.

I'm very curious about this novel's sales figures. Was Knopf able to recoup their 2 million dollar advance? Would they cut the length if given an opportunity for a redo? Or ask the author to write an ending?

With all of that said, I eagerly await Hallberg's second novel. And I will read it... provided it comes in under five hundred pages.

Bottom line:
Given the length and lack of an ending, I cannot recommend City on Fire.
Throw it on the pile of overhyped debut novels.

My rating:

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Tuesday Intro: Death With an Ocean View

"Charlie, what the hell am I doing in paradise?" Kate glanced up at a cotton ball cloud bouncing along in a cornflower blue sky, not expecting an answer. Charlie Kennedy, her husband, had dropped dead six months ago, still clutching the pen he'd used to close on their beachfront condo. 
Ballou tugged on his leash. Knowing the Westie missed Charlie, too, she picked up speed, splashing surf over her bare feet and sending sand flying. 
Another perfect day in South Florida. A cliche Kate considered pure propaganda, perpetuated by snow birds and retirees who'd left behind change of seasons, grandchildren, and decent public transportation, and now felt obliged to rave about the weather on a daily basis.
Death With an Ocean View
A Kate Kennedy Mystery, #1
by Noreen Wald

Although not clearly noted on the NetGalley page, this book appears to be an upcoming (March 8) reissue of the 2004 book by Nora Charles, another pen name used by the author. After my long haul with City on Fire and my current Henry James reading, this cozy mystery is a welcome change of pace... especially in the evenings when my brain is too tired for Henry's prose. The south Florida setting and pretty cover are very appealing, too.

NetGalley description:
Nestled between fast track Ft. Lauderdale and nouveau riche Boca Raton, the once sleepy beach town of Palmetto is plagued by progress. The latest news has Ocean Vista condo board president Stella Sajak and other residents in an uproar. Developers plan to raze the property and put up a glitzy resort. But when Stella says she’ll go to City Hall and fight this to the death, no one thinks to take her statement literally. 
And when Kate begins to investigate the murder, she discovers that this little corner of the sunshine state is cursed with corruption, unsavory characters, and a very dark cloud overhead.
What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening. Feel free to grab the banner and play along.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Sanibel Sunday: Super Bowl Edition

Beach Bounty: My Collection of Sea Urchins

Sunday already? The weeks certainly fly here. For as long as I can remember,  winter months (especially February) have dragged, so this is a welcome change. Being outdoors seems to be the key... at home I tend to hibernate, waiting for the snow and cold to go away.

We've been hiking and biking this week, and enjoyed wandering around ArtFest Fort Myers yesterday. It was a little soggy, but colorful art brightened the day.

Biggest accomplishment of the week//

I finally finished City on Fire! All 950 pages. At last. It was quite a ride and, for most of the book, I thought I would rate it at least 4 stars. In the end though, I felt cheated. After reading that many pages and investing so much time, I expected (felt entitled to?) more of an ending. Grr! I'm still working through my thoughts for a review, but don't think I can go higher than 3 or maybe 3.5 stars. Sigh.

Current reading//

What Maisie Knew by Henry James
It took a chapter or two to get back in the rhythm of James prose. Despite being written in 1897, the storyline is sadly modern. Could this be the first literary child custody battle?

Up next//

Death With an Ocean View by Noreen Wald
This cozy mystery should be a welcome break from Henry James... especially in the evening when my brain is tired! I got it from NetGalley a couple of months ago, and it appears to be a reissue of an old series. I love the cover... it should be fun.

On the blog// 
It was a quiet week with just one post:
A Read-along Begins: What Maisie Knew

In the kitchen//

I made more Turkey Chili Taco Soup (recipe and photo from SkinnyTaste). We'll have some this afternoon before the Super Bowl.

Skillet White Chicken Chili Dip is also on the Game Day menu. It's a new recipe, so I'll let you know how it turns out.

The Super Bowl or Downton Abbey?  My plan is to turn the channel to Downton Abbey  at 9PM, unless something unbelievably exciting is happening in the game. We'll see if my husband agrees...

I borrowed Testament of Youth from the library. It's based on Vera Brittain's book, which has been on my 'to read' list for years. I usually prefer to read the book first, but it could be some time before I get to this one. Hope to watch this tomorrow night.

The week ahead//
The forecast calls for cooler weather ahead, in the 60s most days. Perfect for biking, so a ride through the "Ding" Darling is on the agenda. One slight problem... I have a 'beach cruiser', which is as low tech as it gets (no gears, reverse pedals to brake), while my husband has an 18-speed trail bike. That means one of us is working much harder to cover equal distances! It may be time for me to upgrade.

I'm also looking forward to my sister and brother-in-law's visit. She's a teacher and winter break begins Friday. I can't wait!

What have you been up to this week? Are you reading anything good?

This post will link to It's Monday, What Are You Reading?  hosted by Kathryn at Book Date.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

A Read-along Begins: What Maisie Knew

The child was provided for, but the new arrangement was inevitably confounding to a young intelligence intensely aware that something had happened which must matter a good deal and looking anxiously out for the effects of so great a cause. It was to be the fate of this patient little girl to see much more than she at first understood, but also even at first to understand much more than any little girl, however patient, had perhaps ever understood before. Only a drummer-boy in a ballad or a story could have been so in the thick of the fight. She was taken into the confidence of passions on which she fixed just the stare she might have had for images bounding across the wall in the slide of a magic-lantern. Her little world was phantasmagoric - strange shadows dancing on a sheet. It was as if the whole performance had been given for her - a mite of a half-scared infant in a great dim theatre. She was in short introduced to life with a liberality in which the selfishness of others found its account, and there was nothing to avert the sacrifice but the modesty of her youth.
What Maisie Knew
by Henry Hames

Oh, Henry! It's been a couple of years since I last read a Henry James novel (Washington Square in 2013), but the style and rhythm of his sentences is immediately recognizable. It will no doubt take me several pages, or maybe even a chapter, to get into the groove, but I'm looking forward to beginning this novel within the next couple of days.

I'll be reading along with Audrey, Frances, and a couple of others. We'll post our thought at the end of the month... you're welcome to join us.

Here's the goodreads summary:
After her parents’ bitter divorce, young Maisie Farange finds herself shuttled between her selfish mother and vain father, who value her only as a means for provoking each other. Maisie—solitary, observant, and wise beyond her years—is drawn into an increasingly entangled adult world of intrigue and sexual betrayal until she is finally compelled to choose her own future. Published in 1897 as Henry James was experimenting with narrative technique and fascinated by the idea of the child’s-eye view, What Maisie Knew is a subtle yet devastating portrayal of an innocent adrift in a corrupt society.
What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening. Feel free to grab the banner and play along.


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