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Shelly's Book Shelf

Updated: 2018-02-19T11:37:25.049-05:00


The Trespasser


TITLE: The Trespasser
AUTHOR: Tana French

Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad is probably my favorite mystery series, mainly because it doesn't focus on just one detective or pair of detectives. This book focuses on Det. Antoinette Conway and her partner Stephen Moran, both of whom appeared in the previous book, The Secret Place. This one, told from Antoinette's point of view, follows the detectives as they investigate the murder of a young woman in her home, as well as all the harassment Antoinette has faced since transferring to the Murder Squad from Missing Persons.

What first appears to be a slam-dunk-the-boyfriend-did-it case turns into something more complicated, especially after Antoinette realizes she's met the victim a while back, not to mention they both live in the same general neighborhood. The evidence against the boyfriend is circumstantial and in their desire to finally have a major case to solve, Antoinette and Stephen find their imaginations running wild through possibilities. But, could they be right? Things just aren't adding up for a simple solve and the pressure from more senior detectives working the case with them isn't helping.

French is skilled in moving along the story in what feels like real time while delving just as skillfully into Antoinette's psyche. And that's the best part of this series. Each narrator has his or her personality and it shows through the narration, making each book connected while being able to stand on its own. If you love mysteries but haven't read this series yet, I suggest you give it a try.


Midnight in Europe


TITLE: Midnight in Europe
AUTHOR: Alan Furst

This historical spy novel is set mostly in Paris from late-1937 through much of 1938. The protagonist, Cristian Ferrar, a Spanish emigre living in Paris, is a lawyer for an international firm and travels often for his job, spending time at the main office in New York, where he has a lover, and in Paris. But he also is a supporter of the Republican forces in Spain fighting Franco's fascist army. Unlike most of Furst's novels that I've read, which focus on spying against Germany, in this book, Nazi Germany's actions form a backdrop for the conflict in Spain when Ferrar is enlisted by the Republic's diplomats in Paris to help supply arms to the Republic's army. Since most countries won't ship arms directly to Spain, Ferrar and Max de Lyon, a diplomat/arms dealer, engage in dangerous clandestine operations.

The usual Furst thrills are on display, with Cristian becoming involved with a woman who likely is more than she seems, close calls in enemy territory, and even appearances of characters from other of Furst's novels, especially Count Polanyi. As always, I felt like I was part of the time and place, thanks to Furst's impeccable research and attention to detail. His books might not be compulsive pageturners, but they are engrossing, filled with wonderful, fully realized characters. Now, on to the next one!


Cat's Cradle


TITLE: Cat's Cradle
AUTHOR: Kurt Vonnegut

Here's another book I wish I'd read years ago but am finally getting around to. Vonnegut's genius is how he can convey so much in such simple prose. In this satirical tale, the narrator is writing a book about one of the father's of the atomic bomb. His research leads him to the man's three grown children, a mysterious substance called ice-nine, and the ultimate end of times, at least for Earth. I suppose I would have had a stronger reaction to the message contained in the book's pages had I read this in my teens or twenties, but it does still resonate. The world might end in a cataclysmic war, or it might end in a totally banal fashion due to the arrogance and carelessness of humanity. Into that mix, Vonnegut threw in a fake religion created by a calypso singer, something that doesn't sound at all strange in today's world.




In the Window of the Strand Bookstore, NYC

I've had an Instagram (shellys555) for a few years, but only recently learned that Instagramming photos of books is a thing, with the tag #bookstagram. So, I figured, since I love books and photography, I'd give it a try. And I decided to crosspost to flickr and here.


Slaughterhouse Five


TITLE: Slaughterhouse-Five
AUTHOR: Kurt Vonnegut

I have a lot of classics on my shelves that I've never gotten around to reading. They hadn't been assigned when I was in school and I had so many other things I wanted to read once I was out of school. So I decided to work my way through some of them and started with Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut's anti-war masterpiece.

The story revolves around the Allied bombing of Dresden near the end of World War II, bookended with Vonnegut's own experiences in Dresden during the war and after. The prose is simple and felt dated, but it was still powerful in its ordinariness. The horrors of war are here, as Billy Pilgrim, our hero and Vonngeut's stand-in, goes to war as a chaplain's assistant, gets taken prisoner by the Germans, ends up in Dresden in time for the bombing, then goes home to get married and become an optometrist. He also gets unstuck from time, traveling up and down his timeline, and gets taken prisoner by aliens who put him on display in a zoo, along with a fellow abductee, a former porn actress. Did he really get abducted by aliens? Is he really traveling through time? Or did he wartime experiences leave him with PTSD and a need to make some sort of sense of his life? There is something so mundane in how Vonnegut describes the horrors of war, giving it the same tone and weight as everything else that happened in Billy's life that makes the war scenes worse somehow.

And the repetitive phrase "And so it goes" that punctuates nearly all the paragraphs in the book, a precursor, perhaps, for the more contemporary "It is what it is." There are things that can't be changed, so they can either be accepted or not. To not is to drive yourself crazy. To accept is to, perhaps, stay sane. But war isn't sane, and maybe a sane response isn't appropriate. Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but the story is the sort that inspires introspection. I'm glad I finally read this.


Book List


I love lists. This one is interesting: 100 Must-Read Books of the '90s. I dismiss the poetry collections, because I don't enjoy poetry and have read it only under duress: school assignments way back when. I don't read short story collections, anymore, either because there are too many novels I want to read. And having comics on the list was interesting, but that was the one decade where I read hardly any comics, and while I read novels years after publication, I rarely do that with comics. So, my tally (I re-alphabetized because I can't abide having books alphabetized by "The" or "A" as the first word, and I interfiled the comics with the books), with commentary:Books I've Read (6)Astro City, Vol. 1: Life in the Big City by Kurt Busiek, art by Brent Anderson... I've read all but 2 of the rest of the volumes, plus the ongoing comic. One of the best graphic novels ever published.The Authoritative Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Waterson... Since I've read all the Calvin and Hobbes strips, I'm counting this as read.Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson (novel, historical fiction)... Not the first Atkinson I read (That was Case Histories), but one of my favorites.The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (novel, historical/literary fiction)... Wonderful book.Holes by Louis Sachar (YA novel, Newberry Award-winner)... A delight, and I saw the movie, too.Supergirl by Peter David, art by Gary Frank, Cam Smith, Karl Story, Terry Dodson... I believe this is the Supergirl as angel inhabiting Linda Danvers version, which I didn't like at all. It got better when a version of the original Supergirl, Kara Zor-El, showed up. Peter David has always struck me as a decent writer who other people tend to like more than I do.Books I Own, Waiting to be Read (4)Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat (novel, historical fiction)The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead (novel, speculative fiction)My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk (novel, historical fiction)White Teeth by Zadie Smith (novel, literary fiction)Book I Couldn't FinishPossession by A. S. Byatt (novel, historiographic metafiction)... I think I got as far as page 3, maybe 4. Didn't like the writing style, at all. By the way, I have no idea what "historiographic metafiction means.Books I Saw the Movie/TV Show Instead (3)The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje (novel, historical/contemporary fiction)... Good movie, though I don't know how true it was to the bookOutlander by Diana Gabaldon (novel, speculative fiction/historical romance)... I watched the first season, but lost interest before the season finale.Preacher, Vol. 1: Gone to Texas by Garth Ennis, art by Steve Dillon... I'm loving the TV show. I just read that Steve Dillon died. So sad. His talent will be missed.Thanks for reading. [...]

Foreign Correspondent


TITLE: The Foreign Correspondent
AUTHOR: Alan Furst

I wouldn't call Furst's World War II-era spy novels page turners, but they are addictive. In this one, Carlo Weisz is an Italian ex-pat living in Paris, working as a journalist for the Reuters news service, and secretly writing and editing an anti-fascist newspaper distributed covertly in Italy. As if that isn't enough, the Italian secret police are trying to put an end to the underground newspaper and British Intelligence has plans for him. Even the Paris police are interested him and his fellow Italian ex-pats when the editor of Liberazione and his mistress, the wife of a prominent Frenchman, are brutally murdered in an act made to look like murder-suicide. And finally, Carlo's German girlfriend won't leave Germany despite her anti-Hitler activities putting her in danger.

There's a lot going on in this book, yet Furst takes his usual pace laying out the story, giving readers a feel of life in 1940 Europe, from the civil war in Spain, to fascist Italy, life-as-usual Paris, and tense Berlin. The civilian-enlisted-as-spy, painstakingly researched and recreated settings are Furst's stock-in-trade, yet the stories never feel old or repetitive. Carlo is an engaging protagonist trying to do the right thing for his homeland, and Furst is a skilled storyteller, a perfect combination.


Book Quiz


Random House came up with a quiz to help you choose a debut novel to read.


How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe


TITLE: How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe
AUTHOR: Charles Yu

This book's central conceit is that time travel exists and the main character, who shares the author's name, repairs time machines for a living. His father invented time travel, though that's a story in itself, and the author, uh, I mean the protagonist is searching for his father who disappeared years ago.

There isn't much story here. The main action takes place in flashbacks/memories and the protagonist's narration of his past. In a way, the book, and the time travel conceit, is a metaphor for life and how people get stuck in their life while searching for something that may or may not really matter.

I really don't want to say too much. The book needs to be experienced, not explained. It likely will mean different things to different people. I put it on my To Read list back when it was published, in 2010, because it sounded intriguing. But I never spotted it at Barnes & Noble, and since my To Read list is very, very long, I never sought it out. But I spotted it on a table in The Strand bookstore a couple of months ago and the title tickled my memory, so I bought and now have read it. I'm glad I did. It was different, and I enjoy different. If you like different, you might like it, too.


The Devil's Alphabet


TITLE: The Devil's Alphabet
AUTHOR: Daryl Gregory

From the cover face with the upside down eyes, to the not quite ending, this book is a mystery, more conjecture and theory than hard facts. Thirteen years ago, the town of Switchcreek, Tennessee was struck by a terrible and confounding disease that killed a third of the population, mutating most of the survivors into one of three physical anomalies: those who experienced enormous growth to unprecedented heights, those who lost all their hair and became seal-like, and those who became abnormally obese. Paxton, a young teen when the "Changes" hit, was a "skip," one of the few not physically affected. His mother died, however, and his father became one of the obese "charlies," and after the quarantine on the town was lifted, Pax was sent away to live with relatives. Now an adult, living a dull, unambitious life in Chicago, Pax returns to Switchcreek for the funeral of one of his two best friends. Jo Lynn, who had become a seal-like beta, had been found hanging from a tree in her yard, a supposed suicide. But Pax and Deke, his other best friend and now a grotesquely tall argo, have their doubts. Back home after so many years away, Pax quickly discovers how much he's missed as more and more effects of the Changes manifested themselves.

This isn't the story of what happened in Switchcreek or why, although those questions are posed. Rather, it's the story of coping with such profound changes, how outsiders react to people who suddenly don't look human, how far people will go to live normal lives when normal doesn't mean what it once did, and the age-old question of what it means to be human. It's also the story of Pax trying to find his place in a world when he hasn't felt comfortable in his own skin since everything changed.

And it's the sort of book that makes me want a sequel. I want to spend more time with Pax and the people of Switchcreek. Gregory made me care about all of them.