Playing Catch Up….

My 20 Books of Summer challenge may look like a complete disaster at the moment, but things are not quite as bad as they seem. My reading is going well, it’s just the reviewing that I don’t seem to have the time for!

We are just back from a rainy week in the West of Ireland and I’m playing catch up with all aspects of my life, so I’ve decided to just do a few flash reviews of what I’ve been reading and get back up to date on my challenge. I would love to do longer reviews of some of these books but sometimes you just have to be realistic about what you can and can’t do!

No 669 The Dead of Summer by Mari Jungstedt

The blurb for The Dead of Summer calls it a ‘thrilling raw crime novel’. Well, it’s a crime novel alright but raw and thrilling? Not so much.

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Set on the Swedish island of Gotland, a young father Peter Bovide is shot during his camping holiday on a morning jog. Police commissioner Anders Knutas is on holiday too, so it falls to his assistant Karin Jacobsson to lead the investigation until he returns. Both the police and the local press, led by TV reporter Johann Berg are at a loss as to the perpetrator until a second murder hints that they have been looking in the wrong direction.

The crime at the centre of The Dead of Summer isn’t the most exciting and the use of a flashback narrative means most readers will guess the identity of the killer by about two-thirds of the way through. A lot of the book focuses on the characters relationships but this are either predictable or not fully explored. The writing is a little workmanlike, but that may be down to translation and I may have had more of an emotional investment if there was a clear main protagonist (as it is there are three) or if I had read the other four books in the series.

It got the job done, but it was a forgettable read.

20 Books of Summer: 7/20

Number Read: 78

Number Remaining: 668

No 668 Hawthorn & Child by Keith Ridgeway

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This is the book I wish I could devote a really long review to because I loved it. I loved it so much. It is my book of the year so far and I can’t imagine anything bettering it. Hawthorn & Child are two detectives who investigate the shooting of a man in a London street. He claims to have been shot by a car. An old vintage car and that is all he can remember. So begins a woozy, otherworldly series of interconnected stories in which Hawthorn & Child may or may not appear. A man believes Tony Blair has poisoned him. A couple can only communicate through writing in a notebook. A young man takes a baby hostage and Hawthorn tries to make sense of his life.  Ridgeway has fashioned a crime novel with no real crime, a detective story that doesn’t really focus on the detectives and a novel that may be a short story collection or a short story collection that may be a novel. The only problem I had with Hawthorn & Child was that it wasn’t longer. If I have time I may give it a full review at the end of the summer, but for now, all I’ll say is read it.

20 Books of Summer: 8/20

Number Read: 79

Number Remaining: 667

No 667 Life by Keith Richards

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This hugely entertaining autobiography which charts Richards’ life from working class London childhood to global superstardom with one of the world’s biggest bands is an incredibly amusing, insightful and often sobering read. I like The Rolling Stones but often thought Keith was the caricature of the rock n’roll lifestyle and not much more. The book explores his love and knowledge of music (blues in particular) in great depth, his massive drug habit, his questionable parenting skills and his fractious relationship with both Brian Jones and Mick Jagger. What comes across most in Life is that for Keith, the image of the drug taking, crazy rock musician is something that he has both cultivated and come out the other side of, but that at the end of the day, it is all about the music.

People say, ‘Why don’t you give it up?’ I can’t retire until I croak. I don’t think they quite understand what I get out of this. I’m not just doing this for the money or for you. I’m doing it for me.

20 Books of Summer: 9/20

Number Read: 80

Number Remaining: 666

No 666 This Isn’t The Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You by Jon McGregor

It’s a very beautiful world. It’s a shame what will happen

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In Jon McGregor’s novels, he explores how the small unanticipated moments of our existence can have a devastating outcome on our lives. In this collection of his short stories, he uses this skill to stunning effect, the stories littered with events that come out of nowhere – accidents, meetings, and moments of rash judgments.

A group of school leavers in a car discuss setting up a bespoke snack business until a moment of inattention threatens their futures. A young man knocks down and kills a man and buries his body in an attempt to keep his own life on track. A young student survives an accident when a sugar beet smashes through her windscreen, only to potentially find herself in more danger. In the stunning ‘A Wave and A Call’ a young man snorkels with friends on a foreign holiday, only to find himself floating further out to sea.

There is an apocalyptic nature to some of the stories as in ‘If It Keeps on Raining’ where a man is building a treehouse to save himself from a coming flood and throughout all the stories there is a sense of nature being a force greater than we can withstand. There is also some humour, particularly in The Chicken and The Egg, where a man develops a phobia of cracking open an egg

If he does find himself in an unavoidable egg breaking scenario, the tension is almost literally palpable

The book explores lives fractured, interrupted and sent off course with a beautiful poetic prose that is both grounded and otherworldly. The stories in this collection are lingering, unsettling and quite, quite brilliant.

20 Books of Summer: 10/20

Number Read: 81

Number Remaining: 665

No 665 The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? By Edward Albee

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In The Goat or Who is Sylvia? Edward Albee uses bestiality as the discussion point rather than the true subject of his play about Martin, a world-famous architect at the top of his game who has the rather unfortunate problem of having fallen deeply in love with a goat called Sylvia. The play takes the form of a Greek tragedy and the goat becomes a metaphor for any unacceptable act or desire that produces revulsion within society when revealed. The play is oddly funny – particularly when Martin describes the beauty of Sylvia’s eyes – but by the end the laughs peter out, mainly in the face of the pain of Martin’s wife Stevie, who asks

How can you love me when you love so much less?

Bill Pullman and Mercedes Ruehl in the US Premiere of The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?

Bill Pullman and Mercedes Ruehl in the US Premiere of The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?

Albee is certainly no stranger to controversy and here he brings it in spades, but the ending is somewhat sanitised given all that has gone before. The Goat may stick in the mind for the content, but it doesn’t stay there like ‘Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf?’

20 Books of Summer: 11/20

Number Read: 82

Number Remaining: 664

So, 9 books left and 4 weeks to read them. Tough, but still doable!

No 673 Killer Joe by Tracy Letts

20150619_185035 I first came to the work of Tracy Letts through August, Osage County which I read and loved a few years ago. True to form, I ordered all his other plays and promptly forgot about them until I saw the movie version of Killer Joe starring Matthew McConaughey in the titular role. With True Detective and Dallas Buyers Club, there was a lot of talk about the resurrection of McConaughey’s career, the McConaughaissance as it was coined – but if you want to see him really push the boundaries of what you thought he could do, then check out his performance in Killer Joe, it is phenomenal.

Matthew McConaughey as Killer Joe in William Friedkin's movie adaptation

Matthew McConaughey as Killer Joe in William Friedkin’s movie adaptation

It helps that Letts wrote a phenomenal part. The play tells the darkly comic tale of a young, not very successful drug dealer called Ansel, who, with the help of his feckless father Chris hires contract killer (and cop!) Joe to murder his mother in order to cash in a life insurance policy and pay off his debt to a local thug. Unsurprisingly, they don’t have any cash up front to hire Joe, so Ansel offers his sister Dottie as a down payment, with the cash to follow after the murder. The rest of this squalid, violent and often hilarious tale plays out in the confines of the family’s grim trailer somewhere in Texas and you just know that no one is going to come out of this well. The play is a hard-boiled, pulpy, Tarantino-esque burst of delicious depravity, which is probably why it makes for an excellent movie. Killer Joe is Letts’ first play (from 1993) and while it doesn’t reach the acidic brilliance of August, Osage County or his other great play Superior Donuts, it has a raw realism and urgent ferociousness that make it hard to resist. Of the play, Letts says

I think one of the principal aspects of that kind of noir are people who want things really badly, who want and feel things really strongly, and yet who make some terrible decisions in their attempts to get them. I think something about that is very human, actually. There’s something about that we can all identify with.

And strangely, we can identify with these characters –  they are the ultimate dysfunctional family, craving order and rules like naughty children, unable to look after themselves. Once they hire Joe, he provides them with that order and becomes almost a surrogate father figure that they all look to, even though he is there to commit matricide. It’s telling that the key scenes of the play take place at the dinner table – the ritual of the family meal turned on its head as Joe ‘seduces’ Dottie over a tuna casserole when she has effectively been pimped out by her own brother and the final devastatingly violent dinner scene is oddly interrupted with a request to say grace. Joe has a moral code, whether you agree with it or not and the carnage in the final scene of the play is triggered by rudeness

No need for name-calling. I never called you any names. I am a guest here! You be polite!

Joe even seems to genuinely want to marry Dottie and do things the right way. Dottie herself, is easily the most intriguing character in the play and I imagine that your assessment of her character would be based on how an actress plays her. Over the years many famous actresses have inhabited Dottie – Fairuza Balk, Michelle Williams and Sarah Paulson – undoubtedly drawn to the ambiguity and mystery surrounding her. Dottie may be a little bit ‘simple’. She appears younger than her 21 years. She is equally underestimated and undervalued by her family. Her mother tried to kill her,

My momma tried to kill me when I was real little. She put a pillow over my face and tried to stop me from breathing, ‘cause she cared more about herself then her little baby, and she didn’t love me like a mother loves a little baby. And she thought she’d done it, and she was happy, ‘cause then she didn’t have to worry about me….growing up to be the part of her that was cut out and grown into a better thing than she had been, had ever been’.

Her father and brother are trading her sexually, with her father suggesting that this forced prostitution ‘might do her good’. She is either shielded or used, but Dottie is sharper than they all realize. Much of the humour in the play comes from her,

DOTTIE: How are you gonna kill Momma? JOE: Ohhh…that’s not…appropriate dinner conversation. DOTTIE: Not unless you poison her.

Dottie, of all the characters is the one you feel is meant for more than this trailer and this life and although it may be called Killer Joe, this play is all about Dottie. I can understand why some people would not like Killer Joe. There is a notoriously controversial scene involving a chicken leg that once seen will never be forgotten. Nearly all the characters are slatternly and despicable, their lives are dead end and desperate, with no hope of changing. They are in bad situations, making bad decisions and they plan violence and murder as casually as they decide what to watch on the television. They live in a moral vacuum where they are desensitized to the cruelty of their lives.

Movie poster featuring the notorious chicken leg

Movie poster featuring the notorious chicken leg

But what Letts cleverly does is while showing us how banal evil and violence can be and how they can grow slowly and undetected in ordinary lives while rotting people away from the inside. As he says himself,

Look at these people….they are us. They are a manifestation of us on the fringe of our society.

Now, if you haven’t read Killer Joe and won’t have a chance to see it on stage anytime soon, I strongly recommend you check out the movie. If you think you have the stomach for it 🙂

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cxpvzmvFHTM ..

3 killed, 17 live....

3 killed, 17 live….

20 Books of Summer: 3/20

Number Read: 74

Number Remaining: 672

20 Books of Summer 2015!

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It’s hard to believe a year has passed, but there are hints of a change in the weather here in Ireland and I’ve decided to challenge myself again this year to read my 20 Books of Summer!

Last year I managed a mere 16 ½ books, so hopefully I can beat that record this time round.

When I started trying to decide on my 20 Books, I had an idea. At the start of 746 Books, the aim was to read what I had, save some money by not buying books and clear some space by reading what was in the house. And I have managed to read what I have and save some money but over the last 18 months though, I’ve come to realise that I mostly read on my iPad, so the piles in the house are still there, mocking me.

So, this summer, I will only read physical books. It’s a bit daunting, because it removes the opportunity to read on my phone, but it will be nice to spend some time reconnecting with some real, actual books for a change! Plus, I might have a clear shelf by September!

So, starting from 1 June and running until 4 September, I’m hoping to read 20 actual books. 7 a month, I can do that, right? Like last year I’ve gone for as broad a range of genres and books as I can and like last year I have included a rock star memoir, a trashy 70s classic, and some sneaky short plays, poetry collections and short stories!

Photo: drbimages

Photo: drbimages

I won’t be reading in any particular order and be warned, reviews may be shorter than usual – I’ve still a job and a couple of twins to look after you know!

So, here are my 20 Books of Summer, click on the titles for a link to their Goodreads description:

I’m going to keep a Master post at the start of the blog so you can follow my progress as books get crossed off the list and if anyone feels their reading needs a bit of oomph then why not join me? Just take the Books of Summer image, pick your own 10 or 20 books you’d like to read and link below.  I’d love your support and I’ve provided a 10 Books image in case 20 seems too daunting! I’ll be tweeting my way through the challenge as well using the hastag #20booksofsummer.

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So, any thoughts on my choices? Have you read any of my 20? Any I should start with straight away, or save for later? Any I’m going to regret putting on the list? I’d love to hear what you think.