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text 2017-09-13 03:41
Thoughts on the Eve of the 2017 Man Booker Shortlist
Home Fire: A Novel - Kamila Shamsie
Exit West - Mohsin Hamid
Days Without End - Sebastian Barry
Autumn: A Novel - Ali Smith
The Underground Railroad - Colson Whitehead
Solar Bones - Mike McCormack
History of Wolves - Emily Fridlund

The Man Booker Prize shortlist announcement is hours away and I've been working hard to read my way through the list. Despite my best intentions, I was only able to completely read seven of this year's nominees as well as three others in part. That leaves three novels that are at this point a complete mystery to me, so I cannot speak on them. Here are some thoughts on who might make the list tomorrow.

I think Home Fire, Exit West, and Days Without End are the three strongest contenders from the ten I've read. I will be surprised if these three do not make the shortlist. I'll be really surprised if none of the three do.

Personally, I didn't enjoy The Underground Railroad much, but I think it also stands a good chance of being shortlisted. I'll be annoyed if wins the Prize given how much attention it has garnered this year, but a shortlist nomination would be accepted.

Rounding out the list is difficult. Autumn and Solar Bones are possible contenders.

I'd love to see History of Wolves on the list as it has been a personal favorite, so far. I know many readers had a very different reaction to this novel, however, so it's a long shot to make the list. (And it has zero chance of winning the Prize.)

If I had to put money on six and only six titles, they'd be
1. Home Fire
2. Days Without End
3. Exit West
4. The Underground Railroad
5. Autumn

6. History of Wolves (anything's possible, right?)

Have you been reading the Man Booker nominees? Have any thoughts on who might be shortlisted?

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review 2017-09-12 16:49
Review: Days Without End
Days Without End - Sebastian Barry

The following review contains a few potential minor spoilers. In my opinion, these details do not spoil much and are established fairly early in the narrative, but I feel it's only fair to mention their inclusion for readers who desire a clean slate.

...
Initially, I struggled with believing a word of this novel. Told from the perspective of Thomas McNulty, Days Without End illustrates the setting and period in a manner that feels extremely authentic. The problem had to do with the story itself: two gay men, one who commonly wears dresses, along with their daughter, fight in the biggest American battles of the 1850s and 60s, and are generally well liked. It sounds ludicrous, does it not? Because, frankly, how many such people could there have been in those years? The more I thought about it and the deeper I read, the more I began to question my original doubt. It's not at all ludicrous. Even the part about being well liked seemed accurate as I got to know these characters. This is the biggest compliment I can give Sebastian Barry and his most recent novel—Barry took a very hard-to-sell story and made it not only convincing, but enjoyable.

Evocative of Cormac McCarthy in its blend of lyrical prose and brutal western themes, Days Without End is a different kind of story all together. It's an improbable historical novel of epic proportions in a small package. Its blend of a less-educated vernacular with gorgeous and insightful passages is hard to believe at times, but like the story itself, it works surprisingly well. Perhaps it is exactly because of the implausibility of language and story that this novel excels. Without the unique perspective and the powerful lyricism, this novel would likely be just another addition to the long list of fictional accounts of the American Civil War without anything to set it apart.

Days Without End is constantly immersed in tales of war and of family. The “war” in the novel perhaps drags on a big too much, especially considering the brevity of the novel. For my benign tastes, there were a few too many conflicts. By the time I arrived at the fourth or fifth major conflict, I didn't much care about the results. I suspected the outcome would be similar to all those that preceded it. I'd have preferred a little more time spent on the family aspect, though surely the two overlap considerably. Another reader may have hoped for the opposite.

Days Without End is one of those novels that seems so simple in so many ways that you can imagine the author whipped it out in a matter of weeks and didn't need to look back. It's short and it's straight-forward. But you can also imagine the author spent considerable time with each and every sentence. They're painstakingly beautiful, yet they smack of the language of the time and place. Whether Barry labored over the making of Days Without End or not, the talent is obvious. Here is a story that glosses over some of the rough edges of mid-nineteenth century America, but sharpens others. The result is a gritty but beautiful novel, a fable where uncertainty melts away one page at a time.


Man Booker Prize 2017:
Days Without End stands a good chance of making the shortlist, in my opinion. It's an excellent contender with a strong historical narrative. Though some readers may be turned off by its implausible themes, it is because of the superb handling of these themes that this book rises above other well-written Civil War novels. Perhaps the greatest deterrent for shortlisting Days Without End is that it is yet another book about America in a year where perhaps there are too many nominees about the American experience. I feel confident that Days Without End will be shortlisted and will be an excellent contender for the top award, but I have doubts that Barry will bring home the prize this year.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-08-14 05:15
Very violent but brilliant
Days Without End - Sebastian Barry

COSTA BOOK OF THE YEAR AWARD WINNER LONGLISTED FOR THE 2017 MAN BOOKER PRIZE "A true leftfield wonder: Days Without End is a violent, superbly lyrical western offering a sweeping vision of America in the making."—Kazuo Ishiguro, Booker Prize winning author of The Remains of the Day and The Buried Giant “A haunting archeology of youth . . . Barry introduces a narrator who speaks with an intoxicating blend of wit and wide-eyed awe, his unsettlingly lovely prose unspooling with an immigrant’s peculiar lilt and a proud boy’s humor.”—The New York Times Book Review From the two-time Man Booker Prize finalist Sebastian Barry, “a master storyteller” (Wall Street Journal), comes a powerful new novel of duty and family set against the American Indian and Civil Wars Thomas McNulty, aged barely seventeen and having fled the Great Famine in Ireland, signs up for the U.S. Army in the 1850s. With his brother in arms, John Cole, Thomas goes on to fight in the Indian Wars—against the Sioux and the Yurok—and, ultimately, the Civil War. Orphans of terrible hardships themselves, the men find these days to be vivid and alive, despite the horrors they see and are complicit in. Moving from the plains of Wyoming to Tennessee, Sebastian Barry’s latest work is a masterpiece of atmosphere and language. An intensely poignant story of two men and the makeshift family they create with a young Sioux girl, Winona, Days Without End is a fresh and haunting portrait of the most fateful years in American history and is a novel never to be forgotten.

WARNING: GRAPHIC VIOLENCE, A LOT OF IT. PLEASE HEED THE WARNING.

Review:

Dear Sebastian Barry,

Unfortunately I have not read anything else that you wrote before starting this book, but I fully intend to correct this soon. Sunita posted an essay on her blog about starting to read the books that were long listed for Man Booker Prize this year. She previously introduced me to so many amazing books so of course I briefly looked through the reviews on some of the ones she mentioned and your book caught my eye.

It mostly caught my eye before any other books on the list because one of the reviews I saw hinted that our narrator and John Cole were more than brothers in arms, that they also were lovers. I said it before – while I do not choose my reading material *solely* based on whether it has gay/bi/lesbian couple in it, it is often an extra bonus that may help me decide to pick up the book.  And honestly I was just thrilled that the book shortlisted for important literary prize also may have gay love story front and center.

So I decided that I do want to spend thirteen dollars on this book. Honestly, I do not regret one penny however what I do regret is how many readers will not read solely because they won’t be able to afford it. I know it is like shouting in the void at this point, but Hello Big Publishers, thirteen dollars for the e-book is a ridiculous price.

I warned about the violence in the beginning of my review, but it bears repeating, the book is VERY violent. I never felt that the narrative exploited the violence; that it was gratuitous, but of course opinions may differ on this one. The book deals with the genocide of Native Americans and with the Civil War and our heroes are right in the middle of the horrors because they serve in the Army at that time.  They are also complicit in some horrors and suffer from a lot of those themselves.  I did not think they were monsters, but once again opinions may differ on that, I fully realize that.

The first part of the story is especially hard to read, because it mostly deals with the war time, the second one shows some peaceful times, but it also has some very violent moments.

I thought narration was gripping. I tried to put the book down couple of times, simply because of all the killing; however I could not stand away from the book and had to go back to it and finish. However, I highly recommend getting a sample to see if the writing style works for you. Thomas is not a very educated man and his sentences are not always grammatically correct. It worked for me perfectly, but it may just as easily turn you off I think.

But you would ask me what about a love story? It is definitely there and very visible, and narrator tells us about it very matter of fact.  We do not see them agonizing over the relationship or anything like that, in fact for a little bit one would think they are just brothers in arms, but then early enough in the book we get some passages like this one :

"In the darkness as we lie side by side John Cole’s left hand snakes over under the sheets and takes a hold of my right hand. We listen to the cries of the night revelers outside and hear the horses tramping along the ways. We’re holding hands then like lovers who have just met or how we imagine lovers might be in the unknown realm where lovers act as lovers without concealment."

I believe twenty or twenty five years pass from the beginning of the book to the end, I cannot be absolutely sure and I thought Thomas and John Cole undergo significant character growth. We never hear from John Cole, Thomas is the only POV character, but I thought that through his eyes we learned everything writer wanted us to learn about John.

"How come we lying here and guarded and inside four walls and the camp lying within this wooded land and the dogs of winter biting and scraping at our limbs? What in tarnation for? John Cole just for eternal badness keeps an eye on Carthage Daly. He don’t speak for him and he don’t speak against him but he inclined to share his cornbread because the guard don’t give Carthage one tiny morsel. Not a crumb. John Cole sharing a moiety of nothing. Tears his cornbread down the middle and when no one seeing passes it to Carthage. I watch this day after day for three four months. Got to say it is a marvel how the mortal bones stand out. I can see his hip bones and his leg bones where they thicken at the knees. His arms just whittled branches from a dried-out tree. Long hours we lie close and John Cole lays his hand on my head and leaves it there. John Cole, my beau."

 

I tried very hard to stay away from the spoilers in the book. The blurb however mentions that at some point these two acquire an adoptive daughter Winona ( no I am not going to tell you how two men in the 19 century America acquired an adoptive daughter, but I will say that it all made sense to me).  I want to end with this comment from Thomas and assure you that while the book is not genre Romance and there is a lot of tragedy in it, the ending for the main characters is quite hopeful without needing to imagine anything and if you read carefully it is even more hopeful than I originally thought.

"My heart is full of Winona but also John Cole. How come we got to have Winona? I don’t know. We been through many slaughters, John Cole and me. But I am as peaceful and easy now as I ever been. Fear flies off and my box of thoughts feels light.”

 

Grade: A.

I doubt I would ever be able to reread this book ( maybe bits and pieces), but I thought it was nothing short of brilliance.

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text 2017-07-15 03:24
Librarian help needed - Book attributed to the wrong author
Who Buries the Dead - C.S. Harris

The book page for this ISBN (978-0-451-418128) lists the author as Jack C. Harris instead of C.S. Harris.

 

EDIT: It's fixed now! Thanks!

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-07-06 04:46
Really liked
The Ruin of a Rake - Cat Sebastian

Rogue. Libertine. Rake. Lord Courtenay has been called many things and has never much cared. But after the publication of a salacious novel supposedly based on his exploits, he finds himself shunned from society. Unable to see his nephew, he is willing to do anything to improve his reputation, even if that means spending time with the most proper man in London.

Julian Medlock has spent years becoming the epitome of correct behavior. As far as he cares, if Courtenay finds himself in hot water, it’s his own fault for behaving so badly—and being so blasted irresistible. But when Julian’s sister asks him to rehabilitate Courtenay’s image, Julian is forced to spend time with the man he loathes—and lusts after—most.

As Courtenay begins to yearn for a love he fears he doesn’t deserve, Julian starts to understand how desire can drive a man to abandon all sense of propriety. But he has secrets he’s determined to keep, because if the truth came out, it would ruin everyone he loves. Together, they must decide what they’re willing to risk for love.

Review:

Dear Cat Sebastian,

I was intrigued by Simon’s uncle Lord Courtenay when he showed up at the end of last book, but I absolutely adored him by the time I finished this story.

I thought that Courtenay seemed eager to have close relationship with his little nephew Simon again at the end of the second book. I also thought that Lawrence would be okay with that, considering that Lawrence really was a kind man underneath of that rough exterior.

Alas, as blurb tells us somebody wrote a novel which was going around in London high society and the villain was easily recognizable to everybody and supposedly based on Courtenay’s ( he really did prefer his last name and if I had the name Jeremiah, I may have preferred the last name too ) erotic exploits. I kind of could not blame Lawrence for not wanting Simon anywhere near his uncle if the book contained grain of truth.

Courtenay however has at least one good friend in London – Elleanor whom the readers of the series may remember as Lawrence’s friend as well. Elleanor knows that Lawrence is not a monster and as long as his worries about Courtenay’s behavior will disappear he won’t keep Simon away from Courtenay. So she is asking her brother Jullian to “rehabilitate” Courtenay so to speak – basically to reenter him in the polite society. Julian is not too eager to do that for several reasons, but agrees for his sister’s sake.

Initially both men do not particularly care for each other. Julian, young as he is, is a skillful businessman and even more skillful at manipulating people. He mostly applies his talents for good causes (as he sees them) but he is also used to keep himself and his desires under the tight leash or so he thinks.

“How old were you when your grandfather died and you took over? I’ve done the sums in my head but I can’t make you out to have been anything more than a child.” “Sixteen.” “You were a child, then.” Courtenay said, staring at him curiously. Julian felt his breath hitch. “I was never a child!” He hadn’t meant it to sound so vehement, so angry. But he hadn’t had any kind of childhood, not when it was divided between the sickroom and the counting house. Courtenay didn’t look surprised, though. He nodded, as if to indicate that he had guessed as much, or that he commiserated without the need for further elaboration."

Courtenay really is a nice guy who after the death of his sister, Simon’s mother holds himself personally responsible for her death and at some point he just decided that since society thinks of him the certain way he must act the certain way (as a rake that is).

I thought the author did a great job with showing how these two people slowly fall for each other. Oh there is a sexual attraction between them which happens pretty fast. However what I liked the best was watching how their perception of each other changed and how both of them kept noticing the best qualities of each other instead of the worst and how all of this lead to them becoming each other’s favorite person.

"Medlock never looked better than when he was telling people what to do. He wasn’t precisely handsome, nor even striking or any of the other adjectives people used to describe men with unconventional looks. No, Medlock was the opposite of striking. He was aggressively neutral. But the way he moved, the way he spoke, the things he said—Courtenay’s heart thumped in his chest whenever he caught a look at the man. He was aware of a growing conviction that Medlock looked precisely the way he wanted a man to look like, whatever that even meant."

To me this story comes as close as being a perfect romance as they go. This is no small feat considering that more often than not I am tempted by the book full of action and intrigue, where guys are saving the world or investigate mystery, in other worlds where the relationship at least shares the spotlight with action/adventure storyline if not cedes the spotlight to it. In this story “saving the world” may briefly show up as Courtenay realizing that as the member of rich and privileged class he may have to do more to help the poor in Great Britain, but otherwise the development of the relationship is what the book is about and I really enjoyed it.

I thought the story was relatively low angst and that is something I was perfectly okay with, but beware if you like angstier books. I thought it made perfect sense that even when they argued; they could not stay away from each other when trouble came, but I am curious to see what other readers will think.

I thought sex scenes were great – funny, erotic, sometimes a little awkward. More importantly sex felt like organic part of their love story, not something author inserted in the book just for the sake of it.

"“How did you manage to debauch yourself so completely if you can’t even tell me what you want?” “I have to say, Med—Julian, that most people, when confronted with my naked, tied up, obviously aroused body would have a pretty good idea of what to do with it.” Julian narrowed his eyes. “I think you usually give people what they want. And, because you’re basically a hedonist with a broad range of tastes, you enjoy yourself perfectly well despite never articulating what you actually crave. Is that how things usually work for you? You just sort of drift into these situations and then drift through them?” Courtenay was silent for a moment, as if he had never considered the matter in that light. “Well, yes?” “There will be no drifting tonight. Now, tell me about what you require for your pleasure.” “I require . . . Oh, kiss me, you maniacal bastard.” Julian crawled up his body and by the time his lips were near Courtenay’s he was smiling too broadly to manage anything like a proper kiss. Instead he pressed his silly, uncooperative mouth to Courtenay’s and then buried his face in Courtenay’s neck. “I’m glad you’re amused,” Courtenay said, but he had been smiling too. “But I still want that kiss.” Julian lifted his head and kissed Courtenay fully, rewarding him for having said what he wanted. He bit Courtenay’s lip, then licked it, then thoroughly tasted Courtenay’s mouth, as if kissing was the point. That was what Courtenay had asked for, and so it was the point."

Oh and there were kittens too. How could you not like kittens?

 

““Thank you.” Julian tried not to read too much into the gesture. Sugar syrup in one’s medicine did not constitute a declaration of love, or even a truce. He lifted a feeble hand to pet the sleeping kitten. It was still at the fragile stage of early kittenhood, all bones and fluff. “Do you want me to take the cat away?” “No.” “Good, because the two of you look adorable, and besides, there are two other kittens hiding in the bookcase, waiting for their chance to stake their claim.” Julian squirmed. He knew he didn’t look anything close to adorable.

He was sweaty and disheveled and wearing nothing but one of Standish’s borrowed nightshirts. He could smell himself, which was never a good sign. Courtenay, meanwhile, was reprehensibly handsome in his evening clothes, even after a night of sitting in a sickroom. Julian thought he’d never get used to the stark fact of Courtenay’s beauty. Or, rather, he never would have, in a world where he was given the chance to find out. “The kitten was probably cold,” he said, stroking one of the cat’s impossibly tiny ears. “And I’m the warmest thing in the room. It would be mean-spirited for me to send him away.” Courtenay touched Julian’s brow. “Not as hot as you were when I brought you here. Perhaps you’re recovering?”"

Grade : B+

 

 

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