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review 2018-05-05 06:00
The Last Bookaneer
The Last Bookaneer - Matthew Pearl

I'm always interested in books about books, and this book tells about the final days of the bookaneers, people who stole manuscripts from writers for publishers, which is coming to an end with the introduction of copyrights. The main characters try one final time to get their hands on the latest book by Robert Louis Stevenson, which he was writing all the way in Samoa.

The premise was really interesting, but in the execution there was something that didn't really work out. The writing and most of the story were really slow, and there is a lot that doesn't really add to it. It was interesting and kept me entertained, but I felt it was too long for the story it told. I think with the concept of bookaneers, more books could be written (apparently there's at least one more, which features some of the characters from The Last Bookaneer).

Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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review 2018-04-28 17:48
The Last Bookaneer - Matthew Pearl

Copyright laws are to go into effect on both sides of the Atlantic.  Bookaneers are book pirates who steal from authors, booksellers, current owners and give to buyers who have hired them.  It is learned that Robert Louis Stevenson is dying and working on his seemingly last book and the most elite bookaneers are after the book. 


I loved this book.  How imaginative!  I like the glimpse into Stevenson's life in Samoa.  I also like how the story is told--past and present (present being 1890's.)  Characters abound--all flawed.  I rooted for Davenport but was shocked by all their endings.  Excellent storytelling.  I was grabbed from the beginning and held on for the ride.  A keeper!

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text 2016-10-07 17:13
2016 Mass Book Awards!
A Head Full of Ghosts: A Novel - Paul Tremblay
Only the Strong - Jabari Asim
Honey from the Lion - Matthew Neill Null
The Muralist - B.A. Shapiro
The Secret Chord: A Novel - Geraldine Brooks
The Rumor: A Novel - Elin Hilderbrand
The Marriage of Opposites - Alice Hoffman
Bird - Noy Holland
On Hurricane Island - Ellen Meeropol
The Last Bookaneer - Matthew Pearl

For those of you who heard me make allusion to a book award that I was involved with, I can finally actually talk about it!  The winners for the 2016 Mass Book Awards have been announced!

2016 Winners: A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay, Rosemary:The Hidden Kennedy Daughter by Kate Clifford Larson, Immortality by Alan Feldman, The Thing About Jellyfish and Ketzel by Ali Benjamin, the Cat who Composed by Leslea Newman

This was loads of fun, if a bit chaotic.  I read a lot, but I read for several book clubs as well as review copies furnished by publishers... on top of any personal reading I want to do.  Shoehorning in a box of 12 books to read over about two months was plausible but required me to actually schedule reading.  Also, since I can't have one crazy thing in my life this also overlapped almost perfectly with the two month period from putting in an offer on a house to closing, as well as moving from part-time to full-time at my library.

I took part along with several others as judges for Adult Fiction, with the purpose of whittling down the long list (the 12 finalists) to one Winner and three Honors.  Some of the books were very easy to eliminate from the running, others took some dithering.  The winner stood out to all of us.

I do want to stress that just because I don't think highly of a book doesn't mean it's bad, just not for me.  Every book on the list already made it through a screening and narrowing down process, and we had to pull apart and rate them.  They all have their merits.

And now, the books and some thoughts from me on them.

A Head Full of Ghosts / Paul Tremblay (WINNER)
I didn't think I was going to like this book.  All three of us went into it with some trepidation, none of us were particularly into Horror, and everything about this book from the cover, to the synopsis, to the praise from other authors, said we were holding a horror novel in our hands.

And we loved it.

A Head Full of Ghosts isn't a book where the horror is a monster that goes bump in the night or a murderous villain in the dark.  Rather we get a self-aware book that exposes the horror genre while revealing itself.  The horror here is in misunderstanding and maltreatment of mental illness and in the exploitation of celebrity culture.  Don't go in with preconceptions of what the story is, let it show you.

Only the Strong / Jabari Asim (Honors)
I only fell in love with two books out of the twelve, and this was one of them.  Asim delivers masterful use of language and flawless shifting between narratives and narrators as the story comes full circle.  Read this book.

Honey From the Lion / Matthew Neill Null (Honors)
This book didn't work for me as a novel, but it definitely worked for the other to judges.  And even if I couldn't get into the book doesn't mean that it can't appreciate the craft of it.  Historical fiction tangled up in post-Civil War economics and environmentalism.

The Muralist / B. A. Shapiro (Honors)
Eminently readable and excellent as a book club pick.  The Muralist searches for the life of an artist in the center of the Abstract Expressionism movement.  A descendant seeking proof of a family legend and a young woman seeking to save her family from the Holocaust.  The story treats famous figures with a balance of respect and familiarity, and is very relateable to the ongoing discussions around immigration and refugees.

The Secret Chord / Geraldine Brooks (Long List)
Very close to making the Honors list.  Brooks is undeniably a skilled writer and she rose to the challenge of taking on historical figures of legend as the central story.  This book posed a challenge to me due to a general skittishness of anything I connect with my escaped childhood within the Church, and to due to my general skepticism when approaching novels about such significant figures.

The Rumor / Elin Hilderbrand (Long List)
I have discovered that I'm not a fan of Hilderbrand's writing.  I understand that her novels are incredibly popular beach reads, but they're just not for me.  This book is made up of characters who desperately need hobbies.  If I wanted this level of drama I'd read Sweet Valley High.

A Marriage of Opposites / Alice Hoffman (Long List)
Well written, but after deep investment in one character it jarringly switches half-way through to a different one.  In many ways your standard Hoffman novel, including possibly magical romance.

Bird / Noy Holland (Long List)
I still can't decide if I like or really dislike this one.  I could see what it was working towards, and there's a level of brilliance in the writing, but at the same time I was left wondering what I was reading.

On Hurricane Island / Ellen Meeropol (Long List)
Very timely novel, but suffers from too many individual story lines and perhaps not enough editing. 
It started out with a good rating, but that dropped a bit as I read.  I personally feel that a "civillian Gitmo" off the coast of Maine misses the whole point of Guantanamo being off US soil, and various other plot wholes just niggled at me too much.  The main villain was a mustache away from being Snidely Whiplash, and the sexual assault he perpetrated (as well as his extended daydreaming about it) was really hard for me to stomach (which is partially the point, but I also have issues with how sexual assault and rape is generally written about).
Complaints aside, it was well worth the read.

The Last Bookaneer / Matthew Pearl (Long List)
Pre-copyright book pirates sounds like an amazing premise to me.  Conceptually a great novel, but it failed to deliver on the action and adventure we hoped for.  Neat read, but drawn out.

Honeydew / Edith Pearlman (Long List)
Short story collections are hard.  As Helen Ellis says, "'For a collection of short stories' is the 'For your age' of the book world."  Overall this collection to me was made up of slice-of-life stories that failed at their hoped for intimacy.

Find Me / Laura Van Den Berg (Long List)
This book delivers a fresh take on the pandemic story line, told with a deliberately wandering and confused narrative.  Perhaps bordering on YA in tone, but a solid read.
Source: libromancersapprentice.blogspot.com/2016/10/2016-mass-book-awards.html
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review 2015-07-22 00:49
A book for booklovers!
The Last Bookaneer - Matthew Pearl
A bookaneer is someone who steals the works of authors to make them readily available to the reading public, thereby insuring that they are not rationed by cost or availability or by the haphazard selections made by publishers, booksellers and authors. Some are motivated by profit and some by the written word and the need to present those ideas to the greater world at large. They believe their cause is noble and do not view it as stealing. They are a dying breed of men as copyright laws are soon to be passed which will put an end to their so-called profession.
In the last decade of the 19th century, Clover was a young man of 20 who worked on the railroad. He became friendly with a bookseller named Mr. Fergins. Fergins was an Englishman who sold books from a cart that he wheeled through the train for the passengers’ and employees’ enjoyment. Mr. Clover was a reader, and he looked forward to his visits, anticipating them with great expectation. He often borrowed books from him, returning them when the bookseller reappeared on another train. For the information of the reader, Clover is a man of color and there are some comments regarding discrimination, throughout the book, but Fergins in this regard is totally without blame.

One day, while walking in New York City, Clover encountered the bookseller. Mr. Fergins was on his way to the courthouse where he had an appointment. Clover kept him company, but when he got there, he witnessed something in the courtroom which piqued his curiosity about the bookseller and which gnawed at his memory even afterwards. Clover overheard a prisoner speak to the bookseller in a strange tongue. When he asked hiim what the bedraggled prisoner had said to him, he claimed ignorance and shortly disappeared without a word, leaving Fergins wondering what he was doing there, especially when he did not return.

This brief scene leads to a conversation with the bookseller, at a later date, in which Fergins confesses to Mr. Clover about how he came to know the prisoner and explains what he was doing in the courtroom. When Fergins was a younger man, he had a book stall from which he sold books. Because of that, he came in contact with many men involved in stealing the words of authors, men called bookaneers. One such bookaneer, one of the best, lures him into an adventure to find the last manuscript that Robert Lewis Stevenson will ever write, in an effort to spirit it away and allow it to be published for the general public’s enjoyment. He does not believe he is doing this for profit, but rather for altruistic desires; he is doing it for mankind. Fergins is seduced to travel to Samoa with Mr. Davenport, the bookaneer, and it is a wild journey that takes the tale to its conclusion which, I think, will be a surprise for every reader.
Many famous authors are mentioned in the narrative, as are their works, while the two of them pursue the manuscript that is at that moment being written. They are competing with another famous bookaneer, named Belial, who worked at this simply for profit, not altruism, and their parallel experiences create havoc and danger in their lives. It was interesting to read about how cold-blooded these bookaneers could be when they searched for material to steal and also to read many tidbits about Stevenson’s way of life on the Island of Samoa.

Stevenson was a frail man in failing health. He was actually on the island because of its recuperative powers. His wife Fanny was with him as were her two children, Lloyd and Belle. The two, Fergins and Clover, ingratiated themselves with the family, playing roles that hid their true purpose for being on the island. The bookaneer took on another identity, calling himself Mr. Porter, a writer of travel books, while Mr. Fergins retained his true name and identity as a bookseller. Eventually, when they are invited to stay at Mr. Stevenson’s home, they proceed to do their dirty work under the guise of other pursuits. Tragedy and punishments are meted out carelessly in Samoa and they are both witnesses to and subjects of both.

For some odd reason, Mr. Fergins did not resent the bookaneers, though he should have since they competed with him, and largely resented him as a provider of selected reading materials for those who could pay for them, and also because they were decidedly dishonest. He neither condemned nor accepted them, but rather he admired their efforts to put a greater variety of books into the hands of the many, even if their ways were unscrupulous. He seemed to truly love books. In the end, the reader will wonder if he truly did, will wonder about his real nature and purpose, will wonder about Mr. Davenport’s ultimate end, and will also wonder about Mr. Clover’s reaction to the story Mr. Fergins told him about the path of his life. The reader may also raise their eyes in surprise at the conclusion and ultimate revelations.
*On a current note: it would appear with the current controversy over Amazon’s online bookselling practices, that there is still a competitive atmosphere among the readers, the authors, the publishers and the booksellers. Is the author the ultimate loser in the end, when readers are either provided with the material for free or at low cost? Are they better off when some readers are eliminated from the reading pool because of a lack of access to books or because of too high a cost? Is price control the answer? Who should make more money, the publisher, the author or the bookseller? If the booksellers are the bottom rung of this ladder, they will bear all of the carrying charges for those above them, as well as their own. Will they survive? It doesn't bode well for them, right now; how will it bode in the future? In the end, will it be the reader that suffers the most from a lack of material or from a spate of material with only the point of view the publishers wish to promote? Who will be able to bear the cost of selling books? Will we all be subjected to skewed information because it is so controlled by the profit motive? It is quite the conundrum!
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review 2015-05-12 00:00
The Last Bookaneer
The Last Bookaneer - Matthew Pearl Review of an ARC Copy

So.. First I have to say that I absolutely adored "The Dante Club"and really liked "The Poe Shadow". "The Last Bookaneer" though did not live up to my expectations. It is well written, Matthew Pearl is a good writer, but sadly I felt that he did not pull all he could out of the interesting premise he sought for his novel. At times I felt as if the book had been artificially lengthened and that it would greatly profit from a more severe editing. Some parts were boring and did not add anything significant to the storytelling. On the positive I found the characters well crafted, which did not surprise me because I think this is one of Mr Pearls's greatest talent.
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