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Candace Siegle, Greedy Reader RSS Feed (So Cal)

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Bandbox: A Novel
Bandbox: A Novel
by Thomas Mallon
Edition: Hardcover
82 used & new from $0.04

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Chase your blues away, January 13, 2004
This review is from: Bandbox: A Novel (Hardcover)
What dizzy fun! Thomas Mallon takes his usual historic care with a period, but lets the 1920s fizz and roar with humor and spot-on observations. Bandbox (as in "he looks just like he stepped out of a . . .") is a fashion magazine for men. Only recently B'box, as the press calls it, was a fading rag for the lavender crowd, but then editor Jehosephat Harris (known as Joe or 'Phat) added top fiction, adventure, crime writing and romantic tips for single men and this new style mag has turned the New York magazine scene on its ear. Joe Harris was at the top of the world until his second-in-command was lured away by Conde Nast to start rival men's magazine Cutaway. Jimmy Gordon is now trying anything he can to ruin Bandbox, and it looks like he's doing a good job.
The Bandbox staff is a combination of the ambitious (who may be spying for Gordon), the disillusioned, the creative, the artistic, and those on the wagon, and those off the wagon. The women on staff, reveling in the opportunities the new decade has offered them, are probably the most competent, but even they are as wacky as all get out There's a lot of drinking, making payoffs to cops, avoiding gangsters, writing snappy prose, and trading quips. Bandbox must be saved, but with every strategy backfiring in their faces, it looks as though our beloved staffers may be seeking jobs at places like Catholic World before long.
Mallon builds plenty of momentum and enough suspense to keep you guessing at the fate of the magazine and its dedicated staff up until the very end. The unforced dialogue has the true ring of the 20's and is fun to follow. The female characters especially are believable and fun, filled with the heady excitement from the new freedom women enjoyed after the first World War. Some of the male characters take longer to gel and it is necessary to keep checking back to see who they are.
This is frisky, charming book where the madcap 20s roar with fun. As silent movie star Marion Davies later observed with a sigh, "What times we had."-----Candace Siegle

Saul and Patsy: A Novel
Saul and Patsy: A Novel
by Charles Baxter
Edition: Hardcover
126 used & new from $0.01

9 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not disappointing., January 9, 2004
The number of reviewers who passionately disliked this book makes me wonder what they were expecting, or if they just weren't in the mood for this kind of book. "Saul and Patsy" is a very well-done novel that keeps your attention throughout, even though there's something a little, I don't know, uncomfortable about the couple's decision to relocate to a small town in rural Michigan. There's something a little off-putting about these two and their choices that is hard to put your finger on.
"Saul and Patsy" does have the sense of having been worked up from short stories, notably because characters who have already been introduced get the full intro treatment several times, as if this were the first time you were meeting them. Besides this small annoyance, it is hard to pick out where the stories were knitted into the larger novel.
I looked forward to "Saul and Patsy," which, after all, is what reading a good book should be all about.

Someone to Run With: A Novel (Sifriyah Ha-Hadashah Li-Menuyim, 2000 (1).)
Someone to Run With: A Novel (Sifriyah Ha-Hadashah Li-Menuyim, 2000 (1).)
by David Grossman
Edition: Hardcover
47 used & new from $0.01

22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars All at once gritty and magical, January 2, 2004
Assaf is not having a good summer. His parents have had to make an emergency trip to America, leaving him behind at a really boring job at Jersusalem City Hall. His best friend, whom he's protected from bullies since first grade, is suddenly the most popular boy in school and only willing to hang out with Assaf if Assaf joins him in activities Assaf would rather avoid. Missing his family and hopelessly bored at his make-work job, the moony sixteen-year-old is bewildered when his supervisor hands him the leash of the most disruptive dog in the animal shelter and tells him to go find the owner and hand that person a big citation for letting the yellow Labrador run loose. Suddenly, Assaf is being hauled all over town by an excited dog who seems to know exactly where she is going. Throughout the day he collects bits and pieces of information about the dog's owner, another sixteen-year-old who may be in trouble. He is determined to find this girl and return her beloved dog to her.
Across town, Tamar is a girl on a much more dangerous mission: to save a drug-addicted boy from an underworld impresario who sends talented runaway kids to perform on street corners across Israel, taking their earnings in return for drugs and a place to crash. The yellow Lab, Dinka, is her dog. How did they become separated? What is innocent Assaf getting involved in here? Who is the boy Tamar is trying to rescue?
I found this the most enjoyable of the David Grossman novels I've read. The translation by Vered Almog and Maya Gurantz is so fluid that "Someone to Run With" reads as though it was originally written in English. We get a look at a number of aspects of modern Israeli society from runaway and homeless teenagers to Assaf's close working-class family; from a cloistered nun to the mafia; from a big city that can still seem like a small town to wastelands where abandoned kids lie in ragged shelters. With skill and heart, Goodman shows, rather than tells us the differences and disparity in Israeli society. This enlightening adventure will satisfy both adult and older teen readers. ----Candace Siegle

One Last Look
One Last Look
by Susanna Moore
Edition: Hardcover
132 used & new from $0.01

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Marvelous, December 5, 2003
This review is from: One Last Look (Hardcover)
Susanna Moore used the letters and diaries of three Englishwomen in India at the time of the Great Game with Russia as basis for this novel, sometimes using their actual words. The result is a sly, funny, sad, and moving story of transformation and Empire.
Eleanor Oliphant, her sister, and cousin, accompany her brother to India in 1836. The King has appointed brother Henry Governor-General of the colony to help the noble Oliphants after the loss of the family fortune. After all, everyone gets rich in India. The four have been very close all their lives (Eleanor and Henry's relationship is certainly too close) and remain unmarried in their twenties and thirties.
The story starts with Eleanor's second diary, the first having been ruined during the nightmarish trip on the Jupiter, a wretched ship that takes on a great deal of water. "Rather that we were shipped to Botany Bay on a ship full of Irish poachers than this," Eleanor writes. "At least we'd have the pleasure of a little felony."
They arrive in a hellishly hot Calcutta and settle into Government House. There are mobs of servants (her dog has a servant, the servants have servants, there's someone whose job it is to blow on tea to cool it) and shocking insects. Her sister Harriet is enchanted by it all, but Eleanor begins to disintegrate in the heat along with their paintings, books, and clothes. She dabbles in various drugs. She smokes a hookah. Red-faced and frizzy, she presides over sweaty events of state. She also finds her respect for Indians increasing, and her respect for the English decreasing.
Henry is not having a successful Governorship. To prop up his failing rule, so he takes his show on the road, a three-year trek to the Punjab that includes ten thousand soldiers and servants, elephants, sedan chairs, tents, exotic pets, Harriet, Eleanor, and cousin Lafayette. The trek coincides with several unfortunate British misadventures in Afghanistan made all the more horrible by what the Oliphants are learning about India, English rule, and themselves on this trip.
Susanna Moore is right on the mark with every word. You dive into this world and it sweeps you away. Forget the romantic Raj-everyone in this world is addled and raddled by trying to be English in this climate. And yet, "One Last Look" is a breath of fresh air.

The Colour
The Colour
by Rose Tremain
Edition: Hardcover
104 used & new from $0.01

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Strange New World (4.5 stars), December 5, 2003
This review is from: The Colour (Hardcover)
At the opening of "The Colour," John Blackstone, his mother Lilian and wife Harriet, are huddled in their mud house, shivering through a freezing New Zealand gale. The cob house is especially drafty and cold because John would not listen to anyone's advice and has placed the house in the most disadvantageous place possible. You know from the start that this trio is in for trouble.
After the death of his debt-ridden father, John sells everything remaining when the debt collectors are done with it and takes his mother and new bride to the opposite side of the world for a fresh start. It is the mid-19th century and New Zealand seems as good a place as any to start a farm. But John's decisions are weirdly off-kilter, making everything even harder than it need be. Lilian plots her escape, and Harriet wonders what happened to the fleeting bliss she and her new husband knew while preparing to emigrate. Something is wrong here, something that is exacerbated by the discovery of gold-"the colour" of the title.
This is a rich and mysterious novel, a place where grueling days of sodbusting meet the cloudy mountains of a dreamtime. Rose Tremain has the ability to imbue her story with the kind of deep emotion that cannot be described and do it in a most readable fashion. The setting and the characters of "The Colour " all ring true, including the mystical ties between an English child and a Maori woman. This is an worthy addition to Rose Tremain's earlier novels, which are worth checking out if you haven't done so already. Her books are notable for their strong historical detail and unusual emotional frisson. ---Reviewed by Candace Siegle

The Touch
The Touch
by Colleen McCullough
Edition: Hardcover
239 used & new from $0.01

39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Dang Good Read, November 30, 2003
This review is from: The Touch (Hardcover)
Ignore the silly cover and you will find a well-written, enjoyable historical romance by someone who knows how to do this kind of thing very well. Actually, "The Touch" is not quite a romance (I seem to have been influenced by the yearning profile on the cover as well) but something more interesting. Read on.
Rich goldminer and entrepreneur Alexander Kinross writes to a Scottish relative for a bride. He gets Elizabeth Drummond, who at 16 has lived a joyless life. Alexander is handsome and charismatic, but contrary to what might be expected, she is repelled by him. He's sorry she doesn't like him, but since he has a very satisfactory mistress all he expects of Elizabeth is that she do her duty. Although she lives in a grand house opulently furnished, Elizabeth's life in Australia is as repressed as her life in Scotland was. That is, until she meets Ruby, her husband's mistress.
Ruby and Alexander love each other deeply, but the fact that she runs a suspect hotel and has a son by a Chinese businessman means no wedding bells for them. Next to Alexander, Ruby is the town's most influential citizen (with her Chinese ex-lover a close third), so it is certain that Elizabeth and Ruby will meet. They do, and like each other immediately.
This fine how-do-you-do is the crux of an entertaining story that will have you looking forward to the next chapter. Set between 1872 and 1900, this booming period of Australian history provides a lively background for the appealing characters' surprising but believable lives. It is a pleasure to see Colleen McCullough back at the sort of fiction which flows from her pen so easily as to seem almost organic. Unlike her Roman series where historical detail began to smother characterization and action, `The Touch" is bound to please from first page to last.

Pompeii: A Novel
Pompeii: A Novel
by Robert Harris
Edition: Hardcover
390 used & new from $0.01

55 of 59 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars History overshadows characterization, November 19, 2003
This review is from: Pompeii: A Novel (Hardcover)
Everybody thinks they know about the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius at Pompeii--79 AD . . .rivers of bubbling magma . . .citizens immortalized in pleading poses for all eternity by ash . . .the heedless rich getting their comeuppance from nature. Those basics are true, but Robert Harris reminds us that the eruption of Vesuvius was much more than that. It remains one of history's greatest and most dramatic disaster stories, and we know a great deal about it because one of the Roman Empire's greatest historians was there to write a blow-by-blow record of the destruction; and although Pliny did not survive, his report did.

Pompeii and Herculaneum were the Malibu and Santa Barbara of Rome. In the hot August of 79 AD, tourists were swarming to the cool coast to enjoy the luxury accommodations, crystal swimming pools, and elegant spas of the bayside resorts. Marcus Attilius is there too, but he's not there to enjoy the occasional cool breeze, he's there to work as the new aquarius of the Aqua Augusta--the new water engineer in charge of the enormous aqueduct that brings endless water flowing to the nine towns around the Bay of Naples. Springs are failing for the first time in centuries and the flow of water is being disrupted to hundreds of thousands of people. Attilius' family has worked on the great aqueducts for generations, but even he is bewildered by the cause of this crisis somewhere along the Aqua Augusta's sixty-mile line--a line that stretches along the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius.

The Roman aqueducts were an amazing feat, and Harris describes their workings in great detail. He does an excellent job of showing, not telling, and through Attilius and his crew he weaves an incredible amount of information into the narrative and it is fascinating. Also excellently done is his description of the various effects of the eruption--which lasted several days--where he uses Pliny's observation of the event of excellent effect. Pliny, historian and general, was also a very fat and cranky old man by 79 AD. He took one of his ships out into the bay to watch and record the devastation from what he thought was a safe distance. But too soon the ships in the bay were in danger from the roiling waves and huge chunks of pumice flying down off the mountain. Pliny had his scribes don helmets and take down his descriptions as clods of pumice bounced off the old general's uncovered head--"The pumice is less like rock than airy fragments of a frozen cloud." he dictates. "It floats on the surface of the sea like lumps of ice. Extraordinary!" Eventually it would clog the bay and begin to crush ships. Pliny knew he was too heavy and unsteady to escape the final firestorm from Vesuvius and ordered his scribes to save themselves and his precious reportage. Fortunately they did, and Robert Harris puts Pliny's observation to fine use in this novel.

Harris is a workmanlike writer with the gift of being able to integrate complicated information into a believable narrative. That's what made "Enigma" and "Fatherland" so interesting, and what works for "Pompeii." The characters are take second place to the setting, and are not particularly exciting. However, they respond to the extraordinary circumstances around them in ways that are completely consistent with their characterizations. It is the same with Harris' establishment of place. He offers no special explanations of Rome, but builds it all into the action. As a result the Roman world seems very immediate and almost modern.

The Arbogast Case: A Novel
The Arbogast Case: A Novel
by Thomas Hettche
Edition: Hardcover
35 used & new from $0.01

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tense, strange, good., November 10, 2003
Hans Arbogast picks up Marie Gurst on a German country road in 1953. He is a traveling salesman, she a refugee from East Germany living in a displaced person's camp. The two enjoy some rough sex during which Marie inexplicably dies. Did he kill her? Less than ten years after the end of WWII, Germans were sick of perversions but not ready to challenge the report by a leading forensic scientist. Hans goes to prison for life where he remains for sixteen years. A journalist and a novelist become interested in his case and bring an East German forensic scientist to the West to offer another scenario for what might have happened on that warm September afternoon.
The Arbogast case was a sensational crime of its time, and Thomas Hettche has written a compelling and creepy novel. If you like action and big climaxes, you won't find them here. This is a very subtle novel of psychological suspense, written with just the right tone and given a sharp, immediate translation by Elizabeth Gaffney. If "The Arbogast Case" is typical of Hettche's writing, his other novels should find eager readers in the U.S.

The Way to Paradise: A Novel
The Way to Paradise: A Novel
by Mario Vargas Llosa
Edition: Hardcover
110 used & new from $0.01

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Struggle to Paradise, November 6, 2003
If Mario Vargas Llosa had not lost the election to Alberto Fujimori in the late 1980s and had become president of Peru, it's interesting to imagine how that country would be faring today. What we do know is that the literary world would have missed this writer of intelligent, politically-influenced fiction. With "Feast of the Goat" and now with "The Way to Paradise," Vargas Llosa turns his astute gaze to Europe and the Pacific, and demonstrates that he can write masterfully about cultures and countries other than his own.
In the new book he traces the life of painter Paul Gauguin and his grandmother, the socialist feminist Flora Tristan. Set in France and the South Pacific with a brief sojourn in Peru, he charts the courses of two related people who never knew each other, and whose lives were similar in that they found the conventions of their times impossible to live with.
Flora Tristan grew up in poverty as the illegitimate daughter of a French mother and a Peruvian father. Her marriage was abusive and she escaped her husband to reinvent herself as a popular writer and campaigner for workers' rights. Despite failing health, she tours the small towns of France recruiting members for her Workers' Union. Her grandson Paul abandons his large family and friendship with other painters to escape to Tahiti to paint. Riddled with syphilis, his health is failing as well.
Natasha Wimmer's translation is excellent. There are scenes that glow with the golden light of Arles or sting with the scent of the sea. Where "Paradise" misses the mark is through an irritating literary device where rhetorical questions or comments are made of the characters in the second person: "Was it because of the woman in Panama that your vision was weakened, your heart was failing, and your legs were covered with pustules?" or: "You would later remember those two hours of absurd debate, Florita." You get the idea. It adds nothing to the narrative and is a jarringly false step from such a sure-footed writer.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 17, 2007 7:34 AM PST

The Time Traveler's Wife
The Time Traveler's Wife
by Audrey Niffenegger
Edition: Hardcover
190 used & new from $0.01

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Quality, October 29, 2003
It's nice to see a book of this caliber make so many best seller lists. And who can resist the story of a small publisher taking a big risk on this novel and having it pay off?
I passed "The Time Traveler's Wife" up several times because I was afraid it was going to be a mess. You've got nearly 500 pages of a very crafty plot. The main character slips in and out of time. No, he does not find himself on the starship Enterprise on one page and in a thicket in ancient Gaul on the next. This is more subtle. His time slips are of a few years, months, or even weeks. Sometimes he runs into himself at another age. Clare, whom he meets as a child, knows they will be together, but she is stuck on a regular time line. The possibilities for muddle are myriad, but somehow Audrey Niffenegger keeps it straight and keeps you involved.
Nonetheless some canny editing would have helped the story--Henry ends up naked on a strange street (which happens when he time travels) a few too many times. But just about the time you're ready to say "oh, no,not again," Niffenegger beings the tale to a satisfying close.
Imaginative and enjoyable, "The Time Traveler's Wife" is worthy of the fanfare and will please readers of multiple genres.

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