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Customer Reviews: 138
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Helpful Votes: 2010

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Richard Pittman RSS Feed (Toronto, ON Canada)

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Snowdrops: A Novel
Snowdrops: A Novel
by Andrew Miller
Edition: Hardcover
146 used & new from $0.01

6 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Man Booker Longlist? 2.5 stars, August 10, 2011
This review is from: Snowdrops: A Novel (Hardcover)
I didn't particularly dislike this book but I found it lacking. It's sort of a grifter/thriller type novel and mostly unexceptional.

Nicholas Platt is a British lawyer in his late 30s working on financing deals in Moscow. He is naive and gets involved with some beautiful 20 something year old Russian girls with expected results. I don't think a spoiler is required as Platt, the narrator is open from the beginning that things don't go well.

It would never have occurred to me that this would be nominated for the Booker Prize. It's an okay thriller.

The author was a correspondent in Russia in the mid 2000s and the portrayal of Moscow was definitely interesting and I assume it was also accurate.

I read the book very quickly though the sting does drag on a bit.

I don't quite recommend it.

The Sisters Brothers: A Novel
The Sisters Brothers: A Novel
by Patrick deWitt
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.15
97 used & new from $0.01

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fast paced and Coenesque, August 10, 2011
I read a review on this and the reviewer indicated this was a book that would translate well into a Coen film. I think that's a very astute observation. It's strange at times, sweet at times and has a very casual and matter of fact approach to violence.

It's set between Oregon and San Francisco in the 1850s. The brothers of the title are stone cold killers Eli and Charlie Sisters. Eli is the narrator and is quite a soft touch for a killer. It's strange to be sympathetic to someone who kills so easily regardless of whether it is deserved. I was sometimes troubled by this much as I'm troubled when I find myself sympathizing with mobsters on The Sopranos.

This is a fast paced adventure which I definitely enjoyed. It was a bit of a different choice for the Man Booker Prize long list but I think it has a shot at the short list. It probably lacks the literary chops to actually win the prize but it's a worthy effort nonetheless.

This will translate well into film.

I recommend it.

The Stories of John Cheever
The Stories of John Cheever
by John Cheever
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.66
137 used & new from $3.81

5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary, May 15, 2011
I love this collection. Of the short story collections that I have read, this is my favorite. I suppose I could end the review there but I won't.

These stories date from the 40s through the late 70s. He writesout suburbia and about people that should be happy but aren't. He writes about the desperation underlying people living in the 50s and 60s happy America. Men cheat, women cheat and people routinely act with mean spirit. The stories are always creative and frequently surprising. They are unsentimental and hard hitting.

Perhaps the best comparisons that I can think of are Updike's Rabbit series or later, the work of Jonathan Franzen.

The characters frequently have affairs, drink too much, make bad decisions, mourn getting old and judge others.

A previous reviewer described the stories as small masterpieces and I can't say it any better than that.

It would be a tragedy if Cheever's work was forgotten. I give this my highest recommendation.

Tales of the South Pacific
Tales of the South Pacific
by James A. Michener
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $7.19
164 used & new from $0.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Authentic, April 30, 2011
This was Michener's first novel and it won the 1948 Pulitzer Prize. He wrote it following a tour in the South Pacific during WWII.

Authentic is the best word I can find to describe it. His imagery and stories are very powerful and really transported me into the islands of the South Pacific during the war.

The tales are distinct but related by recurring characters. A lot of people were waiting for the big push and in the meantime experienced boredom, love, longing and discomfort. Living on islands with few facilities was difficult. They found comfort in whiskey, girls and general carousing.

There were smugglers, scoundrels, brutes, heroes and a long list of characters that are memorable and feel authentic.

I agree with several reviewers that the physical book is an embarassment. The type is small and faded on many pages. There are many spelling mistakes. Given that it's an excellent book, the attention paid to this edition is absolutely atrocious.

For my rating, I'll ignore the physical aspects of the book. It's a wonderful read. I highly recommend it. I'd recommend finding another edition if you can.

A Visit from the Goon Squad
A Visit from the Goon Squad
by Jennifer Egan
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.53
155 used & new from $0.75

13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Edgy, Interesting, Sad, Inventive, April 17, 2011
Reading this book was a bit like reading a big Rolling Stone article. It has interesting characters, interesting structure and is a bit of pop culture chronicle from the era of punk until present day. The characters move in and out of cultural relevance.

It moves quickly, cuts back and forth between different times and places and switches characters rapidly. It's a bit like a music video in that regard. The characters are troubled and shallow yet Egan allows us into their deepest thoughts.

Several reviewers have mentioned the 70 page Powerpoint section of the book. It's written by a young girl in present day and is a very interesting way to present her version of the story.

The novel is not so much a coherent story as it is a series of soundbites from certain points in the lives of the characters. The music/cultural scene of the points in time told about are key parts of each story.

If you have nostalgia for the punk era of music then I think you'll be more likely to like this book. If you're an older reader then you might not relate so much to the scene.

I found the rapid cuts to be reasonable but some people found this awkward and confusing.

I liked the book but suspect that it's not for everyone.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 17, 2011 8:17 PM PDT

The Children's Book
The Children's Book
by A. S. Byatt
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.97
180 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Fractured Storylines (2.5 stars), April 10, 2011
This review is from: The Children's Book (Paperback)
The Children's Book has a lot of great parts. For me, the parts just didn't come together coherently.

Mostly set just before World War I, it centers on several families mostly in England though some of the stories take place in Germany. These are stories about artists and how they connect to each other.

Writers, artisans, puppeteers, anarchists, the Fabian society, sexual freedom, nature, the painful existence of artists. Each of the individual storylines are interesting. Most of the characters are interesting.

I should have really liked this book but the storylines were so fractured that after a while I found it difficult to care. The stories were incomplete and Byatt interrupeted them prematurely making it furstrating to read. Byatt had many great ideas but the need to pack so many of them into the book diminished the whole. There is a great book somewhere inside this book but this wasn't edited nearly enough.

I expect many people will enjoy the book but I found it to be hard work. It took me a very long time to complete this.

I don't recommend The Children's Book but there was enough in here that I will pursue Byatt's work futher.

by Rana Dasgupta
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.62
110 used & new from $0.01

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great Parts But Only Okay On The Whole, February 21, 2011
This review is from: Solo (Hardcover)
I read all of the customer reviews before writing this review and they were all very thoughtful and insightful.

Solo is a very ambitious book and has a very unique structure. In fact, the structure is very much the focus.

The novel is divided into two "movements" as is a musical composition. This is appropriate since the love of music is a major theme. The first movement is "Life" and the second is "Daydreams", which is basically an imaginary construction of the main character from "Life".

The main character ,Ulrich, is 100 years old and blind. He looks back at his life lived partially in Germany but mostly in Bulgaria. He lives through the tumultuous events of the 20th century. His life is full of regret and things not acted upon or not completed. It is the events that surround him that make an interesting story.

The second "movement" has a different set of characters from the country of Georgia. It reads more like an action adventure novel that morphs into a modern fantasy in New York. It references altered characters from Ulrich's life and near the end, we start to see Ulrich intervene.

This book has a unique and interesting structure. In the end, I thought it was okay. It often felt like an experiment rather than a cohesive novel.

It was well worth the time spent and I recommend it but I never felt emotionally invested in it.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 26, 2011 12:27 PM PST

What Disturbs Our Blood: A Son's Quest to Redeem the Past
What Disturbs Our Blood: A Son's Quest to Redeem the Past
Offered by Random House LLC
Price: $11.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary Story (3.5 stars), February 13, 2011
This is a fascinating story especially to Canadians as it captures a piece of our medical history.

James Fitzgerald is a writer who struggles with life and his past. His father was a very prominent doctor in Toronto and his grandfather was an international force in the medical world. Both ancestors were tortured souls and ultimately their lives did not end well. Fitzgerald engages in a multi-year journey to dsicover himself by discovering more about his famous predescessors.

His father, Jack, was a prominent doctor in Toronto focused on the science of allergies. He is also a jazz afficianado who has had parties at his home with the likes of Duke Ellington and Count Basie in attendance. Jack always struggled to live up to his incredibly accomplished grandfather. Ultimately depression and suicidal tendencies creep into his life, effectively destroying his career.

The grandfather, Gerry, is not really mentioned much in the author's house as he grows up. A lot of the book is dedicated to the accomplishments of Gerry Fitzgerald. His accomplishments are truly astounding. Through tenacity, great intellect and obsessive work habits, he is a driving force in the fight against infectious diseases in the early 20th century. He is a leader in the creation of many types of vaccinations and saves thousands of lives in the process. He is the leader of the lab that creates insulin and saves millions of lives. He is a recognized world leader in driving Canada to the forefront of preventative medicine research and execution. Ultimately, despite these accomplishments, he gives in to depression and anxiety.

James Fitzgerald, the author, needs to learn about these men to learn about himself and to stay sane. It is an obsessive quest and he guides us through it step by step.

The story is remarkable. Fitzgerald's honesty is also remarkable. Reading this, I felt like I knew personal details that I didn't have a right to know.

Two criticisms.
I think Fitzgerald loses a little perspective and goes into too much detail. Parts in the middle can really be skimmed. I think the book could have been at least 20% shorter and not lost any of the impact.

I'm also not a big fan of Fitzgerald's writing style. His descriptions tend to the cliched. He frequently uses terms like "cut him to the quick", "the theatre of my mind" and other slightly overdone descriptions. He refers to Sisyphus at least twice in the book. He also describes his dreams a little bit too often for my taste.

This is a great story. I applaud Fitzgerald for his candor and for his determination to research and tell this story. I definitely recommend the book even though I didn't really like the writing style.

Three Junes
Three Junes
by Julia Glass
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.86
1434 used & new from $0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Good But Flawed (3.5 Stars), February 5, 2011
This review is from: Three Junes (Paperback)
This was the 2002 National Book Award winner. It is told in three parts ranging from 1989 to 1999. Not surprisingly, the three parts each take place in June of different years hence the name of the novel. The second section makes up the core and largest section of the book and the first and third parts fittingly serve as an introduction and conclusion.

This is a novel about characters and about family and friends. It is very character based and I think Glass does a wonderful job at creating deep and interesting characters. Some of the one star reviews on Amazon noted that the characters were one dimensional cutouts. I couldn't disagree more. The characters are the strength.

The plot centers around a Scottish family headed by Paul and Maureen McLeod. Their three sons are Fenno,the most main character, who lives in New York. The twins David and Dennis are a vet and chef living in Scotland and France respectively. They run through family crises, death, disease and betrayal. Again, I think Glass does a wonderful job at character development.

The novel is structured very much by cutting back and forth through time. She goes from past to present and back quite often. These transitions are very smooth and coherent which is not an easy thing to do.

Fenno, the eldest son who is gay is the main character. The 2nd section is told completely from his perspective. He is a complex character who I neither liked nor disliked. He neither hides nor flaunts his sexuality with his family and he searches for his place in the world.

I've talked about the positives but there are some negatives.

The story has wonderful moments but does become tedious at times. The large middle section drifted in and out for me. Every scene with Fenno's friend Malachy Burns is interesting. Fenno's non-Malachy sections drag on a bit and my interest waned as the section progressed.

I saw some great things in this book but was disappointed by the tedious periods that went on for too long.

I recommend Three Junes but it has some issues.

To Kill a Mockingbird (slipcased edition)
To Kill a Mockingbird (slipcased edition)
by Harper Lee
Edition: Hardcover
30 used & new from $9.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect, February 5, 2011
Somehow I had never managed to read To Kill A Mockingbird until now. It was the winner of the 1961 Pulitzer Prize and considered an American classic. I was very worried it would disappoint.

This is one novel that didn't disappoint. I was gripped from beginning to end. I knew of the great honorable character of Atticus Finch who defended a black man despite all opposition from his neighbors in a southern Alabama town.

The book is so much more than that. It is told through the eyes his daughter (nicknamed Scout) and her narration is perfect. Lee is able to very accurately depict the innocent lens of a child while remaining coherent and eloquent. Even without the trial and even without the great character of Atticus Finch, this is a wonderful tale of childhood.

Even the character of Atticus is appropriately flawed. He is a single parent who has trouble raising his children. He doubts that he's doing the best for him. His basic goodness shines through but it's never cliched.

I read this in two sittings and enjoyed every moment. This novel deserves all the rich praise that it has been given.

I give a most enthusiastic recommendation to this classic.

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