Monthly Archives: January 2013

Jack Reacher (2012)

It was two years ago that I had my first encounter with a Jack Reacher novel. Nothing to Lose was entertaining and at that time I thought, written very much like a thriller movie. Fast forward to 2013 and here’s Jack Reacher on the big screen, played by Tom Cruise. Now I am sure that if I hadn’t read that book, my opinion of the main character would have been different. Unfortunately, the one main thing I kept remembering was how Reacher looked like in the novel – the impressive stature, the “rough around the edges” look, the bulky appearance. Tom Cruise didn’t quite fit this image, even though he tried.

JR The movie itself is fast paced, entertaining, and with enough going on to keep one glued to the screen. Based on the book One Shot by Lee Child, this is the 9th novel with Jack Reacher as the main protagonist. In a nutshell, it’s the story of a man accused of several murders he didn’t commit. On the hospital bed, the accused asks for Reacher, an ex military man with an impressive record and a penchant for getting the bad guys. And punishing them. Described by the accused as “the only one who can help me”, Reacher ends up exposing the bad guys, having an “almost” moment with the sexy female lawyer assigned to the case, taking off his shirt and solving the mystery. Maybe not in that order though. As a Tom Cruise movie, this was excellent. Not as good as Mission Impossible, Minority Report or Valkyrie but still, it’s a certain type of movie that Tom acts in and he’s good at it, and this one definitely fits the bill.
The car chases, the fight scenes, that combination of bravado and irresistible charm that seemed to work on all the ladies (Rosamund Pike who played the lawyer seemed more than a bit star struck), add just about the right flavor to the movie, even if it did seem a little over the top. On the other hand, it is an action movie so over the top moments are to be expected.
Lee Child (or perhaps I should use his real name, Jim Grant) makes a cameo appearance in the movie – that was neat, it’s always nice to see the man behind the novel.

I liked the movie but while I was watching it I tried to detach myself from the idea of Reacher as I read about him in the novel, and just imagine this was a typical Tom Cruise movie. Viewed this way, the movie was great, and I was able to enjoy it. If we bring the real Reacher’s appearance into focus, the film falls short. Or maybe I just need more convincing.
I can’t help but wonder if this is but the first installment in a series, a sort of Americanized James Bond.

Reacher. Jack Reacher. This could work.

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A Widow for One Year – John Irving

While writing my previous post, I realized that I had forgotten about a review of one of the best books of 2012. How that happened, I have no idea. I wrote it after finishing the book in November, and just forgot to post the review here. So here it is, before I forget again.

JI I have started this book twice. The first time I didn’t have the patience for it. I wasn’t prepared for the slow pace, the amount of detail, the careful crafting of the story, each word placed at the perfect spot. The second time, however, I tried to take the story as it was, step by step, to let it flow, to curb my impatience. And it worked. A few years after reading The World According to Garp, I let myself enter John Irving’s fantasy world once again.
The novel tells the story of the Cole family – even if by reading the blurb I was fooled thinking the story was about Ruth Cole, the daughter of Marion and Ted Cole, as the story went on it didn’t feel like that anymore. The story revolves around the Coles, but there are other characters whose lives are linked with this family. There is Eddie, an adolescent who dreams of becoming a writer and whose job as Ted’s assistant will open the door to a lifelong obsession with an older woman. There is Ruth Cole, whom Eddie sees as a 4 year old child and whom he meets decades later. There’s Marion Cole, Ruth’s mother, whose grief over the death of her teenage sons and her husband’s infidelities were things she could not endure. There is also a prostitute living in Amsterdam, a lonely cop, and Ruth’s best friend – all of them with their own tragedies and regrets, all of them with a key role to play in the story.

What I liked about this book was how the author told the story of each of the characters with such depth that each one of them stands apart as a fully formed protagonist. Because of this, the idea of one main character didn’t really apply, or at least that’s how it felt to me.
In spite of the slow pace of the story, there was not a moment of boredom. Irving’s characters are flawed, all of them, but that’s what makes them interesting and realistic. Their sorrows and regrets, their tragedies and joys, are played out one by one, and their live stories add a bitter sweet richness to the narrative.

This is probably the only book I’ve read in which four of the characters are writers. For some of them writing is a form of catharsis, and it is through this form of release that they are able to go on, to heal. There are stories within the story, and one of the perks of reading a book about writers is getting a glimpse into their writing habits and sources of inspiration. That was one of my favorite parts of the novel. If there’s something that felt a bit redundant was how many times the photos of Ruth’s dead brothers were mentioned. Perhaps it was necessary to mention them again and again, perhaps not. Nevertheless this is but a minor thing in an otherwise great narrative.

At times it felt like watching a battle, and the end felt like seeing the survivors. Not the winners necessarily, but those characters whose strength and will to go on made it to the final act. Violence, sex, murder and suicide walk side by side with grief, infidelity and a deep longing for love. Not everybody gets their happily ever after – but by the end of the book I wished they all did. A deeply moving narrative that managed to insinuate itself under my skin, where each character is made up of good and bad, and whose stories I was sad to leave behind.

*Read in November, 2012

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Books of 2012 – the great, the good, and the disappointing

It’s safe to say that 2011 has been my best reading year so far. By comparison, 2012 has been well toned down. I’ve read around 40 books (probably closer to 43) quite a step down from 2011 when I managed around 60 books. Not one to set a fixed number for a challenge, because I’d rather read when and what I like instead of trying to meet a quota, I won’t be challenging myself this year either. Reading is a pleasure and I don’t want it to change into a must. That being said, there are a few books I am excited to share with the world.

Favorite classic

This was a difficult one to choose. I’ve enjoyed She, A History of Adventure, by H. Rider Haggard, The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon as well as The Yellow Wallpaper and selected writings by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. All great books who kept me well anchored in the story and in whose company I spent many entertaining hours. However, if I must choose one, it’s going to be The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe. Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV. This book has the right amount of creepiness, an old castle, a love story and lots of secrets. Not to mention poems sprinkled here and there throughout the book.

Best short story collection

I had no trouble picking this one – The Vampire Archives is number one on my list. There were other worthy competitors in this category, like Neil Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors, and Songs of Love & Death, but this collection of vampire short stories starting from the 1800’s and going well into the 1900’s is one I would recommend to any fan of the genre.

Best novels

There are two, and I like them both for very different reasons: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, for its elegant prose and the twist at the end, and A Widow for One Year by John Irving, for its meticulously crafted storyline, great characters and for teaching me patience. Some books just can’t be rushed. I just realized I forgot to post a review for it, but hopefully it will be done by the end of the week.

Best horror book

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova was one book I was really anxious to read but in spite of its being a great story (and one involving the most famous of vampires, nonetheless), The Secret of Crickley Hall by James Herbert was my favorite. In the pretty tight battle between vampires and ghosts, the latter prevailed this time.

Best non-fiction

On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Non-Fiction by William Zinsser is a book that was recommended to me by a friend, and one that was well worth reading. I love books about writing ever since I read Stephen King’s On Writing. Now that was a perfect little gem.

Favorite best-seller

Despite trying not to get too caught up in the best-selling whirlwind, I did want to read The Help by Kathryn Stockett, and ended up enjoying it very much.

Other books I liked

11.22.63 – Stephen King
Prodigal Summer (a read-along) – Barbara Kingsolver, Part I, Part II, Part III
Anne of Green Gables – L.M. Montgomery
Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman

The disappointing

When I saw the first two books in a new series by Anne Rice, I was very excited to read them. After all, The Lives of the Mayfair Witches was better than I had ever imagined, so I hoped of nothing less this time. The new series is called The Songs of the Seraphim, and the first two books are Angel Time and Of Love and Evil. Unfortunately, the heavy religious component was too much for me and it overshadowed everything else. The idea is interesting – giving up a life of crime in order to serve God by doing good things, and a fair amount of time travel – but this is done in such an overpowering and almost preachy sort of way that it put me off. A part of me understands the fervor behind it, and I think it’s so great when a writer’s passion drives them to pour their heart into their work – that is why I feel bad for not liking the books (I made it only halfway through the second one before abandoning it), but the way in which it was put across just did not click with me. Nevertheless, I look forward to reading Interview with a Vampire.

A friend of mine was really excited about The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz and so I gave it a try. Not an easy or pleasant task, and not because of the bleak story or the violence but mostly because of the language and the way in which it was written. The macho attitude of the storyteller, and the combination between Spanish and English just ruined the book for me. And that’s not because my Spanish is lacking. The only thing that saved the book from being a total loss was the multitude of references to The Lord of the Rings. Those were like a tiny glimmer of light in an otherwise disappointing book.

The shortest/longest book.

The Sense of an Ending – 163 pages
The Vampire Archives – 1034 pages

Last year I also participated in some challenges and read-alongs:

The Stephen King Project, with Bag of Bones (the 2011 TV mini-series) and 11.22.63, the novel.

Once Upon a Time VI, with Mermaid by Carolyn Turgeon and Songs of Love & Death (short stories by various authors).

R.I.P. VII, with The Secret of Crickley Hall by James Herbert

Three read-alongs (see one below, under “Dickens in December”) Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver, Part I, Part II, Part III and one for The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe. Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV.

Dickens in December , with a couple of movies The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (2001) and The Old Curiosity Shop (2007), A Christmas Carol readalong and three short stories.

For this year, I plan to join Fanda @ for “Celebrating Dickens” an event that will take place in February. More details here. There will probably be more events and I will add them later on. For now I’ll just start small.

Posted in The Book on The Nightstand | 21 Comments