Six Degrees of Separation – From Taddeo to…

Chain links…

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly meme hosted by Books Are My Favourite and Best. The idea is to start with the book that Kate gives us and then create a chain of six books, each suggested by the one before. It’s ages since I’ve done one of these, but somehow this month’s first book set me off on an unstoppable chain…

I haven’t read this, and won’t! Here’s what Goodreads says about it…

Desire as we’ve never seen it before: a riveting true story about the sex lives of three real American women, based on nearly a decade of reporting.

It thrills us and torments us. It controls our thoughts and destroys our lives. It’s all we live for. Yet we almost never speak of it. And as a buried force in our lives, desire remains largely unexplored—until now. Over the past eight years, journalist Lisa Taddeo has driven across the country six times to embed herself with ordinary women from different regions and backgrounds. The result, Three Women, is the deepest nonfiction portrait of desire ever written.

Dear me! Now if this was a book about chocolate I could understand it, but sex? I can only imagine the author and/or blurb writer are in the midst of puberty because, trust me, girlies, the all-consumingness of the desire for sex happily ratchets down to sane proportions once maturity kicks in. The desire for doughnuts, however, is a different thing altogether…

This made me think of books with too much sex, which leaves me spoiled for choice really. I think I’ll go for…

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks. This is a highly regarded book about WW1 and has many good points. However, it has some of the worst written sex scenes it has been my misfortune to read. In my review, I said…

…the two lovers rarely talk other than to decide where next they can have sex. And unfortunately, Faulks just doesn’t have what it takes to make sex sound like fun. As he gives us detail after detail of each positional change, each bodily fluid and its eventual destination, each grunt, groan and sigh, I developed a picture of poor Elizabeth, the love interest, as one of those bendy toys that used to be so popular. As so often in male sex fantasies, her willingness, nay, desperation, to have sex with Stephen knows no bounds, so we’ve barely finished the cigarette after the last session before we’re off again.

This reminded me of how often I’ve noticed that male authors of a certain age, just before they hit their second childhood, seem to go through a second adolescence. Which brings me to…

Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving. I abandoned this one too early to review on the blog but I left a brief, bitter comment on Goodreads…

Abandoned. I was already finding the book repetitive and a bit silly, but was willing to persevere till I hit the extended graphic oral sex scene at the 18% mark, which other reviews lead me to believe is the first of many. Not good enough otherwise to tempt me to read hundreds more pages of an elderly man’s sex fantasies. Note to self: Remember to stop getting books written by men over the age of 60 – it must be hormonal…

Of course, it’s not possible to think of middle-aged men and their sex obsessions without thinking of the poor male protagonist of…

The Children Act by Ian McEwan

Here we have a middle-aged man who springs a sudden surprise on his wife. Again I think my feelings about him came through loud and clear in my review…

High Court judge Fiona Maye’s comfortable life is rocked when her husband of many years announces that he would like her permission to have an affair. The poor man has his reasons – apparently he and Fiona haven’t had sex for seven weeks and one day so you can understand his desperation. (Am I sounding unsympathetic? Oh, I haven’t even begun…)

And while we’re on the subject of male authors and their fantasies, it would be unfair to neglect Brodie Moncur, the protagonist in…

Love Is Blind by William Boyd

Another one that brought out my inner snarkiness. Here’s an extract from my little blurb for the exciting story of this book…

…he falls in love with Lika Blum, the girlfriend of an Irish pianist. Then he stays in love with her for the rest of the book, has sex with her quite a lot, and fantasises about having sex with her most of the rest of the time. He has sex with her in Paris, the South of France, Scotland and St Petersburg. And maybe other places – I forget.

Of course, the Europeans shouldn’t be left out. Books written by middle-aged men show that we all have things in common, whatever our nationality. Which brings me to…

The Midas Murders by Pieter Aspe

The last book I will ever read from this author, as this quote from my review will explain…

It’s in the attitude to women that the book really shows itself up to be an unpleasant piece of work. Van In (along with every other man in the book and therefore presumably the author) never looks at a woman without commenting on her breasts, her rear, her legs or her availability in the most derogatory terms. Hannelore has descended from being a colleague to being an object for sexual fantasising – the biggest fantasy being that an intelligent, beautiful and successful woman would find anything remotely attractive in the drunken, sexist and shabby Van In.

And suddenly that comment whisks my memory off to the Faroe Islands, where yet another middle-aged male author fantasises about beautiful, intelligent women falling for the most unlikely of men…

The Last Refuge by Craig Robertson

Here’s what I said about this charmer…

Given that Callum is a violent drunk with a shady past, living in a shack, suspected of murder, penniless and with no obvious future prospects, why are we supposed to believe that an intelligent, successful professional woman would be interested in him? If an author wants me to believe that, then he must be shown to be charming, fascinating, a great conversationalist, someone who saves kittens from being run over by trucks – something to make him seem attractive – but Callum is none of these things. We’re not talking about 17-year-olds here, where ‘bad boy’ syndrome might apply – we’re talking about mature, nearly middle-aged adults. But with Callum we are supposed to believe that not one, but two, women find him attractive – standards on the Faroe Islands must be pretty low.

Well, it appears that I might be wrong about obsessive desire! It does seem to rear its head (if you think that’s a pun, it’s your mind, not mine… 😉 ) with great regularity. Why does no one ever write books about doughnut fantasies??

* * * * *

So Taddeo to Robertson via sex, sex, sex, sex, sex, and sex!

Hope you enjoyed the journey. 😀

Dancing with Darcy is far more fun – even better than doughnuts!

The Last Refuge by Craig Robertson

the last refugeDamning it with faint praise…

🙂 🙂 🙂

John Callum has moved to the Faroe Islands to get away from his past and make a new start for himself. At first things go fairly well – some of the Islanders are welcoming and he soon finds a place to stay and a job. But the nightmares from his past continue to haunt him. And one drunken night, he wakes up on a fish-slab in the harbour to find that he has a bloody knife in his pocket. Next day, he hears that a man has been stabbed to death – the jealous ex-lover of the girl with whom Callum has begun to fall in love. The worst thing is that Callum has no memory of what happened after he left the pub the night before, but he does know he’s been violent in the past – so even he isn’t certain that he’s not the murderer…

Where I’m struggling with crime novels these days is that, if I can’t like the main character, why would I want to spend time in his/her company? It used to be that the main protagonist was the good guy, or at least a likeable bad guy, and that therefore the reader was with him in the quest to find the culprit, right a wrong, clear his name, etc. This even applied to noir – damaged heroes like Laidlaw or Sam Spade were still ultimately on the side of the angels, however cynical or corrupt their actions might have been. Occasionally a real bad guy can be fun to read about if he’s presented cleverly and entertainingly – A Pleasure and a Calling, Summer House with Swimming Pool, etc. But Callum is just a violent drunk, who is on the side of himself alone. I wouldn’t spend ten minutes with him in real life, and I would hope that justice would catch up with him and that he’d spend a good long time in prison. No, this isn’t a spoiler for the main event – I am not implying that he either did or didn’t do this murder. But what we learn about his past and how we see him behave in the present leaves me feeling that he’s not fit to be wandering around free anyway.

Tórshavn old town, Faroe Islands "Tinganes 57" by Stig Nygaard
Tórshavn old town, Faroe Islands
“Tinganes 57” by Stig Nygaard

Which leads me to another thing that I find incomprehensible in contemporary crime. Given that Callum is a violent drunk with a shady past, living in a shack, suspected of murder, penniless and with no obvious future prospects, why are we supposed to believe that an intelligent, successful professional woman would be interested in him? If an author wants me to believe that, then he must be shown to be charming, fascinating, a great conversationalist, someone who saves kittens from being run over by trucks – something to make him seem attractive – but Callum is none of these things. We’re not talking about 17-year-olds here, where ‘bad boy’ syndrome might apply – we’re talking about mature, nearly middle-aged adults. But with Callum we are supposed to believe that not one, but two, women find him attractive – standards on the Faroe Islands must be pretty low.

Craig Robertson
Craig Robertson

Having got that out of my system, there are some positives. The descriptive writing is great – Robertson brings this isolated weather-beaten community to life. In fact, the writing overall is well above average standards for current crime fiction. From the start, when Robertson describes the flight over and Callum’s first impressions of the islands, I thought I was in for a real treat, and the sense of place that he creates kept me hooked even after I had grown to dislike Callum himself. While many of the characters are unlikeable, they are well-drawn and credible (if you exclude the women’s strange romantic proclivities). There is a good deal of laziness in the plotting at points – unlikely, even near-miraculous, things happen and the how of them is never explained. I’m not suggesting a mystical element, there’s none of that, thank goodness. Just “and then he escaped” type of thing, with no explanation of how. But while the plotting leaves much to be desired in terms of credibility, the story flows along and holds the interest for the most part.

So, despite the unlikeable protagonist and the plot problems, the quality of the writing and excellent sense of place still lifts it above the average contemporary crime novel. Though I appreciate I’m damning it with faint praise…

Book 13
Book 16

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 29…

The People’s Choice 3…The Result!

 

Excitingly, the voting has resulted in a tie for first place! Both sound great (well, they all did) and the TBR has taken a bit of a dip this week to 96 – so rather than using my casting vote I’m adding both to the TBR.

Here they are then…

The Winners…

 

the dead witnessThe Blurb – Gathering the finest adventures among private and police detectives from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries-including a wide range of overlooked gems-Michael Sims showcases the writers who ever since have inspired the field of detective fiction. From luminaries Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Bret Harte, Wilkie Collins, and Arthur Conan Doyle to the forgotten author who helped inspire Edgar Allan Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue to a surprising range of talented female authors and detectives, The Dead Witness offers mystery surprises from every direction.

 

*******

the last refugeThe Blurb – When John Callum arrives on the wild and desolate Faroe Islands, he vows to sever all ties with his previous life. He desperately wants to make a new start, and is surprised by how quickly he is welcomed into the close-knit community. But still, the terrifying, debilitating nightmares just won’t stop. Then the solitude is shattered by an almost unheard of crime on the islands: murder. A specialist team of detectives arrives from Denmark to help the local police, who seem completely ill-equipped for an investigation of this scale. But as tensions rise, and the community closes rank to protect its own, John has to watch his back. But far more disquieting than that, John’s nightmares have taken an even more disturbing turn, and he can’t be certain about the one thing he needs to know above all else. Whether he is the killer…

 

*******

NB All blurbs are taken from Goodreads or Amazon.

Thanks to all who voted, and to Past Offences and Novel Heights for the reviews that brought these books to my attention.

Now all I have to do is find time to read them…

*******

Meantime, the tennis reaches the semis…

 

maria sharapova

C’mon Maria!

 

TBR Thursday 28…

The People’s Choice 3…

 

The TBR is sitting at a dangerous 98, so only room to add one this week. But yet again my journeys around the blogosphere have resulted in a list of almost irresistible temptations. So, after your success in choosing Ethan Frome, I need your help once again in deciding which one to choose. (To know how your other choice, The Phantom Tollbooth, rated – tune in tomorrow!)

Here’s my shortlist – and they all look great! So which is it to be?  The winner will be announced next Thursday…

With my usual grateful thanks to all the reviewers who’ve intrigued and inspired me over the last few weeks, here are:

The Contenders…

 

destiny of the republicThe Blurb – James Abram Garfield was one of the most extraordinary men ever elected president. Born into abject poverty, he rose to become a wunderkind scholar, a Civil War hero, a renowned congressman, and a reluctant presidential candidate who took on the nation’s corrupt political establishment. But four months after Garfield’s inauguration in 1881, he was shot in the back by a deranged office-seeker named Charles Guiteau. Garfield survived the attack, but become the object of bitter, behind-the-scenes struggles for power—over his administration, over the nation’s future, and, hauntingly, over his medical care. Meticulously researched, epic in scope, and pulsating with an intimate human focus and high-velocity narrative drive, The Destiny of the Republic brings alive a forgotten chapter of U.S. history.

booksandbuttons says: “…good reading right to the end of the book.  So, a “tale of madness, medicine and the murder of a president” receives a thumbs up from this reviewer.

See the full review at booksandbuttons

*******

the pledgeThe BlurbSet in a small town in Switzerland, The Pledge centers around the murder of a young girl and the detective who promises the victim’s mother he will find the perpetrator. After deciding the wrong man has been arrested for the crime, the detective lays a trap for the real killer—with all the patience of a master fisherman. But cruel turns of plot conspire to make him pay dearly for his pledge. Here Friedrich Dürrenmatt conveys his brilliant ear for dialogue and a devastating sense of timing and suspense.

The Game’s Afoot says I cannot but recommend this novella not only to all crime fiction readers but to everyone in general. A small gem in my view. Given its length, it will only take but a few hours of your precious time, but it’s worth it. It took me two or three sittings even if I’m not a fast reader. It is paradoxical to write a detective novel, to announce the requiem for the detective novels, but the answer can be found reading this remarkable story. A masterpiece.”

See the full review at The Game’s Afoot

*******

the confabulistThe BlurbThe Confabulist weaves together the life, loves and murder of the world’s greatest magician, Harry Houdini, with the story of the man who killed him (twice): Martin Strauss, an everyday man whose fate was tied to the magician’s in unforeseen ways. A cast of memorable characters spins around Houdini’s celebrity-driven life, as they did in his time: from the Romanov family soon to be assassinated, to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the powerful heads of Scotland Yard, and the Spiritualists who would use whoever they could to establish their religion.

realizinggrace says: “Houdini’s story takes us all over the world, into secrets gatherings and behind the curtain of some of the most famous magic tricks. It isn’t until further into the novel that the clues of Martin’s life begin to come together to reveal an entirely different secret. I was spellbound.

See the full review at realizinggrace

*******

the dead witnessThe Blurb – Gathering the finest adventures among private and police detectives from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries-including a wide range of overlooked gems-Michael Sims showcases the writers who ever since have inspired the field of detective fiction. From luminaries Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Bret Harte, Wilkie Collins, and Arthur Conan Doyle to the forgotten author who helped inspire Edgar Allan Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue to a surprising range of talented female authors and detectives, The Dead Witness offers mystery surprises from every direction.

Past Offences says: Sims has done an excellent job as curator – often these whistle-stop tours of early detective fiction are dominated by British and American authors, but The Dead Witness is more cosmopolitan, bringing in stories from Canada, Australia and France. The staples are here – Sherlock Holmes, Father Brown, C. Auguste Dupin – but they are outweighed by rarities.”

See the full review at Past Offences

*******

the last refugeThe Blurb – When John Callum arrives on the wild and desolate Faroe Islands, he vows to sever all ties with his previous life. He desperately wants to make a new start, and is surprised by how quickly he is welcomed into the close-knit community. But still, the terrifying, debilitating nightmares just won’t stop. Then the solitude is shattered by an almost unheard of crime on the islands: murder. A specialist team of detectives arrives from Denmark to help the local police, who seem completely ill-equipped for an investigation of this scale. But as tensions rise, and the community closes rank to protect its own, John has to watch his back. But far more disquieting than that, John’s nightmares have taken an even more disturbing turn, and he can’t be certain about the one thing he needs to know above all else. Whether he is the killer…

Novel Heights says: The location is a really interesting choice, the isolation, small population and the harsh and varied environment give the book the feel of a ‘Nordic noir’. The bleak and gloomy weather and surroundings matching the dark tone of Callum’s past and the situation that he finds himself in. Seeing the setting through Callum’s eyes, as an outsider, is the perfect way to introduce an unusual location, and all I know about the Faroe Islands I found out from this story.”

See the full review at Novel Heights

*******

NB All blurbs are taken from Goodreads or Amazon.

Tough choice, isn’t it? So…over to you! Choose just one or as many as you like – the book with most votes will be this week’s winner…


Hope you pick a good one! 😉