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A Year of Reading, Week 28/29

Books read (all or part of) this week:
The Travels of Daniel Ascher by Déborah Lévy-Bertherat
Wolf Winter by Camilla Ekbäck
The Lost Boys Symphony by Mark Andrew Ferguson
Mort(e) by Robert Repino
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (again)
The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light by Paul Bogard

Some weeks, this “post-a-week” deal is a terrible albatross. (“Terrible” being relative, of course.) So, not for the first – nor the last time, I missed a week and am doubling up in a catch-up posting. Deal with it, dear reader. 

Don’t blame the mailman

My reading life is not my own for the moment. Which is okay, really. I mentioned in a previous post (before the big David Mitchell reveal) that I’m on this panel for an ABA program called Indies Introduce. Publishing houses (big & small) select forthcoming works from debut authors of theirs and our panel of nine expert booksellers from all over the country read them all and pick the consensus Top Ten. Those ten will be promoted and displayed and handsold by booksellers across the land when they are published next Winter – just as a way to put some outstanding debuts in the forefront where they normally might get lost in the shuffle. So manuscripts and galleys have been arriving daily at my home stoop & I’ve been chipping away at my assignments. To date, 28 manuscripts have arrived (see above stacks, much to the wife’s dismay) and the mailman hasn’t delivered yet today.

Here’s a rundown of what I’ve read so far:

Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekbäck – not completely sold on this one yet. One of the rules of the judging is that we have to read at least 50 pages before making an assessment – and I’ve read 188 of Wolf Winter so far. So I’m in it, but I’m not sure if it’s because it’s a great piece of fiction or if I just want to see where things are going. Set in in a rural community in Swedish Lapland in 1717 during one of the worst winters anyone can remember. A guy turns up dead – very much so, actually, torn to pieces in an especially violent way. No one is sure if he was killed by wolves or butchered by a person. Intriguing – it’s a different setting, for sure. But there’s also this “I see dead people” thing going on that keeps me at bay. Shelved for further assessment.

Meow. Stab, stab, stab.

The Travels of Daniel Ascher by Déborah Lévy-Bertherat – loved it. Definitely voting – strongly – to pass this one through to the next round. A slim little volume that was a bestseller in France last year, apparently, it reminded me of Shadow of the Wind, maybe a little of Calvino, and even All the Light We Cannot See, actually. Hélene has never been as enamored with her elusive great-uncle Daniel as her brother has, but when she moves into the apartment above Daniel’s in Paris, she becomes increasingly curious about who he really is. Daniel has written 25 wildly successful adventure novels for young people under a pen name, but Hélene feels she barely knows the man. What is he hiding behind the kindly-uncle-facade? Has he really lived the life he claims, traveling the world, having adventures or is it all just storytelling? Where does he really go when he leaves the apartment to work? What begins as a straightforward curiosity for Hélene, becomes a dark journey into her family’s past – and nothing she discovers is what she expects. Just fantastic.

The Lost Boys Symphony by Mark Andrew Ferguson – just getting started, not sure about it yet. It has some great potential, at least based on the premise. After his girlfriend breaks up with him, Henry starts to go a little crazy – hallucinating, wandering New York City, hearing strange music. At one point, on the George Washington Bridge, he blacks out and wakes up in the Catskills in the company of his 41-year old and 80-year old selves. And that’s about where I am at the moment. A great hook, but I’m not completely sold on the prose yet.

Mort(e) by Robert Repino – another with tremendous potential that the jury’s still out on. An insane, brilliant premise: for thousands of years, a giant Colony of super-intelligent ants has been gathering their strength to conquer the surface world. Now is the time to strike – and wipe the destructive human race off the face of the planet. Aiding the ants in their war against humanity are all the other surface animals – transformed into sentient, bi-pedal killing machines bent on loosing the world from the shackles of their human oppressors, creating an animal utopia of peace and harmony. (Our “hero” is a walking, talking, killing house cat, formerly known as Sebastian, now Mort(e).) Despite the set-up, there are a lot of holes in the plot and the prose, so it remains to be seen whether I can overlook all that. The writing seems several steps ahead of the story all the time – like the author is writing it stream-of-consciousness-like. “Oh, and another thing, this beagle drives a sanitation truck. Yeah!” I know I’ll pass it along to the next round – it’s just too crazy not too – but I’m curious to see both what other judges think as well as where the story ends up.

And in between all of this I’ve been re-reading Tony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See in order to prep for the big event on July 30. He’s going to show a slide show about the research he did for the novel – which took ten years to craft – and we’re going to have a little chat, he and I, and try and draw a little more out about his writing, his characters, and the like. I know you’ll be there, dear reader. See you on July 30 at 7:30 – Warwick’s, 7812 Girard in La Jolla.

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This entry was posted on July 19, 2014 by in Anthony Doerr, Daniel Ascher, Indies Introduce, Mort(e), review, year of reading.
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