Sunday, June 24, 2012

The New Republic by Lionel Shriver

Book description:
Ostracized as a kid, Edgar Kellogg has always yearned to be popular. A disgruntled New York corporate lawyer, he's more than ready to leave his lucrative career for the excitement and uncertainty of journalism. When he's offered the post of foreign correspondent in a Portuguese backwater that has sprouted a homegrown terrorist movement, Edgar recognizes the disappeared larger-than-life reporter he's been sent to replace, Barrington Saddler, as exactly the outsize character he longs to emulate. Infuriatingly, all his fellow journalists cannot stop talking about their beloved "Bear," who is no longer lighting up their work lives.

Yet all is not as it appears. Os Soldados Ousados de Barba—"The Daring Soldiers of Barba"—have been blowing up the rest of the world for years in order to win independence for a province so dismal, backward, and windblown that you couldn't give the rat hole away. So why, with Barrington vanished, do terrorist incidents claimed by the "SOB" suddenly dry up?

I wanted to love this newly published offering by the gifted Lionel Shriver but the painfully slow start to this novel made reading it a chore.  Edgar Kellogg is a completely unsympathetic and often annoying character; he tries so hard to be arch adn superior that he often made me cringe.  The entire situation in Barba, a Portuguese province now the home of a breakaway rebel movement, is absurd- too absurd unfortunately to make for an enjoyable read.  Though the book does raise some interesting questions about journalism and sensationalism, the story itself never pulled me in as a reader.  The big twist was something I saw coming once Edgar arrived in Barba and I found his inability to follow the breadcrumbs irritating and unbelieveable.

The last third of the book was certainly an improvement both in terms of pacing and dialogue, but it was to little too late to save this book.  2.5 stars.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Rather Outspoken by Dan Rather

Book description:
This memoir by Dan Rather -- one of the most pre-eminent journalists of our time -- is told in a straightforward and conversational manner so that you hear his distinctive voice on every page. Rather, -- who has won every prestigious journalism award in his distinguished career -- discusses all the big stories from his decades of reporting. This very personal accounting includes (but is certainly not limited to) his dismissal from CBS, the Abu Ghraib story, the George W. Bush Air National Guard controversy, his coverage of the JFK assassination, the origin of "Hurricane Dan" as well as inside stories about all the top personalities Rather has either interviewed or worked with over his remarkable career. 

The book also includes Rather's thoughts and reflections on the state of journalism today and what he sees for its future, as well as never-before-revealed personal observations and commentary.

This book by one of the elder statesmen of American journalism is part memoir, part reflection, part ringing condemnation, and all Rather.  Opening with the events that led to his ouster from CBS News, Rather then reverts back to his childhood and his early interest in reporting the news, following that love of journalism from elementary school into college and beyond.  As Rather recounts the work of his early years at CBS (the civil rights movement, the Kennedy assassination, his time in Washington with LBJ and Nixon), it is clear this book is more a highlights reel than an in-depth professional memoir.  Regardless, the tidbits he shares are fascinating and simply whet the reader's appetite for more.  Eventually Rather returns to the topic of his departure from CBS, outlining his eventual decision to file suit against CBS to try to clear his reputation, and his subsequent work on HDNet.

I found the book a bit uneven as a reader.  The details of Rather's personal life were extremely interesting and I wish there had been more of them, especially about his family life once he was married and a father of two; it seemed from the book that his career always took precedence over his family but that may just be the result of trying to keep his private life private.  Either way, it is clear that his wife Jean was the solid base that made his career possible- it would have been wonderful to hear more of her voice and story carry through the narrative.  Rather's voice does ring through loud and clear, which is both a strength and the weakness in my opinion as that voice is sometimes strident and veers a bit toward self-congratulatory.  Rather is uncompromising in his belief that CBS sold out the Evening News, and he is happy to name names and apportion blame which may be understandable but also reeks a bit of bitterness- a bitterness that rather undermines his legitimate grievances with the organization.

Throughout this book one thing that is always front and center is Rather's deep and abiding passion for journalism and his clear belief that the press has a duty to ask the tough questions and to reveal the hidden truths.  His disdain for the corporate conglomerates that control the news today in the U.S. is well-founded as are his fears that we are in danger of losing the free press that our Founding Fathers viewed as so essential to safeguard our democracy.  After his many decades reporting the news, and his brief stint as the story itself, Rather is perfectly placed to assess the state of modern journalism; it is to his credit that he faces so unflinchingly the shortcomings of his own profession.

All in all, an engaging read by one of the most recognizable faces (and voices) of the era.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Chasing Fire by Nora Roberts

Book description:
Little else in life is as dangerous as fire jumping. But there’s also little else as thrilling—at least to Rowan Tripp. Being a Missoula smoke jumper is in Rowan’s blood: her father is a legend in the field. At this point, returning to the wilds of Montana for the season feels like coming home—even with reminders of the partner she lost last season still lingering in the air. One of the best of this year’s rookie crop, Gulliver Curry is a walking contradiction, a hotshot firefighter with a big vocabulary and a winter job at a kids’ arcade. And though Rowan, as a rule, doesn’t hook up with other smoke jumpers, Gull is convinced he can change her mind… But everything is thrown off balance, when a dark presence lashes out against Rowan, looking to blame someone for last year’s tragedy. Rowan knows she can’t complicate things with Gull—any distractions in the air or on the ground could be lethal. But if she doesn’t find someone she can lean on when the heat gets intense, her life may go down in flames.

I love Nora Roberts and am always thrilled to see a new paperback appear for sale. That said, this book (much like The Search) just doesn't reach the level of her earlier books. Despite being longer than many previous offerings, the story here seems to take a backseat to the technical details of firefighting- interesting in small doses, it became a bit overwhelming as presented. I love Roberts for her characters and the relationships she crafts for them, not for their careers or how well researched her books undoubtedly are, so this book for me was a bit of a bust. Truthfully, even a bad Nora Roberts is better than the best some romance writers have to offer but I hold Roberts to a higher standard based on the quality of the body of work. If you do have an interest in firefighting, I suspect this book will be a 4 or even 5 star read, but if you are looking for a deeply satisfying relationship story, then this book sadly isn't it.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Sugarhouse: Turning the Neighborhood Crack House into Our Home Sweet Home by Matthew Batt

Book description:
When a season of ludicrous loss tests the mettle of their marriage, Matthew Batt and his wife decide not to call it quits. They set their sights instead on the purchase of a dilapidated house in the Sugarhouse section of Salt Lake City. With no homesteading experience and a full-blown quarter-life crisis on their hands, these perpetual grad students/waiters/nonprofiteers decide to seek salvation through renovation, and do all they can to turn a former crack house into a home. Dizzy with despair, doubt, and the side effects of using the rough equivalent of napalm to detoxify their house, they enter into full-fledged adulthood with power tools in hand.

I picked up this book because of the promise of a story about rehabbing a house and a relationship one project at a time. Unfortunately, the book just isn't really that focused on house projects which was disappointing for me. There is a lot of backstory, and a lot of details about Matt's dysfunctional family, which though interesting, didn't seem to relate at all to the story I thought I would be reading. Most of the house projects are glossed right over (apart from Matt's attempts to self-justify at Home Depot) which I found disappointing. The book is funny but the narrative uneven, and ultimately this isn't a story about a house which is why I wanted to read it. It also isn't a story about a relationship because there is a lot more here about Matt's grandfather than his wife. The book was a quick read but ultimately unsatisfying read.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Beach Colors by Shelley Noble

Book description:
While renowned designer Margaux Sullivan was presenting her highly praised collection during New York City's Fashion Week, her husband was cleaning out their bank account. A week after he disappeared, the bank foreclosed on Margaux's apartment and business. Suddenly broke, betrayed, and humiliated, Margaux has nowhere else to turn to but home: the small coastal town of Crescent Cove, Connecticut, where she once knew love, joy, and family before she put them behind her on the climb to fame. When she's stopped for speeding by local interim police chief Nick Prescott, Margaux barely remembers the "townie" boy who worshipped her from afar every summer. But Nick is all grown up now, a college professor who gave up his career to care for his orphaned nephew, Connor. Though still vulnerable, Margaux is soon rediscovering the beauty of the shore through young Connor's eyes . . . and, thanks to Nick, finding a forgotten place in her heart that wants to love again. But as she continues to work on a bold new line that will get her back into the game, Margaux realizes that soon she will have to make the most important, most difficult decision of her life...

This story of a woman struggling to rebuild a life after her husband runs out on her with all of their money made for an enjoyable read for the most part.  Margaux and Nick were both interesting characters for most of the book, though at the end I didn't find either of them particularly sympathetic.  The book is well-written and the setting delightful.  The minor players- Margaux's mom, Nick's landlady- are engaging though I felt more of their story could have been told throughout the narrative.  I won't spoil the ending, but I did find the last few chapters frustrating and it altered my view of the book, costing 1/2 a star in the rating.    A fairly enjoyable summer read, this book ultimately failed to live up to its early promise.