One-Minute Book Reviews

February 22, 2010

David Baldacci’s ‘The Whole Truth,’ a Thriller That Hits You ‘Like a Molten-Lava Tsunami’

Filed under: Mysteries and Thrillers — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:50 pm
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A profiteering arms dealer hopes to launch a new Cold War in a bestselling international thriller

The Whole Truth. By David Baldacci. Hachette/Vision, 530 pp., $9.99, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

Discouraged by those dismal stats counts, bloggers? Take heart. You actually have enough clout to push global superpowers to the brink of World War III. Or so David Baldacci suggests in The Whole Truth, a novel that reheats the conventions of the Cold War thriller for the age of viral posts and “perception management.”

Conflicts in the Middle East are too puny to satisfy the megalomaniac ambitions of arms dealer Nicholas Creel in the post-9/11 era. So he hires a perception-management (PM) expert to start a global crisis that will bring in enough weapons contracts to keep his yacht afloat off the coast of Italy in perpetuity. Creel’s point man ignites the tension by planting on the Web a video — purporting to describe Russian atrocities — that goes viral. Fears of a new Red Menace grow when 28 people are killed at a London think tank, apparently by Russian assassins. Evidence found on a hard drive at their office implicates China in the propaganda campaign against its Asian neighbor.

As Armageddon looms, two people stand up to Creel and his scheme: a rogue security agent who uses the single name of Shaw and a washed-up reporter, Katie James. They fight him with the help of high-tech gizmos and near-superhuman feats: surviving car chases, leaping from a second-story window, dodging a syringe full of tetrodotoxin, “over a thousand times more lethal than cyanide.” 

All of it makes for a cynical tale despite Baldacci’s efforts to cast Shaw as a softie for a dead woman he loved. The Whole Truth has none of the patriotism that flavors the novels of Tom Clancy and other literary jingoists. Its writing is at times graceless and clichéd, if taut and well-paced. And Katie is one of the least credible female journalists in recent pop fiction – someone who, after two Pulitzers, doesn’t know that reporters speak of wanting their stories on “page one,” not on the “front page.”

But The Whole Truth has a big and timely idea behind it: Sometimes perceptions don’t affect reality — they become reality. And Baldacci makes his case for that view without the bluster and infestation of acronyms found in the work Clancy and many others. He also offers an interesting afterword on perception managers. “PMs are not spin doctors because they don’t spin facts,” Baldacci writes. “They create facts and then sell them to the world as truth.” He may exaggerate the perception-managers’ powers, but he’s right when he says that “a major untruth can be established so quickly and so overwhelmingly across the world” that no after-the-fact reporting can make most people believe it isn’t true: “And that’s precisely what makes it so dangerous.”

Best line: On Amsterdam’s Oude Kirk, or Old Church, the city’s oldest house of worship: “Shaw had been inside a few times. What had struck him was the series of carvings on the choir benches depicting men having massive bowel movements.”

Worst line: No. 1: “To say that this hit the earth like a molten-lava tsunami would have been the grossest of understatements.” No. 2: “Just like war, the Americans did not have a monopoly on self-serving politicians.” No. 3: “Much like the treatment of the Russians, few believed their denials.” No. 4: “on the frozen tundra.” No. 5: ” … she was now currently living in London …” 

Published: April 2008 (hardcover), February 2009 (paperback).

Furthermore: Baldacci has written more than a dozen other novels, including Absolute Power. His publisher says that the The Whole Truth, a No. 1 bestseller, is his “first international thriller.”

Janice Harayda is a novelist, award-winning journalist and former book editor of the Plain Dealer in Cleveland. You can also follow her on Twitter (@janiceharayda). She satirizes American literary culture on her Fake Book News page (@FakeBookNews) on Twitter.

© 2010 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

February 10, 2010

Fake Book News #3 — World Bank Seeks Bailout From James Patterson

Filed under: Fake Book News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:54 pm
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World Bank, running out of money, seeks $800 billion bailout from James Patterson.

Fake Book News posts on One-Minute Book Reviews satirize American literary culture, including the publishing industry. They consist of some of the most popular of the made-up news items that appear on Janice Harayda’s FakeBookNews page on Twitter. To read all the tweets in the series, please follow FakeBookNews (@FakeBookNews) on Twitter at www.twitter.com/FakeBookNews.

January 10, 2010

Beyond ‘Shopaholic’ — A Review of Sophie Kinsella’s Stand-Alone Novel ‘Remember Me?’ Coming Tomorrow

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:06 pm
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At last, a novel that dares to ask: What if you got amnesia and couldn’t remember all of the important things that had happened in recent years, such as that Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston had gotten divorced? Tomorrow: A review of Remember Me?, a stand-alone book by Sophie Kinsella, the author the bestselling “Shopaholic” series.

December 4, 2009

The Most Unpromising First Sentence of a 2009 Book — Quote of the Day / Sophie Kinsella

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:33 am
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The most unpromising first sentence of a book I’ve read this year …
“Of all the crap, crap, crappy nights I’ve ever had in the whole of my crap life.”
— The first sentence of Sophie Kinsella’s novel Remember Me? (Dell, 2009)

November 18, 2009

Philips Roth Makes 2009 Bad Sex Award Shortlist for ‘The Humbling’ – Jonathan Lethem’s ‘Chronic City’ Is Spared

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:54 pm
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An aging actor converts a lesbian to heterosexuality in a finalist by the author of Portnoy’s Complaint

An “eye-watering” scene that involves a green dildo won Philip Roth a spot on the shortlist for the 2009 Bad Sex in fiction award, given by Great Britain’s Literary Review. The prize is intended to draw attention to and discourage “the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description” in books other than pornography and erotica.

A Guardian story about the shortlist said:

“The Pulitzer prize-winning Roth makes the line-up for The Humbling, in which the ageing actor Simon converts Pegeen, a lesbian, to heterosexuality. The Literary Review singled out a scene in which Simon and Pegeen pick up a girl from a bar and convince her to take part in a threesome. Simon looks on as Pegeen uses her green dildo to great effect.”

The Guardian story has the names of all the finalists, who include Paul Theroux for A Dead Hand and Amos Oz for Rhyming Life and Death. Oz is an Israeli novelist who was widely seen as a frontrunner for the 2009 Nobel Prize. The judges spared the latest novel by Jonathan Lethem, the subject of an earlier post (“Is Jonathan Lethem Courting a 2009 Bad Sex Award With These Lines From Chronic City?“). The winner of the prize will be announced on Nov. 30 at London’s In & Out Club.

October 29, 2009

Late Night With Jan Harayda – First Impressions of Jonathan Lethem’s ‘Chronic City’

Filed under: Late Night With Jan Harayda — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:27 pm
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I’m reading Jonathan Lethem’s Chronic City and trying to decide whether to finish it. The narrator is a male New Yorker engaged to a female astronaut trapped on the International Space Station, and I have an irrational fear that the theme of the novel is going to turn out to be, “Women really are from Venus.” Also the novelist Mark Lindquist wrote in a review of the book in the Seattle Times, “You can find more plot in a Jethro Tull album.”

www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

October 20, 2009

Late Night With Jan Harayda – Why John Mortimer, Creator of Rumpole, Liked Representing Murderers Better Than People Who Were Divorcing

Emily Mortimer has a charming essay on her doting father John, the novelist who created Rumpole of the Bailey, in the October issue of Tatler. She says in part:

“I was brought up by a man who knew a lot of murderers and who considered many of them to be decent people. It is an education I am proud of. He always said that, in his days as a defense barrister, murderers were his favorite clients. This was partly because, unlike divorcing couples who were always ringing him up in the middle of the night and accusing each other of taking the toaster, murder suspects found it more difficult to get to a telephone. Also, he said, they had often got rid of the one person on earth who was really making their life hell, and a kind of peace had descended over them.”

September 29, 2009

Is ‘The Lost Symbol’ Is ‘Offensive’ to Christianity?

Crosses and other religious symbols help to drive the plot of The Lost Symbol. Are the images used in an offensive way? Philip Hensher writes in a review of The Lost Symbol in the Spectator:

“The plot, naturally, is all to do with the concealment of wisdom within sacred texts, and as it unfolds, it becomes first moronic and then somewhat offensive. Moronic, because it seems to believe that wisdom and knowledge are things which are acquired by placing a bit of gold on top of a bit of stone, and then wiping off some wax. Brown’s heroes remind me of Hardy’s Jude, who thought that you could understand Greek if you cracked a simple code in the dons’ safekeeping:

“Don’t you see? These [Biblical phrases] are code words, Robert. ‘Temple’ is code for body. ‘Heaven’ is code for mind. ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ is your spine. And ‘Manna’ is this rare brain secretion.

“Not just moronic, but offensive, because the whole historical point of Christianity was that it celebrated its rites entirely openly, unlike any other religion to that point. The huge enlightenment to come, trailed by Brown, doesn’t convince, because he can’t really imagine what it would be, apart from some previously secret beliefs being made generally available. What that would mean, apart from people saying ‘With my temple, I thee worship’ at wedding ceremonies, Brown cannot limn.

“This is taking a bit of fluff all too seriously, but tales of conspiracy are worrying when they become as massively popular as Brown’s stories have done. God knows how many of his readers think there might be some truth in any of this. But even if there were none, it is depressing to see the point to which the bestseller as a form has sunk. Vintage have recently reissued all of Nevil Shute, and to read a hugely popular book of 50 years ago next to The Lost Symbol is to witness a painful decline in quality and sheer class. A novelist like Brown would never risk an extended set-piece like the motor race in On the Beach, or the details of capital investment in A Town Called Alice. Or, come to that, the thrillingly extended card game in the first part of Ian Fleming’s Moonraker. These are novels which, though aiming at popularity, respected their readers and were possessed of a decent level of craft. Nowadays, we are reduced in our thrill-seeking endeavours to listening to Dan Brown, whose idea of giving a reader a good time is droning:

“Franklin Square is located in the northwest quadrant of downtown Washington, bordered by K and Thirteenth streets. It is home to many historic buildings.”

August 21, 2009

Backscratching in Our Time — Gloria Steinem and J. Courtney Sullivan

The latest in a series of occasional posts on authors who praise each other’s work

Gloria Steinem on J. Courtney Sullivan’s Commencement:
“Take Mary McCarthy’s The Group, add a new feminist generation striving to understand everything from themselves and their mothers to the notion of masculinity that fuels sex trafficking, and you get this generous-hearted, brave first novel. Commencement makes clear that the feminist revolution is just beginning.”

J. Courtney Sullivan on Gloria Steinem in Commencement:
From the acknowledgments for Commencement: “For helping me understand the reality of sex trafficking in America, I owe thanks to … Gloria Steinem.”

From the pages of Commencement: “I came here because it was the alma mater of Gloria Steinem and Molly Ivins. I thought it was the most effective place to fight the patriarchy in this godforsaken country.” — A character named April on why she wanted to attend Smith College

Also from Commencement: “Her ultimate hero was Gloria Steinem. She had improved countless lives , with actions as simple as setting up networks of women who would otherwise never have found one another and starting a magazine devoted to feminism. She always stood up for what was right and never compromised her principles, but she also didn’t offend the average person’s sensibilities and wasn’t afraid to highlight her hair. She liked men! She dated. She got married, though it ended tragically. She was a real woman who believed in equality. Wasn’t that a hundred times more powerful than the contributions of someone who was divisive and scary. …? — A Smith alumna named Sally on the different types of activism

Other examples of logrolling appear in the Backscratching in Our Time category on this site.

August 19, 2009

Katarina Mazetti’s ‘Benny & Shrimp,’ a Scandinavian ‘Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’ With Swedish Meatballs

Can a Swedish librarian find happiness with a man who owns a manure-spreader, or is he just shoveling — ?

Benny & Shrimp. By Katarina Mazetti. Translated from the Swedish by Sarah Death. Penguin / Pam Dorman. 221 pp., $14, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

This frothy romantic comedy is a Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society with Swedish meatballs. Benny Söderström is an unmarried dairy farmer who owns a manure-spreader and boasts, “If you’ve read one book, you’ve read them all, and I read one last year!” Desirée Wallin is a widowed librarian who likes modernist furniture and talking about the literary theories of Jacques Lacan. The two lovelorn Swedes, both in early middle-age, meet at a cemetery where Benny visits his mother’s grave and Desirée her husband’s. And if you can’t see where this novel is going by the end of the first chapter, you’re probably still shocked that Julia Roberts got together with Richard Gere in Pretty Woman.

But like The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Benny & Shrimp makes use of an interesting narrative device: Katarina Mazetti tells her story not in letters but in chapters narrated antiphonally by Benny and “Shrimp,” the farmer’s nickname for Desirée. And Mazetti invests her tale with enough wit and vitality to offset some of the contrivances of her plot. Benny might refer to Rigoletto as “that fatso with the sword” after Shrimp tries to couth him up by giving him opera tickets. But  you have to admire an unmarried man who, when he opens his refrigerator, has the integrity to admit the truth: “There were things in there that probably could have walked out on their own.”

Best line: “You could lobotomize him with the power saw and nobody would notice the difference.”

Worst line: It’s hard to imagine a Swedish farmer saying, even in translation, “Blimey” and “not bloody likely!”

Published: August 2008

Reading group guide: Penguin has posted discussion questions that include comments by Mazetti.

Caveat lector: This book was based on an advance reader’s edition. Some material in the finished book may differ.

Furthermore: Mazetti is a Swedish radio producer and author of books for children and adults. Benny & Shrimp was a bestseller and inspired a movie in Sweden. And yes, this novel about people who meet in a cemetery was translated by “Sarah Death.”

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com and www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

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