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#TuesdayBookblog POINTE PATROL: HOW NINE PEOPLE (AND DOG) SAVED THEIR NEIGHBORHOOD FROM THE MOST DESTRUCTIVE FIRE IN CALIFORNIA’S HISTORY by Earik Beann (Earik Beann) #RBRT An inspiring true story

Hi all:

Today I bring you another non-fiction book, although totally different to yesterday’s (well, there are trees as well but…)

Pointe Patrol by Earik Beann
Pointe Patrol by Earik Beann

Pointe Patrol: How nine people (and a dog) saved their neighborhood from the most destructive fire in California’s history by Earik Beann. An inspiring real story about the power of true community spirit.

On October 9, 2017, California suffered one of the most destructive fires in its history. The Tubbs Fire burned 5,643 structures and killed twenty-two people in Sonoma County. The fire department was completely overwhelmed and was so busy trying to save lives that they had to let many houses burn rather than waste resources in trying to protect them. During this chaos, nine of us snuck back into our neighborhood in the mandatory evacuation zone and formed a vigilante fire force. We called ourselves the Pointe Patrol, and saved our neighborhood, as well as an apartment complex across the street from certain destruction. As if the fires weren’t enough, we found ourselves in the midst of anarchy, with looters running unchecked through the streets. We chased them out of houses with shovels, confronted them when they showed up in disguise, and patrolled the area with a completely over-the-top Doberman. The other neighbors who had evacuated organized themselves into our support network and supplied us with food and equipment, which they passed through to us across the police lines. My wife and I were part of that nine-person team and experienced all of this firsthand. This is the story of what happened at Viewpointe Circle during those two weeks in October.

*** 100% of profits from the sale of this book go to support fire victims and families of fallen first responders ***

What Amazon readers are saying…

★★★★★ “I can tell you his description of everything is so vivid I felt like I was there again reliving that night of terror.” ★★★★★ “An amazing true story that everyone should read!” ★★★★★ “I found myself in tears a few times while reading from the sheer excitement of their accomplishments, and grief from the fire’s fury.” ★★★★★ “A great story of how a neighborhood becomes just that, a true neighborhood, looking out for each other and working to keep it strong and safe.” ★★★★★ “This is a nail-biting account of everyday heroes coming together in an impossible situation, to try and save their community.” ★★★★★ “I read it in a day.” ★★★★★ “Earik’s book was great, very inspiring. I live in Penngrove and the fire was a half mile from our house, I cannot fathom what his neighborhood went through.”

https://www.amazon.com/Pointe-Patrol-neighborhood-destructive-Californias-ebook/dp/B07K6X3JFQ/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Pointe-Patrol-neighborhood-destructive-Californias-ebook/dp/B07K6X3JFQ/

Editorial Reviews

“While working to gain perimeter control, I found the neighbors who had formed Pointe Patrol right in the middle of unprecedented destruction, protecting homes. The combination of hurricane force winds and tinderbox-dry conditions created a perfect storm for the fire that they battled against.”

– Battalion Chief Jason Jenkins, SRFD

From the Author

NOVEMBER 8, 2018: The sky is hazy today, and there is a heavy smell of smoke that is getting worse by the hour. As I stepped outside, I was greeted by that all-too-familiar smell, and was met with swirling pieces of white ash. There’s a fire in Butte County, and the smoke has been pushed down into Sonoma by the wind. As I took a moment to stand alone in the street before getting into my car, I had a flashback to what happened exactly 13 months ago, when the Tubbs Fire came barreling into Santa Rosa and destroyed 5% of the housing stock overnight. During that chaos, nine of us stayed in our neighborhood and formed a vigilante fire force. We spent the next two weeks putting out fires, chasing off looters, and bonding in a way that doesn’t happen in regular times. The other neighbors called us the Pointe Patrol, coining the term from Viewpointe Circle, our street name.

To this day, I am frequently reminded of that time thirteen months ago. It happens not only when I wave to the neighbors, but also every time I drive home. The neighborhood to the west is gone, the neighborhood to the north is gone, and the neighborhood to the south is gone. All burned to the ground. A house here or there has been rebuilt, swarmed over by the countless construction companies that have moved into the area. Most are still just empty lots, the silent witnesses to what happened here in 2017. But our neighborhood stands, because Pointe Patrol saved it. And the apartment complex to the east also stands. Pointe Patrol saved that too.

After going through something like that, people decompress in a lot of ways. For me, I started writing. I started with the night when I woke up to my neighbor banging on my door in the wee hours of the morning, and I kept going until the evacuation was finally lifted and our neighbors were allowed to come back. I wrote about putting the fire in my backyard out with the garden hose, and about the hours we spent putting out smoldering mulch at the apartment complex, and about all the looters that tried to sneak into our neighborhood, sometimes in masks, and more often with elaborate disguises. I wrote about Oscar, my Doberman, who became the guard dog for an entire street. I wrote about exhausted firemen, passed out on our lawns that first night, and the amazing heart of Sonoma County, where gas stations lowered prices rather than raised them. I wrote about everything. And it became a book.

Today, exactly thirteen months after the event, that book finally got registered on Amazon. It goes live on Monday. I don’t know what will happen with it now that I’ve put it out in the world. I only know that what happened in those two weeks changed my life. Stories like that shouldn’t be forgotten. Stories like that need to be told. And so, in this case, I’m going to do my best to tell it. This is dedicated to you, Pointe Patrol. You know who you are.

Author Earik Beann
Author Earik Beann

About the author:

Over the years I’ve been involved in many small businesses, including software development, an online vitamin store, specialty pet products, a commodity pool, and a publishing house. You could say I’ve got a bad case of serial entrepreneurism. But above and beyond all that, my original love has always been writing and telling stories.

As a teenager, I wrote two fantasy novels during summer break. Neither were published–which is probably for the best!–but I loved working on those books, and learned a lot by writing them. Later, I authored six technical books on very esoteric subjects related to financial markets. Those were meant for an extremely niche audience, and would be insanely boring to anyone outside that specific group of people.

In October 2017, I found myself at ground zero in the middle of the Tubbs Fire. A group of nine of us snuck back into our neighborhood in the middle of a mandatory evacuation zone, formed a vigilante fire fighting force, and saved our block (and an apartment complex!) from certain destruction. Working on my memoir of those experiences brought me back to those summers as a teenager spent working on my fantasy novels, and rekindled a deep love for writing that I had somehow forgotten about. Now it’s all I really want to do anymore.

I live in California with my wife, Laura, and our Doberman and two Tennessee barn cats. When not thinking of stories, I enjoy practicing yoga, riding my bike, and playing the Didgeridoo.

https://www.amazon.com/Earik-Beann/e/B001K8RRKW/

My review:

I am writing this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you’re looking for reviews, I recommend you check her amazing site here), and I thank her and the author for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

Earlier this year I read and reviewed a novel by Earik Beann (you can check my review of Killing Adam here), the author of this book, and I noticed he had published a non-fictional account of something he had experienced first-hand, the 2017 Tubbs Fire in California. I kept thinking about that in light of more recent fires, and having enjoyed his other book, I decided to read this one. It is definitely different, but then, non-fictional writing and especially memoirs, always are. I don’t mean I didn’t enjoy it, that I did, but it was a different experience. So, for those who don’t enjoy science-fiction but were curious about the author’s work, well, this is a great option.

This is an inspiring book and a fascinating account of what happened to a group of people who were fortunate enough (with a fair amount of human help as well) to have their houses survive a terrible fire that killed forty-four people, burned over 245000 acres and cost at least $9.5 billion in insured damages (and around $85 billion to the US economy). As the author notes, these group of people were not all house owners (he and his wife, Laura, were renting, and so were a number of the people who formed the #Pointe Patrol), but they somehow took it upon themselves to keep the neighbourhood safe.

The story reads like one of those fiction books (or movies) where a bunch of people —who have little in common and are pretty normal— discover their inner heroes and come together achieving great things. Only, this is not a fictional account. Yes, these are pretty normal people, and although some knew each other from before, the author makes the point more than once that due to his job, mostly online, he did not have much contact with the neighbours, and it is his wife who comes up with the idea of creating a chat group for the neighbours that they use to keep everybody informed of what is happening, both the people who have managed to return to the evacuated area, like they have, and also those who are outside and whose houses are still standing. As we read, we learn information about the neighbours, although not necessarily in a lot of detail (some are stubborn, some are control freaks, other have an interesting sense of humour, they are not always truthful…), and we also hear some of their opinions and prejudices (yes, we might not always agree with their politics, with their ideas on certain subjects) and, thankfully, they are not perfect. Earik and his wife are ‘the yoga people’, and other than some regular get-togethers, many of them knew each other only superficially, if at all. There is also a couple who remain in the area and never participate in any of the general efforts, and they sound quite disagreeable. So this is not an idealised version of reality, although it is an inspiring story that illustrates that people can get on when they have a sense of purpose and a mission higher than themselves, and they all work together towards a goal.

Saying that, it is difficult to read the book and not think that it would make a good TV movie. You have the retired fire-fighter, stubborn and determined, who ends up being known as Chief, you have another neighbour who works in the SQUAT team, Wayne, Eddie, who turns his garage into the neighbourhood coffee-shop and bar, two Mikes, the police and the national guard, Oscar —Earik’s Doberman, who loves his new role as proper guard dog—, their two cats, and also the people outside who keep in touch via text and provide as much support as they can with food supplies, medications, and also updates on news and life in general.

I was surprised at times at how vivid a picture the book portrays of the situation, and how, despite the fact that they are pretty much isolated and become, as the author describes it more than once, ‘a tribe’, the bigger society and its trappings interferes every so often, giving everybody reason to pause. There are the looters, always trying to get in and rob whatever they can, there are times when the reactions of the police to different individuals vary a lot depending on who they are (yes, race do matters, even in emergency situations, it seems), and although in this case the emergency seems to get the best out of this group of people, that is not the case with everybody involved.

Is there anything I didn’t enjoy? Well, the story is told from the author’s perspective, and as can happen with memoirs, it is not written as a thriller where action is everything and no extraneous information is offered. The author sometimes goes off on tangents, including information about his and his wife’s personal circumstances (they had moved very often up to that point), stories about their cats and dogs, also about how to handle a big dog, his point of view on firearms (not one I share, and the arguments he uses to try to convince his wife would definitely not convince me), a long dissertation on a particular local beer and its merits, and some pretty personal things, and although I mostly enjoyed those and they made it come more alive for me, I suspect they might be frustrating for some people, and I’ve read some reviews that mention those.

My other worry was the fact that, no matter how well they did and the amazing thing they achieved, their circumstances were very special, and it is not something that everybody should consider if faced with a similar situation. They had a retired fireman living in the neighbourhood, and they were lucky enough to have a sufficient number of neighbours taking part, with necessary materials, water, and enough outside support to manage to pull it off. (I could not help but wonder what would have happened if that was not the case and how different the results might have been in a neighbourhood without resources, financial and otherwise). Basically, keep safe and follow advice. Readers might take issue with other things: there is no gender equality at work here (Laura is the only woman there, she leaves at some point, and the rest of the women are supporting from outside, although there are policewomen and a woman member of the National Guard as well, but not members of the group), and, as I mentioned, some of the personal attitudes and comments might not be to everybody’s taste, but that is understandable when we are reading a true account, rather than a fictional one.

I enjoyed the narration, and felt as if I had shared in some of the sense of community and joint purpose of the group. I also enjoyed the off-track comments (some), learning more about how the emergency services work and are organised, and I loved Oscar and the cats as well. The fact that the profits for the sale of the book will go to support fire victims and to the families of fallen first-responders is another good reason to recommend the book. If you’re looking for an inspiring true-account of people dealing with an emergency situation, and you are fascinated by community spirit, I definitely recommend this.

Thanks to the author and to Rosie and her team, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and keep reading and smiling! And of course, thanks to the emergency teams all the world over.

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Book review Book reviews Writing

#Bookreview The Way of the Writer. Reflections on the Art and Craft of Storytelling by Charles Johnson. Unique reflections based on a lifetime of thinking and writing well.

Hi all:

Although I read more fiction than non-fiction, there are more and more non-fiction books finding their way to my to be read pile, and I’ve read a few that I want to share too. So to bring more variety to the reviews, here comes one I read recently that might be particularly interesting to writers, but I believe many people will find interesting and inspiring, no matter what their call on life.

The Way of the Writer by Charles Johnson
The Way of the Writer by Charles Johnson

The Way of the Writer. Reflections on the Art and Craft of Storytelling by Charles Johnson

Scribner

Nonfiction (Adult)

Description

From Charles Johnson—a National Book Award winner, Professor Emeritus at University of Washington, and one of America’s preeminent scholars on literature and race—comes an instructive, inspiring guide to the craft and art of writing.

An award-winning novelist, philosopher, essayist, screenwriter, professor, and cartoonist, Charles Johnson has devoted his life to creative pursuit. His 1990 National Book Award-winning novel Middle Passage is a modern classic, revered as much for its daring plot as its philosophical underpinnings. For thirty-three years, Johnson taught and mentored students in the art and craft of creative writing. The Way of the Writer is his record of those years, and the coda to a kaleidoscopic, boundary-shattering career.

Organized into six accessible, easy-to-navigate sections, The Way of the Writer is both a literary reflection on the creative impulse and a utilitarian guide to the writing process. Johnson shares his lessons and exercises from the classroom, starting with word choice, sentence structure, and narrative voice, and delving into the mechanics of scene, dialogue, plot and storytelling before exploring the larger questions at stake for the serious writer. What separates literature from industrial fiction? What lies at the heart of the creative impulse? How does one navigate the literary world? And how are philosophy and fiction concomitant?

Luminous, inspiring, and imminently accessible, The Way of the Writer is a revelatory glimpse into the mind of the writer, and an essential guide for anyone with a story to tell.

Editorial Reviews

Review

“Charles Johnson has given us a book that will hopefully place a gentle but firm hand on the shoulder of every writer. Here are short essays offering advice, writing life insight and encouragement to anyone wishing to master the art of storytelling. Johnson’s book is a reminder that good writing consists of more than sleeping with the dictionary. It requires a major commitment to the love of language.”– E. Ethelbert Miller, award-winning poet and 2016 recipient of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs George Garrett Award for Outstanding Community Service in Literature

“Charles Johnson here provides—as his subtitle promises—’reflections on the art and craft of storytelling.’ It’s a welcome addition to the small shelf of useful books on the way of the writer and one that belongs with those of his mentor, John Gardner. Here the writer links the personal with the professional in ways that both inspire and instruct. Use this book (a) to deepen your familiarity with the work of a distinguished author, (b) to understand how serious practitioners address their art and (c) to improve your own.”–Nicholas Delbanco, author of The Years 

“Those of us who put pen to paper for a living have known of Charles Johnson for a very long time.  He is one of America’s greatest literary treasures.  He is a skilled wordsmith, superb craftsman, master of understatement, philosopher, cartoonist, and deeply talented novelist whose 1991 novel Middle Passage, (which won the National Book Award for fiction) predates the current surfeit of Underground Railroad novels by a good two decades.  Like the great Ralph Ellison to whom he is often compared, he will forever cast a long shadow over us who follow in his wake.  Here he graciously opens up the treasure chest of writing secrets and philosophy for those of us who seek to kneel at the tree of learning, told by a man who has kissed the black stone of literary excellence.”—James McBride, National Book Award-winning author of The Good Lord Bird and The Color of Water

“If you’re looking to learn to tell stories in written form, look no further. This book is as accessible as it is profound, lively, practical, and full of earned wisdom. I was a student of Charles Johnson’s, and can vouch for the power and value of his teaching. There are plenty of craft books available out there, but this is the only one I know of that is–and I don’t think I’m exaggerating–indispensable.”–David Guterson, author of Snow Falling on Cedars

“This is a book for many readers. If you are an aspiring writer, the path that Dr. Johnson sets out is a clear guide to your destination—whether you become a best-selling novelist or a top non-fiction writer or not.  You will find a compass in this book that will direct you towards a real way that will fulfill your efforts.  There is much practical advice and worldview wisdom here that will sustain you in your journey.  Those who are on a different path (as readers) will also find fulfillment here.  Dr. Johnson sets out original and illuminating guides on how to confront literary fiction—especially philosophical fiction.  These reflections advance critical theory toward literature that is, itself, philosophy.  This is a must-buy for both of these travelers.  The destination will more than reward the price of the ticket.”–Michael Boylan, Professor of Philosophy, Marymount University and author of Naked Reverse: A Novel

“An honest, engaging, and wonderfully inspiring book for both writers and teachers. Charles Johnson’s deep intelligence, joyful rigor and refreshing iconoclasm are evident in every subject he covers here.  Philosophical and practical, The Way of the Writer is sure to become a classic in the mold of John Gardner’s excellent books on writing.”–Dana Spiotta, author of Innocents and Others

“A meditation on the meaning of literature and practical guide to the art and craft of writing fiction.”–Library Journal

“Charles Johnson has a long-standing reputation as one of the world’s greatest fiction writers. Now in this brilliant new book, The Way of the Writer, he offers us an eclectic meditation on the storyteller’s craft that is by turns memoir, instructional guide, literary critique, and philosophical treatise. Every reader will be deeply enriched by the book.”—Jeffery Renard Allen, author of Song of the Shank and Rails Under My Back

“All writers will welcome the useful tips and exercises, but the book will also appeal to readers interested in literature and the creative process. Johnson’s wonderful prose will engage readers to think more deeply about how to tell a story and consider the truth-telling power of the arts.”-Library Journal STARRED review

“Throughout, Johnson’s voice is generous and warm, even while he is cautioning writers to be their own ruthless editors.  A useful writing guide from an experienced practitioner.”—Kirkus Reviews

“National Book Award winner Johnson (Middle Passage, 1990) has taught creative writing for over 30 years and now shares his well-refined thoughts on how best to develop literary taste and technique…. Every aspect of this writing manual, which is laced with memoir, illustrates Johnson’s seriousness of purpose about literature and his laser focus on the thousands of small choices that shape a written work. The result is a book that will be appreciated by aspiring writers and everyone who shares Johnson’s delight in the power of words.”–Booklist

“A meditation on the daily routines and mental habits of a writer…the book radiates warmth…a writer’s true education might start in institutions, it seems, but for Johnson it is more a lineage of good, memorable talk.”–New York Times

“Eloquent, inspiring and wise, The Way of the Writer is a testament to the methods and advice the author espouses, and even if you aren’t an aspiring novelist, Johnson’s book is a fascinating glimpse into the mind of one of our finest writers.”–Seattle Times

“Writers who haven’t had the opportunity to study with Dr. Charles Johnson during the past 40 years are now in luck. The novelist, essayist, cartoonist, and philosopher has collected the creative lessons he’s learned along the way in a new practical and semi-autobiographical guide.”–Tricycle

“An instructive, inspiring guide to the craft and art of writing.”–Chicago Review of Books

About the Author

Charles Johnson is a novelist, essayist, literary scholar, philosopher, cartoonist, screenwriter, and professor emeritus at the University of Washington in Seattle. His fiction includes Dr. King’s RefrigeratorDreamerFaith and the Good Thing, and Middle Passage, for which he won the National Book Award. In 2002 he received the Arts and Letters Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He lives in Seattle.

My review: Unique reflections based on a lifetime of thinking and writing well.

Thanks to Net Galley and Scribner for offering me an ARC copy of this book that I voluntarily review.

This non-fiction book is not a ‘how to’ book and won’t give the reader a formula for producing, and even less, selling, books by the bucket load. The subtitle, Reflections on the Art and Craft of Storytelling describes much more precisely what the book is. And if there’s one thing we can’t accuse Charles Johnson of, is of lacking precision.

The book is structured in six parts (1. Who Is the Writer?, 2. The Process of Writing, 3. What Helps the Writer, 4. The Writer as Teacher, 5. The Writing Life and Duties of the Writer, 6. Philosophy and the Writer), each one collecting some of his essays on topics related to the craft of writing, that are very numerous. The parts, and each essay, can be read separately, although if read as a book there are reflections and quotes that will become familiar, and anecdotes and thoughts that appear more than once (not a big problem if readers dip in and out, or read it over an extended period and go back to revisit the parts they find more relevant or inspiring). Due to the nature of the materials, some of the content overlaps, particularly as this is a deeply personal book, based on Charles Johnson’s experiences, and he talks about his personal writing schedule, his interest in martial arts, how he started his career as a journalist, his love of drawing and design, his Buddhist beliefs, his interest in Philosophy…

The author taught an undergraduate and a postgraduate writing course for many years, although he has been retired for a while, and he describes his ‘boot camp for writers’ that he strongly based on John Gardner’s (that he describes as his writing mentor) programme. Johnson talks about the readings he recommends, the hard schedule of writing he requires, how he focuses on technique, how he advises writers to read a dictionary from cover to cover… So, there are exercises one could do independently and advice one can follow, but mostly the book is a reflection on his career, as a writer, philosopher, teacher and reviewer. From a personal point of view, I especially enjoyed his essay on reviews because it spoke to me and to my thoughts on what a review should be like, and the importance of telling people what they might find and like in the book, above and beyond your personal taste and opinion in the matter.

In some of his essays, he uses his own books as examples of some of the points he makes (character building, voice, point of view, among others), understandably, as he can discuss his intentions and how they relate to the technique he used, rather than assume what other authors were trying to do. This creates two issues. I’ve read some comments that would indicate he might come across as self-aggrandizing, arrogant and full of himself, although reading the rest of the articles makes quite clear that that is far from the truth. The other issue is that the comparisons and examples might not be as clear for readers who are not familiar with his work (although he does mention other writers often). I must admit that living in the UK, although I studied American Literature years back, I am not familiar with his work, and checking Amazon.co.uk, this is the only one of his books I could easily find. Even in Amazon.com most of his books are only available in paperback or hardback. But many of his comments about drafts, editing, working as a journalist, and his compelling defence of storytelling and the importance of finding a story that captures the reader’s (and of course, first the writer’s) imagination can be enjoyed and savoured without direct knowledge of Johnson’s fiction.

The author is an exacting and hardworking writer and thinker and he expresses strong opinions about what literature should be like. His is the world of literary fiction, and literature and stories used to explore and explain philosophical insights, of traditional publishing and paper books. He does mention pork literature or industrial literature and acknowledges that some writers make a living by writing genre fiction (although he does not mention it by name or discusses it in any details) but that is not what he’s interested in. I could not help but think about the self-publishing movement and the writers who embrace it, who will also find much to enjoy in the book but, like many other writers will feel very differently about some of the topics. Charles Johnson mentions a couple of times that he did not himself study a degree in creative writing (his method is more like an apprenticeship, and it reminded me of Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography and his account of his self-education and dedication to learning, although with a very different goal in mind) and says that those degrees do not exist in Europe (they do, so I’m not sure all the essays are up-to-date). He acknowledges changes in standards and interests in the student body, and how he’s had to adapt his reading list to such changes so they remain relevant.

The author uses wonderful quotes from great writers and philosophers to illustrate his thoughts and make some points. I had to stop highlighting the text as there was hardly anything left without colour on the page, and this is one of those books eminently quotable and that will keep readers going back for second helpings.

This collection of writings by Charles Johnson is likely to make anybody interested in books and writing think and reflect. Some of the advice might be easier to apply than other, depending on the style of writing and the intentions of those reading it, but many of his reflections and thoughts will resonate and inspire most of us, and who would dispute the importance of storytelling?

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Way-Writer-Reflections-Craft-Storytelling/dp/1501147226/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Way-Writer-Reflections-Craft-Storytelling/dp/1501147226/

Thanks to Net Galley and to Scribner for offering me a copy of the book and thanks to Charles Johnson for sharing his career with us, thanks to all of you for reading, and if you feel so inclined, like, share, comment and CLICK.

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Book reviews

#Bookreviews NUMERO ZERO by Umberto Eco and ZERO K by Don DeLillo. Two great writers pushing boundaries #TuesdayBookBlog

Hi all:

I’m still trying to catch up with some of the reviews I haven’t posted yet, and as I was checking, it struck me that two books by two very well-known authors (one who has unfortunately left us since I read the book) had Zero in their titles, and I couldn’t resist to bring them together. I’m not sure there’s much to link them otherwise (one of the writers is Italian, the other from the US, the themes are in no way related, nor are their styles) although it’s true that both of these books are perhaps fairly different to their usual novels. Whatever the reason, here they are.

Numero Zero by Umberto Eco
Numero Zero by Umberto Eco

Numero Zero by Umberto Eco

From the best-selling author of The Name of the Rose and The Prague Cemetery, a novel about the murky world of media politics, conspiracy, and murder

A newspaper committed to blackmail and mud slinging, rather than reporting the news.

A paranoid editor, walking through the streets of Milan, reconstructing fifty years of history against the backdrop of a plot involving the cadaver of Mussolini’s double.

The murder of Pope John Paul I, the CIA, red terrorists handled by secret services, twenty years of bloodshed, and events that seem outlandish until the BBC proves them true.

A fragile love story between two born losers, a failed ghost writer, and a vulnerable girl, who specializes in celebrity gossip yet cries over the second movement of Beethoven’s Seventh. And then a dead body that suddenly appears in a back alley in Milan.

Set in 1992 and foreshadowing the mysteries and follies of the following twenty years, Numero Zero is a scintillating take on our times from the best-selling author of The Name of the Rose and Foucault’s Pendulum.

numero-zero-2

Here my review:

Numero Zero by Umberto Eco. Satire, conspiracy, politics, media… although not sure it’s a novel.

Thanks to Net Galley and to Vintage Digital for offering me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve read some of the reviews by many readers who have followed Eco’s literary career. All seem to agree that this book cannot compare to some of the other novels he’s written, although some like it nonetheless, whilst others are disparaging of it.

For me, Umberto Eco is a writer who’s always been on my bucket list but never quite made it (or perhaps I read The Name of the Rose translated to Spanish many years back, but as I don’t remember it, I’ll assume I didn’t). When I saw this opportunity I decided not to miss it.

I’m not sure what I was expecting, but Numero Zero is quite different from anything I had imagined.

The beginning of the book is very intriguing, and it presents a writer/translator (Colonna) who swiftly explains his current situation. He is convinced that somebody has entered his house and he is in fear for his life.

Following this introduction to the main character, Colonna goes back to describe how he got there. The background to his current situation is what forms most of the novel, and we only return to the original point very late in the book (when there are only a few pages left).

Colonna describes himself as a loser and he has accepted a very strange job: to record the memoirs of a man who is setting up a newspaper, Domani. Only the newspaper will never get published, and the whole project is a way of manipulating contacts, allies and enemies by a third interested party.

There are descriptions of the reporters, a motley crew, fairly quirky, but none particularly talented or known. The ones we get to know more about are Braggadocio, who’s always investigating some conspiracy or other (eventually coming to the conclusion that it is all part of a single huge conspiracy, involving Mussolini, the Vatican, the CIA, European governments…), and the only woman, Maia, who has a very special personality, but seems the only one with some sense of ethics and morals. By a strange process of osmosis, Colonna and Maia end up in a relationship, the one bright and hopeful point of the whole novel, however, weird the coupling seems.

Rather than well-developed characters and situations, Numero Zero seems an exercise in exposing current society (although the story is set in 1992), the press, media, politics… and their lack of substance. Also the lack of interest in serious stories by the population at large, and our collective poor memory.  As a satire I enjoyed it enormously, and although most of the characters experience no change (we don’t get too attached to them either, as they seem to be mostly just two-dimensional beings representing a single point of view), I thought Maia become more realistic, cynical and enlightened by the end of the book. And I found Colonna’s final reflection about Italy hilarious. (No offence to Italy. I think all the countries are going the same way if not there already. I’m Spanish and I definitely had to nod).

I agree with many of the comments that the disquisitions and tirades of Braggadocio are relentless, but reflect a paranoid character (and perhaps, although he accuses Maia of being autistic, there is more than a bit of obsessiveness in his personality), the comments about the newspaper, how to write articles, and the press I found illuminating (yes, and funny), and overall I enjoyed the book, although as I said, it’s not my idea of a novel.

So I find myself in a similar situation to when I reviewed Satin Island. I enjoyed it (not as much as Satin Island, but it made me laugh more than once), but it is a novel that’s perhaps not a novel, with not very well developed characters, and an anecdote at its heart rather than a plot. There you are. You decide if you want to read it or not. Ah, and it’s short. 
Paperback:  $ 14.95 http://www.amazon.com/Numero-Zero-Umberto-Eco/dp/0544811836/

Hardback: $19.14 http://www.amazon.com/Numero-Zero-Umberto-Eco/dp/0544635086/

Kindle: $15.13 http://www.amazon.com/Numero-Zero-Umberto-Eco-ebook/dp/B0110ONP24/

Audio:  $ 17.72 http://www.amazon.com/Numero-Zero/dp/B016QTSTCY/

 

Zero K by Don DeLillo
Zero K by Don DeLillo

Zero K by Don DeLillo. The search for meaning and control

Description

The wisest, richest, funniest, and most moving novel in years from Don DeLillo, one of the great American novelists of our time—an ode to language, at the heart of our humanity, a meditation on death, and an embrace of life.

Jeffrey Lockhart’s father, Ross, is a billionaire in his sixties, with a younger wife, Artis Martineau, whose health is failing. Ross is the primary investor in a remote and secret compound where death is exquisitely controlled and bodies are preserved until a future time when biomedical advances and new technologies can return them to a life of transcendent promise. Jeff joins Ross and Artis at the compound to say “an uncertain farewell” to her as she surrenders her body.

“We are born without choosing to be. Should we have to die in the same manner? Isn’t it a human glory to refuse to accept a certain fate?”

These are the questions that haunt the novel and its memorable characters, and it is Ross Lockhart, most particularly, who feels a deep need to enter another dimension and awake to a new world. For his son, this is indefensible. Jeff, the book’s narrator, is committed to living, to experiencing “the mingled astonishments of our time, here, on earth.”

Don DeLillo’s seductive, spectacularly observed and brilliant new novel weighs the darkness of the world—terrorism, floods, fires, famine, plague—against the beauty and humanity of everyday life; love, awe, “the intimate touch of earth and sun.”

Zero K is glorious.

zero-k

My review:

Thanks to Scribner and to Net Galley for providing me a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve read novels by Don DeLillo before and enjoyed them although I haven’t read all of them. I was curious to read this novel, and I’ve also noticed that Zero keeps appearing in the title of novels I’m reading these days (not sure what it says about me but…).

I’m not sure exactly what to say about this novel. On the surface, it’s a story written in the first person by a character, Jeff, who goes through a very strange experience. His wealthy father, Ross, and his stepmother, Artis, have asked him to go with them to a strange facility, the Convergence, where his stepmother, who is terminally ill, thanks to new scientific processes including cryogenics, is going to be frozen in the hope that in the future they’ll find the cure for her condition and she will live again, seemingly forever. The trip and the experience are confusing and disorienting, as not only is Jeff not sure where he is, but the compound seems designed to make people lose their bearings. Doors that aren’t really doors, rooms stripped bare, strange speeches mixing up seemingly spiritual, philosophical, religious, ecological and economic subjects with a somewhat apocalyptic and sect-like underlying message. Jeff’s father is very wealthy and has invested heavily in the programme, but Jeff isn’t quite convinced. His attempts at finding meaning in the process and get some control over it range from mentally giving names to people, inventing the background for the individuals he meets, trying to imagine their stories… In many ways, that’s the same we, as readers are asked to do. We are not expected to be simply passive receivers of a story or of a meaning but must collaborate with the author and create a joint one.

As a reader, I find it easier to connect to books and novels where I empathise or I’m very interested in its characters. In the case of the main character and guiding conscience of this novel, it’s not a straightforward process. Do we really get to know Jeff? We know how he thinks and what it feels like to be inside of his head, what his relationship with his father and his stepmother is like (at least what he thinks it’s like) and in part two we get to glimpse into a relationship he gets into, although mostly through his references to the adopted son of his girlfriend, a very special boy. Jeff is articulate, erudite, curious, a keen observer and seems to live inside of his head, but he seems to mostly react to others and to the situation analysing everything to death, rather than doing anything or deciding anything. In a way, he’s perhaps as frozen and paralysed as Artis and Ross, but they’ve made a decision, however, egotistical and self-aggrandizing it might be, while he remains the passive observer. For me, Jeff is intriguing, but not someone I feel an easy connection with or I care for. Like him, the novel is engaging at an intellectual level but not so much at an emotional one, at least for me.

This is a novel where action is not the prime component. It is beautifully written and you’ll read some passages many times, as they seem to demand analysis and ongoing exploration. I’m not sure I can say what it is about? Life and death? The future? The meaninglessness of existence? Family relationships? I don’t feel it’s DeLillo’s most accessible story, and definitely, I would not recommend it to somebody who is looking for an easy read and a good story. But if you’re interested in a challenging read and in exploring big themes and personal meanings, this might be the book for you.

Buy links:

Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Zero-K-Don-DeLillo-ebook/dp/B018Y1BEQA/

Hardback: http://www.amazon.com/Zero-K-Don-DeLillo/dp/1501135392/

Audible: http://www.amazon.com/Zero-K/dp/B01DFBQUPE/

Thanks to NetGalley, the publishers and the authors (so sorry about Umberto Eco’s death) for the books, thanks to you for reading, and if you’ve enjoyed it, like, share, comment and CLICK!

Categories
Book reviews

#Bookreview THE LAST ROAD HOME by Danny Johnson (@dittybopper) Fate, love, race, violence, war and how some themes remain always relevant. And a #BookFair

Hi all:

Usually on Fridays I bring you new books and authors, and today is no different. But, before I talk about that book, I’ve realised that with all my changes in schedule I haven’t mentioned a very big book event that’s coming up (in just over a week!) that if you love books and are anywhere near Manchester, UK, on the 13th of August should join in. I’ll be there (OK, don’t let that put you off. There will be plenty of other writers too :)).

I'll be there! Why not come and join me?
I’ll be there! Why not come and join me?

Here there’s a video with some information about it:

50 or so fellow authors, hosted by Scarlett Enterprises, will be there on Saturday 13th August at the Red Rose Steam Society Ltd. Mining Museum in Astley Green, Manchester, M29 7JB

There will be models (from many of your favourite romance novels) in attendance (ladies, ladies, please…), music, great food, cakes, an ice-cream van, a BBQ and an evening event that will start around 7pm.

If you want to see the event’s page and  find out even more information, here it is.

Fellow author Christoph Fischer (who’s been my guest in a few occasions) will be there too, and he’s written a few posts about it (he’s been much more on the ball with it than me).

Here I leave you links to a couple of them:

Birthday post: Meet me in Manchester August 13th #‎MAEG2016‬

Manchester Calling #‎MAEG2016‬ – A chance to meet the authors August 13th

And now, as promised, the review. Today I bring you a new book that was published just this month. I mentioned a few weeks back that I was reading a book by an Southern US author and this is it.

The Last Road Home by Danny Johnson
The Last Road Home by Danny Johnson

The Last Road Home by Danny Johnson

“This novel is sure to join the rich canon of Southern literature.” –Anna Jean Mayhew, author of The Dry Grass of August

From Pushcart Prize nominee Danny Johnson comes a powerful, lyrical debut novel that explores race relations, first love, and coming-of-age in North Carolina in the 1950s and ’60s.

At eight years old, Raeford “Junebug” Hurley has known more than his share of hard lessons. After the sudden death of his parents, he goes to live with his grandparents on a farm surrounded by tobacco fields and lonesome woods. There he meets Fancy Stroud and her twin brother, Lightning, the children of black sharecroppers on a neighboring farm. As years pass, the friendship between Junebug and bright, compassionate Fancy takes on a deeper intensity. Junebug, aware of all the ways in which he and Fancy are more alike than different, habitually bucks against the casual bigotry that surrounds them–dangerous in a community ruled by the Klan.

On the brink of adulthood, Junebug is drawn into a moneymaking scheme that goes awry–and leaves him with a dark secret he must keep from those he loves. And as Fancy, tired of saying yes’um and living scared, tries to find her place in the world, Junebug embarks on a journey that will take him through loss and war toward a hard-won understanding.

At once tender and unflinching, The Last Road Home delves deep into the gritty, violent realities of the South’s turbulent past, yet evokes the universal hunger for belonging.

Advance praise for The Last Road Home

“In this intense and well?written debut novel, Danny Johnson probes deep into the cauldron of racial relations in the 1960’s South. The Last Road Home  introduces an exciting new voice in Southern Literature.” –Ron Rash, author of Above the Waterfall

“In The Last Road Home, Danny Johnson evokes a South that in many ways may be gone, thank the Lord. Yet Johnson’s compelling and heartfelt rendering of Junebug and Fancy couldn’t be more charged and alive. The long dramatic arc of their deep and ever evolving relationship traces a time and a place giving way to change in violent fits and starts. Yet this is no sociological treatise. It’s a flesh and blood story about two people, who risk just about everything time and time again, for nothing more and nothing less than to love each other.” –Tommy Hays, author of In The Family Way

The Last Road Home took me straight into the heart of a wounded boy who becomes a complicated man. By the end of this stunning novel, I felt I’d come to understand humans better than I had before, how we come to be the way we are: tender and full of fury. I don’t recall having such a reaction to a novel.  Author Danny Johnson shrinks from nothing. I say: read it!” –Peggy Payne, author of Cobalt Blue

“Johnson’s moving novel beautifully portrays the ways in which his young characters struggle to overcome the history that has so fully shaped their lives.” –John Gregory Brown, author of Decorations in a Ruined Cemetery

My review:

Thanks to Net Galley and to Kensington for offering me a free copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

When I read the description of the novel I was interested in discovering a new Southern writer and seeing how Danny Johnson fitted in with a literary tradition filled with pathos and a heavy historical burden. Unfortunately, the news filled up with incidents of racial violence in the USA as I was reading it and it made the content of the book topical and urgent, even if the story goes back to the times of the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War.

The story is told in the first person by Junebug, a young white boy that at the opening of the novel is only eight years old and has just lost his parents in a car accident (his father made moonshine liquor and they were driving with the car full of alcohol at the time of the incident). The boy goes to live at his grandparents’ tobacco farm and becomes friendly with twin African-American siblings, Fancy and Lightning. This is South Carolina and although the friendship flourishes whilst they are kids, it is clear that whites and African-Americans know their places and there might be heartache to come. From very early on fate seems to be against Junebug that after losing his parents, and in short succession loses his grandfather and later his grandmother, being left looking after the tobacco farm alone aged only fifteen. By that point Lightning has left seeking adventure, his relationship with Fancy has moved on and things get more and more complicated.

The novel deals with many of the typical themes to be expected from a Southern novel: race relations (and interracial relationships), the weight of family and small town morals, historical memory (there’s only a passing mention of the Civil War, but the Ku-Klux-Klan plays an important part in the plot and later we hear also about the Civil Rights Movement). The novel is also a coming of age story, as we follow the main characters from a very early age, and see them change, in body and character, and discover new urges and feelings as they grow. (A word of warning: there is some sexual content, although not the most explicit I’ve read or even close.) As they live in a farm, there is a fair amount of detail of traditional farming tasks, from growing up tobacco, to churning butter or killing a chicken or a pig, which I enjoyed and I didn’t find overly long or distracting from the main plot.

Junebug’s life is marked by violence, and it reflects the violence that is part of the history and the atmosphere of the land. He gets fixated on his dog’s death (his father shots the injured dog at the beginning of the story) and his fate, apart from losing loved ones, seems to put him on the way of circumstances that lead to his use of violence (but I don’t want to give too much of the story away). After a serious warning from the KKK, he ends up in Vietnam, as a way of finding refuge (for strange that it might seem) from his loneliness. There he discovers he has a natural talent as a sniper but finally things come to a head when he realises he’s not as hard and as strong as he had always thought and one can’t hide from the consequences of one’s own actions and violence forever.

I did enjoy the style of the novel, its many memorable lines, the many themes that give one pause (that also include PTSD after Junebug’s war experience, although possibly even before that) and the details of everyday life offered by the narration. I spent over half the novel trying to accurately place it in time (we are given clues, like the price of things and the fact that Junebug’s mother’s grandfather fought in the Civil War) but Junebug mentions it is 1963 quite late in the story (although admittedly it would have seemed irrelevant to a child in his position). His style of language changes suddenly when he gets to Vietnam, as once more he has to adapt to new extreme conditions, and he seems to get into the role of the marine easily and with gusto.

I found the plot and the experiences of the main characters interesting, although perhaps too much is fitted into a single book and it does not allow for a deep exploration of the many different strands. Junebug is not very articulate when it comes to his feelings, although some of his reflections can be quite sharp. He not only tries to hide his feelings from others but also from himself (it’s not easy to trust somebody when all your loved ones die and you wonder if there’ something wrong with you), and even an experienced therapist has difficulties getting to the root of things, but that fits in with his experiences and his personality. Junebug has flashes of insight, like when he wonders how Fancy must feel, knowing that she’s considered a second-hand citizen only because of the colour of her skin. He does not notice a big social difference between him and Fancy and her folks, but he is young, naïve, inexperienced, and it takes him a while to realise that due to the fact that he is white and has a farm he belongs in a completely different universe in the eyes of his neighbours and a big part of the society. Personally, I would have liked to follow Fancy’s story in more detail, but that is not the focus of the book. Thankfully, the ending is not typical, although it might leave some wondering (considering the character’s age one can’t help but wonder if that’s the end).

In summary, a well-written novel that fits in within the Southern writing tradition, although not ground-breaking. I’ll follow the author’s career with interest.

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Last-Road-Home-Danny-Johnson-ebook/dp/B017G7HE44/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Last-Road-Home-Danny-Johnson-ebook/dp/B017G7HE44/

Thanks to Net Galley, to the author and to Kensington for the book, thanks to all of you for reading, and feel free to share, like, comment and CLICK! Oh, and if you’re near Manchester on the 13th, come and join us!

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