Thursday, December 31, 2009

thanks for making me fall behind, Santa

Thanks to the library and my fickle reading appetite, I was never really on track for the 100 in 5 years.
But now I got a little Santa setback in my stockings.
In case you're wondering what non-list reading looms (though some are definitely list-worthy):
James Crumley, The Last Good Kiss (already devoured. so much fun)
John Lanchester, Mr Phillips (ditto, though a little slower. also more thought-provoking)
Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby
Mary Oliver, New and Selected Poems, vol. 2
Jonathan Bernstein, Knickers in a Twist: A Dictionary of British Slang
Joseph von Eichendorff, Gedichte
Rudolf Eberhard, ed., Fritze Bollmann wollte angeln

Happy New Year, everyone!

THE WOMAN WARRIOR, Maxine Hong Kingston

Yay! Squeezed one more in before 2009 ends. My review is here. Anyone else read this one?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Lucky Number 13

The 13th book I finished on my list was a really good one, making me think 13 might just be my lucky number. I finished reading oino sakai's poetry chapbook Ancient Skies this morning.

oino sakai is a pretty big name in a field that is, honestly, fairly small — speculative poetry. It is a pity that there is not a bigger readership of this niche genre, because there are some fine poets writing speculative poems. oino sakai's specialty is scifaiku. His work is always marked by excellence in both parent genres, science fiction and haiku, and I count him one of the poets I am learning from in order to improve my own work. His poetry is truly masterful.

The little volume Ancient Skies is packed with some huge works — not huge in length (of course), but in significance. oino sakai does a wonderful job, over and over again, of capturing that "a-ha moment" that is so central to good haiku. And throughout the range of poems in the collection, he is true to the description on the title page of the book: "A haiku is a captured moment in time. A scifaiku is a captured moment in a possible future." Ancient Skies looks into so many possible futures and draws them near to us, moment by moment.

The first section of the book is filled with haiku, more than 60 in total. In the second section, oino sakai showcases other poetic forms derived from traditional Japanese poetry (such as the tanka and haibun), as well as experimental forms such as the zip, the stellarenga, and the Fib. There are a good number of poems across a wide range of forms, and it makes for very fun reading.

Ancient Skies was published by Sam's Dot Publishing, and is available through the Genre Mall.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys

I just finished Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys, the 12th title I've completed from my Fill in the Gaps list. (Yes, I know... I am very far behind many of the readers here!)

I really enjoyed the book. Gaiman is always good for a fun read (I've got several of his novels on my list — more than any other author, I think). He's funny and he's smart, and that gives his humor a level of depth and his more profound thoughts a rather light touch. Over all, the effect is wonderful.

The story begins with Fat Charlie and his embarrassment over his father. And aren't all of us mortified with embarrassment by our parents? Well, Fat Charlie is just like us in that regard... with the added layer being that his dad is a minor deity, the trickster god of West African and Caribbean traditional folklore.

I love how the folklore weaves into this story. It's Rudyard Kipling without all the trappings of colonialism. It's fun to enter into a tradition other than the one I was brought up in, and yet to have it brought near to the experiences of my own world. That is what Gaiman does so effectively in this novel.

Fat Charlie doesn't start out as a very sympathetic character, for me, but something about the story still managed to suck me in. It is a page turner. For me, I think it is Gaiman's writing (fantastic!) and humor (hilarious!) that kept me turning the pages, even though Fat Charlie didn't immediately strike a chord with me. Anyway, whatever kept me interested, the characters all began to grown on me, the more I read, and made it so I didn't quite want the story to end.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Amanda's End of the Year Update

At some point, I lost track of which months I checked in, so I decided to just wait until the end of the year to give a final tally. I doubt there's anything left on my list that I'll be reading in the next 19 days, so I'll just give my stats now.

My full FitG list is here.

So far, I've read 32 of my 100 books, and started to read but abandoned 4. They are as follows (with links to my reviews):

Alexie – The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian
Asher – Thirteen Reasons Why
Austen – Mansfield Park
Bechdel – Fun Home
Black – Tithe
Bradbury – Fahrenheit 451
Burnett – The Secret Garden
Caletti – Wild Roses
Cather – Death Comes for the Archbishop
Chesterton – The Man Who Was Thursday
Collins – Woman in White
Forster – A Passage to India
Gaiman – The Graveyard Book
Gaiman – Stardust
Greenberg – I Never Promised You a Rose Garden
Hanff – 84, Charing Cross Road
Johnson – Suite Scarlett
Maugham – Liza of Lambeth
McEwan – Atonement
Nabokov – Ada, or Ardor
Paton – Cry, the Beloved Country
Pratchett – The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents
Snyder – The Witches of Worm
Solzhenitsyn – One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Steinbeck – East of Eden
Tammet – Born on a Blue Day
Turgenev – Fathers and Sons
Westerfeld – The Last Days
Westerfeld – PEEPS
Westerfeld – So Yesterday
Woolf – A Room of One’s Own
Zusak – The Book Thief

Bronte, C. – Villette
Doctorow – Little Brother
Martel – Life of Pi
Shelley – The Last Man

My stats for the full FitG list look like this:

-Classics/Modern: about 50-50%
-YA: about 25%
-Fiction/Nonfiction: 94/6%
-By women/men: about 33/67%
-Translations and World Lit: aprox 25%

Stats for what I've read (including the 4 abandoned books):

-Classics/Modern: 50-50%
-YA: about 42%
-Fiction/Nonfiction: 86/14%
-By women/men: 36/64%
-Translations and World Lit: 11%

What this says to me is that I've been reading a lot of YA, more nonfiction than I expected, and less translations and world lit.

Also of this list, I liked 14 books, disliked 12 (including the 4 I abandoned), and was pretty neutral about 10. Not bad for a gaps list, I don't think!

I'm looking forward to knocking out another chunk of these in 2010!

Friday, December 11, 2009

No Humbug

A Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens (1843)

I’m guessing you all know the story and have probably seen it in various adaptations but might not have read it yet. I hadn’t either; good thing we have this list.

Every time I read Dickens, I regret that I don’t have more time to read him more, and I feel bad whenever my attention drifts because, as far as I can tell, all of his passages are rewarding if you only pay attention.

The guy just seems to love to churn our words, but more than merely churn, he makes them bubble and froth. This is from the last part of A Christmas Carol:

He was checked in his transports by the churches ringing out the lustiest peals he had ever heard. Clash, clang, hammer, ding, dong, bell. Bell, dong, ding, hammer, clang, clash! Oh, glorious, glorious!

Running to the window, he opened it, and put out his head. No fog, no mist; clear, bright, jovial, stirring, cold; cold, piping for the blood to dance to; Golden sunlight; Heavenly sky; sweet fresh air; merry bells. Oh, glorious. Glorious!

Recently, my kids and I saw the new animated film version of this story. Though I think that Scrooge was miscast and that the Ghosts ought to have been played/voiced by different people, I was impressed by how creepy the movie was and how much it honored the ghost story as a scary visitation from the beyond and not just as a means for time travel. Thinking about the Present (as a gift as well as a point in time) in its relation to the other times is, after all, the point:

Oh cold, cold, rigid, dreadful Death, set up thine altar here, and dress it with such terrors as thou hast at thy command: for this is thy dominion! But of the loved, revered, and honoured head, thou canst not turn one hair to thy dread purposes, or make one feature odious. It is not that the hand is heavy and will fall down when released; it is not that the heart and pulse are still; but that the hand WAS open, generous, and true; the heart brave, warm, and tender; and the pulse a man’s. Strike, Shadow, strike! And see his good deeds springing from the wound, to sow the world with life immortal!

Bite Me! by Melissa Francis

AJ Ashe isn't your typical seventeen-year-old vampire—as if there is such a thing! She's stuck in the middle of a huge fight between her two BFFs. Her ex-boyfriend—whom she's still totally in love with, by the way—is now her stepbrother. A former classmate—who, um, she may or may not have turned into a vampire—is stalking her. And now, apparently, the fate of humankind lies in her little undead hands. What ever happened to the good old days, when all a vampire girl had to worry about was the occasional zit and hiding her taste for blood?

Melissa Francis

My thoughts:

I've never been one for YA, so I figured I'd use this list to dabble in it some. If you can't tell, I'm shamefully avoiding all those classics on my list. I particularly have never been one for a book such as Bite Me! by Melissa Francis. One of the main conflicts in the story is that the main character's mother ends up married to the boyfriend's father. Ew! It's just so wrong. They are forced to break up because they are now step brother and sister.

Other than the step brother and sister conflict, it was an okay read. Melissa Francis is funny and that carried the book for me. Even so, it took me a while to finish it and I won't be rereading, but passing it on to my teen step daughter.

Also you should check out the author's website. It's an awesome one.

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Linda P Review-The Rest Falls Away by Colleen Gleason


In every generation, a Gardella is called to accept the family legacy of vampire slaying, and this time, Victoria Gardella Grantworth is chosen, on the eve of her debut, to carry the stake. But as she moves between the crush of ballrooms and dangerous, moonlit streets, Victoria's heart is torn between London's most eligible bachelor, the Marquess of Rockley, and her enigmatic ally, Sebastian Vioget. And when she comes face to face with the most powerful vampire in history, Victoria must ultimately make the choice between duty and love. 

Victoria is like a Victorian Buffy! She is strong and funny.  Victoria is supposed to be lady like but her destiny is to slay vampires. She struggles between her duty as a slayer and society which expects her to be a debutant. I really enjoyed sparring between Victoria and Max. I look forward to learning more about the two of them in future books. 
The writing was fun and fast paced. The characters were engaging and fairly well thought out (Victoria's mom's friends were pretty flat but who really cared about them). And toward the end it got sexy! Highly recommended.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Wilde and Crazy Guy

Oscar Wilde
The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898)
De Profundis (1897)

If I were overly harsh, I'd say that the true crime Oscar Wilde was guilty of wasn't "somdomizing" (as his accuser, the Marquess of Queensberry wrote) a young man (the Marquess' son, Lord Alfred Douglas), but that he couldn't self-edit in gaol ("jail" to us - and Reading is pronounced "redding," but you knew that).
In other words, these two works are a bit unfocused and meandering. It appears that Wilde meant to edit De Profundis for publication, but the ballad is as it stands, a bit odd in its relation of form to content. The ballad is a ballad without real plot - which is, I guess, what prison life was for Wilde. The plot was an internal one of self-forgiveness and learning the redemptive power of tears.
De Profundis puts it better, but it takes a long time to get to the wonderful passages about Sorrow:

Behind Joy and Laughter there may be a temperament, coarse, hard and callous. But behind Sorrow there is always Sorrow.

Pleasure for the beautiful body, but Pain for the beautiful Soul.

and the analysis of Christ as artist:

He realised in the entire sphere of human relations that imaginative sympathy which in the sphere of Art is the sole secret of creation.

[...] Christ is the most supreme of Individualists. [...] one only realises one's soul by getting rid of all alien passions, all acquired culture, and all external possessions be they good or evil.

But all this is wrapped in long diatribes on the sins of the addressee of the eighty-plus-tightly-written-page letter, Lord Alfred Douglas. All I can say after having read about all of this kid's selfish and nasty behaviour is, Dang, he must have been really hot.

(To sum up: I'm glad I read them, but I only recommend the middle part of De Profundis. You're better off with the Happy Prince stories, the plays, or The Picture of Dorian Gray, which I will probably reread soon even though it's not on my list, making me fall even further behind.)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Becky's Progress: 28 completed

I'm thinking that 28 will be the number that I close out 2009 with. I can't really see me completing anymore before January 1! New to the list:

Trollope, Anthony. The Way We Live Now
Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-Five.
Steinbeck, John. Of Mice and Men.
Gaskell, Elizabeth. Cranford.
Gaskell, Elizabeth. Mary Barton.
Pratchett, Terry. Nation.

Previous titles read since April:

Almond, David. Skellig.
Anderson, M.T. Feed.
Choldenko, Gennifer. Al Capone Does My Shirts
Dessen, Sarah. Someone Like You.
Eliot, George. Middlemarch.
Farmer, Nancy. The House of the Scorpion.
Flewelling, Lynn. The Bone Doll's Twin.
Heinlein, Robert A. The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.
Heyer, Georgette. The Convenient Marriage.
Heyer, Georgette.The Corinthian.
Heyer, Georgette. Frederica.
Heyer, Georgette. The Grand Sophy*
Heyer, Georgette. The Talisman Ring.
Lawrence, D.H. Lady Chatterley's Lover.*
Lester, Julius. To Be A Slave.
Orczy, Baroness. The Scarlet Pimpernel
Pearce, Philippa. Tom's Midnight Garden.
Plum-Ucci, Carol. The Body of Christopher Creed.
Scalzi, John. Old Man's War.
Trollope, Anthony. Barchester Towers.
Trollope, Anthony. The Warden.
Von Ziegesar, Cecily. Gossip Girl (Book one)

Friday, December 4, 2009


It's been a little while since I've been on here, so here is a brief catchup!

Lady Chatterley's Lover - DH Lawrence

I don't know what I was expecting when I picked this one up. I knew about the banning and the controversy obviously, and now that I've read it I can understand why. Definitely ahead of its time. For the most part, I didn't find ANY of the characters that likeable, and parts of the story dragged a bit, but I'm glad I read it.

Breakfast at Tiffany's - Truman Capote

I LOVED THIS BOOK SO MUCH! Holly Golightly is definitely one of my favourite fictional characters of all time, and Truman Capote is now one of my favourite authors.

Lolita - Vladamir Nabokov

This one was a surprise. I thought I was going to hate this book with a passion, but the more I read it the more I liked it. Everyone in the book is despicable in one way or another, and in the end I didn't see Humbert Humbert as the outrageous creep I thought I would.

A Fraction of the Whole - Steve Toltz

Man this was heavy. It was funny, but there was a whole lot of pontificating going on, which was a bit of a struggle. I enjoyed it a lot.


Jeeves and the Tie That Binds

(Much Obliged, Jeeves in the U.K.)

P.G. Wodehouse (1971)

Okay, so maybe Pelham Grenville wasn’t on top of his game anymore at ninety years of age (P.G. lived from 1881 to 1975). But Jeeves is f. no matter what the circs.

If you haven’t read a Wodehouse yet I recommend you begin with Right Ho, Jeeves (1934), though I’m sure whoever does the recommending will recommend the first Wodehouse he or she read. His humor is of a somewhat formulaic type – but the formulae are original to him and executed exquisitely. You won’t regret picking one up.

(For those of you who have read Wodehouse, here are some characters to bring smiles to your faces: Aunt Dahlia, Anatole, Stinker Pinker, Madeline Bassett, Market Snodsbury, the Junior Ganymede Society. Old friends all, no?)

Not posted in a while

I shall make up for it soon. I got sidetracked in my reading, the highlight of which was The Interrogative Mood: A Novel? by Padgett Powell. Worth the money and the while.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Linda P Review-From Hell by Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell Review:The mad, shaggy genius of the comics world dips deeply into the well of history and pulls up a cup filled with blood in From Hell. Alan Moore did a couple of Ph.D.'s worth of research into the Whitechapel murders for this copiously annotated collection of the independently published series. The web of facts, opinion, hearsay, and imaginative invention draws the reader in from the first page. Eddie Campbell's scratchy ink drawings evoke a dark and dirty Victorian London and help to humanize characters that have been caricatured into obscurity for decades. Moore, having decided that the evidence best fits the theory of a Masonic conspiracy to cover up a scandal involving Victoria's grandson, goes to work telling the story with relish from the point of view of the victims, the chief inspector, and the killer--the Queen's physician. His characterization is just as vibrant as Campbell's; even the minor characters feel fully real. Looking more deeply than most, the author finds in the "great work" of the Ripper a ritual magic working intended to give birth to the 20th century in all its horrid glory. Maps, characters, and settings are all as accurate as possible, and while the reader might not ultimately agree with Moore and Campbell's thesis, From Hell is still a great work of literature. --Rob Lightner

 If From Hell was the first Alan Moore book I ever read, I don't think I would ever read another one of his books. He did a lot of research about London and its society during the time of Jack the Ripper. I definitely got the flavor of London in the Victorian era. But it's long and slow with little pay off. If you are looking to learn about Jack the Ripper you will but not so much about the actual murders (they are more of a side story). You'll learn a lot about London and the Freemasons. 

It's great literature. It's dense and confusing at times. At the end of the edition I read there were more maps, pictures and additional reading.  It's not easy reading. The drawings are scratchy and tough to interpret at times. It takes time to digest what's going on. 

Since I've read The Watchmen before I read From Hell, I can understand that Moore can be wordy. His books are a commentary on society. They are stories within stories. There is more than just what you think the story is about. 

I would recommend From Hell if you are a fan of Alan Moore, love learning more about Victorian London, and have a lot of patience. My husband tried to read it and gave up.

Monday, November 30, 2009


I can't believe it!! After 11 weeks of reading I've finally finished Gravity's Rainbow!!

In case anyone was wondering why I hadn't logged in in so long... that's why. And now it's OVER!

I only understood about... 13%. On good days. But I made it to the END.

If anyone has this yet to do on their list, I would strongly recommend reading it with a group. This was one of those situations where NO one understood the whole thing, but since everyone understood different pieces, a conversation was not only interesting but helpful.

I've now finished 19 out of 100 titles. Considering 2009 is almost over, I think I'll be very, very pleased with myself if I finish a 20th by December 31st. That will be a fifth of the list finished in the first of five calendar years! Something about that really appeals to the Type A in me.

Now off to celebrate with some (decidedly non-gaps) epic fantasy rereads.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


"The Girl Who Stopped Swimming" by Joshilyn Jackson
(from back cover)
Laurel Hawthorne hasn't seen a ghost in years, until she wakes to find the ghost of her daughter's friend, Molly, who leads the way to her own body, floating in the Hawthornes' pool. While Laurel built her life in the suburbs, her estranged sister, Thalia, became an actress with a capital A. Molly can't rest until someone learns her secrets, and she has opened a door to the past that Laurel can't close alone. She turns to Thalia, and they set out on a journey that will reveal their family's buried history, the true state of Laurrel's marriage, and what happended to the girl who stopped swimming.

MY THOUGHTS: This is my first book from Joshilyn Jackson, but it won't be my last. I really enjoyed her form of writing. To the point, plus all the little details that make a great story. She interweaves the present with the past flawlessly. So that you don't get lost. I really enjoy the charctrer of Laurel, Thalia, David and Shelby. I did feel sorry for Bet, who is the girl who comes from Delop. And causes all kinds of havioc. If you haven't read this book, put it on your list. It's really good!!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Review-A Year In The Merde By Stephen Clarke

I actually remember seeing Clarke's second book (Love in the Merde) on bookshelves and thinking it was a funny title. I choose to read this one first since it's the first book.
The story follows Paul West as he moves to Paris for work and deals with Parisians as an Englishman. I loved how it started as a fish out of water and became how he wound up becoming an expat. He notes lots of differences between Brits and Parisians. But since I'm not an expert on either, I needed a British to American cultural explanation.  I muddled my way through and I think I figured most of it out.
I think my favorite part was when Paul attempts to buy a house in the French countryside. It sounded so romantic and lovely, but he was being played the fool by his boss.
It was a great book. Great read and shows a different side of France than I've read before.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Black and White and Red all over?

Elmo in a tuxedo!
That was Ricky Gervais' joke to introduce his encore act. Hee, hee.
Julie and I went to see him at Carnegie Hall for a delayed anniversary date. And in a sense we got lucky that all the better seats were sold out by the time we decided to do it because the nosebleed section had a better view of the top of Kevin Clash's head.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Review (Of Human Bondage) and reflections

Gah, I've just realised how long it's been since I last checked in here, and how slack I've been about both reading from my list and writing about what I've read. Crossing off my reads from the last couple of months just now, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I'd read a couple from my list by accident -- and then unpleasantly surprised to find that I couldn't remember anything about some of the books on my list or why, back in May, it seemed vital that I read them. I must have had my reasons, though; with luck it'll be more fun than not to rediscover them...

I've read a few books from my list since I last blogged here. The first was Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham. It was a struggle. It was long. Under pressure, I might admit to having skimmed during the third quarter... Oh, look, I think I just have a prejudice against this kind of lengthy, physicaly detailed realism. It lacks the wry humour and absurdity of English Bildungsromans that came before (anything by Dickens, say), and the (similar?) playful absurdity of modernist novels. It's like there was a dry patch around the turn of the century -- meticulously described, carefully written, often autobiographical realism... it just doesn't do much for me. I'll speculate crazily and completely unqualified-ly and say that in my (limited) mental library, Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man has a foot in both camps -- it does a bit of what Maugham does, carefully documenting material details of his childhood memory -- but it's more mindful of strucutre and plot, and more willing to break away and experiment with language and humour.

And that's all I have to say about that. Mostly, this book made me think about other writers whose work I much prefer, even when it's perhaps less carefully, comprehensively done. I suspect this just isn't a period I "get", aesthetically speaking. Sorry, Somerset...

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Virginia Woolf's Night and Day (1919)

I just finished Virginia Woolf's Night and Day (1919) when I went out for a walk and relaxing afternoon in the park yesterday. It was a good read. I always like Woolf, though I sometimes take a while to make myself get started on one of her novels. I don't know exactly why this is the case, because I always like her work, but it somehow just works on me that way.

Night and Day is not as widely read as a lot of Woolf's other works (Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, Orlando, etc.). I don't think that is likely to change, but I can say that Night and Day is a book I wouldn't hesitate to recommend. It is, in many ways, more accessible than some of Woolf's other work, but has a lot of the same poetic beauty one can always expect in one of her novels.

The characters in Night and Day are quite engaging. They will infuriate you sometimes, and make you laugh at others, but they will never bore you. Catherine is a lovely protagonist to follow, and watching her mature through the course of the book is fun. William is pompous and fun to laugh at. Ralph is a bit of a mess, always stumbling here and there, seeming to get lost even inside his own thoughts. Mary is a tough, competent woman. And Cassandra is a stereotypical airhead (who turns out to have a little more to her than that, of course).

I had a great time reading Night and Day, and am glad I put it on my Fill in the Gaps list. It motivated me to pick the book up and get started on it. But it didn't take much pushing to get me to finish it. It was too enjoyable a read to need any external pushing.

Two more done. . . slowly

First off, i absolutely loved the Time Travellors wife and gobbled it up over a weekend.

The Time Travellers Wife is a story of the 'real' love between Claire and Henry through time and thier lives. Nicely written, this book leaps back and forth through time but still paints a coherent picture. I loved dipping in and out of this book,experiencing the justipositioning of Claire's youth and Henry's middle age.

This is just a beautifully story, written in an amazing way that grabs you and won't let you go till you've read that sweet ending with a tear soaked face.

So i flew threw this book and felt like i was on a roll, i then picked up Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea Quartet (as its both on this challenge and on my basics challenge list), which has won numerous awards and is seen as one of the key pieces of literature in the fantasy genre.


God, i really wanted to love these books as they've inspired so many of my favourite writers and i had really high hopes for enjoying them (maybe that was part of the problem). Although i can appreciate the plot and story arc of the Earthsea Cycle (i had four books in one), i just didn't connect with the characters or story at all.

I felt completely indifferent!

Strangely, i feel slightly disappointed in myself for not appreciating/connecting with these books, especially when i love reading/writing fantasy - I feel like i've now lost my membership card lol.

I guess i'll just have to put this series to one side and reread at a later date and see how i go.

I'd love to know what other people thought of this series? and if you liked/loved it, what was it about it that appealed?

or if there are other works by Ursula Le Guin which i might redeem myself with? lol.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Dana, Mysteries of Pittsburgh- Michael Chabon

A couple of weeks ago, Michael Chabon was at the Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver for a reading from his most recent book Manhood for Amateurs. As he read selections from the book, I could see that his prose had grown since this first novel of his, but it still had the ring of truth and beauty found in all of Chabon's works. He is funny, witty and eloquent. He was a wonderful speaker and gave some great writing advice (to be blogged about later). I look forward to reading even more of his work.

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh: A Novel (P.S.) The Mysteries of Pittsburgh: A Novel by Michael Chabon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I am ridiculously jealous that Chabon was able to create a novel so beautiful his first time out of the gate. Mysteries of Pittsburgh is Chabon's debut novel and abounds with his lyrical prose and intriguing characters.

Art Bechstein has graduated from college and is spending the summer following working at a book store and playing with his new found friends. Arthur LeCompte entices Art into a world of interesting people and even more interesting parties. Between Art's new girlfriend Phlox, his increasingly sexual feelings for his friend Art and new friend Clevland's interest in Art's father's mobster ways, Art is lost and confused. This novel is reminiscent of Fitzgerald and a bygone era of sophisticated parties and debauchery.

Chabon's prose is lyrical and striking. His descriptions are always unique and the characters are beautifully written. I am always impressed by his way of viewing the world. The details that he sees are vivid and intriguing. I always turn to Chabon's work when I'm feeling like I need inspiration for my own writing. He has not disappointed me yet.

View all my reviews >>

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Book Review by Aimee: Isis, by Douglas Clegg

Isis is a book I received for review. In the instant I saw the cover and Douglas Clegg's website I was overcome by book lust, but I didn't realise that the book was a novella until it arrived in the mail. I mistakenly wrote the work off straight away as a poorly marketed children's picture book, but I was wrong. So very wrong.

Isis is the story of Iris Catherine Villiers, a girl growing up in a large, dark house atop rocky cliffs, with a governess who seems cold beneath her beauty, a set of older brother twins (one good, one bad) and a mother who has given up her dreams of the stage to play house while the children's father is at war. In a moment of furious will, Iris causes an event which alters her heart, her spirit, her very existence. But it is how Iris chooses to deal with this grief that carries the momentum of this book, along with the dark consequences that result from Iris' poisonous choice.

Strangely didactic in execution, Isis is a storytelling with the same black undertones as those existing in nursery rhymes and traditional Brothers Grimm fairytales. As the title Isis directs, the book draws its central nature from the Ancient Egyptian myth of the Queen Isis, who loses her husband, Osiris, to murder by a jealous enemy. Osiris as husband (who also happens to be Isis' brother!) is cut into parts by the enemy's wish and strewn all over the land. Rather than leave Osiris to rest in pieces, Isis' grief spurs her on to hunt for each piece and reassemble Osiris in the hope that he will be transformed to her living, breathing lover once more. As it turns out, the new Osiris cannot exist in the land of the living, but in Egyptian tradition where once you're royalty, you're always royalty, Osiris finds his new place as King, this time as the Lord of the Dead.

The writing in Clegg's Isis is Gothic in style, and sparse, with a preference for a strong and clear story without clogged detail. The author (wisely, I believe) draws all the characters sketchily, differentiating between them with a few carefully chosen sensory descriptions. For example, Iris' twin brothers can be told apart as "Spence smelled, in the summer, distinctly of dirt and pond water, while Harvey had a fragrance as if he'd rolled in lavender." There is nothing original about the story's characters unfortunately - you have the groundskeeper who enjoys regaling Iris with local ghost stories, the debaucherous nanny and the good and evil twin in a sprawling Victorian ancestral mansion with pulsing family tombs situated nearby. But it is the twist on the legend of Isis and Osiris that makes this black fable so refreshing. While Isis in the Egyptian myth is treated as a heroine, Clegg has treated his protagonist differently- Iris makes her choices out of the selfishness of longing and loss, and she is held at arm's length for the reader to see her actions as dark folly rather than heroic in nature.

Strangely, the novella is marketed as a horror, as evidenced by the book trailer:

To my mind, however, those in search of a mysterious horror will be disappointed. There are some slightly horrible moments, but when it boils down to it Isis is a sad, wispy tale of love and the selfishness of loss and longing. In all truthfulness, this is not a book that promises to excite and delight and set the heart to hammering - its beauty is the more shy, retiring type.

Despite enjoying the generally creepy atmosphere, the slightly-cliched characters, the symbolism and the pretty writing, what truly makes this precious novella covetable is the gorgeous illustrations. Done in a style reminiscent of the original Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, the spindly artworks are melancholy sweetness and ghostly sorrow in equal measure. The illustrations are clever as well as beautiful - the pictures twist and turn - you may glimpse an eerie face on the normalcy of a tree trunk, and then blink and the face is gone. You'll be wondering whether you're seeing things, but really - that's half the fun, innit?!

I could attempt to criticise Mr Clegg's sophisticated offering by wishing it to have been a novel rather than novella, but on second thoughts any extra length would completely ruin its prettily poetic nature.

All in all, this book was such a pleasant surprise, and I'll be reading more of Douglas Clegg's works having so enjoyed this latest one.

But if you're still wondering whether YOU will enjoy it, I can only give the following guidance: if you're the type of person that holds their breath going past graveyards for fear of inciting bad luck (or worse, raising the dead), this book might make your fears a little worse.
But if you're not too afraid of such things, and you can appreciate for a few moments the delicate beauty of, say a spiderweb's intricate threadings, before brushing it out of your path, then read Isis - it's enchantingly dark, sorrowful and only slightly dangerous.

Rating: Isis receives 4 deathly romantic stars.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Competition: Halloween

Hey all,

sorry for the interruption but thought people might be interested that over on the writer's chronicle forum/blog we're going Halloween mad, and are offering three halloween themed sur/prizes! All you have to do is click here and leave a comment to be entered!

There will be a grand first prize, second prize and third prize!!

Winners will be announced on the 31st of October!

Now the theme of the prize is obviously going to be all things spooky, but will also include abit of an irish spin to it!!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Review-Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

I don’t know why I wanted to read this book. Perhaps it’s because it’s on the 1001 books to read before you die list. Perhaps because the word Lolita and the idea of a Lolita is part of popular culture. Whatever idea prompted me to read this terrible book, I don’t know. For those who don’t know the basic gist of the plot is that Humbert Humbert is obsessed with young girls (“nymphets”).  He longs to make one his and finally he meets Dolores (also known as Lo, Lolita, Dolly). He maneuvers his way into her life first as a boarder in her mother’s home, then her step-father. Humbert talks about his love for Lolita, his deep love for her but he withholds trinkets & favors for her physical affections. To me that’s not love. He lusts after her, he’ll do anything to hold his precious Lo. And she knows this. Even at 12, she is isn’t blind to Humbert’s obsession with her. In fact, she uses him just as much as he uses her. Humbert is an immature man. He manipulates situations in an almost childish manner to keep his relationship with Lo hidden. His obsession with nymphets is due to his sexual desire never maturing. He’s longing to consummate his relationship with a childhood sweetheart so he uses Lolita to fulfill that fantasy. Lolita, I believe, is looking for a father figure. She didn’t grow up with a father and her relationship with her mother was tumultuous. Lolita was looking for someone to love. And in Humbert, she found freedom. Freedom from school, her mother, the little town she lived in. Freedom to roam the county and an adult to buy her ice cold sodas and take her picture shows. Humbert was convenient. She used him til she found someone else. I felt nothing toward either character. By the end of the novel both of them irritated me beyond belief.
Nabokov’s verbose writing style made it hard for me to understand what was going on. I had to reread sections before fully understand what was going on. At first I thought no more fluffy books for me. You are losing your edge. More Tolstoy, less Sookie Stackhouse! But the story didn’t interest me so the writing didn’t redeem the book.
 I’m glad I read it and able to say I read it and finished it, but I would recommend it to anyone.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


"The Story of Edgar Sawtelle" by David Wroblewski
(from back cover)
Born mute, speaking only in sign, Edgar Sawtelle leads an idyllic life with his parents on their farm in remote northern Wisconsin. For generations, the Sawtelles have raised and trained a fictional breed of dog whose thoughtful companionship is epitomized by Almondine, Edgar's lifelong friend and ally. But with the unexpected return of Claude, Edgar's paternal uncle, turmoil consumes the Sawtelles' once peaceful home. When Edgar's father dies suddenly, Claude insinuates himself into the life of the farm--and into Edgar's mother's affections.

Grief-stricken and bewildered, Edgar tries to prove Claude played a role in his father's death, but his plan backfires--spectacularly. Forced to flee into the vast wilderness lying beyond the farm, Edgar comes of age in the wild, fighting for his survival and that of the three yearling dogs who follow him. But his need to face his father's murderer and his devotion to the Sawtelle dogs turn Edgar ever homeward.

MY THOUGHTS: I have heard of this book a lot, hopping around book blogland, and saw different opinions of it. I got the book Saturday at the library and was a little awed by how thick it was. 904 pages long. But once I started it I couldn't put it down. It kept calling me to finish it. I wanted to find out what happened to Edgar's father and what his uncle had to do with all this. As Edgar searches out the whys and hows a terrible accident happens that sends Edgar and three of dogs into the wilds of Northern Wisconsin. Edgar does a lot of growing up while on the run and finally figures out being home with his mother and dogs is what he wants. So he heads home to find a way to implicate his uncle in his father's death. I didn't really like the ending to this book. It left questions that I would have liked answered. Other than the ending this book was written beautifully. I felt like I was with Edgar and the dogs while they were growing up together. Awesome book!!


"Trespassers Will be Baptized" by Elizabeth Emerson Hancock
(from inside flap)
Growing up Southern and Baptist in eastern Kentucky, Elizabeth Hancock lived in a world that revolved around church, foreign missions projects, revival meetings, and of course, the Kentucky Wildcats.
In Trespassers Will be Baptized, Hancock draws us into her riotous tales of childhood misadventures, recounting her and her sister Meg's mischievous--if harmless--abuses of pastoral power: stealing Guess jeans from the Africa donation box or hawking backyard swimming pool baptisms during the neighborhood's annual yard sale.
As Hancock lovingly recalls the wisdom imparted by her long-suffering parents as they ministered to their unruly flock, she introduces us to the quirky and unforgettable denizens of her small-town Kentucky youth. There's Aunt Vaney and the hundreds of Christmas cards that decorated her living room, next-door-neighbor Mary Anna and her mysterious Catholic ways, and Ginny and Geneva Gordon, twin ex-debutante Little Lambs Sunday school teachers.
Whether or not you spent time learning Bible verses from felt boards or making Noah's arks from Popsicle sticks, you will fall in love with this magical coming-of-age story and fascinating slice of Southern culture.

MY THOUGHTS: This is a very good book! It at times is hilarious and funny. Other times it makes you cry. If you have been to church as a child, this book will bring back lots of memories of that time. From the time Elizabeth and her sister Meg were little they had been the daughters of the Baptist Preacher. This book is about their life, the good and the bad, that happened to them as children.

Book Review by Aimee: Random Magic, by Sasha Soren

What is that, you say? A book that can be described as Alice in Wonderland meets Harry Potter? YES PLEASE!

Random Magic by Sasha Soren is a firecracker box crammed full of crayon-colourful, whizz-happy tricks. I was so excited to be accepted as part of the somewhat extensive blog tour for this book I almost wet my pants. Figuratively, of course.
And the care package I received upon acceptance into the tour did little to quash my anticipation - there were chocolates, rubber duckies and a symbolic (but very real) blue feather that suddenly floats gently down into your lap as if out of nowhere, when you reach the very middle of the book...
Obviously, the author and her marketing team care very much about spraying the right ambience to surround and envelop the story, and that's what struck me most about this novel: The Atmosphere. Well, that and the fact that upon finishing this book you'll want to sit down, put your legs up, nurse your poor frazzled head and sip some cool water, as if you've run a marathon.

But first, the story itself. Henry Witherspoon is an educated, upper-class boy who is thrown almost absentmindedly into adventure - when Alice goes missing from the beloved classic Alice In Wonderland, Henry must kick himself into action before Alice, and Wonderland itself spontaneously combusts. He unwittingly enlists the help of the self-proclaimed "doodlewitch" Winnie, and together they prepare themselves for an Alice-hunt.
Leaping from book to book looking for the girl with hair the colour and consistency of cream, Henry and Winnie must battle a myriad of mythical beings and be assaulted by Labyrinth-style puzzles in order to solve the mystery of the little girl lost. Can Henry and Winnie "save the world by tea time"? I sure hope so. I thought at this point I'd also include the book trailer, so here it is:

Random Magic is such a glorious idea. It's as if Ms Soren was on an extreme sugar high during the "lightbulb moment". It's full of whimsy and teacups - you really have to suspend a helluva lot of disbelief to go with the flow of the story, but if you do, the magic carpet'll lift right off the ground and take you with it, whether you're ready or not.
And to be perfectly truthful, I wasn't really ready to be carried along for about three or four chapters. I resisted it - the story launches straight into the adventure and there are an incredible amount of characters to keep track of all in an instant. But after a bit of time and some calming breaths you'll settle into the rhythm. This is the perfect book for chillun who are interested in learning about the foundations of classical myth, and thrive on what I like to call "instant-noodle" adventure - two minutes and the adventure's ready to gobble up.

Almost completely dialogue-driven and jammed with halting sentences, concentration is a must for positive readings of Random Magic. At points I got rather annoyed at Henry's intrusions and repetitive questions on Winnie's pearls of wisdom, and wished he would just sit down and be a good boy and listen to what the wacky witch had to say, dognamit! I do have a short attention-span though, so perhaps I'd be in the minority on this one. You might find Henry's curiosity appealing and idiosyncratic in a GOOD way, *wink*.

This is a cracker of a book to read to some young "advanced readers" just before bedtime. Girls and boys will be dreamily exhausted after running an absolute gauntlet of crazy monsters, and so will you. Kiddies will also appreciate the rapid bursts of onomatopoeia and the general witty commentary from Winnie zipping and zagging through each page. Don't get me wrong though, teens and older ones can enjoy this style of book too - there's some more mature humour that thankfully can go over the younger heads, but generally those who love the adventures of Alice in Wonderland will find something familiar to love in Random Magic, too.

Interestingly, in the Advanced Copy version I received, there's a "deleted scene" at the end of the novel which Ms Soren, along with her editing team, decided to cut away because it didn't fit well with the rest of the story. And I totally understand what she means. The deleted scene is a backstory about one of the characters which lends itself more to the "evil clown" side of the Carnival fair rather than the "ferris wheel" feel of the rest of the book, if you catch my drift. Strangely though, I think I prefer it - I do love me some tales of dark whimsy - the blacker, the better. Again, it might just be personal preference - just the way I prefer Alice's Adventures Through The Looking Glass to the flossier (and more well-known) companion (see that review, here). I can only hope that Ms Soren might choose to write a sequel in the vein of the deleted story...I'll cross my fingers for it. And toes.

Actually, this book reminds me a lot of a young Australian author, Alexandra Adornetto, who at 14 wrote a book called The Shadow Thief and spouting the writing style of Enid Blyton... on crack. Fortunately, Alexandra won the lottery in cover art for her book (see cover here), whereas Random Magic's cover...well, let's be nice and say I have a bone to pick with it. I mean, CLEARLY, this cover is Nicole Kidman's face. Post-too-many-botox-and-collagen-injections. With red pigtails. It ain't the most original picture by any book's standards. And nor is it the right style for this particular book, in my humble opinion.
Now I know that this is not the author's fault in any way, but I do hope that perhaps there might be a new cover of the book printed soon. Something that better depicts the quirky, youthful and left-of-centredness of the book, like a tea party scene with Henry as the Mad Hatter, for example, rather than the face of a mainstream 42 year old celebrity painted in somewhat garish shading. But, eh, it's a small bone to pick! And maybe no one agrees with me anyway, hehe.

All in all, Random Magic might be a bit too quirky for some, but it's a strangely lovable creature. Kind of like that eccentric neighbour three doors down who recites poetry to her flowers, and throws the newspaper back at the postman. AND has about a thousand cats popping out of each nook and cranny around the yard, including the evil spitting one that you have to cross the road in order to avoid on the way to school. But all is forgiven because that same strange neighbour bakes the most delicious cupcakes - and always offers you the biggest one.

This is exactly what Random Magic is like. Try a bite, and see if it's to YOUR taste.

Rating: 3.5 candy-coloured stars for Random Magic.

P.S. Since it's on tour, why not see what other people have to say about Random Magic? I'm lucky enough to be one of the first blog stops - see the rest of the bloggers boarding the Random Magic train HERE. Toot toot!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Matthew, Book Review, *Cormac McCarthy, *Blood Meridian

I finished Blood Meridian (1985) a few days ago, but I needed a few days to digest what I'd read before posting anything. The novel follows The Kid, a teenager from Tennessee who joins a group of outlaws in Mexico and helps them murder, rape, and steal their way across the countryside. McCarthy doesn't gloss over any of the nasty parts, either -- the violence in the book is graphic, unsettling, and abundant. Even so, I don't want to give the impression that the violence in the book is needlessly gratuitous. I mean, it is absolutely gratuitous, excessive even, but never needlessly so. Every last bit of it is central to the several themes of the novel.

On one level, Blood Meridian is a blunt de-mythologizing of the Wild West. Hollywood's cattle rustlers whose bullets never hit their target and strangely honorable duel-at-high-noon bad guys have been replaced with the actual wanted men, cavalry soldiers, and Indian warriors who terrified populaces across the West and Southwest in all their psychopathic, nigh-feral grotesqueness. Men are disemboweled and mutilated, babies are dashed against rocks, women are scalped and raped as they lay dying. It's damned tough to romanticize anything about this part of North American history after you understand the sorts of things that really went on back then.

The violence also serves as an exploration of the depravities in which humans are capable of indulging, and some of those explorations take the form of ad hoc discourses by Judge Holden, the outlaw gang's second in command and one of the most remarkably complex characters I've come across in recent memory (he's a sort of Death/Old Testament/Satan figure, among other things).

The dark subject matter makes the book uncomfortable to read in places, but hopefully that won't stop someone from reading it themselves. A large part of its impact on the reader lies in the stark power of its unflinching depictions of human cruelty, and the book absolutely deserves every bit of the praise that's been heaped upon it over the years. Just expect to come out of the experience a bit drained.

Back on the List

by George Bernard Shaw (1912; 1938)

I'm just looking at the reason for the disparity of the dates and am finding this. It was written in 1912, but the version that is printed for reading consumption is dated 1938 and is based on Shaw's screen adaptation. Yes, apparently Shaw was around for movies - blew my mind, too. But the most interesting note, to me, was, "First presented in German at the Hofburg Theater, Vienna, on 16 October 1913." That is, it was presented in German before it was presented in English (in London).
What the?!
A play about the class differences in England as manifested in the country's spoken language was first presented in German. Heh. Luckily, the Germans have class differences manifested in their language as well. Unlike, according to one of the letters that appear as bonus materials, the Swedish, who have nothing (okay, not nothing: less) at home to relate the premise to.
I won't retell the plot because I have the feeling you've seen or heard of My Fair Lady, which is Lerner's (and Lowe's) adaptation of Shaw's play.
Interesting is the epilogue that Shaw added, to make sure that the reader knows he is serious about having Eliza marry Freddy and not Higgins. Shaw figured everyone would get along best if they didn't jump over into the romantic side of things, something Higgins with his mother fixation probably couldn't have done, anyway.

Fun read, by the way, except for the last scene in which Eliza and Higgins have it out. That was a bit too much explanation, I think.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Reason I've Gotten Off the Track

Nicholson Baker,
The Anthologist (2009)

Rarely do I feel that a book is written precisely for me. But, then again, rarely do I pass by an opportunity to read something by Nicholson Baker, so obviously my taste tends in his direction.
Anyway, I happen to write silly little poems for a radio show and this book is a kind of apologia for poems that rhyme.
And it's very intelligently written and has nicely intertwined stories of what narrator thinks and does and says and what happens to him. Ah, the book is a delight.
And, to top it all off, the reader gets lots of lovely inspirations to read more poetry, which is what I've been doing since The Anthologist came out in September.
I'll be getting back to my list soon. But first I'm encouraging you to read some Nicholson Baker. Always a treat.

Off-List Reading

Christie Malry’s Own Double-Entry (1973)

By B.S. Johnson

The novel wasn’t originally on my list, but someone else here read it and made it sound appealing to me. And voila, the blog is showing fruits.

I thought the book was great. A little more meta than I usually like, but the self-reference as created text (ick, I thought I wouldn’t be writing statements like that after College) made sense. My favorite instance:

Meanwhile, they were both perfectly happy. Well, this is fiction, is it not? Isn’t it?

Think about that for a while, and if this kind of thinking appeals to you, then hie yourself to the nearest book-purveyor and read it. As Johnson often points out, it is a short novel.

And, just for fun, here are some words I had to look up: exeleutherostomise; fastigium; sphacelated; trituration; helminthoid; cryptorchid; eirenicon; sufflamination; ungraith; brachyureate; theodolite.

But don’t let that turn you off. The double-entry conceit, as laid out in the terms of its inventor, the 15th-century Tuscan Monk, Fra Paciolini, makes overly perfect sense for the likes of Christie Malry and moves the book along nicely. Not only that, but the individual reckonings are an ingenious way of letting you reevaluate what happened before.

Hie yourselves and read, I say.

Book Review by Aimee: Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk

"You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You are the same decaying organic matter as everyone else, and we are all a part of the same compost pile." - Fight Club, pg 134.

I think Chuck Palahniuk is a little bit genius.

Having seen the movie Fight Club at LEAST 5 times in recent years, I fear it will be entirely mainstream and incredibly unliterary to refer to the movie in relation to the book and cross-compare the two. But I'm going to do it anyway. For me personally, the movie is so spectacular in its visualness, and Edward Norton and Brad Pitt are completely rad in it, that it slightly edges out the book. And yet, how can this be, since having now read the book, I can see the movie's glory derives entirely from the book's succinct and underwritten scenes of awesomeness?

I hope I haven't lost you.

Fight Club follows the entirely unapologetic, emotionless (and at times highly unreliable) thinkings of a nameless narrator, a yuppie officeworker who is dragging himself through a meaningless existence. His so far unsuccessful search for meaning in life leads him to participate in cancer support groups, even though he doesn't have cancer himself. But even that corner of the earth is tipped off balance when he finds there is another 'faker' in the group, the dark and raggedly seductive Marla.

Not long after this Marla introduction, on a strangely fatalistic whim, the narrator also invites Tyler Durden into his life and his world is transformed. With Tyler, he is a part of the highly secret fraternity known only as "Fight Club" where men physically rip into each other one on one, giving into primal urges that have been suppressed by society's reign.

Operating by the club's secret code, the narrator quickly becomes addicted to the pain of the fight - which is both a release and a relief from his otherwise numbed and unfeeling persona. As the narrator embarks on Project Mayhem with his fellow members under Tyler's totalitarian rule, the plot thickens and twists in ways you might never have imagined and you'll be horrified and amused by the results in equal measure til the very end.

I can't say much more about the plot than that or otherwise I'll spoil the twists.

Pardon the pun, but Fight Club sure packs a punch. It's an excessively dark humour, and has some fantastic quotes you are sure to remember with a secret, evil smile for years afterwards. Palahniuk somehow manages to write an ironic commentary on societal conformity, without alienating boy OR girl readers. And no sentence is wasted - it's a swift and surprisingly stingy read at 207 flimsy paperback pages.

Similar in tone to American Psycho, I can totally see why this book developed into such a phenomenon from the time of its release. It walks a neat tightrope between showcasing beauty in Destruction, and warning of the modern man's disconnect. There's a weird jittery calmness to the book's narration that keeps your brain alert, as if the book itself may swing a fist at your face or might chance a knee to your groin if it thinks you'd react at all- so don't work yourself into a frenzy while reading if you can help it. It might be difficult to contain yourself, though, and it'll make no difference whether you're a perfect princess or a rugby player - you'll be caught up in the bloodlust and the other crazy antics of the Fight Club boys either way.

I really can't rave enough. If you haven't read the book or seen the movie I suggest you do so NOW. Any worries you might have about it being too "gory"- well, the movie really isn't that bad and the fighting scenes take a backseat to the psychological meanderings of Edward Norton's character and his run-ins with people in his daily life. If it's any consolation you'll get to see a fair bit of Brad Pitt with his shirt off. Worth it, yah?

I also can't suggest which one to watch/read first. I watched the movie and then read the book but it didn't spoil it in the slightest. I imagine it'd be the same if you approached it from the opposite end. I still marvelled at the book story though I knew the movie script by heart. And I hope I won't be spoiling too much by saying that the two endings are entirely different. Of course, both endings rocked my socks.

Sadly, I wouldn't be a valued member of the elite secret society. Mainly because I've already broken the first rule of Fight Club: which is, Never Talk About Fight Club.

Damn it. I must be destined for mediocrity.

4.5 stars for Fight Club (the book).

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Book Review by Aimee: The Evil Seed, by Joanne Harris

Having finished this book, to quote W.B. Yeats: my wretched dragon is perplexed.

Word of warning; this will only be a MINI book review, rather than a full book review, because I think the writing in this novel reflects something that is only 'halfway there'.

The Evil Seed is an often confusing. sometimes numbing and other times flamboyantly lovely read - a strange hybrid of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Lesbian Vampire" poem 'Christabel', and the videoclip of Guns n Roses 'November Rain', with a sprinkling of The Secret History and a couple of Interview with the Vampire remarks. Unfortunately, the originality, creativity and unique books of all such mediums referred to in the previous sentence are lost in the inexperience of Harris' first attempt at writing.

The novel intrudes on the mind of uni student and artist Alice at a vulnerable time - she is reminiscing about her former romantic relationship with Joe, but suddenly she finds herself having to house the new girl he is besotted with: Ginny. Ginny is like the hottest Kate Bush you ever did see, and perfects the look of 'Little Girl Lost'. But her friends are kinda weird - it takes three invitations for them to step across a door threshold into your house, and they only like to come over at night, if at all possible.

At first, Alice believes that jealousy is the culprit responsible for her ill feelings towards Ginny, but when she finds an old diary of a gentleman's run in with a Kate Bush vampire, Alice begins to suspect that the truth about Ginny may be very sinister indeed...

Joanne Harris, the author of such mini masterpieces as Chocolat, wrote this book when she was a fresh, impressionable 23 year old. She admits herself that she struggled with the idea that the book should be republished, once she became famous and everything. And I have to be frank and say I understand her concerns. I could see glimpses of the glorious, but overall I felt that lingering university student angst, that 90s love for gothica in its darkest and most grunge-like form and a sense of an author that hadn't quite found her voice just yet.

This book is, overall, romantic and lusty and bloody. The vampires (though they are never referred to as this, only 'Nightwalkers') are of the monstrous, ravaging type. They can hypnotise and manipulate people into doing whatever they please, and they appear to live only for hunger and fear.

At times the writing screamed for simplicity, and instead was overwritten, but I enjoyed the Byronic character of Daniel (diary guy), though the modern-day Alice lesser so.

This was a little too dark, musty and derivative to be a great read, but I still consider it to be a good read, particularly if you like books like Wuthering Heights, or Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles and require a quick fix of packet blood. Yeah, I know it's not as good as the live stuff. But hey, even vampires can't have home-cooked gourmet every night. And as far as takeaways go this stuff aint devoid of your daily dose o' vitamins. Just take care with the bony bits.

3 stars.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Carpentaria - Alexis Wright

"One evening in the driest grasses in the world, a child who was no stranger to her people, asked if anyone could find hope. The people of parable and prophecy pondered what was hopeless and finally declared they no longer knew what hope was. The clocks, tick-a-ty tock, looked as though they might run out of time. Luckily, the ghosts in the memories of the old folk were listening, and said anyone can find hope in the stories: the big stories and the little ones in between."
--Carpentaria, p1

On the edge of the Gulf of Carpentaria in Queensland is the tiny town known as Desperance (despite government attempts to rename the town), a town ravaged by monsoons, cyclones and incomprehensible tidal patterns. Home to the white people of Uptown, and the warring families of the Pricklebush and the Westsiders, the town is constantly at war with itself, with each other, and with the world around it. The story mostly centres around one family, the Phantoms of the Pricklebush - Fishing king, accused murderer and master storyteller Norm Phantom, his proud and haughty ex-wife Angel Day and his children, including political activist Will Phantom, who takes matters into his own hands when the worlds biggest iron ore mine begins construction on Aboriginal land.

As Wright puts it, Carpentaria is about "the big stories, and the little ones in between." It combines the constant rumour mongering and apocryphal stories of the Uptown people with Dreamtime legends, and old ancestral tales. Stories like Elias Smith, the man who walked into town out of the sea and left just as he arrived; or Mozzie Fishman the religious zealot who leads his band of believes across the country following an ancient ancestral tradition.

More than this though, it is also about the uneasy relationship between the white and indigenous residents of Desperance, and of the country as a whole. It deals with issues like land rights and Aboriginal deaths in custody, both issues that have been debated fiercely even since the book was published in 2006.

I wish I could tell you how much I loved this book. I don't know if I'm biased, since I tend to like all things magical realism, but this book is aamzing. It's big and sprawling and epic and utterly utterly incredible. It's taken me about two months to read it (making it the longest amount of time I've ever spent on one book) - the language, grammar and style make it not an easy book to read, but it's so worth it. It's full of quirky humour, utter despair and everything in between.


Friday, October 9, 2009

Review: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

frankenstien audio book image

Book Stats from Amazon:

  • MP3 CD
  • Publisher: In Audio; MP3 edition (December 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1584725117
  • ISBN-13: 978-1584725114

    Synopsis: (may contain spoilers for some)

    This story is a well know horror classic and is an epistolary novel. It is written as a series of letter from an educated English explorer to his sister as he embarks on a journey through the inhospitable icy Northern regions of the world. As he is traveling with his ship and crew, he finds a man half frozen to death traveling on the ice. The captain brings the frozen Doctor Frankenstein onto his ship and nurses him back to consciousness. It is here that Victor Frankenstein's tale unfolds  as he tells his tale to the captain where it is relayed to the reader through the captain’s letters.

  • A bit beyond the basics

    Victor begins by telling his story from his childhood on. He states he is from a wealthy family whom is loving and close. He is educated and is expected to marry his cousin of sorts and is happy to oblige. Being intellectually inclined he studies all the great philosophers of the age, eventually becoming obsessed with creating life from death. When he eventually does this, the man/monster he creates is appalling to him and is relieved when the monster finally disappears.

    The monster, spurned wanders in the wilderness contemplating life where he eventually stumbles upon a family that he grows to adore and wishes for his own. They do not know he exists, as he watches them from afar. In this way the monster learns the ways of the world. When he finally tries to befriend them they are of course horrified and violently reject him. The monster is heartbroken and horrendously distraught. He blames Victor, his creator, and vows to destroy his life completely. The quote below exemplifies his complete distress:

    Cursed, cursed creator! Why did I live? Why, in that ... instant, did I not extinguish the spark of existence which you had so wantonly bestowed? I know not; despair had not yet taken possession of me; my feelings were those of rage and revenge. I could with pleasure have destroyed the cottage and its inhabitants and have glutted myself with their shrieks and misery.

    My Thoughts:

    I listened to this novel, unabridged, on audio. It was very pleasant because on this version the reader has an English accent which was wonderful and appropriate for the story. I am not sure if I would have been able to actually read it in written form, since old English can be very difficult. So I recommend audio for experiencing this wonderful classic. I give it 4 stars.

    The story is emotional and it pushes the reader’s feelings toward those of complete and utter despair, both from the Doctor’s perspective and that of the monster’s. The monster himself is not terrifying. He is a lost soul in part a product of his environment. I think that the story is more heartbreaking than it is scary.

    Its link to GLBT:

    One of the reasons I listened to this audio book was because it was designated GLBT in nature. Thinking about it from this perspective I think it is due to the intimate relationships between the main characters, being mostly males, which are very convoluted and intense inferring an intimacy of sorts. I can also see that since GLBT individuals may un-rightly be considered an abomination by some, this may also be a source of connection for the community. The horrible feelings of being an outcast, being shunned by society, family, or father all link to the experiences of the monster.

  • This book is being read for 4 challenges – The Basics Challenge; The Fill in the Gaps; GLBT; and RIPIV.

    Links from Amazon are as close a match as I could find to the version I listened to and may not be currently available. They are listed in the order here US/UK/Canada.

  • Monday, October 5, 2009

    Review: The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak

    I've long said that books don't make me cry. They don't! The Olympics, yes. Kodak commercials, yes. But books? Never.


    So The Book Thief is set in a town outside Munich during World War II, near enough to see the Jews and Communists march by on their way to Dachau. The protagonist is a young girl for whom stories—books—become a lifeline. She has secrets and friends and secret friends. There are villains, big and small. Words are used as a sword and a shield. The sky is white or gray or yellow.

    It's a story told by Death—a convention that might seem gimmicky in other hands; I could describe Zusak's style better if I knew how to make an adjective out of the word "Vonnegut." Death doesn't like surprises, apparently: He tells exactly what's going to happen to whom, in the pages ahead—but somehow you feel compelled to find out why and how, in spite of the dread. Zusak triumphs in presenting a heartbreaking and haunting work without resorting to the blatant emotional manipulation of a twist ending or artificially prolonged denouement.

    Marketed as a novel for adults in the author's native Australia, The Book Thief may be missed by adults in the US due to Knopf's decision to market it here as a book for teens. This is unfortunate. I can't imagine processing the full richness and poverty of this story without the benefit of hindsight, or without having paid the cost of experience.

    It's the kind of book that makes it hard to choose a next book, because it stays with you for days.

    Oh, and about the crying? Never say never...

    Gravity's Rainbow

    I realized I totally forgot to post this here--I and some others are trying to get through Gravity's Rainbow. Details here, if anyone wants to join up...

    I think a bunch of people have this on their list, right? Anyone ever tackled it before (or finished it?)?

    Sunday, October 4, 2009

    Shelly's Progress: One-tenth of the Way Through My List

    Shelly's List

    It seems like a lot of people are way ahead of me in getting through their 100 books. But I was pleased this past week to finish the tenth on my list. So far, I've finished: Infinite Jest, Velocity, The Princess of Mars, The 8th Habit, The World is Flat, Siddhartha, Woman to Woman and other poems, Mortician's Tea, poemcrazy, and Rip Van Winkle. I've put up some thoughts on Infinite Jest and The World is Flat on other blogs (and I did Siddhartha too, but the post was lost). I thought I'd just include a few thoughts here on 3 others that I finished this past month. I think with my recently improved internet access, I should be able to post more updates to this site in the future too.

    The Princess of Mars, by Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1912

    Yes, it is dated. Yes, there is much that doesn't pass with the politically correct crowd. But it is a good story.

    I enjoyed the adventure tale that took me to an imagined Martian landscape with warriors, princesses, and a weird code of chivalry and bravery. It was fun to follow John Carter into this strange world, and to at least pretend to believe that he really did act with all the courage that he tells us he did. I'm glad I put this one on my list, so that I finally got around to reading it. It won't, however, crack my list of top 100 books I've ever read.

    Overall result: B

    Velocity, by Dean Koontz, 2005

    I've seen Koontz's name around a lot, and heard lots of good things about him. That's why he made my Fill in the Gaps list — well, that and because I found Velocity in a second hand shop for a good price.

    I was surprised with how well-written the book is. There are several spots that caught me off guard and made me laugh out loud. I didn't expect to find such a good mix of humor in the novel, but it was a good break from the rather graphic telling of violent murder after violent murder.

    I thought the story held together pretty well, and was told in a neat and tidy way that reflects disciplined writing. It was a good way to spend a lazy weekend, reading Velocity, and I was unexpectedly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I gave it to a friend after I read it, and he had almost the exact same thing to say about it.

    Overall result: B/B+

    Rip Van Winkle, by Washington Irving, 1819

    This is a fun little short story. I can't believe I've never actually read it before, because the story seemed like something that was so familiar, so much a part of my subconscious mind. I was surprised when I found out how skewed some of the details I thought I knew were.

    Actually sitting down and reading "Rip Van Winkle" is a good reminder of why this story is so much a part of the collective consciousness. It is well written, and very amusing. I really enjoyed the character, and loved the writing, the way the story unfolded, and the whole air of sarcasm (but with good humor) of it all. It's a very fun read.

    Overall result: A-

    Of the others that I've finished so far, G. O. Clark's poetry collection Mortician's Tea was my favorite, along with Siddhartha. These two were the best of the 10 I've read. The 8th Habit was my least favorite.

    Facebook Page!

    Sorry to interrupt, but i thought i'd let you all know i've set up a facebook page for FITG (hope the link works) anyhoo, going to add a fanbox on the right on this blog, so i think you can add yourself there if interested. Theres a discussion forum section on the page and all, if people want to discuss books, events or updates



    Wednesday, September 30, 2009

    Book Review by Aimee: The Knife of Never Letting Go, by Patrick Ness

    YOU, Blogosphere- Amazon- Goodreads- you've Asked me to read this book by plastering shamelessly positive reviews of it all over yourself.

    I have Answered.

    The Ask and the Answer ("TATA") by Patrick Ness is book 2 of the Chaos Walking trilogy. Now before we go getting our teeth stuck into this fresh piece of meat, I highly HIGHLY recommend that you read Book 1.

    I repeat: this isn't one of those series' where you can afford to pick up at Book 2 - you simply MUST read Book 1 FIRST. Patrick Ness' ROARINGLY adventurous dystopian trilogy is all about the suspense, and besides the story being absolutely spoilt in its entirety, you won't have any EFFING clue what's going on at ANY stage. So if you want to be part of this exclusive club, GO. Now. Read. And love.

    So with that out of the way: TATA begins at The End. I mean that it presents itself as the tail of Book 1, where we are left hanging by one very sweaty hand off the edge of a high, rocky cliff, otherwise known as the dreaded 'cliffhanger'. There, first page in, written THE END, and then the story begins...

    ----Mild spoilers start here - watch for the splash as you hit the water below - DON'T SAY YOU HAVEN'T BEEN WARNED ------

    ---------------------Begin Spoiler -------------------

    I guess it's no big secret that Viola lives to see another day, brushing off that bulletwound that showcased Todd as the hero we all know he is in The Knife of Never Letting Go ("TKNLG").

    Problem is, Viola's been picked up by a group of healing and silent (no 'noise') dastardly WOMEN, while Todd's thrown in the deep end with Mayor (now President) Prentiss, who sees 'big things' in Todd and wants him to join his gang. It's a power struggle and brainwashing of epic proportions as the two young protagonists fight their way through evils untold and doubts unnumbered in pursuit of their destination: each other.

    ----------------------End Spoiler--------------------

    That is seriously ALL I'm going to say about the plot. Read it yourself.

    Now for everything else:-

    As the second book in the series, TATA has a fair bit to live up to. In Book 1, Ness built a world where a cowboy and a GI Joe could feel equally at home within its landscape. Book 2, with the further introduction of females and especially with the added viewpoint of the sensible and sweet Viola does run the risk of softening the novel's edges. Lucky for us there's plenty of dust, horses, blood and guts, bomb explosions and gunfire, sweaty boys and sadistic men to keep us thrilled to bits with the second offering.

    In my thoughts on TKNLG (see review here) I had challenged Patrick Ness to include Viola's perspective in the next book - Todd was so full of life and guilt and strangeness that I felt sure Viola would bring something extra special if she were allowed to be NOISY with the rest of them.
    I was, however, a little disappointed in Viola's representation in the second novel. I was hoping she would be a joint protagonist similarly to Will's role in His Dark Materials (yes I'm still comparing Todd and Viola to Lyra and Will because they are PRETTY MUCH ONE AND THE SAME - you just don't want to admit it), but instead Viola's still that backstage prop used to reflect and deflect Todd's NOISY musings. Further to this point, I had difficulty establishing which character was speaking, except that Viola spoke/ wrote/ told the story like a genderless, stunted being. She sometimes experienced moments of warmth but Todd's overriding personality gobbles it up. Viola is still two-dimensional, Todd is like ten-dimensional. Viola should have been at least a five-dimensional by my awesomely accurate maths calculations. And can I just lament over how much I miss a certain adorable someone from the first book who didn't quite make it to the second? You know who I mean.

    But despite these slight hitches, TATA is a dangerously addictive addition to the three-part series. The reading style continues to be accessible and despite its thickness, I guarantee you will rip through it like a horse through a gate at the mere mention of the word 'lightning'.

    Happily, Todd's language is still an endearing mix of Shakespeare, current teenage slang and toddler spelling. And ordinary words like "ask" become something entirely different and somewhat dangerous with the simple addition of, for example, some silver paint and a capital "A". Manipulating words and screwing with multiple layers of meaning makes the trilogy enviously exclusive to the readers, like learning a secret society's handshake. Only YOU know what The Knife of Never Letting Go refers to. Thankfully, it's the same with The Ask and the Answer. This book will scribble on your brain like a PARTICULARLY HYPERACTIVE PRESCHOOLER in search of the creative holy grail, so be warned: side effects from reading include expecting everyone around you to talk in echoes with thoughts popping up in bold and unapologetically messy font around their head. You may find that you have to consciously refrain from using the word "effing" in more than three sentences in a row and on blog reviews you'll almost certainly increase your rate of TYPING IN CAPS LOCK FOR NO APPARENT REASON....

    ..... NO APPARENT REASON........


    And the physical book itself is adorable. It's lovely and fat and uncontrollably baby-blue in colour. There's a massive silver letter A (which will ONLY make sense when you're reading it) and it's covered in a thick plastic perfect for adventurous boys and girls who don't understand the meaning of keeping books in good condition.

    I also think it's SUPERCOOL the way highly mature themes are dealt with in this series. There's racism, sexism, other general discrimination, dictatorship, questions of religion, abuse of power...I could go on for a while. Chunks of heart and hope are just bowled in randomly along with the usual suspects of greed, guilt, betrayal of trust and general disillusionment. It reminds me a lot of the movie District 9 (which I LOVED as well, by the way - see my review of the movie, here) - fellow Aussie blogger Rhiannon Hart touched on the book's familiarity to District 9 as well (see THAT review, here).

    All in all, the sense of creative adventure in this series is sure to overwhelm you- it'll quicken the hearts of any Peter Pan in pursuit of a freshly opened window or a wizened pirate desperate for a new frontier, but equally girls should love the first buds of romance and Todd's crazy "boy-ness". I think I can say without reservation that almost everyone with a still-beating heart will appreciate the elements of humanity and community: an oh-so-relevant commentary on today's increasingly distant and ego-centric world.

    So if you have an impossible sense of adventure; if you enjoy tales of an underdog fighting against the injustices of a dystopian world; if you enjoy transformations and the triumph of EVIL over GOOD as well as GOOD over EVIL; if you fly the flag for teenage romance in the most unlikely of situations...pick up the first book and join the revolution, or get ready to read the third and final instalment before the rest of the world catches on.

    Cos I think we're on the brink of something big.

    4.5 stars for The Ask and the Answer.