This would usually be the time when I would ask the largely rhetorical and semi-pathetic question, “Why do I keep reading Sophie Kinsella books?” Well...moreThis would usually be the time when I would ask the largely rhetorical and semi-pathetic question, “Why do I keep reading Sophie Kinsella books?” Well, this time the answer is blatantly obvious—the plot of this one involves amnesia, yo, and I can never resist amnesia—and the question is kind of unfair. Because this wasn’t so bad—far less annoying than the last few Shopaholic books. Kinsella’s strength has always been her ability to create an amusing, fast-paced narrative, and coupled with the amnesia plot, I really didn’t want to put this book down. However, it also shares many of the same irritating traits as Kinsella’s other novels. The protagonist is once again a flighty, shallow woman who spends most of the book flailing and helpless, wriggling out of scrapes mostly through luck and/or the help of a strong, powerful man. Also, Kinsella really has no idea what it means to be poor. Not only are these novels full of rich people, the “poor” characters still have large country houses (but they smell kind of funny!) or can afford their own flats in London. Uh-huh. I wish I had your problems, ladies.
For what this was, it was fun enough. Actually, in some ways it’s becoming funnier in retrospect, because I’m realizing what the plot reminded me of. In Remember Me?, 24-year-old Lexi wakes up after receiving a bump on the head to discover that she’s actually a very different and successful 28-year-old version of herself who’s lost four years of her memory after a car accident. Which brings to mind a book I read as a teenager, The Other Side of Dark by Joan Lowery Nixon, in which 13-year-old Stacy wakes up after a four-year coma to solve a murder and embark on a vaguely squicky romance with a 23-year-old. Mostly I remember the latter book due to its having one of the most unintentionally hilarious last paragraphs ever: “My cheek glows from the warmth of his skin through his shirt, and I can hear the steady beat of his heart. I put my arms around him. I’m Stacy McAdams. I’m seventeen. And I’m definitely in the right body!” Ahahahahaha. I guess we should all be glad that in Remember Me?, Lexi merely engages in some rather embarrassing activities involving muffins.
Since this review has clearly descended into tangent city, I’d also like to call attention to something that was in no way Kinsella’s fault, but which made me want to laugh/cry almost as much as Stacy’s self-affirmations. Dear American publishers of English novels: We, your readers, are not idiots. We can figure out that, if a novel is set in London, “football” means the sport with the round ball and “crisps” are not some unfathomable food, even more impossible to decode than this “Philosopher’s Stone” I’ve heard stories of. We might, in fact, be reading this book set in London in part to soak up the English atmosphere and indulge our Anglophilia. So you are in fact helping no one when you take a manuscript from across the pond and do a find/replace on all the “British” terms, leaving you with a long scene that involves your heroine making repeated and unintentionally comic reference to a “packet of chips.” Yes, thank you for clarifying that the characters did not just purchase a plastic bag of French fries from a gas station; however, you’ve now got them sounding like poor confused souls with horrible mid-Atlantic accents. NO ONE SAYS PACKET OF CHIPS. Americans say bag of chips. English people say packet of crisps. Please choose one or, better yet, LEAVE IT THE HELL ALONE. Next thing you know all novels will take place in North Generica, because god forbid readers be exposed to something unfamiliar or spend half a second feeling CONFUSED.
So annnnnnnyway…like I said, way way back in my first paragraph, this was actually pretty fun and diverting. Much better than the later Shopaholic books, and a perfectly decent beach or plane read. Or in my case, couch and bathtub read. If you’re in need of some froth, you could do a lot worse. After all, this is froth WITH BONUS AMNESIA.(less)
**spoiler alert** Let's talk about death. Not death which is inevitably part of life, but death in fiction, where it is not inevitable at all. Death i...more**spoiler alert** Let's talk about death. Not death which is inevitably part of life, but death in fiction, where it is not inevitable at all. Death in fiction is a deliberate, well-thought out decision: the writer is God, and he or she is choosing, for whatever reason, to Strike This Character Down.
There are good fictional deaths, and ones which feel cheap. This book lost me for good because it contains a death that felt exactly like the hand of God reaching down: Oh, thought the writer-god, I don't really know how to end this but I know that an element of tragedy will make this novel seem super deep. Die, character, die! This did not seem like a senseless death of that type that in real life is imbued with honest tragedy. It felt like an author scrambling for a final act, and not being brave enough to let his characters simply face the rest of their lives together. To die might be a very great adventure, as Peter Pan says, but Peter Pan is an eternal child. Isn't this book supposed to be about growing up? Isn't the greatest adventure simply living?
But let's stay with youthful mistakes for a minute. You see, the thing is: I wrote this novel. I don't say this out of jealousy—“It should be me with this bestseller, me with a movie deal and Nick Hornby praising me on his blog!” No. Not that I wouldn't like all of those things one day—I totally would—but the novel I wrote, which shares a freakish number of similar elements with this one, sucked. I mean, it really stank. This novel, it must also be noted, is much, much better than mine was: the prose is an improvement over mine at the time (I was 20 or 21), and I'm pretty damn sure that this book is more realistic, and more consistently funny and emotionally engaging, than my juvenile effort. However, there are definite and bizarre similarities: both books are about a friendship between a man and a woman over a long stretch of time, beginning in the ’80s; both are about struggling to strike a balance between financial solvency and artistic integrity; both star a character named Em (really, it's eerie); and both feature a tragic bicycle accident. It's the tragic bicycle accident that really gets me. I saw the one in One Day coming from miles away, and approached it with increasing incredulity. Because I had done the tragic bicycle accident, in the shitty novel I wrote when I was 20, and it was dumb then and it is dumb now. It's the hand of the author coming down and going, “Look! Look! I AM GOING TO MAKE YOU CRY GODDAMMIT.”
Since none of you has read my novel (thank god), this comparison lacks something. So allow me to make another one. This involves yet another embarrassing confession: I really, really like the movie City of Angels. Yes, the one with Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan: completely honestly, I do. I also love the movie it was based on, Wings of Desire. I remember at some point discussing our mutual appreciation for these two films with my mother. Which did we prefer? I know I hesitated, because as much as I love Wings of Desire, I also think it drags at certain points—that long, lengthy speech in the bar at the end! What's that about? City of Angels, though...
Here my mom stepped in, definitive. She liked Wings of Desire better, because of the crucial difference in the movies' endings. See, in Wings of Desire, the angel falls, finds the woman he loves, there is a pretentious speech in a bar, and then they just...go on living. That's the ending: they must face the consequences of living. In City of Angels, on the other hand, the angel falls, finds the woman he loves, and then the very next morning...she dies. IN A FREAKIN' TRAGIC BICYCLE ACCIDENT. Seriously, what gives? Are we all just a bunch of scarred Nico fans inside? Is this a public safety announcement of some kind? “Kids! Wear a helmet—or your death may facilitate the important, if sadly belated, epiphanies of your loved ones!”
No, but quite honestly, I think my mom was right that the bolder, braver ending can sometimes be the one that's not about GRAND TRAGEDY, but that's simply about the everyday struggle and joy of living. How is that not an equally valid story to tell? The fact that David Nicholls seemed to do everything in his power to ultimately avoid telling it really frustrated me. This novel definitely has its charm: it's snarky and English; its central device is clever; its depiction of feeling lost and aimless in your twenties seemed spot-on. But—in part because of its clever format—too many of this story's important moments happened off-stage, and the—one is led to believe—central event of its two protagonists finally, finally falling in love is downplayed horribly so that—dun dun dun—the tragic bicycle accident can occur several chapters later. I felt cheated and manipulated, frankly, having slogged through 300 pages of the male lead behaving like an utter ass while not a lot of other stuff happened—all that, for this? And sure, one could argue that that sense of disappointment is realistic to life. But I would counter that it doesn't make for very good fiction.
Neither does the fact that this book has more endings padding out its already hefty page count than The Return of the King. You'd already lost me with the tragic bicycle accident, dude, can we just wrap this up already? Your internet profile was enthralling, but on a one-to-one level it just isn't working. Let's split the check and go our separate ways. Maybe in ten years' time I'll look back on this and laugh; in twenty I'll have forgotten your name.(less)
Ahh, how times have changed. I used to consider these books a good guilty pleasure; now I find there's a lot less pleasure and a lot more guilt. Kinse...moreAhh, how times have changed. I used to consider these books a good guilty pleasure; now I find there's a lot less pleasure and a lot more guilt. Kinsella is still an amusing, energetic writer, but Becky really grated on my nerves this time around. She's just so shallow and so frivolous, and while in the first few books she was also just a regular working girl, now that she's rich (thanks entirely to her husband), her insane overspending and materialism swiftly loses its charm and becomes...icky. It can be difficult to read a whole book about someone you would probably feel uncomfortable having lunch with.
So, while I still think there's a...certain charm to these books, and that they're in many ways better than a lot of chick lit, I also just don't think they're for me anymore. I've become too old and cranky to enjoy them. They belong to a part of my life that no longer exists (in which, for example, I also secretly owned an Avril Lavigne CD).(less)
Like Thomas' PopCo, I found this both fascinating and frustrating. Thomas definitely achieves something really special with her ability to make her w...moreLike Thomas' PopCo, I found this both fascinating and frustrating. Thomas definitely achieves something really special with her ability to make her writing intensely cerebral (some of my favorite parts of Mr. Y were the digressions into quantum physics and other brain-stretching topics) while at the same time creating very human, flawed characters. Still, there's a quality of...coldness that prevents me from becoming emotionally involved. Perhaps the whole thing seems too clever, too orchestrated? I don't know. Anyway: the plot of this novel is nominally about a cursed book, but is really much more like an alternate take on Being John Malkovich with an ending that feels like the close of 2001: A Space Odyssey, the part that's supposed to be best if watched stoned. As with PopCo, the experience of reading the novel was very pleasurable and interesting, but the final impact just isn't there; it's oddly unsatisfying.(less)
I'm sick of thrillers that burn through female characters like the author is keeping score. None of these women have...moreOkay, so. I'm fucking sick of it.
I'm sick of thrillers that burn through female characters like the author is keeping score. None of these women have any agency: they're clearly there to be fucked and beaten and raped and abandoned and called bitches and be mad drooling hags and be violently killed. Oh, except for the one lucky woman who gets to be the hero's mom.
Hero's totally the wrong word, though, of course. Instead of anyone remotely admirable or interesting, we're forced to suffer through this valley of despair and human indecency with some racist, homophobic, misogynistic schmuck who has no interesting character traits outside of what an asshole he is. Great, let's spend 300 pages watching this charmer bumble around investigating a bunch of little girls' brutal murders that turn out to be part of some sort of giant conspiracy of I don't give a fuck. Like, the police, politicians, and businessman are sometimes corrupt and stuff. I'm positive no one has ever used that plot before!
And, sure: I get this is all supposed to be gritty and real. Whatever. I am so tired of that being used as an excuse for another vile, cynical book that doesn't say anything interesting about humanity other than the fact that the author apparently thinks it fucking sucks. Or at least that the '70s sucked. Except, aside from the protagonist constantly telling us the year (I'm not sure I caught it...is it NINETEEN SEVENTY-FOUR?) and tossing out song references ("Life on Mars" was playing in a pub at one point, and god did it make me wish I was watching that show instead), this book could pretty much take place whenever. It certainly doesn't make any interesting points about how things may or may not have changed in the last 36 years. Just: people are shits, people are shits, people are shits. Thank you, please sexually harass your waitresses.
I can't read any more books like this. These highly-acclaimed thrillers that are blurbed with words like "explosive" and "raw" and that are the equivalent of spending several hours hanging out at the bottom of a cesspit. But how to avoid them? Certainly read fewer thrillers by men; definitely skip anything blurbed by Ian Rankin. And you know what: maybe for a while sidestep thrillers all together.
Anyone got any recommendations for books in which women with swords get to stab a lot of people? For some reason I have a craving.(less)
Oh, stab me in the heart some more, Kate. Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie novels (the trilogy that begins with Case Histories) just get more and more depre...moreOh, stab me in the heart some more, Kate. Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie novels (the trilogy that begins with Case Histories) just get more and more depressing. This latest is simply brutal. And yet…I loved reading it, in spite of how bleak it is, in spite of the fact that the plot relies on some rather ridiculous Dickensian coincidences, in spite of Atkinson’s apparent hatred of semi-colons and love of comma splices. I’m not sure what it is, exactly, but I just love the way Atkinson’s characters leap off the page, the way their voices crackle and spark and echo in my head. I love the way she writes. She remains one of those authors who can in effect do no wrong: I will read anything she puts to paper. (Got old grocery lists? Send ’em to me!) But, uh…try to write something a little lighter next time, Kate, okay? For my sake?(less)
So Christoper Buckley wrote this review in The New York Times which was basically, “OMG! BEST BOOK EVER! TOM PLEASE RESPOND POSITIVELY TO MY FACEBOOK...moreSo Christoper Buckley wrote this review in The New York Times which was basically, “OMG! BEST BOOK EVER! TOM PLEASE RESPOND POSITIVELY TO MY FACEBOOK FRIEND REQUEST AND MAYBE LET ME BEAR YOUR CHILDREN? <3333” Immediately, every freakin' person who came in my store was like, “Do you have...*desperate sigh* The Imperfectionists?” And then I had to tell them it was backordered because the publishers hadn't expected Christopher Buckley to propose marriage to Tom Rachman in The New York Times and therefore hadn't printed enough copies. And then some of them would sneer and tell me that they'd just get it on Amazon, even though Amazon didn't have it either. So that was fun.
Nevertheless, I really wanted to read this book, too, because 1) it's about journalists, 2) it's set in Italy, 3) it's got a great title, and 4) it had Christopher Buckley offering to deep-throat the author in the national press. Fortunately my mom snagged one of the first reprint copies and let me borrow it/allowed me to liberate the copy reserved under her name in the days before she had time to come pick it up. Yes, my mom has read this book, too, which means she will probably be reading this review, which means she just saw item No. 4 on the list up there. Sorry, Mom. I got carried away.
Anyway, my slightly illicit copy of this book made the reading of it seem even more exciting. I curled up on the couch and ploughed through the whole thing in an afternoon.
It was okay.
I mean, it was fine. Parts were funny. Other parts—the Cairo section in particular—were stretching the funny pretty thin. Rachman really doesn't take advantage of his setting, though—it's ITALY, and yet it might as well have been Akron, Ohio. And it doesn't really build to anything. Christopher, you promised me—in between doodling lots of pink hearts around Tom Rachman's name—that it builds to something: something so amazing, you imply with a dreamy sigh, the name “Tom” tripping breathlessly off your lips, that I'll want to read the book twice in a row. Eh. Once was enough. I certainly didn't feel the need to clutch my mom's copy to my chest and elope with it to Majorca, as you suggested to Tom. How's the honeymoon going, by the way? I may mock, but I gotta say: I really do hope you crazy kids can make it work.(less)
Reread. I saw the trailer for the upcoming movie—and more importantly, I saw Darcy's furious reaction to the trailer for the upcoming movie, and I rea...moreReread. I saw the trailer for the upcoming movie—and more importantly, I saw Darcy's furious reaction to the trailer for the upcoming movie, and I realized that I didn't remember these books well enough to be properly furious myself. I read the first two in the series, in the wrong order, when I was much younger, but didn't recall being particularly engaged by them, which was why I never continued. I figured that, rereading them as an adult, I'd see the error of my ways.
Sadly, I didn't. I still don't find these books very engaging. Over Sea Under Stone is, as even Darcy admits, only so-so: the setting is great (the rambling old Cornish house, the standing stones perched on their cliffs, the sea-cave), and at least one of the siblings (Barney) is spunky and entertaining, yet the treasure hunt-plot is oddly slow, and the conclusion completely unsatisfying in my mind. (They give the grail to a museum and get 100 quid? Barney has his "Dude! Merlin!" revelation? Yawn.) I thought The Dark Is Rising would be better, but it didn't do much for me, either. There's a lot of portentous stuff, but I felt that every scrape Will gets into he gets out of either through the intervention of an adult or thanks to a deus ex machina. Meanwhile, the Dark Rider and the Dark in general seemed oddly unthreatening to me, while being an agent of the Light did not seem particularly exciting or pleasurable. I never wished I was there: with, say, the Narnia books, I wanted SO BADLY to go through a wardrobe or a painting of my own, even if it was dangerous; but being an Old One mostly seems dull and chanty to me, to the point that if the position were offered on craigslist, I think I might pass. What is wrong with me?
Because I really do feel, having this reaction, that there must be something wrong with me and not the books: so many people—and people whose opinions I trust—love them. Oh well. I suppose I didn't like The Lord of the Rings, either. (less)
Vida Winter is a bestselling author—a modern day Charles Dickens—but her past is entirely unknown; she gives one interview per year and always lies....moreVida Winter is a bestselling author—a modern day Charles Dickens—but her past is entirely unknown; she gives one interview per year and always lies. Then, out of the blue, she hires bookstore clerk and amateur biographer Margaret Lea to take down her life story. The majority of the novel comprises Winter's history as transcribed by Margaret, and Margaret's own life and investigations. The mood of the piece intentionally harkens back to various gothic novels, particularly Jane Eyre; the plot involves a family in a mouldering manner house, plagued by madness, a ghost, and unworldly twins who are possibly the product of incest. This is all dynamically presented, and the twist, when it arrives, is quite clever, exactly the type of narrative trick I admire; if I weren't so lazy, I would check back and do things like track pronouns, see how the book could be reread in light of new knowledge, and I'm sure it would all work perfectly. However, despite the novel's excellent atmosphere and underlying cleverness, it failed to emotionally engage me. The ending both goes on forever and seems too pat, and I was simply never...moved? Stirred? The sweeping emotions that a good gothic novel can evoke—the kind that make you want to take a wander on the moors even if you yourself live in sunny California—were unfortunately absent. This book never moved beyond the intellectual for me; it never affected my heart. (less)
Rereading this book for the first time in 15 years, the most prominent thought in my mind was "My 12-year-old self was an idiot." Or, more accurately,...moreRereading this book for the first time in 15 years, the most prominent thought in my mind was "My 12-year-old self was an idiot." Or, more accurately, "This book is AMAZING and my 12-year-old self was an idiot not to get that." Granted, 12-year-old!Trin liked it fine, and granted, 27-year-old!Trin is enjoying the benefits of getting to picture Michael Fassbender as Rochester throughout, but wow. What a difference a decade and a half makes. I am newly floored by how romantic and marvelous this story is, by the beauty of Jane and Rochester's connection. It is all talk. Did that bore me at 12? I'm not sure what I considered romantic then, but the endless discussion, the soul-bearing, the banter, the subtle reveals, the verbal teases, the talk talk talk -- yes. It hits me like a knife blow now. Could there be anything hotter?
This summation is not making my 27-year-old self appear much more mature and sophisticated than the 12-year-old who thought it was a good idea to eat three bags of Skittles before dinner. And I may not be. But in my defense, reading this book now -- seven years older than its main character instead of seven years younger -- I felt a new connection to Jane -- her desire for family and her struggle to stay true to herself. The drama of her time with St. John Rivers became so much more compelling when read not just as an obstacle between Jane and her return to Rochester, but between Jane and her own self. This novel is I think best remembered for its gothic touches -- wandering the moors and the mad wife in the attic -- but in reading it, its psychological realism is in fact much more striking.
Okay, now I sound like I'm writing an essay. I am not doing this book justice. If you haven't read it, you need to. If you have, you really ought to read it again. I wish I were still reading it, which is probably the strongest recommendation I could give.
This book contains one truly fantastic conceit: magician Matthew Swift is brought back from the dead, but he doesn't come back alone; he contains with...moreThis book contains one truly fantastic conceit: magician Matthew Swift is brought back from the dead, but he doesn't come back alone; he contains within him entities known as the Blue Electric Angels, and so parts of his story are narrated in the first person singular, I, and parts in the first person plural, we. I love the shifts between Matthew's perspective and that of the otherworldly Angels; I love how throughout the book they start to come together a bit, to merge. There is such a fascinating book to be written with this premise!
Unfortunately, this book isn't it. The actual plot is dull, dull, dull, and the characters didn't entrance me, either. Griffin's magical London is just the kind of fantasy setting I usually adore, in which the urban landscape is infused with the same kind of mysticism the countryside is usually granted in fairy stories. But in this book, I felt more like Griffin had simply chewed up the best aspects of Neverwhere and a bunch of Hellblazer comics and spat them out wetly onto the pavement. The novel's opening left me intellectually tantalized but I was never emotionally engaged.(less)
A sort of kiddie Neverwhere (and Miéville does indeed credit Neil Gaiman in the intro), this is one of those books that’s packed with cleverness—and...moreA sort of kiddie Neverwhere (and Miéville does indeed credit Neil Gaiman in the intro), this is one of those books that’s packed with cleverness—and really, really aware of it. I like some of Miéville’s attempts to turn the typical quest-y fantasy on its ear—The Chosen One turns out to be fairly useless! The “tasks” one must complete to defeat the bad guy are highly skippable!—but UnLondon never felt like a real place to me, or its denizens real people. I’m still really not sure who Deeba was supposed to be—she was just the girl who was in this story. (And whose relationship with grammar was most puzzling—why is she portrayed as wildly articulate and proper one minute, and all dialect-y the next?) Likewise, the journey from one look! look! how clever! bit of UnLondon to the next didn’t help build a portrait of the character of the city—it just felt self-conscious.
I read Neverwhere when I was eleven or twelve, and wasn’t wildly traumatized by it—quite the opposite, in fact. I think kids are much better off just reading that. (Though I did like Miéville’s illustrations.)(less)
A really amusing anthropological look at the English by an Englishwoman. Fox’s sense of humor is what really makes this book; it’s a bit long and repe...moreA really amusing anthropological look at the English by an Englishwoman. Fox’s sense of humor is what really makes this book; it’s a bit long and repetitive at parts—skewing too much toward being an academic text when what I want (need) it to be is a work of popular science—but Fox’s own innate “Oh, come off it!” reaction always pulls through in the end. Somewhat frightening: how much of Fox’s “grammar of Englishness” I find applicable to myself—social awkwardness, humor, cynicism, belief in fair play… Bloody hell! Sodding, blimey, shagging, knickers, bollocks… Oh, God! I’m English!(less)
Basically, it's Escape From New York, except with fantasy instead of post-apocalyptic trappings. The characters are stock, and the action is propelled...moreBasically, it's Escape From New York, except with fantasy instead of post-apocalyptic trappings. The characters are stock, and the action is propelled along by a lack of information and dull action setpieces that transpire without any real sense of excitement or danger. I never got a visceral—or even bare-bones visual—sense of what the living/mechanical/whatever prison of Incarceron is supposed to be like. And, as with far too many YA/fantasy/sci-fi/action/adventure books I've struggled through, it takes itself far, far too seriously—there's not a single joke in the whole 400-page slog.
Wait, that's not true: I found it pretty funny that Fisher expected me to believe that the great legendary hero of Incarceron is called Sapphique. That's not a hero's name, it's a Vegas revue. "Now playing at the Bellagio—Cirque de Soleil's Sapphique!"(less)
To everyone who was telling me I should read this: you were right, you were right, you were so so right. One of my favorite books is Kingsley Amis' ...moreTo everyone who was telling me I should read this: you were right, you were right, you were so so right. One of my favorite books is Kingsley Amis' Lucky Jim, so of course I would love Lodge's academic comedy—especially since it comes with the bonus of being set in Birmingham and Berkeley. They're not called Birmingham and Berkeley, of course, but if you have any familiarity with either locale, it becomes even more amusing to "decode" the various place names (i.e., Silver Span, Cable Avenue, etc.). Further, the way Lodge plays with format (epistolary, newspaper clippings, film script) is both fun and effective, and there's a delightful amount of meta-humor. In short, I enjoyed this immensely.(less)
I love the Regeneration trilogy so much, but I just can’t get into Barker’s other work. Her latest novel struck me as weirdly unfocused: the first ha...moreI love the Regeneration trilogy so much, but I just can’t get into Barker’s other work. Her latest novel struck me as weirdly unfocused: the first half follows Paul through art school and various romantic assignations, including a quasi love triangle thing; I didn’t find it particularly compelling. Even after Paul goes to war as an ambulance driver and hospital worker, I couldn’t latch on—I was never at all invested or even particularly interested in Paul and Elinor as a couple, and I felt at times that I was reading the notes for the novel, instead of the finished thing. At one point, for example, Paul thinks about how much he’d come to love a fallen comrade, and all I could think was—what? When did that happen? We’re never shown, and I found it frustrating that so much of the action—the emotional action, even—was taking place off screen.
I don’t know. The Regeneration books are still really, incredibly good. This just...isn’t.(less)
Chesterton is perhaps best known for his Father Brown stories, so I was deeply disappointed to find that they represent him at his preachy, intolerant...moreChesterton is perhaps best known for his Father Brown stories, so I was deeply disappointed to find that they represent him at his preachy, intolerant worst. If I’d started here, instead of with the wonderfully weird and delightfully dark The Man Who Was Thursday and The Napoleon of Notting Hill, I would have had no desire to pick up anything by Chesterton again. All of these stories seem to revolve around the irritatingly smug Father Brown proving that some type of non-Christian is wrong wrong WRONG about everything, the poor, deluded, and occasionally murderous souls.
Aside from being pious, preachy, and at times outright racist, these tales also just aren’t very good from the detective story standpoint, either. The Sherlock Holmes stories continue to be fascinating because Holmes is, because his relationship with Watson is, because the way he interacts with the world is. Father Brown’s character has less color than his name, and although Chesterton makes the occasional attempt at providing him with a sidekick, he’s never truly given anyone to confide in or bounce off of, as Holmes has in Watson. Father Brown is lost without his Boswell. And he can stay there, as far as I’m concerned.(less)
You can really tell that it's been 15 years since Nick Hornby wrote High Fidelity, and I mean that in the best possible way. Though I've always liked...moreYou can really tell that it's been 15 years since Nick Hornby wrote High Fidelity, and I mean that in the best possible way. Though I've always liked Hornby's writing--he's funny, he creates rich characters and never caricatures, and he's one of the few writers I can think of who tackles the topics of fannishness and obsession--High Fidelity, his first novel--and, according to many of my male friends, his best--has always bugged me a bit. The attitudes, especially toward women, of Rob and his friends are so condescending and creepy to me, and while the book doesn't actively endorse them, it (by which I mean, its author) still seems to let them slide with a shrug and a "what can you do?" I still remember a scene toward the end of the book where one of Rob's friends is introducing his new girlfriend around, with the line [from memory, heavily paraphrased:], "She used to like Simple Minds, but she understands now why that's wrong." I find this to be an entirely accurate depiction of a lot of geeky guys' attitudes toward women, yet I can't stumble across it without Hulking out a little bit.
But 15 years later, you've got Juliet, Naked, which explores the darker side of that kind of dude--and doesn't let him get away with it. The dude in question this time is Duncan, who's obsessed with the reclusive and verging-on-forgotten musician Tucker Crowe. Duncan expounds at length on Tucker Crowe internet message boards about his favorite artist, in an "everyone's entitled to their own opinion and yours is wrong" kind of way. Wrong especially, in his mind, is his girlfriend Annie, who disagrees with him about the new bare-bones release of Crowe's last recording--a disagreement that's enough to make both Annie and Duncan realize they maybe aren't in love with each other anymore.
And then Tucker Crowe starts emailing Annie.
What impresses me so much about Hornby is that he understands the internet, and fannishness, and obsession, and regret--and not only that, he captures all of them really well. He understands people, and his warm, funny prose easily carries the narrative past some of the more Dickensian plot points. (I know from reading Hornby's Believer columns that he's a big fan of Chuck D., so I'm sure he'd be happy to hear that.) This book is a much more mature answer to High Fidelity, and I think it's easily my favorite of his novels to date. I really, really liked it--not enough to write thousands of words dissecting its every nuance on the internet, but I think we can all agree that that is ultimately a good thing.(less)
In this novel, teenager Daisy escapes her "evil" stepmother to live with her cousins in England; embarks on a semi-incestuous relationship with her co...moreIn this novel, teenager Daisy escapes her "evil" stepmother to live with her cousins in England; embarks on a semi-incestuous relationship with her cousin Edmond, with whom she shares some sort of psychic connection; and must fend for herself and protect her young cousin Piper when England is invaded by some unnamed foreign power. Plus she's got to confront her anorexia. Or something.
I still have no idea was Rosoff was going for in this book. There are so many different elements, but they seem more like random plot ideas plucked from a hat than parts of a cohesive whole. The details of the war were left almost entirely up to the imagination, but not in the sense that there were just enough hints dropped to make everything seem very creepy. Instead, everything's vague to the point of who cares. I never believed in it. Also, I think I've reached my limit with prose that mimics the style of the opening chapters of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Youthful first-person narrators don't ALL need to use run-on sentences and sporadic punctuation. Can we make an official ruling that that device has gotten old? Thanks.(less)
Will Self really needs to shut up about vaginas. If I have to read another highly-pretentious, “literary”-crude, half-lustful and half-petrified descr...moreWill Self really needs to shut up about vaginas. If I have to read another highly-pretentious, “literary”-crude, half-lustful and half-petrified description of the female genitalia—of which this book contains, oh, dozens—I may have to do something…unladylike. I mean, bloody hell! It’s a vagina. Get over it.
This book intrigued me as all (all? There is so little. Sigh) published genderfuck intrigues me. It’s broken into two parts: the first involving a woman who grows a penis, the second involving a man who grows a vagina. The second is okay—I don’t think it actually says anything interesting about gender, but bits of it are sort of weirdly hot, if you like that sort of thing. (And I do, okay? Leave me alone. *g*) The first, however…ew. EW. Apparently, a woman who grows a cock will immediately rape her husband to death. And then rape random strangers on trains. Lovely! I’m not really sure what this is supposed to be saying about gender, either. Or about people. Well, except that Will Self apparently hates everybody.
This is one of those books that makes me despair of “literary fiction.” It also made me want to take a long, thorough shower. (less)
Most fandom people I've talked to either love or at least rather like this book, but it seems it's my turn to feel all "bwah?" and left out, as Punk d...moreMost fandom people I've talked to either love or at least rather like this book, but it seems it's my turn to feel all "bwah?" and left out, as Punk does with The Dreyfus Affair and Siria does with Swordspoint. I hated it. I despised pretty much all the characters, other than Hugh and Rupert—Leonie was irritating, and Avon was just creepy. I know he was supposed to be "Satanas"—the devil of a man who isn't really that bad, but I found him neither enjoyably naughty nor charming; he was just kind of slimy. The idea of him and Leonie being together really skeeved me out, not because of the age difference—I actually like an age difference, when it's done well—but because of the power dynamic, I guess. All the power was Avon's, both practically and emotionally, and throughout the whole book Leonie was worshipful of him and he condescending towards her. Ew. I also didn't see the slash at all; Hugh was one of the few nice characters, as I said, so I guess it could be construed that he put up with Avon because he was in love with him, but Avon didn't seem particularly gay to me—he was just an 18th Century dude who lived in France and was a bit of a vain ass. The overall package was not appealing, and neither was this book, which is too bad, because I really enjoyed the only other Heyer I've read, The Masqueraders.
Before I read These Old Shades, I was planning to read The Grand Sophy soon, but now I'm not so sure; Shades turned me off, and I also heard that Sophy has a really ugly Jewish stereotype in it. Those of you who've read it: what do you think?(less)
This was my first Heyer, and a wonderful introduction it was. Such a romp! The central premise involves cross-dressing—a brother and sister essentiall...moreThis was my first Heyer, and a wonderful introduction it was. Such a romp! The central premise involves cross-dressing—a brother and sister essentially swapping roles to prevent the brother, who took part in the Jacobite Rebellion, being arrested—but there's also their conman father, and lots of duels, and a conniving gentleman who keeps trying to get an innocent young heiress to elope with him. It's terrific fun, and I really liked the characters, especially practical Prudence, who does very well in her adopted role of an 18th Century gentleman. The two romances—Prudence and the sleepy-eyed Sir Anthony, who actually sees more than he lets on, and her brother Robin-goes-by-Kate and the flighty young heiress—are both very enjoyable, the maturity of the former making up for the silliness of the latter. Though I do worry for Prudence, and the validity of her happy ending. To experience the freedom of living as a man and to then have to go back to being "a lady"—well, that would suck, in my opinion. But *waves hands* I shall try not to impose too much of my modern sensibility on this book, because it really was a blast to read.(less)
I loved the recent film version of this (which should have gotten WAY more Oscar nominations, dammit!), so of course I had to read the book, which I’d...moreI loved the recent film version of this (which should have gotten WAY more Oscar nominations, dammit!), so of course I had to read the book, which I’d been told was very different. Is it ever! While the basic premise remains the same, many of the events—and pretty much the entire meaning of the novel—were altered for the film. While the movie is LOUD and VIOLENT, the book is quiet and desolate and lonely. The book explores themes of guilt and how men (er, mostly I mean humans here rather than males, although all the examples given in the text are male) abuse power; the film is about governmental abuse of power far more than individual abuse, and about post-apocalyptic violent desperation rather than quiet despair. It’s interesting, in light of the recent debate about the film adaptation of 300; one of the issues raised there is, Can an adaptation contain meanings not present in the original text? Watching Children of Men and then reading the P.D. James novel provides loads of evidence that the answer is yes. The novel was written in 1992 and expresses, along with universal concerns, others which are specific to its time. (After the superficial ‘greed is good’ ‘80s, have men and women stopped knowing how to love each other?) The film, made in 2006, is about things James couldn’t have dreamed of in 1992; it’s definitely an allegory for our time (as the truly frightening visual allusions to Abu Ghraib towards the end of the film make all-too-clear).
Is one better than the other? I felt the film more strongly, possibly because it is so timely. But the book is incredible in its own right, chilling in different but no less effective ways. I’ll be thinking about both for a long, long time.(less)
British comic fantasy that really pales in comparison to the Terry Pratchett I’ve been reading lately. To start with, it’s just not that funny—the pl...moreBritish comic fantasy that really pales in comparison to the Terry Pratchett I’ve been reading lately. To start with, it’s just not that funny—the plot revolves around a lot of aspects of forced wackiness, such as bad smells and accountants, that really don’t do much for me, and at best the writing achieves a sort of affable Englishness which is pleasant, but hardly uproarious. It would work if the core of the book were meatier, but it isn’t. Pratchett is so impressive because, at his best, he’s not only funny, his books mean something—he addresses real-world issues through a fantastical setting and a lot of sharp satire. In Holt’s book, however, the Flying Dutchman and his situation aren’t representative of anything but themselves. I’m not saying everything I read needs to be OMG STEEPED IN METAPHOR AND SYMBOLISM!—but, you know, a little depth wouldn’t hurt.
Really fantastic fantasy/sci-fi/mystery fusion. Wei Chen is a detective in the slightly futuristic Singapore Three; his area of expertise is the super...moreReally fantastic fantasy/sci-fi/mystery fusion. Wei Chen is a detective in the slightly futuristic Singapore Three; his area of expertise is the supernatural, specifically dealings between Earth, Heaven, and Hell. Investigating the reappearance as a ghost of a rich girl who supposedly died of anorexia-related complications gets Chen involved with a conspiracy whose origins lie somewhere in the vast bureaucracy of Hell, and also finds him entering into a reluctant and wary partnership with a demon Vice cop, Zhu Irzh.
Unsurprisingly, I love "two mismatched people fight crime!" stories, and this one works really well. The world Williams has created is fascinating and is revealed slowly; she has a nice touch with character, too, so I wasn't bored when the action was with, say, the somewhat hapless Sergeant Ma. And I loved the parts with Chen's demon wife Inari and her badger familiar. I wish we'd been given a bit more insight into Chen's past; we're told so little that when he at one point thinks of his mother in passing, I was surprised—he has a mother? Well, of course he does, but Chen is such an enigma that these details are a little hard to pin down in one's head—we don't know how he came to serve the goddess who is his protecter, or got involved in the affairs of Hell, or came to help Inari. Zhu Irzh isn't exactly an open book, either, but he gets to display more humor and thus seems more familiar. Still, despite everything that's being kept back—possibly as fodder for future books (there are already three more), which would be awesome—the relationships between the characters were dynamic and fun, and the hint of where they're going next makes me very excited. This was a well-plotted, exciting mystery with great character interaction; I can't wait to read the next one.(less)
What if Africans had been the ones to enslave Europeans instead of the other way around? That’s the premise Evaristo uses to launch this harrowing alt...moreWhat if Africans had been the ones to enslave Europeans instead of the other way around? That’s the premise Evaristo uses to launch this harrowing alternate history, which in general does a fantastic job shedding fresh light not just on the horrors of slavery—which, even if we are all generally aware of them, it can never hurt to be reminded of in stark, brutal, specific detail: people did these things to other people—but also on slavery’s ongoing ripples and aftereffects, exposing the very white, Eurocentric way we may still consider the natural way to view the world.
When Evaristo sticks to these aspects of her story, I think it works amazingly well; however, she makes some odd auxiliary choices. There’s a map at the beginning of the book that physically alters the way Earth’s continents are arranged, putting Europe where Africa is, and part of Africa where Europe is, but leaving the British Isles alone, so Londinium is one of the great seats of power of the African Empire, but it still has its Roman name—why? Europe is described as cold and grey, and Africa balmy, as if they were still located in their usual hemispheres—huh? And to confuse things further, at times Evaristo seems to be setting her story in the 18th or 19th centuries, when comparable events took place in our history, but there exist aspects of technology that are utterly modern—her protagonist escapes at one point on an Underground Railroad that is literally the London Underground. I found all of this incredibly confusing and needlessly distracting. Why complicate things so? To me it seems completely unnecessary—just off-putting.
Anyway, if you can manage to handwave Evaristo’s seemingly bizarre world-building decisions—as I was eventually able to do—this is well-worth reading. And if you can explain to me the purpose behind said decisions, I would love to hear your theories!(less)
**spoiler alert** I was disappointed by this. It did one of my least favorite mystery things: having the bad guy die in some accidental or self-inflic...more**spoiler alert** I was disappointed by this. It did one of my least favorite mystery things: having the bad guy die in some accidental or self-inflicted manner so that the detective character will have less mess to deal with. And that happened three times in this book. THREE TIMES. Worse, as much as I really really wanted to like Cordelia Gray—James' female detective who's out to prove that solving crimes IS a suitable job for the ladies—I just couldn't get a sense of her. James gives her an appropriately weird background—Marxist father, educated in convents—but this origin story doesn't seem in any way connected to who Cordelia is now. There's no sense of how that background made her this person—or even who this person is. With only a moderately interesting mystery backed by a main character who remains pretty blank, there's just nothing all that memorable here.(less)
A charming English comedy of manners—heavy on the charm, very heavy on the English. Simonson has quite the creation in Major Pettigrew (Ret.), and she...moreA charming English comedy of manners—heavy on the charm, very heavy on the English. Simonson has quite the creation in Major Pettigrew (Ret.), and she does an excellent job peeling away the surface layers of his stuffy old-fashionedness to reveal the quiet humor, the essential goodness, and even the romantic streak underneath. The meeting of minds and blossoming romance between Major Pettigrew and Mrs. Ali, a local shopkeeper of Pakistani extraction, forms the emotional core of the book, and my heart leapt along with the Major’s every time Mrs. Ali came on stage. I was less enchanted by the sections that deal with the Major’s ambitious son, Roger, whom I found deeply unpleasant—and not in the manner in which some literary characters can be enjoyably unpleasant as, say, Pride and Prejudice’s Mr. Collins often can. Roger’s obnoxious behavior made me seriously question the Major’s abilities as a parent, and I was always relieved when he went away and once again enabled the narrative to focus on village politics, Mrs. Ali’s volatile extended family, and of course, the delightful Mrs. Ali herself. When she and the Major are in the spotlight, this book is as warm, cozy, and comforting as the numerous cups of tea the not-so-young lovers enjoy together.(less)
This was one of my favorite books when I was a lass (…and Scottish, apparently…) and I recently, for reasons I no longer recall, became obsessed with...moreThis was one of my favorite books when I was a lass (…and Scottish, apparently…) and I recently, for reasons I no longer recall, became obsessed with tracking it down. Thanks to the invaluable Bookman in Orange County (truly the only reason to visit the entire area), I finally got my hands on it. And it was very nearly as wonderful as I remembered. Yay!
This is an incredibly quick read, about a rebellious denim-clad fairy named Tiki, and Jan, the lonely ex-actress she befriends. The length makes every scene seem essential and perfectly distilled, like a tale that’s been passed along and refined over generations, but at the same time, the story’s also wonderfully original and delightfully fresh. The only thing that bugged me, reading as a 25-year-old rather than a child of less than a decade, was how controlling—and even slightly condescending—Jan’s husband seemed, especially in early scenes. But it’s a minor thing—too tiny to waste more than an eyeroll on. There are delightful pink-haired fairies to enjoy!(less)
In which Stephen Fry gives a frank and funny recounting of the first twenty years of his life. Dude’s got balls, man: I could never be this honest abo...moreIn which Stephen Fry gives a frank and funny recounting of the first twenty years of his life. Dude’s got balls, man: I could never be this honest about myself or my life. And I’m saying that as someone who has not emerged semi-intact from the truly insane-sounding English public school system. It really is an entirely different world, and Fry makes for a straightforward, yet sensitive, guide. Everything he says about not fitting in just makes me ache, especially his discussion about his inability to sing—and if this were fiction instead of biography, wouldn’t music make the most perfect metaphor? Real life is sometimes so generous with its symbolism.
Fry takes full advantage of this fact when appropriate, and he’s a very good storyteller, wonderfully tangential and honest and reflective. A book like this could be considered navel-gazing, and in a very real way it is the story of the author trying to figure himself out, but the narrative voice is so open, the reader can’t help but want to join in the analysis. If you’ve ever thought, even in passing, that you’d enjoy having a nice meal and then getting quite drunk with someone like Stephen Fry, then you’ll enjoy this very much, I should think.(less)