Though I've had What I Loved on my shelf for over five years now, The Summer Without Men is actually the first book I've read by Siri Hustvedt and con...moreThough I've had What I Loved on my shelf for over five years now, The Summer Without Men is actually the first book I've read by Siri Hustvedt and considering the extent to which I was blown away, I can easily affirm that it won't be the last!
This short tale is part literary criticism and part feminist manifesto, but very little of it is actually a novel in the traditional definition of the genre. There is a story, a main character, a set of secondary characters more or less developed, there is an intrigue, though admittedly, not much goes on in terms of action. This is definitely a cerebral novel if such a thing exists. It's a bowl of fresh air, one that I will gladly re-read in a few years time and take notes next time.
Though this is not the first time this has happened, I am always amazed when an author manages to make his readers identify with a character who is miles away from them. Mia Fredricksen and I have a very little in common and yet, I understood and felt all that she was going through and took pleasure in following her progression throughout this summer without men. A pleasure owed to the author's talent.
There are so many parts I wish I'd bookmarked so that I could quote here to give you a feel of this peculiar novel. Here's one:
"It is not that there is no difference between men and women; it is how much difference that difference makes, and how we choose to frame it. Every era has had its science of difference and sameness, its biology, its ideology, and its ideological biology, which brings us, at last, back to the naughty girls, their escapades, and the instruments of darkness. We have several contemporary instruments of darkness to choose from, all reductive, all easy. Shall we explain it through the very special, although dubious otherness of the female brain or through genes evolved from those "cave women gathering food near the home" thousands of years ago or through the dangerous hormonal surges of puberty or through nefarious social learning that channels aggressive, angry impulses in girls underground?"
As you can see, the novel's intrigue serves as an overall reflection on women, their position and perception in society. Here, Mia's poetry teenage students have pulled a nasty little prank on one of the class' members. These are questions that I often ask myself, to what extent are our action our truly our own or socially-constructed?
The book is not out yet but there are already a few mixed reviews online, proof that every reading experience is different and resonates in a specific way with its reader. For me, this pushed all the right buttons.(less)
This self-published has an interesting story. In 2009, Siobhan Curham was offered a two-book deal and turned it down. She self-published Dear Dylan in...moreThis self-published has an interesting story. In 2009, Siobhan Curham was offered a two-book deal and turned it down. She self-published Dear Dylan in April 2010 and in November, it won the YoungMind Book Award. Earlier this month, it was acquired by Egmont as part of a two-book deal and it will be relaunch in July.
Dear Dylan is the last novel I read for my previous job and I consider myself very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to read it.
It's not often you encounter YA 'issue novels' that are a) engaging and b) not actually depressing. That is not to say that I don't enjoy a nice tragic story once in a while, but there seems to be this trend, especially in YA, of novels that are just a succession of tragic events with no light at the end of the tunnel. And these novels tend to leave me feeling hollow, depressed and wondering 'what's the point?' I'm not a partisan of the 'every YA/children titles should have a happy ending' argument, but if I can't find any purpose to the endless stream of suffering, something to take away with me as I turn the last page, then I'm not a happy reader. I'm glad to say that Dear Dylan is not one such story.
The novel's format is unusual and presents a great many challenges for any author. The story is entirely told as a series of emails, recounting the life of 13-year-old Georgie whose Summer holiday is just about to begin when she decides to write to her favorite TV actor, the young Dylan Curltand via his website. And well, she's quite surprised when she starts receiving responses to her fan mail. Oh go on now, admit it, the teenager in you has fantasized about this... more than once, I think it's safe to say...
I'm not going to say anymore than that because there's no point in ruining the surprise.
I admit I was a bit skeptic about the whole epistolary aspect. I didn't think it could work throughout the novel. Surely, at some point, the author would have to find a clever way around this or risk the overall pace of the novel slowing down and the whole thing collapsing on itself. Well, it didn't. The narration stayed strong till the very end.
The very element that endangers the whole exercise is also what makes the novel's original and so engaging in the first place. The main character's voice is a strong one and the words flow, accessible, light and funny. You can't help but tun the pages to know what's going to happen next, but it's also just to follow the voice.
And yet, the story is far from being light and carefree. Curham broaches some very delicate and important issues, similar to those raised by Jacqueline Wilson or Melvin Burgess. In fact, there seems to be a discrepancy between the level of writing, the age ground targeted, and the maturity of the issues raised. Again, this goes to prove that children's writing is not and should not all be all teletubbies and smiley faces. I think most kids are able to approach and comprehend delicate issues, it's all a question of presentation or representation. And I must say that in Dear Dylan, it's done brilliantly.
I would recommend this to those looking for something different in children's literature, something a bit heavier than you'd initially expect it to be, but whose package you just can't resist.(less)
Meji is a book belonging to the sword-and-soul genre, a fantasy subgenre.
So what exactly is sword-and-soul? Charles R. Saunders who needs no introduc...moreMeji is a book belonging to the sword-and-soul genre, a fantasy subgenre.
So what exactly is sword-and-soul? Charles R. Saunders who needs no introduction, explains this in his introduction to the second edition of Meji, Book One. As the great man himself says:
"... The potential existed for the conception of many other variations on classic African themes. A limitless number of stories were waiting to be written by other authors. Consider the dozens, if not hundreds, of ways the legend of King Arthur has been retold. That's just one story, from one culture. African, with its hundred of cultures stretching back to the beginning of humanity, offers infinite opportunities for stories of fantasy and sword-and-sorcery - or, as I prefer to call it, sword-and-soul."
Sword-and-soul is similar to the sword-and-sorcery genre in the epic sense, but as opposed to classic tales of sword-and-sorcery, it draws its inspiration from African mythology and history. Most readers of the fantasy genre will appreciate this the same way they will appreciate other fantasy works that don't systematically features elements from Celtic mythology (i.e. elves, dwarfs, etc.).
Truth be told, I've never been much of a fan of the sword-and-sorcery genre classic tales, be it Moorcock's Elric series or Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, both series I've started, struggled through the first books and never found to courage to finish. I never seem to connect with the characters and the lack of interesting and strong female characters doesn't help, but then neither did the plots that I always found too simplistic and made me feel like nothing was ever really at stake. I know these series have quite a huge number of fans out there, so I'm not trying to drag them down, but merely to explain why they didn't work for me and why Milton's Meji did.
The African setting is one thing, but you can't build a series on setting alone, no matter how well you've done your research. And Milton obviously knows his subject and I'm glad he places bits and pieces of his knowledge throughout the story and not in huge info dumps.
As you may have guessed from the blurb, the story involves several different tribes, each has its own language and customs depending on its particular history and the geography of its settlement. This is one of the things I enjoyed the most in this first book; being introduced to all these different people, their folklore and religions, and seeing them interact and clash at times. These political and economical elements are ever present in the story, making for some nice political intrigues and games of power.
Another point that distinguishes Meji from a lot of works of epic fantasy is its characters. There are the twins, yes, but they were not the most interesting characters in my mind (it's probably because book one mostly describes their upbringing and serves as a set up for what's to come in book two). I especially appreciated the character of Inaamdura, who reminded be of a more sympathetic version of G.R.R. Martin's Cersei. In Martin's books, you hate Cersei, you hate her children, you simply want them out of the picture and know that nothing good could ever come from them. In Meji, you understand why Inaamdura does what she does and truth is, you can hardly blame her because in her position, you'd probably do the same to protect your own, even if it means hurting one of the main characters. She's an ambitious, beautiful woman, an expert manipulator who's not afraid to take what she wants. So few ambitious female characters are portrayed in a positive light that it's worth mentioning.
I'm also a fan of the twin's father Dingane, who's not the cliché savage you may initially think him to be. The Sesu people have grown under his rule and there's a good reason for that. Another one that I'd wished we'd seen a bit more is the ruler of the Mawena, the twin's grandfather, who's bound by protocol and tradition and not really free to do as he pleases or allow his grandson to do as much.
Meji is a complex and rich tale of which I've only read one installment! I can't imagine what's to come, but I'm eager to discover. I found it to be a much more enjoyable read them most of the sword-and-sorcery I've read over the years because, despite taking place in a fantasy world, it takes into account questions of race, gender and politics that are part of human behavior and society. That, to me, is the book's real asset.
Last Fall (yes, as always, am a bit late), it seemed you couldn't go anywhere without hearing about his short medieval fantasy novel. The author has w...moreLast Fall (yes, as always, am a bit late), it seemed you couldn't go anywhere without hearing about his short medieval fantasy novel. The author has won quite a number of French awards, been invited and interviewed on a great many podcasts and genre-related websites. The book was even mentioned on Locus! This is in and of itself very impressive, it becomes even more when you know that this is a debut novel.
So, of course, I had to read this, and I did along with two fellow bloggers Lelf and Lishbei. We set a date at which we were to have read the book and then we exchanged back and forth.
Chien du Heaume is a very powerful story that bodes well for Justine Niogret's career. It's not perfect but then, there's no such thing as a perfect novel, let alone a perfect debut novel. A taste of her dark poetic prose is well worth it and her dream-like, Gothic setting is bound to enthrall you.
Chien du Heaume is the name of her main character. A soldier, Chien [dog:] has no name that she can remember, no family since her father's death when she was still a child. All that she has is an ax, a particular one with snake-like engravings, and that she yields expertly. Chien is not your typical heroine. In fact, there's nothing heroic about her as the prologue soon reveals. She's not evil, but she is on a quest, to reclaim her identity and her name, and she lets nothing get in the way of her quest. No damsel in distress and not some sexy warrior, Chien's path will cross that of Lord Bruec who just might be able to tell her where her ax comes from and therefore where she comes from.
I'd be hard pressed to call this a fantasy novel as there are no elves, hobbits or unicorns in sight. Some fantastical elements do make their way into the narration, but they read more like metaphors. Such is the role of one mysterious knight called The Salamander who IMHO seems to be some sort of mythological figure embodying death in a broad sense; he also marks the end of an era.
Justine Niogret is clearly a specialist of the medieval period, as showed by her glossary at the end of the novel, which details and explains, in the light and humorous tone the author displays in interviews, certain medieval weapons and habits. Chien du Heaume reads more like a historical novel set in medieval times.
I've been told that in one interview, the author claimed to have constructed her novel like a series of short stories. While there is no overall plot, besides Chien's quest for her identity (yet even that seems to recede in the background), I wouldn't regard this as a short story collection centered on the same character. This is clearly a novel, even though intricate and complex plotting are not on topic here. The flow of narration follows the rhythm of everyday life in Bruec's castle: slow, not always peaceful, but far from fast-paced.
Chien du Heaume is a novel all about sensation and how Justine Niogret's poetic prose leaps of the page and translates into ghostly images of a castle lost in the mist, cruel gory battles, knights of another era and a way of life that can only be encountered in history books.
It's not a powerful novel because of the strength of its intrigue, the authenticity of its characters or the richness of its setting (though it does not lack in these categories), its power resides in the way the written word seems to come alive as the pages turn. It's easy to excuse the sometimes clumsy uses of obvious plot devices when the novel displays such literary quality.
Chien du Heaume is probably not for the die-hard fantasy fan. Or rather, it's perfect if you are willing to try something altogether different. It's a breath of fresh air that will linger like a ghost. (less)
The Vaults is not strictly speaking science fiction, but the strong dystopian elements contained in the plot and the fact that it reads like a hardboi...moreThe Vaults is not strictly speaking science fiction, but the strong dystopian elements contained in the plot and the fact that it reads like a hardboiled crime novel definitely make it a genre novel. In fact, the clever mix of these two themes (dystopian and noir) make for a refreshing and original tale that slowly builds to its climax as the three main characters' respective investigation collide to become pieces of one big puzzle.
The character which most drew me in the story is beyond any doubt that of Arthur Puskis, keeper of the Vaults. The reader can only feel for this old man who's spent most of his life in the Vaults, cannot remember the last time he took a day off and can't quite come to terms with the chaos and unpredictability of the outside world. Arthur Puskis loves the Vaults which is not just some sort of giant library of criminal records, but also reflects, in the way it is organized, the intricacies of the minds of its previous keepers. Descriptions of the vastness and organization of the Vaults are one of the high points of the novel. The Vaults' dark, empty corridors are all at once soothing, gloomy and unsettling.
While the main plot will certainly hold the reader's attention throughout the 300ish pages, it is pretty classic overall. Though the author does not tread too far away from stereotypes (the sexy jazz singer, the drug addict journalist, the corrupted mayor), this is purposefully done so as to maintain the omnipresent noir atmosphere which is the novel's greatest asset. Just like the Vaults themselves, Toby Ball's novel is soothing because the story and its characters are somewhat familiar, but it's also unsettling and disturbing in the way it is executed. The novel gives off a nostalgic vibe which echoes Arthur Puskis' realization that times are changing and that he will no longer be needed.
The Vaults is very much an homage to classic hardboiled crime fiction in that sense. Slow-paced and solidly built, The Vaults is all about the nostalgic, dark and disturbing atmosphere it brings to life. (less)
If you read the back cover, it might lead you into thinking that this is your traditional epic fantasy with wizards, dragons...moreCercle d'Atuan August 2010
If you read the back cover, it might lead you into thinking that this is your traditional epic fantasy with wizards, dragons and knights ready to give up their lives for the greater good. Well, there is a bit of that, but it's also anything *but* that. To put it bluntly, you'll be bored to no ends if all you're looking for are epic battles and complex political intrigues. Despite the fact that I didn't really know what to expect from this novel (this is my first experience of Barbara Hambly), I was a bit thrown off before understanding what Dragonsbane was truly about. Hambly's style is abstract and elliptic and that alone requires a bit getting used, but once you do, you realize just how well it actually serves the novel. As previously mentioned, if you're looking for epic battles, might want to look somewhere else; there is a battle with a dragon at some point, but the reader is not privy to its details and well the novel's other battles are of a magical nature and you won't really know what's going on until they're over. What this story has that lacks in a great many fantasy novels is the spot on characterization of its main characters: the witch Jenny, the dragon slayer John and the dragon Morkeleb. Together, they form a nice little triangle that makes for some priceless dialogs and situations. The novel is clearly driven by these three and not so much by its main plot. To be quite honest, the other characters are not as strongly developed as Jenny, John and Morky ;-) and that is probably one of the novel's main flaws. When you realize the wonders Hambly's done with these three, you know she could've done a lot better with the others. I can get over the wonky plot, the dragging parts (though it's only 200 pages long), the hardly credible villain because they are not what the novel is about. It's about choices and more specifically Jenny's (but John and Morkeleb are also faced with delicate situations) and how in the end, there is no single right choice because choosing always implies giving up on something else. This bitter sweet truth is at the heart of Dragonsbane and in that regard, it is beautifully executed. I can see how and why some of my fellow Atuanians were quite taken with this novel. And despite my reserves, I can recognize that it has a great many qualities. The thing is, it did not sweep me off my feet. First off, the introduction of Jenny's character annoyed me a great deal and pushed all the wrong buttons. Jenny's her own woman, living alone despite being the mother of two young boys who live with their father, she's a talented enough witch, not without physical charms, who can take care of herself in hostile territory as proven in the first chapter when she saves a young nobleman whose head is filled with heroic tales of dragon slayers. I couldn't help but roll my eyes at that first scene, thinking that it read like your classic fanfiction with Jenny posing as Mary Sue. Did the author really have to make Jenny the complete opposite of the docile housewife without any nuances? Let me reassure you, nuances come later on and Jenny becomes a likeable enough character fairly quickly after this. Still, this did not leave me in a positive set of mind. Add to that the fact that I struggled with Hambly's abstract descriptions all throughout the first chapters, being forced to re-read certain parts because I simply did not understand what was going on the first time around! With regard to Jenny's introduction, I guess it would have bothered me a lot less had I paid attention to the fact that the novel was published twenty-five years ago. Gender roles and perception have changed a lot in twenty-five years and while I would not claim that men and women are now equal, your contemporary fantasy writer does not need to spell out so bluntly that his/her female character can take care of herself, because we all assume that she can (and if she can't, I'm not reading your book!). Or am I just being naive again? Anyway, this was a nice change from your traditional epic fantasy with a strong focus on its main characters and not much going on plot wise. Not for all, but recommended to those looking for something else in the fantasy genre.(less)
From Connie Willis, winner of multiple Hugo and Nebula Awards, comes a comedic romp through an unpredictable world of mystery, love, and time travel.....moreFrom Connie Willis, winner of multiple Hugo and Nebula Awards, comes a comedic romp through an unpredictable world of mystery, love, and time travel...
Ned Henry is badly in need of a rest. He's been shuttling between the 21st century and the 1940s searching for a Victorian atrocity called the bishop's bird stump. It's part of a project to restore the famed Coventry Cathedral, destroyed in a Nazi air raid over a hundred years earlier.
But then Verity Kindle, a fellow time traveler, inadvertently brings back something from the past. Now Ned must jump back to the Victorian era to help Verity put things right--not only to save the project but to prevent altering history itself.
To Say Nothing the Dog was July's selection for the Cercle d'Atuan book club. It has received countless genre awards (Hugo and Locus awards in 1999 and nominated for the Nebula the year before), all of them more than deserved IMHO.
It's an unsettling read to say the least that presents complex time-traveling issues and has them played out like a Monty Python sketch. It's completely disarming, wacky and insane and yet, it manages to remain accessible and comprehensible. Quite a feat if you ask me.
Reading the first few pages feels like the author has thrown you in a swimming pool with no bottom, knowing full well that you can't swim. But, despite appearances, Connie Willis is not trying to murder you, she's trying to teach you, and guess what? You will be just fine. You'll even start to adjust to the totally unfamiliar surroundings and rewire your brain so as to understand just what the heck is at stake here... besides your own drowning that is. I can understand why some could feel put off by such a beginning but I felt right at home (this statement actually implies a lot more on my own sanity or willingness to drown if you will...). And even those of the Cercle who could not get the hang of it in the beginning soon came around and I'm glad to say that, in the end, this novel was highly acclaimed by all of us.
As I previously mentioned TSNOTD is an incredibly rich and lively novel that could translate into a wonderful play. Some scenes are simply priceless and if they don't make you laugh like they did me, you will at least smile as you watch Connie Willis use elements from vaudeville to set up crazy fake séances, time lag induced quiproquos, complex cheating during croquet, descriptions of excessive Victorian furniture and faster than light butler. Fans of British humor will be delighted as you may have guessed from my previous allusions to Monty Pythons.
The novel is filled with so many literary references some of which pointed out by my fellow Atuanians had totally escaped me (which did not hinder my enjoyment of the novel in the least, so again, kudos to Connie Willis for that!). There was the obvious Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome to which the novels owes its title, but also allusions to Alice in Wonderland, Sherlock Holmes, various old mystery novels, etc. Throughout the narration, Connie Willis has fun deconstructing and sometimes purposefully employing various clichés found in said mystery novels (the butler did it!) and time-traveling novels.
To be quite honest, it was a pure delight to read, a real tour de force and a masterpiece that I would happily come back to in a few years, as I'm sure countless details have escaped me the first time around.
This was my first introduction to Connie Willis's work and I do intend to read more, probably starting with Passage of which I have a French edition somewhere, but especially her other novels dealing with time-traveling historians from Oxford: Doomsday Book, Blackout and All Clear.
This is a highly recommended part science fiction and part historical novel that will leave you with a feeling of euphoria and many questions about chaos theory!(less)