It’s all Braveheart’s fault. Totally. Mel Gibson’s movie about Scotland’s Freedom Fight, William Wallace, might be...moreDisclaimer: ARC read via Netgalley.
It’s all Braveheart’s fault. Totally. Mel Gibson’s movie about Scotland’s Freedom Fight, William Wallace, might be one of the reasons why there is shortly going to be a vote about the dissolution of the union, but it sure as hell played fast and loose with history.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if, when asked about Robert the Bruce, most Americans said something like “you mean that guy who sold out Braveheart?”
This is a shame because, in many ways, it is because of The Bruce that Scotland became Scotland, yet outside of the United Kingdom he is not as well known as he should be. Michael Penman does go some way in changing this.
The book, in terms of style, is not perfect. It borders on being dry at times. The scholarship seems good (I am not an expert in the field) and everything is footnoted. If a reader does not have any background knowledge about the period, the reader might be a little lost. Knowing about Edward I and II is a benefit as is being away of the politics. Penman does not include much background material.
Those criticisms aside, reading the book is a learning experience, even for those who know who Bruce was. It is comprehensive as it can be in terms of Bruce’s life, focusing, in particular, on his relationship with his father and brothers. Areas of debate are examined and when the facts are unclear, Penman makes sure that the reader knows that. It seems a common thing to point but considering how many authors make jumps based on little evidence, a writer who doesn’t does deserve some praise.
Recommended highly for those interested in Scottish history. (less)
One wonders if Aesop knew how much of good thing he had when he wrote his fables, that years and years later, that the idea of animal characters bein...more One wonders if Aesop knew how much of good thing he had when he wrote his fables, that years and years later, that the idea of animal characters being used as allegory would still be current. Today, most people think of Animal Farm when discussing allegories using animals, but perhaps in later years it will be Animal Farm and the hen Sprout, the heroine of this charming and deeply moving tale.
While no doubt highly influenced by Korean culture, Sien-Ma Hwang’s story also draws on Western classics like “The Ugly Duckling” and “The Little Red Hen”. Sprout starts her story trapped in a cage fulfilling her heart breaking duty of laying eggs. She eventually gets out and struggles to find a place in the outside world, a place where she has longed to be but that comes with dangers that she didn’t know about it. Due to a series of circumstances, she finds herself in charge of an egg.
While the book is mediation about family, love, and motherhood, it is also a close look at nature as well as the influence of man on nature. The fictional character closest to Sprout in the history of literature seems to be HCA’s Little Mermaid. The idea of scarf ice for the greater purpose and the morality of it is something that both characters share to a great degree.
It also is impossible to read the beginning of the book and to not think of North Korea. Sprout’s journey starts in the most horrific way (and it will most likely insure that you confine chicken eating to free range). But if the coop is North Korea than is the barnyard the South? It is better but not a paradise. The allegory works because becoming who you are transcends society, even a benign one.
It’s strange considering how short the book is the large impact that it has. Putting the book down, leaving Sprout in some ways is like cutting off a limb, disconnecting your mind from something, it’s a wrenching feeling. This is despite the almost starkness of the prose. If the Narnia books are an allegory overboard, Sprout’s story is an allegory grown properly. (less)
So Weird Al needs to dedicate his song “Word Crimes” to the Fadiman family, and I really want to met Fadiman and her husband George. (I swear, if I fi...moreSo Weird Al needs to dedicate his song “Word Crimes” to the Fadiman family, and I really want to met Fadiman and her husband George. (I swear, if I find they are divorced, I will sob uncontrollably for a minute).
I picked this up at one of those really cheap book stores. You know the type with tables and not bookshelves. It was a pleasant surprise to read this book.
Now, to be fair, not every essay in the book is great. The first one, however, is a beautiful piece of writing about love, marriage, and individual libraries is quite frankly worth the 3 dollars the book cost me. Seriously, if you ever see “Marrying Libraries” as a short eBook and you don’t possess this collection, buy it. Fadiman’s essay details the combining of her library and her husband’s. They are confronted with problems any book lover can understand. How to organize the volumes (this leads to thinking of divorce) and which duplicates to keep. This essay includes a story about a designer who simply organized books according to size and color. Seriously, what the hell is wrong with people like that? But starting the collection with this essay is apt because while Fadiman is writing about her relationship with books, what also comes though is her relationship with her husband, a man who took her to a used bookstore on her birthday and brought her 19 pounds of books.
Yep, he’s a keeper that one.
Her essay “Never Do That to a Book” is about different types of readers – courtly and carnal. Which one are you? (I’m a carnal reader. Books and I get down and dirty). The one essay about the Fadiman family and grammar is inspirational (and some SPAs should read it). A great many of the essays include gossipy bits about writers that Fadiman knows. For instance, you will discover how Mark Helprin leaves messages on answering machines. Then there is the bit about eating (like really eating) books. When the essays are one target and are about interaction with books as a whole, they are quite good.
The essays that are slightly more general in reading subject matter, such as “The Odd Shelf”, aren’t bad but are somewhat less interesting, and perhaps lacking in some passion. For instance, the essay about the sonnet and poetry is nice, but it didn’t really grab me though Fadiman is spot on in her observations.
The most inventive essay is the one about plagiarism, a timely essay even though it was written years ago. Fadiman and George have a very wicked sense of humor.
Despite the wonderful description of the tango, this book is just like every single other urban fantasy novel that is glutting the market. One high m...moreDespite the wonderful description of the tango, this book is just like every single other urban fantasy novel that is glutting the market. One high maintenance, slightly unbelievable kick ass heroine? Check. (Please how does she do free running to work and not get smelly and sweaty?) One quasi star crossed love interest? Check. End of the world thing? Check. Rivalry with other women? Check.
To be fair, there is more humor and at least the lead is not the youngest child. (less)
If you are a fan of David Tennant (and why wouldn’t you be) than odds are you have seen Broadchurch, which was sho...moreDisclaimer: ARC read via Netgalley.
If you are a fan of David Tennant (and why wouldn’t you be) than odds are you have seen Broadchurch, which was shown here in the U.S. on BBC America. If you haven’t seen it, then you might have heard about it. If you haven’t, there is an American version of the show coming out in the fall; it is called Gracepoint. Mr. Tennant is in that as well. Olivia Colman, who in many ways was more nuanced performer in the series, isn’t, sadly (though Anna Gunn is a wonderful actress).
Broadchurch is about two detectives as they struggle to find the murderer of a young boy in a small coastal community, that community where everyone knows of everyone if not knows everyone. This book is a novelization of the television series, so if you haven’t seen the series and are planning to watch it or the U.S. version, the book has major spoilers. The butler did it type of spoilers – don’t worry there isn’t a butler.
Ellie Miller returns from a vacation in Florida to discover that her promotion has been given to an outsider, a male outsider, Alec Hardy. If that isn’t enough of a problem, a boy’s body has been discovered on the beach. The boy, Danny, is a close family friend. In such a small town, this means that dirty secrets are brought to light as community distrust and infighting begin to take a toll.
What makes Broadchurch, show or novel, so good is its refusal to use cliché types. It might at first glance look that way. The relationship between Hardy and Miller is one that we seem to see in every blasted cop show today, but soon it transcends that. No one comes out as a saint or sinner, but simply people. It is this that makes Broadchurch far more compelling. Karen White, for instance, the reporter who has made it her mission to call Hardy to account for a mistake in his past, could at first come across as the ambitious star reporter who should be pistol whipped, but she is more than that. Miller could simply be the emotional cop, but she is more than that. Hardy could be the dick cop who is always right, but he is more than that. The only character that might be one dimension is the character of Beth, Danny’s mother. “An English rose” is how one reporter describes her, perhaps she is, but she is not perfect. She is simply good and far more complex than that description would let anyone to believe.
It is the normalcy of both the place and the people that make the story gut wrenching and compelling. You may not live in a community as small as Broadchurch, but if you are a member of a neighborhood many of the truths or problems are also present in the small individual sections of big cities. Instead of the convoluted plot lines of some crime stories, the crime here isn’t so much shocking because of its victim, but because of its intimacy, because of the suspect pool. The reader may not know Miller, Beth, Ellie, Alec and the dozen or so other people in the novel, but the reader knows people like them. When Ellie wonders if it was the man whose name she doesn’t know but who she nods hello to everyday, it is something anyone can relate to.
The novelization keeps the basic plot but aids more details. The relationship between Karen and Olly works better in the novel than on the television screen due to the use of inner monologue. The writing it is good, containing lines like: “Maybe the small town mentality is sexually transmitted.” (Loc 2152). Despite the reader knowing the outcome, the book itself is gripping and near impossible to put down. This is unusual for a novelization, and Erin Kelley deserves full marks for it. Overall, the writing is smooth, though there are times when some dialogue feels very stilted, almost like an info dump. At this point, it should be noted that the edition I read was an uncorrected ARC, so perhaps this problem will be smoothed out by final publication.
That criticism aside, while the book is not as good as Ruth Rendell or P.D. James at their top form, it is far better than most novelizations.
In the spirit of Celine’s book I will try to curse in this review. I think he would approve.
The bastards are out to ge...more**spoiler alert**
In the spirit of Celine’s book I will try to curse in this review. I think he would approve.
The bastards are out to get you.
The question is, which bastards.
This book, this stream of piss, is just like piss. No, really it is because we all need to piss, right? You go to the doctor if you can’t. That’s like this book. You’re not going to want to read this book. You’re going to cock that eyebrow and shake that head. The words racist and sexist are going to dump from your mouth when you discuss Celine. You will say, correctly, that the world is a depressing enough place already, and you really don’t want to increase the dosage of your happy pills again.
All that will be true.
But you should read this book. Because it tells you, strangely and in a depressing way, that you are not alone. It also contains pearls of wisdom like:
“Dogs look like wolves when they’re sleeping” (106). “Love is harder to give up than life. In this world we spend our time killing or adoring or both together” (59). “The rich don’t do evil themselves. They pay” (287).
Celine writes at one point, “The best thing to do when you’re in this world, don’t you agree, is to get out of it” (49). He’s not advocating suicide (and neither am I), but let’s be honest, we’ve all felt this way. Getting out of it can even mean going to Mars. See, this book is about the human condition, but the internal human condition, the dark night of the soul in reality, the side we don’t let people see, that we rarely talk about, the fucking black dog that Churchill walked.
What the hell, just read it and get drunk afterwards. (less)
Disclaimer: ARC read via Netgalley. Also, I didn’t request it, but was invited by the publicist.
I am one of those readers who hated the Physic Book o...more Disclaimer: ARC read via Netgalley. Also, I didn’t request it, but was invited by the publicist.
I am one of those readers who hated the Physic Book of Deliverance Dane. I thought it was stupid and idiotic, and the heroine was a complete twit who should have taken her dog to the vet. I also hated the Kate Mosse book I read. I’m really, really, really picky about time travel romance/mystery novels. It’s shocking that I actually liked some of the Outlander series.
You should know that in all fairness to Janet Eubank.
Crossover is not a badly written novel. Look at this description, “the house was like a woman of a certain age. There were still good bones and good manners and not a hint of embarrassment at being forced, after years of independence, to go to work in the world. The job might be demeaning and badly paid. Never mind; it was honest work and could be done with dignity and even some grace. Unhappiness was a private matter to be kept strictly inside” (Location 10).
And it gets better.
Description and setting wise the book does grab the reader. Meredith arrives at an English college to start her journey to her master’s degree. She is studying something vaguely 18th century; it’s never quite clear what English literature she is interested in and writing her essays on, but she is apparently brilliant according to her tutor. She finds herself getting stuck into some kind of time replacement, role switcheroo thing where she and a look-alike from the 18th century trade places. Meredith is determined to find more about the family she finds herself time placed with, and she uncovers a mystery featuring affairs and violence.
It’s sad, though, that I found the supporting characters of Sue and Tony, Meredith’s friends, to be far more entertaining than Meredith. Sue and Tony would make a wonderful romance novel; their relationship is interesting. Sue and Tony actually seem interested in scholarship and not just their tutor’s pants. They actually seem to work. Meredith’s relationship with her tutor, on the hand, is not interesting but simply pro forma. It just happens. Meredith seems to just happen.
The mystery itself is slightly more interesting than the time travel and the romance aspects of the novel. If this had been a simple straight forward gothic style mystery drawing on Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, it would have worked. The time travel aspect allows for modern detective work, but in some ways weakens the book. This could be because all of the people who help Meredith are men. She is given a chance to work a woman tutor who actually specializes in the area of Meredith’s interest, but she rejects it to work with her original tutor. The reason given is believable, but having Meredith being aided by one woman in the story would have alleviated the feeling of Mary Sue specialness that really means Mary Sue twit.
Yep, Meredith is one of those. You know, like you see in those books I couldn’t finish.
Now, granted the novel was first published in 1984 and that means the latter works come after and Eubank’s character is more original, possibly an influence on the others.
What separates this book from its followers is the simple fact that Eubank can write atmosphere extremely well. Place and mood are wonderfully conveyed. This is true regardless of the time period. It’s why I was able to finish it. It’s why if she writes a straight gothic book, I’m there with bells on.
In short, if you like Mosse, you should like this. It’s a better book.
Even when Rendell’s books don’t grab me by the throat, they are still. Wuthering Heights, for instance, did a better job of conjuring a moor in my eye...moreEven when Rendell’s books don’t grab me by the throat, they are still. Wuthering Heights, for instance, did a better job of conjuring a moor in my eye (so does Kate Bush’s song based on Bronte’s novel). Yet, the twist is properly lied out, and still surprises the reader. Nice way to spend a couple hours.
I read this because a close friend suggested that I use it for my class. Damn, I hate it when I have to tell him that he is right.
The only reason I am not curled up in a whole crying about the coming apocalypse brought to us by stupid people is that it isn’t just an American problem if a conversation I had with a teacher from South Africa is any indication.
Ravitch’s book is a study in what went wrong in trying to correct the course of American Schools. It is politic in some parts, but take heart (or double the fear) – every side is too blame because no one seems to want to actually talk and think about the problem in a rational way. It’s not just politicians either, but those foundations that donate money – like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
BTW, am I the only one who is worried that one of the major supporters of school reform is a foundation linked to Wal-Mart?
Ravitch took some heat for her change in view, but this is w what makes the book compelling because Ravitch takes you step by step on how her view changed. It makes the writing more powerful because it means she actually thinks, considers, rejects or accepts, and then repeats the process when more information becomes available.
There are many statistics that are discussed, yet the book is not dry. In many ways, it is a presentation about how to use statistics and judge them. In this day, when exit polls are used by news agencies as the source for determining the winner (they shouldn’t be), it’s nice to see this.
I am really sorry. I want to give this book a good review. I truly do. The idea of taking Little Red Riding Hood...moreDisclaimer: Copy read via Netgalley.
I am really sorry. I want to give this book a good review. I truly do. The idea of taking Little Red Riding Hood and using the story to tell moralistic and allegorical tales is good. In terms of creatively, of making a new fairy tale it works very well. The allegory and the moral side is actually nice. But I cannot suggest that anyone buy this book. The writing is full of errors. And yes, I did check to see if it was simply an ARC problem. It doesn’t appear to be, though I hope it is. There really isn’t a nice way to say this, so I’ll just say it. If this book was being handed in as a paper, any teacher would have to give it an “F” grade simply because of grammar. (Yes, I say this even though there are undoubtedly errors in my review). The lack of basic comma usage is the first grammar problem. Honestly, it seems as if every single comma rule was disregarded over the course of the book. The second problem is the constant misuse of your – for instance, “You’re breath!”(Location 78) –as well as the misuse of it’s – “needed it’s breath” (Location 83). In fact, possession seems to be a problem in this book, for there is also “families” for “family’s”. There is the word “obliviously” used when “obviously” should be. Carla’s mother is a “general type of mother” (Location 61), and I’m not quite sure what that means. There are sentences like, “Carla yelled, but the wolf could hear that she was not mad and her smile warmed him to behold” (Location 264). I lost count of the run-on sentences. There is this sentence – “The one time Carla felt she had asked the wolf a simple direct question about his age, he had chosen to lie, and claimed to have been older than the world.” (Location 291). How can you feel you asked a question? You either ask a question or not. You might imply a question, but felt? There is this wonderful bit – “That morning Carla was awoken by her mother, which was the reverse of who normally woke who up” (Location 358) or “The wolf covered the space between him and the white mouse faster than Carla could have thought about it”. The word “sighted” is used when the word “saw” should be. And I’m not even mentioning the capitalization issues in any detail. I could keep going, but what would be the point? A good idea and spell-check is not enough for a book to be readable. If this book was edited and cleaned up, the story could actually shine as it should. As it is now, however, anyone who pays for it is going to be very angry. (less)
Red Dwarf has long been a favorite show. The adventure of Lister, Rimmer, Cat, and Kryton are some of the best sci-fi around. Like the time with the w...moreRed Dwarf has long been a favorite show. The adventure of Lister, Rimmer, Cat, and Kryton are some of the best sci-fi around. Like the time with the walking sausuage that wasn’t really a sausage. Or Kryton’s parts. Or Cat’s coolness. Or Lister’s devotion to Chrissie. And Holly, who can forget Holly. This audio book is read by Chris Barry who played Rimmer. If you haven’t seen Red Dwarf (which makes you in violation of numerous space mining codes), you know him perhaps from the Tomb Raider movies where you played Lara Croft’s butler. He’s really good at nailing everyone else’s voices. The novel has plots from the first season of Dwarf and includes the theme song. There is more of Lister’s back story and the first meeting between Rimmer and Lister is a must read (or listen). And the last bit, the last bit is just so . . .just so wonderful.
Laurie Penny’s Unspeakable Things is, in short, a rant. It is a feminist. It is entertaining. It still is, however...moreDisclaimer: ARC read via Netgalley.
Laurie Penny’s Unspeakable Things is, in short, a rant. It is a feminist. It is entertaining. It still is, however, a rant.
In her introduction Penny refers to her book as a polemic. In some ways, it is a call to arms. In others, it is a cry for awareness.
In many ways, it is a challenge. To society. To women. To men. To government. To other feminists.
It is difficult not to like Penny’s writing. For instance in discussing how people respond negatively to women in power, she writes, “the sole regular exceptions is the Queen of England, in whose case it doesn’t matter how much Botox you haven’t had if you own half of Antarctica and look scary on a stamp” (Location 497). Try to argue when she writes, “one sure test of social privilege is how much anger you get to express without the threat of expulsion” (Location 39) or “the best way to stop girls achieving everything is to force them to achieve everything” (Location 539). Another plus is that Penny does not try to speak for everyone. She correctly points out that her view is just as valid as another and she is not going to apologize because she is not whatever she isn’t. She also is more reactionary than many mass market published feminists. This seems to because her politics, as expressed in this book, are a mixture of feminism and social change. There is, for instance, the sentence, “Public ‘career feminists’ have been more concerned with getting more into ‘boardrooms,’ when the problem is that there are altogether too many boardrooms, and none of them are on fire” (Location 86).
Penny is refreshing because this take no prisoners approach. She doesn’t try to be polite, she is upfront, in your face, and doesn’t care if she makes you uncomfortable. One might think that such an approach would be too narrow, too anger, but it is not. She presents at times, a more inclusion view. In her discussion about rape culture, for instance, she also focuses on what it does to men, something not many feminists do.
Yet, for all the good, there is still the feeling of been there, and someone else said it first.
If the reader has been paying attention to the world at large and to feminism in particular, much of what Penny writes is, if not old hat, something the reader already knows or has already read about. There are some exceptions – the brief discussion about lipstick feminism, for instance, but not many. When Penny discusses rape culture, the abortion wars (debate, whatever you want to call it), or the demonization of the single mother, there is nothing new in her comments. It doesn’t quite feel “I just discover this and am pissed off” but it is close. Her analysis in many cases isn’t deep – for instance, a comparison between abortion controls in Western Cultures vs. those in places like Iran, an argument that it is about biological control more than anything else. The book is also somewhat startling in what isn’t mentioned. It is true, as Penny says, that she is writing from a middle-class, white, heterosexual point of view and that she is relying on mostly firsthand experience. Okay fine, but if you are discussing abortion in the United States, which considering Penny is British, she most likely does not have experience with, why can’t you address the violence against women that occur in places like India, Brazil, or Egypt? Why when writing about protests does Penny mention Occupy but totally neglects the Arab Spring and the treatment of female protestors there? Because she didn’t personally experience it? Does that it make it less real or less vital to proving her thesis?
And that’s the problem. Penny is right –it is important to acknowledge a variety of views and one should not be afraid to speak up. Personal experience is important and are more powerful than statistics (which Penny mentions but does not cite, interestingly enough), but keeping an argument solely on the terms of personal experience makes it weak and in some ways too general. This was also a problem with her kindle single about Cypersexism, which is adapted and included in this book. (less)
Disclaimer: Digital ARC read via Netgalley. (And I shouted in glee when I read the email).
The technique of a short story is at times over looked by r...moreDisclaimer: Digital ARC read via Netgalley. (And I shouted in glee when I read the email).
The technique of a short story is at times over looked by readers at large. Not all novelists can be short story writers, for the short work requires something that goes for the jugular. Tanith Lee, for instance, writes better short stories than novels. Willkie Collins’ longer works are better than his shorter ones. Doyle is rightly remembered more for Sherlock Holmes than his novels, which are at best not quite forgettable.
Atwood is a writer who can write both novels and short stories very well. Perhaps her short fiction draws more blood, as a slight more biting tone to it than the introspective and far ranging novels. Stone Mattress is a collection of nine of these stories. Of the nine, only three have appeared in print prior to publication (one, “Zenia with the Bright Red Teeth”, is available by itself as an eBook).
If the collection has a theme, it is the power of the story (something that Atwood alludes to her afterword). The first three stories are interconnected and make up, loosely, a trilogy. There are very much like Isak Dinesen’s Sculptor short stories, the sequence that starts with “The Cloak”. The stories – “Alphinland,” “Revenant,” and “Dark Lady” – deal with the lives of aging beats in the form of a fantasy fiction writer, a poet, and a muse. The trilogy, which can be read out of sequence, deals with creation and death as well as with bohemian life styles and aging. The changing perspective allows for the idea of personal view versus reality. Something that one character tries to undercover, but which can never truly be discovered or revealed. There is poetry, in particular, with the opening story, “Alphinland,” and its description of a Toronto overcome by snow. The description of Constance’s walk to the store makes something magical out of the mundane as well as bringing winter back into the middle of summer.
The trilogy is followed by “Lusus Naturae” – one of the stories that have been previously published. “Lusus” is an inverted and disturbing, if perhaps more realistic, Beauty and the Beast themed story. The first four stories are worth the price of the book itself. This isn’t to say that the rest of the stories are bad. They aren’t, though two – “The Dead Hand Loves You” and “Torching the Dusties” – are not as good as the rest. “The Freeze Dried Groom” will ensure that you never look at reality television the same way again, and “Zenia with the Bright Red Teeth” is a wonderful and fitting follow up to “The Robber Bridegroom”.
The best on in the collection is “Stone Mattress” which was originally published in the New Yorker and seems to have been quasi collaboration with Graeme Gibson – and quite frankly is wonderfully and beautifully nasty. They need to work together this way more often. This collection is well worth the cost and worth the read. If you are enjoying Atwood’s Madaddam work and are considering her other, non-science fiction or speculative fiction work, this is a good place to start. (less)