I've had this in French for years, but decided to read it in English first. This is a beautiful novella about the foibles and self-centred nature of y...moreI've had this in French for years, but decided to read it in English first. This is a beautiful novella about the foibles and self-centred nature of youth. Cecile, a young girl who has just failed her philosophy exam for her degree, is spending a lazy warm summer in the south of France with her playboy father, Raymond, and his most recent mistress, the scorched redhead Elsa. Cecile has her first romance with the sweet if a little dull Cyril, and all seems content and familiar.
Yet the sexy, older, sophisticated Anne comes to stay, an old friend of Raymond's. And Raymond, conscious of growing older, decides to dump Elsa and marry Anne. Cecile is appalled, as this disrupts the delicate balance of her life that she has grown used to. She schemes to break apart Anne and her father's new union, but her plan goes awry when she realizes that Anne really does love Raymond, and tragedy strikes. Cecile will never be innocent again, and is forced to grow up. Highly recommended.(less)
Marina Hyde, like many of us, has become increasingly disgusted with how celebrities are stepping far outside their role of mere e...moreBackground/Synopsis:
Marina Hyde, like many of us, has become increasingly disgusted with how celebrities are stepping far outside their role of mere entertainers, waltzing into the UN as delegates with no ambassador training, making proclamations how they can singlehandedly create peace in the middle east, using charity as a means to promote their films and various products to make money, and generally their overflated sense of self-importance. She scathingly examines how many celebrities believe that their lives and wants are more important than a country's entire government.
Marina Hyde writes regular columns for The Guardian, which I've read, and she's a very good, intelligent, humourous writer. I chuckled several times while reading this. She peppers the book with little footnotes, and it's very easy and pleasurable to read. It's obviously well-researched.
Hyde could have gone into more detail about why celebrities have evolved this and why the general public has allowed it. She could have brought it back to us more.
A good satire on the amazing amount of power celebrities have accumulated. Recommended to those who are as bemused as I am as to why people love celebs so much. Most of the ones in this book strike me as rather stupid. Why worship them?(less)
Michael Marshall writes horror under this name, but is also known for his science fiction, which he writes under Michael Marshall...moreBackground/Synopsis:
Michael Marshall writes horror under this name, but is also known for his science fiction, which he writes under Michael Marshall Smith. Perhaps he was inspired by Iain (M.) Banks, who likewise changes names depending on the genre.
The Strawmen is a brutal, well-written horror story about a mysterious group of mass murderers called The Straw Men and a lone serial killer to may be tied to them, who calls himself the Upright Man. The Upright Man kidnaps a young, 16-year-old girl from a solidly middle-class family, Sarah Becker. John Zandt, a former policeman whose own daughter was taken by the Upright Man, is drawn reluctantly along back into the case with his former partner, Nina. Meanwhile, Ward Hopkins's parents die in a car crash but leave behind a message that he must investigate. Both Hopkins and Zandt end up working together to try and solve the mystery before Sarah Becker is murdered.
Michael Marshall is a clever writer. His prose is tight and he makes use of metaphoric language without going overboard. In just a few sentences, he can make the reader connect and understand a character, so that if that character dies later on, you mourn them.
Michael Marshall falls into the trap of usually writing the same protagonist, which is probably heavily influenced on himself. His protagonists are almost always drinkers, smokers, or drug users that have just kicked the habit and are trying to get their life back around. They have always recently undergone a terrible tragedy and if they had a relationship, it's fallen apart. The characters are witty and sardonic and have a way of getting themselves into trouble. He writes this character well, and in The Straw Men he does portray Nina and Sarah Becker quite well.
Another weakness is that the book starts extremely strongly, but near the end it wanes a bit in my opinion. Things become a bit too large and link into a huge conspiracy. It was interesting, but it took away from the serial killer, and when he meets the other characters, he does not come across anywhere near as terrifying as he did in the opening scenes with Sarah Becker.
A lot of serial killer novels are very serious and horrific all the way through. Occasional bits of humour (mostly dark humour, understandably) work very well in this novel. Also, characters at several points throughout the novel make fun of other horror novels like Thomas Harris, even though a blurb on the cover proclaims that Marshall is in the "Thomas Harris category."
The format of the novel also worked well. Ward Hopkin's viewpoint is in first person, John Zandt's is as well if I remember correctly, which can be a bit confusing at times. Sarah Becker and Nina are in third person, as are the occasional viewpoints from the Upright Man's perspective. I really identified with Sarah Becker, as she reminded me quite a bit of myself and my friends at that age. It was terrifying, to think that so easily I could have had something so terrible happen to me, if my luck hadn't quite held out.
I recommend the book to any lover of horror, and definitely not to anyone squeamish.(less)
Ted Chiang is a science fiction short story writer who has achieved a lot of acclaim. I reviewed his short story collection, Stori...moreBackground/Synopsis:
Ted Chiang is a science fiction short story writer who has achieved a lot of acclaim. I reviewed his short story collection, Stories of Your Life and Others, earlier this year. The Lifecycle of Software Objects is his first novella and his longest work to date.
Remember Neopets? My poor Neopet, created in 2000, might still be floating about the web somewhere, extremely hungry and neglected. In the story, digents are being programmed, and they are essentially extremely advanced Neopets. The story spans several years and follows the digients, the programmers who first worked with them and then grew to love them and adopt them, and the struggles the digients face in finding a safe corners of the internet and questioning who they are and what they can become.
Well-written, with strong bits of humour, interesting characters, and a theme that makes us question what a person or an entity truly is. At times the humans instinctively wish to protect the digients at cost to themselves, and they are stumped as to why they feel the digients need more protection than themselves.
The ending is a bit too open for my liking.
Ted Chiang has a knack for finding really interesting topics to write about. He obviously spends a long time polishing them, and no word is put there by accident. The digients are wonderful characters and despite the length of the novella, I found myself growing to care for them. I want a digient!
It also comments on how fickle humans are--this amazing technology will come about to create artificial life, but the digients are seen only as commodities are entertainment, and many humans become more and suspend their digients, much like my long-ago abandoned Neopet. There is conflict for the main characters to both find a permanent home for digients and to combat against those who do not understand why they have come to be so close to "programming."
To anyone who is interested in artificial life and science fiction that you can chew on.(less)
This is a very short young adult novel detailing the difficulties of war, which is a central theme to Westall's work. His other books, The Machine Gun...moreThis is a very short young adult novel detailing the difficulties of war, which is a central theme to Westall's work. His other books, The Machine Gunners and Fathom Five, are set in WWII, but this novel discusses the Gulf War. Tom has a little brother, Andy, whom he calls Figgis. Figgis is a little odd at time and becomes fixated on various Things. He is very sensitive to the suffering of others--animal and human alike. He will force his parents to save birds that have fallen from the nest. On holiday, he became obsessed with children starving in Africa. He begins to speak of another little boy named Bossus who is very hungry, seeming to be possessed by him. When "Bossus" dies, Figgus returns to normal.
Yet one day Figgus begins speaking Arabic in the night. He has identified with a boy solider in Iraq named Akbar, and [main character] becomes frightened for his brother but is too afraid to tell anyone. Akbar seems to be stronger than his brother and he fears that he is going to lose him.
When she was 11, Grace (yes, Mary Sue name alert) was attacked by the wolves who lived in the forest by her house. One of the wolv...moreBackground/Synopsis:
When she was 11, Grace (yes, Mary Sue name alert) was attacked by the wolves who lived in the forest by her house. One of the wolves stepped in and saved her. Ever since, Grace has seen the wolf watching her from the frigid winter woods of Mercy Falls, Minnesota.
Interspersed with Grace's narrative is Sam's, the boy who turns into a wolf every winter. And why yes, he is the wolf that saved Grace. Grace, much to her credit, suspects something supernatural early on, especially when a fellow classmate is attacked by wolves and then the body goes missing. Those Silly Adults (tm) of Mercy Falls go into the woods to hunt the wolves. Sam is shot in the neck and turns human, and Grace finds him and helps him in turn. Sam has to keep from getting too cold, or else he'll turn back into a wolf, possibly for good.
What follows is a sweet love story. There are many parallels to Twilight, but a lot of the egregious errors of Twilight are smoothed over in this novel. They are the same age, Sam has a troubled past and is healing from the trauma, Grace is not stupid and passive and is proactive with her life, and although she has a few Mary Sue traits, she is not a blank slate like a certain Miss Swan. The romance is tinged with sadness because for most of the book they expect it to only be able to last for a few months.
There is a balanced level of the internal conflict of Sam and Grace's relationship and the external factors of the dangerous new werewolf, Grace's former schoolmate Jack, the parents who wish to harm the wolves, Grace having to hide the supernatural slant of her life from most of her friends, and the crazed wolf of the pack who is in love with Sam and despises Grace, though we never see her human or learn much of anything about her, which is a weak point.
The prose is at times quite good, at other times a little weak. The adult's dialogue rang false to me. Grace's parents neglect her because they are so caught up in their own lives, but it is not executed well enough. And how many 17-year-olds do all of the housework and know how to make a quiche? My mom was busy all the time and my dad didn't live with me at that age--I ate a lot of pot pies. The supporting characters for the most part are fairly three-dimensional. Rachel is a little flat, but Isabel is well-done.
It's not amazing, but it's good, fun "marshmallow lit." It's sweet, it's fluffy, and it's the perfect guilty pleasure to curl up in bed and read with a cup of tea while the snow swirls outside. (less)
In essence, the conflict of the stories is reversed in the sequel. Sam has turned back into a...moreWarning: Slight spoilers for Shiver.
In essence, the conflict of the stories is reversed in the sequel. Sam has turned back into a human, hopefully for good, but Grace is beginning to fall ill and feverish, and deep down knows that the wolf inside of her from when she was attacked is trying to get out. Beck, Sam's adoptive father and leader of the pack, has recruited a few new wolves to help care for the pack, as the longer one is a wolf, the shorter their time as a human.
One of the newcomers is a lead singer of a band who chose to become a werewolf as an alternative to suicide. This makes him an interesting character from the beginning, and his interactions with tough Isabel are really sweet and in many ways eclipse the romance of Sam and Grace. Sam and Grace, despite their problems, are still rather innocent, whereas Cole and Isabel have more friction. The series does not shy away from trauma, death, and the weaknesses of the characters. No one is magically saved from their past by love.
There is some serious pseudoscience to fix Grace, and the ending is rather abrupt and almost anticlimatic. I'd still like to see more complex adults. So far the pack are the only ones that seem remotely human when they're not wolves, and most of the time, they are wolves.
Another satisfying marshmallow of a book. Mmm, saccharine and fluffy.(less)
Kate Atkinson is a long-standing favourite author of mine. She writes novels about strange family histories and in recent year...moreBackground and Synopsis:
Kate Atkinson is a long-standing favourite author of mine. She writes novels about strange family histories and in recent years branched out and started a mystery series starring Jackson Brodie, yet they are unlike any mystery series you have read before. Emphasis is primarily on the characters, and the plots are strong yet rely a bit too heavily on coincidence. But the characters have a way of getting under your skin. The prequels to this book are Case Histories, One Good Turn, and When Will There Be Good News?
In this installment, Jackson Brodie has somewhat retired from being a private investigator, but stumbles into a case anyway. A friend, Hope McMaster, asks him to find out more about her childhood and past when she has difficulty gaining access to her birth certificate. Tracy Waterhouse, a lonely, overweight ex-cop, impulsively buys a little girl from a prostitute for 3,000 pounds and then wonders how she will manage to get away with it. An elderly soap opera actress is forgetting herself.
Jackson, while searching for the origins of Hope McMaster, disturbs a long-ago crime of another lost child, the child of a murdered prostitute who was trapped in an apartment with the mother's corpse for three weeks. Jackson saves a dog from a cruel owner and it becomes his trusty sidekick.
As you can see, it's not a typical mystery. Atkinson interweaves the present narrative with flashbacks, both in extended scenes from 1975 and the characters thinking back to earlier events. This can be a bit confusing at times, but overall works very well. Jackson Brodie is a very likeable character, and adding a little dog hits home that he is growing older and in some ways softer. He is more contemplative than he was in Case Histories.
I also really enjoyed the character of Tracy Waterhouse. She was a solid, dependable person who had a hard life as a policewoman, especially in the beginning when there were not many women in the force, but she is soft on the inside. She tries to be a good parent to her new charge, but fears that she is doing it all wrong, as her own childhood was lacking in picnics and trips to amusement parks, and there were no storytimes or hugs.
Atkinson's prose is, as always, richly filled with metaphors, simile, and witty dialogue. She is a very, very good writer. She has that same talent Margaret Atwood does, to sneak into my mind and somehow articulate feelings I've had before but been unable to express.
Though I enjoyed it thoroughly, it did not touch me as some of the other books of the series have. It also took longer than usual for the differing threads to begin to come together. By page 90, I was still wondering when and how characters would meet each other.
Overall, it's excellent and I would recommend it to others and read it again myself.(less)
In this dystopian world, racism is still rife. Crosses have privilege and social mobility, and noughts have next...moreRating: 4.5 stars
In this dystopian world, racism is still rife. Crosses have privilege and social mobility, and noughts have next to nothing. Fairly soon into the novel, the reader discovers that it is inverted from the racism of the US--the black people are crosses, and white people are the noughts.
Persephone Hadley is the cross daughter of the deputy Prime Minister. Callum McGregor, a nought, is the son of the former hired help. Callum and Sephy have been friends their entire lives. Callum is one of the four noughts that placed high enough in an exam to go to a prestigious Cross school--Sephy's school. But when Sephy and Callum have to interact within the inherent racism on both sides, their friendship--which begins to blossom into something more than friendship--begins to feel the strain. Sephy and Callum must undergo bullying from friends, schoolmates, teachers, their family, and the whole world.
A Liberation Army has been formed, of noughts wishing for equality, yet like so many other groups, they go about achieving it the wrong way--with violence. Callum and his family have been caught up in it and their lives hang in the balance. Much more happens, but to tell anymore would spoil major plot points. But, needless to say, it continues to get darker, with only occasional bursts of sunshine and hope.
Good prose, good characters. Sephy is very sheltered and innocent at the start of the novel. She unthinkingly calls all noughts "blankers" on the first day of school to get people to stop brawling, which is the same as calling them "niggers." Callum is very angry, and grows angrier, though Sephy manages to cut through the anger. It's grittier than a lot of young adult novels out there. Neither side is blameless.
I think it could have been broken into two novels. The characters undergo SUCH a transformation, and there's a 2 year gap that felt like it could have been the opening to the next installment. I have not read the next four books in the series, though, so it could be that the pace works out better the way it is.
Another thoughtful series designed to make young adults and adults alike think about the consequences and utter silliness of racism. Malorie Blackman said she named the series because "Noughts and Crosses [Note to Americans: Tic-tac-toe] is a game that most stop playing after childhood because nobody wins." I plan to read the rest of the series.
Holly Black and Cecil Castelluci are both successful young adult authors. They wrote a short story together that...moreRating: 3.5 stars
Holly Black and Cecil Castelluci are both successful young adult authors. They wrote a short story together that was too geeky for many conventional publishers. So they decided to have a call for other geeky stories and collect them. Many big names are featured in the collection:
Holly Black, Cecil Castellucci, Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare, John Green, Hope Larson, David Leviathan, Kelly Link, Barry Lyga, Tracy Lynn, Wendy Mass, Garth Nix, Bryan Lee O'Malley, Cynthia & Greg Leitich Smith, Scott Westerfeld, Lisa Yee, Sara Zarr.
The stories encompass a wide array of geekdom: Cons, in-person and online roleplaying, online dating, quiz bowls, Rocky Horror, etc. Many of the stories focus around being the new girl or boy at school, and falling in love or having a crush on a member of the same or opposite sex.
My favourite stories were the one about quiz bowls by David Leviathan, and a story by Tracey Lynn called "One of Us" about a cheerleader who pays a group of geeks to teach her about geeky things so that she can get along better with her quarterback boyfriend who likes fairly mainstream geeky things like Star Wars. Some of them were so fun and so touching.
For me personally, a lot of the geekery didn't hit home for me. Now, I've got a nerdy bent, as evidenced by this blog, my past attendance at comic-con, my unabashed love of fantasy and science fiction. But I don't personally connect with cosplay or fanfic or roleplaying games. Some of the stories I didn't like. Unfortunately, Scott Westerfeld's did less than nothing for me, which is a shame because I love his books. I also can certainly say I am not a fan of Kelly Link. I've tried multiple times to get through her collection of short stories, Stranger Things Happen, and this story was weird. She likes to delve between first and third person at random and none of her characters ever strike me as remotely realistic. There was also a story about a girl who was obsessed with dinosaurs and is meant to show her triumph over the girl who humiliates her, but she plays a prank that is straight out of Mean Girls and is unoriginal and extremely cruel, but it's painted in a positive light. Some of the stories are already fading from my mind, soon to be forgotten almost completely.
Fun enough for geeks and non-geeks alike, but nothing that's going to stick with you long-term most likely. It's a good place to start if you don't read much young adult fiction, because it lets you sample work from a wide array of pretty popular authors.(less)
I realized I was woefully uninformed about a lot of Scotland from reading this. Christipher Winn writes about each area of Scotland in alphabetical or...moreI realized I was woefully uninformed about a lot of Scotland from reading this. Christipher Winn writes about each area of Scotland in alphabetical order and includes interesting tidbits about various towns, castles, lochs, homes, monuments, and the historical people that populated them. I probably won't remember most of the tidbits, but I do feel that I know slightly more about my new home than I did before I read it. It also gave me ideas of other specific parts of history I wish to research in more detail, such as the Highland Clearances and a biography of Mary, Queen of Scots.(less)
Tecumseh Sparrow Spivet is not your ordinary twelve-year-old boy. He is obsessed with cartography and graphs everything in his lif...moreBackground/Synopsis:
Tecumseh Sparrow Spivet is not your ordinary twelve-year-old boy. He is obsessed with cartography and graphs everything in his life, from his home of Coppertop Ranch in Montana to the frequency that his father drinks whiskey, the angles of his sister shucking corn, and mapping the loneliness of people in big cities. He is a certifiable genius, and received a surprise when the Smithsonian Institute phones him to inform him that he had won the prestigious Baird award. The catch? T.S.'s mentor submitted his illustrations and neglected to mention his age.
T.S. decides to go to Washington D.C. anyway, but is too shy to ask his parents. His mother, whom he called Dr. Clair, is a doctor searching for a type of Beetle that may or may not exist, whereas his father is a full-blooded cowboy who does not understand his bookish son. So T.S., armed with his notebooks, stenographs, and a railway map, decides to hitchhike a train to D.C. on his own to accept the award.
The book is beautiful. Almost every page has a detailed illustration or random tangents by T.S. Spivet, and all of the drawings are done by the author. The illustrations make it a wonderfly different reading experience from what I am used to. It's not just prose, it's not a book with occasional illustrations, but it's not a graphic novel or a comic, which relies primarily on images to convey meaning.
The writing style is also beautiful. I enjoyed the prose, the characterizations, the use of dialect with regards to T.S.'s father in particular, and the undercurrent of sadness throughout the novel due to the recent death of a family member.
While of course T.S. is far more intelligent than your normal pre-teen, he still comes across as extremely adult sometimes, though every now and again the child in him peeks out again. The largest weakness, I found, was that when he arrives in D.C., things become rather unbelievable. I enjoyed T.S. journeying and knocking about in his head.
The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet is an ambitious novel that comments on grief, death, guilt, and seeing the world through different eyes. T.S., for example, sees the world differently from many of the characters--his sister, his parents, and most of the people of the Smithsonian. Throughout his journey, he re-examines what he truly finds important in his life and grows up quite a bit.
This book was one of my favourites I've read this year, and I am very glad that I chose it as our first selection for our little book club. It will be interesting to see if others like it as much as I have.(less)