My first John Dickson Carr novel—a Christmas gift bought for the express purpose of being fitting reading for a few days in a country cabin, which itMy first John Dickson Carr novel—a Christmas gift bought for the express purpose of being fitting reading for a few days in a country cabin, which it very much was. Loads of melodrama (gasping, running toward one's lover just to touch hands before turning and running back in the other direction, be-veiled ghosts, passionate embraces, needlessly complicated back story...), and lots of exposition and character explanation delivered through feverish dialog. Take for example, the introduction that the the hefty, enigmatic Dr. Gideon Fell receives, upon his arrival half way through the book:
'For the ordinary case,' interrupted Nick Barclay with an air of dazzling inspiration, 'he'd be no earthly good at all. It's the hundredth instance where he scores. I never met him until tonight, but I've heard all about him. He's the cross-eyed marksman who hits the game without aiming at it; he's the scatterbrained diver you send into murky waters. His special talent is useful only in a case so crazy that nobody else can understand it.'
And even better is the abundance of amazing exclamations from the good doctor, my favorite being, "O Lord! O Bacchus! O my ancient hat!"...more
So continues my Sookie Stackhouse binge, although I am definitely petering out. I haven't read this many books in a series this fast since I was probaSo continues my Sookie Stackhouse binge, although I am definitely petering out. I haven't read this many books in a series this fast since I was probably about 12. Reading the same author back to back can be a good way to immerse yourself in a fictional mileu, but it also ensures that you notice all the prose ticks and vocab quirks (oft-repeated words or turns of phrase, for instance) and can get a little tiring.
All the same, I think I liked the story here better than in Living Dead in Dallas. And I like that Sookie's adventures have been taking her outside of Bon Temps and expanding the world and supernatural hierarchies. The conceits are getting a bit thinner--Bill's kidnapping is a bit of a MacGuffin, honestly--but the secondary characters continue to be interesting, particularly as they are better developed, and they are making Bill look a bit blah. As such, it's also nice that Sookie's relationship with Bill is not treated as a forever-and-always given: I like the troubled relationship aspect.
I needed a brain break while studying for finals and writing papers, and this book--which I read over the course of two days—-was ideal for such a purI needed a brain break while studying for finals and writing papers, and this book--which I read over the course of two days—-was ideal for such a purpose. I didn't like it as much as the first book in the series, but the addition of new supernatural beings was enjoyable, and the introduction of the Fellowship (the church group bent on destroying vampires) was clever. I find Bill a bit blah as a character, so having Eric become more of a character was also a plus.
This book was perhaps even more "fluff" than the first in the series, but it was just what I was in the mood for at the time. ...more
My whole experience with this book was driven by entirely spontaneous circumstances, and I have to say that I am glad for it. The book is such a flurrMy whole experience with this book was driven by entirely spontaneous circumstances, and I have to say that I am glad for it. The book is such a flurry--of plotting, of perspectives, of energy and tone--and the story (characterized to me as Nancy Mitford writes Rosemary's Baby, which I think is rather accurate) is both ironic and deadly serious, funny and actually quite frightening. So I probably would not have been successful in finishing this if I had originally sat down with the intention of reading it. Because (for me) there just isn't a really ideal frame of mind in which to read the "naive city woman moves to the country and must unknowingly endure the malefic attentions of her witch neighbor" story. But it is totally worth it.
This book is (put on your best frat boy voice) crrraaazy. But Weldon is a deliberate and incisive and observant and funny (she's got a cruel sense of humor at times, but nevertheless) and unrelenting storyteller and prose stylist and by my third day reading Puff Ball I had not only been completely sucked in, I knew that I had to just sit down and read the last half of it in one go.
The novel starts with a London couple finding a cottage and debating whether or not to the give the country life a try. Liffey is a pampered innocent, an adult who despite (or maybe because of) growing up with an uncaring, aggressive mother, prefers to float through life with childlike innocence. Her husband, Richard, is an up-and-coming executive who has generally wanted to provide for his wife--refusing to dip into her inheritance for anything other than small pleasures, for instance--but not actually a man who can really handle responsibility. Liffey and Richard stand in the cottage garden, debating commuting distances, the possibility of raising a child in the country, thatch roofs, and "real" country people. They have sex in the grass behind the house. They are observed in all of this (with field glasses) by the nearest neighbors: Mabs, a bona fide witch, and Tucker, her husband.
Mabs develops an instant dislike to Liffey, a dislike more akin to hatred, really. For that matter, nearly every character in the novel--from Mabs and Liffey's mother, to Liffey's friends, to Richard's secretary--violently dislikes Liffey and actively wishes her harm. This level of venom is strange because while Liffey can certainly be irritating or ineffectual or spoiled or naive, she really is no worse for these sins than anyone else in the novel. And, while she has her own moral missteps, she is really the only character who is not constantly working to make other people suffer.
Part of what makes the novel's plotting feel so frenetic, what gives the whole story its sense of urgency and pending dread, is the way in which Weldon swings between perspectives so frequently. In the space of one page, you'll have two or three different voices, all seeing and interpreting the same event, all relaying their own conflicting intentions. It is rather masterful, and stress-inducing, and physically involving in a way that I don't think I've experienced when reading a book before. The first few days I was reading Puff Ball I had to actually stop and take a break after reading a few chapters (which are short, too). It felt overwhelming being inside all those minds. And yet, I didn't want to stop reading.
When the chorus of voices becomes even more granular, and Liffey's biological processes are described in acute, objective detail, it becomes even more intense. At its core, Puff Ball is a novel about mothers and women, and, most dramatically, about the simultaneous horror and magnificence of the biological mechanisms and flukes involved in a woman becoming pregnant and bringing a child to life. I'm not sure that if you parsed out all the logic and plot twists related to Liffey's eventual pregnancy that you would get a real capital-F Feminist message, but somehow, it is more successful for its ambiguity in this regard.
If this doesn't read as a resounding endorsement of the novel, I'm not sure it is. But reading this book might legitimately qualify as having been a "dazzling" or "exhilarating" experience for me. I will definitely seek out more Fay Weldon in the future--I've been lead to believe that many of her other novels could qualify as "frothy," which would certainly be a change of pace. ...more
This was assigned for the vampire class I am taking this semester and I was extremely skeptical, due in great part to how much I loathed the first insThis was assigned for the vampire class I am taking this semester and I was extremely skeptical, due in great part to how much I loathed the first installment of Harris' Aurora Teagarden series. But I'm glad I gave this one a chance—it was not only a rather enjoyable read, it also has some interesting things going on below the surface. My professor pointed out that almost no scholarship has been done on the Sookie Stackhouse series, although plenty is out there on True Blood, the TV-version, and also on books like Twilight. I looked around a bit myself and found nearly nothing academic on the series, which did strike me as odd.
Something else that struck me while reading: here we have yet another vampire novel (the other example that comes immediately to mind being L.J. Smith's Vampire Diaries) which preceded the publication of Twilight and shares many major plot/character points. The brooding, paternalizing protector Vampire boyfriend, the (male) friend who shape-shifts (into a dog) and also has feelings for the female lead. In Twilight, there seems to be a flip of Sookie's ability to read minds (except for Bill's): there Edward reads all minds except for Bella's. The ending scene in the hospital, the secret, well-organized and more nefarious vampire cadre...all these things are rather interesting similarities, I think, given that Meyers has claimed often that she just came up with Twilight out of the blue, and didn't know anything about vampire mythology or other novels in the genre....more
When Icelandic author Andri Snær Magnason first published LoveStar, his darkly comic parable of corporate power and media influence run amok, the world was in a very different place. (This was back before both Facebook and Twitter, if you can recall such a time.) He noted as much himself in a recent interview with The Reykjavík Grapevine: “[w]hen it came out in 2002 it was called a dystopian novel; now it’s being called a parody. We seem to have already reached that dystopia.”
It is difficult to create a fictional milieu that touches on anything remotely related to technology or The Future and doesn’t feel dated pretty much the minute the ink dries on the page. (My favorite example of this is the Ethan Hawke Hamlet adaptation, which came out in 2000 and was peppered with cutting edge technology . . . like fax machines and Polaroid cameras.) As such, it is no small accomplishment that in the ten years since LoveStar was released, the book feels not obsolete, but rather prescient, or at least exasperatingly plausible.
The novel kicks off at some indeterminate point in the future, after a series of freakish, but not cataclysmic, natural events lead a group of intrepid Icelandic scientists to seek wireless alternatives to current technology. (An oversaturation of “waves, messages, transmissions, and electric fields,” they believe, is to blame for such events as clouds of bees taking over Chicago, driving out residents and flooding the downtown area with ponds of honey.)
Then comes the dawn of the “the cordless man,” who can both communicate and be communicated to through entirely internal methods:
When men in suits talked to themselves out on the streets and reeled off figures, no one took them for lunatics: they were probably doing business with some unseen client. The man who sat in rapt concentration on a riverbank might be an engineer designing a bridge . . . and when a teenager made strange humming noises on the bus, nodding his head to and fro, he was probably listening to an invisible radio.
None of this, of course, is too great an exaggeration on technology that has come into being in the last decade, and even the absurd advertising methods that quickly become the norm in the world of LoveStar feel accurate. People in debt can rent out their brains’ speech centers out and become “howlers,” automatically screeching advertisements or reminders at specific passersby (“I can’t believe that guy is still wearing a Blue Millets anorak!” or “_Dallas_ is starting!”). “Secret hosts” are hired by companies to go around surreptitiously selling their friends products within everyday conversations. And everything—from birth to love to death—is monetized and monopolized by one gigantic corporation and its subsidiaries: LoveStar.
All of this, it bears noting, is just prologue and backdrop to the novel’s main focus: such is the sheer density of the world that Andri Snær creates within just the first few chapters. There are two main plots that overlap, somewhat achronologically. One follows the executive LoveStar himself in the last hours of his life (Andri Snær has likened the character to Steve Jobs; another reviewer saw Kári Stefánson, the founder of deCODE Genetics). The other plot follows the repeatedly thwarted attempts of a young couple, Indridi and Sigrid, trying to evade the corporate machinations that would break them apart from one another and re-pair them with their supposedly scientifically verifiable perfect partner.
There is a lot going on—arguably a little too much, as some of the larger themes get somewhat lost in the sweep of the (literally) explosive climax, or are, in some cases, grandly dramatized, but done so with little finesse. Though overall, it’s compulsively readable, due in great part to Andri Snær’s kooky creativity and the novel’s simple, straightforward style of prose (credit here to translator Victoria Cribb, who has translated, among others, three novels by Sjón and Gyrðir Elíasson’s Stone Tree).
Read today—in the wake of not only myriad technological advances, but also a worldwide financial meltdown the consequences of which were profoundly felt in Iceland, and will continue to be so for probably decades to come— LoveStar feels a bit like cracking open a time capsule. Its world is poised on the edge of implosion, held in check by only the tiniest bit of better judgement. “If we don’t do it,” LoveStar remarks before embarking on one last, ruinous power quest, “someone else will.”...more
I just read this in the original serialized version which is still available on The Guardian website (here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/...).I just read this in the original serialized version which is still available on The Guardian website (here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/...). The story is a loving, quasi-Gothic paen to literature, to the act of reading, to librarians and librarianship, to library school, to memory. There are moments when it doesn't totally hang together or sort of veers off a little, which makes me wonder how much of the story the author had planned out ahead of time, and?or whether she was writing it as it was actually being published. Also, I sort of saw where the ending was going and am not totally convinced by how the story wrapped up (it was a bit more despairing than completely made sense to me), but I enjoyed The Night Bookmobile overall.
(But honestly, what librarian wouldn't enjoy a story about one's own personal archive with everything one has ever read traveling around in a mobile home, and which includes the line, "Like a pregnant woman eating for two, I read for myself and the librarian..."? I ask you.)
I've never read one of Niffenegger's novels, so I wonder how the writing here--vocabulary, phrasing, etc.--compares to those longer works. She seems very comfortable in a graphic medium, though: her artwork here is fluid, nicely colored, and very clean. And I'm sure it would be rewarding to examine each page more closely, to check out book titles, etc. Niffenegger's sense of how to divide space and manage the story in each panel is also really great. I appreciated the alternations between full-page illustrations with large blocks of text and pages which were creatively divided into many small boxes or which had a large figure overlapping smaller panels. It made for a dynamic way to tell the story....more
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore's quirky, library-related adventure-laden plot line sounded to me to be the perfect summer read. But while I very mucMr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore's quirky, library-related adventure-laden plot line sounded to me to be the perfect summer read. But while I very much enjoyed the first half of the book and pretty much blew through it in a few days, it sort of dragged for me at the end. I loved the clever intersections of contemporary tech culture and ancient bibliophilic obsession, and loved that these two worlds not only coexisted comfortably in Sloan's novel, but complemented each other. Sloan's characterizations and little lot details were also a joy--he took such care to fill out the edges of this story and the secondary characters that I often wished they had more space to grow (I really loved Mat, the handmade-special-effects visionary and the "Matropolis" that he builds all over the floor of his shared apartment with Clay). But as the "mystery" of the Unbroken Spine's code-breaking quest took more focus, I found myself much less interested.
I ended up having to return my borrowed library copy before I finished the book (I was leaving town), and now, a few weeks later have been able to finish it (I picked up a copy in bookstore and read the last chapters sitting in an aisle). But honestly, the closure didn't really add much to the experience for me....more
This book, comprised of Irish author Padraic Colum's retellings of classic Norse myths, was on the shelf in our apartment when we moved in. Having onlThis book, comprised of Irish author Padraic Colum's retellings of classic Norse myths, was on the shelf in our apartment when we moved in. Having only encountered Norse mythology in the wonderful illustrated D'Aulaires' Book of Norse Myths, I thought it would be a good idea for me to reacquaint myself with these stories, which are referenced not infrequently in Scandinavian and Icelandic literature.
Colum's book is, as the cover claims, "very readable," although I found the choice to use a quasi-Old English throughout a little unnecessary. (The typical 'thees' and 'thous' and such became a bit grating after awhile, and don't really add significant gravitas of the Gods, either.) The story chronology also overlaps and reverses and reorients a fair amount, often owing to the structure of the myths themselves more than anything. This isn't actually a problem, rather it creates a sort of timelessness--especially in the early stories which characterize each god individually--and a sense of the scope of each immortal being's independent body of lore. Thor, for instance, has a really extensive set of his own myths and stories, many of which are related in this volume. Rather than be told in a strictly linear fashion, however, these tales tend to overlap and reference one another without entirely accounting for what happened in what order.
Overall, however, the organization of the myths into four sections--"The Dwellers in Asgard," "Odin the Wanderer," "The Witch's Heart," and "The Sword of the Volsungs and the Twilight of the Gods,"--creates a wonderful momentum and unity within stories which are, of course, linked, but were not perhaps originally told with such a coherent story arc in mind. As arranged here, the reader gets a clear sense of how simple acts have real resonance and lead to inevitable consequences, i.e. the barter of a sword for a wife, or the cruel, but seemingly innocuous act of killing an animal which leads to a compounding of events which eventually--literally-- bring on the end of the world.
Fate (with a capital 'F') is as much an actor in these stories as any of the characters, and yet each of the Gods and people involved are shown ways to avoid their grim fates, are frequently told point blank what will befall them if they choose one action over another. But that's really what makes these stories so moving and sympathetic in the end--they resonate so frequently with the very human shortsightedness and/or romantic weaknesses which lead even the most powerful and wise of beings to bring about their own downfalls. ...more