A short story collection sent to me around Christmas--many thanks, Shayne!
I liked the Scottish setting on the small island of Kilnoch in Santa in a Ki...moreA short story collection sent to me around Christmas--many thanks, Shayne!
I liked the Scottish setting on the small island of Kilnoch in Santa in a Kilt, but the story was my least favorite because firstly, it was clearly a tack-on to longer stories in the same location about the characters' friends and didn't totally feel like it stood on its own. Secondly, all of the tension holding the two main characters apart--if they were really being held apart at all--was completely manufactured. He's a divorce lawyer who is afraid of commitment, she's had a bad divorce. They talk about this. A lot. There's some alluded to tension that one day, maybe, they might break up, and that might be unpleasant. But really, they get together very quickly and stay together. Not really any drama there.
Of the other two stories, Blue Christmas worked the best for me. It felt like a rom-com that you might enjoy on an airplane. Fully contained, enough actual tension, a complete plot arc. And the backstory about the main character's hippie mother worked well. Snow Angel was a bit overdetermined, what with the love that blossomed and remained strong after one Christmas ski-resort encounter three years before, and the also somewhat manufactured tension when the two characters meet again in a department store that one of them owns (secretly). But I loved that they got locked in the department store with a bunch of other customers on Christmas Eve in a blackout and had a tea party and slept in the home section with electric blankets from the camping section. When I was a kid, I always thought it would be cool to be locked in a store after hours, and it still sounds like fun now. (less)
An English translation of an Icelandic book of comical images (is this a particular graphic/comic form, I wonder?) Generalizations About Nations is fi...moreAn English translation of an Icelandic book of comical images (is this a particular graphic/comic form, I wonder?) Generalizations About Nations is filled with just that. The nations included are "categorized by a complicated system of whims and random and sudden epiphanies" (much like the real world, honestly) and these subdivisions are actually rather interesting in and of themselves. The Americas are organized together, for instance, which makes geographic sense, but then, for instance, Lebanon was included in the Asia section, which surprised me.
There are some generalizations included that seem be reflective of common stereotypes ("Icelanders are at least 15 decibels louder than other people"). Others which seem a little more politically or historically pointed ("Germans are so preoccupied with the past that they keep forgetting something," -- picture of an unattended child in a shopping cart.) As an American who has encountered a fair number of really unpleasant American stereotypes (the most unpleasant of which were, in great part, based on reality), I was pleased that the generalizations about my nation were not your typical Stupid/Rich/Cowboy American fare. Instead, "Every third American is either a vampire, zombie, or super hero" and "Nothing makes Hawaiian children happier than finding a beached corpse," (picture of children having a tea party under a palm tree with aforementioned dead body.)
The vast majority of these Generalizations, however, appear to be completely random and absurd (again, much like in the real world), which is precisely why they are funny. "In Macedonia, dropping an ice cream and/or popsicle is punishable by law." "Elderly women in Georgia suffer from an inexplicable urge to destroy things." Or maybe my favorite one: "Things are not always what they seem in Ghana," which is accompanied by a picture, somehow ominous, of a laundromat washing machine.
The artwork, I should mention, of course, is filled with a lot of sight gags and the drawing style itself is very detailed but still very clean (all b&w line drawing, but with a fair amount of shading). The people in each frame all tend a bit towards the grotesque, which seems like another bit of equal opportunity joshing. Race is represented without being exploited or exoticized.
Generalizations About Nations, could potentially be quite a problematic project, but I think it is a rather successful one. It is funny and pointed and sometimes the dark humor is a bit cracked (see the above line about Hawaiian kids), and gets across a larger theme about the absurdity inherent in xenophobia/stereotyping an entire country without having to belabor the point. (less)
A translation-related romance, given to me before my Iceland departure by erstwhile RRAD LUST book club member Shayne. My first Julia Quinn. A very qu...moreA translation-related romance, given to me before my Iceland departure by erstwhile RRAD LUST book club member Shayne. My first Julia Quinn. A very quick, fun and frothy sort of read. Very enjoyable read for a run of rainy days...(less)
Roughly--and not terribly artistically--translated, this is Under the [Corrugated] Iron Arches: Barracks Life in Reykjavík 1940 - 1970. The iron arche...moreRoughly--and not terribly artistically--translated, this is Under the [Corrugated] Iron Arches: Barracks Life in Reykjavík 1940 - 1970. The iron arches in question--"Bárujárnsboga,"--are, I'm told what the military barracks houses/huts were called in Icelandic. I think these are also referred to as Nissen Huts (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nissen_hut).
My landlady lent this book to me saying that I'd be able to see photos of the city going a long time back, but I didn't totally understand what it was about until I started looking at it more closely. My reading is slow-going, of course, as even though I'm only reading the photo captions, I still have to look up a ton of things as I go--words like 'barracks,' 'army,' 'battleship,' and 'Nissen Hut' haven't been introduced into my Icelandic vocabulary yet--but it is still fascinating. Amazing to see just how many barracks--both British and American--which were established all over Reykjavík, many right next to (or actually *in*) very famous buildings which are still around now.
Even if I don't read all the text right now, I think I'll get a lot from this book. It's worth noting, too, that it went through four printings, which is extremely uncommon in Iceland--from what I've read, books published here generally get one run and that's it. And according to the publisher's website, the last printing is sold out. So it must have been a very popular book in Iceland. (less)
Another one recommended by Shayne--she picked this up at a reading in Greenpoint and lent it to me. I read it in one sitting on a lazy weekend day tha...moreAnother one recommended by Shayne--she picked this up at a reading in Greenpoint and lent it to me. I read it in one sitting on a lazy weekend day that I had to myself. Some of the plot points are a bit melodramatic (the whole 'Fallen Angel' theme is a bit...much), but I did enjoy this one. Nice character growth, lots o' the steamy scenes, strong historical elements, and a playful sense of humor throughout. I also enjoyed the way that MacLean tied the ending of this book to the following title in the series, starring Penelope's younger sister.
MacLean also just seems to have fun with her titles, which seems to be much of the point to me (this one's cute, I also think the rhyming Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake is rather hysterical.)(less)
**spoiler alert** I was certainly entertained by Outlander, at least for the first three quarters. But overall, even when it's enjoyable, it's a truly...more**spoiler alert** I was certainly entertained by Outlander, at least for the first three quarters. But overall, even when it's enjoyable, it's a truly weird book. That's not necessarily a bad thing--it is, after all, a time-travel adventure set between post-WWII England and 13th century Scotland, and there are romantic intrigues, burly Highlanders, Loch Ness monsters, witches, and more straight-up adventure than you can shake a stick at.
At the beginning, it's really all fun and action. The main character flies back in time by touching a mystical Scottish rock and pretty much adjusts to her new circumstances immediately. That's actually fine with me--I'd rather not waste time with a lot of 'oh my, what happened?' chapters. She's reasonably plucky and sassy--that's good. And yes, there are also about a thousand highland sex scenes once things get going (some rather good, some kind of embarrassingly written, some...weird.) But definitely a lot of them, in a lot of places and a lot of moods. Something for everyone, I guess.
Of course, Outlander has an odd prevalence of homo-erotic torture scenes (more than one character with an 'interest' in rape is portrayed as gay, which...um?), and there's also what one could easily describe as a pro-corporal punishment agenda. I mean, I don't need my 13th century highlanders to have the same ideas about child rearing as contemporary parents. It's fine that they describe the 'thrashings' they all received as children, and also even laugh about the experiences from time to time. But there are an awful lot of conversations in which a character explains how being routinely beaten by his parents led to his becoming a righteous man. Which is a bit much after commercial three or so. Also: I get the whole husband-beats-wife-because-she-almost-got-all-his-kin-killed thing. I get the logic--that a man would have received the same punishment and men were accustomed to 'correcting' their wives in this manner at that time. But Claire's reaction is strange and a little problematic. She fights it and then hates him after (understandable), but then exclaims her love for him (for the first time) when he describes why he did it. Ooph. Even if she does make him vow never to lay a hand on her again in anger, this is troubling to me.
Looping back to the issue of the surprise man-torture scenes: firstly, there are a lot of these. Jaime gets beaten, flayed, shot, has bones dislocated and crushed, is raped--it's a lot. I get that this guy is tough and sensitive and has honor and can take it, but geez. He still has a regular human body and after massive injury 100, one has to think that the protagonist's ability to "heal" (she was a WWII nurse and had a convenient botany hobby) is a bit overstated. Now, I think that it is interesting that the male character does a lot of honor/body-saving of his lady love, but also gets the brunt of the physical punishment and mental torture. That is unusual. As is the last 200 pages in which Gabaldon sorts out his emotional issues and the effects of sadistically-inflicted trauma. I'm not sure that so much of it was necessary for this story, and honestly, Gabaldon isn't really up to the task of parsing trauma and adequately showing a recovery process. But again, it's interesting. Weird-interesting.
(Oh, and her 1945 husband looks exactly like the evil English general/torturer/rapist? Is that because it makes it easier for her to fall in love with her Highlander? Why was that a thing?)
Anyway, I'll say it again: it's a weird book, but it's interesting. I'm not sorry I read it, and I even really enjoyed it at times, but it left sort of an odd aftertaste for me. It's certainly memorable.(less)
A friend of mine is a devoted romance enthusiast and after attending a few readings with her, we decided to start a casual book group around novels of...moreA friend of mine is a devoted romance enthusiast and after attending a few readings with her, we decided to start a casual book group around novels of a more romantic/sensual persuasion. My own awareness of the genre is pretty exclusively centered on Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer books, so we started with a Heyer title last year. This time around, my friend suggested this title by Eloisa James (who, it might be of interest, moonlights as an English professor at Fordham college). And I really enjoyed it--lots of humor (the main character is ousted from society because an unflattering dress makes her look pregnant), enjoyable banter, and fully drawn characters. The dialog and relationships are also reasonably anachronistic (women enjoy sex, for one), which works well. Some of the secondary plot line was a little unnecessary, but overall, it was certainly a fun read. (less)
My colleague's sixth grade daughter read this Pride and Prejudice adaptation and enjoyed it so much that she's now reading the original Austen. Having...moreMy colleague's sixth grade daughter read this Pride and Prejudice adaptation and enjoyed it so much that she's now reading the original Austen. Having now read it overnight, I can happily say that it is an enjoyable updated rendering to the classic, with some clever parallels.
Setting Epic Fail in a celebrity-infested prep school in LA, LaZebnik here turns Elizabeth Bennett into Elise Benton. Having just moved to LA from Amherst, MA with her three sisters and her parents, she starts at Coral Tree Prep already an outsider before it's even discovered that her mother is the ill-dressed, strict, and not-so-secretly star-struck new principal, and her father the reclusive new math teacher. Darcy is here Derek, the son of an Angelina Jolie/Brad Pitt-esque power couple. (The Angelina in this scenario even makes a comment at one point that having only had girls perhaps the Benton family should rectify their brotherlessness. She suggests they should "...adopt one from a Third World country...It's such a wonderful thing to do--you literally save a life." I can only assume this is a sort of wink-wink on LaZebnik's part: her bio says that she lives in LA with a TV-writer husband and four kids.)
LaZebnik sticks to the P&P framework pretty consistently: Derek is stand-offish and rude because he's had so many bad experiences with people just trying to get close to him to get to his parents (this is perhaps overdone a little, but it works). Elise (who, enjoyably, shows up to school on the first day wearing a shirt that says "THIS IS WHAT A FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE") doesn't know/care who his parents are, but dislikes his coldness and the fact that he appears to be arbitrarily rude to Webster Grant, who stands in for the charming but rakish George Wickham. (He has a thing for going through celebrity's medicine cabinets and getting their daughters drunk before taking embarrassing photos (of the daughters) that he later sells to tabloids. This is how the back story with Darcy/Derek's sister gets translated here, and there's a similar situation involving Elizabeth/Elise's younger rebellious sister's friend. Here, the younger sister is just a loud, flirt--she's not actually the one in peril.)
There are, obviously, some differences in plot points. I thought it was particularly interesting that LeZebnik chooses to make the breakup between the Charles Bingley/Jane Bennett characters (Chase and Juliana here) the fault of text messages sent from Chase's cell phone from his younger sister, Chelsea. Derek has nothing to do with it, and actually works with Elise to get the couple back together.
Overall, a fun adaptation. It's not too prudish to be believable for contemporary teens: Elise and Juliana have conversations about how 'far' the latter has 'gone' with Chase, although it's not explicitly stated; there is also a reference to a 'condom tree' at a nearby school and sexting. Neither is it too sophisticated: Elise, Juliana, Chase, and Derek all are non-drinkers, even at parties; Derek expresses his disdain for smoking; and there's a whole sweet passage about the glories of hand-holding. ("You wouldn't think the touch of someone's hand could blow your mind. It's nothing right?...But when Derek Edwards took my fingers in his and gently pressed them, first all together and then one by one, I felt that touch set off a wave of firing nerves that flowed up my arm and across my body.") Aw.
On the incredibly enthusiastic recommendation of my mother and ten-year-old sister (my mom actually surprised me by sending me a copy of the book--tha...moreOn the incredibly enthusiastic recommendation of my mother and ten-year-old sister (my mom actually surprised me by sending me a copy of the book--that's how much she wanted me to read it), I picked up Wonderstruck. I was not familiar with Brian Selznick's previous novel, but I will definitely be reading it now. This was an absolute treat, and I finished the whole (rather extensive book) in two days--less than two if you consider that I was working.
Wonderstruck tells two parallel stories of Rose, a young deaf girl in 1927 who runs away from her home in Hoboken to New York City, and in 1977, Ben, a young boy from Gunflint, Minnesota who was born deaf in one ear and then loses hearing in his other ear after being indirectly hit by lightning in a rainstorm. After his mother's death, Ben runs away to New York to find the father he's never known. And although the two stories are separated by 50 years, they run surprisingly parallel throughout the novel, until they eventually--and beautifully--connect.
Selznick excels on so many levels: his pencil drawings are vivid and richly detailed, and are have an incredible nuance with light that I would not have expected from pencil drawings. He also has a very cinematic way of leading you through the visual part of his stories--he uses close ups particularly well.
His writing is also fantastic--what a great vocabulary to find in a kid's book! His characters are three-dimensional and he balances tough themes (a parent's death, an unknown parent, loneliness, isolation, an inability to communicate) with a general sense of hope and well-bring. The children in both stories have their fair share of problems and need to both grow a lot throughout the story, but Selznick is able to capture these transformations without trauma. I didn't spend the whole book worried that something terrible was going to happen to both of these kids--on their own in New York City, without money or friends, or really any way of communicating with most people. I knew that they were going to be okay--that everything was going to turn out for the best. And sometimes, that's exactly what you need from a book. Enough reality and seriousness that it isn't total fluff, but balanced with a general feeling of ease and enjoyment. They are, after all, both on huge adventures.
The other great thing about Wonderstruck is all the great references and intricate details. Selznick obviously did extensive research (his acknowledgments and partial bibliography in the back are impressive) and folded in not only accurate portrayals of things like the Museum of Natural History in both 1927 and 1977, but also the blackout in 1977, and tons of factoids about Deaf culture, wonder cabinets, and more. He's got lines from "Space Oddity" by David Bowie all over in the first part of Ben's story (loved that) and also--apparently--makes a lot of references to E.L. Konigsburg's From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. (I haven't read that book, but my sister is reading it right now in her 5th grade class and it is definitely on my list now.)
Selznick also makes me want to discover and rediscover parts of New York now. I want to go back and see all the dioramas at the Museum of Natural History and I finally want to go out to Queens and see the Panorama. And there's a high commendation: a book that makes a jaded New Yorker get excited all over again about all the wonders there are in her city. (less)
I borrowed this on the fly from my friend after she took it out of the library. You're sort of dropped in the middle of this paranormal dog-detective...moreI borrowed this on the fly from my friend after she took it out of the library. You're sort of dropped in the middle of this paranormal dog-detective world (yes, really--and there's also a cat) and then the relationships and real background come together slowly over the course of the inter-connected stories. There's not really a large plot arc, but each story stands on its own and rounds out your sense of the characters. It's suspenseful and a little grody at times (huge frog demon) but lots of fun, and surprisingly heart-wrenching at times. After all, these are adorable dog detectives and they investigate some dangerous stuff (werewolves, evil humans). I got not a little riled up when it looked like one of the main dogs was going to maybe not make it...
Anyhow, yes: Think Buffy, but with dogs (and a cat). (less)