This is the second book in the series and won the Newberry Award. Most of my strongest memories of the series are buried in this book, in particular a...moreThis is the second book in the series and won the Newberry Award. Most of my strongest memories of the series are buried in this book, in particular an out of time Twelfth Night sequence that represents a Christmas season I've always wished I had.
The Drew children aren't in this book. Instead, we are introduced to Will Stanton, an Old One who has come into his own on his 11th birthday. Will is wonderfully well-written, somehow managing to combine that funny intelligence of all 11 year olds with the wisdom of someone who is ageless. There is snow (lots of snow), a dark rider, a mysterious tramp, and seven signs to be found in a limited amount of time.
I love this book and especially love the beautiful pictures it put into my head. There is a wonderful and very real family here and a diverse and believable community. There is the Light and there is the Dark. There is adventure and choices and merrymaking and sorrow. This is what good books are all about.(less)
When I was in middle school, we lived in Dallas, Texas. One of the things I remember vividly from living there was a huge billboard of what Dallas wil...moreWhen I was in middle school, we lived in Dallas, Texas. One of the things I remember vividly from living there was a huge billboard of what Dallas will be like at The Rapture. A huge Jesus towers over the skyline & souls are wafted to heaven from the cars moving along through the rush hour freeway traffic. To be honest I went back & forth about requesting this book for review because the title led me to believe it might be like that billboard & that's just not my thing. Turns out, it's not Liz Jensen's thing, either.
The Rapture is a literary eco-thriller. The plotting is good, the characters feel real, the situation feels absolutely plausible, & as a reader you care what happens.
The strength of this novel lies in the two main characters who are both real & heartbreaking. Bethany Krall is a disturbed teenager institutionalized after she kills her mother with a screwdriver. Gabrielle Fox is an art therapist assigned to Bethany's case. Bethany is eerily correct in her predictions of natural disasters. Gabrielle is newly paraplegic, dealing with the consequences of an accident that has shattered her world.
I appreciated just how crazy Ms. Jensen allowed Bethany to be. So often when dealing with mental illness in adolescents writers give us watered down versions of depressed adolescents or abused drug addicts that we can all relate to & feel sorry for or good about. If you want to understand how far outside the norm children & teens who are institutionalized with psychiatric disorders are, just think about how broad the behavioral permissions are for kids & teens & then imagine what someone who falls far outside of that norm might be like. Ms. Jensen has done that with Bethany & she is frightening & real & pitiable &, in the end, admirable.
The heartbeat of this book is the narration of Gabrielle Fox who is trying to do her job, to live her life, & to sort out what being paraplegic is going to mean for her life. She is intelligent & ironic & self-pitying & often very funny. Thrust into a wheelchair, her dealings with Bethany & her predictions combine with her daily struggles to create a narrative that is both moving & entertaining.
There are images here that are unforgettable - the Christ statue in Rio de Janeiro toppling over after a hurricane, miles of dead jellyfish, graffiti only readable by satellite written in luminescent dye from the crushed shells of crustaceans, the faithful gathered in a stadium (reminiscent of the Superdome in New Orleans) waiting for the Rapture that never arrives. The world may end with a great big bang, but some of us may survive it - not a comforting thought in these days of increasing global warming & economic meltdown. (less)
An absolutely classic haunted house story that is also an interesting psychological study.
Four disparate people are gathered together to study Hill Ho...moreAn absolutely classic haunted house story that is also an interesting psychological study.
Four disparate people are gathered together to study Hill House. They are Dr. Montague, a researcher; Theodora, a telepath - the pretty girl; Luke - the heir to Hill House; & Eleanora - a sheltered person who has spent most of her life caring for her dying mother. They will live in the house, sleep in the house, take meals in the house, & write about everything they experience there. The house is, of course, the fifth main character. Added into the mix are the house's single-minded caretakers, the Dudleys, Dr. Montague's wife & her sidekick, Arthur, & planchette - the spirit voice Mrs. Montague & Arthur commune with at length.
Much of the terror in the book is hidden, unexplained, minimally described. It is the movement out of the corner of your eye when no one should be near, the rapping on the walls, the slamming of doors, the sense someone might be waiting out there in the night. This is not an ornate, gothic horror - this is spare, minimalist. Events are suggested & implied allowing your imagination to fill in the blanks.
Jackson leaves most questions left unanswered & in its final scene you're left to wonder if anything happened at all.(less)
This is one of my all-time favorite books. I've read it numerous times since it first came out and I enjoy it every single time and every single time...moreThis is one of my all-time favorite books. I've read it numerous times since it first came out and I enjoy it every single time and every single time I am so sorry to finish it. It belongs to what I think of as a trio of books about school along with Waking the Moon by Elizabeth Hand and Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers. Let me be clear - these books are nothing alike - the only thing they have in common is their college setting. In a way, though, they are alike - they each deal with Dionysian events and their consequences in closed and exclusive college settings.
The Secret History isn't so much a whodunit as a whydunit - you know the who immediately, the why is somewhat more mysterious (and in many ways is never fully revealed). I love the sweeping romanticism of this book - set at fictional Hampden College in the eighties. I was in college at the same time and some of the characters are familiar - the punk rockers, the druggies, the incredibly annoying hippies. Our hero is a California transplant, at college on scholarship and thrust into a small group of privileged students studying the Classics with the enigmatic Julian Morrow.
This is a winter book - cold at its heart, colder in its setting. There are deaths and funerals and philosophizing - lots of masks constantly worn. At its center is the narrator, Richard, and his love of the picturesque and Henry, who may or may not be a psychopathic killer. In this reading I found Julian Morrow to be the most chilling character - he is the old man in the road with the answers you probably won't like once you get them.
If you haven't read this, it's worth reading. Donna Tartt is a good writer and a good storyteller (a worthwhile combination). It takes her forever to write a book (this one took 8 years). Her second book, The Little Friend, is an odd Southern gothic that I also enjoyed, although it doesn't have the staying power of the first. It was 10 years between the first and second novel. Her third novel is due out in 2012. I'll be interested to see how she gets past her sophomore slump.(less)
I enjoyed this book, but I do have a few quibbles.
- The use of vernacular. This was a bold choice from a white Southern writer & I went back &...moreI enjoyed this book, but I do have a few quibbles.
- The use of vernacular. This was a bold choice from a white Southern writer & I went back & forth about how I felt about it throughout the novel. On the one hand it's fiction & writers get to imagine all kinds of things when writing fiction. I mean, Mark Twain wrote in vernacular, right? Yeah, but he was Mark Twain & that was a different time. On the other hand, is it insulting to make all of the African American characters in her book sound like they came out of an Uncle Remus story? Does it sound right or put on? Am I spending so much time wondering about this that it's become a device that's taking me out of the story? I'm going to go with the last couple of options.
I'm extremely uncomfortable with vernacular that makes all of one set of characters sound in a particular way. Not all Southern African Americans sound like Uncle Tom. & some white Southerners of the time sound uneducated, too. The author's use of vernacular just feels far too heavy handed to me. It also tends to deny the situational nature of speech & of accents. People talk in different ways to different people depending on relationship, context, & a whole host of other factors. You probably speak in one way to your minister, another way to your employer, & yet another way to the guys you drink beer with on the weekend.
I think there are ways to incorporate vernacular & dialect into a story without being this heavy handed. The fact that I spent this much time thinking about this device while reading the novel is a great argument for not doing it in quite this way.
- The lack of a sense of time or danger. The events of the day don't intrude much on the people in this story & I think that's unfortunate because it is precisely the events of the day & the changing nature of the world that make this story possible & plausible. In addition, although the author makes mention of violence against people working outside of the segregated Jim Crow system, the true sense of danger just isn't there. Mentioning that Medgar Evers was shot a few streets over, but not really exploring how that might have felt at the time seems overly facile & unrealistic to me. These elements could have been much stronger throughout the novel & would have enhanced the story enormously.
Despite my quibbles I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was a great story with just enough unanswered questions to make me want to keep reading. Despite some of my issues with the portrayal of the speech of the African Americans in the book, Stockett has imagined some wonderful women - each with her own set of strengths & weaknesses & foibles. Equally well drawn are her white Southern women.
Some have expressed the feeling that the "evil" character, Hilly, is just too evil. I recommend you attend a couple of Junior League meetings or meetings of the Daughters of the Confederacy or try to rush a sorority at a Southern college or University & then come back & talk to me about how unreal she is.
Others have said that they don't believe in the "good" character, Skeeter - it just doesn't seem plausible to them that a white person raised with racism would be able to rise above it. I would recommend that these people do a little more reading on the civil rights movement in America. Yes, many white Southerners were & remain hopeless mired in bigotry. & yes, many white Southerners have rise above this bigotry & were instrumental in fighting the civil rights battles of the 1960's & beyond. I find Skeeter to be absolutely believable. She is not, however, as fully realized as most of the other characters, but I think this works in her favor because I think Skeeter is still trying to figure out who she is & how she wants to live her life.
This isn't a perfect book, but it was enjoyable & the story kept me reading. I'll be interested to see what Ms. Stockett does next now that she has the first novel out of the way.(less)
This is the first book by this author that I've had the pleasure to read, but I suspect that I'll go back & read the others now.
Penny is writing m...moreThis is the first book by this author that I've had the pleasure to read, but I suspect that I'll go back & read the others now.
Penny is writing murder mysteries in the British whodunit style, but filtered through a Quebecois sensibility. There is much right in the village of Three Pines, but some things are wrong, as well, & the discovery of a body in Olivier's bistro sheds a light on those things.
This could easily have been a facile imitation of Agatha Christie or Dorothy Sayers, but Penny's writing elevates it to its place in the genre. Her characters are complex & beautifully drawn. Her writing style is clear & precise, but also poetic & lyrical. She drops plenty of red herrings into the mix, but also manages to fashion an ending that is not neat, not tidy, not necessarily even complete. The story & the story inside the story sit uneasily on the mind & that is as it should be. The imagery is gorgeous, the violence is never gratuitous, & there are real dilemmas for all of her characters buried within the plot that are central to them, but not to the mystery.
Penny plots a carefully crafted mystery within the rules of the genere she is writing in, but goes beyond that to create a novel of real beauty. The mystery of it all is in the whodunit, but also in the lives of her characters. I really loved this book.(less)
I finished this book a couple of days ago, but I took some time after reading it to digest & think about it. I liked this book a lot, although it...moreI finished this book a couple of days ago, but I took some time after reading it to digest & think about it. I liked this book a lot, although it wasn't a particularly pleasant or uplifting read.
There are a couple of stereotypes that I loathe. One is that the world would be a better place if women were in charge because we're all consensus driven peacemakers who would bake cookies together instead of starting wars. The other is that all children are little containers of angelic innocence & light. Right. That girlfriend that stabbed you in the back in high school by setting you up for public humiliation wasn't really a woman & that kid from your kindergarten that held you down on the playground & ground dirt into your face wasn't really a kid. You imagined all of that.
I loathe those stereotypes because they're just another way for us to avoid actually thinking about real people & allowing for & adjusting for differences of all kinds. They're a way of providing neat little boxes to stuff people into & to refer to when punishing those who refuse to conform. Women & children are, of course, sometimes peacemakers & sometimes innocent little angels. They are more frequently, however, many other things. In its own way this book makes that point.
It's not often that you read a thriller with villains who are female & complex - that one of the villains in this book is also 13 & pretty is a bonus. Add to this myth explosion the obsessive compulsive cutter who is the narrator & this book offers many different views of what women & children - people, that is - can be like.
Flynn is good at making the reader squirm & good at making you want to turn the pages. I absolutely knew what had actually happened within the first third or so of this book, but continued reading feverishly to the inevitable & gut wrenching conclusion with the perverse delight of someone watching a train wreck. You don't want to watch, but somehow you just can't look away until the images are seared into your brain.
As a thriller this book definitely succeeds, but I think it should more aptly be categorized as horror - if only for the creeping sense of dread it instills in its reader.(less)
This is the second book in a new police procedural series by Irish crime writer Brian McGilloway. The series features An Garda Inspector Benedict Devl...moreThis is the second book in a new police procedural series by Irish crime writer Brian McGilloway. The series features An Garda Inspector Benedict Devlin - a policeman in the borderlands between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The first book in the series was Borderlands and it was a decent first outing. Sometimes the second book lags behind the first, but that is not the case with this one. If anything, Gallows Lane is a better book.
This books contains hidden evidence, death threats, and an unexpected rivalry as Devlin works to solve some intertwined murders and to work out for himself whether he wants a promotion to Superintendent. The crime writing is smart and effective and the characterizations deepen (as does the sense of place). This is a book about struggle of all kinds and about the sometimes sad consequences of struggle. Ben Devlin's an interesting character and I look forward to getting to know him better as the series progresses.
My one criticism of these books is that while it's refreshing to see a cop who is a happily married father, Devlin's wife and kids get sort of short shrift as characters. I'd like to see them developed more and made an actual part of his life rather than incidental moments.
All told this was a great whodunit. Can't wait for the next one!(less)
I like Isabelle Allende. She's a wonderful storyteller of sweeping epics populated with people who might appear ordinary, but are far from it. Reading...moreI like Isabelle Allende. She's a wonderful storyteller of sweeping epics populated with people who might appear ordinary, but are far from it. Reading her books feels to me like sitting with my Mississippi grandmother & her sisters listening to their stories of my family's history (everybody's family has some magic in it).
I enjoyed this book which tells the story of Aurora del Valle & the secrets her family kept from her. Throughout the story we meet the usual contingent of whacky aunts & uncles, gentlemen callers, & strong women who defy their time & society's limitations. The book was partly set in San Francisco & I liked that, too, although I think she writes about Chile with more conviction than she does about the Bay Area.
I agree with those felt that this wasn't Allende's best work. Certainly when compared to The House of the Spirits or Eva Luna, it lacks something undefinable, but perhaps soul is the correct word. I was struck by the narrator's claim at the end:
"Each of us chooses the tone for telling his or her own story; I would like to choose the durable clarity of a platinum print, but nothing in my destiny possesses that luminosity. I live among diffuse shadings, veiled mysteries, uncertainties; the tone for telilng my life is closer to that of a portrait in sepia."
Maybe that's the ultimate problem - this narrator's voice lacks the vibrancy of others the author has written. A good read, but not outstanding.(less)
I find this author incredibly frustrating and had the same experience with this book that I did with The Time Traveler's Wife. I spent the first 100 t...moreI find this author incredibly frustrating and had the same experience with this book that I did with The Time Traveler's Wife. I spent the first 100 to 150 pages being utterly delighted and thinking, "This is such a cool idea for a book! I love the setting and the atmosphere! This is going to be such a good read!" I then spent the rest of the book becoming more and more disenchanted and frustrated.
Niffenegger has the potential to be an amazing writer. She's obviously very creative and she is extremely skilled at creating interesting characters (even if I hate some of them) and putting them in interesting settings. My problem with her is that once she's got everyone on stage, she doesn't seem to know what to do with them and she spends an enormous amount of time with her characters wandering about the cool stage set in random patterns, picking things up and putting them down in different places, and stepping all over each others' toes in the process. Meanwhile, way over there in the unlit corner is the actual story - too bad you can't see it. In this book, the buried and undertold story is that of Martin and Marijke - hemmed in by Martin's OCD like the crossword puzzles he designs.
There are some other beautiful little vignettes here - Jessica and her love for Highgate Cemetary, Robert and his loss of Elspeth. Least interesting is the drama at the center of the book - Elspeth and her twin nieces - none of them likeable and, in fact, unlikeable for no good reason. The decisions about these characters and how to portray them are maddeningly poor. There is no build to who they are, no sense of internal logic, they're all just randomly Bad as if a small child was told to draw the wicked witch and she came out as a ghost and a pair of twins.
Then there is the absolute waste of an amazing setting - the funny apartment building with its garden gate opening into Highgate Cemetary, Highgate itself, and London with its hidden nooks and crannies and tube stations and buses and tourist attractions and hat shops. There's the flat the twins inherit - filled with the remnants of their aunt's life - her clothes, her shoes, and most ignored her rare books (Elsepeth was a dealer in rare books - not that you'd know it from reading about her, just a few bare mentions of rare first editions). Again, the stage set is amazing, but that's not all that's needed and the sheer waste of this one is infuriating.
I really want to like this writer and I'm sure I'll give a third book a try, but I really want her to make some decisions about what she wants to do. Everything doesn't have to have a coherent plot - it's okay to populate a stage set with interesting people who don't do a whole lot more than be interesting, but I hope in future she'll stop rabbiting around looking for the Big Plot Point because it just gums up the works and ruins what could be two wonderful books.(less)
I have a lot of issues with the latest string of vampire romances. Unless the vampire is Blade, she or he shouldn't be wandering around in the daylight without consequences. Even more problematic for me is the notion that anyone, immortal or otherwise, would voluntarily return to high school. Please.
Lastly, let me be clear: vampires are predators. They might also be nice to the occasional human, but at the end of the day we're food; expecting a close personal bond with every doe-eyed teenage girl who crosses the path of said immortal while humming vacantly to the latest Lady GaGa hit just seems completely unreasonable to me. Cats are predators, too, & yes, they play with the mice & the birds before killing them, but they eventually kill them. & eat them. Every. Single. Time.
This is not a book filled with pretty, languishing vampires. This is a book with one vampire who happens to also be a 12-year-old girl named Eli. Her human servant (for lack of a better term) is a pedophile. The fact that she also befriends another 12-year-old, Oskar, doesn't prevent her from killing & eating other people that cross her path & it shouldn't. For Eli the equation is simple: blood = life.
What isn't simple is the relationship that develops between Eli & Oskar. Even more complex are all of the relationships & half-relationships that litter this novel & people the soulless planned community where the action takes place. This is a book with shifting narratives & moving points of view & many subplots & yet every moment, every character, every happening is utterly essential to the fabric of the story.
Is this a horror novel? I guess so. More importantly this is a novel about love, about life, about what we give up when we have to & what we keep when we can. It is about the horror we all commit - in schoolyards & marriages & subways & behind closed doors, in alleys, in bars, in restaurants & hospitals & churches. We are all searching for some kind of connection, for some reason for continuing. Whether or not we are or are not vampires seems truly immaterial in the face of all of the rest of it.
Read this book. It's heartbreaking, & sad, & compelling, & beautiful. It's all the things a good story should be.(less)
Another re-read for me. I've always liked these 3 books in Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover series. The Renunciates are women living in the feudal, pa...moreAnother re-read for me. I've always liked these 3 books in Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover series. The Renunciates are women living in the feudal, patriarchal Darkovan society who renounce the traditional dependency on men & work to live in new ways doing all kinds of different things. These have been out of print for quite a while, so it was nice to see them in the world again. I read them when they first came out - late '70's/early '80's after my father turned me on to the whole series with The Forbidden Tower (Darkover).
I had wondered if these would be too dated given the changes in feminist thought & theory since they were written, but I found them for the most part surprisingly fresh. I really like Thendara House (Darkover) best as it's the most in-depth examination of the two main characters, Jaelle & Margali, & their own journeys to self-empowerment (yes, Virginia, woman can be Joseph Campbell class heroes, too!). Good stories & an interesting exploration of gender roles, sexuality (& its many possibilities), friendship, & living in defiance of societal norms. It's a fun read & with 3 books in one will keep you occupied! (less)
This is a frequently challenged book (like most of Cormier's books) about a group of teenagers who break into a house, vandalize it, and assault the y...moreThis is a frequently challenged book (like most of Cormier's books) about a group of teenagers who break into a house, vandalize it, and assault the young teenage girl who makes the mistake of coming home early. The violence is ugly, brutal and exceedingly real. The book unflinchingly depicts it and then moves beyond it to address the consequences of this violence for everyone concerned.
Cormier deals with dark subjects in a complex and mature way. So many books for young adults romanticize violence in one way or another, but his do not. They show it in all its nasty, empowering glory. They're disturbing and make you feel dirty once you've read them, but they also make you think and analyze the whys and wherefores and that's what good books do.
This one is disturbing enough to give you nightmares, but compelling and truth telling all the same. Given the amount of violence our young adults experience in their day-to-day worlds, more books need to help them explicate it for themselves.(less)
This is not my favorite of The Chronicles of Prydain. I think I like it less because it is so much more traditional in its form and is focused squarel...moreThis is not my favorite of The Chronicles of Prydain. I think I like it less because it is so much more traditional in its form and is focused squarely on Taran. There's some lovely writing here and the story itself has some beautiful bittersweet moments, but the almost ritualistic hero's journey of this book leaves me a little cold.
With Eilonwy off learning to be a proper princess, Taran and Gurgi set off to discover who Taran's parents are. Along the way they meet bandits (like Robin Hood, only not very pleasant - then again, maybe Robin Hood wasn't all that pleasant, either) and farmers and craftsmen and Taran makes stops along the way learning what each of them does, trying on each kind of life like a new cloak.
There's plenty of learning to be had here and lots of character development, but not nearly as much humor and without Eilonwy I don't like the book as much. I guess she's my hero in these books.(less)
I've been binging a bit on Gothic novels with the approach of Halloween. I remembered that I liked another book by Victoria Holt, The Legend of the Se...moreI've been binging a bit on Gothic novels with the approach of Halloween. I remembered that I liked another book by Victoria Holt, The Legend of the Seventh Virgin when I was in high school so I thought I'd pick this one up since it's frequently on lists of definitive Gothic literature.
It's definitely got all the elements - the brooding mansion, the mysterious and tragic older man, the plucky noblewoman down on her luck and forced to earn her way as a governess. It's sort of the daughter of Jane Eyre and Rebecca with a bit of Wuthering Heights thrown in for seasoning.
This is not a read that will get you points with your snooty Literature reading friends, but it's a quick read and kind of fun in an old-fashioned sort of way. Yes, it's genre fiction and yes, it's formulaic, but that's not always a bad thing(tm).(less)
What a wonderful treat this book is! I tend to forget Valerie Martin. On the one hand, this means that I end up missing her novels. On the other hand,...moreWhat a wonderful treat this book is! I tend to forget Valerie Martin. On the one hand, this means that I end up missing her novels. On the other hand, I get to rediscover her often which sort of fulfills my fantasies of re-reading various books & authors for the first time all over again.
I spent most of my twenties & thirties in theaters. First as an actor & later as a director with my own production company. Acting was fun because it provided me with an opportunity to explore sides of myself that I tended to avoid & to do things I'd probably never ever do in my real life. Directing, however, was my ultimate love in the theater. Where else do you get to interrogate text prior to making it get up and walk around?
The Confessions of Edward Day is the memoir of Edward Day, an actor reminiscing about his salad days in the New York theater world of the 1970s where everyone was a student of Stella Adler or Sanford Meisner & living hand-to-mouth from audition to audition waiting for that big break. Edward Day is the definitive actor, a narcissist whose self-awareness is so thin that he can't see himself. Edward stands so far outside himself in observation of his emotions as material for his acting that he is essentially a non-person. Scarily, he is in many ways the most complete person in this tale of doubling & its consequences.
Ms. Martin is asking some big questions here: What is owed to someone who saves your life? What does it mean to be both an actor & a person? If you have a doppleganger, which one of you is real?
Ms. Martin's writing is, as always, superb. She manages to create characters who suck you into their worlds. She writes with a delicate menace that is reminiscent of Patricia Highsmith, but less bound to the thriller genre. This is a wonderfully written, compelling story that ended far too soon.(less)
This is a really good debut novel & it is obvious why it won a "First Crime Novel Award" from the Mystery Writers of America. This book reminded a...moreThis is a really good debut novel & it is obvious why it won a "First Crime Novel Award" from the Mystery Writers of America. This book reminded a lot of The Alienist, but also of other books that deal with New York in the same time period; in particular, Banished Children of Eve by Peter Quinn & the classic Low Life by Luc Sante. I was pleased to see that she referenced Sante's work & I went promptly to my bookshelf to put Low Life back on my TBR list.
This book has the feel of its time period while still managing a modern sensibility. I cared about the characters & about the mystery. There were plenty of clues, but the perpetrator wasn't glaringly obvious & that made the book more fun, too.
I especially appreciated her depiction of women in the time period. She presented many different kinds of women living in many different ways & that was nice to see. So often we are given one-dimensional female characters in historical fiction who pursue only one avenue (being supported by a man) - it's nice to see a multitude of other options on display. Her portrayal of Mamie, the brothel keeper, made me think of Sin in the Second City Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America's Soul by Karen Abbott which is set in roughly the same time period (if in a different city) & which I also loved.
Wonderful written, complex, atmospheric read. I hope she writes another one.(less)
Lucky Jim is an acerbic, witty, biting satire of British red brick college life in the nineteen-fifties. The war is over & all the survivors are b...moreLucky Jim is an acerbic, witty, biting satire of British red brick college life in the nineteen-fifties. The war is over & all the survivors are back to figure out what to do next. Our hero is teaching history (sort of) in a British college that is decidedly not Oxbridge & trying to stay employed.
This comic novel is filled with wonderful & odd characters who are of their type, but somehow aren't stereotypes - the absent-minded professor, the vain artist, the jealous co-worker - we all know these people, but Amis' twist on them is hilarious & original.
I think perhaps best of all is the way that Amis is able to laugh at the foibles of all of his characters, including the aforesaid Lucky Jim. There is an everyman quality to Jim Dixon that draws the reader in - you like him even when he's behaving like an ass.
My favorite bit was the weekend arty house party & all of the occurrences around that including the best ever description of being drunk & then of being hungover.
Despite its relatively sedate age big chunks of this are laugh out loud funny & much of it still resonates today. This was another great read.(less)
I expected this book to be a fun, insubstantial bit of fluff. Boy, was I surprised.
Mr. Fellowes wrote the screenplay for Gosford Park and is the autho...moreI expected this book to be a fun, insubstantial bit of fluff. Boy, was I surprised.
Mr. Fellowes wrote the screenplay for Gosford Park and is the author of another novel that I haven't read, but now will. He's working in P.G. Wodehouse/Evelyn Waugh territory - an English novel of manners - a mix of novel and ethnography of the upper crust with plenty of humor thrown in.
The premise is a lovely one. The narrator's decidedly former friend, Damien, is dying. The quest: to find Damien's hitherto unknown and unidentified illegitimate child. The prize: a life-changing inheritance for the to be designated heir.
It would have been easy to write something bitchy and erudite about this journey into the end of the sixties - the Season of 1968 - and the various where are they now stories this journey naturally elicits and that would have been a fine book. Instead, Fellowes has painstakingly and rather beautifully described a world in transition and captured the tension and ambiguity of the time. These are not rebellious flower children heading for Carnaby Street to smoke dope with the Beatles. These are debutantes and their escorts, still in thrall to their parents, and with relatively few options. The novel is rich in period detail and observation, sumptuous in language, and strangely kind in its judgments of its characters.
I liked almost everyone in this novel and even the characters that I didn't like were worth reading. I appreciate that Fellowes manages to avoid most stereotypes and to make even the worst sort of gorgon a human being. This was a lovely read and a nice way to end the year.(less)
I pretty much inhaled this book, the second in the Kari & Lucas mysteries due out in August. I was enjoying it so much, in fact, that I read it th...moreI pretty much inhaled this book, the second in the Kari & Lucas mysteries due out in August. I was enjoying it so much, in fact, that I read it through eating my lunch & then sat in Snow Park across from my work & finished it before going back inside. It was very pleasant, but then I had to find something to read on the BART on the way home. Fortunately, my floor at work has a small lending library & I scrounged something to keep me company on my way home.
I love these books! The plotting is excellent. The writing is intelligent. The characters are believable &, best of all, competent. How nice is it to read about female characters of any age who can problem solve their ways out of a tight spot?
I recently read Mr. Beckett's third book in this series, Whispers of the Dead, & enjoyed it enormously which inspired me to go back & grab the...moreI recently read Mr. Beckett's third book in this series, Whispers of the Dead, & enjoyed it enormously which inspired me to go back & grab the first two.
The Chemistry of Death is the first in the series starring David Hunter, British forensic anthropologist. I love books with forensic detail & these are right up my alley.
I love the fact that this book starts out with one of my favorite beginnings in literature: Our hero (or heroine), escaping from a tragedy & into a new life accepts a job in the British countryside, sells all of his/her belongings, & arrives by train in the distant village to begin their new life. Upon arrival said character is either picked up by odd retainer & whisked away to the scary manor or finds themselves walking for miles into town because they haven't arranged a ride. It's a start you'll read in Delderfield's To Serve Them All My Days & it's in my favorite Iris Murdoch novel, The Sea, The Sea. It's got that touch of the gothic novel with windswept moors & governesses & strange new beginnings that I can't help but love, even when the book itself isn't all that great or even all that gothic.
In this novel, Beckett plays with the English village mystery in setting, in happenings, in stock characters, & in some plot details, but the form is morphed through a more modern forensic sensibility. It helps that Beckett writes clearly & well, plots well, & has a wonderful imagination. This was a thoroughly satisfying read.(less)
This one won the Hugo Award in 1981 & with good reason. Someone in another review I read said that this book was what Dune would be if it had been...moreThis one won the Hugo Award in 1981 & with good reason. Someone in another review I read said that this book was what Dune would be if it had been written by a female anthropologist.
I read this when it first came out - loved the doomed love story at its core with its echoes of the Hans Christian Anderson story. Reading it now I'm more drawn to the politics and culture of the world & to the notion of the sibyl mind - a huge networked database containing all of the knowledge of the Old Empire that is accessed by those who are infected with a virus, the network is watched over by mer. The whole back-and-forth of "Input" & "Transfer ended" sounds in my head like an old school modem connecting to the Internet. Love broadband, but sometimes I miss that noise. It's good to read science fiction with strong female characters of all kinds & with interesting stories and connections. This works. (less)
A slim, minimalist little bite of a novel about paramedics in Harlem in the early '90's. The author draws on his own life experience in a book filled...moreA slim, minimalist little bite of a novel about paramedics in Harlem in the early '90's. The author draws on his own life experience in a book filled with scattershot impressions - much the way you might imagine a day as a paramedic might be.
The characters & the sense of place are clear & drawn with depth despite the relative brevity of the book. These people are real & you care about them & about what happens to them, around them, because of them. This book reminds me a bit of Bringing Out the Dead, both the book & the movie, which I also really enjoyed.
This is a book that offers no answers & many questions, but one that mostly takes you for an ambulance ride through parts of a city that have been left behind. Beautiful, insightful, unforgettable - I really loved this book.(less)
I read this back when it first came out & really enjoyed, but my copy wandered away somewhere so when I saw it at Half-Price books in the U-Distri...moreI read this back when it first came out & really enjoyed, but my copy wandered away somewhere so when I saw it at Half-Price books in the U-District in Seattle I knew I wanted to read it again.
I remembered that this biography had more information about the Haight-Ashbury scene than it did, but other than that it was pretty true to my memory. I like the somewhat dispassionate voice of Ms. Echols - it provides a nice counterpoint to the general chaos & excess of its subject & time. I also appreciate that Ms. Echols doesn't try to pigeonhole Joplin, but rather explores her life & her impulses.
There is much to admire in Janis Joplin & much that I relate to in her story. It's hard to be different in a small town & to want acceptance, but be unable or unwilling to become the person who might be accepted. I get her insecurities that coexist with her confidence in herself. I admire her drive & ambition & her overarching talent & I get why she anesthetized herself with alcohol & heroin. It's sad that she overdosed before she could live long enough to figure out that acceptance from the kind of people who require you to be someone you're not isn't really acceptance at all. I like to think she would've grown into her voice, into her abilities, & into herself.(less)
A good book with a bummer ending. Not surprising, I suppose, since the theme of this novel is the near impossibility of surviving as an outsider in a...moreA good book with a bummer ending. Not surprising, I suppose, since the theme of this novel is the near impossibility of surviving as an outsider in a world governed by the corporate state.
Cat's a sweet character who somehow manages to be a bridge between peoples, but also manages to find himself alone & disregarded.
This is a book filled with longing - for community, for change, for love, for companionship, for a way to be whole. Vinge writes interesting characters & the plot here is nicely character driven, although she doesn't really do anything with the cloud whales and their dreamfall - odd to set up such a cool premise & then just sort of leave it there. This is the third book of a trilogy and I think I like the second one, Catspaw, best. The characters, landscape, & ideas are more diverse - alien, but not alien all at once. (less)
This is the third book in The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander. In a way, this is Princess Eilonwy's tale, where she is sent off to the King a...moreThis is the third book in The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander. In a way, this is Princess Eilonwy's tale, where she is sent off to the King and Queen of Mona to learn to be a young lady. Naturally, that involves lots of needlework and hairwashing and dancing about and listening to other young ladies prattle and Eilonwy hates it. Can you blame her? So it's not surprising that she runs off with Magg, the evil chief steward and gets herself into a bad spot with the dreaded Queen Achren.
Luckily for Eilonwy she has her intrepid band of friends to save her! All the fellowship makes an appearance here along with Prince Rhun of Mona who is bumbling and endearing and exasperating. Here we meet Llyan, too! Best of all, while her friends help to save her in the end Eilonwy saves herself. Now that's an inspiring message for little girls!
I still love these books even after all these years. It's been nice reading them again!(less)
I am a huge fan of historical writing, especially social history. I care about the broader political context that informs most history, but I also rea...moreI am a huge fan of historical writing, especially social history. I care about the broader political context that informs most history, but I also really want to know about the little things, too - what people ate, what they were wearing, what they did for fun, how they lived day-to-day. This book will give a sense of all of that (plus the politics) & more.
Luc Sante was an advisor on the movie, The Gangs of New York, & if you keep the way that movie looked in your head you might get a sense of the New York he is writing about. Sante explores Manhattan in four aspects from 1840 to 1919 - Topography, vice & entertainment, law & order, & revolt & idealism. Jammed into these four aspects are stories of classic New York characters like Boss Tweed & Butcher Poole, but also many less well-known people like Bald Jack Rose & Leftie Louie.
Sante argues that New York is all about the New & tends to ignore its history, but that its ghosts are drifting there - just below the surface. This book captures these ghosts & makes them visible to the reader through clear prose & fascinating stories. This is an excellent example of what good writing & interesting social history can be to a reader. Fascinating & wonderful & you should go read it right now.(less)
This time the mystery is on an island in the Hebrides. It's one of those closed environment murder mysteries where...moreAnother great read by Simon Beckett!
This time the mystery is on an island in the Hebrides. It's one of those closed environment murder mysteries where the killer is among us, we can't get away, the killer can't get away, & people are dying all around us. Throw in a storm that cuts everyone off from communication & various horrible deaths & you've got a chilling read.
Once again Beckett proves that he can write well & that he has a really good (& somewhat twisted) imagination. The twists & turns in this are lovely & unexpected & the whodunit really does stay a whodunit which makes it a true page-turner.(less)
This book serves as a nice companion piece to The Haunting of Hill House, although I like it less. There is a similar setup - scary old house that has...moreThis book serves as a nice companion piece to The Haunting of Hill House, although I like it less. There is a similar setup - scary old house that has more or less devoured people who lived in it is investigated by four researchers. In Hell House the victims investigators are a physicist/parapsychologist, his wife, a spiritual medium, & a physical medium who was the only survivor from the last investigation of the house.
Where the horror in The Haunting of Hill House is implicit, the horror in Hell House is decidedly explicit. It is for this reason that I like the book less. I've found that my imagination is wonderful at filling in blank spaces in terrifying ways & that's just what Shirley Jackson allows you to do. Hell House is definitely scary, but it demands less of you as a reader. It's more like a roller coaster ride where you are required to hang on & let the ride take you forward. Jackson takes your hand & walks along with you, sometimes guiding you, but most often whispering a suggestion in your ear or uttering a sharp intake of breath without explaining it. In the end, Jackson privileges your imagination where Matheson privileges his own.
I really like Sophie Hannah's third book, The Wrong Mother, so I was looking forward to reading this one (her first) and was sorely disappointed. This...moreI really like Sophie Hannah's third book, The Wrong Mother, so I was looking forward to reading this one (her first) and was sorely disappointed. This book was so disappointing that it made me wonder if I should rethink how much I liked The Wrong Mother.
Hannah alternates chapters between first-person narrative of the protagonist and third-person narrative of the cops. In The Wrong Mother this works really well, but in this book it feels too much like a device (which, of course, it is in both books). In thinking through this I believe the heart of the problem here is in the rather poorly cobbled together characterizations; they just don't seem substantial or even internally consistent and this makes their actions ultimately unbelievable and mildly bland and predictable in a Wonder Bread and Miracle Whip kind of way. There is a terrible waste of a really interesting premise here and an even more terrible waste of some good writing that's buried in here along with all the clumsiness.
I'm reading Hannah's second book and will decide how I feel about her then, but at this point I'm feeling dubious and sort of jipped.(less)