If the characters in the fourth volume of Vaughan's magnificent Saga seem at first to be taking a much-needed break, don't be fooled - it's only the cIf the characters in the fourth volume of Vaughan's magnificent Saga seem at first to be taking a much-needed break, don't be fooled - it's only the calm before yet another plot-storm.
Having settled for the time being on Gardenia, home of the galaxy's most addictive entertainment (space telenovelas!), the inevitable stresses of raising a toddler while on the run begin to tell on Marko and Alana's relationship. Bad news for them, good news for readers; we've come to expect depth and complexity of characterization from this series, and nothing ups the ante on that like a little conflict. Meanwhile, plot junkies will find plenty of movement here to satisfy them as well: murder, kidnapping, and incipient revolution galore.
Staples's art remains gorgeous, Vaughan's story riveting. The only quibble I have is that this one needed more Lying Cat....more
The Dark Horse Book of Hauntings is dedicated to Hans Holzer, Edward Gorey, and the Fox sisters, which tells you everything you need to know about itsThe Dark Horse Book of Hauntings is dedicated to Hans Holzer, Edward Gorey, and the Fox sisters, which tells you everything you need to know about its sensibilities. Only 92 pages, the volume contains nine separate entries - eight stories, and one interview with a real-life medium - of varying styles and quality. Most are graphic stories, but not all: my favorite (the traditional English-gothic "Thurnley Abbey") and least favorite (the interview with L.L. Dreller, which bored me enough that it took me a couple of weeks to bother to finish it) pieces were both text-only.
The most famous contributor here is Mike Mignola, who gets top-billing for a Hellboy story that's prettier than it is interesting. I was more drawn to Oesterle's short and brutal haunted tattoo tale, "Forever," and to Dorkin and Thompson's "Stray," which tweaks the genre by envisioning the haunted house as a haunted doghouse.
Fans of hauntings will appreciate the breadth of the offerings here, though some of them may seem a bit slight - one of the reasons Landon's "Abbey" tops my list is that the relative lack of illustrations meant that they had enough room for text to spin a full story rather than just offer a snapshot. So consider it more a sampler, a horror aperitif if you will, than something to make a meal of, and enjoy accordingly....more
If you're looking for a story in which an OCD (and possibly sexually traumatized) young woman sweeps and makes soap and candles, then does Patrick RotIf you're looking for a story in which an OCD (and possibly sexually traumatized) young woman sweeps and makes soap and candles, then does Patrick Rothfuss ever have the book for you. The Slow Regard of Silent Things reminds me a bit of the more opaque efforts of Robin McKinley or Susan Cooper, which focus purely on word patterns and feeling rather than character or plot. If that works for you, more power to you. I'm a simple enough woman that I prefer a little plot and character development in my stories, and this lacked either.
On the upside, dedicated readers of Rothfuss's other novels will probably appreciate the Dungeon Master's tour he gives of the Underthing and recognize more Easter Eggs there than I (a somewhat casual fan) could discern. But unless you're generally hardcore or have a huge soft-spot for Auri, you may consider skipping this particular side journey....more
As much as I adore Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, The League of Frightened Men struck a sour note in what's an otherwise delightful series. There areAs much as I adore Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, The League of Frightened Men struck a sour note in what's an otherwise delightful series. There are too many pieces on this particular chessboard - reducing the League's members by a third would have simplified the narrative without sacrificing any drama - arranged in problem that's not particularly difficult to penetrate...which makes it all the more frustrating that Wolfe takes his own sweet time bothering to solve it. As a result most the story is composed of Archie sulking as Wolfe fiddles about, and frankly I prefer my sharp-quipping gumshoes to do a little more ass-kicking and a lot less grousing. Mostly I enjoyed this one because the instigating incident took place on the Harvard campus, which I happened to be touring while on vacation in Boston. So as a bit vacation savory it works just fine, but as a mystery novel I'd advise passing it over for one of the better adventures in this series....more
The only thing that could have possibly made this book better would have been John Malkovich reading it aloud to me.
I do not, as a rule, care for episThe only thing that could have possibly made this book better would have been John Malkovich reading it aloud to me.
I do not, as a rule, care for epistolary novels. I also tend to find novels written in the 18th century spotty, as the form was in its infancy and liable to spectacular misfires. So it's a bit of a miracle that I picked up Les Liaisons Dangereuses, and I freely admit that I only did so on the basis of my love for the film. I was curious to see how the two compared, and fully expected the movie adaptation to outstrip the source material. (I did mention my bias against 18th century epistolary novels, right?)
Instead, I fell in love.
De Laclos masterfully employs the epistolary style, and each letter flies like a dart from the pen of its writer to its intended target; many of those darts are delicately poisoned, but so prettily fletched that the reader doesn't feel a thing until they find themselves overcome. A great deal of credit belongs to translator P.W.K. Stone, whose maintains a crisp, lightly formal, and utterly cutting tone throughout the novel - I had the opportunity of perusing the Parmee translation (Oxford Classics) and was horrified by how colloquial his word choices were compared with Stone's. It was likely seeing the author forced to do a club-stomp when he wanted to perform a minuet. (To be fair, my friend reading the Oxford Classics edition also thoroughly enjoyed the novel, which I think speaks to the power of the original to overcome even a questionable translation.)
At the heart of Liaisons is the twisted relationship between the Vicomte de Valmont and the Marquise de Merteuil, who perhaps could have loved had either been able to risk a moment of vulnerability with the other. Instead, they enact an elaborate courtship ritual involving the ruination of not one but two women, nominally taken on for reasons of vengeance over supposed slights but mostly just to prove they can. They're not nice people, not even close, and what's absolutely brilliant about de Laclos is that he allows the Marquise to be just as ruthless and unprincipled as (or perhaps even more than) Valmont. She's a shockingly complex and fascinatingly feminist character dropped into the middle of the book where you'd least expect to see her. That the author skews toward sentimental moralism at the end doesn't undo that in the least; the reader is left remembering the power she wielded rather than the ignominy of her defeat.
Liaisons isn't quite perfect. It falters a bit in the letters from Madame de Tourvel, whose position as the moral center leaves her unable to narratively match the more interesting machinations of her fellow characters. It's almost always true that villains fascinate more than heroes. That trend, perhaps, did not start with de Laclos, but his might be the ultimate example of the delights of watching virtue getting trounced by those who utterly lack it.
I'm not entirely certain when I picked up a copy of The Lost City of Z, but I'd had it for at least a few years when I happened to toss it into a pileI'm not entirely certain when I picked up a copy of The Lost City of Z, but I'd had it for at least a few years when I happened to toss it into a pile to take on vacation. I pulled it out on the plane to Atlanta, and within fifty pages I was furious with myself for having owned Grann's fantastic epic of exploration for so long without reading it. How had I lived without hearing the tale of Percy Fawcett's near-mad addiction to the Amazon? How had I never known the dark side of the rubber industry in South America? How could I not have felt the awesome radiating off my copy of this book? My bookseller radar must be on the fritz.
Grann, a long-time staff writer at The New Yorker, weaves together three stories in his book: that of British explorer Percy Fawcett's final, fatal expedition in search of the El Dorado-esque city he called Z; that of the many who followed him into the jungle searching his remains, including Brazilian banker James Lynch, whose capture and ransoming by a local tribe might echo Fawcett's own fate; and that of Grann himself, who, based on newly discovered evidence in the Fawcett family papers, tries to recreate that final journey and discover once and for all whether Fawcett's belief in a massive jungle metropolis was justified.
Each thread is gripping in itself; taken together, they're enough to tie you to your chair (or airline seat) for as long as it takes to burn through the entire book. Hopefully you read your copy immediately and won't have your post-read afterglow dimmed by angry self-recriminations for having overlooked this gem for so long....more
Oh, Jurassic Park. Your science is shit, your characters thin, and your agenda so painfully obvious that it's literally embodied as a mouthpiece (hellOh, Jurassic Park. Your science is shit, your characters thin, and your agenda so painfully obvious that it's literally embodied as a mouthpiece (hello, Ian Malcolm!), and yet as a horror novel you remain near-perfect. It's all that anticipatory build, I suspect - Crichton takes his time, almost two hundred pages, bringing the reader to the point of absolute nail-biting before releasing the reptilian hounds.
Jurassic Park draws heavily on 19th century literary traditions (Doyle's Lost World, Shelley's Frankenstein, Wells's Island of Dr. Moreau, and all sorts of Verne and Haggard) and mixes them potently with then-cutting-edge technology, some of which Crichton probably even understood. (Not surprisingly given his background in medicine, his grasp of the genetics involved seems much stronger than the chaos theory math he discusses.) It's a powerful cocktail of awesome, enough to make any reader giddy and liable to forget that (a) Ian Malcolm could have saved his and everyone else's life if he hadn't been so intent on playing the inscrutable Sherlock and had been a little less cryptic in his comments and (b) Grant could have made it out of the park in about a tenth of the time if he'd just tossed that little girl to the Tyrannosaur and kept going.
Despite its flaws, Jurassic Park still holds up twenty-five years later, and continues to set the bar for literary thrill-rides. It's spawned a sequel and four movies and a thousand cheap imitations, but, as Crichton takes so much trouble to point out time and again over the course of his narrative, even the best reproductions are never quite the same - or in this case, as good - as the original. ...more
Many years ago, I gathered a pile of first-in-series mystery novels set in various exotic locales with the intention of writing a piece on using booksMany years ago, I gathered a pile of first-in-series mystery novels set in various exotic locales with the intention of writing a piece on using books as the cheapest and most effective way to do a world tour over your summer vacation. With one thing and another, that piece never got written, but the novels remained on my shelves, eventually to be rediscovered.
As it turns out, Cleverly's The Last Kashmiri Rose would have been a perfect passport stamp. Set largely in India's Benghal province in 1922, the novel gorgeously captures a country and a time caught between two cultures. The period detail, down to the musical choices of boys in the ranks, is rich and fantastically drawn, enough to make the read truly immersive. The plot, while not particularly thorny, serves to guide the reader through Cleverly's world.
Unfortunately, the least compelling thing about the novel is its characters, including lead Joe Sandilands, about whom we know little except that he's from Scotland Yard, misses it, and apparently decides to seduce other men's wives on first sight. That last is hardly a characteristic exclusive to Cleverly's hero (looking at you, James Bond!), but given the timeframe and the setting of the novel it seems particularly jarring, and winds up giving a not terribly good first impression of the Inspector.
It's perhaps best to focus on the story's main character, India itself, which remains completely fascinating and tantalizing throughout, and is enough to convince any reader that The Last Kashmiri Rose is a trip worth taking....more
Since 1987, it's been virtually impossible to separate The Princess Bride novel from its classic film adaptation. Anyone who doesn't believe that shouSince 1987, it's been virtually impossible to separate The Princess Bride novel from its classic film adaptation. Anyone who doesn't believe that should try reading the phrase "Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya; you killed my father; prepare to die" without hearing it in Mandy Patinkin's voice.
Yet despite an overlap of plot and author (William Goldman managed to swing a gig adapting his own novel), the two are different entities. Not surprisingly, the novel's a bit more sprawling, with more story to tell and a wry narrative voice that Goldman later channeled into the movie's dialogue, which I think takes the edge over the book's original for having gotten a second sharpening and polish. Either is a delight, and I'm not sure it's possible to love one and dislike the other, but each has slightly different qualities which render it endearing. (Excepting Buttercup. That widgit just isn't endearing no matter what you do to her.)
I suspect my favorite part about the novel The Princess Bride is the running mindfuck Goldman plays on his readers about having abbreviated the story from a much older, much longer tale by the fictional S. Morgenstern. I spent many years as a bookseller, and have had to disabuse many customers about the existence of that mythical origin tome, including one memorable young woman whose phone call I answered at a now-defunct used bookstore and who required twenty or thirty minutes of convincing. (It didn't help that Goldman published his novel The Silent Gondoliers as Morgenstern, which she had apparently seen somewhere.)
I mock gently, but the first time I read the novel myself at the age of 11 I wrote Goldman's publisher in hopes of receiving a copy of Buttercup and Westley's theoretically expurgated reunion scene. That, perhaps, is the goofy and romantic power of The Princess Bride: that even in this age of cynicism, it makes you want to believe....more
Jane Austen and decapitations are not generally two things you associate with each other, but in the tenth installment in her Sebastian St. Cyr seriesJane Austen and decapitations are not generally two things you associate with each other, but in the tenth installment in her Sebastian St. Cyr series, C.S. Harris manages to neatly integrate both elements into one of her trademark intricate plots in a way not only seamless but seemingly inevitable as Viscount Devlin investigates the death of a collector in possession of a relic from the burial of King Charles I.
Most novels featuring Austen cameos traffic a bit too heavily on Jane's celebrity, creating more of a caricature than a character. Harris keeps Austen's appearances brief and within the confines of a nineteenth century spinster's behavior, but pays a larger homage by weaving elements of Austen's novels into her plot in a way that cheekily suggests the fictionalized Austen drew inspiration for her novels (particularly Persuasion) from the modern author's story.
This particular installment focuses more on the mystery at hand than the persistent questions regarding the hero's origins or his family drama, but there's enough movement on both those fronts to satisfy long-time series readers without alienating anyone who wanders into this book first. As always, Harris has crafted a deviously plotted, historically accurate mystery that's sheer pleasure to read. Plus, you know, AUSTEN....more
Most of Saga: Volume Three takes place in flashback, covering the events in the weeks leading up to the confrontation presaged in the final panels ofMost of Saga: Volume Three takes place in flashback, covering the events in the weeks leading up to the confrontation presaged in the final panels of Volume Two.
Normally that kind of narrative bait and switch would annoy me. Instead, Vaughan's knack for story meant I was as easily distracted as a magpie in a disco ball factory, and almost didn't notice that we were delaying the series' first real climax featuring all the main players to explore other plotlines, a third of which featured brand new characters whose presence should have felt like an intrusion...but didn't.
Usually by this point a series hits an off-volume, but Saga continues to be the smart, funny, and gorgeously illustrated. The only thing that could possibly make it better is more Lying Cat. Someone get that feline her own volume, stat....more
The only real fault I can find with Hard Times is that Dickens does not spend nearly enough time lampooning the educational system. The first few chapThe only real fault I can find with Hard Times is that Dickens does not spend nearly enough time lampooning the educational system. The first few chapters left me in stitches, nevermind that my laughter was more than a bit horrified at how well the author's portrait of Mr. Grandgrind's teaching methods seemed to match with modern day curriculum. ("In this life we want nothing but Facts, sir; nothing but Facts!")
The rest of the novel moves along in the general Dickensian groove (ingenue: check; hysterical caricature of businessman: check; crafty elderly person of unfriendly disposition: check), lambasting social and political mores (here, in particular, trade unions and utilitarianism). There are a couple of differences - for one, you could fit about three copies of Hard Times inside any of the other novels Dickens wrote. For another, there's nary a London-set scene in sight; everything takes place in the fictitious Coketown, which is slowly smothering under smuts.
Perhaps the thing that amused me most about Hard Times is the theory I developed about halfway through reading it that if Ayn Rand had come across this novel early in the process of learning English and read it through without catching the Dickensian irony, it would have been one of her favorite books. (I'm not saying that's likely, just that I was hugely entertained by the idea.)
While certainly not the best or more famous of Dickens's works, Hard Times, with its straightforward plot, humor, and blessedly short duration, offers a good introduction to the Victorian Master or a nice re-entry-point for anyone who's read a bit and wants to revisit the author without committing a vast amount of time to the venture....more
If, like me, you read 2010's Will Grayson, Will Grayson, you probably finished that book slightly frustrated that the musical around which most of theIf, like me, you read 2010's Will Grayson, Will Grayson, you probably finished that book slightly frustrated that the musical around which most of the action revolves seems to be the authors' version of "The Alan Brady Show," which takes place almost entirely off-stage, as it were. Five years later, David Levithan returns (sans John Green), to show us what we missed, and it is even more of a rhinestone-and-glitter cocktail of magnificence than we could ever have expected.
Hold Me Closer is silly and touching and occasionally deep ("Of course, when a boy gives you a warning, you should listen to it. Not because he's necessarily right. But because he genuinely thinks he is. And most of the time, that's more important."), and destined to actually become a highschool musical in about 3...2...1...
What it isn't, unfortunately, is a story that really stands on its own. This is clearly a companion "novel," and while I laughed and felt verklempt and maybe mentally started composing tunes to which to hum along to Tiny's lyrics, I would rather have seen Tiny claim the stage with a new story all his own....more