Gaiman’s novel, as with many of his ‘young adult’ fare, treads the line between amusing and creepy as hell. When strange things begin happening around...moreGaiman’s novel, as with many of his ‘young adult’ fare, treads the line between amusing and creepy as hell. When strange things begin happening around his neighborhood, the narrator (a ten-year-old boy), finds himself under the wing of Lettie Hempstock, an odd girl from up the lane. Along with her mother and her grandmother, Lettie explains that a malevolent creature has entered the world and begun weaving subtle miseries into the lives of those around it. When the narrator and Lettie endeavor to fight the creature, things go from bad to worse, and then worse again, and so on.
A few thoughts:
- As always, Gaiman’s novels aren’t just stories, but meditations on life and its complexity. As the protagonist remembers the events from his childhood, he also reflects on the relationships of his child-self to his parents, the janus-faced housekeeper, and the daily terrors that shape a young person’s life. - The women in the house at the end of the lane tap into an old archetype, the three women who control the world. In particular, these seem to evoke the three fates of Greek mythology, but they also remind me of the ladies from A Wrinkle in Time. - Gaiman’s particular gifts for horrors that winkle in and out of the everyday is in full force here. I put the scare quotes around ‘young adult’ at the beginning of my review because the creepy parts of this story are downright terrifying. The standout moment for me is the boy’s matter-of-fact self-surgery in the washroom. Holy hell.
I recommend Gaiman’s work via audiobook if that’s something you enjoy. His sonorous tones and gentle reading style are lovely to listen to, and they provide another level of interpretation on the text that’s just great. Well worth a read.(less)
Mary Roach’s latest book explores the digestive process, from beginning to end, looking at what scientists think and have thought, what they study, an...moreMary Roach’s latest book explores the digestive process, from beginning to end, looking at what scientists think and have thought, what they study, and how they go about it. It’s great, as usual, with lots of funny moments. A few thoughts:
- People are generally fine with their own saliva, as long as it’s in their mouth. As soon as it has left their mouth, it’s gross. For instance, they’re far less interested in eating a bowl of soup into which they have spit than one they haven’t. - Roach gave plenty of room to Alexis St. Martin and Dr. William Beaumont, the former being a man with a fistulated stomach and the latter being the doctor who used the stomach to experiment with digestion, whether or not St. Martin wanted to do so. Particularly of note for us as Beaumont was the military doctor at the U.S. fort on Mackinac Island, which we visited this summer (and where I first learned about Beaumont, though mostly in a positive light). - As with the book on astronauts, there is a long section on flatus and the people who study it. Flatus samples are now often collected via special mylar ‘pantaloons’ taped at the waist and legs, with a valve for harvesting the samples. - Elvis probably died from having a gigantic colon, something that happens after a lifetime of constipation. His lifetime battle with this condition is part of why the Graceland bathroom was so well appointed. The King spent a lot of time on his throne. - The section on coprophegia, animals that eat their own waste, was equal parts gross and fascinating. Not only do rabbits and rats perform this most yucky of acts, it’s essential to their digestive practice. For instance, there are bacteria in the colon of rats that release vitamins which the rat can only absorb in the small intestine, thus the food must make a second pass through the system.
Once again, Emily Woo Zeller does a fine job with the book, giving a wry twist to many of the more amusing passages and really Roach’s perspective. Another fascinating book in the continuing line of science writing from Mary Roach. A winner!(less)
Tony Chu is cibopathic, meaning he has the psychic ability to learn the history of anything he eats. Vol 2 introduces a new set of world-changing badd...moreTony Chu is cibopathic, meaning he has the psychic ability to learn the history of anything he eats. Vol 2 introduces a new set of world-changing baddies, some sort of space entity that has something to do with the chicken-like plant we learned about in volume 1. It's more hilarious and strange storytelling, punctuated by appearances from Poyo, the most dangerous rooster ever seen.
The biggest negative for me was the comic's even-more extreme boob fetish. Most of the women in the comic have bizarre chests, even given the anatomically goofy style Guillory prefers. Tone it down a bit, fellas! This is a fantastic comic even without pneumatic chests on every woman who shows up.(less)
The Quantum Rose, by Catherine Asaro, follows the blossoming love of Kamoj and Vryl, a woman and man from two vastly different cultures on vastly diff...moreThe Quantum Rose, by Catherine Asaro, follows the blossoming love of Kamoj and Vryl, a woman and man from two vastly different cultures on vastly different planets. They’re pulled apart by cultural forces, by diplomatic obligations, by jealousy. They’re attracted to one another on a deep level, they resonate. Also, Asaro reveals at the end of the book that the chapter structure is also a parable for particle physics.
A few thoughts:
- Like Ian M. Banks’ books (Consider Phlebas & Surface Detail are two that I’ve read), Asaro gives us a story within a consistent, much larger galaxy of adventure and stories. This tip of the iceberg approach works well because readers can jump in wherever, and then back track if they like what they see. - This book has two distinct sections — the first 60% or so takes place on Balumil, where a “Beauty and the Beast” story blends with a tale of domestic violence. The second 40% proceeds to Lyshriol for a tale of political intrigue and passive resistance protest. Personally, I thought the tensions set up on Balumil made for an intense opening, and I think the move to the second planet halfway through is a bit of a cop-out. - Asaro does a great job of touching on the colonized experience. Kamoj wrestles with feelings of anger over how space-faring cultures are treating her people, Jax is angered by the invaders’ impositions of their legal system, and there are cultural blunders all over the place in the beginning of the novel. Some of it is a little heavy-handed, but it’s a welcome facet of the book nonetheless. - The domestic violence and complex relationship between Vyrl, Kamoj, and Jax — Kamoj’s jilted fiance — makes for intense reading. It’s not my favorite, personally, but I think Asaro does a good job capturing the complicated feelings people in abusive relationships face. There’s a particularly great scene where people are asking Kamoj what she wants to do with Jax right there, completely unaware (or unwilling to admit) what kinds of pressure he can bring to bear on her. - Asaro includes lots of great little moments — like when Vyrl reveals that he’s a ballet dancer, but is ashamed of it because on his planet men don’t dance. Kamoj encourages him to do so anyway. Or when Kamoj discovers there is a voice-activated computer in the house and becomes wary that it is watching them all the time (even in their marital bed).
But the biggest little moment for me was when, long after this should have been mentioned, the narrative casually mentions that one group of the people in the novel have differently-shaped hands and feet than do the others (who are basically human, in looks). From page 344:
Eight. So it was natural. At first Kamoj had thought that Lord Rillia, Del-Kurj, Chaniece, and Shannon had deformed hands. But everyone else she saw here had them too. Instead of four fingers and a thumb, they had two sets of opposing fingers, a total of four digits, all thick as thumbs. A hinge down the center of their hands let them fold their palms together, so they could hold and manipulate objects.
This comes out roughly 30 pages after she meets these people. I’m sorry, but if you met a group of otherwise normal people who had hands that folded in the middle and had four thumbs instead of four fingers and a thumb, you would remark on it. Since this section of the novel operates mostly from Kamoj’s perspective (though in third-person omnisicent, mostly), we should have heard about it before this point.
I didn’t really enjoy this book very much — mostly because the romance angle is too heavy in the first half. This isn’t a criticism of the book so much as a note about its place outside my personal preferences. My book club members tell me that the romance elements are more muted in the other books, so I may try another one at some time.(less)
A collection of the famously offensive comic, this indie gem feels like it resides at the junction of the venn diagram between the dark humor and horr...moreA collection of the famously offensive comic, this indie gem feels like it resides at the junction of the venn diagram between the dark humor and horrific stories of Johnny the Homicidal Manic and the goofy humor and drawing style of Bob Burden's Flaming Carrot. Like shock comedians, Paszkiewicz's style focuses on the most controversial things, like abortions and child abuse, for its grotesqueries. Like Ivan Brunetti, Paszkiewicz challenges our most base sense of what can and can't be funny, mostly by making funny things that really shouldn't be.
Not for the faint of heart, but worth a read.(less)
Set in the not-too-distant future when water shortages and worldwide famine/disease has left society crumbled, a new feudalism has arisen with warlord...moreSet in the not-too-distant future when water shortages and worldwide famine/disease has left society crumbled, a new feudalism has arisen with warlord families battling over stockpiles of genetically engineered farm stock. Each family has genetically-engineered nearly-immortal super-soldiers called Lazarus(es). I don't know the plural. Anyhow, intrigue and skullduggery ensue in this great start to a new series.(less)
Flavia de Luce returns in this sequel to the extraordinary Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Once again, the precocious tween tracks a killer throug...moreFlavia de Luce returns in this sequel to the extraordinary Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Once again, the precocious tween tracks a killer through the countryside of her English town. When a famous BBC puppeteer comes to town, everyone is excited to have a show in the church. However, when he’s electrocuted during the performance, Flavia is on the case, with her chemistry and her sneaky sycophantic act.
While Bradley tells another solid story (with a well-crafted countryside murder), the book isn’t quite as good as the last one, if for no other reason than that it doesn’t really do anything new. A book like this really challenges the question of whether mysteries ought to be in series or not. The mystery of the murdered puppeteer is compelling, but a little less so than was the murder in the last book, as Flavia’s family is not directly implicated. Once again, the book confirms my suspicion that British towns have seething underbellies of secret passions and nasty secrets. Londoners are downright open books when compared with their judgmental, small-town cousins.
An enjoyable return of a great character, and well worth a read if you enjoyed the first book in the series. That said, I would probably wait at least a year in between the two, as they are very similar.(less)
A fantastic rendition of Lovecraftian Horror in a Southern Gothic environment. Tells the tale of two different protagonists whose paths cross with the...moreA fantastic rendition of Lovecraftian Horror in a Southern Gothic environment. Tells the tale of two different protagonists whose paths cross with the rising horror of an Elder God being summoned by one of its minions. Creepy and provocative and wonderful. Read it.(less)