I had never read David Levithan before, so picked up The Lover's Dictionary with no preconceptions about his writing (unless the movie version of Nic...moreI had never read David Levithan before, so picked up The Lover's Dictionary with no preconceptions about his writing (unless the movie version of Nick & Norah counts for something). Guess what? It's hilarious, moving and painfully real. This small gem of a book cleverly explores the permutations of one couple's love story -- the early jitters and fumbles, the giddy highs, the small daily thrills and irritants, and the seething lows of anger and betrayal. Anyone who has ever been in love will find some feeling of their own in here, and anyone who isn't currently in love will be reminded of all the little things they are missing. (And NOT missing.)
So, what makes The Lover's Dictionary special? Our lovers' tale is structured in the form of concise, insightful and witty dictionary definitions. This format makes for a non-linear narrative which might make people who like neat endings crazy. But the unusual construction also serves to expose many, many layers of meaning -- not only in the relationship, but in the defined words themselves. It's really a kind of poetry.
kerfuffle: From now on you are only allowed one drink at any of my office parties. One. Preferably a beer.
non-sequitur: This is what it sounds like when doves cry.
autonomy: "I want my books to have their own shelves," you said, and that's how I knew it would be okay to live together.
It might only take you an hour to read this slim book, but you are unlikely to read anything else like it soon. 5 lovely, funny, sad and whimsical stars.
As a kid, I absolutely loved this book, but for the life of (the adult) me could not remember the name. A GR trivia question brought it all back -- I...moreAs a kid, I absolutely loved this book, but for the life of (the adult) me could not remember the name. A GR trivia question brought it all back -- I need to read this one again! It might seem a little tame by today's standards, but when I was 8-or-9 reading The Saturdays felt like having the adventures myself. A classic.(less)
Quick and dirty review, here. I really enjoyed this, my first Clegg novel (although I do love the creepy little illustrated story Isis). I see a lot o...moreQuick and dirty review, here. I really enjoyed this, my first Clegg novel (although I do love the creepy little illustrated story Isis). I see a lot of comparisons to Salem's Lot in the reviews here, but beyond a surface similarity involving creepy kids (among others) terrorizing a small town, I didn't get that vibe. Also take note of the cheesy stock "creepy kid" cover on this edition. It's right out of the John Saul school of the 1970s, and doesn't do much to dispel those kinds of comparisons.
Although this novel was written in the 90s, Clegg's approach is all bleak 21st century horror, and far less sentimental than King's.* Though the characters are well-drawn, and the flashbacks to their youth key to the story, there's very little romanticizing of childhood, or small town life, or of anything really, in The Children's Hour. (Okay, there is a lost first love subplot, but even that is mostly a catalyst for some seriously disturbing sh*t.) It's pretty relentlessly grim, even nihilistic at times, and comes with a vastly higher body count than any King novel I can recall.
Also, the entities that haunt The Children's Hour? Are. Not. Vampires. They are more like horrible meat puppets, vampiric in some ways, yes, but definitely not your standard-issue bloodsuckers. This menace is a lot more unsettling, unearthly, demonic. (My comparison: in an upside-down and backwards way, this book recalls Lovecraft's "The Dunwich Horror," and freakish Wilbur Whateley hiding that nightmarish entity in his farmhouse.)
I don't want to telegraph much more of the plot -- suffice it to say I was actually unnerved by some of the imagery in The Children's Hour. One night I left my bedside lamp burning after reading. That's one of my highest compliments. It's a good thing he's prolific, because I'll be reading more Clegg.
* For the record, I love King and his elegiac, nostalgic, sentimental side. This just isn't that. (less)
I don't want to mislead anyone, so I'll say it up front: Dark Places is no Gone Girl. Flynn really hit the perfect balance of satirical yet bracingly...moreI don't want to mislead anyone, so I'll say it up front: Dark Places is no Gone Girl. Flynn really hit the perfect balance of satirical yet bracingly honest characterization, snappy style and ridiculously twisty suspense in her amazingly great newest book, so don't go into this one expecting another like that one.
Not to say that I didn't enjoy Dark Places, because I really did. It too is propulsive reading, twisty and funny in its own way; but the tone is much angrier, the people much poorer, the locales much bleaker, and the crime at the center of the story much bloodier. Some scenes are exceptionally violent, and some themes will (rightly) disturb.
At the tender age of seven our protagonist, Libby Day, became the only survivor of a late-night home invasion massacre that killed her entire family. Well, Libby was the only survivor besides her sullen teenage brother Ben, the accused and convicted killer, whom she damningly testified against at the time. That was 1985.
This is the present: Now a semi-reclusive adult living on the dregs of a charitable trust in a crappy Kansas City rental, Libby has many reasons to be bitter. For starters she's just been told she's broke, and her sob story has been usurped by a hundred others, so there's no more cash rolling in. She might actually have to find a job.
But then Libby receives a letter from the Kill Club, a group of true crime and serial killer enthusiasts, and it seems her troubles might be allayed for a bit. She's offered $500 to make an appearance at their meeting, along with the promise of collectors interested in purchasing Day family "memorabilia." Little does she know, some are outspoken advocates for Ben's innocence, who claim Libby was too young to understand what had happened that night, that her testimony had been coerced. They also have theories galore about who really done it. Libby is initially furious at being lured into their delusions, but the idea has been planted in her head. What if she had been wrong? And the can of worms that is Dark Places is opened.
Libby is another of Flynn's wonderfully snarkastic antiheroes. She's selfish, spiteful, lazy, entitled and completely hilarious. Almost nobody in this book is traditionally likeable, but Flynn somehow manages to find a sympathetic core in her characters. Dark Places is primarily Libby's story in the present, but is intercut with chapters from her sad, exhausted mother's point of view, and from her her angry brother's, on the day of the murders in 1985. Ben's story is especially difficult to read, showcasing as it does the unsavory side of teenage outcasts and suburban metalheads with nothing better to do than get fucked up, have sex, and break things. (Yes, that's what disaffected teens do.) The ludicrous "Satanic Panic" that gripped America for a dozen years or so before the millennium hangs heavy over Ben's conviction -- because of course if he dyed his hair black and listened to Venom and Slayer, it stands to reason he massacred his family for Satan.
Gillian Flynn is a master craftsman of snark-laced suspense, and Dark Places a unique take on the usual thriller. I alternately cackled and winced, as I put the clues together along with Libby and her new friends, traveling across a depressed middle America to confront potential witnesses and accusers, in search of the truth of that horrible night. A truth which, by the way, you won't see coming at all.
This grisly tale of a Miami cop's descent into hell courtesy of palo mayombe* is not for the faint of heart, but it's pretty gut-punch great supernatu...moreThis grisly tale of a Miami cop's descent into hell courtesy of palo mayombe* is not for the faint of heart, but it's pretty gut-punch great supernatural noir. Alas, it's far too short! Looking forward to more from D'Enfer . . . maybe a collection?
*Palo mayombe originated in the African Congo and is said to be the world's most powerful and feared form of black magic. The titular nganga, which is a consecrated cauldron filled with sacred earth, sticks (palos), bones and other items, is dedicated to a specific spiritual energy. This cauldron is also inhabited by a spirit of the Dead, which acts as interface for all magical and religious activities which are performed on the nganga. (less)
Having recently lost his wife and child in a car accident while he was at the wheel, Dr. Sam Hatch is drowning in grief and self-recrimination. Driven...moreHaving recently lost his wife and child in a car accident while he was at the wheel, Dr. Sam Hatch is drowning in grief and self-recrimination. Driven to abandon his old life, Sam has set out on a cross-country journey to nowhere in particular . . . until he finds himself compelled by a ruin of a house on the periphery of Chesapeake Bay. And, despite his uneasy feeling and the local rumors, he also feels compelled to buy it and fix it up. And the rest . . . well, you should read it.
The Mourning House is a real chiller of a haunted house story, boasting excellent detail and atmospherics, as well as a twist you might not see coming. A surprising and original take on what really haunts us. 4.5 stars.(less)
Simply fascinating! I've lived in San Francisco for the better part of the last 20 years, but there is so much I didn't know about my adopted hometown...moreSimply fascinating! I've lived in San Francisco for the better part of the last 20 years, but there is so much I didn't know about my adopted hometown. In newsy, easily digestible chapters, Talbot takes readers on an intimate tour of the highs and lows of Baghdad by the Bay, from the first blush of the Summer of Love to the invention of the cocktail that saved countless suffering HIV patients from certain death. (FYI, while those events make neat emotional bookends, Talbot also covers some earlier socio-political history, mainly to set the context for the revolutionary times that are his focus.) Maybe most importantly, Season of the Witch sheds new light on just how those now-infamous "San Francisco values" came into being.
For his book Talbot interviewed many well-known but disparate locals, including former Mayor, now Senator Dianne Feinstein, writer Armisted Maupin, Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart, and cult survivor Jim Jones, Jr. But he also took the time to talk to lesser-known game-changers like David Smith, founder of the revolutionary Haight Ashbury Free Clinic, and Dr. Paul Volberding, an early hero in the field of AIDS research. Both medical men have harrowing, yet ultimately heartening stories to tell. Talbot also profiles countless other San Franciscans from all walks: black music promoter and patron of the Fillmore district, Charles Sullivan, who gave Bill Graham his first big break by "loaning" him the Fillmore Ballroom on unbooked nights; legendary 49ers coach Bill Walsh, who took the team (and the City) to glory in the 80s; beloved society columnist Herb Caen; and of course liberal political and gay rights martyrs George Moscone and Harvey Milk.
Just like San Francisco weather, the light moments here are interspersed with the dark. The Diggers confound shoplifters with their Haight Ashbury Free Store. Control freak Bill Graham gets dosed at a Grateful Dead show. Mayor Moscone and future Mayor Willie Brown paint the town red. The Cockettes and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence raise eyebrows while raising funds for local causes. The 49ers bring the City back from the edge of despair with a near-miraculous Super Bowl victory. And also: hordes of sick and malnourished flower children live in conditions comparable to Calcutta; the Altamont music festival spirals into a mess of blood and blame; heiress Patty Hearst is kidnapped by the shadowy SLA; and the Zodiac and Zebra killers run amok simultaneously, with a minimum total of 30 victims between them.
But the centerpiece of the book is when Talbot relates, in graphic detail, the two bleakest moments in San Francisco history since the 1906 quake and fire nearly wiped it out: in November 1978, popular Bay Area based preacher Jim Jones led 918 Peoples Temple followers to "revolutionary suicide" in Guyana -- leaving thousands of friends and families bereft. The liberal civic leaders who had been Jones' boosters were mortified. Then, just nine days later, Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk (both still reeling with shock and horror about their association with Jones) were assassinated in their City Hall offices by disgruntled former Supervisor Dan White. Dark days indeed.
I have one small reservation, based on purely personal bias. Nearing the end of his tale, Talbot includes two whole chapters on the birth of the championship-era 49ers (including some play-by-play of the 1982 Superbowl), but only one on the whole arc of the AIDS epidemic. I suppose if you like football that's a treat, but to focus on the struggles of a football team -- even one that may just have saved the morale of this city -- and yet give admittedly moving, but very short shrift to the thousands who died horribly before medicine caught up with liberation seems somehow wrong. But hey, maybe that's just me and my crazy San Francisco values. Overall, a fascinating true tall tale. 4.5 stars.
Odd, quirky, curious, not at all what you'd expect -- these are all ways one might describe The Uninvited Guests. "If you like 'Downton Abbey' then th...moreOdd, quirky, curious, not at all what you'd expect -- these are all ways one might describe The Uninvited Guests. "If you like 'Downton Abbey' then this book is for you" is not. There are surface similarities in a likeable family living in genteel Edwardian near-poverty in a manor house called Sterne, which is too big for its own upkeep -- but it's just really not . . . that. At all.
What it is, is more difficult to say. Is it a comedy of manners? (Yes.) Is it a love story? (Of course it is.) Is it a ghost story? (You decide.) The Uninvited Guests is a whirlwind of all-of-the-above that unfolds over the course of one afternoon, and a dark and stormy night, in 1912. We meet the Torringtons as the Sterne household readies for a feast on eldest daughter Emerald's twentieth birthday; unfortunately, the carefully laid plans are interrupted by news of a terrible train derailment nearby. Instead of a party, the Torringtons wind up with a houseful of displaced, disgruntled, and mysteriously multiplying third-class passengers awaiting rescue. In the course of the night, entanglements are made and broken and made once again, an unwelcome visitor cruelly unveils unspeakable family secrets, class issues rear their ugly heads, a pony named Lady gets into some trouble, a wall is knocked down, and everyone's lives are changed forever.
Shortcomings? There are some. The Torrington family already seems a bit too like a "type," as if borrowed wholesale from an E.M. Forster novel. That's not an inherently bad thing (I adore Forster), but does make for some rather predictable plot-turns when Jones' characters behave, by and large, as expected . . . even in the midst of the unexpected. Also, the villain, a cad in a blood-red waistcoat, actually has a handlebar mustache and actually twirls it. Perhaps that's a postmodern-meta-wink-wink thing, but it feels a bit cheap.
The generic characterizations are somewhat ameliorated by the presence of the youngest Torrington child, Imogen. Smudge, as they call her, is a small free spirit happily engaged in her own (ridiculously messy) "Great Work" as the grownups swirl around chaotically, ignoring her amid the ruckus. Smudge's character and narrative are the most entertaining and well-developed in the novel, and I suspect her story will stick with me a long while after I've forgotten about the elder Torringtons.
All in all, I'll give The Uninvited Guests a full four stars. Ms. Jones has a lovely, dry prose style, and the intermingling of genres is charming in its offbeat way. Unfortunately the characters are pleasant but somewhat indistinct types, the crisis never poses any truly meaningful danger, and the denoument is just a bit pat and predictable. Still, I enjoyed it as an offbeat, fun summer read . . . beware though, it's oodles odder than the book blurbs might imply.
Okay, this is the second book I've read this month which features characters playing the Atari 2600 game "Adventure." The universe is telling me to fi...moreOkay, this is the second book I've read this month which features characters playing the Atari 2600 game "Adventure." The universe is telling me to find a good emulator, because this is clearly an important skill to have.
I just love Lev Grossman's prose -- spiky and funny and lyrical, and without a trace of sentimentality. And he just writes the oddest stories. This one, about an insanely immersive MMORPG and a priceless lost medieval manuscript (two great things that go great together!) is a very clever twist on the "books about books" genre. The ending, though emotionally and thematically satisfying, felt a bit rushed, and left behind a few dangly bits regarding the logistics of the climatic twist. Still, an immensely enjoyable read for anybody who's a geek for games and books.
I have a love/hate relationship with Chuck Palahniuk,as I know many other readers do. The good news is that, though short, "Phoenix" definitely goes i...moreI have a love/hate relationship with Chuck Palahniuk,as I know many other readers do. The good news is that, though short, "Phoenix" definitely goes in the "love" column. Quirky and creepy and hilarious and sad, "Phoenix" tracks the decay and collapse of a modern marriage, and the destruction wrought by one "Belinda Carlisle." (Yes: Belinda Carlisle.)
Just read it . . . when Chuck is good, he's very good.(less)