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.
The tale of a mysterious and deadly "Curse" that ravages the upper crust of Princeton society in 1905 and 1906, Joyce Carol Oates' newest novel plays...moreThe tale of a mysterious and deadly "Curse" that ravages the upper crust of Princeton society in 1905 and 1906, Joyce Carol Oates' newest novel plays with Gothic conventions masterfully. An attempt to patch together the story of those dark years, The Accursed is the manuscript of amateur historian (and descendant of a "Cursed" family) M.W. van Dyck II. He presents a series of excerpts from journals, letters, newspapers, even a coded diary, written during the time of the "Curse," in an attempt to piece together the strange and horrible events that appear to have begun with the abduction of the innocent and beautiful Annabel Slade from the church on her wedding day.
Between the covers you will find demon lovers, murderous jealousy, miscegenation, beckoning apparitions, even a fairy kingdom. Also, an absolutely enormous cast of characters, some entirely fictional, like the sorely afflicted Slade family; others "real," like Woodrow Wilson (at the time President of Princeton University); ex-U.S. President Grover Cleveland; and Socialist writer Upton Sinclair. What I did not expect to find was a darkly satirical commentary on Christian piety, ivory tower backstabbing, gaping class division, the rise of Socialism, and, of course, the "Gothic novel" itself.
The rare sequel I enjoyed more than its predecessor (2011's A Discovery of Witches, which was more a 4/5), the second book in her "All Souls Trilogy"...moreThe rare sequel I enjoyed more than its predecessor (2011's A Discovery of Witches, which was more a 4/5), the second book in her "All Souls Trilogy" gives scientific historian Harkness an even wider canvas on which to strut her stuff. The story of time-walking witch Diana Bishop, her vampire lover Matthew Clairmont, and the search for the mysterious manuscript Ashmole 782 continues. Shadow of Night, however, eschews laboratories and yoga in modern Oxford, instead name-dropping its way around Tudor England and Emperor Rudolf's Prague, where the couple have time-traveled seeking answers about Diana's burgeoning powers, and the manuscript prior to its corruption.
But Diana has difficulty adjusting to the role of women in the 1590s, as well as wife to a 1,500 year old vampire with a host of secret identities. She clashes openly with Kit Marlowe (who is not-so-secretly in love with Matthew), practices alchemy with the Countess of Pembroke, trains her power with a London coven, and (barely) escapes the advances of a certain smitten Hapsburg. (Also present and accounted for? Magicians John Dee and Edward Kelly, Sir Walter Raleigh, Shakespeare and Queen Bess herself, a bit overly fond of Matthew.) The couple also spend some idyllic time at the deClairmont family fortress Sept Tours, where Diana finally meets Matthew's legendary father Philippe (dead since WWII in the present). But Diana's presence in the past -- and her relationship with a vampire -- draw unwanted attention at a time of witch hunts and fear, and forces both human and supernatural threaten danger from all sides.
In other hands all of this might feel like overload, but Harkness's encyclopedic knowledge of the period, deft character sketches (who knew Elizabeth the Great was such a brat?), and an almost supernatural attention to detail transport readers as effortlessly across time as . . . well, a time-walking witch. Also? Diana and Matthew's romance is (finally!) steamier, despite all the layers of muslin and brocade. And there's a dragon! (Sort of.) I thoroughly enjoyed every page. Almost certainly on my Best of 2012 list. (less)
All Men of Genius is a charming foray into a developing genre that might be called "whimsical adult fiction." (See also Gail Carriger, Lev Grossman,...more All Men of Genius is a charming foray into a developing genre that might be called "whimsical adult fiction." (See also Gail Carriger, Lev Grossman, etc.) Drawing on both Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde for tone and characterization, Lev AC Rosen’s debut novel is a sparkling Victorian steampunk concoction of romance, intrigue, cross-dressing, mistaken identity and lots and lots of moving parts – some of them quite dangerous.
When Violet Adams, a talented and visionary young scientist, applies to the exclusive college of Ilyria, she is quite confident of her acceptance. The problem is that Ilyria is an all-male institution, and she has applied under the name of her twin brother Ashton. Can Violet maintain the gender-bending ruse for as long as it takes to prove she (or any woman) is as skillful as any man working in her field? Need I say that complications ensue? If you've ever read Twelfth Night or The Importance of Being Earnest you’ll have a sense of where this is going . . . except you’ll have to add a lot of gears, steam, and creepy subterranean vaults into the equation. (And if you've read neither, it's okay. You'll still enjoy this clever book, and it might inspire you to do so!)
Peopled with lively characters, full of witty banter and romantic mistaken identity, All Men of Genius still has enough dark moments to make it a thrilling steampunk adventure. But don't mistake this book for young adult literature, as despite the book’s comedic tone, some very adult situations are presented without ambiguity: sexual situations (and misunderstandings) abound; booze flows; there is some rather impressively foul language (although it’s mostly from a rabbit); and a great deal of evil-robot perpetrated violence. For sure, this one’s a delight for the all grown-up kids out there, and I’m looking forward to more from Rosen and hope he continues to impress with his unique take on the classics – both literary and sci-fi. (less)
Justin Evans' The White Devil is yet another book I'd like to give 4.5 stars. As the system won't let me, I'll settle for saying it's among my favorit...moreJustin Evans' The White Devil is yet another book I'd like to give 4.5 stars. As the system won't let me, I'll settle for saying it's among my favorites of 2011.
When rebellious seventeen year-old Andrew Taylor is packed off to do his senior year abroad at England's venerable and prestigious Harrow boarding school in hopes of restoring his tarnished record, he knows it will be a strange new experience. What he doesn't anticipate is that his arrival will be the catalyst for a series of eerie and deadly events which are -- somehow -- related to one of Harrow's most notorious alumni: the boy who would become the "mad, bad and dangerous to know" Lord Byron.
Part literary mystery and part ghost story, The White Devil is suspenseful, literate, creepy and melancholy all at once. And, while I thoroughly enjoyed Evans' debut novel, A Good and Happy Child, I think that with his second he has definitely become an author to watch. Again, I say 4.5 stars.