Author Justine Graykin describes this novel as, "a story for grown-ups who are tired of grown-up books." At a time when it seems that every kind of fi...moreAuthor Justine Graykin describes this novel as, "a story for grown-ups who are tired of grown-up books." At a time when it seems that every kind of fiction from literary to YA to fantasy finds it necessary to rub its readers' noses in endless sex, trauma, violence and dirt, Archimedes Nesselrode provides a welcome respite. This gentle love story between two quirky characters is reminiscent of an earlier school of writing. At the same time, there is more going on here than meets the eye.
Thirty-two year old Vivian Mare was born into service, as they used to say. Her unmarried mother traveled the world as the personal maid and secretary of a benign and tolerant wealthy couple, and Vivian spent her childhood traveling with them. When she came of age, Vivian pursued the same line of work as her mother, taking positions in the households of the rich and famous, but she never stayed very long. No employer was as interesting as the peripatetic travel writers she grew up with. She is therefore unconcerned when Frank Shekel, agent for a mysterious and reclusive artist, warns her that the home in which she is about to become housekeeper is rather…strange.
To say the least. When Vivian—or Ms. Mare as she is usually addressed—arrives at Mr. Nesselrode's "rather old, three-story New Englander" house, she immediately enters a Wonderland of oddities. Hidden by a wildly overgrown garden and badly in need of upkeep, the house is surrounded and filled with fantastic creatures. A basilisk guards against intruders while miniature blue sheep keep the grass trimmed. A heron wearing a long skirt and spectacles takes care of Mr. Nesselrode. A giant starfish, a winged snake, an outsized emerald-green lobster and a troop of unruly marmosets roam the house along with seven cats.
All of these creatures—except the cats—have been created by Archimedes Nesselrode, who has the ability to transform inanimate matter into living, sentient and autonomous creatures. His fame as an artist rests on clear plastic cubes containing delicate illusions of fabulous animals and plants which interact with the observer but have no substance. These are exhibited and sold to collectors for enormous prices, but the live creations are for Mr. Nesselrode's companionship only.
The no-nonsense and business-like Vivian overcomes her initial shock very quickly. At last she's found a situation stimulating enough to hold her attention. She launches into returning the disgracefully neglected house (in the state you'd expect from a bachelor artist who's lived alone for ten years) to a civilized condition, and more gradually adjusts to living with Mr. Nesselrode's creatures—and their master.
Archimedes Nesselrode himself is tall, pale and slender, seemingly vulnerable and fragile, hiding from the world. As Vivian discovers when she looks up old news stories, he had once been a flamboyant showman until some obscure crisis ten years earlier led to his secluding himself. He never leaves his property. As time passes, Vivian learns more about her employer, his past and his strange powers, and is drawn into the magical world he not only inhabits, but entirely creates. But Vivian is changing Mr. Nesselrode's delicate equilibrium as much as he is changing her. Consequently, the real world, in the form of art galleries, reporters, dentist appointments and old entanglements, pulls Mr. Nesselrode out of his refuge, with unforeseeable results.
The story is written in a consciously archaic vernacular, suggestive of fantasies published a century or so ago, but always clear and accessible. The time period remains hazy. Although the narrative presumably takes place in the present day, very little technology or other details are mentioned that pinpoint a date any more closely than "late 20th century to present." Mr. Nesselrode's house has a phone, but no television. Vivian does her research at the library, and she keeps in touch with her mother via written letters. Mr. Nesselrode's car is an antique. Very little in the book interferes with the sense that we're in a slightly alternate reality, one in which Mr. Nesselrode can create the things he does and be greeted with amazement rather than paranoid suspicion or abduction by some shadowy government laboratory.
The book presents a lovely, and only somewhat metaphorical, portrait of the mind and lifestyle of an artist. Mr. Nesselrode's sensitivity and daily existence ring with familiar tones to anyone in the real world who is truly creative as an artist or writer. We all know that sense of joy in doing the impossible, the compulsion to bring something into being that no one else has even thought of before, and the shifted consciousness that renders so much of the world and other people incomprehensible. But along with this, Archimedes Nesselrode challenges us to accept people with unusual limitations and qualities for what and who they are. It's very tempting to feel that people who are "different" should be "fixed." But what if being "fixed" destroys the essence of their beings? Is "different" the same as "damaged?"
Invoking shades of the play Harvey, the Mary Poppins books (which are heavily imbued with the philosophies of G.I. Gurdjieff) and one of my all-time favorite "grown-up" fantasies, John Bellairs' The Face in the Frost, Archimedes Nesselrode is a rare pleasure for modern-day readers. Justine Graykin will make you believe that love and art truly can make a better world, even if only by the light of the full moon. (First published on Blogcritics) (less)
Since I'm publishing this book, I can't fairly "review" it. But I can talk about what I like about it, and why I think other readers might enjoy it, a...moreSince I'm publishing this book, I can't fairly "review" it. But I can talk about what I like about it, and why I think other readers might enjoy it, as well.
City of Promise drops you into an entirely different world right from the first page. The city of Gideon is a character in its own right, a wholly novel idea. Founded and governed entirely by scientists, there is a hint that it was created as a bastion of rationality in a world of violence and superstition. Gideon is positioned in a part of the Atlantic ocean where it can never be claimed by any other country. Prough's descriptions of the technology and engineering that make it possible are so plausible, you believe it could be built right now.
In the 1970s, city planners in Boston, Massachusetts proposed a floating extension of the city out into the harbor which would include full-sized buildings, streets and utilities all sitting on the water itself. This ended up not happening for a number of reasons, but the notion of a floating metropolis isn't so far from reality.
Misty Sauval narrates the story in the first person, and immediately caught my emotions; she is essentially an "orphan" and a refugee. Gideon is the only place on earth that accepts vampires as members of society. Misty works at a menial, strenuous job because such jobs exploit vampires' special abilities while keeping them in their place, and they can't complain; she conforms to restrictions in her diet and behavior because the consequences are severe; she's lonely and conflicted. But she's also strong, smart and resourceful, the kind of protagonist we enjoy identifying with.
Vampire stories seldom overlap with science-fiction, although there have been a few such books and movies in recent years. Because the vampire represents immortality for most people, vampire stories generally look backward at the past, rarely into the future. Futuristic vampire tales tend to be dystopian and the vampires more along the lines of ravening zombies. City of Promise combines a science-fiction futuristic setting with sympathetic vampire characters as successfully as I've ever seen it done. I was especially interested because my own novels are realistic contemporary fantasy, and my vampire characters are already looking ahead to how they'll cope in a highly technological world where privacy may be hard to retain. The vampires in City of Promise don't have it easy.
City of Promise is an action-packed tale, so much so that by the last third of the book, I had to stop and remind myself how little time had actually passed, so much had happened. It certainly keeps moving. All the necessary exposition about the fictional universe itself is deftly woven into the narrative. I'd have loved to know more about a lot of it, but that would have slowed the story down. I'm looking forward to Prough's next book.(less)
I found this whole series of "cozies" by Dean James to be highly entertaining. I can't remember how I first discovered this one, the first in the seri...moreI found this whole series of "cozies" by Dean James to be highly entertaining. I can't remember how I first discovered this one, the first in the series, but I couldn't wait until each of the next three were released. Of course they're a bit on the silly side, but that's the whole fun of the cozy mystery genre. The set-up and cast of characters reminded me very much of Anne Fraser's fiction, but a bit more light-hearted. They're also very reminiscent of Midsomer Murders, a series to which I am utterly addicted.
Simon Kirby-Jones is an American historian and professional writer who has emigrated to the quirky small English village of Snupperton Mumsley after his "sire" gives him a cottage there. With his vampiric disadvantages controlled by medication--thanks to a global vampire underground which is only peripheral to the story--he doesn't need to chow down on the neighbors and is able to stroll about in the daytime, although he spends his nights working hard at his keyboard. Simon is a very disciplined writer with both fiction and nonfiction to his credit under several different names. In this first book of the series, Simon becomes involved in the mysterious death of the local postmistress, who, it turns out, had been been less than respectful of confidentiality. He also discovers that he may not be the only vampire in the village.
As this is a mystery, saying anything more wouldn't be fair. But I'm always delighted to see an author do something unique and different with the vampire trope, and I recommend this to anyone who enjoys cozy mysteries and vampires that don't fit the well-trodden paranormal romance, urban fantasy or horror stereotypes. The positive depiction of a gay protagonist is also a refreshing treat.(less)
I read this book chiefly for its example of contemporary writing style and attitudes in a "free press" publication in the late 1960s. I bought a used...moreI read this book chiefly for its example of contemporary writing style and attitudes in a "free press" publication in the late 1960s. I bought a used copy planning to cherry-pick the essays and ended up reading it straight through. Read in retrospective, it's a fascinating picture of how much some things have changed and how much (depressingly) some others have not. I'm old enough to remember most of the TV shows that Ellison discusses, and in some cases, I wish he'd gone into more detail (he reserves the detail for the stuff he didn't like). For instance, I also loved the show "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir," principally because of star Edward Mulhare; but I'm surprised that Harlan Ellison, of all people, liked it so much. He never really says why!
The essays not only paint a picture of how a certain type of person thought in 1969, but of Ellison himself; there are essays in which he is clearly oblivious to the way he appears and sounds to others around him, and any conflicts he runs into are entirely the fault of the dunderheads he's forced to deal with. Like many self-justified confrontational people, Ellison is not familiar with the notion of "disarm and conquer." But that was typical of the times--except for the fact that Ellison was at least 10 years older than most of the contemporary exemplars of this approach. But at least he wasn't blowing anything up. (At least not *literally.* He did a pretty good job "blowing up" the Writer's Guild and Dayton, Ohio.)
We see where the 1970s and the "P.C." mania have brought us with Ellison's statements about "chicks," sex and casual use of the "n word". Anyone who wrote stuff like that today would be anathematized and probably get death threats. His forecasts of where the future might be leading--either in general assumptions or in a piece he wrote for a magazine speculating about the year 1980--are amusingly, and sometimes sadly, short-sighted. But as such, they're an object lesson about the way we all generalize trends from our own present-moment concerns. Ellison's imagination of 1980, for example, includes a never-ending Vietnam war, Nixon still in office, rationing, and "dissidents" all forced underground and hunted down by law enforcement like resisters in WWII France. He had no idea what really lay just a few years ahead: Watergate, the oil embargo, the Recession, the rise of militant Islamic fundamentalism, the Carter administration and the birth of the 1980s with his Nemesis, then-Governor Reagan, elected to the White House.
This book and its sequel (The Other Glass Teat) are not easy to find, and now I want to read the second book!(less)
Fascinating memoir of Todd Gitlin's journey through the radical movements of the 1960s. I especially appreciated the detail about the very early perio...moreFascinating memoir of Todd Gitlin's journey through the radical movements of the 1960s. I especially appreciated the detail about the very early period, late 50s and early 60s, which are often disregarded in popular treatments of the era. Gitlin's writing is very literary/academic in style, and is consistent with a lot of other writing from the 1960s, something that I think many people would be surprised by. The driving personalities of that time were college students and extremely intelligent young adults, and they tended to be both extreme and intellectual at the same time, heavy readers of dense political material and endless debaters. This is a stark difference from the current trend to not read at all and think in highly simplistic and "dumbed down" terms.
I'd give this work five stars except that it's a bit over-written; Gitlin, who reports being a veteran of many meetings that literally ran for days without stopping, tends to analyze and pontificate a bit more than he needs to. But his personal familiarity with exactly what went on in the radical movement, how the people involved thought about the world and where they came from is priceless. I hadn't realized how much was contributed by "red diaper babies:" adult children of the previous generation of radical leftists. I only regret that Gitlin was not able to give us the same direct insight into the Weather Underground--he was left behind when that group hived off from SDS.(less)
Gina Covella, the Macy's-worshipping teen fashionista from Ohio turned vampire after an imprudent neck-nibbling, is back for a third adventure, and it...moreGina Covella, the Macy's-worshipping teen fashionista from Ohio turned vampire after an imprudent neck-nibbling, is back for a third adventure, and it's a delight. Author Lucienne Diver improves with each new book, and her characters are growing and becoming more real and likeable as the series continues.
Fangtastic launches right into the action one week after the conclusion of ReVamped, during which the young vampire team have been recuperating with spa treatments and pedicures (well, Gina and her friend Marcy, at least, Bobby not so much). They're yanked out of their R&R by news reports of a grisly multiple murder of a family in Tampa, Florida. The Feds who "handle" the young vampires tell them that the chief suspect in the murders is a seventeen-year-old high school student who hangs out with the "vampire community" in the area.
By that, they don't mean undead vampires like Gina, but, as one Fed explains, "people who behave like vampires--both energy vampires and bloodsuckers with prosthetic fangs" who frequent a Goth club in Tampa. The twist is that the club itself is owned and run by real vampires, the ones who are so interested in Gina and Bobby. The Feds tell the V-team that they have two objectives: catch the perpetrators of the murder, and infiltrate the group of vampires running the club. To do both, their plan is to have Gina get in to see the vampires and promise them that she'll persuade Bobby to join them if they'll cooperate with her.
In short order (no offense intended to five-foot-tall Gina), the team and their "handlers" are all down in Tampa, with false names and identities and a rockin' Goth wardrobe to get into the club. Gina quickly hits it off with some of the "human vampires," but within minutes she's been spotted by the real vamps thanks to not showing up on security cameras. She makes her scripted proposal only to wind up locked in a cell in the club basement.
The plot from here is almost as complicated as the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie, and readers are advised to stay alert. You probably won't be surprised that the Feds end up not being what they seem, and the V-Team is in one big world of trouble. They get some help from an unexpected source, however, and Gina discovers some vampire talents that she never realized she had.
Although this book, like the first two, is YA, Diver dials up the heat level a bit with more directly suggested (although still off-screen) romantic activity between Gina and Bobby, as well as Marcy and one of the Feds who gets attached to her. While it makes sense for the characters as their relationship evolves, Gina does get just a bit obsessive over Bobby and all his wonderful qualities, and the atmosphere sometimes thickens toward the steamy side.
Fangtastic ends with all the characters and the plot very much in motion. I'm intensely interested to see what happens next. (less)
So far, this book is an absolute trip (if you'll pardon the expression :) ). As you can see from my "read" shelf, I've already gone through a whole pi...moreSo far, this book is an absolute trip (if you'll pardon the expression :) ). As you can see from my "read" shelf, I've already gone through a whole pile of books about the 60s and drugs specifically, so I recognize lots of the names and references. At the same time, this book fills in huge amounts of back-story and sidebars that the others did not, so it's not at all redundant. The descriptions of the drug-smuggling operations from and/or through Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey and so on are mesmerizing, not least because of the contrast between what those places were like in the 1960s as opposed to the situation now. I'll have to expand this review after I finish the book, I'm just past the middle now.(less)