My first Charles de Lint! I'll call it a three, but really it's islands of five floating in a sea of two, if that makes any sense. Some moments of ama...moreMy first Charles de Lint! I'll call it a three, but really it's islands of five floating in a sea of two, if that makes any sense. Some moments of amazing beauty and emotion, and a sense of real wonder, held back by some slow pacing and characters who did annoyingly irrational things. I wonder if both those perceived flaws were due to this book being fairly early in his career. I'm definitely in the market to read more de Lint, but I think I'll be moving from this one to his more recent work, rather than backwards to his earlier.(less)
I'm conflicted. Wheaton is funny, nakedly confessional, and as someone of almost my same exact age, shares a wealth of common cultural reference point...moreI'm conflicted. Wheaton is funny, nakedly confessional, and as someone of almost my same exact age, shares a wealth of common cultural reference points with me.
However, the actual structure of the Just a Geek kind of bothered me. Large swaths of the book consisted of him reproducing entries from his blog, and meta-blogging about them from his current point of view. I think I would have found it more interesting if I had been a follower of his blog, but getting both the old Wil and the new Wil back-to-back reduced the impact.
Still a quick read, and a fascinating look into Wil's life as a "has-been."(less)
Fun, funny, gross, and fascinating. I enjoyed this one enormously; probably even more than I enjoyed Stiff, the other Mary Roach book I've read to dat...moreFun, funny, gross, and fascinating. I enjoyed this one enormously; probably even more than I enjoyed Stiff, the other Mary Roach book I've read to date.
What I enjoy about Mary Roach among other gee-whiz writers of popular science, language, or history (Bill Bryson, Sarah Vowell, &c.) is that Mary always seems to be the perfect stand-in for her readers as she travels and researches. By that I mean that she always seems to ask the questions I would have wanted to ask, raise the same concerns that occur to me, even make the same jokes I would have (if a bit more cleverly than I would have managed). It makes her a tremendously readable writer, and it leaves me wanting to become a Roach completist.(less)
This little novella is the "coda" to Beagle's masterpiece The Last Unicorn, and while it came out over three decades later, I just finished reading th...moreThis little novella is the "coda" to Beagle's masterpiece The Last Unicorn, and while it came out over three decades later, I just finished reading the two of them for the first time, back to back.
It's a lovely story, told by the protagonist, a nine-year old girl named Sooz. It trades the overwhelming power of the prose in The Last Unicorn for a smaller, more humble narrative voice that, while not quite as spellbinding, is still charming and memorable. Sooz herself is clever, brave and spunky, and Beagle manages to paint her as such with admirably few brush strokes. All our best (surviving) friends from The Last Unicorn appear, and the story line is laid to rest in a beautifully bittersweet manner. The end.
The book itself is much more of a straightforward adventure story/fairy tale than its predecessor; there's none of the self-referential, winking, anachronistic humor here. As a completely different look at the world of The Last Unicorn - different time, different perspective, same people and places - it was fascinating. It shows Peter S. Beagle's world to be a place that might have unlimited stories in it, the same way Middle Earth seems to.(less)
Wow. WOW. I had no idea. My head is spinning a little.
I'm trying to restrain myself from gushing with superlatives here, and failing. Best book I've r...moreWow. WOW. I had no idea. My head is spinning a little.
I'm trying to restrain myself from gushing with superlatives here, and failing. Best book I've read for the first time in the past year. Best modern fairy tale I've ever read. One of the best fantasy books I've read, period.
I was of course already very familiar with the 1980s animated film version of this book, and have loved it since I was a kid (in spite of the cheesy America soundtrack). I'd been meaning to read the book for decades, and when it came up as part of the second Humble Ebook bundle, all of a sudden it was easy, which is usually the way I actually get around to doing things.
I'm not sure exactly what I expected from this book. Certainly, I expected to enjoy it - I don't go out of my way to read lousy books - but I don't think I expected to be blown away, and blown away I was. You know that feeling you get when you begin to read a new book, and somewhere in the first page or three you have to catch your breath, because you realize you've been holding it? This book gave me that spellbound feeling, and it's largely thanks to Beagle's command of language. The prose here is gorgeous: without being overtly flowery or poetic, it simply flows, and overflows with power. Description is vivid and lovely, dialogue is natural and riveting, and Beagle has a knack for dropping made-up words, or "wrong" words, in such a way that they make sense and are all of a sudden the perfect, the only word for the occasion. The only other author I can think of right now with a similar touch is Neil Gaiman - though, of course, Peter S. Beagle came first, and the influence is apparent.
And speaking of Gaiman, this book is the same kind of smart, humorously self-aware modern take on the classic fairy tale as his excellent Stardust (among others of his work) or William Goldman's The Princess Bride. In fact, in terms of tone I'd kind of place it between the two: less winking than Goldman, less straightly played than Gaiman, but superior to either of them - and that's saying a lot, as I adore both of those books. Maybe superior isn't the word for it so much as greater, because beyond merely being an enchanting and entertaining story, The Last Unicorn succeeds as a deep and timeless fable about death, change, love, faith, dreams and courage.
This book was simply a delight - even knowing from the beginning what was going to happen (and the film hews pretty much exactly to the book, right down to the dialogue), I found myself eagerly turning (well, swiping) the pages. The Last Unicorn is jammed with so many humorous, unexpected, and wise turns of phrase that I gave up on highlighting passages about halfway through. I laughed, I cried, I finished and was delighted to find out there's a sequel (and that I'd already bought it without knowing). Five stars and my highest possible recommendation for this book, whether you like fantasy or not.(less)
Interesting read. It was fascinating to read this after having read 2000's On Writing. King's voice is different here, as in 1983 he was a rocket-hot...moreInteresting read. It was fascinating to read this after having read 2000's On Writing. King's voice is different here, as in 1983 he was a rocket-hot best-selling author still in his thirties, rather than an established best-selling author in his fifties. Here he writes like a man with something to prove, to himself as well as you. Also, this book was clearly written before King openly recognized he was an alcoholic, as he rather gleefully mentions multiple instances of getting shitfaced.
The book itself is meandering and discursive, and it reads more like a set of informal lectures than a "proper" work of literary criticism. King touches on thirty years of horror in the form of films, television shows, and books, taking a few examples of each medium and discussing them at length. In keeping with King's utter inability to write about anything other than himself (that sounds snide, but it's a wonderful quality and I mean it as a compliment), he discusses many of these pieces in terms of how they shaped him as a person and a writer.
Perhaps the best compliment I can pay this book is that it made me wish I were more familiar with the material discussed. It made me want to become a Roger Corman completist, a Twilight Zone completist, reread Frankenstein with a kinder eye, and then come back and read this book again.
King also takes aim at the notion that violent or horrific media cause violent and horrific acts. In an reasoned yet impassioned essay, he argues that if anything, horror fiction serves as a release valve rather than a focus for violent feelings. It's one of the best parts of the book.
I enjoyed this book, not quite as much as On Writing, but well worth the read, as a glimpse both into the horror genre, and King's own development as an author.(less)
Let me lead right off by saying that I've never read a book like this before. By that, I don't mean "I've never read a book with this particular setti...moreLet me lead right off by saying that I've never read a book like this before. By that, I don't mean "I've never read a book with this particular setting or plot before," but more generally, "I have never read a romance novel before," nor anything that might in a million years be termed chick-lit. Not once.
So, in that light, Sealed with a Kiss serves as my introduction not only to debuting novelist Rachael Lucas, but to an entire genre of fiction. And I now propose to draw sweeping conclusions about both, based solely on this one book. (No pressure, Ms. Lucas.)
The first thing that popped right off the page and into my face was the language. In a good way. I think I may have brought some negative bias to the table in that my expectations of the quality of writing in a "chick book" were fairly modest. I was pleasantly surprised, though: Lucas's prose is effortlessly smooth, humorous, peppered with cheerfully exotic (to my ear) terms such as "loo roll," "snog," and "loudhailer." She excels in description, constantly pulling the reader into her world with vivid simile and metaphor that managed to be surprising yet felt instantly familiar. The reader, much like the protagonist, finds him- or herself in a place that is new, yet at the same time warm and inviting.
Perhaps most surprising - and most impressive for a first novel - the dialogue in Sealed with a Kiss is excellent. Economical, streamlined, and always with the authentic ring of actual conversation. As this is a book whose plot necessarily hinges on verbal interactions between the characters, clunky dialogue would have been the kiss of death, but Lucas handles it deftly. In fact, I would say that Rachael Lucas shows writing chops here that would serve her well in just about any literary genre she chose. Though this is her first published novel, I would venture a guess that she's an experienced writer.
I can't remember if the blurb described this book as "breezy," but I certainly do. I normally seem to gravitate to novels with Big Conflict: novels where the protagonists are fighting for their lives, freedom, souls, or sanity; where they're trying to save the whole planet from destruction, keep an innocent man from being lynched, or cast the One Ring into the fires from whence it came. So it was a stark contrast, reading a book where the main questions were: Will Kate get the guy? If so, which guy? And will she learn a little about herself in the process? Also, what is that nasty bitch Fiona up to?
A story where the stakes are so comparatively small maintains interest based mostly on how deeply the reader buys into the characters. Luckily, there is where the author's strong powers of description and good ear for dialogue pay off, as the characters here seem nuanced and three-dimensional, familiar as old friends. It's another thing that pleasantly surprised me, as I sort of expected the characters in a romance novel to be cartoonish, one-note hunks or hags.
Which is not to say the people are all realistic. All the main male characters are uniformly described as gorgeous, to the point that Kate winks at the fourth wall by musing that the island seems to be some sort of absurd Hot Dude Refuge and Game Preserve (OK, my wording there). And the main love interest, Roderick, had me pinching the bridge of my nose with his over-the-topness. By the time he'd been put forth as...
1) strikingly handsome 2) a real Scottish laird 3) funny 4) but with a wounded heart, waiting for the right girl to come and heal his hidden pain
...I was near the breaking point, so when "Oh, by the way, he rescues adorable orphaned seals in his spare time" was added to the pile, I admit to snorting out loud incredulously. No dude is that perfect, otherwise what hope is there for the rest of us? But I have the feeling that my quibble here is with the conventions of the genre; one might as well look at Maxim magazine and complain that all the girls are too airbrushed and collagened. To buy a copy of Maxim is to subscribe to a certain brand of pleasant fantasy, and so perhaps is to read a romance novel.
At any rate! Three stars, and that doesn't really convey what an enjoyable read this was. I heartily recommend this book to anyone who is an aficionado of this genre, and it's a fun read even if you aren't. Rachael Lucas's voice here is warm, humorous - and tender when the moment calls for it. I'd happily read her next novel.
PS - Oh, and final kudos to the adorable cover art. Cover images for e-books in particular can be of such varying quality, from eye-catching art to slapdash home Photoshop work. Yet much like the label on a wine bottle, the cover art of an e-book is the first and sometimes the only chance to set itself apart from all the rest, for better or worse.(less)
Kurt Vonnegut's books always feel to me a bit like a Coen Brothers movie does (or did anyway, before the bros started applying themselves to more conv...moreKurt Vonnegut's books always feel to me a bit like a Coen Brothers movie does (or did anyway, before the bros started applying themselves to more conventional material such as No Country for Old Men and True Grit): like a headfirst plunge into a weird world, full of odd people and off-kilter conversations, yet a world which feels instantly familiar and believable. And much like watching one of their movies, one inevitably realizes while reading a book like Breakfast of Champions that in the midst of all the oddments and black humor, some very sharp observations are being made about humans and how we live with ourselves and each other.
What else to say? Well...my own politics line up fairly well with Vonnegut's, so that was an easy pill to swallow. Also, he obliterates the fourth wall here in a way that is brazen and extreme even for him. I'd rate this one just a touch behind Slaughterhouse-Five, but not much. It was a delightful, eye-opening read.(less)
The book is broken into five parts: one, a history of Stone, as retold by people who were there; two, a detailed description of the elements of beer,...moreThe book is broken into five parts: one, a history of Stone, as retold by people who were there; two, a detailed description of the elements of beer, including malt, hops, and yeast; three, a set of recipes from their brewpub/bistro; four, a description of every beer they've ever released, including one-off brews; and five, a set of detailed recipes and instructions for brewing several of their beers at home.
The first part was entertaining and fascinating, the food recipes look great, and the beer recipes are a ballsy move and would probably be pure gold for me if I was a home brewer. The beer descriptions section got pretty repetitive after a while - after the eighth or tenth "and for THIS year, we made it even hoppier and stronger!" they started to run together for me.
All in all, a fun book, though. Would read again - at least the recipes!(less)
I would have enjoyed this book much more if I had not come to it expecting a Neal Stephenson book. It has none of Stephenson's gonzo over-the-top-ness...moreI would have enjoyed this book much more if I had not come to it expecting a Neal Stephenson book. It has none of Stephenson's gonzo over-the-top-ness, nor his didacticism; none of his manic rambles, twenty-page asides, or enormous math-based research dumps. It has precious little of his trademark humor and gleeful geekery. In fact, the only real Stephenson trademark in evidence here is an abundance of hypercompetent badasses doing their thing - here it's alchemists and swordfighters rather than hackers or codebreakers, but it's very much the same feel.
However, those complaints aside, this was still a fun story, full of action, and I'll probably read the next book in the series.(less)
Lots of high humor, low humor, and a generous dash of unexpected pathos from this short, fast-moving book. I've never knowingly read any of his online...moreLots of high humor, low humor, and a generous dash of unexpected pathos from this short, fast-moving book. I've never knowingly read any of his online work, so this was my first exposure to Justin Halpern. The best way I can describe Halpern's voice is "straight, athletic David Sedaris."(less)
I'm conflicted on this one. On the one hand, it was lovely to dip my feet back into the bizarre, surreal, yet instantly-familiar realm of Mid-World. I...moreI'm conflicted on this one. On the one hand, it was lovely to dip my feet back into the bizarre, surreal, yet instantly-familiar realm of Mid-World. It's also amusing to see King continue to give shout-outs to other authors' works in the Dark Tower series. On top of such earlier references as Aslan and golden "Sneetches," it's obvious that Steve has been reading some George R.R. Martin; how better to say "winter is coming" than with a starkblast? Rather than plagiarism, homage, or mere toadying to his author friends, these little name-drops always give me the impression that I'm never closer to seeing the unfiltered, uncensored landscape of King's subconscious as when I'm reading one of the Dark Tower books. And, as always, King is an effortlessly engaging writer: funny, scary, tender, sexy, or gross, as the situation requires. King could write a three-star (three stars from me, anyway) book in his sleep.
Which it kind of feels as if he did, in this case. This book feels...hastily done, and not just because it's short. I was excited once I realized it was a flashback story, since Wizard and Glass is my favorite book in the series and one of my favorite Stephen King books, period. However, the intriguing, Inception-esque story within a story within a story premise fails, to me at least, because it feels as though he breaks voice repeatedly. The narration is not convincingly Roland - neither the old-Roland story nor the young-Roland one.
Nonetheless, still a very enjoyable story, and I'll take more Dark Tower any way I can get it.(less)
Painful. Harrowing. Asked a lot of hard questions: both big and small; personal, philosophical, and political - questions that don't have any comforta...morePainful. Harrowing. Asked a lot of hard questions: both big and small; personal, philosophical, and political - questions that don't have any comfortable answers. Similar to The Remains of the Day in its ultra-simple, direct language; in its extremely intimate relationship between reader and narrator; and in the beautiful, elegiac sadness shining from every page. Different from it in that, when I finished The Remains of the Day, I was able to bask in that sadness for a while, then put it down and walk away, whereas I can't stop thinking about this book.(less)
If it's possible to be disappointed by a four-star book, I was by After Dark. It was a riveting read: fast, vivid, visceral, quickly and completely dr...moreIf it's possible to be disappointed by a four-star book, I was by After Dark. It was a riveting read: fast, vivid, visceral, quickly and completely drawing me into its world. The point of view, expanding, contracting, and squeezing through cracks like some sort of liquid camera, was especially compelling. I can't speak or read Japanese, so I can't say whether or not the translation here is accurate, but it's a damn fine piece of English writing either way.
Halfway through this book, I fully expected to find it a five-star classic. Yet, by the time I finished it, I couldn't help wishing this story were somehow...more. The story built towards a crescendo that simply fizzled. No Stephen King- or Brandon Sanderson-esque explosive climax, nor even a Kazuo Ishiguro-style symphony of subtlety and restraint. Just kind of a wet plop. Not enough to ruin this excellent book, by any stretch; just a bit of a head-scratcher. Nonetheless, I'm definitely interested in reading more Murakami.(less)
I can't add anything to the huge library of literary criticism and other scholarly material that has been written about this most famous and acclaimed...moreI can't add anything to the huge library of literary criticism and other scholarly material that has been written about this most famous and acclaimed of American novels, so I feel that frees me from having to try.
However, its reputation is well deserved, as this book is pretty much pure greatness from start to finish. Exhibit A: when I read books on my Kindle, I am in the habit of highlighting passages that are especially profound, memorable, or amusing, for later reflection. I quit doing that 25% of the way into Moby-Dick because I suddenly realized I was highlighting almost half of every page. Rather than talk out of my depth about symbolism and theme, I'll just say this book was a whole hell of a lot more fun to read than most "great" 19th century novels. Compared to The Last of the Mohicans or Frankenstein, for example, Moby-Dick is witty, clever, relatively fast-paced for such a large work, and enormously entertaining. I'm certain it's the earliest-published book ever to make me laugh out loud, which is impressive, as the language of humor tends to age so quickly and so poorly.
So don't be afraid; head down to your bookstore today and grab yourself some Dick. You won't regret it!(less)
This is another of those books that's so acclaimed, and that I'm coming to so long after the fact, that it seems most of my friends have read it alrea...moreThis is another of those books that's so acclaimed, and that I'm coming to so long after the fact, that it seems most of my friends have read it already - or at least seen the film. (I hadn't done that either!) So that frees me from feeling as though I have to tell anybody what the book is about, and allows me instead to just give my general impression.
This is a beautiful, subtle, and melancholy little book. I enjoyed being pulled in, slowly, by the protagonist's voice and discovering, bit by bit, that he was not so perfectly reliable a narrator after all. The unrelentingly gentle tone of the narration sort of added a cottony padding to everything in the story: the tense parts as well the funny parts, and by the time the crushingly sad resolution came along, it felt almost like...I don't know...getting beaten to death with a pillow.
I imagine I'll pick up some more Ishiguro now. Getting beaten to death with pillows is kind of like Pringles that way.
Side Note: The Kindle edition, at least the one I read, was full of mechanical errors, to the point that it was distracting and annoying at times. In the flow of a beautifully crafted passage, to notice missing spaces or stray punctuation, or to have to re-read to figure out who said what, due to lack of indents, felt like tripping on cracks in pavement.(less)
OK, I give up…(checking)…81% of the way through. Bag this book.
I grabbed Princess of Mars on Gutenberg.org, because it was in the Top Downloads chart,...moreOK, I give up…(checking)…81% of the way through. Bag this book.
I grabbed Princess of Mars on Gutenberg.org, because it was in the Top Downloads chart, and because I’d never read any Burroughs before. (I realized a day or two later that it was being downloaded heavily because there’s a film adaptation out now.)
Having recently read a ton of fiction from the century spanning roughly 1820-1920, including a lot of pioneering science fiction, and having enjoyed most of it, I expected about the same from Princess of Mars: an enjoyable story rich with references to its time, probably loaded with amusingly quaint touches like hokey science and corny dialogue. And it didn’t disappoint on the “hokey” front, what with the chariot-riding, pistol toting Martians and all. But it failed to grab me, and ultimately I bogged down out of sheer boredom. It read almost like a (mediocre) Western novel in which the places and people had been hastily switched at the last minute to create a “Martian” setting. (I understand this was not the case, just saying that’s how it felt.) I can definitely tell this stuff must have been an influence on L. Ron Hubbard.
Having given this book an honest try, I don’t think I’ll be finishing it, let alone picking up one of the apparently 317 sequels. If I want my old-school fix, I’ll stick to Wells-Verne-Stevenson-Stoker and company. (less)
What an odd experience, reading this book. It was unmistakably King: never having read any Peter Straub, I might not be able to identify his influence...moreWhat an odd experience, reading this book. It was unmistakably King: never having read any Peter Straub, I might not be able to identify his influence here anyway, but this book felt just like every other Stephen King book.
And, incidentally, "just like every other Stephen King book" is how I would describe The Talisman's plot. This novel is like a shambling Frankenstein's monster, rudely stitched together out of concepts and plot points from the rest of King's oeuvre. From the Shining-esque beginning, with the family holed up in the deserted off-season resort hotel and the mysterious old black man who seems to know something special about the kid; to the interminable, dimension-hopping road trip second act, reminiscent of The Stand; to the here-at-the-nexus-of-all-possible-worlds climax (which almost feels like King taking an early dry run at the apocalyptic end of The Dark Tower), almost everything here felt familiar. Throw in another few of his favorite themes - childhood friendship overcoming horrible supernatural menace, crazy evil religious nutcases, etc. - and the King grab bag is complete.
An exciting read while it lasted, except in the places where it was overlong, but nothing to hook me into reading the rest of the (trilogy?) series.(less)
I’ve spent the last couple of years catching up on famous pieces of literature that, for whatever reason, I never got around to before, especially tho...moreI’ve spent the last couple of years catching up on famous pieces of literature that, for whatever reason, I never got around to before, especially those that are ubiquitous cultural touchstones. A lifetime of making casual references to Sherlock Holmes, Jekyll and Hyde, The Last of the Mohicans, and so forth, without actually having read the works in question, always left me feeling like a bit of a poser each time I caught myself doing so. And for some reason, that guilty feeling was never stronger than when I would refer to something as "Kafka-esque," knowing I had never read any Kafka. It made me feel like such a huge poser that I actually crossed over into being a poseur, which, as everyone knows, is far worse.
So I finally sat down to read Kafka’s most famous work, the short novel Metamorphosis, and it’s everything I had ever meant to express by invoking the man's name: absurd, dark, grotesque, and humorous only in the blackest possible sense of the word.
I was, of course, already familiar with the very famous first line of the book, translated in my edition as, "One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin." I think I had imagined, before reading, that the book would jump from that absurd beginning immediately in some other direction, but it doesn’t. It’s a good 10% of the way into the book (I read it on the Kindle; no page numbers) before Brundle-fly - sorry, Gregor-roach - even manages to flip over and get out of his bed, and it sets the tone for the rest of the book: unflinching, matter-of-fact in its depiction of surreal things, and compulsively readable at the same time that it’s psychologically uncomfortable and viscerally repelling.
I won’t spoil the ending for anyone reading this who is as big a poseur as I was, but I will say this: if Dan Savage woke from troubled dreams one morning to find himself transformed in his bed into Franz Kafka, he’d have started a viral video campaign called "It Gets Worse."(less)