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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Doper 50 book challenge's LiveJournal:

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Monday, January 4th, 2010
6:18 pm
2009 Final Count
*knock knock* Is anyone still here?

2009 is over and so is my reading for that year. It's been a busy year so my final count is the relatively low 102. I suspect this trend will continue now that I have to be a reasonably productive adult now. Considering that it's taken me over a month to get 120 pages into Thomas Wolfe's Of Time and the River I am well on my way to that goal. (Yes, I like the book. However, I need to dedicate several uninterrupted days to reading it because reading Wolfe is like getting caught up in a riptide of words and I'm afraid I'll get so far from shore I can't swim back if I just let go and throw myself into it.)

Link to the full 2009 list.
Friday, December 18th, 2009
11:13 am
Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie
I was born in the city of Bombay...once upon a time.
Saleem Sinai was born at midnight on the day India got its independence from the UK in 1947. For the rest of his life, his experiences mirrored that of his "twin" nation. When he was ten years old, he discovered that he was telepathic: he could speak to the other one thousand and one children born at midnight on Independence Day, all of whom have special abilities. They form the Midnight's Children Conference, but as they grow up the pressures of life tear the Conference apart. And then Indira Gandhi takes power. If there is one thing I've learned from reading Indian novels, its that Indira Gandhi was a horrible person and her appearance in the story means Bad Things are to come.

Take a Thief, Mercedes Lackey
I know Mercedes Lackey is the Queen of Cheap Fantasy, but I will say this for her: her later novels are better because she dumped the overriding feminism and need to rape every main character that dominated her earlier works. Take a Thief is the story of Skif, the pickpocket Herald and his life before he was Chosen. Because he's a Lackey hero, his childhood was pretty miserable, but he didn't let it get him down, he just figured out what he needed to do to survive and muddled on as best he could. After his uncle's tavern was raided by the Guard, Skif joined a group of pickpockets led by a legless veteran named Bazie. Unlike Skif's uncle, Bazie actually cares about his boys and takes care of them like a father. When the tenement building where Bazie and the boys is burned to the ground, Skif vows revenge against the arsonist, a campaign that seems to be sidetracked when he decides to steal a white horse he finds wandering around by itself. But Skif's revenge and the goals of the Heralds might actually be the same thing after all.

The Feelies, Mick Farren
It was the third time that John Wilson Heffer had taken a feelie.
This sucked.

The Vanderbilt Era: Profiles of a Gilded Age, Louis Auchincloss
The era that I have chosen so to designate is the period in American social history, centered to a large extent in the City of New York, that occupied the last two decades of the nineteenth and the first of the twentieth century.
This is a series of short profiles of the Vanderbilts and some of their most famous associates and contemporaries. Auchincloss's wife's family was part of the New York brownstone society that the Vanderbilts were a part of in the early 1900s and he knew some of the younger Vanderbilts personally, so it's by no means unbiased. It is pretty interesting, though, especially when he's talking about the people he knew, like Consuelo Vanderbilt Marlbourough Balsan who grew up in a fairy tale--the kind where the evil (step)mother crushes her daughter's ambitions.
Saturday, December 5th, 2009
4:29 pm
Yesterday's Asheville, Wright Langely
The natives of Asheville and of all the region centered around the city love dearly their home and their mountains and valleys, rivers and streams.
Mainly a collection of photographs and maps of the city from the 1700s to the 1950s. 'Sokay.

Shirley, Charlotte Brontë
Of late years, an abundant shower of curates has fallen upon the north of England: they lie very thick on the hills; every parish has one or more of them; they are young enough to be very attractive, and ought to be doing a great deal of good.
I liked this book, but I hate Signet Editions. I've grown accustomed to good footnotes and translations in my Victorian literature, mainly because the culture is so different from my own. Also, I don't know French. Please translate the French so I know what kind of plot advancement is going on among the Belgians. I know there were significant things said, but I have no idea what they were because, as I believe I've mentioned, I do not know nor do I care to learn French.

As for the story, it follows two women in a Yorkshire mill town in the early 1800s. Caroline Helstone is the niece of a churchman who is destined for a dull life of dull spinsterhood. The other is Shirley Keeldar, a vivacious heiress who befriends Caroline and may or may not have stolen Caroline's beau. Said beau is Robert Moore who owns the local mill and is fighting off a series of sabotages from local Luddites.

Oathbreakers, Mercedes Lackey
It was a dark and stormy night....
This is an actual novel, not a loosely thrown-together collection of stories like Oathbound. Having established their reputation as fighters, Tarma and Kethry have joined a mercenary group to earn enough money to found their school and re-establish Clan Tale'sedrin. When their leader, the Rethwellan princess Idra, fails to come back after a visit home to decide which of her two brothers should become king, Tarma and Kethry are sent out to find her. Lackey seems to have a slight sense of humor about the whole feminist fantasy genre in this book--at one point she even mentions gang-rape in a way that made me think she realized what a cliché it was becoming (this book was published in 1989). On the whole, this is a much better book than the first in the series.

Good Morning, Midnight, Jean Rhys
"Quite like old times," the room says.
I absolutely hated Wide Sargasso Sea. The writing was excellent, but the story...you don't mess with Jane Eyre. You just don't. Since this book left the Brontë universe alone, I liked it much better. It follows Sasha, a divorced British woman living in pre-WWII Paris. Well, "living" is too strong a word. More like "drifting." She has her room at a hotel. She has a couple of bars where she drinks. She has a few men she's mildly interested in. She has her memories to keep her warm. I feel like this book encapsulated more of the Lost Generation than all of F. Scott Fitzgerald who's usually held up as the paragon of Lost Generationism.

The Short Novels of Thomas Wolfe, Thomas Wolfe
To present a collection of the short novels of Thomas Wolfe will seem to many of his readers a quixotic or even a perverse act, for Wolfe exists in the popular fancy and even in the opinion of many of his most devoted admirers as the fury-driven author of a vast but incomplete saga of one man's pilgrimage on earth, a saga so formless that the term novel can be applied ot its parts only with extreme caution and so monumental that it exploded the covers of four vast books in which its portions were imprisoned.
I hereby rescind all the bad things I've said about Thomas Wolfe in the past. Apparently, the first time I read Look Homeward Angel I was not in the mood for angst and it made me overlook what a brilliant writer he was. These short novels (novellas, whatever the trend is to call them) are wonderful. Apparently Wolfe needed some structural restraints on his writing to keep him focused. As the foreward explains, most of these novellas were later incorporated in his later novels, but they really need to be read as they were originally published in the magazines. My favorites were "The Web of Earth", a story told by Mrs. Gant about her life; "No Door", one of the best stories written about the lonely life I've ever run across; and "I Have a Thing to Tell You," which is about leaving Nazi Germany.
Friday, November 20th, 2009
6:40 pm
The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History, John Barry
The Great War had brought Paul Lewis into the navy in 1918 as a lieutenant commander, but he never seemed quite at ease when in his uniform.
This book would be more enjoyable if it picked a topic and stuck to it. Judging by the title, this is a book about the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. Judging by the first section, it's about the development of medical research, the career of William Henry Welch, and the creation of the Rockefeller Institute. Then the flu shows up in Kansas. Then the focus jumps around between the flu and Welch and his cronies who declare the flu a "new form of plague" before dying off to make way fo...more This book would be more enjoyable if it picked a topic and stuck to it. Judging by the title, this is a book about the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. Judging by the first section, it's about the development of medical research, the career of William Henry Welch, and the creation of the Rockefeller Institute. Then the flu shows up in Kansas. Then the focus jumps around between the flu and Welch and his cronies who declare the flu a "new form of plague" before dying off to make way for the next set of researchers. The flu kills a lot of people, the researchers don't know why, the flu runs its course, and a new set of researchers show up and figure out the causes of a lot of diseases before dying.

Confused? Good. So was I. I kept losing interest and putting the book aside because it jumped around more than a squirrel on amphetamines. I kept thinking I was rereading chapters because facts, phrases, and sometimes entire paragraphs (it seemed) were repeated. The conclusion is a joke--it follows the pathetic end of Paul Lewis, a medical researcher who appeared in the first chapter to inspect flu victims before disappearing for the rest of the book, barring a brief mention here and there. The epilogue limps along until, mercifully, someone shoots it and puts it out of its misery.

I don't want to be too harsh on Barry. The sections that focused on the flu epidemic were good. Following the disease's progress from a small Kansas town to a US Army base to Europe and the rest of the world and its effects was fascinating, as was the reaction of the press and local governments when the flu began spreading through the civilian population. However, these sections were often interrupted by odd segues into Lives of Random Researchers and Their Wrong Interpretations. When the flu virus is finally discovered, it merits a brief mention before the book moves into the final section detailing the aforementioned decline of Paul Lewis.

I would have given this book a symbolic three stars (I consider it a two-and-a-half star effort) rather than two if not for one thing: the bad writing. The writing is fine most of the time but every now and then, a sentence like this crops up: "And whether his death was a suicide or a true accident, it killed him." Even in context, that sentence does not deserve to exist.

Imaginary Homelands: Esays and Criticism, 1981-1991, Salman Rushdie
The essay from which this collection takes its title was my contribution to a seminar about Indian writing in English held in London during the Festival of India in 1982.
Every time I read one of Rushdie's book reviews, I end up with a list of new books to add to Mt. ToBeRead. His analysis is very sharp--you know exactly what he likes and dislikes about the books he's reviewing (and sometimes the authors as well) and there are very solid reasons behind those preferences. Imaginary Homelands is packed full of these reviews, ranging from Nadine Gordimer to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, from Gunter Grass to V.S. Naipaul.

The essays range over the usual Rushdi...more Every time I read one of Rushdie's book reviews, I end up with a list of new books to add to Mt. ToBeRead. His analysis is very sharp--you know exactly what he likes and dislikes about the books he's reviewing (and sometimes the authors as well) and there are very solid reasons behind those preferences. Imaginary Homelands is packed full of these reviews, ranging from Nadine Gordimer to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, from Gunter Grass to V.S. Naipaul.

The essays range over the usual Rushdie topics: immigration, British racism, Indira Gandhi, making sense of success, religion, and the beginnings of the Satanic Verses fatwa. My favorite essays are centered around his trip to an Australian literary festival followed by a cross-country road trip with author Bruce Chatwin that became the basis for Chatwin's book Songlines. On the whole, I didn't like these essays as much as the ones in Step Across This Line, mainly because a lot of them dealt with topical political issues that, since the book was published in 1992, are a bit out of date.

The Oathbound, Mercedes Lackey
The sky was overcast, a solid gray sheet that seemed to hang just barely above the treetops, with no sign of a break in the clouds anywhere.
If book had been structured as a linked short story collection rather than a loosely-tied-together novel, it would have been better. Adding the first Tarma-Kethry story from Sword and Sorceress III would have been another improvement, but there may have been reasons why that didn't happen. Not everyone has access to S&S3 and Lackey, much as I love her, is not good at shoehorning backstory into her novels.

Tarma is a Kal'enedral, a sexless, celibate warrior sworn to the Goddess. She is the last Tale'sedrin, survivor of the attack that wiped out her entire clan. On her journey to get revenge on the bandits that killed her people she met Kethry, a mage bearing a magic sword, Need, that can only be borne by a woman and requires her bearer to avenge crimes against other women. The story's a bit feminist, can you tell? Somehow (see earlier statement about including the first story) Tarma and Kethry become Oathsisters bound and blessed by the Goddess. This means that Kethry can take Tarma's place as the mother of the future Tale'sedrin clan. First, however, the women need to earn some money to found a warrior-mage school and a reputation to attract the right sort of people to their new Clan. Most of the book centers around their battles with the demon Thalkarsh who wants to become a god.

Tarma and Kethry are a good pair and the stories are compelling, but I'd like to point out to Lackey that there are other things you can do to torture people besides rape. Seriously, it's almost a cliche in her early novels. It gets old.
Friday, November 13th, 2009
6:05 pm
Magic's Pawn, Mercedes Lackey
"Your grandfather," said Vanyel's brawny, fifteen-year-old cousin Radevel, "was crazy."
All of the Valdemar novels I've read (except for the Gryphon trilogy) talkes about the legendary Herald-Mage Vanyel Ashkevron. This trilogy is about that legendary character. In this volume he's a whiny prissy little brat coming to terms with coming out of the closet. At first it's just a typical young male love story until Tylendel's (Vanyel's lover) twin is killed in a feud. Then all hell breaks loose in a very physical way, along with Vanyel's latent magical abilities, and the story starts to get interesting.

Magic's Promise, Mercedes Lackey
The blue leather saddlebags and a canvas pack, all bulging with filthy clothing and miscellaneous gear, landed in the corner of Vanyel's room with three dull thuds.
It's been about fifteen years since Vanyel became a Herald-Mage and he's tired. After spending a few years on border patrol near Karse, he's finally due for some leave time which means he can't put off his long visit home anymore. At first his vacation is equally restful and stressful as he's dragged into mediating a few family arguments, but that doesn't last for long. Another tense situation is brewing on the border near the Ashkevron lands and since Vanyel's the only Herald within shouting distance, guess who has to take a midnight ride to deal with it?

Magic's Price, Mercedes Lackey
Sweat ran down Herald Vanyel's back, and his ankle hurt a little--he hadn't twisted it, quite, when he'd slipped on the wooden floor of the salle back at the beginning of this bout, but it was still bothering him five exchanges later.
Flash forward another ten years or so and the Herald-Mage situation is getting desperate. No new ones have been found to replace the ones killed on the Valdemar-Karse border and the ones who are left are being killed by a mysterious attacker. Soon only Vanyel is left. He and his lover Stefen embark on a journey north to find the murderer in a journey that contains a pretty brutal rape scene. You have been warned.

The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Salman Rushdie
On St. Valentine's Day, 1989, the last day of her life, the legendary popular singer Vina Apsara woke sobbing from a dream of human sacrifice in which she had been the intended victim.
This book took a minute for me to get into, but once I did it wouldn't let go. Vina Apsara and her husband Ormus Cama were VTO, the biggest rock band of the 1970's and 80's. Their story is told by Rai, a longtime friend and one of Vina's many lovers. It's set in a world similar to ours, but just slightly different (Elvis Presley is Jesse Parker, JFK was wounded by the same bullet as his brother RFK, that sort of thing). Ormus has the ability to see his own world and the other parallel universes as they collide and cause instability in the crust of the earth itself. This is Rushdie the way I like him: larger than life, sarcastic, and making a good point about the way we see the world.

Asheville: A History, Nan K. Chase
I wrote this book to answer two questions: Why does Asheville look the way it does, and, why is downtown Asheville booming these days after decades of decay?
I want to find out more about the history of my new home, so I picked this up for a quick overview. As a history it's okay. Chase makes a big deal about different versions of names and events at the beginning which got on my nerves a bit (I've lived here since June and I can already tell you that everyone here has their own version of everything) and it dragged on in places, but on the whole it served its purpose as an overview. The sections I was most interested in are the bits of history that aren't on all the tours here: the early history as a midway stopping point in the livestock drives over the mountains, the mid-twentieth century decline of the city, and the bitter, bitter fight over integration which is completely glossed over. It's not all Thomas Wolfe and George Vanderbilts here. They brought money and fame, but there's a lot going on in Hippy Hollow.
Saturday, November 7th, 2009
7:52 pm
Look Homeward, Angel, Thomas Wolfe
A destiny that leads the English to the Dutch is strange enough; but one that leads from Epsom into Pennsylvania, and thence into the hills that shut in Altamont over the proud croal cry of the cock, and the soft stone smile of an angel, is touched by that dark miracle of chance which makes new magic in a dusty world.
The first time I read this book, I threw it across the room and stomped on it. Then I moved to Asheville. I figured since reading Dracula in London made it better because I was in the place it was written about, I would give Wolfe another go. And you know what? I liked it this time. I even visited the Thomas Wolfe Memorial while I was reading it and that made it even better because that showed me why he was so angsty. Since the angst was a big part of why I had so little patience with it the first time, realizing the reasons--good reasons--behind it increased my tolerance and ultimately my appreciation.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll
Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do; once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, "and what is the use of a book," thought Alice, "without pictures or conversations?"
This is one of those books where it's very hard to find something to say about it that hasn't been said hundreds of time before. I'll try: it's true escapist fantasy. That's all I can think of that makes any sense. If you want to completely escape from reality, try Wonderland. It's the polar opposite of reality.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne Brontë
When we were together last, you gave me a very particular and interesting account of the most remarkable occurences of your early life, previous to our acquaintance; and then you requested a return of confidence from me.
A mysterious young woman has moved into Wildfell Hall with her young son. Everyone in town is buzzing with curiosity, but the woman, Mrs. Graham, refuses to say anything about her past. A gentleman farmer, Gilbert Markham, befriends Mrs. Graham and finds himself caring more about her even as she pushes him away. She finally lets him read her diary which details her abusive marriage and the reasons why she's running away. It's pretty modern for a Victorian novel, especially in detailing the emotional abuse Mrs Graham's husband puts her through.

Shalimar the Clown, Salman Rushdie
At twenty-four the ambassador's daughter slept badly through the warm, unsurprising nights.
It took me two tries to read this one all the way through. I can tell that the Kashmir situation is something that Rushdie feels very strongly about--especially since he dedicated the book to the memory of his Kashmiri grandparents. The novel begins with the murder of Max Ophuls, a former ambassador to India during the 1970s, on the steps of his daughter's apartment building. The story goes back to Max's work in the French Resistance during WWII and his experiences as the Indian ambassador; the childhood of Shalimar, Max's assassin, in Kashmir; and the story of Boonyi, a young Kashmiri girl who loved them both. At times the story gets bogged down in politics, but on the whole it's pretty good.

Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali, D.T. Niane
This book is primarily the work of an obscure griot from the village of Djeliba Koro in the circumscription of Siguiri in Guinea.
Sundiata was the king of the Twelve Kingdoms of Mali way back when (I don't feel like getting up to check the dates in the book right now). He was the child of the handsomest king and the ugliest woman in the world, he didn't walk until he was seven years old and had to avenge his mother who was insulted by one of her co-wives, spent years in exile due to his half-brother, and eventually ended up uniting the twelve kingdoms and establishing the laws and customs that persist today. If you're interested in African history and/or epic sagas, check this book out.

Cryptonomicon, Neal Stephenson
Two tires fly. Two wail.
The length of this book put me off of it for a minute. Also, the fact that it was lauded by math geeks who are people I barely understand being an English geek myself. I finally decided to give it a try. You know what? It's a really good story. It does get caught up in math a few times (most notably when Stephenson decides to describe exactly how to figure out a formula for predicting when a bent spoke on a bicycle wheel will meet a broken link in the bike's chain and cause the chain to fall off) but the math is mainly dealing with encryption and codebreaking which is interesting. What I found most interesting was the level of encryption some people will go to in order to prevent anyone from reading their messages without the proper key. I don't know if that's a healthy level of paranoia or just weirdness, but it's certainly advancing our abilities to protect data in these internet-filled times.
Friday, November 6th, 2009
6:11 pm
Storm Warning, Mercedes Lackey
Karal is the secretary to Ulrich, a priest of the sun-god Vkandis. He's heard stories of the White Demons of Valdemar his whole life, but when he's sent to Valdemar with Ulrich as envoys of their home country of Karse, he's forced to re-evaluate everything he's ever thought about Valdemar, religion, and magic. Once he's settled his inner turmoil, powerful magical storms begin battering the land, disrupting magic across the entire world. Karal finds himself a key player in the new alliance of mages, mathematicians, engineers, and cultures working to prevent the destruction of the world.

Storm Rising, Mercedes Lackey
The Valdemarans' desperate attempt to stave off the worst of the mage storms has succeeded, but no one knows how much time they have left. The mages and engineers try desperately to figure out a permanent solution to the mage storms, but the lingering effects may prevent them from finding an answer in time. Firesong, the most powerful Shin'a'in adept is drifting into madness, Karal's position as Karsite envoy is jeopardized by suspicions, and there is news from the devastated nation of Hardorn that may start another war between Valdemar and the Eastern Empire. Once again, Karal proves instrumental in finding the next solution to the mage storms while making tentative peace offerings to the Imperial commander in Hardorn.

The Enchantress of Florence, Salman Rushdie
In the day's last light the glowing lake below the palace-city looked like a sea of molten gold.
Emperor Akbar is the most powerful ruler in the world. He's so powerful he's created an imaginary wife who he loves more than his other wives. One day a mysterious blond stranger arrives from Italy wearing a strange coat and bearing a stranger tale. He claims to be related to the Emperor through a long-lost aunt whose tale captivates the entire city. It's all right, but I didn't like it as much as some of Rushdie's other works.

An Abundance of Katherines, John Green
The morning after child prodigy Colin Singleton graduated from high school and got dumped for the nineteenth time by a girl named Katherine, he took a bath.
Colin has dated nineteen girls named Katherine and has been dumped by all of them. Tired of seeing Colin mope around, his friend (??) suggests they go on a road trip. They end up in Kentucky at the grave of Archduke Franz Ferdinand where their adventures begin. While collecting oral histories for the owner of the local textile mill, the boys and their new friend (??) uncover strange happenings regarding the mill's future. Meanwhile, Colin is trying to come up with a mathematical formula to determine why he's always the dumper and not the dumpee.

Storm Breaking, Mercedes Lackey
Karal lay as quietly as he could, keeping his breathing even to avoid jarring his head.
The mages have travelled to the ancient tower of Urtho, the greatest mage in history, where they triggered one of Urtho's last weapons to buy some more time to discover how to stop the mage storms. While the mages and Karal study the rest of Urtho's weapons, Queen Selenay of Valdemar sends her daughter Elspeth and Elspeth's mate Darkwind to neighboring Hardorn to open up relations with the new king Tremane. With the final storm approaching, everyone prepares for the worst with little hope for the best. The mages trigger the final weapon, beating the storms (there was never any question of that) but with dire consequences for everyone at the tower.
Monday, November 2nd, 2009
10:51 am
The Invisible Man, H.G. Wells
The stranger came early in February, one wintry day, through a biting wind and a driving snow, the last snowfall of the year, over the down, walking as it seemed from Bramblehurst railway statio, and carrying a little black portmanteau in his thickly gloved hand.
I picked this up because I love The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Moore didn't have to go far to make Griffin what he was in the League, that's for sure. Griffin, an albino with a large chip on his shoulder, uses his invisibility to unleash the darkest side of his nature, terrorizing a small town that has no idea who he is or what he's doing to them. Wells does an excellent job showing the pitfalls of invisibility as well as the dubious benefits. Griffin's death in this is a lot easier than the one he got in the League, too.

Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, Gregory Maguire
Hobbling home under a mackerel sky, I came upon a group of children.
I like retellings of old fairy tales and the Dutch tulip trade has always interested me in a "wow, people will do anything for money" kind of way, so of course this would be the first Maguire book I would pick up. I was very impressed with the story and the characters, especially near the end. I think I'll give Wicked a try, although I'm still leery of anyone messing with Oz.

Water: Tales of Elemental Spirits, Robin Mckinley & Peter Dickinson
Her name was Pitiable Nasmith.
This is a collection of six stories about water and magic. There are several stories about mermaids/"water people", one about a sea serpent that I found hard to follow, one about a water horse that was much easier to read, and a magic pool of water that leads to Damar, McKinley's signature fantasy land. McKinley and Dickinson have very distinct "voices"--his is more scientific while hers is more poetic--but they blend very well to create a great story collection.

The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini
I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975.
I was not impressed with this. It reminded me of the books of the world I had to read in grad school--and not the ones I ended up keeping, either. The narrator committed two of the greatest literary sins against my interest: he was angsty and wouldn't do a damn thing except watch things happen and whine about how much his life sucked. This book got tossed down the porch when I was done.

Transmetropolitan: Back on the Street, Warren Ellis & Darick Robertson
Up a goddamn mountain:
Spider Jerusalem is not a superhero. He's a newspaper journalist. When we first meet him, he's in a cabin in the Rockies revelling in antisociability. Unfortunately he has a book contract to fulfill so he has to head back to the only place where he can write: The City. Despising fame, he becomes famous anyway after his on-the-spot coverage of the Transient Riots is broadcast all over the city, relaunching his career. The writing in this comic is absolutely magnificient and the art matches it perfectly. Ellis is now the second graphic novel writer whose work I'll make a point of looking for.
Friday, October 30th, 2009
6:15 pm
Starting to catch up on what I've read since July...
The Phantom of the Opera, Gaston Leroux
It was the evening on which MM Debienne and Poligny, the managers of the Opera, were giving a farewell gala performance to make their retirement.
The Opera of Paris is haunted. The ghost has killed a man behind some of the rarely used set pieces, taken over one of the boxes for every show (and leaves generous tips for the box-opener), and gives lessons to Christine Daae, an unassuming soprano whose true talent is unrecognized by everyone including herself. Christine believes the ghost is the Angel of Music sent to her by her dead father, but when the Angel begins to demand more and more of her time and affection, her lover Raoul becomes worried and tries to solve the mystery in time to save his beloved.

Kushiel's Mercy, Jacqueline Carey
There are people in my country who have never travelled beyond the boundaries of Terre d'Ange.
I have decided that I like the first Kushiel trilogy much better than the second. Imriel nowhere near as strong a character as Phèdre and there's not enough intrigue. In this volume, Imriel and the Dauphine Sidonie have gained grudging acceptance of their love from the rulers of Terre D'Ange, but they are still forbidden to marry because no one trusts the son of The Greatest Traitor. Meanwhile a delegation from Carthage arrives to arrange a political marriage between Sidonie and the king. To cement the alliance, the Carthaginians show the D'Angelines a marvel that ends up destroying everyone's memory of Imriel and Sidonie's relationship. Imri is forced to confront his mother and rescue Sidonie from Carthage. At least he doesn't whine as much as he did in the first two books.

How the Irish Saved Civilization, Thomas Cahill
The word Irish is seldom coupled with the word civilization.</i>
After the fall of the Roman Empire, education became a luxury few could afford. The only people who had any time to spare for reading and writing were monks. In remote Ireland, on the edge of the known world, the men and women of the Church developed a new model for monasteries, allowing them to devote their lives to creating beautifully illuminated manuscripts such as the Book of Kells and the Lindisfarne Gospels. Without their efforts, countless ancient writings would have been lost. A quick but fascinating read.

Fool, Christopher Moore
"Tosser!" cried the raven.
As every other review of this book has pointed out, this is a retelling of King Lear from the Fool's perspective. As a one-sentence summary goes, it's pretty accurate except it isn't. It's a lot of fun and very bawdy. It's also the first Moore book I've read--I'll be looking for his others now.

The Hours, Michael Cunningham
There are still the flowers to buy.
It is 1941 and Virginia Woolf has just committed suicide. Its is the late 1990s and Clarissa is preparing for an award ceremony for her friend Richard who is dying of AIDS. It is the 1950s and [??] is baking a cake for her husband's birthday. It is 1922 and Virginia Woolf has just written the first sentence of Mrs. Dalloway. The stories weave together to create a modern Mrs. Dalloway that I found much easier to read than the original. I got about forty pages into Woolf's novel before I gave up on trying to remember who was who and what the heck was going on.
Monday, July 6th, 2009
4:58 pm
Michael Collins and the Troubles: The Struggle for Irish Freedom, 1912-1922, Ulick O'Connor
As a boy I could never understand why my father, a courteous man, could be abrupt with policemen.
Before I read this book, I only had a passing acquaintance with the Irish independence movement. I knew the name Michael Collins, I knew 1916 was a bad year in Ireland for some reason, and all I knew about Bloody Sunday was the U2 song. Now there's actual information attached to those random snippets. O'Connor lays out the whole situation out very clearly, explaining exactly why it was so important to Ireland to have its independence, the origins of the split with Northern Ireland, and honoring some of the heroes of the independence movement. The British do not come off well in this book.

The House of the Seven Gables, Nathaniel Hawthorne
Half-way down a by-street of one of our New England towns stands a rusty wooden house, with seven acutely peaked gables, facing towards various points of the compass.
The Pyncheons are an old New England family, earning their place in a Hawthorne book by being descended from a Puritan who participated in the Salem Witch Trials. That ancestor, Colonel Pyncheon, ended up putting a curse on his family by stealing an innocent man's land and then dying suddenly at his own house-warming party. One hundred and fifty years later, Hepzibah Pyncheon is struggling to keep the house from her cousin Judge Jaffrey by opening a shop with the help of her young cousin Phoebe. Then Hepzibah's brother Clifford is released from jail and Jaffrey begins machinating again. I personally think this is much better than The Scarlet Letter</a> because the spineless character doesn't play a central role and the descriptions of a mid-nineteenth-century New England shop are fascinating.
Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009
5:14 pm
Step Across This Line: Collected Nonfiction 1992-2002, Salman Rushdie
I wrote my first short story in Bombay at the age of ten.
This collection of essays covers Rushdie's "Plague Years," the years of the Islamic fatwa after the publication of The Satanic Verses. He has some very harsh things to say about the people who crtiticized him for wasting the resources of the British government (including a comment about Prince Charles that is the meanest thing I've ever heard anyone say about anything) as well as genuine remorse over the translators who were attacked or killed after translating Satanic Verses. But that's only part of the book. The rest of it is a series of articles he wrote for various newspapers, journals, and magazines. It begins with his famous essay on The Wizard of Oz which almost makes me want to watch it again (I got burned out on it after far too many Easter reruns as a child). Then there's the section describing his return to India with his son after the fatwa was rescinded which is both heartbreaking and triumphant. If you want to find more Indian authors, definitely pick this up as there's one essay that explores the works of many contemporary and historical Indian writers.

The secret History, Procopius
In recording everything that the Roman people have experienced in successive wars up to the time of writing I have followed this plan--that of arranging all the events described as far as possible in accordance with the actual times and places.
Speaking of the meanest things people have ever said to each other. After writing a several-volume history of the reign of the Byzantine emperor Justininan, Procopius wrote another, hidden volume about the true personalities of the emperor and his bitch wife. Man, he really hated Theodora. The chapter about her life in the theater and brothels before marrying Justinian is one of the best poison-pen pieces in all of literature.

Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
A squat grey building of only thirty-four stories.
Classic dystopia. I'm always surprised when I look at the copyright date for this book and see 1932 instead of 1960something. It's much more modern than the copyright suggests.

Wolverine: Weapon X, Marc Cerasini
The story of how Logan had adamantium bonded to his skeleton and became Wolverine. Except for the fact that Logan is Canadian, worked with a secret government paramilitary organization for a while, and had a superstrong metallic alloy bonded to his skeleton while he was immersed in a vat of goo, this has nothing to do with the X-Men Origins movie. In this story, Logan is kidnapped and brought to a secret lab run by a man confusingly called Professor (he isn't Professor X) who wants to turn Logan into the perfect killing machine. The Professor has recruited several brilliant scientists on the wrong side of the law to help him, including a doctor who was accused of killing his wife and child and a former NASA employee who was deemed psychologically unstable and therefore unfit for advancement in her field. The memory-loss gimmick in this version of the tale is something called an REM device that is wired into the brain and works through Movie Science. A good airport read.
Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009
4:45 pm
The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
I'll make my report as if I told a story, for I was taught as a child on my homeworld that Truth is a matter of the imagination.
I wanted to like this, but I just couldn't do it. I couldn't connect with the story at all. I understand the point that Le Guin was making, but in the end it overwhelmed the story. I felt like I was being beaten over the head with a blunt club made of gender stereotypes. Also, there was far too much politicking and that is something coming from someone who loves the Dune series.

The Blue Sword, Robin McKinley
She scowled at her glass of orange juice.
After her father died, Harry Crewe moved to the Homelander outpost in Daria where her brother is stationed. She falls in love with the country and the stories of the mysterious Hill People who ride horses without bridles and, according to legend, are magical. When the Hill People of Damar are threatened by an invasion from the North, the king Corlath comes to negotiate a mutual defense treaty with the Homelanders. The negotiations fail, but Corlath is mysteriously drawn to Harry. His kelar compels him to kidnap her from the outpost and train her as a King's Rider. Harry is confused by this, but she soon realizes that she has ties to both Damar and the Homeland that have dire consequences to the future of both countries.

The Hero and the Crown, Robin McKinley
She could not remember a time when she had not known the story; she had grown up knowing it.
Centuries before Harry there was Aerin. The daughter of the Damarian king and a mysterious witchwoman from the North, Aerin has never felt a part of her father's court. After nearly poisoning herself with the royal plant, Aerin befriends her father's wounded war stallion and discovers a recipe for a salve that protects against dragonfire. She begins to kill the dragons that torment the small villages of Damar, but even that doesn't help her gain status in court. When the Black Dragon returns to devastate the countryside, Aerin rides out to meet him alone with no idea what she's about to deal with.

Dandelion Wine, Ray Bradbury
It was a quiet morning, the town covered over with darkness and at ease in bed.
It's the summer of 1928 and Douglas Spaulding has just discovered that he is alive. He and his brother decide to record all the things they learn about life in a notebook that summer, preserving it as their grandfather preserves the bottles of dandelion wine in the cellar. Douglas and Tom's impressions of their town and its inhabitants are a cheerful counterpoint to the depressing malaise that fills most other canonical American novels.

On Beauty, Zadie Smith
One may as well begin with Jerome's e-mails to his father:
Howard Belsey has one of those midlife crises where he cheats on his wife and his family has to rebuild trust and along the way they all Learn Something About Themselves. But there's much more going on in this novel besides that. It skewers the culture of liberal arts professors while treating them respectfully, it skewers the wanna-g mentality prevalent among young black males without any respect at all, it offers up many different views of what beauty is, and it introduced me to a lot of Rembrandt.
2:24 am
I would have posted this sooner but for the fact that all my books are in boxes and that i needed to look up some information about authors of these books. Also, i have had to reformat my computer and this list is pieced together as best i can manage..
Read more...Collapse )

Current Mood: contemplative
Sunday, May 17th, 2009
11:42 am
World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, Max Brooks
It goes by many names: "The Crisis," "The Dark Years," "The Walking Plague," as well as newer and more "hip" titles such as "World War Z" or "Z War One."
There's a lot of fun in reading this book during an epidemic scare. If you haven't read it yet, I recommend waiting for the next media-inspired OMGWE'REALLGONNADIE disease scare and then picking it up. It's a collection of tales from survivors of the coming Zombocalypse that, of course, can be applied to the coming Global Warmocalypse, Peak Oilocalypse and any other coming apocalypses that we should all be preparing for. I sound sarcastic, but it's a really good book.

The Original Hitchhiker Radio Scripts, Douglas Adams
The first time I remember coming across Douglas Adams he was standing on a rickety chair making a speech, and the last thing I remember most about that was that it was really a strange thing to do, since he was already some six inches taller than anyone else in the room.
I have an official favorite version of the Hitchhiker's story and this is it. Well, for everyone except Trillian. She really got the short end of the stick in this story, I like the novel version of her story better. Highlights include actually seeing the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal, production footnotes and anecdotes at the end of each "fit," and a seven-mile-high statue of Arthur Dent throwing a cup at the NutriMatic machine.

Bad Monkeys, Mat Ruff
It's a room an uninspired playwright might conjure while staring at a blank page:
This is a really good action-movie book until the last chapter where it all gets overly complicated and falls apart. Relevant Unshelved Book Club comic.
Saturday, May 9th, 2009
6:14 pm
Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare, Stephen Greenblatt
A young man from a small provincial town--a man without independent wealth, without powerful family connections, and without a university education--moves to London in the late 1580s and, in a remarkably short time, becomes the greatest playwright not of his age alone but of all time.
Greenblatt takes the few facts known about Shakespeare's life and tries to fill in the missing bits by using the plays and sonnets. The best part, I think, is where he uses all the lovers in the plays to back up his argument that Shakespeare really didn't like his wife that much. I finished this book a couple of weeks ago and I can't remember all I wanted to say in the intervening time. Overall an excellent biography/literary analysis.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon
It was 7 minutes after midnight.
This was also very good. You can almost believe in the ending until your logic kicks in bringing sad reality with it. I'm incredibly ticked at whoever wrote the jacket blurb, though. S/he/they gave away a very important plot point and defused the impact of the revelation. I'm not going to say anything about the autism angle because that's been done to death, but I will say it's more than a mystery story.

Wolfbane, Frederik Pohl & C.M. Kornbluth
Roget Germyn, banker, of Wheeling, West Virginia, a Citizen, woke gently from a Citizen's dreamless sleep.
To paraphrase a reviewer on Goodreads, the science is compelling and fascinating. The characterization is wretched.

Deerskin, Robin McKinley
Many years later she remembered how her parents had looked to her when she was a small child: her father as tall as a tree, and merry and bright and golden, with her beautiful black-haired mother at his side.
I tell this to everyone when I talk about this book: be very careful who you give it to. There's a brutal rape in Chapter 9 and the darkness doesn't begin to lift until Chapter 12 or so. There is vindication: the final showdown is as near to perfect as an imperfect world allows. I tell you this so you are prepared if you want to read it. Now that that's out of the way, the story is a retelling of Charles Perrault's "Donkeyskin". The beginning of the story starts after "happily ever after" and describes why you don't really want to be the child of the most beautiful princess in seven kingdoms.

Evidence, Mary Oliver
There is the heaven we enter
If Henry David Thoreau had been a poet and less prone to droning on and on, this is the Walden he'd have written.
Monday, April 27th, 2009
5:02 pm
A Cavern of Black Ice, J.V. Jones
Tarissa whispered a hope out loud before looking up at the sky.
Asarhia (Ash) March was born outside of the walled city of Spire Vanis and left, as she believes, to die there. She is instead found and raised by the lord of the city, but not as his daughter. She's always aware that he has other plans for her and when the creepiness of their relationship gets to be too much, she runs away. Rafe Severance and his brother were on a hunting trip that ended with everyone except them and their clan chief's adopted son dead. When Mace Blackhail, the adopted son, takes over the clan and starts a needless war with a neighboring clan, Rafe breaks his vow and leaves with his mysterious uncle on a trading trip. Rafe and Ash meet outside of Spire Vanis and link their destinies immediately. Ash is a Reach, the only person in the world who can control the restless dead that threaten to overwhelm the living world. Rafe is a Watcher of the Dead who brings destruction wherever he goes. What that means isn't clear outside of a few hints--the main thing in this book is to get Ash to the one place where she can release her powers so that she won't be a danger to the living world.

Fury, Salman Rushdie
Professor Malik Solanka, retired historian of ideas, irascible dollmaker, and since his recent fifty-fifth birthday celibate and solitary by his own (much criticized) choice, in his silvered years found himself living in a golden age.
I can't believe this. I've found a book about These Modern Tymes that doesn't piss me off. In fact, it's...accurate. It actually captures the feeling of the times. Set during the 2000 election, Malik Solanka is the victim of an incapacitating, unpredictable fury at the injustices of life. He's a philosopher-turned-dollmaker whose favorite creation, Little Brain, has taken on a life of her own. He's left his wife and son in England without warning, confusing everyone who thought they knew him. When he meets Mila Milo and Neela Mahendra, he realizes that he's on the cusp of conquering his anger or losing control completely.

Captain Blood, Rafael Sabatini
Peter Blood, bachelor of medicine and several other things besides, smoked a pipe and tended the geraniums boxed on the sill of his window above Water Lane in the town of Bridgewater.
A classic pirate tale first published in 1922. This should have been made a movie instead of the last two Pirates of the Caribbean. This comic summarizes the first...five? six? chapters of the novel. Peter Blood is caught up in the Monmouth Rebellion in the 1680s, is sent to Barbados as a slave, and escapes to become the most feared pirate of the Caribbean. Of course he has a lady love, and she's easily the most interesting person in the book: in her mid-twenties, independent, boyish, and not prone to fainting. She's not in the story as much as she should be.

Gods and Myths of Northern Europe, H.R. Ellis Davidson
The mythology of a people is far more than a collection of terrifying fables to be retold in carefully bowdlerized form to our schoolchildren.
This is mainly a survey of what we know about the Norse/German/Old English gods and goddesses. (Not much.) Davidson looks at the archaeological remains as well as the old sagas and Eddas, concentrating mainly on Snorri's "Prose Edda" to see what has survived about Scandinavian mythology. What emerges is fascinating, and ultimately frustratingly sad. Fascinating because it's a glimpse at a mythology that isn't well known thanks to the Renaissance's hard-on for Greco-Roman mythology and frustrating because there's not much chance that the real religious beliefs will ever emerge from the thick veneer of Christianity and bowdlerization that the centuries have hidden them under.
Sunday, April 19th, 2009
6:47 pm
Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, Thomas de Quincey
I here present you, courteous reader, with the record of a remarkable period of my life; according to my application of it, I trust that it will prove, not merely an interesting record, but, in a considerable degree, useful and instructive.
This is de Quincey's account of his experiences taking opium (laudanum, actually), why he took it, and the few times he tried to quit. The first part is great, the middle part (Suspiria de Profundis) drags on--it's about his sister's death--, and the last part, The English Mail-Coach is also great. That part talks about riding the mail coaches across the country before trains were invented.

Haroun and the Sea of Stories, Salman Rushdie
There was once, in the country of Alifbay, a sad city, the saddest of cities, a city so ruinously sad that it had forgotten its name.
Haroun's father Rashid was a great storyteller, so great that his stories made all the difference between a politician winning or losing an election. But when his wife leaves him, Rashid loses his storytelling gift and Haroun can't concentrate on anything for longer than eleven minutes. When Haroun catches the water genie Iff about to turn off his father's storytelling tap, he convinces Iff to take him to the second moon so he can convince the Walrus to give his father back his abilities. It's a children-ish book and a lot of fun.

The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank
On Friday, June 12th, I woke up at six o'clock and no wonder; it was my birthday.
I managed to make it almost thirty years on this earth without having read the entire diary. I read excerpts back in middle school and I saw the movie, but I've never read the whole thing. If you'll excuse me I'll be out back punching my German heritage in the face several million times.

The Born Queen, Greg Keyes
A shriek of pain lifted into the pearl-colored sky and hung on the wind above Tarnshead like a seabird.
I finally have a complete "Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone" series. Anne Dare is now the Queen of Crotheny, using her sedos powers to blow up the opposing armies. She sends her mother, Queen Muriele, and two bodyguards to Hansa to negotiate a peace treaty, but really to find out how to stop the Hellrune that the Hansans are using to spy on the Crotheny armies. Meanwhile the Church is also at war with Crotheny. The legendary figures from history, the Born Queen, the Black Jester, the Blood Knight, and the Briar King have returned and the final battle over who will control the sedos power is imminent. My only complaint is that it wraps up too quickly.
Saturday, April 4th, 2009
1:46 pm
The Last Unicorn, Peter S. Beagle
The unicorn lived in a lilac wood, and she lived all alone.
If I hear one more female human swoon over this book and call it "magical," I'm going to destroy their most precious memory. I don't hate the book, I actually like it. However, it's not the greatest fantasy novel ever written. It's good, yes, but it's too self-aware. It comments on itself and the rules of the genre at the most annoying times (really, a band of forest thieves eating tacos? Come on). I like the book, I like Molly and Schmendrick, but the fans and the self-awareness really test my patience. That's the abridged version of my thoughts on the story.

Sandworms of Dune, Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson
Aboard the wandering no-ship Ithaca Jessica witnessed the birth of her daughter, but only as an observer.
Norma Cenva's back and she kicks ass! Yay Norma Cenva! And there was actually a good reason why Duncan Idaho is the Eternally Reincarnated Man? Really? Cool. So that's what was really going on the whole time? I am happy with this ending. Very happy indeed. Sure there's not as much social commentary as Frank Herbert bogged the story down with gave us, but there's not much time for pontificating when Ragnarok is nigh.

East, West, Salman Rushdie
On the last Tuesday of the month, the dawn bus, its headlamps still shining, brought Miss Rehana to the gates of the British Consulate.
A collection of short stories ranging from India to England to Hollywood to some weird Star Trek spy story that I really didn't understand or like. Other than that one, all the stories are excellent and loaded with Rushdie's wry sense of humor. My favorite was "Yorick" which looked at Hamlet from the fool's perspective.
Monday, March 30th, 2009
1:10 am
7. American Wife, by Curtis Sittenfeld

This is the author's fictionalized imagining of Laura Bush telling her life story. The names are changed, of course, and most of the action takes place in Wisconsin instead of Texas. Anyone who occasionally scans newspaper headlines will recognize the major characters right away. As for the book itself? It's OK, sort of absorbing at times, but not as affecting as the author's two earlier novels. Significant cuts would have benefited this book greatly; large passages are just the narrator musing at great length and saying very little. I am struck, too, having read three books by this author in less than a year, by the almost pathological passivity shared by all of her protagonists. American Wife drags you through a lot of pages just to have the narrator shrug at almost every crossroads and go along with what other people want her to do.

8. The Things They Carried, by Tim O'Brien

I started to read this for a class in college, and I liked the book even then, but I goofed off and never finished it. Until now! Thumbs up, and it is a quick read. It is not quite a memoir; it is more the author playing around with the truth about his time as a soldier in Vietnam. The chapters are more short stories than steps in a novel. There are some interesting themes, the writing flows well, and I liked the theory he puts out in the last chapter (the last story?) about the purpose of storytelling.

Current Mood: indifferent
Sunday, March 29th, 2009
5:33 pm
Hunters of Dune, Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson
On the day he died, Rakis--the planet commonly known as Dune--died with him.
It's been three years since the end of Chapterhouse. Duncan, Sheeana, Miles Teg, Scytale and the other refugees are still flying around trying to avoid the old man and woman who are searching for them. Murbella is trying to join the Bene Gesserit and the Honored Matres into one unified force. Meanwhile more refugees--mainly Lost Tleilaxu and Face Dancers--are arriving from the Scattering. Scytale, terrified of his impending mortality, gives Sheeana his most precious possession--a nullentropy capsule containing cells of heroes like Serena Butler (the woman behind the Butlerian Jihad against the thinking machines), Paul Atreides, Leto II, and even Wellington Yueh (the man who betrayed the Atreides way back in Dune). Once they get enough volunteers to be axlotl tanks, the refugees start making gholas. Meanwhile a group of new Face Dancers have also made a ghola of Paul (called Paolo) along with Vladimir Harkonnen. Lots of killing, lots of intrigue, and lots of revelations. I checked out Sandworms as soon as I finished this.

Darwin's Blade, Dan Simmons
The phone rang a few minutes after four in the morning.
I ran across this in the Unshelved Book Club. Darwin Minor is an accident investigator with a knack for reconstructions based on his extensive knowledge of physics, chaos variety. He's still trying to get beyond the death of his wife and baby son in a plane crash ten years ago, but he's doing a lot better. One day as he's coming back from an investigation at a nursing home, a car full of Russian hitmen begin shooting at him. And thus Dr. Darwin Minor gets involved in a nationwide insurance fraud investigation that involves a TV lawyer, a charitable organization, and the Russian mafia. Thrilling and full of fun little asides. A minor complaint about the edition I read: someone needed to get their proofreading glasses on. At one point they mentioned the fictional town of Chapel Hill, South Carolina and a few pages later a couple of murder victims got mixed up. Hopefully these were corrected in the paperback.

Shame, Salman Rushdie
In the remote border town of Q., which when seen from the air, resembles nothing so much as an ill-proportioned dumbbell, thre once lived three lovely, and loving, sisters.
In the fictional country of Pakistan-But-Not-Explicitly-Named-So, a girl is born who can take on the shame of others. As the personification of this oft-concealed emotion, she goes on rampages against people who really do need to be ashamed of themselves. Her father is the head of the army who, in the best dictatorship tradition, kills his predecessor to take over the country. Her husband is a doctor with three mothers. Her sister has twenty-seven children. Her mother is all kinds of messed up. It's complicated (but not as confusing as Satanic Verses, humorous with lots of little biographical asides, and a gripping story of a country trying to decide what it wants to be.
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