Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Mind Voyages

Robbin of My Two Blessings is hosting a science fiction challenge called Mind Voyages running all of 2010 (just my speed). There are lots of different voyages from reading Hugo or Nebula winners to reading nominees etc. I have selected "The I'm going to Pluto because Pluto is still a planet as far as I'm concerned Voyage" because how could I resist such a title? And by the way Pluto will always be a planet to me. For the Pluto Voyage the instructions are:

Mix it up, choose the number of books you want to read from each voyage,
include some new books you pick up along the way and enjoy the ride.

And I appreciate the flexibility and would love to add some new books!

We don't have to select our books ahead of time but looking through the lists on the site these are ones that I might be reading:

The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester (Hugo winner 1953)
A Canticle for Liebowitz, Walter Miller (Hugo winner 1961)
Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny (Hugo winner 1968)
The Forever War, Joe Haldeman (Hugo & Nebula winner 1976)
The Yiddish Policeman's Union, Michael Chabon (Hugo & Nebula winner 2008)

Anathem, Neal Stephenson (2009 Hugo Nominee)
Brasyl, Ian McDonald (2008 Hugo Nominee)
Glasshouse, Charles Stross (2007 Hugo Nominee)
Old Man’s War, John Scalzi (2006 Hugo Nominee)
The Scar, China Miéville (2003 Hugo Nominee)
The Years of Rice and Salt, Kim Stanley Robinson (2003 Hugo Nominee)
Fall of Hyperion, Dan Simmons (1991 Hugo Nominee)
Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven (1978 Hugo Nominee)
The Dying Earth, Jack Vance (1951 Hugo Nominee)

I would love to read some Philip K Dick as I have never read any (but Blade Runner is one of my favorite movies) and more Heinlein as I have read quite a bit many years ago but as he was a prolific writer there are many more to try.

As for new books, see my list for Carl V's Sci Fi Experience.

I am looking forward to reading everyone's reviews and adding to my wish list!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Sci Fi Experience 2010

I cannot believe it is almost 2010. Work has been getting in the way of reading and blogging but I just had a huge work project unexpectedly come to an end this week so I am looking forward to jumping into the Sci Fi Experience. Thanks Carl for hosting!

I was about to start The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons (I absolutely loved Hyperion) so that will be my first one. I also have Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller recently acquired on my shelves and I have been thinking of ordering The Wind Up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. I doubt that I will have time for any more but if I do here are some SF books that are on my wish list:

Daemon, Daniel Suarez

Cyberbad Days, Ian McDonald

The Suicide Collectors, David Oppegaard

Brasyl, Ian McDonald

The Caryatids, Bruce Sterling

Incandescence, Greg Egan

Gridlinked, Neal Ahser

Glass House, Charles Stross

The Android’s Dream, John Scalzi

Old Man’s War, John Scalzi

Stealing Light, Gary Gibson

Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny

Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, James Tiptree, Jr.

Peace War , Vernor Vinge

And as always I am looking forward to reading everyone's reviews and adding to my wish list.

2009 Year in Review

I know that 2009 is not yet over but I will not be finishing anymore books before the New Year (2666 is taking me a while). Looking back at 2009 I succeeded in many of my goals that I set at the beginning of the year. I read more (25 instead of 20 books), my reading included more science fiction, and I was more consistent in writting reviews (although there is still room for improvement!). My favorite books from 2009 (with links to my reviews) were:

City of Saints and Madmen by Jeff Vandermeer
I started reading Jeff's blog before I read any of his books and I am very happy that I gave his fiction a try. City of Saints and Madmen is a collection of stories set in his wonderfully realized city of Ambergris with mushroom people, giant squid and strange rituals. And I loved the innovative formats utilized to tell the stories. I already purchased his other two books set in this wonderful city, Shriek and Finch and cannot wait to read them. This was by far my favorite book of 2009.

Wind-Up Bird Chronicles by Haruki Murakami
I am a huge fan of Murakami and I certainly was not disappointed with this one. While this book is more dense then Kafka on the Shore it still has wonderful writing, weird characters and inexplicable events that make Murakami so interesting.

Hyperion by Dan Simmons
This was the book that I simply could not put down. It tells the stories of six pilgrims sent to the planet Hyperion for an audience with the Shrike on the eve of war. Each of the pilgrim's stories are so richly drawn with fascinating characters and amazing and varied worlds that each one could easily have been a novel unto itself.

Eligance of the Hedghog by Muriel Barbery
This was by far the most beautifully written book that I read this year. It is not a plot driven book but its rendering of the concierge, a 12 year old girl and a Japanese man all living in an elegant Parisian apartment building was extremely compelling. I recommended it to numerous people this year and everyone has loved it.

I don't have any specific goals for next year except to read more! Oh yeah, and to fit in more classics. I usually read at least one or two and I didn't manage that this past year.

Although some of the books could fall into more than one category for the purposes of this list I only assigned one category for each book.
Nonfiction - 1
Science Fiction - 6
Horror - 6
Fantasy - 3
Mystery - 2
Literary - 4
Thriller - 0
Other - 4
Female authors - 5
Male authors - 20
New to me authors - 17
Audiobooks - 2

Bookmarks Magazine

Here's what looked good in Bookmarks Magazine Nov./Dec. issue:

Best Books of 2009 Article
A Mercy, Toni Morrison
Sea of Poppies, Amitav Ghosh
The Little Giant of Aberdeen County, Tiffany Baker
Daemon, Daniel Suarez SF
Cyberbad Days, Ian McDonald SF
The Lost City of Z, David Grann NF
The Age of Wonder, Richard Holmes NF

The Suicide Collectors, David Oppegaard SF
The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood
The Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood
The Calligrapher's Daugher, Eugenia Kim
Cold, Bill Streever NF
The Sisters of Sinai, Janet Soskice

The Elephant Keeper S
Spooner, Pete Dexter S
Inherent Vice, Thomas Pynchon S
Notcurnes, Kazuo Ishiguro S
Gourmet Rhapsody, Muriel Barbery S
Bad Things Happen, Harry Dolan S

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Bookmarks Magazine

Books that looked interesting in the September/October 2009 Bookmarks Magazine:

The Children’s Book - A.S. Byatt
The Year of the Flood - Margaret Atwood
Mao’s Last Dancer - Li Cunxin NF
Commissario Guido Brunetti Series - Donna Leon
People of the Book - Geraldine Brooks
Count of Monte Cristo - Alexander Dumas
Censoring an Iranian Love Story - Shahriar Mandanipour
Angel’s Game - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Fordlandia -Greg Grandin NF
Death with Interruptions - Jose Saramago (S)
Inherent Vice - Thomas Pynchon (S)
The Strain - Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan (S)

Sunday, November 01, 2009

RIP IV Wrap Up

It is hard to believe that the RIP IV challenge is over. I originally signed up for Peril the Second which meant that I was committed to reading two books. I read:

Hell House
Turn of the Screw
Pride Prejudice and Zombies
Ghost Stories of an Antiquary
Thirteenth Tale
House of Leaves

I guess I could have signed up for Peril the First but I appreciate Carl giving us options to participate as little or as much as we can. Each of the books was so different and I enjoyed them all. If I had to pick I would say that House of Leaves and Pride Prejudice and Zombies were my favorites. House of Leaves was the scariest house I have ever encountered and I enjoyed its experimental format and Pride Prejudice and Zombies was just plain fun. For short stories you cannot beat M.R. James and I really enjoyed Ghost Stories of an Antiquary.

I am sorry that I didn't get around to Master and Margarita but I bought it so perhaps next year if not sooner. There are 693 reviews posted and I haven't gotten around to all of them yet so I am sure my wish list will be growing. I also ran across an interesting article in the Washington Post that asked famous writers to identify their favorite frightening tale - more fodder for the wish list. Thanks Carl for hosting a great challenge and I cannot wait for next year!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

House of Leaves

by Mark Z. Danielewski

I first read this when it first came out in 2000, or maybe shortly before. At the time I was working at Barnes & Noble and the buzz on this was intense. My reaction then was that it was a great scary story imbedded in too much gimmick, the author needed to get over himself and the editors needed to focus on the story of the house. But over the years this story has stuck with me long after I have forgotten most of the other books that I read. And the house in this story is the scary house by which I measure all scary houses and so far they all come up short. So for Carl V’s RIP IV I wanted to reread this book and see what my reaction would be, especially since in the past nine years my appreciation for books with labels like postmodern, meta fiction and experimental has grown. So my question to myself was this: Is this still the scariest house I have ever encountered and if so does it work in spite of the unique format used or because of it?

At the heart of this story is a house. It is your ordinary suburban house but then a hallway appears where none was the day before. The house is measured and the interior dimensions are greater than the exterior. Then another hallway appears that leads to a labyrinth of hallways and rooms and a spiral stairway that leads down for miles. The walls of the labyrinth are featureless, the temperature is steady and there is no movement of air. Any article left in the labyrinth will gradually just disintegrate and disappear - including dead bodies. And it is not just the immensity of the labyrinth which is somehow inside a suburban house that is terrifying but its lay out changes continually. One minute you can see the bottom of the spiral staircase the next it takes seven days to walk down it. You walk into a room and a moment later the door you just entered is gone. Yes - this is still by far the scariest house ever. But if you just put the parts of this book about what happened in the house together you would only have a short story and House of Leaves is 709 pages which includes extensive footnotes, exhibits and appendices.

The introduction to the book is written by a character named Johnny Truant who claims that he rescued what will be presented from the trunk of a deceased recluse named Zampano. Zampano’s work, which Johnny reconstructs, is an academic scholarly examination of the allegedly famous documentary film, the Navidson Record. The documentary was allegedly made by a famous award winning photo journalist, Will Navidson, about his house on Ash Tree Lane into which he recently moved with his wife Karen, a former high fashion model, and their two children to reconnect as a family. As the house starts changing Will Navidson, his brother, a friend and a professional explorer and his team try to explore the labyrinth with disastrous results. It is only through this scholarly examination of the documentary film that the story of the house is revealed. Zampano’s work is not only written in a dry academic style with exhaustive footnotes and citations to authorities but does not focus on the plot of the Navidson Record or what is happening with the house but assumes that you are familiar with the plot. I often found myself wanting to skip ahead to find out what was happening with the explorers instead of wading through lengthy dissertations on architecture, the meaning of home or the nature of labyrinths. Not only is it written in an academic style but as the explorers are in the labyrinth the very text changes so that parts of the text are written upside down, sideways, backwards. The footnotes become even more difficult to follow as the footnotes have footnotes with footnotes and I know that some I simply could not find. This style really makes the reader feel the frustration of being inside of a labyrinth. And then the text shifts from being very dense and chaotic to only having a few words on an otherwise blank page. This is not your typical straightforward narrative.

Included in the footnotes are notes from Johnny Truant. Some of the foot notes comment on Zampano’s text, for example explaining that he has been unable to confirm the existence of the Navidson Record documentary, the existence of any of the people from the documentary such as Will Navidson, or the existence of the house. The bulk of the footnotes by Johnny however deal with Johnny’s life. As Johnny’s story is laid out in the footnotes we see him slowly descend into madness as he becomes obsessed with the text found in Zampano’s trunk and loses contact with the outside world. The appendices to the book include numerous letters from Johnny’s mother from a psychiatric ward further rounding out his story.

Reading House of Leaves reminded me of the August article in the Wall Street Journal by Lev Grossman entitled “Good Books Don’t Have to be Hard” which caused such a stir. See Mumpsimus or Conversational Reading. Mr. Grossman explains:
The Modernists introduced us to the idea that reading could be work, and not common labor but the work of an intellectual elite, a highly trained coterie of professional aesthetic interpreters. The motto of Ezra Pound's "Little Review," which published the first chapters of Joyce's "Ulysses," was "Making no compromise with the public taste." Imagine what it felt like the first time somebody opened up "The Waste Land" and saw that it came with footnotes. Amateur hour was over.
And House of Leaves takes the difficulty of the Waste Land to the next level. Does the difficulty of reading this text simply feed our ego so we can read a straight-out horror story of a creepy house while feeling superior to the “amateur[s]” or does the difficult text add to the experience? I think when I first read this book I wanted to just read it for the plot (which is a great one) but this time around I enjoyed the journey as much as the plot. And for the record I don’t usually like poetry but I love the Waste Land and have not yet been able to get through Ulysses.

House of Leaves is not the type of book you can read quickly but if you take the time I found it very rewarding. One of the things I loved about this book is its homage to Jorge Luis Borges, one of my favorite authors. Of course the labyrinth of the house as well as the lengthy discussion of labyrinths, and fiction portrayed as criticism made me think of Borges but the author even includes one of Borges characters. In the chapter about the significance of echos the footnote discusses the echo of Don Quixote by Pierre Menard, a character from Borges wonderful story “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote”. In that piece Borges reviews the work of fictional Pierre Menard who through total identification with Cervantes wrote Don Quixote (which is word for word identical to the original) in a manner that was more subtle and infinitely richer than the original. Zampono comments that Menard’s “nuances are so fine as to be nearly undetectable, though ... haunted ... by sorrow, accusation and sarcasm.” p. 42. Johnny Truant in a footnote to that foot note comments “Exactly. How the fuck do you write about exquisite variation when both passages are exactly the same?” I really enjoyed the interplay of Zampano’s serious scholarly work with Johnny’s honest gut reaction. I thought this was a very interesting way for the author (Danielewski) to make his commentary on literary criticism in a fun way.

I also thought that the format of House of Leaves (a story about a guy who finds a manuscript about a documentary about the exploration of scary house) works really well in exploring the distances between the characters. The most terrifying aspect of the house was the fact that the labyrinth was of infinite and changing distance. In one particularly horrifying scene Navidson is at the bottom of the spiral stair case when it moves so that he no longer is within sight of his friends at the top but is trapped at the bottom of the stairway many many miles away from anyone and his situation goes from being almost home to being without hope in a second. Most of the characters are struggling with distances in their relationships and interactions with others as well. The Navidson family specifically move to the house to try and reconnect and eliminate the distances that have been growing between them. Johnny Truant, struggles through out his life trying to make some type of connection with anyone, first his mother, then through numerous one night stands and ultimately ends up totally isolated, alone with Zampano’s manuscript. And the format of the book also places a great distance between the reader and the characters and main plot making you feel the frustration of that distance which I thought worked well.

Just like the Waste Land you could spend years examining the text and indeed, many articles, blogs and websites have done just that. The answer to my question is that I enjoyed the format and difficult text of the book and while it is still the scariest house I have ever encountered it is also a rewarding reading experience. Read it for the plot itself or read it more closely but in any case I highly recommend it.

The Thirteenth Tale

by Diane Setterfield

Vida Winter, a dying famous reclusive writer hires Margaret Lee, a young girl who works in her father’s bookshop, to write her biography. Margaret goes to stay with the ill Vida Winter at her estate and gradually Vida Winter tells her tale. I was excited to read it especially since it got such rave reviews during RIP III, in blog land and in traditional reviews. As is typical in sprawling family sagas the tale is about family, love, lies, deceits and betrayals. Although this is not the type of story that I usually read, I was caught up in the tale that Vida slowly reveals and the characters were interesting. This is a very atmospheric tale in the style of Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre and I especially liked Angelfield, Vida’s childhood home.

***Spoiler Alert*** The only negative I have to say about this book is that Amazon and other sources refer to it as a ghost story so I kept looking for an actual ghost. Yes, Vida and others were haunted by their pasts, obsessed with departed loved ones and Margaret talks to and sees her deceased twin in mirrors but I didn’t take any of those instances to be more than usual human grief and longing and did not involve an actual supernatural ghost. I also saw the “twist” coming early on but I still enjoyed the story.

Over all it didn’t live up to the hype and I am not going to rush out and buy her next book but I have recommended this book to a couple of people who I think will enjoy it. For me I am much more excited about House of Leaves that I just finished and tackling Bolano’s 2666 which just arrived from Barnes & Nobles.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Ghost Stories of an Antiquary

For this Short Story Sunday I read Ghost Stories of an Antiquary by M.R. James which I absolutely loved.

Montague Rhodes James (1862- 1936) was a medieval scholar at Cambridge and Eaton who also delighted in writing ghost stories which he then liked to read out loud to his friends during the holidays. This is his first collection of ghost stories originally published in 1904. He is one of my favorite ghost story authors and his stories tell tales of scholars or gentlemen, often upon discovering an ancient manuscript or relic, who let their curiosity get them into much more than they bargain for. While dripping in gothic atmosphere M.R. James does not shy away from horror. “Malevolence and terror, the glare of evil faces, 'the stony grin of unearthly malice', pursuing forms in darkness, and 'long-drawn, distant screams', are all in place, and so is a modicum of blood, shed with deliberation and carefully husbanded.” M. R. James. "Some Remarks on Ghost Stories". The Bookman, December 1929. These are perfect stories to curl up with on a dark and stormy night. This book contains eight stories.

Cannon Alberic’s Scrap-book tells the story of scholar who buys an ancient manuscript and wishes he hadn’t. Lost Hearts is about an orphan who goes to live with a distant cousin and finds that he is not the first child to be taken in and then mysteriously disappear. The Mezzotint is one of his classic tales of a gentlemen scholar who excitedly purchases a Mezzotint that strangely changes before his eyes. The Ash Tree is one of my favorites about the revenge of a witch burned at the stake and scarey spiders. Many of his tales can provide you with invaluable lessons to follow in your life. Number 13 teaches you when staying in a hotel to not even take a room that could have been near unlucky room number 13, even if it does not exist. Count Magus is also one of my favorites about the dangers of hanging out in mausoleums and talking to the inhabitants. Oh Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad convinced me that if I ever dig up a whistle from an ancient archaeological site I will just put it back. And finally, The Treasure of Abbot Thomas is very clear that if you ever come upon a well with stairs leading down into it, no matter what wonderful things you think you might find down there, don’t go.

I cannot wait to read his next collection, More Ghost Stories. I down loaded Ghost Stories of an Antiquarian for free from but you can also read it online or down load it from Project Gutenberg. Moreover I think many of the individual stories are also on line. I am also curious to read some of Sheridan Le Fanu ghost stories as I understand that M.R. James admired them. If you like ghost stories at all M.R. James is not to be missed.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

In case there is anyone out there who has not heard of this book, Seth Grahame-Smith has taken the original text of the classic Pride and Prejudice, which is in the public domain, and added his own sections into the story involving England’s plague of zombies, martial arts training in the orient for all well breed English ladies and armies of ninjas. Is this a gimmick? Absolutely, but I still greatly enjoyed this fun zombie romp. I certainly have read Pride and Prejudice and encountered some of the movies but I am not a rabid Austin fan. There will certainly be those that find taking such liberties with a classic to be appalling. I for one think imitation or parody is the highest form of flattery. To have both Darcy and Elizabeth skilled killers added an extra depth to their relationship that was missing from the original. This is not a work of great literature and while Pride and Prejudice will likely still be read a 100 years from now, this most likely will not. Nevertheless, literature does not need to be taken so seriously all the time and I enjoy a purely entertaining read now and then. I read this in one day while sitting on airplanes and in airports and it was the perfect read to keep me entertained and chuckling the whole day. I think that you will likely find it more amusing if you are a little familiar with Pride and Prejudice, but it would be interesting to hear someone’s take on it who had not read the original before hand. Those readers that are intimately familiar with the original text seem to be the ones most likely to dislike the book.

I read this for the RIP IV challenge and it has been quite popular with other participants as well. Here are some of their reviews:

Fuzzy Cricket
Book Rat
Biblio Addict
The Little Bookworm

Egalia's Daughters

by Gerd Brantenberg

This was a book that I read for my book club. This feminist novel was originally published in 1977 in Norway and I must say that I found it a little dated and disappointing. I had high hopes for this novel in which the tables are turned and it is a woman’s world. Women hold the power, have careers and provide for their families while the men (or housebounds) stay at home and take care of the children. I thought it would be interesting to explore a society where the women were in control and was disappointed that the author simply flipped the roles of the sexes instead of really thinking about how a society run by women might be different. Of course by the time I got further into the book I understood that the author’s goal was to throw the spot light on our society, not theorize about a true women’s society. The men wear dresses, bows in their beards and fancy decorated “pehos” on their penises which stick through the skirts and hold the penis out straight. Every word with “man” in it has been changed to ‘wim” or “wom” for example seaman is seawim etc. The plot line is pretty thin and none of the characters are particularly engaging but then again, entertainment is not the point of this book. All in all I got the point early on and felt like I was being hit over the head with the authors point. Moreover, 32 years later, our society has changed immensely. Virtually all of the women in my book group are career women and while we can try and imagine what it was like for women in 1977, the issues presented didn’t really resonate with us. Interesting from a historical perspective but not great literature although it did engender a lively and interesting discussion.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Turn of the Screw

by Henry James

I like Henry James and since this is a classic ghost story, I am surprised to say that I had never read it so I thought it would be a perfect selection for RIP IV. It is the story of a governess hired to care for a young boy and girl at their uncle’s country estate. At first everything is going well and she finds the children charming but then she starts seeing a man and a women about the estate that cannot be accounted for. I don’t want to give the plot away but I was surprised by the ending and found myself wondering if this account, allegedly written by the governess, was “true”, whether she was leading us on with her version of the events, or whether she believed the events to be true but they were really all in her head. After I read the novella I read a little bit about this story on the internet and apparently there is quite a bit of scholarly debate “over the reality of the ghosts and the sanity of the governess.” In any case it was a fun novella which has been turned into both a ballet and opera as well as tv and big screen adaptions. You can read it for yourself on line or download it from Project Gutenberg or Feedbooks.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Hell House

by Richard Matheson

This is my first read for the RIP IV Challenge. One of my favorite horror stories is I Am Legend by Richard Matheson published in 1954 but I had never read anything else by this author. I loved I Am Legend because although about vampires, it is really about the terror of one man being truly all alone in the world. It does not focus on the vampires but focuses on the psychological terror. Which of course is absolutely nothing like the movie that came out a couple of years ago. I enjoyed the movie but I never would have guessed that it was based on this book if it did not actually say so on the trailer. So enough about I Am Legend except to say if you haven’t read it you certainly should.

Hell House was published in 1971 and while not as powerful as I Am Legend was an enjoyable read. I just love haunted houses and this is one of the creepiest evil houses there is. It is similar to Shirley Jackson’s the Haunting of Hill House but is less of a psychological thriller and has more graphic violence and sex. A dying millionaire wants to determine whether there is life after death before he finds out first hand. To do this he purchases the “most haunted house in the world”, Belasco House, and assembles a team to investigate it. The team consists of a physicist and his wife (Dr. Lionel Barrett and Edith), a mental medium who heads her own Spiritualist church (Florence Tanner) and a physical medium (Franklin Fischer), the only survivor of the last investigative attempt 30 years before. The investigative team initially argues over whether the evil nature of the house stems from the spirit of its prior owner Emeric Belasco or multiple spirits that were involved in the horrible acts of blasphemy and perversion that took place with Belasco as host or whether it is pure physical oddities that can be eliminated. Eventually the question becomes will anyone survive Hell House this time. I would have liked a little more background on Belasco and the history of the house because I am always interested in the why, but it was a fun read. If you haven’t read any Matheson however start with I Am Legend.

All She Was Worth

by Miyuki Miyabe

Blurb from the back cover:
A suspenseful noir thriller from one of Japan’s best-selling authors. All She Was Worth takes a journey through the dark side of Japan’s consumer-crazed society. When a beautiful young women vanishes in Tokyo, her distraught fiancé enlist the help of his uncle, a police inspector, to find her. The detective quickly realizes that she is not who she claimed to be, and his search for her brings him to a dangerous financial underworld where insurmountable personal debt lead to crimes of desperation. Her, spending frenzies, stolen identities, and unscrupulous creditors can create a lethal mix.
This is my first read for the Third Japanese Literature Challenge. I liked the main character, the police detective Honma, very much and the woman that he was in search of was very intriguing. I found the story compelling and read it fairly quickly because I wanted to know what happened. I found the census and registry procedures in Japan fascinating and especially liked the switching identity story line. Despite an ambiguous ending ,I enjoyed it very much.

There is one aspect of the story which I found a little puzzling which was the extreme consequences of getting over your head in consumer debt. This book was first published in Japan in 1992, 17 years ago. As I was reading I kept wondering whether I was finding it a little dated or whether it was a cultural difference. Today, especially in this recession, I think most people are well aware of the dangers and problems associated with using credit, especially credit cards, to excess and how it can rapidly get out of control. On the other hand, while today stories of people brought to ruin by credit card debt are common, in the U.S. that translates into financial ruin. While you might have to declare bankruptcy and not be able to use credit in the future, no one is going to kidnap or murder you. I suppose if you do go to loan sharks things could get dicey but I also think it unlikely that people in the U.S. go to loan sharks to pay off credit card debt rather than just defaulting on the debt. In the story people go to great lengths to avoid defaulting on debt and consequently get themselves mixed up with a deadly bunch of characters. Do people in Japan avoid defaulting on debt at all costs or has it become more common for people in Japan to simply walk away from debt these days?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

by Stieg Larsson
translated from Swedish by Reg Keeland

My husband got me the new DX Kindle for my birthday, having taken custody of the Cybook that he had gotten for me a few years before. To give the Kindle it’s first spin I wanted a page turner and this best seller both in Europe and in the U.S. seemed to fit the bill. I don’t normally read mysteries but I really enjoyed this and immediately purchased the second book in this trilogy.

The original Swedish title is Men Who Hate Women and the story takes place in present day Sweden. A disgraced journalist, Mikael Blomkvist is approached by Henrik Vanger, a retired industrialist to attempt to find out what happened to his great niece who mysteriously disappeared 36years before. Blomkvist teams up with an unusual pierced and tattooed young girl, Lisbeth Salander, who is a genius investigator/hacker to try and solve the mystery. Lisbeth has been described in other reviews as having Asperger Syndrome but that is not clear from the book and I think it is also possible that she is just emotionally stunted by mysterious events from her past. In any case Lisbeth is a fascinating character. Obviously brilliant, emotionally distant but with rare and heartbreaking attempts to connect with someone. Although very young she is a survivor and does whatever is necessary to take care of herself. This is a part one of a trilogy so we only get glimpses of her background but I really want to read the other books to learn more about her. All the characters were well developed and I especially enjoyed the creepy and extended Vanger family. And the person at the heart of the mystery is also suitably terrifying. It was certainly a page turner with lots of interesting plot twists and a full conclusion to the mystery at hand. I highly recommend it.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


It is time once again for Carl V’s Readers Imbibing Peril Challenge from September 1 through October 31. Yeah! Obviously I have put way too much thought into this because I have put together a pool of books far longer then I will be able to get to in the next two months. Nevertheless I am signing up for Peril the Second which means that I will read at least two books but hopefully more.

Definitely reading:

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. I read this when it first was published in 2000 and it has always stuck with me as the scariest house I have encountered. I bought a new copy last year for the RIP III and was very disappointed that I didn’t get to it.

Hell House by Richard Matheson. He wrote I am Legend which I just loved.

Planning to Read:

Turn of the Screw by Henry James. I cannot believe that I have never read this classic and I have it downloaded on my new Kindle.

Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield which I have in audio on my ipod.

Short Stories:

This genre seems to lend itself to short stories and I currently have on my Kindle and hope to dip into short story collections by M.R. James, Algernon Blackwood, Ambrose Bierce, Sheridan Le Fanu, Edgar Allen Poe and a collection of Famous Ghost Stories by various authors.

I am also intrigued by Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edogawa Rampo which of course would also tie in nicely with the Japanese Literature Challenge.

Other Novels that look good:

Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
Great and Secret Show or Damnation Game by Clive Barker - I loved his Weaveworld.
The Stand by Stephen King - cannot believe that I have never actually read it.
The Terror by Dan Simmons
Pride Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova - which has been sitting on my shelf since it came out.
We Have Always Lived In the Castle by Shirley Jackson - I loved Hill House.
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe
The Ghost Writer by John Harwood - also been on my shelf since it came out.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

No Great Mischief

by Alistair Macleod

Whenever I travel to a new place I like to read some literature set in that location. There are not many books set in Cape Breton Nova Scotia but this one was by a well respected author so I thought I would give it a try. It is the story of the Mac Donald clan that came to Cape Breton from Scotland two hundred years. It is told by one of the Mac Donald descendants who grew up in Cape Breton but as an adult now lives in Ontario. As he interacts with his siblings in the present he reminisces about growing up in Cape Breton and the family stories passed down through the generations.

Parts of the book are beautifully written. Here is a passage about his experience working in a mine with his brothers.
It was always a surprise to come to the surface and to be reacquainted with the changes of weather and of time. Sometimes it would be four in the morning and the night would be giving way to dawn, and the stars would appear to be going out like quietly snuffed candles as the sky began to redden with the promise of the sun. Sometimes the moon would gleam whitely above us and my brothers would say, “Chointhe, lochran aigh nam bochd,”, “Look, the lamp of the poor.”
I cannot say that I enjoyed it though. While I appreciate the craftsmanship and I think that it told a very interesting story it was simply too bleak and depressing for me and I had to force myself to finish it. And I am not the type of person that needs books with happy endings. I usually tend toward dark and disturbing stories. My issue with this was simply that the exact same story could have been told with the exact same characters and plot points without losing the tragedy of the whole thing while offering at least some small glimmer of hope. There was one particular episode from the time the narrator’s childhood which is particularly tragic and heart wrenching that is repeated over and over again in the book. I lost count after the sixth retelling of this particular story and would just cringe when it came around yet again. I felt that I was being beaten over the head. I get it, it is a tragic story, a story that keeps repeating itself throughout the Mac Donald clan and the author doesn’t want to sugar coat it. But I don’t believe that this tale is more “true” by virtue of leaving out any hope.

On Amazon it has a four star rating based upon 69 reviews and one reviewer even said he found it “incredibly life - affirming” . That is the great thing about fiction, different people will get different things out of it. To me the despair came through most strongly but you might find something entirely different.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Feeding Frenzy

Across Europe in Search of the Perfect Meal
by Stuart Stevens

I don’t remember if this travel book was a gift from someone or whether I bought it myself back when it came out in 1997 but it was still sitting on my shelf this year when I was looking for something light and fun to read. The premise is that a journalist and his friend Rat, a high fashion model, take a trip to Europe to eat. Rat’s boyfriend says that he will pay for the entire trip if they are able to eat in all 29 of the Michelin three star restaurants in Europe in 29 days. Hilarity ensues as they decide this must be done in an imported cherry red 1965 Mustang which arrives in Europe with no brakes and they inadvertently pick up a large golden retriever that they name Harry.

Although not great literature, it was very enjoyable. Not only was it funny but it was a very interesting look at many of the famous restaurants of Europe as well as the interesting chief /owners that created those restaurants. If you don’t enjoy reading about food, cooking, restaurants and chiefs I would give this a pass but if those are topics that interest you this is a fun way to vicariously experience a wild European Restaurant tour. If you are looking for serious and accurate writing about the famous restaurants try something else. This author has written other travel books and I would be willing to give them a try someday.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

by Muriel Barbery

Blurb from the book:
We are in the center of Paris, in an elegant apartment building inhabited by bourgeois families. Renée, the concierge, is witness to the lavish but vacuous lives of her numerous employers. Outwardly she conforms to every stereotype of the concierge: fat, cantankerous, addicted to television. Yet, unbeknownst to her employers, Renée is a cultured autodidact who adores art, philosophy, music, and Japanese culture. With humor and intelligence she scrutinizes the lives of the building’s tenants, who for their part are barely aware of her existence.

Then there’s Paloma, a twelve-year-old genius. She is the daughter of a tedious parliamentarian, a talented and startlingly lucid child who has decided to end her life on the sixteenth of June, her thirteenth birthday. Until then she will continue behaving as everyone expects her to behave: a mediocre pre-teen high on adolescent subculture, a good but not an outstanding student, an obedient if obstinate daughter.

Paloma and Renée hide both their true talents and their finest qualities from a world they suspect cannot or will not appreciate them. They discover their kindred souls when a wealthy Japanese man named Ozu arrives in the building. Only he is able to gain Paloma’s trust and to see through Renée’s timeworn disguise to the secret that haunts her. This is a moving, funny, triumphant novel that exalts the quiet victories of the inconspicuous among us.
I was looking for some recommendations for my book club and had read such glowing reviews of this book that I ordered it to check it out. Before I got a chance to read it my husband snatched it up, read it and absolutely loved it saying it was one of the best books that he read in years. My book club also really enjoyed it when they read it.

It is beautifully written, which is hard to accomplish in translation. Although not plot driven it is a compelling story and I read the entire thing in a weekend because I couldn’t put it down although I would recommend taking your time and enjoying the language. I went back and re-read it more slowly before our book club and it was even more rewarding. I didn’t like either of the main characters at first but as the story unfolds and you get to see beyond their facade I really loved them both. Although the book includes serious themes such as class struggle, philosophy and the search for beauty don’t let that put you off as it is also laugh out loud funny at times and real joy to read.

Sunday, August 09, 2009


by Robert Charles Wilson

Blurb from the book:
The time is the day after tomorrow, and three adolescents - Diane and Jason Lawton, twins, and their best friend, Tyler Dupree - are out stargazing. Thus they witness the erection of a planet-spanning shield around the globe, blocking out the universe. Spin chronicles the next 30-odd years in the lives of the trio, during which 300 billion years will pass outside the shield, thanks to an engineered time discontinuity.

I was really excited when this book came out because it sounded like an interesting premise and it got such great reviews. Then it won the Hugo for Best Novel and the Seiun Award (Japan’s Science Fiction Award) for Best Foreign Language Novel. I was so convinced I would love this that I got a paper back version as well as an ebook version from Tor’s new website. It has obviously taken me a while to get around to reading it and I must confess that I wasn’t that impressed. I didn’t dislike it but when it ended without a real ending I was not inclined to rush out and get the next book, Axis. I think the main issue I had was that while I found the concept and the scientific ideas interesting the book seemed more focused on the three characters. While normally that could be a good thing, I didn’t find these characters very well developed or compelling and I didn’t really care what happened to them. Obviously many people loved it (68 five star reviews on Amazon) but it just didn’t do it for me.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Japanese Literature Challenge 3

I am very excited that the Japanese Literature Challenge 3 is finally here. The challenge is very simple - read one book of Japanese origin between July 30, 2009 and January 30, 2010. For more information visit our host Dolce Bellezza and the review site.

I so enjoyed the challenge last year that I have been waiting with two selections sitting on my coffee table for the challenge to start. I will definitely be reading All She Was Worth by Miyuki Miyabe and The Tatoo Murder Case by Akimitsu Takagi. I also intend to read The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa and something else by Haruki Murakami. So far I have immensley enjoyed his Wind Up Bird Chronicles and Kafka on the Shore - perhaps After Dark, Hard Boiled Wonderland or A Wild Sheep Chase next. And then of course I have no doubt that I will find lots of other books reviewed by the other participants to add to my wish list.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Uncommon Reader

by Alan Bennett

This book was touted as a celebration of reading and irresistible to avid readers but I was disappointed. While it was cute and amusing and I appreciated the depiction of the Queen discovering the joys of reading and then refining her tastes as all readers do, the ending really spoiled it for me. ***Spoiler Alert*** I was annoyed that the Queen eventually abandons reading and decides that she must write instead.
Had she been asked if reading had enriched her life she would have had to say yes, undoubtedly, though adding with equal certainty that it had at the same time drained her of life of all purpose. Once she had been a self- assured single-minded woman knowing where her duty lay and intent on doing if for as long as she was able. Now all too often she was in two minds. Reading was not doing, that had always been the trouble. p. 100
[S]he did not want simply to be a reader. A reader was next door to being a spectator, whereas when she was writing she was doing, and doing was her duty. p. 102
As an avid reader I believe that there is value in reading and that reading is an end to itself, not simply a means to become a writer. If this were truly a celebration of reading then the Queen would not have given up reading in favor of writing. I was also annoyed that reading had such a pronounced detrimental influence on her performance as Queen. While I generally enjoy antidotes about the crazy things that people do who get a little too carried away by books or reading, the antidotes in this story did not strike me as humorous. Instead of identifying with the strong impulse to read that I believe all avid readers share, it merely made me sad that reading had turned into such a negative that she was unable to perform her duties, especially when she actually abdicated the throne to become a writer. I did enjoy the beginning of the book, especially the way that reading opened her eyes to to the world at large and made her more aware of the people around her. While I had high hopes for this little story, I was disappointed.

July/August Bookmarks Magazine

Here's what looked interesting in the July/August Bookmarks Magazine.

Angel's Game, S. Carolos Ruiz Zafon
Devil's Company, David Liss
Girl Who Played with Fire, Stieg Larsson but read
Girl with the Dragon Tatoo first
Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout (S)
Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver
Moscow Rules, Daniel Silva but start with first in series
Shadow of the Scorpion, Neal Asher but start with first in Polity series
Black Hole War, Leonard Susskind (NF)
The Company, Robert Littell
Stone's Fall, Ian Pears
The Family Man, Elinor Lipman (S)
Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, Wells tower (S)
The Little Stranger, Sarah Waters
The World to Come, Dara Horn
How it Ended, Jay McInerney (S)
The Scarecrow, Michael Connelly
Death at La Fenice, Donna Leon
Manual of Detection, Jedediah Berry
Pride Prejudice and Zombies, Seth Grahame-Smith
Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan
Brasyl, Ian McDonald (SF)
something by Paul J. McAuley (SF)
something by Alastair Reynolds (SF)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Once Upon A Time III Wrap Up

This marks the end of the Once Upon A Time III challenge. I had only committed to do the Journey (one book) but ended up doing a few short stories and three books.

Book of Lost Things

Death with Interruptions
City of Saints and Madmen

Short Stories:
The Library of Babel
The Lottery of Babylon

I never got a chance to post the links on the review site for Death with Interruptions or City of Saints and Madmen before Mr. Linky went away. By far my favorite read was the City of Saints and Madmen and I definitley plan on reading more by Jeff Vandermeer. Death with Interruptions was also good but I was very disappointed with Book of Lost Things. And of course the Borges short stories were fabulous as always. I enjoyed the challenge and look forward to next years.

City of Saints and Madmen

by Jeff Vandermeer

I first discovered this author last year when I participated in the Once Upon A Time II Challenge and came across a post on the author’s web site of the Exhaustive Essential Fantasy Reading List. I was intrigued by this list because it included many of my favorite authors such as Kafka, Saramago, Peake, Borges, Calvino, Marquez and made me rethink what fantasy was.The author also has an interesting blog and it made me curious to read this author.

The City of Saints and Madmen is a collection of short stories that all take place in the city of Ambergris. In its first edition it was just four stories, the deluxe second edition expanded to include an appendix which has more short pieces as well as letters from a director of an insane asylum and an Ambergris glossary. The second edition also included an encrypted story on the dust jacket. The paperback edition which I read includes an additional couple of stories and decrypts the story for you.

Ambergris is a fascinating dark and mysterious city with frightful grey caps or mushroom people, strange afflictions, giant squid in the River Moth, bizarre festivals and rituals and an interesting history. The first three stories in the book which introduced me to Ambergris reminded me of China Mieville’s New Corbuzon, although certainly not in a derivative way. The city is slightly evil, creepy, scary, richly imagined and enticing. I really enjoyed the fact that everything was not explained to you but you only caught glimpses and understanding gradually develops as you read more and more. The fourth story, The Strange Case of X, is my favorite and reminded me more of Kafka or Borges then Mieville. I don’t want to give anything away but it makes the reader, and author question what is reality, inserts the author into the story and makes you think about the writing process. The appendix then plays off of the Strange Case of X and includes materials that were in the possession of X such as other pieces about Ambergris in the form of stories, letters, pamphlets, scientific articles and a glossary. I enjoyed the fact that the appendix not only further developed Ambergris but explored different formats to do so. The appendix reminded me of Mark Z. Danielewski’s experimentation with format in House of Leaves and Revolutions. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and definitely will read more of this author.

Death with Interruptions

by Jose Saramago

Blurb from the Dust Jacket: On the first day of the new year, no one dies. This of course, causes consternation among politicians, religious leaders, morticians, and doctors. Among the general public, on the other hand, there is celebration - flags are hung out on balconies, people dance in the streets. They have achieved the great goal of humanity: eternal life.

Jose Saramago, a Nobel prize winning Portuguese author who is now 86 years old has a style uniquely his own. His sentences run on for paragraphs or even pages, there is not much punctuation used and any dialog is imbedded in the run on sentences so it is sometimes difficult to tell who is saying what. His focus is not a strong fast moving plot or extensive in depth character development. The author definitely makes his presence felt and I have heard my friends remark that he makes himself too evident in the writing and that he was just showing off but should just let the story speak for itself with out intruding. But if you enjoy a different style once in a while Saramago is wonderful and one of my favorite authors.

I love his beautiful use of language, his acerbic wit, and his social satire. The time and locations are rarely identified and characters are often unnamed making the stories seem more like a fable. He takes a big question such as what would happen if everyone went blind (Blindness) or the Iberian Peninsula became unattached from Europe and floats off (Stone Raft) and sees where it takes him. In Death with Interruptions, his latest work (2008) translated into English, the question is what if Death stopped? The first part of the book looks at this situation from the big picture view point and explores what this would mean for politicians, the Church, funeral directors, grave diggers, insurance companies, nursing homes and the mafia. In the second part of the book we meet death, with a small not capital d. I don’t want to give too much away but she, yes death is a she, is faced with a situation she has never had to face before. At the end of this fable humans have a much better appreciation of death and death has a better understanding of humans.

This is not one of my favorite Saramago books and probably not where I would recommend someone start but I thoroughly enjoyed it and will continue to read whatever Saramago publishes. My favorite is All the Names which I selected for my book club and was well received. Blindness seems to be very popular and would be a good place to begin but please don’t see the movie first!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

BTT: Niche Books

What Niche Books do you read?

I have a lot of reference type books on my shelves pertaining to photography, Photoshop, dog training, gardening, travel and a huge collection of cookbooks (my husband loves to cook) but I don’t think of them as books that I “read”. They are simply references that I dip into to extract the information that I need and move on. There are three categories of niche books that I will curl up with and read cover to cover for pure enjoyment: 1) Books about Books 2) Books about Antarctica and 3) Books about the Carribean.

I absolutely adore books about books or reading or writing, either fiction or non-fiction. Some of my favorite fiction ones are The Muse Asylum by David Czuchlewski, Club Duma by Arturo Perez-Reverte, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino and the Cliff Janeway mysteries by John Dunning. Some of my favorite non-fiction are Gentle Madness by Nicholas Basbanes, Used and Rare by Lawrence Goldstone, and Library: An Unquiet History by Matthew Battles.

I find Antarctica fascinating and hope to get there someday. I have enjoyed fiction set there such as Ice Limit by Preston & Childe and Antarctica by Kim Stanley Robbinson as well as non-fiction such as Big Dead Place by Nicholas Johnson and In the Ghost Country by Peter Hillary. I will note that I have yet to find an extremely well written book about Antarctica but for some reason I am willing to tolerate poor or average writing that I normally wouldn’t read if it has interesting information about Antarctica.

The last niche that I sometimes read is books about the Carribean, either fiction or non-fiction, especially if it about or set in the Virgin Islands. This is a small niche and most of the books that I have are out of print or only available in the Virgin Islands. I must admit that I used to read and collect a lot more in this niche when I didn’t live in the Virgin Islands then I do now. When its cold and snowy in New England it is more fun to read about the Carribean but now it is more fun to read about the ice and cold of Antarctica.

Does anyone have any suggestions for Books about Books or Books about Antarctica?


Having perused the other responses I have found some great books about books to check out. From the comments to the post by Savidge Reads:
Reading Like a Writer - Francine Prose
Books, Baguettes and Bedbugs - Jeremy Mercer
Ex Libris - Anne Fadiman
Classics for Pleasure - Michael Dirda
The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop - Lewis Buzbee
The Polysyllabic Spree or Housekeeping vs the Dirt - Nick Hornby
The Care and Feeding of Books Old and New - Rosenberg
Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel -Jane Smiley
How to Read Literature Like a Professor -Thomas C. Foster
Why We Read What We Read - Lisa Adams and John Heath
Beowulf on the Beach - Jack Murnighan

And from Molly from My Cozy Book Nook:
Reading Like a Writer - Francine Prose
The 7 Basic Plots - Christopher Booker
How to Read a Book - Mortimer Adler
The Well-Educated Mind - Susan Wise Bauer
Mini Lessons for Literature Circles - Harvey Daniels and Nancy Steineke

And a new one:
A Temple of Texts by William Glass

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

May/June Bookmarks

Here's what sounded interesting in the May/June Bookmarks Magazine.

The City & The City, China Mieville
Prayer's for the Assassin, Robert Ferrigno
Lambs of London, Peter Ackroyd
Book of Air and Shadows, Michael Gruber
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, Daniyal Mueenuddin
Housekeeper and the Professor, Yoko Ogawa
Emperor's Children, Claire Messud
Vagrants, Yiyun Li
Way Through Doors, Jesse Ball
What the Dead Know, Laura Lippman
The Caryatids, Bruce Sterling (SF)
Drood, Dan Simmons
The Terror, Dan Simmons
Incandescence, Greg Egan (SF)
Lost City of Z, David Grann (NF)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


by Dan Simmons

Wow! I don’t think I have said that about a book in many a year. Here is what the blurb from the book says:

On the world called Hyperion, beyond the law of the Hegemony of Man, there waits the creature called the Shrike. There are those who worship it. There are those who fear it. And there are those who have vowed to destroy it. In the Valley of the Time Tombs, where huge, brooding structures move backward through time, the Shrike waits for them all. On the eve of Armageddon, with the entire galaxy at war, seven pilgrims set forth on a final voyage to Hyperion seeking the answers to the unsolved riddles of their lives. Each carries a desperate hope--and a terrible secret. And one may hold the fate of humanity in his hands.

While that is the set up, the book is the stories of six of the pilgrims. When the pilgrims first meet up to begin their journey to the planet Hyperion to see the Shrike they decide to each honestly tell their stories and their connection with Hyperion which may aid them in their endeavor. The worlds that are depicted in the six stories are amazingly well realized and could easily serve as settings for entire novels or even a series in their own right. The characters themselves are also very well developed.

I don’t want to give too much away but .... The pilgrims are 1) a Catholic priest 2) a Colonel in the military of Palestinian descent 3) a female private detective with an AI client 4) a Jewish scholar who brings his infant daughter on the trip 5) an incredibly old poet who lived on old earth before it was destroyed and 6) the Consul, a former governor of Hyperion. There are so many worlds and concepts that could serve as entire books in them selves. I loved the idea of “the World Web” which were worlds linked together not only by communications but by “farcaster” portals that literally allowed you to step from one world to another. There are even houses described where each room would be on a different planet. I found the TechnoCore fascinating - AI’s that are linked together in the “datasphere” and that provided humanity with the “farcaster” technology and basically run the World Web. But I don’t want to give the impression that this is just a hard scifi book because it certainly is not.

I loved the depictions of old earth before it was destroyed - the water levels rising, the extreme rich partying in their little enclaves while the rest of the world went to hell. I loved the planet Maui Covenant (think Hawaii) with its living “motile” islands that migrate in groups with the seasons and the dolphins transplanted from Earth that humanity can now speak with. I also loved all the references to the poet John Keats from which the author takes the novel’s name. Keats not only provides the book’s title named after one of his poems but at one point is the name of the main city on Hyperion set up by Mad King Billy to be an artists colony. And then there is a memorable “cybrid” which is an artificial recreation of the poet John Keats. It seems that all the different segments or aspects of earth have been transplanted to the stars. Catholicism, Islam, Judaism all play a part in the story. There are also Templars who have mysterious tree ships that travel between the stars. And then of course there are some other non- earth aspects such as the Ousters - the enemy that Man is about to go to war with. It is interesting that it is not entirely clear that the Ousters are really the bad guys at all.

This book ends after hearing the six pilgrims tales but before they reach their destination to see the Shrike. I understand that there are three more books in the Hyperion Cantos - the Fall of Hyperion, Endymion and the Rise of Endymion. I immediately bought the Fall of Hyperion when I finished this book to see what happens to the pilgrims but the six stories are so completely rendered that even with out reading any more I would have been satisfied.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Book of Lost Things

by John Connolly

This is my first novel for the Once Upon A Time III challenge. I have read such glowing reviews of this book that I not only read it for the challenge but was thinking that it might be one of my selections for my book club. I am afraid that I didn’t like it. I didn’t hate it either but it certainly didn’t live up to my expectations.

The story is about a 12-year-old English boy, David, who, after the death of his mother, moves with his father and new step mother to the new wife’s family’s country estate. David is given an attic room lined with old books from a previous occupant and the books begin to literally whisper to him. One day after seeing an intruder in his room, David hears his dead mother’s voice in the sunken garden calling to him for help. He follows the voice and finds himself in a very different place where he searches for his mother and a way back to his world.

There is nothing I like better than a book about books. I loved the beginning - who could resist books actually whispering - but as soon as he goes through the crack in the garden wall and finds himself in a different world, the book totally lost me. I appreciated that this new realm is not the realm of Disney fairy tales but harkens back to the brutality of the original Grimm fairy tales that do not necessarily have happy endings. The book is definitely not written for kids, or adults who are the faint of heart. But for me, his retelling of extremely familiar fairy tales was not unique enough to keep my interest. As soon as Roland entered the story I wanted to lay this aside and pick up the Dark Tower series by Stephen King which really does a fabulous job using Browning’s poem Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came. And it’s not that I don’t like fairy tales (I love the Russian ones like Baba Yaga) or re-telling familiar fairy tales (I loved Wicked by Gregory Maguire).

Not only did the plot not hold my interest but the writing itself just wasn’t enough to captivate me. Some authors could write about watching paint dry such as David Foster Wallace, Tom Robbins or Haruki Murakami and I still would be totally entertained and awed by their writing. The writing in this book does not fit into that category. I kept feeling that I was reading a children’s book, even though it is clearly too gruesome in some parts for children. I think that this came from the very simplistic writing style which I found annoying.

Finally, every review I have read has mentioned something that lead me to believe that reading and books would play a major role in the story. (Like the Shadow of the Wind or the Uncommon Reader). I loved the whispering books at the very beginning of the story but that idea was never developed. I was hopeful that since the boy was ultimately seeking “The Book of Lost Things” that a book would play a pivotal role. It is indeed a book about stories and fairy tales but I had hoped that books themselves or reading would play a role.

It was a quick and easy read. All in all I was disappointed as it didn’t live up to my expectations. I do believe however that even if I had not read the rave reviews and had simply read the cover blurb I still would have been unsatisfied with the book.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

March/April Bookmarks Magazine

Here are the books that look good from Bookmarks Magazine.

Book of Chameleons - Jose Eduardo Agualusa
Deathe with Interruptions - Jose Saramago
Elegance of the Hedgehoge - Muriel Barbery
Metropole - Ferenc Karinthy
Little Giant of Aberdeen County - Tiffany Baker
Gridlinked- Neal Ahser
Suicide Collectors- David Oppengaard
Daemon - Daniel Suarez
Lush Life - Richard Price (Clockers)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

History of Computers and the Internet

When I am in the mood to read about the history of computers and the internet, here are two books to try.

Dealers of Light - Michael A. Hiltzik

Where Wizards Stay Up Late - Katie Hafner

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress

by Robert A. Heinlein
Years ago Robert A. Heinlein was one of my favorite authors and even though this book had been sitting on my shelf for many years I hadn't gotten around to reading it. I finally read it as a book selection for my book club, the first sci fi book ever in its 8 year existence- and I didn't even select it. Published in 1966 it is described as "His classic, Hugo Award winning novel of libertarian revolution." The moon was used as a penal colony by Earth but was also responsible for growing a large percentage of the food consumed by the Earth. The story is of a lunar revolution by a computer, a computer technician, a scholar and an agitator to free its citizens from the control of the Warden and the Lunar Authority.

I must say that I had a very hard time getting into the story at first because of the writing style. For some reason the dialog was not written in complete sentences and the lack of articles or pronouns was hard for me to read. I knew what it was saying it just seemed wrong and took me out of the story. About a 100 pages in however either the author gave up this style or I became engrossed in the story line and failed to notice it any more and from then out I loved it. My favorite character was the self aware computer Mike who was instrumental in the rebellion but also had a fascinating personality. The computer's quest to understand humans, such as his attempts to understand jokes, made for an interesting meditation on what it means to be human. This is a novel of ideas, especially about politics and different forms of societies but the novel also had plenty of suspense and action.

I enjoyed this book but it does not rank up there with some of my favorite Heinlein such as Stranger in a Strange Land, Time Enough for Love, the Cat Who Walked Through Walls, Friday or Job. I was very supprised that my book club's first foray into sci fi was successful and everyone seemed to enjoy it.

Friday, April 10, 2009

April Wishlist

When ever I come across a book that I would like to add to my wish list at work I email myself the info. This is my accumulated list from emails from July 08 to present. It appears to be heavy on sci fi and antarctica.

Blood and Ice by Robert Masello

City of Dreaming Books – Walter Moers

– Charles Stross

Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town
– Cory Doctorow

Alchemy of Stone

Secret History of Moscow – Ekaterina Sedia

Antarktos Rising – Jeremy Robinson

Raising Atlantis – Thomas Greanias

Terra Incognita, Travels in Antarctica – Sara Wheeler

Antarctic, Life on the Ice (Traveler’s Tales) – Susan Fox Rogers

Alfred Bester – Stars My Destination, Demolished Man

Shadow of the Scorpion (Polity Novel Prequel) – Ken Asher
1st Polity Novel – Gridlinked

The Android’s Dream – John Scalzi
Also Old Man’s War.

Stealing Light - Gary Gibson

The Culture series by Iain M. Banks - First one Consider Phlebas

Love in the Ruins - Walker Percy

Fallen Angels - Niven/Pournelle

Altered Carbon

by Richard K Morgan

I read Altered Carbon for Carl V’s SciFi Experience but then life got crazy and I didn’t get a chance to write a review. It is hard scifi combined with a classic noir detective novel. (I have seen someone else refer to it as cyber pulp which fits exactly.) Takashi Kovac, a former envoy, gets hired by a very wealthy Meth (a person who lives a very long time) on Earth to find out if he really committed suicide or whether it was murder. The gentlemen isn’t dead in any case because his consciousness is backed up periodically and he has cloned bodies on the ready to slip into but he cannot remember what happened between his last backup and his death.

I really enjoyed it but was a little disappointed that it was really just a detective story that happens to be set in the future. I would have liked a little more emphasis and exploration of the interesting world that the author created and the implications for the new technologies. The memories of a person are stored in a stack and those memories can be resleeved, as long as the stack is not destroyed, either in a clone of your body or a totally different body. Of course for the super rich you can have remote back up of your stack and can go on indefinitely . People no longer have to travel. You can just have your consciousness transmitted and then placed in another sleeve. If you are convicted of a crime your stack is placed in storage and your body can be rented out to others for use. Of course the ordinary deceased citizen may find his family hard pressed to afford either a synthetic body for him or a virtual world to inhabit or be stuck in storage until they can save enough money for you to be resleeved.

I enjoyed the fast paced convoluted plot and the author’s view of the future. The characters were not particularly well developed but then again neither were Dashiell Hammett’s. I especially liked the Artificial Intelligence that ran the hotel in which Kovac stayed. I found the hints about Kovac’s past on Harlan’s world very interesting and was disappointed that the events of the novel were confined to Bay City (obviously San Francisco). It was not quite what I expected but I did enjoy it. Someday I would like to read the sequel, Broken Angels that takes Kovac on adventures outside of earth and supposedly deals with some of his back story.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Lottery of Babylon

The Lottery of Babylon by Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges tells the myth of a lottery run by the secret “Company”. Centuries ago the lottery started out as chances to win prizes such as we are familiar with today but it soon evolved into “a major element of reality”. First the idea of only winning money was done away with because it had no moral force and the idea of unlucky draws was added. As the lottery evolved, eventually the Company had to assume all public power and made the lottery free, universal and secret. “The mercenary sale of lots abolished; once initiated into the mysteries of Baal, every free citizen automatically took part in the sacred drawings, which were held in labyrinths of the god every sixty nights and determined each citizen’s destiny until the next drawing.” As the lottery permeated all elements of life it is described as “an intensification of chance, a periodic infusion of chaos into the cosmos”. At the time of our narrator there is much debate as to whether the Company still exists or even if it ever existed. Some argue “that it makes no difference whether one affirms or denies the reality of the shadowy corporation, because Babylon is nothing but an infinite game of chance.”

I don’t want to tell you too much for fear of ruining it for you but you can read it on line here. This is one of my favorite Borges stories which not only asks what is reality but what role random chance plays in the universe. Is the universe run by a higher authority such as the Company or does the lack of discernable meaning signify that it really is all chance?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Library of Babel

For OUT3's first Short Story Weekend I read one of my favorite Borges short stories, The Library of Babel. Jorge Luis Borges was an Argentinian author and librarian most famous for his short stories. Indeed, Borges never wrote a novel or novella and some of his short stories are so short that they are only a single page. In addition to fiction he also wrote poetry, literary criticism, essays and screenplays and translated many works into Spanish from English, French, German, Old English and Norse. Common themes in his work include the nature of time, infinity, mirrors, labyrinths, reality and philosophy.

The Library of Babel imagines the universe as a vast, if not infinite, library which contains all possible books. The books contain all possible combinations of the 25 symbols (22 letters, the space, comma and period) arranged in apparently random order. There are no two identical books in the library. This means that the vast majority of books make no sense but the librarians endlessly search for sense in the books and the mythological one book that would explain all the other books. Young men travel throughout the labyrinthine library searching for books that will explain the origins of the library or the Crimson Hexagon that is rumored to hold those books that are “all-powerful, illustrated and magical”.

It is not very long and you can read it for yourself online here. In my mind the art accompanying the story online is far more contemporary and well kempt than I envision the library. But that is the great thing about reading - everyone gets to interpret the story in their own way. The labyrinth library from Umberto Eco’s book Name of the Rose (complete with a librarian named Jorge Burgos) is more in keeping with my vision of this library.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Once Upon A Time III

Apparently it has been a year since I joined my very first challenge and it is now time for another round of Once Upon A Time hosted by Carl V of Stainless Steel Droppings. It lasts from March 21, 2009 to June 20, 2009 and you can choose to participate in many different ways reading fantasy, fairy tale, folklore or mythology. For details please check out the challenge site here. The review site is here.

I was originally hesitant about this challenge last year because I didn’t think that I normally read “fantasy” but as I participated I came to realize that I really do read and enjoy fantasy, I just didn’t know it. See my June 12, 2008 post on the subject here. Author Jeff VanderMeer has posted a fascinating Essential Fantasy Reading List on his blog. I loved the list because it included books and authors that I really love that I had never thought of as fantasy such as Kafka, Saramago, Peake, Borges, Calvino, Marquez which of course leads me to believe that I will like the others on his list as well.

I am going to do “The Journey” meaning that I am going to participate but am not committing to reading a certain number of books. Here are some books that I would like to read:

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
Jonathan Strange and Mister Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake
City of Saints and Madmen by Jeff VanderMeer
The Castle by Franz Kafka
Death with Interruptions by Jose Saramago

I would also like to read something else by China Meiville because I so enjoyed his Perdido Street Station last year. I would also like to try something by Charles de Lint because he seems to be so popular amongst other participants. If anyone has any suggestions of which would be a good first de Lint book to try let me know.

I also intend to participate in some Short Story Weekends. Borges is one of my favorite authors and would be perfect for that.

Okay, now I am getting really excited about all these great books to read and thinking that I should just sign up for a quest - but no. I am going to be restrained and stick with the journey and if I read five books great.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Worst Best Book

Booking Through Thursday asks:“What’s the worst ‘best’ book you’ve ever read — the one everyone says is so great, but you can’t figure out why?”

I haven’t participated in BTT in a while or done much blogging for that matter (life just got in the way) but this is a great question so here it goes.

What immediately leaps to mind is the History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides. I have had to read the entire thing on three separate occasions in the course of my academic career and it was torturous on all three occasions. I understand why it is an important work but not readable. Of course I am not sure that it counts because it is non-fiction (although there is some debate as to whether it should be read as history or literature).

On a more contemporary note, I have tried to read Ullysses by James Joyce on numerous occasions and haven’t been able to do it. I have every reason to believe that I should like it given my reading tastes. But that cannot count because I haven’t read it.

The other classic that leaps to mind is the Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger which I did read. I just didn’t enjoy it. I wasn’t very impressed with the characters nor the writing style. I can understand if you read it as a young boy perhaps the teenage angst would resonate but when I read it as an adult woman and I just wanted to tell Holden to stop whining.

I also read the Alchemist by Paulo Coelho and the Celestine Prophesy back when they were all the rage to see what all the fuss was about. I just didn’t get it. They obviously have some sort of philosophical appeal to lots of people but they just don’t have any literary merit.