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.