Thursday, November 01, 2012


And so we are here at the end of RIP VII already.  I had signed up for reading just one book, as I appreciate the flexibility, but I managed to read five novels and some short stories as well.

The Seed by Ania Ahlborn
Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
The Reckoning by Ama Katsu
Rebecca by Daphne De Maurier
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
Short stories from The Weird edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer

My favorite novel was definitely Something Wicked This Way Comes but I also am finding The Weird: A Compendium of Dark & Strange Stories amazing.  And I also really enjoyed the Seed and Rebecca.  All in all it was a very creepy and enjoyable autumn, even though it is really still summer here and we are still waiting for cooler weather.  Thanks Carl! 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Something Wicked This Way Comes

by Ray Bradbury

The title is a quote from Shakespeare’s Macbeth and is a line uttered by one of the witches referring to the approach of Macbeth.  So we are warned right of the bat that this isn’t some sweet nostalgic tale, like Dandelion Wine.  I cannot believe that I have never read this classic 1962 Ray Bradbury story as I started reading Bradbury when I was a child.  I absolutely loved it.

James Nightshade and William Halloway, two 13 year old boys, are enjoying a beautiful autumn day a week before Halloween when they run into a lightening rod salesman who tells them a storm is coming and then hear mysterious calliope music - maybe - maybe not.  Mysteriously, in the middle of the night, a carnival appears on the outskirts of town called Cooger & Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show.  The towns people, and especially the two boys, are drawn to the carnival with its maze of mirrors, freaks and carousel.  Jim is especially drawn to the carnival and the carnival seems to have a special interest in him. But all is not fun and games with this carnival and as towns folk start to disappear or appear markedly changed by their visit to the carnival, it is up to Will, with the help of his dad, to save Jim and the town from the evil carnival.

I said it once, I will say it again - I absolutely loved this story.  The writing was superb creating a wonderfully creepy atmosphere, a suspenseful and twisted plot and amazingly memorable characters.  I will never look at a carousel the same again.  It was so ominous when Mr. Dark, who is covered with tattoos of people bound to the carnival, suddenly has tattoos of Jim and Will on his body. The Dust Witches’ pursuit of Jim and Will is terrifying.  And the ending was exciting and heart warming.

I am not usually fond of books that hit you over the head with strong messages but this is a classic allegory about the struggle between good and evil.  And I loved its message that darkness is in us all but it is also within ourselves to defeat the darkness.

The Night Circus has been compared to Something Wicked This Way Comes but I must say I didn’t find much in common with the Night Circus.  Something Wicked is incredibly well written with a wonderful plot, rich compelling characters and the carnival is truly malevolent.  The Night Circus was visually stunning but the Circus itself was magical and wonderful, not malevolent, and the story certainly did not tell a tale of good versus evil.  I highly recommend that you read Something Wicked This Way Comes!                 

Monday, October 29, 2012


by Daphne Du Maurier

I saw the old Hitchcock movie years ago but had never read the novel.  When audible was having a classics sale and I saw this, I thought it would be perfect for RIP and I was right. 

I love the opening line: "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again".  Right from the start the book grabs you with the depiction of Manderley, the legendary estate in England, now depicted as deserted with the forest slowly making its advance on the house.  I just love atmospheric stories about houses and Manderley was the main character in this story as far as I was concerned. 

Luckily it had been so long since I saw the movie that I didn’t really remember the plot - and apparently the end is different in the movie.  I don’t want to give away too much of the plot but for me the plot was not as important as the atmosphere and the characters.  The story is told from the point of view of the second Mrs. De Winters who meets the widowed Mr. De Winter in Monte Carlo, quickly get married and return to Manderley.  The new Mrs. De Winters (who is never actually named in the novel) is young and inexperienced and the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, who had been devoted to the first Mrs. De Winter, Rebecca, makes life difficult for the new Mrs. De Winters.  Although never actually part of the current plot, the deceased Rebecca is nevertheless an essential character in this drama, always overshadowing everything that happens at Manderley.  And Mrs. Danvers is one of the creepiest characters you could ever want to meet.

I also enjoyed the style of the book told from the perspective of the narrator, the new Mrs. De Winters.  It took the unreliable narrator technique further than usual as it is not only told from the narrator's point of view but includes a lot of the narrator simply imagining people and events.  Indeed in at least the first half, if not first two thirds, almost all the reader's knowledge of Rebecca comes from the narrator (the new Mrs. De Winters) imagining what she looked like, said or did.  There are long passages recounting events at Manderley that I had to keep reminding my self were being related as the narrator's imaginings and not based on any actual knowledge of the narrator.  It increased the suspense and tension in the story as I was almost always suspicious of the accuracy of what the narrator related.      

As for the new Mrs. De Winters, at first I was just exasperated with her and wanted to give her a good shake - for goodness sake, stand up for yourself for once!  And then when the great revelation is made, her reaction totally puzzled me.  But perhaps I am looking at this from too much of a modern perspective and could not identify with her.  And clearly the new Mrs. De Winters, who doesn’t even merit a name, is intended to contrast with the strong willed, all powerful (even in death) Rebecca.  And Mr. De Winter, or Maxim, for such a central character also seemed somewhat of a wet noodle to me being pushed and pulled by circumstances and of course Rebecca. 

Nonetheless, I loved this creepy, atmospheric gothic tale and highly recommend it.  I listened it as an audio book and while the narrator’s, Anna Massay's, distinct accent and clipped way of speaking took me a bit to get used to, I thought it ultimately fit the new Mrs. De Winter perfectly.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Reckoning

by Alma Katsu

This is Book Two of the Taker Trilogy, and as most middle books of trilogies, I wasn’t that enamored of it. Of course the middle book of a trilogy has a very hard job to do.  It must wrap up the cliff hanger of the first book and move the plot along a little before leaving us with another cliff hanger for the last book.   I was trying to think of any middle books of trilogies that I really enjoyed and couldn’t come up with any.  The Lord of the Rings came to mind but that was written as a single book by Tolkien and subsequently chopped up by publishers.  So suffice it to say I am not a big fan of trilogies. 

Nevertheless, it did its job as a middle book and as I really enjoyed the first book in the trilogy, The Taker, I will doubtlessly keep reading with Book Three, the Descent when it comes out.  So let me start at the beginning.

The Taker opens in the present when a very young women, Lanny, suspected of murder, is brought in by the police to an ER for evaluation.  Instead, the doctor, amazed by her story and evident healing abilities, helps her escape.  From there the “young” girl’s story, which begins at the turn of the 19th century, unfolds.  I don’t want to give too much away, but ultimately our heroine runs away from her family and childhood love, Jonathan, in rural Maine and falls into the clutches of the mysterious Adair in Boston.  Adair apparently holds the secret to immortality and has gathered about him an interesting entourage over the centuries which he rules with an iron fist (and some imaginative torture devices).  I had expected vampires but instead this group’s immortality rests squarely with the talent of Adair and his alchemical skills.  Book One Ends with a cliff hanger as Lanny is able to escape from Adair.

While this is certainly a book about obsessive love, what I enjoyed most about it was the fascinating characters, especially Adair, and the twisted plot.  The characters were rich and interesting and I especially loved the story of Adair’s study of alchemy over the centuries.  The book is dark and horrifying without resorting to trite supernatural elements and I could not put it down.       

The Reckoning is primarily about Adair’s pursuit of Lanny.  One thing I loved about this book was Adair’s reaction and adaptation to two hundred years of technological changes, I thought it was an interesting commentary about our current world.  And I also enjoyed learning more about Adair’s past, the back story of some more of his “family” and the implications of living for a very very long time.  While Book Two didn’t wow me like Book One did, I still enjoyed it and look forward to Book Three. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Night Circus

by Erin Morgenstern

This is one of those books that had been the subject of so much buzz last year when it came out that I debated whether or not to read it.  It got lots of rave reviews in last years RIP so I decided to give it a try. 

Here is the blurb from the publisher:
The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des RĂªves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences, and leaving the lives of everyone, from the performers to the patrons, hanging in the balance.  
This is a very visual book and I absolutely loved the Night Circus itself.  This is not the typical Barnum and Baily Circus with scary clowns, sad elephants, greasy popcorn and garish tents. 
More than a circus, really, like no circus anyone has ever seen. Not a single large tent but a multitude of tents, each with a particular exhibition. No elephants or clowns. No, something more refined than that. Nothing commonplace. This will be different, this will be an utterly unique experience, a feast for the senses. Theatrics sans theater, an immersive entertainment. We will destroy the presumptions and preconceived notions of what a circus is and make it something else entirely, something new.
And it certainly was something new, some type of circus that I had never encountered before.  The black and white color scheme, the amazing clock, the bonfire, the ice garden, the cloud maze, color changing dresses, the pool of tears, the wishing tree, the red scarved Reveurs all were simply magical. And the descriptions of the Circus were so richly detailed that I could almost smell the cider and taste the chocolate mice.  If the Night Circus were to exist, I would absolutely attend, perhaps even become a Reveur.  I would love to see it in a movie with all the possible special effects. 

The author did an amazing job of creating such  rich imagery of the circus with words.  
The face of the clock becomes a darker grey, and then black, with twinkling stars where the numbers had been previously. The body of the clock, which has been methodically turning itself inside out and expanding, is now entirely subtle shades of white and grey. And it is not just pieces, it is figures and objects, perfectly carved flowers and planets and tiny books with actual paper pages that turn. There is a silver dragon that curls around part of the now visible clockwork, a tiny princess in a carved tower that paces in distress, awaiting an absent prince. Teapots that pour into teacups and minuscule curls of steam that rise from them as the seconds tick. Wrapped presents open. Small cats chase small dogs. An entire game of chess is played.
I want to see that clock!  And if you do a quick search on the internet you can find the most amazing arts and crafts that were inspired by the Night Circus. 

But, as a novel, it didn’t work for me.  The plot seemed a half-hearted, at best, attempt. I know some will say that the plot wasn’t important but if you are going to try and have a plot, I think you should do it well.  And I am not one that needs a plot driven story.  (One of my favorite books is Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, which has no plot.)  The story was supposedly about a fierce competition or duel between two magicians and their love story.  The love story didn’t work at all (I have no idea why Celia was even interested, much less in love with Marco) and the competition was mostly absent from the story line for most of the book.  And when it came to the fore of the story and I started to become interested in the contest itself, perhaps its origins, its purpose or even its creators, or even some of that “fierce competition”, that plot line just withered away.  The competition story line had so much potential and it was more or less ignored.  Moreover, the characters fell flat for me.  The only character that I found interesting was Bailey but as he played a relatively small role he was not enough to carry the entire story. 

If someone actually creates the Circus or it is made into a movie, or perhaps even a Disney attraction, I would go.  As far as a written work, it simply didn't work for me. 


Saturday, September 15, 2012


by Ania Ahlborn

I bought this ebook by mistake.  I read good reviews of Seed by Rob Ziegler, an eco-thriller which sort of reminded me of the Wind-up Girl.  And then I noticed the Seed ebook was on sale on Amazon for $2.99.  They both have similar beige/orange color covers with the black outline of a tree but I should have noticed the horned and cloven footed guy under the tree and I obviously wasn't paying attention to the authors, so I just bought it. (So easy to do on Amazon with the Buy now with one click.) It turned out to be a happy mistake because this book was perfect for RIP and I really enjoyed it.  

Jack and his wife Aimee are short on money and have some marital conflict over Jack's weekend performances in a band but they seem to be basically an average family with two cute little girls.  One night they are in a car accident when Jack rolls the car with the entire family inside swerving to miss some yellow glowing eyes in the road.  After that night their youngest daughter just isn't quite the same.  

As the story unfolds we learn that Jack had seen these glowing eyes before when he was a boy in an old cemetery by his house and crouching in the corner of his bedroom.  He had run away from his boyhood nightmare but cannot remember the details of what exactly happened when he ran away.  As his beloved little girl changes dramatically before his eyes and his wife and older daughter become afraid of her, he must try to remember the past that he thought he put behind him.  

This was a very creepy Southern Gothic horror story which I really enjoyed.  The atmosphere was great.  The evil stalking Jack and Charlie was suitably circumspect initially so you were left wondering whether it was real or simply in Jack's mind.  Anyone who has read a horror story or seen a horror movie would know from the set up that things were not going to go well for this family once those glowing eyes showed up but the path of the plot was unique and interesting.  And the characters, often not a strong suit in horror novels, were compelling.  The only criticism I have is that there were certain story aspects that I thought were interesting which didn't lead anywhere but over all I thought it was well done.

I was curious about the history of this book because it was originally self published and I haven't really read any self published books before but the version I read was apparently published by 47North, one of Amazon's publishing groups and edited and expanded prior to this publication.  The author talks about this re-release process on her blog which I found very interesting.  Seed was the author's first novel and I would definitely be interested in reading more from her.     

Monday, September 03, 2012

Short Stories from The Weird

Taking advantage of this long holiday weekend I thought I would write about some of my favorite short stories from The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories which fits perfectly with RIP.   This Compendium of 110 stories from 1908 - 2010 (arranged in chronological order) includes stories by such heavy weights as Lovecraft, Borges, Shirley Jackson, Murakami, Stephen King, Angela Carter, Neil Gaiman but also countless wonderful stories by authors that I have never read before.   I prefer to read short stories slowly so I am less than a fifth of the way through (up to 1929) but here are my favorites so far:

The Spider 
by Hanns Heinz Ewers, 1915 translated from German
This story just blew me away, I couldn't stop thinking about it.  A particular hotel room has been the site of three suicides with all the deaths taking place at the same time of day.  The last suicide had been a policeman there to investigate the prior suicides.  In the story a young man volunteers to get to the bottom of the mystery and moves into the room.  He meticulously keeps a diary and notes nothing strange until .... Well I don't want to take the fun out of reading it but there is a women in the window across the alley, and spiders and needless to say it does not end well for the young man.  And the reader is left wondering what exactly happened.  Very very creepy!  

In the Penal Colony 
by Franz Kafka, 1919, translated from German
I am of course familiar with Kafka and The Trial is one of my favorite books but had never read this short story.  I guess the title just put me off because it somehow reminded me of Solzhenitsyn and I didn't really want to read about life in a gulag.  But the story is not about living in a Penal Colony.  The Explorer is a traveler who has come to visit the Penal Colony and is being given the honor and privilege of a tour (and ultimately a demonstration of) the Penal Colony's unique torture and execution devise which repeatedly writes the crime on the Condemned man over a twelve hour period, ultimately killing the Condemned.  The new Commandant of the Penal Colony is not in favor of this devise and the Officer who is providing the tour extols the virtues and intricacies of this devise in dispensing justice.  According to the Officer after six hours in the devise the Condemned experience a remarkable epiphany making them embrace the experience.  The Officer is hoping that the Explorer will convince the Commandant the worth of this remarkable devise.  Not surprisingly things do not go according to the Officer's plan. What makes this story so horrifying is that the Officer is enthusiastically enamored of the devise, the Traveler is not horrified by the thing and the Condemned takes a great interest in the devise seemingly unaware that it is about to torture him.  Indeed, in the world of the Penal Colony such a devise seems normal and unsurprising.  It gave me nightmares for a few nights after reading it.   

The People of the Pit
by A. Merritt, 1918
Explorers in the "North" come across a man crawling toward them who before he dies tells them of his escape from "the pit".  He had been searching for gold when he came upon a huge ravine or canyon with steps leading down for miles.  He spends days going down those steps and finds a huge city and possibly its inhabitants.  Is he crazy, did he find aliens, a lost civilization or Lovecraft's Old Ones?  Very very creepy.  It reminded me a little of Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness.

The Man in the Bottle
by Gustave Meyrink, 1912, translated from Austrian
A masked ball is in full swing and the revellers are having a great time and gossiping about a rumor of an illicit affair by the wife of the host.  The host, the Prince, comes on the scene and the entertainment begins.  A man is placed in a large glass bottle, the stopper put in place and the Prince is seated on top and the glass bottle serves as the background for a marionette show as the man in the bottle "comically capers".  The host's wife is brought on stage in a sedan chair and ....  Well you will just have to read it.  

I highly recommend this collection of short stories.   

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Sisters Brothers

Although I had heard of the Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt because it got great reviews and I had added it to my wish list, I seriously doubt I would have gotten around to reading it except for the Tournament of Books.

Here is the blurb from the back: 
Hermann Kermit Warm is going to die, and hired guns Eli and Charlie Sisters will make sure of it. Though Eli doesn't share his brother's appetite for whiskey and killing, he's never known anything else. But their prey isn't an easy mark, and on the road from Oregon City to Warm's goldmining claim outside Sacramento, Eli begins to question what he does for a living—and whom he does it for. 
A Western?  I don’t read westerns.  My dad had every Louis L’amour ever published.  I tried to read them - and couldn’t.  On the other hand, my favorite book as a child was Little House in the Big Woods and all the other Laura Ingalls Wilder books.  And I still love Willa Cather.  But still, I don’t think I would have actually read this but for the fact that it won the Tournament of Books beating IQ84, Open City, State of Wonder, The Tiger’s Wife, The Cat’s Table, Salvage the Bones, Sense of an Ending, Swamplandia! and more.  And following the Tournament everyday and reading the Judges decisions in each match and the commentary, I just had to read it. 

Does it live up to the hype?  I don’t know, but it is very different from anything I have read involving gunslingers and the gold rush and I enjoyed it.  The characters were fascinating and it was remarkable that the author could get you to actually care about the well being of and routing for cold blooded professional killers.  And the supporting cast is engrossing too.

The story is told by Eli who is struggling with his desire to continue on in his profession as well as his relationship with his brother and his narration of the story is what makes the book so compelling.  The writing is simply wonderful being both artful and befitting the characters.  But it is not all existential navel gazing, it is action packed and humorous too.  

While I did have issues with the horses (only confirming my inclination to not read books with animals as awful things tend to happen to them), it did not deter me from forging ahead and enjoying the book over all.  Of course it is an extremely violent book and others may have issues with that but a book about two gunslingers at large in the wild wild west during the gold rush simply wouldn’t work without it.


I know this is going to sound strange but one of the things I like about our new home is that I have a longer drive to work.  Not only is it a beautiful drive along the water but I get a chance to listen to audio books everyday instead of once in a while while traveling.  So I finally got a chance to listen to the very long book Anathem by Neal Stephenson (32 hours and 30 minutes).  I loved Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash and Cryptonomicron but this one was very different.  Here is the blurb from the back cover:

For ten years Fraa Erasmas, a young avout, has lived in a cloistered sanctuary for mathematicians, scientists, and philosophers, protected from the corrupting influences of the outside world. But before the week is out, both the existence he abandoned and the one he embraced will stand poised on the brink of cataclysmic change—and Erasmas will become a major player in a drama that will determine the future of his world, as he follows his destiny to the most inhospitable corners of the planet . . . and beyond.

I just loved it.  The monastic world that is created to cloister all science from general society and technology from the scientists is fascinating.  But this isn’t just world building.  The characters were well developed and the plot was interesting.  As the author had 981 pages to play with the plot is not always fast paced but I actually loved when it got bogged down and focused on scholarly debates before getting back into the action.  It was a very philosophical sci-fi romp and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  And if you are into audio books the narrator was fabulous.      

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


I have been thinking about Carl’s RIP Challenge event for the past couple of weeks and it is finally here!  So I am prepared.  And this is a good opportunity to get back into the swing of things.  For information on the challenge event go here, for the review site go here.

I am signing up for Peril the Third which requires one book because I appreciate the flexibility and lack of stress - but I hope to read more.  And I will try and do some short stories as well and perhaps some screen (I have been enjoying Lost Girl). 

I have the Night Circus audio loaded on my ipod ready to go and I have had Something Wicked This Way Comes sitting on my coffee table at the ready.

I also have some short story collections on my kindle to dip into:

THE WEIRD: A Compendium of Dark & Strange Stories, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer
The Essential Works of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
The Best of Arthur Machen: 15 Tales of Horror  

Update: What would RIP be without some Lovecraft?  I just discovered (how had I missed it!) that there is a Kindle ebook Complete Collection for only $2.99 on Amazon which I immediately downloaded.  And a very helpful reviewer even provided a list of the works in chronological order if you are anal about such things, as I am.          

And someday I would also like to try these short story collections:

Little Black Book of Stories by A.S. Byatt
Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edogawa Rampo
Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

But as I prefer novels to short stories if I have the time I would like to try:

The Seed by Ania Ahlborn - on my kindle
The Reckoning by Ama Katsu - on my kindle
The Stain by Chuck Hogan - on my kindle
Wool Omnibus by Hugh Howey - on my kindle   
The Passage by Justin Cronin
Vlad by Carlos Fuentes
The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard
World War Z by Max Brooks
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.
We Have Always Lived In the Castle by Shirley Jackson - I loved Hill House.
The Ghost Writer by John Harwood - has been on my shelf since it came out.

I look forward to reading everyone’s reviews and thanks for hosting again Carl!

P.S.  In preparation for RIP VII I was looking back at my posts from last year and discovered that I never did a wrap up post.   I had signed up for reading one book and that is all I managed to do, although I didn’t review it.  The one book was the Historian and I enjoyed it but didn’t wow me.  I found it very atmospheric and loved the scholarly research story line more than the scary parts.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Once Upon A Time VI Really Late Wrap Up

I have done a horrible job this year writing reviews (only one so far) but I have been reading, which is obviously more important.  Life just got crazy so I didn’t get a chance to do a wrap up post for Once Upon A Time so I figured I might as well do it now. 

I only committed to reading one book during the challenge but I ended up reading six: Invitation to a Beheading by Vladimir Nabokov, Demi-monde: Winter by Rod Rees, Fool Moon by Jim Butcher, Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe, Stone Raft by Jose Saramago and Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey.  And enjoyed them all except Fool Moon.  Since I didn’t do full reviews here are short ones.

Invitation to a Beheading

I absolutely loved Nabokov’s Pale Fire.  Not only was it interesting meta-fiction it was laugh out loud funny and beautifully written.  I had not been crazy about Lolita, although I appreciated his use of language, and I wanted to try something else by Nabokov.  Invitation to a Beheading was discussed in Reading Lolita in Tehran and it was described as Kafkaesque, so it sounded like something I would enjoy.  The plot isn’t the point, but our hero, Cincinnatus C., is in prison waiting for his execution, date unknown, for committing the crime of “gnostic turpitude”. That makes it sound depressing but it is so absurd and surreal that it is simply amusing to learn about his visits with his jailer, his jailor’s young daughter, a fellow prisoner/executioner, his wife and her family and a spider and his escapades and escape attempts in the prison.  And by the time you get to his execution the nature of reality is so uncertain that it is actually a happy ending. (It reminded me a little of Blade Runner and Brazil.)  It seems to get compared to Kafka’s the Castle a lot, which apparently annoyed Nobakov, but it seemed to be more like the Trial (which I loved) than the Castle (which was a disappointment) to me.

Demi-Monde: Winter   

Every time I wander by Amazon’s web site I reflexively look to see if the next book, Demi-Monde: Spring, at least has a release date, which tells you how much I enjoyed this book and am looking forward to the next one.  I wasn’t sure if this was going to fit the OUAT because the set up sounded more sci-fi than fantasy.  From the book jacket: “In the year 2018, the Demi-monde is the most sophisticated, complex and unpredictable computer simulation ever created, devised specifically to train soldiers for the nightmarish reality of urban warfare.  A virtual world of eternal civil conflict, its thirty million inhabitants - Dupes- are ruled by cyber-duplicates of some of history’s cruelest tyrants....But something has gone horribly wrong inside the Demi-Monde, and the U.S. President’s daughter, Norma, has been lured into this terrifying shadow world, only to be trapped there.”  But after the initial set up I became so immersed in this fantastical world that I forgot that it was supposed to be in a computer simulation and it felt more like fantasy to me.  According to an interview with the author, Rod Rees, “the real inspiration for The Demi-Monde came from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. I loved the idea of a young girl being lost in a fantastic world where everything is a distorted, bizarro image of the Real World. In fact the major theme of The Demi-Monde is absurdity. The religions of the Demi-Monde - UnFunDaMentalism, ImPuritanism, HerEticalism, HimPerialism, RaTionalism and Confusionism - are merely the religions of the Real World stretched and distorted to breaking point.”    

I loved the whole absurd world that was created as well as the wacky historical characters like Trotsky, Josephine Baker, Aleister Crowley especially as they interacted in ways that were not possible in the real world.  While this may not be the best written book, it is fast paced, very original and totally fun.

Fool Moon  

I had read and enjoyed the first book in the Dresden Files, Storm Front and I am somehow compelled to read things in order.  I should know better but I just cannot help myself.  I am not that big of a fan of werewolves, although I have encountered some fictional ones that I found entertaining, such as in Underworld, and I really didn’t enjoy this book.  I was a short quick romp  with the wizard trying to solve a murder during a full moon and sorting through all the possible werewolves involved.  It reminded me of a cozy mystery but for the paranormal.  Does that have a name?  It should.  Anyway, I may try the next one which is not about werewolves - we’ll see. 

Physick Book of Deliverance Dane  

I really wasn’t expecting to like this and ended up really enjoying it.  A young women moves into her grandmothers crumbling house and with help of a handsome steeplejack (yes, an actual steeplejack!) discovers her family’s connections to the Salem witch trials and perhaps her own powers as well.  Sounds like a trashy paranormal romance from the plot description.  But I surprisingly actually really enjoyed it.  First of all it is set in Marblehead and Salem which I am quite familiar with and the descriptions are dead on, creating a wonderful atmosphere for the story.  Second, the history is fairly accurate and interesting as the contemporary story of the young women is interspersed with a story line from the Salem witch trials.  Third, the focus isn’t really on witches and witch craft but on academia and historical research, which I loved.  (I was a history major and while I didn’t take that path I certainly could see myself as an academic sorting through the musty and crumbling church records hunting for primary sources.)  The characters were interesting, the plot was both educational and mysterious and I really enjoyed the book.

Stone Raft

Jose Saramago is one of my favorite authors.  I haven’t read all his work yet, thank goodness, but All the Names is one of my all time favorite books.  I have also enjoyed Blindness and Death with Interruptions.  While this is probably my least favorite of his that I have read so far it was still wonderful.  In the Stone Raft the Iberian Peninsula have broken off from Europe and is drifting south toward a collision with the Azores. It is the tale of five people and a dog who each experience something unusual when the crack in the Pyrenees first appears who set out on a journey to explore their newly transformed stone raft.  The plot is never the point in a Saramago novel but his extraordinary use of language, his astute observations and his evocative descriptions make this wonderful fable a joy to experience.  If this is your first Saramago I would start with All the Names or Blindness. 

Snow Child        

I cannot decide whether I really enjoyed this one or not.  This was the hot new book that everyone seemed to be reading and it sounded interesting and a perfect fit for OUAT.  This is the blurb from Amazon:
Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart--he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season's first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone--but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees.

This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.

I picked this up with trepidation, mostly for the red fox.  I try not to read books with animals because in my experience something awful always happens to them. But then as I started reading the entire atmosphere was so melancholy and foreboding that I was filed with dread that something awful was going to happen to not only the fox but the young girl and the entire cast of characters.  And yet, the wilds of Alaska were fascinating, the characters engaging and I couldn’t put it down because I wanted to know what happened.  And I thought the weaving of the old Russian Fairy Tale into the story was skillfully done.   And yet, it kind of felt like watching an entire movie peeking out from behind a pillow.  I think it was just me, or perhaps just my state of mind at the time, and I really did think this was a remarkable book, so please give it a try.   

I really did enjoy the OUAT this year and I hope I can be more active and up to date next year.  Thanks Carl! I am looking forward to RIP.  

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Bookmarks Magazine

Here's what looked interesting in the Mar/April, May/June, July/Aug. Bookmarks Magazine

Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco
Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson
1222 by Anne Holt - S
The Retribution by Val McDermid - S
In One Person by John Irving - S
Vulture Peak by John Burdett - S
Fear Index by Robert Harris - S
The Inquisitor by Mark Allen Smith - S
Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden - NF-S
Galore by Michael Crummey
Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
Sacre Blue by Christopher Moore
Seed by Rob Ziegler - SF
Soft Apocalypse by Will McIntosh -SF
Rule 34 by Charles Stross -SF
Arctic Rising by Tobias S. Buckell - SF
Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway - SF
2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson - SF
Van Gogh, The Life by Steven Naifeh -NF
How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de Botton - NF
So Many Books by Gabriel Zaid - NF
House of Stone by Anthony Shadid - NF
Wanted Women by Deborah Scroggins - NF
Reading and Publishing in an Age of Abundance by Gabriel Zaid -NF
Turing's Cathedral by George Dyson - NF
The Idea Factory by Jon Gertner - NF

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Once Upon A Time VI

It is time once again for Carl V's Once Upon A Time challenge!! I have been really bad about posting, writing reviews and participating in challenges etc. but I just love the Once Upon A Time challenge so I am hoping this is a good time to get back into the swing of things. I was amazed to see that out of my pool of choices for last year’s challenge I actually have read a good deal of them (6 out of 16), though not necessarily during the challenge time period.

For more information on this challenge that focuses on fantasy, folklore, fairy tales or mythology go here and for the review site go here. It runs from March 21 to June 19, 2011.

I have many books that I could read for this challenge so I am going to try and mostly stick to those that I already have on my shelf, Kindle or ipod. So here is a pool of books to chose from.

Demi-Monde: Winter by Rod Rees
Samedi the Deafness by Jesse Ball
Stone Raft by Jose Saramago
The Golden Age by Michal Ajvaz
Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
The Last Book by Zoran Zivkovic
Observatory Mansions by Edward Carey
The Narrator by Michael Cisco
Sensation by Nick Mamatas
Fool Moon by Jim Butcher
Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe
Aurorarama by Jean-Christophe Valtat
Pym by Mat Johnson
The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino
Veniss Underground by Jeff Vandermeer

And if that isn't enough there is always Jeff Vandermeer's Best Fantasy of 2011 review to get inspiration from.

I am going to sign up for the Journey because I appreciate the flexibility and lack of stress which means that I will read at least one book but I might, and usually do, read more. Last year I really enjoyed Season 1 of Game of Thrones and I am very excited to watch Season 2 which starts April 1, 2012 on HBO. Thanks Carl for hosting another great challenge.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Tournament of Books

Although it apparently has been going on for years I have just discovered The Tournament of Books which is taking place March 8 - March 30.

In case you’re new, The Morning News Tournament of Books is an annual book event—2012 is our eighth year—pitting 16 of the best novels from the previous year in a March Madness-style battle royale.

Here’s how it works: Each weekday in March, a judge evaluates two books and chooses one to move ahead. On the final match day, all the judges weigh in on the remaining two books, selecting one to receive our award, The Rooster (named in honor of David Sedaris’s brother). Each day, there’s also commentary from our play-by-play officials, Kevin Guilfoile and John Warner, as well as you, the audience. One special note: Just before the Championship match, we have a special “Zombie Round” where the would-be finalists must battle our readers’ two favorite books that were already ejected earlier in the competition.

I finally have some idea of what people are talking about in the office when they refer to brackets, March Madness and moving on to the next round. (What, you don't think that are talking about books?)

While I have only read one of these books, a Sense of an Ending, and intend to read 1Q84, these are certainly books that got the buzz last year and I have heard of most of them. I have been considering reading The Last Brother, The Tiger's Wife, State of Wonder, The Sisters Brothers, Swamplandia!, and The Cat's Table. And I had no thought of reading The Art of Fielding until I read a really interesting article in Vanity Fair about how it got published. But do I want to read a book simply because it got so much buzz? Is it fair to refuse to read a book just because it got so much buzz? I tend to be reluctant to read a book if it is too popular but I usually end up reading a couple. [Having said that, I just had to look and see what I had read from prior years Tournaments. Of all the books in the Tournaments from 2005-2011 I have read 2666, Brief and Wonderful Life of Oscar Wao, The Road, Historian, Cloud Atlas and No Country for Old Men. Of those only Cloud Atlas really wowed me. ]

In any case, this Tournament is funny and amusing and interesting to follow, whether I ultimately decide to read some of these or not. And unlike all those annoying sport commentators clogging up my satellite channels and saying nothing, the running commentary by Keven and John is really amusing. I am really looking forward to the Quarter Finals 1Q84 vs. Tiger's Wife match up (but am afraid my Murakami may get knocked out) and will be interested in the Swamplandia! vs. Sisters Brothers match up. And I predict that State of Wonder will come back for the zombie round but would prefer The Cat's Table.

Post Tournament Roundup:
I really enjoyed following the tournament and checking each morning to see who won the round. After the tournament I immediately purchased Sister's Brothers and added Open City to my Kindle wish list. I will of course read IQ84 and may also read The Tiger's Wife, Swamplandia!, and The Cat's Table. Now I don't know what to read first thing every morning! I guess I will just have to wait until next year.

Lost City of Z

by David Grann

This was on my list of books to read for both 2010 and 2011 and I finally read it. It is a non-fiction account of a journalist trying to retrace the steps of British explorer Percy Fawcett who went missing in the Amazon in 1925 trying to find a lost city which he called Z, something akin to El Dorado. I enjoyed it but it wasn't as exciting as I expected.

I found Percy Fawcett and his wife very interesting and while some reviewers were annoyed that it had too much of the author's story in it, I found that interesting as well. (I always imagine that I would enjoy being a sleuth in old musty libraries - I was a history major after all.) I also find stories of explorers before the advent of GPS and satellite phones fascinating, as must others as there have been quite a few recent books (both fiction and non-fiction) on the subject. And of course there is always fascination with the Amazon (the tv show The River and huge hit State of Wonder by Ann Patchett). I am glad I read it but it probably won't be on my top 2012 list.

Bookmarks Magazine

Here is what looked interesting in the Sept/Oct., Nov./Dec. and Jan/Feb Bookmarks Magazine.

Damned by Chuck Palahniuk - S
Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein - S
Drood by Dan Simmons - S
The Informationist by Taylor Stevens - S
Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach - S
Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco - S
The Leopard by Jo Nesbo -  S
Swamplandia by Karen Russell - S
Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta - S
Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane - S
Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow
Appetite City by William Grimes - NF
A Moment in the Sun by John Sales
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
something by J.G. Ballard
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
Lost in Shangri-la by Mitchell Zuckoff -NF
Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht
The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
Embassytown by China Mieville
Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer - NF
Devil in the White City by Erik Larson - NF
Loving Frank by Nancy Horan
The Women by T.C. Boyle
Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland
Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman
Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi
The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje
The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian
In Other Worlds by Margaret Atwood -NF
11/22/63 by Stephen King
The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt -NF
A Thousand Lives by Julia Scheeres -NF
Among Others by Jo Walton
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin
Pym by Mat Johnson
Pale King by David Foster Wallace
In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson - NF
On Writing by Stephen King -NF
The Bird Artist by Howard Norman
Love in Ruins by Walker Percy
We Others by Steven Millhauser
Luminarium by Alex Shakar
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Map of Time by Felix J. Palma -SF
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline - SF
Reamde by Neal Stephenson - SF
Inside Scientology by Janet Reitman - NF

Friday, March 16, 2012

Review of 2011 Reading

Ok, so it is March and a little late for a 2011 review but I figure better late than never. In 2011 I was doing really well through June and then life just got incredibly busy and distracting. I only read 20 books in 2011 and reviewed 11 out of the 20 and made 26 blog posts - by far my worst year since I started this blog. I successfully completed Carl V’s Sci Fi Experience and the Once Upon a Time Challenge but then only read one book for the RIP VI Challenge and didn’t even review it. And I totally failed in the Japanese Literature Challenge and the Murakami Challenge. Nonetheless, I read 20 books which is the same that I read in 2008 when I started this blog. I am just going to move on and hope that 2012 is a better year all around.

My five favorite books from 2011 are:

Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
The City & the City by China Meiville
The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry
The Wave by Susan Casey
Finch by Jeff Vandermeer

I didn’t manage to review the Wave or the Manual of Detection. The Wave is non-fiction but I found it a real page turner. I gave it to several people to read and they loved it and passed it on to more people to read who loved it. I don’t know if it particularly resonates because of where we live but it seems to appeal to a wide audience. The Wave is naturally all about waves, specifically especially large waves, and it takes you on a tour of historians, scientists, maritime specialists as well as the big wave surfers. As Bookmarks Magazine says: “Part science lesson and part adrenaline rush, The Wave is an intense thrill ride that manages to take a broad look at oversized, potentially devastating waves.” I had no idea people were actually surfing these incredibly huge waves. I found it so interesting that I then rented some surf movies/documentaries. I especially enjoyed the dvds Step into Liquid and Riding Giants.

The Manual of Detection was amazing and I really need to re-read it. On its face it is a noir detective story but the Detective Agency our protagonist works for was designed by Kafka or Saramago and he is trying to track down his disappeared mentor, catch a murderer and discover why all the cities alarm clocks are being stolen. And of course there is a femme fatale and creepy villains and dastardly deeds. But don’t worry about the plot, this is extremely well written and a fun surreal adventure. I am at a loss as to what else to say so as most of the reviewers/critics seem to have done, I will simply say it reminds me of Kafka, Saramago (All the Names), Borges, the movies Brazil and City of Lost Children. Just read it.

How did I do with my year of reading deliberately? I said I was going to read the following:

Gold Bug Variation by Richard Powers
The Castle by Franz Kafka
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
Lost City of Z by David Grann (nonfiction)

I read the Lost City of Z (enjoyed it) and the Castle (I was disappointed in it). I was enjoying the Satanic Verses but then set it aside to read the Once Upon a Time reading and have not picked it back up. I have the audible version of the Sound and the Fury, which I was finding easier than the print, but only got about a third through it and then moved on. Gold Bug Variations I really want to read but it only comes in print and I don’t even know where my copy is at the moment.

In addition I wanted to read a book about Art, a book about Food, a book about Books or Reading, a nonfiction book as well as something from the Modern Library's 100 Best Novels List. I read a book about Art - Priceless which I enjoyed, a book about Food - Various Flavors of Coffee which was fun, a Book about Reading - The Lost Art of Reading which I hated, three non-fiction books - Lost Art of Reading, Priceless, the Wave but no Modern Library Books. I don’t think I am going to make a list of deliberate reads for 2012 as life is just too crazy. I will simply be happy if I get to read.