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