Friday, October 22, 2010

Soulless (2009)

I really hope that the action and humor in this book by Gail Carriger continue with the rest of her series because I really enjoyed it! Alexia Tarabotti is a pretenatural, she has no soul. She is the oldest of three girls, 26-years old, a spinster. The BUR (Bureau of Unnatural Registry) has tried to keep her existence quiet but her files were stolen by the Hypocras Club, an organization trying to learn how to create their own supernaturals. The head of the club, Mr. Siemons, explains why she is so special.

Mr. Siemons stopped blowing smoke in Miss Tarabotti's face and blew it instead at the American scientist. "This young lady is a preternatural: a Homo exanimus. We have been looking for her since we first deduced her existence here in London. Which, I might add, was only shortly after finding out that preternaturals existed at all. Of course, if you follow the couterbalance theorem, her kind seems perfectly logical. I am surprised we never before thought to look. And, of course, we knew the supernatural set had ancient legends pertaining to certain dangerous creatures that were born to hunt them. The werewolves have their curse-breakers, the vampires their soul-suckers, and the ghosts their exorcists. But we did not know they were all the same organism and that that organism was a scientific fact, not a myth. They are startingly uncommon, as it turns out. Miss Tarabotti here is a rare beast, indeed."

Alexia shares her attraction to the head werewolf, Lord Maccon, and he to her, much to the shock and amazement of her family who had given up on her getting married. In this excerpt one can see the humor that comes with the Victorian setting.

"Well, my love" said Alexia with prodigious daring to Lord Maccon, "shall we?"
The earl started to move forward and then stopped abruptly and looked down at her, not moving at all. "Am I?"
"Are you what?" She peeked up at him through her tangled hair, pretending confusion. There was no possible way she was going to make this easy for him.
"Your love?"
"Well, you are a werewolf, Scottish, naked, and covered in fbood, and I am still holding your hand."
He sighed in evident relief. "Good. That is settled, then."

I am looking forward for to reading the rest of this series with great relish.

My rating for this book: ++++

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Age of Innocence (1920)

I read this book by Edith Wharton for several reasons. I had never read anything by her before, it was on the Banned Books List, and I am trying to catch up on many classics that I have not yet read.

It can almost be called historical fiction since she wrote the book in 1920 but it takes place in the 1870s. It is a biting look at high society in New York with all of its strict rules and conventions. Everything is so structured, in fact that the characters find they don't even have to speak to share their thoughts.

Archer Newland is a young man who, in the opening of the book, becomes engaged to Mary Welland, the neice of Mrs. Manson Mingott and cousin to the Countess Ellen Olenska. He encounters her in her family's box at the opera and "communicates" his intention to announce their engagement.

As he entered the box his eyes met Miss Welland's, and he saw that she had instantly understood his motive, though the family dignity which both considered so high a virtue would not permit her to tell him so. The persons of their world lived in an atmosphere of faint implications and pale delicacies, and the fact that he and she understood each other without a word seemed to the young man to bring them nearer than any explanation would have done. Her eyes said: "You see why Mamma brought me," and his answered: "I would not for the world have had you stay away."

Even though Ms Wharton was raised in this society, she is very biting in her descriptions of the people and their daily lives. The introduction of Mrs. Mingott had my jaw drop in disbelief it was so mean.

The immense accretion of flesh which had descended on her in middle life like a flood of lava on a doomed city had changed her from a plump active little woman with a neatly-turned foot and ankle into something as vast and august as a natural phenomenon.

I would have been really bad to be on Ms Wharton's bad side!

On the other hand, I found charm in the characters looking forward to the future, Ms Wharton's present, our past. In this excerpt, Archer has a rendezvous with the Countess in the now famous MOMA.

They had this melancholy retreat to themselves, and seated on the divan enclosing the central steam-radiator, they were staring silently at the glass cabinets mounted in ebonised wood which contained the recovered fragments of Ilium.
"It's odd," Madame Olenska said, "I never came here before."
"Ah, well --. Some day, I suppose, it will be a great Museum."
"Yes," she assented absently.

I highly recommend this book to everyone. Don't wait to read it like I did. Now that you have heard about it, don't delay.

My recommendation for this book: +++++

Mockingjay (2010)

This book is the third and last installment of the series by Suzanne Collins which started with the fantastic "Hunger Games". The violence in this dystopia fantasy was quite disturbing particularly since so much of it was teen on teen. In this last book, the rebellion is in full swing and everyone is involved, whole districts are being fire-bombed and the most dastardly traps are around every corner. Katniss, has been elevated as the face of the rebellion, Mockingjay, named after a pin she wore, given to her by her mother.

What they want is for me to truly take on the role they designed for me. The symbol of the revolution. The Mockingjay. It isn't enough, what I've done in the past, defying the Capitol in the Games, providing a rallying point. I must now become the actual leader, the face, the voice, the embodiment of the revolution. Ther person who the districts -- most of which are now openly at war with the Capitol -- can count on to blaze the path to victory. I won't have to do it alone. They have a whole team of people to make me over, dress me, write my speeches, orchestrate my appearances -- as if that doesn't sound horribly familiar -- and all I have to do is play my part. Sometimes I listen to them annd sometimes I just watch the perfect line of Coin's hair and try to decide if it's a wig. Eventually, I leave the room because my head starts to ache or it's time to eat or if I don't get aboveground I might start screaming. I don't bother to say anything. I simply get up and walk out.

I probably should have read the three books together because I found Katniss' character positively grating. I wasn't the only one. Even the other characters in the book seem to have a problem with her. One of the times she is recovering from wounds, she talks with Johanna.

". . . How about you, Mockingjay? You feel totally safe?"
"Oh, yeah. Right up until I got shot," I say.
"Please. That bullet never even touched you. Cinna saw to that," she says.
I think of the layers of protective armor in my Mockingjay outfit. But the pain came from somewhere. "Broken ribs?"
"Not even. Bruised pretty good. The impact ruptured your spleen. They couldn't repair it." She gives a dismissive wave of her hand. "don't worry, you don't need one. And if you did, they'd find you one, wouldn't they? It's everybody's job to keep you alive."
"Is that why you hate me?" I ask.
"Partly, she admits. "Jealousy is certainly involved. I also think you're a little hard to swallow. With your tacky romantic drama and your defend-of-the-helpless act. Only it isn't an act, which makes you more unbearable. please feel free to take this personally."

Another aspect of this book that bothered me was the use of drugs. It seems that every time Kat got agitated, like after seeing Peeta speaking for the Capitol on TV, someone was there with a syringe to sedate her. Also, it seems she was receiving a lot of pain medication for her many wounds.

I will have to give this series another shot, some day, and read them together. I may have more sympathy for Kat then.

This series is very imaginative and violent, but very readable. I suggest the reader tackle all three in a row.

My rating for this book: +++ 1/2

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Blank Confession (2010)

I have been enjoying Pete Hautman's books since I read his National Book Award winning book, Godless, and I was thrilled when we received this book yesterday. Short and fast, it tells the story of Mike and his sister, Marie who was dating a drug dealer named Jon, and a police detective named Rawls. The story reminded me of the old TV series, The Lone Ranger, where a mysterious masked man would ride into town, avenge the innocent victim, and ride away before anyone could thank him.

Our story opens with a young man named Shayne showing up at a police station to confess to a murder he committed.

He had seen that expression in other places too. The morgue. Funeral parlors. Murder scenes.
The face of the dead.
But this boy was not dead. Somewhere behind those eyes existed a spark -- a spark that had brought him here, to this building, to this bench, to George Rawls.
"Are you Shayne?" Rawls asked.
The boy dropped his chin. Rawls took that as a yes and sat beside him on the bench, feeling every last one of his forty-three years, fifteen of them as a cop. Despite having conducted hundreds of such interviews, he found himself at a loss. Something about his kid -- who could not have weighed much more than his Labrador retriever -- frightened him. Not fear for himself. The other kind of fear: fear that the universe no longer made sense, that everthing was about to change.
"So . . . ." Rawls cleared his throat, looking straight ahead, ". . . who did you kill?"

The chapters alternate between Shayne giving his statement to Rawls, and flashbacks of the events from Mike's point of view. Jon shoved a bag into Mike's backpack when police showed up at the school with dogs to perform locker searches. Fearing that he might be caught with drugs, Mike threw the bag into the garbage. The next day Jon demanded his bag back and since the garbage had been emptied, he told Mike to repay him $500 or suffer the consequences. Unable to pay and afraid more for what Jon would do to his sister than himself, Mike is in a real quandry. In rides Shayne on his white horse, er, BMW motorcycle, to save the day.

"Hi, ho, Silver. Away!!!"

This book didn't take much longer to read than watching an episode of the Lone Ranger. The reader is swept along by events fearing the worst would result in this situation. I highly recommend this book to anyone.

My rating for this book: ++++

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (2008)

David Wroblewski has written this retelling of Hamlet in a setting of a small dog breeding farm in Winsconsin starring the only son of Gar and Trudy Sawtelle, Edgar, who was born perfect in every way except that he was totally mute. Gar dies, apparently of a heart attack, and his brother, Claude, helps to fill in for the father, both in the business, and in Trudy's life. Understandedly, this does not please Edgar. Like Hamlet, Edgar plans a way to let his uncle know that he is under suspicion for Gar's death.

First, tell them the dogs see everything that happens here, he signed.
Just say it. Say they see everything and they never forget. You'll understand in a minute.
He stood and waited. He thought his mother might ignore his request, but she turned to Mr. Benson and Claude and Doctor Papineau. "Edgar says to tell you that the dogs see" -- she faltered for a moment, then continued -- "That they see everything that happens here, and they never forget."
Edgar was standing before the dogs, looking down the line to make sure they didn't break. He touched Opal under the chin. She looked at him. He released her and she dashed down the aisle to the four of them standing by the workshop. Then he pulled one of the syringes from his shirt pocket. His hand was shaking and as the syringe came out, it snagged another which went clattering to the floor. He snatched it up and placed it in Baboo's mouth.
Tag, he signed. Then he turned to watch.
Baboo trotted down the aisle with the syringe in his mouth. Edgar kept his eyes on Claude, who had caught sight of the syringe. When Baboo reached them, he pressed his nose into Opal's hip, and Opal looked toward Edgar. He gave a small gesture with his right hand. She dropped to the floor and lay on her side.
. . .
Claude stood watching it all. He glanced at the open door, then back at the dogs, then at Edgar.

I have to admit I liked this book in spite of myself. It's not the sort I usually read but I found that frequently I would pick it up and lose a lot of time as I followed Edgar and his dogs through this tragedy. I learned about the Hamlet connection towards the middle of my reading and it added another level to the story, trying to remember Hamlet's story. It would be enjoyed by dog lover's for their major parts in the story.

My recommendation for this book: +++

The Eyre Affair (2001)

This book by Jasper Fforde was possibly the funniest and most clever I have ever read. One part was so funny I could hardly read I was laughing so hard. Imagine a production of Richard III a la the midnight show of Rocky Horror Picture Show with the audience participation.

Thursday Next is an agent in the Literary Detective Division of the Special Operations Network. She investigates events like characters missing out of classic works like Jane Eyre. An evil fiend, Acheron Hades, has stolen a contraption that allows him to enter original manuscripts and alter the stories in all subsequent editions of the story. Thursday's uncle, Mycroft, was the inventor of the Prose Portal.

"What? What did you say? Mad, did you say? Hmm? Eh? What? What?"

His fingers tightened on Mycroft's windpipe; the professor could feel himself start to sweat in the cold panic of suffocation. Acheron was waiting for an answer that Mycroft was unable to utter.

"What? What did you say?"

Acheron's pupils started to dilate as Mycroft felt a dark veil fall over his mind.

"Think it's fun being christened with a name like mine? Having to live up to what is expected of one? Born with an intellect so vast that all other humans are cretins by comparison?"

Mycroft managed to give out a choke and Acheron slackened his grip. Mycroft fell to the floor, gulping for breath. Acheron stood over him and wagged a reproachful finger.

"Don't ever call me mad, Mycroft. I'm not mad, I'm just . . . well, differently moraled, that's all."

Characters go forward and back in time and pop in and out of the stories in books. Characters from those stories may also pop back into the real world. Curiously, the description of time travel closely resembles the description in the book, The Anubis Gate, by Tim Powers where the analogy uses a frozen river.

". . . The barriers between reality and fiction are softer than we think; a bit like a frozen lake. Hundreds of people can walk across it, but then one evening a thin spot develops and someone falls through: the hole is frozen over by the following morning. . ."

I highly recommend this book for the adventure, the allusions to literature (which do not need to be read), and the humor. I have the next three books in the series and I am eagerly looking forward to reading them.

My rating for this book +++++