Thursday, February 28, 2008

When good books go bad

The Soul Thief
Charles Baxter

I'm pleased to report that another review's up over at Pajiba, this time on Charles Baxter's Soul Thief. You can read my review here.

In a nutshell: Adequate...but coulda been so much better.

Bibliolatry Scale: 3.5 out of 6 stars

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Stuff to read and a reason to write

I love lists. Lists are fun. I like to write them, like lists of things to do, or books to review, or chores to be completed. I get a Babbitt-like sense of joy upon crossing off another task completed.

My first list concerns the top 50 children's books. I'm sure we'll find something missing; I, for example, was agog at the omission of Little Women.

I don't really care for comic books, but I DO like lists, so here. Apparently, I should read these comic books before I die. Somehow I don't see myself doing this one. And as for THIS ... hmm. Whatever floats your boat, I guess.

This last list concerns bands whose music should be made into a movie. I'd like to throw Tool into the ring; I guarantee the scene featuring Hooker with a Penis will be one for the ages.

And finally, I'd like to showcase this new writing contest, which selects monthly winners. According to the site, "Monthly contests allow for revolving judges with differing opinions and more chances at publication" -- so polish off your best work and send it on in!

Lady of the Meez

Lady of the Roses: A Novel of the Wars of the Roses
Sandra Worth

I usually begin reading historical fiction with some trepidation. My brain automatically associates the term “historical fiction” with hokey covers, bad writing, and long, boring passages designed to educate the reader. Aaron Hamburger, in his article for Poets & Writers entitled "The Pitfalls of Historical Fiction" hits the mark when he writes that "too often, works of historical fiction suffer from what Henry James called 'fatal cheapness' – moments of crude, awkward writing and oversimplified representation of both history and literature."

Thankfully, the above description cannot be applied to Lady of the Roses. Sandra Worth manages to instruct without falling prey to those moments of crudeness so often experienced by readers of historical fiction. She is able to bring Lancastrian England to life without such detail seeming heavy-handed.

For those unfamiliar with the period, allow me to recap to the best of my knowledge (which is admittedly limited, coming as it does from a mediocre Brit lit textbook and Shakespeare’s Richard III): The Wars of the Roses were a series of civil wars during fifteenth-century England. Both the Lancasters (represented by the red rose) and the Yorks (represented by the white) believed themselves to be the rightful heirs to the throne.

The novel begins as King Henry VI, a Lancaster, rules England. His rule is especially problematic because he is a weak ruler who allows his French wife (Marguerite d’Anjou) too much control. Clearly, the Yorkists are not happy with this situation. Fighting ensues. And ensues. And ensues some more.

Lady of the Roses opens in the midst of this turmoil, as young Isobel Ingoldesthorpe, a ward of the queen, travels to court in 1456, hoping to find a husband. Her travels lead her to meet the handsome (and Yorkist) John Neville. Isobel’s happiness at meeting the man of her dreams is short-lived, however, for it seems doubtful that the queen will agree to a marriage with her enemy.

Surprisingly, the queen does agree to the union – for a price. However, this price is small compared to the greatness of their love for one another, and John and Isobel are quickly married. Lady of the Roses, which spans twenty years, follows Isobel’s boundless love for John, which manages to survive despite the hardships created by political turmoil.

Lady of the Roses has also been billed as a romance, a term I find a bit disparaging. It seems to imply that it isn’t a “serious” book in its own right. This certainly isn’t the case: Lady of the Roses is well-written, informative, and gripping. Even though I already knew the ultimate fate of many of these historical figures, Worth still managed to create a suspenseful read. I won’t lie, either: I cried. Twice. Yeah, and?

My only beef with these novels is – and I admit I’m going to sound like a kid here, but whatever – is the lack of pictures. When reading historical fiction, I like to see how these people looked in real life. This is a silly issue to quibble over, however, and I’m sure adding pictures is not really cost-effective. Thank heavens for Google!

Unfortunately, a GIS for Isobel Ingoldesthorpe yielded nothing. In despair, I decided to create my own. Without further ado, I give you: Isobel Ingoldesthorpe!

Meez 3D avatar avatars games
this dress cost 1000 meez coins

Yes, I realize that Isobel probably didn't look like a friggin Meez. Yes, I realize I don't have a life. And YES, I am aware that designing this stupid thing ate up thirty minutes of my life that I will never see again.

In a nutshell: Even if you’re not already fascinated in this period of history, you’ll still enjoy Lady of the Roses.

Bibliolatry Scale: 5 out of 6 stars

Monday, February 25, 2008

Wherever the fates lead us let us follow

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Muriel Spark

On a good day, I believe in signs. I’d like to believe that a superior being guides our lives, and in so doing sends signs, omens, and portents to direct or forestall our behavior. On a bad day, I feel there is only chaos, and while I know some who manage to find comfort in such disorder, I am not one of them.

Happily enough, I never find more signs than when searching for my next book to read. Without a set course of action, I bebop from book to book, author to author, period to period with no special plan. Many times, I feel a distinct “call” to read a particular novel, and I know its time has come. With few exceptions, each book I’ve been “called” to read has been essential to understanding some facet of my life at that moment. And so it was with The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. The bookish fates worked their magic again.

psst...let's make her read another one by Crichton

I first became aware of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie due to a blithe reference one friend made about another. Immediately, I was intrigued. Was this person truly a Brodie? I had little time to ponder this before encountering another reference to the book via one of my favorite book blogs, Books 4 Breakfast, where I read this review on the book. The very next day, I came upon yet another reference to the short novel. My bookish destiny, it seemed, was at hand yet again, and I ordered Muriel Spark’s novel without delay.

My immediate motivation for reading The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie was not to enjoy the book as much as it was to see if I knew anyone who could be described as a “Miss Brodie in her prime.” Thankfully, I can say with honesty that I cannot recognize Miss Brodie in anyone I know.

You see, Miss Jean Brodie is not a teacher one should emulate. She is unprofessional and discusses with her students matters of professional import that are best kept between adults. Worse still is her narcissism and belief that only her opinions are correct. Her likes and dislikes are to be taken up (or rejected, as the case may be) by her young, impressionable students. Most troubling is the fact that Brodie consciously meddles in the private affairs of her students, at times with disastrous results. It is no surprise that Miss Brodie, teaching as she does in the late 1930s, finds the politics of Mussolini and Hitler attractive.

The novel surrounds Brodie and her core group of students, especially Sandy, the student who receives the most attention from the omniscient narrator. The prose is both deft and concise; much is spaced into only about 150 pages. The structure of the novel is like an ever-tightening spiral: the reader is told the ending of the book at the very beginning, but the specifics are held back until the very end.

Despite the remarkable technical aspects of the novel, I was ultimately left cold by the book. I did not feel as though I truly understood the bizarre Brodie or her motivation; nor did I truly understood Sandy, the most enigmatic of characters. This is a book that needs to be reread; I get the feeling that I'll be able to appreciate Miss Jean Brodie after a few more years have passed. Perhaps I'm a bit too young to fully comprehend her perspective.

In a nutshell: Quick and intriguing, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie begs to be reread. I'm sure I'll do day.

Bibliolatry Scale: 3 out of 6 stars

Friday, February 22, 2008

well I never saw THAT coming

The Invention of Morel
Adolfo Bioy Casares

The Invention of Morel has been getting a lot of attention recently due to its appearance on Lost. I don’t watch Lost, so don’t expect any great revelations about how Morel explains the show. By the way, are they still on that damn island? I only watch quality television, like Big Brother 9. I like my tv with a side of brainlessness, thank you very much.

The Invention of Morel begins as our unnamed protagonist, a fugitive from the law, hides on an uninhabited island. One day, mysterious tourists suddenly appear, and our fugitive is frightened they have come searching for him. He needn’t have feared, however; it’s clear they are unaware of him.

He soon becomes entranced by one of the tourists, the beautiful Faustine (inspired by actress Louise Brooks, who appears on the cover). The narrator often hides in the bushes in order to watch Faustine as she watches the sunset. His love for Faustine soon overcomes his fear of capture, and he plans to speak to her.

the muse

When he tries to express his love, he is met with derision, for Faustine ignores him. Soon, however, he comes to realize that she, like all others on the island, ignores him not out of derision but because he cannot be seen. By anyone. Who is truly there? Who is not? What can explain this mystery?

When I finally understood what was happening, I was shocked. As you can tell by the title of this post, I never saw that one coming. No worries: I won’t spoil a thing. I doubt I could explain it coherently anyway.

Let me say right up front that this is one of those books that is much smarter than I am, and so my response to it must come in two forms:

1) the “smart” response that discusses this book as a philosophical work of art;

2) my “real” response that discusses this book as a book.

Feel free to read only the response that interests you most.


Any “smart” response to this book will be painful, and I don’t really feel like thinking right now. A smart response to this book will read like one of those papers I wrote in grad school. DO. NOT. WANT. I need more coffee.

I know! I’ll go make some another pot.

Ok, done. Yummm. Coffee.

I know! I’ll write the real response. Then, when that’s finished, I’ll come back to do this one.

I’m so smart!


You know what? Casares is way too goddamn smart for me.

I understood The Invention of Morel, and I understood the points (at least I think I do, but, let’s face it: I didn’t try too hard, either) Casares was making about creation, immortality, and the nature of reality, but I didn’t enjoy the read as much as I wanted to. As I was reading, I couldn't help but feel that I had to write a paper on it later, and that scared me.

Thankfully it was only 100 pages – and with pictures, too! Now that’s nifty.

In a nutshell: When you first begin Morel, you’ll definitely never guess what’s really going on. It's fascinating and prompts one to ponder the nature of existence and all that, brain hurts.

Oh, yeah, and the "smart" response? Fuck it. I have a snow day today!! No thinking for me!!

Bibliolatry Scale: 5 out of 6 for thought-provokingness; 3 out of 6 for enjoyability = 4 out of 6 total

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

You make my day!


Sarah has gifted me with the You Make My Day award. I've been having a crappy day and this was an instant pick-me-up. Thanks, Sarah!

Now I have to choose 10 bloggers to pass on the award. I've stuck to those blogs written by a single blogger as well as those blogs that stick to either books or writing as topics. Otherwise, this list would be impossible to limit to 10. Enjoy!

1. Chiron over at RabbitReader
2. Kristin over at Books 4 Breakfast
3. Linda over at Another Good Thing
4. Kelly over at A Book in the Life
5. Erin over at The Paperback Stash
6. Indigo over at Full Steam Ahead
7. Susan over at Naked Without Books!
8. Stephanie over at Stephanie's Confessions of a Book-a-holic
9. JRH over at Stuff on My Mind
10. Most Prepossessing over at Names Have been Changed

Monday, February 18, 2008

My first, my last, my only Gaiman

Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders
Neil Gaiman.

At heart, I'm a follower. Although I profess to be a true individual who chooses the road not taken and all that, such posturing is often a front. Well I know there is comfort in conformity.

Such were my thoughts when I purchased my first-ever Neil Gaiman book, Fragile Things.

For the record, I want to like Neil Gaiman. Everyone else seems to. Everywhere I turn, yet another person is singing Gaiman's praises. With nary a naysayer to be found, I [naively] assumed Gaiman was for me, too. I mean, shit -- Gaiman and Tori Amos (one of my favorite musicians) share an affinity for one another. That must count for something, I reasoned.

And so I purchased Fragile Things with all the optimism of a child at Christmas -- and it's not surprising I would feel that way: Fragile Things is billed as a collection of "short fictions and wonders," so I felt I was in for an amazing ride. I mean, a collections of wonders?!? Count me in. I'm always up for a little wondering.

In reality, Fragile Things seems more like a collection of all the crap that Gaiman either couldnt a) develop fully; b) turn into a novel; or c) couldn't peddle anywhere else. And while I know this isn't literally true, as many of these stories were previously published elsewhere or have won awards, I can't shake the feeling that Fragile Things is a bunch of unfinished odds and ends that didn't fit anywhere else.

The poems? Kinda silly. The stories? Somewhat interesting, at best; at worst, almost astounding in their crudeness. The majority felt as though Gaiman had grown tired of them quickly, sending them off to the publisher to avoid looking at them any longer. If that's the case, perhaps Gaiman is as tired of Gaiman as I am.

Hmm. We might be kindred spirits, after all.

Gaiman fans might argue that this was not the best introduction to the author. While I'm sure that's true, I don't see myself trying again any time soon.

In a nutshell: Why all the fuss? I don't get it.

Bibliolatry Scale: 2 out of 6 stars

Monday, February 11, 2008

I can't think of a title and I have to get ready for work,

Traci L. Slatton

If you had been gifted with an abnormally long lifespan, how would you spend your time? It is lofty to imagine spending your days in the pursuit of knowledge or beauty, but I imagine I’d probably do a whole lotta dicking around, just like I do now. When you account for the state of the world, the environment, my own vices, etc., I figure I have about a week left to live, and yet I STILL can’t tear myself away from my playstation 3. However, don't say I'm not making progress in life: I'll have you know I've graduated from the "easy" level and currently play Guitar Hero on medium.

Luca Bastardo would understand. He, the star of Traci Slatton’s Immortal, has been blessed (or cursed, depending on whom you ask) with an abnormally long life. While he does spend a lot of time pursuing “lofty” ideals, he also spends a lot of time screwing chicks and trying to turn lead into gold. Somehow I don’t think he’d condemn me for my playstation fascination.

Immortal takes place in Florence during the Italian Renaissance. The novel begins as Luca, a young boy with no memory of his parents, is a beggar on the streets. Struggling to survive using only his bare wits, Luca’s beauty will, as it does many times throughout his life, lead to misfortune. Betrayed by a friend and sold into the cruelest of slaveries, Luca soon learns to turn the dubious gifts of extreme beauty and longevity to his advantage.

Luca’s beauty and longevity are riddles that he cannot explain. His life’s quest is to find his parents, the only ones who can confirm the myriad theories he has developed to explain his existence. At the same time Luca searches for his family, he also searches for the other missing element of his life: true love. His search leads him to encounter a bevy of figures, both historical and fictional. Of course, it comes as no surprise that Luca earns more than a few enemies along the way, even as he becomes friends with such illustrious figures as Giotto, Bocaccio, Gebel, da Vinci, and even the Medicis. Although Luca befriends many famous people, his enemies never lose sight of him, forcing him to dodge both them and scourges such as the Inquisition and the Black Death.

Will Luca evade his enemies long enough to find the answers he so desperately needs, or will the Inquisition capture him as a witch who uses sorcery to stay so young? And will he ever find happiness -- or is he destined to wander alone through time?

In a nutshell: Luca’s quest for love and family is enthralling; Immortal kept me engrossed despite the siren call of Guitar Hero III.

Bibliolatry Scale: 5 out of 6 stars

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

When routine bites hard and ambitions are low

Three Dollars
Elliot Perlman

What becomes of our younger, more idealistic selves? When I was in college, I swore I’d never become what I am today: married, suburban, domestic. I can hardly remember what I’d imagined for myself, exactly, but at some point in the intervening years, that person slowly dissolved and was replaced by the woman I have become.

I don’t really mind the loss of my idealistic self. Sure, she was more fun and got in a lot more trouble, but she was also unrealistic, neurotic, and generally unhappy. Now I know that what I once viewed as placid complacency is not actually so. It is possible to retain the good elements of our youth while shedding the bad. It is possible for me to enjoy being all the things I'd once held in contempt. Being a suburban wife is actually pretty awesome.

oh, GIS, I love you

Eddie, the main character in Elliot Perlman’s Three Dollars, is struggling with this very same thing. He cannot reconcile the college youth who rejoiced in Joy Division with the corporate slag he has become. Perlman examines Eddie’s evolution from young idealist to lost husband as a handful of individuals come in and out of his life – each time with unforeseeable consequences.

As a child, he is friends with Amanda, whose mother abruptly ends their friendship. Eddie can never quite forget the loss of his childhood friend, but time passes and he moves on. He goes to college and defines himself by the music he loves. He loves, loses, and eventually marries Tanya; in time, they have a daughter. Nine years later, he meets Amanda again; this time, he has only three dollars in his pocket. He goes on, time passes; nine years later, he meets Amanda, again with only three dollars in his pocket.

Much was made of this paltry sum that Eddie has each time he happens upon Amanda, but I felt that Perlman lost an opportunity to do more with it. When I read his Seven Types of Ambiguity almost two years ago, I was blown away. The idea behind it was simple enough, but it left me wanting to read more by Perlman. I didn’t have the chance to make good on this wish until recently, when I happened across Three Dollars. And, while it did not astound me in the way Seven Types of Ambiguity did, I know that I’ll read Perlman’s next work, whenever it happens to arrive.

In a nutshell: Good, but not as good as Seven Types of Ambiguity.

Bibliolatry Scale: 3.5 out of 6 stars