Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Savage Readalong: Week 1


So I've finished the first week of The Savage Detectives, and I have to say I'm SHOCKED.

I'm not sure where my preconceived notions came from, but I dreaded reading this book as one would a painful shot delivered by a leering clown. Thank heavens for this readalong, or else I don't think I'd ever have done it.

Despite my fears of The Boring and The Pretentious (hence my beginning so early), the first 75 pages whizzed by (hence my finishing so fast). I didn't think it would be so interesting. I didn't think it would be so easy to read. I didn't think it would be so damn funny.

What are your reactions, fellow savages? Are you finding it as entertaining as I am?

And if you're not reading The Savage Detectives with us -- why not? It's not too late!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Who wants to be my Daddy-Long-Legs?

Jean Webster

Imagine being told a mysterious benefactor is going to pay to send you to college -- and all you have to do is write him letters detailing your progress! It must be too good to be true, right? Or maybe some people are just good like that.

DUDE. What if someone was like, "Dear Bibliolatrist. Here is 5k a month. Just read books and hang out, and zip me the occasional email to keep me updated." I'd have to address my anonymous friend as "Dear Best-Human-Being-Ever-to-Live-on-the-Planet." Alas. Best not to think of what will never be.

Anyway, that's the idea behind Daddy-Long-Legs. Jerusha Abbot is a poor orphan who is one day sent to college by an anonymous benefactor. His only requirement? Write him letters. Which, of course, she does, because a) that would be a dick move if she didn't, and b) Webster needs a novel.

Daddy-Long-Legs (DLL being the nickname she calls him) is a delightful little novel that is truly a joy to read. It's a little too perfect, but that's part of the charm. Many thanks to Nymeth, who brought this book to my attention. In fact, she discusses the book in far more detail (I'm too obsessed by my own lack of anonymous benefactor), so head on over there for some excerpts and whatnot.

This edition also includes a "sequel" of sorts (called Dear Enemy), but I am saving it for a rainy day. Or a snowicane, which I'll apparently be experiencing tomorrow. JOY.

In a nutshell: A fast, light read that is truly delightful. Also included are Webster's original illustrations (see the cover), which are equally charming.

Bibliolatry Scale: 5.5 out of 6 stars

FTCBS: Bought this one myself, so my love has no strings attached.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Monsters, they are everywhere

The Monster of Florence
Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi

In this in-depth look at the Monster of Florence, the serial killer plaguing the area since the early 70s, thriller writer Douglas Preston has paired up with Italian reporter Mario Spezi to detail the specifics of the case and highlight whom they believe is the guilty party.

The Monster of Florence began shooting pairs of lovers in parked cars. He didn't stop there, though: the women (of course) were horribly mutilated, and pieces of them were removed -- and never found. Who could commit such a crime? Ten years later, and the killer is still at large, striking fear into the heart of everyone in the area.

Fast-forward a bit, and Douglas Preston arrives in the area to research a new novel. He'll never write this novel, discovering instead the Monster of Florence and his fascination with the case. He begins to research the crime, along with pal Mario Spezi, and the result is this book. Their investigation leads to a number of the investigations inadequacies and mistakes, so it's no surprise when they fall under the suspicious eye of the police. (Preston is unable to return to Italy to this day.)

At right: Douglas Preston

The Monster of Florence is as much about Florence as it is about the Monster. Preston and Spezi explain the underlying ideologies of the city's inhabitants, especially the need to save face and the compulsion to find conspiracy everywhere. Such a mindset, coupled with a particularly wily criminal, have allowed the Monster to escape prosecution.

My biggest complaint is the lack of pictures. A few pages of glossy pictures appear toward the end of the book, and yet not everyone central to the case is pictured. Some people mentioned only once or twice are pictured while others not at all. That's a small beef, though, and anyone interested in the case will be pleased with this effort.

In a nutshell: Mostly fast-paced and entirely true, The Monster of Florence is an intriguing look at some very recent -- and disturbing -- events.

Bibliolatry Scale: 4 out of 6 stars

FTCBS: Yet another Christmas present; no publisher ties here.

Monday, February 22, 2010

First Impressions lead to False Ideas

Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart
Beth Pattillo

In Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart, Beth Pattillo brings us another romantic mystery involving the work of Jane Austen.

Her previous novel, Jane Austen Ruined My Life, involves a bunch of long-lost letters written by the author. This time, the mystery surrounds the long-lost first draft of Pride and Prejudice.

Claire Prescott, arriving at Oxford to present her sister's a paper to a summer symposium, quickly finds herself in the midst of Another Austen Adventure. She meets an elderly woman claiming to have the mythical First Draft tucked into the odd nooks and crannies of her home. BUT, she could be suffering from dementia. OR, she could be telling the truth. WHAT TO DO?

Wait, there's more! Soon after arriving at Oxford, she meets her own Mr. Darcy, a handsome, dashing gentleman also attending the symposium. Ruh roh: what about her boyfriend at home? OH NO WHAT TO DO??

In all, Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart is a light, entertaining little book that even non-Austen fans (like myself) can enjoy. Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy it as much as Jane Austen Ruined My Life, but Pattillo still provided me with several hours of escape.

In a nutshell: Fast-paced, entertaining, and somewhat predictable, Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart teaches that not every dashing, handsome gentleman deserves to be adored.

Bibliolatry Scale: 3.5 out of 6 stars

FTCBS: This book was sent to me by the publisher.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

I wasn't scared (but I was a little uneasy)

I'm Not Scared
Niccolo Ammaniti

Be careful reading too many reviews of this novel; some of them give away too much. It's best to know as little about this book as possible.

It's 1978, and nine-year-old Michele Amitrano discovers a horrible secret in his tiny Italian village. (Some reviewers divulge this secret, and while it's true Amitrano discovers it fairly early in the novel, there's no need to ruin the surprise.) This secret will soon teach Amitrano far more than he has ever wanted to learn about the world, his village, and himself.

This novel is fast-paced (one can read it in a day) and never lingers over description, and yet the stark, arid atmosphere of the sweltering summer nearly rises from the pages. Also brought to life are the characters inhabiting Amitrano's small village -- encompassing only five houses, this small hamlet in Tuscany is home to some pretty colorful characters.

The story is told from the child's perspective as he struggles to understand the whys and hows of the secret. Can Amitrano come to grips with the secret and what it means for his family, his friends -- even himself?

In a nutshell: A fast, thrilling read, I'm Not Scared will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Bibliolatry Scale: 4 out of 6 stars

FTCBS: Bought this one myself.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Savage Readalong

Friends, readers, blogosphere: lend me your ears!

Beginning March 1, I and a few intrepid friends (I hope) (please?) will tackle Roberto Bolano and The Savage Detectives. Because I am (perhaps unreasonably) daunted by this book, I need people to help me (and to kick me in the ass if needed).

So why not a readalong?

ERGO, each week we'll read a small snippet of the novel. These snippets will be small. Or small-ish. (It's not an easy novel to divide: it's divided into three parts. Part II has 26 chapters. Part I has 0 chapters. (Hence the daunting.) Anyway.)

So here's what I'm thinking: each week, we'll read about 75 pages. Every weekend, we'll discuss. Or post. WHATEVER. I've never done one of these before, so forgive me for not knowing what I'm doing.

Anyway, a rough schedule involves something like this (all page numbers refer to the paperback edition; if you're working with something else, let me know):

Week 1: read pages 1-75
Week 2: 75 - 139
Week 3: 143-220
Week 4: 221-296
Week 5: 297 -360
Week 6: 361-420
Week 7: 421-489
Week 8: 490-588
Week 9: 590 - end

So who's coming with me? Give me nine weeks and a fear of failure, and I think I can take this book.

(PS - If these chunks are too much for you, let me know! I'd love to have you either way :)

Sign up below!

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The politest argument ever

Justine Picardie

It's no secret that I love Daphne du Maurier; when I saw Daphne, historical fiction centered on her obsession with Branwell Bronte (ooh! and I love the Brontes, too!), I knew this book was destined for me.

The plot revolves around several key characters: du Maurier herself, eager to prove herself a "real" author by completing a biography of Branwell, the forgotten Bronte, that puts him in a new light; J.A. Symington, a former member of a Bronte expert who may not have honestly gained some of his most prized possessions; and, finally, our young (unnamed) narrator who finds herself in the middle of a real-life du Maurier novel just as she struggles to complete her own du Maurier studies.

At right: Daphne at work

While the plot was interesting, several things failed for me. The narrator's journey is simply not interesting, and I hated being taken from the world of du Maurier and Symington in order to return to this fool's problems. She's, what, 23 and married to some recently-divorced scholar 20 years her senior. Not surprisingly, he can't get over his first wife, and he doesn't respect her scholarly interest in du Maurier, and he's so condescending and blah blah blah.

Also, the dialogue. When moving between du Maurier and Symington, no problem. But when writing current dialogue...whoa. Not good. For example, during a scene in which our lovely young narrator argues with her husband's ex-wife, she says, "Rachel, don't be arch with me, and please stop manipulating me." Arch? Really? And, "please stop manipulating me"? This narrator needs a good case of "Bitch, step OFF." Or, maybe even something non-verbal?

'Nuff said.

In a nutshell: Daphne and Symington provide an intriguing tale; unfortunately, the narrator doesn't fare as well. Still, reading Daphne taught me more about one of my favorite writers.

Bibliolatry Scale: 3 out of 6 stars

FTCBS: I received Daphne as part of as part of LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

(what felt like) The Neverending Story

Last Last Chance
Fiona Maazel

This one is an odd duck, since I both liked and disliked Last Last Chance.

The premise seemed intriguing: A lethal strain of virus -- superplague -- vanishes from a lab. The epidemic, not to mention a healthy dose of panic and paranoia, runs rampant. Even worse, Lucy's (now dead) father is to blame, although Lucy's got bigger fish to fry. She's battling addiction and her own inner demons; her family doesn't fare much better. Her mom's a crackhead. Her "true love" married her best friend. And so on.

Unfortunately, the intriguing premise did not translate into an enjoyable novel, and I nearly abandoned it after the first fifty pages. I just couldn't connect to the story -- there was too much going on, too many characters I couldn't care about. Nevertheless, I persevered, and ultimately found Last Last Chance to be just okay.

The good: Maazel's prose, reminiscent of Amy Hempel, is glorious. Her writing appears effortless and natural, and I was frequently struck by a neat turn of phrase. If it weren't for her prose, I probably wouldn't have finished the novel.

The bad: The length. And, to a certain extent, the story. Last Last Chance is ambitious, and Maazel's tackling a lot in it. Unfortunately, the story feels too crowded -- not to mention too long. The novel could have lost a good quarter without being the worse for wear. I also couldn't find any sympathy for any of these characters (except for the grandma, but c'mon, who doesn't love a grandma?), and I almost wanted someone to get superplague just to take the story up a notch. THAT woulda been entertaining!

In a nutshell: I wasn't a fan of Last Last Chance, but Maazel's prose makes her one to watch.

Bibliolatry Scale: 3 out of 6 stars

FTCBS: I received Last Last Chance as part of LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program.

Monday, February 01, 2010

RR10: January

Well, the first month has passed in my 2010 reading resolution -- lets see how I did, shall we?


Langan, Sarah. The Keeper
O'Connor, Flannery. Wise Blood
Watts, Peter. Blindsight
Wyndham, John. The Day of the Triffids
Zafon, Carlos Ruiz. The Shadow of the Wind




Buried secrets, broken souls, boring story

The Keeper
Sarah Langan

Things are going bad in the small town of Bedford. Its inhabitants are all awful people, but are they to blame for their own shitty natures? Or are they being slowly poisoned by the noxious town with a malignant paper mill at its heart? One young woman, Susan Marley seems to know the town's secrets -- or is she the cause of them? A series of bad events bring the town's secrets to the surface, and life in Bedford will never be the same.

I loved Sarah Langan's followup to this novel, The Missing, so I was interested in reading the book that started it all. I downloaded it on my Kindle and was prepared to be floored. And I was.

Unfortunately, I was floored not by its awesomeness, but by the lack thereof. The Keeper was BORING. There were a ton of characters that kept melding into one another, and I kept forgetting who was who. The first 70% of the book was setting the stage for the final destruction, but I was so bored that, when it came, I was glad to see the destruction come.

In a nutshell: I'm glad I read The Missing first, or else I might not want to read more by this author. As a first novel, however, Langan proves she has the chops to write some truly disturbing horror.

Bibliolatry Scale: 2 out of 6 stars

FTCBS: Back off, I purchased it for my Kindle!