You are viewing bookish

Quest

Quest by Aaron Becker

This is a sequel.  This may seem odd in a children's picture book, one even without words, but yet you do want to read Journey first.

Read more...Collapse )

21: A L'Ombre des Jeunes Filles en Fleurs

Originally posted by audrey_e at Book 21: A L'Ombre des Jeunes Filles en Fleurs
21: A L'OMBRE DES JEUNES FILLES EN FLEURS (Eng. Trs: IN THE SHADOW OF YOUNG GIRLS IN FLOWER) Marcel Proust (France, 1919)

45al'ombre

The second installment in Marcel Proust's "In Search of Lost Time" focuses on the author's first love stories and his obsession with female beauty.

I enjoyed this second installment even more than the already impressive first one.
Proust is the ultimate narcissistic writer, and his lyrical daydreams are filled with delightful insights on human nature. His detailed depiction of early twentieth-century society is also particularly valuable because he both adores and loathes it. This contradiction is what makes him the ideal witness of his time; one who is willing to be an active and enthusiastic member of society, while remaining detached enough to fully understand the mechanics of it.

4.5/5

20: Irish Freedom

Originally posted by audrey_e at Book 20: Irish Freedom
20 IRISH FREEDOM: THE HISTORY OF NATIONALISM IN IRELAND Richard English (Ireland, 2007)

44irish

The ironically named Richard English's aim is dual; to provide his readers with a concise history of Irish nationalism and its evolution throughout the years, as well as to more broadly define the practically universal concept of nationalism.

While I would not recommend this book to those who aren't at all familiar with Irish history, my beginner's knowledge was enough to help me follow English's arguments.
Let me tell you, it's easy to sense that the author isn't a big fan of nationalism, but his personal views do not prevent him from delivering a fairly objective commentary.
I believe all of us should at some point stop and think about nationalism as a defining societal force, and this book certainly asks the right questions; has nationalism in some form always existed?, is it necessary?, what human needs does it fulfill?...

4/5

Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast: Visions and Revisions of an Old Tale by Betsy Hearne

Being not a retelling or an anthology thereof, but an analysis.

Read more...Collapse )

Metro 2033, by Dmitry Glukhovsky

Gamma World meets Wool: mutants, nazis, commies, and Satanists in a Russian post-apocalyptic novel that was made to be gamed.


Metro 2033

Gollancz, 2005, 458 pages



The year is 2033. The world has been reduced to rubble. Humanity is nearly extinct and the half-destroyed cities have become uninhabitable through radiation. Beyond their boundaries, they say, lie endless burned-out deserts and the remains of splintered forests. Survivors still remember the past greatness of humankind, but the last remains of civilisation have already become a distant memory.

Man has handed over stewardship of the Earth to new life-forms. Mutated by radiation, they are better adapted to the new world. A few score thousand survivors live on, not knowing whether they are the only ones left on Earth, living in the Moscow Metro - the biggest air-raid shelter ever built. Stations have become mini-statelets, their people uniting around ideas, religions, water-filters, or the need to repulse enemy incursion.

VDNKh is the northernmost inhabited station on its line, one of the Metro's best stations and secure. But a new and terrible threat has appeared. Artyom, a young man living in VDNKh, is given the task of penetrating to the heart of the Metro to alert everyone to the danger and to get help. He holds the future of his station in his hands, the whole Metro - and maybe the whole of humanity.


I remember a soldier sleeping next to me, riding on the metro...

Verdict: There seems to be a lot of good SF and fantasy coming out of Russia nowadays. Metro 2033 isn't terribly original and it gets a bit long, but it's a dark, violent, underground ride that should entertain any fan of post-apocalyptic fiction.




My complete list of book reviews.

Book Request/Suggestions

Hey, I was wondering if you guys know of any good thrillers, mysteries, crime, suspense or horror books that take place in Mexico? The author doesn't have to be from Mexico, just the setting. Thank you!
“Bury Me Standing” is a disillusioning book, disillusioning about both Europe and the Gypsies. Fonseca seems to have organized the chapters to ease us into the degree of perfidy Europe is guilty of in its treatment of gypsies, from the simple discrimination familiar to students of African-American history to the Holocaust (called the Devouring by the gypsies).

What was disillusioning about the gypsies was how their freewheeling, nomadic, romantic reputation was really a vast minstrel show. The real gypsy culture involves child marriage, rampant illiteracy, and superstitions about the uncleanliness of women. Their real poetry and music are things they keep for themselves, while bear training and fortune telling are cons they pull on us. The most free-wheeling aspect of their lives is a substitution among their men for small time wheeling and dealing capitalism instead of professional careers, and that only works out well for a minority of this largest of European minorities. They aren’t even very nomadic, since the vast majority of them have been settled for generations, only moving when forced to by violence.

What was disillusioning about Europe was the centuries long mistreatment of these people. Linguistically they can be traced back to India, but as a group were apparently first brought from Armenia as slaves for a certain Vlad of Romania, the father of the Vlad who inspired Dracula. And like most enslaved groups, they were vilified to justify the slavery. And ever since they have been vilified as criminals, spies, or traitors to justify discrimination to this day, even in countries that would never again dare do the same to Jews.

My sweeping statements are necessary for the sake of summarization, but Fonseca worked with an anthropological style, interviewing gypsies all over Europe and even living among their families. Her approach was more individual and thus more heart breaking than mine.

The Hero and the Crown

The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley

Read this a long time ago, as a child.  Perhaps did not get the full structure. . .

Read more...Collapse )
A year ago, in August of 2013, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) made available to the public the last 340 hours of White House tapes from the Richard Nixon Administration, recordings which had been under government control for almost 40 years. Author, former White House Counsel and Watergate defendant John Dean draws upon the transcripts of these, as well as the contents of previously released recordings to produce his latest book entitled The Nixon Defense: What He Knew and When He Knew It. The book's title comes from a question that Dean was asked by Republican Senator Howard Baker on June 28, 1973 at the Senate Watergate Committee hearings, when Baker asked Dean "what did the president know and when did he know it?" For the most part the answer to those questions emerge from Nixon's own mouth in the recordings, though as Dean concedes, some mysteries still remain.



Dean meticulously reviews all of Nixon's recorded Watergate-related conversations commencing on June 20, 1972, when news of the Watergate break-in first hits the news, until July of 1973 when news breaks that Nixon has secretly recorded all of his conversations, leading to a chain of events that results in Nixon's resignation.

The recordings are very telling about the Machiavellian president and his "if you're not for us, you're against us" mentality. Dean describes in exceptionally great detail, the chain of events, day by day, conversation by conversation, in which this historical train wreck unfolds as Nixon rejects advice to simply let the investigation proceed unimpeded and let the chips fall where they may. Dean does not suggest that Nixon was complicit in the initial break-in, but by choosing to try and cover-up certain things, including the break-in of Daniel Ellsburg's psychiatrist's office, Nixon brings about the transformation of what might have simply been political embarrassment into the downfall of his presidency and his resignation in disgrace.

Much of the book focuses on conversations about the relationship between Nixon and Dean. We see how Nixon at first regards Dean as a bright light, an up-and-comer with a promising future, and how Dean's crisis of conscience leads to his finding himself at the top of Nixon's enemies list. Towards the end, it seems as if Nixon is unable to finish a sentence without adding why Dean is the most despicable man on the planet. The conversations tell much about Nixon's mindset, and in particular about his complete loss of perspective and his disingenuous justifications for many kinds of wrongdoing.

The book also paints an interesting picture of other players in the Watergate saga: Bob Haldeman, Nixon's fiercely loyal chief of staff; John Ehrlichman, Nixon's domestic advisor whose words and actions portray someone with questionable ethics and integrity, whose loyalty to Nixon extends only to the point where it conflicts with his own self-interest; and the stoic John Mitchell, Nixon's former Attorney-General and campaign manager, who appears coolest under pressure, but who also possesses a very skewed sense of right and wrong.

In reading this book, I wondered several times whether Dean's position as a central character might render his accounting of the story questionable because of a lack of objectivity. But Dean addresses this issue by sticking to the words as spoken in the recordings, letting all of the characters (himself included) speak for themselves. In that sense it is hard to argue about the fairness of his telling of the Watergate story.

The book leaves some mysteries unsolved. For instance, Dean makes the case that the 18 1/2 minute gap in one recorded conversation could not have occurred as explained, and while he presents alternative theories, he concedes that precisely how this happened and what the significance of the erasure were will never be known. He also ponders the mystery of what the need for the break-in to the Democratic National Committee headquarters might have been, and presents some interesting theories, but concedes that the tapes do not disclose the answer to this question.

This book is not recommended for the reader with only a passing interest in Watergate. It contains too much detail as the conversations of the participants rehash over and over again what has happened, with their own self-serving spin. It can seem tedious for those with a limited interest. But for the serious history geek, this books is fascinating as various incriminating statements emerge from the mouths of Nixon, Erhlichman, Haldeman and others, though one has to sift through a lot of other meaningless chatter surrounding them. This book presents a reasonably clear picture of how a stupidly planned burglary by some zealous Nixon loyalists turned into the downfall of a president with so much potential. Dean not only tells us what Nixon knew, and when he knew it, but also how his poor judgement, wrong choices and character flaws led to his ruin.

Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen

A Great American Novel about ugly, petty Americans.


Freedom

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010, 576 pages



Patty and Walter Berglund were the new pioneers of old St. Paul—the gentrifiers, the hands-on parents, the avant-garde of the Whole Foods generation. Patty was the ideal sort of neighbor, who could tell you where to recycle your batteries and how to get the local cops to actually do their job. She was an enviably perfect mother and the wife of Walter’s dreams. Together with Walter—environmental lawyer, commuter cyclist, total family man—she was doing her small part to build a better world.

But now, in the new millennium, the Berglunds have become a mystery. Why has their teenage son moved in with the aggressively Republican family next door? Why has Walter taken a job working with Big Coal? What exactly is Richard Katz—outré rocker and Walter’s college best friend and rival—still doing in the picture? Most of all, what has happened to Patty? Why has the bright star of Barrier Street become “a very different kind of neighbor,” an implacable Fury coming unhinged before the street’s attentive eyes?

In his first novel since The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen has given us an epic of contemporary love and marriage. Freedom comically and tragically captures the temptations and burdens of liberty: the thrills of teenage lust, the shaken compromises of middle age, the wages of suburban sprawl, the heavy weight of empire. In charting the mistakes and joys of Freedom’s characters as they struggle to learn how to live in an ever more confusing world, Franzen has produced an indelible and deeply moving portrait of our time.


A lengthy but tightly-connected drama revealing all the cracks in the American dream, and Jonathan Franzen's fixation on poop.




My complete list of book reviews.
Thomas J. Watson Sr. built IBM from a tiny company into the dominant name in office machine supply, especially punch cards machines. He brought his son, Thomas Watson Jr., into the company, and he began the massive transformation of IBM into a computer giant. This is their story.

It is the story of two strong, stubborn, temperamental personalities who were not the easiest to live with, including with other. Their battles with each other were as epic as their battles with competitors. Thomas Sr. both wanted his sons in the company, but didn’t want to let up on his control. Yet it was Thomas Jr. who realized that computers would drive punch cards out and dragged IBM into the second half of the twentieth century. Since they also liked smart, stubborn people, the Watsons surrounded themselves with smart, stubborn people, creating a “team of rivals” except their goal was to make money, and make money they did.

Thomas Sr. and Thomas Jr. both had adventuresome lives. The father worked his way up from poverty to moving the circles of power in American industry. As one of the few liberal businessmen, he had access to the Roosevelt Administration, and pioneered the good treatment of workers to create company loyalty. Chapter twenty-four of this book borders on Thomas Jr. considering paternalistic companies as an antidote to what Marxism would call the alienation of worker; he considered ways to turn IBM into a company owned by its employees and related that to the protection of democracy. Thomas Jr. was an Air Force pilot in WWII, flying in Russia, China, and over the Atlantic, and after his retirement an ambassador to the Soviet Union.

You can also read this book for an outline of the computer industry in America. IBM provided most of the computers in the nation. The New Deal created so much paperwork that IBM’s sales and thus production increased through the Great Depression and obviously then WWII. To explain company decisions, Thomas Jr. had to explain his competitors, too. Much of the middle third of the book is the struggle to keep up not only with technological advances, but with years of back orders.

So whether you are interested in family history, computer history, or management theory, this is a good book for you.

The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde

A witty critique of Aestheticism that's been reinterpreted as a horror story.


The Picture of Dorian Gray

Lippincott's Monthly Magazine, 1890, 252 pages. Available for free on Project Gutenberg.



Oscar Wilde brings his enormous gifts for astute social observation and sparkling prose to The Picture of Dorian Gray, the dreamlike story of a young man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty. This dandy, who remains forever unchanged---petulant, hedonistic, vain, and amoral---while a painting of him ages and grows increasingly hideous with the years, has been horrifying and enchanting readers for more than 100 years. Taking the reader in and out of London drawing rooms, to the heights of aestheticism, and to the depths of decadence, The Picture of Dorian Gray is not simply a melodrama about moral corruption. Laced with bon mots and vivid depictions of upper-class refinement, it is also a fascinating look at the milieu of Wilde's fin-de-siècle world and a manifesto of the creed "Art for Art's Sake." The ever-quotable Wilde, who once delighted London with his scintillating plays, scandalized readers with this, his only novel. Upon publication, Dorian was condemned as dangerous, poisonous, stupid, vulgar, and immoral, and Wilde as a "driveling pedant." The novel, in fact, was used against Wilde at his much-publicized trials for "gross indecency," which led to his imprisonment and exile on the European continent. Even so, The Picture of Dorian Gray firmly established Wilde as one of the great voices of the Aesthetic movement and endures as a classic that is as timeless as its hero.


Oscar Wilde is on my list of Top 10 Dead Authors I wish were still alive and writing today.




My complete list of book reviews.

This is a good book. It's just not the great book that it could have been. The book has only 337 pages and yet, it felt like it went on a bit too long. The problem, I think, is that it  has been billed as a book about books and it is that, but the book talk forms only a small part of the book.

 

What it is, is a memoir, a record of the two years that Shwalbe had with his mother from the time she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at 73 until the end when she lost her battle with the disease and died.

 

Those two years involved many tedious hospital visits and long hours spent waiting for treatment, time that could have felt tedious. The author and his mother took advantage of all that time by choosing to read and talk about all the books they were reading, just as they had done all their lives.

 

They read a whole lot of books, starting with Crossing to Safety by Wallace Steigner, and going on to  A Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion and Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, The Lizard Cage by Karen Connelly, Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by JR R Tolkien and a 100 other books besides.

 

I found it really charming that instead of getting depressed about the cancer, mother and son spent what little time they had, reading books and talking about them. It helped them connect and it helped them talk about things like death, that would otherwise have been very difficult to talk about.

 

This book, similarly, seems to have served as a way for the author to talk about his mother, Mary Ann Shawlbe, who was a truly remarkable woman. She was the director of admissions for both Radcliffe and Harvard back when it was highly unusual for women to work outside the home.

 

She helped found the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children when she was in her fifties. She served as the director of the organisation for several years. She went to Afghanistan, Liberia, Sudan and Bosnia among other war-torn places to work with and help the people displaced by war.

 

The book is really about her life and everything that she achieved and about all the trauma and difficulty of living with a cancer that is not curable. The book club is part of the story, but it felt almost incidental at times.

Holmesian shorts

A recent review of The Hound of the Baskervilles got me thinking about the short stories. I think they may have been amongst my earliest forays into adult lit and I was wondering which ones stick in readers' minds?
I think two of mine must be
1) The Speckled Band if only for the line where Sherlock tells Watson that he 'roused its snakish temper' ~ I think by hitting it with a stick!!
2) The Lion's Mane where the killer is a jelly fish, because it's just so exotic and was the first thing that left me scared to go in the sea, well before Jaws and actually set where we used to go on holiday!

Tags:

“The Casual Vacancy” by J. K. Rowling

When I watch “The Midsomer Murders” I’ve often wondered how these small British towns could sustain a murder rate high enough to sustain the TV series; after having read “The Casual Vacancy” I wonder why there aren’t more. The only sympathetic people in the book were a couple of Londoners who moved out there because the mother had thought she could marry one of the townsmen, much to the chagrin of the daughter who lost her school, her friends, and her boyfriend. The mother even ends up with a lower paying job to be closer to the schumck, which introducers her as a social worker to the life of a family ruined by addictions to drugs and sex. I feel sorry for the kids of that impoverished family, even if the daughter’s angry acting out leaves me glad I won’t have to actually meet her.

The majority of the book is about the ramifications of the death of the one reasonably good person in Pagford, and even he apparently neglected his family to try going good for society as a whole. As the ripples spread, as people compete for his seat on the parish council, the unhappy people of Pagford mistreat each other and rat each other out for it. Fear, selfishness, and hypocrisy drive the people of this town and it’s too small for the people to escape it except by leaving altogether.

The contrast between “Fats” and Kay, the social worker, reveal one aspect of the possible theme of authenticity. “Fats” attempts to be authentic are justifications for his being a jerk of the typical teenage boy variety, and his one act of redemption is accept blame for the misdeeds of others. Is Rowling telling us that civilization depends upon inauthenticity, since the authentic human being is so unlikeable? Civilized values, and even more so liberal, cosmopolitan values, require education and training. On the other hand, Kay’s quixotic search for love, and her daughter’s, is derailed by her boyfriend’s inability to be honest with her.

This is not to say I didn’t believe the book. There are people like this all over the world; Pagford was just at the unlucky end of a bell curve for collecting so many of them into such a small area. Underneath all the repulsive characters is a talent for plotting that brings so many lives into a web of human weaknesses.

What are you reading?

I'm not sure this kind of post is allowed - if it's not, my apologies to the mods and I expect this entry will be deleted.

Anyway, who or what are you reading these days?  Are you into any particular author lately or have you "discovered" someone?  What are you excited about reading next?

Tags:

“Moment in Peking” by Lin Yutang

Weighing in at 951 pages, “Moment in Peking” is a good literary introduction to pre-Communist modern China, when the Chinese were struggling to absorb western ideas without losing their Chinese identities. It is told mostly from the point of view of a middle class Chinese woman, starting from when she was a little girl with her family fleeing Peking (now Beijing) during the Boxer Rebellion to when she, as an older woman, flees Peking ahead of the Japanese invaders while her son joins one of the Chinese armies. I suspect the entire book has a Taoist structure; I will leave it to you to decide if I’m imaging things.

Lin Yutang loves his China enough to have written extensively about it, both fiction and non-fiction, including my favorite aphorism about the Chinese character: that they are so good at making the best of life that they forget to make it better. The Chinese friend who gave me the copy I read told me that Yutang was a feminist; I was skeptical until I realized that Yutang is a feminist in the sense that he likes women. Uniquely, he likes both traditional and modern women (the yin and yang of Taoist femininity?) as long as they are good tempered and educated conversationalists. Even the young woman who takes the “bad girl” path finds new heroism as a spy against the Japanese.

Reading “Moment in Peking” after living in China for nine years leaves me thinking that the period from 1937 (the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong) until 1980, roughly when China really kick started its economy, was an aberration. Reading his book about the turn of the last century, I recognize the corrupt governments, the students who are both idealistic and cynical, and the tightly knit families. The ideological period of Communist rule that ground China down is like a nightmare from which China has awakened, and the Confucian and Taoist character of Chinese psychology has reasserted itself.

Yutang doesn’t have a steady point of view. He’s willing to switch to other characters and freely changes the distance from close POV to a distant, historical view as if this book was the Tao and POV distance a flow between yin and yang. He finds time to have a character expound upon his views, such as promoting the idea that Taoism is a good religion for scientists. The patriarch of the family is also a Taoist version of “Father Knows Best,” rarely ordering his family around but people who take his advice have happier lives. Yutang isn’t a dogmatist about his religion (to be a dogmatic Taoist would be quite the contradiction, but I’ve heard of stranger), giving good scenes to Confucians, Buddhists, and even one to Catholic nuns hiding two Chinese women from Japanese invaders. Yutang drew such close parallels between Buddhist and Catholic monastic life that I wasn’t quite sure which they were until the Mother Superior spoke French.

But in the end, “Moment in Peking” is a family epic, with the plot having more to do with romance, marriage, raising children, and gaining personal wisdom than the great events. The sprawling family has to continually adjust to this complicated period in Chinese history, so the reader will flow between learning about Chinese individuals and Chinese culture the way the Taoist symbol flows between yin and yang.

The Tale of Despereaux

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

Being a tale of a mouse who falls in love with a princess, a rat who craves the light, and a half-deaf servant girl who wants to be a princess.

Read more...Collapse )

“Ike’s Bluff” by Evan Thomas

This book focuses on President Eisenhower’s foreign policy, using poker as its primary metaphor. Ike was so good at poker he had to give it up because he was wiping out his fellow military officers’ personal savings, and he used his ability to read and bluff opponents all through his years at the White House. His game was so subtle that it would be years before anyone realized just how crafty he had been, having correctly ascertained that the Soviets didn’t want, and couldn’t afford, WWIII. It is refreshing to read a book in which the President is the smartest person in the White House, something I thought only happened in “The West Wing.” Thomas acknowledges that it was also a strategy only Eisenhower could have used, since his remarkable military career had given him a reputation to use both at home and abroad.

Eisenhower’s great weakness was being too tolerant of the Dulles brothers and their CIA operations. All the important foreign policy mistakes during his administration can be traced back to the Dulles brothers and Richard Bissell, with their aggression born of paranoia.

The book also outlines his resistance to the military-industrial complex and Red Scare. Eisenhower knew that the United States had atomic dominance during his entire administration, but saying so publicly might have revealed their successful U-2 spy missions. Since Eisenhower had spent his entire adult life in the military, it never really occurred to him how frightened America was becoming of atomic warfare, so he didn’t do enough to reassure citizens. Even so, he knew how the Pentagon worked, and kept trying to hold the line against levels of military spending that he thought would threaten the American economy and perhaps even our liberty. We are learning his wisdom through unfortunate example today.

Keeping up his calm poker face in front of the world’s leaders took its toll on his health, and he often relieved the emotional stress by losing his temper with those close enough to him to not hold it against him. Despite Eisenhower’s precarious health, then Vice-President Nixon played only a minor role in this book, portrayed as a loyal courtier rather than in light of his own important role in the Cold War.

Thomas wrote a worthy book, well researched and well written. I hate to think that it took sixty years for a book to written that gives up the truth about his administration. At that rate, I could be dead long before the truth comes out about any president elected after the 2000, a prospect I do not relish.

Writing Down the Dragon

Writing Down the Dragon: and Other Essays on the Tolkien Method and the Craft of Fantasy by Tom Simon

A collection of essays on how Tolkien wrote.  From his blog, on which yours truly is a reader and commenter, revising.
Read more...Collapse )

Heroes Lost and Found, by Sheryl Nantus

A superhero trilogy fizzles into the sunset.


Heroes Lost and Found

Samhain Publishing, 2012, 325 pages



Jo Tanis is still recovering from her near-death experience in Las Vegas when she receives a mysterious postcard from Harris Limox, who claims to have a promising lead on the whereabouts of the Controller. Over her boyfriend/guardian Hunter's objections, she sets off to a sleepy Oregon town to ferret out the truth.

The Controller is more than just a disgruntled super. He's a rogue Guardian who was presumed dead and is now armed with a slew of high-tech hardware that not only makes him physically superior to the supers—and therefore almost impossible to destroy—he's got the ability to detonate the implants in the back of all supers' necks.

In Oregon, Jo meets a surviving Alpha super, Kit Masters, whose wild plan to capture the Controller could put an entire town of innocents at risk. But instead of successfully talking her former idol out of his disastrous bid to regain former glory, Jo finds herself betrayed and trapped in her worst nightmare.

Fight her former teammates, or die.


Melodramatic quirks and trite superhero tropes do not always translate well on the page.

Also by Sheryl Nantus: My reviews of Blaze of Glory and Heroes Without, Monsters Within.




My complete list of book reviews.

The Princess And the Goblin

The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald

A tale of a little princess growing up in a country house/castle -- kept carefully inside for the danger of the goblins who live in the mountains.

Read more...Collapse )

“Anatomy of Criticism” by Northrop Frye

So I finally finished reading “Anatomy of Criticism” today. The first 150 pages and the last 50 page are fascinating reading, but I did get bogged down in the middle as he tried to prove his theories instead of just explaining them. Proving ideas is always the more tedious duty of scholars, undoubtedly why pundits avoid it.

Frye’s attempt to free literary criticism from the tides of philosophy gave me a lot of food for thought. He was tired of literary criticism being dragged in the wake of Marxism, feminism, etc, and preferred to find an independent means of literary analysis. To do so, he has to hope that literature has an inner logic of its own independent of culture. Sometimes he sounded a little like a bridge player who knows in order to win the hand he has to play as if the distribution of the cards is in his favor, and if not, oh well, at least he tried.

He often compares his image of literary logic to math. Math is a symbolic representation and perhaps underpinning of science; perhaps literature could be a symbolic representation of reality. Math works so well that it can make predictions about reality as well as any scientist. Someone asked Einstein if he was worried an experiment would disprove his theory; he said he wasn’t worried because his math was correct. If literary criticism is equally valid then maybe the educational value of reading novels would finally be proven, even if only concerning the psychology of people.

Thus, Frye spends a great deal of time defining terms, and this is where it starts getting tedious. But if he wants to shape the debate, the first step to control the definitions. The book picks up again when he starts discussing the literary nature of “The Bible,” the book that more than any other shaped our literary world. Most of our conceptions of heroism, morality, and coming of age stories can be traced back to “The Bible.” Stories about the fall and redemption in characters abound in literature, while “The Bible” is about the fall and redemption of humanity.

Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."
Read more...Collapse )

Mind of Winter, by Laura Kasischke

A not-quite-horror story about adopting Russian orphans.


Mind of Winter

Harper, 2013, 276 pages



On a snowy Christmas morning, Holly Judge awakens with the fragments of a nightmare floating on the edge of her consciousness. Something followed them from Russia. Thirteen years ago, she and her husband Eric adopted baby Tatty, their pretty, black-haired Rapunzel, from the Pokrovka Orphanage #2. Now, at 15, Tatiana is more beautiful than ever - and disturbingly erratic.

As a blizzard rages outside, Holly and Tatiana are alone. With each passing hour, Tatiana's mood darkens, and her behavior becomes increasingly frightening... until Holly finds she no longer recognizes her daughter.


Something had followed them home from Russia.




My complete list of book reviews.

Mistborn: Brandon Sanderson

For a thousand years the ash fell and no flowers bloomed. For a thousand years the Skaa slaved in misery and lived in fear. For a thousand years the Lord Ruler, the “Sliver of Infinity,” reigned with absolute power and ultimate terror, divinely invincible. Then, when hope was so long lost that not even its memory remained, a terribly scarred, heart-broken half-Skaa rediscovered it in the depths of the Lord Ruler’s most hellish prison. Kelsier “snapped” and found in himself the powers of a Mistborn. A brilliant thief and natural leader, he turned his talents to the ultimate caper, with the Lord Ruler himself as the mark.

Kelsier recruited the underworld’s elite, the smartest and most trustworthy allomancers, each of whom shares one of his many powers, and all of whom relish a high-stakes challenge. Only then does he reveal his ultimate dream, not just the greatest heist in history, but the downfall of the divine despot.
But even with the best criminal crew ever assembled, Kel’s plan looks more like the ultimate long shot, until luck brings a ragged girl named Vin into his life. Like him, she’s a half-Skaa orphan, but she’s lived a much harsher life. Vin has learned to expect betrayal from everyone she meets, and gotten it. She will have to learn to trust, if Kel is to help her master powers of which she never dreamed.

(Summary of first book from Amazon.)


I've reviewed all three books in Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy on my journal--probably most interesting if you've read all three, but there are separate reviews for each book under the cuts.

The Light Princess and Other Fairy Tales

The Light Princess and Other Fairy Tales by George MacDonald,

A popular title for a collection; you have to check the table of contents to be sure what you're getting.  Me, I got "The Light Princess," "The Giant's Heart," and "The Golden Key".

Read more...Collapse )
If you enjoy reading about history in language liberally spiced with profanity and crude humor, then you'll love Darryl Murphy's 2014 book Three Blind Mice: The Three Presidents Before Lincoln and the Decade of the 1850s. But since I don't, I'm not part of the target audience for this f-bomb laced treatise that reads like a drunken sailor's stream of consciousness. I should have clued in when the f-word was the most frequently used adjective in the "about the author" section, but there's no hint of this on the book's front or back cover.



The language isn't the main problem with the book however. First of all, the book really isn't about what it's title suggests. Very little of the book is about the "three blind mice" of the title (their biographies are pretty much concluded in the first 35 pages of the book's 192 pages). The book meanders off into a range of topics and tangents that include 19th century European politics, art and literature, religion and industrialization. Often the author strays onto topics outside of the decade of the 1850s, though for the most part, the author keeps to that era. On each of these subjects the author offers strongly held opinions presented in the form of conclusions, without much in the way of analysis. Historical figures are good or bad, wrong or right, simply because the author says they are.

But it is primarily the author's language (both its profanity and its lack of respect for the intelligence of its audience) make this book very painful to read. For example, many of the female historic figures referred to in the book are introduced by some sort of crude sexual reference. One female royal is described by the c-word. Any gay or lesbian characters are firstly described by whatever the author imagines their favorite sexual practice to be. It is juvenile and distracts from the telling of some great history that is colorful enough by itself, without the author's barroom story-telling style.

It is disappointing that such a potentially interesting subject is handled in so poorly. The author was clearly capable of doing much better. For example, his analysis of treatment of Native Americans is insightful, and the book's epilogue has the potential for encapsulating the era very well. But for anyone genuinely wanting to learn about these three presidents and how their administrations contributed to the civil war, reading this book is a waste of time.

“Saladin” by Anne-Marie Edde

“Saladin” is an interesting book about an interesting figure in history. She spends most of her time considering not just how his contemporaries saw him, but why they saw him in a certain way. Saladin was praised in many Christian stories about that Crusade to the point of Christianizing him, because they could think of no other way to justify his victory. It seemed impossible to the medieval Christian mind that non-believers could defeat them, so Christian legends about him made him a descendant of Christian knights, or a closet Christian, or an eventual convert to Christianity. They certainly held him to be a virtuous knight, because in the Middle Ages’ theological mindset, right made might, so Saladin had to be good to have won.

Edde extensively explains Islamic sources as well. Saladin was a Kurd, so in many ways he could transcend the Arab-Turkish-Persian rivalries for power in the Islamic world. But those same documents show the vices of his virtues; Saladin was so generous with his trophies that his family was poor after he died, and he was so busy fighting wars he failed to establish a lasting power structure (in the historical sense). For a long time Saladin’s reputation in the Middle East was overshadowed by Baybars, who defeated the more ruthless and numerous Mongolian invaders only 70 years after Saladin’s death. It was only with WWI and its colonial aftermath that Muslims again began turning towards Saladin as a hero.

Edde also provides a great deal of historical context to explain Saladin’s decisions, so much can be learned about why Saladin was tolerant of other religions, about economic trade, the proper treatment of women (in that time), and the ‘rules of war.’ Saladin was particularly tolerant of Jews and Christians with philosophical and medical backgrounds or, like Richard the Lion Hearted, lived up to his warrior ideals. This is in sharp contrast to groups like ISIS, which are presently attacking both non-Muslims and other Islamic groups, which in the long run is why I think they will run out of steam. Being too exclusionary is the primary reason most religious variants fade out.

The most surprising thing about “Saladin” was how it resembles our time. Western countries, then and now, had more reliable means of transferring power. Today we vote, yesterday power descended from father to son (generally), and unless there were unusual circumstances, people accepted the transfer. Meanwhile, then and now, Islamic countries have often not had such stable means of transferring power, which means the Islamic world has spent more time at war with itself. Saladin, a Sunni, learned most of his warcraft fighting Shiites to unite Islam against the Christians, wars that turned so rough that his armies against the Crusaders were smaller than his previous armies against Muslims. And yes, it does seem ironic that he was more tolerant of Jews than of Shiites.

I also thought it was interesting that, then as now, politicians scrambled to make sure that trade is not too disrupted by prejudice, religion, and sometimes even war. No secular ruler wants to stop the stream of taxable trade. A pope was angry that Christians were selling materials useful in war to Muslims, but Muslim rulers would protect Christian merchants, especially in Egypt.

The False House

The False House by James Stoddard

The sequel to The High House.  Spoilers ahead for that.

Read more...Collapse )

Terminal World, by Alastair Reynolds

A steampunk post-apocalypse. Not even a little bit Victorian.


Terminal World

Ace Books, 2009, 487 pages



Spearpoint, the last human city, is an atmosphere-piercing spire of vast size. Clinging to its skin are the zones, a series of semi-autonomous city-states, each of which enjoys a different - and rigidly enforced - level of technology. Following an infiltration mission that went tragically wrong, Quillon has been living incognito, working as a pathologist in the district morgue.

But when a near-dead angel drops onto his dissecting table, Quillon's world is wrenched apart one more time. If Quillon is to save his life, he must leave his home and journey into the cold and hostile lands beyond Spearpoint's base, starting an exile that will take him further than he could ever imagine. But there is far more at stake than just Quillon's own survival, for the limiting technologies of the zones are determined not by governments or police but by the very nature of reality---and reality itself is showing worrying signs of instability.


Alastair Reynolds is an heir to Asimov, which is good and bad.

Also by Alastair Reynolds: My reviews of House of Suns and Revelation Space.




My complete list of book reviews.

Synthetic Men of Mars

Synthetic Men of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

This is the tale of one Vor Daj.  John Carter went in search of Ras Tavas, and yielding to pleas, brought along one soldier.  They quickly find that finding him will not be easy.

Read more...Collapse )
If you have any concerns that author Lynne Cheney's biography of the 4th President of the United States may be tainted by her family's political ideology, you can discard those apprehensions. The author of James Madison: A Life Reconsidered writes a very detailed and objective account of the life of her subject and in doing so dispels many of the myths about Madison being ineffective or lacking energy during his presidency.

CheneyBook

From the acknowledgements section at the end of the book, it is clear that this book is a labour of love for Cheney, and her research of her subject is thorough and impeccable. Professionally written and very readable, Lynne Cheney traces Madison's life from his ancestry and his youth, to his service during the American Revolution and his close association with George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and to his role as "father of the Constitution". The book also provides an excellent account of Madison's presidency and is especially good in its description of what led up to the War of 1812, and how the nation coped during the war, including when the British attacked Washington, DC and burned the White House. The book concludes with an excellent description of Madison's life as an elder statesman, of the issues he had to confront in retirement both politically and personally, and it puts in context the suggestion that Madison tried to edit his personal papers in order to distort his legacy.

Cheney has an obvious fondness for Madison, but her adulation of her subject is no more than most biographers and much less than some. The brilliance of this work is in how she puts in perspective the political decisions made both by Madison and by the other presidents of his era. She is also able to understand and explain sectional differences of the time, especially on such complicated issues as the nation's relationship with Great Britain and with France, and the very troubling problem of slavery. On that issue, she ably discusses the moral inconsistencies both within the nation and within Madison personally. Although she has great admiration for Madison, she is not an apologist for his contradictory views on slavery and freedom. She makes every effort to understand and explain his thinking in this area, but does not defend it.

The book also give the reader an interesting portrait of first lady Dolley Madison, remarkable in her own right. The portrait of the devoted relationship between these two remarkable persons gives the book a very interesting human element which includes challenges that the couple faced from Dolley's ne'er-do-well son Payne Todd.

Another area in which the author excels is in analyzing is Madison's health, more specifically the likelihood that he was an epileptic. Cheney ably walks the fine line between speculation and reasonable inference, and in doing so is able to paint what is likely a more realistic picture of the true state of Madison's health. She makes a fair case for the proposition that he was not a weak or sickly man, and was likely stronger than most historians give him credit for.

This book is a pleasure to read because it adopts the ideal tone. It is neither too professorial or pedantic, nor does it dumb down any of its subject matter. Cheney respects the reader's intelligence and makes all of the issues of the life and times of James Madison interesting and clear. In the process, she establishes her credentials as an excellent historian and author.



 A few days I finished reading the novelization of Snow White and The Huntsman by Lily Blake and to be perfectly honest I found that I really enjoyed this book, despite the fact that the heroine is shown as more of a Joan of Arc then the traditional princess in distress: which I don't think is a bad thing expect when after Snow escapes the Queen's prison she suddenly starts acting all snooty when she meets Eric the Huntsman.

Which to me didn't make any sense because she's suppose to be kind and all that but when they met for the first time she seems to have an air of distain when Eric tells who he is (ok, it certainly didn't help that he was drunk and spelt mead or something like that down his shirt- but I digress.)

However, I thought the best parts of the book had to deal with the Queen and her brother. I thought their backstory and the reason she sat out to be Queen was done very well. And yes, I thought the death scene with the brother was very sad. Just not sad enough to make me want to forgive her anytime soon. Still I like her even through I didn't expect to.

And yes without giving too much away we all know what happens in the end. I still think this book is worth checking out. So I'd give it a C+






Books Read July 2014 (Books 132-148)

Here is a summary of my July reading with links to longer reviews in my journal.

Book 132: Cockroaches (Harry Hole #2) by Jo Nesbø, 1998. Translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett, 2013. 388 pages. Harry Hole travels to Thailand to assist in a murder investigation involving the Norwegian ambassador.
Book 133: The Black Path (Rebecka Martinsson #3) by Åsa Larsson, 2006. Translated from the Swedish by Marlaine Delargy, 2008. 384 pages. An unusual work of Nordic Noir. Reviews of Books 132 and 133.
Book 134: Midnight Crossroad (Midnight, Texas #1) by Charlaine Harris, 2014. 305 pages. A new quirky supernatural trilogy that marries Harris' various series. Review here.
Book 135: Unnatural Habits (Phryne Fisher #19) by Kerry Greenwood, 2012. 249 pages/ Unabridged Audio (9 hours, 54 mins). Read by Stephanie Daniel. Dark deeds in 1920s Australia. Review here.
Book 136: Searching for Arthur (The Return to Camelot #1) by Donna Hosie, 2013. 300 pages. YA Arthurian adventure with two Americans drawn back in time. Review here.
Book 137: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, 2013. 248 pages/Unabridged Audio (5 hrs, 47 mns ). Read by Neil Gaiman. Re-read of this excellent fantasy. Review here.
Book 138: Echo Burning (Jack Reacher #5) by Lee Child, 2001. 574 pages. More action from Reacher.
Book 139: The Fifth Season (Malin Fors #5) by Mons Kallentoft, 2011. Translated from the Swedish by Neil Smith, 2014. 522 pages. The case of Marie Murvall is finally addressed. Reviews of Books 138 and 139.
Book 140: Ripper by Isabel Allende, 2013. Translated from the Spanish by Oliver Brock and Frank Wynne, 2014. 496 pages. Crime thriller about an on-line group of sleuths who seek to track a serial killer. Review here.
Book 141: The Shipping News by Annie Proulx, 1993. 397 pages. A grieving man re-locates with his daughters and aunt to Newfoundland. Review here.
Book 142: Fool by Christopher Moore. 2009. 384 pages. Bawdy re-telling of King Lear. Review here.
Book 143: The Telling Error (Spilling CID #9) by Sophie Hannah, 2014. 374 pages. Hannah's latest thriller. Review here.
Book 144: The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike #2) by Robert Galbraith (J. K. Rowling), 2014. 455 pages. The second outing for the London private eye. Review here.
Book 145: The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi, 2005. 322 pages. Re-read of this magical tale of Africa and England. Review here.
Book 146: Murder (Dr.Thomas Bond #2) by Sarah Pinborough, 2014. 326 pages. A dark conclusion to last year's Mayhem. Review here.
Book 147: The Last Rhinos by Lawrence Anthony with Graham Spence, 2012. 334 pages. A moving memoir of conservation in Africa. Review here.
Book 148: The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer, 2013. 314 pages. Award-winning novel about schizophrenic teenager. Review here.

The High House

The High House by James Stoddard

A tale of magic and wonders.  Set in a mysterious house that has a black river in the basement and kingdoms in its rooms, and a dragon in the attic that is also the last of the dinosaurs and the Behemoth and a serious danger to our hero, Carter.

Read more...Collapse )

Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, by Sara Gran

The world's greatest detective uses drugs, the I Ching, and an old French book to solve a missing persons case in New Orleans.


Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011, 273 pages



Claire DeWitt is not your average private investigator. She has brilliant skills of deduction and is an ace at discovering evidence. But Claire also uses her dreams, omens, and mind-expanding herbs to help her solve mysteries, and relies on Dètection-the only book published by the great and mysterious French detective Jacques Silette before his death.


A badass female detective without a romantic subplot? Surely this cannot last.




My complete list of book reviews.

Tremendous Trifles

Tremendous Trifles by G. K. Chesterton

A collection of essays in which Chesterton holds forth on all sorts of topics -- some actually trifling, some not -- in a vast, expansive manner.  Not for people not in a mood for whimsy.

Read more...Collapse )

The Gap Series

By Stephen R. Donaldson

I just finished rereading “The Gap Series,” which I do about every other year, five books in a space operatic universe, except better thought out than most. Humanity is threatened by its own corruption and the “genetic imperialism” of an alien race similar to the Borg but more insidious and with biological technology. The themes are the struggle between virtue and vice within and without individuals and how people build narratives to understand the world.

It is also about Morn Hyland, a good cop in a corrupt organization, who is captured and raped by a pirate, and then sold to pirates who work in a mercenary fashion to do work too dirty even for the police. The main characters on the second pirate ship are Nick, a man driven by vengeance, Mikka whose primary goal is the protection of her brother, and Vector, a scientist who fled after the police suppressed his vaccine for the virus the aliens use to turn us into them. The police did so to keep people afraid of the aliens thus enhancing their own power.

While Morn struggles with abuse and eventual pregnancy, the police themselves struggle to rise above the political corruption within their own organization. There is continual tension between Data Acquisition (their CIA) and Enforcement Division, and the head of the police struggles against the powerful businessman who had too much control over the government. These struggles even influence the programming of a super-cyborg created using the body and brain of Angus, the rapist who is the father of Morn’s son, and whether the cyborg should kill or save Morn.

And those are just the first two books.

Style wise, the most interesting thing about these books is that the every character spends a lot of internal energy creating stories to find the meaning within their limited facts. None of the characters know everything, so they all have to engage in guess work based upon rumors, research, and the careful weighing of their lives’ premises. The winners are those who build narratives the closest to reality and yet leave open the possibility of improving humanity.
It's almost the deadline to vote for the 2014 Hugos!

Here are my reviews for works under consideration, and my thoughts on the categories.

I'm also going to go out on a limb and predict who I think will actually win. Let's find out how totally wrong I can be!

Best Novel



Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie
The Eye of the World, by Robert Jordan
Neptune's Brood, by Charles Stross
Parasite, by Mira Grant
Warbound, by Larry Correia

I am torn — Warbound was the one I enjoyed the most, and seeing Larry Correia win would be a year's worth of popcorn, but Neptune's Brood and Ancillary Justice were both better written and more memorable.

Parasite, while perfectly passable entertainment, barely merits better than a No Vote, as far as I am concerned, and fuck the Wheel of Time and its fanboys.

Who I think will win: Ann Leckie is favored by All The Right People and her novel has got that non-binary gender thing going on that seems to be excruciatingly important at the moment. And people want to see it be the first to score a triple-crown: Nebula, Clarke, and Hugo. So that's my bet, though Robert Jordan fans might pull off a victory for the dead guy.

Best Novella



Equoid, by Charles Stross
The Butcher of Khardov, by Dan Wells
The Chaplain's Legacy, by Brad Torgersen
Six-Gun Snow White, by Catherynne Valente
Wakulla Springs, by Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages

Catherynne Valente is one of my favorite authors, and Six-Gun Snow White is a lovely book. I liked Equoid, and it's certainly a memorable little Lovecraftian tribute. I would probably vote for Wakulla Springs if it were actually, you know, science fiction or fantasy. The others are merely entertaining.

Who I think will win: Catherynne Valente is a strong contender here, but I am actually going to go with Wakulla Springs. Unless many more people feel as I do, that it lacked enough genre elements to really qualify for a Hugo, its combination of crowd-pleasing theme and undeniably better writing will give it the rocket.

Best Novelette



The Exchange Officers, by Brad Torgersen
The Lady Astronaut of Mars, by Mary Robinette Kowal
Opera Vita Aeterna, by Vox Day
The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling, by Ted Chiang
The Waiting Stars, by Aliette de Bodard

Not thrilled with any of these, but Chiang's piece is the best written. On the other hand, Vox Day winning would be so epic I'd probably vote for him just to see it, if I thought there was any chance he actually could win.

Who I think will win: I think Chiang's piece is clearly, clearly, the best of the bunch, and I'm going to go with it as the winner. If it's not, though, then it will be Kowal and her Lady Astronaut because grrl power. De Bodard will get some guilt votes for great social justice, but her story just isn't impressive enough. Torgersen and Day, their political radioactiveness aside, both submitted mediocre efforts here.

Best Short Story



The Ink Readers of Doi Saket, by Thomas Olde Heuvelt
The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere, by John Chu
If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love, by Rachel Swirsky
Selkie Stories Are for Losers, by Sofia Samatar

Even less thrilled with this category - nothing even approached "great," and the only one I'd really call "good" in terms of fantasy is The Ink Readers of Doi Saket. John Chu wrote the best actual story and Swirsky was the best stylist, but both of their stories are only SF&F by pretension.

Who I think will win: Swirsky and her dino-lover. Fucking shoot me.

Best Related Work



Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction

I've read Kameron Hurley's essay, We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative, which made some decent points and a specious argument. I am not familiar with the other entries.

Who I think will win: Kameron Hurley, because grrl power.

Best Graphic Story



I've only read Saga, which is very good.

Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form)



I've seen all of these but Frozen. I think Gravity was probably the best film, even if there have been arguments that it's not truly "science fiction."

Who I think will win: Iron Man 3

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)



I have seen none of these. No idea who will win.


So, your thoughts? How many of you are voting? Whether or not you are voting, how many of these have you read? How will/would you vote? What do you think of my predictions? What are your predictions?

Equoid, by Charles Stross

A Laundry novella about My Little Ponies from hell.


Equoid

Tor.com, 2013, 65 pages. Available online at Tor.com.



"Equoid" is set shortly before the events of the "The Fuller Memorandum". It's the longest non-novel-length Laundry story so far. And it explains (among other things) precisely what H. P. Lovecraft saw behind the wood-shed when he was 14 that traumatized him for life, the reproductive life-cycle of unicorns, and what really happened on Cold Comfort Farm.


What happens when you mix unicorns, virgins, and Lovecraft.




My complete list of book reviews.

Spell Bound

Spell Bound by Ru Emerson

Once upon a time, in a German kingdom that never existed, a king and his men found a count's son and villagers dealing with a witch.  He refused to let the woman just burn to death in her burning hut, but had her dragged out and officially condemned and then burnt -- which is when they learned that is was actually her daughter Ilse who had done what had alerted them.  She curses three of them, one the king, to die.

Read more...Collapse )


Over at Bibliodaze I have reviews up for THIRD DAUGHTER by Susan Kaye Quinn and THE FALL OF LADY GRACE by Julia London!

Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction, by Jeff VanderMeer

A writers' workshop in a book and a glorious kaleidoscopic work of art.


Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction

Harry N. Abrams, 2013, 332 pages



This all-new definitive guide to writing imaginative fiction takes a completely novel approach and fully exploits the visual nature of fantasy through original drawings, maps, renderings, and exercises to create a spectacularly beautiful and inspiring object. Employing an accessible, example-rich approach, Wonderbook energizes and motivates while also providing practical, nuts-and-bolts information needed to improve as a writer. Aimed at aspiring and intermediate-level writers, Wonderbook includes helpful sidebars and essays from some of the biggest names in fantasy today, such as George R. R. Martin, Lev Grossman, Neil Gaiman, Michael Moorcock, Catherynne M. Valente, and Karen Joy Fowler, to name a few.


Advice from a Who's Who of SF and fantasy authors, lavishly illustrated.




My complete list of book reviews.

19: The Handmaid's Tale

Originally posted by audrey_e at Book 19: The Handmaid's Tale
19 THE HANDMAID'S TALE Margaret Atwood (Canada, 1985)

40hand

In the near future, the narrator's country has become a dictatorship in which she only serves as a womb.

The Handmaid's Tale is a 1986 Booker Prize winner.

The Handmaid's Tale is certainly, along with 1984, the most convincing dystopian novel I've read.
Offred, the narrator, depicts a world in which the authority controls absolutely every layer of its people's (especially women) lives, and Atwood is in that regard very thorough. All the details about the narrator's daily tasks, rituals, garment are painfully fascinating, and gradually reveal past tragedies, and how major political changes unfolded.
Atwood's major strength is her ability to write thoughtful, beautifully written page-turners, and THT is no exception to the rule.
While the ending isn't as satisfying as I'd wished, it is also something I've come to expect from the author.

4.5/5

Warbound, by Larry Correia

Contains (a partial list): 1930s noir superheroes, samurai battle armor, magical ninjas, Lovecraftian monsters, and zeppelin pirates


Warbound

Baen, 2013, 448 pages



Only a handful of people in the world know that mankind's magic comes from a living creature, and it is a refugee from another universe. The Power showed up here in the 1850s because it was running from something. Now it is 1933, and the Power's hiding place has been discovered by a killer. It is a predator that eats magic and leaves destroyed worlds in its wake. Earth is next.

Former private eye Jake Sullivan knows the score. The problem is, hardly anyone believes him. The world's most capable Active, Faye Vierra, could back him up, but she is hiding from forces that think she is too dangerous to live. So Jake has put together a ragtag crew of airship pirates and Grimnoir knights - and set out on a suicide mission to stop the predator before it is too late.


It is what it is, and it's kind of awesome.

Also by Larry Correia: My reviews of Hard Magic and Spellbound.




My complete list of book reviews.

Book Review : The Hound of the Baskervilles

I have read this book before, but that was nearly two decades ago. So while I had a general idea of the story, I had forgotten a lot of the specifics, which was good, because it made my experience of the book a lot more fresh than it would have been otherwise.

The Hound of the Baskervilles is probably the most famous of Conan Doyle's stories which is both fitting and surprising. Fitting because it is such a good story and it is told so well. The suspense builds and builds until the reader feels as if his head is going to explode from all the tension and then comes this giant hound with glowing eyes and a glowing mouth to push the tension up even further...

Surprising, because of all of the Sherlock Holmes stories, this is perhaps the most atypical. It begins in the same way as most of the other stories, with the arrival of a client and the unfolding of a mystery. But it reads more like a thriller than a detective story. There are clues aplenty, but working out the clues is less important to the progress of the story than the unfolding action which is brilliantly written.

All the characters, Sir Henry, Dr Mortimer, Stapleton, Frankland, Barrymore...each of them is important to the story and each has a role to play in the unfolding mystery. Stapleton and Frankland in particular are written very well.

The story is full of great sequences, but my favourite is the night on the moor when Dr Watson and Sir Henry go looking for Seldon, the escaped convict and hear the awful howling of the hound for the first time. It is a chilling moment. Then there is the part where Dr Watson goes looking for the other man hiding on the moor and finds Sherlock Holmes...the suspense that is built up here is just wonderful.

Conan Doyle is a very visual writer and he has an amazing ability to paint a scene and describe a place...the moor is a very important part of this story and he really makes you feel the coldness, the isolation and the darkness of the place.

The book is very well paced and it goes easily from fast paced action to slow building tension. It was a joy to read.

Rereading the Stone

“Rereading the Stone: Desire and the Making of Fiction in ‘Dream of the Red Chamber”

By Anthony C. Yu

For those of you who have not read “Dream of the Red Chamber” (aka “Dreams of Red Mansions” or “The Story of the Stone”), it is the Chinese literary classic, and by ‘the’ I do not mean the only but the most important to the field of literature. It’s a romantic tragedy the length of “The Lord of the Rings,” taking place almost entirely within the mansion of an important family on the way down, and the first Chinese novel dominated mostly by women characters, even as those women struggle with living in a male dominated society. The entire story was supposedly written on one divine stone, and the narrator is telling us what he read, hence the title.

When I read it for myself, I got the gist of the plot, noticed parallels between my family’s expectations of myself and the Confucian expectations of the Jia family for their son Bao-yu, and enjoyed the story within the story within the story organization. Thanks to Anthony Yu, I’ve realized that “Dream of the Red Chamber” is also a story about two Taoist lovers trapped by Confucian values but told from the perspective of a Buddhist who believes both sides are trapped within illusions caused by their desires, hence involving all three of the great religious traditions in Chinese culture.

His discussion of the relationship between literature and history was also enlightening about Chinese society. “Dream of the Red Chamber” was the first Chinese novel to claim to actually be a novel, but because of the narrator (not necessarily the author in this case) claimed to be writing a memoir, a minor literary industry sprung up trying to draw parallels between the author’s life and the book’s events. In the meantime, “The Three Kingdoms,” which we would call historical fiction, was written like a history book but everyone treated it as a novelization. Frankly, the division between literature and history was pretty vague in the West until the 19th Century.

It makes sense to look at a romance novel from the perspective of desires, and Yu deals extensively with how Chinese have perceived desires. The Confucian tradition considered desires natural, but recognized that we did not live in a state of nature, so looked for ways for people to express desires in socially acceptable ways. Musical education and training in particular was stressed by Confucian theorists. But the hero and heroine of this novel were not ordinary people; they were spirits from Heaven reborn on Earth, the land of illusion, and as such their love could not be sublimated forever, only delayed, then tricked, then defeated, but never snuffed out.

Latest Month

August 2014
S M T W T F S
     12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930
31      

Syndicate

RSS Atom
Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by chasethestars