Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A Pink Thunderbird

Title: Nora, Nora
Author: Anne Rivers Siddons

Another great "read" while driving to and from work. My local public library has a ton of books on cassette but fewer books on CD, so I kind of just browse the shelves and pull off what's available that sounds remotely interesting.

This one turned out to be a good choice with an entertaining cast of characters.

There's the main character, Peyton McKenzie, a 12 year old girl who grows up believing she has killed her mother. Early on she changes her name from Priscilla to Peyton because the kids at school call her "Prilla, Prilla, mother killa" (kids can be so cruel). Her older brother died when she was five, which leaves Peyton and Peyton's rather distant father, Frazier.

They also have a black maid, Chloe, who Siddons alternately calls Clotilde in a rather irritating manner. In one sentence, she is Chloe, in the next, Clotilde. It would be one thing if the characters called her Chloe and Clotilde, but it's quite another when it is in the non-dialogue part of the book. Either that or there really were two characters and I just missed something.

And Aunt Augusta, a bossy, haughty individual who would just love to run Peyton's life.

Then there's the "loser's club" which provides quite a bit of entertainment as its members, Peyton, Ernie, and Boot, vie for the position of biggest loser. They share stories in which they were ridiculed, behaved idiotically, and so on. The twist is that Peyton is 12, Boot is 8, and Ernie is... 34. I'll let you decide who is the biggest loser....

And of course, there's the wacky old grandmother who dabbles in herbs, talismans, and various other forms of superstituous behavior. She foretells Nora's coming in a bowl of tomato soup.

Nora is Peyton's approximately 30 year old cousin. For many, she oozes charisma but she also scandalizes the small town of Lytton, Georgia. In the early 1960s, she is a strong proponent of desegregation and teaches a co-race high school English class featuring such dirty books as To Kill a Mockingbird and The Tropic of Cancer. She also swears, smoke, dances, and flirts with abandon. And drives a pink Thunderbird.

She also has a dark secret, but you'll have to read the book to find out what it is.

posted by Kate at 5:41 PM


Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Seamus Redfeather

A man on a plane is trying to open up a conversation with a hot chick sitting beside him, and finally decides upon, "What's that you're reading?"

She says, "oh, it's very fascinating; they did a study of penises from several different cultures, and this article discusses the trends they discovered."

"Really?" he responds, warming to the idea of talking about one of his favorite body parts. "Like what?"

"Well, they discovered that Native American men have the longest penises, and Amish men's are the thickest."

"Wow," he responds, liking her already.

"My name's Gretchen," she says, "what's yours?"

"Tonto. Tonto Yoder."

Ghost Walker, by Margaret Coel

That has nothing to do with the book, but as I was reading it, I kept thinking how it seemed like a cross between Father Dowling and Tony Hillerman, and even though Dowling's Catholic, the thought still led me back to this joke.

The joke is unrelated, but the comparison to the book is pretty apt. Father John is a jesuit priest at a mission on an Arapahoe reservation. Vicky, whose last name I also don't remember, is an Arapahoe lawyer who grew up on said rez. On his way to a very important meeting one night, John's truck craps out on him, and on the walk to the main road in search of a lift (in the middle of nowhere, during the dead of winter--good plan, John), he finds a body tossed in the ditch. Once he gets to the main road, he manages to hitch a ride with--as he soon figures out--the dude who dumped the body. Wisely, he doesn't mention it.

By the time the police arrive on scene an hour or so later, the body's gone, everyone is convinced that there's a ghost wandering the earth and causing mischief (like causing John's truck to break down), and John has missed the meeting entirely. Believe it or not, those are all connected. Because John spends the rest of the book trying to figure out A: what happened to the body, B: what happened to a young Arapahoe man who's been missing for a few days, and C: who is trying to shut down his mission, why they'd want to do it, and how to keep it from happening. I know, that last one sounds like three things, and the first two seem like a slam-dunk (oh, yeah--there's basketball, too), but just go with it. It'll work out. I promise.

It's another mystery, which I dig, and I usually didn't get it exactly right until just before John, which I also dig (at least one of those was just a good guess anyway), but the part that really bugs me is... going to blow it for you if I tell you here. Let's see... I would have preferred that things had not been tied up as neatly as they had been. Yeah, that works.

There are some familiar stereotypes, like the alcoholic Irish priest, and some thoroughly unpronounceable and indecipherable spellings of the Arapahoe language (there are colons and threes in the middle of the damn words), and I'm not entirely convinced that the cultures are depicted truly, or that they would mesh so well, but that didn't mean it wasn't fun to read.

Also, I feel the need to add that if this had been one of ket's books, the priest and the lawyer, instead of just taking mental notes of hot the other is, would have broken that habit (HA! ...oh, wait, that doesn't work here) and just got their freak on. Instead, she gives him a cassette player.

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posted by reyn at 3:01 PM


Monday, August 28, 2006

The Drawback of Nerdy-Dom

Foundation and Empire
Isaac Asimov

I take in far too much sci-fi. Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate, Star Crunch... no, wait, that's a "food" product... Earth-2, SeaQuest (I remember when it didn't suck!), and a little bit of Battlestar Galactica before I moved out of the dorms and lost access to cable. A stack of books ranging from vintage Asimov and Bradbury (the man was a king, and a sick bastard to boot) and outdated "Annuals" that compiled short stories mainly concerned with radioactive fallout, to Snow Crash, which will undoubtedly be forever remembered as a classic. I also read too many mysteries (Lawrence Block's Enough Rope rocks my socks, and is funny as hell), again ranging from Agatha Christie to the more suspense-laden, movie-ready works of Joseph Garber (ok, those are more spy fiction, but the intent here is the same). I love this stuff, but the problem is...

I'm too good at it.

I have to resort to enjoying some books, like this one, just for the story and dvelopment, rather than the fun of figuring out what's going on. In Foundation, it was impossible to figure out what was going to happen to our brave new world of scientists because Hari Seldon predicted it all then destroyed his notes. In this episode, we get more personal with a core group of characters--good--, we don't skip over entire generations--also good--, and the book is over in a year or so instead of three goddamned centuries--bloody fantastic. But it also means that we have enough time to learn more of what each of these characters knows, so we have the time to actually mull it over before Asimov jumps 180 years to his next Seldon Crisis. This book is all one Seldon Crisis, and get this--here's the money shot--it's not even the big crisis of the book.

I'm not telling you anything you won't get from the back cover. At least, I haven't yet. I can even tell you that the Mule is the Big Deal of the book, that he's a mutant with some creepy secret power, and that his involvement--because he's an individual with the power to affect billions of people--royally hoses Seldon's plan for the Foundation.

What the back of the book doesn't tell you is that if you, like me, have read too much sci-fi and mystery, and have naturally become suspicious of certain characters, there's a chance you'll have the Mule figured out long before the revelatory final chapter. I had him pegged long before any of the characters even came close. While it was disappointing to me to have it be that easy, there are some things to consider: 1) doesn't it feel good to figure it out? 2) the characters have not read as much sci-fi as I have, though one does insist on making ironic statements about "real life," 3) There is a very strong argument for this sort of situation being predictable because Asimov was among the first to do it, and I'm reading it over 50 years later, after EVERYBODY else has done it.

What he lacks in suspense, he's made up for by updating society. A lot. Not only does a female character get a name, she's the lynchpin of the whole book. In a lot of really big ways that I can't describe here without blowing it all. Suffice to say that her involvement saves the entire galaxy. That wasn't too big a giveaway, I hope. And to be truly liberated, she even shares cigars with the men in one scene.

The kicker for me was seeing the Foundation become exactly what they were created to replace, but I guess Seldon did set out to rebuild the Empire. Eventually, democracy would have to segue back to a militaristic monarchy for that to occur.

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posted by reyn at 7:06 AM


Friday, August 25, 2006

Here comes the... Oh my god!

Title: For Better or Hearse
Author: Laura Durham

I got this out of the library not realizing that I’d read the book before this one a while ago.

Annabelle’s a wedding planner, based out of Georgetown (so I totally spent the entire time looking for anomalies in the location descriptions). Much like any mystery series, there’s a high incidence of fatalities among her acquaintances.

A rather temperamental chef is impaled on an ice sculpture just before the reception starts for a rather posh wedding. Annabelle’s only under suspicion for a few minutes, since she’d been arguing with him about the hors d'oeuvres, but the detective assigned to the case is, of course, one with whom she spent a great deal of time flirting the last time someone died at one of her weddings.

Annabelle’s always accompanied by at least one of her flamboyant gay caterer, her scandalously dressed assistant who screws up phrases like "birds of a feather flock to leather," and/or her batty old neighbor. The new “helper” in this book is the lead singer for a Scottish 80’s cover band who’s named Ian, is tattooed, has the accent, and wears a kilt (though I wasn’t sure if that was just for gigs, or on a regular basis). Plus the cop.

As usual, a friend is unjustly accused, so the heroine must clear her name, because the police are certain they have the case closed and refuse to consider any other leads.

And she’s still also putting on a few other weddings, dealing with brides from hell (including the vegan daughter of a WASP-y socialite and the high-strung one who takes up smoking the week of the wedding to “calm down” and changes her bouquet to feature a flower apparently known as “monkey balls”).

Considering what happens to amateur sleuths in all these books, I’d be a little scared to try and solve a crime, since, if you’re successful and get closer to the killer, the killer tries to take you out. And yet they always succeed. Justice prevails!

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posted by ket at 9:22 PM


SEALs Rock!

Title: Flashpoint
Author: Suzanne Brockmann

Hooray! More SEALs!

The computer nerd heroine, Tess, has always wanted to be an agent for some random agency she’s working for. She helps save Decker’s life when he’s undercover and ambushed by pretending to be a topless waitress at a strip club so she can warn him while his partner, Nash, kills people on the roof so the helicopter can land. Later that night, she brings Nash home with her. Then he disappears in Mexico for a few months. In the meantime, Decker joins the independent agency staffed by all sorts of former SEALs (like all the characters in the last book I talked about).

They need to do a mission in Kazbekistan, which just suffered a devastating earthquake, so Decker drags Nash off the beach, and unbeknownst to them, their boss brings in Tess to be their computer geek. Tess has to be Nash’s wife, since Decker already has an identity he uses in K-stan (I’m totally going to start using the abbreviations from the book), and the regime in charge there doesn’t so much go for women leaving their homes alone, let alone being unmarried and foreign.

There’s all sorts of tension, sexual and otherwise, between Nash and Tess as they travel to K-stan and live as a married couple. Meanwhile, as Decker’s wandering the city at night to track down a missing warlord, he comes across Sophia, an ex-pat who hasn’t had the easiest time the past few months, after her husband was beheaded and she was turned into a sex slave for the warlord’s friends. Decker captures her, but she escapes by giving him a blow job and running off while he’s incapacitated.

There is no government or infrastructure, and everything is a mess – buildings falling and randomly exploding, people being arrested for minor infractions – but the focus of the entire team is to succeed in their mission, finding ways to make things work.

Will they make it out of K-stan alive? Will Tess and Nash live happily ever after? I’m not telling. :-)

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posted by ket at 9:21 PM


Over Her Dead Body

Title: Over Her Dead Body
Author: Kate White

Written by the editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, you expect a lot from this book.

It tells the story of a magazine journalist, Bailey. Apparently there was a book that came before this one where the journalist solved the mystery of who killed her boss’ nanny. See, she writes about true crime, which obviously makes her the perfect person to be an amateur detective.

But Bailey is fired by that boss at the opening of this book (well, duh, we need fresh people to kill…). Her friend, Robby, gets her a job at his magazine, which is the fictional equivalent of Us or Star or some other magazine that lives to gossip about celebrities. Bailey is now writing about celebrity crime, working for the boss/editor from hell. Mona is a bit of a demon, blowing up at people, throwing things, sending assistants on three-hour journeys to get the perfect smoothie, etc. Nobody likes her. She fires Robby; later that night, when Bailey’s running into the office to pick up some papers, she comes across Mona lying dead on the floor of her office, next to an unconscious cleaning woman.

Robby is, naturally, the prime suspect, so Bailey sets out to clear his name. Plus, she’s assigned to cover her boss’ death for her magazine. Along the way, she seems to be on the right track, since “accidents” start to happen and she almost dies/is attacked a few times.

Being a ket-friendly book, she meets a man. After getting her name, he tracks down her address, shows up at her apartment the next night, she feeds him dinner, and she then sleeps with him.

But back to the dead boss. Bailey makes friends with some new co-workers, and gets into and out of several scrapes along the way.

The book is fun, and I definitely didn’t suspect this killer (always a bonus).

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posted by ket at 9:17 PM


Thursday, August 24, 2006

Missing China

Title - Lili: A Novel of Tiananmen
Author - Annie Wang

Lili is Annie Wang's first novel in English. It made me miss China, which I suppose is a bit odd seeing as I have been to China only once and for only 12 days. But China just has that effect. The culture is so different that it really sticks with you.

The novel is chock full of things that are very characteristic of China: the need to save face, the crudeness (okay, I think I've mainly encountered the crudeness in other books by Chinese authors, but they are just so frank when talking about bodily functions), the parents who are forever blaming their children and guilt-tripping them, the crowdedness of Beijing, the poverty, the tiny dwellings of the countryside, the heavy hand of the government... I could go on and on.

It is, as the title says, a novel of Tiananmen. However, in an odd sort of fashion, the climax comes at the very end of the book with the protests and the massacre. I feel like I'm spoiling the book, but you assume immediately that a novel of Tiananmen would cover that particular historical event. You don't, however, expect it to occur where it does. The shooting starts on page 305 of this 307 page book.

Actually, come to think of it, the ending really feels quite rushed. More happens in the last 30 pages than in the rest of the book. Doubled. Which leaves me feeling as though I really cannot say much more because I would ruin the ending for anyone who may be interested in reading it.

I do have one other takeaway from the novel, and that is how much I truly love the word unctuous when used to describe a person - in this case a Chinese government official who is harassing Lili. What a perfect description.

posted by Kate at 8:08 PM


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

I Wish For...

Title: Five Children and It
Author: E. Nesbit

I didn’t really read much children’s literature as a girl. Books like Alice in Wonderland, Winnie the Pooh, Peter Pan…I didn’t read any of these until I was over the age of 18. As a girl, I was too busy reading what I then felt were “mature” books (i.e., Sweet Valley High, The Baby-Sitter’s Club, and -- god help me -- V.C. Andrews novels). I usually don’t feel guilty about having waited so long to read children’s classics, but in the case of E. Nesbit I do. Why? Simply because if I had read her as a girl, I have the feeling that her books would have become some of my “best friend” books -- you know, the ones that you read and re-read so often that they become a part of you. And I can’t help wondering if I would’ve grown up differently with a piece of Nesbit inside me.

Five Children and It tells the story of five siblings -- one of which is a mere baby -- who move from the London to the country and, while digging a hole to Australia one day, discover that they have happened upon a sand-fairy, or a Psammead. Being children, they accept this strange creature rather easily, and soon discover that it has the power to grant wishes. The Psammead also tells them about many other fascinating things as well -- such as the origin of dinosaur bones and why children build sand castles -- but the wishes are really the important thing.

And thus the adventures begin.

The Psammead can only grant one wish per day. Naturally, the children never get quite what they wished for, or if they do get what they wished for, they soon realize that it’s not quite what they wanted after all. It’s a common lesson, but Nesbit tells it in a charming manner, and the effects of some of the wishes are really rather unsettling, such as when the children wish to be “as beautiful as the sky.” The Psammead does become rather impatient them at times, wondering why they don’t simply wish to be perfectly good or for something to eat, sensible things like that.

Speaking of the Psammead, it’s an adorable creation, and if I ever saw it incarnated as a stuffed animal, I would snatch it up. I won’t spoil you the joy of reading Nesbit’s own description of the creature or of seeing the illustrations for yourself, but let’s just say that the Psammead reminded me very much of Popples. And I loved Popples.

People often discuss Tolkien’s influence on C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. I don’t see how anyone could cite Tolkien as Lewis’ major influence once they’ve read Nesbit. The four older children in Five Children almost directly parallel the four Pevensies, even to the extent that Robert, the second boy, seems to be just a little darker -- and yet more special -- than the other children, just as Edmund was Lewis’ most complex and intriguing character. Lewis and Nesbit are also alike in that their books merge the ordinary and the fantastic in a way that Tolkien never did. But most importantly, the books just sound the same. The cadences of their language are very similar, as are the little asides that both authors make, commenting on the action to the reader. I don’t have either text on hand, so I can’t provide direct quotations, but a sentence like, “And if you had spent all day trudging along a dusty road with little more in your stomach than a dry crust of bread and some scummy water, I have no doubt you would have felt rather cross as well,” could very easily come from either the pen of Nesbit or Lewis. I don't see Tolkien writing something like that.

To wrap this comparison up and to give it a point -- especially for Americans who may not have heard of Nesbit before -- if you love C.S. Lewis, I would be very much surprised if you didn’t love Nesbit as well. (Well, unless you love Lewis simply for the alleged Christian allegory, because Nesbit’s world is rather more chaotic and lacks the clear distinction between good and evil, but that’s another topic altogether…)

If Nesbit’s writing has any fault, it wasn’t one that I could discover while reading Five Children. But I have the feeling that her books may all rather be of the same note. The edition I had combined this book with The Enchanted Castle, and since I was so delighted with Five Children upon finishing it, I then simply turned the page and dove right into Enchanted Castle. That was a mistake. The respective children of the two books were similar enough that I really didn’t get the sense that I was reading a different story. They all blurred together and left me feeling rather hazy about the atmosphere in Enchanted Castle. It simply didn’t come as alive for me as Five Children had. But I don’t think this problem would exist if I had given myself time between the two stories. As it is, I decided to put Enchanted Castle aside and read something else before starting again and really letting myself sink into the story. I think I’ll enjoy it more that way.

Anyway, I really loved Five Children and It. It’s funny, adventurous, enlightening, and even a bit disturbing at times, as all really good children’s literature should be. The illustrations are also quite lovely. And I now firmly believe that no one should go through life without having read at least one E. Nesbit book.

posted by Elizabeth at 8:50 PM


you know, *I* never refer to them as bodice-rippers...

In case any of you loyal readers out there have been questioning the appeal of trashy romance novels, here's some light reading for you:

NY Times Interviews Nora Roberts

MSNBC: Audience expanding as genre is no longer all about smut, shirtless heroes


posted by ket at 8:36 AM


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Dead Mice

Book: Of Mice and Men
Author: John Steinbeck

I have a confession to make. I don't always read books. Sometimes I prefer to listen to them on CD. Really, it's probably the only way I'm ever going to make it through any more of the classics.

I recently listened to Of Mice and Men. If you are depressed, this is not the book for you. Then again, none of Steinbeck's stuff is overly uplifting (okay okay, I've only read two of his books, but I'm noticing a trend here). The Grapes of Wrath comes to mind. Not the most happy of tales.

In this book, some critters are killed, some people are killed, and life as extremely poor migrant workers trudges onward. The portrayal of women is less than ideal, but that's a sign of the times in which the book takes place. The main (and pretty much only) female is "Curley's wife". That's right, she doesn't even a name of her own, and she's most often referred to as a "tart". Hey, come to think of it, I really identify with her.

Or perhaps not.

I have to admit, Mark Hammer did a great job with the reading. If you feel the need to read the classics (which for some bizarre reason, I apparently do), books on CD are the way to go. It's far more entertaining, and you can multi-task (e.g., drive to work while listening to a book).

posted by Kate at 9:36 PM


...or not far enough?

Title: Gone Too Far
Author: Suzanne Brockman

This is not the Brockman book to start with. She writes a series involving a team of Navy SEALs, and usually they work okay as a stand-alone, but this one ties up loose ends for subplots (okay, relationships) that ran through about 4 other books.

However, if you’ve read any of them, this is the one you’ve been waiting for – Sam and Alyssa FINALLY reunite.

Ahem. Back to the plot (which also ties directly to a previous book). They’re still working to find out who was behind an attack on the president. The SEAL team commander is accused of treason, and his fiancé finally agrees to set a wedding date if only so that she can see him while he’s in custody because of an overzealous and grudge-holding base commander. Meanwhile, Sam’s trying to find his ex-wife and infant daughter, who disappeared on the other side of the country. He hasn’t seen them in 6 months, since they moved and he kept being sent on missions on other continents. There’s a dead body in their house, so Alyssa, an FBI agent he was seeing before the now ex-wife told him she was pregnant from their brief “relationship”, comes down to help clear his name and search for the ex and kid. The terrorists behind the presidential attack are still at large, and are also trying to find the ex and kid, as well as bring down the commander. Plus, Sam and Alyssa have MAJOR issues to resolve.

Brockman also always has a parallel storyline involving a historical battle, usually WWII, where the characters there are related to the present-day ones. This time, it’s about how Sam’s best friend’s grandparents met and fell in love (he was a Tuskeegee Airman, she was a WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots)…). And the historical storyline always has a major twist (which I’m totally not giving away this time, because it’s brilliant!).

Apparently I have a weakness for Navy SEALs?

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posted by ket at 8:59 PM


Monday, August 21, 2006

godzilla pooped on my honda....

Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich
by Adam Rex
(HC released c. 08/06) just one of 19 totally sweet poems in this (technically) children's book.

If you have neices or nephews or a father who is regressing as he ages, you need this book. You really just need to read it yourself once, but if you feel like you need a cover story, a newphew does really nicely.

The poems themselves are really funny alone. As you start to read, you will notice that some of them go really well to common tunes, so you can sing along. (An easy example is the poem in which the Phantom of the Opera cannot get "It's a Small World" out of his head, and of course the poem follows the tune. There's also one about a young mummy who won't go to bed that you can sing pretty well to that generic snake charming song, which just works.) The titles only were enough to make me giggle a bit, but maybe I'm just easy that way, but when the "Yeti Does Not Appreciate Being Called Bigfoot", I just have to smile. Dracula ends up with spinach in his teeth, Bigfoot is also mistaken for the Yeti, of course, Zombies mambo incoherently (as if there was any other way), the poor Phantom is actually earwormed about 3 different times, the Wolfman is scolded by his own housepet about his bathing and housekeeping habits. Bliss. and, like a said, the giant reptile poop issue, which is at the end of book, probably because there's just nowhere to go after that.

As if the wit displayed in the poems was not enough, you can move on to the author's illustrations. Not only are they very colorful and almost over the top, not to mention being in a variety of different styles, but they include extra rhymes or gags almost everywhere you look...signs in the background, newspapers characters are reading, characatures of other monsters in the scenes, and so forth.

This kid's book is well worth looking at when you just need a good laugh, but it would be a really great one to read aloud to kids. Being poems, they will easily lend themselves to being spoken aloud, plus everyone can hunt together for extra fun hidden in the pictures, in the front title pages, everywhere.

posted by ~e at 1:17 PM


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Ostensibly a Review, But More of An Imaginative Speculation upon Torrid Romances

Title: The Jane Austen Book Club
Author: Karen Joy Fowler

Being the incorrigible Janeite I am, it was inevitable that I would actually read The Jane Austen Book Club sooner or later.

I wish it had been later. Decades later, to be precise.

In fact, that’s the advice I’d give to anyone under the age of 30 wishing to tackle Karen Fowler’s eyeroll-inducing brand of chick lit: wait twenty years. Better yet, spend those twenty years sitting on a porch picking at your belly lint and toe jam. If you ever become bored and middle-aged, you’ll probably find the novel charming. And that’s about the nicest thing I can say concerning The Jane Austen Book Club.

Oh, I could write a 100 page essay about everything wrong with this book. It’s tempting, but I’ll refrain. Instead, I’ll concentrate my criticism upon a single Fowler quote, when she’s describing a character’s attendance at an annual dog convention:

[Jocelyn] attended panels entitled “Sight Hounds: What Makes Them Special?” and “Soothing the Savage Beast: New Modification Techniques for Aggressive Behaviors.” (Which was sad, as the proper quote was about savage breasts. Now that would be a panel!)

Reading that, my head exploded. I was groaning over the bad humor, and confused as all hell over the quote issue. This unstable combination induced combustion, and I spent the evening scrubbing pieces of my cranium off the wall, cursing.

Why was reading that so bad? Well, although Fowler is technically correct about the quote, I had no idea of this at the time. “Sooth[ing] the savage breast” comes from a random 18th c. play written by William Congreve entitled The Mourning Bride. But has anyone actually read this? I sure as hell hadn’t. Besides, everyone’s heard of “soothing the savage beast,” right? I needed more information, and Fowler wasn’t helping. Such sloppy writing irks me.

But you know what…who cares about the stupid quote anyway! Fowler’s exposure of our cultural error certainly wasn’t done in a way that was funny or meaningful. “Now that would be a panel!”…ugh. Those words made me shiver (which was a precursor, of course, to the subsequent combustion). Fowler was just trying so hard to be “hip” and failing so utterly that it actually depressed me.

This was only one example, but I could find one on every page. I’m not exaggerating. Once I got disgusted with the book, it was the only way I could keep myself reading.

Most importantly, don’t make the mistake of thinking that The Jane Austen Book Club is actually about Jane Austen. It isn’t. Fowler actually makes factual mistakes regarding Austen’s novels, and what little analysis does appear is shallow and trite. When the plot does evoke Austen’s world, it’s done in a manner that’s clumsy and transparent. The book is really about five mopey women and one mopey man finding mopey meaning in their mopey lives. I could give examples, but…

I’m bored.

I was bored reading The Jane Austen Book Club and now I’m bored writing about it. You’re probably bored reading this. So let’s talk about something much more interesting:

How cool would it have been if Jane Austen and Mark Twain had had a passionate secret love affair?

The only good thing about The Jane Austen Book Club is that it concludes with a collection of quotes from various writers and critics concerning Jane Austen. Of these, Mark Twain’s is the best:

I have to stop every time I begin. Every time I read "Pride and Prejudice" I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.

As others have before me, I found Twain’s criticism of Austen deliciously ambiguous. There’s utter scorn and loathing in his desire to exhume poor Jane and batter her, but despite this hostility, he apparently can’t stop reading her. Is this not the very definition of a desperate love? Was Mark Twain, despite all his machismo, a closet Janeite?

I like to think he was, that he found her books so intoxicating – though frustrating – that he couldn’t stay away. I’m rather reminded of Ayn Rand’s Dominique Francon, who disguised her love for Howard Roark’s buildings (and Roark himself) by criticizing them vehemently in print. Although her criticism always appeared damning upon the surface, underneath, it was wildly praising. I like to think Mark Twain’s surface scorn for Jane Austen similarly is meant to disguise a passionate admiration. I think he was too shy and insecure – or, perhaps, had too much professionally invested in his persona of frontiersman – to admit his love openly.

Of course, they couldn’t actually have had a torrid affair, since they weren’t living at the same time. Still, I find the idea highly amusing and entertaining. It just seems so right, doesn’t it? Twain and Austen are polar opposites on the surface, writing about completely different worlds, and yet the way they both write about those worlds is so similar. Both have an extremely strong sense of place, a talent for biting satire, and a distrust of goofy sentimentality. They’re two sides of the same coin, which is always a great formula for attraction. They would be two people who deeply hated each other…except for when they were busy ripping each other’s clothes off.

There's an image to keep one up at night. *grins*

I wish someone would write a book, play, or movie about such an impossible, yet fascinating, love story. It could be the greatest literary romance that never was. It would take a genius, though, to do it right. Probably more than one genius, actually. Ah, well, I can hope. I’d even be satisfied if someone only created a series of letters between the two. Oh, to read such things…it would be heaven.

When I first started down this bizarre train of thought, I did some quick internet research and soon discovered that I wasn’t alone in indulging in this fantasy. We are a multitude (a multitude = 2). The only best article I found is one written by Emily Auerbach, a Jane Austen scholar. I really liked it (and stole some of Auerbach’s ideas for this review), but I do realize that everyone else isn’t as fascinated by literary criticism as I am. Still, it’s short and fairly entertaining, so if you want to join me on the Dark Side, here’s your temptation.

posted by Elizabeth at 8:32 PM


see america through rum goggles

And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails
by Wayne Curtis
(HC released July 25, 2006)

This book follows the popular trend in pop history of building the story of an area (or the whole darn world) around a particular item. (See also Salt, Marriage: a History, Hip: a History, Piano, Cod, Coal, Clay, Flag, Rum: The Real Spirit of 1776, Whiskey, Oil, Zero, Compass, Longitude, and so on).

Although most or all of these books are very intersting (i've only read a few), and none of them read like textbooks or anything so terrible, one big difference with this author is that he has a rather dry (haha) sense of humor that appealed to me. In the opening paragraphs, Curtis is visiting an authentic re-built pre-colonial tavern in Philly. Standing at the door to the tavern is a costumed actor in a ruffled shirt. Curtis grits his teeth a walks towards the actor, convinced that he's going to freak out if the actor even tries to put on a fake accent and start in on some speach about [paraphrased] "our esteemed citizen, Thomas Jefferson, do you know of him?...." Thankfully the actor just opens the door for him and skips the speach.

Another difference about this book is that each of the chapters (one for each cocktail) relates easily to its namesake. In some of these books, you have to squint in order to see where the connection is between the item and the time or culture in question, but I didn't find myself doing that with this book. The author makes the connections very clear, but is also subtle and smooth about it. The writing style in general is conversational and casual, making it a very easy and relaxed read, and sprinkled with the aforementioned dry and almost sarcastic humor.

One rather amusing bit of the book I want to mention is the telling of the story of the real Captain Morgan. He was a bit of a scoundral, it would seem, and supposedly enjoyed stringing people up by their testicles until "a violent anatomical separation" occurred. The the Captain Morgan brand hit the US, Curtis describes the new stylized mascot as being poised above NYC, ready to string up unsuspecting wall street types by their balls.

All in all, I actually really liked this title, and I learned some stuff to boot. The trade triangle (sugar, rum, slaves) that is described in some textbooks, for example, is basically crap. Rum cocktails got going becuase sailors added limes and sugar to their watered down crappy rum. An official rum ration was part of the daily routine of the British navy until way more recently than you'd think.

The book also includes recipies for all of the cocktails mentioned, if you're ever in the mood for some authentic colonial era grog.

I would recommend this book as a good one for history dorks like me who also would enjoy something with a little thought put into the writing and presentation. It's a hard sell in HC, though, I realize.

posted by ~e at 10:11 AM


Monday, August 14, 2006

dead people see dead people

Another re-post here, if you'll permit me.

Book: Brief History of the Dead (released 02/14/06)

First I will say that several people who like fiction, have read way more fiction than I have and probably have better taste in ficion than I do (being as in general I just don't enjoy it all that much...) think that this is a really excellent book. I will take it to mean that it's well written, even though I personally found some of the decriptive details overbearing and distracting near the end of the book. In the beginning they seemed like vivid and interesting pictures, near the end it got old. However, as I said, I may not be the best judge of all that.

I did think that this was a very interesting perspective on something that everyone wonders about: what happens after you die? This author took inspiration that he probably got from the description of what an particular civilization thought to be the various travels of the dead (as noted in the beginning of the book) and put it into a specific context that is very relatable to the modern world. After a person dies, they appear in a city of the dead, and remain there until the last person on earth who remembers them also dies, and the cycle continues. In the city, the dead are reunited with people they knew when they were alive, and live normal lives, as if they were still on earth.

Meanwhile, on earth, a disaster of a grand scale is befalling mankind. I don't think the author specifically states a time frame for this book, but I will say that it's somewhere between 50 and 100 years in the future. Entire new security forces roam the streets just to watch for terrorists. Alarm systems warning of attack are already so old hat that people ignore them unless they continue to sound after several minutes. At any rate, as terrible things happen down below, the inhabitants of the city being to see rapid changes, and have only the overwhelmed newly dead to tell them what's going on.

One thing in particular that I thought was interesting was a short discussion on just how many people you meet in your life, even just briefly. At one point, one of the dead characters tries to count up how many people he was acquainted with when he was alive, and even when he hits the tens of thousands keeps remembering additional little pockets of people like all the mail carriers, or the extendend families of his siblings-in-law, or people he had a passing familiarity with at the first gym he had joined.

For a novel, this is a quick read. I was drawn in enough to want to know the ending and read it in one day, though I can say that I was definately more involved in the earth story line than the one in the city, even though I think the city plot and little side narrations were more intereseting in some ways. I was more interested in knowing the ending than following the story because I started skimming near the end, as I sometimes do. It's not heavy, but I think it's a fairly intelligent treatment of one author's idea of what might happen to our souls after they are done with our bodies.

I think it will have a slow beginning nationally, but look for it to pick up steam. I'm not sure its blatently emotional enough to work as a book club title (it doesn't explore a characters inner journey and eventual life renewal or any of that stuff), but I do hope it finds a niche among readers for just that reason: it's a fresh story line.

posted by ~e at 10:16 AM


Sunday, August 13, 2006

Little TV Station of Horrors

Title: Suddenly Sexy
Author: Linda Francis Lee

Does anyone know why, if it’s not a stand-alone book or a series, there’s always a trio of siblings or good friends who each get a book in a small, related series? See Nora Roberts – she’s written about 35 romance trilogies…

A trio of good friends are associated with a TV station in Texas; today’s protagonist is one of the news anchors (I bet she was also a beauty pageant queen…). Her friends, the station manager and owner, force her to do human-interest segments because she comes across as a bit of an ice-princess, but the segments keep having unintentional sexual innuendo, which totally flusters her on live television (“You must pet your pussy,” as spoken by a pet psychic).

Add to that the return of her former neighbor and the hometown bad boy who done good. They were constant companions until she was 14 and he was 18 and he realized she was a girl. At various times since then, she’s thrown herself at him, to no avail. Now she’s determined to keep things platonic (to the point where she runs away muttering, “No sex. No sex. No sex…”). He’s currently living in her guest house.

And if that weren’t enough, the bad boy is presented with a 12-year-old son he never knew he had by a woman who needs just a bit of cash so she can get started as a dancer in Vegas…

Did I mention that he came home because of other inner demons?

Kate must figure out what’s going on with her personality and career, as well as work to heal her friend/lover/future husband (well, duh) and figure out how his son fits into everything.

The best parts of this book are those horribly awkward moments that Kate ends up in that you know you could end up in yourself (like being propositioned on live TV by a cowboy, or going too far overboard in the opposite direction and getting way too into a segment on sex toys…). Have y’all heard about when I asked the dean for a recommendation letter? Anyway, there’s a lot of those, and Kate comes across as very endearing. Yay for the awkward girls. :-)


posted by ket at 10:40 AM


why should I make puns on the title when the author does it for me?

Title: Sour Puss
Author: Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown

Back to Harry and her pets Tucker, Pewter, and Mrs. Murphy. Harry just remarried her ex-husband, who’s been trying to win her back for a few years now. And the woman with whom Fair (the ex/current husband) had a relationship after the marriage ended (Boom Boom – apparently she’s rather well-endowed…) has, since the last book I read, also come out, and is in a relationship with the former girlfriend of the woman who disappeared in the last book.

The Browns threw in a few new characters (the regulars certainly can’t die or be sent to jail for murder!) that, this time, are vintners. Plus, one of the non-regulars (who is a winemaker) is also the guy with whom Harry had a relationship just after the marriage ended, though that apparently ended a few years ago. There’s a bit of scandal about how fungi that attack grapes can also be bioterror weapons, and the new, wine-making people start dying (and being accused of murder).

Harry, of course, is determined to find out what’s going on. Her pets, of course, are more successful than she is, and end up protecting her from a ruthless killer whom they saw coming long before she did…

Again, Rita keeps things pretty tame – maybe the cat is prudish? Lots of fun with the killers and such.

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posted by ket at 10:29 AM


Saturday, August 12, 2006

Bad Puppy

Title: The Hound of the Baskervilles
Author: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I feel silly admitting that I just began reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle about two years ago, when I bought The Complete Sherlock Holmes, vols. I and II, very cheaply at Barnes and Noble. Each book is about 700 pages, and I’ve been making my way through them slowly. Or, rather, I’ll read a bunch of stories within a very short time period, then get tired with it and move on to something else. Which explains why it took me so long to reach Hound of the Baskervilles, even though it’s the most famous: it’s the last story (more a novel, really) in Volume I.

Anyway, on to the plot! If anyone actually doesn’t already know it, that is.

A wealthy English landowner, Sir Baskerville, is discovered one night lying face down in his yew tree lane. Upon moderate inspection, it becomes clear that the unfortunate gentleman is completely dead, the victim of a sudden heart attack. But if that’s the case, how does one explain the nearby footprint of a massive hound? And does this all actually have something to do with a legend that the Baskerville family is cursed by such a beast? (I’ll let you answer that question.)

The new heir is sent for, Sir Henry Baskerville from Colorado. But the late Sir Baskerville’s doctor suspects foul play, and, upon meeting the new heir in London, brings the young man to meet the famous Sherlock Holmes…just in case something questionable is stirring. And, naturally, since this is a mystery, there is! Two of Sir Henry’s boots are quickly purloined, he receives an anonymous note warning him to stay away from the moor as he values his life, and a mysterious bearded man follows him through London. Clearly, there are games afoot.

In many respects, Baskervilles is classic Holmes. Everything usual is there: the systematic deduction, the attention to details, etc. etc. etc. Everyone knows that stuff already. But the novel is rather unique in two very important aspects, both of which make it essential Sherlock Holmes reading.

First, Holmes himself is absent from much of the story. When Sir Henry travels to his new estate, it is Dr. Watson who accompanies him. For much of the book, Holmes is nothing more than a distant, though overwhelming, presence. One feels, perhaps, that Conan Doyle rather dislikes his own hero, and doesn’t want him around much. After all, the last time he’d written about Holmes, he’d sent him plunging to his death over Reichenbach Falls, wrestling with his arch-nemesis, Dr. Moriarty. But it’s refreshing to spend some alone time with Dr. Watson, and I enjoyed cheering for him, especially as Holmes himself can often be rather mean to his best friend and chronicler.

Second, the really beautiful thing about Baskervilles is Dartmoor itself, where most of the story occurs. The moor is mysteriously beautiful, and much more interesting than the technical details of mundane sleuthing that otherwise occupy the book. Conan Doyle paints a clear picture of this desolate and yet intriguing place, where ghosts moan and pixies patter. There are the ruined remains of an ancient civilization, the stone houses where Bronze Age Man once lived, and a nearby prison, from whence a desperate criminal has recently escaped. Best of all, there’s Grimpen Mire, a horrifying peat bog that can swallow a man – or a horse – before the poor creature can do anything about it.

After reading Baskervilles, I simply had to do some online research about Dartmoor. (In my world, “online research” = Wikipedia.) I found two really cool things, and I want to share.

New ghost stories are still growing in Dartmoor. The one I read about concerned “hairy hands.” Apparently, late-night drivers lose control of their cars when these hairy hands appear on their steering wheel and force them from the road. [Digression: This particularly tickled me because there’s a famous contracts case nicknamed The Hairy Hand case. A man who’d had his hand scarred underwent a revolutionary skin graft procedure. The procedure had several problems, and one thing in particular went wrong: the doctor had taken the skin from the man’s very furry chest. Bizarrely enough, hair began sprouting within days. Naturally, the patient sued, thereby immortalizing himself and providing amusement for generations of law students.]

There is also the annual charity Dartmoor Jailbreak, where civilians (not prisoners) 'escape' from the prison and travel as far as possible in 4 days whilst dressed in convict clothing and without directly paying for their transportation. If you look on the website, someone once made it all the way to New Zealand! Seriously, I want to do this one day. Who’s aboard?

So, yes, to cut this very rambling and starting-to-digress review short, The Hound of the Baskervilles is definitely recommended reading. It’s genre writing at it’s best, and if the mystery is not entirely unpredictable, the journey itself is more than worth it.

posted by Elizabeth at 10:31 AM


Friday, August 11, 2006

again, I could totally do this...

Title: The Givenchy Code
Author: Julie Kenner

This is my kind of book – the protagonist is a giant dork who loves fashion. How can I not love this? The tagline below the title is even “Cryptography is the new black.”

Melanie is a grad student studying cryptology and taking on odd jobs to make ends meet (that is, to pay for her shoes). She hooks up with an ex, and wakes up the next morning to discover that he’s been killed while she slept in the bathtub because he was snoring so loud he kept her awake (just stay with me here). It turns out that a multi-player game she played a few years ago has been transferred to real life by the psychotic creator, and someone who was playing an assassin online is now trying to kill her in real life. The assassin killed her ex so that she knew he was serious, and in order to stay alive, she has to decipher clues and reach the target. To help her, she has a protector – an ex-marine who didn’t take the message seriously the last time he was told to protect one of the players in real life (she died), so he’s hard-core about keeping her alive. I'm just waiting for a similar plot to show up on CNN from one of those crazy renaissance role-playing things...

They travel all over Manhattan solving the clues and evading the potential killer. And hooking up in various hotels. (Duh. Just because I read one book without sex doesn’t mean I suddenly developed taste.) It didn’t end with the definite promise of happy ever after, though it’s pretty much assumed (come on, I’m totally not giving anything away by saying that).

But seriously, I really liked this one. Both characters have brains, and they use them! Plus, if you’ve been in Manhattan, it’s neat to learn random factoids about places you’ve been that they used to decipher the clues.

Highly recommended fluff.

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posted by ket at 11:49 PM


Whisker of Evil

Title: Whisker of Evil
Author: Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown

Much as we got the disclaimer from another blog contributor about spelling, it’s time for me to warn y’all that, though I will make fun of most of the books I read, sometimes I really enjoy books that are totally clichéd.

This book is part of the series involving a rural postmistress (Harry) and her pets (Tucker, Pewter, and Mrs. Murphy). The pets talk – not to the humans in the book, of course, but to each other, and we the readers are privy to their conversations. The author is aided in writing these conversations by her own cat, Sneaky Pie.

There’s a rather high fatality rate in Harry’s small town – in fact, at least one person dies every time a book is written about her/it. She’s a bit of a busybody, always attempting to solve the crime, but her pets are even more skilled at detecting. For whatever reason, the animal-talk isn’t overly cutesy (perhaps because I’ve spent far too much time talking to my family’s cat?) – I rather enjoy when the cats start bickering…

In this case, Harry comes across one of her neighbors while walking in the woods; he’s lying on the ground, and dies seconds after she arrives. The pets immediately set about sniffing for bears and discussing the possibilities of how he died. As Harry searches for clues in the area, she finds a ring that belongs to another neighbor who disappeared 20-30 years ago. The pets, within hours, learn from a fox what happened to the missing neighbor, but the humans take a few more weeks (and another death) what lead to both the deaths and the disappearance.

One thing I noticed while reading this book (and another by the same author, not in the series, just before we started this) is that there’s a great deal of both lesbians and religion. It’s rather an interesting combination – I’m certainly not religious, and wouldn’t be sad to see the occasional Bible-quoting disappear from the books, but it’s nice to see the easy acceptance of the various gay folks in their town, even by the aforementioned Bible-quoters. And a bit of a statement on how things are too PC these days, since the law is finally laid down and Harry can’t bring the pets to work at the post office anymore (NOOOOO!!), which creates a scandal in town.

In general, pretty fun – AND no sex! I read a book that’s PG! Hooray!

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posted by ket at 11:47 PM


Wednesday, August 09, 2006

me type pretty oen day

Title: me talk pretty one day
Author: David Sedaris

I actually finished this a couple weeks before we started this blog, but I was catching grief from another member here, who shall remain nameless but goes through bodice rippers like their protagonists go through sexual partners. She felt that I needed to be posting more, so this will be first in a series of Stuff I've Already Read, But Felt Deserved A Post. Some of these, having been read quite a while ago, may even be treated to a second reading. I can't wait to read Vertical Run a third time, but that's another post.

This goes in the file "books everybody else has already read," so the review itself will not be helpful to most people, but at least now I know why everybody else read it. Sedaris is a ruthlessly funny guy whose dry, understated humor tears through his entire life, and those of everyone he knows, with relentless honesty. Like most people who write about their own lives, it's not enough that he's a good writer; he also has a bottomless well of bizarre stories to draw upon. These two aspects have to work together to complete the book. Anyone could tell a story about how their father will store food--any food, even food which is most certainly NOT meant to be stored more than a few days--for years before eating it, and make it sound funny. See? Even that sentence, poorly constructed and over-punctuated as it was, got a reaction out of you. But when Sedaris shines is when he turns the light on himself and his own failings, or the failings of those he loves, and either humanizes them (in the case of others) or leaps undaunted to new heights of self-ridicule (in the case of his own experiences. While anyone could talk about the father who ate part of a hat because he thought it might be food (not any specific type of food, because when it's so old it looks like part of a hat, you can no longer tell whether it was a cookie or a tuna sandwich) and make it entertaining, far fewer people can talk about their time as a performance artist, dumping food on their head and chopping off large portions of hair in front of an audience intended to take him seriously, and instead getting heckled into oblivion by the same father, and make you laugh at the artist rather than chide the apparently unsupportive father.

The book is comprised of essays, short stories traight out of Sedaris's life, and are presented in only a semblance of chronological order, as some of them span several years, and some are merely observational. Taken as a whole, you learn why he is not a musician, artist (of any kind), or presidential intern. You also find that he can be coldly manipulative (when he met his boyfriend) and opportunistic, that he has adopted many French customs but took years to be able to construct a basic French sentence, and that he is extremely self-aware. He knows the drugs were a bad idea, he knows that he may not be, in the classic sense, a good person, and he knows how perfectly ludicrous the performance-art period was. He also knows that it's all great fodder for writing, because as we all know, other people being stupid--is funny.

As Mel Brooks said, "Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die."

Even if everybody else has already read this, it reminded me that I want to write, and got me busy doing so again. Now all I need is some really strange friends.

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posted by reyn at 2:17 PM


The Traveler

John Twelve Hawks
Paperback released c. 07/06 (HC c. 07/05)
First book of a proposed "Fourth Realm Trilogy"

(for this and future posts, I would like to just let you know, in case we haven't met, that I can't spell. i know I can't spell, and have stopped worrying about it, mostly. it's probably going to drive you nuts, and I apologize in advance)

Present tense. Big brother is watching you...again...sorta. The Tabula, or Bretheren, are tapped into every known electronic resource on the planet and can track your every move, if they cared so to do. Obviously, some people who have bothered to realize this are quick opposed, and choose to live "Off the Grid" as much as possible. Leading among these people are the nearly extinct Travelers, who can project their neural energy into the 5 other realms of existance, as mentioned in Buddhism (apperently). They come back with the wisdom and leadership to make the people rise up against the establishment (the Tabula, basically, although the average soul doesn't understand it that way). Therefore, the Tabula have been hunting down and killing travelers and have nearly succeeded in wiping them out, which is made easier by the fact that the gift usually runs in families. Trying to prevent the Travelers' demise are the Harlequins, who are highly trained fighters, usually from the same families, who don't have any special powers and are therefore stuck in the "Fourth Realm" all the time, with the rest of us. Recently, the Tabula have changed their mind about killing the Travelers and have found a way to use them to Tabula advantage, and that's about where the story gets going.


The book is entertaining. I read the whole thing, and felt somewhat drawn to do so. However, I think the author is trying to mix a few too many themes into his creation. Among them:

- The Tabula as Big Brother (probably the most obvious)
- new survalence technology, like embedded chips that unlock doors for you (somewhat related)
- Alien life (in other realms in this case, instead of planets)
- The Da Vinci Code (someplace in the book there's a little section about Jesus being a traveler and maybe the Knights Templar being Harlequins, but I found it so annoying and discontinuous that I don't really remember the's been done, and done and done already.)
- genetic mutation, forming "splicers," or crazy, overgrown, homicidal hyenas (we learned it from the aliens)

I think that this book might have been pretty sweet if the author had managed to weave all of these ends in more seemlessly, and made it a little scarier. I haven't read 1984 recently, but it seems to me that the fact that Big Brother was so ominous gave that book it's staying power. In the Traveler, the Tabula are controlling the masses and world events without the knowledge of the general population, all while watching their electronic lives....all of which could totally be going on right now and somehow just doesn't pack much of a punch. Each little theme listed above, plus more I'm probably forgetting, kinda stuck out in an obvious manner, instead of being a part of a seamless, believeable reality. Nonetheless, I'm a little impressed that the author managed to incorporate all of those things at all, so I'm not saying it wasn't rather creative, just not very well presented.

The author was really trying to make this into a novel with fantasy/sci fi themes, instead of a sci fi novel. This makes sense if you want to broaden your audience, and it got me to read it, so I guess it's working. However, he doesn't really have the polished writing to get away with it, nor does the book have the staying power or any real lasting effect that you would want to feel from a good novel. You can get away with this stuff from a mass market sci fi book. On the other hand, maybe the author was just going for a quick entertainment fix, but given the publicity and reviews the book received, I don't think that's the case.

All in all, a pretty good, creative read just for the light entertainment factor of it, or if the genre is a favorite of yours. Two things that did strike me while I was reading it:

- all that electronic survalence is probably pretty realistic
- NPR did a story on those implanted ID chips while I was reading the book, which caused a mental double take, but I quickly got over it.

Oddly enough, the author does give a pretty good description of a small religious group, the "Jonesies, " who believe that a certain martyrd Traveler named Jones was indeed the last, and follow him as their prophet the way Christians follow Jesus Christ, although without the divinity part. Some Jonesies will help Harlequins and some won't, and on and on with politics and hurt feelings and so forth.

posted by ~e at 12:36 PM


Tuesday, August 08, 2006

my future profession...

Title: Hot Ice
Author: Cherry Adair

A phenomenally talented cat burglar accidentally steals launch codes for a missile that will be used by a wealthy religious fanatic to destroy a large, sinful city.

The cat burglar is tracked down by a non-governmental anti-terrorist organization (thereby providing the hero with a sexy British accent…).

British hero fondles temporarily blinded cat burglar in the shower by page 35.

But, of course, they're secretly attracted to each other even though he's working to stop her from cat burgling (is that a real word?) and she's determined to not let him slow her down, so it's okay.

They work with the remainder of the secret organization to take down the religious fanatic and his organization, as well as a rival group of fanatics (all women! Women can be evil too!).

In true James Bond style, the crazy guy hides the missile in a large complex he builds from a mine in Africa, where each level to get to the missile represents a reproduction of Dante's levels of hell (I'm serious.). The heroes make it through the various challenges and then, at the end, are embroiled in an epic battle with both of the two fanatical organizations (everyone fighting for control of the missile). I don't want to give too much away, but Las Vegas survives, and the secret anti-terror group gains a new member with "special" skills. And the guy gets the girl.

Did I ever mention that the way cat burglars are presented in trashy novels really makes the profession sound appealing? I could totally do that for a living…

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posted by ket at 9:11 AM


Sunday, August 06, 2006

Interesting title choice - waste indeed...

Title: Classified Waste
Author: Alexander M. Grace

The theory was that this would be a semi-respectable conspiracy/government book.

Apparently I missed the witch on the cover.

A burned-out CIA agent returns from duty overseas and gets reassigned to a department that nobody’s heard of, because they can’t get rid of him but don’t want him doing anything important. The department, however, is the Office of Occult Operations (OOO), which is staffed by three witches, each of which has a particular strength (mind reading, etc.), is located in the basement, and has a bewitched entry door (no handle, it opens on its own when you walk at it, no camera or sensors, and no explanation).

Then, of course, we throw in ties to a terrorist attack, and a potential double agent. The OOO is front and center, determining if the double agent is telling the truth, and later working on an investigation into a failed operation where a bunch of agents died. The burned-out agent spends the book in a rather befuddled state while the witches run circles around him.

Plus, there’s even a requisite love interest and subsequent happy ending!
That’s the last time I trust the “new arrivals” shelf at the library to provide worthwhile reading materials…


posted by ket at 10:42 AM


Saturday, August 05, 2006

Without, definitely.

Title: With or Without You
Author: Carole Matthews

I didn't actually read this. Wasn't hooked in the first 10 minutes, and didn't want to waste my time. However, I did read a few chunks of it in case it got better (not really...).

It's about a semi-crazy woman who's obsessed with having a baby - her bf dumps her and she goes on a trek in Nepal. I'm sure it made sense if you read the whole thing.

Anyway, the only reason I'm mentioning the book is so that I can put up a fabulous line that might make the book worth reading:

"I am no longer a desperate, unhappy, unpregnant person -- I am reckless, shagging Mountain Woman!"


posted by ket at 9:26 PM


Friday, August 04, 2006

The Vision (dun dun dun...)

Title: The Vision
Author: Heather Graham

I've been thinking for a bit about how to make this unique, since pretty much every book I'll be talking about on here is a trashy romance novel. It's tough. Let's go through a sample checklist:

Man thinks woman's nuts. Check.
Woman thinks man's an arrogant jerk. Check.
Woman and Man make asinine bet where one of the payoffs is them sleeping together. Check.
Said bet is made by chapter 3, when they still don't like each other. Check.

Okay, okay, there's some ghosts and stuff in here too. That makes it a bit harder for me, since it's more challenging to go along with the fantasy and put myself in for the heroine when she's seeing ghosts all the time.

There is one new and exciting element. The hero's name is Thor. As in Norse god of thunder and stuff. It's impossible to take this very seriously with a character named Thor. Then again, a book I loved a few years ago had a character named Jedidiah Skimmerhorn as the love interest. Come on - seriously?

But back to The Vision. There's a few subplots going on here, in addition to the inevitable happy ending.

They're hunting for a sunken treasure ship, or treasure, or something. Pirates were involved in the sinking, though they didn't really flesh that out too much. All the characters are therefore professional divers.

There's a ghost. OOoooo.

And some dead hookers.

Most of the focus and time is directed to the ghost(s), but the only real action and climax deals with the dead hookers. Each storyline felt like it needed a lot more details, and yet adding them would make the book way too long.

In the end, the ghost(s) is(are) happy, the hooker-killer is captured, and true love prevails!

Honestly, I've never put so much thought into a book with so little value. It's a lot easier to enjoy these when you read it quickly and promptly forget all about it, thereby not wasting precious brain space better dedicated to useful stuff, like song lyrics.

Of course, you can't go into a book like this and expect a classic. As a few hours of escapism, it works, well. Plus, it just makes me want to dig out the scuba gear and go on vacation, which we all need to do...

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posted by ket at 2:17 PM


Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

In order to feel less lame, I'm going post a review that was previously posted on another blog. I haven't actually finished a book in the last couple weeks, with moving 'n all.

Keeping in mind that until recently I didn't think of myself as a fiction person (and i'm still not a mystery person) here we go:

Book: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (PB released March 2006)

I think what I enjoyed most about this book is the level of detail and research that went into it. While being a good story, it also provides (what I hope is) a fairly accurate picture of Chinese women's lives at that point in time. The author includes poems and songs and things that reflect how the women talked to each other. Part of the story's focus is nu shu or "women's secret writing," and entirely seperate written language that developed in a particular region of China. Family and friends used it to write letters when they were seperated, as most women, it would seem, were always "married out" to a different town than the one she grew up in.

I think I was surprised that the women had such complex social structures, given how "worthless" they were considered to be...the point of a woman was to have a son. But they did have very complex rituals and social groups and traditions that almost amounted to things like bridesmaids and such. It's also interesting just how ingrained the culture was into these women. It makes me wonder a bit about cultures where roles and traditions are so well defined that you don't have to think about much of anything. You just know what you're place is and how you should related to other people. Does that make it easier for everyone to get along, or harder for people to be happy?

One that seemed odd about the language of the book was that even though the main characters are followed from about age 6 until their 40's and beyond, the style of their speak doesn't seem to change much. Granted, the narrator is about 80, but it's hard to understand just how young the girls are at the beginning because of the way they talk.

The passages about foot binding where just plain disturbing. Not disturbing bad, I guess, but just unimaginable. I couldn't help googling it after I read that part.

In the end, it's another story-of-women's-relationships-hardships-etc. It'll will be a big book club book. But it's done pretty well with lots of back-up for what goes on (the research, etc). Since I'm a total history dork, I like the fact that I can feel like I'm getting an accurate glimpse of what the life was like. The paperback version also includes a narrative about the author's time in China doing research for the book, which was pretty interesting.

posted by ~e at 12:53 PM


Thursday, August 03, 2006

In the (re)beginning...

Title: Foundation
Author: Isaac Asimov

A few months ago, a long-time friend gave me four Asimov books for my birthday. The Naked Sun, one of the Robot series, was the first I read. Then I took some time off from Asimov. The other three were Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation. There are more books in the Foundation series, but as Dave put it, "these are the ones you have to read." I think Dave started reading Asimov when he was about 13, so I figured he was as close to an authority as I could get, and finally got around to reading Foundation this weekend.

The gist of it is that sometime in a future so distant that Earth is believed to be a legendary rather than factual place (Like Eden is now, except Earth exists), a psychohistorian named Hari Seldon predicts the fall of the Galactic Empire, followed by thirty thousand years of barbarism. The fall cannot be prevented or stopped (by that time, it has already begun), but Seldon believes that the intervening period of barbarism can at least be shortened to a paltry millenium. To this end, he cons the Emperor into setting Seldon's people up with a planet where they can ostensibly go about collecting the knowledge of the galaxy into the Encyclopedia Galactica, a compendium of all there is to know about everything. Naturally, this is expected to take a while.

It's not until 50 years later (the book covers two centuries, so don't get too attached to any particular character; most of them only exist for a few chapters) that a recording of Seldon tells his people their true purpose: not to compile an encyclopedia, but to serve as a bastion of civilization, intelligence, and progress through the dark ages ahead. Their efforts will hasten the rise of the Second Empire, but along the way they will have to deal with several crises, which he has conveniently predicted with psychohistory.

Yeah. Psychohistory. A branch of statistical mathematics that allows one to predict the actions of billions of people over hundreds of year, though not the actions of any individual. Asimov actually made up a whole new branch of science to serve as the basis for this series, then killed it off again as soon as he'd begun; none of Seldon's collected scientists are psychologists (thus none are psychohistorians), to prevent any of them from making their own predictions. It goes back to the axiom that if the subject knows that it's being studied, it will interfere with the study.

The Foundation survives three "Seldon crises" in the first book, by employing a non-mutual stalemate, religious domination, and economic control (facilitated by superior technology due to inferior resources). Each time, Seldon has managed to steer them so that only one option is available, and somebody alwasy seems to figure it out. Usually this someone is one of the characters who lasts the longest, like the mayor of the planet who fires off epigrams like "It pays to be obvious, especially if you have a reputation for subtlety," and my personal favorite, "Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right!" These are the characters that even the book remembers, quoting and referencing them through other characters long after they have dissolved into the past.

Yet for all the crises, impending wars, and galaxy-scale conflicts, this is not a book of action. When plans are made and steps are taken, they are not charging head-on steps, but tiptoeing behind with a big stick steps. Weapons that win the Foundation's fights are politics, blackmail, strongarming, deception, and technological leverage. All the stuff that usually bores me to tears. I have no interest in politics whatsoever, having had enough of it in high school. But I couldn't help poring through this book, trying to figure out what ace they'd pull out of their sleeve to solve the next Big Problem.

When you get right down to it, though, most sci-fi is like that. As I read the book, I started getting irritated, and thinking about how most science fiction writers really don't know much about science, and so most science fiction ends up being about politics. Star Trek is famous for being more about social change and examining ourselves than sticking too closely to the laws of physics. Star Wars makes a big deal of replacing empires with republics. Sci-fi starts with politics, but gets the credit for the science. Even the word "robot" originated in a sci-fi story about social change. Now everybody uses the word without really knowing where it came from.

All of the Foundation's technological advances revolve around "nucleics" and atomic energy. These guys put nuclear generators in everything from ships to toaster ovens and butcher knives. The science Asimov does use is bad, and then he makes up new sciences (psychohistory? the name doesn't even make sense, but I'm sure there are people trying to develop something similar, and in a grand scale, I think it would work. But not with Seldon's accuracy) to fill in the gaps.

Asimov takes an historical view of the future, and that's what leads to a lot of his errors in the science. Rather than looking ahead to what we might develop and how society might change, he looked around him at the emerging sciences and imagined how they would impact society, never positing what would come next. Everything is nuclear powered because that was the next big deal when he was writing. The future itself is more like the past; everyone smokes, even in confined spaces like ships, and even though the back cover talks about "the men and women" of the foundation, women exist in this book only as wives, daughters, and consorts of the men. Even the scientists, who are barely mentioned for the most part, are entirely male. Looking back, I can remember only three specific females: the wife of a neighboring ruler, one of her ladies-in-waiting, and a mistress of a Master Trader. The first appears in two scenes, is a complete shrew, and is important only because she is also the daughter of an Imperial officer, something which is only hinted upon. The second has no lines besides gasping and appears solely for the purpose of displaying nuclear powered jewelry (that's right. Go ahead, read it again--I'll wait right here), and the last is only mentioned in passing, more as a joke. She may not exist at all.

The vast majority of contributors to this blog would take high offense at the slight role women play in Asimov's version of our future, but when he wrote this (early forties), he had no reason to believe any such drastic changes would take place. Forgetting where Earth was? Nuclear powered bread knives? The rise and fall of a galactic empire? Sure, no problem. Women in science? How's he supposed to have seen that coming?

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posted by reyn at 6:59 AM


Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Anonymous Lawyer, by Jeremy Blachman

Title: Anonymous Lawyer
Author: Jeremy Blachman

Why not exert my power? Why not have fun with it? I mentioned to Chicago Guy on Monday that I’ve never been sure which toilet on my floor flushes the best, and on Wednesday I had a memo summarizing the options. I wrongly accused a summer associate of taking my rubber band ball last year – turned out it was the janitor – and he made me a new one. That’s the advantage of being in my position. I can make people do things. It’s the one constant here […].

There are a lot of things I can’t control. As you get older, you can’t control your body. My shoulder hurts from throwing a pair of scissors at my secretary last week. My elbow hurts from fighting for one of the swivel chairs at my department lunch in the conference room on Tuesday. My foot hurts from kicking a homeless man who was lingering around my car in the parking. I think he was homeless. He may have been a paralegal.”

~ The Narrator, Anonymous Lawyer

Who is the Anonymous Lawyer? Well, he’s a hiring partner at a monster L.A. law firm, and pretty much takes the award for the World’s Worst Boss. He’s an impatient, crabby, and rude workaholic with any number of insulting prejudices. If you displease him, he will gladly garrote you with office supplies and throw your limp body to the dogs waiting out back by the dumpster – if, that is, firm regulations permitted. In short, he’s about as warm and fuzzy as Genghis Khan.

Most of all, however, he’s wickedly, devilishly funny.

Based upon his popular blog of the same name, Anonymous Lawyer is Jeremy Blachman’s first novel. And no, Blachman himself is not actually a hiring partner at a large law firm. Rather, he’s a recent graduate of Harvard Law School who began his blog as something of a lark, just to see if he could pass as a real partner. Anonymous Lawyer quickly exploded in popularity among law students and professionals, however, with many readers claiming that A.L. perfectly depicted the attitude – if not the exact details – of law firm life. Many readers refused to believe he wasn’t real.

Blachman’s identity, however, was eventually outed by Sara Rimer of the New York Times in Revealing the Soul of a Soulless Lawyer. He was then offered a book deal, and the rest is history.

Seriously...history. Anonymous Lawyer is the first book originally incarnated as a blog and then written in blog format. This isn’t completely new, since “diary” novels and epistolary novels have been around for centuries, but it’s probably of great interest to people reading this. Many of us, I’m sure, probably nurse the secret ambition of having our blogs “discovered” and becoming real writers. Well, Jeremy Blachman’s done it, and I, for one, am willing to be impressed.

For avid followers of the blog, rest assured that the book contains new material making it worth the read. There’s actually a plot. Taking center-stage is an epic battle between A.L. himself and The Jerk – a smooth, sleazy, Harvard-educated partner – over who will become the firm’s next Chairman. The Musician is intriguing as a summer associate who suspects that his heart lies somewhere other than with the law – a stand-in for Blachman himself, perhaps? And an added e-mail exchange between A.L. and his Standford-educated, Yale Law School-bound niece reveals that this crusty schemer may have a human side to him after all.

For those not familiar with the pressure-cooker environment of corporate law firms, Anonymous Lawyer is a tantalizing glimpse into this mostly-unexplored world. While bad legal dramas proliferate on television, there’re none that I know of that give any idea whatsoever of how a law firm actually runs. There’s the strict hierarchy of summer associate, junior associate, senior associate, partner, as well as the torture method tiresome concept of “billable hours,” which together drive all aspects of firm life. In my opinion, this environment is ripe for dramatic exploitation, just as the closed society of sailing ships once provided an excellent laboratory for the study of human character. Happily, NBC has obtained the rights to Anonymous Lawyer, and I can see the show becoming a second The Office – only more evil.

Finally, for people who have no interest in the law whatsoever, Anonymous Lawyer can entertain as nothing more than the quintessential Evil Overlord, cackling over his corporate domain.

The novel is not flawless, however. The plot that has been superimposed upon the usual snarkiness feels a little strained (especially the role played by the Bombshell), and the character of Anonymous Niece is head-scratching. I’m also not quite sure how I feel about the ending. In short, Blachman excels at “being clever,” but is not quite expert yet concerning the deeper aspects of a novel. Still, it’s an amazing debut for a first-time writer. With the hardback priced at $25, I don’t think I’d recommend it to non-lawyers as a purchase, but it’s definitely worth the price of a paperback. And if you have the opportunity to borrow it from the library or a friend (moi!), so much the better.

posted by Elizabeth at 10:40 PM


Jet Li's Fevered Dream

Title: The Destroyer #115: Misfortune Teller
Author: I honestly can't tell.

I am not proud of having read this book, but since it's the one that gave me the idea for this blog, I felt it was only fair to make it the first post.

Imagine, if you will, a literary version of a movie directed, written, and produced by Jet Li, with the able assistance of some of the Crouching Tiger people and whoever was resposible for Bruce Willis's sly comments after dispatching bad guys in any of his pre-Sixth Sense movies. Try to keep in mind while conjuring this imagery that I shudder to think what the word "literary" thinks about being used in this context.

This series, published by Eagle Books (yeah, I haven't heard of them either, but they apparently have a lot of series like this), revolves around Chiun, a Korean, and Remo, his adopted "white son." These two are the Masters of Sinanju, which is both the name of Chiun's home village, where he apparently has more money then God, but doesn't bother to spend any of it, and of the martial art they practice. This is where the crouching tiger comes in. Let's be clear: I love action novels, I love a well-written fight scene, and I've always wanted to develop some skill in martial arts even though, as a geek, I don't get into a whole lot of fights that don't involve double-clicking the other combatants. However, as a geek, I also have a certain respect for the laws of physics, many of which are disregarded in the art of Sinanju. Chiun and Remo are also, for some reason, agents of a super-secret US agency known as CURE (no word on that acronym's definition), which employs them as spies/assassins/rather violent diplomats.

Misfortune Teller revolves around Chiun's falling in with a cult leader who predicts the coming of pyon ha-da, when all people will become Korean, there will be no more night-time (again with the physics!!), and the extremely racist Chiun will no longer have to be slightly ashamed of his white son's honky skin. The cult leader turns out to be infected by a demon which our heroes apparently encountered previously, but they don't realize that until the closing chapters, after they have dealt with its attempt to take over the world, or at least south-east Asia. Oh, and there are appearances by the heads of state of both Koreas, each involving Remo shoving them around.

The worst part? I found myself wondering about what role that demon played in their past, and I actually wanted to find out. Literary treasure? No. But I had fun reading it, even when I was laughing at, rather than with. Keep in mind that I enjoy a lot of admittedly bad movies. Don't seek the book out, but if you get it for free at a friend's garage sale, it will occupy a day or so when it's too hot to move.

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posted by reyn at 1:35 PM