Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Ah, the Classics

Title: Madame Bovary
Author: Gustave Flaubert


Every-so-often I try to read one of the "classics" (to avoid offending Reyn, and the writers of this great blog I just discovered, I would like to say that I used quotation marks because I am still unclear how a piece of literature arrives at the point where it can be deemed one of these so-called classics). I have had Madame Bovary sitting on my bookshelves for who knows how long, so it seemed a good option. Honestly, I'm not sure what the fuss is all about.

First of all, stop spending money you don't have, woman! I cannot even begin to rant about how much I am irritated by books where someone spends more money than they can ever hope to repay (the Shopaholic series for example. Why did anyone ever recommend that to me, and then insist it was so great that I had to keep reading it? It was torture! Endless torture!). If you don't have it, don't spend it.

Secondly, poor Monsieur Bovary! He is nothing but a loving husband, albeit a bit lacking in the passion department. He does not deserve a wife like Emma.

Thirdly, romance novels are not real life, Madame Bovary. If only you had realized this, life would have been much better for you. Even your lovers (of which there was a disappointing grand total of two) cannot meet your insane need to achieve the pinnacle of romantic relationships, whatever that is.

Fourthly, the only part that moved me toward pity for Madame Bovary was her method of suicide described in all its glorious detail. Do not ingest arsenic. It is not pleasant. If you must kill yourself, Emma, you would be wise to pick something quicker. Of course, drawing out your death did have the affect of making your husband feel even worse. Lovely.

Perhaps it's just me. Lots of readers on Amazon rave about this book. However, I found Emma to be a character with whom I simply could not sympathize.

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posted by Kate at 5:11 PM


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I really meant to keep up...

Sigh. This might be everything - I tried to slow down when I realized there was a backlog again. These are generally organized from good to bad-ish.

Playing James
by Sarah Mason
Mediocre reporter gets assigned to the police beat in a PR move for the department where they have her riding along with one of the officers (James). They’re both in relationships but have the traditional bickering and reluctant attraction, and eventually end up together. Really liked this one, and not just because they had British accents in my head while I was reading.

Rumble on the Bayou
by Jana DeLeon
Local small-town sherriff (daughter of the former sheriff) has to call in the feds when they discover a crocodile full of cocaine floating in a woman’s pool. Fed that's sent has history with the theoretical bad guy and doesn't understand small-town politics. Power struggles, deep hidden secrets, etc. Fun.

Stacked Deck
by Terry Watkins
Rather like what maybe happens to the girls from Gallagher Academy when they grow up – a secret network of super-awesome female spies traveling around and saving the world. Absolutely ludicrous, and I love it that way. Supposedly this is part of a series (“Athena Force”), but my library seems to only have this book. Thankfully the library also has a form where I can recommend things to add to the collection ("pretty please buy more books about hot female spies so I can live vicariously through the books!").

Don’t Look Down
by Suzanne Enoch
Sequel to Flirting with Danger; former cat burglar is now engaged to British billionaire (seriously, the accent AND the bank account? I’m in love) and goes legit, becoming a PI who has to solve the murder of her first client. As always, though I liked the characters the first time I was okay with not knowing what happened during their happily-ever-after phase.

Drop Dead Gorgeous
by Linda Howard
Sequel to To Die For; again, I was happy when we left the couple alone and happy and alive at the end of the book. But no, we have to have more random attempts on her life.

The Deadliest Strain
by Jan Coffey
Chasing a rare, infections strain of bacteria. There was potential for a romance that was never explored - that made me sad. I want either non-fiction involving bacteria OR fiction involving sex. This was neither.

Village Affairs: A Mystery
by Cassandra Chan
British, in an ambiguous time period, aristocrat/amateur sleuth helps out when his Scotland Yard friend gets called in to work a case. At least he has a high-strung model girlfriend to make things interesting...

Body Language
by Suzanne Brockmann
Best friends are attracted to each other but each thinks they don't stand a chance with the other. They pretend to be together so that she can make some jerk she works with jealous, pretend starts feeling real, then big misunderstanding and argument, then all happy in the end.

Seven Days and Seven Nights
by Wendy Wax
Rival radio talk-show hosts have to share a small apartment for a week. They have some history, are reluctantly attracted, etc. Poor communication ensues for a while but is anyone really surprised that they get together in the end?

Public Displays of Affection
by Susan Donovan
There seem to be a LOT of books out there based on the premise that this naïve girl has a hot fling (often on the side of a road) with a nameless but gorgeous guy, then goes off and marries someone else who proceeds to die, and then the nameless guy miraculously moves in next door and they realize they were meant to be together forever. Does this really ever happen?

Bad Girls Don’t
by Cathie Liz
Belly Dancer/free spirit extraordinaire is just what the uptight cop mourning his dead wife needs. (gag)

by Catherine Coulter
The Sherlock/Savich series really isn’t doing it for me anymore.

No Safe Place
by JoAnn Ross
Cop gets dragged into helping investigate the disappearance/death of her estranged twin (con artist) sister, with the assistance of a former cop who went bad (supposedly). Everyone’s redeemed in the end.

Kiss of Death
by Meryl Sawyer
Iraq war vet inherits an estate from his mysterious uncle, there’s lots of murder attempts that throw him together with the caretaker who, as usual, butts heads with him but is reluctantly attracted, etc. Don’t remember how it’s resolved.

Wizard’s Daughter
by Catherine Coulter
I remember a bit of this. It was weird, and involved a trip to an alternate realm at the end. Catherine doesn’t usually do the supernatural stuff. Very bizarre.

EDIT: to anyone who gets this multiple times, sorry! I kept finding books that were left out...

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posted by ket at 12:42 PM


Monday, October 27, 2008

Is it really worth all this chasing?

Title: The Chase
Author: Clive Cussler
Bookmark: one of thirteen thousand election-related fliers I've received in the mail over the past month.

Years ago, when my brother got home from school, he would watch Where in The World is Carmen Sandiego?, not because he was fascinated with geography, but because he liked to absorb as much radiation as possible from the television to ensure his mutations remained stable. I watched because we lived in a one-room shack, but I liked that I usually knew the answers. On each episode, there was a segment called The Chase which was always introduced by Rockapella singing "Oooooooooh, the chaaaaaase!" Every time I looked at the cover of this book, that three-word jingle ran through my head before I could start reading. Sometimes, it was the most compelling part of reading.

I've read two other Cussler books, and while they're exciting enough to make me keep reading, like Dean Koontz and Louis L'Amour, they often spend far too much time in Popcorn territory, and are supported by lots of WTF moments (like using quantum teleportation to fill a briefcase with oil and when Cussler himself appears in The World's Sweetest Yacht to save Dirk Pitt and the female lead). The Chase continues in that proud tradition.

Sure, I enjoyed reading it. I like any good heist story, and this one's also a western. Isaac Bell, an agent for the Van Dorn Detective Agency (an obvious parallel to the Pinkertons--even the motto is similar), is assigned the case of the Butcher Bandit, a daring and ruthless killer who single-handedly robs banks all over the west, kills all witnesses, and vanishes without a trace. Bell is Van Dorn's best agent, and as a typical Cussler hero, is suave, charming, crazy rich, and dashingly handsome to the point that every woman who sees him immediately swoons or entertains thoughts of humping his superior detective brains out.

Other Cussler standards are present: despite three chase scenes (posse vs. wagon, car vs. train, train vs. slightly faster train) across western deserts, divers are necessary to retrieve the wreckage of the train in the west's largest lake. Yeah, the train was at the bottom of a lake. That was necessary to use divers. Clive loves his divers. He also loves anything with an engine (cars, trains, motorcycles, bad-ass boats) or anything that floats (Viking longboats, high-tech yachts, the Titanic, paddle-wheel ferries, etc.), and describes them with a classic car enthusiast's loving detail.

But Clive? Honestly? I need to make a suggestion. Next time you send a book out to the stores, have your editor or someone hire a proofreader to check for continuity. I can keep track of an awful lot of characters if they're unique enough, and you do OK there, but it's a royal bitch when their names change. One kid was only in scene, and for one line in the middle, his name suddenly changed to Warren, then back to whatever the hell it first was before he was sent on his merry way twenty bucks richer. And names aren't the only inconsistency. Get it straight, man. I love to read crime stories, but it's confusing and hard to figure things out on your own when the author feeds you inconsistent facts. The last book I read so badly in need of proofreading was an advance copy that was hopefully released before a proofreader okayed the final release. They had an excuse; The Chase really doesn't.

On a side note, for anyone else who watched Carmen Sandiego and now watches too much police procedural, this is a good NSFW spoof of both.

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posted by reyn at 11:55 AM


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

tall tale

Ti: Little Giant of Aberdeen County
Pub: 01/08/09
bookmark: dog ear

'Little Giant' is getting a bit of buzz. I decided I wouldn't like it because it's biggest quote to date is from the author of 'Water for Elephants,' and while 'Water' was an interesting story, the book overall wasn't really for me. I feel almost exactly the same way about 'Little Giant.' The author tells a really interesting story with family and town history - but with about 10 more adjectives per page than maybe she really needed. There are aspects of the story that edge into the surreal, or a fairy tale world - reminds me a little bit of the floaty feeling in the movie (and book, technically) 'Big Fish.' So the writer's style is not so much for me, but I did like the story.

Truly, a giantess, is cast out on her own pretty early in life, and later gets sucked a bit against her will into the world of the most well-known family in town, several generations of town doctors all named Robert Morgan. The original Robert Morgan who came to town married the town 'witch,' who hid her healing secrets in a really cool way that Truly eventually discovers and uses to like, further the plot.

I would put this in the same category as 'Water for Elephants' (that jacket quote really will do a lot for this book) or 'Monsters of Templeton' - one book that made me say 'eh' and one that I LOVED - so, I'm picky about my ethereal flashback life history novels. 'Little Giant' falls somewhere between these two books, for me.

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posted by ~e at 10:18 PM


Saturday, October 11, 2008


Title: Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency
Author: Douglas Adams
Bookmark: Paper telling me where I can donate blood.

Long ago, I read all five books of the Hitchhiker Trilogy. It's a geek prerequisite for graduating high school. Soon after, I discovered that Adams had written other books, and I managed to find The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul in my local library. There was mention in this book of a preceding volume, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, and ever since I've been trying to find it. Ironically, although my current library has DGHDA, it does NOT have TLDTTotS, and only books one and four of the H2G2.

Honestly, I was disappointed.

It has all of the charm and sly wit and twisted humor of the other books, and there's more than a little Ford Prefect in Dirk Gently, but it just didn't seem as polished as the others. Maybe it's an effect of memory.

The first weird thing I noticed is that we don't even meet the title character until almost halfway into the book.

We do meet an Electric Monk, a programmer whose couch is impossibly wedged in the stairwell, a professor who might not really be a professor, a technology mogul who is promptly killed off and replaced by the technology mogul's ghost, and the mogul's sister/programmer's somewhat-neglected girlfriend.

Dirk bills himself as a Holsitic Detective, who "believes in the interconnectedness of all things," and although he repeats this many times, he does a much more entertaining (and consistent) job of it in TLDTTotS. Here, he's more con artist than sleuth, and his sleuthing would make Fox Mulder cry "bullshit."

Still, he throws himself in to proving the programmer's innocence in the mogul's murder, even if it's only because he wants to figure out how the ersatz professor performed some sleight-of-hand (interconnectedness of all things, remember), and by the end of the book they manage to not only save all of human existence, but provide Bach with all the music he ever wrote, reveal how the couch got stuck in the stairway, and help scribe Coleridge's most famous work.

Sadly, the ending doesn't quite explain everything you're left wondering, and although I'm sure Adams might have thought he had tied up all those loose ends, most are still pretty frayed.

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posted by reyn at 2:48 PM


Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Life in Death

Title: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: A Memoir of Life in Death
Author: Jean-Dominique Bauby

This morning, with first light barely bathing Room 119, evil spirits descended on my world. For half an hour, the alarm on the machine that regulates my feeding tube has been beeping out into the void. I cannot imagine anything so inane or nerve-racking as this piercing beep beep beep pecking away at my brain. As a bonus, my sweat has unglued the tape that keeps my right eyelid closed, and the stuck-together lashes are tickling my pupil unbearably. And to crown it all, the end of my urinary catheter has become detached and I am drenched. Awaiting rescue, I hum an old song by Henri Salvador: “Don’t you fret, baby, it’ll be all right.” And here comes the nurse. Automatically, she turns on the TV. A commercial, with a personal computer spelling out the question: “Were you born lucky?”

Simply put, read this. But just to be safe, watch the movie first. Books often ruin a movie, but a movie seldom ruins a book, except for when that book is The Last of the Mohicans.

Jean-Dominique Bauby was the editor of French Elle, and the toast of the fashion world, when he suffered a massive stroke that left him almost completely paralyzed. Even his voice was frozen, leaving him nothing more than a nearly inaudible grunt. He was almost completely paralyzed, because he could still blink his left eye. That eyelid became Bauby’s sole means of expression, and with it he dictated this entire book, using a system in which his assistant recited the alphabet and he blinked when she reached the letter he desired. It’s hard to imagine to amount of perseverance and determination this required.

(FYI, Bauby’s right eye was sewn shut to protect the cornea from infection. The film depicts this event from his perspective, creating an intense feeling of claustrophobia as the thin sliver of light is inexorably closed fast. For a few minutes, you think you might know exactly how Bauby felt – completely, utterly helpless.)

But don’t worry that Bauby’s memoir is a downer, or sappily sentimental. The stroke may have cost him his voice and mobility, but his words are as witty and worldly as you’d expect from a man who’d lived as voraciously as he did. In other words, an editor of Elle is not going to write Chicken Soup for the Paraplegic Soul. The memoir chronicles Bauby’s life as a paraplegic (not being able to scratch your nose when a fly lands on it), but also the far-reaching journeys of his imagination as his body lies immobilized in its diving bell. In that sense, this is a compelling celebration of the joie de vivre. You’ll want to read slowly, and savor a glass of wine after finishing it.

And finally, I’m not a superstitious person, but something about this book feels as if Bauby was destined to write it, as if The Diving Bell and the Butterfly perfectly matches an experience with its chronicler, to create a work that will last generations (like Anne Frank and her diary, Boswell’s friendship with Johnson, or Krakauer and the doomed 1996 Everest expedition). Bauby was a master of the material world – possessing looks, wealth, fame, love. He lost it all in a single shattering instant, but lived to write about it in a way no one could forget (and died days after his book was published).

Even Bauby’s name is somewhat uncanny – for an English speaker, at least. The shortened form of Jean-Dominique is Jean-Do: John Doe. He is anonymous, and yet universal. He was alone in his paralysis, and yet, through this work, we can all share in the imaginative life that he found so rich.

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posted by Elizabeth at 9:00 PM