Thursday, May 21, 2009

I don't melt in the rain, bitches

(HC release 06/09/09)
Au: Katherine Howe
Bookmark: the giant wrap-around back cover thingee on the ARC ed.

A very early reviewer (also being a staffer at my illustrious workplace) compared this book to Monster's of Templeton, and for this review was granted space on the splash page of the ARC. I have to agree with his assessment. Both stories boast a fairly similar heroine and both manage to bring elements of the fantastic into the "real" world where the books are set in a very casual way - as if giant lake monsters and actual witches in colonial Salem are everyday stuff. I think 'Monsters' accomplishes this in a more subtle way - as the townspeople don't seem particularly shocked by the monster (although the outside world is), while Connie is continually taken aback by what she finds as she pursues the Physick Book. I suppose this makes 'Physick' more realistic and 'Monsters' more fun.

Connie is a graduate student in colonial american history who gets sucked into trying to pull together her dead grandmother's abondoned, centuries-old house near Salem Mass., while her hippy-dippy mother spends her time reading auras on the west coast. All the while, she's supposed to be figuring out what to do for her dissertation. While picking through the items left in the house (an electricity and phone free house), she comes across the name of a Deliverance Dane. Luckily armed with professional-level histrical research skills and a cute boy who does restorations for a living, Connie tries to track down records of Deliverance, thinking that this little character would be a great start on her original disseration. She finds pretty quickly that efforts have been made to erase Deliverance from certain records completely, which brings her to understand that this character was not only involved in the Salem trials, but was also somehow set apart from the other accused women in the minds of the populace at the time.
Meanwhile, we flash back to the 1690's and watch Deliverance herself moving through life, as well as eventually following some of her descendants. The result is a picture of a long line of no-nonsense ladies. Gotta love the girl power.

I liked each of the story lines in this novel, but in a different way. The modern day action moves more quickly (as you might expect), and draws you in with it's speed, but not necessarily with it's depth. The flashback scenes I found more compelling and think that their slower speed may have even helped add to the sense of stress, burden and foreboading that present themselves at different points in the history.

I'm not sure how to characterize this book. It's not "literature." It might be a historical novel with a thriller twist. I hate to call this chick-lit, because it's better than that, but I'm afraid the abundance of strong ladies in the book might scare off many gentlemen readers, just as if they were stuck in room with all the characters.

Labels: , , , ,

posted by ~e at 1:01 PM


Monday, May 04, 2009

What a cast of characters!

Title: The Somnambulist
Author: Jonathan Barnes
Be warned. This book has no literary value whatsoever. It is a lurid piece of nonsense, convoluted, implausible, peopled by unconvincing characters, written in drearily pedestrian prose, frequently ridiculous and willfully bizarre. Needless to say, I doubt you'll believe a word of it (p. 5, opening paragraph)
The narrator of The Somnambulist, an unidentified writer who admits that he has at times both embellished and completely deviated from the truth, tells the tale of Edward Moon, a washed up magician whose show contains elements that may not be simply tricks of the eye. Case in point: the Somnambulist, his mute milk-loving assistant, who endures swords being stuck through his chest during Edward's act.

Edward also sometimes moonlights as a detective for the London police and is called on early in the book to assist with a heinous, mystifying crime. While attempting to solve the case, he encounters such characters as the Archivist, The Human Fly, Samuel Taylor Cooleridge, the albino Mr. Skimpole, and Thomas Cribb, a man who is living life backwards - going from the future to the present to the past. He also uncovers a secret organization known simply as Love, Love, Love, and Love.

With its occasional foray into the world of the supernatural, Jonathan Barnes' dark novel reminded me of something Neil Gaiman would write. Definitely worth checking out. I am looking forward to reading more of his second novel, The Domino Men.

Labels: ,

posted by Kate at 11:33 AM


Sunday, May 03, 2009

snippet of history

Ti: An Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church's Strangest Relic in Italy's Oddest Town
(ARC ed; HC pub Jul 2009)
Au: David Farley

Author Farley, who writes for travel pieces for mags and somehow manages to use that to support living abroad for periods of time (don't we all wish), becomes focused on trying to find out what happened to a vanished Catholic relic - the foreskin of Jesus Christ. Yup. The only piece of Christ's flesh that could have reasonably been left behind on earth when he ascended after the resurrection, and the Church had it (and for a while, had like 10 or more of them in different locations around medieval Europe), but then they lost it, or so the story goes.

Farley settles into a really eclectic Italian village where the recognized true foreskin had been in residence until 1986 when it was supposedly stolen by two mysterious villagers, or reclaimed by the Vatican, or sold by the priest, or hidden away because the Church wanted to downplay such items. The fate of the foreskin depended on which tipsy, hippy-dippy, obsessed or skittish resident Farley asked in this nutty town, known for having a lot of "outsiders" from other parts of Italy and the world living there. It would seem that if you move more than 50 miles in Italy, you are an outsider to the residents of whatever town you land in. The Church, as one might expect, had nothing much to say.

I liked the book. It was light, entertaining, and gave some good history about the Church (while not Catholic myself, I have to concede that until my ancestors protested against it [and in some cases against both the Catholics AND Martin Luther, boy were they lonely] Catholic history covers a huge part of all Christian history), and gave fun descriptions of eccentric people and nifty places I can probably never hope to see. And that's what travel writing should, yeah? Not high lit or anything, but it gets the job done.

(for those of you who may know who this is, I will be forwarding this to soon-to-be-Dr. Ms. C. Kovacs - just seems like it's up her alley :-)

Labels: , , , ,

posted by ~e at 11:10 AM


Oddly Bland

Ti: The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride
(ARC Ed, HC pub Jun 09)
Au: Daniel James Brown
Bookmark: Dogeared corners, b/c I'm racist against ARCs

I had never read or heard much about the Donner Party, and only knew the most basic of details about what they resorted too. That was my main reason for picking up the book, and had I already known quite a bit about the history, I might not have finished this account.

The author tries to tell the story, not really from the perspective of one member of the party, Sarah Graves, but does focus on her quite a bit, I suppose as a way to humanize it. Somehow, the author manages to wander around in the zone between a solid history and a telling of one person's experiences without really managing either. Granted, in his intro, he explains nearly all of the issues I had with the book, so I can't blame him for missing the mark - he wrote what he was aiming for: its not meant to be a comprehensive history, Sarah left little of her own writing, and so some things had to be inferred. While I'm sure the author is correct in saying that he can use universal human reactions to certain situations such as extreme cold and hunger to describe what the pioneers went through, he somehow does it in a squishy, timid way that just makes me feel deeply the fact that it's inferred and not altogether a solid fact about what was happening to anyone at the given time described.

All that said, what solid history he does cover is covered in an engaging way, and I wanted to read the whole thing to find out what happened to these people. Even though it was hard to connect what he described to Sarah in my mind, I was pretty fascinated by the physical, emotional and psychological reactions he describes people having in the face of these extreme conditions.
I wanted to really like this book, as it falls into one of my favorite reading categories of "creative non-fiction," but in the end I have to give it a high meh.

Labels: , , ,

posted by ~e at 12:27 AM