Thursday, December 31, 2009

And I was doing so well... then I ran into my last book of the year... Number 33 of this year is Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine by my favourite literary critic, Harold Bloom. As with all Bloom books, I had to think hard while reading this one, which is basically where he looks at Jesus and Yahweh as characters in the bible, and at their inconsistent portrayals throughout. It was very interesting, but since I don't have a very biblical background (in that I've never read the darn thing all the way through or anything), much of it was over my head and difficult to get through. The parts where Bloom compared Jesus to Hamlet though, those I understood.

I did take a bible course in university, as I thought it would be helpful for my English degree. And it was, it certaintly made some of the more well-used allegories easier to recognize, but we only looked at some of the bible, mainly the Old Testament, not much of the New, so the parts of the book dealing with Jesus were pretty much a mystery to me. Which I actually think was part of Bloom's point; because Jesus' personality (such as it is) is so different in the various gospels, we definitely don't get much of a sense of who he was. And Bloom finds this very fascinating especially given the predominance Jesus plays in American religion, where much of it is centered on 'knowing' Jesus and how he 'knows' them. Bloom thinks that is rather preposterous.

He also points out that Yahweh somehow morphed into the Christian's "Father" of the Holy Trinity, but do not seem to be the same God. Yahweh, Bloom posits, is not love, yet the Father is supposed to be love. Also, the Father seems to have been stripped of any personality or humanity, but when you read the older stuff, Yahweh is full of both.

It's a very interesting, but difficult read, but I do find purely literary approaches to the bible rather interesting.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Number 32 this year is Peter and Max by Bill Willingham. Willingham writes one of my very, very favourite comic books, Fables. It is a comic about fairy tale characters and their like living among the 'mundies' in the real world, after they'd been driven out of their worlds by the Adversary, a conqeror who took over all their worlds and enslaved them. Anyway, Peter and Max is a Fables novel and it concerns the lives of two brothers, Peter Piper and his older brother Max, the infamous Pied Piper of Hamlin.

I thought it a logical idea of Willingham's to max the two characters brothers (one of those logical thoughts that I never would have thought of myself :) ) and he wastes no time in making the relationship between the two brothers go very, very wrong when Peter inherits the magical flute Frost from their father. Max is convinced it should've gone to him, and his envy over this basically drives the boy mad. Things go from bad to worse for the Piper family when the Adversary attacks and they're all separated.

Willingham writes evil very well, and Max is definitely a character who goes down that route and he becomes increasingly power hungry and more and more dangerous. The narrative goes back and forth between modern times and when Peter and Max were children. It's a good narrative overall, and it's nice to see how the Pipers fit in with the rest of the Fable community.

I think my only critcism with this book is how it resolved. It made complete and utter sense (Willingham is very good at making clever resolves, but they almost seem too easy in a way) but yes, just seemed a tad too easy.

But still, overall this was a very worthy entry in the Fables universe.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

I keep meaning to go back and flesh out my last post, but I'm trying to write some other stuff and get reading done, plus you know, baby, so yeah, I've not been able to do that, and I think this post is going to be just as brief for awhile.

Number 31 is Too Much Happiness by the Canadian queen of the short story, Alice Munro. I think the title is a bit of a misnomer, because there is never, ever too much happiness in Alice Munro stories. They are overwhelmingly kinda... not really depressing, but definitely uncomfortable. There is something always off kilter about her stories, which is probably why I like them so much.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Knocked off a few more; number 28 is Thank You For Smoking by Christopher Buckley and number 29 is In the Wake of the Plague by Norman F.Cantor and number 30 is The Uses and Abuses of History by Margaret Macmillian.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Number 27 is Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett. Time was I used to read everything Pratchett put out, but the sheer number of books he manages to write actually made that a daunting task, so I slowed down in my Pratchett consumption. Also, I discovered I liked some of his groups of characters more than others. My favourites are the Watch, and my second favourite is Death and his family. Thief of Time concerns Death and his granddaughter Susan.

Honestly, I didn't like this one as much, I didn't find it as... funny as I usually find his books. Discworld's version of Death is usually amusing, but he didn't have an awful lot to do in this book, other than to send his granddaughter Susan to look into the matter of time being stopped and the world ending, and then try and convince the other three, er, rather four, retired Horsemen of the Apocalypse to ride out with him.

I think I didn't like this one as much because there was too much chronobabble, as an impossible clock is built, time is collected and delved out by a group of enigmatic monks, and Time has a son, twice, who is both destroyer and savior. Something about it all just didn't work for me as much as it usually does in Pratchett's books.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Number 26 is Sick Puppy by Carl Hiaasen. I've previously only read Striptease by Hiaasen (and it is a much better book than movie, even with Burt Reynolds hilarious turn), which I enjoyed, so I decided to give another of his books a shot.

Sick Puppy tells the story of Twilly Spree, an independently wealthy eco-terrorist who one day spots political lobbyist Palmer Stoat chucking litter out of his Range Rover, and so decides to teach him a lesson. Stoat, however, isn't the type to get a lesson, he lives in his own world of wealth and political fixes and fixed big-game hunts. After Twilly abducts Stoat's dog and wife, the fun really begins.

It is a darkly funny novel, and even though what Twilly does is highly illegal for the most part, you definitely cheer for him over the slimy politicos who want to turn a pristine Florida island into yet another condo development with a golf course. Twilly is an angry young man, but with the means and smarts to make things happen. He 'abducts' Stoat's dog, Boodle (renamed McGuinn by Twilly), an affable black Labrador retriever, in order to get Stoat to stop the development on the island. Hiaasen's use of the dog is hilarious, he's obviously owned a Lab before and therefore understands that breed's mindset.

The climax of the story occurs at one of the faux-big game hunts that Stoat embarks on, where he basically 'hunts' poor old animals procured specifically by the owners of the game preserve. Stoat and his toady friends are there to hunt a rhinocerous, but the tables are wonderfully turned and it is a stangely happy ending.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Number 25 this year is The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold. It seems to me that, after having read two of her novels, that Sebold excels at writing what should be gawd-awful depressing stuff, and yet somehow makes it not depressing.

The Almost Moon starts off with a rather shocking act; the main character, Helen Knightley, kills her elderly, dementia ridden mother. You quickly find out that Helen not only views this as a mercy killing for her mother, but also one for herself, as her relationship with her mother has been, shall we say, contentious.

The novel then slowly unfolds, almost like a murder mystery, Helen's family past as she works through what to do in the present. She has killed her mother, she knows the police will figure it out, and she has to decide what to do. Helen's family history is not easy, her contentious relationship with her mother stems from her mother's mental illness and leads to a very deep love/hate relationship.

The book is a fascinating look at a very damaged family. Sebold doesn't make you feel sorry for Helen though; she's much too unloveable for that (and not because she killed her infirm mother), but you do end up understanding why the way Helen is and why she relates (or doesn't relate) to the world around her.

A good, quick read overall.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Yup, I went and did it; number 24 of this year is Twilight by Stephanie Meyers. A good friend of mine had warned me not to read it, that it really wasn't very good, but as with most publishing 'phenomenons', my curiosity got the better of me and so, when finally seeing it at the library, I borrowed it.

No, it's not very good. It starts off fine, a nice teenaged, fish out of water type tale, but it kinda... devolved from there. The character of Edward is so very insufferable and condesending towards the main character it made me wonder why the hell she likes him so much, other than he's really good looking. Oh and a vampire. A nearly 100 year old vampire, masquerading as a high school student, and so I realized this is probably the most creepy May/December romance ever. Dude, a 17 year old girl is the best you can do? Ick...

And this 17 year old girl, Bella, wow is she passive. She's so awkward and not good at anything except being motherly to her parents, and so once again it's like, why does he like her? Because she's pretty and she smells good. Ok yeah... Most of the novel is about how Edward has to rescue her over and over again. He's more like her bodyguard than anything else. It would've been nice had she been able to rescue herself at some point, but no. Although, she does recognize this and so of course, wants to be turned into a vampire. I'm sure that'll happen in some other book.

I guess that's it, this all felt terribly shallow to me. And juvenille. But I guess I shouldn't be surprised really. As far as angsty vampires go, Edward's got nothing on Lestat.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Have actually managed to knock off a few more books, mainly due to reading during sleepless nights and when Laurel's feeding. So number 22 of the year is Firethorn by Sarah Micklen. Rather than sum this book up myself, I shall just reiterate what it says on the Chapters website: Before she was Firethorn, she was Luck, named for her red hair and favored by the goddess of Chance. A lowborn orphan, Luck is destined to a life of servitude. But when her mistress dies, Luck flees to the forest, where she discovers the sacred firethorn tree, whose berries bring her fevered dreams, a new name…and strange gifts. When she emerges from the woods, Firethorn is a new woman, with mysterious powers.

And soon, in the chaos of the UpsideDown Days, when the highborn and the low trade places, Firethorn couples with the warrior Sire Galan, whom she follows to camp with the king's army. There she learns that in her new role as a sheath, a warrior's bedservant, she is but one step above a whore. By day she uses her gifts as a healer to earn a place among the camp's women, and by night she shares Sire Galan's bed, her desire equal to his. But the passion they feel for each other has no place in a world ruled by caste and violence. When her lover makes an ill-considered wager that chances her heart, the consequences are disastrous-and Firethorn will learn how hard it can be to tell honor from dishonor, justice from vengeance.

Honestly, I'm not even sure why I finished this book. I did not like it at all. Rather than some grand romance, most of what she and Sir Galan do is fight and argue, and DAMN it is annoying. Nor does anything really HAPPEN in this book. The whole thing takes place at a camp while they're waiting to go to war, and it just gives them opportunity to do stupid things, talk about their (overly convoluted) pantheon and argue some more. I just wanted to smack both characters all too frequently. So yeah, did not enjoy this book much at all.

Number 23, following in the vein of Toby Young and Anthony Bourdain "industry tell-all books" is The Nanny Diaries by Nicola Kraus and Emma McLaughlin. Both authors were nannies for well-healed families in New York City. While this book isn't about a specific family, but rather a pastiche of the various families they worked for over the years. It's a funny book, but also rather heartbreaking story though as she tells of looking after 4 year old Grayer, a smart, loving kid who is basically ignored by his self obsessed parents. His mother does nothing but shop and attend events, whilst complaining that child-rearing is exhausting her. The husband is having an affair, and eventually, the mistress starts asking the Nanny to run errands for her when she's going to be in town for a tryst. The Nanny really wants nothing to do with all that, understandably. Eventually, everything comes to a head when she's on a two week vacation to Nantucket with the family. The husband does not want to be there, the wife desperately wants him to stay (she even goes so far as to invite her mother-in-law to stay with them for a week, without informing her husband first), and the mistress is calling them every hour or so because the husband was supposed to come home a week early and spend it with her. Nanny also finds out they've installed a 'nanny cam' back at the apartment in New York and feels absolutley betrayed (but she should hardly be surprised). But when Grayer falls down and hurts himself and would rather his Nanny's comfort than his mother's, the Nanny's time is up and she's unceremoniously fired and not even given an opportunity to say good bye to Grayer. It's a harsh, but probably rather realistic look at people who probably shouldn't have ever had children, even though they have more than enough money to be able to spend oodles of time with their kids.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Number 21 of the year may prove to be the last for a little bit as on July 6, our little girl was born, so I find I have time for not much other than staying awake most of the night, feeding a hungry new born. Which is just fine :) Anyway, number 21 is The Book of Mordred by Vivian Vende Velde. This book is aimed at teen readers, so I wasn't expecting too much from it, and it did prove a little frustrating to me. Basically, it centers around Mordred, and three women in his life, the young, magically adept Kiera, her mother, Alayna, and the sorceress Nimue. Now, the story is told from their point of views (kinda a Mists of Avalon-lite) and starts after Kiera is kidnapped, basically because she is magically gifted. Alayna journeys to Camelot for help, and it is Mordred who helps her, and goes with her to a known-wizard's castle.

The plot is ok, but the thing I had the hardest time with was basically the overall point of the book I guess. The author quotes, at the beginning, an excerpt from a letter written by Sir Thomas Mallory, where he basically says that Mordred is the bad guy in the Arthurian Legends, and beyond that, he doesn't need much depth or explanation. So I gathered that we were going to get a better look at Mordred and his motivations through his relationship with these three women. Except I didn't really get any of that. If anything, the three women found him to be just as much an enigma as everyone else does in every other tale. I was a little disappointed nothing was really different. Even at the end, when Mordred was attempting to usurp Arthur's throne (or rather in this case Arthur had agreed to divvy up his kingdom between the two of them in order to keep the peace), there didn't seem to be much motivation for it other than that's what Mordred does, he is a divisive force. Also, why did he take part in the plot to trap Lancelot and Guinevere? I never felt there was much reason given other than he wanted Arthur to be shamed, which is a pretty run of the mill reason as far as the tales go.

So yes, while the characters were all fine and dandy, but I just felt this book kinda missed it's own raison d'etre.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Number 20 is Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. My husband is on a bit of a biography/industry tell-all kick right now, having read Toby Young's two offerings. After seeing Bourdain's show, No Reservations and enjoying it the couple of times we've caught it, I questioned who Bourdain was, so after a googling, we found out he was indeed a chef, and had penned a tell all book about the restaraunt business. So, off to the library to get it.

It's an interesting book, but not really a 'warts and all, look how ugly this business is' book. Or maybe it's just because I expected the book to go like it is. Or there are too many chef shows on tv these days with the chefs yelling and humilating all the underlings, so I kinda knew already what Bourdain's main idea is, that you have to actually love food and be willing to sacrifice pretty much everything else in your life if you become a lifer in a restaraunt, especially a high-end chef.

The book is entertaining, and Bourdain himself, while he admits to being a very big asshat at times in his life, and having numerous substance abuse problems, does sort of gloss over this (which is fine actually) to tell about influential people and moments during his long career. It is obvious that there are a lot of 'characters' in the food industry, some good and some bad. Bourdain also gives a lot of helpful hints about what you should and shouldn't do (mainly, opening up a restaraunt is don't do number one, but people are always doing so anyway).

I'm definitely not a foodie, a lot of times I eat strictly because I have to. While there are some foods I do love, I'm not an adventerous eater, but I still found this book interesting.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Number 19 is Mad Kestrel by Misty Massey. Basically, all I can say about this one is it has pirates, main character is female pirate captain, there's magic, and main character (Kestrel) has pre-requisite "I'm attracted to you but I hate you, I hate you, I don't trust you, I have to trust you, I hate you still, ok, you're trustworthy, I love you" relationship with other character who is sort of one of the main protagonists. Not a great book, but fun enough. I like pirates.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Numero 18 of the year is The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. This is another of those books that keeps getting recommended or I sort of keep meaning to read, but every time I pick it up and read what it's about, all I can think is 'how can this not be gawd-awful depressing?' Because really, what about a 14 year old being raped and killed isn't gawd-awful depressing?

And yet, it isn't. I don't know how Sebold managed to pull it off, but the book's not depressing. Yes it is sad in places as we watch main (dead) character Susie Salmon watch her family slowly disintigrate after her death, but because not every family member collapses completely, there is a sort of... triumph to this book. The grief is heavy, but not insurmountable for some. And of course, we see the different ways in which they all grieve.

And because we get the tale from Susie's POV, she is not a hole of loss in the book; she is still very much a going concern and is, dare I say it, alive to the reader.

I did have some problems with the book though; I admit, I really would've liked it had there been a little more justice for Susie. Also, I wasn't really sure about the ending, but I think it also ties into the wanting more justice for Susie.

Anyway, I did enjoy this book, and my main reason for finally picking it up; reading that Peter Jackson is doing a movie adaptation of it, means I will be checking out the film when it's released as well.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Hmm, not sure why the sudden increase in getting books read, but I've managed to polish off two more:

Number 16 is the Last King of Scotland by Giles Foden. This is a fictionalized account of a young, Scottish doctor who gets sucked in by Ugandan dictator Idi Amin's charisma during Amin's reign 1971-1979. The book does a very good job of making you understand why the doctor is simultaneously intreuged and repulsed by Amin, but I'm not entirely sure it does a good job of displaying how brutal Amin's regime was. Oh it is shown, but perhaps because the doctor himself seems so... dispassionate about it, it's hard for the reader to feel outrage either. In fact, it really isn't until the doctor is threatened with bodily harm and imprisonment himself that he realizes how bad the situation actually is and decides he needs to get out of Uganda. It's hard to feel bad for him because he doesn't seem to feel bad for those around him. But still, overall, this is a very interesting book and definitely makes Idi Amin a larger than life character; it doesn't glamourize or humanize him, I think it does try to show him for what he was. I would definitely like to check out the movie version now.

Number 17 is How to Lose Friends and Alienate People by Toby Young. I previously read Young's follow up to this memoir, so it was nice to actually read this book, his first 'take' on making it (or not) in the US. Toby gets a chance to work at fabled magazine Vanity Fair, but basically bollocks it up. He has a very entertaining view on the life of upper class New Yorkers and he desperately wants to be part of that elite, but at the same time, he detests it. I've also seen the movie version of this book, and was quite surprised at how... deep the book is compared to the movie. Toby is more interested in the class hierarchy of New York, something he didn't realize was there, and something that he feels is even more restrictive than the supposedly increadibly restrictive class system of Britain. HtLFaAP seems less a memoir and more a sociological thesis of a Brit living and working in New York. Very interesting from that point of view. And the funny thing is, Toby doesn't come across sounding like sour grapes in that he didn't make it as a writer there; I think he was greatful for the experience, and even more greatful to find out that in the long run, it really just wasn't for him.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Well, I'm remiss in posting again I see. Mainly due to a VERY busy May, and now June is all about getting ready for when the baby arrives...

So just a quick run-down of the last three books I've read:

Number 13 is Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell by Susannah Clarke. Long gone are the days where I can polish off a 1000 page book in a matter of days. Now it takes me a couple of weeks at least. Anyway, this was a book I'd always been meaning to read, but never got around to. The size didn't deter me, but I'd heard a few times that it was really boring, and I guess that put me off. But I finally grabbed it from the library and found that I quite enjoyed it. Taking place during the Napoleonic Wars, it centers on two magicians, the older Mr. Norell and his young 'apprentice' Jonathan Strange. They want to bring back English magic, and put it to work for their country fighting Napoleon. But of course, they have wildly divergent personalities, which eventually clash. Overall, I really liked this book, Clarke's writing style did a nice pastiche of early 1800s novels, and she sets up a very nice internal consistency of how magic works (or doesn't work) in her world, and I very much like her mythology of Faerie and the Raven King.

Number 14 is Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde. Ok, I honestly cannot remember if I'd read this puppy before, as a friend of mine had lent me the first Thursday Next book, The Eyre Affair , but I did enjoy that, and enjoyed this one too. Fforde's world is a strange mix of sci-fi, crime novels and a degree in English literature. Kinda reminds me of the comic book Fables, in that fictional characters have a life of their own outside of the works we see them in. Anyway, I like these books for their literariness, but I find Thursday to be a bit of a cypher herself; somehow I just don't find her that interesting of a main character.

Number 15 is The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde. The Wuthering Heights anger management self-help group was worth the entire price of admission of this book.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Number 12 is The Smartest Guys in the Room by Bethany McLean. This book details the rise and fall of Enron, which earned the dubious title as filing the largest single bankruptcy in US history. Way to go guys!

I work for a company that develops risk management software, and all I could think while reading this book, is how desperately Enron could've used some. Of course, they also probably wouldn't have USED it, they were rampant in their desire to run barely legal end-games around sound risk management and accounting procedures, but still... what they tried to get away with was just wow. And the thing is, working for the company I do, I actually understood some of what they were trying to get away with. I know what credit derivatives and zero return swaps and counterparties are. Makes me feel smart :) I mean, I don't understand everything; it's kinda like knowing enough of a foreign language to get the gist of the conversation, but knowing you're still missing nuances.

Anyway, it is a fascinating, maddening book reading about all these people who got pretty damn rich yet it never seemed to be enough. And that's the problem, no one ever said 'enough', not the banks, not their accounting firm, not their lawyers, becuase everyone was too busy making money off them, until finally, the house of cards couldn't be sustained and no one was making money anymore. Then they were cut loose.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Number 11 is The Sound of No Hands Clapping by Toby Young. This is the sequel memoir from Young, who gave us How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, which was his 'insider's report' when working at Vanity Fair. It was turned into an amusing movie starring Simon Pegg (yes, it seems we really will see him in anything), but I hadn't yet read the book. G tried to find a copy of the book in a used bookstore, but was only able to come up with this one.

SoNHC is about Young's attempt to be a screen-writer. He has no experience in doing so, but manages to land a couple of jobs that require him to crank one out. Of course one of these jobs is to adapt his own book, How to Loose Friends... so that some big-shot Hollywood producer (he never names said producer, nor really gives enough good clues as to his identity, but I took great delight in deciding that the producer was Robert Evans, because frankly, everything is better with Evans in it). But as Young embarks on this career, his family life becomes more complicated as his newly wedded wife becomes pregnant (twice, over the course of the book) and so now he must worry about actually making money from his writing efforts.

It's an interesting look at Hollywood from someone who really had no clue how to play the game, wasn't entirely sure he wanted to play the game (no, no he didn't) and eventually decided that yeah, his family was more important to him than becoming a BIG NAME SCREENWRITER (which really no one becomes anyway). He does become a bit of a playwrite, which makes him some money and makes him happy, so the book does end on a nice, happy note.

I still want to read How to Lose Friends and Alienate People though, because I'm definitely going to read VF editor Graydon Carter as being played by Jeff Bridges. He was a hoot in the movie.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Number 10 this year is The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.

This is one of those books I've been told to read or have heard recommended by others umpteenth times. Until last week, I've managed to ignore all recommendations because well, it's a romance (and not a cheap, fun romance-novel romance) and it's about time travel. As a trope, I generally really dislike time travel. I find it needlessly complicated and usually annoying. I also don't really consider myself a 'romantic' person, although, as I think about it, I do enjoy the odd love story, and like it even better when it has a happy ending. Perhaps that is why I don't count myself as a lover of Romances; they usually end badly.

So, I admit, I was all set to not like this book. I was wrong. It was a lovely book. I think it helped that Niffenegger kept the time-travel simple; it is a genetic condition main character Henry has. He cannot help but spontaneously move through time, arriving naked and nautious, to witness his life (and that of Clare's, his wife) from different points in time. Henry cannot change time, he just moves through it. That is the sort of time-travel I can handle.

I guess one of the main reasons I liked this book is the narrative. It is told from both Henry and Clare's perspectives in a very nicely done, non-linear format. I love non-linear narratives. Not sure why because they can sometimes be a pain in the ass, but when they're done well, they are a hell of a lot of fun to read. A bit of a challenge, but not too much, until it all comes together almost seamlessly. To pull one off successfully is to be much admired. And this one is quite successful.

Of course, like all good Romances, this one ends bitter sweet, if not downright sad. It is beautiful and uplifting in so many ways, and who am I to argue with the whole, 'there is definitely one right person out there for you, and it may not be perfect, because nothing is, but it will be perfect for you' theme I felt was running through it, but still, I wish there coulda been a happy ending.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Number 9 of the year is Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay.

Now, I'm going to start off saying right away that I've been told repeatedly, from different, trusted sources, that this is not a good book. And in comparison to the Dexter television show, no, it's not good. However, nor is it horrible. It's readable, but you can definitely see where the show improved on it. And after having watched two seasons of the show, it's impossible not to compare the book to the show.
So yes, we have one of those (as far as I'm concerned) rarities where the book is NOT better than the other form of media that has spawned from it.

It is also impossible to read this book now and not hear actor Michael C. Hall's voice for Dexter. But the thing is, even with this v/o, I didn't find book-Dexter very... scary. Oh he tells us he's a monster and he tells about how he's killed (and we see him do it), but there's something about the way he's written that makes him seem less than menacing. Perhaps it's Lindsay's overuse of alliteration that does it, I'm not sure. Dexter's inner monologue is nearly flowery, romantic at times, and somehow, it doesn't really work as it makes him less of a monster that he waxes poetic at the moon and whatnot. Book Dexter has none of the... menace that Michael C. Hall so effortlessly portrayed in the series. It was a bit of a let down.

Also, the book does nothing to set up the ultimate identity of the Tamiami Trail Killer (aka the Ice Truck Killer in the show) and by the time you do learn his identity and his connection to Dexter, you're kinda like... what? Where did this come from? The show, on the other hand, built it up brilliantly through flashbacks and Dexter's remembering and whatnot. In the book, Dexter has dreams, but they don't feel connected to his past, rather it focuses on this idea that Dexter could actually be the one physically carrying out the killings, but in a fugue/somnabulastic state. It doesn't really work.

Basically, I can see why the show was made; there's a good idea in here about a serial killer who hunts other serial killers, but the execution of it isn't very good. The show's writer to the initial idea and ran with it, and then were blessed with an extremely good actor who is easy to root for, but still scares the hell out of you while you do so.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Book number 8 of this year is Speaks the Nightbird by Robert McCammon. It's a historical mystery set in the colonial Carolinas in 1699. We follow legal clerk Matthew Corbett and his magistrate/father-figure Isaac Woodward to Fount Royal, where Woodward has been summoned to decide whether a witch is living in the newly established settlement. The two are immediately thrown into danger, even before they reach the town, stopping off at an inn where the inhabitants basically rob and murder their patrons. They narrowly escape and make their way through a torrential downpour to arrive at Fount Royal with nothing but their pajamas on their backs. Once at the town, they must deal with the inhabitants, some of whom stand to gain if Rachel, the accused witch, is executed. Soon it becomes obvious to Matthew that everyone has secrets, even the magistrate.

The characters are all right; Matthew comes off as rather insufferable sometimes, and there isn't really enough clues laid out through the novel to make you think the ending makes sense, which basically makes for an ok read, but not a great one. Not really much to say about this book I guess.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Book 7 is Razor's Edge by W. Somerset Maughm. Yes, I seem to be on some sort of American Lit kick all of a sudden.

The Razor’s Edge tells the story of an American, Larry Darrell (yes of course I immediately thought to myself "Hi I'm Larry, this is my brother Darryl, and this is my other brother Darryl"), who, traumatized by his experiences as a fighter pilot in World War I, decides to search for some transcendent meaning in his life. The novel starts its story through the eyes of Larry’s friends and acquaintances as they witness his personality change after the War, but Larry eventually ends up 'narrating' more of his own experiences about halfway in. His rejection of conventional life and search for meaningful experience allows him to thrive while the more materialistic characters suffer reversals of fortune. The other major characters are, Isabel, Larry's erstwhile fiancee, and Isabel's uncle, Elliot Templeton, unrepentant snob and bon vivant. The novel takes place over 20 years, from about 1920 to the late 1930s and changes locations, from Chicago to London to Paris to the French Rivera.

Overall, I enjoyed this book quite a bit. Because of the subject matter, American expats living abroad basically, I couldn't quite help but contrast this book with Hemingway's writing. Maughm is much more descriptive and nowhere near as blunt as Hemingway, but his writing suits his subject matter as Hemingway's suits his. Maughm paints a picture of high society through Elliot, but then immediately gives us a counterbalance through the life of Larry, who is searching for something meaningful and even spiritual in life, but he's not quite sure what. Larry's 'loafing' takes him all over the world, through Europe and eventually to India where he embraces a lot of the eastern teachings. And despite the fact that Larry does 'nothing' (something quite frowned upon by most everyone else), he does seem to be the most peaceable of the characters. I wouldn't say he's completely happy, but he seems to be content. In his own way, Larry does seem to anticipate the Beat writers' generation, but I don't think he's wandering for the same reasons.

One thing that did initially throw me about this book is that the narrator is Somerset Maughm himself, and it took me a couple of chapters in to realize this. At first I found it kinda jarring, but his first person narration did eventually work and gave an interesting perspective on things, as Maughm's status as a successful writer allowed him to move through both the upper class and bohemian worlds, without taking either of them too seriously.

I definitely liked this book enough to venture onto Maughm's other great novel, Of Human Bondage. After that, I may take a break from American lit for a bit.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Book number 6 for this year is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.

Now, a little bit of background as to why this book was chosen... I am a regular watcher of Jeopardy. I'm (not to brag) actually pretty good at it and so I like watching it and feel especially S-M-R-T when I get the Final Jeopardy answer and none of the contestants do. Yes, I take my victories where I can. Anyway! One of the categories a few weeks ago was American Literature, and over two separate questions, two contestants kept trying to give the answer 'A Tree Grows In Brooklyn'. I'd never heard of the book, but didn't think too much of it as my knowledge of American Lit isn't that great, having only had to take one half-credit in American Lit for my degree. So, when I was at the library a couple of weeks ago and spied the novel there, my curiosity was piqued and I picked it up.

First published in 1943, the book is a thinly disguised autobiography, but still, it works. It is the tale of Francie Nolan and her family, who are pretty much dirt poor, struggling to make ends meet in turn of the century Brooklyn. It's not a romanticized tale about being poor, it is pretty unflinching at what the family has to do to survive, and it is this realism that is one of the book's strong points. It is realism told in a beautifully crafted way and I think that's what makes this book just sing.

The female characters in this book are particularly strong, they are the ones who basically make the decisions, get things done, do what they have to do for the family to survive. Francie's mother Katie is the main breadwinner as Francie's father Johnny is an alchoholic and a dreamer. He's tries and he means well, and he is a good father, but he never... succeeds. Katie Nolan, works hard and quickly realizes that education is the key to her children having a better life than hers, and this is something that Katie's immigrant mother tried to instill in her a long time ago. Francie's aunts are also strong women, although you might not think so at first, and her Aunt Sissy is a completely fascinating character in her own way.

When I got to the ending, I at first was disappointed that so many of the strong women characters seemed to be being 'rescued' by men. But after a few thoughts, I realized that wasn't true. Katie Nolan accepts a marriage proposal from a long-time admirer and won't have to work as hard as she did. And I realized that it wasn't a rescue, but something that she deserved. I doubt Katie could ever stop completely working, it didn't seem to be in her makeup to be idle, but it meant she could stop worrying, she found someone who could share her burden and be a partner in the way Johnny Nolan couldn't have. And Francie, off she went to college, where she should be, with a sort of marriage proposal of her own in her future, but I also got the idea that she wouldn't just blindly accept the proposal because she needed a man to take care of her. She would accept it if the proposer still suited her. So basically, all the characters did end up in places that made sense for them and didn't diminish them.

I could go on and on about this book actually, but I won't :) Betty Smith's prose is gorgeous. She also seemed to be a bit of a feminist before her time. I understand why this book resonates so with people and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Ack. So bad with updating... Too much stuff happening what with new house and, since getting new house, have also learned that I am pregnant. Which may mean I'll have more time to write during the summer, when I'm up at all hours, struggling to stay awake. Or not. Who knows.

So, what have I read since my 'year end' post in February?

Books #1 and 2 were cheesy romance novels because my brain just wasn't up for anything taxing just after moving. Surprisingly, one of them was pretty good, even though I can't remember the name of it right now.. The other, Once A Rebel, pretty standard romance stuff, but with pirates, so that's a bonus.

Book #3 was The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. It's a gorgeous book, a throwback to such tales as "The Turn of the Screw, Wuthering Heights and Rebecca. A 'ghost' story without being a ghost story, and also a love letter to books and reading, I highly recommend this one and should really do a more in depth analysis of it. Truly gripping.

Book #4 was Will in the World by Stephen Greenblatt. This book is a fabulous companion to Bill Bryson's Shakespeare because it is the complete opposite. Where Bryson's book pointed out how little we actually know about Shakepseare, Greenblatt's book takes what little we know and extrapolates from that. It is essentially historical fiction, but it works. There's long been (silly) questions about how a not increadibly educated man from rural England could've written all those marvelous works, but Greenblatt does a superlative job of taking what we know about Shakespeare and logically extrapolating how he could've written all those marvelous plays. A bit of a heavy read, but an extremely interesting one.

Book #5 was Wicked by Gregory Maguire. I thought this was a very interesting idea, and I generally like famous works told from another view point (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead), but there was something about the execution of this novel that I just found... off. I liked the politicizing of Oz, and Elphaba was made fairly sympathetic (but perhaps not enough so?), but once the story did meet up with the actual Wizard of Oz events, I found it really didn't work. Somehow, Elphaba's actions as the Wicked Witch that Dorothy met didn't match the actions of the person we'd been reading about up till then and I found that jarring. Not a great book, but not too bad either.

I've done a bunch of re-reads as well at this point, but now with having a library right down the street, I'm aiming on going there regularly and so being able to up the new reads this year. Hopefully.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Due to numerous things at the end/beginning of the year, I've been completely remiss in both my reading and my updating this thing. Holidays and moving make for a busy time, so that's why it's only now that I'm getting around to doing my Year's End.

This wasn't a good year reading-wise as I only managed to read 27 books in total, down from 2007's total. I'm not exactly thrilled with that, but it is what it is. Other achievements, such as getting my husband out of debt and buying a house, were accomplished this year, and that is something to be proud of.

So, what did I manage to read in 2008?

The Amber Spyglass by Phillip Pullman. The last book of the His Dark Materials trilogy.
Around the World in 87 1/2 Gigs by one of my mainstays, Dave Bidini
The Children of Hurin by J.R.R Tolkien
Titan, Wizard and Demon all by John Varley
The Shipping News by another of my mainstays, Annie Prouxl
The Language of Stones by Robert Carter
The Island of the Sequined Love Nun by Christopher Moore
The Year of Living Biblically by A.J Jacobs
Thud! by Terry Pratchett
In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
Hateship, Friendship, Loveship, Courtship, Marriage by one of my favourite Canadian authors, Alice Munro
Those Who Walk Away by Patricia Highsmith
Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed the Worldby Dan Koeppel
I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
Dragon Harper by Todd and Anne McCaffery
The Knight by the Pool by Sophie Mason
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
That Old Ace in the Hole by Annie Prouxl
The Dubious Hills by Pamela Dean
Orlando by Virginia Woolf
Just Fine the Way It Is: Wyoming Stories 3 by Annie Proulx
Friends Like Theseby Danny Wallace
America Unchained by Dave Gorman
Shakespeare by Bill Bryson
Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

Once again, a good cross-section of classics, humour, fantasy, horror and short stories. Annie Proulx distinguished herself as my most read author this year with three books gracing the list. Most depressing book? Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms. Best book I read this year? In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan completely changed how Graig and I shop for food. We even joined a local farm share for the summer due to it's influence.

While it may be Feb. and I'm only just writing the year end for 2008, I have already read a few books in 2009 and those will be coming up soon. Now that we've moved into the new house and are pretty much settled, I feel that there's definitely more time for reading again. This year, we'll push past the paltry 27 books.*

*Just to remind everyone, the totals in this blog are NEW books only. I do not write up or keep track of re-reads. Re-reads usually account for another 20-30 books read over the course of a year, but as some are religiously read every year, I don't find tracking them to be worthwhile.