Friday, December 31, 2010

Ok, last one, really. Number 32 of the year was Dead and Gone by Charlaine Harris. The last of the Sookie Stackhouse books my Mom gave me. I think I'm good for awhile. So this one? More developments with Eric, the Weres come out of the closet and there's a Faerie War. S'ok really. I didn't mind Harris' Faerie lore, and a lot of it was usual stuff, but, in all my (IMHO) vast readings, I've never heard of Fey being harmed by lemon. That was a new one. I shall have to research this. Oh, and pretty insignificant detail that I knew was wrong and so drove me nuts? She said the name Niall means 'Cloud'. I know darn well it means "Champion". Yeah. That bugged me. I know I'm picky.

Stay tuned for our Year End review.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Squeaking one more in under the wire. Number 31 is From Dead to Worse by Charlaine Harris. I've only got one more to go before I'm out of the ones my Mom gave me. Whew.

Anyway, this one isn't bad. It deals with the aftermath of the disasterous vampire summit and we learn more about Sookie's Fae heritage. Mainly where it came from. Some old characters are gone, some dead, some broken up with. New people are introduced as a shift in power in Louisiana happens.

So uh... not much to say about it really. It was fine. Nothing earthshattering. Let's face it, I can't really delve too deep into the literary merit of these books; they don't really have any. They are fun for what they are but that's it.

I will say this though, these books sure did let me pad my total for the year, and that's just awesome :)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Numbers 29 and 30 for the year, are, respectively, Definitely Dead and All Together Dead by Charlaine Harris. Between getting ready for Christmas and the disaster (due to sickness) that it was, more of these silly Sookie Stackhouse books have hit the spot; they definitely don't require a lot of brain work. Except they are starting to all blur together...

In fact, I had to go back and look at the back of the book to remember what happened in Definitely Dead. Sookie travels to New Orleans to gather the belongings of her dead vampire cousin Hadely, and gets mixed up more in the world of the Louisiana Queen, Sophie-Anne Leclerc. Sophie is about to get married to the King of Arkansas, and well, the vampire wedding goes as well as most superhero weddings do. The usual suspects are there, Eric, new boyfriend Quinn, and a couple of new characters in witch Amelia, but yeah, fun enough to read, but not substantial enough to really remember.

All Together Dead actually had some slightly more interesting meat to it, with a journey to the big vampire summit (which I think has been talked about for like the last three books), and of course, all sorts of shit goes down, including a big terrorist plot perpetrated by the Fellowship of the Sun. Lots of intreigue and suspicion, as well as Sookie having to get closer to Eric.

I'm not sure how many more are left in the pile my mom gave me, but I'm thinking it's finally getting low enough to see the light at the end of the Stackhouse tunnel.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Numero 28 of the year is, yes another Sookie Stackhouse book. Dead as a Doornail by Charlaine Harris. She definitely tried for a bit more plot this time, what with snipers shooting shifters and werewolves electing new leaders and someone trying to kill Sookie again... but it still didn't really leave much mystery. It's falling into the 'oh, new characters. They must be the ones behind it." The mystery's basically as sophisticated as something from Murder She Wrote. I've also realized I'm a wee bit tired of the vast majority of the supernatural males trying to get Sookie into bed with them. It's getting predicatable. Vampire Bill wants her back. Eric the Viking Vampire wants her. Sam the Collie wants her. Alcide the WereWolf wants her. Calvin the were-panther wants her. Now I'm assuming Quinn the were-tiger wants her. We get the message. Sookie's different. Although, I will give her this, that for all this attention, Sookie remains fairly chast and hasn't yet devolved into Anita Blake territory. But still... yawn.

But, as I still have a few more of these kicking around and they don't take long to finish, and I'm not hating them or anything... I might as well just keep plowing through 'em.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Well, I went and did a WHOLE bunch of re-reads instead of reading anything new, so my tally has now suffered. I'm not sure what came over me, but I re-read Tamlin (for the zillionth time) and then, because I'm completely obsessed with it due to the upcoming HBO series, I launched into the Song of Ice and Fire books again. Finished A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords, still have to start A Feast of Crows. Which I think I'm actually kind of putting off becuase once I finish that one, I've got nowhere to go again because GRRM still isn't finished the next one and, I hate to say it, the wait has gotten a little frustrating (since Crows was published 5 YEARS AGO!).

But re-reads are not why I'm here. Number 27 of the year is Dead to the World by Charlaine Harris. Yep, another of the Sookie Stackhouse books. My mother came over last week and dumped a stack of these books on me. So I started reading. They're like popcorn, where basically each one takes me a little over a day to finish. My mother gave them to me with the caveat "They get progressively worse written." And yeah, I'm only 4 books in and she's right. The plot on this one is pretty darn thin. Evil witches move into Shreveport to take over uber-vampire Eric's business interests. And in doing this, they curse Eric with a nasty bout of amnesia so he doesn't remember a thing. Sookie finds poor lost Eric wandering, and takes him home with her, for his own protection. As this Eric is much more to her liking (i.e. he's not an ultra-arrogant prick), she ends up sleeping with him. As she broke up with Bill in the previous book, hey, why not.

But basically, whilst there is some interesting world building still going on (the town of Hotshot which is completely populated by were-cats was interesting) and we get to see more of the inner workings of were-wolf society, she didn't build enough about the bad guys to make them seem like credible threats. They weren't really on-screen much until the big showdown with them, so I found them very underwhelming. The meat of this book is pretty much Sookie dealing with Eric in various states of undress. Not terribly interesting really. Had I felt the bad guys were more of a threat, I probably would've liked this book better.

Oh, she also introduces fairies, and I'm not sure I like where she's going with it. Especially her insistence in using the word 'fairy'. Yes I'm a snob, but really, Fey should be the way to go, it always sounds more ominous.

But anyway, I'll plow ahead to the next one, they're a quick read that will at least get my total up a bit more before the end of the year. Heh.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Number 26 is Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger. I (surprisingly) enjoyed her first book enough to give her second one a shoot.

Yeah, Sophmore Jinx happening here all right. Did not like this book too much at all.

It wasn't that I was expecting the same sort of thing from this book as her first, but I sure didn't expect to really not like ANY of the characters here. Well except for poor ol' OCD Martin, he was really the most sympathetic character of all.

Because the other characters? Twins Elspeth and Edie, twins Valentina and Julia, and poor grieving Robert? Man they suck. They're weak and manipulative and kinda downright stupid in a few cases.

Overall, this is a ghost story, and yes, ghost stories can be about a malevolent ghost, which I think is the case here, but its a passive-agressive malevolence, which just gets boring once you realize where it's going.

I also expected more out of her use of the cemetery next door. It's like she tossed it in just because she felt she needed something 'gothic' as she was trying to write a ghost story. It really didn't lend to the atmosphere though.

I found the ending rather depressing overall, not because I cared enough about these characters to feel bad on their behalf... actually, I'm not even sure why I found it depressing other than there seemed to be so much wasted potential in this book, where it could've been a powerful tale of loss and grieving and relationships, but as the characters were so thin and unlikeable, I didn't feel any depth to their emotions for the most part.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Number 25 this year is Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist. (Side note, I've read more Swedish books this year than I've ever read before in my life. That's right, a whole 2!)

It's been a looooong time since I've read a good vampire novel. In fact, I'm not sure I remember when it was I last read a good one. But this is a damn good novel. Centered around Oskar, a lonely, bullied 12 year old boy, and his new friend and next door neighbour, Eli. Who just happens to be a vampire.

I don't want to go into this book too much because I feel there's so much too it. Loneliness, brutality, loyalty, the cruelty of children and the cruelty of a predator, child abuse... it's all there. And yet despite all the ugliness, there is a strange beauty to the friendship of Oskar and Eli.

It's also a truly creepy vampire novel, which just makes it all the better. Eli is a fascinating creature, but she sure has hell doesn't sparkle. Thank the gods.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Number 24 this year is Wizard's First Rule by Terry Goodkind. I picked this book up because my one cousin is a fanatical Goodkind follower, and so, even though I'd been... ehn about reading his books in the past, I thought I would pick this one out of the library and see what A is so devoted to.

I'm afraid I'm still not sure...

I wanted to like this book. I truly did. In fact, I did, for about the first quarter of it. I liked the main characters, Richard Cypher and Khalan, and I liked the supporting characters, and I liked the mystery, and the world building (the part where they cross the boundary was really, really well done).

But eventually I felt it just sort of devolved into cliche and pointless subplots. It became unrelentlessly bleak. Now, I know that bleakness is something that goes with a lot of high fantasy, afterall they're often dealing with end of the world scenarios, but skilled writers (be they fantasy or not) can balance the bleakness, whether with lightness of humour, or lightness of the characters succeeding in a task. Tolkein was particularly good at this, and I've always though Kay excelled at it as well. But Goodkind doesn't. He heaps impossibility and obsticle after obsticle onto the characters that after awhile I just wanted them to get the hell on with it. Some of these obsticles drew out into completely unneeded, undesired subplots that really didn't have anything to do with the main plot (even though they supposedly did). The one sado-masichistic-torture plot really just had me thinking... uh why? I don't need torture porn in my fantasy thank you very much (yes, I also know rape is a common theme in fantasy. Even my beloved Fionavar Tapestry gives into that trope. But at least there there was a REAL purpose, and the character rises above it and gets revenge in such a magnificent way. In WFR, well, there just seems to be some Stockholm Syndrome going on. Ugh).

I wanted more out of this than I got. The reluctant hero was cliche. The love story was cliche. The SOOOOOOO evil badguy was cliche (as were his SOOOOO evil henchmen), the hero's unreveled-until-the-last-minute-but-not-really-a-surprise parentage was a cliche. There are some interesting ideas burried in this book, but perhaps if Goodkind had slowed down and not thrown eveyrthing thing but the kitchen sink at his characters (and perhaps written less soapy dialogue), then maybe those interesting ideas could have shone through a bit more.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Oh dear, been awhile again... Number 23 is Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham. This book, discovered in my in-laws basement, is supposed to be rather autobiographical, and I think I can see that even though I know little of Maugham's life. The nearly whimsical tone of Razor's Edge isn't here, even though both novels deal quite a bit with the theme of finding oneself. But while I was fine with the journey in Razor's Edge, I found myself impatient with Philip Carey's journey to find something to do in his life.

Philip didn't have an easy life, born with a club foot and orphaned at a young age, he was sent to live with his childless uncle (a rural pastor) and aunt. The uncle is a rather stern man who has no idea what to do with a child. The aunt, loves him completely, but she doesn't so much inspire love from Philip (she does seem to inspire his pity though) and seems to have no idea what to do with him.

Philip doesn't seem to know what to do with himself either. He hates grammar school (he is of course, bullied about his club foot) and develops a rather prickly personality in defense of the bullying. He decides not to go to university, but rather go to Germany and study there. He returns home, tries accounting for awhile (hates that and quits before he's fired pretty much), decides to go to Paris and be an art student, loves it but isn't quite good enough, returns home and decides to be a doctor, goes about it hap hazardly (he invests in South African minds, but of course the Boer War makes that a non-venture), is broke, finally completes his doctorate and becomes a doctor and retires (and marries) to practice in a small town.

This is all fine and dandy because sure, sometimes it takes young people a long time to figure out what they want to do with themselves, but Philip's attitude is just so... annoying it was hard to get past. When it comes right down to it, I didn't like Philip as a character. He's one of those characters you just want to shake and yell "Get on with it!". He comes across as ungreatful, spoiled, and rather callous. But I must admit, when he gets his heart broken by a woman even more callous than him, I didn't feel good about it, more like 'gods he's so stupid...'.

And I didn't really like the ending. It feels like Philip 'settled'. That he gave up his dreams to just be a doctor and be married to a girl who (for some bizarre reason) loves him and to have a quite life. I'm not sure what dreams he gave up, because I was never really sure what he was striving for, or if he was striving for anything. I guess I just wanted the ungreatful little bastard to sound like he was happy with his chosen life, rather than resigned to it.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Number 22 is You Suck by Christopher Moore. I picked this up mainly because it was cheap and because I like Christopher Moore. I like his books a lot. Problem is, I didn't realize this was a sequel. Oops. I'm not sure if that's why I didn't like this one as much as I've enjoyed his other books. I definitely felt like I'd missed a lot as there is a lot of reference to what happened in Bloodsucking Fiends and that's also where most of the characters were introduced. For some reason I felt the... danger in this book lacking. The main bad guy didn't come off as all that scary.

However, there were still fun moments and I especially liked the chapters told from the POV of trying-to-hard-to-be-Goth teenager Abby Normal.

Guess I'd better go and read Bloodsucking Fiends at some point.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Number 21 is The Red Queen by Phillipa Gregory. This is a sequal to the her White Queen that I read earlier this year. The Red Queen in question is the heiress to the House of Lancaster, one of the two ruling houses (the other being the House of York) embroiled in the War of the Roses. Lady Margaret Beaufort (later Tudor, Stafford and then Stanley) is the mother of the future Henry VII, the first of the Tudor monarchs. She is (in Gregory's tale) an increadibly pious and ambitious woman. She feels it is her destiny to be important (else she would not have been born to such a high station in life) and if she cannot be Queen of England herself, then she will at least be mother to the King. Married at an extremely early age in order to bring forth the heir to the House of Lancaster, Margaret decides that this is her God given destiny (she has 'visions' of Joan of Arc and whatnot that prove the righteousness of her cause to her) to raise her son to the throne in place of the upstart Yorks. Basically, the be all and end all of Margaret's existence is seeing this through.

It's not a bad book. It's an increadibly quick read. The problem is the main character of Margaret is increadibly unsympathetic. I know that this is undoubtedly a stylistic choice on Gregory's part, but it made it rather difficult to be truly engaged in the book. Margaret is a vain, hateful, zealot who desperately wants power. When someone wants power that much, they probably shouldn't have it. She is also frighteningly un-self aware, ascribing vanity and hubris to everyone else but herself. She's obvioulsy smart (and historically she was said to be extraordinarliy leaned for a woman of the time), but you almost want her to fail (despite knowing very well that her son does triumph to defeat Richard III and start the House of Tudor) becuase she is so freaking insufferable.

It is an interesting look at the uses of the power of the women during the War of the Roses, but because Margaret was so unlikeable, I almost needed more focus on some of the male characters (or just other characters in general) to make the book more palatable.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Number 20! Whoohoo! The twentieth book of the year is The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. Cause yes, if I have an opportunity to read a blockbuster novel for free, I will generally take it. (I borrowed it from my Dad).

It's a huge, rambling, thriller and it's... ok. It's also pretty uncomfortable in parts, and I gather that it's because Larsson himself was very much against violence against women. But if he is, then I must admit I find it strange there's so much of that in here. And like, there's A LOT. But perhaps that's his way of proving his point... I dunno... but I didn't really feel like he was taking a stand against violence against women, it really did feel like he was rather... sensationalizing it.

Anyway, I don't want to get too much into this novel, it's kinda too big to do so. The main characters are ok, although I do think I find Lisbeth a little annoying after awhile. Her 'schtick' gets a little boring and all the repeat of her being a 'victim' just makes me wonder about some of her sudden feelings later... Blokvist is also fine, a strangely innocent version of a hardened reporter, but I did find his sexual prowness a little off-putting.

Not sure if I'll bother moving forward in this trilogy or not... jury's still out.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Number 19 is The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell. I'm actually not familiar with the author's work as a radio personality, and in fact, I ended up reading this book because my father had asked for it as a birthday present, and I just found myself flipping through it and being engaged in the first few pages. Early American history is a time period I'm woefully uninformed of (of course, I'm equally uninformed about early Canadian history, having forgotten most of it at this point), so I thought what the heck, I'll read about the founding of the American colonies. Vowell makes it easy to be interseted though. Her writing style is definitely quirky as she flips back and forth between the history of the 1630s era settlers of the Boston and Rhode Island areas, and present day parallels. The book is often humourous in following the Puritan leaders and their often unbendable views of religion and law, but they are definitely not the boring, uptight individuals we've been pretty much made to think they were. Of course, the book also goes into not humourous times, with the Pequot War being particularly brutal and upsetting. Vowell's thesis for this book is that the Puritans are not exactly who we think they were. They were religious and hardy, but they were also highly literate and were big into education, which is something Vowell feels the modern US of A has lost sight of.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Number 18 took me a looong time to finish. It's not that I didn't enjoy it, it's that it is a dense, 800-page book written in 1848, so they tend to take a little longer. Book 18 is Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray.

This book is subtitled "A Novel Without a Hero", which is pretty much true. Most of the main characters are not 'hero' material. Definitely not the main character, Becky Sharpe. Becky is a scheming, manipulative social climber, desperate to elevate her station in life from orphaned child of (ugh) artists, to become a respectable (and of course wealthy) Lady. She moves through the eschelons of society with such purpose and cunning that Machiavelli himself would admire. Of course, her house of cards all does finally come crashing down on her and she is ruined for awhile, but she ends up pulling herself up at the expense of another character.

The other characters aren't really much better than Becky. There's George Osborne, self-obessesed but rather dashing, he's the one that Becky's school-mate, Amelia Sedley falls for. Amelia is a sweet girl, kind and good natured, but you also get the idea she's none too bright. And her obsession over George nearly kills her a couple of times. Not too bright and not too strong either. Amelia's brother Jospeh is plump, vain and increadibly gullable. It is he that Becky pretty much ruins at the end of the book. And then there's the man who becomes Becky's husband, Captain Rawdon Crawley, a card shark and a wasteral who counted on inheriting from his rich aunt, but when he marries Becky, he is disinherited because he married so far below his station. And then there is the one, and pretty much only fairly noble character in the book, William Dobbin. George's best friend, but he harbours an unrequited crush on Amelia, and seems immune to Becky's charms. He always tries to do his best for those around him, and is without a doubt, the most sympathetic character of them all (although, as Rawdon becomes more and more aware of his wife's shortcomings and is increasingly fond of his little boy, there is some redemption for him as well).

The Napoleanic Wars interrupt the novel for a bit, with repercussions for all. Becky rises through the ranks of society, but she leaves a trail of financial ruin in her wake. The Crawleys have no money, and never pay anyone anything they owe. Becky is cold towards her own son, and basically flirts and holds court of her own with many male admirers, whilst pretty much ignoring her husband. It's during this time that Rawdon begins to realize she's not the loving wife she pretends to be.

It's an interesting novel in that it's actually quite dark, and gets moreso as the novel progresses. The characters are pretty much all despicable. Money and the pursuit of it is pretty much the be all and end all of some of their existences. And those who do end up in poverty do so because of someone's foolishness with money. No one's really evil though (well, maybe Becky), but they are all fairly unlikable. Of course, this novel is hailed as a satire of society, and it certaintly does its job. Overall, I quite liked it, it's certaintly an interesting look at society warts and all, and in Becky Sharpe, he created one hell of an anti-hero.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Number 17 this year is a book (literally) tossed at my by one of my aunts. We don't really share the same tastes in reading material, but what the hell, I (used to) read fast enough that I'll try just about anything once. So, here we have an honest to goodness whodunnit in A Cure for All Diseases by Reginald Hill.

I don't read a lot of honest to goodness mysteries. I went through my Agatha Christie kick when I was 12 or 13. But I never progressed past that. A few years ago I tried some actual noir detective stories by reading some Dashiell Hammett (The Maltese Falcon, The Thin Man) and I really enjoyed those, but that was it. And it's strange I don't read more of it, considering how much I love old 80s detective shows and police procedurals such as L&O. But anyway...

This book is obviously one of a series surrounding the adventures of Superintendent Andy Dalziel (aka The Fat Man) and DCI Peter Pascoe. Of course, having never read any of their books before, I had no idea they'd been around for so long. Seems in the previous book Dalziel had been shot and left for dead (or something), so this one starts with him convalesing at a private clinic in the picturesque town of Sandytown. Of course, not everything is so picturesque, and as we meet the town's residents, eventually there is a murder (of course) as the oft-married town matriarch, Lady Daphne Denham, turns up dead at her own hog roast.

Of course there's a plethora of suspects; Lady D's young relatives; her nephew and niece and a young distant cousin she has taken in. All three are vying for a place of honour in her will, and Lady D took great delight in making them dance for her favour. There are other relatives from her other marriages, including a very disgruntled former brother-in-law, plus business partners/rivals such as Tom Parker, who is working towards making Sandytown a well-known spa town, and then there are others whom Lady D has taken a uh... romantic interest in. Basically, everyone in the town has had some sort of relationship (familial, business, romantic) with Lady D, and many have some sort of motive to kill her.

The tale though is told for the most part from the perspective of two outsiders to the town, Dalziel himself and young Charlotte (Charley) Heywood, a psychologist in training who accidentally gets mixed up with Tom Parker's family and so comes to Sandytown to work on her thesis. We get Charley's impressions of the events through a series of one-sided emails to her sister. And we get Dalziel's impressions of events through a one-sided dictation into a dictaphone (or tape recorder or something).

All in all, I found those two methods of narration to be extremely annoying after awhile. It felt a little too gimicky. In fact, I was ready to give up the ghost when finally, after the murder, the book resorts to a normal narrative once Pascoe shows up with his team of investigators to ... well investigate.

The characters were fine. Dalziel is quite a character, a big, rolicking, VERY British fellow. But of course, his borgeouise bluster masks a very keen mind, which is kinda always the way, isn't it? Pascoe is of course the counterbalance, a by the books, smooth gentleman. I'm sure they make a good team, but they weren't really together for much of this book.

I think I found it the book a little too predictable. I figured out who did it pretty early on, even with all the red-herrings, there just didn't seem like any other likely suspects. There is a little bit of a twist at the end, but it didn't really change my feeling of the outcome. There's also an 'inappropriate' relationship I saw coming a mile away.

I felt it was a bit overlong, too much setting up of the setting and the characters and the cutesy narrative went on for WAAYYY too long. It picked up a bit after the murder (so the narrative gets back to normal), but it was an entertaining enough read. For once I mean, I doubt I'll be picking up any more in this series.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Number 16 this year is Elfland by Freda Warrington. I'd never heard of this author before, but as this book seems to be her first released in N.A (she's had a few others released over in Britian), guess that shouldn't be too surprising. I picked it up because well, I like elves :)

The book revolves around the relationships between the members of two families, the Wilder and the Fox families. They are neighbours in some pastoral-like part of England and are both rather well to do. The Wilder family, headed by Lawerence Wilder is the more mysterious of the two, living in a big, scary, gothic sounding mansion, isolated from the village and with the two boys Sam and Jon attending schools. The Fox family, headed by the genial Auberon, are open, warm, family orientated members of the community and their three children Rosie, Matthew and Lucas go to the local public schools.

But of course, there is more to both families than it seems, for they are the "elves" elves of the title, or rather Vaethyr, Earth dwelling Aetherials. Turns out there are several other Vaethyr families living nearby and there is a also a nearby Gate to Elfland of which Lawrence Wilders is the gate keeper.

When the novel starts several dramatic events happen: Lawrence refuses to continue opening the Gate due to unnamed dangerous things on the other side waiting to break onto Earth, while his wife Ginny seems to have a breakdown and later leaves him. Some years later, Lawrence returns with a new wife, Sapphire, a human this time and it seems that things will return to normal but Lawrence still refuses to open the gate and the Vaethyr villagers grow more and more impatient and angry with him, so only Auberon' trust and support keeps them from trying to "depose" him.

The book is mainly through Rosie Fox's POV, and as she starts out young but matures into a young woman, we learn much about Aetherial customs and their Otherworld as she does. She goes through the usual unrequited crush, but eventually falls in love with Sam Wilder, which you kinda saw coming considering how much she hated him for most of the novel.

I liked Elfland, it's well written and her characters are well done. She's done a good job of world building her fantasy world, but weirdly, it's the real world that seems to have suffered at the expense of her 'other' world. Warrington's Britain seems almost too pretty, too perfect, too... unreal. Perhaps that is the point though, that the Aetherials do unconsciously influence their world around them, and bring part of Elfland to the mundane (there is much talk of shifting into the layers of Elfland that inhabit the surface very near the mundane plane). I mean, the Aetherials definitely have an effect on the humans nearby them, often to the detriment of that human. So, a small quibble really, but had Britain felt more real, perhaps I would've understood why a whack of Aetherials chose to live there, unless it really was just because they enjoy the trappings of living extremely comfortably on good ol' materialistic Earth.

I'd be curious in checking out more of Warrington's stuff.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Number 15 this year is Atonement by Ian McEwan. Not really sure why I picked this novel up; the premise did sound kinda interesting, but I never wanted to see the movie as I felt it looked overblown and overwraught. But anyway, saw it in the library and figured what the heck.

The plot is simple enough; 13-year-old Briony is witness to a burgeoning affair between her elder sister Cecilia and Robbie Turner, their housekeeper's son. Briony first reads a letter meant for Cecilia only (a rather descriptive letter of what Robbie envisions doing to Cecilia, and one that was mistakingly sent), and then finds the two in the midst of an embrace in the library. But because of the words she has already read, Briony decides Robbie is a brute and his attentions towards Cecilia are unwelcome, so later, when Briony and Cecilia's cousin Lola is attacked, Briony is mistakenly, and yet totally convinced, that Robbie is the culprit. He is arrested, tried and sent to prison, later to join the army and be sent to serve in WWII in exchange for a lighter sentence. Cecilia, furious and completely convinced of Robbie's innocence, leaves her family to become a nurse and does not speak to them again for many years. Briony, as she gets older, realizes that she was wrong and wants to make atonement for her actions.

I started off liking the book. Even though Briony is an insufferable character (she's obviously supposed to be) and you know darn well who the actual culprit behind Lola's attack is right away, the characters are fine, the descriptions nice and there is a good flow to the novel. The narrative switches to Robbie's POV in France, fighting the war, and the horrors of the front line (and specifically the retreat and evacuation of Dunkirk). The narrative shifts again, and then we are with Briony, training to be a nurse, and witnessing the horrors of the front line in a different way. It is in this section that we find out Briony knows she was wrong, knows she destroyed Robbie's life and that she must make amends for this.

Which is all well and fine, but then... then we come to the part I hated.

People who know me know that I hate the movie Saving Private Ryan. I hate it for one particular reason; the story has been told (as the viewer watches it), from the POV of the men in the unit sent to retrieve Private Ryan. This was fine and dandy. What I hated was the end of that movie, where we find out that no, this is Private Ryan himself relating the tale. What??? He WASN'T THERE FOR MOST OF THE MOVIE!! This destroyed the narrative for me and stripped any reliability from the narration for me (an aside; I have nothing against unreliable narrators. I rather like them. But I don't want to be surprised by one. An unreliable narrator should still be present for the events, just putting their own, unreliable spin on them. Not someone who is now telling shit they heard about second or third hand.) Anyway, the end of Atonement for me, is another Saving Private Ryan. The narrative as we have become accustomed to is pulled out from under us and basically, (although we're told it is true), fictionalized. I'm not even entirely sure why I disliked it so much, but I did. I felt cheated I think.

Which is too bad, it wasn't a bad book overall.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Ugh. This one took me awhile. Re-watching all of Lost is not conduscive to getting anything done other than re-watching all of Lost...

Book number 14 (only 14! ouch) is Contested Will by James Shapiro. As you may have gathered from this blog by now, I'm a bit of a Shakespeare groupie. Not only do I love reading and watching his plays, but I also really enjoy reading scholarly works about him and his plays. Yes, this is a hold over from my university degree of choice. I'm usually open to all sorts of theories about Shakespeare, or different interpretations of his plays, but if there is one thing I refuse to believe, or give much credit to, it is the (various) theories that someone (or someones) other than Shakespeare wrote his plays. And that is what this book is about.

Normally, I wouldn't have given a book like this a second look, my dislike of the authorship question is so great, but I knew Shapiro was coming at it from a place I could comfortably get behind: Shapiro himself believes that Shakespeare wrote his plays (and yes, some of them were collaberative, but he still had his hand in them), but he gives the history and some of the reasoning why people believe that there is no way a 'simple man from Stratford' could have written all those magnificent works.

Shapiro goes through the main candidates; Francis Bacon, the Earl of Oxford, Christopher Marlowe, etc., and also talks about some of the famous people who have bought into the authorship controversy (such as Freud, Helen Keller, Mark Twain and Henry James) and lays out their evidence (or rather the lack thereof as far as I'm concerned) and the history of each of these movements. I did find it interesting on how the arguments really do lack any hard proof (which is usually also a main resoning of why they believe William of Stratford didn't write the plays; there's no 'proof'), and that they refute Shakespeare because 'he just couldn't have'. Even though I thought Shapiro was being as fair as he could be towards these theories, they still sound like crackpot theories often devised by crackpots. Despite all the evidence Shapiro lays out, I came nowhere near believing that Shakespeare didn't write his plays.

Shapiro also gives, of course, a defending chapter on Shakespeare. It actually seems remarkably slim, and that's because there isn't a lot of hard evidence that the detractors seem to want. But there are poems from contemporaries such as Ben Jonson who basically tell us that William Shakespeare of Stratford was the playwrite. Shakespeare's place in the world of Elizabethan/Jacobean theatre was well assured. He had powerful patrons (including James I) and obviously made a good living from the theatre. His plays were collected after his death and published in a manner that few things were published in at the time (an expensive folio edition), because the publishers knew the plays had to be preserved and that there was a market for them. Also, these were men who knew Shakespeare personally.

Overall, for me, this book just reiterated what I always believed, that no one else but Shakespeare could've written his plays. So I will continue to be endlessly annoyed when anyone brings up the whole 'what about the theory that such and such wrote Shakespeare's plays?' Pure bunk as far as I'm concerned.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Lucky number 13 has been reached. (Note to self, never start three, very large books nearly simulataneously. You don't get any of them done quickly, and one you had to return to the library before you finished it because you couldn't renew it...) Book 13 is The Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt. This book didn't grab me at first, but it became so... brutal that it basically bludgeoned me into liking it. It is a very Dickensian by way of steam-punk kinda novel. Hunt's world feels very much like Victorian England, mixed with magic and ancient Aztek-like gods trying to make a comeback under the guise of a communist (or rather communityist) type uprising. It's all terribly intricate and quite intreguiging.

The main characters are two young orphans, Oliver Brooks and Molly Templar. Both seem, at first glance to be unremarkable, but both are being hunted for unknown reasons. The reasons are later revealed, and both are extremely important to, not only the survival of their country (the Land of Jackals), but basically the entire world. A revolution has begun in Jackals, one of increadible brutality and bloodshed, and it is up to the two youngsters to help end it, along with the motley crue of allies they've picked up along the way. There is, like with any Victorian-type novel, a huge cast of characters. Some were quite interesting and I wished they'd stuck around more.

Sometimes I find steam-punk buckles under it's own technobabble, but I didn't find it too bad here. There is still quite a bit of technobabble, especially when it comes to the sentient steammen machines who alive in their own right, but it fits the world and doesn't seem too bad.

There is a lot of political upheavel in this book, and one would think Hunt is definitely not a fan of communism, or else he just took it one hugely off-kilter step further.

The bad guys in this book are all terribly bad, there are no shades of grey here, and when they are defeated, it is a big relief.

The book wrapped up a little too quickly in my mind; I would've liked to have understood some of the more immediate aftermath of the revolution, but Hunt didn't really explain it. Ah well, maybe he's thinking sequels.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Number 12 this year is The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt. I really, really liked this novel, even though it ends quite horribly (and I use 'horribly' because it does end with the horrors of WWI), it starts out so beautifully as we meet a group of familys living in the countryside of England (Kent specifically) towards the end of the Victorian era. The beginning is nearly pastoral; a group of artistically minded, liberal families, their gaggle of precocious children, they put on plays, have revles, tramp around the countryside, and create. Yes, it is perfect. On the surface. For these families all have secrets. Infidelity abounds, artistic genius devolves into maddness, and the beginnings of an anti-Victorian sexual revolution ensnares too many of the younger generation in not positive ways.

The Woodvilles are the book's main family, with Olive Woodville, a writer of children's stories, being the centre. She is a brilliant writer, but in order to tell her stories, she has, almost ironically, had to ignore the rearing of her children. It falls to her sister to bring the Woodville brood up. The closest Olive brings herself to them is that for each child she writes a private tale, tailored to that child, and read only by that child. However, towards the end of the novel she breaks this, and takes the her favourite tale to turn into a stage play. She does not tell her son Tom (whose tale it is), and this invasion of Tom's privacy has distasterous events.

I found this book to be a lovely pastiche of a Victorian novel. It is hugely detailed, rambling and deals with the darkness of society under the bright, civilized trappings of Victorian society. As the world changes, the various generations try to insert themsevles (or not) into the world, learn from it, change it, etc., with variying degrees of success. But the ending overall is quite sad, as WWI comes crashing onto the younger generation, and they pay a heavy price for the changing world.

I borrowed this book from the library, but I'm seriously thinking of buying myself a copy.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Number 11 is The White Queen by Phillipa Gregory. I've never read any of Gregory's other books, such as the best selling The Other Boelyn Girl. For some reason, I don't find the Tudors all that interesting. Or rather, I don't find the Tudor males all that interesting as I do find Elizabeth I quite fascinating. ANYWAY, so the reason I did pick this book up is because it deals with the Wars of the Roses, which is a point of English history I've long been interested in, probably since I first read the line uttered by Susan in Prince Caspian "Oh dear, this is more confusing than the Wars of the Roses".

So anyway, yes, I picked this up and dived in. The White Queen herself is the wife of the Yorkist king, Edward IV. Edward spies the lovely, widowed Elizabeth Woodville while riding through her family's lands, and they both instantly fall for one another. They marry in secret, and this marriage is not popular amongst Edward's advisors and family. The Woodville's previously supported the Lancastrian claim to the throne, but of course switch allegiances once they are connected to the Yorks.

It's a good look at the use of much of the feminie power struggle in the Wars of the Roses. Elizabeth positions her family and children into places of power to secure the York hold on the throne. The problem is that there is almost as much infighting in the York family as there is against the Lancastrians. And the main figure behind the Lancastrian claim to put the ailing Henry VI back on his throne is through his indomitable wife, Margaret d'Anjou. Another of the central characters is Elizabeth's French, wise-woman mother, who has a bit of magic to her.

It's a fun book, a nice love story and a different look at the Wars of the Roses. It seems to be fairly historically accurate while infusing the characters with enough personality to keep it interesting.

I may go on to pick up the next book in the series, which, I know doesn't really end well for the Yorks...

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Book number 10. 10!! I've finally reached double digits this year!... sigh. Took me long enough.

ANYWAY... Book number 10 is A Gentleman's Game by Greg Rucka. Now, I'm more familiar with Rucka as a comic book writer. Mainly from his run on Batman, and then his relaunch of Checkmate. His Batman stuff I though was... ok, but I really enjoyed Checkmate. But the reason I read this book is that I have read his entire run of his self-created series, Queen and Country. I read Queen and Country because it is basically a comic-book form of the old British series, the Sandbaggers, which was something I'm very glad my husband made me watch.

So anyway, A Gentleman's Game revolves around the same cast and crew as Queen and Country, main character Tara Chase is Minder One, head of the elite covert ops team sent in to do the dirtiest of dirty work Britian can come up with. And after an attack on the London Underground by Muslim extremists, Tara is dispatched to Yemen to kill a Saudi Arabian religious leader, who presumably is ultimately behind the attacks. Tara fufills her task, but the collateral damage she is also forced to assassinate is somewhat politically sensitive, and because of this, Tara finds herself persona non grata and persued by her own government.

I have to give it to Rucka, his pacing is extremely good and his action scenes are well done. I had wondered if the lack of pictures would hinder his words, but he gets his words across to create lovely pictures themselves. The characters are a wee bit cliche (or maybe I just think so because I have seen the Sandbaggers), with your tough-as-nails, more dangerous than any bloke, Tara Chase and the gruff but extremely professional D-Ops, Crocker and the rest of the usual suspects. One of the main characters is an ex-British national who has converted to Islam and we see the terrorist POV from him, which I did find very interesting, but I also felt his story line was tied up too quickly.

Overall, I did enjoy this book. However, I think that I would prefer him to tell more Queen and Country stories in their original, comic book format. That way I can picture the characters as they're drawn, and not as those from the Sandbaggers, which is what, for some reason, I was doing.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Book 9 is The Torontonians by Phyllis Brett Young.

Ok, the first thing I must mention here is that I am a born and bred Torontonian. I am (on my mother's side) a 5th generation Torontonian. I love this city. I know it has it's problems (as do most large cities), but overall, I am happy and proud to call Toronto my home and my hometown. So you can see why I would pick up a book called The Torontonians.

Published in 1960, this is actually quite the feminist book of suburban housewife ennui and desperation. This is interesting because it really came before a lot of the big feminist manifestos of the 60s. And yet, here it is, a sort of Revolutionary Road set in Toronto and the surrounding (make believe) suburb of Rowanwood. (which I *think* is a Richmond Hill stand in?)

I liked this book a lot mainly because of the setting. It's interesting to read of a Toronto that's similar, but not exactly like the one I'm familiar with. Neihbourhoods such as the Annex and Forest Hill make appearances, and it speaks of the interesting divide of above the hill and below the hill (Toronto has a part of the Niagara Escarpement crawling through it, making a fairly significant climb uphill between St.Clair and Eglington avenues), with the well off spreading above the hill. I found that interesting because the philisophical division of Toronto is not so much north and south, but rather it is East and West, with Yonge St as the dividing line. Native Torontonians are usually from the East End or the West End and cross over with only great difficulty (I am a West Ender).

Anyway, the book itself deals with one Karen Whitney, Toronto born and raised, well-educated, upper middle-class background, house-wife, empty-nester, who is, as we met her contemplating suicide. She is so tired of her empty existence in Rowanwood, which boils down to finishing and decorating her home, throwing parties she has no desire to throw (and attending such things as well), and having to deal with the secrets and numbing lives of her neighbours. She is sick of it all, and unable to articulate why she is not happy with her life, but she's not.

We see Karen's life in flashbacks, juxtaposed with her life now. She still has many of the same friends, and sometimes they are part of the problem with her life. The one thing I did really like about this book was that her husband, Rick, is not part of the problem. He is supportive and loving and not sleeping with his secretary, and that almost seems like a nice change, especially compared with the boorish, stupid, neglectful, cheating men that make up many of the neighbours. Rick isn't sure what to do about Karen's problems, but he's also wise enough to know that she has them and that she has to find a solution herself.

Basically, the solution seems to be to move the hell out of the suburbs and back to Toronto. I could've told you that ;)

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Number 8 for 2010 is Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock. This book is basically a book about the power of creation, both on an individual and cultural level. Set in post WWII England, the main character, Steven Huxley returns to England on news of his father's death. Upon return to his family home, he learns of his father's obsession with the neighbouring Ryhope Wood has now become his brother's obsession as well.

What Huxley the elder discovered, was that every folkhero and legend who had ever been known in English history has an archetype, or mythago as Huxley called them, residing in the woods, whose very existence was tied, not to belief in the legend, but simply to the imagination of the surrounding minds. While some of the mythagos are of popular characters, like Robin Hood or King Arthur, many more of the mythagos encountered by the elder Huxley and then later Steven and his brother Christian, were forgotten except within the confines of Ryhope Wood.

Of course, the obsession gets out of hand when Christian disappears into the woods, looking for his lost, mythago love, Guiwenneth. She being the same mythago their father fell in love with, and who would later also claim Steven's heart. But the thing with Guiwenneth is, is she the same mythago each time, or a little bit different each time depending on whose mythago she is?

Christian's return for Guiwenneth (who has fallen in love with Steven and is basically living with him), is sudden and violent. It also forces Steven to journey deep into the wood in search of her and for revenge on Christian. But once in the wood and dealing with the wood's mythago inhabitants, Steven realizes that he, his brother and his father have become part of the woods' mythos themselves. Does this mean mythagos can create mythagos themselves? Or are Christian and Steven simply made part of the mythos due to their involvement with it? Considering that the wood itself was continuing to grow up to the house and even in the house, it would almost seem like the wood was consuming them or forcing them to join the myth.

It is an interesting book for sure, and I'm definitely interested in reading the sequels to it.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Number 7 this year is, Dead in Dallas another of the Sookie Stackhouse books by Charlaine Harris. I guess I'm liking these because they are a nice, quick, popcorn read, and I haven't had too many of those this year.

This book builds on Sookie's world. She and vampire Bill Compton are still dating (although they hit a few snags in their relationship here and there) and must journey to Dallas to do a favour for a nest of vampires when she is 'loaned' out by powerful vampire Eric.

An enjoyable read overall. Harris builds on her world nicely, as we see the impact the outing of vampires has made, from anti-vampire religious fanatics to new businesses set up to cater to the vampires. It all makes sense and doesn't seem outlandish.

Harris also introduces more supernatural beings to her world. She seems to be saying that when one supernatural bunch comes out of the closet, more are soon to follow.

The only thing I didn't like about this book, was if the murder that happens at the beginning crosses over into the tv show True Blood, I'm going to be really upset.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Number 6 is Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner. This is a sequel of sorts to her much earlier novel, Swordspoint, which I read and enjoyed. The only thing about it is that I can't remember a darned thing about it. So when I noticed that PotS wasn't a total sequel but just shared a few characters, well that made it easier to decide to pick up. And true to what it said, I didn't need to remember any of the back story from Swordspoint, and any back story I needed was supplied to me.

The story is about Katherine Talbert, the niece of the Mad Duke Tremontaine (Alec Campion from Swordspoint). The Duke takes her from her home (there had been a family feud going) and decides that she will be trained to be a swordsman, which is something women didn't do. So Katherine is plunged into the strange, decadent world of her uncle, a world she doesn't come to embrace, but she certainly comes to appreciate some of the eccentricities.

The novel moved briskly enough to keep my interest, and is pretty much a character study, especially in the person of the Mad Duke. Alec's madness is of the clear-eyed sort that calls into question all of our basic assumptions. In our terms, he is as neurotic as it's possible to be and still function, but he is also cagey, brilliant, and ruthless, and we're never quite sure where the one leaves off and the other starts. He is also an idealist and a humanitarian, and his clear-eyed vision on the follies of privilege is the starting point for much of the satire in the novel.

Katherine herself is a pretty good against-the-type heroine. She is brave (right from the beginning actually, in leaving her family to do her duty for them) and she becomes a good swordsman enough so to win fights against men and to champion her friend Artemisia who was wronged by her fiancee Lord Ferris. Katherine's naievty amidst all the shenanigans of the Mad Duke's world could be trite, but ends up actually working as it is a nice counterpoint, but it also doesn't make her prudish. She is disturbed by some things, but intreigued by others and I liked that, it seems a more natural reaction. And once the Mad Duke actually does start taking an interest in her and they talk, the book becomes even more enjoyable.

I liked this enough to go dig out my copy of Swordspoint and re-read it.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

There are a lot of authors out there that I love, but I can safely say that of them all, Guy Gavriel Kay is my absolute favourite. So, whenever he has a new book out, I am absurdly happy. I must rush out and get the new book as soon as I can, and then I want my life to basically cease it's usual pace so that all I have to do is sit down and read the new book and get lost in whatever world Kay has created for me this time. So, new book was acquired last Friday, and I finished it today. Number 5 of the year is Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay.

To be honest, I wasn't sure what to expect when I heard this was a book set in a thinly disguised Tang Dynasty-8th Century -type China. I'm not overly fascinated by the Far East, so I wasn't sure if I'd enjoy this one or not. I should've known better and trusted in Kay unquestioningly like I usually do.

Under Heaven is gripping and epic and just an utter pleasure to read. He painstakingly builds the lands of Kitai (China) and it's neighbours, and he weaves court and political intreigue just as well as George R. R. Martin does. The main character, Tai, goes off to honour the memory of his recently deceased father by journeying to a remote battlefield and laying to rest the remains of hundreds of soldiers who died there. He does this for two years, and towards the end of it, he is given a great, and extravegant gift by the princess of Tagur (as Tai was also burying their dead, as it was Kitai and Tagur who fought at this place) that changes his life forever. Tai is a good character, resourceful, witty, a little lost about his place in the world, and just... competent , as many of Kay's characters tend to be. His life becomes a grand adventure, and it definitely puts one in the mind of the old proverb; "may you live in interesting times", as that is exactly what Tai is living in and has become intricately intwined in.

I cannot go into all the details about this book, as it has so many plot threads and characters and what have you, which is pretty standard for a Kay novel. His prose is elegant and descriptive, also as usual. It's a big book, but well thought out. It never comes crashing down under it's own weight, and I didn't even really see the ramifications of some characters actions until it was too late. And that's a good thing, for there are surprises, but they make sense.

The ending is, for the most part, a happy one for Tai, which is a good thing, considering Kay doesn't always allow his characters for a most happy ending. But this time there is one, and it is deserved, for which I'm glad.

I mean heck, I still haven't totally forgiven him for Diarmuid ;)

Saturday, April 03, 2010

They're coming a bit quicker now since I put down the huge book and picked up some fun stuff. Number 4 this year is Fool by one of my very favourite authors, Christopher Moore. When I spied this book at a bookstore in Buffalo (there for a lovely day trip to the Albright Knox Art Gallery), I knew I had to have. Christopher Moore doing a retelling of King Lear? I am there. And he did not disappoint.

Moore's books are often hilariously bawdy, and in this one, he gets completely carried away. There's lots of shagging and snogging (this is England afterall), but of course, most of it is in the darker context of the tragedy that is King Lear. It's a very well done juxatposition, managing to make a comedy out of one of Shakespeare's biggest tragedies.

The tale is told (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead style), by King Lear's fool, Pocket. The Fool in Shakespeare's play doesn't even get a name, but here, he gets a name, a background and one hell of a personality. Pocket is completely immersed in the polictical machinations of Lear's horrid daughters (Cordelia excepted of course) and in fact, it is him that causes much of the action to start and finish. Well, he's partly goaded on and aided by Macbeth's Three Witches (seems those girls get around... like most of the other women in this book. heh)

I started trying to remember where and how Moore deviates from the play, but as the man himself said "that way lies madness" (oh, and Moore quoted that too), so I stopped, because it is indeed pretty impossible. So I just let go and enjoyed the ride for what it was, a journey into the bawdy, hilarious, tragedy laced world of Shakespeare but filtered through the wonderfully wicked mind of Christopher Moore.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Nearly the end of March and I'm only on book three. I've had to put aside the other book I'm currently reading because it's very large and very involved and takes awhile to get through. I've really been reading 'scholarly' books so far this year, and while being very interesting and enriching, is also slowing my book consumption down to a crawl. So I went to the library and decided I needed something... quick. And upon spying the first of Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse vampire novels, I knew I had a winner.

What really spurred my wanting to read Dead Until Dark was a recent viewing of the first episode of True Blood, the tv series based on the books. I enjoyed the show for the most part and so decided that checking out the book was worthwhile.

I enjoyed the book, I like Harris' world. The supernatural lies very uneasily with the 'real' world as vampires have only recently admitted their existence and 'come out of the coffin'. A Japanese company has created a bottled, synthetic blood substitute that allows the vampires proper sustinance without having to feed on humans. For of course, killing of humans is unlawful, but likewise, quickly enacted laws have also rendered it illegal to kill (or do other bodily harm) to vampires.

Sookie Stackhouse, our heroine, is a waitress, a charming, well mannered, slightly naive (even though one wonders how she could be under the circumstance) southern belle. She also happens to be telepathic. It's a nice addition of Harris', where, if there are vampires, well then why shouldn't there be telepathic waitresses?

One day, an honest to goodness vampire walks into the bar Sookie works at, and she is immediately smitten. But entering the vampiric world is dangerous and exciting, and Sookie isn't entirely sure she's ready to do so, despite her attraction to the 150 year old Bill.

A string of murders in Sookie's town seem to point to those nearest and dearest to Sookie, either her vampire boyfriend, or her man-whore of a brother. And then Sookie herself becomes a target, further turning her already strange world even stranger.

The characters are all quite likeable (Harris' use of Bubba especially was quite funny) and it is a rich world for sure, enough so that I'd definitely consider picking up some more of the books and continuing with Sookie's adventures.*

*Also, Anna Paquin has done such a fine job as Sookie in True Blood that it was quite easy for me to hear her voice and see her mannerisms as I was reading the book.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Ugh. I'm only finished two books now. Book number 2 for the year is Shakespeare's Wife by Germaine Greer. Yes, that Germaine Greer. Anyway, this book is exactly what it sounds like, it is a 'biography' of Shakespeare's wife, the much vilified Ann Hathaway. But the thing is, and this is the crux of Greer's entire book, it WHY is it popular in scholarly works about Shakespeare, to vilify his wife so? This ill-treatment of a woman who perhaps didn't deserve to be branded so is based pretty much on only three things; that Shakespeare didn't move his family to London when he was there, that we don't know how often he journeyed home to Stratford during his years in London and, finally (and supposedly the most damning evidence), he left Ann his second-best bed in his will.

There is little actual documented evidence left over about Shakespeare, and really even less about Ann. But over the years, it has been fairly widely 'accepted' that Shakespeare and Ann did not have a happy marriage, that she basically trapped him (she was older than he and she was pregnant when they married) and he resented her for this in all their years together, so basically abandoned his wife and children for his career in London.

But Greer does her best to offer plausible arguments to refute this. She painstakingly sifts through records of common lives of contemporaries of Shakespeares’, and she contends that back then there was nothing unusual in a baby’s being born six months after a marriage. She also demonstrates that an unmarried woman in her mid-20s would not have been considered exceptional or desperate. Ann Hathaway, Greer argues, was likely to be literate, and given the relative standing of their families in Warwickshire, she may very well have been considered a more desirable match than her husband. So there all you Ann haters. Greer also puts forth the idea that Shakespeare may not have supported his family financially, and so makes Ann very capable of many domestic tasks that would allow her to be financially independent, which was also not a stretch for the time, according to documents left from the era.

Of course, all this is pure speculation on Greer's part. She does her best to back it up by using all available documents she can find and read from the times, and sometimes this proof does get hard to slog through. The vast cast of characters Greer introduces from Stratford (and other places) gets to be difficult to keep track of, and sometimes, the detail is so overwhelming that I found myself forgetting what it was Greer was trying to use these anecdotes in defense of.

But overall, Greer paints a picture of a woman who is extremely capable, loyal and intelligent. Greer's Ann is much more interesting than anyone has ever given her credit for being in the past, and I found myself hoping that Ann was closer to Greer's thesis, because otherwise, it makes all of Shakespeare's beautiful writings on love seem a little more empty.*

*I've never bought into the idea that some of Shakespeare's sonnets were written to a man, given the way homosexuality was condemned in Elizabethan England. For Shakespeare to have written such blatant offerings to a man would have been incredibly ill-advised. Greer does touch on this in her book as well, and I found myself thinking her explanations made much more sense. Oh, and I also hated the movie Shakespeare in Love. Pure bunk.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

And the first book of 2010 is The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill. This is the book that won Canada Reads in 2009. It tells the tale of
Aminata Diallo, an 11-year-old child, is taken from her village in West Africa and forced to walk for months to the sea and cross the Atlantic where she is sold as a slave in South Carolina. Her life is torn asunder and becomes a matter of survival, but she is bright and a trained mid-wife, and these skills serve her well. Years later, she finds freedom, serving the British in the American Revolutionary War and having her name entered in the historic "Book of Negroes." This book, an actual historical document, is an archive of freed Loyalist slaves who requested permission to leave the United States in order to resettle in Nova Scotia.

It's a tough book to read. Deservedly so though. The sheer amount of suffering and horror the slaves who were stolen from Africa went through is tough to imagine. Actually, I admit, I don't want to imagine it, but Hill spells it out in stark terms, you can't look away from what he's describing. it's hard to read about the filth and the sickness and the degredation and the rape and the children that Aminata had taken away from her. But that would've been par for the course, and even though this is a fictionalized account of a slave's life, you know it's not really fiction at all.

But there is a strange amount of hope in this book. As I said, Aminata is clever, she learns to read and this helps her raise her station in life, even though society makes it very difficult for her to do so.

The ending could be considered a little trite, but upon considering all the hardships and horror Aminata had to face during her life, it was nice there was a happy ending.

This book goes well with Bury the Chains, the account of the abolishionist movement in England that Aminata eventually gets herself mixed up in. They are both books that need to be read.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Here we are, January 1, 2010, so time to sum up another year's worth of reading. Despite thinking that I wasn't going to be able to read much once the baby arrived in July, it seems the opposite happened and I was able to read more books than I did last year. I'm still nowhere near the elusive 50 books in a year mark, but I did manage 33 all told, and I'm pretty happy with that number. Living very near a library has helped as I've been able to just grab things I've thought looked interesting in the past, but not enough that I'd spend the money on them. I've forgotten how much I like libraries.

So what did I read? The list is as follows:

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
Will in the World by Stephen Greenblatt
Wicked by Gregory Maguire
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Razor's Edge by W. Somerset Maughm
Speaks the Nightbird by Robert McCammon
Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay
The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
The Sound of No Hands Clapping by Toby Young
The Smartest Guys in the Room by Bethany McLean
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel by Susannah Clarke
Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde
Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde
Last King of Scotland by Giles Foden
How to Lose Friends and Alienate People by Toby Young
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
Mad Kestrel by Misty Massey
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
The Book of Mordred by Vivian Vende Velde
Firethorn by Sarah Micklen
The Nanny Diaries by Nicola Kraus and Emma McLaughlin
Twilight by Stephanie Meyers
The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold
Sick Puppy by Carl Hiaasen
Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett
Thank You for Smoking by Christopher Buckley
In the Wake of the Plague by Norman F. Cantor
The Uses and Abuses of History by Margaret Macmillian
Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro
Peter and Max by Bill Willingham
Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine by Harold Bloom

Looking back on this, I didn't read anywhere near as much new fantasy as I usually do, with really only a few counting towards that (Thief of Time, Mad Kestrel, Peter and Max, The Book of Mordred and Firethorn). However, one of them, Firethorn, was undoubtedly the worst book I read this year, with a boring plot and thoroughly unlikeable main characters.

I read a lot more 'popular' works than I usually do, such bestsellers as The Time Traveller's Wife, The Lovely Bones and yes, Twilight. Twilight was the worst written book of the year, it is such drivel that I can scarce understand why it is so popular.

Another trend of mine this year seemed to be industry tell all books, reading the likes of Toby Young's two 'memoirs', Anthony Bourdain's chef-tell-all and The Nanny Diaries.

My favourite book this year? I have to go back to the beginning and go with The Thirteenth Tale. An astounding piece of work that feels like a throwback to old Gothic-style ghost stories, as well as being a love letter to reading. I've been resoundingly recommending it.

So there we have it, my 2009 in books. I've already started my first book for 2010 and maybe this will be the year that I finally break 50 books. But as I'm going to be working hard on finally finishing writing a book of my own, well... maybe not.