Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Unlocked (by John Scalzi)

This is an oral history prequel to John's upcoming novel Lock In. And hey, there's a character named Monique in it, which I'm sure is after me! (John, please just let me believe this lie.)

It definitely whetted my appetite for Lock In, and it made me wish the whole novel were told in the oral history style, because I think it works quite well. Some of the similarities in voice bothered me a bit (would a career criminal really sound so similar to a neurobiologist?) but as usual with Scalzi's works, it's an inventive and engaging read. I also loved the various teasers: who genetically engineered this virus? Who continues to propagate it? that will certainly be the driving questions of the novel. Stay tuned, because I will definitely be reading Lock In to find out the answers.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Reread: I Capture the Castle (by Dodie Smith)

Memory Reaction:

I'm only posting this because I'm blogging re-reads this year. I've actually read it at least once a year since I first read it seven years ago, so this isn't my first rodeo. I'm trying to solidify my mental images of the characters so I can finally see the movie. Romola Garai isn't my idea of Cassandra, but she is a great actress, and I love Bill Nighy, and overall I am very tempted. Oh, and my memory reaction is: I remember this being one of my favorite books of all time.

Reread Reaction:

Yep. A wonderful coming of age story, with sophistication and amazing wry humor and delightful characters and unpredictable plot twists and the best narrator ever. A wonderful world to live in for a few hours, which is why I keep going back for visits.

Previous Review:

Well I fell madly in love with it instantly of course.


     "Great Heavens, Cassandra, how did you get that?" said father when he saw me nursing the ham.
I told him, and explained that I had been hiding it in case he made me refuse it.
     "Refuse it? You must be insane, my child." He took it from me to guess how much it weighed. We all guessed--which was a sheer waste of time as we haven't any scales.
     "You're nursing it as if it were your first-born child," said father when it was returned to me eventually.
     I said I doubted if anyone's first-born child was ever more welcome. After that we all fell silent--we had suddenly remembered the chauffeur.

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Monday, May 19, 2014

Life List: A Woman's Quest for the Most Amazing Birds (by Olivia Gentile)

My friend Melissa reminded me that this book had been sitting on my wishlist for a while, and since I just got back from some amazing birding in Ohio, the plane ride home seemed like the right time to read this! (I finished two books on that plane, so for Pie Not Included completists, there's another new entry directly below this one.)

This is the biography of legendary birder Phoebe Snetsinger, a brilliant woman with a scientific background who felt stifled by her role as a traditional housewife and mother, and who discovered birding as an outlet. She applied rigorous scientific ideals to the study of birds, and used her significant financial resources (her father was Leo Burnett, of the Leo Burnett add agency) to travel the world many times over, ultimately building a life list of over 8,000 birds seen in the wild.

Gentile draws from interviews with Snetsinger's family and friends as well as from her own memoir, poems, and other writings, to create a portrait of a fascinating woman who didn't always connect with her husband or kids (she was almost always traveling, from the time her kids were in high school onward) but who became a birding community legend.

My only real issue with the book is that Gentile dwells on the brutal incident where Snetsinger and a friend were abducted in New Guinea, and Snetsinger was raped. Once Gentile tells this story, she seemingly can't let it go, and keeps coming back to it and psychoanalyzing how it affected Snetsinger for the rest of her life, making some assumptions that I don't quite agree with. Obviously, it would be a traumatizing experience, one that maybe Snetsinger was too quick to shrug off, but Gentile brings it up again and again and again for the whole rest of the book, even when it's seemingly irrelevant.

Other than that, I loved learning more about Phoebe Snetsinger, and loved hearing about each and every bird she was able to see. Very inspiring, although I'll try not to neglect my husband and child too much in my own birding pursuits...


Reread: The Wings of the Dove (by Henry James)

Memory Reaction:

What has always stuck in my mind about this novel, which is possibly my favorite of his works, is two things. One, the majesty of the classic, discursive Henry James sentence. I always find it takes me a few paragraphs to get into the style, and then I love it. I use James sentences in lit classes all the time to make my students' jaws drop. (Especially the opening sentence, which I quoted below.) Two, the deep descriptions of minor psychological moments, which also seems very Jamesean to me. I think of James as a stylist, and as a writer who is decidedly Not For Everyone. But he is one of my absolute all-time favorites.I've also seen this movie a bunch of times. Not for a while though--I last owned it on VHS, and now I'm holding out for Blu-Ray.

Reread Reaction:

Still feel exactly the same way about James, his sentences, his plot, his characters, everything. I'd forgotten the denouement, since it's different from the movie's, so it was nicely suspenseful all over again. I dog eared so many pages this time around. The whole experience was, overall, immensely satisfying,

Previous Review:

I remembered my reaction fairly well!


She waited, Kate Croy, for her father to come in, but he kept her unconscionably, and there were moments at which she showed herself, in the glass over the mantel, a face positively pale with the irritation that had brought her to the point of going away without sight of him.

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Monday, May 12, 2014

The Emperor's Children (by Claire Messud)

One of my "to-read pile" books; my book club read this ages ago and I believe they generally really enjoyed it, and it has come up at subsequent meetings to the point that I felt I'd missed out. I decided to make this my airplane read on a recent trip to Ohio, and got very engrossed in it. The characters are by and large unsympathetic, but somehow also sympathetic. It reminded me--in its New York setting, dealing with terrorism, the rich family taking in the poor relation--very strongly of The Goldfinch, only I liked it better. The changing points of view worked really well for me, the short chapters, the time jumps, the plot twists, the general aesthetic. Really enjoyable.

My one criticism was with the ending--not only did I not want it to end (I wish it had been as long as The Goldfinch) but I didn't get resolution on the one plotline I was most interested in, which was [spoiler] Marina's. I found Bootie's plotline the least interesting to me--actually not the least interesting, but once we find out vaguely what happened to him, I didn't need the overly pat, overly coincidental resolution there. I would rather have learned more about the fate of any of the other characters. [/spoiler]. But to me, that's nitpicky--I really enjoyed this a lot, I found it engrossing and well-written, and I would say it's of a piece with The Interestings, The Goldfinch, and Freedom, but honestly better than any of those.

[I just checked the Amazon reviews, and the star average is shockingly middling. People are complaining about unwieldy sentence construction. This is ironic to me considering that I set aside The Wings of the Dove for this novel because I figured it was a better airplane read. So I had no issues at all with the discursive sentences, but this could be because of preceding it immediately with Henry James? Now I'm not sure. At any rate, I love Henry James and his discursive sentences, and Messud's were not an issue with me at all.]


Monday, May 05, 2014

Waiter Rant (by Steve Dublanica)

Another hardcover that had been on my shelf for a while. This was part of the blog-to-book trend and this one's better than most. I think it improves as it goes along, with several of the later vignettes being the most interesting to me. I also like the transparent meta-ness of making the sale  of the book part of the story. It's not a huge part, but isn't completely elided, which I think is about right.

That being said, this isn't a book I feel compelled to keep on my shelf. There are some moments of poor editing--some typos here and there, some moments that don't ring true, some dialogue that feels very forced--plus, despite the author paying lip service to his non-misogyny, some misogyny. I would really just call it unexamined privilege, but do we really need gratuitous references to Rachael Ray in a bikini and Nigella Lawson's breasts and how sexually attractive the author finds various women in the story? Not really. And the fact that he admits to blowing all his money on strippers strikes a bit of a dudebro note, though points for honesty. 

That being said, I didn't dislike the author, or his voice, or his book.  He seemed like a guy whose heart was basically in the right place, had some good war stories, and this was a fine, fast read. I bet Springs1 would hate it, though.


Saturday, May 03, 2014

Shades of Grey (by Jasper Fforde)

For some reason it took me several years to read this book--I started it once before and it didn't grab me, then it languished on my bookshelf, unread--even though I love the Thursday Next series and Fforde in general. I think part of it is the hardcover thing; I really don't like hardcovers and I resist picking them up. I want to keep this book, but will probably buy a used paperback copy to go with the rest of my Ffordes, and pass on the hardcover to a friend. I mean, Ffriend. 

The book is about a distant future society where the apocalypse has happened and receded into history, and all of society is ordered based around what color or colors its citizens can see. The hero is Edward Russett (everyone's last time and all the place names refer to color, it's very delightful), a Red, whose father is a swatchman--a color doctor. He lives in Jade-under-Lime, but travels with his father to East Carmine to fill in for another swatchman who has mysteriously died. Society is all about unquestioning obedience and simplicity (technology is deliberately dialed back in a series of "Leapbacks"), but Eddie's curiosity and interest in a rebellious Grey girl (named Jane--there are other Greys named Zane and Dorian, cute) lead him to find out that there's more to this world than meets the eye.

Yes, a fairly familiar dystopian setup, but classic Ffordean worldbuilding and humor makes this really work. I got very into it after the first few chapters and then couldn't put it down. It ends on a bit of a cliffhanger as well, and a series of very powerful moments for Eddie, so now I'm anxious for the next two planned books in the series. Plus the next Thursday Next book. Write Ffaster, Jasper!