24 September 2012

Feeling Sorry for Celia - Jaclyn Moriarty

The best part about this book is the lovely relationship Elizabeth has with her mom. They are witty with one another but not too witty: 

Elizabeth to her mother:
P.S. I just realized that I told you we drank your Bacardi. Do you want me to cross that bit out? Everyone was saying I should refill the bottle with water so you wouldn't know...
Elizabeth's mother to Elizabeth:
I can't wait to meet your new friends. Please tell them not to put water in my Bacardi.
Amen, sister! There's no excuse for watered-down booze.

It's told entirely through letters and notes; notes between Elizabeth and her mom, her new pen pal from the school 3 blocks over, her best friend since childhood, and a scattering of groups that I clearly recall getting letters from myself when I was a teenager, such as the aptly named Association of Teenagers and the COLD HARD TRUTH Assn. 

Nearly all of the individual letters are rather short, which means I read it so fast the pages may have been smoking when I was done. It's tough to stop when you just careen from paragraph to paragraph.

You know how some people are charming just underneath their skin? You have to get to know them for a minute, and in that minute you're kind of like, "hmm... I don't... know... about you, you curious little thing..." and you raise your eyebrow in their general direction (if you're genetically blessed with a raise-able eyebrow, which I - to my GREAT disgust - am not). And then you blink and suddenly it's been 3 hours and your face hurts from smiling so much. 

That's this book. 

7.5/11 Letters to Santa

17 September 2012

The Little Stranger - Part the Second

This read-a-long brought to you by The Estella Society, which is awesome: 

Four hundred sixty-three pages later and I am... seriously underwhelmed.

First, let me say that I read through a lot of the first round RAL posts over at The Estella Society, and I think those people maybe read a different book than I did? Because their reviews were full of praises for the characterization and the creep factor and the slow build of the characters' interpersonal relationships, and (as you may be aware) my review was full of Whoopi Goldberg gifs and what-am-I-missing-guise?!?

For those of you new to this place - which is pretty much everyone since this blog is only a month and a half old - I promise you that I know A Lot about plot and watching slow characterization and that I can use all the Big Literary Words and once got 100% on a paper about how the City of London was a legit character in The Old Curiosity Shop. But let's face it: gifs are funnier, and everyone needs a niche.

SO. Let's talk about how this book is basically the literary equivalent of:

So I guess titular character was only ever after the family? Which is weird because they never really talked about it, or when they did someone got chucked into an asylum. And also un-scary because I didn't really care about the family much, and since I'm NOT the family, I'm safe. Safety is the antithesis of fear. And then Doctor Faraday convinced himself that he was in love with Caroline, which isn't really true because obvs. he wanted Hundreds - weird shit and all. And THEN Mrs. Ayres goes and hangs herself on a doorknob (?) because why not leave the woman with spontaneous body-stigmata all alone? Surely nothing could happen to her!

The Aunts KWIM.
And then Caroline calls off the wedding to Dr. Faraday because she never loved him after all, which I COULD HAVE TOLD HIM based on her behavior, and THEN she jumps/is pushed off of a balcony in her house and dies, too, because she thinks The Thing in the house is done with her family maybe, so getting up in the middle of the night is safe?  This is All So Sad, but from one event to the next, there's no sense that the next person should GTFO and move to sunny Spain and spend the rest of their lives tilting at windmills.

(My favorite metaphors are mixed ones.)

Herein lies my ISSUE with this book: I got no sense of looming danger, no sense of frenetic AGGHGHHHHHH for me-the-reader, no sense that the thing in the house is truly malicious or even really dangerous. The Doctor got more and more repugnant as he pushed and pushed his wedding to Caroline, and really in the end I felt like everyone deserved what they got, which (while allowing me to feel very smug) is probably not the way Waters intended me to feel. Witholding information from the reader can be extremely effective, but in this case there was too much witholding; not enough detail got through to incite fear or dread.

I will say, though, that I enjoyed the read-a-long itself very much, and am looking forward to more with The Estella Society!

4 of 11 Victorian speaking tubes, and a mandatory viewing of Arsenic and Old Lace for anyone who doesn't recognize the Aunts.

BONUS LIST OF Things that Do Suspense Better than This Book:

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
The Haunted Mansion at Disneyland
My cat about to pounce on something
The doorbell when you don't know who's coming over

16 September 2012

A Discovery of Witches - Deborah Harkness

I ordered this book from the library because the second one came out (triple decker novels, how I love you!) and I didn't want to read the reviews of book #2 without reading reviews for book #1, and since I couldn't find the reviews (I didn't look very hard) I just ordered the book instead.

This is what comes of finally getting a library card!

Diana Bishop is the last of her line of witches, descended from the infamous Bridget Bishop, who was executed in the Salem Witch Trials. She's a historian (yay! you get one Tika point, Harkness!) who is interested in alchemy, which means she gets to muck around in old books all the time. At Oxford. Like one does.

And then she meets this vampire

HA HA HA I crack me up. No, not that vampire. Bella never went to college, remember? She's doomed to an eternity of finishing high school because she chose was chosen by was written into the wrong vampire family. My apologies for the Twilight sidebar; here is Alexander Skarsgard holding a cat.

Do you feel better now? I know I do.
Anyway. So Diana meets a vampire who is SOOOOOOOOOOER OLD, you guys. And he falls in love with her (did I even need to say that?) and at first I was all, "if there are vampire/witch sexytimes in this book, I may set myself on fire."

But then 437 pages went by and there was only a little over-the-shirt action even though they were married by like page 230, and I found myself beginning to despair over the LACK of vampire-on-witch sexytimes.

I am nothing if not consistent.

Harkness created a good world, EVEN IF her vampires can go out in the day and don't have fangs.  I begin to suspect she may also be a Student of the Past because the detail, my sweet pie-fillings. the detail! It made my historian heart happy. Wine cellars, antiques, references to super-famous historical figures - they're all there and astonishingly not overdone so good job, author.

In penultimate closing: I liked it and I'mma read the next one (in which there is TIME TRAVEL and KIP MARLOWE so how could I not?).

Oh Rupert. I wish you were mine.
A Discovery of Witches gets 8 out of 11 covens for being pretty damn good indeed, but only 1 out of 4 Delaneys for smut. Up your sleaze game in book 2, Harkness!

And in ultimate closing, I got you this because I still feel bad about Edward up there giving you the side-eye, and because I read approximately a zillion pages waiting to imagine this...

And this!

10 September 2012

The Little Stranger - Part the First

This read-a-long is brought to you by The Estella Society, which is amazing and about which I am very excited. 

I don't read scary stories because I hate being scared. Haaaate it. This irritates the crap out of my brothers, but it's probably their fault since they liked nothing better when we were young than to jump out at me and make me scream like the little girl I was. Horror movies are Right Out; I had to be convinced by at least 3 other people - also avoiders of scary - that Cabin in the Woods (2011) was something I'd like, and even then I took a boy I could clutch in times of distress (I did like it, by the way, despite the boy turning out to be sub-par. You probably would, too).

You know how sometimes you have to revisit things to see if you still hate them? Like Brussels sprouts or fish or chardonnay? This read-a-long is me figuring out whether I still hate scary stories.

And guess what? I STILL DO.

I hate the creeping fear, I hate the gnawing dread, I hate that characters haven't read the blurb on the back of the book so they don't know they're living in a scary story so they do things like go down into the basement or up into the attic or insist on living in a mouldering old wreck of a CLEARLY HAUNTED HOUSE.

So there's this family living in a Clearly Haunted House, and they're Barely Hanging On because it's post-WWII Britain and everyone's still on rationing and the gentry are all a-wail because their parks are being broken up and they have to sell their five zillion horses, boo hoo. And in comes the Good Doctor character, our narrator, who has no premonitions, no precognitions, no nothing! As a good doctor should, but as a Good Scary-Story Narrator should most definitely not. He's a bit of a jerk, really, and I don't much like him. So there.

And shit starts happening and of course the servant figures it out first because servants are the Salt of the Earth and all. But does anyone listen to poor little Betty? NO THEY DO NOT. So I'm laying in bed reading this and getting alternately terrified of finding little black marks on my walls and annoyed with everyone in the book for being so veddy, veddy stiff-upper-lip English and practical.

And also sugar and petrol rationing. 

Sarah Waters, I miss your lesbian sexytimes, but I will finish this because I have to know what (if anything) will happen so I can sleep at night and also I have the palette-cleansing Tipping the Velvet in my TBR pile. It turns out that when you actually go into the stacks at the library instead of just from the door to the hold shelf to the checkout machine, there are other books for you to read!

Technology, you make me lazy.

05 September 2012

The Smoke Thief - Shana Abe

Historical fantasy romance, I'm not sure how I feel about you. I appreciate you for your fluffy, cheerful qualities and your ability to increase my Books Read in 2012 total in short order - it is difficult, as it turns out, to read 350+ pages of Gone with the Wind in one sitting [mostly because of the page/type size but also because hellooo, real plot and dynamic characters and OMG Ashley Wilkes you are all the milksops and milquetoasts for all eternity and that is not a compliment. I am going to print out copies of chapter 31 of GwtW and hand it to prospective lovers to read from now on, and if they identify with even ONE quality you exhibit, then KA-POW!
(in this scenario I am the jumping goat)]
Ahem. Where was I?

Ahh, yes. Historical fantasy romance. We begin with a VERY CRYPTIC story about the original drakon and how they were in tune with gems and some such thing, then they lost everyone (but not everyone?) and this one gem had the biggest draw so the last of the drakon (but not the last, obvs., because this is the prologue) threw it and herself into the deepest darkest mineshaft at the bottom of the deepest, darkest mine so no one would ever get it, ever.

Because that always works.

And then we cut to " the recent past," which is 17mumblemumble* and 12-year-old half-drakon/half human Clarissa falls asleep on the moors and wakes up to see Heir to the Duchy schtupping some chick who (of course) haaaaates Clarissa because she's a mudblood half-breed. Fade to black.

Announcement: Clarissa has been tragically drowned/eaten by wolves/something at the tender age of 17 and no body was ever found. She is definitely dead.

So let's recap:
-Carpathian mountains but no vampires, just big gems and deep mines (there's a metaphor there but I just... can't... reach it...
- All the drakon are dead but jokes! They really moved to England.
- Clarissa is a half-breed and dead.

Oh, and drakon can take human form (duh) but their between drakon/human form is smoke. And when they turn to smoke, they lose all their clothes.

I know, right, Kim? I was shocked - SHOCKED! - too!
There is a WHOLE LOT of coalescing in tight spaces like belfrys and dovecotes and whatnot with no clothes and heaving bosoms and lingering looks. So many nekkid people drakon, you guys.

And then really everything after is just an excuse for the hero to express to the heroine (spoiler: Clarissa isn't dead after all! Also the boat sinks in the end of Titanic.) how much he wants her to be his wife while she unsuccessfully fends him off and then has to nurse him back to health because he got bit by an alligator? I don't even know because - as I mentioned - I read this whole thing in one sitting.

HOWEVER. There are definite pluses to this particular piece of fluffy drek. First, I didn't walk away (or rather, drift off to sleep) feeling like I wanted to strangle the author for turning her heroine into a hole for a man (fine, drakon) to stick his sausage into all willy-nilly. Have a little respect for your gender forchrissakes, lady authors of romance novels! Feminism is still happening! And second, I admire the way she didn't even deign to address how a half-breed turned out to be the Strongest Female of them All. Why bother? Everyone knows that hybridization leads to stronger stock. ALSO, remember way back to the prologue? It had nothing to do with the plot of this book.

So the real question is, will I read the second in the series? Probably, now that I have a local library card** and can throw things on to my hold list at will, and also I want to see whether throwing a ring gem in a deep dark mine ever really kept it from resurfacing. I suspect... not.

5.5 out of 11 rings, my preciousses.

*I'm writing this at work and the book is at home. Thank you, start-up culture, for not blocking Blogger on my computer while I wait for Very Important People to email me back.

**The hardest part about moving was deleting my hold queue in Sacramento. I'd been waiting for some of those books for simply ages! /sigh

01 September 2012

The Classics Club - Everyone in the Pool

The more book blogs I read, the more The Classics Club comes up, and the more I think, "I can do that... I should totally do that." And then I look at other peoples' lists and get all excitable and want to read errrrthing. Except... that's not really true because I am what you call a Book Snob. But I digress.

What I really like is organization and direction. This is why I am excellent at my job: I really like to check things off of lists. And what better list than a book list? Plus, as my friend Tex is always telling me, I'm very buttoned-up and Victorian myself,* and 19th c. Tika would totally have joined a Classics Club. She would also have kept a better diary. You know - for posterity.

And speaking of posterity, I've been talking (via Twitter! @tikabelle) with Rayna over at Libereading about our choices and how it's so hard you guys to get up a classics list that involves an appropriate amount of female/minority authors because if you think your first world problems are bad, consider being Other in an English-speaking country 150 years ago and getting a book published. And then couple that with being Me in 2012 and having a decided preference for giant-foreheaded white male authors with whiskers and you come up with a list that is highly alphabetical but singularly lacking in the wimminz and the non-white people.

  1. Adams, Douglas The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy 1979
  2. Aeschylus The Oresteia 458 BCE
  3. Aristophanes The Frogs 405 BCE
  4. Aristophanes Lysistrata 411 BCE
  5. Atwood, Margaret The Handmaid's Tale 1985
  6. Austen, Jane The Big Six 18**
  7. Barrie, J.M. Peter Pan 1911
  8. Boccaccio, Giovanni The Decameron 1351
  9. Bronte, Anne The Tenant of Wildfell Hall 1848
  10. Bronte, Charlotte Jane Eyre 1847
  11. Browning, Elizabeth Barrett Aurora Leigh 1856
  12. Buck, Pearl S. The Good Earth 1931
  13. Bulgakov, Mikhail The Master and Margarita 1967
  14. Card, Orson Scott Ender's Game 1985
  15. Cervantes, Miguel Don Quixote 1605
  16. Collins, Wilkie Poor Miss Finch 1872
  17. Collins, Wilkie Armadale 1866
  18. Collins, Wilkie Antonina 1850
  19. Dante The Divine Comedy 1321
  20. de Laclos, Pierre Choderlos Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1782
  21. Dickens, Charles Bleak House 1852
  22. Dickens, Charles Pickwick Papers 1837
  23. Dostoyevsky, Fyodor Crime and Punishment 1866
  24. Dostoyevsky, Fyodor The Brothers Karamazov 1880
  25. Dreiser, Theodore Sister Carrie 1900
  26. Eliot, George Middlemarch 1871
  27. Eliot, George Mill on the Floss 1860
  28. Euripedes Medea 431 BCE
  29. Euripedes The Trojan Women 415 BCE
  30. Fitzgerald, F. Scott The Great Gatsby 1925
  31. Flaubert, Gustave Madame Bovary 1857
  32. Forster, E.M. Howard's End 1910
  33. Fowles, John The French Lieutenant's Woman 1969
  34. Galsworthy, John The Forsyte Saga 1921
  35. Gaskell, Elizabeth Wives and Daughters 1865
  36. Gaskell, Elizabeth North and South 1854
  37. Hardy, Thomas Jude the Obscure 1895
  38. Hardy, Thomas The Mayor of Casterbridge 1886
  39. Hardy, Thomas Tess of the D'Urbervilles 1891
  40. Hardy, Thomas Under the Greenwood Tree 1872
  41. Hemingway, Ernest A Moveable Feast 1964
  42. Herbert, Frank Dune 1965
  43. Hugo, Victor Les Miserables 1862
  44. James, Henry Portrait of a Lady 1881
  45. James, Henry The Wings of the Dove 1902
  46. Lawrence, D.H. Lady Chatterly's Lover 1928
  47. Le Guin, Ursula K. A Wizard of Earthsea 1968
  48. Lewis, M.G. The Monk 1796
  49. Lindgren, Astrid Pippi Longstocking 1945
  50. Melville, Henry Moby Dick 1851
  51. Mitford, Nancy The Pursuit of Love 1945
  52. Nabokov, Vladimir Lolita 1955
  53. Naylor, Gloria The Women of Brewster Place 1982
  54. Plath, Sylvia The Bell Jar 1963
  55. Proust, Marcel Swann's Way 1913
  56. Richardson, Samuel Clarissa 1747
  57. Smith, Betty A Tree Grows in Brooklyn 1943
  58. Smith, Zadie On Beauty 2005
  59. Sophocles The Theban Plays 470 BCE
  60. Steinbeck, John Cannery Row 1945
  61. Steinbeck, John The Winter of our Discontent 1961
  62. Steinbeck, John Grapes of Wrath 1939
  63. Steinbeck, John East of Eden 1952
  64. Sterne, Lawrence Tristram Shandy 1767
  65. Tolstoy, Leo Anna Karenina 1877
  66. Tolstoy, Leo War and Peace 1869
  67. Voltaire Candide 1759
  68. Waugh, Evelyn Brideshead, Revisited 1945
  69. Waugh, Evelyn The Complete Stories 2000
  70. Waugh, Evelyn Decline and Fall 1928
  71. Waugh, Evelyn A Handful of Dust 1934
  72. Waugh, Evelyn The Loved One 1948
  73. Wharton, Edith The Custom of the Country 1913
  74. Wharton, Edith Ethan Frome 1911
  75. White, T.H. The Once and Future King 1958
  76. Whitman, Walt Leaves of Grass 1855
  77. Wollstonecraft, Mary A Vindication of the Rights of Woman 1792
  78. Woolf, Virginia To the Lighthouse 1927
  79. Xuequin, Cao The Story of the Stone 1760

That's roughly 38,500 pages worth of classic books - why yes, I did add them all up via spreadsheet, thank you for asking! - and I'll have finished reading them by... let me see... August 31, 2017. BAM!

*I am not certain this is a compliment, but I'm going to assume so as it's almost always followed by, "and then you go and tell me THAT story!"

Edit 9/5 to add various Greeks, Mary Wollstonecraft, Hemingway, and others.