The Door to Time, Pierdomenico Baccalorio

Recommended by: Books and Other Thoughts

One of those books I wish I’d read when I was a kid. I would really have enjoyed this book as a kid. These twins, Jason and Julia (must people’s names match?) move into a great big house on the ocean. Their parents immediately leave, they meet another kid who lives nearby (Rick), and the three of them are plunged into exciting adventures with codes and clues and dark passageways and boats that take them to ancient Egypt.

If I were about ten years younger, I would have – well, probably still not thought this was the best book ever, but I would definitely have read the other ones in the series. Because, you know – plucky kids! Who decipher codes and solve riddles! And Egypt! Lovely Egypt! But as it is, I’m more critical of the writing style, and I want more out of the kids’ interactions with each other, so the book was fine but I can’t be bothered reading the other ones. Too busy reading His Majesty’s Dragon, which I’m enjoying a surprising lot so far.

Story Time, Edward Bloor

Just grabbed this at the library because I had picked up London Calling and I thought, well, hey, if I like that a lot, I’ll want to have another of this author’s books on hand in order to read it, too.  And then when I went to find London Calling in my bag, I guess it was way at the bottom, so I read this one, which was closer to the surface.

It’s about these two kids, George and Kate – George is Kate’s uncle but he’s younger than she is – and due to their great brilliance, they get put in this fancy expensive private school that’s all about regime and standardized tests (lovely).  But it’s sinister!  And they come to realize that there’s all demons in the school possessing people and making them act all crazy.  And George is very, very clever, and Kate is too but she wants to go to her old school and star in the school play.

This is the kind of book that Louis Sachar could pull off, but most people could not.  Including, I’m sad to say, Mr. Bloor.  The plot wasn’t awfully gripping, which was partly because the demons weren’t that scary and neither was the sinister administration, and partly because it (the plot) was on the incoherent side.  It was a bit like Holes in that it was sort of silly but nevertheless creepy, but it didn’t have that same kind of excellent, well-structured plot that Holes had, and plus, again, Edward Bloor is no Louis Sachar.

(I never knew I felt so fond of Louis Sachar.  Object lesson in what an inferior contrast can do for you.)

Here’s what I really didn’t like, though, and here there be spoilers.

All along, the grown-ups are involved in this big cover-up, and the kids (plus the nice grown-ups) are trying to figure out what’s going on, right?  Well, at the end, there’s a big scene in the library, this woman gets dusted (I use the word in its Buffy sense to mean turned all to ash) accidentally, by a machine, no one’s fault, but her skeleton’s still around, and the First Lady, who’s visiting, comes in, gets scared, and shoots the skeleton to pieces.  All of which the kids and nice grown-ups observe, and then the government people come in and say, “That never happened”, which the admin agrees with.  As expected, the kids and nice grown-ups stand up and say “Oh yes it did!” and you know what happens then?

They sell out to the government.  The First Lady’s aide says “I’ll give you all something nice if you sign this affidavit saying that none of this – demons, shooting the skeleton, three corpses – ever happened,” and they all do it!  I mean, they ask for selfless things, like freeing a captive whale and preserving a library as a Historic Landmark, but I really don’t think that makes them any less sell-out-y and dishonest.

I’ll try London Calling, see if it’s any better, and report back.

Kate and Emma, Monica Dickens

Recommended by: Geranium Cat, sort of.  I was actually after The Angel in the Corner, but the library hadn’t got it.  They had a large collection of Charles Dickens books with spines that didn’t say the titles, which I spent lots of time sorting through, but the only Monica Dickens book they had was Kate and Emma.

It’s about a girl called Emma whose father is the judge in children’s court, and this girl Kate whom Emma sees in court one day when she’s a-visiting, and then they become best friends.  But Kate’s life is one of degradation and poverty, and it sucks her back in, and it’s very hard for her and Emma to stay friends because Emma’s all la-dee-dah off having affairs with married men (well, one), and Kate’s off having baby after baby because her idiot husband thinks condoms are silly.

This book was interesting but grim.  The first bits were so friendly and nice, and things were looking up for Kate – which pleased me because I have a surrogate little sister called Kate, of whom I am very fond – but then everything just got more and more sad, and in the end Kate for sure ties up her oldest boy and leaves him on the roof with no food and water, and they only just rescue him in time.

…I liked it better when Kate had a nice foster mother and she and Emma were BFF.  I had to keep taking breaks from the book after that because it was so depressing.  But it was still pretty good.  I will have to read more of Monica Dickens before making a definite decision about her.

The Interloper, Antoine Wilson

Recommended by: an adventure in reading

When I say that this book reminded me of how much I love to read, I don’t want you to take that as too much of a compliment to the book. With that caveat – The Interloper really reminded me of how much I love to read. I went to the library today with a massive big list of books to get, and all the ones I wanted most, they hadn’t got (ain’t it always the way). But this was the one I was most interested to read so I sat down and read it; and when I had to get up and clean the kitchen, I did that thing where you do all the tasks you can do while reading, which takes ages because you are only using one hand and not very much of your brain, and then you have to actually put the book down so you do the other stuff lickety-split with maximum efficiency so you can quickly get back to reading your book.

I will sum up: The protagonist’s wife’s brother was murdered by this guy, Henry Joseph Raven, and the wife, Patty, has been very unhappy ever since then, and the protagonist (Owen – I hate the name Owen) decides to help his wife come to terms with it by getting a sneaky revenge on Raven. He invents this persona, Lily, and writes letters to Raven to make him fall in love with her, and the Plan is that when Raven is totally in love with Lily, Owen will crush him completely by revealing that Lily isn’t real. And instead of that he

SPOILER

finds out Raven’s been lying in all of his letters too and then he (Owen) gets all crazy and winds up killing Raven’s girlfriend in a fit of rage.

/SPOILER

The Interloper is very interesting, and in a way it’s not badly done. Mr. Wilson does a good Unreliable Narrator Guy, with the dropping of the hints and the filtering stuff through crazy eyes. I wanted to know what would happen.

As I typed that just now, I realized that I didn’t read the end of this book. Dude! I didn’t skip to the end! Huh. Turns out I was reading so absorbedly that I actually forgot to read the end. I don’t think that’s ever happened before. Obviously my brain has ceased to function. This is an object lesson in never ever ever getting so attached to cross-stitching and guitar-playing that you cut back drastically on your normal reading habits.

I know! I’m making it sound so good! But here’s the thing (the two things): This book, it was totally creepy. The blog where I read about this book compares it to Lolita, by comparison with which any book would suffer, but Lolita does creepy in way that doesn’t make my flesh crawl – which you’d think pedophilia would, if anything was going to – whereas The Interloper was kinda icky and unpleasant to read.

Plus, there’s this also, if you are not a person who is phased by creepy: The whole plot was just entirely unbelievable. Really. And you are getting this verdict from a girl who 1) is entirely conversant with Crazy as she has two therapist parents; and 2) has a deep knowledge of the power of talking the talk until you are walking the walk. One time, my driver’s ed teacher was awful and made me cry and I feared and hated driving and then I started saying “I love driving! Driving is my favorite thing in the world! Driving is amazing and wonderful!” until I really felt that way and now I love driving so, so, so much. (This is a victory story as far as I’m concerned, but I told it to my ex one time and he seemed very perturbed by it.) But in spite of my experiences with crazy and brainwashing, I still found this completely silly.

I don’t even know what categories to file this under. Hmph.

Shadows Return, Lynn Flewelling

My amazing sister went and bought me a copy of this before it was supposed to come out (which was today, I guess).  Foolish Books-a-Million (not my bookstore chain of choice) put it on the shelves before its release date, and brilliant Anna bought us each a copy.  Joy!

Darling Alec, darling Seregil, I support their relationship so much!  They are so much more satisfying than Ki and Tamar turned out to be (although I strongly supported that relationship also)!  And now they’ve – um.  You know.  Returned.  As the title may have implied to you.

What had happened was: They’re back in Rhiminee, doing all petty thieving, and then, omg, the Nasty Army Chick Queen sends them on a mission to fetch her little sister away from Aurenen, and while they’re off trying to accomplish the mission they are totally kidnapped!  And separated!  And sold into slavery!  Because a very, very wicked man wants Alec’s blood because of how he’s half Hazadrielfaie, and he makes a creepy thing with Alec’s blood, and meanwhile Seregil’s old! wicked! treacherous! lover comes back and is a great big poop to Seregil.

Yes, since you ask, I was looking forward to this more than I realized.  I was enchanted to have Seregil’s old!wicked!treacherous! lover showing up at last, though I would be happier if he seemed in any way lovable (right, right, the younger guy’s flattered by the older dude’s attentions, na na na, but does he have any pleasant qualities at all, ever?), and I was very pleased that people are finally interested in Alec’s creepy ‘faie tribe.  Lynn Flewelling’s been such a tease about that up until now.  People would bring it up, and I’d be like YES LORD WE ARE GOING TO TALK ABOUT IT, and then they’d veer away from the subject, and it was exactly like Cold Comfort Farm at the end when Aunt Ada’s talking with Flora and then she turns around to answer an question about cows.  So I was glad that we’re having some serious focus on that.

I read this book in about an hour and a half.  I actually was having serious difficulty putting it down.  Every time I had to put it down, I felt like I was peeling my eyeballs off the page.  (You’re very welcome; I’m glad I could share that delightful image with you.)  And then I finished it and I felt really sad because it’s going to be another several months before more books come out that are nothing but total pleasure and joy.  I should have read it more slowly and enjoyed it more thoroughly.  Like when I was reading one issue of Sandman a day (until I got too suspensey in the middle of A Game of You and totally abandoned the whole one-a-day scheme).

My one major complaint was that there was not enough chicanery.  I like Seregil because of all the mad chicanery he carries on.  Chicanery!  Also, it’s a nice word.  But this book was not big on the chicanery.  Everyone escaped in the end, but they weren’t doing a bunch of sneaky clever cunning things.

Oh, and I just want to say, for the record, Thero and Klia?  No.  That’s a big fat sack of – NO.  I vote NO to that relationship.  I have it on record and I will not back down, just like that time I said I forever hated Ben on Felicity and the writers would never ever be able to make me like Ben better than Noel with the cute eyebrow tic.  (Er, but then they did.)

Giles Goat-Boy, John Barth

This book and I got off to a rocky start. Last time I was at the library, I picked up a bunch of books that I thought might be good, by authors who are all those weird fantasy realists and postmodern and metafictiony. I got the rest of Salman Rushdie’s books that I haven’t read – except, annoyingly enough, The Satanic Verses, which is the one I wanted to read first because I was pretty sure I was going to like it the least – and I got several books by Italo Calvino, and I got Giles Goat-Boy by John Barth. (And Invitation to a Beheading, which is neither here nor there.) So I asked my sister what I wanted to read, The Baron in the Trees or Shalimar the Clown or Giles Goat-Boy, and she thought Giles Goat-Boy was a sweet little children’s story so she said to read that one so I did.

I mean, I don’t know if you know this, but it’s about a kid who’s raised as a goat, and the university is the universe; so there you have the central conceits. There are a lot of things like the Second Campus Riot and then the west side of campus and the east side of campus had the Quiet Riot and like – okay, whatever, I will admit that the long segment of world history refigured for a university became a little trying (I guess if I’d thought it was funny, it might have been better), and the I-am-a-goat bits irritated me. I kept having to put the book down and have a brief silent soliloquoy about Why, why, why, why? which is how I sometimes feel about postmodern things. This book is damn weird, and I didn’t like it at all, so I set myself a goal: Read until chapter four of the second section, and then you can quit. After I decided that, I had a dream in which I was in jail for something, and they took us on a field trip to the bookshop, but they wouldn’t let me look at any of the good books. I could only look at the lame books. And inside my head I was thinking I will not let them break my spirit!

I was very, very close to abandoning the entire enterprise. But I sensibly consulted The Internet, and The Internet assured me that I was quite right. Giles Goat-Boy does get off to a weird start, and the university-history thing is dated and weird. The Internet also told me that The Sot-Weed Factor might be more my thing, and that John Barth, in spite of all his weirdness, does some damn good storytelling. And I am all about plot. I know a lot of people just rejoice in the joyous joys of writing, and I do too, but honestly, if there’s not a good plot there, and if it’s not being advanced well, it’s just no good. That was why (I know it’s not the generally-held opinion) I like The Ground Beneath Her Feet so much better than Midnight’s Children, which was a very cool idea and a beautifully written book but sort of carried the plot along in fits and starts. Whereas The Ground Beneath Her Feet goes steadily along, with things happening – love story, goats, photography, and all the rest and so forth.

I really was determined to get to my chapter-four cutoff point, and the thing is, I just didn’t do it. After a while I tipped it off my bedside table in my sleep, and then I read Ender’s Shadow and Ender’s Game, and then I obtained from another library branch The Satanic Verses and read that, and then I wanted to read Walk Two Moons which I always see all over my house so I looked and looked and I couldn’t find it so instead of that I read Chasing Redbird and then I hunted for Walk Two Moons some more and the damn book was nowhere but I did find Back Home, which I’d been frantically hunting for after I read Good Night, Mr. Tom earlier this month, so I read that, and then my mother got Understanding the Borderline Mother, which my family’s been dying to read because we love reading about BPD, on PaperbackSwap, and I was halfway through that and I realized that there is just no part of me that even remotely wants to read Giles Goat-Boy.

So I stopped trying.

Oh well.

The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie

I heard about this from um. You know. Everywhere.

Before I went to England, I went to the bookstore to pick out three books for myself. They were leaving-home presents to myself, and I was going to read one of them before leaving America, and one of them on the plane to England, and one of them right before I left England. So I got a stack of several books, and I was going to decide which I wanted to buy. I sat down on the chair and read the beginnings of all of them, and The Satanic Verses was one of the ones I discarded.

You know what I bought instead? A Hundred Years of Solitude. It starts out really well and I hated it so, so much when I read the whole thing. I disliked it so much that after reading it on trains to and from Cambridge in the week before I left England, I took it to a thrift store in England and I left it there. I didn’t even care enough to bring it home. That’s true.

Anyway, now I really wish I’d brought The Satanic Verses instead. I’ve been so convinced that I was going to hate it that I’ve been refusing to read it, but I finally decided to straighten up and fly right. So voila, I finished reading it last night.

Totally, totally liked it. Not as much as The Ground Beneath Her Feet – i.e., I might reread it but I’ll probably never buy it – but I liked it a lot. It’s about these two guys who fall out of an airplane and they somehow miraculously survive because one of them flaps his arms and they sing and sing, and when they get back to regular life, one of them starts to turn into an angel and the other one into a devil.

Quite interesting. Many, many things happened. Very many exciting plot things. Gibreel’s girlfriend was called Alleluia, and Allie for short, which charmed me. And I felt so happy at the end when Saladin got his proper name back and made up with his father and everyone was friends. I felt so, so happy. I felt just like I felt towards the end of Breakfast on Pluto. And oh, I liked it the nasty revenge that Saladin got on Gibreel, even though it was very wicked and poor Allie didn’t deserve it.

And not to be a jerk, and I don’t in any way think that Salman Rushdie should’ve had a fatwa out on him because that is totally ridiculous, but I can kinda see Ayatollah Khomeini’s point, dude. (But not really.) Because it’s not just about the verses, although that would be upsetting if it were true (apparently it’s apocryphal, you will rejoice to learn), it’s about how that book is for serious not very nice about Muhammed. If I were Muslim and I loved the Muhammed more than my luggage because he’s the Prophet of Allah, this book would sort of hurt my feelings. Actually, even with me not being one tiny bit Muslim, this book made me a little sad how it portrayed Muhammed.

However, Salman Rushdie can write what he damn well wants, and it is just the silliest thing ever that he spent years and years in hiding with security people just because he wrote a book that wasn’t very nice about the Prophet.

The end.

Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow, by Orson Scott Card

The public librarian recommended Ender’s Game to my eighth-grade class, lo these many years ago, and from there I read just about all of Orson Scott Card’s books except the ones I thought looked lame.  And including several I thought wouldn’t be lame but were, after all.

Just reread these two.  I also recently reread Xenocide and Speaker for the Dead and Children of the Mind, and I guess it’s because I most recently read Children of the Mind that I felt like I never wanted to read anything by Orson Scott Card ever again as long as I lived and even if I died and dead people brought me books in the graveyard and the only book I had at all was Speaker for the Dead still even then I would reject it totally and just lie all dead and read nothing whatsoever.

Yeah, that was weird.  But the feeling passed, and I reread Ender’s Shadow first and then Ender’s Game.  And I was really struck by how much more I liked Ender’s Game than a) I remembered and b) Ender’s Shadow.  Really.  It’s a pretty good book.

However, reading all this Orson Scott Card has made me realize how dreadfully smug and self-righteous everybody is.  They really are.  All the characters are, they all are, not a single one of them isn’t.  They just all think they’re totally right and they say many smug and self-righteous things in defense of their positions.  I thought that the reason I didn’t ever want to read OSC again was that I had just overdosed on his books, but I think now it was overdosing on smugness and self-righteousness.

Which is funny because those are two qualities I possess in spades.

This isn’t much of a review.  I’ll go again.

Basically, the humans are under attack by these aliens they call buggers (or formics sometimes), and the most brilliant children of all the children are being recruited to learn to be commanders so that they can fight the buggers off, and the most brilliant child of all the children is Ender.  (Except in Ender’s Shadow it turns out that the most brilliant child of all the children is actually its protagonist, Bean.)  And because Ender is so brilliant, they are grooming him to command the entire space army that will destroy the buggers, and his life’s really unhappy in learning-to-defeat-aliens school.

It’s good.  I don’t mean to put anyone off by saying that all the characters are smug.  They’re still fun to read about, because you know, a lot of times you have a good idea but when people say snide things about it, you can’t immediately think of the clever thing to say to prove what a good idea your idea is; but the characters in these books?  They can always think of the clever thing to say to prove what good ideas their ideas are.

Then We Came to the End, Joshua Ferris

You may have heard of this because everyone got really excited about it and wrote about it on their book blogs a while ago, but I didn’t read it until now because that’s when it got in at the library.  It’s about an ad agency at the end of that dot-com bubble thing that happened when I was young and foolish and paying no attention to anything except, you know, learning geometry proofs and swearing to one and all that I would never give myself to anyone but Carl Anderson (my first love).  Isn’t he sexy? (Even though the picture’s very tiny?)  …Don’t feel bad if you think he’s not, because hardly anyone but me and Indie Sister think that he is, but oh how we loved him.

Anyway, this book was cool and interesting and funny.  And it rings true, the way people think in an office.  Worrying about racism and sexism and being jerks, and the way some people just have these crazy-ass ideas that you have to step around if you can, and how everyone thinks they know stuff about everyone else.  I liked it that he went for more than the funny, because he was doing well with being funny and it would have been easy to stick with that black humor thing all the way through – which he did, in a way, but then also there were.  You know.  Levels.

However, it was still a little gimmicky.  I mean, as gimmicks go, this works well, this first-person plural thing.  I totally get what he was after, making a statement about offices, hive-mind, corporate America, na na na na na na, and it’s cool and I dig it.  And I know you can’t separate the narrative style from the book without gutting it completely, but I just sort of wondered how effective and interesting his writing would be without it.  Again, definitely a very cool idea, but he’s skirting the edge of being Don DeLillo Lite, and I just wonder whether he’s only avoided it by being Gimmick Guy.  I’ll be interested to see what he writes next.

…I’m sure he’ll write another book that will be just as cool and have no gimmick and prove me completely wrong.  That would be nice.  I may be being unfairly harsh to Mr. Ferris because I read an interview with him it turns out he likes all these authors I assiduously avoid but still end up reading bits of: Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon, Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, Chekhov, Kafka.  Those dudes.  Nabokov is the only author that Mr. Ferris likes that I like too, and that means nothing because all kinds of people like Nabokov.  I bet he likes Philip Roth and Anthony Burgess and Kurt Vonnegut too.  Oo, and like Cormac McCarthy and Tim O’Brien and John Kennedy O’Toole.

Added later: Dude, this is freaky.  I went looking for interviews with Joshua Ferris, and seriously, the man likes ALL of those writers.  There were two he didn’t mention, Anthony Burgess and John Kennedy O’Toole, but I bet he just forgot about them.  I’m about to write him a letter and ask him if he likes Anthony Burgess and John Kennedy O’Toole.  I bet he does.  I bet he does like them.

Er

I just realized I haven’t posted here in like ten years. Oops. It’s not because I suddenly ceased to read; it’s because I had exams and graduation. But now I’m a college graduate with a degree! A useful degree! And a shiny gold medal (but it’s not real gold, and I know because I bit it)!

But I have been reading. I’m trying to remember what I’ve been reading, and here is what I came up with, and I’m posting in brief:

Fallen, David Maine – mainly research for a story I’m writing, and I found this book unremarkable. It starts with Cain at the end of his life and works backward, back and back and back, all the way to Adam and Eve and their Eden situation. Kind of blah, though I liked this line:

For long disorienting moments Cain hovered outside his body, calmly looking down from above at two young men tussling at the edge of a cliff. Then one of them became a murderer and the other one died.

Otherwise, I could have lived contentedly without it. Just not that interesting. Oh well.

The Diary of Adam and Eve, by Mark Twain – made me smile. Not really a book, just a collection of individually published pieces, most of which were quite delightful. Mark Twain. God bless him.

A graphic novel whose name I just can’t even remotely remember right now. Um, that’s very annoying. I quite liked it, even though it was on the predictable side and the writing as writing didn’t touch Neil Gaiman, to whom I compare all graphic novels everywhere (very unfair). It was all about a guy who lost his soul and this girl Laurel was his guide taking him on a walking quest to get his soul back, and if they didn’t get it by the end of the year, he would turn into an evil green dude. That’s so strange because I Just finished it last night and I am so chagrined to find that I can’t remember the name of the author or the book. Damn.

Midnight Nation.  That’s what it was.  Midnight Nation and the author was J. Michael Straczynski – and to be fair to me, that is a name that is very hard to remember.

Affinity, Sarah Waters – Couldn’t finish it! Of all things! I just got totally bored and returned it to the library. Very out of character. I don’t even know who I am anymore.

So that’s the four I can think of right now. I will update again when I remember what else I have been reading. I guess I’ve been doing some rereading activities, and then of course I’ve been very busy with exams and finishing watching Angel (of which I now own all seasons but the last, and I do own all the seasons of Buffy, and oh what a happy birthday girl I was when that happened).