Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer

God knows I quote:

“Isabella.”  He pronounced my full name carefully, then playfully ruffled my hair with his free hand [when I think vampires, I think of playful hair-ruffling…you?].  A shock ran through my body at his casual touch.  [Of course it did.]  “Bella, I couldn’t live with myself if I ever hurt you.  You don’t know how it’s tortured me.”  He looked down, ashamed again.  “The thought of you, still, white, cold…to never see you blush scarlet again, to never see that flash of intuition in your eyes when you see through my pretenses [I love that he’s so full of shit that after hanging out with her for maybe three weeks tops he’s already fallen in love with the way she looks when she figures out he’s full of shit]…it would be unendurable.”  He lifted his glorious, agonized eyes to mine.  “You are the most important thing to me now.  The most important thing to me ever.”

But don’t worry.  He talks like that because he’s from the Olden Days.  That’s how they talked back then.

I’ve heard about this book from so many different places I can’t even remember them anymore. I knew it was going to be trashy when I checked it out. I could tell. Vampire books are not necessarily trashy, but they often are, and if fangs weren’t so sexy and if vampires weren’t so elegant, the whole vampire books thing would have ended ages ago because they are mostly so extremely trashy.

(Robin McKinley’s Sunshine being an exception. I loved Sunshine. Her best since Beauty, also not trashy.)

Well, anyway, it is very easy to see why Twilight is so popular. Youngish teenage girls love vampires. Fangs are sexy. Vampire dudes are elegant and dangerous. Stephenie Meyer is tapping into this in a big way. Edward Cullen, the vampire dude, is constantly being all “I love you more than my luggage, Bella dearest darling, but if you slip me any tongue while we’re kissing I will have to kill you and suck your blood”. And, you know, who wouldn’t want that?

(Vampires aren’t a very subtle metaphor for sex = death, are they?)

I’m kind of embarrassed by reading this book. When the sequels come in at the library, I’m going to have to check out several other quite-intellectual-looking books to keep the librarians from judging me, especially this one guy who always makes snide comments about everything I’m checking out but he can’t say anything if I have Twilight and then, like, War and Peace and And the Band Played On (not really, I own it) and What Fresh Hell Is This: A Biography of Dorothy Parker and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and…er, some other stuff that clever people might read.

It’s not awfully well-written, or awfully original. It’s just that people cannot resist that whole Will he kiss her or kill her thing. At all. Ever. Even if the guy is sort of creepy. And girls can’t resist vampires. Sexy. Dangerous. Elegant. (Especially elegant, in my case.) Even when they know as I do that these vampire books are silly and trashy, and Bella is ridiculous for being all, “Oh I love you so much and I’m so sure about it that I want to commit to you for all eternity even though I’m only seventeen and I’ve never had a boyfriend before”, and Edward is ridiculous for being all “If I truly loved you I would leave but I can’t because I’m so violently attracted to you and I’m so sexy that I make you faint merely by kissing you”, even then, people – and by people I mean me – cannot resist checking out both sequels as soon as possible.

But that doesn’t mean it’s a good book.

My mum always says this kind of thing – I felt vaguely the same about The Da Vinci Code, which is gripping but not that good a book – begs the question of what a “good book” is. Like, how is it a bad book if it intrigues you so much that you can’t put it down even though you know you want to go to bed early because tomorrow is your only day of the week to sleep late and your roommate is absolutely without question going to wake you up in the morning singing songs and talking on her cell phone? (says my mother) But I don’t think this is right because one only carries on reading out of curiosity about what will happen to the characters, which is the same reason people including her and me get hooked on soap operas, and if there is one thing we can say for sure it is that soap operas are rubbish and not quality television even though they are sometimes addictive.

So.

Edit to add: I just want to be clear here.  I can’t stand these damn books.  When I originally read Twilight, I had no idea of the mad culty Edward-is-perfect business going on across our great nation. The books are enjoyable (for how silly they are!) only insofar as nobody ever takes them seriously or thinks that Edward and Bella have anything approaching a functional relationship.  When people think that Edward and Bella have the perfect relationship, or thinking that Edward is perfect, then I have a problem.  A specific, angry problem with Stephenie Meyer writing a story about an emotionally abusive relationship and portraying it as romantic.  Like girls aren’t receiving that message enough.  He’s not romantic.  He’s a stalker.

Little Boy Lost, by Marghanita Laski

Recommended by: imani, more or less. Or rather, she mentioned The Victorian Chaise-Longue, also by Marghanita Laski, and I picked up Little Boy Lost at the library at the same time. So “recommended” is actually a pretty big stretch on this, but whatever.

For a while I was convinced that this book had to be in translation. It just had these weird bits that you get when you are reading books in translation, and the author’s name is unusual and might quite easily have been foreign; and anyway I was all set to write this review and say I hate reading books in translation.

Which is absolutely true, and probably the reason I have never got on well with Gabriel Garcia Marquez or any Russian writers ever (not counting Nabokov who wrote in English and I claim him as an American writer).

Instead I guess I have to say that Little Boy Lost just baffled me. It’s about an Englishman called Hilary whose Polish wife Lisa died at the hands of the Nazis, and whose son, who was with Lisa until shortly before the Gestapo got her, is missing. And might be dead. Or might not. During the war, Lisa’s friend’s husband Pierre is in France trying to find the kid, and at the end of the war Hilary comes to France to check how it’s going and go meet the only kid it could possibly be. And it’s very weird because one moment he’s all in total agony about everything, and the next moment he’s like, Whatevs, glad you’re handling that tracking-the-kid-down thing, and just let me know what you find out. Or one moment he’s bitter and miserable and thinks that finding his son is his only chance for happiness, and then two pages later it’ll be this:

He added with a kind of delight, “It’s a splendidly romantic place to begin a search from.”

And okay, officially I can excuse this in a lot of different ways. Like: Losing a kid is very baffling, and a lot of time has gone by, and he doesn’t know what to feel. Or: You can’t be in total agony all the time and you might as well take pleasure where you can like in how romantic a place is.

But I’m sorry. He sounds like Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane having fun tracking down the murderer in Have His Carcase, which is officially Very Serious Business but is not infrequently just an excuse for them to enjoy themselves and be silly and humorously appreciate the drama of the situation. And that’s what Hilary sounds like he’s doing here, although actually he’s looking for his kid. He carries on being silly for another minute or two and then back he goes into misery, without seeming to notice that his mood changed at all.

(Sidebar: Audrey Niffenegger says that Henry and Clare were based on Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane. I just can hardly imagine two people less like Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, which I’m sure is partly due to the characters’ developing a great deal during the writing process but is also indicative of how amazingly differently people read. John Tregarth and Peter Wimsey is a fair enough connection, but Henry DeTamble and Peter Wimsey, I can’t see it.)

What was good – excellent, actually – about this book were the interactions between Hilary and the little orphanage boy who might or might not be his son. These bits of the book were tense and interesting and moving, and if they hadn’t been there I would have gone straight to the end, discovered what was going to happen, and chucked the book down without finishing it, because the rest of the bits (mostly) were not interesting at all. I think this is because Hilary never really settles into a clear character and that made it difficult to care much what happened to him. Jean, the little boy, is a real boy, and that, I believe, is why the bits with him come off gorgeously.

SPOILER

BIG ONE

The other thing I didn’t like was that Hilary decides at the end that he can love this boy as a son even though he isn’t sure it’s his son, and then when he’s going back to the orphanage to fetch him, Jean says something that makes it entirely clear he’s the right kid. I think ambiguity would have been better, to have Jean say something that suggests he’s remembering something about his life before the orphanage that indicates he’s Hilary’s son, but still leave the reader in some doubt.

Nonetheless I enjoyed Little Boy Lost, and I can easily see picking it up again sometime. At the library. I wouldn’t buy it, unless, I suppose, I had a massive library and lots of money to buy books just on the strength of feeling that I might possibly someday want to read them again maybe.

OMG SIZZLING GYPSIES

Or, I didn’t know the third Libba Bray book was out already!

Actually, ultimately, I am not that huge a fan of these books.  They entertain me but I can’t remember a single character’s name except Gemma.  I can’t even remember the sexy gypsy boy’s name, just that Gemma was having Totally Shocking Dreams about him the likes of which no nice Victorian girl would repeat to a biographer.  So basically I am not going to live or die by what happens in The Sweet Far Thing (not sure about this title), but I will be chagrined if the sexy gypsy and Gemma don’t hook up in the end.

Er, I am not shallow.  I do not require happy tidy romantic endings to all of my books.  I was really, really glad that I Capture the Castle ended the way it did.  I was!  And the same for I’m sure many other books and films where the two characters who were having sexual tension did not get together and live happily ever after, but I’m just having a hard time thinking of them right now.   All I can think of is things that caused me chagrin, like how Tashi went insane after the end of The Color Purple and Adam had an affair.  (Poo.)

Well, this steaming rollercoaster of a novel with some sizzling gypsies thrown in will have to wait, because my library isn’t letting us put holds on it yet on account of its being so new.  Perhaps I will pay a visit to Barnes & Noble and read it there.  Under plain covers.  Also (I blush to confess it) The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants fourth book, which I actually don’t think is a very good series but I am curious about what happens.  If only one could depend on not seeing anyone one knows.

(Just looked it up on Wikipedia – the Way, the Truth, and the Light, verily I say unto ye – and apparently what happens is sex.  Sex, sex, sex.  I don’t think these girls are the role models they should be.  I am shocked, shocked, at their behavior, and I don’t think the author should be propagating nasty myths like about young girls not even in their twenties having extramarital sex.  Unless they are Victorian girls with massive crushes on sexy gypsy boys.)

East, by Edith Pattou

Recommended by: http://melissasbookreviews.blogspot.com/

I say definitely yes to this.  If I had read it when I was small, it would have become one of my favorite books and I would have read it over and over again.  As it is, I liked it but I probably wouldn’t buy it.

Basically it’s a retelling of “East of the Sun and West of the Moon”, which is not my favorite fairy tale at all because the girl is such a silly brat.  I always think of Fire and Hemlock (ah, Fire and Hemlock), because Polly had a rather scathing view of the girl even though, of course, the girl was Polly.  As it were.  But this is quite good.  The girl Rose goes away with the white bear in exchange for having her sister cured of a sickness, and they hang out in his weird domicile where she has lots of books to read.  I would say that East owes a lot to Robin McKinley’s Beauty, which is why I’m not buying it, because I can just read Beauty, which is superb.

That said, I enjoyed the book a lot.  I suppose the idea of “east-born”, “north-born”, etc., seems a little forced and gimmicky, when you think about it, but when I was reading I didn’t feel that way at all.  I thought it was cool.  Quite nicely fleshed-out relationships also.  And a not-unsympathetic villain, which I support as well.  Good times.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by C.S. Lewis

I have argued with myself long and hard before giving this a “favored authors” category, because actually I don’t like C.S. Lewis as a person. I do not favor him at all. I think he was a bit of a sexist jerk, and the reason I don’t read the Chronicles of Narnia more often is that I think C.S. Lewis is a jerk and I’m always saying to myself, Well why would I want to read the books of such a jerk? And then, of course, since I’ve been reading the Narnia books since I was three (I mean, I was read to at that point), I do fairly inevitably pick them up again, and then I’m reminded of how much I completely love those books.

I reread Dawn Treader on the way to Atlanta, mainly because I was trying to decide what bits would have to be cut for the film (the slave trade bits, I decided – it’s a good part of the book but you don’t absolutely need it, and it would take up lots of time), and I just loved it. It’s not my favorite (I like The Horse and His Boy), but it is a mighty good book. I have always felt a little sad about Eustace being really a metaphor for St. Paul (I cheer myself up by assuring myself that, redemption being a common theme in literature, Eustace is not so much a retelling of St. Paul so much as an archetype), but still, the book is wonderful. I love best the Dufflepuds and Reepicheep wanting to take on a dragon singlehanded and playing chess as if he were the chess pieces doing bold and valiant things, and the dark island is very cool and haunting.

I suppose if I wanted to be critical, I might say that the episodic nature of the book makes things a little jerky, and it does to some extent, but I don’t think it’s a big deal, and mostly everything works out beautifully. It’s episodic, but the episodes are excellent.

I also have to say here that I reread Matilda at my grandmother’s house, and you know, Matilda says that she loves C.S. Lewis “but he has one failing. There are no funny bits in his books”, which Miss Honey agrees with. I mean – well, I can only conclude that Roald Dahl hadn’t read all of the Chronicles of Narnia, because he could never have said that if he had. Honestly, I don’t see how any living person could fail to think Lazaraleen, for instance, was funny (I can still hear my mother’s voice in my head reading Lazaraleen), and there’s just no way that the Dufflepuds aren’t funny. I was reading this book on the way back from my grandfather’s funeral, and I was so tired I was hardly functional and I kept forgetting words like “impressed”, and still the Dufflepuds made me laugh so hard I cried. Particularly this bit, which contains (I’ve helpfully bolded it) what may be my favorite line in all of literature:

“And we’re extremely regrettable,” said the Chief Monopod, “that we can’t give you the pleasure of seeing us as we were before we were uglified, for you wouldn’t believe the difference, and that’s the truth, for there’s no denying we’re mortal ugly now, so we won’t deceive you.”

“Eh, that we are, Chief, that we are,” echoed the others, bouncing like so many toy balloons. “You’ve said it, you’ve said it.”

“But I don’t think you are at all,” said Lucy, shouting to make herself heard. “I think you look very nice.”

“Hear her, hear her,” said the Monopods. “True for you, Missie. Very nice we look. Couldn’t find a handsomer lot.” They said this without any surprise and did not seem to notice that they had changed their minds.

“She’s a-saying,” remarked the Chief Monopod, “as how we looked very nice before we were uglified.”

“True for you, Chief, true for you,” chanted the others. “That’s what she says. We heard her ourselves.”

“I did not,” bawled Lucy. “I said you’re very nice now.”

“So she did, so she did,” said the Chief Monopod, “said we was very nice then.”

“Hear ’em both, hear ’em both,” said the Monopods. “There’s a pair for you. Always right. They couldn’t have put it better.”

“But we’re saying just the opposite,” said Lucy, stamping her foot with impatience.

“So you are, to be sure, so you are,” said the Monopods. “Nothing like an opposite. Keep it up, both of you.”

“You’re enough to drive anyone mad,” said Lucy, and gave it up.

Hahahahaha. That is comic genius. Matilda is absurd, and so is Miss Honey, even though she has my same name and actually I love her and Matilda both, so I’m going to go ahead and blame this on Roald Dahl instead.

C.S. Lewis and his lovely clear prose. I am appreciating it more and more as I get older and read people like Judith Butler (for God’s sake). Clear prose. That’s what we all need. Nice, clear prose. What are they teaching in these schools anyway?

Airborn, by Kenneth Oppel

Recommended by: http://poodlerat.bellonae.com

Aw, this book was cute.  I liked it.  There were some things about it that could have been improved, but it was a quite endearing story.  It’s set in an alternate Victorian universe where everyone flies about on tremendous flying machines that run on a particular kind of gas; the main character is this kid Matt Cruse who flies on a passenger airship for a living, having lost his father, also an airship crewman.  He meets a high-spirited girl called Kate who is on a hunt for these flying cloud creatures that her now-dead grandfather always wanted to discover, and they get up to all kinds of hijinks.   And there are pirates.

Of course the sky pirate thing has been done to perfection by the film of Stardust, and after that any other sky pirates are just not quite the same, much like all other pirate movies aren’t ever going to touch the first Pirates of the Caribbean because it was perfect and contained all the perfect things you need for a perfect pirate movie (including, it turns out, and I don’t know how anyone could have predicted that this was necessary, Geoffrey Rush.  Apparently it’s just no go making a pirate movie without Geoffrey Rush).  But I digress.

I wouldn’t say it’s a great book, but it’s a pleasant one, and I thoroughly enjoyed it and stayed up late to finish it.  The cloud cats were very cool, and the ship people were entertaining and amusing.

Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen

Heard about this because it was one of those books that is always on front shelves at Bongs & Noodles.

I know it is contradictory to say that I enjoyed this and then file it as an unfavorite, but it’s true. I enjoyed it in that I carried on reading it all the way to the end, so I guess something about it must have been interesting and absorbingish. Basically, the story is narrated by an old man who is slipping in and out of the present into his past, when he worked as a circus vet in the Depression. (I don’t like the Depression. I know that everybody didn’t like the Depression, but I just want to go on record as disliking it.) There is an elephant and an crabby midget and a pretty girl and some crazy people. I love circuses (in theory – I have never actually been to one). I really wanted to like this book. I really really did. I’m not just saying that.

It’s just – I didn’t give a shit what happened to anyone. The guy’s two best friends get killed by the crazy circus people, and I just didn’t care at all. I didn’t care if the elephant got killed; I didn’t care if the chick stayed with her crazy-ass husband or ran off with the narrator; I didn’t care about anything that happened to anyone, ever. And you know, that isn’t really the mark of a great novel.

The concept was interesting, a Depression-era train circus and its wild and wacky adventures, but it wasn’t worked out at all well. The transitions between the bits with the old guy in the nursing home and the bits of his past that he remembers are really, really not smooth (mostly), which has led me to believe I can (and will!) do better with such a frame. There was a very unfortunate combination in this bookydook of excitable prose and unbelievable relationships (I don’t know if that’s the right adjective, but my point is that there was nothing the least bit realistic or moving about these relationships), which gave the novel a feeling of fantasy rather than history. In a way that might be a good thing, but because it was a historical novel, it made the history bits sound made-up, and everyone worked together in a painful congruence to make this book seem childish and very unfinished. Which is a shame, because I think there is a fascinating book in there somewhere, and I have no doubt that the truth about Depression-era circuses is most riveting.

Pooh.

Purple Hibiscus, by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie

Recommended by: http://poodlerat.bellonae.com

I totally love this woman’s name. Her book was sad. All about a controlling abusive Catholic Nigerian (what a string of adjectives) father and his wife and two children; the young girl narrates the story. That’s it, really. I wish I had more to say about this book. I enjoyed it a lot, but it was very very sad. And also melancholy. Ms. Adichie is good at evoking a mood. However, this book was very very sad and never will I ever read it again although I enjoyed it. It’s a fast read – I read it during a short break from Forever Amber when we were camping– so don’t avoid it because you fear hours and hours of misery.

Forever Amber, by Kathleen Winsor

Heard about in: Die for Love, by Elizabeth Peters

Apparently this book got edited down to one-fifth of its original length, for which I can only say praise God (though it must be thrilling for Forever Amber scholars to get their hands on the original manuscript, if it still exists). I cannot imagine how she could have gotten four times that much again into the silly book. Amber gets married FOUR TIMES over the course of the book and has lots of silly affairs and moans a lot about how her true love Bruce Carlton thinks she’s too trashy for him which is a bit rich I think considering that he’s sleeping around as much as she is and repeatedly shows himself incapable of resisting her trashy charms. However, I would not marry her either because a) I would not want to catch a nasty disease; and b) she is damn annoying and although he keeps assuring her he will never, never, never marry her, she still keeps bursting into tears and smacking him in the face every time the subject comes up.

In case this all sounds like I didn’t enjoy Forever Amber, let me just assure you, that is completely not the case. I read it on Saturday from start to finish, with a short break in between to read Purple Hibiscus (better quality novel but sad) and frequent pauses to update my family on Amber’s latest doings, and it was most absorbing. My family members kept asking me what she was up to if I didn’t let them know with a promptness, and towards the end Indie Sister and I were sitting on one of the couches reading the last few pages over each other’s shoulders (starting with the naked dress, the details of which I was not explaining to Indie Sister with adequate eloquence, and going on until she sails off at the end).

Just to give you an idea of how this book goes, I was explaining to my cousin and my mother how Amber had run away from her tedious rural life with her true love Bruce Carlton and how she had gotten pregnant and married (not to her true love) and dumped in the debtor’s prison and placed under the protection of Black Jack the Highwayman who made her help with his heists and was never very much use at paying off her debts, and my cousin said, “That can’t all have happened! You’re not even a quarter of the way through the book!”

I was, but it did.

Apparently this was written by an American (or Canadian?) lady during World War II, and apparently it got banned in several states and the Catholic Church had some severe things to say about it; and because it is an old and classic and genre-creating historical romance, and because actually it is not badly written (the descriptions of Amber’s clothes are yummy), I feel justified in assuring myself that I am not in fact a trashy-romance-novel-reader, but an Ardent Lover of the Classics.

P.S. My grandmother remembers when this book came out. She didn’t read it because it was too scandalous and she was a good Catholic girl (having embraced the one true faith).

The Trick is to Keep Breathing

by Janice Galloway

I guess I wasn’t the target audience, but damn, this book just never went anywhere, for God’s sake. It’s about a Scottish woman, if I recall correctly, who sinks into a deep depression after her lover drowns. And that’s basically all I have to say about it. So-so. Nothing ever happens.