Matrimony, Joshua Henkin

Recommended by: Books and Cooks, who reads good books and has pictures of pretty food that makes me feel envious. I finished this today, and then I went ahead and read Waiting for Daisy, and I had such a strong reaction to Waiting for Daisy that I’m having a hard time remembering what I thought of Matrimony.

This is one of those that doesn’t have a catchy plot. It starts with the main character, Julian, and he meets a friend called Carter in his freshman year writing seminar. Julian meets a girl called Mia and Carter meets a girl called Pilar (I really have a hard time believing that’s a name), and then it’s about what happens with them. Mainly Julian and Mia. Lots of cancer and fertility issues and marriage problems – so actually, not entirely unlike Waiting for Daisy.

I thought this book was spotty. In bits I was greatly enjoying it – the first segment, for instance, when Carter and Julian are in writing class together, I thought was excellent – and in bits I was just plodding along wanting to get to the end. Sometimes everyone got way much omphaloskeptic. Sometimes I was quite invested in what was going to happen. Sometimes just not at all.

In sum: better, actually, than I expected, but I won’t ever find it necessary to read this again.

A Charmed Life: Growing up in Macbeth’s Castle, Liza Campbell

Recommended by: A Garden Carried in the Pocket, who always seems to read such interesting books, that lucky duck.

I am very, very fond of dysfunctional family memoirs.  Or crazy people memoirs are also fine too.  Both types of memoirs make me feel grateful for my own lovely family, which is not at all dysfunctional and handles crazy extremely well.  So I enjoyed this, and it was also an interesting insight into the ways of the toffs.  (Cause I’m all lower-middle-class American South girl.)  When I started reading it, I thought that Liza Campbell didn’t compare well to people like, I don’t know, Catherine Gildiner who wrote Too Close to the Falls – but as I went on, her writing style grew on me.

Her father was the twenty-fifth Thane of Cawdor, and he was much with The Crazy.  He became convinced his mother-in-law was a witch, a real witch, and he put scissors all over the place in Cawdor Castle as counter-hexes, to protect himself.  (This is a minor incident in the book – it was just one of those moments of Crazy that made me pause and say a little thank-you prayer to the Lord for my mental health.)  Oh, and I also learned that apparently in France the second twin out is considered to be the older twin.  Because of being conceived first is the notion.  And all about the proper etiquette if you shoot someone when you’re out hunting.  (I won’t make a Dick Cheney joke about that.)

Like most of these memoirs about The Crazy, this was interesting and sometimes funny and also really, really sad and a little creepy.  I obligingly passed it on to my mother, and I’m sure my little sister – also a fan of books about Crazy – will be in line to read it too, since I kept distracting her from Sunshine yesterday night by reading her bits of A Charmed Life.

Sisterland, Linda Newbery

Ah, Linda Newbery. I’ve been meaning to read one of her books for about a year and a half – I very vaguely remember wanting to buy it at the Foyle’s on the South Bank when I was there in January 2007 with the family. Something with clocks.

Sisterland is about a girl called Hilly who has a problematic sister that’s got a crush on a racist kid (British kids are scary! I’m never raising my kids in England cause those British kids are way too frightening!), and her grandmother has got Alzheimer’s and is forever talking about someone called Rachel (on account of how she was secretly Jewish when she was a kid and she had a sister called Rachel who she lost touch with), and also there’s Hilly’s BFF Reuben who has a crush on a Palestinian kid called Saeed, and Hilly gets a crush on Saeed’s brother Rashid.

I enjoyed this, but my God, it dealt with a lot of issues. In that ostentatious way, like, And now, I will be dealing with the issue of – racism! Hey, don’t worry, homosexuality, you’ll get your turn! And look at the Holocaust crowding in on the side! Hold your horses, Holocaust, you’re our main event! I’m all in favor of YA books Dealing with Issues and everything, but I thought that Ms. Newbery was too clearly trying to Deal with Issues, rather than just letting them happen as they happened. And there was a lot going on here, so that none of them were really very thoroughly handled. Lots of juxtaposing of different kinds of intolerance, but not enough to where you really had time to get a ton of sympathy for anybody dealing with the intolerance.

Still, it was good. Not as good as I bet that book of Linda Newbery’s is that I saw at the Foyle’s but my library doesn’t have and I can’t remember its title and will thus never find it … but pretty good.

His Majesty’s Dragon, Naomi Novik

Recommended by some book blog somewhere, though damned if I remember where. I’ve been meaning to get this out of the library for ages, and it was very fortunately not checked out last time I went.

Oh, it was such fun to read! I was so pleased by it! It’s all about the Brits during the Napoleonic Wars, only they’ve put in dragons also. Laurence, the main guy, is a captain in the Royal Navy and he’s all got his duty and good manners and his ship captures a dragon’s egg from a French ship, and the egg hatches and he gets stuck with the dragon. But happily for everyone, it’s a lovely dragon with a sweet temper and many nice skills, and furthermore it is the Rarest Kind of Dragon Ever.

The book charmed me. I like reading books where people are being all British and courteous and duty-to-the-crown and “Surely, sir, you are not questioning my loyalty?” It wasn’t one of those books with a thrilling plot and you can’t put it down because you simply must find out what happens, but it was one of those books that’s just totally nice and friendly. His Majesty’s Dragon is like the Ramen noodles of books: not the greatest thing you’ve ever had, but so pleasant and comforting and possessing the capacity of making you feel like everything’s totally fine.

I’m in such a good mood now. I may go outside and skip.

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.