Tuesday, January 31, 2012

11/22/63: Part Two

This is the second post for a readalong of Stephen King's 11/22/63 hosted by Grace. Today we are posting about the last three sections of the book. My previous post on sections 1-3 is here.


King knows how to write some good foreshadowing:
          1. Jake is not a crying man.
          2. Sadie is accident-prone.
       3. As Jake writes his memoir, he has on the loafers Sadie gave him because "some things are meant to keep."

My eyes popped open at 4:00 a.m. one morning when I was half-way through 11/22/63 and it all came together in one lucid moment. I knew Sadie was destined to have an accident and that Jake would become a crying man. He'd be forced to return to the future, leaving behind his One True Love in the smoky Sixties. In 2011, he'd travel to a Texas nursing home or a hospital to visit an elderly--yet still beautiful--woman who he had once loved--still loves--but who won't remember him. And that's exactly what happened, except it wasn't a nursing home. And that kind of disappoints me. Because is that a Hollywood ending, or what? (I cried anyway. I'm a sucker.) I love the foreshadowing, but the predictability? Not so much. Except maybe King had to be predictable... Because what would YOU do if you left the Love of Your Life in the past? You would tab open Google in a heartbeat and try to track down the octogenarian of your dreams. A less predictable, but far more disheartening ending to the Sadie-Jake dance would have been if Jake had discovered that John Clayton had succeeded in killing Sadie without Jake's intervention.

Jake's deceitfulness to Sadie and Deke and Ellie was really grating on me and also getting kind of repetitive. It would have gone a long way for him to have whispered to Sadie some night in bed, "My name is really Jake. Please call me Jake." When he finally admitted to her that his name wasn't George, I felt relief. He's screwing up the world, but at least his relationship is intact. And when he told her the whole truth and nothing but the truth, I was relieved that he could share his burden, but dismayed... because nothing good could come of that. Al told him not to get too close to anyone. So what did he do? He fell in love with an entire Texas community and with the Love of His Life. He took her virginity, saved her from her crazy ex, and told her he came from the futuristic world of integration and non-smoking buses. How's that for not getting close?

From the beginning, I was worried about the "playing God" aspect of Al and Jake's plan. In all their conjecture about the ramifications of JFK's death, they didn't even consider that preventing the assassination would set a chain of events in motion that could be worse. And call me a coward, but I'd prefer the Devil I Know to the Devil I Don't. Jake learns the hard way that playing God is no FUN. And it doesn't WORK. And that rends him forever from Sadie's life. She dies in Round One in saving JFK, but it's OK, he can reset and start again. Until he realizes, with the help of the Green Card Man, that he can't go back to be with Sadie for Round Two and more poundcake. He'd totally whack out the time-space continuum, or some sci-fi malarchy like that. What did I warn you last time, Jake? This isn't a video game! (Why won't characters ever listen me!?)

 Sometimes a cigar is just a smoke and a story's just a story. 

Rating: 4.5/5 stars. Truly an amazing book. Original and lovely and heartbreaking.    

Monday, January 30, 2012

Faithful Place

Twenty-two years ago Detective Frank Mackey's heart was broken on the night that he thought he was going to run off to England with his childhood sweetheart. But Rosie never showed. Instead, she left a 'Dear John' letter for him and disappeared out of his life forever. Frank never went back to his home on Faithful Place, unwilling to face his dysfunctional family without Rosie just a few houses away. Now Rosie's suitcase has been found in a derelict house on Faithful Place and 41-year-old Frank is on the trail to discover what happened, finally, to the love of his youthful life. His trail leads him back to Faithful Place, the street so filled with memories and demons that he hoped he'd never have to return. 

Faithful Place shows Tana French at her best, back in the groove after the somewhat disappointing The Likeness. Frank was introduced in The Likeness as Cassie's boss from Undercover. He is a renegade. His moral code as a cop is pretty skewed; he'd be the kind of cop arrested for police brutality. But as a man and as a devoted father, he tries to do what is right. Solving the mystery of what happened to Rosie gets to Frank's head, in that he has to reassess what he has believed to be true for the last 22 years, even his views toward women, and the reasons his marriage crumbled. But it doesn't shake him fundamentally as a person, because Frank knows himself and what he fundamentally believes. He knows what he stands for and he will not be swayed in his very identity as Rob Ryan was in In the Woods and Cassie was in The Likeness.  Frank's contemporary story is alternated with gentle flashbacks of life with Rosie from his youth. A working-class neighborhood in 1980s Dublin is vividly evoked.

The writing, as expected, is polished and poetic. French displays impeccable mastery of dialogue. I could really hear characters saying what I was reading and the Irish slang is delectable. In a flashback, Rosie tells Frank she's been offered a coveted job at the Guinness factory and Frank replies, "Ah, deadly." Deadly. That's awesome. Could I incorporate this into my own vernacular? And her use of profanity is mildly amazing. I don't swear, myself. I happen to think it's crass and coarse and generally unnecessary. Also, I'm saving up my swearing for when I really need it to count for something. For example: being mugged. Then I hope to unleash a string of well-constructed profanities that would impress a rapper. Until that day, I keep it strictly "oh-gee-whiz"-G-rated. But I can appreciate some fine profanity, when used to proper effect, and French uses it well. A few times, I even re-read a passage with particularly enticing cuss words, just to be awed at her use of language and dialogue, profanity included. 

Sometimes when we are riding in the car, Nathan rolls down the window and spits outside as we are careening down the road at 50 MPH. And invariably, I wait a fraction of a second and then jerk my head to the side away from him and smack my hand against my cheek as if a giant loogie had collided with my face in some unfortunate current of wind. Nathan says this is completely predictable behavior, and it takes a lot of physical effort to restrain from doing this highly comedic bit just to prove myself unpredictable. But here again, I'm predictable. I loved Faithful Place because I have a crush on Frank Mackey: his blue eyes, his loyalty, his capacity to love, and his desire to be a good example to his young daughter.
I said, "What are you on about? I love you."
It stunned me. I had never said it before. I knew that I would never say it again, not really; that you only get one shot at it in a lifetime. I got mine out of nowhere on a misty autumn evening, under a street lamp shining yellow streaks on the wet pavement, with Rosie's strong pliable fingers woven through mine.
Rating: 4.25/5 stars. If you loved In the Woods, skip The Likeness and head straight for this goodie. Tighter writing and a satisfying ending.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Me Before You

A diminutive, eccentric, brunette waitress at a shabby cafe in a tiny English town and a slick business executive who pursues extreme adventure on the arms of statuesque and shallow blondes aren't likely to cross paths. And if they ever did cross paths, they'd quickly un-cross them, because not only do Louisa Clark and Will Traynor have nothing in common, they live life by two totally different scripts. He's cultured and adventurous and snobby; she's flighty and unambitious and timid. And then Will, in the prime of his life, is injured in an accident, leaving him a quadriplegic and plotting the end of his life via assisted suicide. And Louisa loses her job at the cafe and is hired by Will's mom to be his companion, as a last-ditch effort to help her son see that life is indeed worth living. Me Before You is the story of two radically different people who come into each other's lives at just the right moment, to change each other's hearts forever.

Louisa has no experience as a caregiver and initially dislikes Will, who has been confined to his motorized wheelchair for two years and who works valiantly to be sure that everyone despises him. His sarcasm and bitterness repel Louisa, until one day she snaps at him, calls him an "arse" -- she dares to yell at a quadriplegic! -- and a fragile friendship begins between the two. As Louisa attempts to remind Will that life is vibrant and precious, Will has a mission all of his own: to awaken Louisa to the great wide world out there for the exploring, to make her see that she is too special and talented for the tiny life with which she has been content. 

At the beginning, the episodic segments of narration felt jilted; that choppiness faded away somewhere in the middle, though whether that was due to smoother flow or the fact that I had become totally absorbed in the story is hard to tell. Moyes presents what feels like a very realistic portrayal of the life of a quadriplegic. Will is confined to a wheelchair and at the mercy of others to care for his every need, but Moyes also respectfully outlines the fear and the pain that Will lives with, the daily indignities and small humiliations of his life. 

The reader quickly sees Will not as a patient, not as a man in a wheelchair, but as a fiercely funny and intelligent man who is struggling with the fact that his life has veered so far off of any course he had planned for or expected. The moments that Louisa begins to recognize the same thing are the moments that stand out in a 400+ page read. The first time that Louisa shaves Will's face, she realizes that no one has touched him in a non-medical way for years. And so she caresses his face lovingly and shaves him until she is as lost in the intimacy of the moment as he is. And the blush that blooms on Will's neck when Louisa's lips brush against it as she bites the tag of a collar off of the shirt he is wearing. And the moment when Will realizes -- when Louisa faces, sobbing, a demon from her past -- that she needs him just as much as he needs her.

The ending of Me Before You totally gobsmacked me. (Gobsmacked is Irish slang, introduced to my vocabulary by Tana French). Me Before You is a beautiful story that will make you think. I cried intermittently throughout the entire 481 pages (which is quite awkward when you are in a public place). I think that Moyes had to have tears streaming down her cheeks over her keyboard as she typed this story, because this is as raw and heartfelt a story as I've ever read.

Rating: 4/5 stars. This has snagged at my heart like nothing in a long time. The emotion of the writing is raw and beautiful.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Oh, For the Love of Words! Friday (3) Venal v. Venial

On Fridays, I celebrate words. That means that I either share a new vocabulary word that I've recently learned or a passage of particularly beautiful prose that I've encountered in past or present literary sojourns. Did you learn a new SAT word this week? Did you read a passage eight times over and dab tears from your eyes at the beauty of it? Then, please, do share!

 Venal v. Venial

These two similar "v" words popped out at me this week, from the pages of The Likeness by Tana French. I asked Nathan if he knew the definitions, and, without skipping a beat, he said, "Venal is an adjective frequently used to describe hermaphrodites. And venial is the opposite of congenial." Hmmm. Interesting. And incorrect on all counts. But it made me laugh. 

From context clues, I figured out that venial meant trivial. And though I could deduce that venal wasn't a compliment, figuring out the definition involved a few clicks of the mouse and tabbing open dictionary.com. Here are the passages from the text:

Getting over-enthusiastic, needing to prove yourself after a bad slipup: those were things Frank could understand, things that happened all the time, and they're venial sins.   
As soon as rulers mean nothing, war means nothing; human life means nothing. We're ruled by venal little usurpers, all of us, and they make meaninglessness everywhere they go.

Venial (adj)
          able to be forgiven or pardoned; excusable; trifling

Venal (adj)
         willing to sell one's influence; open to bribery; corruptible

 Bonus to me if I can actually use one of these words in conversation this week!

(Incidentally, The Likeness is French's weakest book. Skip that one and go right for Faithful Place, which I'm gonna be posting about soon.)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Waiting for a Book... and the Healing Power of Jane Austen

On the way home from work today, my lovely husband said, "I hope you get the book you're waiting for today." This was a very sweet sentiment of him, but most likely he meant so you'll start reading it and give me some peace.

Because right now, I am waiting (and not patiently) for this book:

It's by one of my favorite "discovered" authors in 2011: Jojo Moyes. The Book Club of Two read The Last Letter from Your Lover last summer and I adored it! TLLFYL won the RNA award in the UK last year (Romantic Novel of the Year), but most of her other stuff hasn't really seemed to hop across the pond yet. And books take WAY longer to arrive when they are "dispatched" from the UK. (I love all the language they use on Amazon's UK website!) 

Me Before You is the story of a rich guy who lives a fast life, until he is paralyzed by a motorcycle accident, which leaves him a quadriplegic. He is considering assisted suicide, but his mother begs him to give life another chance... live for six more months. In that time, his mother hires a caregiver and companion for him, but she's not looking for medical experience... she wants to find a vibrant soul who will help her son realize that life is beautiful... and worth living. It's a love story, and I think--hope--that it will be a story that affirms life and love. 

But to hold me over, while I anxiously run to our little mailslot everyday, and stomp away like a disappointed two-year-old, I've been enjoying Jojo's website. I mean, it's not the good stuff: I can't wait for a fix of the real stuff, but it's methadone. It'll take the edge off. 

Here's a fun article Moyes wrote about the healing power of literature, from the Daily Telegraph:

Thank you, Jojo, for so eloquently citing more reasons why reading is important:

"but as anyone who loves books knows, fiction -- and Austen especially -- is a great remedy for the steeper humps of the human condition." 

"Literature holds up a mirror: it may reflect your own life back at you, or it may show you something exaggerated... One favorite book cited to me yesterday by a cancer survivor was the gruelling The Pianist, by Wladyslaw Szpilman 'because,' she said, 'it said I could get through it.' Perhaps this is the clearest message... And it's a message that literature delivers far more effectively than most self-help books, or the velvety tones of Oprah Winfrey: you will endure this, just as other people have endured it. And you can survive."

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Likeness

There's a dead girl in an abandoned cottage in a tiny Irish village. That's certainly run-of-the-mill for the murder detectives on Dublin's Murder Squad. But the catch this time is that the dead girl is a dead-ringer for former Murder Detective Cassie Maddox. And it gets stickier: the victim's name is Lexie Madison, an alias that Cassie herself created, years before, when she served as an Undercover Agent. There are no real suspects, but Cassie has a unique opportunity in this case: pretend that Lexie didn't die and slip on her shoes once more. Donning Lexie's identity, Cassie goes undercover into the Whitethorn House, the home where Lexie lived with four friends--four very unusual friends--in the hopes that she can ferret out the suspect from the inside. 

The Likeness is French's follow-up to In the Woods, which was a darling of critics and readers alike, and highly enjoyed by this reader. Cassie was Rob Ryan's partner on the Murder Squad from ITW, as fans of French will remember, and The Likeness is Cassie's story, told in her first-person voice. I think that French, more than anything, writes psychological thrillers. Sure, it's a murder mystery. Sure, it's a police procedural. But really, she creates a detective, she imagines a case--THE case--that could royally mess with the mind of her detective. We know what happened to Rob's head during Operation Vestal in ITW: it preyed on all his weaknesses and shattered his carefully-constructed world. 

In The Likeness, Cassie is beginning a fledgling relationship with Sam O'Neill, the steady, gentle cop who worked with Rob and Cassie on Operation Vestal, but she has her doubts and she's still reeling from the pain of what happened with Rob. Now, she's presented with an opportunity to live with four other young people, to belong with them, as she has belonged nowhere in her life, except for those brief years with Rob. That's a heady and intoxicating atmosphere for a 30-something woman who's never felt like she's belonged: to be welcomed with open arms into a ready-made family of friends. It doesn't take long before the lines of reality become warped, before her objectivity toward the suspects with whom she lives is challenged.

The premise is highly improbable: to encounter another unrelated person in this world who looks exactly like you, to step into their shoes and pose as them, with no one the wiser. It's almost laughable. But if you read this book as the Gothic Novel that it is: atmospheric and moody and haunting, you could believe supernatural occurrences at Whitethorn House, you could believe the existence of a doppelganger whose existence could shake Cassie to her very core. 

I'm still in love with French, but The Likeness didn't suck-me-in-and-not-let-me-go quite like In the Woods did to me in December. I attribute this mainly to the voice of the main character. Cassie had a compelling voice, but it was French's portrayal of Rob that really appealed to me. I think that writing from the voice of a character of the opposite sex would be incredibly challenging, but French captured Rob and made me believe he was a man. And let's face it, I lost part of my heart to Rob, so The Likeness couldn't compare on that score. Cassie wasn't the only one still reeling from Rob's betrayal at the end of ITW, (If you didn't pick that up: me. I'm still reeling!) and The Likeness reveals a few more details about their troubling relationship, but nothing that helped to heal this reader's broken heart. 

French does amazing things with punctuation. I've never seen dashes and colons and semi-colons used to such tantalizing effect. You could read French just to study and admire those tiny dots and lines and squiggles at the end of phrases that we so often just skim our eyes over, but never really appreciate.

I had been right: freedom smelled like ozone and thunderstorms and gunpowder all at once, like snow and bonfires and cut grass, it tasted like seawater and oranges. 

Rating: 3.5/5 stars. Atmospheric and intriguing. Lovely writing.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Oh, For the Love of Words! Friday (2)

 Sara (aka The Librarian) made me this awesome button! She texted me last night with a surprise and the surprise was this button. And I lovvve it. 

Every Friday I am going to be celebrating words. Whether I share a new vocab word I learned in my reading or a passage that strikes me as particularly beautiful, it's gonna be logophilia central at Oh, For the Love of Words! Friday.

This passage still makes me catch my breath. From We the Living by Ayn Rand:
He took her hand before she could extend it, tore off the black mitten, raised the hand slowly to his lips and kissed her palm. Then he turned quickly and walked away. The snow creaked under his feet. The sound and the figure melted into the darkness, while she was still standing motionless, her hand outstretched, until a little white flake fluttered onto her palm, onto the unseen treasure she was afraid to spill.

Prior to this unexpected and passionate moment, Kira and Leo are strangers. I love that this scene takes place outside, in the snow, in public. It shouldn't be as sensual as it is, but the words that Rand uses makes it almost blush-worthy so. He is disrobing her (well, her hand, anyway) almost violently, and then kisses her naked palm. Which is very different from a top-of-the-hand kiss, I assure you. Read some more historical novels if you are not aware of that. The palm-kiss is a lover's kiss. And I think, even though Leo has just met Kira, he is claiming her as his. 

This is the most tragically beautiful novel I've ever read. I feel about this book about how you feel about your special blankie or dolly that you had when you were little. Every time I pick it up, I just want to clutch it to my chest, smell it, feel it, and remember. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Lock Artist

There are a few authors' blogs that I read regularly... hoping that they will announce Western PA tour dates or post snippets of upcoming titles to hold me over until faraway release dates. This weekend, Maggie Stiefvater, author of The Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy (that Sara exposed me to) and the more recent YA release, The Scorpio Races, posted about a book she enjoyed. So, using the same philosophy that is behind the idea that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," I realized that a favorite author of one of my favorite authors is bound to be a favorite author of mine, too. Or something. 

So that's why I ran out to Barnes and Noble and used my last remaining gift card from Christmas (that is restraint, I tell you. It's the middle of January!) to grab The Lock Artist

It's the story of Mike, "the Miracle Boy" from industrial Michigan, who survives something terrible that happened to him when he was eight-years-old. Something so terrible that his story made big-time news and so terrible that he hasn't spoken a word since. Now, ten years later, he lives with his liquor-store-owning uncle in a depressed part of town and still lives that fateful day from his past over and over again. It turns out that Silent Mike has two talents: one reputable and one disreputable. He's a really good artist... and he can pick any lock and break any combination. One night of drunken teenage stupidity changes Mike's life forever. It's the night that simultaneously leads him to the girl he wants to find his voice for and the man who will take away his freedom and innocence.

This is one of those books that leaves you raw. Mike tells his story himself, from prison, some time in the future. He's brutally honest in his account of his criminal misdeeds, even though he's seen and done some pretty gnarly things. From a first-person POV, he interweaves the two strands of his life: his messed-up life pre- and post- indoctrination into the seedy underworld of criminalia (That should be a word. But the squiggly red line under it in my draft says otherwise). Ultimately, the strands lead to the events that locked him, the lock artist, behind bars--and yes, he eventually shares the terrible event that silenced him when he was eight. I can't totally describe the interwoven time-strands. Because I don't think I've ever read a book that bounced through time in quite the same way, into a seamless ending where the strands line up perfectly. However it happened, it worked. There's a lot of detailed information about picking locks and breaking into safes that somehow never gets repetitive, even though I couldn't understand half of it. Hamilton manages to intrigue with every lock and every safe.

Incidentally, Mike reminds me a lot of the character of Sam from Linger, Shiver, and Forever, by Maggie Stiefvater. They both have had tragic childhoods that cause them to lose their families and neither really fits in until each meets the Girl Who Changes Everything. Sam and Mike both strike me to be similar physically: cute, with shaggy dark hair. Mike is repeatedly called "beautiful" by girls in The Lock Artist. Which is an adjective I wholeheartedly endorse to describe men. Handsome is an emotionless word. Sure, it expresses that a man is well-put-together and aesthetically pleasing in a generally symmetrical manner. But beautiful expresses more than just handsomeness. It's a word that expresses feeling and character. Mike can be beautiful, even with the sadness in his eyes and his broken voice.

Something I've been enjoying lately is the Subtle Love Story. Readers are probably natural voyeurs, but characters in a book deserve a little privacy to carry on their love affairs. I love that, even though we know that Amelia and Mike are in love, we don't see everything of how they got there. We don't have a play-by-play of their shenanigans in the bedroom, even though we know they're in there. But that doesn't make the feelings less strong. It doesn't make the moments they share less beautiful. Sometimes less is more. I'm not just talking about sex here. But sometimes that's what it comes down to. End scene, dim the lights, give the lovers some privacy. And Mike (or Steve Hamilton) gets that. This is where he dims the lights (figuratively and literally, probably):

She took my hand and led me back to her bed.

This beautiful line from Gone with the Wind popped into my head when I read the love scenes from The Lock Artist

She was darkness and he was darkness and there had never been anything before this time, only darkness and his lips upon her.

Rating: 4/5 stars. Original, suspenseful, heart-wrenching. An action read with heart. Now, I'm off to get some bobby pins and safety pins and see what I can do about the locks around here...

Saturday, January 14, 2012

11/22/63: Part One

I'm participating in a readalong of Stephen King's 11/22/63 hosted by Grace. Today we are posting about the first 350 pages; in two weeks we will wrap up the last 500 pages or so. This is my first foray into The Land of Stephen King. I've hesitated to read King because his "Uncle Stevie" columns in Entertainment Weekly tend to creep me out. His books are such a fixture in pop culture that, as a fickle and ineffective form of protest, I have boycotted him. But, thus far, I'm really enjoying it. He is a master of suspense. I haven't been so unable to put a book down at bedtime since the days when the chapters I read ended with "...and Nancy blacked out." 

Jake Epping is a 30-something divorced schoolteacher who is introduced to a time portal that funnels a traveler backwards through time to 1958 via a pantry in a diner. No matter how long one stays in the portal in the 50s--minutes, months, or years--it only equates to two missed minutes of 2011 time. And every time one is transported back in time, it's to the exact moment... the exact same second on September 9, 1958. Al, the owner of the diner, and frequent time-traveler, explains the whacked-out physics of the "rabbit-hole." Al is dying and wants to share his secret--and his mission--before it is too late. Jake accepts the challenge that Al puts before him: to live in the past long enough to prevent the assassination of JFK (By the Coward Lee Harvey Oswald... I couldn't resist.) But Jake first wants to test the idea of changing history by trying to prevent a murder that strikes a little closer to home. Soon, Jake is living a full-fledged life in the past, with only one aim: to kill Lee Harvey Oswald before he pulls the trigger that ends JFK's life. But will Jake succeed? And if he does, what are the ramifications of tampering with history? Or will Jake's mission become derailed by love? (Yes, please. Let's go with that.)


How awesome would it be to not be the first person to discover a time-portal? Um, SUPER AWESOME! Someone else would have already taken the initial risk, knows the rules, and can prepare you for your own time-traveling experience. That is what Jake gets to do, and why not take advantage of that to play around a little bit in history? If I knew I'd only lose two minutes of real time, I'd go back and have a milkshake at a drugstore counter, too. What I totally don't fall for is his complete dedication to the mission that was Al's brainchild and "baby." Why is Jake so empassioned about rewriting history to save JFK?

When Jake takes the plunge into the rabbit-hole for the Big One, his last words before exiting 2011 and emerging in 1958 are something like: "I'm coming for you, Oswald. You &*$%." Now, I'm not debating the fact that Oswald was a demented %&$*, but I can't quite grasp his vehemence. Of course JFK's death was a tragedy, but I'm not sure why Al and Jake feel that his death birthed All the Evil of the Modern World. History is full of demented &*%#s and as Jake keeps asserting: the past does not want to be changed. So even if he succeeds in saving JFK, he might end up bringing about even worse tragedies than what he feels he will prevent by saving one man's life.

Even though Jake makes the passionate avowal of "going after" LHO, I think there are other reasons that motivate him to time-travel. He has nothing substantial tying him to 2011--even if he will only be absent from 2011 for two minutes--which is a sad state of affairs. I think he wants adventure. You are rarely offered an all-expenses paid vacation in life, let alone the one-of-a-kind adventure that dangles before Jake. Jake has lost control of his life. He has lost the woman he loved twice over: first to alcohol and then to the man she met at AA and he has nothing to lose. In the past, he can be a hero. He can place bets and win big. He knows what no one else can possibly know. He holds the power to change the future. These possibilities would be alluring to a guy who has been disappointed by life. 

I'm in love with the little details of living in the past. It's totally like playing a video game; high score: kill the assassin! But as he trundles along toward the ultimate goal, Jake earns points by "dickering" over a 1950s Ford Sunliner, saving a little girl from paralysis, and killing a murderer before he can murder. I really liked Jake at the beginning, but now I'm less enamored. This isn't a game, Jake, and these are real people. Sadie is real. This is YOUR real life, now, too, Jake... and what are you gonna do with it?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Oh, For the Love of Words! Friday (1)

Fridays at my blog will now be dedicated to logophilia. That word in itself is yet another reason why I am a logophile. Break it down with me, whydoncha. (Anyone who had Classical Connections class in 7th grade at WAMS will rock this.) LOGO=Word. PHILIA=Love. Hence:


(loh.goh.FEE.lee.uh) n. The love of words.
logophile n. A lover of words.

There is a disease which consists in loving words too much. Logophilia first manifests itself in childhood and is, alas, incurable.
—Peter Ackroyd, "Visions from an addiction to fiction," The Times (London), March 20, 2002
                        (I borrowed this text and definition from www.wordspy.com)

Welcome to my world as a bibliophile and logophile. This means that I decorate my apartment with books:


  Look at that: a room with books and a cat. Is there more to life? (That's Oliver's cat-in-the-headlights look.)

Nathan built this beautiful bookshelf for me before we were married. You can tell two more things about me from this picture. I love candles and I'm a serial killer... of plants.

This also means that my books are littered with post-its with vocab words on them. I encounter words in the text that I don't know, scribble them on these stickies and then look them up later (if I remember...) This is how I learned the words hirsute and callypgian. (Hopefully these words are not frequently used in the same sentence.) Tab open dictionary.com and proceed to giggle.

This also means that I dog-ear pages of books when I like passages and then collect them in this nifty Vera Bradley binder:

Then I frequently reread them and grab at my chest in agony. Oh the beauty! (You may roll your eyes here. My husband sure does.)

So, henceforth, on Fridays, I am going to celebrate words. That means that I'll either be a) sharing a new vocabulary word that I learned, or b) including a passage of beautiful prose that I've encountered in past or present literary sojourns.

In honor of all this bibliomania, I'll begin with one of my favorite quotations about books. From A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith:
The library was a little old shabby place. Francie thought it was beautiful. The feeling she had about it was as good as the feeling she had about church. She pushed open the door and went in. She liked the combined smell of worn leather bindings, library paste and freshly-inked stamping pads better than she liked the smell of burning incense at high mass.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True

A long long time ago in a little Polish village, on the eve of the Nazi invasion, there lived a girl so beautiful that she was called Anielica, because her face was that of an angel's. And there also lived a boy who was called the Pigeon, because his nose was as beaked and ugly as the bird's. The Angel was as kind as she was beautiful and the Pigeon, while not handsome, was smart and resourceful, confident and brave. In order to stand out from the scores of suitors who sought Anielica's hand, the Pigeon told her father that he would renovate their family home for free. Over the next months, the Pigeon became a fixture in Anielica's family, crafting furniture and cabinetry with his hands, befriending her brother, and slowly and sweetly finding a way into Anielica's heart. The love story of the Angel and the Pigeon is juxtaposed with the story of their granddaughter who, decades later, moves from the village to the big city of Krakow. Krakow is bustling with the freedom brought about by the fall of communism, and she must discover her place in this New Poland.

Why I read this book:
  • I am a sucker for cool titles.
  • Look at that cover. Doesn't that look like the cover of a fairy tale?
  • Historical fiction set in WWII Europe is one of my favorite genres.

What I loved:

As much as I love a swashbuckling hero, handsome of face and brawny of body, I absolutely ADORED the Pigeon. The fact that the Ugly Duckling: a) knows his own value, b) has the wits to win Anielica's and her father's favor over all of his competitors, and c) has the guts to go after what he wants even if he isn't great to look at just does it for me. And talk about guts: he not only wins Anielica's heart, he saves the village from first the Nazis and then the Soviets and he leads a band of Polish partisans. 

What I didn't love:

The granddaughter of the Pigeon and Anielica is only referred to as Baba Yaga. She, being the Pigeon's granddaughter, is as ugly as the Baba Yaga of folklore: the craggy old witch in the woods. So the reader follows Baba Yaga in her attempts at love and education and self-discovery. At the end of the book we discover Baba Yaga's real name, but it's not a big revelation. In the end it's just a name, just like every other, and I'm not sure why her hideous nickname and her ugliness were emphasized so much. We already get that she's just an awkward village girl in the Big Bad City. It just seems so wrong to call a young girl ugly and that made me wince over and over. 

I just wasn't as captivated by Baba Yaga's storyline. I couldn't see where the author was going with it. I was looking for a love story... Will it be Tadeusz or Sebastian? When I discovered I was off-track, I looked for evidence that she was going to pursue a dream: a career or emigration to America. Scratch that, too. Eventually, the two storylines dovetail into a satisfying and heartbreaking ending, but I was more compelled by the WWII story. 

The Sweetest Thing:

During the renovation of her home, Anielica is too shy to talk to the Pigeon directly, but she leaves him little notes where he can find them. These are the words by which they begin to fall in love:





Bottom line:

3/5 stars. Sweet and whimsical. A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True may appeal to fans of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

No Excuses Book Swap... Part Deux

 (another awesome button brought to us by The Librarian. I really need to learn how to do that...)

Check out The Librarian's blog for her review of the first book that I forced upon her: Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. My review of Redeeming Love is here. And guess what? We both gave it 5/5 stars! The Librarian and I have found common ground!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Dark Lover... and Introducing the No Excuses Book Swap

Dark Lover is my first read of the First Book Club of Two No Excuses Book Swap. This means that I must read the three books that The Librarian loaned to me; she must read the three I loaned her... or suffer the consequences. 

As you may guess by the cover, Dark Lover is a vampire romance. If I lived to be 100, I would never have selected this book for myself. And that's the fun of the No Excuses Book Swap. Sara and I are both voracious readers and have been trading books as far back as middle school. But our tastes don't converge very frequently and in Dark Lover I am being exposed to an entirely new genre: the paranormal romance. 

In Upstate New York, in a small city much like where you grew up, there is a thriving underworld. Not just bars and clubs and normal sordid midnight behavior, but of a blood-sucking variety. A war is being waged in Caldwell, NY between the vampires and their slayers. And the Black Dagger Brotherhood--a group of huge, potent vampire warriors--has fought for centuries to protect their diminishing race against the cowardly lessers, the humans who have sold their souls for a right to hunt the undead. And Beth, a 25-year-old human, has gotten caught in the crossfires of this ancient war, just as something latent in her own body is awakening. She has simultaneously garnered the wrath of the lessers and become acquainted with a vampire called Wrath. Who can she trust? And why does she feel so drawn to Wrath, the Blind King of the Vampires?

OK, just typing those words, "the Blind King of the Vampires" makes me chortle a little bit. And when I read the following passage, I smiled... and may have even laughed out loud. This is Wrath's first appearance: 

Wrath was six feet, nine inches of pure terror dressed in leather. His hair was long and black, falling straight from a widow's peak. Wraparound sunglasses hid eyes that no one had ever seen revealed. Shoulders were twice the size of most males'. With a face that was both aristocratic and brutal, he looked like the king he was by birthright and the soldier he'd become by destiny. And that wave of menace rolling ahead of him was one hell of a calling card. 

HAHAHA. I can't help it--I didn't know this was a comedy. I mean, I'm all about the bad boys, but picturing a 7-foot-tall guy entirely encased in leather with a widow's peak makes me wanna giggle. But not to his face. No way, man, I'm not that dumb of a human female.

Dark Lover was pretty cheesy. The dialogue was borderline ridiculous, but judging the book by the cover, I wasn't figuring this was going to be a literary read. Dark Lover is reminiscent of the Beauty and the Beast story. And that's a love story that never gets old. Wrath, the Beast, doesn't know how to make himself worthy of the Beauty, Beth, who--you guessed it--is about to turn into a vampire.

I like J.R. Ward's vampire mythology better than others I've read. And certainly I was relieved that these vampires don't fight a constant human blood-lust à la Stephenie Meyer. These vampires don't prey off of humans; only the blood of a vampire of the opposite sex can nourish them, and this is the closest relationship a vampire can have. J.R. Ward's strapping warriors and the rest of their race live parallel lives to humans. If you're human and don't mess with the Brotherhood, you should be A-OKAY. So I better stop making fun of Wrath's penchant for full-body leather. Oh, whoops, can't. It's STILL funny.

So. Why do I think The Librarian chose Dark Lover? Because she's a manipulating Librarian and wants to lure me over to the dark side of paranormal romances? No. Well maybe. But she knows I love a good story about the Beast who finds his Beauty. And I'm not gonna say definitively, but I may have leaned into the mirror while I was reading this and imagined what I would look like with fangs. And the answer to that is awesome

Grade: 3/5 stars. This book was a fun novelty and a quick light read. So what if I laughed a little? That may be part of the point... I mean if 7-feet-tall vampires aren't escapism, what is?