April in Books

 I don’t even care. I’m going to write about the books I’ve read in April right after those I read in March.  So there.

So now that I’ve let my petulant inner child have her say, there is just a few notes I would like to make. As you may have probably noticed, I have been getting into audio books in a big way lately. This might have something to do with my accidental yet fortuitous ongoing subscription to Audible (which I feel a little morally queasy about given their Digital Rights Management Policies)  or the fact that I have been making a point to walk home every night and look forward to crossing the mountain with the dulcet tones of a story in my head. Alas, the audio books are the same as print books in that they are just as addictive. Not wanting to stop listening, I have started donning my ipod in the house. I volunteer to clean the kitchen after dinner. I dust more. I vaccuum. All so that I can keep listening to my story. I’m beginning to turn into one of those shadowy, mythical housewives of the 50s that were seen and not heard.

Sorry family. I will try to listen to less riveting books. In fact, I just downloaded one about the history of philosophy and another about quantum physics. You should be seeing more of me.

Stories written:

In a shameless show of self-promotion, I wanted to mention that I had a story published in an anthology. Now this marks the first of a couple of things for me:

1.The first time I’ve ever had a short story published. I have only been trying my hand at short stories for a few years now, and only in the last couple of years have I been satisfied enough to send them out.

2. My first horror story: Yes, you heard me right. I saw this call for submissions from Pill Hill Press, and felt compelled to write a story for it:

Imagine Clint Eastwood in a classic Western. Then make it a hair-raising hunt for werewolves. Picture an elite military group chasing Djinn through war-torn Iraq, or a Victorian vampire hunter sacrificing her own life to save the children in the next room…

History is filled with those that keep us safe by hunting the things that hunt us, and now is the time for their stories to be told.
Give us your meanest, your baddest, your most clever and inventive, or your frail but tragically fated slayer. Make them heroes, or make them more evil than the creatures they hunt. Give them blind determination and a hell bent desire to win no matter what the cost, or let them face a moral uncertainty that they’re doing the right thing by killing…

I think it was a love of all things Buffy that made me want to do it. That in the fact that it seemed like it would be so much damn fun. And boy did it deliver.  I am getting more and more into genre fiction, which is surprising  given my elitist, dare I say snobby, history of reading. I wouldn’t look at a Fantasy book as a kid or teen unless it had already been branded a bonafide classic. Although, I always had a penchant for post-apocalyptic works….

Anyways. The anthology is called Leather, Denim and Silver and it is available through amazon:

Oh. And just in case you don’t find any authors writing under the name Wiremonkey or Lina Gordaneer (let’s face it- we all know who I am), I write under my maiden name, Lina Branter.  Why, do you ask? Well that would be because my in-laws (not to mention my husband) are all a bunch of crazy talented (also just the garden variety of crazy. They are going to kill me for saying that but it’s not my fault, I blame it on my petulant inner child) artists and writers and I didn’t want to ride on their coat-tails. Not even a little bit. So there. [insert stuck out tongue here].

Books read:

City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare

The fourth in the VERY popular YA series, Mortal Instruments, City of Fallen Angels continues the story of Clary, who is now training to be a shadowhunter, her boyfriend Jace who is and always has been a shadowhunter, and Clary’s best friend Simon, a slightly geeky nice guy turned vampire and chick magnet. There are a few more colourful minor characters as well as way more plot than I could possibly divulge here, so I won’t even try.

Critique: You know how sometimes people should just stop? Let go of their characters and move on? Well, ’tis the case here. I’m not sure if Clare’s publisher forced her to continue the series for another three books (by all intents and purposes it should have been over by book 3) or what the hell happened, but it took a fun, exciting Buffy the vampire-esque trilogy and made it into a disjointed, more angsty than an emo kid with an anxiety disorder right before she menstruates, confusing mess. Needless to say, I was a little disappointed with this one. Especially since I loved The Clockwork Angel, her prequel to this series that came out last fall.

A note about this book: In the acknowledgments, she mentions that this book was heavily workshopped. Now, speaking from the point of view of a gal who has two writer’s groups and relies heavily on their feedback, I’m wondering if there is a lesson to learn here. Did she workshop so much because she was having trouble? Or did the interference from the workshop cause the book to suck? It is a literary chick and the egg thing….

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman (book club Read)

I love Philip Pullman. I love His Dark Materials trilogy, which went a long way to show me how a book can be fantasy and deeply meaningful at the same time. He’s a Milton scholar and based a lot of it on Paradise Lost- and it’s a kids book! Not to mention all the parallels to the new physics, as well as a ripping good story with the evilest, scariest villain ever, Mrs. Coulter (no, I’m not talking about Ann Coulter, but she would be a runner-up). I even love his 19th century girl detective, Sally Lockhart ,series.

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ is a re-telling of the story of Jesus. Of course, the big difference is that he splits Jesus into twin brothers: Christ is the rule follower, the one that never gets into trouble and always gets his erratic brother out of trouble. Jesus, of course, is the iconoclast, the shit disturber, the one people ultimately want around.

In the story Jesus is the preacher and Christ is the recorder, embellishing his teachings, editing them in order to make them more palatable. the controversial parts of the book (aside from making Jesus and Christ into two people) comes at the end, when Jesus actually dies on the cross. His resurrection is faked by having his twin brother pretend to be him. Thus, the myth is orchestrated and the path is laid for the Church to be born.

In his retelling, Pullman is revisiting a much-loved theme: there is nothing wrong with spirituality – it is the church and its dogma that are evil. Christ represents the dogmas, the order, the condescending belief that people need to have their sermons pre-chewed by the bureaucratic maw of the church in order to digest Jesus’s words. And Jesus is just a teacher, of the kind  that commonly roamed the area expounding on points of doctrine and better living.

Critique:
Although I love Pullman’s works for children, I did not love this book. I didn’t hate it either, but my expectations with this author are pretty high. He tells the story in such a blunt, straightforward manner (reminiscent of the dry prose of the New Testament – at least the little bits of the versions that I have been subjected to), that the reader is always wondering when something is going to happen. But nothing out of the ordinary does. Now, having said that, I realise that it is supposed to be a re-telling of the story, and that he was working with the material he had.  But there is something that just fell flat. Maybe it is because I have already made up my mind about the church and its dogmatism, that the message didn’t seem very revolutionary, I don’t know. I am sure that in some circles it will cause a great deal of kerfuffle. But not for my little, secular bunch of heathens at book club. None of us were that impressed.

The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks

One of the students at my school found this author by accident, when she was in a rush to find a book at her book store and grabbed the first thing that looked palatable to her. She recommended it to me, and even lent me her incredibly-battered-for-a-new-book copy which I proceed to make worse by walking home in the rain without an umbrella. Needless to say, by the time I finished with it, the poor thing looked as if it belonged in the library on the Titanic.

But that didn’t stop me from reading it. Pure fantasy, The Way of Shadows takes us to a city state ruled by a crime gang called the Sakagé but nominally ruled  by a royal family. For many years Cenaria has been weak, being conquered (kind of like Britain, actually) by any other nation. But it will take me too long once again to get into the intricacies of the plot, and to be honest, I’m not sure I fully understand them. Let’s just say the story centers around an uber assassin named Durzo Blint and the main character, Azoth, his apprentice.

Critique: I am pretty sure the student at my school is smarter than me (actually I am sure) because this book confused the hell out of me. The fight scenes were intense, and nobody could accuse Weeks of going soft on his characters (in the beginning, Azoth’s best friend gets buggered by the leader of their gang of street pickpockets and the little girl he protects, Doll Face, is scarred for life) however so many different plot threads were going on at once with so many different names and countries and all of them Fantasy foreign, if you know what I mean, that I got lost in the tangle several times. But it might be because I was reading it at a time where I didn’t have a whole lot of long stretches to get into it. That, and I’m not used to reading straight fantasy.

 Still, for the hardcore fantasy, this might be a good pick.

Arrhythmia by Alice Zorn

Full disclosure: Alice is a friend of mine as well as a writing mentor, which means that if I didn’t like this book, I probably wouldn’t have included it in my list, thus saving myself from any awkward moments.But I am writing about it, so that should tell you something right there. Not only am I writing about, I will be raving about it! So watch out.

(digression- blogger won’t let me press the return button anymore. What is up with that?)

Set in Montreal on the eve of Y2K, the novel weaves together the stories of  Joelle and Marc, Ketia, the Haitian nurse Marc has become obsessed with, and Joelle’s best friend since childhood, Diane, and her live-in boyfriend Nazim. The dilemnas in this book are very human, and heart-breakingly realistic: miscommunication, cultural differences, self-delusion all come to a head in one way or another for all the characters.

 Critique:
 This is a tightly written book; if this book was a scarf, there would be no dropped stitches. Zorn weaves her way through the different lives of her characters in such a way that each crisis parallels another character’s crisis.
And I don’t want to give too much away, but let us say that though the fight scenes aren’t as physical as the Way of Shadows, they do not hold back any punches in the emotionally brutal arena. Marc’s growing resentment of Joelle and her refusal to recognise it until he leaves is almost unbearable. His complete self-delusion about Ketia, twenty years his junior and from a very close knit cultural community, is almost tragicomic. Driving through both Ketia and Marc’s story as well as Nazim (who hails from Morrocco) and Diane’s is the hard reality that it is easier to connect with an individual than it is to a different culture, a reality we face daily here in the multi-ethnic Montreal.

To conclude my little rave fest, I honestly could not put this book down ( I read it in a couple of days, which is saying a lot since I’ve been working ten hour days…). Alice doesn’t mince words – her writing is sparse, tight and lyrical.

I highly recommend you pick this book up (promise: no monsters, magic, or fantasy, except for the common, human made kind).

Books listened:

 M is for Magic by Neil Gaiman

I’ve decided that I want to be Neil Gaiman when I grow up.

There.

End of review.

Just kidding! God, I crack myself up… M is for Magic is a collection of Gaiman’s short stories packaged for children. At first, some of his choices surprised me (eg. the one about the troll where the protagonist grows up and ends up cheating on his wife), but I respect his choices and am the last person to think coddling our children by not letting them read about A-holes is acceptable, so I was soon on board. (Oh and the guy wasn’t really an a-hole, although he did become a troll in the end. He was very sad about his divorce…)

Critique:
Once again, another rave fest.  I loved his introduction to children, telling them they need not like every story in the book. I loved the story about the elderly woman who finds the holy grail in the St. Vincent de Paul and puts it on her mantlepiece. When Galahad comes to fetch it, she drives a hard bargain, fixes him sandwiches and tea , and sends him on his way. The story that started the The Graveyard book is in here, as well as an awesomely hilarious take on a coming of age story about a boy who finally learns to talk to girls at a party and realises too late that the girls are well, not exactly girls…

 To conclude, I repeat. I want to be Neil Gaiman when I grow up.

A visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

This selection just won the Pulitzer prize, for whatever that’s worth. But it did, so I’m mentioning it.

This is another “novel” in the loose sense, like the Imperfectionists, or like Robert Altman’s Shortcuts (not a novel, I know but still.)Each chapter follows a different character who at one time or another will come in contact with another character in the book. It goes back and forth between San Francisco in the 70s and the punk movement at the time, the music industry of the 21st century in new York and 20 years in the future, where the newest demographic are the pointers, toddlers who can’t read yet, but have an awesome amount of purchasing power (the pre-literates).

Critique:

Egan is very good at taking her character’s most embarrassing moments, their greatest weaknesses, and laying them under a microscope. It starts off with Sasha, who lost her job as assistant to Benny salazar because of her kleptomania, then moves to Benny himself who is grappling with his own selling out and the fact that he does not fit into the white rich uppercrust. Then we time travel to San Francisco in the 70s when Benny was a teenager and some of the mistakes made by his friends then. And so on, until we end up with a small glimpse of the near future- the music industry, technology, environmental problems.
 Now that I think about, Egan makes the reader do a lot of miles in this book, not necessarily a bad thing.

Definitely a good listen, and am sure a good read….

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

 Diana Bishop is a science historian who specializes in alchemical manuscripts and is in Oxford for a year doing research. She’s also a witch, from a long line of witches but who does not want use her power, which turns out to be considerable. But when she calls up Ashmoll 782 and accidentally breaks the spell the manuscript was under, she attracts the attention of an ancient vampire (and chemical biologist- or something) Matthew Clairmont, not to mention some pretty nasty characters. Thus begins the first book in the All Souls trilogy.

 Critique: (warning Spoilers below)
Despite Harkness being a historian of science herself, and all the many luscious references to illuminated manuscripts,wine, old artefacts and history, this book is essentially a Twilight for adults.

And I had such high hopes for it. What is it with the need to make vampires this crazy obsessed, protective, psychotic boyfriends? Why? And why do the women, who seemed to be perfectly independent and strong-willed, fall into their arms and let the vampire boyfriend boss them around? Is it ture that all a woman wants is to be take care of?

No, that can’t be true. Then why is this kind of love story so freakin’ popular?

This story would have been intriguing without the melodramatic love story. Like Edward in Twilight, Matthew calls the shots. He says when they are aloud to be together, when they are married and when they will consummate their marriage (and not to spoil anything, but I think he’s in to delayed gratification).

It is super irritating. Not to mention the fact that all of a sudden they are married (oops another spoiler alert)  and Diana at the drop of the hat begins to call the vampire Matthew sired long ago, “son.” Swear words entered my head everytime she said it.

Still, if you can look past the unforgivable sappy parts, there is a fun story here. The great thing about a vampire story is that the vampire can have been in many different places in history, have talked to a whole bunch of intriguing characters. Here is where Harkness shines (that, and an almost encyclopedic descriptions of various wines, which I respect) – she is obviously a historian who loves her work.

The next book will take the loving couple to Elizabethan England so that Diana can find a witch strong enough to help her control her powers, while the rest of the clan prepare for an uncoming war, all related to the above manuscript.

And yes, I’ll probably read it. Grumble, grumble.

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4 Responses to April in Books

  1. Carrie says:

    shit! you gave away the ending of the Pullman book! I didn't want to know Christ pretended to be Jesus after he died until I READ IT……………….

    I was so excited to see it in your librarything list (how nice that my birthday twin and I are reading the same book at approximately the same time, woo hoo) but now I am CHAGRINED.

  2. Crap. Sorry about the spoiler – didn't even think of it at the time…Let me know what you think, though, okay? Maybe it is way more astounding than I gave it credit for…

  3. Alice Zorn says:

    It is always fantabulous to get a positive first review.
    ps Next book I'm going to ask you to write the summary for the back cover.

  4. Carrie says:

    I stopped reading it after I read the blog post. And I vowed never to read your blog again, but I'm very good at having hypocritical convictions.

    However, I did really like what I read (about two-thirds). The fact that I immediately dropped it after reading what you wrote about it…. well, that's something else entirely.

    I think I might also be jealous that you have the same feelings as other members of your book club. I feel like a weirdo with my book club. I have better book discussions with co-workers at lunch.

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