Sunday, March 28, 2010

Avalon... and Shutter Island

Disclaimer:  I am not trying to compare the two following novels, but books like the second are all I can come by in the area where I live right now.  I mention the first novel because I do plan to review it in full on the blog once I:  1. get a hold of it again, and 2. re-read it.  That said, stay tuned in April for a review of Bradley's Priestess of Avalon, which is currently in my possession.  Now...

The Mists of Avalon-Trade Two to Conquer (Darkover: The Hundred Kingdoms)

If this post is your very first experience of Marion Zimmer Bradley's books, drop everything you're doing, run to the nearest bookstore, and get yourself a copy of The Mists of Avalon, a beautiful Celtic myth-inspired re-imagining of King Arthur's tale, chock-full of twists and turns, complex and loveable characters and magic that will find its way into your night-dreams and day-dreams.  However, if they're sold out for the very reason that the book is awesome, you may want to hold off on Bradley's Darkover novel Two to Conquer.  And that is the book portion of this post because incidentally I am reading the book in German, and cannot get past pg 115 - partly because it's in German, and partly owing to the terrible boring-ness of the protagonist and description of a war scene that has taken up at least half of those pages.  However, I understand that the story gets better and the guy changes from an unoriginal misogynistic prick to a more enlightened human being, so I will update this post accordingly later on.

Shutter Island 

Instead of reading the latter book, take both a break from reading and some friends to see Martin Scorcese's Shutter Island.  I'm not in the states, so tell me if I'm way too late and you already missed this in theaters, because this one's a movie-theater movie.  At the credits, I knew I was going to like it, but I ended up loving it for completely different reasons.  At that point, I was of the mind that this would be a detective-mystery, a la Sherlock Holmes (see my March 23rd post), although my husband thought that it was supposed to be a horror film.  And in fact one of the awesomest things about it, I found, was the genre ambiguity.  One minute you're wrapping your mind around a mystery, the next you're jumping out of your seat with real fright and horror, and the next you're teary-eyed.  Bloody war flashbacks, dead children and wives, betrayal, insanity, and conspiracy grace the screen, and buried in all of it are beautiful scenes and moments where you won't quite know what you're watching anymore.  So I'll let Leo take you through the rest because I know everybody's already told you to see it, but instead of saving up for majorly expensive tickets, you'll see it on vid sometime soon.

That's all right now, 'cause that's really all I've done this week, so have a relaxing Sunday evening, and we'll see each other next with an update of this post and my new review of Priestess of Avalon.  All this fantasy talk has me craving some Arthur and Lancelot swordfights...

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Tea Rose

The Tea Rose: A NovelWho knows when you'll read this post, since my stupid internet isn't working! It's my bad-computer attitude, I know it. One thing happens, I complain so the comp says, you think that's bad? And then, dude, check out Fiona's life...

The Tea Rose, Jennifer Donnelly. Her first novel, you would never know it the way she can write a scene. Certain paragraphs are so emotionally-charged, there'll be tears. Some lines are funny as hell, and they'll have the lady next to you on the train rolling her eyes at your insane giggling. Cockney dialect aplenty, reminding me of Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes, but without all the fecks. This is a story, like many others of the historical fic genre, of love, loss, and finding love again in East London, circa 1888. But what I actually liked most about this book was the various platonic relationships that the protagonist Fiona has with family members and friends. For instance, she marries a gay man Nick, who happens to be my favorite character, and they have the most interesting relationship: at times, hilarious - he tends to call her "old shoe" in conversation as if it were her name, which makes me like him; at other times, he becomes Fiona's conscience, screaming exactly what she's afraid to tell herself. Considering Fiona's father doesn't figure into much of the book, he still becomes a real, sympathetic character as Fiona's flashbacks of her childhood torture her and at the same time drive her on into an uncertain future. All in all, the major heartbreak of the novel doesn't hold my interest as much as many other elements do - the book has some hilarious characters, a great story with plenty of twists, period detail of the slums of East London and Jack the Ripper.

My mother-in-law read the front cover blurb from Frank McCourt and said "heartwarming novel of pain?!" Obviously she hasn't read much of the genre called "melodrama". And it's only recently that I realized I do in fact read plenty of melodrama. I semi-recently read the second installment of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series (must-read material for any fantasy/his-fic reader) Dragonfly in Amber - forget my description, just get 'em. I also devoured Paullina Simons' The Bronze Horseman earlier this year, a totally involving and exciting drama of the coming-of-age of Tatiana during the Siege of Leningrad. Her relationship with Alexander, a soldier in the Red Army, is naturally star-crossed and painful as any in the genre, and this one, perhaps unlike Fiona and Joe's, is worth the price of the book.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Hound of the Baskervilles

This week's review:  Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles, which you can also read online here, if you do not value your eye-sight.

Sherlock Holmes: The Hound of the Baskervilles 

I found myself weary and yet wakeful, tossing restlessly from side to side, seeking for the sleep which would not come. Far away a chiming clock struck out the quarters of the hours, but otherwise a deathly silence lay upon the old house. And then suddenly, in the very dead of the night, there came a sound to my ears, clear, resonant, and unmistakable. It was the sob of a woman, the muffled, strangling gasp of one who is torn by an uncontrollable sorrow. I sat up in bed and listened intently. The noise could not have been far away and was certainly in the house. For half an hour I waited with every nerve on the alert, but there came no other sound save the chiming clock and the rustle of the ivy on the wall... 

The story begins at Sherlock Holmes' place, where he's joined by his friend Dr. Watson.  The two are naturally in the middle of investigating a stranger's walking stick, accidentally left at Holmes' house.  The stick, it turns out, belongs to a Dr. Mortimer, who is asking the two for help with a manuscript documenting the Curse of the Baskervilles.  And so it begins, in a 19th-century smoke-filled room, as Sherlock meditates on the strange, morbid occurrences that have plagued the Baskerville family for generations.  And you, reader, if I still have your attention, will soon become another detective, unlocking the mysterious past of these sad characters trapped in the gloom of the moor.

At every turn, Baskerville gave an exclamation of delight, looking eagerly about him and asking countless questions.  To his eyes all seemed beautiful,  but to me a tinge of melancholy lay upon the countryside, which bore so clearly the mark of the waning year.  Yellow leaves carpeted the lanes and fluttered down upon us as we passed.  The rattle of our wheels died away as we drove through drifts of rotting vegetation - sad gifts, as it seemed to me, for Nature to throw before the carriage of the returning heir of the Baskervilles.

Needless to say, this story of Mr. Baskerville's eerie family legacy is a classic for a reason.  I liked it just as I had expected to like it, knowing I'm not so crazy about detective novels, and yet that I love a good gothic atmosphere and interesting tale of death, evil and melancholy.  I just think that Poe is more in my line of writing, since he's not as hung up on whodunnit, rather on what it was like to ...dunnit.  And with that, I leave you to your devices, partly because I have a whole bag of Easter Rolos here that needs eating.  And partly because this is the third darn time I tried to get this post out.  Next time we'll change up the genre with a review of Jennifer Donnelly's historical drama called The Tea Rose.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Lost Symbol


The Lost Symbol (Robert Langdon, No. 3) 

Not nearly as interesting as The DaVinci Code.  Sorry.  And yeah I'm one of those folks who read the latter and really was inspired to find out more on the subject.  I take Dan Brown with a grain of salt, of course, but I can't ignore the fact that he's got some interesting ideas.  Unfortunately with the former I was left with the same exact questions about the same mysterious group called Freemasons as I had at the beginning.  And nothing I learned about them throughout the book really held me in rapture like reading of Mary Magdalene's possible history and the supposed meaning of the Holy Grail.  But I do have a slightly-more-than-passing interest in noetic science now, although not enough to go beyond Wikipedia.  That said, the most interesting part of the book to me hadn't much to do with the Masons, but was the scene described in flashback, where a dying man's body is weighed during his passing, and a scale created by a noetic scientist measures his body's surrender of his soul (or whatever it is), which clearly proved that the substance had mass.  So, stuff like that = interesting.  Masons?  Still shrouded in mystery, and frankly I'm okay with that.  Otherwise, it's the usual fare.  Go see the film when it comes out, that DaVinci Code soundtrack is awesome.

My next project:  The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur C. Doyle (author of Sherlock Holmes stories).  So far so good, and the story is promisingly gothic, although it could be creepier.  But it's a detective/crime story, so I'll give it kudos for being somewhat creepier than the other Sherlock stories.  In any case I have to be nice because my husband loveslovesloves the various adventures of Sherlock Holmes, which was really the only reason I read any of them.  Not normally my cup o' tea, but we'll give it a run-down next week-ish.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Dan Brown & Guilty Pleasures

In case you cared, time is moving way too fast in the little barnhouse here, and I am still wishing it away faster.  The snow on the ground has shown no signs of melting yet, it could just as easily be November again, with a whole winter of freezing cold ahead.  Yay.

That said, the last couple of days have been spent sitting by the living room's woodstove with my latest read.  In reading The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons I had to wonder if these are considered guilty pleasures by literary standards.  Now that I'm onto the latest in Robert Langdon's adventures, The Lost Symbol, it's occurred to me that I really don't remember a whole lot of any of those books, despite having read them sometime within the past year.  And more importantly, I probably wouldn't read them again, even though they were fun.  So there you have it ... right?

What do you think, what characterizes a guilty-pleasure read?  Is there any shame in reading whatever qualifies?  Do you tell your work friends about it, or pretend you're reading Ulysses instead?  Do you bring any books to work, or fear that your Ulysses-reading co-workers will react badly?  Personally I do take books to work, but I end up not reading them and playing on the net instead.  But if I did worry about such things, I certainly wouldn't take my nonfiction books because then I'd have to explain how I'm trying to be smart.  I might be questioned on the book or subject's contents, and this is just too much.  Read my blog, folks.  You feel me?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Gothic Journal, etc.

Since it's Sunday I am taking a break from all thoughts original, and choose instead to supply you with the fruits of someone else's hard work: Gothic Journal.  Wild Rose Press!  Samhain Publishing!  Love the names; I think that's reason alone to pick up some of these titles.  Though you can't see any artwork on that site, and we all love to see women running from houses - if you're interested, each link takes you to the page.  Which is not nearly as much fun as waiting to see what's half-price or discounted at $.01 at The Strand in NYC, but without Amazon I would not be the person I am today, so there you go.  And not even an Associate!

You'll want to check out Strange Brew from this list, which is an anthology of some urban fantasy including what looks like a story by Patricia Briggs, of the Mercy Thompson series that I love, and a story by Charlaine Harris, of Sookie Stackhouse fame.  I haven't even seen True Blood on TV yet, thanks to international copyright (or lack thereof).  Yes, Hulu, I'm talking about you.  Anyway, I'm happy to see Ms. Briggs also has a new Mercy Thompson novel coming out March 30th, Silver Borne, the fifth in the series.  Looks awesome.  This means I have to start re-reading those books so I can get the full effect.

In other news, today I'll be reading Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol, having finished Pride and Prejudice last night.  No, there is no method to my madness, I just read whatever's lying around.  I did check out what's on the shelf at our local Marktkauf and found nothing promising.  Which means, no decent-looking book priced under 16e, or $21.79.  I am a very cheap date, and I do not often force my husband to buy me 20-dollar books, yesterday included.  So I will get back to you sometime with my progress on the Dan Brown.  And .. out.  Have a very gothic Sunday, folks.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Pride & Prejudice

I finished Pride and Prejudice pretty quickly because it was so hard to put down.  Despite having seen the movie umpteen times, I was still excited half to death with the suspense and sexual tension in the relationship between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy.  The relationship between Elizabeth's sister Jane and Mr. Bingley is no less worthy of this kind of nail-biting - yes, I'm a biter - as she struggles with the possibility that he does not love her as much as she loves him (and all because of that crackhead bastard Darcy).  Although each character's pride and prejudice consistently seem to thwart every possible happiness in the novel, Austen pulls all of the threads together.  Austen's smart and beautiful dialogue in this book, I have heard although cannot attest to yet, is incomparable even among Austen's own works.  I would not hesitate to pick up Pride and Prejudice again, and I completely understand its presence on many bibliophiles' Re-Read Every Year list.  Recommended highly to anyone who reads novels.

And that's it!  Thought I'd spare you a bit from topics of P&P you already did a million high-school papers on, so I kept it short.  What's there to be said about it that hasn't been said already?  It's good; read it!