Category Archives: Fiction

Fiction

The Last Novel by David Markson

I actually finished this on the first plane trip on our way to Hawaii, but decided that it deserved more formatting than I could provide using Edward’s WordPress app, so here you go, a bit later than intended.

I love David Markson. LOVE. I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned it here before, but I do. I saw one of his books on someone’s shelf once – I think it was Reader’s Block – and exclaimed, ‘Oh, I love David Markson!’ and they responded with ‘Have you read it?!’ in a voice of such disdain and disbelief (whether directed toward me or David Markson, I’m not sure [why would I say it if I hadn't read it?!]) that I couldn’t help but be a little offended (on his behalf as well as mine).

To me, reading a David Markson novel (except for Wittgenstein’s Mistress, I think) is what I imagine reading a Philip Glass piece would be like (and I don’t mean reading the music, I mean reading the music). They’re made up of little…factoids, for lack of a better term, about people, usually artists and literary figures – I don’t know whether or not they’re actually true (though one of them in this books leads me to believe they are – despite that, I treat them like I do Wikipedia – if it confirms what I thought, I believe it, otherwise, if I do end up passing the info along, I make sure to preface it with ‘Well, according to Wikipedia…’) – that, when taken as a whole, eventually tell a story. And occasionally they are little notes from the narrator/author.

Well, a theme, I guess, is more accurate.

The reason I liken his writing to Philip Glass’ music is that, as you begin reading, you can’t really see where it’s going and sometimes things seem to be repeated (in one of his books, this happens occasionally word for word until you reach the end and realize that they’ve gradually been changing and becoming less accurate and coherent – brilliant!) until there is a moment (like in Dickens, too) when suddenly everything falls into place and, looking back over what you’ve read, it seems so obvious but you couldn’t have reached that conclusion until you reached that particular moment. I doubt that makes sense, but it will if you pick up a David Markson book.

For example:

Enrico Fermi once wrote an entire full-length textbook on atomic physics in pencil – without an eraser. (24)

The first opera Toscanini ever saw, at the age of four, was Un Ballo in Maschera. The last opera Toscanini ever conducted, at the age of eighty-seven, was Un Ballo in Maschera. (25)

Poor England, when such a despicable abortion is named genius.

Said Thomas Carlyle of Charles Lamb.

Anybody can be nobody.

Said Eugene V. Debs.

Novelist’s personal genre. For all its seeming fragmentation, nonetheless obstinately cross-referential and of cryptic interconnective syntax.

Wondering why one is surprised to realize that Thoreau was dead at forty-five.

A lament of Schopenhauer’s:

Over how frequently the mere purchase of a book is mistaken for the appropriation of its contents. (51).

There are too many that I marked to share with you, but you get the idea. Better yet, I hope you’re intrigued enough to pick one up (Wittgenstein’s Mistress is more of a traditional novel, at least in format – I wouldn’t know for sure, though, as I haven’t read it yet [stop judging me, Schopenhauer!]). I can’t recommend him enough (despite the fact that, in the end, he’s usually a little bleak).

My rating: A+

And, look, he mentions my favorite person:

Freud’s addiction to cocaine.

Sherlock Holmes’. (107)

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IR Fantasy

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Seeing as this is considered a classic in the canon of kids’ books, I can’t believe it took me this long to finally read it! Especially since it was so good!

It kind of has a fable-y quality to its style, but it also turns things a little sideways – Sophie comes from a place full of fairytales (wizards and witches, demons, seven-league boots, etc.) and, being the eldest of three, is resigned to a uneventful life. Of course that’s not what happens otherwise she wouldn’t have a book written about her!

Full of engaging characters who aren’t always what they seem (but sometimes are), I would highly recommend it.

My rating: A-

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Chapters 1-7 of A Study in Scarlet, Or, Well, hello there, gentlemen!

All right, I have a feeling I may have too much to say here and I haven’t come up with a great way of organizing my thoughts, but there’s nothing for it but to get typing – MY THOUGHTS, LET ME SHOW YOU THEM!

Right off the bat, we have to take into consideration that Watson may be a slightly unreliable narrator. Much is made of his wandering war wound (shoulder or leg?) and that he occasionally becomes confused about the date. Fandom, however, is quite accommodating, happily explaining away the war wound with many theories (most involve him crouched down for some reason and having the bullet pass through his shoulder and leg in one fell swoop, others insist that the bullet must have gotten into his bloodstream and traveled from shoulder to leg; NA, 12). So far, no explanations have been supplied as to how Watson can lose a few days during his narrative, though, happily, he occasionally manages to corroborate his start date – or rather Lestrade does (Baring-Gould seems hyper-occupied with attention to the timekeeping or, more accurately, the lack thereof, throughout.). Stephen M. Black, however, has quite a nifty theory, namely that Watson was actually killed at Maiwand and his orderly, Murray, assumed his identity (instead of carrying him to safety, as Watson tells us), explaining his absentmindedness regarding facts here and there (NA, 13). I don’t think it’s true, but I am giddy at the lengths to which fandom has examined and theorized!

Another great mystery is Watson’s bull pup, mentioned once here and never again. As many people have pointed out, Watson is not really in a position to own a dog – at the moment, he’s living in a hotel (who would be unlikely to allow dogs; before that, he’d just spend a few months on a boat journeying back from Afghanistan; before that, he was recovering from typhoid in a hospital, another place unlikely to allow dogs; and before that, well, he was busy being almost killed (or killed) in battle. Again theories abound – that the dog suffered a fatal accident and Watson’s nerves were overcome (also in place to explain his confusion with dates) (NA, 25) or that Holmes, not being a dog person, eventually made him get rid of it (NA, 26) – though this seems unnecessarily cruel and I refuse to believe it of Holmes. Carol Woods even posits that what Watson actually owned was a ferret and when Holmes pointed this out to him, he was too embarrassed to mention the animal again (35). I just wonder why ACD even bothered to mention it – was he intending to do intricate plots involving the dog? It makes no sense!

Which brings us to Watson’s list. Oh, the list!

Sherlock Holmes – His Limits

  1. Knowledge of Literature. – Nil.
  2. ”                    ” Philosophy. – Nil.
  3. ”                    ” Astronomy. – Nil.
  4. ”                    ” Politics. – Feeble.
  5. ”                    ” Botany. – Variable. Well up in belladonna, opium, and poisons generally. Knows nothing of practical gardening.
  6. ”                    ” Geology. – Practical, but limited. Tells at a glance different soils from each other. After walks has shown me splashes uon his trousers, and told me by their colour and consistence in what part of London he had received them.
  7. ”                    ” Chemistry. – Profound.
  8. ”                    ” Anatomy. – accurate, but unsystematic.
  9. ”                    ” Sensational Literature. – Immense. He appears to know every detail of every horror perpetrated in the century.
  10. Plays the violin well.
  11. Is an expert singlestick player, boxer, and swordsman.
  12. Has a good practical knowledge of British law.

Well, ladies? Did I just describe your ideal man? I know, right?! Seriously, I don’t know if I’m the only one here with a crush on Holmes, but Richard Asher would say that I’m not, describing Holmes as being “enormously attractive to women” (NA, 31). My only response to this is “Hell, yes!” (Also, there is this odd interlude where Holmes picks up a random book [De jure inter Gentes] and starts telling Watson all about it, who then asks who the printer is. What?! Who cares, Watson?! But one of the notes says that “several scholars not surprisingly conclude that Holmes was a devoted bibliophile” (NA, 83) and I am even more smitten!)

Also, it is mentioned that Holmes gives a merry laugh at one point. I cannot express how much I love that Holmes has a merry laugh. Love. It. In fact, Sherlockians Charles E. and Edward S. Lauterbach have provided us with a handy Frequency Table* Showing the Number and Kind of Responses Sherlock Holmes Made to Humorous Situations and Comments in His 60 Recorded Adventures (NA, 27):

Smile 103 Amusement 9
Laugh 65 Cheer 7
Joke 58 Delight 7
Chuckle 31 Twinkle (I would seriously give an arm and a leg to see this.) 7
Humor 10 Mischellaneous (No, I don’t know what a “Miscellaneous” response to humor is, but it makes me laugh.) 19
Total 316

*Apologies for my awkward table, but HTML does not make it easy!

Oh, and Holmes’ cocaine habit (there is a phrase I’ve seen around teh intarwebs “I’m on it like Holmes on cocaine.” which I dearly long to work into everyday speech.). Here Watson notices that Holmes sometimes looks as though he’s using some kind of narcotic, but assures himself that Holmes’ “temperance and cleanliness…[forbid] such a notion.” But, of course, we know that Watson is wrong, though Dr. George F. McCleary decides that it is a deliberate deceit on the part of Holmes who is merely playing a joke on Watson (NA, 31). Again, I don’t think Holmes could be so cruel.

Oh, and also Holmes’ violin! His Stradivarius! There is discussion about his violin because Watson describes him as playing sonorous chords with the thing flung across his lap (not an easy feat, basically). Which, as a note on page 37 points out, would work if it really were a fiddle (as Watson calls it) with the flattened bridge, but surely not even Holmes would do that to his Stradivarius! There are also theories (though supported by what, I’m not sure) that it was the viola that he played, not the violin. One note speculates that Holmes models his style of playing after Paganini (NA, 91) to which I can only respond “Guh.”

As you can see, I really don’t think this story is as much about the mystery (though there is actually one to be solved) as it is about the introductions. Watson gives us enough information to hook us and to keep us coming back for more adventures!

And now, miscellaneous thoughts [These are my thoughts.]:

  • Many U.S. editions omit the “B” [from their address] (NA, 28). [What? Why?!]
  • Regarding Watson’s list of Holmes’ limits, Edgar W. Smith says that “A list of Watson’s own points might, at this juncture, have been headed by the specification: 1. Knowledge of Sherlock Holmes. – Nil.” (NA, 34). [Ooh, burn!]
  • Ian McQueen is dubious that Watson would have had sufficient time to acquire a marked degree of facial tanning… It may be that Holmes was not so quick with his inference about Afghanistan as Watson would have the reader believe (NA, 42). [Aww, Watson's trying to make Holmes look extra clever for us!]
  • And on the return side, “This statement (‘it’s useful to obtain the facts, although I don’t really need them’) seems to fly in the face of Holmes’ own careful doctrine respecting theorising in advance of the evidence, expressed earlier. It appears to be Holmes trying to impress his newfound colleague on their first case together” (NA, 66). [I am beside myself with teh cute!]
  • Here was an opportunity of taking the conceit out of [Holmes]. He little thought of this when he made that random shot. “May I ask, my lad,” I said, in the blandest voice, “what your trade may be?” “Commissionaire, sir,” he said, gruffly. “Uniform away for repairs.” “And you were?” I asked, with a slightly malicious glance at my companion. “A sergeant, sir, Royal Marine Light Infantry, sir. No answer? Right, sir.” (NA, 46) [Watson, you are too cute for words. Also? PWNED!]
  • “What’s that little thing of Chopin’s she plays so magnificently: Tra-la-la-lira-lira-lay.” (NA, 77) This one line is followed by perhaps the longest note yet, approximately a full page of theories regarding which of Chopin’s pieces he’s referring to here (made all the more difficult by the fact that Holmes is going to see a lady violinist give a concert and Chopin never wrote anything for the solo violin). [Such attentiont to detail! So much love, fandom. So much love. How many essays were written based on this one sentence?!]
  • On the aforementioned concert: “It was magnificent,” [Holmes] said, as he took his seat. “Do you remember what Darwin says about music? He claims that the power of producing and appreciating it existed among the human race long before the power of speech was arrived at. Perhaps that is why we are so subtly influenced by it. There are vague memories in our souls of those misty centuries when the world was in its childhood.” “That’s a rather broad idea,” I remarked.” (NA, 80) [Is there no romance in your soul, Watson? You are as bad as J's Harris!]
  • In response to Gregson’s theory: “It’s quite exciting,” said Sherlock Holmes, with a yawn. “What happened next?” (NA, 106) [ILU, Holmes!]
  • The latter suggestion [that Stangerson was actually in Engand looking for Watson] is especially intriguing in light of Arthur Conan Doyle’s play Angels of Darkness, which places Dr. Watson in San Francisco, where he meets Jefferson Hope, who, with his dying breath, urges Watson to marry Lucy Ferrier! (NA, 113) [ACD's what now with Watson where now?!]
  • “[Holmes'] eyes were sharp and piercing.” They were gray eyes, as we are told later on numerous occasions (BG, 154) [Mmm, dreamy...]
  • “[Holmes'] teeth may have detracted slightly from this impressive appearance for with his excessive consumption of shag they must have been heavily tobacco-stained and moreover we know that the left canine tooth had been knocked out by Mathews in the waiting-room at Charing Cross (“The Adventure of the Empty House”); but perhaps he wore a denture.” (BG, 154) [Great. Now I'm picturing Holmes with a grill...]
  • “Then I picked up a magazine from the table and attempted to while away the time with it, while my companion munched silently at his toast.” (BG, 158) Baring-Gould notes that “How Holmes accomplished this minor miracle is not known.” [I am dead with the laughing. Baring-Gould has a sense of humor!]
  • On a note describing who Dupin is “Ratiocinative hero of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841), “The Purloined Letter” (1845) and “The Mystery of Marie Roget” (1842). (BG, 162) [What the hell is this word?! Using the process of exact thinking or a reasoned train of thought. Thank you, Merriam-Webster! Dumb it down a little, Baring-Gould.]
  • “Here is another indication that the year of A Study in Scarlet was indeed 1881 [Baring-Gould likes to use the weather to prove things like this - he'll try it again later based on a comment that there had previously been no rain for a week.] Weather reports from the Times of London show that Friday, March 4, 1881 was ‘wet and unsettled,’ and the forecast was for ‘dull and cold, rain or snow.’ Saturday, March 4, 1882, on the other hand, was ‘cloudy’ but ‘generally fine.’” (BG, 166) [When is the weather in London NOT like this in March?! This proves nothing!]
  • Upon astounding the constable who discovered Drebber’s body by knowing impossible things about the case, he asks him “Where was you hid to see all that?” According to a note from Baring-Gould (177), “That Holmes was indeed on the spot at the time of the murder – disguised as the cab horse ‘with three old shoes and one new one on his off foreleg’ – was the astounding theory put forward by the late Robert S.  Morgan in his volume Spotlight on a Simple Case, a tour de force that must be read to be believed.” [INDEED! I think we all know what this means... WANT!]

So, yeah. Long post is long. And there’s so much more that I thought was super-cool in the annotateds that, in deference to the fact that not everybody may share my enthusiasm, I’ve decided to skip over despite really, really wanting to share (speculation regarding Lestrade, Gregson, Mrs. Hudson, Stamford and his many professions, Holmes’ eyesight [I maintain that he just likes the sound of Watson's voice], the location of Lauriston Garden[s], the location of the nearest cab rank or newspaper stall, and whether or not Holmes might actually be a lawyer or even an American among many others!

See you next Tuesday for part 2 (chapters 1-6 or 8-13, depending on how your book is numbered) of A Study in Scarlet. I fully expect to be able to rein myself in next time, because the introductions are over but mostly because we’re off to the dreaded Alakali Flats. Be strong! Don’t let the boredom get you!

*Most of my notes, I think, come from the New Annotated simply because I find its format easier to work through and it is, therefore, the version that I’m reading first (I’m only reading the notes in the Baring-Gould). Much of the information is doubled up, but there is some that is unique to either volume, so if you see NA, that’s the Baring-Gould edition and BG is the New Annotated. No, I’m totally kidding – it’s the other way (the logical way) round.

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Welcome to my new project!

So, in a fit of love for He Who Tops My Literary Crush List (Followed Closely By Skulduggery Pleasant) aka Sherlock Holmes (reignited by the wonder that is RDJ [and perhaps aided a tiny bit by Jude Law's Hotson Watson]), I recently decided that I would reread all of the Holmes canon (yes, even the Valley of Fear – OMG, so boring!).

First, I thought that I would simply revisit my tattered, old copy of the complete Sherlock Holmes and then I realized that I had the copy of the Baring-Gould annotated Holmes that I stole borrowed from my dad’s library and thought it would do me good to use that copy instead.

Foolishly, on a whim, I decided to look up the New Annotated Holmes that came out a few years ago and discovered that (according to the intarwebs) it was one of those wondrous versions that talks about Holmes as though he were a real person.

Why did no one tell me this?! Probably in an attempt to save me some money, since that is the one thing I am unable to resist (apart from JKJ, of course), no matter how well I am managing to adhere to my book-buying ban. (Honestly, it’s like being on a diet, I’ll be going along, doing so well and then suddenly I’ll find myself doing something like eating an entire cake buying the aforementioned New Annotated.) Which left me with the question of which version to read?

Well, the obvious answer is to read through them both simultaneously, right? So that’s what I’m going to do.

The next question was in what order to do it. Baring-Gould seems to be in the order that the cases actually happened to Holmes (starting with The Gloria Scott) while the New Annotated seems to go in the order the short stories were published (starting with Scandal in Bohemia). Long story short, I’m going to go with the New Annotated and experience Holmes the way Watson intended. ;)

Except it’s a trick! Despite the short stories being the first volumes of both annotateds, the novels (well, two of them) actually came first. So after all that, I’ll actually be starting with A Study in Scarlet.

Which brings me to my final question – would any of you like to join me? Eventually, my plan is to read one short story a week and divide up the novels accordingly, so I’m thinking that every Tuesday I’ll post my thoughts about that week’s story along with any particularly interesting things I learn from the various annotateds and if anyone would like to discuss in the comments, you’re more than welcome to. And if not, I’ll just post anyway!

So get thee to your local library or bookstore and get ready to curl up with Sherlock (honestly, who wouldn’t want to do that?!). Next Tuesday I’ll post for the first part (chapters 1-7) of A Study in Scarlet. Hope you’ll join me! (And cross your fingers that I can actually follow through on this project…)

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YA Fiction: Sci-Fi/Fantasy

The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett

When I first discovered the wonder that is Terry Pratchett, I asked for recommendations of where to start (or continue) since his oeuvre is rather intimidating. Claire immediately responded to suggest this book and it only took me…two years to get to it?! Sorry, Claire, I totally meant to read this sooner.

Claire was right, this one was very good. I would say it was much different than the handful (or less than that) of Terry Pratchett books I’ve read so far – very much more, I don’t know, philosophical than the others? Less of a straightforward plot, at the very least.

On the surface, The Wee Free Men follows Tiffany Aching and her progress toward becoming a witch. Except there’s so much more to it – she learns about her grandmother and herself and the world (or worlds) around her. I’m not doing it justice, but take Claire’s advice and read it.

Claire, it looks like there’s at least one (and maybe two?) sequel to this book – are they just as good? Should I stick with Tiffany?

My rating: B+ (And, no, I don’t know why it’s considered YA, but that’s where Borders had it, so…)

And I’m sorry, but, being of the generation that I am, the name Tiffany will always be associated with this:

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YA: Sci-fi/Fantasy

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Leviathan has so much going for it – I absolutely couldn’t wait to read it as soon as I heard about it! An alternate history story about World War I being fought between the Darwinists (i.e., England et al.) who have bred all manner of newfangled creates (including two-headed, six-legged dogs, lizards who repeat whatever they’re told in the voice of whoever’s told them, and the Leviathan itself, a huge whale that is used as an airship) and the Clankers (i.e., Germany et al.) who are the steampunkers of the group featuring a girl disguised as a boy and the heir of Austro-Hungary on the run?  What’s not to love?!

But I didn’t love it. At least not at first. It’s told in chapters alternating Deryn (the girl)’s and Alek (the heir)’s points of view and for the first thirty-odd chapters, Westerfeld explains his world-building. And fair enough, there’s a lot of alternate history to fill the reader in on, but I found that it got a bit tedious – I’m not sure whether it would have worked to just drop us in and let us figure it out as we read, but it might have been worth a try.

But once Deryn and Alek finally meet (around chapter thiry-four or so), things really pick up and for those last ten (or so) chapters, I was hooked! Lots of big action sequences and secrets to be revealed – including the one that leaves us hanging, anxious for the next book (I predict lots of political intrigue ahead…).

Like I was saying, Westerfeld has obviously done his homework and put in the time to think things through – here is what appears on the book’s endpapers:

Along with the endpaper illustrations, the book also features illustrations by Keith Thompson which I liked an awful lot (and during all the exposition, were my favorite part):

My rating: B (I want to give it a higher rating because of how I felt about it at the end, but with kind of uneven pacing, I just can’t quite do it…)

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Fiction

Imposture by Benjamin Markovits

I…think I may have been reading YA for too long. Well, not too long, but long enough to erode my English degree. Okay, I’m digging myself into a hole here – I don’t mean to say that YA is not “literature” or is a lesser genre, it just doesn’t usually require quite the close reading skills that grown-up books do. Like this one.

I can tell you what happened, but I’m not sure I can tell you why it happened. It’s about John Polidori, Lord Byron’s personal doctor for a short time and a real person, who, at the famous gothic storytelling party, actually wrote a story of his own called The Vampyre (the first English vampire story). Well, Polidori looks just like Lord Byron and is mistaken for him by Eliza, a naive young woman, who develops an infatuations and a kind of strange (and entirely unhealthy) relationship with him.

It starts out promising – it’s a story within a story – and there are doppelgangers aplenty (which I’m sure means something – here’s where my degree is deserting me), but I really didn’t connect with either of the characters. Not that I think that’s the point of the book, but it does make it hard to become engrossed. I got through the first three quarters or so of the book fairly quickly and then ground to a screeching halt for the last remaining pages (only the thought of Leviathan tomorrow – thank you, Jillian! – spurred me on to get through the end of it).

My rating: C

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IR Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

I don’t actually have much to say about this book other than that Collins continues her run of awesomeness that is the Hunger Games trilogy (?) with the second installment. Catching Fire finds Katniss dealing with the ramifications not only of winning the Hunger Games, but of the way in which she won. By undermining the Capitol’s absolute authority, she has become the face of the growing revolution, so now she has a hostile government to deal with along with trying to sort out her love triangle.

Since this is the second book, it ends with even more open-ended storylines, making the wait for the conclusion seem interminable. I can’t wait to see how everything ends!

My rating: A-

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YA Fiction

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Now. I see the Newbery here. And I totally thought it was nominated, but after searching the internet, it looks like it wasn’t! Say what now?!

Suzanne Collins is the author of the Gregor the Overlander series which I loved, but The Hunger Games?

Is amazing.

A quick run down, if you haven’t heard about this book – after a rebellion against the Capital, the remaining 12 Districts have to send two Tributes (a boy and a girl between the ages of 12 and 18) to participate in the Hunger Games, a reality television show in which the children fight to the death.

It is amazing. I tore through it almost in one sitting because there was just no good pausing point. The plot is constantly going, always moving forward and because the stakes are impossibly high, I was left almost breathless several times.

I’ll admit that my immediate reaction to Katniss (the main character) was not entirely pleasant, but once we got to the reaping, I was sold. And Peeta – I have conflicting feelings about Peeta, which were not helped by the plot’s twists and turns (Collins has created such complex, real characters that I, like Katniss, really wasn’t sure of motivations, who to trust, etc.).

And I knew that there were more books to come, so when the Hunger Games ended, I wasn’t sure what would be left to cover, but the nail-biting climax to the Games suddenly gives the series a deeper thread to follow. And I cannot wait to see what happens next. I know there are ARCs floating around out there (you lucky bastards!), I may have to start trolling eBay to see if any turn up there. I don’t know if I can wait until September 1!

My rating: A+

p.s. – It’s in first person, present tense, which I often associate with angsty fanfiction, but it totally works here – I didn’t even realise what I was reading until I was about halfway through. The immediacy of it is very appropriate to the action and just hooks you and never lets up.

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IR Sci-fi/Fantasy

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Once again, I think I’m the last person with an interest in children’s books to actually read this (and the next one – I’m catching up!). I’ve come to it after it’s won all sorts of awards. But any time you read this book, it’ll be worth it.

For anyone who may not think they’re interested in what is, technically, a children’s book, this is the one that starts:

There was a hand in the dark, and it held a knife.

I know, right? Only Neil Gaiman could get away with something like that. Like Coraline, it is pretty creepy – the beginning in particular is very dark and, yes, I cried. But once Bod settles into life in the graveyard, things cheer up a bit and actually seem quite homey and nice.

It reads sort of like a fable – there’s a certain distance between the reader and the words, which works, and the pace is on the slow side (usually – there are a few slightly out-of-place action scenes), but it works.

My rating: B+

p.s. – It took me a very long time of staring at the cover to figure out what the picture was.

p.p.s. – I’ll be honest with you, though – I’m not sure I see the Newbery Medal award in here…

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IR Sci-fi/Fantasy

Skulduggery Pleasant: The Faceless Ones by Derek Landy

I think I mentioned a few book reviews back that I was anxiously awaiting the release of this book – in August. Well, I happened to stumble across information that lead me to believe that it had been released in late April in the UK. Lame! So I immediately hied myself over to good old .co.uk and ordered myself a copy (leading me to have to force myself through Eon at a rather high pace).

It did not disappoint! This book really belongs to Valkyrie – I think it’s the first time that the narrative has really shifted from Skulduggery. Don’t get me wrong – he’s definitely there a satisfying amount (I would most certainly let you know if there was not enough Skulduggery in this one), but just something about the tone felt like Valkryie was in the forefront here.

There are so many characters to be reunited with – Tanith, China, Ghastly, Bliss, Solomon Wreath, and Guild – and such a long time since I’d read the last book that it took me a while to remember who they all were – and a few new characters – most notably Fletcher Renn – that I’ll have to remember next time around, but they’re all definitely worth the effort. Skulduggery is still the outstanding character (I mean, come on, he’s a 400 year old, animate skeleton with magical powers – how could he not be outstanding?!) – his normal charming, debonair, slightly violent self, but I think Valkryie is really coming into her own as well.

The humor is quite crackling, the action is exciting (though perhaps a degree more violent than the last), and the characters are fantastic. I really can’t recommend this series enough – thank goodness there are still six more books to come!

My rating: A

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YA Sci-fi/Fantasy

Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman

This book is going to be a bit awkward for me to review. I trudged through the first 400 pages pretty reluctantly – really the only thing that kept me going was the thought of the next book which I’d ordered and was on its way and which I would be desperate to read the moment it arrived – all of which meant that I had to finish this book, which I’d foolishly started the same day I ordered the next book, quickly in orer to clear the way for the next book.

The premise was promising – in an alternate, vaguely Asian world where women are definitely secondary citizens, 11 dragons and their dragoneyes (people who are able to control the dragons) carefully keep things in balance, supporting the emperor and using their powers to manipulate the weather, crops, etc. I think. Goodman didn’t really explain what else they do (though I may have missed the more thorough explanation in my haste, I suppose)… There are actually 12 dragons, but the Mirror Dragon has not appeared to choose a dragoneye in over 500 years. Eon, a girl masquerading as a boy, is training to be the new Rat Dragon dragoneye but is instead chosen by the missing Mirror Dragon.

The first 400 pages are full of political intrigue but mostly Eon trying to navigate her new courtly position while learning to control the Mirror Dragon (who mysteriously [though not really] seems suddenly reluctant to cooperate with Eon) and have her real identity remain hidden. Most of my frustration with the book was due to the uncooperative Mirror Dragon and its reasons for being reluctant. I had realised the problem about 200 pages before Eon did and, as she just kept making bad decision after bad decision, I really just wanted to reach into the book and smack her on the back of the head in an attempt to knock some sense into her!

But at page 400, when Eon finally, finally figures things out, it really picks up and gets rather exciting. The intrigues all come to a head, the bad guy is really bad (until all of a sudden he’s not which seemed to happen to quickly and he was really too bad for me to feel any sympathy for him at all), the really, really bad guy is really, really bad, and the cliffhanger for the next book is set up.

So I’ll probably read the second one just because I want to see how it all ends and I would recommend the last 200 pages or so, but you do have to read the first 400 to get there, so…I’ll leave it to you to decide.

My rating:

first 400 pages – C

last 200 pages – B+

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IR Sci-fi/Fantasy

The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan

Well, yet another beloved series has come to an end (Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl [supposedly, though I'm holding out for more there], and now Percy Jackson).* It came out yesterday and I read it in one sitting (while my parents [unsuccessfully] wrestled with my kitchen sink – raise your hand if you’re a princess!). And, lo, it was awesome.

It’s time for the final showdown between Percy Jackson (aided by the rest some of the campers from Camp Half Blood) and Luke/Kronos. At stake? Manhattan. Oh, and Mount Olympus (on the 600th floor of the Empire State Building).

Big things happen – there are betrayals and deaths and real consequences to people’s choices and actions and triumphs and losses…and humor, too – no one does slapstick and wry observations like my Percy! I don’t want to give too much away, so I will just say that I was entirely satisfied with this ending (unlike Harry Potter’s stupid epilogue – yeah, I’m still bitter about that).

I’m sad to see Percy’s story come to an end. Riordan’s obviously planning a sequel to the Percy Jackson series if the prophecy at the end is any hint, but whether or not it’ll feature Percy and Co. again, I haven’t heard yet. Part of me hopes so because I’d like to see Percy and Annabeth and Grover and, grudgingly, Rachel, again, but Percy’s story has a good ending to it as it stands, so I’m not sure he needs more story.

My rating: A+

*So now I’m just looking forward to Skulduggery Pleasant (August 25, baby, I’ve already got it in Edward’s calendar – but what the hell is this?! Is this new?! Is this something I need?! Okay, no, I’m calming down, I think it’s just the paperback version of Skulduggery Pleasant, though why it’s called Scepter of the Ancients is beyond me – subterfuge and trickery, that’s what it is!). He’s all I’ve got left!

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YA Fiction

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Holy fucking hell, this book will make you CRY! Also, don’t read it before bed – it will keep you awake, staring into the dark until you finally give in and watch a few episodes of How I Met Your Mother in order to try and lighten the mood a bit.

Here’s why: Mia, her younger brother Teddy, their mom, and their dad are driving to the grandparents’ house to visit them on a snow day. Between one paragraph and the next, Mia becomes the sole survivor of a car accident. The rest of the book is an out-of-body Mia reflecting on her life, what’s left of it, and whether or not she should stay.

So yeah.

It was good but definitely have a good sitcom on hand. You’re gonna need it.

My rating: A-

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Fiction: Sci-Fi

A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick

I will admit that this book definitely lies outside the realm of my usual to-read list, but it came highly recommended by my movie-going companion so I thought I would give it a try. Besides, it’s good for me to get outside of my reading comfort zone, right?! And I’m glad I did.

I’ll be honest, the first 100 pages or so were actually painful to read. The characters aren’t very likable and the language is sort of dated and stilted (partially due to the age of the book and also partially on purpose because of the drug culture being portrayed) and it was fairly confusing and more than a little bit dry. In short, it’s about an undercover policeman who’s posing as a drug dealer and, because of the amount of drugs he has to take to stay in character, he begins to lose his grip on reality and it becomes less and less clear whether or not he’s a cop posing as a drug dealer, a drug dealer posing as a cop, or something else entirely. See? Confusing!

But at around page 100, though I still didn’t care about the characters, I became very wrapped up in trying to figure out what was happening and which reality was the real one. It’s also a book that I think would definitely benefit from a second reading – but I’m not sure I’ll get around to that since rereads are not usually my thing.

So yes, an interesting read and a book I’m glad I read, but I’m not sure I’d go out of my way to read more Philip K. Dick. I suppose it’ll just depend if any other books of his are recommended to me.

My rating: B

p.s. – Had a bit of a discussion with the loanee about whether or not this book should actually be considered sci-fi. I say that it’s just fiction* since the sci-fi elements are not the point of novel, just the background that’s used to get across the author’s larger idea, but he maintains that any dystopian novel (or utopian novel, for that matter) belongs in sci-fi. I think we just agreed to disagree.

Even though I’m totally right.

But then I thought ‘What about speculative fiction? That’s a thing right?’ I have to find out more before I can incorporate it (or not) into my argument. Thoughts?

*Yes, I know the title of this post is ‘Fiction: Sci-Fi’ but I’m leaving it that way just in case anyone’s desperate to read it because that’s where it’ll be found in the library/bookshop.

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