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For this year, I like the idea of a group that is more interactive and less quantity-oriented. I'll post a ticker, but only because I'm used to it as a visual guide.
I'm looking forward to 2012 and the discussions and new ideas that it will bring.
Great to see you are reading some other languages as well. It will make the board here more international.
Rah! My 1st book of 2012. In fairness, I've been savoring it for quite some time now.
After a few intense reads and in light of what indeed shaped up to be a stressful year, I got a bee in my bonnet that I wanted to read some Jeeves and Wooster. I'd never read any, and kept hearing that they were classic British humor that was not to be missed.
I was not disappointed. Wealthy young Bertie Wooster is extremely lucky to have gentleman's gentleman Jeeves as his valet. Wooster has an uncanny ability to get into awkward situations - be they with his one of his aunts, friends, or an accidental betrothal, etc. It is Jeeves who tirelessly finds ways to get everything to work out - though usually not as Wooster would have planned.
This is an excellent introduction to Wooster and Jeeves, not to mention the various recurring friends and relations who pop up in the stories. I found myself chuckling aloud several times. It is best read one story, maybe two, at a time; otherwise, they bleed into each other too much and the formula risks becoming too repetitive. But the stories are perfect when you need to lighten things up with some well-written humor, or a little something fun before bedtime or to ease into a lazy weekend/holiday day. A really entertaining, enjoyable relief from the usual hectic pace.
Living in the UK now, I've also seen a couple of the Fry and Laurie TV version (I only stopped because it meant I knew where a couple of the stories in the book were headed). Now that I've finished, I look forward to watching more.
2. Människohamn by John Ajvide Lindqvist (451 p., Swedish)
Ahh, JAL, jag älskar dig. I love his books not just because they are haunting, but because they have come to represent my link to Sweden and my way to keep up with my Swedish reading. Those stated biases aside, JAL once again delivers a haunting novel of love, loss, and sacrifice, not to mention more than a bit of magic and ghosts.
It's winter at Stockholm's Archipelago. Anders, his wife and their 6 year old daughter Maja go out to explore the lighthouse. Maja disappears, seemingly into thin air. She's not the first. She's not the last.
A few years later, Anders, alcoholic and divorced, moves back to the archipelago. He is still struggling to cope with the loss of his daughter, the failure of his marriage. He's also dealing with being back amongst the archipelago residents, including his grandmother Anna-Greta and her long-term partner Simon (both of whom are harboring secrets of their own). People start coming back. Or acting strangely. The setting is as much an active character to the novel as any of the people. The harbor is alive. It swells. It recedes. It gives. It takes. It is mysterious. It provides. It protects.
The easy comparison is to Stephen King - both authors are at their best when they go beyond horror to delve into the psychological aspects of the subject at hand. The novel is not just about ghosts and magic, but about the aftermath of loss, the tricks one's mind plays, the desperation to hold on to memories. It is about the safe haven friends and family and home can provide.
My main criticism is that it sometimes felt there were too many threads that could have been tightened. I believe it was initially a short story that he fleshed out into this novel; at times it did feel it could have been better suited to a tauter novella.
I wouldn't normally pick up a celebrity autobiography, but found one this one being lent to me after a chat with a co-worker about how much we liked Stephen Fry. I knew his work mainly from 'A Bit of Fry & Laurie', 'Jeeves and Wooster', and 'QI' and figured gift horse and all...
Fry covers 1977-1987, mainly his years at Cambridge and then up to about his 30th birthday. In this time, he throws himself into theater and comedy productions at Cambridge, both as performer and writer, graduates and throws himself into theater and comedy productions. He admits he has a hard time saying 'no', as evidenced by the commercials, radio productions, TV shows, Fringe, West End plays, etc etc.
Fry's anecdotes are witty, smart, usually entertaining. He is both self-deprecating - often surprised at his own situations and successes - and openly craving the limelight. He talks about being devious and also highly insecure, despite his affable Oxbridge-to-the-core-yet-humble-in-his-success. A bit rambly, but the rambles are fun enough. Not brilliant, not bad. No, really, it was fine...
I'm in a real ghost story/horror/gothic place these days, and this one held strong appeal. It's 1937, WWI is over, WWII is looming and Jack Miller is asked to be in charge of communications on 1-year Arctic expedition. Jack is already isolated in London and struggling to make ends meet, so, despite feeling inferior to the others on the team, when he witnesses something, he decides to take up the opportunity.
Despite veiled warnings and early dwindling of the team, Jack and the others set up at an abandoned mining camp in Spitsbergen. Early on, Jack senses there is another, threatening presence. As winter and perpetual darkness descend, this feeling of being haunted and hunted becomes more prevalent.
This would be a great book to read on a camping trip, or curled up at night in a cabin in the woods - places where the creeping sense of the story's remote location and its creaks and groans and howling winds can make you jump, where you'd find yourself looking nervously outside your tent or window as Jack does. In the light of day, it is a sparse tale of isolation and ghostliness that sometimes hits the mark better than others.
I absolutely loved La grammaire est une chanson douce so on a recent visit to France snapped up the remaining books in the collection. This was the 2nd in the series.
Jeanne (age 10) and Thomas (14) are still on the island within the archipelago of Words. Jeanne is on a quest to understand love. Subjunctive islanders are seen as a rebellious threat to Nécrole, the dictator (ou bien, le président-à-vie-et-même-au-delà) of the archipelago. Why? Because he wants order; subjunctive island is constantly changing. The indicative mood tenses are of the here and now, the real, the actual. The subjunctive is subversive because it is the mood of dreams and desire. It challenges the way things are and expresses how people want or wish things to be.
" '...Nous, les Subjonctifs, nous nous intéressons au possible. Ce qui pourrait arriver. En bien ou en mal. Je veux qu'il *vienne*. Je doute qu'elle *guérisse*...Réfléchis un peu, Jeanne. Qu'est-ce que le possible?'
- Quelque chose qu'on pourrait faire...
- Mais qu'on n'a pas fait. Pas encore fait. Pas voulu faire. Réclamer le possible...c'est critiquer le réel...' " (pp. 119-120)
Orsenna blends literature and grammar in a creative, poetic way. Like La grammaire est..., sections of Les Chevaliers would be great to use in a French class to bring life or a different angle to what students often see as dry, confusing rules. In fact, I think he is at his best when explaining and comparing the tenses. Simultaneously sweet, lovely and informative follow-up to La grammaire est une chanson douce.
That said, Les Chevaliers could definitely be read as a stand-alone, too.
I'd only read the 1st, and, despite having acquired a few later in the series, really wanted something airplane-worthy for a fairly long haul. As a result, this 4th in the Inspector John Rebus series came off the shelf.
While it did feel like there were a few things I'd missed by not reading 2 or 3, I really enjoyed this one. As Rankin states in his foreword, this was the start of the Rebus crime novels' having a more distinctly Scottish feel. A prominent, popular MP Gregor Jack is found during a raid on a brothel. Is he not a clean as his image? Or is he being set up? There are a couple murders and some stolen books, plus the doings of two close-knit groups of friends - the Pack from Jack's schooldays, and his wealthy wife's rich and wild crowd. How are all these things linked (because let's face it, we all know these aren't being mentioned just for the heck of it)?
This was a perfect airplane read, and I enjoyed it much more than I did the 1st one. Good crime novel, and looking forward to more in the series.
The book is geared to 9-12 year olds and was shortlisted for the 2011 Scottish Children's Book Awards. It was also written by the son of someone where I work, and other co-workers had gotten it for their kids to read and highly recommended it. This is ultimately destined for younger relatives, but at 3:30 a.m. wide awake with jet lag it was a perfect read.
Zac has very realistic nightmares. One night he follows his grandmother into a pond and ends up in Nocturne, where the Knights are working to fight off the Dream Pirates, who are threatening not only the dreamworld, but also the wakelings (think muggles).
The book treads some familiar territory and throws a bit of everything in (magic! vampires! werewolves! goblins! trolls!), but in the end it is fun, fast-paced, and a page-turner. For anyone who can still remember a particularly vivid nightmare from childhood, this book provides a fantasy otherworld possibility for what is really going on.
Children's picture book (pre-K-+ age). Amos McGee works at the zoo and has a special link with each animal - he plays chess with the elephant, races the tortoise, sits with a shy penguin, reads to the owl, etc. Then one day he wakes up, doesn't feel great and calls in sick. The animals miss him and come to him to keep him company the way he does each day with them.
Warm, sweet story of friendship. Caldecott Medal winner.
Next up should be The Archivist.
Matthias is a university librarian archivist in his 60s, guarding and cataloguing amongst other things a collection of letters from T.S. Eliot written to Emily Hale. According to the bequest, the letters are not to be unveiled until 2020. The main story is told by Matthias himself, revealed over time to Roberta, a young poet in her 30s who wants desperately to see the Hale letters. One section reveals Matthias's wife's journal from her time in a mental hospital.
At its heart, though, this is a novel about guarding & guarded secrets, trust and betrayal. How do they affect relationships? Whose right is it to reveal these truths? What damage is done the longer we hold onto information? How overwhelming can information be when it comes to light?
Religion, in particular during and following WWII, also plays a prominent role in the novel - again, in relation to hiding who we really are, or as a coping mechanism for what life throws at us.
The Archivist delves into the things we catalogue and sequester, that we keep to ourselves, and sometimes only reveal to those we trust only to find it (or feel it's been) used against us.
This caught my attention because for years I read about 45 books per year and started (but put aside) as many more. In 2008 I did one of the quantity challenges here, and its focus on finishing books really improved my reading habits. They've stuck and now I read about twice as many, without quantity every really being on my radar.
Have to say: you've piqued my interest in just about every book you've commented on! Your mention of King and a disappeared young daughter (Människohamn) makes me want to get to The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. I see you're currently reading Zone One and look forward to your comments. I have it because I enjoy Colson Whitehead ... but zombies/dystopias not as much.
Interesting about the quantity challenge giving you more focus - I see what you mean. It has made me more aware of my choices, and given me concrete goals. I guess that's why I've kept the ticker, but removed the pressure to reach a specific target; I'm tracking out of interest as opposed to out of self-imposed need.
My sister lent this to me and I went into it without many expectations. I'm usually not a huge fan of autobiographies and am not a huge fan of either artist. I was surprised by how much I loved this book.
In the late 60s, Patti Smith picked up and moved to New York. A chance encounter with a bashfully charming and handsome young man led to her 20-year relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe. The book is a simple but poetic and heartfelt recounting of their love, friendship and individual and joint journeys to becoming well-known artists - she in poetry and music, he in art and photography. She describes the tenderness & protectiveness that always existed between them, the absolute trust and belief they had in each other, the shared joys when the other would find success and recognition, the ways in which they remained such an important part of each other's lives even after they were no longer together as a couple. A wonderful book told with warmth and love.
After seeing this on all kinds of lists of Scottish books not to be missed, and wanting something not too challenging for a long flight, I picked this up as a binge buy at the airport. It did not disappoint.
A group of people are invited to a 15-year class reunion to take place on an oil rig which has been, or rather is in the process of being, extravagantly renovated and turned into an offshore resort - the kind meant to make reluctant British vacationers experience nothing foreign. The host is one of their classmates, eager to prove he's made the most of himself since having been ignored during their rough Auchenlea (outside Glasgow, Scotland) Catholic school days. While most of his former classmates barely remember who he was, they're curious and, most of all, looking forward to the open bar.
A discussion between one character and a former teacher (see pp. 63-71, 11:08 on the charter coach) outlines 2 types of action films, based on 'bullet-deadliness quotient' (BDQ): high BDQ = not many bullets, but lots of death and low BDQ = lots of bullets spraying all over but miraculously missing the intended targets. Oh, and then Renny Harlin movies, which pretty much just suck. This chapter in particular sets the scene for much of what's to come.
Right from the start, the book is both very darkly humorous and very violent, and that remains consistent throughout. Like some of its main characters, it is self-deprecating in an appealing way. Characters who deserve a comeuppance get it, and characters who seek redemption find it. References range from pretty much any action film to Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy to Waiting for Godot. There's even an I-should've-seen-that-coming-a-mile-away, but still funny, South Park reference. However, for those offput by and squeamish at a certain degree of violence and resulting gore, no matter how entertaining and even clever, this is likely not the right book. My main critique is that Brookmyre's got so many threads going, some of the potentially interesting ones get a bit lost in the mayhem.
Still and all, Brookmyre captures the essence of adulthood - that we all are trying to prove that we've evolved beyond what and who we were - or how we were perceived - as teenagers, and in reality we're all still carrying those roles around with us. Part Elmore Leonard, part Tom Wolfe, and the odd dash of John Hughes-the-reunion-years, all combined to make an entertainingly bloody good action-packed read.
Something I have always avoided; getting involved with a class/school reunion meeting and as for being trapped on an oil rig with them, this sounds positively awful. Good idea for a novel though.
I was all set to love this book: Colson Whitehead's take on a post-apocalypse New York (with zombies - not my favorite, but wanted to see what he did with them). For some reason this one just didn't resonate with me, though I did get more into it towards the end. I found it incredibly slow and his more literary writing style, which I normally greatly appreciate, didn't work for me here. Zombies, to my mind, are raw, pared down; his style is more densely packed and almost poetic. The two rarely gelled for me.
The book takes place over three days, though a lot of backstory woven in. That said, not a lot happens. There are metaphors for how zombified we've become - soulless and chasing after technology and brands, etc. The main character's mediocrity in the pre-apocalypse days ends up suiting him as a survivor in this post-apocalyptic world. As with Whitehead's other books, race is introduced; contrary to some of the others, in Zone One it is only very briefly an issue discussed at any real length.
I think if I'd given the 1st part of the novel more attention, I may have gotten into it sooner. For whatever reason, part of me just shut off and didn't appreciate what he was doing until there were under 100 pages left (in a not-long book to begin with). I could see it growing on me (or dawning on me slowly over time) that it was better than I'd originally thought. Or worse. This won't be a book for everyone, but for those who do or have read it, I'm curious to hear what you think/thought.
>25 ljbwell: I have zero interest in Patti Smith or Robert Mapplethorpe but keep getting incredibly interested in Just Kids. I think it'll be my next audio.
>33 janeajones:: I hadn't thought of it that way, but you're absolutely right. He is, right from the start, her knight or her prince and they stay true to each other through the years. Lovely quote, too.
My mother had read the quartet and was going to give them away. Given the Shetlands, Scotland setting, I figured it could be a fun crime series to go through and so into the suitcase with me they went. On the whole, the 1st of the series was more or less what I expected, and that was just fine.
The story unfolds through shifting limited omniscient points of view. A brash, outspoken, not particularly popular - and not native to the islands - high school girl is found murdered a few days after Hogmanay/new year. Many on the island are convinced that the crime must have been committed by the same man who was let off the hook years before for the disappearance of an 11-year old girl. Detective Perez from Fair Isle isn't so sure, and neither is the lead of the team sent from the mainland, Detective Taylor.
Despite the usual near-breathless bookcover attestations that this is a rollercoaster ride with a surprise ending that'll keep you guessing the whole way, I will say I had it sussed fairly early on. Regardless, though, it was an enjoyable page-turner of a read: perfect for summer or travel. The back story on Perez is interesting, and the book hinted at life beyond the standard tourist image of the islands. I am, in fact, looking forward to the next one.
Binge buy at a bouquiniste in Paris awhile ago. Seemed a good idea at the time. The book itself didn't grab me, but I may not have concentrated enough to get anything real out of it.
1956, flashbacks, anarchists, etc etc. Sadly, I'm giving this commentary about as much attention as I gave reading it. In this case, don't blame the book, blame the reader.
If all that appeals, I do think it is a good one to keep up the language skills - especially because if you do like it, there are 2 or 3 more after it.
Have you read Just Kids?
Snowman is (barely) surviving in a post-apocalyptic world. Through his experiences, we learn about the beautiful and beguiling Oryx and the genius and aloof Crake. They are, in Snowman's mythology, the creators of this new world. The pre-apocalypse world is a cynical? realistic? predictive? take on where we are headed: GMO foods run amok; bio-genetic hybrid creatures created as pets, food, & organ resources; botox, plastic surgery, designer babies; pills and vaccines for everything. All part of the rush to live completely carefree and stay young forever. But at what costs? And can we truly engineer the perfect race, or will certain traits always develop, and ultimately lead to imperfection/downfall?
I particularly enjoyed language in this future, and Snowman's simultaneously reverent attempts to preserve 'old' words together with his cynical ability to create new ones. Products and companies with names like OrganInc Farms, RejoovenEsense and Paradice - all of which sound like plausible bioengineering or pharmaceutical companies (Paradice was my favorite, for its apparent play on paradise and pair-of-dice).
The Handmaid's Tale was my introduction to Atwood and, while I've loved books of hers after that, it was great to go back to another of her dystopian creations.
For years I've been interested in street art & graffiti, keeping an informal photo documentation of pieces I find where I live and during travels. I was intrigued, then, by this Early Reviewers book which is one part of the story.
Max is on the precipice. His mother is worried about him. The mysterious Lady F seems to appear when he most needs her. He meets and befriends a new group of friends who are street artists. His old friend Oksana constantly picks the wrong guys and often needs Max to come to her rescue; plus, she's none-too-fond of his new friends. Meanwhile, Max is growing increasingly concerned as he seems to be forgetting his past.
Part exploration of the self, part exploration of relationships, part journey of discovery. Max is on a quest for truth, love, art.
I was bothered by some editing oversights - and not just spelling errors and inconsistent tense shifts. At one point, unless I really missed something, in once case one character involved in a particular event switched mid-event to someone else.
That aside, it was an interesting enough story, though sometimes a bit repetitive. The philosophy behind the story at times comes through more stridently than others.
Overall, I'm a bit up in the air on this one. At times I found it interesting, at others a tad obvious in its stance.
Yup, that's right, I've made my first foray into the world of audiobooks. While I read a fair amount of Swedish, I realised my listening skills were perhaps getting rusty. What better way to brush them up than with an audiobook.
Given it was my first, I stuck to safe ground with another Ajvide Lindqvist work. This one has only been released in e-formats and treads fairly familiar zombie territory. I had thought it might be somewhat of an extension, or aside, to Hanteringen av odöda, but it really wasn't.
It starts off feeling like a current-day Big Chill - it's midsummer and a group of 40-somethings get together for a mini-reunion. They take a boat out to one of the archipelago islands to enjoy a barbecue and midsummer party. The boat gets stolen, and they are left stranded. Then the zombies start to come out.
This is not my favorite of his. I didn't really feel much for any of the characters, and found some of the premise frustrating. In fairness, the first 40 or so chapters (of 59) were listened to on my way to work using very poor earbuds along busy streets. I've since upgraded my headphones and definitely got more out of the final 20-odd chapters. I can't be 100% if my impression that the characterisation was a bit light is fair or if I missed more than I thought. But it must say something that I'm not rushing to re-listen and find out.
Loosely based on actual events, Alone in Berlin centers around the ultimately futile resistance efforts in WWII Berlin of husband and wife Otto and Anna Quangel. When their only son is killed in action, and after a few other events at work and in their apartment building, something in Otto snaps and he can no longer stay quiet. He decides to leave anonymous postcards decrying Hitler and his regime randomly (time and place) throughout Berlin. His wife helps him with the postcards. There are related threads involving family, friends, co-workers, neighbors and how their lives are affected by the war, the Nazi regime, and even the Quangels' attempted resistance.
The power of this novel is in its portrayal of the absolute fear and paranoia instilled in people during the war. Neighbor quickly turns against neighbor if it means staying - however briefly - in the good graces of the police, SS, or whichever authority they see fit. The constant overhanging threat of being turned in or discovered looms large.
The book builds up not only the tension of Gestapo inspector Escherich's homing in on the 'Hobgoblin', but of neighbor vs neighbor or even family turning against family, of the results of the slightest - even chance - malfeasance, of psychological and physical terror instilled in everyday people.
Given these dangers, therefore, even the most minor shows of resistance take on so much more power. It shows that there were those who stood up in face of the very real threats of beatings, torture, death, or being sent to camps. They were willing to accept the consequences in order to be able to live with themselves, to create some semblance of justice and good in light of the fear-riddled, unjust world they were living in.
This edition includes an afterword not only about Fallada and the context in which he wrote the novel, but also some of the key differences between the true story and this fictionalized version. There is also a section with copies of some of the actual documents from the case against Otto and Elise Hampel.
Highly, highly recommended.
I'd like to think I'd have done *something*, but you see how it was so much easier to put your head down and just try to get on with it. Doing something, anything, meant so much more than the action itself - even if it seems innocuous or futile in hindsight.
Another long trip (train this time), another good crime novel. Travel is apparently becoming my equivalent of beach reading.
This one did leave me wishing I'd read 2 & 3 (or even the 1st more recently), as I think there were some characters I might have known already.
Rebus dredges up an old case involving a burnt-down hotel and the unidentified body found inside. This leads to contacts with Edinburgh's gangsters and tough 'businessmen', and those on the receiving end of the business practices.
***POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT***
I was very glad I'd read the Scottish gothic classic Confessions of a Justified Sinner not that long ago. Rankin himself references it in his foreword (which in some ways I wish I hadn't read!) to this 2005 edition of his 1993 original. My one issue is that the link becomes a bit heavy handed in one part.
**** END ALERT*****
The characters are definitely developing and it's turning into a good, reliable series.
The 2nd in an alternative history graphic novel series: what if the Russians had been the 1st on the moon?; what if Germany won WWI?; etc. This 2nd puts the center of Cold War Europe along the Seine and it is Paris, not Berlin, that has been divided. There's the Soviet Right Bank and Western Left Bank. There's even a Checkpoint Charlie for the American sector.
While usually loathe to read too much of a back cover, for the same reasons I increasingly resent movie and TV previews, the text there provides helpful backstory.
There is a combination of crime (a serial killer is murdering prostitutes on the Right Bank and Capitaine Saint-Elme is sent over the border to help investigate) and espionage (potential threats to peace talks).
I'm predisposed to like alternate histories, and this one wasn't bad. It didn't leave the impression I'd hoped, but I did enjoy reading it. The graphics are very nicely done and well-suited to the genre - hazy lamplighting, lots of shadows, dark rooftops. There are a couple others that look interesting, but I'd be more likely to wait to come across them used.
Bilingual English-French version of Gorey's absolute classic The Gashlycrumb Tinies. This one changes a couple of the names (for example, Yorick becomes Ysengrin). The gist of the deaths is maintained, but obviously there are some liberties taken/changes made in the effort to keep rhyming couplets. Very interesting for anyone who does translations to see how it is dealt with here.
While I normally wouldn't read a Swedish translation of an English book, for several reasons I've decided to do so with the Hunger Games series. It worked for me with the Harry Potter series, so why not.
The novel is set in a dystopian future-Romanesque society complete with the titular Hunger Games in which 24 teenagers (1 boy, 1 girl from each of the 12 Districts) are pitted against each other in a fight to the death. The 24 players are chosen in a lottery and forced to hunt and survive in a hostile environment while watched (some eager to follow the edict that everyone MUST watch, others less so) round the clock on TV by Panem (the capital) and the Districts. Everything is orchestrated, voyeuristic, manipulated and brutal.
This first in the series was pretty much as I expected. Overall, though, I felt like it tread some fairly familiar territory - think Shirley Jackson's The Lottery, the movie version of Stephen King's The Running Man and lots of Roman gladiator overtones all jigsawed together into a decent page turner. Happy to read the next 2, but maintaining similar expectations.
I'm not good about reading a series all in a row, so will give myself a couple books' breathing room before launching into book 2 (with your and others' cautions in mind!).
Having read both Pattern Recognition and Spook Country it was a no-brainer I'd eventually get around to this 3rd in the Blue Ant trilogy/series. The downside is that I read both of those books closer to when each came out, so with years in between. As a result, while I know I really liked Pattern Recognition, and cooled a bit on Spook Country, I couldn't fully recall who'd done precisely what in each of those - though enough for the main plot points to be enjoyable.
After Spook Country, I was somewhat tentative about Zero History. However, I found this one went back to what I had enjoyed so much about Pattern Recognition. It was a fun, fast-paced page turner about industrial espionage, this time with a fashion focus. It's about branding, creating buzz, beating out competition, and military influence on a number of levels.
In some ways, it reminds me of a James Bond film - lots of techie gadgets that you're not sure how current v. quaint they will be in just a few years' time (some of the wonder expressed by one character about Twitter and tweeting, for example, already seems bordering on hind-, not fore-, sight). Plus, Bigend as the dubious and imposing (not just physically) puppet master is an interesting character. He has many tentacles out, many fingers in a lot of pies, and manipulates people and events to suit his needs and his will.
It can probably be read as a stand alone, though definitely more enjoyable if you've read the other 2. Good end (?) to the trilogy from a cyberpunk master.
I was tentative given a) short stories, which I often find very hit-and-miss and b) an author I didn't know at all in e-book format - two things that haven't always worked well for me in the past.
I was more than pleasantly surprised. Most of the stories apparently have been published previously elsewhere (e.g., 'Asimov's Magazine', tor.com, 'SciFiction' and more). Yes, there are some editing issues which I can only hope will be rectified by the time of printing. That aside...
The stories range from slightly offbeat reality to fantasy to outer space sci fi, with most in some way including animals/aliens - sometimes more directly than others. Settings range from Japan to the US to outerspace, from present to future to fantasy otherworld. Stories run in length from about 4 pages up to 70. As with any story collection, there are stories that didn't work as well - though that could be down to personal taste. For example, 'Schroedinger's Cathouse' was a fantastically clever title, but didn't quite live up to the humor inherent in that.
To my mind, the collection is at its best when the animals recognise or react to something the humans need or want, or when the people find a special relationship with the animals. Sometimes it is the human searching for companionship, comfort or understanding, sometimes the animal - and sometimes they find what they need in each other. There is a deceptive simplicity to the many of the stories, which manage to draw the reader in and, in just a few pages, create a sympathy and/or understanding for the characters - both animal and human.
While not entirely in this vein (though there is exploration of the relationship between the people, the mist, and the inhabitants of the mist), the longest of the stories, 'The Man Who Bridged the Mist,' left me wanting to know more, read more, about Empire, Nearside, Farside, and the river of mist.
Overall, I really enjoyed the worlds she created and the various relationships between people, between people and animals, and between the animals themselves.
Oddly and rather unintentionally this is becoming the summer of reading series. Normally, I'd space these out better, especially now that I find myself about to launch into books 2 & 3 of another series. In any event...
This is the 2nd in the Hunger Games trilogy. I'd heard a lot of criticism about this one, and can understand why. It rehashes events from the 1st book, and then moves from one unsurprising, see-it-coming-a-mile-away event to the next. Katniss is surprisingly unable to a) see what's happening (fill in any place, time, and/or event here), b) make a decision, or c) take a firm stand. Yes, I realise she's 16/17 years old, but she strikes me in this one as particularly clueless on *so* many fronts it became frustrating. One assessment I'd heard was that it was a lot of telling-not-showing writing, though enough story to keep turning pages. That about sums it up.
I've heard the 3rd gets better and will only move to get to that one in order to be able to talk about the whole series with my nieces and nephew. My impression so far is that it could have made a tighter, more interesting read as one longer book instead of dragging it out into three.
The 2nd in the Shetland quartet. After reading the 1st, I was going to hold off longer for the subsequent 3. However, intrigued by a teaser for an upcoming BBC show called 'Shetland', there's going to be a two-parter some time soon based (frustratingly) on the 3rd of the books. That's how I found myself suddenly zipping through book 2 and now already into book 3.
Fair Isle native Detective Jimmy Perez has an odd and relatively brief encounter with a loudly and publicly weeping stranger. When that stranger is later found hanging from the rafters, Perez starts digging to find out who he was, what he was doing in the (fictional) Biddista on the Shetland mainland, and what happened to him.
It is an enjoyable series about a place I've wanted to visit since moving to Scotland. The descriptions of the summer's white nights and low sky remind me of the Nordic countries. She again shows how in such a small community everyone tends to know everyone else's business but also have to be prodded (in the right ways) to talk about it without it being gossip. A good summer read.
Thanks to a mention and subsequent responses about it on janepriceestrada's thread, I downloaded an audio version of this short story (the text version seems to be about 80 p.) and immersed myself in it over the course of about 3 trips to or from work. I actually found myself walking more slowly so I'd have more time with the story.
A library closes. The librarians remain. A basket is delivered with, amongst other things, a baby in it. The librarians raise the little girl and reveal to her the magic of the library.
This is a very sweet story and has some great moments. My main quibble is that it felt too stereotyped that all the librarians were women. That said, the story is an homage to all that a library provides - access to all kinds of information, fact or fiction. A place where someone can go and learn and dream. A place that grows and shifts with your changing inquisitiveness and yields new surprises at each stage. A place populated by people who care about learning and knowledge and who want to share that (even if they sometimes do get caught up in classifications...). A fun addition to any books-about-books collection.
The 3rd in Cleeves's Shetland Quartet with Detective Jimmy Perez once again at the helm. This is the one that apparently will be the subject of the upcoming BBC show 'Shetland'.
Two young archaeologists are working on a dig on the property of a fiesty old woman on Whalsay. She is considered a local character - not always loved by everyone, the subject of a fair amount of gossip. She's also the grandmother of Sandy, who is a policeman under Perez. When she is shot and killed, things begin to unravel. Perez is left to investigate whether it was an accidental death, or whether something else entirely happened.
I enjoyed this one more than the 2nd and possibly a bit more than the 1st. I thought there was more tension, better sense of the claustrophobic feel to the islands despite the wide open spaces. There were better red herrings and, as a result, a less obvious ending. The shifting perspectives mean that information is revealed in subjective bits and pieces. I still think some of the characters aren't always developed consistently. However, it is a good summer series.
I originally heard of this book on the BBC's Culture Show New Novelists: 12 of the Best From the Culture Show.
Pigeon English is the story of 11 year old Harrison Opoku, a recent immigrant from Ghana. He, his mother and older sister have recently moved to a flat in a rough part of London, while his father, grandmother and little sister are still in Ghana hoping to move soon, too. When an older boy is stabbed to death, Harri's and a friend decide to imitate CSI and find the killer.
The novel is told (mostly) from Harri's point of view. It is here that I can see why the book has been compared to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. Through Harri's narration, we end up understanding more than he does about what it going on around him. I think this works in places, and in others have a harder time believing he'd be that naïve. His enthusiasm and energy come through, as do his sometimes conflicting desires to be safe and to be good and true to himself.
There are also interludes narrated by a pigeon that watches over Harri. It took some time for these to work for me. I slowly came around to the metaphor and the role in the story.
I knew the book had a lot of hype, and that tends to make me wary. It also helps me mentally set the bar lower. The result? An original first novel, yes, with its flaws and not a particularly surprising ending, but a voice and story that kept me interested throughout.
Avidmom - I absolutely love libraries. I know, I know, I'm part of the problem in that I don't borrow from libraries so much anymore, but I do still love just to sit and read in them. When traveling, I'll sometimes pop into a library just for a look around.
Janepriceestrada - so glad to have caught it on your thread! I realize I meant to write that it isn't only the librarians who reveal the library to her, but the library itself which reveals its wonders to her.
Snow Crash and Diamond Age are both on my favorites list. I was excited when this one came out, as it sounded like a return to a Snow Crash-type novel. Similar to Charles Stross's Halting State, REAMDE involves overlaps between the 'real' and online worlds. Both read like a video game.
The novel is at its best whenever it enters the online MMORPG world of T'Rain (terrain) or deals with those who created it. However, REAMDE is, in essence, a fairly standard thriller, complete with jihadists, implausible action sequences, and lots (and lots and lots) of chase scenes. While fun, and a page turner, clocking in at over 1000 pages, the chase scenes were drawn out and could have used more editing (4-5 pages to climb a ladder? Really?). I found myself wondering when we'd get back to T'Rain, and wishing he'd spent more time there, woven it in better throughout the story. Even at the climax, Stephenson missed an opportunity to drive home the the (humorous) point about how badly the jihadists have misunderstood factions of the US and underestimated where they were heading. In these senses, the book was disappointing.
Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed it. Tough, spunky female characters, quirky main and side characters, and entertaining storylines. It just wasn't the Stephenson I was expecting or hoping for.
Budo, the narrator, is Max's imaginary friend. Only Max and other imaginary friends can see him. Max is different from other kids - and Budo is different from other imaginary friends. Though not specified in the book, Max seems to be on the autism spectrum. When Max is abducted, Budo needs to figure out how to save him.
It is this last part that worked the least for me, and in the end made the book quite predictable. The idea of Budo - of imaginary friends having lives and worries and abilities to the degree they are imagined by their human friends - was quite interesting. I think an exploration of how a child with autism imagines his friend, and the ways in which his interactions with the imaginary friend vs the human world differ, would have made for a compelling book on their own. The descriptions of other imaginary friends in comparison to Budo are not only interesting, but reveal how Max's mind works.
The introduction of the abduction, however, injected a jarring and unnecessary dramatic turn that, to my mind, reduced what could have been a thoughtful, interesting read into a completely implausible and overwrought series of events all leading to an unsurprising end. Add to that at least one unnecessary story line and the novel left me cold and unmoved. Disappointing, as I think there was a seed of a really, really clever idea in there.
I really disliked that book. I got a pre-US release audio copy for review and when I saw all the high ratings I figured there must have been something different (for the worse) between the UK and US editions. But now there are plenty of high US ratings too. Go figure. I have one of the author's adult novels in my TBRs and remain cautiously optimistic.
However, after all is said and done, I thought a lot of Memoirs didn't make sense (Budo feels guilty about doing things away from Max, but he is Max's creation - so why can't he do some things because Max hasn't imagined it, but then he can wander off regardless of what Max has 'created' for him?); and, again, *really* disliked the abduction storyline - which becomes the dominating part of the book.
I've been in a bit of a reading rut lately - reading books in so-so series, books by authors I'm very familiar with, books lent to me, etc. Given that, when someone lent me To Say Nothing of the Dog, I went into it with probably a bit more trepidation than usual. I'd never heard of it or the author, hadn't read anything about it, didn't know Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat, and was wary of well-intentioned recommendations.
I cannot begin to say not only how pleasantly surprised I was, but how much I absolutely loved this book. It has been added immediately into favorites, I've located Three Men in a Boat via Gutenberg, and her Doomsday Book has shot to the top of my find-it-and-read-it list.
To Say Nothing of the Dog is the story of mid-21st century time-traveling historian Ned Henry, who has been spending most of his time in the 1940s trying to locate the bishop's bird stump in/around (physically and time-wise) the ruins of Coventry Cathedral. There's been slippage, though, apparently due to the interferences of a beautiful redhead and a cat. Ned ends up in Victorian England, boating along the Thames with a new acquaintance and his bulldog, and heading straight into the origins of the issue.
The result is a clever, humorous nod not just to JKJ's comic travelogue, but to Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Wodehouse's Jeeves, and more. Moreover, it is a novel that manages to be laugh out loud funny while entertaining the big questions of a Grand Design (fate, destiny) vs. free will. A real, unexpected gem.
This is the fourth in the Shetland Quartet with Jimmy Perez as detective. Given the recent discussion on spoilers going on in the Questions for the Avid Reader thread, it's funny this should come up now, because it is difficult to address certain aspects of the book & series without giving things away - either from this book or the 1st three. But I'll try...
Blue Lightning takes Perez and his partner to his childhood home of Fair Isle. After a celebratory evening at the island's renowned bird watching observatory, a woman is found dead and arranged with bird feathers. Given weather conditions, no one else can get on or off the island. Perez is thus left with a limited set of suspects on this remote, isolated island. As with the previous books, secrets and truths are kept inside, leaving Perez to draw them out slowly, sometimes methodically, sometimes in frustration and anger.
I enjoyed the quartet - more with each book - and by the end found myself more vested in the characters than I'd thought. The setting is interesting and just as important a character throughout the series. A great set of reads for a holiday, summer, or just if you're feeling like a bit of a crime wave.
It is January 1, 1991 and the western world is changing. Feliks Zhukovski is a Polish-born travel writer who has specialised in publishing a set of guides to Cold War Eastern Europe. A leftist and former communist, he has spent years striving to provide a more accurate view for the capitalist West of life behind the Iron Curtain through his Guide Jaune. Whether he feels it or not, Feliks is aloof and adrift - no sense of 'home', almost no ties or close relationships, lost family. His life is centered around certain strident beliefs, truths. It is only after 36 years renting the same apartment in Paris that 61-year old Feliks Zhukovski's landlady says 2 things to him that set in motion a series of events over the year that call into question or give context to so much of his life to that point.
Zhukovski's distance from everyone, his firmly held beliefs that everything is politics and that there are absolute truths are tested time and again. He himself is stilted, stubborn and awkward in many ways. Eggs must be broken, but to what end? What sacrifices must be made?
I have 2 criticisms, or observations: 1) The novel sometimes feels dogmatic. But is this just a portrayal of Feliks's (and others') beliefs, or do the author's own views bleed into certain sections? 2) Feliks is clearly stubborn and stilted, but sometimes overdone for effect/storyline. Those aside, this is a wonderful novel, one that raises questions about who we are; that challenges what we believe to be true, right in our own lives (and often increasingly so as we get older); that shows what happens when you start to crack the fragile exterior of those beliefs.
Perhaps I should add that I am currently sitting in Russia - for the first time ever - as I type this. Perhaps I should add that I have ancestors who were affected by the politics of the Bolshevik revolution, the politics and events of WWII, the siege of Leningrad, and the Cold War. Perhaps I should add that my view of 'home' is loose, malleable, complicated; my view of 'family' is both tight and broad, flexible. Perhaps none of these things matter. But I have to think that, more than usual, what I brought to the table had some effect on how I read and understood the book and why a trail of sentiment lingers still.
There is a lot to be gained by choosing books to read that will resonate with where your head (and your body) is. A careful choice of books to read while travelling can add immensely to the experience.
avidmom - work trip, but, given the family background I built in a few - not enough! :-) - vacation days.
Funny thing - I'll either pick vacation books for the ability to relax and have fun, or to be able to concentrate on something meatier. In other words, other than maybe language, I usually don't try to match place and content. Something to think about more in the future.
Yiddishkeit brings together a variety of contributors to trace the history of Yiddish, from its origins in Eastern Europe to its lingering influences in the US. There are essays, graphic/illustrated strips, even a play. They explore literature, music, theater, film, journalism - from the famous to the much less well-known.
This makes an interesting introduction to the subject. In some ways, though, it felt at times like Wikipedia - a decent place to start on a wide variety of topics, but sometimes feel you look further into some of the claims. There are some clear biases. For example, Pekar makes no bones about his disregard for Isaac Bashevis Singer.
Having said that, what he then does is highlight the works of several authors he thinks are more worthy. As said, a great springboard for learning about the less famous artists to come out of Yiddish culture.
That the contributors have deep personal relationships to the material is clear. They want Yiddish to survive and are trying to pique a renewed interest in the less well-known artists who tend to be overshadowed by the likes of IB Singer or who are fading into oblivion with the passage of time (and the passing of a generation). They want the reader to understand the politics and history that were behind Yiddish newspapers. And most of all, I think they want the reader to see Yiddish not as an incomprehensible, dying language from the old country, but as a culture that can be understood and appreciated regardless of whether one understands the language itself.
Pekar loses points... what's his problem with Singer?
Does anyone speak Yiddish as a first language anywhere anymore?
Ironically, it's hardly incomprehensible to German speakers. Dying, dead, or not, it will haunt Germanophones FOREVER.
That Yiddish can be understood more widely than one would think is also a point made a few times in the book. Between it's German & East European origins there are words and structures that are understandable. In terms of Yiddish theater, there was a sense that even if you don't understand the words, the tone conveys what is going on.
A few years ago I did a short paper about Yiddish as an official minority language. One of the points brought up there was that many people have a passive understanding of it. That is to say, though they may not speak or write it, they've grown up hearing it; it is then a question of activating that passive knowledge.
An Early Reviewer novella, this is the 2nd of Dolley's Reeves and Worcester adventures. A send up of Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster stories, Dolley once again incorporates steampunk elements (though I'd argue less here than in What Ho, Automaton!) and Worcester's brainless sleuthing as he and Reeves are recruited to locate the recently re-animated Guy Fawkes. Don't expect tight plot, depth of character, or full resolution. That said, it is light and entertaining enough to bring a smile to a commute or dark, rainy afternoon. It probably helped that the entire time while I was reading this, there were (and still are!) fireworks being set off for what has apparently been a whole weekend build-up to Guy Fawkes/Bonfire Night tomorrow.
What Ho, Automaton! is a title easy to love.
PS Later research shows that my calendar had it at the wrong theater chain. The theater where it will play often does things independently, so I don't know that it will be playing elsewhere.
There are Jewish sects in Israel that speak Yiddish first, typically in an effort to avoid speaking Hebrew. Not sure how big these groups are, but walking around Jerusalem this past August we heard a lot of Yiddish.
Ever since Bottle Rocket, I've enjoyed Wes Anderson movies, so when looking for something to rent over the Thanksgiving holiday, I was very happy to come across 'Moonrise Kingdom'. I hadn't read or heard anything about it. It completely won me over.
I should also say I always sit through credits in the hopes for some gem. Moonrise Kingdom did not disappoint. Throughout the movie, one of the lead characters reads aloud from stolen library books. The books have wonderful jackets, which come up in the credits. Turns out the books aren't real. Anderson had different artists create the jacket covers. Originally intended to be included in the film, animated shorts were created. Despite not making it into the final cut, they are available here. There are no spoilers in the video clip, so just enjoy the snippets.
Happy belated Thanksgiving.
I read it to finish the trilogy. I read it to talk about with my nieces & nephew. I read it in case I decide to see the movies one day. There is nothing surprising in it. War is hell. People die. People are betrayed and betray others. Kat continues not to understand much that is going on around her until someone clarifies the situation for her.
Plus ça change...
Now I'm done and can move on.
I'd seen these whenever looking into Gorey acquisitions. Recently, I had the opportunity to read Floating Worlds the letters of Edward Gorey and Peter F. Neumeyer, which revived my interest in reading the Donald books. I was thrilled to get the box set reissue as a gift.
Both of these children's stories are about a young boy, Donald. In Donald and the..., he finds a larva, puts it in a jar and waits to see what comes of it. In Donald has a Difficulty, he gets a splinter. Donald's mother is present in both of these charmingly offbeat children's books. As described in the letters, the Donald books were done in collaboration with Edward Gorey, who illustrated both. His drawings add drama and quirkiness to the stories. In Donald and the... there is the slow visual revelation of the creature. In Donald has a Diffiiculty, keep your eye on the dog.
These make a nice gift for children - or adults - whose tastes veer towards the offbeat: think Maurice Sendak, somewhat along the lines of Pierre a cautionary tale. A great introduction to Gorey's work.
keep your eye on the dog
Well, these intrigue!
>95 ljbwell: I had to snicker at your Hunger Games trilogy reaction. The teenager-y kids I own and me went to see it on the big screen when it came out. Not a bad movie, IMO (as long as you know going in that it's geared for that age bracket). I'm all for a strong, smart teenage protagonist - I see Kat as the anti-Bella.
Those Neumeyer books sound interesting!
avidmom - glad you liked the link! Every frame is so carefully crafted, and still the book jackets stand out. The animations are a good reflection of the type of movie it is. Smart, sensitive, warm, quirky, full of charm and heart. It treats the kids with respect.
I actually had a conversation with a friend's teenage daughter while I was reading the 2nd Hunger Games book. We felt it would make a more interesting film than it was a book. I still haven't seen the 1st. Most of my family have read Collins's Gregor the Overlander series and say it is less hyped but much better than the Hunger Games trilogy. It sounds worth looking into. In a totally different vein, if you like interesting female leads and don't mind graphic novels, maybe take a look at I Kill Giants.
As it should be, I guess. But often isn't?
Reminds me of an article I wrote that was accompanied by lots of photos. The editor asked me to write captions, and to write them keeping in mind that some "readers" would look only at the photos and captions, not read the article.
The beauty of Gorey's illustrations is that there's this seemingly fairly simple, straightforward-sounding text, and then these other things happening in or that we learn from (or are implied by) the pictures.
Ach, not sure I've clarified what I meant or not?!
Hmmm... ticker above is not working?!
Every year I try to fill at least a gap or two in my reading history - earlier in the year it was Wodehouse and also Confessions of a Justified Sinner.
This time, I went for Pride and Prejudice. I've seen it so many times, read a variety of parodies (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, some of the Thursday Next series, etc.), but never actually read the original (or, I don't think, any Austen for that matter). Horrors!
I don't think there's much I can add to what thousands before me have already said. Austen's observations on class and propriety are sharp. She is biting, funny, perceptive.
Quick thoughts? Compared to the various TV/movie adaptations, I found that Bingley's sister came across as more overtly condescending, jealous and catty in the book. I found Darcy a mix of aloof, shy and stuck in his role. I was inwardly cheering during the confrontation between Lady Catherine and Elizabeth. And yes, some of the characters have rawther sudden changes of heart.
It was the perfect book to curl up with on cold winter nights and be transported to a different time and place.
I'm suddenly realizing that Whit Stillman's 'Doomed Bourgeois in Love' film trilogy is very much contemporary Austen: observations about social hierarchies, life of the upper classes and those who want to be a part of those circles, etc., revealed through dialogue and party scenes.
I had seen Metropolitan years ago and, 1st time around, didn't really appreciate it. It's grown on me with age & perspective. It was only in thinking about P&P that I thought Stillman was working with some of the same themes and in some of the same ways.
With a bit of time, now, I'm working to finish the 3 books I've started before the new year. This, then, leaves me with 2 to go...
In backwards fashion, I read To Say Nothing of the Dog first, then went back to read the book that, in part, inspired it. Also, having started the year with Jeeves, it seems fitting to be drawing to a close with this one.
Written in the late 19th century, Three Men is the comic fictionalised tale of the author's boating journey along the Thames. He travels with 2 friends and Montmorency, a rather feisty terrier. The three talk, muse, bicker, reminisce, and occasionally even get some boating in.
The humor in the book still works. Take, for example, the following passage, which had me chuckling. According to those who know me, substitute river for road and boat for car, and, I don't know, tire iron for oar, and the following apparently describes me to a T:
"I don't know why it should be, but everybody is always exceptionally irritable on the river. Little mishaps, that you would hardly notice on dry land, drive you nearly frantic with rage, when they occur on the water...When another boat gets in my way, I feel I want to take an oar and kill all the people in it.../
I did a little boating once with a young lady. She was naturally of the sweetest and gentlest disposition imaginable, but on the river it was quite awful to hear her."
There are a couple awkward spots where something more serious happens - awkward in that they don't fit with the generally lighter tone of the book. That, though, is offset by humorous observations and incidents, tall tales, mishaps, and various encounters both on the water and on land.
The book, like the trip described, meanders pleasantly along, not always going somewhere directly, not always getting where it perhaps planned to be, but in the end leaving the journeyer happy they went along for the ride.
La Révolte des accents sees the return of Jeanne and, though less so, her brother Tom, to this third in the series. This time, people haven't been using accents in their writing and the accents themselves are increasingly unhappy. So frustrated are they that they go on strike. The aigus, circonflexes, graves start to disappear not just from text but from speech.
Accents are compared to acting and the theater - they give words drama, punch. They tell you how a word should be pronounced. Without them, they argue, the language is flat. Moreover, in some languages, such as Arabic, without accent marks letters would become indistinguishable from one another.
This is when the book is at its best - when the raison d'être (yes, circonflexe, I still use you!) of accents, not just in French but in a wide variety of languages, is explored. Reading sentences and passages without the accents proved the point; it was disconcerting, jarring. I kept imagining hearing the scenes where characters' speech lacked accents.
I'm somewhat chasing the dragon with Orsenna's series. La Grammaire est une chanson douce was such a wonderful, charming surprise when I read it. It brought grammar to life, gave it personality. The expectation that the subsequent stories would have the same effect has been disappointing. That said, I *much* preferred this one to Les Chevaliers du subjonctif, and will definitely try again with Et si on dansait?.
Which brings me to a very different...
42. The Barnum Museum by Steven Millhauser (short story collection, 240 p.)
Ahhh, Oxfam, how I love ye. This was bought on a complete whim, stalling and browsing before I was due somewhere else. The three ring circus of sometimes dark, sometimes curious, sometimes magical stories appealed.
"A Game of Clue", for example, is a story about just that, but in three detailed interwoven parts: the dynamics of the 4 players, the interactions of the characters (in particular Colonel Mustard and Miss Scarlet, with Mister Green lurking around), and a description of the board itself. "Klassik Komix #1" describes the panels of a comic book. It is the one that I went back and read again after the lightbulb moment of what the classic was. "Eisenheim the Illusionist", as I discovered later, became the film "The Illusionist" - a movie I've only seen in bits and pieces.
Millhauser's 10 stories are filled with magic, magical realism, and minute detail. They are a funhouse, a carnival, a hall of mirrors and labyrinthine rooms, never quite sure what is real and what is illusion.
43. The Alchemaster's Apprentice by Walter Moers (384 p., translation from German)
I wasn't going to dip into my holiday haul until 2013, but the heart wants what the heart wants - and, with 5 hours to kill hanging out in a waiting room, it wanted this 4th in Moers's Zamonia fantasy series. Each book works as a stand-alone, though there are usually small references to previous works.
Echo is a Crat - like a cat, but he can speak to any creature. After the passing of his mistress, he roams starving through the streets of Malaisea in Zamonia. Desperate for food, he signs a contract with Ghoolion - Malaisea's bitter, evil Alchemaster. The contract? Ghoolion will feed Echo (and oh, how he feeds him!), teach him alchemy, and entertain him until the next full moon, at which point Ghoolion will render Echo down for his Crat fat. Crat's ability to communicate with other creatures means he befriends, or at least becomes better acquainted with, all sorts of creatures: the Leathermice; the last Uggly in Malaisea; Theodore T. Theodore the Tuwituwu with a verbal apraxia; Demonic Bees; the Snow-White Widow; the Cooked Ghost; and more. So many more.
The alchemy extends to the often lavish, gastronomic meals Ghoolion prepares for Echo to fatten him up. There are Heston Blumenthal-esque levels of fantasy and gourmandise combined into these meals. At times, it felt like an error in judgement to be reading on an empty stomach.
Where The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear and The City of Dreaming Books are more travel exploits, this one takes place not only within Malaisea, but largely within Ghoolion's albeit extensive home. That is not to say there aren't adventures, but the geography is more contained. There are also plenty of unexpected events. It has humor, but also dark moments. There are, as always, a wide variety of new, fantastical creatures.
Oh, and I wish I were better at anagrams; I caught a few, I suspect there are more.
The City of Dreaming Books is still my favorite, and the next in the series goes back to that one. I have grown to love Moers's series. They are clever, fun, imaginative, slightly dark, and full of adventure.
Lo and behold, I was able to squeeze one more in in 2012:
44. Tainted Blood by Arnaldur Indriðason (352 p., translation from Icelandic)
Oxfam strikes again... One of two books I picked up there in a post-holiday gift to myself. I've been interested in reading non-Swedish Nordic Noir and had been hearing here and there about Icelandic crime fiction. When I came across Indriðason's 1st Erlandur crime novel, I figured this was as good a time as any.
It is a fairly standard formula: cop with a difficult private life (divorced, smokes too much, adult children with addictions); a murder that may not be as straightforward as the break-in gone wrong it first appears to be; following hunches and delving into the past to help solve the crime; uncovering long-held secrets and shoddy policework from 40 years prior to understand what has happened.
In the end, it isn't so much a whodunit (whether we know the specific 'who' or not) as an unfolding of information and events leading to a fairly inevitable, unsurprising result. That isn't a bad thing, and there are interesting developments throughout. It has left me interested enough to pick up subsequent novels in the series, though not ones I'd go out and buy new.