Adventures in Reading


Fiction: Coraline by Neil Gaiman, 2008
December 16, 2008, 2:50 pm
Filed under: book reviews, fiction | Tags: , , , , , ,


On a rainy day in her new home, Coraline Jones’ mother shows her a door that opens to a brick wall. But over a stretch of the overcast and final days leading up to a new school year, Coraline discovers a hallway through the door identical to her own home that leads to her apartment, her house, her yard. It’s a strange world slightly off kilter from Coraline’s reality and here she meets her other mother and other father: strange likenesses of her parents with buttons for eyes (and that want to sew Coraline’s eyes closed). When Coraline’s real parents go missing, she must return through the door to save them.

Neil Gaiman’s Coraline is a children’s horror book written with children in mind, for children, and with the structural simplicity of children’s books. Coraline has thematic issues of losing and rescuing parents, searching for home, and exterior and interior realities. And it’s all a bit gruesome as the world is slightly off and includes button-eyed people, rats (enough to creep me out), and a hand that chases Coraline. I will say from reading the quotes on the book jacket I expected something stupendous and I thought it was fair (though I do look forward to the movie). I found it similar to Vivian French’s Robe of Skulls.

Conclusion: Tossed.



Fiction: Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray, 1847-8 (Pt. 1)

“We are Turks with the affections of our women; and have made them subscribe to our doctrine too. We let their bodies go abroad liberally enough, with smiles and ringlets and pink bonnets to disguise them instead of veils and yakmaks. But their souls must be seen by only one man, and they obey not unwillingly, and consent to remain at home as our slaves—ministering to us and doing drudgery for us.”

The other evening I was in the mood to just read a big, thick book – seriously, these were the only qualities I was looking for. I scanned over Anna Karenina and An American Tragedy, and finally tucked away on the bottom of my shelf I found a dusty copy of William Makepeace Thackeray’s serial tale Vanity Fair. I purchased the book at least a year ago and have given no thought to reading it until now.

Vanity Fair (“A Novel Without a Hero,” but instead two heroines) is primarily the story of Rebecca Sharp and Amelia Sedley and their adventures and relations from finishing school through marriage through the Battle of Waterloo, etc. Thackeray has a robust cast of characters that he parades through Vanity Fair with delightful and witty insights and descriptions. The book is satiric, the book is critical, and (best of all) the book is enjoyable.

I was somewhat surprised by how readable the book is; I often find myself needing time to acclimate myself to period writing styles (such as Laurence Sterne or Jane Austen), but not with Vanity Fair. From chapter to chapter, Thackeray moves between different characters

Conclusion: Keeper.



Fiction: Nation by Terry Pratchett

I’ve been trying to write on Terry Pratchett’s Nation for ages, so here are a handful of notes I wrote down while reading: story begins with a creation myth, looks at god superstitions, written by an atheist, some characters taught an unquestioning faith in belief, religion and/versus science.

Nation is Terry Pratchett’s most recent novel and the first in quite awhile not to occur within his fantastical Discworld series. In a bit of an alternate reality that is very similar to our own 19th Century, a tsunami strikes destroying much of the populations of this world’s equivocal South Pacific and also happens to shipwreck an English ship. The only immediate survivors are a man-child (with no soul (give me a moment on this)) MAu and a British girl going by the pseudonym Daphne.

I can think of three reasons why you would want to read this book, and the first most easily being that you love Terry Pratchett and as there is no new Discworld book this year what else are you going to read? Believe me, you won’t be disappointed!

Secondly, this is a wonderful book for young adults. Our protagonists are both at the coming-of-age period when the tsunami strikes – it’s The Lord of the Flies with much less madness and much more humor. Mau is returning home from his rite-of-passage during the disaster and his ceremony is never concluded, and thus he finds himself in limbo without his soul from childhood, but no way to enter manhood. Daphne is going to meet her father who is a member of the British Empire and one in a long queue to be the next king. Nation is interesting, thoughtful, funny, and has some brilliant speaking points: sex and gender, religion, colonization, beliefs, etc.

Three, you love atheism, hate atheism, or are interested in atheism. Pratchett, an atheist, has written a book on belief, why people believe, and perhaps even the need for some people to believe. The book concludes with a series of warnings including that the book might make you think. Unlike Pullman’s more in your face style, Pratchett is putting out the query of why do people believe and trying to present his answer.

The book concludes with Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins visiting the island. Really, what more do you need?

Conclusion: Keeper.

Other opinions: Book Addiction.



Fiction: Days of Awe by Achy Obejas, 2001

Revolutions happen, I’m convinced, because intuition tells us we’re meant for a greater world. If this one were good enough, we’d settle, happy as hens, and never rise up. But we know better: We feel the urge, ardent and fallible as it may be, for a kind of continual transcendence” (italics from the original text).

Alejandro San Jose was born the day Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba and her family, like many others, left the country. And in Achy Obejas’ Days of Awe we experience Alejandro’s struggle to comprehend her family, her past, her culture, and herself as a cubana. The story covers a somewhat vague period of time in Alejandro’s adult life as she travels back and forth from Cuba and in and out of relationships.

The second book for my Lambda Challenge and, well really, just wow. Days of Awe is beautifully written and Obejas Some of my favorite passages were Obejas’ explanations of the Spanish language such as American’s use of the verb love versus the Cuban use of the verbs querer, amar, and gustar. Days of Awe explores a gamut of complexities from imperialism to Cuba’s revolution, Judaism and Catholocism, as well as thematic issues of secrecy. Obejas’s latest book Ruins is due out March of 2009.

Conclusion: Keeper.

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Fiction: Branchwater by Steven Maus, 2008
November 16, 2008, 11:13 am
Filed under: book reviews, fiction | Tags: , , ,

“There were people cheering, coming out of their seats in excitement. This kind of thing happened only once a year and nobody was inclined to miss it.”

Steven Maus’ Branchwater is the fantastical story of humans and mantliks, human created guardians. After a great period of peace, the mantlik and human races have nicely started on their separate ways until the human town is threatened by outside forces. The mantliks are called upon to return to their guardian position to help save the humans as well as themselves.

Branchwater is a self-published book from iUniverse and Maus is a promising author. It’s an interesting plot that allows for diverse interpretation regarding the relationships between these three groups. The story development is somewhat peculiar as the world of Branchwater and particularly the mantlik creatures are never at once fully divulged; rather, Maus leaves a trail of breadcrumbs for the reader to put together, but I confess it was somewhat demanding for the reader to follow.

My fantasy experience is a bit limited to my enthusiasm for Terry Pratchett, but I found elements of Branchwater bothersome as a fiction reader. Maus has a somewhat unagreeable writing style as he consistently uses adverbial clauses and often with misplaced commas. While I normally don’t find grammar mistakes too distracting, the clauses along with some basic language errors made the book cumbersome. Though the plot seems sound with some catchy themes in development, I did not finish Maus’ Branchwater.

I can only imagine the difficulties of self-publishing an entire novel (nearly 200 pages) but the writing tutor in me acknowledges that more preparation could have been used. If you need professional help when it comes to editing Words by Rachel is a reader I’d recommend.

Conclusion: Tossed.
(Available on Bookmooch.)

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Fiction: The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett, 1986

“The sun rose slowly, as if it wasn’t sure it was worth all the effort.”

Terry Pratchett’s The Light Fantastic continues from the cliffhanging finish of The Colour of Magic. Our heroes, the wizard Rincewind and the tourist Twoflower, begin the story dangling off the edge of the world; thanks to one of the eight great spells (left behind by the creator) lodged in Rincewind’s head, the two travelers find themselves on a haphazard journey to save the Discworld.

The Light Fantastic is a great and early example of Pratchett’s literal engagement with the Discworld; for example, Great A’Tuin the world turtle acts like a regular, old turtle. Thus the strength of the main plot doesn’t have to rely on too far fetched ideas, something that seems to crop up particularly in fantasy, but rather depends on a turtle doing turtle-like things. This early book in the series does have a couple of developmental issues ranging from scene switches to some thematic humor issues, but these don’t take away from the story.

A lot of the fun in rereading The Light Fantastic is in discovering the loose assortment of foreshadowing. Pratchett seems to reference at least three future books. If not the best of the Discworld series, The Light Fantastic is a satisfying read with the usual Pratchet philosophical wanderings.

Conclusion: Keeper.



Fiction: Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu, 1872

“The effect of the full moon in such a state of brilliancy was manifold. It acted on dreams, it acted on lunacy, it acted on nervous people, it had marvelous physical influence connected with life.”

J. Sheridan LeFanu’s Carmilla is a novella about vampires and a predecessor to Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Laura and her father inhabit a lonely schloss in “Styria;” after a carriage accident outside of their home, a strange and “invalid” girl is left with the family. Laura and the girl Carmilla recollect each other from a dream-like experience from their childhoods. The family’s experience with Carmilla is surreal and haunting; the neighboring villages are plagued with some sort of feverish, wasting disease, which kills a variety of female inhabitants. The emphasis in Carmilla, unlike in Dracula, is with female subjects as both predators and victims.

This year has turned into my year of vampires, I suppose, and my interest in Carmilla was peaked while reading the introduction to Dracula. Though LeFanu’s work is easily solved approximately half way through and there are some significant unanswered questions, Carmilla is bother a curious and interesting look at vampirism.