You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘review’ tag.

(A scan of my actual copy of East of Eden)

I believe there are monsters born in the world to human parents.  Some you can see, misshapen and horrible, with huge heads or tiny bodies; some are born with no arms, no legs, some with three arms, some with tails or mouths in odd places.  They are accidents and no one’s fault, as used to be thought.  Once they were considered the visible punishment for concealed sins.

And just as there are physical monsters, can there not be mental or psychic monsters born?  The face and body may be perfect, but if a twisted gene or a malformed egg and produce physical monsters, may not the same process produce a malformed soul?”

East of Eden is not a subtle book. I usually like subtle. Philosophy is bluntly spoken, not intricately woven in.  It is Good vs. Evil, in your face.  There are biblical references out the whazoo.

But it isn’t black and white.  Good doesn’t always triumph, and when it does, someone still gets hurt.

This is a family saga, or perhaps a dual-family saga, or perhaps a region saga.. is that possible?  This is the story of the Trasks, destined to replay the story of Cain and Abel, whether in Connecticut or California.  It is the story of the Hamiltons, the large Irish family in California, jovial and tragic.  It is the story of the Salinas Valley, hot and fertile and set in its ways.

I shared a scan of my exact copy of the book because it seemed to hold a strange power.  When I opened it, I saw all of California spread out before me.  Then I zoomed in slowly, past fields and mountains… finally reaching the Salinas Valley.  There, I sat unnoticed in a corner,  watching two familiar families intertwine, pull apart, grow, falter.

Literally.  That’s what it was like. I got sucked in. I didn’t like all of the characters. They each had their flaws, their strengths. But even the ones I didn’t like.. I enjoyed reading about. I think this might be the first book of this size (700 pages in my old, thick, mass-market paperback) where every page was important, where every interaction was significant and yet.. part of everyday life. Many of the characters live their whole lives in the pages of this book, so I began to feel like they were intimate friends.

So yes, read it.  And then.. read about it. While the Trask family is made up, the Hamilton family is based off of Steinbeck’s own relatives. He wrote it for his sons, to let them know where and who they’re from.  Pretty cool.  And it’s going on my ‘favorites’ shelf.

Have you read East of Eden?  Did it draw you in as well?  Did the lack of subtlety bother you?  Is The Grapes of Wrath just as fascinating?  Leave a comment and share your thoughts.

Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book was the most recent choice for my campus book group, and the group was overwhelming pleased with the read.  I, however, was more pleased with the listen.

Having recently attended a Gaiman reading in Chicago, I found some of his short stories to be fabulous when he read them.. even though I didn’t like them when I originally read them in print.  So, I downloaded a sample of this on my nook, but ultimately, I decided it’d be much better with his voice and rhythm.  I was right.

The story: When the man Jack sets out to murder an entire family, only the wandering toddler escapes.  He leaves the house, toddles down the hill and through the bars of the graveyard gate.  Happily, a ghostly couple adopt the child, name him Nobody, and he is raised in a cemetary with ghosts for friends, tutors, and guardians.  But why was the man Jack out to kill him anyway?  And why is he still looking for him?

The folks in my book group thought it might be a bit scary for its target audience, but I think they’re underestimating children.  I loved horror books as a child (so much that the school librarian worriedly called my mom, actually), and while this one has a couple of scary scenes, it isn’t really a horror, and it isn’t terribly graphic.

It was cute, well-written, and with Neil Gaiman’s voice, it was just a pleasure to listen to.  And while it was good, and I would recommend it (especially on audiobook), I think it had more potential.

There were so many half-explored ideas that left me wanting more.  The other world.. with the ghouls, what was that like?  How are ghoul gates created?  I want to know more about the night-gaunts.  And the danse macabre.  And the stuff with Jack (being vague to avoid spoilers).  And the Honor Guard.  And the Sleer.  And..

I wonder if there’s fanfic.  A coming sequel?  A book of short stories than Neil Gaiman will write, just for me, to answer all these questions?

Neil Gaiman has created a fascinating world of ideas.  A world that, if fully explored, could fill a Harry Potter length series.  And he shoved it into one short book.

And I want more.

Have you read The Graveyard Book?  Were you left feeling satisfied, or wanting?  Did you think it was too scary for kids?  Know of any good fanfic?  Comment, and let me know!

I’ve had a run of stinkers… bad enough to dislike, but not interesting enough to devote a full review to.  So here’s a brief run-down of 3 books to avoid:

Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu.  Written 25 years before Dracula, this novella presents a female vampire.. twice.  I’m not sure what the author was thinking when he spent half the novella describing one girl’s encounter with the vampire Carmilla, then the next half describing the vampire doing the exact same thing to another girl, so that the reader was subjected to the rather boring depiction twice, but there ya have it.

I picked it apart for my term paper on the treatment of women in Dracula and Carmilla, but it was so vague that almost any feasible claim could be made about it.


Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon.  Victorian sensationalism, and another one for my British Lit class.  To be fair, this one wasn’t as bad as Carmilla, but it was still pretty lame.  George Talboys runs off on his wife, Helen, to make his fortune in Australia, and when he comes back he finds only her obituary.  Robert Audley is taken with his uncle’s lovely new wife, but her past is a mystery.  Oooh.. what has really happened to Helen and from where did Lady Audley spring?

While it is rather interesting to see how it plays out, it takes 450 pages to do it and.. well, not that much happens.  For sensationalism, it was sure boring.  However, we “simulated the Victorian reading experience” by reading it in chunks of 32 pages each Wednesday.  This might have added to the “omigod is this ever going to end and why is nothing happening” feeling.


Mister Pip by Llyod Jones.  I thought this YA novel would be a quick, easy, and interesting follow-up to Great Expectations. On some tropical island, war erupts and most of the white people flee, leaving the natives to fend for themselves.  One white man stays.. and he takes it upon himself to become schoolmaster, though he’s had no experience with it.  One of his primary lessons is reading aloud.. a chapter each day from Great Expectations, and Mister Pip chronicles the effects of war and words on these native children.

Except it was shoddily written and boring.  I know I’m supposed to love it because it depicts the power of storytelling and all that jazz, but I just could not finish it.  It was awful.  It’s gotten a lot of good reviews, though, so maybe it just wasn’t for me.

I’m hoping that this run of stinkers is over.  I’ve got some good stuff lined up.  I’ll be finishing East of Eden soon, Palimpsest (which we’ll see about..), then I’ve got Fingersmith and The White Tiger in the line-up, along with whatever next hefty classic falls off the shelf.

Show Me 5 Saturday is a meme concept by That’s a Novel Idea.  Please head on over to her blog if you’d like to participate!

(Note: While I usually reserve Saturday’s for children’s/YA books, Fool is definitely NOT kid-friendly.)

1 Book you read and/or reviewed this week: Fool, by Christopher Moore

2 Words that describe the book: bawdy, laugh-out-loud-funny

3 Settings where it took place or characters you met:

  • Pocket of Dog Snogging  – The narrator.  Dog Snogging being the name of the abbey where he was brought up.  Pocket is jester in the court of King Lear.. the one man allowed to “speak truth to nobility.”  He takes advantage of that position rather well.
  • Jones –‘Jones,’ said Taster, pointing to my jester’s scepter, Jones, who is, indeed, a smaller version of my own handsome countenance, fixed atop a sturdy handle of polished hickory. Jones speaks for me when even my tongue needs to exceed safe license with knights and nobles, his head pre-piked for the wrath of the dull and humorless. My finest art is oft lost in the eye of the subject.”
  •  Edmond of Gloucester – Illegitimate son of the Earl of Gloucester; Unable to inherit his father’s estate due to his illegitimacy, he will stop at nothing to change his fate.

4 Things you liked and/or disliked about it:

  • I liked to listen to it!  Ryan and I listened to the audio cd in the car together daily, and while it seems like it would be a funny read, it was HILARIOUS to hear.  The reader does a fantastic job with voices, flow, and punctuating the jokes correctly.  I definitely recommend this format.
  • I like that I now know the story of Shakespeare’s King Lear without having to read the real version.  Some of the dialogue is directly takan from Shakespeare’s version.  However, the plot isn’t exactly the same in Fool.  It’s very accurate until the end, at which point it’s very different.  But, I read the King Lear wikipedia page to compare, so I still know the original version now 😉
  • I do think that it was much more funny in the beginning and middle.  Towards the last third of the novel, it got very focused on tying up the plot and well.. the plot is fairly tragic and not that funny.  I still liked it, just not as much as at first.
  • I like that Christopher Moore is still alive, writing, and prolific.  That doesn’t have a lot to do with this particular book, but let me explain.  I read a lot of books by long dead people.  So, when I really like a book by a new author, I try to wait a couple of years before reading another of their works.  I realize they’re obviously not going to be writing any more, and I want to spread the reading out so I won’t run out of stuff to read by them.  Jane Austen, Daphne du Maurier, Thomas Hardy, Virginia Woolf.  But Moore has quite a few books out, and he’s still writing.. so I can obey my instinct to run out and immediately read half of his books!  Hurrah. 🙂

5 stars or less for your rating? A shaky 4.  It was a very solid 4 until the last disc or so when Ryan and I were both just ready for it to hurry up and end.  It wasn’t as funny at that point, and neither of us really get into extremely plot-driven books, which is what it became.  Nonetheless, the first 5 discs were so fabulous and fun that I’ll still call it a 4.  Read it.. no, listen to it!

 “As I never saw my father or my mother, and never saw any likeness of either of them (for their days were long before the days of photographs), my first fancies regarding what they were like, were unreasonably derived from their tombstones.  The shape of the letters on my father’s, gave me an odd idea that he was a square, stout, dark man, with curly black hair.  From the character and turn of the inscription, ‘Also Georgiana Wife of the Above,” I drew a childish conclusion that my mother was freckled and sicky.”  – Charles Dickens, Great Expectations, p. 1

My parents divorced when I was young, and I visited my father on alternate weekends.  I slept on the couch at my father’s, and the few possessions I left there were kept in a laundry room cupboard.  He did not have cable television, but he had a VCR and an acre of land with many trees to sit under and read.  Consequently, I watched one movie and read one book over and over.  There were three movies I could watch, but I found The Color Purple boring and Candyman too frightening for repeated viewings.  Consequently, I came to treasure Beauty and the Beast and it remains one of my favorite movies even now.

The book I read again and again was a children’s abridged and illustrated version of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol.  I was rather fond of it as well, but never sought out the unabridged version.

This past Christmas, however, audible offered a free recording of it to members, and I downloaded it without much thought.  It was magnificient.  It was the same story I loved as a child, but all dressed up with added description and a wonderful performance.

So it was with, well.. great expectations that I turned to Great Expectations.  I downloaded an audio version of it, performed by one of my favorite readers: Simon Vance (who I discovered while listening to [marvelous] Frankenstein).

The story: Orphaned Pip, living with his sister and his brother-in-law Joe (who treats him as a treasured friend), seems destined to become a blacksmith.  His childhood is relatively eventful: he meets and assists an escaped convict; he spends time at a rich woman’s house playing with her adopted child (Estella, who he quickly falls in love with).  Then in the years of his apprenticeship, an unknown benefactor offers him wealth, but he must move to London and become an educated gentleman as his part of the bargain.  He sets out to London quickly, makes new friends and explores new opportunities, all while trying to woo Estella and discover the truth behind his newfound wealth.

Sounds promising.  The beginning went swimmingly.  I was fond of Pip, curious about the convict, admired Joe.  But then Pip moves to London, and it all changes.   For about 12 hours of the 16 hour audiobook, Pip is rather unlikeable; Joe and the convict are hardly present.  The only truly likeable character who plays a role in the middle of the book (Mr. Wemmick) only appears, it seems, when needed to swiftly furthur the plot.

You’ve all heard, I’m sure, that Mr. Dickens was paid by the word.  You’ve all heard this used to explain why his books are so mightily long.  Personally, though I believed the first bit, I couldn’t believe that any self-respecting author would purposefully draw out a decent story for more money.  I thought, surely, his books are only so long because he has so much to say.  Or because his stories are so intricate, his characters so elaborate, that this length is required.  Now, though, I’m not so sure.

The beginning masterfully draws the reader in.  The ending leaves the reader with a feeling of justice and satisfaction (when considered separate from the middle).  But in the middle, it all falls apart.  It is no pleasure to read.  It drags the reader through the actions and introspection of an unlikeable, ungrateful brat who recognizes his mistakes as he makes them, makes them anyway, then laments, and repeats.  Dickens can do better.  I’ve seen it.  I’ve seen it in this very book.

I give it 3 of 5 stars.  Good beginning, good ending, good story.  Terribly plodding middle.  I will try another Dickens, but it’ll be awhile.

Show Me 5 Saturday is a meme hosted by That’s a Novel Idea.  You can find Mr. Linky if you’d like to post your own at Find Your Next Book Here. Original hostess is MIA.

Going Solo by Roald Dahl1 Book you read and/or reviewed this week Going Solo by Roald Dahl 2 Words that describe the book: adventurous, heartbreaking 3 Settings where it took place or characters you met:

  • Africa – The first setting of the book is Africa.  Dahl is working here before/when World War II breaks out.  Dahl captivates the reader with description of the black mamba, giraffes, and all manner of wild things.
  • Mdisho – Roald Dahl’s “boy” when he was working in Africa.  This boy ironed Dahl’s shirts, polished his sword, and basically did whatever Dahl asked.  Dahl taught Mdisho how to read and write.  Mdisho has warrior’s blood running through him, and when he does something that could get him in great trouble, Dahl shows wisdom and compassion.
  • Greece – This is where Dahl spent the majority of his combat time in World War II.  Having been trained as a fighter pilot, he joins his squadron here.  To his dismay, he finds that he is only one of fifteen pilots allotted to protect the whole of Greece against hundreds or thousands of German planes.  His “adventures” here constitute the majority of the book.

4 Things you liked and/or disliked about it: 5 Stars or less for your rating?

  • I liked the format.  All the chapters were connected and chronological, but they could have almost have been read as stand-alone stories.  There were no cliff-hangers, so I could read a couple of chapters and put the book down without being tempted to peak at the beginning of the next.
  • I liked that it was more adult that Boy which came before it.  It was still in the junior section at the library, but I really feel like the subject matter is for more mature readers, even if the writing style is just as easy to read.  While there was high adventure, there was also war and death and weeks stuck in a hospital bed.
  • I love Dahl’s writing.  His stories, especially these, often make me hold me breath as the action plays out.  While he doesn’t spend a lot of time on wordy descriptions, he gives the correct details to allow you to see the setting.  Reading his work is a wonderful experience.
  • I liked that it was sort-of educations.  I got a little geography lesson, learned some Swahili words, learned a bit about the animals and cultures of the place he traveled.  Fabulous.

5 stars or less for your rating? 4.  It wasn’t one of the greatest books I’ve ever read, but it was certainly better than mediocre.  It was captivating, fun, heart-wrenching, and just generally Dahl-esque.  I recommend it heartily.

Brief Interviews With Hideous Men

Rambling

David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men isn’t a book I’d normally pick up.  Honestly, I hadn’t any plans to read Wallace at all in the near future.  I mentioned before that hearing about David Foster Wallace is like hearing a group of friends talk about another friend (who you haven’t met) that is just soooo funny and clever; the more you hear these friends glorify this guy, the more you’re sure you’ll hate him.  That was how I felt about David Foster Wallace.

Then, a few months ago, the Mister convinced me to read a commencement speech given by Wallace.  And it was actually pretty darn good.

“But most days, if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her little child in the checkout line – maybe she’s not usually like this; maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of her husband who’s dying of bone cancer, or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the Motor Vehicles Dept who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a nightmarish red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible – it just depends on what you want to consider.”

The speech might have actually improved my life a wee bit for the couple of weeks that I kept it in mind.  But I easily convinced myself that, while the guy was obviously a decent public speaker, he was probably still a pretentious hack of a writer.  I don’t know where I got the idea; it was just a natural inclination against whoever everyone else happens to be worshipping – a holdover from my teenage rebel days.

Finally, the president of my book group (whose favorite book is Infinite Jest) convinced the majority of us to vote for Brief Interviews With Hideous Men as our next read.  It was the first book group meeting I’ve missed, and I felt this might have been payback.  Grudgingly, I downloaded the sample of it to my nook, assuming that I’d read the sample, be disappointed enough to be able to justify not actually getting the book, and still be able to explain that I made a honest-ish effort.  (I recognize that I might sound like a terrible person, but this goes to show the extent of my determination not to like Wallace.)

I read the sample: The first story.. “bleh”;  the second story.. “Hmm, okay”; the third story.. “Wow, this is brilliant.”

That third story, I had a definite visceral reaction to.  I felt like I was actually a 13-year-old boy.  I was hooked.  I scoured all the nearby libraries until I emerged, triumphantly, book in hand.

David Foster WallaceReview

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men is a book of shorts.  They aren’t necessarily stories, but often just a few pages in which Wallace (and you) explores an emotion, an idea – an introspective exploration of a brief, but important moment of someone’s life.  One goodreads reviewer accurately described the stories as “word paintings – unconnected and layered and taxing.” 

They often don’t have proper beginnings or endings.  Mostly, it’s first-person monologue.  Dialogue – which is where Wallace excels.  Wallace has obviously listened to a lot of people talk.  These aren’t tidy little stories, revised and wrapped up for presentation.  All of the speaker’s have clear, unique voices, but they’re authentic.  They repeat themselves, backtrack, interrupt themselves, contradict themselves, excuse themselves, fiddle with things while they’re talking, and just generally make all the mistakes, have all the nuances of actual people telling their stories.

Wallace’s writing is experimental.  He uses repetition to get his point across; in “Adult World” he writes half the story properly, then offers his short-hand notes for the remainder (allowing the reader to see how much thought goes into each word of a story); in the interviews, he leaves out the questions.  Sometimes his experiments are successful; other times, they alienate the reader.

The Good

Forever Overhead” –  Nine pages of a 13-year-old boy trying to jump off of a diving board for the first time.  In second person point-of-view.  That’s right.. Wallace makes you a pubescent boy, puts you into a very scary situation, and elaborates.  But by the third paragraph, I had bought into it.  I was a young boy, mind all scrambled by puberty, aware that today, on my 13th birthday, it was time for me to grow up.  And to do that, I had to jump off the diving board.  Wallace pulls it off masterfully.

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men – B.I. #42” – Only four pages, a man describes his father’s career working as an attendant in a 5-star hotel men’s room, standing there for 8 hours a day, offering men towels, cleaning up their messes, listening to their .. sounds.  It was disgusting, like many of Wallace’s stories, but it definitely left an impression.  Many of the stories have a unifying theme: that oftentimes people don’t see people as.. people;  they’re objects, obstacles, there to serve us or get in our way; that they have senses, desires, dreams, and self-value.  This theme is brilliantly explored in this story and in B.I. #20.

“Adult World (I)” and “Adult World (II)” – A self-conscious young wife’s lengthy exploration of why she feels she can’t please her husband in bed.  There wasn’t any particular theme that made this one stand out, but again, the writing was amazing.  The way Wallace can get into a character’s head and really find the exact words they would use to describe a situation or themselves show true talent.  His experimental part two, showing the shorthand notes for the rest of the story rather than writing it out, really highlights this.  Whether the notes are fabricated or are actual notes that he, at one time, planned to use.. they show just how much consideration he gives each word and perspective.

The Bad

“Datum Centurio” – A failed experiment that I can’t even give a synopsis of because I have no idea what is going on it it.  A story(?) told through various, overly technical definitions of the word date. There was certainly no reader immersion.

Tri-Stan: I Sold Sissee Nar To Ecko” – The only one I didn’t finish.  At 19 pages, it was one of the longest stories in the book.  Apparently, he’s telling the story of a modern Narcissus (I think?), complete with plastic surgery and corporate battles.  But the writing style makes it almost completely inaccessible, unless I wanted to pore over the story for hours trying to figure out just what he was trying to say.  I didn’t.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I’d give this book 3 stars out of 5.  There was some brilliant material in it, and often Wallace’s mastery of language allows the reader to become fully immersed.  The guy had talent.  Some of the pieces were inaccessable, and some fell flat.  Many will stick with me; others, I hardly recall even now.  It is a book to be read over a few weeks, taken one story at time rather than read with a deadline.  I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who doesn’t enjoy experimental writing or dislikes graphic, adult language and imagery.  I’d recommend it to writers, to monologue lovers, and to anyone who wants a glimpse of the unpleasant side of real life.  Wallace supposedly said that he wanted to write “stuff about what it feels like to live instead of being a relief from what it feels like to live.”  That, I think, he does quite well.

Over at A Striped Armchair, I read an entry: Why I Love Being a Book Blogger.  It made me want to give it a go (admittedly, again).

I’m no good at introductions, and they’re typically boring anyway, so I’m going to jump right in with a meme.  Show Me Five Saturday is a meme hosted by That’s a Novel Idea.  I enjoy reading Jenner’s every week over at Find Your Next Book Here.  This last link is where you can find Mr. Linky if you’d like to post your own.  Original hostess is MIA.

(I just linked 3 blogs that I’ve not commented on more than once.  I should lurk less.)

With no furthur ado, Show Me 5 Saturday.

1 Book you read and/or reviewed this week

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

2 Words that describe the book: simply magical

3 Settings where it took place or characters you met:

  • Mary Lennox – a petulant little girl, born in India and forgotten by her parents.  After a cholera outbreak, she moves to England to live with her uncle.  In England, she is educated by the wind, a robin, an animal charmer, a jump-rope, and a hypochondriac.
  • Ben Weatherstaff – a grumpy old gardener who introduces Mary to the robin.  At times unapproachable, he’s really a softie at heart.
  • A robin – at times baffled by the doings of the children, he still assures his mate that they’re harmless.

4 Things you liked and/or disliked about it:

  • Yorkshire dialect.  I loved it.  This is a children’s book, but the author didn’t dumb down the dialect for her readers.  I wonder how many kids went around trying to talk Yorkshire after reading this. 🙂
  • The scene from the robin’s perspective.  It was delightful to hear the robin and his mate chatter back and forth, trying to figure out what those silly kids were up to.  “But then she said indulgently that humans were always more clumsy and slow than Eggs and most of them never seemed really to learn to fly at all. You never met them in the air or on tree-tops.”  I cracked up.
  • I loved the descriptions of the spring.  I felt like I read this at just the right time, as plants are unfurling their leaves around me every day, my own seedlings are shooting up, and my mint is going feral.  I remember that the visual experience of the garden was one of my favorite things about the movie as a child, and the same descriptions were adored as an adult.
  • Sheep!  There was a sheep in it.  Anything with a suckling sheep gets extra points.

5 Stars or less for your rating? 5, absolutely.  And I don’t give those out lightly.  I was enchanted with the movie over a decade ago, and I was just as enchanted with the book.  I found myself clapping my hands together in delight, and laughing wildly with the children.  I sent Mister ecstatic text messages: “She was standing in the secret garden!”  I loved it.

In honor of the book, I present my own neighborhood robin.  It isn’t the same species as the English Robin described in the book, but the American Robin is a welcome spring sight here.