Harrison, Melissa. Clay.New York: Bloomsbury, 2013.
Clay is centered around the lives of four different people only the story starts out like a lukewarm party with lots of dull people. The characters were listless and unmemorable. I felt like a party goer who was more interested in the decor of the party than the people attending it.By page 100 I still hadn’t connected with anyone nor could I tell anyone what it was really about. At the center of the story is TC, a nine-turning-ten year old lonely boy. On the surface he is looking for a companion, someone to share his “me against the world” attitude. Deep down he is searching for his father, always fantasizing about ways to get him to come home after divorcing his mom. Other characters include Jamal, TC’s mother’s boyfriend; Jozef, the Polish immigrant working two jobs; Denny, Jozef’s boss at the furniture shop and Musa, Jozef’s boss at the takeaway; Sophia, the elderly widow across the park; her daughter Linda; granddaughter Daisy, son Michael, and son-in-law Steven. All these characters circle around each other without real rhyme or reason other than proximity. For example, TC and Jozef forge a misfit friendship and Daisy and grandmother Sophie write misunderstood letters to one another.
The best part of Harrison’s writing is her descriptive passages about nature. She captures birds, trees, flowers beautifully. Wildlife comes alive and breathes life into the rest of the story. Because the plot lacked a hook I found I could put Clay down for days at a time and not miss the people I had met. I wasn’t breathlessly interested in seeing what happened next. My curiosity was mild, bordering on disinterested.
Reason read: This was received and reviewed as part of LibraryThing’s Early Review program.
Author Fact: Clay is Melissa Harrison’s first novel.
Book Trivia: Clay will be published in 2013.
Ackroyd, Peter. The Clerkenwell Tales. New York: Nan A. Talese, 2004.
The very first thing you notice when you pick up Clerkenwell Tales is that the table of contents look a lot like the table of contents from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. This was definitely intentional. In fact, all of the characters are the same as Chaucer’s only fleshed out a little differently than Chaucer. We start off with a deranged nun full of prophesy and a group of presumed heretics called the Lollards. The Lollards are a secret society of men who seek to overthrow the church, dethrone the king, wreak havoc across London. As a result, chaos will ensue for sure!
Reason Read: October is Peter Ackroyd’s birth month.
Author Fact: Ackroyd’s fascination with Chaucer is ongoing. He recently published a retelling of The Canterbury Tales.
Book Trivia: There is great joy in describing medieval filth in Clerkenwell Tales. Sentences like, “…who was removing a piece of excrement from under his fingernail…” (p 64) is common.
As an aside, there is a book store named Clerkenwell Tales in London, England.
BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “Digging Up the Past Through Fiction” (p 79).
Mankell, Henning. The Man From Beijing. Read by Rosalyn Landor. New York: Random House Audio, 2010.
The opening scene to The Man From Beijing (aside from the judicial oath) is stunning. Mankell describes in haunting detail the travels of a lone wolf as it hungrily searches for prey. I won’t spoil it by saying anything more. Suffice it to say this scene sets the tome for an ominous story. After visiting a wolf and wilderness center in Colorado my mind’s eye can see this solitary wolf (and it’s ever present hunger) with detailed clarity which makes Mankell’s opening scene even more chilling.
Henning Mankell is a master at writing mysteries. The Man From Beijing is no exception. The story starts with nineteen people, concentrated in one tiny Swedish village, brutally murdered. Most of the victims are elderly and the level of violence inflicted on them is unprecedented. Even their pets have been viciously attacked and killed. As the details of the massacre unfold the plot becomes multi-generational, spanning 150 years; and international, taking place in China, Zimbabwe, the United States and, of course, Sweden.
Reason read: I needed a “wild card” story for the fun of it. I chose The Man From Beijing because it isn’t attached to any other story (Mankell writes mostly series).
Author Fact: Mankell was the first winner of the Ripper Award.
Book Trivia: The Man From Beijing is an international best seller. According to IMDB it was made into a television movie in 2010.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Swede(n), Isn’t It?” (p 223).
Ewan, Chris. The Good Thief’s Guide to Amsterdam. New York: St. Martin’s Minotaur, 2007.
Charles Howard is a suspense writer visiting Amsterdam for inspiration to the ending of his latest crime-thief thriller. He shouldn’t ever get writers’ block because he happens to be one of the very thieves he writes about in his “fiction.” As a petty thief he steals things just because he can. In addition, the thefts stave off boredom and supplement his writing career. One of his sidekicks is his literary agent, Victoria, who he has never met. He tells he everything about his thieving escapades. This time word has gotten around – he’s a good a thief as they come – and he is approached by an American willing to pay him to steal the matching plaster monkey figurines to his “See No Evil.” The figures are cheap and the job seems to simple. Howard rightly thinks there has to be a catch and of course, there is. After successfully stealing “Hear No Evil” and “Speak No Evil” all hell breaks loose when the American is murdered and his death is pinned on Howard.
Chris Ewan’s writing is fun and furious. It’s easy to read 100 pages in a single lunch break without looking up once. His Charles Howard character is entertaining with just the right amount of cheeky sarcasm contrasted with humble likeability. Like other reviewers I enjoyed his sly and flirty relationship with his literary editor. Of course the ending is wrapped in a “Who Dunnit” ending with a neat little bow, but because Ewan kept many details out this play by play was almost necessary to make the ending complete.
Good line: “It was enough, to begin with, to be somewhere I wasn’t meant to be, without anyone knowing about it” (p 79).
Reason Read: in honor of the Amsterdam marathon which takes place in October.
Author Fact: Chris Ewan has his own Bond-like website. It’s entertaining, just like his books.
Book Trivia: The Good Thief’s Guide to Amsterdam is the first in a series of “Good Thief” books by Ewan.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Las Vegas” (p 130). This was another one of those “mentioned by default” books Pearl decided to include. This particular “Good Thief’s Guide” has nothing to do with Vegas but because Ewan wrote another one that does take place in Vegas Amsterdam gets a mention as well.
Hackers. Dann, Jack and Gardner Dozois, eds. New York: Ace Books, 1996.
Hackers is an eclectic mix of short stories about a techno-subculture called hackers. Most of the stories are written by well known and respected science fiction writers. Each story is prefaced with a short bio about the author and many of them are authors already on my Lust list. The list of stories is as follows:
- “Burning Chrome” by William Gibson
- “Spirit of the Night” by Tom Maddox
- “Blood Sisters” by Greg Egan (probably my favorite since I would have done the same thing had it been my sister.)
- “Rock On” by Pat Cadigan (I didn’t get this one at all.)
- “The Pardoner’s Tale” by Robert Silverberg ~ I liked this one a lot
- “Living Will” by Alexander Jablokov
- “Dogfight” by Michael Swanwick and William Gibson
- “Our Neural Chernobyl” by Bruce Sterling
- “(Learning About) Sex Machine” by Candas Jane Dorsey
- “Conversations With Michael” by Daniel Marcus
- “Gene Wars” by Paul J McAuley
- “Spew” by Neal Stephenson
- “Tangents” by Greg Bear (weird!)
Favorite line: From “Living Will” by Alexander Jablokov, “Gerald set his drink down carefully and put his arm around his friend’s shoulders, something he rarely did. And they sat there in the silent study, two old friends stuck at the wrong end of time” (p 111). This story in particular was very human and very sad.
Reason read: October is Computer month. I have to admit it took me some time to get used to words like cybernetic, fiberoptic and simstim.
Best lines, “That was the summer that I finally managed to hack into a Pentagon computer – just an office supplies purchasing system, but Paula was suitably impressed (and neither of us had ever guessed that paperclips were so expensive)” (p 50).
Author Fact: Since there are a bunch of authors I settled on writing about my favorite
Book Trivia: Even though this was compiled in the mid-90s, most of the stories are highly readable even today. the only element of the anthology that was dated was each introduction that introduced the author as “new” to the scene of science fiction writing.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Cyberspace.Com” (p 69).
Firestone, Shumlamith. The Dialectic of Sex: the case for feminist revolution. Tornton: Bantam Books, 1971.
I have to start off by saying something about the cover of this book. For starters, the woman. It is a photograph of a Degas painting called simply Tete De Jeune Femme. The face of this young woman is a subject for scrutiny; her expression, debatable. She looks passive, unconcerned. To the first glance she is an observer and not a feeler. And yet, there is something sad, worrying in her eyes. But, the photograph is not the only thing that makes this cover so interesting. It’s the text. “…a slashing attack on male supremacy…” This had me worried in all sorts of ways. I’m not looking to attack men. Hell, I married one, didn’t I? And then there’s this: “Chapter 6 might change your life.” Is that a promise or a threat? That led me to question things. Wait, does my life NEED changing? Then I read the book…
I have to admit, many different parts of Firestone’s book gave me pause. For example, the concept that war (specifically World War II) was a welcomed opportunity for women to be treated as equals was really interesting. The idea that women hired as the only available workforce during that time allowed them to be and feel necessary and not just in the “female” sense of family and sex. The second concept that feminism and Freud “grew from the same soil” (p 43).
Firestone does not leave any aspect of the case for feminist revolution uncovered. She even delves into the stages of fashion for children in medieval times. For the male child dress was not to symbolize just age but to also announce sex, social rank and prosperity, whereas the female child did not have stages of fashion. She went from swaddling directly to adult garments. There was no need to differentiate social rank and prosperity because women had neither.
Lines that struck me: “We can attempt to develop a materialistic view of history based on sex itself” (p 5), and “This radical movement was built by women who had literally no civil status under law; who were pronounced civilly dead upon marriage, or remained legal minors if they did not marry; who could not sign a will or even have custody of their own children upon divorce; who were not taught to read, let alone admitted to college…; who had no political voice whatever” (p 17). And the line that made me laugh out loud, “She then assuages his pricked ego by assuring him of her undying loyalty to his Balls” (p 123).
Reason read: October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month. We are in the pink once again. I have a whole slew of books dedicated to honor strong women fighting or surviving cancer. Shulamith is one such influential woman.
Author fact: I was shocked to discover Firestone passed away a little over a month ago.
Book trivia: Thanks to Wikipedia I learned a there is a documentary out there called “Shulie.” I have to look that up.
BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “I Am Woman – Hear Me Roar” (p 121).
Beston, Henry. The Outermost House: a Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod. New York: Henry Holt & Company, 1988.
Even though Cape Cod is nothing like Monhegan Island this was a great read for vacation.
Henry Beston built a two room house on Coast Guard Beach on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Originally the house was designed to be a summer getaway cabin but after two weeks Beston decided to see what it would be like to spend a year on the beach. During that time he wrote a memoir of the experience, recording everything he saw, heard, smelled, touched and experienced. As a result he published The Outermost House which became a best seller. Along the lines of Thoreau, Beston was enamored with living the simple life and experiencing nature in it most raw form. There were many times I found myself agreeing with Beston or being envious of his adventure. Even the storms that blew up the beach produced fascinating fodder for Beston’s book.
Favorite lines: “On its solitary dune my house faced the four walls of the world” (p 9), “Listen to the surf, really lend it your ears, and you will hear in it a world of sounds: hollow boomings and heavy roarings, great watery tumblings and tramplings, long hissing seethes, sharp riffle-shot reports, splashes, whispers, the grinding undertone of stones, and sometimes vocal sounds that might be the half-heard talk of people in the sea” (p 43) and one more, “Wraiths of memories began to take shape” (p 216).
Author Fact: Well, this fact isn’t about Beston. It’s about his house. His cabin on Cape Cod was named a national literary landmark until it was destroyed in the blizzard of 1978.
Book Trivia: Beston’s wife wouldn’t marry him until he had finished The Outermost House.
Reason read: October is National Animal Month.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Wild Life” (p 244).
Vasari, Giorgio. The Lives of the Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, Vol. 1. Translated by A.B. Hinds. London: J.M. Dent, 1927.
The Lives of the Painters is about exactly what the title states – biographies of painters and sculptors and architects, beginning with Giovanni Cimabue, a religious painter from Florence, Italy. It’s pretty amazing to think his childhood was like any other normal boy, enthralled with art over school work. I could see him doodling with his bird feather and dye! (Cimabue, 1240 – 1302.) Other artist biographies included Arnolfo Di Lapo (1232 – 1302), a father and son team named Niccola and Giovanni Pisani (1205 – 1328), Andrea Tafi (1213? – 1294), Gaddo Gaddi (1259 – 1333), Gotto (1216 – 1293?) and on and on.
Disclaimer: Vasari admits that the statements made about some lives are not to be accepted as absolute truth. In fact, many of the footnotes correct Vasari and point out inaccuracies. Interesting. But, not interesting for me to keep reading. I made a decision that any biography that had an inaccuracy didn’t deserve to be read so I skipped a lot. A lot. Another frustrating element to the text is the number of times Vasari says there is more to the story, “but I will not relate it in an effort to avoid being tedious…” Nothing drives me crazier than someone saying “I have something to tell you…oh, never mind!”
Great line, “In short, the latter part of the work is much better or rather less bad than is the beginning, although the whole, when compared with the works of to-day, rather excites laughter than pleasure or admiration” (p 56).
Reason read: October is Art Appreciation month.
Author fact: According to the first volume of Lives of the Painters, Giorgio Vasari was born at Arezzo in 1511 and died in Florence in 1574. It blows my mind I am reading the words of someone who died over 400 years ago.
Book trivia: Lives of the Painters has four volumes. To be honest I cannot imagine reading all four volumes!
BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “Ciao, Italia” (p 46).
Renault, Mary. The Persian Boy. New York: Pantheon Books, 1972.
Mary Renault continues the story of Alexander the Great (the first book was Fire From Heaven) in The Persian Boy. When we catch up with Alexander it has been six years. He is now 26 years old. His prowess as a conqueror cannot be questioned, as it was covered in Fire From Heaven, so Renault chooses to explore Alexander’s sensual side as he forges a relationship with slave-boy Bagoas. As a eunuch Bagoas is used to being a plaything for royalty. His beauty is beyond compare and when Alexander is presented with Bagoas as a peace offering he cannot refuse. Despite once serving Alexander’s Persian enemy Bagoas decides to be loyal to Alexander and make Alexander love him. What follows is the classic struggle of Persian versus Macedonian cultures as Bagoas assumes the narrative.
Interesting quotes, “There are eunuchs who become women, and those who do not; we are something by ourselves and must make of it what we can” (p 40).
Reason read: to continue the story of Alexander the Great that was started in September.
Author fact: Mary Renault had a lifelong partner named Julie Mullard (more info here).
Book trivia: Renault strays from third person narrative and tells Alexander’s story through the first person narrative of Bagoas, his companion and lover.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “The Classical World” (p 59).
King, Stephen. The Stand. New York: Signet, 1980.
I think it goes without saying that The Stand is a super-long, super detailed book and the critical attention paid to character development and personality nuances plays a huge roll in its length. The other component to its heft is the fact it takes a long time to build up to the meat of the plot. The Stand contains three books, “Captain Trips”, “On the Border”, and “The Stand”. “Captain Trips” is the introduction to an influenza-like plague and its fast-paced spread of infection. You won’t look at another sneeze or cough the same way again after this. “On the Border” is convergence of the plague survivors; the good and the evil alike. They are all brought together by a shared dream of an elderly women. In the final book, “The Stand” the surviving society must take a stand on where their civilization will end up – on the side of good or evil? It’s drawn out to the point of ad-nauseam but the writing is fantastic.
Here is one of my favorite quotes from The Stand: “Denninger looked and acted like the kind of man who would ride his help and bullyrag them around but lickspittle up to his superiors like an egg-suck dog” (p 59). I just love the word bullyrag and lickspittle isn’t so bad either!
Book Trivia: Many different adaptations of The Stand exist. My favorite is a comic book series.
Author Fact: King used to haunt the halls at the University of Maine, Orono. He wouldn’t remember me but I served him coffee once in the Bear’s Den.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the lengthy chapter called “Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror” (p 213). I think Pearl intended The Stand to be horror.
Grippando, James. Last to Die. New york: Harper Collins, 2003.
What do you do when your town is rocked by a freak pre-Halloween snow storm that knocks out power for a seriously long time? In my case, read. A lot. I was able to finish Buddenbrooks, read Last to Die cover to cover and start Immortal. But, enough about the great reading opportunity. About Last to Die:
Last to Die is a suspense murder mystery with an interesting plot. It’s not your typical “Victim found murdered so who dunnit?”
Jack Swyteck has the unenviable task of defending his best friend’s brother, thug-turned-angel, Tatum Knight. Knight is suspected of killing a woman, shooting her dead in broad daylight. He admits that the deceased, Sally Fenning, did approach him to play hit man but swears he turned her down. Little brother Theo believes him. It’s when Knight is named in Sally Fenning’s 46 million dollar will that things get complicated. For this is no ordinary bequeathment. While five other individuals are named in the will they are all people Sally hated and only one of them can inherit the money; the last one standing. Soon, as one would expect, people start to die.
What makes Last To Die truly interesting is the cast of characters. Every person has a unique story to tell and a past to hide.
Author Fact: Grippando (like Grisham) was a lawyer first before turning out legal thrillers.
Book Trivia: Last to Die is actually the third Swyteck book. The series starts with The Pardon (1994).
BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “Legal Eagles in Fiction” (p 134).
Morgan, Richard. Altered Carbon. New York: Random House Digital, Inc., 2003.
I think this is the first book I have read that is considered cyberpunk.
In a world where you can pay off a cab driver with the swipe of your thumb, have psychosurgery to get over trauma, and go to places like Mi’s Wharfwhore Warehouse lives former UN Envoy, Takeshi Lev Kovacs. It is a world that centers on a multi-planetary society hundreds of years into the future. Earth is just one location where the plot takes place. In this futuristic environment human souls and personalities can be digitally stored and reloaded into new bodies after bodily death. The only group to not benefit from this cyber-eternity are Catholics. Since they believe in souls going to either Heaven or Hell after death they wouldn’t have anything to pass onto a new body.
To say that the plot is complicated is an understatement. Laurens Bancroft has seemingly committed suicide. All evidence points to this except Bancroft himself doesn’t believe it. He has a new body and limited memory and thinks he has been murdered. He has hired Takeshi Kovacs to solve his mystery.
This passage sums up the entire story: “You’re a lucky man, Kovacs…One hundred and eighty light years from home, wearing another man’s body on a six-week rental agreement. Freighted in to do a job that the local police wouldn’t touch with a riot prod” (p 45).
Something true, even in this world: “The human body is capable of quite remarkable regeneration if stored correctly” (p 243).
My favorite line in the whole book: “I thought I might die, but I hadn’t expected to be bored to death” (p 1,145).
Most profound sentence: “For a moment something ached in my, something so deep-rooted that I knew to tear it out would be to undo the essence of what held me together” (p 1,410).
This time, reading an e-book was a little more frustrating. There were a few spelling and punctuation mistakes and absolutely no copyright information whatsoever.
Author Fact: Morgan is crazy young, born in 1965.
Book Trivia: Altered Carbon won the Philip K. Dick award for best novel in 2003.
BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “Plots for Plotzing” (p 183).
Mann, Thomas. Buddenbrooks: the Decline of a Family. Translated by H.T. Lowe-Porter. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1931.
To sum up Buddenbrooks it is a four-generational story about the downfall of a middle class family. There is no storyline other than following the lives of the Buddenbrooks from 1835 to 1877. The Buddenbrooks are a typical family. They have their problems like everyone else. Faulty business deals, unstable health, failed marriages, partnerships made and broken. My favorite parts involved daughter Tony and her relationships with her family and the men who pursued her. The way her father simultaneously protects her and throws her to the wolves is eyebrow raising, but pretty typical of a father-know-best attitude. It is no secret that this saga doesn’t end well (just look at the title).
Quotes that struck a thought: “Hopes, fears, and ambitions all slumbered, while the rain fell and the autumn wind whistled around gables and street corners” (p 45), “She had never given him either great joy or great sorrow; but she had decorously played her part beside him for many a long year…” (p 68), and “Her face had the expression children wear when one tells them a fairy story about then tactlessly introduce a generalization about conduct and duty – a mixture of embarrassment and impatience, piety and boredom” (p 215).
Author Fact: Buddenbrookswas Mann’s first book, written when he was just 26 years old.
Book Trivia: An adaptation of Buddenbrooks was made into a movie in 2008.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “100 Good Reads, Decade by Decade” (p 175).
Forbes, Esther. Johnny Tremain: a Story of Boston in Revolt. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1971.
This is another one of those “reread a few times” books. I can remember having a crush on Johnny when I was 13 or 14. I’m not exactly sure why. I don’t think the idea of 18th century garb was what got me. But, there was definitely something about goody boy Johnny with his artisan ego that appealed to me.
Johnny Tremain may not be the most creative of titles for Esther Forbes’s John Newbery Medal award-winning book, but it’s most appropriate as it tells the story of two years in the life of fourteen-year-old Johnny Tremain. Johnny is one of several silversmith apprentices living with the Lapham family in Boston, Massachusetts. The year is 1773 and silversmiths are in high demand. Johnny is the most gifted artisan for someone so young and he knows it. The other apprentices are jealous until one day there is an accident and Johnny’s right hand is badly maimed by molten silver. Ultimately, he loses his place with the Laphams and must find other means of employment. It isn’t long before Johnny finds a second calling. He is good with horses and becomes a dispatch rider for the Committee of Public Safety. This job brings him into the company of important men like Samuel Adams and John Hancock. It is at this point where famous events in history like the Boston Tea Party and the Battle of Lexington are woven into Johnny’s story. Fact and fiction are seamless.
Favorite lines: “Human relations never seem to stand completely still” (p 173) and “Green with spring, dreaming of the future yet wet with blood” (p 255).
Author Fact: Forbes was a Massachusetts woman.
Book Trivia: Johnny Tremain won the Newbery Medal in 1944.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Historical Fiction for Kids of All Ages” (p 114).
Packard, Edward. Choose Your Own Adventure: Spy Trap. New York: Bantam Books, 1980.
These Choose Your Own Adventure books are really fun. My particular adventure, Spy Trap by Edward Packard puts you, the reader, in the story as a secret agent for the government. You are asked to follow a tremendous secret that would rock the marine biology world. Humback whales are disappearing and you think you have discovered where they are going through analyzing their song. These whales can communicate! All along the story there are choices that you must make. Make the wrong choice and you end the story (and often times, your life). Make the right choice and you continue on your adventure and get to live on. Sometimes the endings are death while others are implied with a sentence that trails off… Your choices could be as simple as a right or left at the fork in the road or as complicated as asking if you trust your superiors to tell them all (if so, turn to page 89) or do you NOT trust them and you keep quiet (turn to page 95)? Every decision is up to you and because of the number of decisions you can make throughout the story there are countless variations of the same story. In my version I took risks left and right and managed to live to see a happy ending. My second time through I wasn’t so lucky. It’s implied I died at sea. So sad.
Author Fact: Edward Packard created this second-person storytelling idea. Very cool.
BookLust Twist: While not mentioned in the index The Choose Your Own Adventure series is in Book Lust on page 190 in the chapter called “The Postmodern Condition.”