Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Joy of Books

Check out this awesome video from Type bookstore in Toronto! 

The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan

I first heard about The Last Werewolf on Books on the Nightstand, my favorite book related podcast.  On the podcast there is always a segment titled two books we can't wait for you to read in which the two hosts each recommend a book.  I've been told that this book falls into the genre "literary horror."  Horror is one of the few genres that I have never really read but the enthusiastic review on the podcast made me think I should give it a try.

The book begins with the story of Jake Marlowe, a werewolf.  He kills and eats people once month on the full moon.  The rest of the time he tries to keep a step ahead of WOCOP (World Organization for the Control of Occult Phenomena).  WOCOP has hunting and killing werewolves for centuries and they're so good that now there's only one left.  Jake is ready to die.  He is not without guilt for the people he has eaten and he feels the loneliness of being the last of his kind.  But just as he is ready to surrender to death, suddenly various groups want to keep him alive.  Jake doesn't know quite what to think or how to feel about his supposed saviors.  Then something happens that gives him a reason to live.

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes supernatural fiction with the caveat that there are graphic descriptions of sex and violence - according to Jake a werewolf has three main imperatives: f**k, kill and eat and there is plenty of all three in the book - so for those offended by graphic language this book is probably not for you.   I don't know much about the author but if I had go guess I'd say he was an English major which is both a blessing and a curse.  There are some passages so beautifully written that I added them to the list of quotes I keep.  At other times I felt the story got bogged down by the literary loops of someone who seemed to be trying really hard to impress.  Still it was worth the read.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson

One Good Turn is the second book in the Jackson Brodie Series by Kate Atkinson.  The first book in the series is Case Histories.  Jackson is an ex-soldier, an ex-cop and an ex-detective, and after inheriting a fortune from a former client, a millionaire.  He accompanies his girlfriend Julia, an actress, to Edinburgh where she is performing in a play at the city's summer arts festival.  Though retired, Jackson continually finds himself caught up in the problems of other people.  The story is told from multiple character's perspectives.  At first the characters and their stories seem to be disconnected but eventually it all comes together.

It is difficult to describe this book.  There is a detective and a mystery, or rather several mysteries, but I wouldn't classify this as strictly a mystery.  Though it is interesting to see how the different pieces relate to one another, what is more interesting are the inner lives of the characters.  It sounds odd to say (or write), but Atkinson makes the mundane inner lives of the characters compelling.

Some characters are more developed than others.  The most interesting character is, not surprisingly, Jackson Brodie.  He's a nice guy, but not a perfect guy.  He is divorced and has a daughter who lives with his ex-wife in New Zealand.  (Speaking of which, I hope his daughter returns in the next book in the series.  The relationship between father and daughter was one of things I liked about Case Histories.)  Then there is Chief Inspector Louise Monroe who has a teenage son who seems to be turning into a petty criminal.  Louise and Jackson have a growing attraction, but present circumstances keep them from going very far at this stage of the series.  I'm wondering if she'll make an appearance in the next book in the series.

Overall I'd recommended giving One Good Turn a try.  Though I didn't love it, I liked it and am interested enough to check out the next book in the series.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Black Coffee by Agatha Christie (adapted by Charles Osborne)

It is 1934 and Sir Claud Amory has invented a formula for a very powerful weapon.  World War I is in the past and the second hasn't yet begun, but some can see the signs of what is to come.  Hence the formula is considered quite valuable and important.  Sir Amory fears someone in his household is trying to steal the formula so he calls on famed detective Hercule Poirot to investigate, but before Poirot even arrives Sir Amory is murdered in the library.

Black Coffee is what I call a puzzle mystery.  Some mysteries are like a treasure hunt.  The hunt begins at the crime scene and the reader/detective doesn't know where he or she will have to go before reaching the end and solving the mystery.  In contrast, in a puzzle mystery there is a contained space with a finite number of suspects and all the necessary clues.  There is no need to go anywhere else.

Agatha Christie is one of my go-tos when I want to read something quick and fun, but that will also make me think a little.  This is not one of Christie's best stories.  There are a couple obvious suspects in the beginning, so obvious that I knew that I knew neither could possibly be the murderer. Still I enjoyed it.  For a better Christie mystery, try And Then There Were None, The Man in the Brown Suit, and of course, Murder on the Orient Express.

Random Bibliographical Fact: Black Coffee was Christie's first mystery play.  It premiered on a London stage in December 1930 and was later adapted as a novel by Charles Osborne.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Dismantled by Jennifer McMahon


Art students Suz, Tess, Henry and Winnie come together to form the Compassionate Dismantlers. The group lived by the idea that “To understand the nature of a thing, it must be taken apart.” The Dismantlers engaged in vandalism and pranks.  It was all fun and games until one summer night when it all went terribly wrong and one of the Dismantlers ended up dead.  Ten years later Tess and Henry are married and living a quiet life with their daughter Emma. Their solitude is interrupted when one of their former Dismantlers commits suicide after receiving a postcard referencing the Dismantlers’ college days.  Meanwhile, Tess and Henry cannot quite agree as to how much they need to worry about their nine-year-old daughter and her imaginary friend.

The back cover of the paperback promises it is “full of white-knuckle tension” characters “caught in circumstances beyond their control.”  That sentence along with the haunting cover photo let me to expect a mystery.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t much of a mystery.  Tess and Henry are spooked to learn upon learning about the postcard referencing their college days, but the reader knows from the beginning who sent the postcards and why.  The novel ends with a big production involving a fire, false identities and revealed secrets. However, despite the promise of white-knuckle tension and the big production at the end, the bulk of the novel is about a couple in their thirties who find themselves dissatisfied with the way their lives have turned out. Henry drinks a bit too much and is a bit paranoid.  Tess is convinced her husband was never passionately in love with her.  She always seems to be looking for something, but not quite sure what. They're both unengaged in their lives, disconnected from each other, and not really aware of how their behavior affects Emma.  It is less of a mystery and more of a study of a family falling apart.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Geek Girls Unite

Today the book Geek Girls Unite: How Fangirls, Bookworms, Indie Chicks, and Other Misfits Are Taking over the World by Leslie Simon crossed my path and I was instantly hooked. The book has chapters with titles like Fangirl Geek, Literary Geek, Film Geek, and Funny-Girl Geek. Of course, I immediately identified with Literary Geek. In one passage the author writes about how as kids, literary geeks eagerly anticipated summer reading lists and library read-a-longs, and I have to admit, that was me. She also pays homage to 90s magazines Sassy and Jane, both of which I read loyally. The book is definitely worth a closer look.

Monday, January 2, 2012

My Ever Expanding To Be Read List

About six or seven years I was sitting on my couch reading the last few chapters of a book. I glanced up to the spot where I kept my pile of unread books and saw there was only one book there. I panicked and immediately went to the bookstore and purchased six or seven books. It seems silly but not having a good book readily available is kind of terrifying to me. I could live without TV or myiPod, for awhile at least, but I really must have a book close at hand.

Since then I’ve gone a bit overboard. A couple years ago I looked over at by TBR pile and thought to myself, this is out-of-control. I figured there were forty or so books in the pile and figured that with a concentrated effort I could get it down to a more acceptable level of ten or so books. The compulsive to-do list maker in me led to me writing down a list of all the books in my TBR pile so that I could cross them off one by one. I was surprised, no shocked, to learn that instead of forty or so books in the pile, there were ninety-three. (Did I mention that I’m bad at measuring things at a glance? I never understand how on TV shows people on police shows can describe a suspect as being 5’11” and 185 pounds without having a scale handy.) Now my TBR list numbers 127. Somehow books keep getting added to the pile faster than I can read them. So my goal for 2012 is to get the list down to under 100. Wish me luck.

Books as Passports

I love to read. Books are my passport to other worlds, like my own personal TARDIS, allowing me to explore any place in time and space.  I love books. Actual, physical books. EBooks and audio books have their place – the ability to carry hundreds of books without being weighed down is fantastic and I very much enjoy listening to stories. Nevertheless, I have great appreciation for the craftsmanship of a well made book.  Besides, being around by books is comforting.  Libraries and bookstores are wonderful places to de-stress and relax.

My taste in reading material is eclectic.  Admittedly, most of my library consists of fiction – contemporary, classics, science fiction, fantasy and especially mystery.  But I also read non-fiction, especially biographies, memoirs, and history related texts.  Though I’ve flirted with comics and graphic novels in the past, I have recently begun exploring the format with more commitment.  Perhaps the only genre I haven’t ever really gotten into is horror, but anything is possible.