Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Talulla Rising by Glen Duncan

Talulla Rising

Talulla Rising is the sequel to The Last Werewolf.  It picks up nine or so months later with Talulla giving birth to a son and a daughter.  The former is ripped from her arms and the rest of the book is more or less about Talulla searching for and trying to get her son back and keep both her children safe. 

My reaction to Talulla Rising was all over the place.  I liked it.  I didn't like it.  Duncan doesn't write women quite as well as he writes men.  I mean Jake's world weary voice in The Last Werewolf was near perfect, but he was less successful writing the female Talulla.  I can't put my finger on it but there was something missing with Talulla; she was just a bit flat.  That being said, the book was best when Talulla was on her own figuring out her next move.  For the most part it moves pretty quickly with lost of action, which for the most part kept me wanting to read more, except when Talulla was plotting with other characters then things got a bit slow. 

Speaking of other character, in the first book of this planned trilogy we were led to believe that Jake Marlowe was the last werewolf.  Then suddenly there was Talulla, and in this second book even more werewolf characters are introduced.  The species appears to no longer be in danger of extinction.  Even though there was an explanation for the jump in werewolf numbers, the change was a bit jarring.  Further, werewolves, we were told in The Last Werewolf, are solitary animals but here they quickly form a pack.  It seemed a little bit too easy how everyone became friends and family so quickly.

It should be noted that Talulla Rising contains loads of violence, really violent violence.  There was one point when I had to stop reading because I was so grossed out by the many ways the author came up with to describe the torture that can be inflicted on a human body (and I'm not even talking about the werewolves eating people thing).  I suppose this falls into the horror genre so the violence shouldn't be a surprise but as someone who hasn't read many horror novels, I was surprised.

In sum, I liked Talulla Rising and at times I didn't, and I will definitely be reading the next novel in Glen Duncan's werewolf series.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

So Many Books, So Little Time or Tackling My Unread Pile

I am avid reader and book collector.  Every book I acquire personally (as opposed to those are given to me) I do so with the intention of reading.  Notwithstanding my good (reading) intentions, in the corner of my living room there is a pile of unread books.  As the pile grew it came to represent a certain degree of failure and waste on my part.  I mean in some case years have gone by before I got around to reading them.  One day I decided enough is enough and I resolved to get those books read, so I made a list.

I estimated that there were maybe forty books in the pile but after writing down the titles of all the books on a legal pad it turned out there were ninety-three books.    Undaunted I started reading books and scratching them off my list.  This worked for awhile.  The pile shrunk to somewhere in the mid-sixties.  Then I attended my first American Library Association (ALA) conference (where publishers give books away) my list once again grew to about 125.  At the beginning of the year my goal was to get the list down to under 100, but after a second ALA conference (along with continued book buying) the list and the pile grew to 175.  I also joined Goodreads where among other things you can keep track of the books you have read, are reading, and want to read.  I also started going to the library more and when I couldn’t get a book right away I signed up for the waitlist.  The net effect was that not only had my unread pile gotten even bigger but the number of lists had grown from one to three.  It was time for a new plan.

First, I have embraced my Goodreads list and the library waitlist.  Once I’ve bought a book I feel obligated to read it.  It is rare that I’ll discard it without at least giving it a try, but with Goodreads and the library I can delete books from the list without guilt.  Even if the book stays on the list for years it doesn’t bother me since I don’t have a physical reminder of it sitting in my living room.  I still want to reduce the pile of unread books in my living room and these electronic lists help me to note books that I am interested in without spending money on books I doubt I’ll actually read in the near future.  Along with using the library and Goodreads more, I’ve tried to not buy a book unless I actually plan to read it within the next couple of weeks.

There is still the matter of the unread pile.  So second, I decided to pick out ten to fifteen books at a time and decide those are the books I’m going to focus on for the next few weeks or months or however long it takes to get through them.  It makes the overall pile seem less daunting.  My unread pile is down to 149.  I’m not going to make it to 100 by the end of the year, but the pile is slowly getting smaller.

Third, I realized there are always going to be books I want to read.  New books are published every year.  Furthermore, there are a million books that have already been published that I have just now discovered, and thus, I am never going to catch up.  I am never going to finish my unread pile, and that’s okay.  In fact, it is great because it means I’ll never run out of books to read. 
I am wondering how other people deal with their to read list and how they feel about it.  Any thoughts?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Winner Stands Alone by Paulo Coelho

The Winner Stands Alone

Paulo Coelho has written books that I have loved − The Witch of Portobello and Veronika Decides to Die.  Even with the books that I liked but didn't love I was grateful for the experience of reading them because I felt liked I learned something.  Above all Coelho's writing makes me think.  With his latest The Winner Stands Alone all I could think throughout reading it was that Coelho must have been in a really bad mood when he wrote this.  He must have gone to a film festival and just had the most miserable experience ever.

The Winner Stands Alone is set at the Cannes Film Festival and everyone there is shallow, selfish, and scheming to get ahead even if means hurting someone else.  It is not that I doubt that a spectacle like the Cannes Film Festival could bring out the worse in people, what with the slavish attention on celebrity, fame, and money, but in Coelho's version that is all there is.  Almost every character is devoid of any redeeming traits.  They are all caricatures of various degrees of greed and evil.  No one is at the film festival because they actually like movies or art.  It is simply about money and power.  Again, I don't doubt that to a certain degree this is true of Cannes or of the entertainment industry by extension, but the characters in The Winner Stands Alone are so shallow and so one dimensional that nothing about the novel seems to ring true.  Few of the characters are likable and while I don't have to like a character to enjoy a book,  I have to be able to relate to them in someway and here that was hard to do. There has to be some humanity within the character, something to latch onto.  I had a hard time caring or relating to any of the characters in the novel.

Igor is in many ways the downfall of the novel.  He is a Russian billionaire who cannot understand why his wife left him after finding out that on occasion he liked to free people of their sad existence by murdering them.  He goes to Cannes with the intention of "destroying worlds" in an effort to show her how much he loves her and that he would do anything to get her back.  Understandably Ewa is terrified of her ex-husband.  She works up the courage to leave him, but thereafter she shuts down.  Most of her "dialogue" in the book reflects her internal thoughts rather than actual conversations with people who might be able to help her.  When she realizes that Igor is in Cannes instead of saying something to anyone, she says nothing and wonders why her new husband can't read her mind. 

Even the characters I was presumably suppose to root for like Gabriela the aspiring actress, Maureen the aspiring director, or Jasmine the aspiring model, weren't enough to fully draw me in to the novel.  The world Coelho created was so unreal that even these more likeable characters weren't enough to make me care much what happened to them.  On a side note, it is kind of interesting that all more likeable characters are young women aspiring to join an industry that in Coelho's vision will likely lead to a future of botox, and that there are no male equivalents to them.

I'm not giving up on Paulo Coelho.  As noted above he has written books that I loved, namely The Witch of Portobello and Veronika Decides to Die.  He is probably best known for The Alchemist.  So if The Winner Stands Alone does not capture your interest and give one of these other books a try.

Recommended instead
The Witch of Portobello  Veronika Decides to Die The Alchemist

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

I first read The Perks of Being a Wallflower in 2001 and fell in love with it.  I don't know how to describe this book without sounding trite.  Yes it is about a teenager named Charlie who feels like an outsider, but that description barely scratches the surface.  Charlie is quiet and anxious and spends a lot of time in his head. You know something is wrong, that Charlie isn't just dealing with normal teenage angst, but it takes awhile to find out that that something is.  But Charlie keeps trying, which is one of the things I liked about this character.  He reaches out and make friends, and it helps, but that doesn't make everything alright or solve all his problems.

When I heard this beloved book was being made into a movie, I was worried.  This is one of my favorite books of all time and I didn't want a movie adaption to ruin it.  Turns there was nothing to worry about.  The movie was fantastic.  I loved it almost as much I loved the book.  Chbosky wrote the screenplay which is probably why the movie turned out so well.  The acting was great, and the music was perfect.  Seriously, read this book.  Watch this movie.  They're amazing.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Dr. Who - Epilogue About Rory's Dad

Fans of Doctor Who watched as the Doctor and the Ponds said their farewells a few weeks ago.  Here is a brilliant epilogue about what happened to Rory's dad.

The White Lioness by Henning Mankell

The White Lioness (Kurt Wallander Series #3)

Henning Mankell does not write ordinary mysteries.  There is always a bigger picture, sometimes international in scope.  The White Lioness is no exception.  It begins with the execution style murder of an ordinary woman in Sweden.  She is a wife, a mother of two young daughters, a real estate agent, and a frequent church goer.  Nothing about her life explains why someone would execute her.  As Mankell's conflicted somewhat depressed detective Kurt Wallander tries to find her killer, a half a world way in South Africa, a secret committee is plotting to assassinate Nelson Mandela.  As crazy as it sounds the story works and it all comes together.

Wallander himself is the best part of the story.  I read somewhere about how detectives in mystery novels are always these solitary characters with disastrous personal lives and perhaps a drug or alcohol problem.  Wallander definitely fits that description.  He is divorced and has strained relationships with his daughter and with his own father.  He drinks too much and on his best day seems mildly depressed.  Although he chose to become a detective and does work that he values, it is a job that affects him deeply and brings him great sadness.  When the body of the woman in this story is found murdered Wallander seems to mourn her almost as much as her family does.

My only criticism was that at times it seemed a little like the Keystone Kops were investigating the case. For instance, Wallander visits the apartment of a couple who he suspects has been providing shelter to a man connected to the murder investigation. Instead of calling his colleagues a letting them know straight away so they can stake out the apartment and catch the suspect when he returns to the apartment, Wallander decides to go have lunch with his daughter. By the time he and his colleagues return to the apartment the next morning, surprise, the suspect and the couple have come and gone. Later Wallander sends a two-page telex to his counterparts in South Africa. Due to technical problems and human error only one page makes it through. Everyone who reads the one page telex comments that its ending was odd and abrupt but it occurs to no one that there may have been a second page. No one calls Wallander to check if there was more information he could add.  But this is a minor problem, and perhaps it shouldn't even be seen as a problem as these foibles help to humanize the characters. Overall I greatly enjoyed the book. Mankell handled the different viewpoints of multiple characters really well, including the villains.  In the end the various subplots came together in a believable manner.  I look forward to reading the next entry in the Kurt Wallander series.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Soulless by Gail Carriger

Soulless (Parasol Protectorate Series #1)

There's something about steampunk that's intriguing.  New to this genre, I picked up Soulless because it appears on several steampunk book lists.  Plus I loved the cover.  Soulless was not quite what I expected.  It had elements of steampunk, but most of all it was a paranormal romance full of vampires, werewolves and a preternatural.  The female half of the romance takes the form of Alexia Tarabotti.  A few pertinent facts about Miss Tarabotti.  She's half Italian which in this world means she a little too smart, a little too spirited and a little too olive skinned.  She is 26-years-old and unmarried, and therefore a spinster of which her mother and sisters are somewhat embarrassed.  Lastly, she is a preternatural, meaning she has no soul. 

I am not new to the various mythologies of werewolves and vampires, but preternatural beings were new for me.  Along with having no soul, Miss Tarabotti's preternatural status allows her to neutralize supernatural beings.  All she has to do is touch a vampire or werewolf and he or she  becomes human.  The effect is temporary, only lasting as long as there is physical contact between Miss Tarabotti and the supernatural being. 

The not having soul thing kind of stumped me.  It was explained that most humans had an adequate amount of soul.  Vampires, werewolves, and ghosts were said to have so much soul that they refused to completely die, hence their immortal status.  Not every human could survive the transformation from human to supernatural, only those with a little extra soul could make the journey.  This was not enough of an explanation for me.  I wanted Carriger to explain a bit more about what having or not having a soul really meant.  I mean Miss Tarabotti is intelligent, witty, and fashionable.  She is not mean spirited or ill tempered.  She is quite fond of tea and treacle tarts.  In fact, aside from her ability to touch a vampire and cause his/her fangs to retract or a werewolf and cause him/her to be unable to transform, there doesn't seem to much that sets Miss Tarbotti apart from other beings, which leads to the question, what does it mean to not have a soul?

Notwithstanding the lack of Miss Tarabotti's soul, Soulless was a pleasant enough romance.  It was a bit slow to start but picked up toward the end. I was hoping for more mystery but got romance instead.  As for the romance, the banter between Miss Tarbotti and her beau was charming.  I am not sure how representative Soulless if of the steampunk genre, but I am interested in reading more steampunk.