Tag Archives: Thoughts

Ivyland by Miles Klee

ivyIvyland by Miles Klee

OR Books, New York, 2012

From my TBR pile, given to me by a friend.  I think this one fits into the 2013 Sci-Fi experience, but it leans towards the Speculative Fiction end of things.  I also just discovered it is in The 2013 Tournament of Books, along with several books I have read and several on my TBR list!

Holy crap..what a strange ride this is.

Based in Ivyland, New Jersey, a town taken over by Endless, a Big-Bio-Pharma company and dotted with MexiLickin’SurfHog fastest food joints, this reads like a nightmare shared by Philip K Dick and Thomas Pynchon with some Kurt Vonnegut thrown in for good measure.  Ads run 24/7 on any surface available and through any sound system..The Van Vetchen procedure, a minimally invasive surgery that has saved untold millions of American lives, is now available through mobile immunization centers crisscrossing the country…  Sounds scary, doesn’t it?

Traffic that doesn’t move, pharmaceutically- enhanced beverages, cops hired by corporations, a possible American near-future or maybe it is the present?

The chapters jump between characters and time periods so you never quite know where you are,  an addictive adrenaline rush that made it hard to put down even though I wondered exactly what was I getting from this book.  Klee’s writing was the reward.

He broods on this alternative, steepling his index fingers as glittering eyes sink into the grass.  Anastasio shuffles his feet.  The narcotic drone of cicadas strings the night like a handful of beads….Henry and Grady have moved on.  They walk, weaving back and forth in the road to avoid roadkill and potholes, through another four intersections.  I watch.  Until they fade from sight, I let the flawed film unreel…Moonlight follows the same path, still touching them when I wipe my eyes and squint, wrapping their bodies like another skin when they finally meet the ink-blotted distance, Henri turning around, one arm still across Grady’s back, and examining the horizon to see if I’m there…

In the end this weird, unsettling novel is about friendship and about love.  A strange mix, parts totally out of hand and parts wonderfully lyrical.  I don’t know anything about Miles Klee, but think he is an author I need to watch.

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Filed under 2013 Science Fiction Experience, 2013 TBR Double Dog Dare, Books, SciFi, SpeculativeFiction, Thoughts

Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel

bodiesBring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel

Henry Holt and Company, New York, 2012

Winner of  Hilary Mantel’s second Man Booker Prize.  Wolf Hall, the first book in Mantel’s proposed trilogy, won the Booker in 2009. My first Long-Awaited Reads novel and the first book for the 2013 Historical Fiction Challenge.  If you were to ask me right now I would say that Hilary Mantel is my favorite author.

Katherine of Aragon is shuttled off to the country.  Anne Boleyn is Queen.  King Henry grows distant from his second wife and, when Anne fails to give him a son, the King’s minister, Thomas Cromwell, senses change.  It is Cromwell’s knowledge of the past that brings the future into focus.

Bring Up The Bodies is not as densely written as Wolf Hall , but that doesn’t take away from the power of Hilary Mantel’s writing.  This is the second book in the planned trilogy  about Thomas Cromwell’s life and the interweaving of dialogue and description bring all of her characters vibrantly to  life, almost as if I were watching them on stage and not curled up reading with a cup of coffee.  There is drama, action and an almost physical sensation of movement.

Duke Charles Brandon approaching King Henry in front of  Eustache Chapuys, ambassador of Emperor Charles V:

He, Cromwell, follows on the duke’s heels.  If he had a net, he would drop it over him. ‘Leave what you’re doing, Majesty.  You want to hear this, by God.  You’re quit of the old lady.  She is on her deathbed.  You will soon be a widower.  Then you can get rid of the other one, and marry into France, by God, and lay your hands on Normandy as dowry…’ He notices Chapuys.  ‘Oh, Ambassador.  Well, you can take yourself off.  No use you staying for scraps.  Go home and make your own Christmas, we don’t want you here.’

Henry has turned white.  ‘Think what you are saying.’  He approached Brandon as if he might knock him down; which, if he had a poleaxe, he could.  ‘My wife is carrying a child.  I am lawfully married.’  from page 128.

I can hear the bumbling Brandon and feel King Henry’s fury.  Many biographic and fictional accounts of this time period, including A Man For All Seasons and The Tudors (which I have not seen), Thomas Cromwell is portrayed as an evil figure.  Mantel has given him swift intelligence and a conscience, even if he does not hesitate to destroy those the King finds standing in his way.  He had traveled widely in his youth and learned much from what he’d seen and heard.  He constantly applies this knowledge to the changing political environment around him.

He had met an old knight once, in Venice, one of those men who made a career of riding to tournaments all over Europe.  The man described his life to him, crossing frontiers with his band of esquires and his string of horses, always on the move from one prize to the next, til age and the accumulation of injuries put him out of the game.  On his own now, he tried to pick up a living  teaching young lords, enduring mockery and time-wasting; in my day, he had said, the young were taught manners, but now I find myself fettling horses and polishing breastplates for some little tosspot I wouldn’t have let clean my boots in the old days;  for look at me now, reduced to drinking with, what are you, an Englishman?

…How shall I improve, he said to the old knight, how shall I succeed?  These were his instructions: you must sit easy in your saddle, as if you were riding out to take the air.  Hold your reins loosely, but have your horse collected.  In the combat à plaisance, with its fluttering flags,, its garlands, its rebated swords and lances tipped with buffering coronals, ride as if you were out to kill.  In the combat à l’outrance, kill as if it were sport.  Now look, the knight said, and slapped the table, here’s what I’ve seen, more times than I care to count: your man braces himself for the atteint, and at the final moment, the urgency of desire undoes him:  he tightens him muscles, he pulls his lance-arm against his body, the tip tilts up, and he’s off his mark;  if you avoid one fault, avoid that.  Carry your lance a little loose, so when you tense your frame and draw in your arm your point comes exactly on target.  But remember this above all else: defeat your instinct.  Your love of glory must conquer your will to survive; or why fight at all?  Why not be s smith, a brewer, a wool merchant?  Why are you in the contest, if not to win, and if not to win, then to die? from pages 165/167.

A  perfect lesson to take into the court of King Henry the Eight.

Bring Up The Bodies follows Cromwell through the death of Katherine of Aragon, the King’s developing fascination with Jane Seymour and the trial and execution of Anne Boleyn, on of the most chilling scenes I have ever read.  Chilling and beautiful, if that is possible.  I can not wait for the third novel in this trilogy, and anything else Mantel writes in the future.

There is a wonderful column about Mantel’s process of writing Wolf Hall in the Guardian and a fascinating profile of the author in The New Yorker.

LAR Button Final

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Filed under 2013 Historical Fiction Challenge, 2013 TBR Double Dog Dare, Booker, Hilary Mantel, Historical Fiction, Long Awaited Reads Month

Osiris by E.J. Swift

osirisOsiris: Book One of the Osiris Project

by E. J. Swift

Night Shade Books, San Fransisco, 2012

Borrowed from my library.  This is the first book I finished for the TBR Double Dog Dare and the 2013 Sci-Fi Experience. The cover is stunning.

I wanted to love this one.  The premise of a great city built in the ocean being the last refuge of the human race after some world-wide ecological catastrophe, is a great one.   Osiris itself, giant towers and pyramids rising from the sea on the one side and the ruins that shelter the poor on the other, is a marvel of world building.  The basic theme of inequality that runs through Osiris and the idea of the rebellion of the poor and oppressed,  is something taken directly from recent news, from the Arab spring to the massive protests in Spain.  Moving this into some apocalyptic future is an intriguing idea.  This is what speculative fiction is made of.

The main characters, a wild girl rebelling from a wealthy ruling family on the one hand and an ex-convict turned political activist on the other, find themselves in a you help me – I’ll help you situation that could have developed into something engaging, but for me the relationship fell into a sadly typical scenario.  They end up in bed together and end up hurting each other, something I found distracting and disappointing. I’m sure Swift means this to be the beginning of so much more, but it just didn’t work for me. Osiris also felt like it could have used some graceful editing, I found myself skimming quite a bit.

Night Shade has been publishing some wonderfully wild and exciting books over the past few years, including collections edited by Ellen Datlow and John Joseph Adams and a couple by favorite authors Kameron Hurley,  Iain M Banks, and Paolo Bacigalupi.  Osiris just didn’t click for me.  Sad, but it happens.

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Filed under 2013 Challenges, 2013 Science Fiction Experience, Books, SciFi, SpeculativeFiction, Thoughts

Dickens in December (actually it’s January)

great_Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

I read the Amazon kindle edition.

There is Pip, the orphan, “brought up by hand” by his sister and Joe the blacksmith, visiting his parent’s graves  on Christmas eve.  There is the young man in the graveyard. There is a young boy making a choice, the anguish and guilt that go with that choice, and the consequences that occur from it.

Since that time, which is far enough away now, I have often thought that few people know what secrecy there is in the young, under terror. No matter how unreasonable the terror, so that it be terror. I was in mortal terror of the young man who wanted my heart and liver; I was in mortal terror of my interlocutor with the ironed leg; I was in mortal terror of myself, from whom an awful promise had been extracted; I had no hope of deliverance through my all-powerful sister, who repulsed me at every turn; I am afraid to think of what I might have done, on requirement, in the secrecy of my terror.

Pip makes his choice, and it changes his history.  Later there is Estella and, of course, Miss Havirsham, and the fight with the “pale faced boy” in the over-grown garden.  (I cannot wait to see Helena Bonham Carter in that wedding dress).

Great Expectations is a coming of age story that covers the themes of family, class, greed and ambition, touching on human needs and human failing.  It is a story of friendship and of love.  Interestingly, the original ending was different then the one most of us are familiar with.  Charles Dickens changed it because he was told it was “too sad”.

Reading Great Expectations at the time it was first published must have been thrilling and exciting.  The serialization left cliff-hangers,  characterization and description brought the people, class differences and places to life.   Dickens, like Shakespeare, helped to fuel the idea of popular culture, entertainment made available to the masses along with the elite.  Then there is the question of the literacy of the time, how many people of that era could read?

A great book to reread, Great Expectations also has me thinking about the history of popular literature and class.  The next Dickens on my classics TBR list is Bleak House, a book I have not read.

 

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Filed under Books, Classic, LiteraryFiction, Thoughts

New Year’s Wishes and Favorite Books from 2012

new-years1

Wishing you a Happy, Healthy and Peaceful New Year.

The last few weeks have kept me from the computer, but not from reading.  I’m finishing several books in preparation for the New Year, the Long Awaited Reads Month and the TBR Double Dog Dare.   I’ll be joining one new challenge in 2013, plan to continue with the 6th Canadian Book Challenge, and hope to read along with several on-going events including the Literature and War Readalong.

As for what I have read in 2012, here are some of my favorites:

Behind The Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

Errantry: Strange Stories by Elizabeth Hand

John Saturnall’s Feast by Lawrence Norfolk

Lost Memory of Skin by Russell Baker

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

Osama by Lavie Tidhar

Possession by A.S. Byatt

Pure by Andrew Miller.

Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

I seem to be developing quite a taste for historical fiction, something that is new to me.  Have you discovered a new to you genre this past year?  A genre that you find yourself drawn back to?

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From Ink Lake: Canadian Stories edited by Michael Ondaatje

inklakeFrom Ink Lake: Canadian Stories

edited by Michael Ondaatji

Vintage Canada, Toronto, 1995

From my book shelves.  I suppose this is a bit of a cheat for the Canadian Book Challenge, as I haven’t read every story yet, but I keep this on my night stand and often pick it up between novels.  It is one I will keep forever.

This collection, which I have had for some time, is how I first became interested in reading Canadian authors.  I had read Ondaatji and Atwood, of course, but I don’t think I realized they came from the North.   This book introduced me to Alice Munro through Miles City, Montana, Alister Macleod through As Birds Bring Forth The Sun  and Carol Shields  through Scenes. There are so many other authors I can’t list them all.  As an introduction to Canadian literature it is worth searching for this one.

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John Saturnall’s Feast by Lawrence Norfolk

saturnallJohn Saturnall’s Feast by Lawrence Norfolk

Grove Press, New York, 2012

Borrowed from my local library.  I first read about this one on Cornflower Books.

John Saturnall’s Feast is beautiful to look at and a wonder to read.  Each chapter is headed by an illustration followed by a recipe or a description of a garden, perhaps a garden called Eden.  The language is lush and deep, filled with smells and tastes and surrounded by the clatter  of a busy castle kitchen.  It reads like a fantasy, but fantasy based in the history, people and culture of 17th century Britain.

From Lawrence Norfolk’s webpage:

1625. In the remote village of Buckland, a mob chants of witchcraft. John Sandall and his mother Susan are driven out to take refuge among the trees of Buccla’s Wood. There, John’s mother opens her book and begins to tell her son of an ancient Feast kept in secret down the generations.

Driven from the village after his mother’s death, John ends up being put to work in the kitchens of Buckland Manor.  His skills bring him to the attention of the master chief and he eventually creates dishes for Sir William Fremantle.  Sir William’s daughter, Lucretia, forced to accept a marriage because she can not inherit her father’s title, Manor and all its properties, is refusing to eat.  John is charged with preparing her meals and enticing her to give up her fast.

Norfolk writes that:

The starting-point for John Saturnall’s Feast was a chapter in Kate Colqhoun’s “Taste: the Story of Britain through its Cooking”.

This history of Britain is one thread of this novel, the relationship between John and Lucy is the tapestry.  Made up of legend, myth and recipes culled from many records of the time, John Saturnall’s Feast is, well, a feast.  It is one of my top ten books from 2012.

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Filed under Booker, Books, England, Historical Fiction