Saturday, February 27, 2010

Abhorsen Trilogy

Abhorsen Trilogy by Garth Nix

Garth Nix's Abhorsen Trilogy (Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen) is set in a world that in some ways is very much like our own. The norther border of Ancelstierre (an England-like country), however, is heavily fortified because beyond its wall is the Old Kingdom, a land where magic is both commonplace and dangerous.

While Charter Magic is a force that unites and stabilizes the Old Kingdom, Free Magic (and those who wield it unscrupulously) has the potential to tear it apart. A guardian of the Charter, the Abhorsen's powers blend both Free and Charter Magic. A special kind of necromancer, the Abhorsen doesn't bring the dead to life, but banishes them further and finally into Death.

I really enjoyed the Abhorsen books. They are engaging and fast-paced. The books' target audience is young adult and their protagonists are all teens (well, Lirael's protagonists appear as adult secondary characters in the other two books). The world that Nix creates is what makes the series stand out. Not only does Nix imagine the Old Kingdom and all of its mythos, but the texture of Death itself.

One of the things that was most interesting to me is that while Lirael and Abhorsen are clearly part of a series (Lirael ends with a horrible cliff-hanger), Sabriel (the 1st book) reads like a stand-alone novel. I wonder whether Nix wrote Sabriel as a stand-alone and then wrote the other two when the first was well received.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

book clubbing in Feburary

Margaret Atwood is going to be speaking on campus on March 3rd, so we decided that we should read one of her books for February. Our selection was Moral Disorder, her most recent collection of short stories (2006).

Moral Disorder and other stories by Margaret Atwood

Moral Disorder is for the most part a series of interconnected stories featuring the same set of characters, but there are some notable exceptions.

The group had mixed feeling (tending toward ambivalence and annoyance) about Moral Disorder. The biggest complaint was the fact that Atwood didn't fully commit. Moral Disorder is neither a traditional collection of short stories nor a novel masquerading as a set of short stories. The fact that only a small portion of the prose was not interconnected made Atwood's choices all the more perplexing.

While I am a fan of Atwood, I had a hard time with Moral Disorder. I do think, however, the most of my difficulties came from the fact that I was listening to an audio version. Now, I love audio books, but the way this one was presented made it a real challenge to read. Many of the stories in Moral Disorder don't really come to an obvious conclusion (we assume this is because the overarching story is going to continue) and the reader of the audio version did nothing to signal to the listener that story A was done. The title of story B would be said in the same exact tone as the rest of the narration so unless the listener was paying close attention, the stories just merged into one. In other collections this would be less of a problem, but in Moral Disorder with the majority of the characters appearing in multiple stories, it was horribly confusing. The only time I was really able to appreciate Moral Disorder properly was when I set aside a huge chunk of time and devoted myself to it completely, allowing no other distractions.

Monday, February 22, 2010

It's Monday! What are you reading?

With Olympic events to watch, I have to admit that I didn't do a lot of reading this week. I only finished one book: Sabriel by Garth Nix (post to come).

The two books that I'm actively reading now are Lirael by Garth Nix (the sequel to Sabriel) and Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood (short stories; February's book club selection).

Friday, February 19, 2010

Case Histories

A few years ago I reviewed the sequel to Case Histories, One Good Turn (see post). At that time I'd really wanted to read Case Histories so when I was trying to figure out what book to highlight on the student services blog in February (a fiction month) Case Histories came to mind as the perfect choice.

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

A unique and engaging mystery novel, Case Histories focuses on three cold cases: a beloved child disappears from her backyard without a trace (1970), a 20-something is brutally murdered by a mysterious man who barges into her father's law office on her first day of work there (1994), and a young mother essentially orphaned her daughter when she attacked her husband with an ax in a fit of rage (1979).

One way or another police inspector-turned-private investigator Jackson Brodie becomes involved in the cases, forgotten by all but the people personally affected by the traumatic events, and endeavors to find ways of bringing closure to those same individuals.

While the storylines in Case Histories are myriad, they are balanced in such a way that the reader never becomes overwhelmed. All of the characters in are multilayered and Atkinson's understanding of the psyche is what makes this novel stand out.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

a new book club

My friend Lizzie is organizing an online book club. We just settled on the schedule of books to discuss and I'm really excited about it.

March: Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

April: Rumspringa: To Be or Not to Be Amish by Tom Shachtman

May: The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

June: March by Geraldine Brooks

July: You Are Not a Gadget by Jaron Lanier

August: Wings of the Dove by Henry James

September: The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt

October: Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Dan Heath, Chip Heath

November: Bleak House by Charles Dickens

Monday, February 15, 2010

It's Monday! What are you reading?

This week I finished reading:Mozart's Sister by Nancy Moser seems like it'll be on indefinite hold as a New York Public Library on-demand audio books are currently MIA. This is the error I get when trying to access them: this eAudiobook is not included in your library's collection and is unavailable for download.

I'm in a bit of a rut, it seems. This week I started and then put down a whole host of books because I wasn't in the mood for them. The majority of them I'll probably pick up again at a later date. Capt. Hook: The Adventures of a Notorious Youth by J. V. Hart and Brett Helquist I'm sure that I won't as I read quite a bit of it before I decided to stop.

Here are the books that I have in progress and am attempting to read:

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Handke's Don Juan

I reviewed this book in November, but waited until it's on sale to share it with you.

Don Juan: His Own Version by Peter Handke

Austrian Handke's latest to be translated into English is narrated not by Don Juan as its title would suggest, but by a lonely French innkeeper into whose garden the protagonist tumbles one day. The innkeeper becomes Don Juan's confidant and during his stay Don Juan recounts his previous week's adventures. Over the course of that "womanweek" Don Juan travels as far as Damascus and Norway encountering a new woman each day. At first Don Juan is like a mythological character. The narrator describes him as a veritable St. Francis, nourished by sorrow (he was orphaned by the loss of his only child), with the ability to magic rare and wonderful foodstuffs. The narrator's impression of Don Juan, however, changes after the week of storytelling has concluded. Whatever was awe-inspiring seems to dissipate and Don Juan becomes just a regular man with irritating quirks.

Don't come to Don Juan expecting tales of excitement and seduction or detailed accounts of the lothario's encounters or you'll be disappointed. The novel is literary and philosophical rather than sensational.

Read the official review at Library Journal...

Monday, February 08, 2010

It's Monday! What are you reading?

This week I finished reading:Here are the books that I have in progress and am attempting to read:

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Still Waters

Still Waters by Jennifer Lauck

I received Still Waters on cassette from a friend who was clearing out all of her audio books. Apparently Still Waters picks up after Blackbird, Lauck's earlier memoir. Normally I'd want to read Blackbird before starting Still Waters, but I needed an audio for a car trip so I decided to go ahead with it anyway.

Still Waters begins with a University of Oklahoma police report detailing the disappearance and subsequent death of a Bryan Lauck. The book will end many years after that report was written when Lauck looks into her brother's death and comes to terms with it.

The memoir's narrative opens with 12-year-old Jenny arriving at her maternal grandparents, where she expects to stay for good (both her parents have died and she's been abandoned by her stepmother, her brother sent off to live with another relative). Jenny is then shunted off to live with her father's youngest sister and her husband and young daughter. Although Aunt Georgia and Uncle Dick adopt Jenny, she feels profoundly unwanted and has to earn her keep. Still Waters follows Jenny as she grows up in this unloving home and sets out on her own. It unflinchingly chronicles her failures and disappointments. But, ultimately, Still Waters is an affirming book. Readers to follow Jenny past her tumultuous early adulthood as she comes to peace with her past and is able to trust herself enough to become a mother.

The version I listened to was read (and abridged) by Lauck. I really think Lauck being the reader added to the experience because the book is a memoir. I found it very compelling.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Friday Find #11

Here's another interesting-sounding book I've discovered through the Powell's Review a Day mailings:

The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris

"He was going to lose the house and everything in it.
The rare pleasure of a bath, the copper pots hanging above the kitchen island, his family-again he would lose his family. He stood inside the house and took stock. Everything in it had been taken for granted. How had that happened again? He had promised himself not to take anything for granted and now he couldn't recall the moment that promise had given way to the everyday."

Tim Farnsworth is a handsome, healthy man, aging with the grace of a matinee idol. His wife Jane still loves him, and for all its quiet trials, their marriage is still stronger than most. Despite long hours at the office, he remains passionate about his work, and his partnership at a prestigious Manhattan law firm means that the work he does is important. And, even as his daughter Becka retreats behind her guitar, her dreadlocks and her puppy fat, he offers her every one of a father's honest lies about her being the most beautiful girl in the world.

He loves his wife, his family, his work, his home. He loves his kitchen. And then one day he stands up and walks out. And keeps walking.

The Unnamed is a dazzling novel about a marriage and a family and the unseen forces of nature and desire that seem to threaten them both. It is the heartbreaking story of a life taken for granted and what happens when that life is abruptly and irrevocably taken away.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

The Professor’s Daughter

The Professor’s Daughter
by Joann Sfar and Emmanuel Guibert

Set in Victorian London, The Professor’s Daughter is the story of a 3,000 year-old mummy who falls in love with the daughter of the academic who’s studying him. The affair between Lillian Bowell and Imhotep IV seems ill-fated, not because Imhotep IV is a mummy, but because he falls on the wrong side of the law… among other things.

The Professor’s Daughter is a comedic romp that’s at times quite serious. A joy to read; its artwork is truly lovely, the sepia tones giving the story a real period feel.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Her Fearful Symmetry

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audry Niffenegger

When Elspeth Noblin dies of cancer, she leaves her London apartment to her twin nieces, Julia and Valentina. These two American girls never met their English aunt, only knew that their mother, too, was a twin, and Elspeth her sister. Julia and Valentina are semi-normal American teenagers — with seemingly little interest in college, finding jobs, or anything outside their cozy home in the suburbs of Chicago, and with an abnormally intense attachment to one another.

The girls move to Elspeth's flat, which borders Highgate Cemetery in London. They come to know the building's other residents. There is Martin, a brilliant and charming crossword puzzle setter suffering from crippling Obsessive Compulsive Disorder; Marjike, Martin's devoted but trapped wife; and Robert, Elspeth's elusive lover, a scholar of the cemetery. As the girls become embroiled in the fraying lives of their aunt's neighbors, they also discover that much is still alive in Highgate, including — perhaps — their aunt, who can't seem to leave her old apartment and life behind.

I enjoyed The Time Traveler's Wife (see post) so I'd been looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of Her Fearful Symmetry.

Unfortunately, though, I can't write about Her Fearful Symmetry properly without including spoilers so I'm just going to have to be vague. Overall I really enjoyed the book, but I have to say that at one point I absolutely hated it. It has some fantastic/horrific twists, but its story was always compelling and its ending, at least to my mind, was satisfying.

The strongest part of Her Fearful Symmetry really is the way that the characters (and our perception of the characters) change throughout the course of the novel.

Monday, February 01, 2010

It's Monday! What are you reading?

This week I finished reading:I also finished up a review of Archives Power by Rand Jimerson for Archival Issues. I'll probably post some observations to the blog later this week.

Here are the books that I have in progress and am attempting to read: