Sunday, October 27, 2013

Allegiant by Veronica Roth

source: gift
Allegiant by Veronica Roth
series: Divergent Trilogy (3)

I'd been looking forward to the conclusion of Veronica Roth's Divergent Trilogy and was planning to order Allegiant when Russell informed me that I already had a copy on order courtesy of one of his sisters, who shopped my Amazon wishlist for my birthday. Safe in the knowledge that I'd be getting the new novel on the day it was released I set about rereading the first two installments in the series, Divergent (see post) and Insurgent (see post). I'd read Divergent at least twice so I remembered its twists and turns fairly well. Reading Insurgent was a bit more of a rediscovery for me since I'd only read it once before.

It is difficult to write much about books like Allegiant (a later installment in a series, to which one is emotionally attached) without including spoilers for earlier books in the series. Suffice it to say that I think that Roth did a good job following up on the revelation at the end of Insurgent and answering readers' lingering questions about the world she created for her characters. Allegiant is wonderfully complex with lots more character development and revelations about individual characters' strengths and weaknesses. A powerful end to the series.

One thing that I found disorienting upon starting Allegiant was that the narrative jumped back and forth from Tris' and Four's points of view. I don't usually have trouble with multiple POV novels, but having just reread Divergent and Insurgent, which are told from Tris' perspective, I found the change jarring. That being said, I understand why Roth changed the narrative structure for this book and I don't think I would have found it problematic at all if I hadn't just gorged on the earlier books.

Friday, October 11, 2013

seasonal reading: Carmilla
by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

source: gift
Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

For a hundred and forty years Carmilla has given readers' bodies and souls a shake, because the vampire is beautiful, but repulsive, to be resisted at all costs, because the narrative alternates so imaginatively between twittering girlies and an urgent need to reach for sharpened wooden stakes. (Richler, xxxi)
One of my late-arriving birthday presents was a copy of the Pomegranate Vintage Vampire edition of Carmilla, a vampire story first published in 1872. I decided to read it right away because it seemed like an appropriate selection for the Halloween season.

This particular edition of Carmilla includes illustrations by Taeden Hall1 (though the cover was illustrated by Gillian Holmes) and a preface by Daniel Richler. Richler's 23-page introduction to the story managed to be both academic and chatty. It places Carmilla in context (of its time, in the development of vampire literature, etc.) and discusses how Carmilla has been interpreted and adapted over time.

Hall's illustrations are sweet and very much in keeping with the novella's "twittering girlies" (above) and "girl school lesbianism" (publisher) while still being atmospheric. Plate 5, inspired by the line "The limbs were perfectly flexible, the flesh elastic; and the leaden coffin floated with blood, in which to a depth of seven inches, the body lay immersed" (117), packs a punch,2 while the others are more subtle by degrees. I do wish though that the publisher had used a different process to print the plates. The dots created by pixelation bring to mind comics, (over)emphasizing the cartoony quality of the illustrations.

As to the story itself I have to admit that I did not find it to be nearly as creepy as I'd hoped I would.3 That's not a problem with the story per se, but rather with the fact that many modern readers (including myself) came of age reading authors like Stephen King and Anne Rice. It seems like that inoculation has made us immune to the true spookiness of gothic and proto-horror stories.

At 124 pages, however, the novella seems decidedly short.  The narrative includes so much build up before the realization that the vampire-character is a vampire that the vanquishment and conclusion felt rushed.  On a more positive note, Le Fanu's prose is very easy to read with little in the way of antiquated language to irritate (some) modern readers.  Additionally, his interpretation of the whys and wherefores of vampirism are surprisingly uncomplicated.
  1. Hall's alternative clothing line, Gloomth, has a 3-piece collection inspired by the novella.
  2. How could it not?
  3. I have the same problem with Lovecraft, much to my chagrin. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Alice Munro wins the Nobel Prize

The 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature is awarded to Alice Munro,
"master of the contemporary short story."

Here are link to the prize announcement (with video) and the very skimpy press release (PDF).

I haven't read Munro in ages, because I tend to gravitate toward novels over short stories.  I will have to address this lack of recent Munro-reading soon. For myself and others in the same position I've included a selected bibliography below. I'd appreciate any specific recommendations.

An incomplete Bibliography

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Fundraising the Dead by Sheila Connolly

source: gift
Fundraising the Dead by Sheila Connolly
series: Museum Mystery (1)

I received Fundraising the Dead for my birthday this year (see post). It's a cozy mystery (the first in a new series) set in a museum (the Historical Society of Pennsylvania1 under the guise of the "Pennsylvania Antiquarian Society"). The amateur detective for the series is the museum's director of development, though in Fundraising the Dead (and maybe future installments) she has help in the form of a long-armed board member.

I enjoy cozy mysteries and I particularly liked this one because of its setting. The historical society-type museum is very familiar to me. I also appreciated that while there was a murder, the more significant crime was insider theft, which is a very real problem for museums, especially those with paper and portable collections.

While reading Fundraising the Dead I found myself imaging some of the characters as their real-life counterparts in my museum. I had our former donor relations manager cast as the lead though because I think she'd make a better sleuth than our director of development.2  I also noticed at one point that my irritation with one of the book's characters was being transferred to their real-life counterpart3 so I had to make sure to divorce fiction from reality before I went to work the next day.

The more typical danger with being too familiar with a setting is that one can get distracted by errors made by the author4 to the point of not being able to appreciate the book for what it is. As evidenced by that last footnote, I did experience a bit of that, but it didn't keep me from enjoying Fundraising the Dead.  It looks like Connolly has already published three more installments in the series (Let's Play Dead, Fire Engine Dead, and Monument to the Dead) and I plan to read them all.

There's one item, I must address, though, before ending this post. The back cover promised a dead archivist6 - false advertising! When reading the novel it soon becomes apparent that the person who drafted the back cover text didn't have a good grasp on the distinction between different roles within the museum because it isn't the archivist who is killed... it's the registrar. This amused me to no end because the person who gave me Fundraising the Dead is our museum's collection manager... who serves as our registrar.  And who will be borrowing this book from me shortly.   For what it's worth, there's no archivist mentioned in the narrative.
  1. While reading the novel I incorrectly assumed it was set at the Philadelphia Athenaeum, but I did a bit of my own sleuthing before writing this post.
  2. Though, just to be clear, I don't imagine her as type to conduct a secret affair with a superior, even if both of them were single.
  3. Who may or may not have deserved my ire, but definitely not for what the character was getting up to.
  4. For example, in no museum of 40+ employees would the director of development ever be involved in estimating the scope of a collection, let alone in the damp, cluttered basement.
  5. When a collection of George Washington's letters is lost on the day of the Society's grand gala, heads will certainly roll... but no one expects an archivist to be found dead."

guess what we Kickstarted today

A card game based on Pride and Prejudice!

Designed by first time designer Erika Svanoe
with art and graphic design by Erik Evensen (an award-winning graphic novelist)
Marrying Mr. Darcy is a strategy card game where players are one of the female characters from Jane Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice. Players work to earn points and attract the attention of available suitors. Our heroines do this by attending events and improving their characters, but advantage can be gained by the use of cunning. All of their efforts are in hopes of marrying well and becoming the most satisfied character at the end of the game! (Kickstarter page)
Theme is one of the things that I'm drawn to when it comes to game-selection and I do love Pride and Prejudice.
Should Elizabeth accept the safety of Mr. Collins' proposal for fewer points or should she hold out for Mr. Darcy even though he may not propose at all.  If you aren't careful, she's destined to become an old maid. (intro video)
What P & P fan wouldn't want to play this game?1

But, we didn't decide to fund the game just because of the theme.  Russell agrees that the game looks promising.  He could have vetoed it.  And it can be played as a two-player game.  We've tried to not buying games that don't accommodate two-player (only) play because we have/had many 3+ player games collecting dust on our shelves. 

The Kickstarter campaign is already fully funded (with the "Undead Expansion" stretch goal), but there are still 9 days until it ends (on 17 October 2013). The estimated delivery date for Marrying Mr. Darcy is February 2014 and I am so looking forward to getting our copy.

Full rules have been posted on the game's website for potential buyers' review.
  1. That's a rhetorical question. I'm sure that there are some hardcover Janeites who will dislike it for one reason or another. I promise however to force a JASNA insider to play Marrying Mr. Darcy with me once it arrives and will report back.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Delectable by Adrianne Lee

Delectable by Adrianne Lee
series: Big Sky Pie (1)

Callee McCoy makes one last trip to Kalispell, Montana to tie up loose ends before her divorce is finalized. Her soon-to-be exhusband Quint is supposed to be fishing in Alaska so no one is more surprised than Callee is to run into him when she stops by his mother Molly's new storefront to drop off the family heirloom that served as her wedding ring. When Molly collapses at the bakery she's in the process of launching, the stress of Callee and Quint's unplanned reunion is the least of their worries. With the cardiologist giving everyone strict instructions to do nothing to cause Molly any additional stress before her bypass surgery, there's nothing Callee and Quint can do but what Molly requests: find a way to work together to make sure Big Sky Pie's grand opening happens as scheduled in one weeks' time.

The thing I like most about Delectable is that its protagonists have a backstory. Because the relationship doesn't have to be built from scratch during the course of the novel, it (and it's problems) seems much more authentic. I know that reading fiction often requires suspension of disbelief on the part of readers, one of my romance novel pet peeves is the instant magnetic attraction that makes characters behave (extremely) unrealistically. The barriers between the two protagonists don't seem manufactured (as in so many other romance novels) because Callee and Quint had two years-worth of marriage and a subsequent estrangement during which their issues could have developed and festered.  

It looks like Delectable is the first in a series that will focus on residents of Kalispell, MT who have some connection to the Big Sky Pie bakery. The blurb I read about Delicious, the series' second installment, indicates that the action will revolve around Quint's friend Nick.
disclosure: I received a review copy of Delectable from Grand Central Publishing (Hachette) via NetGalley.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
audio version read by Rebecca Lowman and Sunil Malhotra

As I mentioned before, Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor and Park was recommended to me by my friend Nancy. I ended up listening the e-audio version of the novel simply because it was the version that I was able to get my hands on most quickly. It was a good decision, though, because the audiobook is extremely well-produced. The decision to have two narrators, each corresponding to one of the point-of-view characters, was a smart one.

Having two different actors bringing life to the two different narratives highlights just how deftly Rowell has managed the dual points of view. Throughout Eleanor and Park Rowell plays the protagonists' reactions against each other. She easily jumps back and forth between the two narratives and doesn't get bogged down in needing to stay with one of them for a certain amount of time before going back to the other. Occasionally she is with a character for only a sentence or two before switching back, but it is so well-done that it doesn't jar the reader. She also never stays with one character long enough for readers to get frustrated by their need to hear about the other.

I adored Eleanor and Park. I liked Park, I liked Eleanor, and I could relate to both of them. Their voices felt authentic as did the things each of them experienced over the course of the novel and particularly how each of them responded to those experiences. I came of age (and first fell in love) during this pre-cell phone, pre-email era so I can say with perfect certainty that Rowell knows of what she writes.

A beautiful, substantive love story tinged with nostalgia, Eleanor and Park is definitely one of the best books I've read so far this year.   It's going straight onto my favorites list and I will be buying myself a copy.

For what it's worth, I don't see Eleanor and Park as a young adult(-only) book.  I would classify it as general fiction and say that it was a good choice for teens.  I think Eleanor and Park is being marketed as a young adult novel because it's an easy sell with the protagonists being high school students experiencing their first real relationship.1 The young adult classification is sometimes a turn off to adult readers, though, which is unfortunate because I almost think the most perfect audience for Eleanor and Park are readers like myself who are contemporaries (or near contemporaries) of the titular characters.  There's the nostalgia factor, of course, but I truly believe that Eleanor and Park is a novel that will resonate with adult readers. Park and Eleanor are dealing with coming-of-age issues, but they are also dealing with real-world issues, things that don't go away (or seem less horrific) once one grows up.

I know that today's young adults will be able to relate to Park and Eleanor and the things that they are going through. But I wonder if many of them, as connected as they are,2 will be able to comprehend Park and Eleanor's extracurricular communication difficulties. I'm not sure that matters, though. Eleanor and Park is a must-read for them anyway.3
  1. And YA continues to be hot, hot, hot.
  2. As connected as we all are these days.
  3. Niece #1 will be getting a copy when I see her in December and nephew #1 will probably get one in a year or two.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

word: megrims

I happened across this interesting word/phrase while reading Fundraising the Dead by Sheila Connolly -
"And, Nell? I'm sorry that you had to be the one to stumble into this. I hope you aren't too upset, because I need you to help me--help the Society--through this difficult time."
Well, it was nice that he had thought about it. But I had no intention of lapsing into a fit of the megrims, whatever they were. I would soldier on, and I would save any mourning for poor [so-and-so] until later, when I got home. (68, emphasis mine)
Now out of common usage, megrim means depression or dejection, low spirits.  The megrims are comparable to the blues.  It can also mean a whim / fancy / caprice, though I think that usage was less common.

Apparently this is where we get the word migraine.

There is also a type of fish called the megrim.  As I am not a fan of this class, I refrained from doing too much research into this particular usage of the word.  The megrim (according to the one image I saw) is pale (perhaps translucent) and has a strange, squashed-looking face.