Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Roman Blood by Steven Saylor (St. Martins, 1991)

I read Roman Blood by Steven Saylor (St. Martins, 1991) and I love finding a new series, and if the rest of these books are as good as this one, I'm in for a treat! Less wry than SPQR, but just as enjoyable. I can hardly wait to read the next one.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Watchmen by Alan Moore (DC Comics, 1986)

I am reading Watchmen by Alan Moore (DC Comics, 1986). And I don't know exactly what I think. On one hand, I think the concept is brilliant. But I hate non-linear narrative; there is nothing more beautiful to me than a simple, straight line, especially in literature. And Watchmen isn't a simple straight line. It's here there and everywhere. So I have had a really hard time figuring out what is going on. I have trouble reading and comprehending visual information at the same time -- my brain is wired to read OR to watch, but has a hard time doing both. In Watchmen - like all graphic novels - you have to do both. Particularly in Watchmen, which isn't linear. Hence, it's been a sort of frustrating read for me and I'm ready to be finished with it. I still want to know what's going on though - there is a mystery buried somewhere in the middle, and a murder mystery to boot.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn by Alison Weir (2010)

I'm reading The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn by Alison Weir (Ballantine, 2010), and while my earlier sentiment that Alison is going to suck those Tudors dry still stands, I have been thinking more about what it must have been like to have been Anne Boleyn. I've wondered many times what people of history thought and felt. What were their fears, what motivated them, what did they hum to themselves or like to eat. Did they dance in the mirror, read on the toilet, talk to their dogs? In other words, who was Anne Boleyn really? I'm pretty sure that The Lady in the Tower isn't going to answer that question in any meaningful way; I'm probably not suddenly going to have some epiphany about Anne Boleyn (although you never know). So I have to imagine the answer to the question, "who was Anne Boleyn?" And worry that my modern understanding -- my futuristic, pop sociology psychology viewpoint -- will color my perception of her. "My" Anne Boleyn isn't any more real than Alison Weir's or Philippa Gregory's. But that's what is fun about reading a biography or history - my personal insight stamped upon the paper doll that is Alison Weir's Anne Boleyn.

It must have been horrifying to slowly realize that the man you loved, the man that you thought you had wrapped around your little finger, had suddenly turned against you. And that your own father wasn't going to stick up for you - vile man. That your sister-in-law had told stories on you about having an incestuous relationship with your brother. I mean, a screen writer for a soap opera couldn't have made this up without half of what happened being edited out. Where was Anne's mother during all of this? Her sister Mary? Everyone at court hated her - but then, everyone at court hated everyone else too. The constant shifting sands that was the Tudor court - one day you're in, the next day you're out. Was Henry incredibly brilliant or constantly duped - or both? Easily manipulated by flattery, for sure. Did she worry about what would happen to her daughter? She was so secure in her "win" at the beginning - when did she start to realize that everything was changing or had changed? Was she a witch? A Lutheran?

Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynne Jones (Greenwillow, 2010)

I just finished Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynne Jones (Greenwillow, 2010), and while I'm glad I plugged away until the end, I'm still disappointed. Regardless of reviews and other people's opinions, it's still not one of Jones's best. I thought the characters seemed flat and sort of undeveloped, almost like paper dolls that Jones was moving around on a game board she created at home, purely for her enjoyment. I think she has all the characters flushed out in her head, but I wasn't getting a clear picture of them on paper. The plot was kind of bouncy, and it ended rather abruptly. I kept hoping and hoping it would get better, but it didn't. Has Jones run out of steam? Are her best books behind her?

Update:  June 30, 2012.  I guess so, considering she died soon after.  Sad.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Funny Business: Conversations With Writers of Comedy compiled and edited by Leonard S. Marcus (Candlewick, 2009

I am reading Funny Business: Conversations With Writers of Comedy compiled and edited by Leonard S. Marcus (Candlewick, 2009).

So far, my favorite interview has been with Daniel Handler, a.k.a. Lemony Snicket. First of all, he was born in 1970, so he's brilliantly 40. Second of all, he's incredibly smart and funny. Maybe a bit too much? Third of all, he's adorably cute. I love Daniel Handler! DH + ST! It almost (almost, mind you) makes me want to go back and read all of the Series of Unfortunate Events. Which I'm not going to do, because while that witty dry sardonic sense of humor is funny in person, it's not so funny in a series of books...

I don't think Leonard Marcus sat down with all of these people and talked with them personally. I think some of the interviews sound canned.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn by Alison Weir (2010)

Alison Weir is going to suck those Tudors dry until there is nothing left.

Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynne Jones (2010)

What makes a book boring or bad? I'm reading Diana Wynne Jones's newest Enchanted Glass (Greenwillow, 2010) but I just can't seem to get into it. The characters and the plots are, well, flat... not very interesting. Not engaging. Which is sad to me, because I generally love Diana Wynne Jones. I've tried at least two other Jones books I didn't enjoy (Hemlock was one, and I can't remember the name of the other). I remember that I didn't like these books for the same reason I don't like Enchanter Glass. Diana Wynne Jones always writes first for herself; her books often read like some great big inside joke that you, the lucky reader, are privy too. And sometimes, you are smart or cool or geeky or divine enough to actually get the inside joke, and you chuckle along merrily until the end (Deep Secret is a great example of this). But sometimes the joke falls flat, or the audience is too small (occasionally an audience of one, Ms. Jones herself). Another problem with Enchanter's Glass - it just doesn't seem to be going anywhere. Most of the time with Jones, you have to read quite a few chapters before the hook swoops in; but the Enchanted Glass just doesn't seem to have any hook.

I just took a look at some of the reviews on Amazon... I'll stick with it for a few more pages. It might improve!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Way I See It: A Look Back at My Life on Little House by Melissa Anderson (2010)

I read The Way I See It: A Look Back at My Life on Little House by Melissa Anderson (Globe Pequot Press, 2010) really really quickly - because honestly, there wasn't much there to read. Most of the chapters were play-by-play of old Little House episodes with some color commentary thrown in. What's the point of that? I can Netflix the DVDs and Little House and do the same thing myself. So Karen Grassle was a classically trained actress who hated Michael Landon, and Michael Landon was a mean control freak. That's the most gossipy thing about the book. It's not a memoir, it's not a tell-all - I'm not sure what the hell it is. I skimmed a good chunk of it because I was so bored. Melissa Gilbert's was at least a memoir, and gossipy at that. I feel a little bit cheated. Thank god I didn't buy the book -- god bless the library!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Blackout by Connie Willis (2010)

I finished Blackout by Connie Willis (Spectra, 2010) last night right before I went to sleep. I wanted to finish it on vacation, but the sun, swimming, slumber, and merriment of Palm Springs enticed me away 45 pages from the end.

Blackout certainly lacks the hushed but frantic sense of mystery and doom that envelopes Doomsday Book and the magical comedy and mayhem of To Say Nothing of the Dog - but they all three definitely share the same style. Publisher's Weekly called Willis's style "eloquent and understated," and two better words describing her plots and characters could not be found. I compare Willis's writing to making a massive wedding cake -- layer after layer of dependably good cake with sweet, satisfying icing keeping it all together. Too bad there isn't a topping to this particular cake -- Blackout ends with a cliffhanger and lovers of Willis will all have to wait a few months before we find out what happens to Polly, Merope and Mike.

Willis's love of a good old fashioned Agatha Christie murder mystery is evident now throughout Blackout (as with To Say Nothing of the Dog and to a lesser degree Doomsday Book). Like Christie, Willis litters the ground of her books with clues galore about a mystery (in this case why time travel has suddenly stopped, trapping our heroes in the past). Because of the cliffhanger, we don't exactly know "whodunnit" yet, but I can imagine that there have been plenty of red herrings dropped in our path to make us stray. And there had better be some big, shocking, make you gasp out loud surprise at some point -- with Willis there always it.

A moment about Passages, one of the best books ever written. It stands alone, on a pedestal, and while it's still pure Connie Willis, it's one of the most thoughtful books I've ever read. IMHO, Willis's time travel books aren't just mind candy - they do make you think, and the puzzles she creates are always interesting to try to solve. But Passages was a psychological and theological puzzle, with an ending I still don't think I fully understand. After only one reading, the entire sense of Passages has always stuck with me. That's a great book, to invoke feelings five or six years later. That's a great writer.

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