[[image:notw2.jpg:The Name of the Wind:center:0]]
Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman (started in July)
Turtle Moon by Alice Hoffman
Queen of Babble by Meg Cabot
Company by Max Barry
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
Dead Souls by Ian Rankin
Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
This is the second installment of my Nick Hornby-inspired monthly accounting of books read and books bought. The easy things about the Books Bought list in August was that I ordered them online from the Science Fiction Book Club. Not too much to tell there – except that Kushiel’s Justice and First Among Sequels are both sequels of series that I’ve read with great pleasure, so I’ve been looking forward to getting them. I don’t usually like books with too many sequels. For instance, I greatly enjoyed Dune, but not so much its multiple sequels, and I haven’t even given the Dune books co-written by Frank Herbert’s son and whoever else a chance because, well, because I didn’t feel the need to read any more about that universe after reading Dune and two of its sequels. And *gasp* the Ender series. I still love Ender’s Game the most even though I have dutifully read every book (pretty much) that is in print written by Orson Scott Card, including the sequels to Ender’s Game and also the spin off series about Bean, Ender’s Battle School buddy (Ender’s Shadow, et al). I enjoyed the sequels, but it doesn’t have quite the appeal that Ender’s Game had. To give credit to Jacqueline Carey, I devoured her first Kushiel trilogy about the anguisette courtesan Phaedre, and the next trilogy in this universe is proving just as good as the first. As to Jasper Fforde, the Thursday Next series is always witty and a blending of literary characters and “real” people. His Nursery Crime series is immensely enjoyable since I still can quote a bunch of Nursery Rhymes. So yeah, I bought two books which are sequels and I stand by them! (I hope I’ll be able to stand by them after I’ve read them).
I started the month continuing to read Fragile Things, which I started in July. Fragile Things is an interesting collection of short stories, poems, and the final story is really a novella about Shadow (who was the main character in Gaiman’s novel American Gods). It was a hugely varied affair, some bordering on horror, some fantasy. As Hisham mentioned, the first story placed Sherlock Holmes in the Cthulhu world. Mr Holmes is called to investigate the murder of a member of the royal family. And lest you think that royalty means Prince Charles’s predecessors, think again. We’re talking full-on Cthulhu green-blooded inhuman “royals” that rose and have ruled over humans for hundreds of years. There are those who think that humans should be ruled by humans, but they are in the shadows, afraid of the wide reach of the inhuman Queen. Anyway, I quite enjoyed all the stories and poems in this book. My only complaint? Some of the stories were so cool I wanted more of them. The stop-start of the stories did get to me after a while. I think my brain is far more suited to novels rather than short stories because I don’t want to discard the characters and start on new ones five minutes after I started the story. But to Gaiman’s credit, the fact that I wanted more of these characters and the stories means that he wrote them well. It has made me want to re-read American Gods, details of which I can’t entirely recall (which bugs me). But Hisham has our copy in Malaysia. So maybe I’ll borrow it and read it while I’m home later this year.
I stumbled upon Alice Hoffman when I picked up The Ice Queen which was at the local Barnes & Noble on sale (hardcover for $5, who can say no?). I really enjoyed that book, and next I bought and read Practical Magic, which was made into a movie by the same name starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman. Great movie, and an equally good book. Alice Hoffman’s lyrical words are in the tradition of oral storytellers. The words can be read out loud for dramatic effect, and there is always an element of magic affecting the lives of the characters, just like a fairy tale. Turtle Moon is about a troubled teenaged boy who ends up picking up a toddler and running away with her, after her mother is murdered. He is pursued by the law in the form of a misunderstood loner canine policeman Justin (who has a checkered past) and the boy’s divorced mother. It is the story of love, second chances, growing up, and redemption. I was sucked into May in Florida, the month of heat and madness, and the touching story of the attachment between the troubled teenaged boy and his little toddler charge. I read the book in two nights, staying up late to finish it, and I would highly recommend this book. What a great read.
Next came Queen of Babble. Meg Cabot is the acclaimed author of the Princess Diaries young adult novels, as well as quite a few adult novels. I’d put the books in the genre of chick lit. Queen of Babble is about a loudmouth young college graduate named Lizzie who goes to England to spend the summer with her boyfriend. She ends up breaking up with him and going to live and work with her best friend at a chateau in France. She is unable to keep secrets, which wreaks havoc at a wedding at the chateau and she has to find a way to grow up and use her talents for good and fix the issues. Of course, she also meets Luke, the real love of her life (completely the opposite of the loser boyfriend that she left in England). A quick read, and a feel-good novel, it’s good chick lit. (Nothing wrong with that! Why am I trying to justify my chick lit habits to you anyway? Hey, you can see from the titles that I read that I try to keep my reading list varied.)
After OD-ing on a happy-ending girl-power book, I read Company. Max Barry wrote Jennifer Government and Syrup, both of which I read and enjoyed. Company, like his earlier two books, is a satire of life in huge corporations. The protagonist in Company is Jones, a new business school graduate who gets a job in the Sales department of a large corporation (Zephyr Holdings). His life turns topsy-turvy as he learns that life in the real world (not that anyone should call Sales the real world) is nothing like business school. You do the work that comes down the pipeline, you do as you’re told and you don’t ask too many questions. You do what you can to avoid being laid off, and when budget cuts are announced, you are powerless to fight your tyrant managers. Donuts (and the shortage of them) can even cause people to try to get each other fired. It is really funny, and there are some interesting twists to this novel (can’t and won’t give it away), but Max Barry delivers another wickedly satirical book. It really resonated with my experience with my previous employers (especially the budget cuts, and the lay offs). The only thing that did bug me was that the novel takes place in current day Washington State, USA, but that the characters kept freaking about being “sacked”. Barry is an Australian writer, and people do say “sacked” in Australia and the UK, but nobody says that in the US. Believe me, I’ve been here a long time. They would not say “sacked” in Washington (at least not so consistently – you might have an Anglophile affecting the word once in a while but everybody else would say “fired” or “laid off”). So that did bother me. Maybe nit-picky, but hey, the man has editors. If you write about a place that is foreign to you, get an editor from the States to fix it up for such errors. Sack those editors if they can’t help with this kind of thing. But all in all, a pretty darned good book (“sacked” aside).
Then I decided to tackle The Name of the Wind. This book is Rothfuss’ first novel. Six hundred and sixty pages, easily the size of two novels. I had been holding off from reading it, and if I were honest, I would admit that I thought I might not even like it (another impulse by from the Science Fiction Book Club). The Name of the Wind is about Kvothe, who tells the story of how he became Kvothe the Kingkiller, growing up as one of the Ruh (famed traveling performers), and how he went from being a precocious child to one of the youngest students of magic (although he didn’t use the term magic) at University. This book consumed me. Kvothe’s story is so engrossing and mind-blowing that I was dreaming it in my sleep, and other than work, all I could think about was Kvothe. I read this behemoth of a novel in two days (one of them, luckily a Saturday), going without a lot of sleep, and finishing it with a huge headache. Thanks to Vin for being so patient with me as I got so involved in this book. It was SO FRAKKING good! I can’t even explain it. The writing was excellent, the plot was amazing, the character development was well done, and the universe he created was very beautifully described and believable. There were many characters to keep track of, but they were so well defined that you did not ever have to keep referring back to previously read pages to make sure you knew who was who. This is fantasy at its best. I cannot wait for the sequel (oh no, another series!). I can’t even do justice to how much I loved this book. It was just amazing. I would say that this book was the highlight of my reading month. Any fan of fantasy novels should pick up a copy of this book, and I hope they enjoy it as much as I did. I liked it so much I decided to put its book jacket on this entry.
Now you might say that after reading so many pages so intensely in so few days, I needed a break from books. I did take it easy after that and took a while to read my next book, Ian Rankin’s Dead Souls. This is the umpteenth John Rebus novel, and Rebus is always fun to read. Rankin’s novels have been described as “Tartan Noir”, so Rebus is a Scottish (in Edinburgh) Detective Inspector, solving murders as he also navigates his own all-too colorful (and alcoholic) life. Dead Souls is about the disappearance of an old friend’s son, child sexual abuse, and a serial killer loose in Edinburgh. Rebus is, as always, an ornery, unpredictable, anti-establishment, loose cannon, brilliant detective, and he solves crimes but not without paying a heavy price – his personal life is pretty much in shambles. Always a good read, I took my time and savored this book. But I finished it a few days before the end of August. I decided to go for broke and read one more book before the end of the month!
Doomsday Book is really a repeat read. I first came across Connie Willis back in college. An impulse buy of a book she wrote called To Say Nothing of the Dog. Why? Because I loved that title. This was back when money was very tight and impulse buys were deeply felt – regret that I spent $7.00 on a lousy book (that’s a whole hour’s worth of work at my part-time job, well, not to mention that Uncle Sam always took his share of my $7.00 per hour), or absolute joy that my instincts panned out. To Say Nothing of the Dog turned out to be an excellent book and I went back and started reading other novels by Willis. This was one of the books I read way back when. My copy of Doomsday Book is in Malaysia, either in the Book Room in Sitiawan, or hanging out at Hisham’s house. So I bought another copy of it (thank you Science Fiction Book Club sale prices plus free shipping!) and promptly re-read it. I really barely remembered it (hey, you can’t blame me, it was over 10 years ago that I first read it, and that was back when I was also trying to cram in a bunch of school-related work, passing finals, writing papers, working 20 or so hours a week to add to my measly $50.00 a month stipend, while trying to finish college without shaming myself or my family, so maybe committing the plots of the novels I read to long-term memory wasn’t so high on my list of things to do). Anyway, I had the pleasure of re-reading this novel with only vague memories of it, which made it feel like reading a completely new novel. It is about Kivrin, a History student at Oxford, in 2054, who goes back in time to the 1300s, to experience life in the Middle Ages, and at the same time back in 2054, the people who sent her there – her professors, the technician, etc. – have to cope with a mysterious epidemic that starts causing deaths and Oxford is quarantined. In the meantime, they’ve “lost” Kivrin somewhere in time, since the people involved in the whole process are down with the mysterious illness. We experience the grim Middle Ages and the horrors of life with less-than-perfect hygiene, religion and religious zeal, and the overall good and bad of the people in the Middle Ages. It’s really well written and quite gripping. The end, although it wasn’t completely tragic, was still rather a bit of a downer. Luckily no hysterical crying on my part, but certainly it was grim and thought-provoking. Maybe life in the Middle Ages isn’t so different from life in the future? Maybe people are people, and the good people are good, and the bad people are bad, regardless of whether they lived in the 1300s or in the 21st century. This book did invade my thoughts such that when I was at work at a teleconference, we were talking about “invocations” and “executables” in the technological comp-geek speak, and all I could think about were Latin invocations and executions from the Middle Ages. I did enjoy this book, and finished it on the night of August 31, so I’m going to count it as an August book.
Now if you read this and said, hey, wait a minute, last month she talked about what she did (e.g., vacation in the Pacific Northwest, going to Belle River, Ontario) while she was reading, and this month she just pretty much glossed over what happened in her life. Well, we stayed home the month of August. We didn’t go anywhere, I barely even went to the grocery store. We had a huge heat wave so we mostly hung out at home. I worked a lot. And my friend Mandy did visit us, and for her birthday we took her to the Cincinnati Zoo and to a Reds game. This occurred while I was taking my time with Dead Souls, and I didn’t read very much while she was here, because it was a whirlwind visit (entries on her visit to follow at some point). That’s about all I did in August. Worked, read, hung out with Vin and Lily, and enjoyed Mandy’s visit. It was so hot that I barely even cooked this entire month. So there. Make sure to direct any complaints about my not linking these books to the happenings in my life to www-dot-idontgivea$hit-dot-com OK? Anyway, enough mumblings. To those who actually made it through and read this entire entry, I’ll buy you a drink when I see you. I owe you that much for putting up with my long and drawn out rantings. See you next month!