Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Month in Review and of Things to Come

The 'year in books' post is coming tomorrow so I'll suffice it to say, I've read The Final Solution by Michael Chabon, The Last Waltz by Anne Enright, and The Folded World by Catherynne M Valente.  This month I've also made substantial dents in BADASS: The Birth of a Legend by Ben Thompson and Breakable You by Brian Morton as well as a handful of short stories online from various outlets and a few history books.  I tried and I tried and I tried to leave comments for The Last Waltz which is wonderful, but was unable to make any progress.  I don't know why some books pose such a problem and other don't.  If you've ever taken any of my recommendations, go read it; you'll enjoy.  I feel less stressed now that I've finally given up on leaving remarks for this one.  It's been a good, and busy reading month.  

This month was filled with the usual holiday fun and stress that always seems to mark my Decembers.  I went to New York to see my sister which was a nice change to our families usual Christmas blandness.  Had a great time, saw somethings I hadn't seen before, and spent more money than I'd have liked, but that's what one does on vacation, right?  
This was also a really sweet month for live music.  I saw two shows, and plan on one more tonight: Cake--a band of which I know nothing about but I don't have new year's plan, it's free and I have friends going so why not?  BB King isn't my current favorite blues guitarist.  He is, however, one of my all-time favorites.  Ever since his health has led him to do his shows seated the thrill has definitely gone.  He talks more than he plays, his voice has lost much of it's vitality (which is heart breaking when compared with his glory days) and he doesn't even play his own lead breaks any more.  It's not like I paid for this show so I guess I shouldn't complain.  My let down is in part my fault, I was expecting the manic demon shredder/vocalist of the 1960's that gave us Live at the Regal and At a Cook County Jail replete with guest appearances from Buddy Guy and Junior Wells.  What I got was a modern blend of 'smooth jazz,' big band, synthesized strings, and gospel sound that draws a certain kind of crowd.  Good for BB good for the industry, good for "The Blues."  I was expecting too much.  I'd have loved to kick the 'dinner party' crowd out, taken BB his drummer and bass player down to Blind Willies and put the blues back at the forefront of peoples attention in a small seedy dive bar but oh well…  The big surprise this month came from Gavin Degraw at a free show in Atlantic Station.  This boy's swagger is so big it has it's own twitter account.  I was shocked, I was amazed.  Rock Star.  The easy summation is: it was the best live music performance I've ever seen.  Go see this guy live; you will not regret it.  Yeah; I didn't see that coming either…   
I saw Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol as well.  It as fun; as I've said before I don't comment on movies as I expect so little from only seeing a handful in a given year.  
As to what's to come next year, your guess is as good as mine.  I've stopped looking to the future and only enjoy the moment.  Besides, none of my plans ever come to fruition anyways so I'm forgoing the effort. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Final Solution by Michael Chabon

The story is a murder mystery that is, in truth rather light on both, but extraordinarily dense with bravado and craftsmanship.  There's a little boy with a few horrible communication deficiencies and parrot that speaks, among other things, a string of numbers erratically in German.  

No, seriously, that's the whole plot.
We, of course, meet other characters, an elderly police detective, a hot-headed younger son, a murderer with a motive, and a bee keeper, but the biggest star here is the author.  Chabon strings together the most meaningful and dense collection of words you will find in modern literature.  His descriptions are slightly obsessive, perhaps even manic, but primarily gorgeous and leave a firm imprint on the mind; his colorful use of language manages to be both whimsically and profound at the same time.  The narrative is simplistic and straightforward but you read Chabon's work to understand how something trite can be made beautiful in hands of one to today's chic literary behemoths.  
The murder is solved; the parrot is returned; a little boy is made happy; and the innocent are exonerated--if not exiled--all in wonderful groupings of words that no one else could have assembled.  Yet, I can't help but feeling like this book wasn't what it was supposed to be: chapter one, all nine pages of it, was so intent on a boy who is decidedly 'not right' and a parrot.  Given Chabon's attention to this duo and his powers as a writer, I really wanted to read a story about this boy and his parrot--by the end of chapter one, I was more than a little bit in love with this boy and his parrot.  That story is not included in The Final Solution: A Story of Detection and that's okay.  To the benifit of us all, Chabon's genius goes where it will and not where I would have it go: I'm more than content to follow a few steps behind in awe.    

Book Shopping in New York

The Strand is very cool.  It's much like my favorite local used book store just all kinds of bigger.  Everything is beautifully labeled and organized.  Having never been there before, and considering its size, I was taken aback at how easy it was to shop unassisted.  I walked all over just for the sake of being able to say I did, but I really only paid attention to the fiction section.

I gave myself a budget of fifty dollars and was pleased to only go over by five.  I picked up The History of Love by Nicole Krauss and Eight White Nights by Andre Aciman; two of this year's favorite new-to-me authors.  I doubled up on Michael Chabon; The Final Solution was a good read on the plane back to Atlanta (review forthcoming) and A Model World and Other Stories will be my introduction to his short stories.  I got a copy of BADASS: The Birth of a Legend by Ben Thompson for Christmas and it made me think of Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks by Ethan Gilsdorf which I read last year.  I found a copy of the latter as a belated Christmas gift.  Paul Auster's New York Trilogy--of which I know nothing about except high praise from people smarter than me--rounded things out. 

The Strand and the mega-giant Barnes and Noble on Union Square both didn't have a single copy of Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan which I found odd for a book that was only shortlisted for the Booker Prize and won Giller Prize.  I'm curious about this book but I was also to be a gift, so I wasn't heartbroken at not being able to find it.  Oh well,  I'm telling myself that the book is selling extremely well and demand has exhausted supply.   

Good thing I don't live in the east village... because I can't afford to.  But if I could The Strand and the PDT bar would seriously challenge the integrity of my wallet.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

But, I'd like an Ending Please...

I spent a lot of time today with The Paris Review.  You don't need me to tell you they publish quality stuff. There seems to be a trend in high-end, fancy literary fiction; more so than general 'post-modern' make what you will of future events, stories today just seem to end abruptly.

I'm not saying I need definitive closure, but bring me to a point where I can see an end or multiple plausible endings.  In the three stories I read today (some are printed on line, in full and for free; the rest are so good you should go to your library and read them) all of them felt like they finished well before the halfway point.

Perhaps this is more a reflection on me as a reader, that said I'm a reader.  I am the author's and editor's endgame.

So when you write a story and it's fabulous and you develop themes and characters with great cunning and subtly, remember me: I can appreciate the aforementioned things, but I'd like an ending please.  

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


I didn't feel guilty Christmas shopping for myself.  I luxuriated in the experience which isn't the point of the holiday, but retailers don't seem to care, so neither did I.  I bought two copies of Joe Hill's fabulous collection 20th Century Ghost to give as gifts only to realize that I don't know two people that would get off on Hill's writing in the necessary way.  Maybe I should start anonymously mailing books to my internet friends; at least I know some of them would enjoy the book. I bought The Sarantine Mosaic because GGK wrote it and I pretty much buy anything with his name on the cover.  Lastly, I got The Oxford Companion to Beer for a friend who I know will love it.  It is without doubt the most expensive gift I've ever gotten anyone other than myself.

I actually had to re-read this post to see that three of the four books I bought weren't for me; perhaps I'm not the Scrooge I though I was. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Folded World by Catherynne M. Valente

The most non-traditional fantasy series I've encountered continues not where things left off in The Habitation of the Blessed but in much the same fashion.  Hoib's fate is uncertain, and friend and understudy Alaric is allowed to choose three books just as Hoib did.  Alaric chooses three apprentices and they set out to copy the perishable script as fast as they can.  I was hoping for a different presentation than the 'book-tree' if for no other reason than Valente had used it before and has demonstrated that her creativity doesn't need to lean on repetition.  That said, it still works and works beautifully.    
The Book of the Ruby is told by Hagia, yet is John's daughter's, Anglitor's, story.  It tells of Pentexore preparing for war and the possibility of death for the first time in a thousand years and John's literary efforts.  He has rewritten the Bible as to include Pentexore and not break God's word.  John has also written letters to Christendom and letters have come back; Jerusalem is ripe to fall.  They called to the fabled King Prester John for help and armored with delusions of grandeur, and complete ignorance John and his people set out to war. 
The Left-Hand Mouth The Right-Hand Eye is written by Qaspiel at the request of Vyala, a lion somewhat outside of standard Pentexore life.  Vyala is the care taker of John other daughter; the one he fathered with Hagia, Sefalet.  Both of John's children are disfigured by standards of Pentexore a result of the union of two worlds coming together that shouldn't have ever mixed.  Sefalet got the worse of it; she shines with arcane light, suffers convulsions, and is tormented with unwanted prophesy.   
The third book, The Virtue of things is in the Midst of Them, was the most curious of the three, written by John Manderville a great adventurer and liar of prodigious ability.  He adds color and, much as Prester John did in the first book, gives the reader a sense of familiarity; something we can latch onto while we come to grips with all of the author's bizarre originality and conform our minds to think as she wants us to.  John Manderville starts off as comic relief, "I am immune to shame, boredom and cholera, but I confess fire and lightening will do me quiet in."  However, he shows us a second world of Pentexore one that is shut away from the first.  (One that I can't believe I didn't immediately recognize!)   
Much as in Habitation of the Blessed it is the coming together of the three narratives that makes things so interesting.  The encounter of John Manderville and Sefalet, Prester John's homecoming and a rather odd meeting of Salah-ad-Din, the understanding of what war is to a people to whom the concept is completely foreign.  There is also a fourth narrative briefly told, one continued from The Habitation of the Blessed and it is perhaps the most powerful and unifies all the others.  The intellectual criticism of religion and the power it hold over men like John walks the line between pensive and didactic.  Valente has an odd power when talking about the absurdities of organized religion and listing it's faults while doing so by way of mythical creatures and wholly imaginary entities.  This ain't Narnia Toto… 
There is so much going on in Valente's world.  I'm tempted to make some absolute statement like: "Never before has a writer packed so much material into to so small a space."  Actually, that doesn't sound half bad, only I'm sure I haven't read enough to qualify to say such a thing.  I can't even begin to guess where she'll go from here with the third book; all I can do is sit and wait until next year for it's publication.  Valente remains in my mind one of the most creative and distinct voices writing today.  

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht

The war had altered everything.  Once separate, the pieces that made up our old country no longer carried the same characteristics that had formerly represented their respective parts of the whole.  Previously shared things--landmarks, writers, scientists, histories--had to be doled out according to their new owners.  That Nobel Prize-winner was no longer ours, but theirs; we named our airport after our crazy inventor, who was no longer a communal figure.  And all the while we told ourselves that everything would eventually return to normal.  Page 161

The Tiger's Wife is a story of two doctors of different generations treating people as best they can, confronting situations beyond their control and always dealing with the effects of war.  There are ever present conflicts within the novel that are never dwelled on yet can't be forgotten: we see illness through the eyes of Natalia Stefanovic and her grandfather; anxiety, disbelief and the pressure of dealing with superstitions that seemingly can't be explained; a commingling of Christians and Muslims; and always the threat of regime change.  
The story of The Tiger's Wife is Natalia's grandfather's, though he never gets a chance to talk to the reader.  Instead Natalia recollects story's that were shared with her concerning her grandfather dealing with two notable characters, Gavran Gaile, the Deathless Man and The Tiger's Wife.  These characters, both of which deal heavily with superstition and the quasi-fantastic, are alternately presented in between Natalia's account in the field working to start a clinic for orphans.  Both Natalia and her grandfather are venerated in their profession and yet both are made to deal with illnesses they can't compete with.
Natalia's grandfather grows up in a village, always on the outskirts of war or feeling the impeding pressure of one, where two very unique situations present themselves.  An escaped zoo animal takes up residence outside the village and seemingly finds a friend to aide it's survival in a deaf, mute Mohammedan, the butcher's wife: The Tiger's Wife.  Natalia's grandfather watches as ignorance and misunderstanding of one who can't communicate and has suffered psychologically what no one in the village could know or relate to, turn into hate and present the perfect scapegoat for all the villages problems.           
The Deathless Man has been cursed by his uncle Death to not be able to die for a past offense.  Natalia's grandfather meets him a few times over the course of his life; after being drown, shot in the head, and once on a beautiful night on an outdoor patio while the city is being bomb where they share an incredible meal.  Natalia's grandfather's life was one marked with a great frequency of extraordinary events.  
The story that Natalia's grandfather seeks to tell is very sensitive and wholly compelling.  Unfortunately I don't think the chronological gaps and alternating back-and-forth between Natalia's narrative and that of her grandfather's did anything to enhance the story despite the thematic similarity that two share.  As opposed to something like Nicole Krauss' Great House where the fifty-page, extended vignettes served to strengthen what preceded and comes after The Tiger's Wife left me feeling a bit agitated as any of the novel's vast host of intriguing characters are all built to fit into the place of an omniscient third person narrator.  There's a lot of confusion in The Tiger's Wife as is indicated by the passage I chose to quote at the beginning.  Some things get ironed out, most don't.  It's a melancholy book with an extra heavy dose of anxiety: there is a tiger on the outskirts of town, a war on the horizon or more often than not, a war going on that has since become a part of the peoples lives to the point where it is now just seen as white noise in the background. Much to my surprise, the bouncing around works by the end of the novel.  There were stories within the novel I loved; characters I wanted to know more about; and my heart went out to the eponymous character by the halfway point.  It's rich in allegory and heavy with potential.  Overall, I found it to be spoilt by an overwrought presentation and an inability to focus on a given central idea to fully resonate.

For a much prettier girls take on the same book, check out what Claire has to say.      

Joint-Blogging Awesomeness

So I've been bad about blogging lately, sorry...  I should have posted a bunch of inane stuff just to keep interest high after seeing an influx in traffic after Kim's big hurrah, but I didn't.  I've been stuck in a small, dense book for all of December (more on that in a few days).

Now that I'm back, blogging that is, I never went anywhere, I've got a lot to say and I want to say it all at once.  First reviews are coming, lots of them: The Folded World, The Tiger's Wife, The Forgotten Waltz (God... am I the only one who isn't immune to the repetition of indefinite articles?) all warranted me having something to say. 

I took a trip to the library at lunch to exercise a demon.  I've been bitten by a history bug; actually it's an itch that has needed scratching for a long time.  I haven't had this kinda non-fiction urge since grad school and I can actually link my history excursions to an escape from music in both instances.  (Which is to say, at the present, I'm getting really good at guitar.  Or perhaps I only need to turn the volume on my amp down, however I at least see a direct correlation between the quality of my playing and obnoxiously loud volume settings with a fuzz face pedal and delayed reverb stomp box.)  So history yeah... don't expect me to be leaving comments on any of that as I am certainly not qualified to do so and my interest in the past are probably more esoteric than my current taste in fiction.  Nonetheless, this history thing will probably be taking up a good chunk of my reading time in the forseeable future.

Lastly, and most awesome, Claire emailed me, stalked me down, stole my identity (only to find out it's not worth having much to her chagrin) and threatened me into submission about some joint book reviews.  I like the idea as it not only gives me a chance to talk about books, but will hopefully show me a different perspective: one from a much prettier girl.  I had the first pick and the only real rule was that when a selection was mentioned we wouldn't do any research prior to reading the book.  I think we are aiming for one a month.  So be sure to look for those reviews, and check out her blog as well, in the near future. 

(And the future is now, so give me an hour or so and the first one will be up.)  

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Reading Recommendations

Kim at Reading Matters asked bloggers what was their best book of the year.   The books mentioned were not confined to 2011 publication, genre or any other criteria, and while the major publishing outlets will no doubt heavily repeat themselves with their 'year's best' list this selection of books covers great books you may have missed in years past and those that may not have gotten the attention they deserve this year.

Scroll through and see if you can find my selection (I missed it on first glance).  My choice came with the proviso that I didn't leave comments for the best book I read this year.  I'll explain that in greater detail in a few weeks when I do my own best of the year list.

There are a lot of great books here and you'll be sure to find other bloggers of interest as well.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Did I do something wrong?

"Why were you late today?"--My employer

"I was reading."--Me

She actually looked at me as if I needed to explain myself further.  What's up with that?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Month in Review and of Things to Come

This was a busy month; fun and challenging to the point where I almost felt a difficulty in writing this post.

I was chairman for the Bar Golf Association Midtown Championship Cup this month.  We played nine holes in Midtown--a difficult nine holes, nine holes that had to be strategically played, nine holes that not all could live through to tell the tale of conquest.  I was quite pleased.  Somethings I learned that should be shared: The Daiquiri Factory LCC is not to be underestimated... Ever.  Mezcal taste terrible (like smokey butthole, or something... ) and is a general travesty upon your palette.  Vortex Bar and Grill is over priced to def, with very poor service.  I discovered Wild Heaven and Pawel Kwak beer this month; both of which are exceptional.  Atlanta's own Red Brick should be avoided at all cost, well at least their blond; Left Hand Milk Stout on Nitro draft is as close to heaven as you can get.  Moving on...
I bought four books this month: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright, The Folded World by Catherynne Valente and Breakable You by Brian Morton.  Never heard of the later but I'm reading it for a joint reviewing 'thing-a-mig-awesome-jig' I'll share soon.  I've talk about Barnes already, and if you just want the short version: read it; it's great.  The Folded World is the book I was looking forward to this year more than any other.  I have no doubt that it won't disappoint; I hope to tell you about next month in great detail.

I read six books this month.  Yeah, six; I'm surprised too: Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow; Memories of my Melancholy Whores and Of Love and Other Demons by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, This is where I leave You by Jonathan Tropper, Mother Aegypt and Other Stories by Kage Baker,  and The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes.  I'm glad I don't have to pick a favorite book because I would give myself fits this November.

Concerning Ragtime, a book I didn't leave commentary for, but allow me to share my brief encapsulated reading experience of this novel.  I usually read books in my apartment: sitting on my couch, legs propped up in the recliner, crossed at the ankle, a glass of water/whiskey/rum/beer/whatever at my side.  This is how I read Ragtime.  Around the third word or so of the novel, Hollywood rigged explosives to my front door and blew it off the hinges with the power of 'Amazing.'  Not yet being satisfied, Hollywood then moved to throw a deluxe size Hefty bag, over-stuffed with 'Awesome' bricks each weighing thirty pounds at me while I sat on the couch and read the book.  This process continued to happen until I finished reading: that is to say; this was the most visceral and intense book I've read in a very long time, it's lost none of it's power since publication, and if it's not considered a classic, then those who determine such things are severely lacking in judgement and need to be replaced.

From a distance December seems extraordinarily busy; this is not a bad thing.  I'd rather report after the fact than speculate as to what will happen before; tune in for the following 'Month in Review.'

I'll state no plans for the future as doing so seemed to do me well in November.    

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

"It strikes me that this may be one of the differences between youth and age: when we are young, we invent different futures for ourselves; when we are old, we invent different pasts for others." Pg 88

The Sense of an Ending is narrator's Anthony Webster's reflection on his life.  The book feels like a memoir that starts with the good stuff rather than the very beginning.  We see Tony and his friends as they start college; spiteful of all they don't have and jealous of those in possession of what they want.  "You're just romanticizing what you haven't got."  Tony was guilty of this accusation as a young man and never truly manages to escape it later in life.  Seeing this earlier part of Tony's life shows him as hopelessly pretentious and wholly convinced of his own brilliance, but the self deprecating humor that he reflects back on his youth endears him to readers from the beginning.  

Adrian, a friend in Tony's gang, is a bit different from everyone else.  His intelligence attracts others to him if not making him distinctly singular.  While all Tony's friends thoughtfully muse on life and history, Adrian's seriousness leads him to contemplate, "Is the application of logic to the human condition in and of itself self-defeating?"  The first part of the book is far more philosophically engaging than driven by narrative with a post-modern 'make of this what you will' presentation of ideas.  The stories Tony relates are viewed through the lens of what Tony should have picked up on at the time or how he should have interpreted events as he looks back with the clarity of hindsight.   

Barnes' voice is beautiful and has what I thought to be a very fluid rhythm to his prose that makes the book very hard to stop reading.  While Tony questions everything in his youth and endears us to his vanity his eternal adult questioning of everything and second-guessing of much of what he has lived through does become a bit of a chore to put up with.

Years after Adrian's premature death the topic of his diary, which was bequeathed to Tony, brings Tony back into the world of his early twenties forty years later.  Veronica a one time girlfriend of both Tony and Adrian helps to drive the story forward by way of torturing Tony's memories; often filling him in on things he didn't know and altering his perception.  An oft repeated passage, "History is the certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation," nicely serves to unify the symbols of whatever concrete information Adrian's diary may hold and the abstract recall of Tony's memory. 

There is a change of focus in the last quarter or so of the book; a marked shift from the philosophical musing to a more gripping story driven search for answers.  While Barnes handles matters deftly the move felt cheap as all previous material's open-ended questions give way to a quest for definitive explanation.  It works and everything is done very well (to the point where subsequent readings will probably yield new meaning and interest) I only wish these two aspect might have merged earlier in the book instead of presenting such a large change of attention at the end.

It's a wonderfully engaging story to read even if when finished the imprint on the mind fades rather fast.  There is a little bit of everything: humor, drama, melancholy, and surprisingly, resolution.  With such broad appeal and well-crafted prose I have a hard time imagining the reader that wouldn't enjoy this subtle, short read.        

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Of Love and Other Demons by Gabriel García Márquez

"The girl, daughter of an aristocrat and a commoner, had the childhood of a foundling.  Her mother hated her from the moment she nursed her for the first and only time, and then refused to keep the baby with her for fear she would kill her.  Dominga de Adviento suckled her, baptized her in Christ and consecrated her to Olokun, a Yoruban deity of indeterminate sex… Sierva María learned to dance before she could speak, learned three African languages at he same time… and to glide past Christians unseen and unheard like an incorporeal being… Over time the slave women hung the beads of various gods around her neck, until she was wearing sixteen necklaces." Pg 42-43
A young girl is bitten by a rabid dog and feared to have been infected with the disease.  That is all the plot needed for the author to tell a very dense tale of injustice.  Sierva María is a child of neglect.  Her mother had to force herself on her father merely to conceived a child so adamant was his desire to not be a parent.  While it is Sierva María that takes center stage it is the supporting cast that lends so much power to the story.
The novel's setting is perhaps García Márquez's greatest testament to his writing ability.  He is able to convey so much that will be foreign to many readers in so short a period of time and in so vivid a manner.  There is an immediacy to his setting: things don't develop in your mind as you read rather they are communicated instantaneously.  It's a strong trait for any writer but combined with a semi-exotic locale and a period of time that hasn't been overdone it is very easy to be swept away.  
It's made very clear that neither of Sierva María's parents want anything to do with her and her care is entrusted to the family's slaves.  Twelve years later she is fluent in Yoruban, Congolese, and Mandingo, and sings and dances with the grace and beauty to rival the other African slaves while she struggles with Castilian, literacy and courtly graces expected of her as one of the aristocracy.  "The only thing white about that child was her color."  This would be a reoccurring theme and a trait that would cause her much suffering for the perceived flaw.

"He always believed he loved his daughter, but the fear of rabies obliged the Marquis to admit to himself that this was a lie for the sake of convenience.  Bernarda, on the other hand, did not even ask herself the question, for she knew very well she did not love the girl and the girl did not love her, and both things seemed fitting.  A good part of the hatred each of them felt for Sierva María was caused by the other's qualities in her.  Nevertheless, to preserve her honor, Bernarda was prepared to play out the farce of shedding tears and mourning like a grief-stricken mother, on the condition that the girl's death have a seemly cause.
"It doesn't matter what," she specified, "as long as it's not a dog's disease." Pg 16    
Upon the incident of the dog bite and the possibility of her going mad and dying from rabies, Sierva María's father takes an interest in her and in the course of a few days attempts to make up for a life time of neglect.  This change of mind greatly helps alter his own life in a positive way, yet even after being convinced by the best doctor in town that Sierva María is fine and rabies has passed her by her father, the Marquis, comes to find that he doesn't know his daughter at all.  He finds her odd and many of her actions fey.  He convinces himself that something has to be wrong, that she is mad and needs to be institutionalized in a convent to await exorcism.  Though it is initially his love and concern that harbingers the demise of his daughter his, and the love of others ultimately interfere with Sierva Maria's happiness and condemn her.
The intervention of the church complicates matters immensely.  The Bishop and Abbess see all Sierva María's superstitions and inexplicable occurrences as African magic and works of the devil.  While Cayetano Delaura, the priest charged with performing the exorcism who has a peculiar past with the Inquisition and his sights set on a position in Rome, can't find one rational argument to justify her being possessed, rather many to suggest she be canonized as a saint.  
The novels strongest interactions involve Delaura.  His unlikely and short friendship with Abrenuncio, the doctor who first vouched that Sierva Maria was free of rabies, shows Delaura to be too smart a man to believe in possession or risk an exorcism that could mean death.  And yet he can't surrender to the logic his mind has told him to be true or the comfort of an atheist like Abrenuncio who, without the restraints of faith, has proven himself even smarter than Delaura.  As the two spend more time together, Delaura sees himself as much a heretic as Abrenuncio who is outside of faith and in possession of every book forbidden by the church.  Theirs is a relationship of shared intelligence when those around them seek the scapegoats of demons when their reason fails them.  Abrenuncio sums up their friendship bluntly in a conclusion that undercuts all of the sentimentality and respect the two share: "I leave you with this enigma," Abrenuncio concluded as he spurred his horse.  "No god could have created a talent like yours to waste it scrubbing lepers."  Both a powerful literal statement of Delaura's life and a euphemism for what he could be.         

I think García Márquez's best feat is writing a historical novel without the standard narration that is so common today: "In the year X, in the country of Y, there was a small town of Z in which..."  He writes the book as if it were being read by someone of the time and from that area.  The presentation demands a little bit more from the reader but it is in no way demanding.  Taking into account the simplicity of this kind of narration it's odd to think that I or anyone else would champion the style as it is nothing more than exactly how contemporary fiction of today is written.  The story is as much about Sierva María's parents and her doomed relationship with Delaura as much as it is about herself.  (There is an absolutely gorgeous paragraph at the end that encapsulates the beginning, middle and end of Sierva María and Delaura's relationship.)  With characters this strong and material this powerful I remain in awe of how García Márquez worked it all in a mere one hundred and fourty-seven pages.  

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Mother Aegypt and Other Stories by Kage Baker

Baker's diversity and creativity are on full display.  While there doesn't seem to be a setting she is not comfortable with, there certainly are some that play to her strengths more than others.  Much like another collection of hers from Night Shade Books, Dark Mondays, there is a lot of great quality writing here, it is unfortunately surrounded by other quality writing that isn't particularly great. 

There are two stories that happen in the world of Baker's novel The Anvil of the World; 'Desolation Rose' and 'Leaving his Cares Behind Him.'  In both the characters are well defined and exist in a simple fantasy world that readers have encountered before; except the world's "Dark Lord" is married to the "Saint of Light" and the exploits of their children take center stage. While 'Leaving his Cares Behind Him' feels like an introduction where a magical prodigal returns home with nothing to the reprimand of his parents, 'Desolation Rose' was more fleshed out and showed the anti-hero, Lord Ermenwyr, taking advantage of a family in ruin for his own benefit and how he is forced to atone.  There were layers of depth in this story that made me think the novel could be something worth checking out. 

'The Briscian Saint' showed three soldiers on the run contemplating the rational mind versus faith and superstition; people and gods; and the reality of people's work juxtaposed with god's supposed intentions.  The story itself is strong, but secondary to the thoughts and ideas represented.  One facilitated the other and the narrative didn't suffer in any way.

'Miss Yahoo Has Her Say,' a story set in the world of Gulliver's Travels was strong enough to hold my interest despite the presentation of speech that I find so irritating in all fiction: slave speech, for want of a better term.  'Her Father's Eyes' had a complex setting and the most potential for development, yet it seemed that Baker didn't want to go anywhere with the material established.  The whole story took place on a train where the world is shown through the eyes of two children: a world in a dome, people that can't be seen by others, and so much intrigue to make me want to keep reading yet when the train ride is over; nothing continued.  Rather everyone just packed up and went home.  There was a great deal of set up that went into so modest a payoff.       

'What the Tyger Told Her' and 'Nightmare Mountain' were the two stories that I would make someone read if I put the book in their hands.  'What the Tyger Told Her' dealt with a child's observations of family conflict and political maneuvering in Victorian England.  We see that a little girl is able to learn and infer what will happen next with the help of her friend, a caged tiger, and the fact that she--as a child--is invisible in the eyes of adults and her intelligence is written off due to her age.  'Nightmare Mountain' was a fairy tale replete with a woman who was cursed to never touch the earth, her son who would die if ever seen by another person, plenty of evil spirits, and house that was nothing short of Gormenghast (Technically, that link goes to Titus Groan but I plan on reading Gormenghast shortly) that they all lived in.  The son's marriage and the drama that ensues has "Hollywood" all over it and was a great joy to read.     

While I feel this collection was much stronger than Dark Mondays with a few standout stories and a strong supporting cast, fans that have come across Baker's name in best of anthologies and themed collections may be best advised to wait and check out the table of contents from 'The Best of Kage Baker' collections I hope we'll be seeing in the near future following the authors untimely passing. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

This is Where I Leave you by Jonathan Tropper

I've never liked the genre appellation of 'women's fiction.'  The umbrella term is too big, and offers too many points of contention no matter how well it may work as a marketing phrase.  Previously, 'women's fiction' primarily bothered me because it somehow inferred that there were elements of human existence outside of biological imperative that were unique to the female sex, like relationship difficulties; family problems; sexual assault; how one's life changes upon having children.  (I admit the possibly of still being wrong in this regard.)  I haven't read much of what is labeled women's fiction and have previously refused to give it any credence until I come across something called, 'Men's fiction.'  I'm not going to present it this way, but if someone wanted to, it would be easy to make the argument that This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper is decidedly 'Men's Fiction.'        
Judd Foxman is in his early thirties, no longer as physically fit as he used to be, and recently unemployed by way of his wife sleeping with his boss.  When his father dies and his family has to sit shiva, spend seven days and nights together to honor their father's memory, he is made to examine every aspect of his life by way of spending time with his family and seeing things in a different perspective.  
This first thing that came to mind when I finished this book was The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen.  Both novels are hilarious.  Both are about a seemingly dysfunctional family (both novels are perhaps about the average American family and that is their strength in that readers can identify, no matter how bizarre, on some level.)  Tropper's novel is more intimate focusing solely on Judd where Franzen encompasses the entire family.  While Judd is not 'everyman', he is a close enough approximation that 'every reader' can embrace, reject or commiserate with him at some point.  
We see how Judd handles his age and deals with his insecurity concerning how he sees himself and how he thinks others see him in his interaction with his youngest brother Philip who is a good looking, charming, womanizer and life long prodigal.  The weight and effects of Judd's guilt and his ability to avoid uncomfortable--no matter how important--events are made clear as he is made to spend time with Paul his older brother whose future, post high school, was irreparably changed in an incident where Judd was a crucial figure.  Perhaps most poignant was Judd's observance of Horry, a neighbor and childhood friend who now requires assisted living due to a traumatizing childhood.  Judd sees how Horry is living with brain damage, how he manages to keep going and slowly but surely takes hints that time isn't going to stop for him.  No matter how absurd his life is.  
The women in Judd's life: his wife, his brother's wife, the girl from high school he bumps into while in town, and every other woman that he lays eyes on, show Judd's desperation for a loving relationship with anyone who truly cares about him.  As he says many times, Judd loves the idea of being in love; particularly so when he has massive relationship problems to work through which are probably best left uncomplicated by new physical relationships.    
Time marching on is one of the book's themes that all characters struggle with.  Judd can't see past the current nightmare of his life, Horry's feelings of everyday being the same as the last, Philip's inability to grow up and stop making the same mistakes, Paul's hurt and anger that has kept much of his mind and emotion in the past contrast with the one character who has already moved on from the tragedy of her husband dying and started a new chapter of her life: their mother, who somewhat presides over and originally demanded that they all sit shiva.  And while she may have had a bit of a head start, or anticipation, in getting over the death of her husband it is through her that the family comes to see that at the end of seven days even though their father has past, life will continue.  
It sounds like a highly dramatic, somber and bleak book with weighty themes and not a lot of light at the end of the tunnel.  It is dramatic, but what separates This is Where I Leave You from anything anyone else that could have written is Tropper's humor.  This is the funniest book I've ever read.  No matter how dark or irresolute the situation everything, is humorous; mainly by way of men behaving badly.  There are no punch-lines, or situational comedic setups.  There is nothing so preconceived as building a scene for the sole purpose of telling an appropriate joke.  Everything is organic, very contemporary, most of it will leave you slightly embarrassed or wondering if in the same situation would you have been able to say the same thing.  
In addition to being hilarious Tropper has a great way of stopping time in his writing and going over multiple conflicting thoughts or feelings in an instant within various characters without being tedious.   
This is a book about men: how the talk, how they feel, how they think; it's as funny as it is honest.  Dare I say some women may not like it, others maybe surprised. 

 "There is no talking to her.  And now the tears come, just like that.  Where have all the happy, well-adjusted women gone?  Every one I talk to these days is one wrong word away from a crying fit. (...)  "Thanks for understanding, Judd," she says, and she must be joking, because, Alice, honey, I would travel to the ends of the earth, kill or die, just to find one single thing that I could understand."  Page 297 

Tropper sure is tough on his narrator as things start out bad and only continue to get worse.  There never is an impending feeling of 'happily ever after' rather something more like, 'everything will work itself out.'  Amidst all the humor ( every page--every single page--had me laughing about something ), drama ( of which most is understated to keep the narrative focused on the outcome and not the exposition of how the drama came to be ), broken; mended; and open-ended relationships, Tropper succeeds in a blunt, concise portrayal of family finding a way to deal with each other in the most adverse of circumstances.   

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Difficulties of Reading New Books

I had a goal this year to read at least five books published within this calendar year.  A pretty simple goal; five isn't much by anyone's standards.  There were a few I was eagerly anticipating, and I figured there would be a few that would pop up and excite me.  Halfway through November and this goal has been accomplished.

A few other books have recently caught my attention; books that have been published in the past few months and I've decided to double-up on my reading goal of new books read in a year.  What I've come to find is if you want to read new fiction and talk about it with the 'in' crowd (which is basically anyone who received an ARC) you have to buy the book, join the cool kids in the in crowd, or win the lottery.  The lottery would be your local library.

My library system is great.  I have no complaints, but if I want to read The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright, or The Folded World by Catherynne Valente and get the book through my library, I'll be waiting for a couple months.  I'm glad there is demand (such demand is reassurance of my interest in a book) but jumping in the queue at number two hundred forty-three to read A Sense of the Ending by Julian Barnes feels a bit like joining the rat race of bloggers who eagerly try to post their thoughts first on the latest received ARC that the industry is raving about: it doesn't make me lose interest in the book, but my sense of urgency and desire to read such a book is stymied by the wait, or the threat of having to spend fifteen bucks.  That, and I presently own fifty books I haven't read...

So in an effort to double-up on my reading of books published this year by the end of this year and my dislike of the freebie handouts, I am enabling myself to do something I haven't done in a very long time: buy a handful of books from Amazon.  (And no I'm no excited about spending the money, but I'm calling it an early Christmas gift.)  So, I'm about to order an armful of books; everyone wins, right?

Monday, November 14, 2011

No one Told Me!

So The Folded World by Catherynne Valente is out... I'm gonna have to add her to my author watch list.  Last I checked on this book I thought publication had been pushed back to next year.

I absolutely loved the first book and The Folded World was a book I planned to read this year in an effort to read more recently published fiction.  I've already hit my goal, but please believe I just ordered The Folded World.  Was anyone else looking forward to reading this or surprised that it has already been released?    

Just talking about this one gets me hot and bothered.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Memories of my Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garia Marquez

"I could not bear it any more.  She sensed it, saw my eyes wet with tears, and only then must have discovered I was no longer the man I had been, and I endured her glance with a courage I never thought I had.  The truth is I'm getting old, I said.  We already are old, she said with a sigh.  What happens is that you don't feel it on the inside, but from the outside everybody can see it."  Page 98
A cursory glance at this short novel could be very dangerous and highly misleading.  The title and the first few pages would indicate an immature recollection of an old man's colossal sexual exploits.  For a ninety year old man who was twice awarded 'client of the year' in the red light district and kept a log of all the women he had sex with up until he was fifty--and recorded an epochal five-hundred fourteen--you'd think, 'Well hey, this will be interesting if not absurd…'  I was blown away by this novel for reasons you wouldn't believe from what I've said thus far.
At the heart of this book are two themes the author has dealt with in many of his other works: getting older, and what it means to be in love.  The narrator is ninety, hideously ugly, has never once allowed himself to be in love, and has paid--monetarily paid--for everyone of his sexual encounters.  He is terrified of commitment (and arguably a spineless sap in general) and seeks fleeting relationships that are finite and business like in nature.  
We see his age through his interaction with other people: an editor at the newspaper where he works that is young in good health and in possession of good looks; how people treat him as an old man after making a prominent mistake in public; how 'Delgadina' sees him (rather how he envisions her seeing him) as time goes on and he falls in love with her, a fragile fourteen year old girl.  Readers and the narrator learn the most about him as he falls in love for the first time at ninety and behaves with the angsty eye-rolling behavior of an adolescent.  Being in love has taught him more about himself than ninety years of life experience.  
"When the storm had passed I still had the feeling I was not alone in the house.  My only explanation is that just as a real events are forgotten, some that never were can be in our memories as if they had happened.  For if I evoked the emergency of the rainstorm, I did not see myself alone in the house but always accompanied by Delgadina."  Page 59
The most unexpected pleasure in this novel was the title and how it factored into the narrative's presentation.  A 'horse-faced' man of ninety years old with a jaw-dropping laundry list of sexual exploits is absurd in itself, but that we only learn of him from the women--some of whom our narrator is out of line to call a whore--that he had relationships with, not merely sexual encounters but relationships, is amazing.  The three perfect women that he was presented a chance of marrying but didn't and the one who procures Delgadina, who he may yet chain himself to, present the narrator in the best of light: ugly, flawed, and as far from a hero as possible yet virtuous (in his own corrupt way) to a fault that he has lived, or perhaps suffered, for ninety years.  
One could argue it lacks the objectivity that third person narration could offer, and I'd be the first to agree.  I'd love nothing more than to get inside Delgadina's head, but the intimacy and awareness that we gain with the narrator isn't worth giving up and to paraphrase the narrator, it was better when Delgadina was asleep and didn't talk…  There is a very coarse sentimentality here, tempered by the narrator's age and experience and the fact that readers have a difficult time being moved to sympathy of feeling on his behalf.  It's a fully realized telling of a story the author hinted at in Strange Pilgrims 'Sleeping Beauty and the Airplane.'  I challenge you to find a better book at one-hundred and fifteen pages, or perhaps if you're feeling adventurous, even more pages than one-hundred fifteen.  

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Month in Review and of Things to Come

October 2011 is proof that I need to stay busy if I plan to get anything done.  Too much free time leads to procrastinating, and infinite, "I'll do it tomorrows."  Not good.  

I worked the Taste of Atlanta festival which was fun for many reasons; least of which was having 'lunch' with a handful of free tasting coupons for two straight days.  I found a few new restaurants that need to be checked out more thoroughly and although I didn't get into the VIP section where there was unlimited hooch I heard some rave reviews of a couple of new-to-me bars.  If only all of my work experience were this rewarding...

I did a lot of book shopping this month; which is always fun.  In doing so I've learned that my compulsive book buying is out of control: I bought a copy of Love in a Time of Cholera only to get home and see that I already own one...  It doesn't concern me as I can trade it in next I'm at a bookstore but that was proof and me admitting my problem.  It's okay; I have worse hobbies than buying books.

I finished a lingering behemoth this month: Kushiel's Dart.  I've gotten more comments for that book than any other post on my blog; you'll notice I haven't published one.  (Thanks again Maria.)  There needs to be a little bit more substance than just poorly expressed hate for my feelings and abject cruelty towards my ethnicity for me to publish certain comments.  Perhaps, not printing those comments hurts my credibility, but oh well...  My blog isn't as popular in the book world as say, The Millions, but I've learned that is you want to attract people to your book blog, not necessarily fans--just people, pick a handful of beloved best sellers of multiple genres for the first books you want to review and hate on them.  You will get hits.

My blog did cross the 10,000 page views mark this month.  I don't think that means anything but I'm using it as an excuse to pour myself a drink.  Oh, and Easton Press and all publishers featured in my Book Review series own me a monetary kickback.  You're Welcome; now pay me. 

I feel absolutely certain that I read more than just The Hunger Games, Trader, and finished Kushiel's Dart this month, but despite my reading log, checking my book shelves and library check out recent activity, and sifting through my blog post for the month I can't turn up evidence that proves I read anything else.  I am however, within a hundred pages of finish line in The Tiger's Wife.  I'll have my thoughts up on that later and share some super awesome new news when I do.

I always liked putting my reading goals 'in writing' as it were on my blog in these end of the month post, but as of late I've been so terrible at achieving those goals that I think I'll forgo the opportunity this time around.    

Oh yeah, and I have to say Maria wins the newly established "Quote of Month" award for, "Everyone in the book seems to be in the middle of an existential crisis."  Which she used in her review of a Charles de Lint novel.  It still makes me laugh and I've adapted it in reference for a group of people I work with. 

Friday, October 21, 2011


I thought I wanted to do some book serious book shopping today but when I arrived at Atlanta Vintage books, for whatever reason, I wasn't in the mood to sift through their well-organized collection of 70,000 plus tomes.  I was in and out in ten minutes; I usually spend an hour in this store.

I bought two books by Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Memories of my melancholy whores and Love in the the Cholera.  The former I've never heard of, but yeah, the title got me and I love the fact that it's short; all of 115 pages.  I'll knock it out on my next day off.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Whips and Chains, Red Hot Pokers, and the Limit of my Fantasy Indulgence

Kushiel's Dart is not Cupid's arrow.  There is no winged, Renaissance, adolescent, cherub shooting a bow with the power of Nerf's foam.  Oh no,  Kushiel is Jacqueline Carey's god of pain and pleasure; he who can make is hurt so good, The God of Boning and he takes to his task like an over zealous nineteen year old at a keg party.  
This will be a very long post…  
I think plot is the most important part of a book; if the story has nothing going for it no matter what the themes or their development, I'm not gonna keep reading.  Kushiel's Dart has plot and a very strong one.  It is however familiar.  What I'm going to be talking about is what I saw as plot head scratchers that, if I'm to be honest, kept me reading.
I have to start by saying I thoroughly enjoyed Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey.  I'm not saying that because Maria gave it to me as a birthday gift.  (Thanks again.)  I liked it.  I do wish the book started on page three hundred and fifty-six, but still, I enjoyed it.  The story is about Phedre; her life growing up as a whore's unwanted child, her training as a high-end courtesan meant to pleasure royalty, and of getting caught up in a political game in which she and her ethnically ragtag group of friends get to save the kingdom.  (For those who need clarification on the latter, I stopped reading this book around page three hundred and fifty.  When I picked it back up, I struggled to remember who Joscelin was, when I remembered it came to me as 'Oh yeah, The White Ninja.'  That's how I prefer to remember him.  He's basically a standard white knight who can win a fight unless the odds are higher than eight on one or if there is a demigod involved.  Phedre's other friend is an Indian Gypsy.  Of which there seemed to be a lot of 'Indians' in an otherwise re-envisioned Europe.)
Phedre is 'cursed' by Kushiel, a secondary deity in a hierarchy that I never fully grasped, to experience pleasure in pain as well as humiliation, shame and nearly all things 'regular people' would find degrading.  Kushiel's Dart, a scarlet mote in her left eye, and how it compels her to act is the backbone of nearly all of her actions.  Her thoughts are sculpted by her owner.  Phedre is a pseudo-slave until she can save up enough to finish an elaborate tattoo that will earn her freedom, and at least to my mind, considering it's size would greatly mar her beauty.  She is trained to observe: look, listen, think and understand.  She is a hooker-spy to use far less beautiful words than Ms Carey.  
Hooker-spies are awesome.  Phedre's pimp owner--who bore the unofficial title of 'Whoremaster of Spies' I kid you not--was so lucky as to have two; though only Phedre was marked with Kushiel's Dart.  The other hooker spy ( I swear I'd use another term if I knew it) is a boy named Alcuin.  They are both trained as courtesans for damn near all their life up to that point in time.  When they get to the really good stuff, their owner Delaunay strictly forbids them to 'practice' what they have learned with each other.  Marinate on that for a moment….
I'm not going to do any ten-second, vaguely academic internet research, but lets just suppose that teenagers are having sex at a younger age than the past generation, and the generation past that.  Carey tells us that both Alcuin and Phedre are gorgeous and very well skilled at their art (they even had secondary education from an older, legendary now retired hooker) and I'm to believe they didn't do anything?  Really?  Because I didn't believe that, though I did come to see a very interesting possible explanation as to why.
I kept reading.
Phedre, due to Kushiel's Dart, was usually sold through a pre-arranged contract and being into the S&M scene she and Delaunay knew there were those who might get carried away.  There was a 'signale' written into the contract; a safe word that she could speak aloud and everything would stop.  No patron would risk carrying on past the signale as the financial and political recourse was seriously not worth the headache.  I equated the 'signale' to coitus interruptus, or withdrawal, pulling out.  Understand Carey is a very skilled writer and fully made me believe in what it meant to bear Kushiel's Dart: the bearer felt pain and pleasure when, whipped, slapped, embarrassed, or was neatly torn to ribbons by a straight razor, but the person inflicting the pain also felt equal amounts of pleasure.  Remember this is torture-porn; not just torture.  (Actually, it's not pornographic at all.)  I don't understand that concept, but Carey's writing is clear enough that I could go with the narrative.  The person inflicting the, I'll suffice it to say, 'bruises' is enjoying this.  The person holding the whip or 'bruise inflicting instrument' as it were, is quite literary getting off on whatever action is taking place; so again I bring up withdrawal.  I won't regale you with my sex life covering thirty-one years, but with no superficial research in my favor, let me state as a universal absolute: withdrawal, 'signale'… That doesn't work.
I kept reading.
Much like Carey's prose, I loved the world she created.  One of the more intriguing facets was a sexual ambiguity that was wholly embraced by at least the D'Angelines--they are the super arrogant, uber-haughty ethnicity of nearly all the main characters.  It is a radically foreign concept to imagine in our world and maybe one that I didn't fully wrap my head around.  There is a minor 'free love' philosophy in Kushiel's Dart.  Carey's characters state it as 'love as thou wilt' or something to that affect.  Alcuin, the male hooker-spy, was only contracted out to men.  That said his career as a courtesan is very short and Delaunay was possibly using Alcuin to his own best advantage and perhaps not catering to any perceived sexual preference of Alcuin's.  However there is certainly a love interest between Dalaunay and Alcuin.  (Age ain't nothing but a number; 'Love as thou wilt…')  Phedre is more often than not directed to men as well, but there are women.  In so far as I could follow the authors description, as beautiful as Phedre is, Alcuin was the choice pick of the two; at least physically speaking.  If you wanted to beat someone you had to wait your turn with Phedre because Alcuin didn't play that game.  I wasn't bothered by the free love, pick a gender attitude of the D'Angelines, it just left me uncomfortably wondering, wanting to read more.  Which may have been exactly Carey's ploy.  That said, my questions were never answered with anything strong enough to call a cultural definitive.  
I kept reading.

Phedre is marked by Kushiel's Dart.  We are not allowed to forget this.  She is the first such person to be marked in three hundred years i.e. Well out of living memory, that said every D'Angeline noble has a 'pleasure chamber.'  A pleasure chamber is what you think it is: the S&M dungeon replete with every possible implement of 'pleasure' sans the leather with a decor from the wealthiest homes on HGTV.  There hasn't been one like Phedre in three hundred years but everyone is well prepared.  Everyone has a pleasure chamber… just in case.  This is the equivalent of parents today giving their children shields just in case they get in a sword fight at recess.  The D'Angelines are boy scouts if I ever knew one!

I kept reading and was rewarded with the biggest head scratcher of all.  This book is fantasy, so just as there has to be a male badass with a sword, some poor woman has to get raped; right?   There was a moment when rape became a real possibility and little more than a paragraph was dedicated to how one marked with Kushiel's Dart viewed sex without consent: "Love as thou wilt."  Phedre can't help who she is and many times, against her will, she finds pleasure in what other people put her through; 'the body betraying the mind's desires' or something like that.  Rape isn't a comfortable topic for me and I'm not going to go into psychology of a rapist, but if you've been paying attention thus far, or even better, if you've read the book, you'd think Phedre would be near chomping at the bit, as horrible as that sounds in this situation.  When that situation came up in the book Phedre was scared.  She wasn't excited mentally nor physically, and I as a reader was glad of it.  I did think that the reasons given were impossibly weak and undermined all the precepts Carey set down in the nine-hundred page novel about one who is marked with Kushiel's Dart.  No matter my enjoyment of the book or Carey's prose, on principle I should have put the book down after this passage.        

I like Carey's voice.  It sounded like it was being read aloud to me and is very comforting.  I'd be very curious to see where this series goes though I'd need some serious assurances up front concerning certain things, and some time to put between reading Carey's massive works.  I'm not sure this cast has been assembled to save the kingdom before: Hooker-spies, White Ninja's, and fortune telling gypsies.  If you have a reading group and you want to start some lively discussions I don't think it's possible to run out of things to say about Kushiel's Dart.  As for me, I could keep going, but I'm choosing to stop.