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.  

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Racism, and Marlow's Tavern

I already don't like this post...

I'd happily forgotten my first encounter with racism but tonight brought it back to the forefront of mind with a veracity I didn't know possible.  (Regular readers of my blog--both of you--forgive me.  I know I don't do personal stuff, ever, but I have too.)

So as I'm washing my hand at Marlow's Tavern in Duluth I see this picture:

It's not subtle.  There isn't much to read into it.  I took this picture with my camera phone.  Here's the artist pic from his website.  Perhaps I'm missing something.  I tipped my deserving bartender more than 125 percent and left...

I'm sure I'm being oversensitive.  I'm sure this is funny to someone, I'm sure; wait... never mind... I could never excuse this picture.  It's only 5,000+ miles and a mere 150 years of insensitivity thrown in my face as I pay you for my dinner.

Yeah, I won't be going back to Marlow's again.  To say nothing for the artist.


This was the first Saturday in a long time that I've had off and it just so happened that my favorite used bookstore was having a 'buy one get one' free deal.  Perhaps it was the promotion or all the other stuff going on with it, but it was encouraging to drive up to a bookstore and see a packed parking lot.  They might be making money; they might be breaking even; my gut tells me them are merely cleaning out space and attempting to shrink inventory.  Whatever the reason, I've never seen this many people, this much activity or felt so much energy in a bookstore.  

I've heard a lot about E.L Doctorow's Ragtime and since I couldn't find the short story collection of his that I wanted, for one dollar I didn't hesitate.  Cory Doctorow's (I don't believe of any relation) Someone comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town, I bought for the same reason as Ragtime.  I may have to be a good consumer and buy new copies of both of those short story collections, but that won't happen any time soon.  To continue this theme, I bought Of Love and Other Demons by Gabriel Garcia Marques... that's right, you guessed it, because I couldn't find the short story collection of his that I was looking for.  I also bought it because it has an awesome title.  I'd never heard of this book, so who knows what to expect?  I've been eyeing Jack Vance for a long time.  Lyonesse, is one that I've read about in a few place this year despite the books age.

There was one book that I purchased new.  It was a recommendation from the most unlikely of sources: my older sister, who I didn't know could read.  On the strength of a bizarre reference and how much my sister liked it I'm looking forward to The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

Not a bad haul considering I spent less than twenty bucks.  Trade in seven books; walk out with five... I'm okay with that.  My to be read shelves still hold more than I can feasibly read in a year, but I'm okay with that too.    


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Trader by Charles de Lint

I've become familiar with the author in recent years by way of his story stories found in many collections and anthologies.  It was a personal reading goal for 2011 to read one of his novels.  While urban fantasy isn't usually my thing, Trader exposed more of my likes and dislikes concerning the author than the genre.

Max Trader is a high-end guitar maker and all-around regular (if not boring) kinda guy.  He wakes up one morning in full possession of his mind and wits inside his Johnny Devlin's body.  How this happened is never explained or given much  thought.  Trader only thinks of how he can get his body back and stop living in Devlin's nightmarish life with its inexhaustible problems.  

The primary theme is identity and what makes us who we are.  My initial thoughts upon reading about a hundred pages in were of the success of the the medical field's face transplant patients.  If no one you know recognizes you as you, are you still the same person?  Trader wasn't that deep by far as even after Trader and Devlin switch bodies both are still recognized by other people as the person whose body they are currently in.  I didn't really care for the development of this idea but more due to it's repetition than the fault of Trader and Devlin. 

The dichotomy of the two's lives couldn't be further contrasted, but the search for identity theme became a bit diluted when the focus, while never exactly shifting, encompassed Nina, Lisa, and Tonya.  Nia is a teenager and dealing with teenage problems; Lisa, Nina's mother, has only just confirmed that her sexual identity isn't what she thought it was; and Tonya, Johnny's ex, is determined to define her self as something other than who she is currently sleeping with.  The reader is a bit inundated with scared, insecure people and their identity problems, added to which some of the problems are more interesting than others.  Lisa, and Nina felt necessary to the story.  Tonya was a duplicate of Max, both coasted through life with no strong passions or desires; Max was defined by his guitars, Tonya her boyfriends.  The horribly named, Zeffy, was the novel's ever present antagonist and 'voice of reason.'  My primary issue with the cast isn't it's size rather that de Lint treats them all as primary characters.  The story is about Max and Johnny but it was sometimes hard to see this as equal time was given to all other characters.     

In addition to character and theme repetition, pay attention to the names: Zeffy, Johnny, Jilly, Janossy, Gheordie, Julie, Wendy, Christie; Tonya, Nina, Lisa... I haven't exhausted the character list; I've merely decided to stop here.  All in all, this book suffered from too much homogeny to allow the conflict Johnny and Max to ever take center stage.  

Trader is always on the cusp of dealing with very large social issues and it seemed to be more of de Lint's intention to merely plant a seed of thought than develop the idea.  There was certainly enough thematic material to indulge some of these social issues but seeing all the characters given I'm glad de Lint chose not to go the way of social commentary as it would have inflated the book even further.  His prose is gorgeous.  His voice reminds me of Guy Gavriel Kay.  Trader was a book I wanted to like more than I did.  I'll continue to seek out de Lint's work, but it will be the short stories that initially brought him to my attention where I feel his writing is more strongly focused, at least compared to this particular novel.            

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Fire breathing lizards, A man named George, and... soup

Wings of Fire edited by Jonathan Strahan and Marianne S. Jablon is a dragon themed anthology published in 2010.  There is a very strong mix of traditional fantasy, science fiction and fantasy blended together, and contemporary stories; the latter two being more to my preference much to my surprise.

While the collection is altogether solid I found very few standout stories that would make me put the book in someone else's hands or say, "You have to buy this right now!"  Big names like Orson Scott Card, George R R Martin, and Naomi Novik don't fail to deliver in any way, merely left me with a feeling of a solid piece of fiction that I could have walked away from at any point in time.

There was nearly enough material in this five-hundred page beast for two anthologies: one with the traditional fantasy dragon stories, and a second--more unique in my opinion--with the oddball stories full of things your didn't expect.  While not feasible in today's publishing world, the current anthology philosophy seems to be 'cram as much of the theme's stories in as possible' makes for a very uneven (uneven in approach not quality of writing) collection.  This opinion may also be a reflection of my change in interest concerning the types of fantasy works I enjoy. 

I've got no patience for traditional epic fantasy these days, so it makes sense that the non-traditional dragon stories would appeal to me more.  Additionally, there were a lot of 'new to me' authors in this anthology who wrote pieces I really enjoyed.  The new discoveries are always the best part of a good collection. 

James P Blaylock, Robert Reed and Charles de Lint all offered something different.  Michael Swanwick always offers something different but I do feel that King Dragon is in every single fantasy themed anthology ever (to no fault of the author or editors).  Fairy tale stories by Gordon R Dickson, a brilliant title St. Dragon and The George, and Roger Zelazny, who delivered satire and humor into the dragon equation with, The George Business, had enough familiar material mixed with new elements to still feel fresh.  The one true standout for me was S P Somtow's Dragon's Fin Soup.  It was the one story I read and on completion said to myself, "How have I not heard of this guy before?"  There was a dragon involved so I guess that makes the story fantasy, but the quality here makes me think there are many literary publications who wouldn't mind printing Somtow's work. 

I don't think Wings of Fire is the kind of book you want to sit down and read straight through.  But if you keep it in your line of sight in your reading area, a story here and there makes for a good time.  Dragons breath fire, rampage and pillage, but for the most part Wings of Fire is pretty harmless.  

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A New Discovery

I can admit that I don't spend a lot of time browsing the internet.  There are specific places I'll check on from time to time, but I don't try out new stuff too often.  That said, my favorite bookish website for a long time now has been The Afterword, the book department of The National Post, a Canadian news source.  This article by Craig Davidson was so good, not only am I going to check out his fiction, but hell, I may even start reading non-fiction.  (Which would be a huge feat!)

Perhaps I found it interesting because it was personal and it's rare to find someone willing to expose their venerability.  Perhaps it was because I could relate on many levels or merely because I liked Davidson's writing.  I don't know.  I don't care.  Read it.  Then you tell me.