Thursday, September 27, 2012

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

Now here's something to talk about.  So we've got these 'Shadowhunters;' The Nephilim; descendant of angels and their job is to keep tabs on 'Downworlders' who are not angelic or human but potentially dangerous enough to justify watchdogs: warlocks, faeries, vampires, and werewolves.  Both of these groups are rather indifferent when it comes to 'mundanes'--regular ass people--and there isn't a lot of party integration.

Tessa has come to London at the behest of her prodigal spendthrift, generally worthless, older brother.  She is abducted and forcibly inducted into much of the secret happenings beyond the world of the mundanes that she used to identify with.  Her life and her family is all not what she thought it to be, and her future is about to get very messy.

The plot progresses without a lot of the background material that I expected: this is a good thing.  The action is immediate if not a bit shallow; it's also a whole lot of fun and soap opera-ish.  Instead of a hospital the setting is "The Institute" a shelter for orphaned Shadowhunters (really you have to contain the eye-rolling, it's awesome I promise).  There are no doctors rather the Shadowhunters themselves, and the 'patients' are the Downworlders who generally don't need treatment but a beat-down.

The conflict lies in Tessa catching up with her brother, who has fallen in with some really bad types, and her identity crisis as she learns she isn't human, or Nephilim, but something else closely resembling warlock status.  She generally complicates her life at every turn, never more so than when others are trying to help her.  Tessa drives the plot forward even if we do wonder at her startling naivety, poor decision making, and general unwillingness to making life easier for herself or those around her.  The story moves quickly and is very entertaining.

Other than Tessa, the rest of the characters make me scratch my head from time to time.  We meet all the inhabitants of the Institute, a surprisingly small number considering the Institute's size.  Charlotte and her husband Henry, both in their early twenties, run the place.  Will and Jem are the resident seventeen year-old badasses and Jessamine, the most well drawn and yet unfulfilled character seems to assume the role of a wallflower but really develops nicely.  The Nephilim are a world wide organization that put teenagers and newly appointed college grads in control of the London Institute.  I got over that as well, but my real problem was with all the male characters as not one of them seems to behave in the manner of one their age.

Will acts like a worldly individual of at least forty, the sexual nuance, drinking innuendo, talk of nightlife and witticism aren't in line with a seventeen year old; Jem and Henry to a lesser degree, have an equal feeling of perfectly well developed characters forced into an inappropriate age as to be tangible love interest for Tessa.  Also the lead bad guy was not only out of NO WHERE but I'm not sure I bought into him being in control considering the hierarchy of things, but much like the ending (which built up to tension and a battle and a lot of awesomeness, then inexplicably choose to go on and fizzle out with a pitiful soft wet 'splat') I have strong reason to believe all will be explained--and bettered--in the the follow up.

I really don't know how to talk about young adult fiction, but I'm working on it.  Do I mention themes and subtitles as if I were writing about John Fowles or just skip to the parts where demons were being chopped apart in spectacular fashion and why I wanted to punch Will in the face for being a jerk?  There was more mention of how pretty Will was and his hair and how his clothes fit than I was prepared for, but it's no worse than George RR Martin writing female characters that can't seem to stop thinking about how great their breast look.  (Clare's writing never gets as bad as the quoted passages by Martin.)

Lots of action?  Check.  Fantasy filled with names I can pronounce?  Check.  A story that held up?  Check?  A background that makes me want to keep reading as opposed to putting the book down a third of the way in?  Check.

What's not to like?  

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

"Because it's Awesome."

Can't make this up.

I'm at the library returning stuff and as I leave I see this kid outside on a bench reading; a boy around eight years old.  He's small (by eight year old standards) Caucasian and flimsy.  He sneezed hard enough to shake the dirt at his feet and I caught his eye just by chance.  It wasn't exactly a stare down but after a moment I spoke.  I'm six-four, black and adultish looking and if I'm not careful, really intimidating looking to adults let alone children.  

"What cha reading?"

There was no hesitation in his answer.  If anything he was impertinent talking back to me.  "Lemony Snicket.  Because it's awesome."

Strongest book endorsement from the most peculiar source I've ever experienced.  I turned around and went back in to get a copy of book one in A Series of Unfortunate Events.   


Why do you think?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Acting on Yesterday

So I traded in all that stuff that talked about yesterday and then, in stumbling around the young adult (worst fiction genre appellation ever) section, hit the lottery.

I didn't rave enough last year about exactly how good Firebirds Soaring was, but I did say I'd track down the other two volumes.  Mission accomplished.  Say what you will, but Firebirds and Firebirds Rising have me more excited than anything else I've heard of or purchased in the past year and a half.

After a visit to the used book store came the library when I continued my 'young adult' exploration.  Upon entry, I was told by Carol, the librarian who gives me grief for a host of reason I deserve and some I've yet to aspire to earn, that I had three past due items.  Always feign ignorance in this situation; honesty gets you nowhere.  Once past the pleasantries I told her I needed ass-kicking young adult fiction, cause that's how I roll these days.  ( 'These days' being as of this morning.)

She looked at me suspiciously.  "Any exclusions?"

"No vampires, werewolves, or undead."  She left and I vainly tried to figure out what my past due books were.  (So many choices...)

When she returned she--somewhat forcibly--took my library card and checked out Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare and Graceling by Kristin Cashore on my behalf.  Then she stared me down until I left...

I surprised myself.  Saying I was interested in YA fiction then acquire four such books the next day.  I'm also really eager to start reading.

As in now...

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Whole lot of "Not book Reviews" and The Great Purge

So I have been reading a lot; only not reading to completion.  I have about six pounds of books to trade in tomorrow and with this upcoming visit I think I'll break the $300 worth of store credit limit at Books-For-Less.  (So if anyone needs to go book shopping on my tab; come on down.)

I'm getting more lenient in my old age: I upped my minimum page count for putting a book down to 100 this past week, though I should say it has since been reinstated at a firm 50.  It's the Heroic/Epic fantasy conundrum again.  I still want to like it.  I still can't get past hundreds of pages of exposition, the host of introductions that don't yield story, the names--names of people, places that I can't come to terms with and seem to function with phonetic rules that govern no language ever used before--the info dumping dialogue, and other turn offs.  I can only blame myself, but no more!

As of this week, I have no more Heroic/Epic fantasy to torment or tease myself with!  It's all gone, but before I got rid of it, I tried to read, connect and enjoy each book.

I had two older collections of the The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror by Datlow and Windling in which I read all the stories by the 'big name' authors I was familiar with.  Then I read three stories in each anthology by big name authors I didn't know and three from authors I'd never heard of.  Fantasy has come a long way...  Surprisingly, I really like the horror stuff I read; a comment that catches myself so off guard I can't expound on it further.

Finch by Jeff Vandermeer was perhaps too stylish and too trendy or too lacking in verbs, subjects, or specific pronouns for me to connect with--and I'm no grammer nazi.  It was like going to out to a hipster bar to people watch: one drink, twenty minutes, any longer and you'll get a headache.

The overwhelming bulk of what is going out the door tomorrow are the first six books of Steven Erikson's The Malazan Book of the Fallen.  They are all huge trade paperbacks.  They all have gorgeous cover art, and after two hundred and thirty-six pages of Gardens of the Moon I can they are all the kind of fantasy I want to like but am having difficulties engaging with.  I think I would hail these books the greatest ever had I discovered them ten years again.

The most interesting book whose fate has yet to be determined has been a short story collection Swords and Dark Magic by Jonathan Strahan and Lou Anders.  I've skimmed through all the stories but declined to read for start to finish more than a handful.  A lot of it is fun and easy to get caught up in; a lot of it takes itself a bit too seriously and becomes tedious early on.    
Considering the 'genre' stuff I have read as of late and liked, the stuff targeted at 'young adults' or authors labeled as such have been much more fun to read.  I've made note of this before, only I've never acted on my knowledge and looking into reading YA fantasy--which is probably exactly what I'd most enjoy.  Recommendations?

I've read a lot of fiction on the screen this past month as well; all of which I'd consider fantasy, but I'm not sure any of it would be called 'genre.'  Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, Michael Chabon, Peter Beagle, Jonathan Carroll, and Jonathan Lethem aren't genre names are they?  (And considering how much genre and psuedo-genre lit I've read in the past week perhaps there should be a distinction made...)
Oh, I am sitting on one book review that should grace these pages in a short amount of time.  It's some of the stuffy, high and mighty stuff that I seem to be taking more of a liking to.  I think I've become a boring reader who watches the National book of the Year Award longlist and checks in on the Booker Prize.


Monday, September 17, 2012

My Cross to Bear by Gregg Allman

I would think you'd have to be a fan of the Allman Brothers Band to have reason to pick up this memoir.  If not, perhaps the reader wants a glimpse of what it is to be a rock star in the '60's and '70's (and many years there after).  In as much as a book could arouse curiosity in some one's music My Cross to Bear is a tease; it is more of a 'how I got here' in reference to the summation of Gregg Allman's person than an account of all the details of his life.  For the music lover I think this book would make a reader give the Allman Brothers Band a listen if they previously weren't familiar with them, and once past the first few pages any reader would be more than curious enough to finish the ups and downs of the author's life. 

The two primary issues that seem to complicate Allman's life are women, and substance abuse--both in near apocalyptic quantity.  There may not be much original material here in terms of 'sex drugs and rock and roll' but every icon from that era has their unique twist on the cliche.  Allman's take on the 'rock star' idiom seems to be his passivity: there is no sense of control or direction to his life as he tells it (or the book for that matter).  Purpose in his later life seems to be getting clean and in his younger days was given, if not dictated by the an icon even larger than himself.

My Cross to Bear is as much a memoir of legendary guitar icon Duane Allman as it is the story of Gregg's life.  As is to be expected there is a greater sense of intimacy than readers may have previously encountered concerning Duane's life that in Randy Poe's 2006 Skydog: The Duane Allman Story.  While getting a firsthand look at Duane we come to see how Gregg was guided, pushed, prodded force and even hung, to be the person he is.  Of everything the two may have shared it seems only music and heroin would be the two facets of life that Gregg would discover on his own.  Even then these to attributes are absconded by Duane: Duane took the guitar and ascended to the level where he is mentioned in the 'Greatest of All Time' debate, and of his heroin indulgence it's difficult to wrap one's head around his capacity.

Like so many in his station, music--art--was an outlet in which he could lose himself.  While Duane may have been an alpha-male of legend commanding Gregg to 'be in this band' 'write this song' 'write ten more' 'play the organ' Gregg not only enjoyed it, but needed such a dominate personality in his life.  He complains about never having enough to eat, being broke, exhausted, and always strung out, but for all his virtue and (an astounding number of) vices Duane gave him direction.

So far as the telling of the story goes the humor and honesty come through both in shocking amounts.  At times Allman preaches, other times he tells jokes only appropriate for a dive-bar; he is always unfiltered and swears enough to shock even me.  (After reading this I no longer consider myself to be foul-mouthed.)  Often times what he says is funny, and unusually how he expresses himself is hilarious.  The humor works particularly well when he's telling you why he has no time for Jerry Garcia, why--and exactly how badly--he hated his band manager, the good years he was married to Cher (that's right, years, and for his part he has nothing bad to say) or what he thought of her singing voice, or how much he disliked long time band mate Dickey Betts.  The honesty only gets disturbing when he talks about himself and his substance abuse; his desire to get clean and multiple failed attempts to do so. 

Allman's is an interesting life to read about but perhaps one I wouldn't want to get closer to than a book.  He is unabashedly biased and equally disenchanting yet not quite repulsive.  My Cross to Bear deals with a man who for much of his life most people would want nothing to do with: he employed and was good friends with a murderer both before and after his release from jail,  he hung out with drug enthusiast, and thugs of all kinds, to say nothing for his own personal short comings and even in his later life he would prove hard to related to.  My Cross to Bear was a lot of fun to read, I think I laughed on every page.  While the burden is nothing more than the totality of his life--the bitter last words he shared with his brother, the trials of drugs and alcohol, the insecurity of all his hard work and zero success that continued for so many years, but after completion of the book, the albums Eat a Peach and Live at the Filmore are as close to Gregg Allman as I need to be. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Books Coming in, and Books Going Out

When I first heard of Someone Comes to Town Someone Leaves Town by Cory Doctorow there were two 'tag lines' that were associated with the book: goofy (in the best of ways) and 'kinda like Tom Robbins.'  I didn't finish the book so this isn't a review but after putting it down around page sixty it was certainly as bizarre as anything Robbins has committed to paper.  (I used to read a lot of Robbins haven't done so in a while.)  Doctorow's book is crazy: a man with no definitive first name who's father is a mountain and mother a washing machine.  Stranger than this is that the plot isn't some hook merely to get you interested.  Language and presentation and all those indefinable things that make up 'style' were a bit lacking for me and not only in comparison to Robbins. 

The novel is goofy, but that didn't bother me.  It felt a bit dated being so contemporary in 2005, perhaps it hasn't aged well especially with the 'free internet for all of Toronto' tech aspect of the book.  Primarily I think what turned me off is that the story (up until the point where I put the book down) is told through dialogue and I've never really liked chatty books.  To me, good dialogue feels well crafted--like Doctorow's--which is generally speaking the opposite of real human dialogue.  And I'm a quiet person anyway... 

The City and ʎʇıɔ ǝɥʇ by China Mieville was anything but a mess, but I don't like crime novels added to which I felt cold and alone reading it if that makes any sense.

Funny thing is, I think I like both these authors solely based on a novel by each that I haven't completed.  Concerning Doctorow I'd like to read his newest work: hot off the press and Mieville seems to have style and craft aplenty; only I need to find a story that appeals more to my taste.  They are both still on 'The List,' but these particular books are out the door.
I really wanted to finish both of these books and toyed with the idea of doing so, but instead of giving myself a long, slow reading month I stuck to my M.O.: 'you've got fifty pages to make me read your book.'  A number I think rather generous.

Belated birthday gifts may be the greatest thing ever.  They are almost as grand as true unprompted gift-giving as the recipient isn't expecting the gift.  Since I've 'finished' half of my expected reading for the month in two days I'll add Maria's present The Prestige by Christopher Priest to the pile for September.  I'm predisposed to liking this book.

As for a book that I've picked up this month and stuck with The Glass Room by Simon Mawer is really good.  Can't see myself putting this one down.  My sister chides me for reading what she deems 'high and mighty stuffy books.'  To that I say, I'll reading anything from fantasy, science fiction to high and might and stuffy as long as it's strong enough to hold my interest through fifty pages. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

2012 Reading Just Got Interesting

Last year I had a goal to read a certain number of books published within the calendar year.  That was tough for me but I managed.  This year there was no such goal but I've recently gotten excited about some books coming out this year. 

Greg Allman's autobiography My Cross to Bear came out in May and while I'm curious for many reasons I mainly want to read it (and I think most who will read the book would agree) for insight on his brother.  Greg is great and I love The Allman Brother's Band, but Duane is a deity to guitar playing aficionados and rock music lovers in general.  I'm sure much of this book will be the same cocaine fuel memories of many of Allman's contemporaries but it seems a rather harmless library pick up. 

I'm hoping Catherynne Valente's third book in the Dirge for Prester John series will be out this winter as I loved Habitation of the Blessed and The Folded World.

Circus: Fantasy under the Big Top came out of nowhere but is now on my wish list.  I love what the title implies, I love the author list, and I love that it's not five-hundred pages--which is a capricious and random number that editors try to fill whenever releasing an anthology.  I have my fingers crossed for good things and I'm hoping that it isn't merely filled with cliched--and lame--scary clown stories.  For that last reason I'll be checking out a few reviews before looking into this. 

Finally Michael Chabon has a book coming out in a few days.  The publisher's blurbs are just plain funny these day's; while telling you virtually nothing about the book they assure the reader that the book is in fact the greatest thing committed to paper.

So my anticipated total for books read in 2012 that were published in 2012 is a big 'ole four.  Down from last year's ten, but I'm okay with that.