Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

This is the book I've been wanting to read for about two years now.  While I didn't know that Inkheart existed until about a month ago, it represents all the concepts of fantasy that I had been searching for--if not combating with--in so many other books.  In Inkheart I found adventure, fantasy, action (yes, things actually happened! Which seems to be a problem in a lot of adult fantasy I come across these days) and best of all Inkheart felt real.  It was a true escape: not just sitting down to read for twenty minutes but 'I'm gonna go live in this world for a while (which is our world) until hunger, sleep or some other third-partied, out-side source alerts me to the fact that I still have the rest of my life to live.'

Inkheart is a very personal story dealing with Mortimer Folchart, Mo, and is daughter Meggie.  They live alone and make certain not to establish lasting roots: Meggie is not in school, Mo doesn't have a 'regular job.'  He's a contract book doctor repairing and restoring for universities, libraries and private collectors.  They often times have to get up and move in the middle of the night and this has been how they've lived for as long as Meggie can remember.

While Mo loves books and stories you would never catch him reading and most certainly not reading aloud.  He did that once years ago and in the childish way that we often think 'I wish this story was real' he achieved just that with the power of the written word and his voice.  The problem is Mo wasn't reading a 'safe' book at the time the story's events and characters decided to manifest themselves in the real world.  Since Mo's last reading, Inkheart, has been very nearly wiped out of memory.

We meet Dustfinger, fire-breathing-juggling street performer and the story's most sympathetic and well-rounded character.  He has finally hunted down Mo, whom he calls 'Silvertongue.'  Dustfinger very much wants to go back to his world and his logic is 'Silvertongue got me out of the book; perhaps he can put me back in...' but despite Dustfinger's suffering Mo won't read aloud for anything.  It's in the first confrontation between these two that Meggie's confusion and intrigue becomes the readers.  She knows nothing of Dustfinger, Mo's reading ability, or even her mother yet no one is willing to tell her anything.

Meggie learns of Basta, and Capricorn, some very 'less-pleasant-than Dustfinger' characters that Mo read out of Inkheart and she learns that Dustfinger isn't the only one looking for Mo.  That his reading voice is in greater demand than his book binding ability.

It's such a simple premise that I could understand skepticism at the idea working: where people and things jump off the printed page and hangout with us in real life.  That is exactly how Inkheart works. So we get bad guys like, Capricorn, mountains of gold from The Arabian Nights, and Tinkerbell...

It works, and works so well, because we, the reader, don't know how Inkheart the book in the book, ends.  It's not as if Mo is in a hurry to start reading added to which it's a near impossible book to find due to Capricorns fear of being read back into the book and his subsequent destruction of every copy he can find.  (He's doing quite well for himself in our world.)  We know enough of the characters personalities to infer their feelings and doings while they are in our world: Dustfinger's cowardice and melancholy for all things fey in his world that don't exist in ours, Basta's love of cruelty and twisted concept of loyally, The Magpie's dedication, and Capricorn's lust for power and control.

Silvertongue, Dustfinger, Capricorn.  Seriously: does Funke not have the greatest naming conventions ever in a fantasy novel?

The conflict comes when Capricorn gets his hands on Mo and ask that he read very specific passages from well chosen books; when Mo thinks of a way to undo the terrible accident that started events years ago; when Dustfinger finds a copy of Inkheart and his wishy-washy nature makes him a pest to everyone (yet I still loved the guy); when we find that Mo may not be the only Silvertongue around; when we learn of Mo's desire to always possess a copy of Inkheart and why it is so important to him even considering the present danger the book currently presents him.

I didn't always know who the main character was.  The author definitely wanted it to be Meggie but it's her father that is the axis point for all the stories events.  I liked the inclusive third person narration of the book but I did question some of the time that was given to Meggie. The preceding is a comment not a criticism.  Funke creates such interest and attachment to her characters that while every page may not propel events forward every word did heighten my desire to keep reading; and really, what could be better than that? 

It's not a fairy tale and there is no happily ever after ending.  It's contemporary fantasy written in our world with many real world realities.  And while there is a definitive measure taken at the end and the book is wholly satisfying on its own there are a million and a half questions you'll find yourself asking by the book's conclusion.  Most pressing for me was how Mo works his magic.  By the time we meet the author of Inkheart, Signor Fenoglio, (who felt like a supporting actor that happened to steal the show) there are more questions as to the mechanics of 'how' than ever before.  I like Funke's choice of never once indulging that question (at least not in this book) it only heightened my curiosity and love of the story she wrote.  I'm almost hesitant to read the next book in the series as right now everything makes sense in it's 'wherever my imagination takes me' explanation.  I have to know what comes next as the story is so firmly embedded in my mind and while it's not a fear of being let down, part of me doesn't want to give up the ambiguity and enticement that Inkheart has instilled with something concrete (and possibly even better than my imagination) that book two will solidify.

Am I gushing?  I'll stop now; I think I'm gushing. 

This book is huge.  You can't power through it.  There are lots of pages and while I wouldn't say the writing is dense or tight gripped you will experience every word.  This ain't a fast food book where you 'chew chew swallow' and it's over and done and you don't really know what you've consumed even if you know what you ordered.  Inkheart is a Thanksgiving feast of a book: it's special, it doesn't happen everyday, and when you're done regardless of the meal being amazing it makes you appreciate how irregular it's occurrence is and savor the memory all the more.  

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Year's First Purchase

Its been a little more than two months since I bought a book.  I hardly believe it myself.  I've been reading books I own and abusing the library as of late, but I finally broke the book buying seal.

I'm really looking forward to Out of Reach by Carrie Arcos and hoping that the cover makes sense after I read it.  I'm also not a big fan of the giant National Book Award Finalist sticker but whatever...  I may not have picked it up until after the award but do I get any street cred for saying, "I totally heard about this book way before the National Book Award."

I've no clue what Code Name Verity is about.  I think I did at some point but I've since forgotten.  This is another book like The Fault in Our Stars that everyone seemed to be raving about at the end of last year so I couldn't ignore it.  Here's to hoping it's just as good as the previously mentioned book.  I'll be starting this tonight.

Finally I'm very pleased with myself for sticking to my word and buying something by Nina Kiriki Hoffman.  Permeable Borders is a short story collection from an author that I've never known not to deliver.  It will be awesome.  Expect a lot of commentary on Hoffman this year.  

I'm reading a lot more stuff written by women as of late.  Nothing wrong with that; just something I noticed.

I picked up Sweethearts by Sara Zarr at the library yesterday because it was literally on the return counter when I walked through and Zarr is responsible for the best book I read last year: Once was Lost.  Upon picking this book up a librarian asked if I'd seen the new cover or heard of the new title for Once was Lost, to which I was very confused.  The publisher apparently gave a make over to a four year old book: new cover and new title What We Lost.  I like the cover better the changes are strike me as all kinds a strange.  Either way, go read that book.    

Oh, and if I'm not too lazy I'll put up commentary for Inkheart later tonight.  Spoiler: it was awesome.  And by awesome I'm amazing.      

Friday, February 15, 2013

A Curse on Book Thieves

For him that stealeth, or borroweth and returneth not,
     this book from its owner, let it change into a serpent in
     his hand and rend him.
Let him be struck with palsy, and all his members blasted.
Let him languish in pain, crying aloud for mercy, and let
     there be no surcease to this agony till he sing in dissolution.
Let bookworms gnaw his entrails... and when at last he
     goeth to his last punishment, let the flames fo hell consume
     him for ever.

From the monastery of San Pedro, Barcelona, Spain

Kinda harsh and I don't even know what all that means but I'm okay with it.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

My First Poetry Thoughts

So this is scary.  Because if you start talking about poetry surely there's something wrong with you, right?  I mean really, how much more elitist can you be?

I've had a poetry itch for months now and I've been cruising blogs and reading a lot of online but hesitant to say anything because I suck at reading poetry and I'm acutely aware of this fact.  I've check out a copy of The Best American Poetry 2012 edited by Mark Doty and David Lehman.  I only know one name of the contributors and not because I'm familiar with her work rather I know her personally from my writer's group.  (And if you don't know her, in recent months Natasha Trethewey has become a really big deal.  Congrats!)

I like how clean and concise poetry is and how it can be open to interpretation.  I like narrative or humorous poems better than dark and brooding.  I hate the obscure, seemingly random punctuation, indentation, and inexplicable word placement on a page.  That's about as in-depth as I can express my preferences in poetry.  It's odd how I can talk more about a well made doble bock or rum than a poem.

I like this particular collection because it seems to be varied in subject matter and presentation.  I really like how the authors contribute their thoughts on the poem chosen for inclusion as it helps me better understand their work.  I find some poems that I think are amazing and I re read them five or six times or until I get desensitized to how amazing I originally thought it was.  Some poems I don't get; I move on.  Some poems I don't get and they manage to make me angry.  Some poems I don't get and I say, "What the hell was that?"  But it's worth it to find the ones I enjoy.

Since I suck so much ass at telling you why I like the poetry I like I thought I'd share a few.  The ones I'm sharing are short because I'm too lazy to write out the longer ones.  I don't claim to understand these poems; only that they got a reaction out of me in some way or another.  These are but a few from this anthology that I've really enjoyed.  

Child Holding Potato by Rick Barot

When my sister got her diagnosis, 
I bought an airplane ticket

but to another city, where I stared
at paintings that seemed victorious

in their relation to time:
the beech from two hundred years ago,

its trunk a palette of mud
and gilt; the man with olive-black

gloves, the sky behind him
a glacier of blue light.  In their calm

landscapes, the saints.  Still dripping
the garden's dew, the bouquets.

Holding the rough gold orb 
of a potato, the Child cradled

by the glowing Madonna.  Then,
the paintings I looked at the longest:

the bowls of plums and peaches,
the lemons, the pomegranates

like red earths.  In my mouth, 
the raw starch.  In my mouth, the dirt.  

Dorothy Wordsworth by Jennifer Chang

The daffodils can go fuck themselves.
I'm tired of their crowds, yellow rantings
about the spastic sun that shines and shines
and shines.  How are they any different 

from me?  I, too, have a big messy head
on a fragile stalk.  I spin with the wind.
I flower and don't apologize.  There's nothing
funny about good weather.  Oh, spring again, 

the critics nod.  They know the old joy, 
that wakeful quotidian, the dark plot
of future growing things, each one 
labeled Narcissus nobilis or Jennifer Chang.

If I died falling from a helicopter, then
this would be an important poem.  Then 
the ex-boyfriends would swim to shore
declaiming their knowledge of my bulbous

youth.  O, Flower, one said, why aren't you
meat?  But I won't be another bashful shank.  
The tulips have their nervous joie-de-vivre,
the lilacs their taunt.  Fractious petals, stop

interrupting my poem with boring beauty.
All the boys are in the field gnawing raw
bones of ambition and calling it ardor.  Who
the hell are they?  This is a poem about war.    

At the End of Life, a Secret by Reginald Dwayne Betts

Everything measured.  A man twists
a tuft of your hair out for no reason
other than you are naked before him
and he is bored.  Moments ago he was
weighting your gallbladder, and then
he was staring at the empty space where 
your lungs were.  Even dead, we still say
you are an organ donor, as if something
other than taxes outlast death.  Your feet
are regular feet.  Two of them,
and there is no mark to suggest you were 
an expert mathematician, that you were 
the first runner-up in debate championships,
1956, Tapioca, Illinois.  From that time your body 
was carted before him, to the time your
dead body is being sent to the coffin,
every pound is accounted for, except 22 grams.
The man is a praying man & has figured
what it means.  He says this is the soul, finally, 
after the breath has gone.  The soul: less than
4,000 dollars' worth of crack--22 grams--
all that moves you through this world.  


Poems aren't novels and they aren't short stories, but somehow the good ones seem to be a bit of both at once.  So what do you think?  Do I like weird stuff?  I'm certainly open to recommendations.    

Oh, and if you want to be taken seriously it helps if your poem is about death and you use the word 'quotidian.'  Seriously, that word is used 32 times through 41 pages in this anthology...

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Happily, this book is fiction so I don't have to feel guilty about not liking a story that deals with a suicide victim.  Hannah Baker is a high school student who is having a very hard time adjusting to teen aged life.  While all parties in the book, and surely those reading as well, can agree that suicide is never the answer it was very hard for me to feel moved to pity on her behalf. 

Clay Jensen is the latest recipient of Hannah's tapes in which she has recorded the reasons that led up to her taking her life.  There is a back up copy of these tapes that Hannah claims will 'get out' and be made public (by means never truly made clear) should each of her intended listeners not listen to them and then pass them along.  (I was also never clear as to why she wouldn't want this tapes made public considering she'd have a chance to come clean about so much without any repercussion to herself.)  She calls people out, she does a bit of ranting, she exposes some horrible things that she was privy to that the general public doesn't know about.  Clay has no idea why he is on the tapes; and curiosity is his primary reasons for bumbling around town listening to all that Hannah has to say.

The book contains two narratives; each constantly interrupts the other.  Every time we get into a steady stream of Hannah's anecdotes we are told what Clay is doing as if only to make sure we don't forget that Hannah is telling this story from the grave and that Clay is doing other stuff.  Sometimes we are interrupted once a page; sometimes ten times a page.  It got annoying very fast.  It was a hiccup, or super esoteric punctuation, or wearing shoes three sizes too big and being told to run a 5K without ever stumbling.  That said, the story flies by.  Clay hunts down a cassette player then proceeds to play, pause and stop his way through Hannah's thirteen tapes.  I was initially gonna pass on leaving comments on this book as I felt it was the first young adult fiction I read that I wasn't able to connect with and I thought that lack of connection was solely because of my age difference in comparison to the 'intended' audience.

Most of Hannah's complaints are about people's treatment of her, or neglect--intentional or otherwise--of certain issues.  These topics range from gossip, a who's hot and who's not list, to her first kiss.  It all felt so superficial and pouting more than once I turned on my admonishing Holden Caulfield voice and sad, "Get over yourself.  Take your Prozac and stop whining."  

I cut Hannah more than just some slack when I learned she was sexually harassed.  Perhaps it was the cumulative effect of all that she had been through that finally made her mindset interesting to me by the time she witnessed or as she would say 'enabled' another student to be raped.  The book didn't necessarily get interesting as events grew darker, but the truly traumatic moments happen so late in the book with no feeling of build up or climax that getting to the 'good stuff' was an exercise in patience.  

My real problem with this book was Clay.  On the tape that Hannah has dedicated to him she explicitly says, 'You don't deserve to be on these tapes.'  Clay is a nerd.  He studies on weekends and doesn't go to parties he's excited about being valedictorian.  He's had a crush on Hannah and never the balls to tell her so.  Not only is he boring and one-dimensional but I never saw a single reason as to why he would be interested in a girl like Hannah considering the people she associated with; friends or not.  Of all the people on the tapes, Clay is without doubt the weakest choice for the story's living narrator.  He's likable and he's nice.  He's also kinda boring.  While many of the other people on the tapes were manipulative bitches or outright sexually aggressive creeps and while readers might not have liked those choices as I'm sure most did Clay, seeing things and hearing Hannah's voice play through anyone else mentioned on the tapes' head may have made for a much more compelling (perhaps even more disturbing) read.

Thirteen Reasons Why is a great idea, a really unique presentation and story mechanic; added to which everything works.  But considering the lowest points that led up to Hannah taking her life and how universally awful they were I can think of at least "Nine Reasons" she never would have dwelt on long enough to record on tape in the first place.  A fine writer and certainly one to watch.  All in all a good book and one that even manages to feel original.         

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare

This is not what I was expecting.  I was expecting more of the same from Clockwork Angel: find and chase the hastily identified bad guy, figure out what-the-hell-manner-of-life is Tessa, perhaps see some other downworlders get their asses beat in spectacular fashion.  Not only did none of the above happen, but I loved this book just the same as if I got everything I wanted out of it and then some.

Plausibility for events of Clockwork Prince (a great misleading title with so much unfulfilled potential) is right where we left it in the previous book; which hadn't progress too far since it began.  I thought this book would develop the erstwhile evil genius, give him character and personality.  While we did get motive he never developed enough to become either sympathetic or convincing as a threat.  To this end, I'm not sure if it's good or bad that seemingly no time was dedicated to bringing him down.  While main story or 'series arc' events seemed to stagnate the remaining cast took part in many little 'side quest' that not only propelled events forward but even managed to upstage the climax that never was. 

Charlotte and Henry, leaders of the London Institute of Shadowhunters, are given two weeks to track down the man responsible for the recent uprising against Shadowhunters.  Despite the clock ticking and this built-in mechanism for tension and forward drive events move rather leisurely.  This isn't a bad thing, only more of a surprise.  A plan is devised; nothing comes to fruition and instead of a book about Shadowhunters hunting we get a book in which we learn about Shadowhunters.  Stranger still the book didn't feel like five-hundred pages of exposition. 

There are some major revelations.  There's a reason why Will is an ass.  It's a really, really good reason and I've no clue as to why readers couldn't be let in on this secret in the first book.  As we learn of Will's past it becomes very easy to like him.  He's endearing, and sympathetic and his position becomes very easy to understand whereas in the first book he was a jerk without reason, stiff, and shallow.

The strongest development was all the romantic involvement between characters.  It worked on every level, and the main reason why was that everything felt organic: the attraction; the tension; and the setup.  Things get rather hot and heavy considering this is 19th century England but it seems Shadowhunters are excused much in terms of propriety.        

Clare does the romantic tension wonderfully well but the super saccharine, overly sentimental resolution of these affairs is close to stomach turning.  Two character reaffirmed their love for one another and I had to listen to the death metal band "SKULLCRUSH" to balance out what I was reading and not lose my lunch.  Then there is a proposal scene between two others and "OMG!"  Who snuck that mess in past the editor's final approval?  Those two moments aside, the romantic conflict is excellently done and it could be argued it's the heart of the book. 

My two complaints from Clockwork Angel come prepackaged.  I was hoping for a new Shadowhunter power to be unveiled: that Will would kill some downworlders or clockwork baddies merely by his opponent noticing just how blue his eyes were, not being able to handle said blueness, and then exploding into a blinding shower of blood and nastiness.  Or at least someone should have had an aneurysm when coming to terms with just how absurdly silky his hair is.  Because I couldn't handle his hair; poor Tessa had multiple existentialist crises in coming to terms with Will's hair.  Then there is the eyes and hair combo...  BOOM!  The bad guys never stood a chance.  And Jem was so fragile and delicate that his fragile delicateness made me turn the pages with unconscious tenderness that I've never before expressed while reading as I was fearful of damaging a fragile and delicate page on which Jem's name was written.  The repetition from the first book carries over and Clare launches far past cloying and achieves straight up nauseating.  In fact,  I believe that in the audio book version Will and Jem (happily, the repetition of all things are limited to them) have leit-motives accompanying every mention of their name as composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber.  Enough of this gripe: Clockwork Prince will never be a movie because no two people exist that are beautiful enough to play Will or Jem.  Oh, and just like Clockwork Angel, neither one acts seventeen; they are still far closer to forty though the bumbling through the romantic aspects helped show them to be more adolescent than adult. 

The two weeks go by and while there is no progress made toward the primary stated objective (no progress at all) the character development is so strong, convincing, and enjoyable that it's easy to get wrapped up in what is given as opposed to thinking about what was expected. 

There is no middle-book-boring-to-def syndrome going on here.  Color me surprised; but I loved this from start to finish. 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Month in Review and of Things to Come

Not a whole lot of reading going on in January or at least not too much to show for my efforts.  I finished two books: The Prestige and The Fault in Our Stars both of which I'll recommend to anyone.  I've reached the half-way point in two other books Firebirds Rising and Sailing to Sarantium.  The former hasn't proven to be very special and the latter is excellent only extremely leisurely (as is my experience with many of Kay's works.)  I do look forward to finishing them both in February.

I started and finished Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare a few days ago and I'll probably have thoughts up on that later today.  (I'm now a hopeless fanboy of this series; help.)  It was an odd book but excellent.  Actually the more I think on how odd it was and how successful it was the more I think it may take me longer to get my thoughts together.  Needless to say I'm all kinds of excited for the third book in this series to come out next month.

While struggling to find something to stick with to my immediate liking I've raided my library many times this past month.  I'm going to continue with A Series of Unfortunate Events as it has continually proven to be awesome commuter prose for my trips into town on the train.  In terms of upcoming reviews expect to see comments for Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why and Inkheart by Cornelia Funke.  I'm also hoping against hope that the queue for Bitterblue by Christine Cashore moves quickly and that I'll be out of the thirties sooner than latter.

I was hot for a minute in January; actually it was around eighty degrees for a week and that was awesome.  Then the storms came and everyone wanted it to be cold again as we remembered how overrated tornados are.  Now it's cold to def and I think I'm getting sick and I'm not too excited about it.        

Randomly, I think I'm getting into poetry and I am excited about that.