Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Teaser Tuesday

From "A Field Guide to the Western Birds" by Wallace Stegner, page 345.
Ruth gives me an absolutely expressionless, pleasant look in which I read some future unpleasantness, but what the hell, shall a man keep quiet while his lifework is trampled on?

"Would you admit," says Kaminski with his tight dogfish smile, "that an agent without an artist is a vine without an oak?"
As much as I really want to enjoy this collection of stories, I'm having a hard time getting into them. Wallace Stegner's style of writing is completely different from what I'm used to reading and it's causing me to read and reread these stories.

Also, he had one with really graphic descriptions of a boy killing gophers. I couldn't finish that one.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Review of the weekend's reading

I finished two books over the weekend, Jacqueline Winspear's Among the Mad and Kate Ross's Cut to the Quick. I've been reading Among the Mad while riding the subway to and from my jobs, while Cut to the Quick has been my "before bed" book.

The fifth book in the Maisie Dobbs series, Among the Mad find Maisie and her apprentice Billy on Christmas Eve, 1931, heading out the door to deliver reports before going their separate ways for the upcoming holiday. Spotting a man who appears to be begging, both Maisie and Billy head over to give the man some money when Maisie has a feeling* and urges Billy to stay back as she moves closer. She isn't fast enough though, to stop the man from killing himself and injuring several others, including Maisie herself.

It turns out that the man's suicide is only the beginning, as there is a vast plot boiling away under the veneer of society and Maisie finds herself chasing after a very smart, dangerous man. One who plans to bring the city to its knees, if necessary.

After my disappointment with the last Maisie Dobbs novel, I was rather pleased to find that I enjoyed this one, although not as much I enjoyed the first three novels in the series. Maisie finds herself seconded to Special Forces, working with her maybe at one time, would have been suitor Detective Inspector Stanton, and working for the maverick Detective Chief Superintendent MacFarlane, head of Special Branch.**

It was a solidly plotted novel, with pieces of the story coming from all corners. Maisie does her investigations her usual way, following her intuition where it leads her (mental institutes, secret government buildings, to the country side and dank warrens where the poor, the displaced, and the forgotten live) and figures out the who's and why's behind the mad man's plot. She also pieces a bit more of herself back together, although the inclusion of her best friend Priscilla feels like a forced move to let Maisie do a bit of self-reflexion.

All in all, a good read for the subway commute.

I can't remember on which blog I read about Cut to the Quick, but whoever wrote about it sold me on it in an instant. A London dandy who investigates crime? Sold.

After getting in over his head at a gambling hall, Hugh Fontclair finds himself rescued by Julian Kestrel, an English dandy. Although he only saved Hugh on a whim, Hugh sees it as something more and invites Julian to be the best man at his upcoming wedding. Figuring it would be a good way to save money--always tight--and curious as to why he was picked, Julian agrees and sets off for the Fontclair's country estate, Bellegarde. Julian gets more than he expected on this trip, though, as it seems Hugh and his family are being blackmailed into the marriage, although no one is willing to say why. Not only that, but the dead woman found one afternoon in Julian's locked bedroom makes things especially interesting.

After proving that there is no possible way he could have killed the unknown woman, Julian is forced to prove his manservant's innocence; made slightly more difficult considering that Dipper is a former pickpocket. Long buried secrets are uncovered at every turn, as Julian leaves no stone unturned in his search for the truth. His search takes him through the past of everyone present at Bellegarde, from Mr. Craddock and Lady Tarleton bitter hatred for one another, to Colonel Fontclair's war record, to Guy, Hugh's cousin, and his fondness for the drink.

I really enjoyed Cut to the Quick, although I had to force myself to read very slowly so that I could savor each word. Ross had a very detailed way of writing, drawing attention to the little things that made the story feel more real. I also enjoyed how the story wasn't just from Julian's point of view, but from the other characters as well; it fleshed out the story in a way that would have been impossible from just one person's point of view. From Maud Craddock, the bride being forced into a marriage to a man she's come to love, to Hugh Fontclair, who is willing to fall on the proverbial sword to save the family's name, to Dipper, sent out on a fact-finding mission by Julian, each additional point of view was unique and enjoyable.

As much as I enjoyed Julian and the way he solved the murder (and subsequent mysteries), I have to say that my favorite character was Phillipa, the eleven year old sister of Hugh. She's a minor character in all of this, but an integral one.

Philippa had a poor opinion of authority and did not submit to it very well. When she was forbidden to do something she had set her heart on, she thought the prohibition over carefully, and if she decided it was unfair or unnecessary, she disobeyed it. Which was why, when her governess told her she could not meet Mr. Kestrel until tomorrow, she decided to slip away from the schoolroom and have a peek at him that evening.
and also,

"I'm sorry you're leaving," said Philippa. "I haven't half finished telling you things."
"It might be just as well to save something for the next time we meet," Julian pointed out.
"But that won't be for a long time, will it? Mama and Papa won't want to go to town, after everything that's happened, and I don't suppose you'll come to visit us here again."
"That might be awkward," he admitted. "At least for the time being."
"I hoped you'd come often, till you were quite one of the family. And then, when I was old enough, you might like to marry me. I shall have money, you know, and I am a Fontclair."
"If I were you, I should wait for a husband who cared for something besides my pocketbook and my pedigree."

and then, after assuring Philippa that it was better to be thought of as clever and interesting, instead of just merely pretty,

"No," she said slowly. "You are supposed to know about these things." She pondered. "I shall be eighteen in seven years. I suppose you'll have forgot all about me by then."
"It's you who'll have forgot about me," he said lightly.
"Oh, no," Philippa shook her head. "I have a very long memory."

How can you not love a character like that? She's so self-assured and knowing, as only an eleven year old girl can be. Most of the characters were great, and I look forward to seeing some of them in future books.

(Sadly, there are only three more and a short story, as the author died several years ago.)

*I really wanted to type "one of her" feelings, but I feel like that would be unfair.

**I've got odds on Maisie finding herself seeing one of these men in the next book; better money on MacFarlane.

Friday, September 25, 2009


Finished the most recent Maisie Dobbs book, Among the Mad, last night. I was hesitant to read it because I disliked the last one so much, but I was quite pleased with the latest story. I'll post a review this weekend.

Only about halfway through Cut to the Quick. I didn't get any reading done last night and it's killing me, having to wait to find out who those people were talking in the snippet I put up! I plan to finish the book this weekend.

I'm taking Collected Stories by Wallace Stegner as my new subway book. I have no idea who this man was, but I remember reading an article about his death in the NYT and decided check out some of his stuff. This collection looks quite promising.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Teaser Tuesday

Gacked from Marg, of Reading Adventures.

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read

  • Open to a random page

  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
    BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

  • Oh, I shouldn't be doing this, because now I want to read to the section I'm randomly opening too, but...

    Cut to the Quick, by Kate Ross, page 211:

    "It wasn't Mr. Craddock who told me. It was someone who overheard your conversation with him."

    "No!" She flung herself at him, all but tore the lapels off his coat. "Who overheard us? What have you found out?"

    And I'm only on page 47!

    Monday, September 21, 2009

    Labor Day by Joyce Maynard

    My roommate and I don't have exactly the same taste; I love science fiction, she dislikes that genre. She wants something long to read on the subway, I want to read something entertaining enough to make me forget I'm on the subway. I like fantasy, she likes reality. Sometimes I think the only thing we have in common--in regards to our reading preferences--is that we like quality.

    So, when she handed me Labor Day, by Joyce Maynard, and told me she thought I'd like it, I was a little bit sceptical.

    I'm publicly apologizing for doubting you, Nee. I loved Labor Day.

    From Amazon:

    With the end of summer closing in and a steamy Labor Day weekend looming in the town of Holton Mills, New Hampshire, thirteen-year-old Henry—lonely, friendless, not too good at sports—spends most of his time watching television, reading, and daydreaming about the soft skin and budding bodies of his female classmates. For company Henry has his long-divorced mother, Adele—a onetime dancer whose summer project was to teach him how to foxtrot; his hamster, Joe; and awkward Saturday-night outings to Friendly's with his estranged father and new stepfamily. As much as he tries, Henry knows that even with his jokes and his "Husband for a Day" coupon, he still can't make his emotionally fragile mother happy. Adele has a secret that makes it hard for her to leave their house, and seems to possess an irreparably broken heart.

    But all that changes on the Thursday before Labor Day, when a mysterious bleeding man named Frank approaches Henry and asks for a hand. Over the next five days, Henry will learn some of life's most valuable lessons: how to throw a baseball, the secret to perfect piecrust, the breathless pain of jealousy, the power of betrayal, and the importance of putting others—especially those we love—above ourselves. And the knowledge that real love is worth waiting for.

    When I started reading, I wasn't all that impressed. The story moves slowly, introducing us to Henry and his mother, but once I got into the story, I quickly became hooked. Adele, Henry's mother, has become a shut-in after too many disappointments; now she sells vitamins over the phone, teaching her son the fox trot, herself the cello, and explaining about sex and music and the truth about life while serving microwaved fish and chips.
    "You never knew how my mother was going to react to things. There could be some guy going door-to-door with religious pamphlets, and she'd yell at him to go away, but other times I'd come home from school and there'd be this person sitting on our couch having coffee with her."
    Then, there's Frank, who Henry first meets while looking over the magazines. Thirteen and curious, Henry really wants to open the Playboy, but settles for a book on puzzles instead. The man standing next to him strikes up a conversation.
    "I fell out a window. He said it the way a person would if all that happened to him was he got a mosquito bite. Maybe this was why, at the time, this didn't seem like such an odd remark. Or maybe it was that everything seemed so odd back the, this comment in particular didn't stand out."
    Everything moves very slowly in this story, with flashbacks to the time when Henry's father left them, to when Adele was able to interact with the outside world, intermixed with Henry's now. Frank and his mother connect on a level that leaves Henry both yearning and angry. For so long, Henry was his mother's world, but Frank comes into their lives one long Labor Day weekend and suddenly it's as though he's always been there and it's just the three of them in this perfect world.

    And it would be perfect, if Frank hadn't been an escaped convict. The knowledge that the police are looking for him hangs over the three of them silently, softly coloring their decisions.

    It's not until Henry meets Eleanor, though, that things really start to go pear-shaped. Feeling left out by his mother and Frank, Henry is looking for anyone to connect with. Sent to the library to do research, Henry spots a girl he's never seen before.
    "I asked the girl if she went to school around here.

    I didn't before, but I just moved here, she said. I'm supposed to try out living with my dad this year. The official reason is I have an eating disorder and they're hoping a new school environment will help, but really I think my mom just wanted to get rid of me so she can fool around with her boyfriend without me getting in the way."
    You know, reading the story, that it can't end happily... except that in a way, it does. It didn't end at all the way I thought--and feared that it would--but it was a good, plausible, satisfying ending. Not the fairy tale ending, but a real one, with life and its truths echoing throughout Henry's life.

    Tuesday, September 15, 2009

    The Alphabet Challenge by Olga Gardner Galvin

    I've spent the past week reading The Alphabet Challenge by Olga Gardner Galvin and found it completely brilliant. From the publisher's website:

    Set several decades in the future, the nearly unrecognizable Manhattan is made kinder and gentler by PeopleCare, an umbrella organization of myriad victims’ rights groups whose members work their fingers to the bone to make caring, compassion, and lowest-common-denominator equality a federal law, now that they have already fought for and won their campaigns for federal prohibition on smoking and obesity, among other unhealthy things.

    Enter entrepreneur Howell Langston Toland, who has learned absolutely nothing in the seven years he’d spent in jail for failure to recycle empty bottles. To cash in on the prevailing zeitgeist, he creates a new category of victimization, which encompasses the broadest audience yet. Threatened by the brazen invasion of its turf and the sudden popularity of the new cause, PeopleCare mounts a counterattack against the upstart. Toland, meanwhile, succumbs to the more natural for him entrepreneurial mode of thinking, urging his annoying followers to become self-reliant so that he may cut them loose.

    Vicious politics ensue . . .

    One word: hysterical. Totally and completely hysterical. And I mean that in both the “haha, can’t stop laughing” and the “unmanageable fear” sort of way that my Merriam Webster describes.

    In this future, people care. They care so much that you can’t do anything for yourself anymore, and why should you? You don’t know how to take care of yourself, but that’s OK, because that’s what PeopleCare is for. They’re there to make all your decisions and totally control every aspect of your life.

    Think people who eat meat are insane? There’s a group for that (People for Complete Coexistence with Animals). Think you should be allowed to steal, beat, and rape? There’s a group for you (People with Different Moral and Ethical Values). Think recycling should be a choice? Sorry, that’ll get you five years in lock up. Think you should be allowed to park where you want, eat red meat, or educate your own children? Sorry, but no, you can’t do that anymore. It’s not fair to everyone else. It hurts them and the way they want to live. You’ll have to give up all of your wants and needs and personal rights for the greater good.

    It’s OK though, because PeopleCare cares for people.

    (In that future, I totally want to be their ad writer.)

    Howell Langston Toland has finally had enough. Sentenced to a group home (Adjusted Environment Home) because his parents decided to home school him, and then sentenced to seven years in jail for not recycling and committing grievous bodily harm (tired of being robbed, Howell put cement on a window sill and stuck broken glass in it; poor thief cut himself trying to break in and immediately turned Howell in for his crimes), he decides that it’s time he gets his and starts the ABChallenge, a support group for those who have spent their entire lives being treated like lesser beings because their names start with a letter between N and Z. He’ll collect a small donation from everyone who has ever been treated unfairly because of where they fall in the alphabetical queue, make a fortune, and then run off to live in Australia, where it’s still legal to sunbathe, eat read meat, and have an opinion of your own.

    I know, it’s got to be a joke, right?

    Not in this future world, it isn’t. Most of America has been brainwashed into believing that it’s not their fault, no it’s the other guy’s fault and dammit, laws need to be passed against them so that you can have a fair shake. No matter that it’s asinine and stupid, it’s the way it has to be so that everything is equal.

    As ridiculous as this novel is (and I mean that in a good way!), it’s frightening when you think about how things are changing here, now, ever so slightly starting to resemble things in The Alphabet Challenge. True, we can still make most of our own choices, but look at what’s going on in the food and restaurant industries. Health care. Education. Exercise. I’m not saying that I think all of the changes are for the bad, but I do think it’s a slippery slope we’re on and satire or not, this book has a point.

    The day I wake up in America and find out chocolate has been outlawed, or God forbid, salt, I am totally moving to Europe, where they’ll still be allowing such hedonistic, evil, unfair things.

    Read The Alphabet Challenge. Then join me in my consumption of chocolate and salt. At the same time. (They're totally delicious together.)

    Posts to come: review of the Brooklyn Book Fair, what I have on my nightstand now, and the new challenges I've made for myself (because I'm not failing the ones I'm currently doing, or anything like that).

    And recycle. A pox on you and yours if you don't recycle.

    Sunday, September 13, 2009

    Cherry Blossom Designs Hair Accessories GUEST GIVEAWAY!!!!

    Cherry Blossom Designs Hair Accessories GUEST GIVEAWAY!!!!

    C'mon, it's literary inspired hair things for kids! I think my niece would love one of these.

    (Soon to come, a post on the Brooklyn Book Fair, my recent discovery that I've read some of the NBA winners, and did you know they've made Jane Austen into a comic?)

    Thursday, September 10, 2009

    On the Edge by Ilona Andrews

    Well, Tuesday night, after the misery that was a full day of work, I came home to find a package at my door. Right shape, right size, and yes! An advance copy of On the Edge by Ilona Andrews. I immediately went inside, dropped everything on the floor, and began to read.

    I'm so glad I did.

    Rose Drayton lives on the Edge, between the world of the Broken (where people drive cars, shop at Wal-Mart, and magic is a fairy tale) and the Weird (where blueblood aristocrats rule, changelings roam, and the strength of your magic can change your destiny). Only Edgers like Rose can easily travel from one world to the next, but they never truly belong in either.

    Rose thought if she practiced her magic, she could build a better life for herself. But things didn’t turn out how she planned, and now she works a minimum wage, off the books job in the Broken just to survive. Then Declan Camarine, a blueblood noble straight out of the deepest part of the Weird, comes into her life, determined to have her (and her power).

    But when a terrible danger invades the Edge from the Weird, a flood of creatures hungry for magic, Declan and Rose must work together to destroy them—or they’ll devour the Edge and everyone in it . . .

    This story was a great, fun ride and I'm already looking forward to the sequel. Rose is a complex character, struggling to keep herself and her two younger brothers (Georgie is a necromancer, Jack turns into a cat) fed and alive. Her entire life becomes more complicated though, with the appearance of Declan, a blueblood from the Weird. He's turning Rose's life upside down in his pursuit... although what that pursuit is isn't as clear cut as Rose thinks. Making things more complicated is the big bad that's muscling it's way through the Edge. It's going to take everything Rose has to keep her head and her family together.

    Tightly plotted, with plenty of twists, this is a great novel. Ilona Andrews did a fantastic job leading us down a plot path, only to plant a switchback right after the blind turn, so I totally didn't see things coming. Declan's reasons for being in the Edge, the real reason why William (who you meet in the story) won't talk to Declan, even the truth about certain articles of clothing. They were all nicely done and I'm happy to say that even after I reread the book (twice) I couldn't see any obvious signs of what was to come.

    There is romance (hot), blood, feuds, power trips, evil hounds, cool bits of magic and cursing, and absolutely adorable little boys (Rose's two younger brothers). I want to steal Jack and keep him for my very own, that's how much I liked him. (Well, him and William; they were my favorites. Poor guy, he needs some chocolate.)

    On the Edge will be released on September 29; I know, so far away. Lucky for you, Ilona is posting snippets here.

    Tuesday, September 08, 2009

    Hot off the press

    Hee! Not only do I have an awesome interview for you (see my previous post!), but I'm holding an advance copy of Ilona Andrews' On the Edge.

    *wards off the grabby hands*

    My day, it just keeps getting better.

    PS: Thank you, Ilona, and thank you, publicist at Penguin.

    Interview with Walt Maguire

    Where has my summer gone?

    Well, in part, it's gone because of another author interview! Yes, I was lucky enough to set up an interview with Walt Maguire, the author of Monkey See, my book of the summer. Monkey See is about animal testing, job interviews (excerpt available here), and science experiments gone awry. Here’s what he had to say about the idea behind his genetically enhanced apes:

    What gave you the idea to write this novel? Was it one article too many on animal testing or had the idea been mulling about in your head for a while and you decided it was time to put pen to paper?

    I have a friend who completely falls apart when he hears a reference to talking monkeys. It’s actually a little frightening. But this started me thinking that there hadn’t really been a talking monkey book in almost fifty years, and the last one wasn’t all that funny.

    So you wrote a book that you hoped would deliberately horrify your friend? (That's very funny to me, if so.) Did you give him a copy?

    Oops! I meant he fell apart laughing. But I like the other version.

    How did you come up with your main characters? Are there pieces of your personality in Ed, Chekchek, or Dr. Cogitomni? And where did you come up with your characters names?

    The scientists and the militant chimp started out as stock movie characters—you just have to have them in a story like this, or people are distracted waiting for them to show up—but in writing they evolved (pardon the expression) into full personalities. I’m not sure where Ed came from—I sort of learned about him as I wrote him down. The funny part is people keep thinking Chekchek is based on a real person, but nobody ever agrees on who that person is. The names Ed and Chekchek just came to me, and I’m terrible at names generally, so I just accepted them gratefully. Cogitomni is very bad Latin for “Mr. Know-it-all,” which demonstrates just how bad I am at names.

    To me, some of the funniest parts of your novel were the scenes where you describe how the reader can make their own monster ape at home, and then what to do once s/he has grown to large, escapes, and runs rampant without any control. Did you have a favorite part?

    Thanks. I like the monster name guide, and the walk to town in the section on Wreckage.

    What kind—if any—research did you do before writing Monkey See? Is there a monster-ape-hybrid in your basement?

    There is. I left my cat alone in the basement for a week with some mice, paint thinner fumes, and a strange glowing mold, and the results were ugly. Though we’re no longer bothered by mice.

    Your bio says that you write novels, plays, and articles; which of the three do you enjoy writing more?

    The ones that get published.

    Many writers describe themselves as "character" or "plot" writers. Which are you? What do you find to be the hardest part of writing?

    Names. Also, plot. I usually start with some characters, some scenes, and a point, but the slow part is figuring out how to tie them all together. Once I do have a plot mapped out, it’s like a lighthouse leading my story across the darkness. Although you never want to steer towards a lighthouse or you would crash on rocks, so that’s a bad metaphor. Maybe it’s like a clothesline that gives me a place to string everything together.

    What are your goals for the future? Do you have other ideas for novels or plays that you'd like to write or do you plan to focus more on your articles? (Personally, I hope you're writing another novel.)

    I am starting on another novel, now you mention it. It’s monkey-free, but I hope to work in some equally bad career advice as I go.

    Your website mentions some future titles that you might be writing, including: Letting Go: A memoir of getting far enough up Everest and A Good Walk Spoiled: How America’s love of dogs led us off our ruined sidewalks onto the Federal Highway System. Have you climbed Mt. Everest? Do you have a dog that regularly takes you for walks on the side of the highway?

    I once climbed a steep hill in the hot April sun of a Greek day. It took me four hours, and when I reached the top I discovered the tram that ran up the other side every fifteen minutes to drop people off at the hilltop cafĂ©. I don’t have a dog, but I used to dog-sit a lab that had a talent for peeing on drunken Mummers in spots I would have not expected to find Mummers during the Philadelphia Mummers Parade.

    You mention on your website that you’re happy to explain yourself at a juggling festival; do you juggle?

    I am completely uncoordinated and have twice dropped this computer while reaching for the mouse. But I know some jugglers, and I like taking bets on when they’ll hurt themselves.

    As a reader, what do you enjoy reading? Any favorite authors?

    I think I enjoy clever dialog, provided it’s not tied to a contrived story that’s trying very hard to pretend it’s not contrived. Lots of favorite authors: Tom Stoppard, Lorrie Moore, James Thurber, Peter Benchley, P.G. Wodehouse, Michael Chabon, Annie Proulx, Alexie Sherman, and whoever wrote “Rapunzel,” a story that makes less and less sense every time you read it. And yet it keeps popping up.

    Do you read your reviews, and if so, what's the oddest one you've ever received?

    I do read reviews. I haven’t seen many odd ones yet, though I do notice a temptation by the writers to reminisce about their own favorite talking-monkey memories. I hope Monkey See ends up as another one.

    More information about Walt Maguire is available at his website here and here. His latest book, Monkey See, is available at ENC Press.