Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Game of Thrones, S4 E4: The Writers Think We're Morons

Spoilers ahead! Don't read this if you haven't seen the episode and don't blame me if you see something you didn't want to know.

Another episode in which not much happens. But somehow they manage to fill an hour anyway.

This week:
  • Jon Snow gets some pals to run up north to where Owen from Torchwood is holed up with some guys. Coincidentally Bran & co. show up there too. Fireworks ensue. Jon arrives next week with the psycho guy who cut off Jaime's hand, working for Roos Bolton as Bolton searches for the remaining Stark boys. In the books, this guy was killed at Harrenhall so what happens next is anyone's guess but I'm going to go on record and say that I think he shouldn't start any long books.
  • We find out what the White Walkers are doing with those male babies of Craster's. But come on, I think we kind of knew this already.
  • Daenerys helps the slaves of Meereen overthrow their oppressors in less time than it takes me to heat up a frozen burrito. She's too self-righteous these days to be fun but I'm still rooting for her to win the whole thing. I'd love to see her get together with Jon Snow at the end, too. They'd be a great power couple.
  • Olenna all but confesses to Joffrey's murder. Yeah we knew that too. Do the writers think we're morons? 
  • Tyrion and Jaime have a heart to heart. Cersei continues to impress Jaime with her paranoia, drunkenness and general disarray. Brienne impresses him with her character and they have a genuinely touching farewell as she leaves with Pod to find Sansa. As she is leaving I think he knows how classy she is compared to that wretch of a sister/lover of his. I am willing to overlook last week's unfortunate turn of events and continue to root for Jaime's moral development.
  • Margaery gives Tommen some, um, things to think about. He looked like the cat who caught the canary, or the 14 year old who can't believe he gets to make out with his hot babysitter. It was a very funny scene.
  • Sansa chatted with Little Finger about what just happened and what comes next. Of course Little Finger and she were involved with Joffrey's murder, and naturally she didn't know. Duh.
  • No Arya this week. That's never a good sign but maybe next week.
OK now I love Daenerys but this is all getting a bit silly. Seriously, that revolution took like five minutes. And we're talking about poorly organized, probably very physically unfit people taking on a whole city's worth of fat cats and it just seems like no effort at all. We'll see how Dany does actually ruling- she's good at overthrowing but if she's not going throw everyone into her army and move on, then she has to learn how to do more than just spout persuasive rhetoric and hurl accessories.

Last week's rape scene between Jaime and Cersei upset a lot of people and I understand why, but in the larger context of the show it just struck me as another miserable day in a miserable universe. I am willing to treat it as an aberration and the end of their sexual relationship as their relations deteriorate entirely from here on out. I don't know anything- that's just my prediction.

I wonder if Bran will still be at Owen's place (sorry, I can't remember his name-that's his Torchwood character) when Jon arrives or if they will just miss each other again. With Roos Bolton's toady in tow with Jon, I hope Bran and friends miss him.

I have a feeling Peyter's relationship with Lysa won't be either happy or long-lasting. And I can't imagine she'll be best pleased with having pretty Sansa around, either. She's like this show's Pennsatucky Doggett. Unstable much?

So again not much really happened. Pieces moved around the board. The last scene with the head White Walker was pretty intense but again, what did we think they were doing with the babies? Oh well. Onwards to next week.

Your thoughts?

Monday, April 28, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

So I finally finished my audiobook, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot. I enjoyed it. It was a good audio, interesting and with a very able narrator. I didn't finish any paper books last week but I did start a couple of good ones, and a new audio too.

In the paper realm I started The Cemetery of Swallows, by "Mallock," the pseudonym of a French writer who's named his main character the same thing. The title makes it sound all dark and stuff, but really it's just silly. I like it a lot, and I'm turning the pages and getting immersed, but I'm also rolling my eyes a lot. I think, in a good way.

I'm also reading The Conservationist, a very-serious-indeed Booker Prize winner set in South Africa. It's a downer, as most books set in South Africa tend to be, but it's good.

In audioland I started the very entertaining Orange is the New Black. Yes, I watch the HBO series and I love it (I just finished watching Season One last night) and I'm really enjoying the real-life version of Piper Kerman's year in prison. When I first saw this on the bookshelves I had a major eye-roll moment thinking, oh, here we go, another stunt-for-the-sake-of-a-book memoir but of course that's not the case at all and Kerman has already totally won me over. The funny thing is the audio is narrated by the same woman who narrated Henrietta Lacks, so I'm having a kind of déjà-entendu if you will.

What are you reading? I'm really loving all my books. See more at BookJourney.wordpress.com.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Throwback Thursday Review: THE LAST CHICKEN IN AMERICA, by Ellen Litman

The Last Chicken in America, by Ellen Litman. Published 2008 by W.W. Norton. Paperback.

Click here to buy The Last Chicken in America from your local IndieBound-affiliated independent bookseller. I'm an IndieBound affiliate and receive a small commission on sales.

The Last Chicken in America, which author Ellen Litman bills as "a novel in stories," is a lovely collection of interrelated tales focusing on the Russian-Jewish immigrants in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Her characters are teenagers, young and old men and women from different walks of life, recent arrivals to the United States, American and Russian, Jewish and not; together they people a dense, close-knit and slightly claustrophobic community. Some want to leave and some want to stay, but they all work to survive and find love and meaning under challenging circumstances.

The stories follow a whole cast of characters but several center around one young woman, Masha, a teenager applying for college, working a series of unsatisfying jobs and yearning for something better. I could almost feel her trying to push her way through the world, looking for someone to understand her suffocation and her need for freedom. Her parents, whose problems are addressed later, in their own story, want to keep her close; a wealthy woman for whom she works wants to make Masha her kind of Jew without bothering to understand Masha for herself, and her teacher, a non-Jewish Russian, can't deal with who she is either. Masha's stories form the heart of the book; they bring to the surface rifts in understanding and missed connections, but ultimately her story is optimistic and hopeful.

Other characters, like Natasha, who tries content herself with what she finds easily attainable, like an uncomfortable (but readily proffered) friendship with a coworker, or an unsatisfying but available boyfriend, or Tanya, who lives vicariously through her boyfriend's glamorous friends, speak to the theme of alienation and discomfort and bring a range of emotions to life. The characters appear and reappear in each others' stories, so the star of one, like Vika in "When the Neighbors Love You," might show up as a background character in others. When Vika reappears in the last story, her appearance has the feel of a throwaway line until you remember how economically that throwaway line works to resolve her story and her fate. Major themes include immigration, adjustment to a new world with new rules, post-Soviet life outside the Soviet Union, and the harmonies and dissonances of everyday life.

With a good number of stories and a variety of characters, Litman has created a vivid little world inside her slim volume of stories. I loved her fluid prose and her gently literary style. She describes the Squirrel Hill neighborhood so vividly I felt like I was walking down its crowded sidewalks with her characters, past its shops and restaurants. I could see them right down to their clothes and hairstyles, to their cigarettes and lipstick. It was a world I could engage in right away, even if I put the book down for a few days here and there; it was a pleasure to savor these lovely stories. I hope that she has a novel in the works but it doesn't matter- I think I would read anything she writes, I enjoyed this book so much. I'd recommend it to readers interested in sensitive, character-driven short prose, to readers who like solid writing on Jewish and Russian topics, and really to anyone. The Last Chicken could be read as a companion piece to Sana Krasikov's fine debut One More Year, another volume of short stories about Soviet immigrants, which came out earlier this year as well, but it stands beautifully on its own. It's a wonderful little book.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Review: MANNEQUIN GIRL, by Ellen Litman

Mannequin Girl, by Ellen Litman. Published 2014 by Norton.

Kat Knopman starts first grade in September, 1980, in Soviet Russia. Her parents Misha and Anechka are bohemians- beautiful, artistic, sophisticated. Kat is diagnosed with a serious case of scoliosis and has to attend a special school where she has trouble fitting in despite having so much in common with her similarly-situated peers. Her family is Jewish, and this fact presents special challenges within the Soviet system. She struggles with her condition, with the difficulties of boarding-school life and most of all with the gnawing, growing realization that she can never equal her parents and that they might not even deserve the pedestal on which she has placed them.

I am a big fan of Ellen Litman's from her 2008 book of interconnected short stories The Last Chicken in America. This book told the story of another Russian Jew, Masha, only it told her life in America, post-emigration. I loved this book for its psychological insight and lovely prose, and Litman's novel shows the same qualities that made me admire her stories so. In Mannequin Girl, we follow Kat from first grade through the beginning of high school- the changes in her spirit and her body, and the changes in her family's life as well as some of her friends. A boy named Sergei Mironov starts out as her nemesis but becomes something like a friend, her grandfather's young wife gets frozen out, and her parents go from a happy, charmed couple to something more bitter and less sure. Kat burns through an infatuation with a handsome older boy to learn some hard lessons about life.

Mannequin Girl is a slow-moving book that is nonetheless very involving and emotionally touching. Kat is flawed and real and believable, likeable and changeable too. I got involved with her problems, cheered her little victories and suffered her defeats with her. She's an unforgettable character; the book would be a great choice for book clubs as well as suitable for YA audiences. I'm glad this one was classified as adult because being the snob I am I doubt I would have picked it up if it were in the YA section. And then I would have missed out.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Game of Thrones: The Finer Points of Bad Behavior

Spoilers! Spoilers! Don't read this if you haven't seen this week's episode or don't want to know what happens. Don't blame me if you see something you don't want to know.

So I have to say that for me, this week's episode was pretty lackluster. Ding dong, Joffrey's dead, and no one except Cersei seems much to mind. Moving on, little Tommen seems ripe to take over and that seems to be a generally good thing for the Lannisters as he shows no obvious signs of being a psychopath. What else?
  • We check in on Arya and the Hound, making their way to the Vale. Nothing much happens.
  • Ser Davos comes up with some ideas about how to help Stannis. Stannis is still such a stick in the mud. I saw a parody of GoT likening American politicians to the characters; Stannis got Mitt Romney, which seems about right. 
  • Oberyn agrees to sit on the small council in exchange for Tywin's help with revenge. Mmmm revenge.
  • Tyrion is rotting in prison awaiting his (show) trial for Joffrey's murder. Everyone knows he didn't do it, but he's an easy target for his hateful sister.
  • Speaking of whom, she alone mourns Joffrey. Jaime decided Joffrey's tomb was the right time and place to renew relations with her. Yes, this was a rape scene, one of many in a show where sexual abuse of women is epidemic. David Benioff does not seem to know how to show sex that is neither non consensual  nor paid for. And it is disturbing, especially considering how out of character it is for Jaime. I'm disappointed in the decision to alter the tone of this scene from the book.
  • Margaery and Olenna have a heart to heart about Margaery's second time as a widow. Snooze.
  • Sam has Gilly transferred to work at a brothel because he's worried about her safety at Castle Black. Um... I'm not sure his logic is working at full capacity here but we'll see.
  • We had a scene with Daenerys where something happened.
  • The cannibals and wildlings join forces to mow down a little village, and a little boy who later escapes to Castle Black sees Ygritte kill his father. That's gonna come back to bite someone. So to speak.
  • Finally, the best thing! The fool helps Sansa to a ship where she's greeted by- wait for it- Petyr Baelish. Little Finger! It's been ages. How I have not missed you.
Anyway that's it for this week. Lame.The only thing that made me smile or laugh was when Ser Davos tells Stannis's daughter "Your father lacks an appreciation of the finer points of bad behavior,"  which makes him unsuited to ruling Westeros if you ask me. I thought this episode was pretty boring. I kept waiting for something interesting to happen but it looks like I'll have to wait till next week anyway. What do you think of the scene with Jaime and Cersei? Enough to put you off the show, or just another instance of abuse in a series in which that's ubiquitous?

Monday, April 21, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Well it's Monday again. I finished Ellen Litman's wonderful novel Mannequin Girl this week, about a young girl growing up under the Soviet regime who has scoliosis and goes to a special school. It's really good. I just love Litman's work and would really encourage you to read her.

I haven't started anything new yet but I'm thinking of pulling a Europa out of my pile, maybe The Cemetery of Swallows, by Mallock, a crime novel set in the Dominican Republic and France, and maybe reading Molly Fox's Birthday by the wonderful Deirdre Madden. I decided to put Rites of Passage aside for the time being, so I have to choose another Booker book. I'll let you know when I decide!

What are you reading? See more at BookJourney.wordpress.com and have a great week!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Throwback Thursday Review: EMBASSYTOWN, by China Mieville

Embassytown, by China Miéville. Published 2011 by Random House. Hardcover.

"I can make things bad for you," Ez kept shouting. "There are things I could say."

Embassytown, the latest novel from acclaimed British writer China Miéville, takes as its theme language and the power it can have over us all. Like many of Miéville's books, this one starts with a city, the city of the title. Embassytown exists in the far future, on a distant planet humans have settled. It's kind of a border town between human civilization and that of the Ariekei, an enigmatic race to whom the planet belongs. The Ariekei, or the Hosts,  speak a language so difficult that only specially-trained Ambassadors can communicate with them, so the Ariekei remain an enigma to all but this very select group of people. Avice Benner Cho, the protagonist and narrator, is not one of these people, but she's something even more important. Avice is a simile.

When Avice was a child, she was recruited to perform a task for the extremely literal-minded Ariekei so that they could enrich their language (so iconic it's simply referred to as Language) with figurative speech. Since then, she's traveled through the immer, or deep space, had a career, been married, and generally had a life. There are others like her as well, other similes, and the first breakdown of Language has a profound effect on them. Other key players include an ex-Ambassador named Bren, Avice's husband Scile, and a new Ambassador who is unlike the others, and whose use of Language wrecks a havoc that changes Ariekei society forever.

Embassytown is the kind of book that unrolls slowly, and you'll want Miéville's own extremely skillful use of language to wash over you. Unlike The City and The City, a tight, plot-centric blend of genres, Embassytown is more straight-up science fiction and less about plot and more about the language itself. In other words, it's not a fast read, or a particularly gripping page-turner. I found it to be long and dense, but I kept going because Miéville sets up such a remarkably complex and detailed world and made me care about the Ariekei and their extremely unusual problem. The novel is as rich with ideas as it is neologisms, and even when I couldn't tackle more than a few pages at a time, I never seriously considered putting Embassytown down for good. Miéville is a major talent whom literary readers would do well to get to know. As Miéville wrote in my copy of the book, "Hope you enjoy this linguistic apocalypse!"

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Review: ANNIHILATION by Jeff Vandermeer

Annihilation, by Jeff Vandermeer. Published 2014 by FSG Originals. Science Fiction.

Whoa. So, I dabble in SF but I don't read a lot- maybe 3 or 4 titles a year, and I'm picky. I like China Mieville, and Christopher Priest, and once in a while I can be persuaded to read Victor Lavalle but mostly I go by the reviews sections of SFX magazine. If they like it, I'll probably like it. They loved Annihilation, and so did I.

Set in the future at an indeterminate time, the book, which is the first in a planned trilogy (all will be out this year), tells the story of a doomed expedition to a place called Area X. The narrator, a biologist, tells us that this is the twelfth such expedition, and all of the previous 11 have ended in tragedy- suicides, murders, disappearances, mental breakdown and disease. The narrator's own husband was one of the casualties of the last expedition and her motivations for joining are one of the things we explore throughout this drawn-out, immersing and page-turning book.

The book we read is her journal, a record she leaves in situ after the first part of her journey has ended. She is not a reliable narrator and carefully withholds some crucial information until about 7/8 of the way through. The journey is bleak and scary; the landscape is brutal and holds some real terrors for her and the other members of the expedition, all women and all scientists of some sort. We never learn names. The women are defined by their professional roles- the linguist, the psychologist, the anthropologist. This nomenclature makes them seem generic and nonspecific, like playing cards or blanks. It's safe to say this is not a character-driven book but rather a voice-driven book, the singular voice of the biologist-narrator. And like I said, she's not reliable.

The book is short but it's not a quick read. It's detailed and like I said, immersing- when you're reading, you're there, and it's not a pretty place, filled with monsters and death and psychological games. But hang in there because it picks up speed near the end and becomes impossible to put down. It might be worth your while to wait for all three; I think I will wait till the third is published and read books two and three together.  The complete series, called the Southern Reach Trilogy, is Annihilation, out now; Authority, coming in May, and Acceptance, coming in September. Jeff Vandermeer is known as an anthologist and did one called The New Weird a few years ago. This book would fit right in. If you like weird, this is it.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Game of Thrones: Nice Knowing You, Joffrey.

Do not read this if you haven't seen this week's episode. Do not blame me if you keep reading and see something you don't want to know.

By and large this was not the most exciting episode ever. What happened?
  • The odious Ramsey Snow got a bit of dressing-down from his only-slightly-less-odious father regarding the former's treatment of Theon Greyjoy, now known as Reek. Poor Theon. Theon has made some bad choices but he doesn't deserve this. Will he rally? Time will tell. Then Ramsey was given the task of hunting down Bran and Rickon Stark after Theon admitted he didn't kill the Stark boys.
  • Tyrion dumped Shae and sent her packing. But is this the last we'll see of her?
  • Joffrey used his new steel sword, sister to the one Tywin made for Jaime, to hack up a nice book Tyrion gave him. 
All this was just warm-up for the big event, the royal wedding. Everyone loves a royal wedding, especially
  • Margaery, who got to be lady bountiful again,
  • Cersei, who can't quite accept her own new position,
  • Jaime and Loras, who got in some welcome-to-the-family shots against each other,
  • Tyrion, who was humiliated brutally by Joffrey,
  • Brienne, who got a nice moment with Cersei, and
  • Joffrey, who got the best surprise of all.
So this was a game-changer, at least for the folks in King's Landing. We'll see what's next. I miss Jon Snow and Arya. I hope they're back next week.

What did you think?

Monday, April 14, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This week I finished Jeff Vandermeer's Annihilation, first of a trilogy that will be released in its entirety this year in paperback original. It was good! Creepy, trippy and good- very Christopher Priest. I'll do a full review this week but I recommend it to readers who like the weird.

I haven't decided what to pick up next. I need something different- I'm not going for another science fiction book yet, although I have several on deck that I'm interested in. I'm thinking maybe nonfiction, like Isabel Fonseca's Bury Me Standing, or Empire of the Summer Moon by S.C. Gwynne, about the Comanche wars. Or maybe Ellen Litman's new book, Mannequin Girl. I loved her first book so much and have been looking forward to this. Or maybe The Girl With A Clock For A Heart. What do you think I should read next?

(I'm still working my way through Hild and Rites of Passage. I'm finding Rites of Passage dull but it's a Booker winner and I need to read them all, so I'm doing my best.)

More at BookJourney.wordpress.com.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sunday Salon- Portlandia!

No, not that one, the one in Maine.

Yesterday my husband and I took a drive up north to visit Portland, Maine. A new bookstore opened up- Sherman's Books & Stationery had a grand opening of its new branch on Exchange Street, right in the middle of the shopping heart of the city.

It's a neat store with a great selection of books and gifts. Of course you have to love the chalk signs.
I bought Deathless, by Catherynne Valente, which I've been meaning to buy for ages.

From there we wandered around the city some more-it's been ages since I've been up there- and visited some comic book shops and used bookstores. Jeff got to play a round on a Doctor Who pinball machine, and I came away with a beat up $1 copy of Gone with the Wind for my crafts.

After that we drove back south and headed to Ogunquit, a very lively spot on the coast, for lunch on the beach. I even dipped my toes in the (freezing!) water! So now I can say I've been to the beach this year.

All in all it was a great day! We had perfect weather, visited a new bookstore, chatted with book pals and ate a lobster roll. Can't do much better than that!

Friday, April 11, 2014

15 Day Book Blogger Challenge: Day 8

Day 8's assignment is to do a quick 15 bullet points of things that appeal to me on blogs. Here goes:
  1. Strong opinions
  2. Neat layout
  3. No music or animations
  4. Long blogroll
  5. Short paragraphs
  6. Brevity
  7. Photographs
  8. Book covers accompanying reviews
  9. No colored text
  10. Good spelling
  11. Vivid logo
  12. Some white space
  13. Reviews of books I'm interested in
  14. Current reviews
  15. Frequent updates
And you?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Throwback Thursday Review: ABSOLUTION by Patrick Flanery

Absolution, by Patrick Flanery. Published 2012 by Riverhead Books.

I didn't break my hiatus to talk about The Hunger Games, or Joel Stein's article about adults reading YA, or even World Book Night. But I couldn't wait another minute to tell you about what might end up being my favorite book of 2012, Absolution, the debut novel by American expat writer Patrick Flanery.

The book tells the stories of Clare Wald, an elderly and celebrated author living in a kind of gilded prison in modern day South Africa, alone except for her maid. Sam Leroux is a writer and academic who's come to write Clare's biography, and she doesn't seem happy to have him there. Their relationship starts off testy and tense but nothing is as it seems.  The story of Clare Wald and Sam Leroux and the secrets, lies and truths that bind them and tear at them is riveting and beautifully written; Patrick Flanery may be a debut author but he tackles these prickly, unpredictable people and writes about difficult social, political and personal issues like a seasoned veteran.

A biographer faces off against a seemingly unwilling writer; we've seen this before but in this case it's not so much a battle of wits as a slow unraveling. The perspective shifts between Clare, Sam, the book that Clare is writing about her dead daughter Laura, a disappeared activist who was taking care of the child Sam just before she vanished, and more. Memories are told, retold, and imagined; sometimes the tellers are lying, sometimes they just don't know the whole story. The death of one character, a man named Bernard who looked after the child Sam for a time after his parents' death, is told four ways, and in the end the truth eludes us and the characters, too. And that's not all. Laura isn't who she seems; Clare carries a burden of guilt over the death of her sister and brother-in-law that may not even be hers to carry, and there are some things only hinted at that we never know for sure. Absolution is a lot of things in this book; it's the title of Clare's last book and the theme of course, the thing that everyone wants and some find more successfully than others.

So Absolution is really a four-pronged success. Flanery's writing is mature and elegant; the book reads like Margaret Atwood with its layers and complexity and craft. The characters are vivid and three-dimensional, complex and elusive. The plot keeps you turning the pages; what happened to these people, what's going to happen? The setting, contemporary South Africa, is rendered as a frightening dystopia where people live in constant fear of murder and death; middle-class people live in 24-hour terror of a predatory underclass and install panic buttons in their showers and bedposts in case of attack. I wonder if the panic buttons and burglar bars serve as a metaphor for something inside these people, their vulnerability to guilt and abandonment, their yearning for love and forgiveness. Sometimes the measures people take to protect themselves save them; sometimes nothing can. And the plot clicks along at a very satisfying, page-turning pace. I can't recommend this book highly enough to readers of literary fiction. It's a staggering, wonderful and accomplished book. I hope his subsequent books live up to the promise of his astonishing debut.

Rating: BUY- like, now!

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Off The Shelf: What's Cool at the Bookstore

I came across Yé-Yé Girls of 60s French Pop, by Jean-Emmanuel Deluxe, the other day and it looks so cool. It actually ended up coming home with me because, hello? French pop of the 60's? I love French pop music and this is both educational and a great shopping guide. It's a biographical and musical guide to a really fun era in French music. It should come with a CD, or a QR code (does anyone even do those anymore) to a site with downloads or samples, but it does not. Oh well! Still fun.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Game of Thrones: We're Back! Season Premiere Recap & Discussion

Do not read this if you haven't seen this week's episode. Do not blame me if you keep reading and see something you don't want to know.
So this was the season premiere of Season 4, and how we have been waiting for it. We're putting the characters back out on the board, gearing up for what's to come. After some pointed review scenes at the beginning to catch us up on the reappearance of some minor characters, things get started. Tonight's theme is "You can't always get what you want." What happened:
  • Nobody at King's Landing is getting anything they want. Well, Jaime got that sweet sword made from Ned Stark's old one, but he's going to have to content himself with that for a while as Cersei is exerting what little power she has to deny him access to herself. Shea can't get Tyrion, who's denying himself to everyone. And Margaery can't find a nice necklace for her wedding. I hate when that happens! *Stamps my foot.*
  • Sansa gets a friend, which she doesn't want but probably should be grateful for.
  • I do love scenes between Jaime and Brienne though. I love how she's becoming his conscience and he's learning to use his powers for good. His character arc has been fascinating so far and I can't wait to see what's to come for him.
  • Over in the far-away lands, Daenerys has an admirer in Daario Naharis, recast from that blond underwear model to some guy from "Nashville". She says she doesn't want that, but I think she does, a little.
  • Her dragons are getting large and testy. She wants to control them and might have to learn that she can't.
  • There's a new kid on the block, some guy with a grudge against the Lannisters. Like that doesn't describe every character who isn't a Lannister, and most of those who are. He wants revenge. Will he get it? And who is the woman for whom Rhaegar left this dude's siser? Lyanna Stark maybe?
  • Jon Snow gets to keep his head after answering to the Night Watch's council, so that's pretty good.
  • Some scarred-up guys starting hanging out with the Wildlings. Oh and they're cannibals. Neat.
  • Arya gets what she wants as she and the Hound continue their journey. He says he taking her to the Vale but if history is any predictor, where he says he's taking her is the one place she isn't going. But she gets some delicious revenge, served hot and bubbly. And she gets Needle back. So good for Arya.
So what I liked best were the scenes with Jaime, pretty much all of them, and how twice in the episode we get reminders of Jon Snow's relationships with the Stark children. There are his references to his affection and rivalry with Robb, and Arya's references to him as her brother- the brother who gave her Needle, for which she is willing to kill. Margaery is fun as always and I liked her scene with Brienne. "Joffrey is our king now." Uh-huh. That's your story and you're sticking to it.
So we got our usual helpings of blood and body parts and some new characters to boot. The royal wedding is coming up, which means Joffrey shouldn't start any long books. Tune in next week!

What did you think of the season premiere?

Monday, April 7, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Well this past week I read Ben H. White's Countdown City, second in the Last Policeman Trilogy. It was good, what can I say. I love these books. I know they're unusual as crime books go, but I like a little something off-beat so to speak. Pun totally not intended.

Now that I've got that under my belt, it's time to move on to a little science fiction, long absent from my reading. So I'm reading Annihilation, by Jeff Vandermeer. SF readers know him from the many anthologies he's edited; I myself read the Weird Fiction anthology he came out with a few years back. Annihilation is weird indeed, about a group of researchers investigating a mysterious area in a remote region of our planet, where strange things happen. If you've ever read Christopher Priest- especially if you've read Inverted World or The Islanders- you're going to find yourself in familiarly bizarre territory. So far so good!

I'm enjoying William Golding's Rites of Passage, about shenanigans on board ship to Australia at the beginning of the nineteenth century. He's on his way with a group of emigrants and getting used to all aspects of sea life.

What about you? See more at BookJourney.wordpress.com.

Friday, April 4, 2014

15 Day Book Blogger Challenge: Day 7: Blogging Quirks

The seventh question in the 15 Day Book Blogger Challenge asks us to "describe your blogging quirks."
  • I like to talk about who I think would like the book, whether or not I did. When describing books to others, I tend to break them down by appeal factors- plot, style, setting and character- to help my readers figure out if the book I'm talking about is a good fit
  • I like to have the book handy as I'm writing, to make sure I'm spelling names correctly and such.
  • But I always end up correcting something after the final review is posted.
  • I don't really do rough drafts anymore.
  • I write most of my posts on one day of the week and rarely write on other days. So if I write two posts that day, those are the two I have for the week. 
  • I tag by publisher, date, rating and broad category- fiction, nonfiction. I will tag for things like science fiction and crime fiction in case someone comes looking for books in those genres. I wonder if I ought to tag translated books, too. What do you think?
  • I like listening to music when I write. I have a Pandora station devoted to piano music and classical guitar. For some reason these genres help me concentrate.
  • Sometimes I write my posts when I'm watching TV. Like right now, I'm watching My Little  Pony. So this post probably makes no sense and that would explain Twilight Sparkle any weird things you might see pop up.
 What are your blogging quirks?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

ThrowBack Thursday Review: Gestures, by H.S. Bhabra

Gestures, by H.S. Bhabra. Originally published: 1984. Reprinted 2003 by Godine.

Before he committed suicide in 2000, author H.S. Bhabra had wanted his only literary novel to be retitled Faust when it was reissued. The publisher demurred after Bhabra's death, because, as is explained in the Foreword, the publisher believed that it would be confusing for the book trade and disappointing for the book's admirers. I think that if I had read this book prior to Bhabra's death and were told of plans to retitle it I too would be disappointed. Gestures is a book to fall in love with, and while by any other name would be as bittersweet, there is something to be said for preservation.

Gestures, the fictional autobiography of a retired British diplomat, is one of the best things I have read in a while and certainly the best book I read this year. The story of dutiful, politic and accomplished Jeremy Burnham, the book is set in pre- and post- World War 2 Europe. It opens in 1920s Venice, where Burnham starts his first foreign diplomatic post. He falls in with a small community of expatriates- worldly and world-weary widow Jane Carlyle, learned and Jewish Anthony Manet, and enigmatic Eva van Woerden, a Dutchwoman of cloudy origins. Anthony's Jewishness is important as a major theme of the book is the origins and effects of anti-Semitism. After a grisly series of events in Venice, the narrative picks up again in post-war Amsterdam where Burnham becomes involved with a shady Dutch industrialist and his daughter, and secrets, romantic entanglements and whispers of tragedy abound.

It all sounds very cinematic and indeed there is a lot of action; the narrative moves along at a good clip despite the weighty themes behind it- love, loss, memory and secrets we keep from ourselves as well as others. Gestures reminded me of that other classic of the self-deluded memoirist, Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldier and I may have to re-read that book in the near future. Burnham is a good person and generally likable but he does miss so much. Burnham merely hints at the events of World War 2, particularly the Holocaust, but these facts and their consequences color the twists and turns of the plot so completely it's easy and impossible at the same time to forget that they're there. I think Burnham is in deep, deep denial about the soil the post-war world is built upon and is unable to help his friends, or even empathize, because he is so blind to everything that should be so obvious. He's the epitome of the stiff-upper-lip Brit, preferring the conventional and the safe, and although he cares deeply for Anthony and Jane and his lover Elena he lacks the courage to get too close.

In addition to a page-turning plot, engaging characters and gripping suspense that actually comes with a pretty good payoff, Gestures is characterized by beautiful, highly-skilled writing rendering all of these elements into a breathtakingly accomplished work of fiction. It's shocking to me in a sense that the book isn't more well-known than it is- it was Bhabra's only literary work (he wrote three thrillers as well) and it really is extraordinary. Its beauty and tragedy and sheer luminosity puts some more recent and more acclaimed novels to shame. Why can't they all be this good?

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Review: THE SIEGE OF KRISHNAPUR, by J. G. Farrell

The Siege of Krishnapur, by J.G. Farrell. Originally published 1973.

The Siege of Krishnapur is the second in J.G. Farrell's Empire Trilogy, a series of stand-alone novels (a contradiction in terms) about British imperialism in different parts of the world. Singapore and Ireland star in the other two; The Siege of Krishnapur takes place in India, in a remote, fictional outpost affected as part of the very real 1857 Indian Rebellion, or First War of Independence, depending on who you ask. Farrell's book exposes the evils and absurdities of colonialism and sheds light on the politics of his day as well.

The story takes place virtually entirely among a set of Victorian English people who are settled in the fictional town when it comes under siege. First we are treated to some exposition on the characters and internal politics. Fleury is a feckless Englishman recently arrived with his sister Miriam and in love with upper-class Louise. A young woman named Lucy, who has been sexually assaulted, finds herself a pariah according to Victorian mores and her compatriots wish she would just sort of go away, but she has an unsettling joie de vivre nonetheless. When the siege begins, all of the English people find themselves having to work together to survive but as conditions deteriorate cracks and fissures threaten to break their unity.

The Siege of Krishnapur is considered a classic, having won the Booker Prize in 1973 and shortlisted for the Best of the Booker, awarded to Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children in 2009. I enjoyed the book; Farrell's writing is dense and detailed and full of black comedy and wonderful human touches. I found it a little hard to follow at times though and didn't quite get what all of the characters were supposed to be doing. I enjoyed the conflict between the two doctors over the right way to treat cholera though the resolution depended on someone dying, the comedy undercut with tragedy.

On balance I'd recommend The Siege of Krishnapur most to Booker completeists. I know how much the book is respected but like many of the early winners it felt dated and a little dull to me. I found the ending to be touching and worth the effort it took to get there, but it did take some effort. If you want to read a classic about colonialism it's certainly one to seek out.

Rating: BORROW

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.