Thursday, May 27, 2010

Edgar Huntly; Or, Memoirs of a Sleep-Walker by Charles Brockden Brown

In this book Edgar Huntly investigates the death of his best friend and stumbles on another character whose experiences begin to eerily mirror his own. I was intrigued by the presence of Native Americans in the text (especially insofar as the circumstances of their attacks are both wildly inflated and downplayed). I was also interested in the theme of sleepwalking and the relationship between the sleeping and waking states and their relationship to motivation as well. Finally, I was intrigued by the presence of a Gothic sublime in the landscape.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Roses by Leila Meacham

Although this book has received a lot of good press, I found it incredibly disappointing. The writing was poor (full of clichés and plodding) and the characters were off-putting (they seemed to be poorly developed, and the only one I found myself liking was killed off by the influenza). More to the point the book struck me as misogynist (heaven forbid that women want a career when she could have a perfectly good husband and children) and racist. Don't waste your time.

Mistborn 3: The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson

In this book the world is collapsing. All of the features that make it feel so foreign are becoming more pronounced and the real nature of the enemy is becoming clearer just as his power seems more and more inevitable. This book fulfills the promise of the first two books really well. This series, taken in whole, is one of the most satisfying fantasy epics I've experienced in a long time.

Mortal Beauty, God's Grace: Major Poems and Spiritual Writings of Gerard Manley Hopkins by Gerard Manley Hopkins

This collection includes not only Hopkins's magnificent poetry, but also many of his writing about poetry and religion. The writings show the depths of his thinking and his clear sense of vocation, but the poetry is truly what makes this volume shine. I love the way he plays with sound and meter as well as his commitment to the beauty of the natural world, especially as a demonstration of God's love for us.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog: Medieval Studies and New Media by Brantley L. Bryant

This book is an odd hybrid: part reflection on the role of new media in Medieval Studies, part reflection of the relation of humor to academic inquiry, and in a large part, reproduction of Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog. The blog entries are written in a very passable (to my inexpert eye at least) Middle English and cover both historical events (Chaucer's election to Parliament, Bolingbroke's rise to power, and the persecution of the Lollards and other heretics, for example) and contemporary trends (Snakes on a Plane, re-imagined as Serpentes on a Shippe; "large bookes of teenage sparklie vampyre romaunce" called Vespers, Compline, and Matins; King Richard tweeting; Margery Kempe interviewing for and being given a faculty position at the MLA; and a V things meme). John Gower writes an introductory poem with the unforgettable lines: "Beware, ye shal nat L O L / The while that ye burne in helle," and Julian of Norwich writes a parody of Dorothy Parker's "Résumé." Definitely worth checking out.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Kingdom of Ohio by Matthew Flaming

This book explores the relationship between a man and a woman our narrator discovers in a photograph which arrives at his antique store. Questions of politics (the titular Kingdom of Ohio) and time traveling also come into play. The narrator is delightfully unreliable (lots of footnotes with some real and some not) and there is a pretty good twist at the end. Still, the story runs a bit fast at the end--there's a Croatoan connection that's thrown in and not adequately explored.

Betrayal by Aaron Allston

This book starts something new by putting the heroes of the movies and of the New Jedi Order books at odds amongst themselves over the political unrest caused by the planet Corellia's rogue actions in relation to the Galactic Alliance. Families are split apart as Han and Leia and Wedge Antilles side with Corellia while pretty much everyone else sides with the GA. Jacen, always more of a theoretical thinker, starts exploring Sith traditions and the dark side of the Force. The title actually fits well as it describes several of the plots within the book. I'm looking forward to the rest of this series.

Mistborn 2: The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson

While this book is in most respects a worthy successor to Mistborn: The Final Empire, I found it much harder to get started reading it. To start with, with the defeat of the Lord Ruler, the enemies and challenges facing Elend and Vin at the beginning of the book are much more nebulous. I did like some of the new (or newly introduced) characters, such as OreSeur and Tindwyl, and I really liked seeing Elend's development. By the end, I figured out some of the secrets about the titular Well of Ascension before they were explicitly spelled out in the book. This book definitely sets up what promises to be a smashing conclusion that I'm looking forward to finishing soon.

Long Time Leaving: Dispatches from Up South by Roy Blount Jr.

This book offers a collection of essays that reflect widely on the U.S. South. Often taking a quite humorous point of view, Blount reflects on the South itself and on the country's perceptions of the South at large. He never lets anyone entirely off the hook--he's equally willing to expose hideous assumptions about the South and to expose Southern prejudice and intolerance. While some of the essays are more compelling than others, many had me laughing out loud. I particularly liked the one with a bunch of potential country song titles and the one that reported a fictionalized tennis match between William Faulkner, Zasu Pitts, Dorothy Parker, and Clark Gable.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson

This book seems to have a little of everything: a great system of magic (here, Allomancy), which is well thought out and has real limitations, a story about trust and coming of age on the part of the heroine, just enough mystery to make it interesting, and a fascinating world of oppression, set up after the Lord Ruler (a slice of the infinite God) defeated the Deepness (the real nature of which is entirely unclear at this point). I loved the developing relationship between Vallette/Vin and Elend Venture, I loved Kelsier and his plan, and I can't wait to read the next two in this series. Best fantasy I've read in a long time.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Selected Poems by Christina Rossetti

This collection of poetry really made me appreciate Rossetti's skill and artistry. She has a finely tuned sense of rhyme, and her irony, at times reminds me of Dorothy Parker. I enjoyed the long story poems (some of which have quite the Gothic feel), but the best works were her beautiful sonnet sequences, particularly the one that riffs off of Dante and Petrarch. I also thought her religious poetry was both moving and thought provoking. This collection is a real pleasure.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

In this book, which won the Man Booker Prize last year, Hilary Mantel looks at the early court of Henry VIII through Thomas Cromwell, a commoner who rose to become one of the king's most trusted advisers (the role which he holds at the end of this book), as the king's marriage to Anne Boleyn is falling apart. I really appreciated this book's engagement with a wide cast of characters, and its portrayal of Cromwell, which is nuanced, and demonstrates Cromwell's changing religious and political opinions as time passes. Well worth reading (and I'm really hoping that Wikipedia is right about a sequel being in the works). Booker award winner, 2009.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Sweet and Deadly by Charlaine Harris

This murder mystery actually handles the genre pretty well. I thought it did better than some of Harris's series. The main character was sympathetic, there were several twists I didn't expect, and Harris clearly knows her stuff about working at a newspaper. I really enjoyed this mystery.

Tinkers by Paul Harding

Don't let this book's slim size fool you: it contains an artful meditation on life, loss, and love. I really enjoyed this book. I really liked the attention to detail in the clockmaking sections, and the parts about dealing with Howard's epilepsy and his father's dementia were heartbreaking. This book is of the type that repays the time you invest in kind.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan

I really enjoyed this book. Like the Percy Jackson books, this book assumes that the ancient Egyptians had insights into the nature of the world that modern people have forgotten at their peril. Sadie and Carter Kane, children of not one, but two royal bloodlines take on the forces of chaos as they try to work with gods and human magicians to restore order to the world. You can tell this book is the first in a series, as it leaves a lot of unfinished business, and it took a while for me to get into it, but I ended up really enjoying it. I thought the information about Egyptian mythology was fascinating, and I loved the adventures traveling around the world. I look forward to the next book in this series.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Swarm War by Troy Denning

This book wraps up the Dark Nest trilogy. I thought the whole trilogy was a little confusing as far as the Chiss/Killick/Jedi/Galactic Alliance politics went, although I did like the idea of our heroes (here, the Jedi) being the underdogs again (in their disagreements with both the Chiss & the Galactic Alliance). At times, I felt like the main point of the series was to set up a plausible way to make Luke see his mother's death (which, apparently, R2-D2 was filming the whole time Revenge of the Sith was going on). I was intrigued by Jacen's developing relationship with the Force, his family, and the Jedi.

Sonata Mulattica by Rita Dove

This collection of poems tells the story of George Augustus Polgreen Bridgewater, son of an African-Caribbean father and a Polish-German mother, who was a violin prodigy. He was briefly friends with Ludwig van Beethoven until they quarreled over a woman. The poetry is amazing; Dove gives a virtuoso performance, using many styles and many voices to tell the story. I really enjoyed both the recovery of Bridgewater's story and the amazing language Dove uses in her project. Well worth reading, and returning to.

Change We Can Believe In by Barack Obama

As I understand it, this book was actually put together by Obama's staffers during the campaign, in order to present his platform to the American people. It's organized into two parts: first, his platform (which is divided in such a way as to allow him to repeat key themes throughout the first section), and second, copies of various speeches he's given. The writing in the first part is nothing to write home about, but it was intriguing to compare his campaign promises (to be fair, promises that he couldn't possibly fulfill, given the fact that he has to work with Congress to get any law passed) to what he's accomplished in office. The speeches are more intriguing; I'm convinced that President Obama is a good writer on the basis of his books, and he's obviously hired great speechwriters, who take advantage of his charisma and oratorical talent. The speeches are usefully repetitive and rhythmic, although they don't say a lot (the meat of his plans is in the first part of the book). This book is a strange hybrid, but worth looking into.

Solar by Ian McEwan

This novel, Ian McEwan's latest, tells the story of Michael Beard, a Nobel laureate for whom success in life seems to have come to early. Although the reader can't help but be reminded of Michael's success, he's riding his laurels from the time the book opens. From someone who's intellectually lazy and personally cruel, Beard develops into an even less moral person throughout the course of the book. While Beard personally becomes very interested in the climate change debate, the book itself is more about the personal disasters that Beard fails to navigate than the global disaster that looms over us all. As I have come to expect, McEwan's prose is magnificent.

The Adventures of Sexton Blake by Dirk Maggs

In this audio drama Sexton Blake, a British detective created in the late nineteenth century who's gone through a number of stories in a variety of formats since then, has a number of adventures that turn out to be related to the same case. I listened to this audio book on Patrick Rothfuss's recommendation, and I'm glad that I did. It's funny (Blake seems to parody Sherlock Holmes, for one thing), it's exciting, and it's a really neat format (old-style radio drama with an actor for each character and lots of sound effects). It took me a few minutes to get used to the format (I'm much more familiar with audiobooks read by a single narrator), but I really enjoyed the production once I finished. The story was goofy at times, but it was altogether a great enjoyment.

The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama

This book seems to have two threads running through it: a personal thread and a policy thread. Although one chapter builds to a personal meeting with Senator Byrd, one in which Byrd affirms that serving in the Senate is the height of democratic citizenship, I find it ironic that President Obama did not even complete his first term in the Senate before being elected president. The book is beautifully and thoughtfully written, even if I don't agree with all the policies and positions Obama takes.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris

I really liked this book, 10th installment in the series of Sookie Stackhouse books. Although there were some questions of vampire politics that I thought weren't adequately addressed, I am assuming that in those moments, Harris was setting up the next book in the series (which I'm now eagerly anticipating) and there did seem to be a lot of action that was happening off-stage. I loved getting to meet Eric's maker, and his vampire brother, Alexei (almost as exciting a character as Bubba). I was also interested in the werewolf registration act, which seems to have eerie parallels with the new immigration law passed recently in Arizona. I can't wait to find out what happens next!

Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel

I enjoyed this book much more than The Life of Pi, Martel's previous bestseller. At times it struck me as a bit smug (Henry seems to stand in pretty obviously for Martel), and at times the violence of the text really shocked me (although I don't know that it was inappropriate in a book about the Holocaust). I was really intrigued by the play Beatrice and Virgil: I thought it was very well done, in the manner of Beckett. I know this book will remain in my mind for a long time--there's a lot to ponder.

The Unseen Queen by Troy Denning

This book quickly demonstrates that the detente achieved at the end of The Joiner King was just a lull in the storm of this war. I found the story intriguing and I was happy to see the Jedi order correcting from its (seemingly dangerous) changes in its perception of the Dark Side in the New Jedi Order series. I wanted to see more of Jacen and Tenel Ka.

Theories of Falling by Sandra Beasley

In this collection of poetry Sandra Beasley has a variety of poems, but for me, the most effective was "Allergy Girl," the long poem that closes out the first of three sections. This poem deals with her food allergies and I thought did a beautiful job of looking at relationships and human connections. Another strength of this connection is the imagery, often quite beautiful. I'm looking forward to reading her next collection.

Bug-Jargal by Victor Hugo

In this book Hugo has fictionalized the Haitian Revolution. He uses a frame story set during the Reign of Terror to tell a story about a young French officer, his fiancée, his loyal friend and subordinate, and Pierrot, a revolutionary who is also in love with the officer's fiancée. I was particularly interested in this story for all the masking that went on (Pierrot/Bug-Jargal, Habibrah, the dwarf's divided loyalties, the doubling of Bug-Jargal and D'Auverney). The story ends up being strongly anti-revolutionary and also strongly opposed to cultural mixing (in fact, D'Auverney's fiancée, Marie, is also his first cousin). The story is at times quite sentimental. I enjoyed this story quite a bit.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Hobomok and Other Writings on Indians by Lydia Maria Child

This book collects both Child's romance, Hobomok, and a variety of short stories and other pieces on Native Americans. Hobomok is really intriguing; the plot is straight forward sentimental (the heroine's father opposes a love match with an Episcopalian. After a ship wreck, the heroine marries Hobomok [a Native American] and has a child, but when the Episcopalian comes back, Hobomok retreats into the wilderness for his wife to marry her first love). Despite the conventional plot, I was really interested in several aspects of the story: Mary Conant (the heroine) uses witchcraft to discover who her husband will be early in the story, there's doubling going on between the Episcopalian and Hobomok, and there's an intriguing and unsettled frame narrative that gives the novel an historical air. The other stories were fairly well-done; and some of them were quite moving.