BiblioBlog
December 13, 2004
McSweeney's Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories edited by Michael Chabon

McSweeney’s Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories edited by Michael Chabon: a collection of literary short stories that is touted as “stay-up-all-night, edge-of-the-seat, fingernail-biting, (and) page-turning” that I ultimately found to be uneven at best.

These stories are supposed to blur the line between genres, but with a few exceptions (most notably “7C” by Jason Roberts), I didn’t find that too many of them fit that bill. While several of the stories were very good, others were not of the caliber that I would have suspected given the talent that wrote them.

"7C" by Jason Roberts is a blend of horror and science fiction that I needed to reread again to truly appreciate. Jonathan Lethem’s “Vivian Relf” was also interesting and I particularly enjoyed it since I have one of those faces that is always causing people to ask, “Don’t I know you?” Other stellar stories were China Mieville’s “Reports of Certain Events in London,” “Minnow” by Ayelet Waldman, Poppy Z. Brite’s “The Devil of Delery Street,” and “Delmonico” by Daniel Handler. I think I would have liked “The Fabled Light-House of Vina Del Mar” by Joyce Carol Oates more if it would have been tighter.

My favorite in the collection was “Lisey in the Madman” by Stephen King. I am a huge Stephen King fan and despite my disappointment in the last Dark Tower book, I felt that this story was a return to the King that I know and love. I would be delighted if the rumor that this is actually a snippet from a yet unpublished book turns out to be true. I would love to know more about Lisey and Scott Landen’s lifes.

An uneven collection in all since I didn’t like some of the stories at all (Peter Straub’s “Mr. Aickman’s Air Rifle” being my least favorite), but still with enough good ones to make picking this book up worthwhile.

December 03, 2004
Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende

Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende: a novel about a young woman’s search for her lover who has gone to California to seek his fortune during the gold rush of the 1850s.

On March 15, 1832, a baby is discovered on the doorstep of the British Import and Export Company is Valaparaiso, Chile. Rose Sommers, the sister of Jeremy Sommers, one of the main figures at the company, immediately falls in love with the child and adopted into the family.

Eliza, as the baby is named, has a life of privelge and learns of the world from her two very different mothers - Rose, the upper crust, very correct Englishwoman, and Mama Fresia, the Chilean cook. Her life is pretty straightforward until, at the age of sixteen, she meets Joaquin Andieta and falls desperately in love. Shortly after their affair begins, he leaves her to travel to California, hoping to become rich in the gold rush fever sweeping the world.

A few months after he leaves, Eliza, too consumed with her love for him for them to remain apart, decides to leave Chile and find him so they can be reunited. Thus begins a journey of thousands of miles and many years.

I found Daughter of Fortune to be absolutely riveting. Allende manages to bring not only Eliza and Joaquin’s story to the front, but also dozens of other characters. I found myself getting lost in several of these other people’s stories and almost forgetting that the book was actually about Eliza.

The descriptions of life in other parts of the world - particularly that of China and of California during the 1850s - was fascinating, though the corruption and inhuman treatment of minorities was deplorable and extremely disheartening.

The only problem that I really had with the book was that the ending was too abrupt for my liking. Several revelations were made that I wish would have played out more amongst the characters. I would have liked to have seen a more final conclusion than the one that was presented.

On a side note, this book has the absolute longest paragraphs I have ever come across. In some places, the same paragraph would last for a few pages. I can’t recall the last time I’ve been struck by paragraph length while reading.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and look forward to reading more of Isabel Allende’s works in the future.

November 26, 2004
Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks

Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks: the story of a English village that decides to quarantine themselves due to the bubonic plague in 1666.

As the story begins, we meet Anna Frith. She is the housemaid for the rectory in a small Derbyshire village. The year before, in the Spring of 1665, a tailor inadvertently brought the plague to the town on an infected bolt of cloth. People begin to sicken and die, causing Michael Mompellion, the rector, to propose a plan to the townspeople.

His plan is that the town seals itself off from the rest of the world (aided in part by a local earl who is willing to give them with supplies) so that they don’t spread the disease. However, this means that those that are healthy now run the risk of possibly getting sick in the future.

Despite the fact that the most prominent family in town decide to flee, everyone else stays. As more and more of the townspeople get sick, a friendship between Anna and the rector’s wife Elinor grows as they try and battle the disease. This complicates the feelings that, after the plague has just about run its course, are starting to develop between Anna and Michael, leading to an ending that I never expected.

The novel is actually historical fiction, inspired by the English town of Eyam, making it easy to feel like you’ve been transported in time and are experiencing what life for those townspeople must have been like.

I truly loved this book. I found the story to be many things: sad (Anna’s longing for her children and the time she could have spent with George Viccars was heartbreaking), courageous (the towns willingness to sacrifice themselves to help stop an outbreak), inspiring, and just downright interesting.

My only problem is with the abruptness of the novel’s conclusion. Most of it was told as a flashback to the time of the plague’s outbreak, so when we get back to present time, there’s very little of the book left. Considering what we find out about certain things, I would have appreciated Brooks taking more time to deal with these revelations.

All in all, though, I found it to be an engrossing read with characters that I really cared about, making me want to find out what would happen to them as the plague decimated the town. I also enjoyed seeing a woman gain indepence and self-reliance in a time when it was rare for so many. Definitely well worth reading.

November 22, 2004
Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire: The Wizard of Oz, told from a different viewpoint from what we’re used to, that of the Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba.

When our story starts off, we’re treated to the Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba, swooping down on her broom to spy on Dororthy Gale and her group as they discuss her origin. The majority of the book is then told as a flashback, beginning with Elphaba’s mother getting ready to shortly give birth to her.

Honestly, I don’t feel like recapping the entire story, so I’m not. I liked about the first half of the book, but once Elphaba left for the Vinkus, I really felt like the story bogged down. Up until then, it had been interesting with political discourse, love affairs, and interesting characters. After that point, however, it seemed to just drag on and on with no real purpose.

Once the final events leading to Elphaba’s death start to get put in motion, I felt like they were very haphazad and didn’t relate well and were just rushed to finish the book up. The whole part about a possible conspiracy drawing the lives of the three witches together also never set very well with me.

I’m torn whether I would recommend this book or not. Ultimately I found it disappointing, but so many people really love it that it might be worth your time to read.

November 12, 2004
Gates of Eden by Ethan Coen

Gates of Eden by Ethan Coen: a collection of short stories by the creator of such movies as Fargo, O Brother, Where Art Thou, Raising Arizona, and, one of my personal favorite movies of all time, The Big Lebowski.

Being a big fan of the all of the movie that the Coen brothers have done, I was very excited to see that Ethan Coen had written a book of short stories (anthologies have always been one of my favorite things to read). I figured that the strikingly strange characters that populate their movies would have no problem coming to life on the pages of a book.

Unfortunately, I could never get interested in either the people or their situations, with the exception of a few of the stories. These stories just never came to life for me the way that they have on the big screen.

The stories that I did enjoy were A Fever in the Blood (a private detective goes deaf after having his ear biten off by a by a deranged thug), I Killed Phil Shapario (a Jewish son kills his father, though I’m really not sure why), and Gates of Eden (a weights and measures man is seduced by a beautiful Japanese lady for nefarious reasons).

All in all, I was greatly disappointed iwith this anthology. The book did get good reviews over at Amazon.com however, so you might like it even if I didn’t.

November 07, 2004
Affinity by Sarah Waters

Affinity by Sarah Waters: a gothic story that’s part supernatural tale and part romance, but always interesting.

In late September of 1874, Margaret Prior becomes a Lady Visitor - a woman who visits the inmates giving them friendship and guidance in hope that when they are released they will better their lives and turn away from crime - to Millbank Prison in London.

The prison is, of course, a dark, sad place with two hundred and seventy women incarcerated (there are also men, but they don’t figure into the story). On her first visit she is captivated by the sight of a young woman holding a violet that she puts to her lips and breathes upon.

She becomes enthralled by this woman, a medium with the beautiful name of Selina Dawes and a face like that of an angel by the painter Crivelli, and an unlikely friendship which soon becomes fraught with much more.

I don’t want to say much more about the plot of the novel since half of its intrigue was in determining what had happened, not only to Selina but also to Miss Prior. Why is she watched so closely by her mother? What is the illness that she speaks of?

I enjoyed reading the book and trying to figure out where the story would go next. It was delightfully entertaining despite the somber tones of the novel. Highly recommended for those that like their stories enigmatic and a bit dark.

November 02, 2004
Magician by Raymond E. Feist

Magician by Raymond E. Feist: this is a Viking Classic compiliation of two novels, Magician: Apprentice and Magician: Master, both with slight changes, presented as an “Author’s Preferred Edition.”

At the beginning of this saga (this compiliation was almost seven hundred pages), we meet Pug, a thirteen-year-old orphan who lives at the castle Crydee in the peaceful Kingdom of the Isles. He is best friends with Tomas and the two enjoy their boyhood not knowing the destinies that await them.

Soon, Pug is apprenticed to Kulgan, the castle’s magician, and Tomas is choosen to be a soldier. However, strange happenings are soon to occur that plunges not only their world, but also another, into an epic fight spanning decades with repercussions that they never could have dreamed of.

This is another one of my purposely vague reviews because I want this book to be as much a surprise for you as it was for me. I was about half way through when I happened upon a reivew that contained a spolier that would have ruined much of the novel for me if I hadn’t almost reached that part already.

This was definitely one of the better books I’ve read all year and I read most of it in one sitting despite its length. I was constantly amazed at how well he was able to create what amounted to dozens of main characters, all of whom I felt connected to and very interested in seeing how their lives would play out.

If you are a fan of adventures, swords and sorcery, or just love a good yarn, then you cannot go wrong with these books. I have ordered the next book in the Riftwar Saga, Silverthorn, and am anxiously awaiting the time I can return to the world of Pug, Tomas, and so many others.