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 I would be delighted if the rumor that this is actually a snippet from a yet unpublished book turns out to be true.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.