August 10th, 2010

Queen Jo

#13 - Philip Pullman - Sally Lockhart #1: The Ruby in the Smoke

Author: Philip Pullman
Title: The Ruby in the Smoke (Sally Lockhart Mysteries, #1)
Number: 13/50
Format: Audio book (read by Anton Lesser)
Grade: 4/5

My personal history with this series of books is a bit unusual, I suppose. I saw the TV adaptations of the first two books, then read the third and fourth books and I've recently decided to read the first two. The Ruby in the Smoke is the first book following Sally Lockhart, a spunky 16-year-old in Victorian London (& Oxford, which was lovely as I lived there for a year and it's always nice to hear the names of familiar streets and roads.) It's a historical mystery with real backbone, despite a few flaws.

I really enjoyed the depth of Pullman's writing - the dialog and the descriptions in particular are packed with details and exquisite. Sally herself is well-developed from the start and extremely likeable. The cast of secondary characters is unevenly written: while Sally's allies are well fleshed out, her enemies are often cartoonish, with very little depth.

The general plot is good enough, though unnecessarily complex and unrealistic at times, which, combined with the caricatures we are often presented with amongst the 'baddies' makes for a very bizarre story. The relationships between the different characters are very nice and warm, I felt very close to them all and my favourite parts often had to do with moments of friendships and Sally learning about her past rather than her escaping one of the clownish characters. Near the middle of the novel, she tries to put her finger on why she feels like she belongs and I found her conclusion particularly moving ('they didn't care that one was a servant and that I was a woman, we were equals here. That was what was different.') and it gives an inkling of broader themes of class and gender explored further in The Tiger in the Well, the third book in the series.

A word about the audio book, since it's the format I chose: Anton Lesser's narrative is flawless. Overall, a good book, not excellent but very worth reading and a nice introduction to the series and to one of my favourite heroines in literature.
Kindle app

59-60 (Geektastic and Linger)


59. Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd - Black, Holly, and Castellucci, Cecil
60. Linger (sequel to Shiver)- Stiefvater, Maggie

HOLY HELL, Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd (great title, dreadful subtitle) was really and truly awful. I liked Holly Black's modern fairy tale series (starting with Tithe), and it includes stories from other authors I like, including M.T. Anderson, Cassandra Clare, and Scott Westerfield. Plus, there's a comic between stories, half illustrated by Scott Pilgrim's Bryan Lee O'Malley(!) and half by Hope Larson (who is supposedly adapting A Wrinkle in Time to a graphic novel). So I was seriously excited about this collection. But it just made me angry, angry, angry. You know how sitcom writers and general fiction authors and high school boys like to make fun of nerds and geeks with grossly exaggerated and overly simplified stereotypes? Apparently the self-professed geeks who wrote these short stories think they're right. I wanted to shoot pretty much every author who contributed to this book.

Linger, on the other hand, was pretty good. It was less cohesive than Shiver and it was a little hard to follow. I liked it anyway, but I hope it's just middle-book syndrome and that it's setting things up for a much better third book.
Dead Dog Cat

(no subject)

I guess I'm showing my age...I just finished reading The Boys on the Bus, non-fiction by Timothy Crouse about the media during the 1972 Presidential Campaign. You know, Nixon vs. McGovern? It was something of an expose about what the media did and didn't do during the campaign, and how it may have helped Nixon to win. Very interesting, and nicely written.

Book 7

7. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Published: 2003
Pages: 536

I was excited to read this book because I am fascinated by time-travel. I loved "Timeline" by Michael Crichton and the "Back to the Future" movies and "Quantum Leap" TV show. The premise for this book sounded interesting with one of the characters, Henry, being a time traveler and going back in time to when his wife, Clare, was younger and before they met in real time. The novel started out promising, but by the time I finished it, I felt greatly disappointed.

The book is told in first person by both Henry and Clare. Now I wouldn't have any problem with this, except for the fact that both of their voices are exactly the same. There is really no difference between the way they're written. She should have just stuck with Henry's POV and called it "The Time Traveling Husband".

This book is over 530 pages, but it could have easily been condensed. There are many scenes that could have been cut as they don't move the plot along at all. These include the scene where Henry and Clare are playing up their pretentious game they made up with their friends, a scene with Henry talking to two young teens about his thoughts on music, etc. There are better examples, but those are the first two I could think of.

Also, what's the point of being a time-traveler if you can't change anything about your history? I can't remember if Henry really can't do anything to change his past, or if he just doesn't want to fuck with it, but if he knows somebody he loves is going to die, why not try to warn them when he's older? Hell, and while you're at it, why not try to stop 9/11? Okay, I know it would've been a completely different book if this took place in a parallel universe where 9/11 never happened, but it probably would have made for a better story!

There's also the really creepy plotline where he goes back in time and sees his wife between the ages of 6-18. In all of these excursions, he's usually in his 30s, sometimes in his early 40s and finds himself attracted to Clare when she's 13 or older and has to remind himself that she's not his wife yet. It's very creepy and uncomfortable, especially when they have sex on Clare's 18th birthday when he's 41. Maybe people find this romantic because she eventually becomes his future wife, but I felt like I had to take a long, hot shower after reading that.

I'm kind of curious to see the movie, though