January 29th, 2012


2012 - Book 2

*grumble* My reading speed is ridiculously slow right now, since I only get to read on my commute. :(

Book 2    Title Jane Eyre (1847), by Charlotte Brontë
               Genre uffff ... errrm Bildungsroman? Gothic? Realist?
               Status First time
               Version Physical copy, paperback
               Link to the cover none, since part of a boxed set

               First Lines "There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. We had been wandering, indeed, in the leafless shrubbery an hour in the morning; but since dinner (Mrs Reed, when there was no company, dined early) the cold winter wind had brought with it clouds so sombre, and a rain so penetrating, that further outdoor exercise was now out of the question."
               Synopsis Jane Eyre, brought up by an unloving aunt before being shipped off to a boarding school for her unbroken spirit, finds employment as a governess at Thornfield. While there, she - plain and headstrong, honest and bright - finds love in her brusque employer, Mr Rochester. However, their love is overshadowed by eerie occurences and Rochester's past. When all secrets are revealed, all Jane has left is to flee ...

               My thoughts The book is part of a boxed set, containing five of the works by the Brontë sisters, and I look forward to closing this gap in my reading of "classic" books in the course of the year. I started with Jane Eyre because it is one of the most famous books from the sisters and because I had recently watched my first movie adaptation of it (the Cary Fukunaga version of 2011).
I wont go into any comparisons between movie and book, but I had a positive surprise in Jane's character. The, of course, very condensed movie couldn't really convey her strength of character and resolve. Especially the flight from Thornfield reads a bit less like a headless endeavor in the throes of a broken heart but a cold, logical decision backed and hindered at once by her emotional pain. I approve. I also loved certain passages that were certainly very proto-feminist.
I was also surprised by how much I liked Rochester, since I knew of him only through criticism about his past and how he deals with it. (And Kate Beaton. ;p ) But I'm not quite sure if I had done something different in his situation re: the attic, and the only thing that repulsed me was him leading Jane on. And Rochester comes off pretty good in comparison with the other suitor of Jane, who, as I understand it, will die young in India. Good riddance. I hate that guy ...

              Currently reading Unten am Fluß (Watership Down, 1972), by Richard Adams
              Book 1 The Last Unicorn (1968), by Peter S. Beagle  http://50bookchallenge.livejournal.com/12180960.html

Books 2-3: The Silent Girl and The Blue Demon

Book 2: The Silent Girl (Rizzoli & Isles 09) .
Author: Tess Gerritsen, 2011.
Genre: Crime. Police Procedural.
Other Details: Hardback. 336 pages.

During a Ghost Tour of Boston's Chinatown, a severed hand is discovered in an alley and close by the police find a gun complete with silencer. Detective Jane Rizzoli is the first to locate the rest of the body on a roof-top: a woman dressed all in black, her head nearly severed. She has no identification though when they find her car its GPS holds the addresses of Louis Ingersoll, a retired homicide detective, and a martial arts academy. At the academy they meet its owner, Iris Fang, whose husband had been murdered nineteen years previously at the Red Phoenix Restaurant during an incident in which its cook went amok and shot four people and then himself. Detective Ingersoll had been lead detective on that case.

Thus begins what I consider possibly the best novel in this series to date. I won't say too much more about the plot except to say that the investigation opens up to look into the disappearances, also some years previously, of two teenage girls related to the victims who died at the Red Phoenix.

Tess Gerritsen is one of my favourite crime writers and I've also followed her blog for years, so was aware that this novel was more personal given that for the first time she was writing about the Asian-American experience. She blends in aspects of Chinese lore and legend and introduces an intriguing new character - Johnny Tam, an aspiring detective. Hope to see more of him in the future. My only quibble with the novel is that we don't get enough development in terms of Rizzoli and Isles personal lives though perhaps given how heavy the previous book (Ice Cold) was in that respect for Maura it is understandable. Just hoping that this series runs and runs and also so pleased about success of the TV series and higher profile that is giving to this excellent series of novels and to Gerritsen in general.

My first novel about who I am - Tess writing about the personal aspects of The Silent Girl.

Book 3: The Blue Demon (Nic Costa 08).
Author: David Hewson, 2009
Genre: Crime. Thriller. Politics- Terrorists/Spys.
Other Details: Hardback. 392 pages.

Published in US as City of Fear, this outing for Nic and his colleagues is set in Rome during a G8 summit. When a minor politician is kidnapped Costa and his boss Falcone are summoned by Italian president, Dario Sordi. They learn that a home-grown terrorist group known as The Blue Demon, long thought inactive, has seemingly revived and is threatening to bring chaos to the city for the summit. Sordi, once a close friend of Nic's late father, believes more is going on and asks Nic and his colleagues to look into the background of this group focusing upon its leader, a former professor of Etruscan studies, Andrea Petrakis. Quite quickly this covert project clashes with intelligence agencies as well as attracts the attention of the Blue Demon group.

Hewson often draws on Roman history and here links back to the pre-Roman Etruscans and Imperial Rome. He also quite subtly blends real life politics with fictional elements and due to this he provides quite a detailed author's note at the conclusion of the novel. As always I found this quite fascinating and especially enjoyed his references to Robert Graves' I, Claudius and Claudius the God, two of my favourite works of historical fiction.

Although I love this series and its characters, I found as with The Sacred Cut, Book 3 in the series, that with the complex politics and the various cross and double-crosses between intelligence organisations and the like led to my having some trouble following sections of the plot. Still this may well have been down to my own issues as this was the first book that I read after coming off the medication that effected my ability to concentrate. If this book had not been due back at the library, I would have likely deferred it until my brain was a little more with it. Still a fascinating story.

David Hewson on 'The Blue Demon' and politics - some background on the writing of the novel.
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#10 The Enchanted April - Elizabeth Von Arnim (1922)

Read on Kindle
A discreet advertisement in 'The Times', addressed to 'Those who Appreciate Wisteria and Sunshine...' is the impetus for a revelatory month for four very different women. High above the bay on the Italian Riviera stands San Salvatore, a medieval castle. Beckoned to this haven are Mrs. Wilkins, Mrs Arbuthnot, Mrs Fisher and Lady Caroline Dester, each quietly craving a respite. Lulled by the Mediterranean spirit, they gradually shed their skins and discover a harmony each of them has longed for but never known. First published in 1922 and reminiscent of 'Elizabeth and her German Garden', this delightful novel is imbued with the descriptive power and light-hearted irreverence for which Elizabeth von Arnin is renowned.

Having joined the Librarything virago group several months ago - which reignited an old obsession - I kept hearing about the utter marvelousness of Elizabeth Von Arnim, an author I had never read. Although I would dearly love to collect beautiful green Virago Modern Classics editions of her books - I discovered they are available free on kindle - via sites such as manybooks.net or girlebooks. So I downloaded 4! This is the first of them I have read.

Oh my what a treat, I started this while in hospital a few hours after undergoing minor surgery, and finished it at home - and it was perfect reading for being laid up with. It is probably perfect reading for almost anytime. Four women who are little more than strangers to one another, and who are not, to begin with, entirely comfortable with one another, share a castle on the Italian riviera for the month of April. In sight of the sea and surrounded by flowers, their holiday in San Salvatore begins to work its magic on them all.
Lottie and Rose who first conceive the plan to escape to Italy are only slightly acquainted - both hail from Hamstead, both married, though each have problems in their marriages they wish to both escape and at the same time resolve. Their husbands - not at all sympathetically portrayed at the start - are changed too by the magic of San Salvatore. Mrs Fisher a much older widowed lady lives very much in the past, is not much given to frivolity, and is the most difficult of the group. Lady Caroline a famous beauty is tired of being starred at, grasped at and wants to be left alone. How a few weeks in beautiful surroundings serve to change these four different women is charmingly told. The characters of Rose and Lottie are especially well developed, and the descriptions of their marriages, and their feelings about them were well explored and added some depth to the novel. Even Mrs Fisher who to begin with seems a much less sympathetic character is depicted with honest affection and understanding. I loved every bit of this novel, and it ended too soon - always a good sign - and I look forward to reading more Elizabeth Von Arnim.
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Idiot Essays; Horse Rotters

The Idiot, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (translated by Eva Martin, nook)
Parts of this were baffling or boring and parts of it were absolutely compelling and brilliant. From reading Crime and Punishment, I'd expected more of the latter than I got, but I still found it an enjoyable slog. Added bonus amusement provided by the translator, who occasionally threw in bits of WW1-era Anglo idiom that were no doubt unremarkable at the time, but which I found highly amusing almost a century later.
(18, O5)

The Horse and His Boy, by C. S. Lewis (reread, audiobook)
Despite its flaws, and how much extra time I had to think about them in audiobook format, this is still my most favorite of the Narnia books. Reader was good, too.
(19, O6)

The Best American Essays 2011, edited by Edwidge Danticat and Robert Atwan
Most years, I read the "Best American"s partly to expose myself to a broad range of ideas, but also mostly because they are fun. I was sort of puzzled about how I kept putting this one down and reading something else, until I thought about the year's topics: the cultural effects of queerness, the earthquake in Haiti, getting one's father's pacemaker turned off (a brilliant essay but since it made me cry last time I read it, I forbore this time through), auscultation (subtopics: trapped miners, heart disease, fatherhood), the murder of a young nephew, the aftermath of surviving childhood abuse, a spouse's failed tenure bid & the appeal process thereof, airplane crashes, the experience of having cancer, the author's need for chapels, chatline phone sex, the accidental cop homicide of a young girl in the roughest part of Detroit, the difficulty of someone's mother's immigration experience, visiting the murderer of a dear friend in jail, Othello's experience of being an out of place immigrant as it relates to that of the author's father, illegal abortions, the history & current ecological poverty of an area covered in big box shops which used to be an air force training base, being run over by a bus and the rehab process afterward, the dream & disappointment of moving to Chicago and having the baby of a no-good man, how Facebook might be impoverishing people's sense of self, being stopped for "driving while black" and its intrusion on a biracial family's birthday celebration, a weird little meta-essay on how personal essays seem to vie for attention based on quantity of suffering & self-centeredness, serial killers and prejudice, and a ritual corpse-washing. Superb writing, in all cases, but not exactly an afternoon's diversion!!!! Oof.

Rotters, by Daniel Kraus
This was marvelously, unrelentingly creepy without ever being outright supernatural - plenty implausible, but in the good way. I *think* maybe when people like Faulkner, they like the sorts of things about him that I liked about this book: the language, the vision, the unrelenting grim absurdity that nevertheless both rings true and grants hope. Or I could be completely off in my comparison - I've never made it through a Faulkner novel. Anyway, this is wonderful, if you like horrific tinges to your coming-of-age tales.
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Three, Cujo, Subversive Cross Stitch and Twisted Stitches

These are the first four books I've read this year. The cuts are for the size of the cover art and adult content. No spoilers.

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Since the days of Thomas Malthus, if not earlier, political philosophers have grappled with the possibility of exhausting the carrying capacity of Earth, and attempted to square those limits with the real improvement in living standards since the Industrial Revolution, or to evaluate the limits on improvements implied by that carrying capacity.  Brian Czech's Shoveling Fuel for a Runaway Train:  Errant Economists, Shameful Spenders, and a Plan to Stop Them All is in that tradition, although Book Review No. 3 will argue that the author has too frequently erred on the side of the polemic.

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Taken together, the policy part drips with that particular East Bay smug, and it will no doubt be referred to favorably in wealthy environmentalist circles, and among back-country hikers.  As a call for public action, the plan is unlikely to stop that runaway train.  The book appeared in print a few years too early to ride the wave of disaffection against corporate welfare manifested by the Tea Party and Occupy movements alike.  That wave can help accomplish some of the environmental goals, if only in slowing the channelling of resources to liquidators supported by the public purse.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)