December 31st, 2012

Reading - La Liseuse

Books #37-38

37. Charlaine Harris, editor, The Sookie Stackhouse Companion, 461 pages, Vampires, Hardback, 2011.

A collection of short essays, interviews, and a short story set in the Southern Vampire Mysteries/Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood universe edited by the series author. For a fan of the series, it’s a very useful addition – especially the alphabetical listing of characters and places at the end of the book. For those who just want to read the stories, the short story that begins the book, Small-Town Wedding (about Sam and Sookie’s adventure to his brother’s wedding), is a welcome inclusion. Otherwise, it is a passable read.

38. Charlaine Harris, Dead Reckoning: A Sookie Stackhouse Novel, 335 pages, Vampires, Paperback, 2011 (Southern Vampire Mysteries, Book 11).

Continuing the series, the basis for HBO’s True Blood, Sookie finds her job on shaky ground. Merlotte’s is losing business between Sam’s coming out as one of the two-natured (shapeshifter) and a new bar opening up nearby. Adding to those issues, a series of violent attacks happen during her shifts. Her fairy relatives are being cagey. And her lover, officially her vampire husband, Eric, is having political issues that require her to be at his side without fully realizing the dangers to both her protected status and the local vampire community. Victor, regent of Louisiana, has been provoking them all into desperate action. It will take all her wits to survive this time.

46: What a horrible night to have a curse.

Worlds_of_PowerFriends! In accordance with my august reading habits, I have just finished the magnum opus that is Worlds of Power: Castlevania II: Simon's Quest. It is surely a staggering tale of horror, romance, and daring-do!

[Read along with me!]

Chapter 1:

“No you don’t, Count Dracula,” said Simon Belmont, his long blond hair streaming in the night wind. He held up the magical item he had worked so long and hard to obtain. “For I have the power of the Magic Crystal and that is the one—“”
Simon Belmont started.
“Timothy Bradley! Are you listening to me?”
Simon dropped the Magic Crystal. It smashed to the floor and burst into a thousand brilliant pieces.
Count Dracula laughed cruelly. “Ah! A vampire has no better ally than a mother!”
He leapt on the boy, and then…

That's...disappointingly clever. I was led to believe this book was massively stupid. And: “Well, mothers never do understand, I suppose,” said Mrs. Bradley. “That’s part of our job." Also: The magical world of Castlevania dissolved around Tim Bradley like twinkling gossamer. That simile's overused and twee, but not stupid, particularly considering the target age cohort.

Tim shook his head as he got up and began digging through a pile of comic books for his prized pair of black leather Reebok shoes. Reeboks were quite a thing back in the day, weren't they? You hardly ever hear of them now.

Chapter 3:

Standing behind him was a tall, blond-haired man who looked like a superhero from a comic book only with short hair and a vulnerable, perplexed look on his face. But boy, his costume sure wasn’t anything from this century! He wore what looked like hand-made sheep’s wool jacket and trousers with a sackcloth shirt cinched at the waist by a wide leather belt. His black boots were leather as well. He smelled distinctly of garlic. Was this before or after Captain N? The jacket seems a deliberate callback. (Also, Simon goes around wearing a wreath of garlic in this book.)

“Righteous, dude,” said a long-haired guy with leather pants, just coming into the boys’ room. “Aren’t you Metallica or somethin’!”
“No,” said Simon, eyes flashing with dark earnestness. “I’m from Castlevania!”
“Great group, man! Got all your CD’s!”
The guy cruised out of the boys’ room thrashing power cords on his heavy-metal air guitar.
I dunno. I'm beginning to like this book. Simon's kind of a dumb puppy in this.

Tim on being teased at school for being a gamer: "I’m being persecuted for my hobby."

“Dracula. Right. I thought the old popsicle sucker was dead!” Uhhh...

The mystery woman who gives Simon the low-down on the plot in the manual is here named Linda Entwhistle, and she's Simon's now-kidnapped girlfriend who communicates with him telepathically. If this is a reference, it's lost on me.

Tim began jamming stuff into an empty laudry bag. Stuff he was going to need. Like chocolate bars. A Swiss army knife. Chocolate M&M’s. A sweater. Some more Hershey’s Chocolate Bars (semi-sweet, milk, Mr. Goodbar and gosh, don’t forget the one with almonds). It's sad that Mr. Goodbar isn't made with real chocolate anymore. Also, Tim thinks he might lure "E.E." down from space with some Reese's Pieces. I don't know if that's a typo or the transcriber isn't old enough to have seen that movie.

Chapter 5's title is "Dr. Simon and Mr. Dracula," since the Curse in this version is Dracula trying to take over Simon's body.
But Tim manages to forestall him:
You are a silly thing, aren’t you. I shall enjoy hearing you squeal and feeling you squirm when I sink my lovely fangs into your soul!”
“Is that the tooth?” Tim shot back.
“Arrgh!” cried Dracula’s voice. Simon’s body jerked back as though physically struck. “A pun! I abhor puns! If there’s anything I can’t stand more, it’s stupid, silly jokes!”

Chapter 9: There is only one church in the entirety of Castlevania. This seems unwise.

The church does, however, hold white elephant sales, and yes, they call them that. I wonder if they hold baked bean suppers and get together for lutefisk, too.
But what do they sell at Castlevania white elephant church sales? Why, thorn whips, of course! And the Red Crystal. Novel Simon Belmont got his Red Crystal at a garage sale.

Chapter 10: Berkleley Mansion has a backstory here: its previous owner, a baron, went mad and slaughtered his entire family and waitstaff.

“You are the puzzle solver, Timothy.”
“You know, you can call me Tim.”
“Tim. Somehow it doesn’t sound right.”

Chapter 11: In the basement of Berkeley Mansion, behind a holy-waterable wall, lies the antique shop from King's Quest II: seemed to be some sort of room filled with antique chairs, lamps, mirrors, knick-knacks, doo-dads, and whatnots, to say nothing of whatsits!
In the very middle of the room, sitting in a creaky old rocker was a creaky old lady with a very large black cat square in the middle of her ample lap, purring as it was petted.

The proprietor's name is Ezederada Perkins. I'd ask how someone with the surname of "Perkins" came to reside in Romania, but then we'd have to settle the issue of House Belmont, and that'd take enough time for a couple castle resurrections in itself.

Ezederada also uses the expression "hush my puppies." Do they have soul food in Transylvania?

Ezederada (did she just escape Malkil's clutches or something?) is the caretaker of the famously haunted Berkeley Mansion, but it's her job to make it look ramshackle instead of kempt: "I distribute the cobwebs, the dust, and the clutter just so." Again, that's actually kind of clever.

"You clearly think in puns, young man. An unhealthy habit."

In Chapter 12, "Stake Out," Simon & Tim run into the mansion's boss monster, a fishman. In fine Simon's Quest tradition, he's a pushover - he actually doesn't want to fight Simon at all, claiming that it's only the "dumb monsters" who work for Dracula. He introduces himself as "Freddie," which is an instruction-manual joke, and when Tim starts going off about the Freddy in the monster movies at home, Freddie starts explaining that "[a]ll good monsters have there names end with an i-e; all bad ones with a y. Helps keep things straight."

Freddie fills us in that Dracula actually comes from another dimension filled with monsters but prefers Transylvania because "[h]ere, he’s big stuff. Back home, he’s just another creep." Other Dimension is ruled over by "the Master of Death, Thanatos," so I guess the employment situation here is the reverse of that of the games.

Chapter 13: Simon apologizes to a monster before slaying it. Kid Protagonist has a whip, but doesn't quite have the hang of it.

Also, there's this bit of imagery: The wall shimmered like torn sandwich wrap.

Meanwhile, Dracula appears in a visage assembled from discarded bones and skulls. I'm surprised this hasn't been used for a monster in the games.

Chapter 14: A health notice:

Simon had taken Tim aside and told him that maybe he was eating far too many chocolate bars to be good either for his nerves or for his health. Tim had asked him if Simon thought he were his mother, for goodness’ sake, and Simon had said no, but as leader on this quest he felt that he should point these things out.

There's also a visit to "The Ye Olde Anti-Vampire Shoppe": The place looked like an Italian deli, what with all the strings of garlic bulbs stretched around the room.

Shopkeeper: "May I ask, why laurels? They are a symbol of victory, and that seems a long way away, if I may say so?”
“The power of positive thinking!” piped Tim.
Both Castlevanians looked at him as though he were from another dimension.

Chapter 15: In disguise as a local schoolgirl, Dracula tempts Tim with Godiva chocolate truffles (brand name explicit). But Tim is suspicious: What was a girl doing with this stuff?

Chapter 16: Apparently, the lineup of Impaler organs includes a brain. Haven't been keeping close track, but I think they did away with the game's Ring to make room for it.

Chapter 17: Here is the description of Death:

He seemed to be about twenty feet tall, with legs like the trunks of trees, arms with biceps that would make Arnold Schwarzenegger gasp with envy and a chest as thick as a Sherman tank. But it was as much his outfit as his size that made Tim freak out almost totally.
Thanatos looked like a hood straight out of Flatsbush, Brooklyn, in the 1950s, who had made a time stop in the current heavy-metal era for some jewelry.
He wore black leather pants with a black shirt, littered with chains and spangles and other cheap jewelry. He wore the classic black leather motorcycle jacket. On his wrists were leather bracelets with studs.
His face was like a cross between some-thing out a fifties’ horror movie and someone out of a forties’ gangster film. His entire face was broad. His hair was cut flattop style. There was a ring in his nose, making him look much like a bull who’d just stepped off a motorcycle after a high speed dust up with the cops.

Death-come-Arthur Fonzarelli, however, has acquired a Lovecraftian tinge: The mouth opened, and Tim had a glimpse beyond jagged fangs and rotting molars… a glimpse of stars and nebulae, of shadows between planets and worlds being born and worlds dying.

Chapter 19: Tim & Simon pass through a cemetery, where the real danger, we're told, is getting snagged by all the chatty-Cathy dead who want one of the living to listen to all their old stories. They do, however, tell the duo how to get past Deborah Cliff, which is far more intuitive than in the game.

Speaking of which, game hint:

You must kill Thanatos.

That is a lie.

Chapter 22:

Tim to a Dracula complaining about being deracine: “Go somewhere else then.”
“What? Earth? I didn’t fare very well there. Not well at all. That is why I came to Castlevania. Why should I leave?"

So the book is canon in this Castlevania. (Tim's rejoinder to the above, BTW: “Because,” said Tim. “You’re such a jerk!”)

Tim, victorious, prepares to return home, and muses that after confronting Dracula, a fight with the neighborhood bully will be nothing. Simon corrects him with this mythic advice: “They are all Draculas.” I think we can all take this advice forward with us in our lives.

The 2012 list

My goal was 50 books, and I ended up with 51. I'd hoped for 52, but I managed to misplace a book I was 3/4 of the way through (ah, the joys of moving!). Hopefully, I'll find it sometime in the next week or two!

But, here's the list for 2012.
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All in all, not too bad. I'd like to add more classics to the 2013 list, as well as some non-fiction selections. We'll see!

Happy New Year, everyone (who celebrates it)!
  • krinek

26. Hope: A Tragedy by Shalom Auslander

Title: Hope: A Tragedy
Author: Shalom Auslander
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Year: 2012
# of pages: 292
Date read: 7/5/2012
Rating: 4*/5 = great


The rural town of Stockton, New York, is famous for nothing: no one was born there, no one died there, nothing of any historical import has ever happened there, which is exactly why Solomon Kugel, like other urbanites fleeing their pasts and histories, decided to move his family there.

To begin again. To start anew. But it isn't quite working out that way for Kugel. . . .

His ailing mother stubbornly holds on to life, and won't stop reminiscing about the Nazi concentration camps she never actually suffered through. To complicate matters further, some lunatic is burning down farmhouses just like the one Kugel bought, and when, one night, he discovers history -- a living, breathing, thought-to-be-dead specimen of history -- hiding upstairs in his attic, bad very quickly becomes worse.

Hope: A Tragedy is a hilarious and haunting examination of the burdens and abuse of history, propelled with unstoppable rhythm and filled with existential musings and mordant wit. It is a comic and compelling story of the hopeless longing to be free of those pasts that haunt our every present." -- from the inside flap

My thoughts:

From the first page to the last, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I especially liked Solomon's quest for the perfect dying words and his conversations with the doctor and the person in his attic.
winter trees

Books 176-177: The Killing Handbook and To the Nines

Book 176: The Killing Handbook.
Author: Emma Kennedy, 2012.
Genre: TV Tie-in. Non-Fiction. Nordic Noir.
Other Details: Hardback. 227 pages.

Emma Kennedy tells you everything you ever wanted to know about THE KILLING - and more.Hej! If you've been experiencing an inexplicable longing for rain, long dark nights, and an overwhelming urge to pull on a slightly itchy looking jumper then congratulations - You have Forbrydelsen Fever. There's no need to panic. This is your chance to get inside the world of Sarah Lund: from the characters, the plot holes and the politics to the language, dating the Danish way and the jumpers... - synopsis from publisher's website.

This is a light-hearted companion to the hit Danish TV series Forbrydelsen (The Killing). Strictly one for the fans of the Danish series as I suspect anyone who buys it thinking it is about the US re-make of the series will be totally lost as to who is who and what is going on.

As a huge fan of "Forbrydelsen" I pre-ordered this companion. It had a much lighter tone than I had expected though given the bleakness of the series it was nice to have a little humour from the cast and others involved in the production. It contains extensive spoilers for Seasons 1 and 2 with titbits about Danish culture. There are also a number of knitting patterns for those who wish to re-create the Sarah Lund look. It proved a fun book to dip into and it made me wish I was a knitter.

Book 177: To the Nines (Stephanie Plum #9) .
Author: Janet Evanovich, 2003.
Genre: Chick Lit Crime Fiction. Comedy/Drama
Other Details: Unabridged Audio. (Length: 8hrs, 10 mins) Read by Lorelei King/Hardback.

Stephanie Plum's cousin and boss Vinnie has issued a Visa Bond on Samuel Singh, a man on a short-term working visa. However, a few days before he is due to leave the USA Singh goes missing along with his landlady's little dog. Vinnie is in a panic about the negative publicity and so assigns Stephanie and Ranger to locate the man. In the process Stephanie attracts the attention of a sinister man who shows no remorse at committing murder and taunting Stephanie about his kills.

Great fun as usual. Had a bit of trouble with the audiobook as I came down quite ill on Christmas Eve. Luckily I had also checked a copy of the novel out of the library, which proved fortunate as this kind of light read was about all I could handle.


I read G. W. Hinckley's Some Good Will Boys as a matter of local interest - Hinckley at the turn of the (20th) century ran the Good Will-Hinckley charity boarding school in central Maine for underprivileged & delinquent boys, which taught them natural-living trade skills in a farm-like setting. The campus was huge - Hinckley felt that access to an outdoor life and a home-like campus were salutary for a boy's development - and in later years, the campus mission was expanded to orphans of both genders. Financial mismanagement led to the campus closing, though; it's recently been relaunched as part of a nearby community college.

But anyhow: Some Good Will Boys is a collection of short and allegedly true stories about Good Will-Hinckley's young charges that G. W. Hinckley assembled in 1910. Trouble is...well, there's not much point to these stories. I realize that popular writing standards must've been different 100 years ago, but Hinckley doesn't know how to shape a real-life narrative to create tension or interest or to illustrate a point. Most of the stories follow a predictable arc of "orphan commits & denies misdeed; is eventually found out," but the stories are real shaggy-dog tales that're too flat or unstructured to be humorous and have no real moral except "don't steal paint/watches/money/etc." The only two unique morals we get besides that are 1) though it should be used sparingly, some boys need corporal punishment in order to get on the straight and narrow, dammit, and 2) alcoholism is responsible for the ruin of many families (as noted in a kind of stilted "hey, we're all just coincidentally talking about how alcohol has robbed us of our parents; MY, I WONDER WHAT LESSONS A BYSTANDER READING COULD DRAW FROM THIS" conversation betwen Hinckley and some of his boys). Hinckley doesn't seem like an overly honest narrator, as too many of his conversations sound scripted, and...well, though I was hoping to glean some new insight into a local landmark through this book, all I ended up concluding was that perhaps the dishonesty at the Good Will campus goes back a little further than I thought.
  • cat63

Book 65 for 2012

Cold Days by Jim Butcher. 515 pages

14th novel in the Dresden Files series. At this point it's really hard to say anything at all about the plot without giving huge spoilers for preceding books in the series, but once again I was impressed by Butcher's ability to pick up seemingly insignificant bits from earlier books and make them into important plot elements in later ones, while maintaining continuity.

Another immensely enjoyable episode in this series. When's the next one out? :)

Book 50

Originally posted by audrey_e at Book 50
50 BRIGHTNESS FALLS Jay McInerney (USA,1992)

The story of Russell and Corrine, their crumbling marriage, and his decision to buy the publishing company he works for.

Bright Lights, Big City, by the same author, is one of my favorite novels. Naturally, Brightness Falls could not top that one. 
This is still a good book, filled with realistic dialogues and heartbreaking insights on the disappointments of life. Unfortunately this time, McInerney makes the mistake to drag on his story when it is unnecessary, while his previous novel was to the point.

This short review should complete my 50 book challenge of the year!

See you all next year.

  • krinek

27. Trader to the Stars by Poul Anderson

Title: Trader to the Stars
Author: Poul Anderson
Publisher: Panther
Year: 1965
# of pages: 155
Date read: 7/23/2012
Rating: 3*/5


"Their space-yacht, pursued by angry Adderkops thirsting for their blood, has run into serious engine trouble. Picking up the trail of another alien spaceship, they decide to board it and force its crew to take them home. But once aboard, its not so easy to find the crew: they're faced with cages full of bizarre, other-worldly animals: Tiger apes, Elephantoids, Gorilloids, Caterpiggles, Helmet beasts, Tentacle centaurs. One set of these extraordinary creatures must be the crew, in hiding. But which? Survival depends on finding the right answer. . .

And this is just the first of the problems facing Poul Anderson's intrepid space-merchant venturers in this masterly SF book!" -- from the back cover

My thoughts:

I liked this science fiction book of space-faring traders. I especially liked the challenge in the first story of trying to determine who were the crew and the cultural misunderstandings depicted in the last story. I look forward to reading the first book in the series, War of the Wing-Men.
  • krinek

28. Real Murders by Charlaine Harris

Title: Real Murders
Author: Charlaine Harris
Publisher: Worldwide
Year: 1990
# of pages: 252
Date read: 8/14/2012
Rating: 3*/5 = good


"Every month, Real Murders, a society of crime buffs in Lawrenceton, Georgia, met to discuss a favorite infamous murder. Its members were an eccentric lot: Gifford Doakes, the massacre specialist; Jane Engle, lover of Victorian horrors; Perry Allison, a Ted Bundy fan. . .

The night of the last meeting, town librarian Aurora 'Roe' Teagarden discovered Mamie Wright's mutilated body in the clubhouse kitchen. She felt certain the killer was a fellow murder, for the crime bore a chilling resemblance to the club's 'murder of the month.'

And as other brutal 'copycat' killings followed, the only motive seemed a horrifying bizarre sense of fun. . . ." -- from the back cover

My thoughts:

I enjoyed this mystery featuring a librarian trying to discover who was copying well-known murders from the past. I look forward to reading the next book in the series, A Bone to Pick.

48: Not named for his appetite.

woodenlegNow for one of the best books I read this year. For obvious reasons, there are few first-hand accounts of the Battle of Little Bighorn. In the 1930s, however, a researcher with an interest in the Cheyenne persuaded one of the surviving warriors, a tribal judge named Wooden Leg, to tell his story. Wooden Leg recounts not just his own perspective of what happened leading up to and at Little Bighorn, but how everyday Northern Cheyenne life was before major conflict with U.S. soldiers.

I'd like to emphasize above all how intensely readable Wooden Leg: A Warrior Who Fought Custer is. In a way, that's aggravating, as you can't really describe what makes a book readable - but if I had to guess here, I'd say it's Wooden Leg's perspective, so common-man and relatable. He doesn't have the removed, stoic voice so many feel is necessary to relate Native history; he tells his story very straightforwardly, as one would to a friend. But he doesn't embellish his tales, either, and the book is remarkable in its perceived honesty: facts that would paint Wooden Leg or his people in a bad light are not whitewashed, and even events that prove momentous are not built up if they seem didn't like big deals to the participants at the time. You're not getting a wide, sweeping historical perspective on what happened (though it is quite historically useful), but a layman's.

As a result, we can see things very clearly - even if Wooden Leg in some instances himself can't. We learn, for example, that the lives of a surprising number of Cheyenne women ended in suicide - which, in retrospect, probably isn't surprising given their limited rights and how they're swapped around so freely, but which hints at pain that's elided in other narratives. We see how circumstances led to the Bighorn battle - government forces unilaterally declared all Indians in what the Cheyenne perceived as their territory as hostile to harvest the land; the Cheyenne and others initially stayed put because they perceived they had a treaty and would not be harmed if they followed its terms; several tribes banded together for strength and mutual support after soldier attacks; Custer decided to attack preemptively after straying across a splinter tribe he judged to be an advance squad but was just lost. We learn how the terrain at Little Big Horn made the U.S. troops' allegedly more advanced ranged weapons a liability and gave bows and arrows an advantage (since guns shoot straight, the U.S. troops had to leave cover to fire; the Indians, who could just arc their arrows upward to where the soldiers were trapped, didn't). We can understand why Wooden Leg's Cheyenne would ultimately surrender to U.S. forces - food is forever scarce in Cheyenne life and conflict an inevitability - and we even get the sense of how reservation life at the time been perceived as humane through the presence and actions of some understanding soldiers. But we understand the author's wistfulness for the times "when every man had to be brave." Wooden Leg doesn't wallow in more depressing matters, even when he would be perfectly justified to do so, and he's a practical compromiser, but he does make it plain when the Indians were mistreated or given the short end of the stick.

(Wooden Leg doesn't, though, paper over actions he himself took that some could find objectionable; he's quite eager to fight the troops, fires many shots into enemy lines, and returns to battle even when he has a chance to quit, and he takes a scalp from a dead soldier's body in a rather macabre manner (he takes part of the face as well to preserve some facial hair he found interesting). A couple folks on Amazon called foul because he doesn't recount killing any troops firsthand, but it's made pretty clear in the pitched long-range battle that it was difficult on either side to ascribe specific kills to anyone.)

It sounds odd to say this about a book concerning Little Bighorn, but I really enjoyed this personal perspective into Cheyenne life and the famed battle. No one here on either side is an actor on the grand stage of history - everyone's just someone trying to survive, and is relatable enough to be your neighbor. Well, except for the scalp thing. But maybe not. I don't know your neighborhood.


Water Shows the Hidden Heart is an odd duck: it's written by Roma Ryan, lyricist for Enya, and meant to accompany the singer's album Amarantine. It builds upon the Loxian fantasy world whose language Enya & Ryan invented for the album (and which, they claim, is under their exclusive copyright - and they do lay down C&Ds, so don't go getting any ideas about writing anything in Loxian anytime soon). The prologue sort of establishes the world of the Loxians, a society of stargazers who cluster in two cities on an island and whose cultural symbolism centers on a duology between the river and the moon. The main part of the book, though, is a kind of dream-story about a man who goes on a symbolic journey in search of his lost love, who recently died. (The track on Amarantine by the same name is supposed to be a sort of image song of his travels.)

If you've heard "Flora's Secret" or "Anywhere Is," you know that Ryan at her best is a master of playful, poetic wordplay. Unfortunately, a) Ryan's been off her game for the last couple albums (meaning, starting with Amarantine), and b) she hasn't figured out here how to adapt her material to the format of a novel, even one that's supposed to read like a fever dream. The prose is circular and repetitive and raw in a self-published way:
They say these are but the first words in a book of words. They say these are but the first words in a book that holds many other writings. They say these writings are of the night, and that they are words of love, page upon page bound in black, a black that is the color of the night...

Ryan's good at images that allude more than tell, that are sustained over the five minutes of a song, but in expanding her ideas to greater length and a more baldly expository format, her revelations become trite, and tableaux that are supposed to be heartbreakingly beautiful (how stunning and rapturous and brave it is that the Loxians found their culture on love of knowledge and the printed word, for example) come across as frothy insipidities (even more so when they're presented as stunningly original ideas). I did like the initial idea here of presenting the stages of one man's grief as a series of destinations - a city of constant grey rain that is either peaceful or dolorous depending on one's perspective; a "city of indecisions," where every road leads to a different one from one moment to the next - but too many of the cities are samey, and the execution just isn't there. The novel comes across more as a self-indulgence; the song, translated, tells this story better.

I made it to 50. Now where's my new car?

alphonse-mucha-masterworksThat why we're all doing this, right? If we hit 50, we win A NEW CAR, Rob Roddy-style?

Anyhow, for my last book, I chose a leisurely read that had been sitting on my shelf for a long time: Alphonse Mucha: Masterworks. It's a coffee-table book, but it also contains quite a lengthy biography of Mucha and an analysis of his illustrative works during his time in Paris. The info I learned about Mucha was interesting - for example, his conceived masterpiece was a 40-painting epic depicting the myth and history of his Slavic homeland, but by the time he got to paint it, he was all but rejected by his countrymen for having spent so much time in Paris, away from the Czechs. I found, though, the analysis part of the volume less illuminating - art professor Rosalind Ormiston points out a few interesting details about the details and composition of many Mucha works, singling out elements like the common layouts Mucha used and what tricks he would use to emphasize the unusual verticality of his works, but much of her information is repeated and a little shallow, and the commentary is rarely placed close to the corresponding illustrations, necessitating a lot of flipping back and forth. Also, I was disappointed that for all the mentions of it, nothing of The Slav Epic was depicted - or anything of Mucha's jewelry, but I suppose that would take a book in itself.

But why am I complaining? This book is utterly stuffed with almost 200 pages of gorgeous Mucha illustrations, and prose aside, that's enough to recommend it to anyone.
marie masked

Book 178: Pure by Andrew Miller

Book 178: Pure.
Author: Andrew Miller, 2011
Genre: Historical Fiction. 18th Century Paris.
Other Details: Paperback. 342 pages.

Set in pre-Revolutionary France, the novel follows the work of young engineer Jean-Baptiste Baratte, who in 1786 is given the task of clearing the over-filled Saints Innocents Cemetery. The cemetery had been closed in 1790 and the decomposing bodies were believed to be polluting the surrounding area. The church of Saints Innocents was also to be demolished.

Miller had been inspired to write the novel after reading a brief account of the project and "was taken by the theatricality. It was done mostly at night, with fires burning to purify the air, and this terrible job was going on right in the middle of this very populous quarter of Paris. And then, of course, the bones were taken across the city in these processions, with chanting priests, to a quarry on the other side of the river." It is one of those small footnotes in history that can prove rich fodder for a novelist.

Miller does a superb job of capturing the sense of decadence and decay of Paris in a subtle way. While the coming Revolution is not commented on there are certain rumblings under the surface of Parisian society that come to Jean-Baptiste's attention though as a very focused and non-political man he remains apart from them.

The cover art was inspired by Francisco Goya's etching 'The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters' using ravens, symbols of death associated with graveyards, rather than bats and owls. It very much sums up the novel. Pure won the Costa Book of the Year in 2011.