Saturday, February 28, 2009

17. "The Good Thief" - Hanna Tinti

I thought I was getting "The Book Thief," which tickled my imagination. I'm not sure if it is even a book, but this is what I ended up taking home from the library instead.

Ren is a 12-year-old boy living in a New England Catholic orphanage. He fears growing out of the system, when the army will take him, but his lack of a hand makes him unwanted by the local farmers.

Enter Benjamin Nab, a trickster and schemer who takes Ren away under the guise of brother. Joining Nab's friend, Tom, the trio sell everything from fake potions to dead bodies.

I could have loved this book, but what charmed many people frustrated me. There are no normal characters. From the landlady to the nuns, not a single character has predictable behavior or habits. Without some semblence of normalcy, how do we compare the rest of the crazies? Perhaps if placed in a fairy tale world, it would not have seemed over the top. Placed in a small town in New England, it simply felt like one long tall tale with no honesty. Perhaps the "good thief" is the author, herself.

2.75 out of 5.0 Goods.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

16. "The Gargoyle" - Andrew Davidson

This novel has been called fantasy, modern Gothic, romance, and Christian lit. After the first 20 pages, I wondered what the hell I was doing. After the first 100 pages, I wondered how I could have questioned the author's voice.

Because it's the voice that overwhelms you at first. The narrator, a pornographer (director, producer, and actor), high off coke and doped by alcohol, veers off the road and down a steep embankment. Fire consumes his car and his skin. He plans on making it through therapy to be able to commit suicide.

Then, Marianne Engel appears at his bedside, smirking that he's been burned "again." Again, meaning he'd been burned in a past life that the two of them shared as lovers. She knows about his scar from birth, as well as his thoughts. Marianne also knows a lot about the 1340s because she claims to have lived in a nunnery and transcribed a book similar to Dante's "Inferno." However, after their first meeting, he finds that she is a patient from the psychiatric ward.

Upon her release, Marianne dedicates herself to his recovery, telling him stories of love in Italy, Iceland, England, and Japan. He begins to fall under her spell, even though he also considers her either schizophrenic or bipolar.

Is she? Or is she the love from his soul's past? What is hell, compared to being burned alive in a car wreck? What is hell, compared to being in love?

The roughness of the narrator is smoothed by the end of the novel, like Marianne's rock sculptures of gargoyles and grotesques. While I could pigeon-hole it into a category (women's lit., mystery), I'll say it is simply beautiful writing that provokes thinking, which is my kind of book.

4.5 out of 5.0 Firestorms.

Friday, February 20, 2009

15. "Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You" - Peter Cameron

This young adult novel hits the nerve of today's disposable nation, bringing with it a disposable childhood. James Sveck is the depressed, cynical narrator who considers using his tuition money for Brown to buy an old house in the Midwest. This New York City teen works at his mother's art gallery while seeing a therapist after a parent-alarming event on a field trip to DC.

While this short book has been compared to J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, it is indicative of our current generation's hopes and fears. Anything mundane is stupid, according to them, and the James-eye viewpoint shows the inner pain with wry humor and intelligence.

4.0 out of 5.0 Pain Killers.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

14. "Boudica: Dreaming the Serpent Spear" - Manda Scott

Manda Scott has dreamed her way through four books about the infamous Boudica (Boadicea, Boudicca) woman warrior of ancient Briton. And I grit my teeth.

I'll be frank. I wrote a screenplay about this warrior (the film by Mel Gibson - referred to as "Braveheart in a bra" - is in pre-production). My viewpoints are very different than those of Scott or Gibson (as I understand it) and many other ancient Briton experts. Add to the mix that I'm an American and I'm easily dismissed from conversations regarding the red-headed queen of the Iceni tribe. And, yes, she (via her daughter) has been my project for years.

Still, I liked a lot of Scott's imagery and battle scenes. While her focus is on the "dreaming" (Druid) aspect of the different tribes, it is an interesting mix of Celtic and old Irish traditions and history. The Roman versions of the invasions were less believable, but Scott admits to tinkering with history. Although I don't agree with Scott's version, I appreciate the beauty in it.

Unfortunately, you can't read this book alone. You need to begin with the first and work your way through the series. Even so, I was confused several times and had to rely on my faulty memory and hints from the language to work through paragraphs and scenes.

3.75 out of 5.0 Bay Horses.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

XX. "Tides of War" - Steven Pressfield

Like a 10 K-er pushing for a marathon, I pooped out. Sorry, Steven Pressfield, but I cannot read another battle scene or twist my brain-tongue around ancient Athenian names.

I know this is the sequel to one of my favorite books. I know I should love it. But I pulled a muscle in my cerebrum.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

13. "The Legend of Bagger Vance" - Steven Pressfield

Yes, I'm on a Pressfield kick. I'm waiting for all of those ARCs to arrive. And I had a bit of a break, so I'm updating the blog.

Having never seen the movie, is it good? And what I mean by that is, can it compare to the book?

A book that combines golf with the South (and all of its early 1900 issues) and a magical presence (Bagger Vance) is enough to make a sweet tooth ache a bit. Looking at Pressfield's career, it is obvious that his attention to detail (the greens can change during the day based on the blades of grass following the sun... no wonder my game is so awful) is a prelude to his attention to details during battles. Personally, I find the battles more enchanting than golf, but I digress.

Bagger Vance is the caddy for Junah, the local hero who is playing the 36-hole round with two veritable greats in golf. Vance, in the form of a black man, has near-Godlike powers (or mystical powers, if you wish). His actions throughout the game create a change in Junah and in Hardy, the elderly narrator who is reminiscing about his role in the events.

Golfers would love the first half of the book, as well as the theories on how golf applies to life and life applies to golf. Mystic-lovers would love the last half of the book, where Vance pulls the most magical tricks from his sleeve. However, the switch (and if read, you'll know what part I'm referring to) was too abrupt for me... to the point of WTF?

Steven Pressfield, I adore most of your books. I'm glad this was your first, and you got it out of your system because you have written incredible works ever since. The end.

2.0 out of 5.0 Broken Down Golf Carts.

12. "The Dead Fish Museum" - Charles D'Ambrosio

In eight wonderful short stories, D'Ambrosio packs in enough angst, beauty, and purity to make a simple writer like myself want to slit my wrists out of jealousy.

No, really.

The meaning behind each story can (and is) debated, but the brilliant descriptions and uncanny pitches at human behavior are the touches of a true artist. While his aim is for hope, what lies underneath the pretty, pretty words is a depth of unplumbed rawness. Pity. Fear. Self-involvement.

What hit me in the solar plexus was his first and last sentences - whether, of sections or the entire story. Such meaning, in such short sentences. Such an amazing talent of our era.

4.0 out of 5.0 A-1s.

11. "Killing Rommel" - Steven Pressfield

Pressfield is famous for rendering ancient battles into emotional, tangible lessons in history. This is a more modern twist on the mythology of valor in war; in this case, World War II.

While the story is based on the factual missions to assassinate the German "Desert Fox," Rommel, in his posts in North Africa, Pressfield creates his own special command unit. Chapman is a lieutenant who is part of the ground unit.

In the past, I've been disappointed in Pressfield's lack of personal ties, but he has more than made up any errors in this novel. Chapman's relationships with his men are "the best times of [my] life," which is not how someone would intuit from the war. However, the descriptions of desert living and combat are amazing, as always. I'd love to see Pressfield take on more recent wars.

4.25 out of 5.0 Screaming Nazis.

XX. "Dragon Bones" - Lisa See

I adore See's historical novels, but this was a combination of modern technology meeting Chinese mythology. I made it to page 20, and that's my limit. Perhaps if I had entered the fictional world with different expectations, I would have a positive reaction.