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Book Review: Pretty Monsters

prettymonstersA friend has been trying to get me to read Kelly Link‘s story collection, Pretty Monsters for, what?, a couple of years now. I’m generally not into short stories, but I’m glad I finally picked up this set. I really enjoyed it.

I think my favorite story is “The Wizards of Perfil,” about a kid who gets sold into a wizard’s service – and her cousin. And wizards, and things. The plots of some of these stories are hard to explain. There’s also “The Faery Handbag,” about a mysterious handbag that one can jump into and come out of many years later. Oh! And “Magic for Beginners,” which involves a TV show called The Library that sounds fascinating – and a phone booth and things. (Kelly Link really seems to like libraries. They appear in lots of her stories.) “The Constable of Abal,” too, where a woman and her daughter carry small ghosts around, tethered with ribbons.

These stories are so good. It’s really hard to choose a favorite. An Amazon reviewer put my major criticism (and the reason I gave Pretty Monsters four stars on Goodreads) well: "Most of the stories were written well and for most part, I enjoyed them. Then they would abruptly end and I would be thinking… what the heck? With most of the short stories she spent a long time describing to us what was going on, getting to know the characters, etc and then it would just end."

(My first instinct was to end this post there, but I can’t help but note that I was intentionally ending it that way… Frustrating.)

So since I so unsuccessfully tried to end this post like Kelly Link seems to like to end her stories, I’ll add this: Pretty Monsters is a great short story collection, and I think the endings just might be part and parcel of short-story writing, or else they’d all turn into novels. Which might be why I tend to read novels instead of stories and plan to continue doing so. That said, Kelly Link is definitely worth a read.

 

Book Review: Over the River and into the Trees

acrosstheriverI’ve been putting off writing this post for long enough. The idea of writing it bores me about as much as reading the book did. I gave Across the River and into the Trees two stars on Goodreads, not because it’s a bad novel, per se, but because it’s a bad novel for Hemingway. It’s also his last completed novel, which was a bit of a draw for me. (He committed suicide before completing another novel, and his tone sounds kind of like he'd already lost interest in life.) And for that, it’s almost what one would expect – in hindsight, at least.

It’s about a 51-year-old retiring America colonel in Italy. He’s hopelessly in love with a 19-year-old contessa who won’t marry him (or do any of the things that go along with marriage with him). During the week, he works, but on the weekends he travels back to Venice, stays in a hotel, and spends his time with the girl. They eat in restaurants and float around in gondolas (in which there’s a gross kind-of sex scene in the vein of the stumpy one in To Have and Have Not). And that’s about it. There’s also the not-so-shocking almost twisty ending.

Meh.

That said, it’s exactly what I’d expect from a depressed, aging Hemingway with one foot in the mental grave. It’s sad. The whole thing is sad – but in a boring way. The first fifty pages was just his trip to Venice for the weekend. I almost put it down at that point because it didn’t seem like it was going anywhere. Just military talk. He hadn’t even mentioned the contessa yet. The only thing that kept me reading at that point was the description on Goodreads. I’m not sorry I did, but, well, meh.

The only Hemingway novel I don’t like is The Old Man and the Sea, and the more Hemingway I read, the less sense that makes to me. It’s not like I actively dislike this one, either. I’m not interested enough in it to dislike it. Which is why I felt like I should go ahead and write this review: Across the River and into the Trees will be one of those novels I forget with a month.

 

Book Review: The Bell

bellI’m not sure why I picked up Iris Murdoch‘s The Bell, especially since her first novel, Under the Net, which has been on my list for months, was sitting right on my coffee table. I really have no idea. I’m definitely a fan, though: I first hear of her from the movie Iris, which is about her life. She seemed like an interesting character. I stumbled upon her again, at some point, and bought and read an old library copy of The Unicorn, but that was a long time ago (before I started writing this blog!). I really liked The Unicorn, by the way.

Anyway, I somehow started reading The Bell (which I also own but don’t know how or why), and I was instantly hooked. It’s just so good. It was one of those of which I enjoy every single page – which is why I guess I finished it so quickly.

It’s about a lay religious community that lives next to a comment. Dora Greenfield, who had left her husband, Paul, decides to return to him, but he is researching old documents at the convent, so they stay with the community for a time. It’s tense, as I’m sure you can imagine. Many years before, the convent had lost its bell, and a new one is about to be installed, and Things Happen because of that, too. The community’s leader, Michael, has his own problems: he’s gay, in an Anglican religious community, probably in the 1950s, and his former student with whom he had had a relationship has come to live there. That’s tense, too, to say the least. And there are other characters with their own issues, which interweave with these two primary ones. It’s a mess.

I think I liked The Bell so much because I identified with a lot of the characters. Their actions and motivations seemed not necessarily right, but reasonable, to me, under the difficult circumstances. Or at least I understood why they did what they did. Murdoch weaves together the story and creates such full characters and setting that I was engrossed. Murdoch is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors.

Bonus: Here’s the trailer for Iris!

 

Book Review: Something Wicked This Way Comes

somethingwickedI’ve gone back and forth on whether to give Something Wicked This Way Comes four or five stars on Goodreads. Not that it’s a really important decision. What made me think so much about it is how corny it is, especially at the end, though that corniness is part of its charm, why it’s so good. Which is why I decided on five stars.

Anyway. I first read this book when I was 14, or so, the same age as the protagonists. I had just moved to New Orleans and just started high school, and I was right in the middle of that awkward teenager phase. I totally understood this book from the Will and Jim’s perspective. I’m so glad I read it then so I could come back as an adult to read it again. It’s told from a nostalgic point of view, by an adult. Now I understand that end, too, and I like it all the more.

It’s about two young teenagers, Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade, and Will’s dad, Charles. Will is content to let his life go on as it is, as it should, but Jim can’t wait to grow up and hit twenty. Charles, who is fifty, would like to be younger so he can relate better to his son. Everyone in town wants something he or she isn’t supposed to have. Then a carnival appears overnight, late in the year for one. And it’s not an ordinary carnival: something’s off. Jim and Will visit one night and stick around afterward. They get into trouble when they see a carousel that’s somehow magic. Mr. Dark and Mr. Cooger, the carnival’s owners, seem to be after them, and strange things start happening all over town.

So I’ve already said that I like this book, and I think I’m lucky to have read it twice like I did. It really is good: just keep in mind that it’s supposed to be a little corny. Isn’t most nostalgia somehow corny? If you’ve read it before and it’s been a few years, pick it up again. If you know a teenager, suggest this one, as it’s really worth reading. And it’s a nice, fast read, which I needed after A Game of Thrones and before the inevitable A Clash of Kings. Next, I think I’ll relive another chunk of my childhood with The Catcher in the Rye.

 

Book Review: A Game of Thrones

gameofthronesWell, that took forever. Three weeks, give or take a couple days. I could have done it faster (my friends who’ve read it say they sped right through it), but I just couldn’t read more than 25 or 30 pages of A Game of Thrones at a time. That’s not to say it’s bad – I thoroughly enjoyed it - it’s just long. Really, really long. I know, I know. Some of my favorite books are long. It’s just that when I’m trying to make it to 50 in a year, something that takes three weeks to finish messes with my schedule.

ANYWAY. You probably know all about A Game of Thrones whether from the books or the HBO series. Everyone else seems to, which is why I broke down and took it off of my tl;dr list, where it had rested comfortably for a year, or so.

The plot is so convoluted that I’m not really going to try to summarize this one. In general, it’s about warring lords wanting to claim a kingdom. They even say “game of thrones” several times in the book. It’s like a big chess game. What’s fun, though, is that it’s not always predictable. You become comfortable with a character, and zing! he or she is dead. Also: there are about ten thousand characters, and I don’t think that’s much of an overstatement. I’m really surprised I didn’t spend half my time confused about what was going on. I have to give George R.R. Martin credit for that because it’s a feat. Oh. And don’t expect this book to do anything but make you want to read the rest of them. The end is not really an end – it’s a big ol' cliffhanger. I just want to read the next book, and I know that I don’t have time right now, and that’s frustrating. I’m tempted to read a bunch of graphic novels to catch up, then dive back into the series, but I’m holding off.

So here’s the point: It’s good and epic, but don’t get sucked into it if you don’t want to finish it.

I haven’t seen the TV series, but someone told me that if I’m going to watch and read it, I should watch it first because I’ll be mad if I read it first. Okay, I have seen the first hour, or so, of the series, but I didn’t have the patience for it, and I’m not planning on watching the rest anytime soon. The books, though, I don’t think I’ll be able to stay away from because I just can’t help myself.

 


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