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NYE Backlog Eradication

I'm super-behind on reviews, so let's start the New Year afresh. The usual information plus comments if I scribbled or remember any.


Out Stealing Horses
by Per Petterson
238 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Fiction/Literary/Historical

A boy, his father, his friend, and his friend's mother who is in love with his father. Stealing horses into Sweden during the war. And, at the beginning and the end, a heartbreaking home made and remade alone.

Required reading. It's a literary-meritorious book, to be sure, with properly grand themes--(non)communication, loneliness, love--and character development; the plot meanders but at least it exists, which can't be said about all other "literature." Beautiful, sparse prose even in translation from the Norwegian.


Chronicles of a Blood Merchant
by Yu Hua
263 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Fiction/Literary/Historical

Like a comedic Beijing opera or a modern Chinese soap--one man, his wife, three sons, and the selling of lifeblood.

Required reading. Many of my classmates liked this one best because it's easy to read and to understand; personally, I prefer the confusion of Murakami to the stark and straightforward symbols in Blood Merchant, even though it is set in China and I should supposedly feel some ancestral connection (it's been reserved for Canada, please and thank you). --Not to denigrate the novel, as there's nothing Yu Hua did poorly in execution or design. It's just not to my taste, either personal or literary.


L'etranger (The Stranger)
by Albert Camus
186 pages (paperback)
Genre: Fiction/Literary/French

A man who does not understand emotion lives--does not love--, kills, and dies.

I flipped through this in English translation recently at Borders. The French is so much better, even if I miss some of the nuances. "Aujourd'hui, maman est morte. Ou peut-être hier, je ne sais pas." My friend is fond of "la tendre indifference du monde" at the end, but Meursault's amorality echoes very close to my heart.


Bloodhound
by Tamora Pierce
549 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/Fantasy/YA

Beka has graduated from Puppy to first-year Dog, but now she has to unearth a counterfeiting (colemongering) ring in a foreign city... and, along the way, unearth a new tidbit of romance too. I liked Dale but love Rosto more; fingers crossed!

Fast-paced, keeping me mostly on my toes with regard to the mystery. I enjoyed the realistic philosophizing of a medieval police force. Amusing: I kept reading "mot" (street slang for woman) as the French word for "word," with a silent 't.' Rec'd for loyal fans of Pierce; if you're just starting out, I recommend the Alanna or the Circle of Magic series. My favorite Pierce novels are actually The Will of the Empress and the Aly duology (Trickster's Choice and Trickster's Queen), although if she ever writes Tris-at-Lightsbridge I'm sure that will become my new favorite.


Beloved Vampire
by Joey W. Hill
451 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Fiction/Romance/Fantasy

Mason, an ancient vampire who lives (of all places) in the Sahara desert, meets Jessica, an unwilling servant who slew her master and is hunted while on the brink of death due to her impossible betrayal. Between the two is the spirit of Farida, Mason's first love who was brutally slain by her own family.

This is the first M/f story by Hill that I've read, since she built her reputation on the F/m tales previous in this Vampire Queen series. Those who find the previous books too intense/off-putting will probably enjoy this one much more--the characterization and plot is as compelling as always, but this is really a conventional love story set in an unconventional world.


Rhinocéros (The Rhinoceros)
by Eugene Ionesco
246 pages (paperback)
Genre: Drama/Literary/Historical/French

OHNOES, there's a rhinoceros marching down the street! Whatever shall we do? --Why, argue about how many horns it has, of course, while the rhinoceros attempts to come up the stairs.

Actually a play but printed like a novel. The absurdity of the plot moves it close to magic realism, though purely for the purpose of social commentary (rhino = Nazi). France is overrun by rhinceros, and one character in particular... well, I won't ruin it. A fun and nevertheless "meritorious" read, closer to Murakami than Marquez in style.


Unseen Academicals
by Terry Pratchett
400 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/Fantasy/Humor

Lord Vetinari and university Archchancellor Mustrum Ridcully agree, each with their own motives, to revive the age-old sport of football in a civilized fashion. With the help of a strange "goblin" named Nutt, Unseen University fields a team and challenges the street players of Ankh-Morpork to take the field. Meanwhile, we have a lovely, homely story about street-urchin-football-player Trev, kitchen-maid-fashion-model Juliet, and thoroughly-sensible-night-cook Glenda. And Mr. Nutt, of course, connects the two story-spheres. May I just say, he is awesome.

It took me 3/4 of the book before I figured out that foot-the-ball was a mutant form of soccer, not football. (Yes, I know perfectly well that Pratchett is British.) I'm actually quite fond of this Pratchett novel; it ranks just a notch below Small Gods in personal estimation. But on a different note, 'tis depressing that the acknowledgements thank someone for transcription duties; most of the book was dictated. I wish Pratchett could go on writing for ever and ever and ever.


Maigret et la vieille dame (Maigret and the Old Lady)
by George Simenon
58 pages (paperback)
Genre: Fiction/Mystery/French

French detective Maigret, in the footsteps of old Sherlock, must solve the mystery of how (and more importantly, why) an old lady's servant died of unnatural causes.

Hooray for reading popular lit in French Lit! I wish this was longer, but on the other hand, there's something to be said for breezy and simple. Definitely less complex than even Camus; it's not "literary" by any means, but so what.


The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Overdriven Kids
by Alexandra Robbins
? pages (hardcover)
Genre: Nonfiction/Education

Narrative nonfiction following several kids through a year at super-competitive Walt Whitman High School. I've met some kids from there, and have friends in the general NoVa region... it's a little scary. Still, the plotlines here seemed a little TOO pat.


Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover
by Ally Carter
263 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/YA

Macey McHenry's father is running for election as VP of the USA, and someone is trying to kidnap her (or are they?). The gang to the rescue!

Romping, fast-paced action per usual. I was "got" by the main plot twist, which I'm perfectly happy to go along with; I did predict the election outcome far ahead. This series is somewhat episodic, but in a good way--certainly it's more engaging, and more healthy, than The Clique. I enjoyed the larger arcs, character and plot, although Carter has some difficulty bridging the long gap between novel releases.


Ethan Frome
by Edith Wharton
77 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Fiction/Literary

Welcome to the bleak New England landscape! Ethan Frome, his wife Zeena, and the mercurial Mattie Silver form a painfully complex, and doomed, love triangle. The ending twist surprised and depressed me, particularly what Wharton implies about human nature. A short novella, required reading but highly recommended for romantic readers who don't mind the lack of an HEA.


Catching Fire
by Suzanne Collins
391 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/YA/Fantasy

As you might expect, the Mockingjay Revolution progresses. Lots more Gale/Peeta drama; I found myself caring more about the plot and less about the characters, as compared to reading the first book. Every 25 years, the Capitol hosts a Quarter Quell, a special twist on the usual Hunger Games; I shan't spoil this one, but it was effective enough if a bit contrived. The mystery aspect of the plot was well-orchestrated. A quick read with excellent pacing and the expected cliffhanger ending.


Dreams Made Flesh
by Anne Bishop
449 pages (paperback)
Genre: Fiction/Fantasy

Four short stories read in a few hours, as wonderfully cracktastic as her original trilogy. "Weaver of Dreams" was my least favorite of the four tales--a very short prologue myth about Draca, Dragon, and a small golden spider. Next, "The Prince of Ebon Rih"--my favorite of the four, concerning Lucivar and his wonderful romance with housekeeper/hearth witch Marian. "Zuulaman" provides useful background info on Saetan and Hekatah. "Kaeleer's Heart" does indeed read like the true ending of the trilogy, but at that point I'd grown a little tired of Daemon and Jaenelle; nevertheless, a lovely wrap-up to both this collection and Bishop's crazily implausible universe.


Le Malade imaginaire (The Imaginary Invalid)
by Molière (Jean-Baptiste Poquelin)
191 pages (paperback)
Genre: Drama/Humor/French

Argan is an inveterate hypochondriac who wants to marry his angelic daughter Angélique to his doctor's son, Thomas Diaforious. Unfortunately, Angélique is in love with Cleante, who harbors no aspirations to medicine. With help from the outspoken servant Toinette and Argan's kindly brother Béralde, true love triumphs over greed (Argan's second wife Béline) and careless mischief (Angélique's sister Louison).

I had to Wiki Molière's real name. No complaints about this quite funny play, which would be great to see on-stage, other than the simplistic black/white, evil/virtue characterizations.


Topdog/Underdog
by Suzan-Lori Parks
? pages (paperback)
Genre: Drama/Literary

African-American brothers Lincoln and Booth--whose parents had a morbid imagination--struggle to make something of their lives.

This was... repetitive. And maybe that's the point, but I still don't think it should have won the Pulitzer. The social commentary on the continuing struggles of the black underclass is apt and true, but not original. I found Parks's--unique--style more gimmicky than powerful.


The Family Trade
by Charles Stross
303 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/Fantasy/SF

Miriam Beckstein is a tech-magazine journalist who stumbles upon the story of a lifetime--for which she is promptly fired and discreetly threatened. Then her adoptive mother gives her an old locket belonging to her birth mother, and she discovers a universe where she is now the Countess Helge Thorold-Hjorth, alive or dead.

This is Book 1 of The Merchant Princes, marketed as fantasy but properly science fantasy. Political intrigue galore, enough to get me over the initial obstacle of a parallel-worlds premise. In many ways it's a mockery of medieval fantasy, too--stone castles are cold, even for the wealthy upon wealthy.


Thief of Time
by Terry Pratchett
? pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/Fantasy/Humor

Another Discworld novel, this one about Time and the History Monks who tend it (lowercase-time, that is). Susan Sto Helit plays an important role, and she is wonderful. Certainly it made an interesting back-in-time comparison with the next Pratchett book I read...


Disgrace
by J.M. Coetzee
220 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Fiction/Literary/Historical

Fifty-two-year-old David Lurie is an English-turned-Communications professor in a newly post-apartheid South Africa with interesting rationalizations about what constitutes rape.

Required reading. We haven't begun the analysis yet, due to snowstorms, but I can't say I'm looking forward to it. The protagonist is reminiscent of Nabokov's famous Humbert Humbert in drawing the reader into a different moral mind. Aside: one scene, when the impassioned activist demands true remorse, is where I actually sympathized with Lurie--I'm a proud socialist, not an unthinking liberal, because that is political correctness gone too far.

"...And you trust yourself to divine [contrition], from the words I use--to divine whether it comes from my heart?"

"We will see what attitude you express. We will see whether you express contrition."


Sorry, but no--even you, in the moral right, have the right to judge another human being's "heart." Punish him for rape, but don't pretend to compromise with him in order to humiliate. I have no opinion as to whether Lurie deserves humiliation, but the decision that he made in the aftermath of his crime--to decline public apology and refuse his opponent's dangling bait of salvation--is honorable. [/soapbox]

Ultimately, Coetzee's Nobel-winning novel represents what I dislike most about modern literature--it's boring. Nothing happens without 20 pages of emotional labyrinths preceding or succeeding, and I still don't care one whit about what does happen.


Riversend
by Sylvia Kelso
352 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Fiction/Fantasy

Sequel to Amberlight, more polished and complex, especially in the execution of Kelso's fragmented prose. I won't detail the plot since it spoils the ending of Amberlight, which is a must-read-first. My major quibble is that Kelso narrates the entire novel even though ostensibly there are three different first-person narrators--if I can't tell who's speaking because all three characters sound the same, have the same "writing style," then we have a problem with craft rather than taste. Otherwise, Riversend feels very long, in a good way--a lot happens in 350 pages. And there's so much to like: realistic polyamory among equals that works, lush worldbuilding, an epic scope in reasonable page length that reduces, in the end, to a woman's grief for her lost children. The ending makes clear that this will be a trilogy at least--and with Riversend, Kelso has earned a spot on my petite auto-buy list. (P.S. The political intrigue is dense and extremely well-done. Bravo.)


Mort
by Terry Pratchett
? pages
Genre: Fiction/Fantasy/Humor

Death takes on an apprentice, goes through a mid-death crisis, and finds happiness as a short-order cook.

It's definitely interesting to compare this fourth installment of the Discworld series to both Unseen Academicals (Pratchett's latest release) and Thief of Time (partially starring sensible schoolteacher Susan Sto Helit, whereas this book ends with the marriage of her parents). I was quite convinced of Mort and Ysabell's love for each other, although I'm willing to suspend disbelief for the sake of the ending. Less polished than some of Pratchett's later works, but definitely an important book in the overall chronology.

Comments

My junior year, I think, my high school did The Imaginary Invalid, which is the Moliere. It was pretty funny, not least because the guy playing the unsuitable suitor did it so well.
Neat! I only recently started going to plays--our Drama Club did "The Curious Case of Mrs. Savage" (I think that's the title?), which was funny and engaging although some of the acting could have been better. The girl playing Mrs. Savage was quite good.
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