Monday, August 31, 2015

One Sentence Reviews: August

Well. August was a little sparse on book reviews, wasn't it?

The problem, dear readers, is that I'm sitting on a number of drafted reviews, 3/4ths complete, which don't yet suit me. The books in question are so lovely that my usual dashed-off ramblings would do them a disservice. (I had a hope of finishing at least one tonight, but this Domaine de Canton isn't going to drink itself.)

I may yet crack and post the haphazard ravings that have already been written. In the meantime, enjoy the short version of what I do and do not recommend from the past thirty-one days' worth of books!

August 2015

  • Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare (2014, historical romance)
    • Penniless daughter of a famous author and grouchy blinded nobleman inherit the same ruined castle; kissing ensues. -- My first proper "romance" novel was shockingly fantastic--funny, smart, genuinely charming. 5/5 stars.
  • The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi (2015, sci-fi thriller)
    • A conscientious hitman antiheroes his way through an apocalyptic dried-up Phoenix, Arizona, joined by the classic "lady journalist" and a luckless refugee. -- The forecast for near-future USA is an interesting playground setting-wise, but the characters and plot developments were nothing uncommon. 3/5 stars.
  • The Vintner's Luck by Elizabeth Knox (2000, historical)
    • French winemaker encounters an angel on the hillside above his house every year for half a century. -- It wished to be more dazzling than it was; if you have seen any quotes from it, you have seen the best excerpts already. 2/5 stars.
  • The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux (1909, historical thriller)
    • French opera house haunted, managers blackmailed, singer abducted, investigators murdered. -- Without the Broadway glitter, it's a frightening mystery more in keeping with Poe (or Doyle's serials.) 3/5 stars.
  • Say Yes To The Marquess by Tessa Dare (2014, historical romance)
    • Dissolute boxer arranges his absent diplomat brother's wedding to the woman he'd rather call his own; kissing ensues. -- And with that, I go back to avoiding romance novels. 1/5 stars.
  • Revival by Stephen King (2014, horror)
    • After tragedy strikes, a preacher researches the less-fickle miracle of electricity. -- Can Lovecraftian horrors and faith healings mix? Yes, but this isn't how to do it. 1/5 stars.
  • Into Thin Air by John Krakauer (1999, memoir)
    • Author recounts his experiences climbing Everest during the 1996 disaster. -- A gruesomely close-up record of how quickly things can go wrong, and how little can be done to help another person in lethal atmospheric conditions. 4/5 stars.
  • The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury (1950, sci-fi)
    • Short stories chronicling Earth's efforts to reach a populated Mars, only to ruin it. -- A fantastic example of the composite novel, tenderly and sparsely written, no less striking for its "outdated" view of the future. (To "update" it for "modern" audiences is a crime.) 5/5 stars.
  • The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin (1969, sci-fi)
    • Solitary ambassador from unified human planets tries to negotiate with the ambisexual society of a frozen world. --It's a classic exploration of alternative gender construction, they said; they never did say it was a good story. 2/5 stars.
  • The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle (1968, fantasy)
    • The only magical creature left in the world searches for her kin and the Red Bull that drove them away, but a unicorn is not a questing beast. -- The prettiest book in the English language, a higher-level commentary on fairy tales that never loses sight of its own story. 5/5 stars. (Full review here!)
  • Flame Tree Road by Shona Patel (2015, historical)
    • A progressive Indian family strives to secure British advantages for their children. -- A tolerable setpiece for early 20th century India and its complexities, but which substitutes the passage of time for a plot. 3/5 stars.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Book Cover Woes

A few days after my copy of Mary Renault's The Charioteer arrived in the mail, I glued the book shut.

Let me rewind.

Since its first publication in 1953, The Charioteer has had exactly one good cover: the very first. Fifty years of subpar covers have followed. As much as I would like to own a first edition, I don't have a spare hundred dollars lying around. Nor did I want to delay getting a copy in my grubby little mitts for good, free to mark up the pages and inhale the dust of the spine as I see fit without the censure of the library staff. So I pocketed my pride and bought one of the dismal reprints.

My time working at a craft store has left me with an assortment of odd skills, including Professional Gift Wrapping and Smiling Relentlessly On Christmas Eve. I've bound and covered a few journals by hand. It seemed simple enough to apply the same process to cover The Charioteer with a new paper jacket adhered directly on top of the old crummy one.

I missed a crucial step: putting wax paper between the cover and the rest of the pages, to prevent the book glue from slobbering everywhere. Whoops.

Forty minutes later, I finished separating the pages. No permanent damage was done, thankfully, even if the back half is a little more "feathery-looking" than when it arrived on my door. And the new cover paper came out quite sharp-looking against the original spine, which I left exposed for easy identification on my bookshelf.

But yes, for a little while there, I thought I had sealed my brand-new book forever.

I'm a hoarder when it comes to books; I like having physical copies in my hand and a stirring array of spines lined up end to end. The potential to "fix" bad covers has made me a lot less fussy when it comes to choosing editions of books now. As I type, my grungy mid-eighties technicolor version of The Princess Bride is being pressed with its new Florentine (!) paper cover. Who knows where I could go from here!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Review: "H Is For Hawk" by Helen Macdonald

The sudden death of her father shatters Helen Macdonald. Aching and angry, she throws herself into a new project that will occupy the empty place in her heart: the training of a young goshawk.

Since her earliest memories, she has been captivated by birds of prey. But the small raptors she has worked with in the past are nothing compared to either the enormity or the single-minded ferocity of the goshawk. Macdonald's bird, named "Mabel," does not require training so much as the complete sublimation of self. Soon Macdonald, rather than recovering from her loss, withdraws from human company altogether--much to the dismay of her friends and family.

Macdonald contrasts her experience with Mabel against that of T.H. White, author of The Once and Future King, who also sought to expunge his human agonies by hawking. Memories of her father merge with White's unsettling memoirs as Macdonald seeks to make amends.


H Is For Hawk by Helen Macdonald (2014)
3.5 out of 5 stars 

Complexity of Writing: 4/5
Quality of Writing: 4/5
Strength of Characterization: 3/5
Logic of Plot Development: 3/5
Evocation of Setting: 4/5
Effectiveness of Pacing: 4/5
Resolution of Conflict: 4/5
Emotional Engagement: 3/5
Mental Engagement: 3/5
Memorability: 3/5
Bechdel Test: pass
Diverse Cast: fail
Content Warning: animal abuse, child abuse, homophobia, self-harm
Overall Response: Beautiful, even if I wanted more.


More ThoughtsH Is For Hawk has been winning awards left and right since its release last summer. Fittingly, the number of "holds" on the book at my local library is well into the double digits. I waited months to get my hands on it. Now, my challenge: to finish writing this review in time to return the book before the library closes today, at which point, the Book Police will no doubt beat down my door and confiscate it.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Another Aside: A Special Gift

I mentioned just how many times I have read Katherine Addison's The Goblin Emperor (five and counting!) since its release in April of last year. What I forgot to mention was that my lovely librarian friend, knowing my great affection for the book, picked up a signed copy for me at the ALA conference in San Francisco!

"For Kelly -- Serenity is a wish.  --Sarah"
According to my friend, Sarah Monette--the author behind the Katherine Addison pseudonym--was shy but charming, much like her main character. At her panel, she spoke for only a bit before reading one of the Winternight chapters, letting the book speak for itself.

Ahhh... I wish I could have been there. And not just so that I could compare my pronunciations of "Nazhmorhathveras" against the author's.

Thank you so much for the memento, Amanda!