Saturday, April 16, 2005

Twilight by Katherine Mosby

Katherine Mosby obviously loves the written word as a cat loves a ball of yarn. She plays with words, chases them, pounces on them and purrs them into soft, fluffy paragraphs that you want to warm your lap. I loved the way she treated her paragraphs with such intensity, but I was not happy with the point of view of the book. It was what I think is called "limited omniscient" and was therefore too passive to be fully gripping. Things kept happening at a remove, which, though it set a fog-shrouded mood, left the reader without enough emotional contact with Lavinia and Gaston. Lavinia explains the problem perfectly on page 210 when she says "Do you never wonder about me? Have you no curiosity at all? Are my parents still alive? Who was my best friend in elementary school? Have I ever stolen anything? What poems do I know by heart? Does it matter to you?"By writing in the tense that she does, and by using such a distant POV, Mosby makes us as distant and seemingly uncaring/selfish as Gaston. She holds the reader at arms length, and yet beckons to us with her characters desperate desire and soulful need for a love that is fulfilling. I loved Gaston, and found his intricate descriptions fascinating...The reader could see him, with his mole, his chin whiskers, smell his aftershave, and know his heart through his poignant letters to Lavinia. Having had the experience of dating men who were horrible kissers and then dating ones who were fabulous, I could empathize with Lavinia's decision to dump Shelby, with his gagging tongue and stultifying demeanor, and I could understand her passion for the brilliant, if flawed Gaston. The ending left us in the middle of nowhere, bereft, not knowing if Gaston makes it to Switzerland and survives WW2, or knowing if Celeste does,either. We do not know of anyones final fate, just that they all ended up somewhere else. We do not know if Lavinia told Celeste that she was sleeping with her husband, or if Celeste was actually a better person than portrayed to Lavinia by Gaston. This was rather cruel of Ms. Mosby, to leave the reader in the lurch like that, with such a hasty-seeming ending. But I would recommend the book to all who want a strong evocation of the pre-WWII-era Paris and a delcious love story with characters that fascinate, told with elegance.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Crystal Soldier is Clearly Wonderful

For those of you who haven't heard of the marvelous Liaden Universe books, I recommend that you read my blog entry on why you should apply for a visa to this fantastic world of ultra-polite, golden-skinned people with razor-sharp wits and a strong sense of honor.
Crystal Soldier, Sharon Lee and Steve Miller's latest entry into the Liaden Universe is the first half of a duology that traces the beginnings of Clan Korval.
This, from the jacket copy, is a quick sum of the book:
"In a galaxy worn down by generations of wear against an implacable foe (sheriekas), a star pilot's mission brings him an unexpected ally and a chance to serve his troop-and mankind.
M Jela Granthor's Guard is a soldier whose genes were selected before birth, whose life was chosen for him as one of service and dedication.
Cantra yos'Phelium is an ace pilot and a...rogue, who trades in the dark and gray markets along the war-torn rim, running solo, with an eye firmly on her own profit."
Though his name sounds a bit like a pedigreed dog or a racehorse, M. Jela Granthor's Guard is one cool customer, and a big-shouldered guy whom the reader grows to love in short order.
Cantra is a more edgy, and one gets the idea that there's a lot more simmering underneath her hardened exterior than we are told. Then there's the Tree, who is just as much a character as the people involved in the story. I felt the Tree was rather like an old Buddhist or wise man, dispensing pods and whispers as it saw fit.
Things progress nicely with Cantra and Jela, though the sexual tension was held out until the last possible chapter. My only concern with the characters was that both Cantra and Jela are genetically-created people, not natural born, from what I gather, thus lending them extraordinary powers of survival and fighting capabilities. I would have felt better had I known that there was a regular person involved who has only the power of their mind to help them survive. All the main characters were just a bit too exceptional, and I like to have an underdog to root for.
But, other than that minor problem, the rest of the book was divine, and told in the usual fast-paced, rich and textured way that Lee and Miller tell their stories. They always leave one longing for more. The reader finds him or herself transported to a very well-built world where the people are so real, you expect to meet them on the street. They always have witty dialogue and characters with a good sense of humor, even in the most grim of circumstances. I don't wish to give away too much of the story line, but I found the fate of the created slave pods particularly fascinating. I am sure our two heroes will encounter the sinister Uncle in the next book, Crystal Dragon.
I can't wait to see what happens next!

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Ireland by Frank Delaney

Having visited Ireland with my friend Rosemarie M. Larson five years ago, I can honestly say that it is a gorgeous country, from what I saw of it. Waterford was my particular favorite, but every place we stayed had its own magnificence. The people were fascinating, too, and being the people-watcher that I am, I found them a garrulous and interesting lot. We were fortunate to find taxi drivers who were kind and generous with their advice for keeping out of trouble in their green and pleasant land. Because Rosemarie and I were both history majors, we were overwhelmed, at times, with the feeling of ancient history that breathes up from the cobblestones on the streets of Dublin and each town we visited.
Therefore I was a bit trepidatious about the book "Ireland" because I wondered if the author would be able to capture the glory and history and wonder of his country within 600 pages of a book.
I'm happy to report that Frank Delaney did a perfectly marvelous job of bringing the important moments of Irish history to life through the eyes of a storyteller and a young boy, Ronan, who becomes fascinated with him. Though a bit wild in his emotions, Ronan was an interesting person who the reader really felt empathy for, due to his cold mother and her hateful ways. The fact that his aunt and his father were so lovely certainly helped him, but it becomes evident that they shouldn't have cocooned him from the world so much, as he was rather too naive.
The storyteller was a wonderful, layered character, enigmatic and yet full of a love of his native land and its history. I won't spoil the book for you by explaining his life or why he took to the road, as that's part of the mystery that is solved at the end of the book. I did see all the revelations coming, to be fair, about a third of the way through the book...I knew what was going to happen. But I suspect that was part of the authors plan. I think he telegraphs his revelations because he wants us to know more than the narrator, Ronan.
The one problem I had with the book was when things weren't spelled out as quickly as I would have liked, or as clearly. For example, the storytellers name, you must assume, as they never actually come out and say it. I also do not think there was enough time or effort spent on the domination of Ireland and its culture by the Catholic Church, and how cruel that domination became until very recently. Having seen the movie "The Magdalene Sisters" and watching the institutionalized brutality of the Catholic Church, I was horrified and disgusted that they didn't disband those houses of horror until the late 80s, and the last one closed in 1996! Unbelievable that in this day and age, such slavery existed and was condoned by the church. Personally, I think that if the Catholic Church hadn't dominated Ireland for so many years, destroying much of their early culture, the British wouldn't have had such an easy time of trying to immolate the Irish and whatever culture was left to them. It's a testament to the courage and tenacity of the Irish people that their culture and people did survive, and didn't succumb to British mores and way of life.
At any rate, I highly recommend the book, Ireland, by Frank Delaney, to all who are fascinated by the Emerald Isle and its people.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

More ARCs coming/Review/What I'm reading

Hello honorable readers, I'm what you'd call a practitioner of "espirit d'escalier" or staircase wit that only comes to me once its too late or I am on my way out the door.
Definition, compliments of Anu Garg and A Word A Day:
Esprit d'escalier- thinking of a witty remark too late; hindsight wit or afterwit; also such a remark
"Oh, how I regret in the night/With pangs that will never abate/The brilliantly crushing retort/I think of...a little too late!"
In other news, I have another ARC coming my way from Harper Collins, called "Twilight" by Katherine Mosby. It sounds fascinating, but then, you can't really tell much from the publishers blurb. I just finished an ARC called "Toast" by Nigel Slater, which is about a young man who grew up in England during the same era I was growing up, the 60s and 70s. Apparently, Slater is some kind of celeb chef in the UK, but this book is about the people and food of his early years, and I must say it's quite bitter in many senses of the word. It seems to me that most of the autobiographical works I've read from Brits tend to be rather satirical and mean, and not one of the authors seems to like their parents one iota. There must have been a rash of horribly stiff, cruel, cold and snobbish people having children in the late 50s and early 60s in England. And a majority of them had no idea how to cook, it appears. Slater pretty much savages his parents, and is especially viscious when it comes to his mother, whom he shrieks hatred at, and then mourns deeply when she dies of a lung ailment. He's not much happier with his father, who remarries a woman who can cook, but who is also cruel and abusive to poor Nigel.
In other book news, hubby, son and I went garage-saling this weekend, and happened upon an estate sale of a woman who seemed to detest her late mother, and all that she stood for, including all her books, paints and pottery. I had a strong feeling that I would have liked the deceased, as I found many great classics among her book collection. I only bought four, though, because the daughter had everything priced too high. I purchased lovely old hardbacks with their old colorful paper dustjackets still intact, and I managed to dicker her down to 75 cents each. I got Booth Tarkington's "Image of Josephine," Edna Ferber's "Great Son," Alexander Woollcott's (yes, THAT Alex Woollcott of the Algonquin roundtable) "Long, Long Ago" and a more modern book, Bill Brysons "In a Sunburned Country." I also got a lovely quilted bookcover and an Art Nouveu-style pocket-sized mirror. There were so many great books, I really had to restrain myself, but I knew the daughter would want tons for the really great old books. There were two old copies of "The Haunted Bookshop" and "Parnasus on Wheels" by Christopher Morely that I dearly wanted to rescue,too. I found a copy of Antonia Frasiers "Your Royal Hostage" at another sale, along with a cute bookend that has a cow, a pig and two geese on it.
I'm currently making my way through Frank Delany's "Ireland" which is sublime, and "Crystal Soldier" which is, as expected, perfectly wonderful. Today was the first day of the National Writers Workshop, but I feel like I am getting a cold, so heaven only knows if I will make it through both days. But it's always like getting a booster shot to your writing to attend the NWW. This year seems lacking any real "stars" in the writing world, but it does have some veteran editors and some writers whose work I admire. So we shall see. Oddly enough, I had two people whom I do not know tell me that they read the Mercer Island Reporter and enjoy my work. I was amazed at that, and suspected that my mother had somehow paid them off.