Friday, June 24, 2005

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, JK Rowling

Summertime is a great time to soak in some rays and catch up on your TBR (to be read) list. This summer, science fiction and fantasy lovers will be able to load up on fantastic reading easily, with the new "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" by J.K. Rowling, due out at the stroke of midnight, July 15. This is the 6th book in the popular fantasy series, and the next to last, as Harry graduates from Hogwarts School of Wizardry in the 7th and final volume.What we know so far about Harry is that he was orphaned as an infant when an evil wizard, Lord Voldemort, struck down his parents, but was only able to give Harry a lightening-bolt-shaped scar on his forehead. Harry was brought up by his revolting relatives, the Dursleys, and once invited to Hogwarts for wizard training, has been able to put off most of their abuse by magical means and rescues from his student-wizard pals, Hermoine and Ron. Lord Voldemort has tried, via various nefarious assistants, to kill Harry, but has been unsuccessful each time. Harry found an adult who wanted to help raise him in Sirius Black, but was deprived of Black in the last book, "Order of the Phoenix." Though you might think that rooting for the underdog would be the main source of the book’s popularity, I think that Rowling has tapped into a universal love of hero myths and managed to tell some "ripping good yarns" in the process. Her playful and witty prose, and her endearing, well-fleshed-out characters addict readers to her marvelous world, where magic exists alongside ordinary life, and wizards puzzle over the world of common mortals, called "muggles." A new movie is due out this year, and, though she’s just given birth last month, Rowling is said to be hard at work on the final book. Her Web site is as witty and fascinating as her books, and there are always odd corners to explore.

Friday, June 17, 2005

The Memoir Club by Laura Kalpakian

If you ever planned on judging a book by its cover, I would hope you'd choose a book like the Memoir Club, which has a beautifully-designed cover with flowers, tea and coffee cups and the remains of looks like the tabletop of a restaurant that serves high tea to ladies of quality.
Fortunately, the book lives up to its cover blurb from, which called it "A tender, wise and witty page-turner."
Kalpakian, my fellow Pacific Northwest dweller, has created quite a well-balanced, nutritious soupcon of characters, all of whom are interesting and grip you with their memoirs, even if you don't necessarily like them or want to have tea with them as people. Francine, the snobbish social-climber gets her come-uppance, and Amy Meadows, the daugther of a character who seemed unnecessarily weepy to me, is just a shallow b*tch who isn't terribly smart, though much of that could perhaps be laid at the feet of her youth.
Jill, the Korean adoptee is a bit too prickly for my tastes, but she was a fascinating character, as was Rusty, Nell, Caryn and my favorite, Sarah Jane, whose personal history read like a Mark Twain novel. Penny, the instructor doesn't count as much of a character because it's evident from the beginning that she's just a deus ex machina for the characters, and I wasn't surprised at all when they discovered she wasn't really a teacher and had no real address.
The characters meet each Wednesday night in to read and discuss the memoirs they are all writing, and in the process of putting their hearts on paper, they discover a great deal about themselves and each other, and become bonded as friends and family. I was amazed that Kalpakian had the chutzbah to use a womens health clinic and a crazy anti-abortion evangelical Christian group as a way to show the characters in a life-changing situation, mainly because so many novelists play it safe these days, because the Christian Right is such a strong and, in my opinion, oppressive and destructive lobby group, they dare not risk seeming "anti-Christian" for fear of boycotts and such. But Kalpakian is made of sterner stuff than your average novelist, and she firmly holds forth on the insanity of people who want to kill doctors who are only helping women in dire circumstances by showing the reader the internal workings of these crazies and the internal workings of a womens clinic that caters to the poor and disenfranchised.
The prose is slightly glossy, but sturdy and workmanlike underneath, and the plot clips along at a precise and rapid pace. Kalpakian runs a clean ship, and there's no dallying here or there on subplots or stupid characters that never see fruition, thank heaven.
I would recommend this book to those wanting their chick lit with a little more meat on it's bones and less frou-frou and whining.
It's well worth the price of a trade paperback.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte & Memoir Club

I finished the Club Dumas three days ago and I am still thinking about it. It was recomended to me by those friends who know that I adored "Shadow of the Wind" by Spanish author Carlos Ruis Zafon. Club Dumas was also a translated work, but it has an entirely different flavor from the upbeat and fascinating Zafon tome. The main character, Corso, is a coarse, cynical man who finds rare books by any means necessary to sell to various thuggish and evil clientelle. He has little in the way of morals, but he does have a love of books that redeems him only slightly. His dealings with women also seem crude and usurious, until he meets "Irene Adler" who has named herself after the only women to best Sherlock Holmes. What, exactly, Adler is (angel? fallen angel? demon?) is never really addressed, so we are left to wonder why she has fallen in love with Corso and what their fate together will be. We are also left to wonder, at the end, if the evil book collector gets what he paid for. We know only that he screams, and that Corso leaves. A rather unsatisfying ending, and the loose end of Adler, her background and why she feels the need to protect Corso (and who sent her to do so?) left me with a more bitter than sweet attitude toward the book. I would only recomend it to those who are serious Dumas fans, or those who are fascinated by 17th century rare manuscripts and how to spot a fake.
Oddly enough, I picked up a wonderful book today from Island Books (on Mercer Island) called "The Memoir Club" by Laura Kalpakian that looks to be great fun. It's about a group of women who get together to write their memoirs. I also got a copy of "The Wizard of Seattle" by Kay Hooper in mass market paperback on the recomendation of an bibliophile online. In looking it over, it appears to be a romance with a bit of fantasy thrown in for good measure. I am not a fan of modern romance, mainly because the writing is ludicrous, the characters stereotypical and the plots laughable. So far, the silly writing is there, but I am uncertain as to the depth of the plot. Fortunately, I didn't invest too much in it because it was a mass market paperback. I also finished Laurie R Kings "Locked Rooms" which is the 8th or 9th book in her Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell mysteries. I read the first book in the series, and hadn't read any of the books inbetween, so I was uncertain of what to expect. But the book proved fascinating, a fast and enticing read that kept you thinking throughout. Of course, the reader knows what is going to happen chapters before the denoument, but I find that to be true of most modern mystery books. I find the banter between Holmes and Russell quite amusing, and yet, I recall thinking that Mary Russell was a huge pain in the rump as a character, and I couldn't imagine what Holmes found to like about her, as she wasn't a pleasant person at all. She was even less pleasant in this book, while Holmes came off as the ultimate gracious old gent trying to keep his beloved out of harms way and solve the mystery of her familys death. I learned a great deal about the San Francisco fire of 1906, and about flappers and the mores of that era, which I appreciated, as many authors don't bother to give you a solid picture of what people and their mileu was like in any given era. I also find it bothersome that Russell seems to need rescuing too often, in the first book and in this one. She's supposedly a smart and tough woman, yet she becomes catatonic when she learns her therapist is dead. And Holmes has to take care of her throughout the book, because she just seems to regularly go out of her mind and forget how to eat or take a bath, which is pathetic for a supposedly strong woman. But, other than those nitpicks, it was an enjoyable book with a brisk plot and engaging characters.