Friday, May 20, 2011

Dead Reckoning and Chateau of Echoes

Some great news, first, from Shelf Awareness. Yet another reason to see the movie based on Tolkien's "The Hobbbit" (I adore Stephen Fry):

Peter Jackson's film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkein's The Hobbit is
"several weeks into production in New Zealand, but new actors are still
coming on board," Entertainment Weekly
reported. The latest addition is Stephen Fry, who will play "the Master
of Laketown, the leader of Esgaroth, a settlement of Men, who is
depicted in the book as greedy and cowardly."

Jackson noted that he has "known Stephen for several years, and we're
developing a Dambusters movie together. In addition to his writing
skills, he's a terrific actor and will create a very memorable Master
for us." Jackson also announced that Ryan Gage will play the Master's
"conniving civil servant, Alfrid, and Conan Stevens will play an Orc
called Azog."

I am also a fan of Ursula Le Guin and Susan Orlean:

On the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association's Northwest Book Lovers
website, Ursula K. Le Guin mused on how digital change is affecting her
and the book world. On a personal level, she noted that although she
writes, edits and reads on screen, she cannot read on screen for
pleasure, in part because she likes to read lying down and hasn't found
a suitable e-reader for that position. As a professional writer, she
worries about e-contractual issues with publishers, but noted that many
in the business are "riding the avalanche" together.

As a kind of cultural custodian, she said, "I welcome e-publication, so
long as it works like an immense new-and-used bookstore network
including bookstores selling both paper and e-books--and so long as it
is fully and freely hooked up with the public libraries. The almost
total failure of our schools to teach literature is causing a disastrous
break in cultural continuity; many young people have read nothing
written before 1990 or even 2000. E-publication offers vast availability
and accessibility to older texts via our libraries."

At the same time, Susan Orlean,
profiled in the New York Times,
is publishing the essay "Animalish" as a Kindle Single, which will
retail for $1.99. She told the paper that she didn't see the material as
suitable for an essay in the New Yorker, where she is a staff writer.

Despite her bucolic life on a farm in upstate New York, Orlean is "a
devotee of the new media, blogging and tweeting at an enthusiastic
pace," the Times wrote. She commented: "It's especially funny because I
used to think that I was kind of old fashioned. The subjects I write
about, the spirit in which I write, seemed in a way rather traditional.
And I thought, the new world is coming and this is the way I want to
write and I'm not sure how I'll fit into the new world as it changes."
Twitter is probably all the more interesting to her, she said, because
she is not around people the way she would be if she lived in the city.

And in case you've been living under a rock and haven't heard that the world is supposed to end on Saturday, May 21, here's some post-apocalyptic reading recommendations:

To pass the time as you await the end of the world Saturday,
NPR offered some reading recommendations in the form of "Three Extreme
Tales of Tribulation for the Apocalypse"

Meanwhile, I devoured the latest Sookie Stackhouse novel, by Charlaine Harris, Dead Reckoning, in one afternoon, and though it was was a fast read, I am now convinced that Harris is dumbing down her books and characters to make them closer to the way they're portrayed in the TV series "True Blood" which is based on her Southern vampire novels. In previous books, before the TV series, Sookie was a lot more canny, savvy, kind, funny and interesting than she is now, when she's become cynical, cold, lethal and selfish, not unlike the vampires she loves. There was an endearing sweetness to Sookie that made the reader care what happened to her in the dangerous world she inhabits. She never seemed stupid and thoughtless, like her brother, or too invested in her sexuality, also like her brother, who was always getting himself in trouble and expecting Sookie to pull him out of it at her own expense. The Sookie of Dead Reckoning wouldn't bother to help her brother or anyone else if he were drowning right in front of her--she is too busy planning the death of the master vampire of her boyfriend's region, and of the last crazy Peltier who is out of jail and out to get her. Meanwhile, she is saved by her old flame vampire Bill, and learns that her two Fae relatives are revving up her Fae-ness just by being near her.Sookie also finds out why Merlottes is in financial trouble and that her grandmother was being fooled into having relations with her Fae grandfather by his ability to make himself look like her human grandfather. Everyone who is supposed to die, does by the end of the novel, but there is a dissatisfaction level with how things are wrapped up that is much higher than I expected. Much like all the season finales of my favorite TV shows this year, I was left depressed and with a bad taste in my mouth about the whole thing.
I was pleasantly surprised, however, by Siri L Mitchell's "Chateau of Echoes" which I found at a garage sale and did not expect to enjoy as much as I did. It's the story of Frederique "Freddie" Farmer, an American whose French husband died and left her with a castle in Breton France that was once home to a teenage noblewoman named Alix, whom it turns out was Jewish and heir to a text outlining where to find the holy grail written by Joseph of Aramathea. Alix, who lived in the 15h century, also left behind a number of journals that Freddie discovers and gives to a local university who makes them famous enough that an American novelist travels to Freddies castle to write a novel about Alix and her life. Inevitably, the handsome novelist and Freddie fall in love, but not before he rescues her from everything from hypothermia to her reclusive self-pity. Fine French cuisine is discussed in every chapter, and the author kindly lists some recipes in back of the book, which adds to the genteel ambiance of the novel. Though I was a little frustrated with Freddies pig-headed demeanor when it comes to romance, I really enjoyed the fine prose and elegant plot of this book, as well as the nicely-drawn characters. The religious discussions/arguments in several chapters tended to slow the plot down quite a bit, but it picked right back up, so I counted it as just slight bumps in the road and felt it didn't detract from the plot at all in the end. Well deserving of a solid B+ and recommended for those seeking a more sophisticated historical romance.

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