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karenldarrough

Books are Food for the Soul

I love to read. Sharing my favorite books and discovering new authors never grows old.

Currently reading

Fosse
Sam Wasson
Mistborn: The Final Empire
Brandon Sanderson
The Master and Margarita
Mikhail Bulgakov, Diana Burgin, Katherine Tiernan O'Connor
The Interestings: A Novel - Meg Wolitzer
This book follows the fortunes of six teenagers who meet at a summer camp and come together as a group. The timeline covers around thirty years and we see how each character actions effects the others and those outside the group. I could not put this down and my only complaint is that the main character, Julie aka Jules was hard for me to like. All through the years, she seems to want what others have and is never happy with her own circumstances. Maybe that's the point and we are all like that.
 
 
Oryx and Crake  - Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood's work is always provocative and this book is no exception.  Narrated by a character named Snowman who may be the last human on earth, we read his story. Set in a future where giant corporations genetic research has led to species splicing and miracle cures seem to the order of the day, Snowman who used to be Jimmy, lives in an enclosed corporate compound which mirrors a small city.  In Jimmie's world, Global companies all maintain these compound cities for their employee's. Those not fortunate enough to work for a corporation live in the abandoned old cities.  This is of course, a dystopic novel. Kids like Jimmy, growing up in the compounds are virtually guaranteed a successful future. At first glance it would seem that mankind has managed to solve most of the riddles of biology, creating cures for diseases and artificially producing body organs for transplant.  As we get to know Jimmy and Crake, Jimmie's friend who takes his nickname from a role playing game, darkness starts seeping in around the edges. Atwood is telling two stories side by.  One story is what Snowman's life consists of and two, why. For me, both stories were totally engrossing and more than a little disturbing.

Errantry: Strange Stories - Elizabeth Hand

Elizabeth Hand is one of my top ten authors so I was eager to read this short story collection.  In Errantry, her prose is lyrical and her settings as fey as ever but somehow most of these stories felt unfinished to me.  What impressed me here were singular scenes instead of the stories.  The title story Errantry demonstrates this best with its gripping, heartfelt tale of magical renewal in the middle of everyday chaos.         

             
Palimpsest - Catherynne M. Valente

‘It's been a long time coming. It's going to be a long time gone’. This lyric sums up my experience with Palimpsist. I can’t remember the last time a read a book that actually seemed to fight for its ambiguity. I have been reading fantasy and such for many, many years and this book takes license with time and space in ways that to me are almost incomprehensible.
First, the writer is clearly a poet and applies this to the prose structure. Her world building skills are such that I found myself dreaming of the city of Palimpsest and its’ denizens, human and otherwise. So why was it so hard to get into this story? For me, in the beginning, I could not call up much sympathy for the four would be immigrants. They all seemed bent on some self-destructive path not unlike addiction and I think this point has already been brought up. Palimpsest itself seemed to alternate between wicked, charming, cruel and sympathetic. While it is surely true that cities in the real world exhibit all these characteristics and more, it is also true, for me at least that I had a hard time imagining the seductive power that the city held over the protagonists. For at least half of the book I staggered a long trying to piece things together and then suddenly everything fell into place and I was caught in a race for salvation, for both the four who seek entry and the city itself.

Now that I am finished, images and possibilities crowd my consciousness and I know I will be rereading this book soon to see if there are mysteries I missed that first time around.

Last comments, much has been made of the sexual nature of this book. From the first page I had my own take on that. Like the mystics say, great debasement brings great enlightenment. Also, the story of November and her place in the wars of Palimpsest, her reationship with Casimira and the final place as queen of the bees was a truly great invention. Four stars.

Shift Omnibus Edition

Shift Omnibus Edition - Hugh Howey Reading Shift is like finding all the keys to the locked doors in Wool. Howey keeps the pace moving and I was pulled into the backstory of the reason for the Silos and the reasons Silo 1 was different than the rest. There is a stand alone description of a silo (maybe 18's?) first uprising as a character named Mission finds himself fighting for his life without a clue as to what is going on. I have read in other reviews that readers feel Howey is short on character building and that is true but I think this series is one where it is the events that matter. The characters are just pawns by the wayside. I do have one serious problem with the idea of the Silo's. Built in 2052 and all the plumbing, power sources and especially the "I.T." resources have been successfully maintained for hundreds of years. Amazing. I know it's Sci Fi but I have a hard time imagining any system working that well for that long, in that many places even when the penalty for questioning or failure or refusal to cooperate is death. That said, The Shift series was as good in it's own way as Wool and Dust is next.

Wool Omnibus (Wool, #1-5)

Wool Omnibus (Wool, #1-5) - Hugh Howey I have a bad habit of picking books to read by the cover and title so I ignored this book for over a year, thinking Wool? Wool what? This book kept turning up on lists, in reviews as a book enjoyed by just about everyone who read it soooooo, I finally broke my rule and bought this for my Kindle. This was a fast, tense, mind bending read that reminded me of nothing as much as High Rise by J.G. Ballard, even though this book charts a dystopian future and High Rise is set in current time. The under laying themes of paranoia, mindless violence and deteriorating culture are present in both books. I am not going into the plot here as that has already been addressed in multiple reviews on this site. I'll just say that this is the first story collection of three, maybe more, that concern the Silo histories. I would give you more of my reaction but I have to sign off now and pick up the Shift Omnibus which is part II.

Blood & Beauty: The Borgias

Blood & Beauty: The Borgias - Sarah Dunant First of all, the author employs a device I usually dislike with such skill that I felt I was a witness hiding behind the curtains through most of this book. That is to say,the novel is written in the present tense giving the events a sense of immediacy and tension. Second, I have to give Dunant five stars for her melding of history and fiction. This novel gives us the larger than life period of the Italian Renaissance and focus's on the Borgia family and it's place in history. If you enjoy historical fiction, you will like this. Dunant's portrayals of everyone from Rodrigo Borgia, newly crowned pope and his family to all those whose fortunes rise or fall depending on the Borgia attempt to increase his empire and his coffers using any means necessary are engaging and well developed. In the afterword, she comments on key events, her version versus the history of the time and this enhanced the experience for me.

A Dance With Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire, #5)

A Dance With Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire, #5) - George R.R. Martin Over ten thousand reviews for a book of over one thousand pages. Clearly fantasy is alive and well. I have now read all five books. The first one, read in 1996, was great, the imagination, the scope, the action, I was hooked and read it in less than three days. The second book, arriving two years later is also great, entangling me in the continued politics, seductions, rivalries and treacherous behavior of just about everybody. Another long wait preceded book three and while the book was worth waiting for, it did not keep me locked in like the first two. Another really long wait for book four and here is where the problems begin for me. The huge scope of this series had evidently made it necessary for Martin to spilt his characters up, following the actions and destinies of one group in book four, the second in book five. Dany does not appear in book four at all. Jaime is barely present in book five and yet, some plot lines begun in four are advanced in five so to me, the two book ran parallel sometimes but not altogether. All these books are long, book five 'reads' like a long book. As I trudged through the blood, more blood, more betrayals new characters even, I kept thinking how much longer is this book. Since I was reading an e version, I could only see that I had 66% left etc.

Make no mistake, I cannot imagine anyone else creating a series of this scope. His characters (all 338 of them) are fleshed out to the extent that you remember them four years later as you read the next installment and that is no mean feat. For me, book five is the weakest of the series and I hope the book six will revert to tieing up the lose ends instead of creating more.

A Plague of Dreams (Dreamwood Tales #1)

A Plague of Dreams (Dreamwood Tales #1) - John Gregory Hancock This collection reminds me of why I like short stories. Back in the dark ages, when I was first getting into Sci Fi and Fantasy, short stories were the order of the day. So many great writers published collections of mind bending stories on every imaginable subject. I can't say why I stopped reading everything but the yearly anthlogies. It really doesn't matter. Reading this collection was like moving into a house with many rooms after a long stint in a one room house. Hancock is exceptional at offering stories for just about every fantasy taste and his style reminds me of Robert Bloch. I am now waiting for #2 and taking a renewed interest in the short story landscape.
The Pale King - David Foster Wallace

Can a book have a personality? If so, this book is Bi-Polar. There are sections so well executed that I felt like I was reading for the first time, experiencing another’s thoughts as my own. His descriptions of the Midwest, and the culture of the early 70’s are terrific. There are sections of this book that are mind numbing. Boring does not begin to describe the quagmire of nothingness that doesn’t connect, doesn’t inform and instead allows you to experience DFW’s descriptive state where you cannot focus or move ahead because you are stuck.
I have read that David Foster Wallace suffered from severe depression most of his life and I have read that ‘The Pale King’ is about boredom so I wonder, what was boredom to DFW? I experience boredom as temporary disconnect where nothing interests me. I wonder though, if I were extremely talented, obviously constantly at odds with my surroundings, if I were also suffering from depression so severe that I was treated with Electric Shock Therapy more than once and on psycho tropic drugs, what would boredom be to me and I think the answer is this. Boredom would be a state of hopeless inertia and a state that I would fear like a claustrophobic fears a closet. This said, I wonder if writing this book was DFW’s way of dealing with his depression and he decided to give us a taste of how it feels to feel so good one day and dead the next day . I read he never wrote about his depression, maybe he was trying to work it out in this book with its multiple plot lines and large cast of characters.
Since the book is not finished, everyone draws different conclusions as to its meaning, purpose and structure. I have a few thoughts on this.
1) The Forward appears well into the book and both negates and supports the book as actually, more or less a memoir of DFW’s experiences but not necessarily as they happened. I think ‘The Pale King” is both fiction and memoir with a lot weird pseudo fantastical stuff thrown in to keep everyone guessing.
2) The footnotes. I have no opinion here because I quit reading them early on. They appeared to contain information that I didn’t need and sometimes were not associated with the passage I was reading. I think DFW put them there for his own amusement, kind of like background music.
3) The structure as envisioned by the editor. This book is so episodic that you could probably read any chapter in any order and still come away with enough thought bullets to keep you occupied for quite some time.
As far as the story told, the best passages are unsurpassed by anything I have ever read and I have been reading for a long, long time. If it was DFW’s intent to pull me out of myself and send me on a difficult but rewarding journey, he succeeded. I am glad I read this book.

Hello, Gorgeous: Becoming Barbra Streisand - William J. Mann This book details the rise of Barbra Streisand beginning with her first performances as a club singer and ending with her great success in Funny Girl at the age of twenty two. An interesting portrait is drawn of a girl who is both shy and egocentric, of her early supporters and mentors and of her considerable talent as a singer and actress. I am giving this a three because I found it too long ( repeating the same facts in different contexts) and often slow reading. If you are a Streisand fan, you will like this book.
Perdido Street Station - China Miéville What do I think? So many things. If I were to give a star rating based on world building, this rating would be a 5. If I gave a star rating based on inventive and challenging narrative, i.e. use of language, again a 5. The problem for me is both the city of New Crobuzon and the style that Mieville effects to tell his story completely overpowered the story for me. The invention of the city, its history, its singular weirdness and its segmented neighborhoods of passive aggressive life forms are so attention grabbing that somehow the story lines faded into the background and I found myself more interested in the aspects of the city. For instance, the gargantuan carcass under which the city exists, those rotting bones, still rising to the sky after centuries, what could that possibly be. To me that was a bigger mystery than anything happening with the characters. My mind kept wondering off to explore the city, leaving the story behind. Consequently, it took me a long time to read this book. Would I read it again? Maybe, there is no denying the writers afinity with language. I'm just not sure what comes first with him. The style or the story.

Angelfall (Penryn & the End of Days, #1)

Angelfall (Penryn & the End of Days, #1) - Susan Ee This book was a disappointment. I love fantasy, Sci Fi and the reviews for this led me to reading it. The plot had too many coincidences for me. Mom, altho insane just keeps turning up at the right time to aid in the cause. The mutated younger sister is supposed to be some sort of cannibal but is able to resist the urge around her family. Call me picky but I had a hard time getting into the picture here.
Scorch Atlas - Blake Butler All the time I have been reading this I have had a nagging feeling of recognition to my ongoing reaction, as if there were something rotten stuck in my mouth. I have finally pinned it down. Kafka’s Metamorphosis. Remember poor Gregor, wakes up one morning to discover he has turned into a cockroach? I remember reading that and trying to make sense of the surreal situations, trying to translate the gorgeous descriptions into something sane, trying to hold my revulsion in check and this is what happened to me with Scorch Atlas. Consider this excerpt: ‘Where in those last days I woke up choking on grasshoppers, the ceiling cracking. Water gushing from my ears. Snails in my breakfast. Sores in between my toes.’.
Does this book have a theme? I think it does and I think the theme is the resurrection of hope after the vilest tribulations imaginable.
Radiant Days - Elizabeth Hand Elizabeth Hand is a writer of tremendous power. Both her fantasy and straight fiction works are the product of her unique, almost mystical ability to create and sustain strange and singular characters and enviroments. Radiant Days is no exception and I believe, her best fantasy. Although this is marketed as a YA book, it is hard for me to imagine it attracting a wide audience as the plot concerns characters involved in the the punk art/music world of the early 70's overlapping the world of the so called 'rock poet', Arthur Rimbaud circa 1870's France. Like all the best fantasy, there is a lot of food for thought here. I have been a fan of her work since her first book 'Winterlong' and each of her books brings something new to the party.
Romeo and Juliet: The War - Stan Lee, Max Work, Skan Srisuwan, Terry Dougas, William Shakespeare I like this adaptation although the tone bore more than a passing resemblence to the Leonardo DiCaprio/ Clare Danes movie. The artwork is fantastic and certainly the book is worth the price for the art alone. I liked the concept of mutated and cloned family groups and there are some plot lines that differ from the original and this is not a bad thing. Be warned though, this is a heavy book. Even the paper version cannot be comfortably read without a supporting surface.