27 February 2013

Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman

I don't know when I first became aware of Neil Gaiman and his work. I want to hazard a guess and say it was around the time the film Stardust was released. I loved the film so much I talked to my friend about it. I don't know if I was aware that it was a book then but I know shortly after that I read the book and it is currently sitting on my shelf.
Fast forward to 2009. A trip to England has just been made and I am doing my first bit of big traveling in the states to Minneapolis for my English Honors convention. After blogging for my study abroad trip, I find myself volunteering to blog for convention. I didn't do it well or very often, but I did blog about one guest. That guest, you've guessed it: Neil Gaiman.

I think I was surprised by his celebrity. There were guards at the doors of the hotel, keeping the great unwashed non-convention members at bay so that college and grad students from around the world could sit and listen to him read in that gorgeous British accent of his. I don't even remember what he read, but I fell in love. He also talked about what it is like to be a writer and where he got his ideas. I believe he said that his favorite literary period was "Normally after lunch" and all those ideas? From his daughter's imagination. Which I love. He also said that the most important question a writer could ask is, "What if?" 

What if...you found yourself around a campfire telling stories with the months of the year personified? What would that look like? 
What if...we knew Susan's side of the story? Would our opinion of her change?
What if...hell was worse than anything we could possibly imagine...and then some? 

Fragile Things covers all of these "what if" questions, and how. Some of his stories are incredibly moving, some are thought provoking. Some, I will admit, were scary. All were well crafted and beautiful and I absolutely recommend this book to everyone. You might not like all the stories in the book. I'm not sure I liked all of them. But I did read all of them and can appreciate the immense talent that Neil Gaiman has. 
(As a side note, you should also check out his book Neverwhere. It sits next to my copy of Stardust and I love it dearly. If you read Coraline, do so with the light on. Trust me. That is one creepy kid's book...)

22 February 2013

Possession by A. S. Byatt

I interrupt the new book reviews to bring you an old review. Well, an old one for me. I found Possession when I was a student worker at my university's library. I saw it get shelved a few times before I actually had time to read it. Now it is not only a favorite movie but probably one of the books I recommend the most. 

Roland Michell and Maud Bailey are scholars of two Victorian era poets, Randolph H. Ash and Christabel LaMotte, respectively. Roland is an under appreciated researcher, toiling away in the bowels of the British Museum. One day, he is researching one of Ash's books in the British Library and comes upon two copies of an unfinished letter to an unnamed woman. It was a very well documented fact that Ash was married happily. Who was this mysterious woman? If a finished copy of the letter was sent, it would change the face of Ash scholarship! 

Roland tracks down a few facts that lead him to visit Maud Bailey. Together they embark on an adventure to find out who the mysterious woman is, if there is any chance it could be Christabel, what happened to the letters and how the long dead poets lives turned out. Of course, when you research an old love story there are usually present day repercussions...

I love this book. Two poets in love? Excellent. I will confess, however, that the first time I read this, I struggled. Part of the beauty of the book is in the story, while part is in the poetry. Poetry from Ash and LaMotte are woven through the book in such a beautiful, but sometimes overwhelming way. There is a large section of poetry in the middle of one of the most important parts in the book! The first time through I am pretty sure I skipped it all just so I could find out what happened! 
I hear you saying, "Now wait a second. This book is fiction. What poetry could there be?" And I will tell you: that is the beauty of this book. It is not only an excellent story, but so much work has been put into the character's history and back story that is almost hard to remember that the book is, in fact, not true. Byatt not only created the story of two poets who fall in love, but wrote poetry in two very distinct styles for her poets in love. Sometimes it is hard to switch gears from reading prose to reading poetry. I think probably every other time I read this book, I'll just breeze over the poems. Not because they are boring; I'm just in the prose mode. 

Honestly, I have no reservations about recommending this book. I suggest it to the reader, the poet, the lover, and the writer in you and your friends. 

If you decide to give this one a try (and I really think you should!), please let me know what you think of it! 

P.S. The movie adaptation of this is BRILLIANT! I love it. Check out the trailer!

19 February 2013

A bit of housekeeping...

I noticed a bit of a mistake after updating my Goodreads the other week. As you might remember, I read City of Bones last year and then again this year. When I went to update this years reading challenge list, it took it OUT of my stats for last year! Yikes! I really have no idea how to fix this...and I'm sure it doesn't really matter. I just didn't want it to look like I didn't finish the reading challenge from last year! (If I go over this year, I'll put it back into last years stats...if I remember...)

And since we all need a good laugh after last nights Debbie Downer episode of Downton Abbey, take a look at this video. It's ok to laugh, really...

17 February 2013

A Virtual Love Story in Two Parts

On one of the British news type blogs I follow, I saw that David Tennant would be lending his voice to a radio drama based on the books by Daniel Glattauer. (Okay so fine, it was probably that David Tennant fan site www.david-tennant.com. Whatever. Judge all you want.) I'll take a book recommendation anywhere, man. 
I did some research and bribed the interlibrary loan library assistant to get me both Love Virtually and its sequel Every Seventh Wave by German author Daniel Glattauer.

One day in January,Emmi Rothner attempts to email a magazine to cancel her subscription. After she doesn't receive a reply, she sends another email. And after that, another. Finally, Leo Leike responds informing her that she has emailed a personal address and not the magazine, but wishes her all the best in cancelling the subscription. Some slight embarrassment ensues and the matter is dropped. Emmi sends a mass-email to her contacts list...which somehow now includes Leo Leike. And so, their email relationship begins. 
They start with just exchanging niceties, and then that slowly progresses to personal things: life, love and everything in between.

I had a bit of trouble with the format at first. The emails (in the book at least) are not dated, and sometimes they don't sign their names. Once the characters got to know each other a bit more, the emails became easier to read. 
I really thought that the book(s) would be a bit tiresome. To the reader, it is all taking place in front of a computer screen. It would be like You've Got Mail, except it would be filmed in split screen: Tom on one side, Brinkley at his feet, Meg on the other, as Frank roams around the apartment. And that is all the action. However, it wasn't as boring as all that. In fact, it was very interesting to see how a story can evolve with so little location change and physical action. All of the action that happens is emotional. An email is either ignored or answered. One character sends multiple emails without reply until finally the shortest answer comes through. There are weeks in between emails; passive aggressive behavior at its best. 

But of course, my thought at the end of all of this was, "Gee, two people met online, hardly ever saw each other and yet...they seem perfect together. How does that even happen?" 
What is love? How do we find it? How do we know it when we find it? What is the main factor in deciding love? In these books, it most certainly isn't looks but intellect and words. Words can hurt, but certain words, put together with the utmost of care can...I don't know. I wanted to say "create" but now I'm wondering if that is what I mean or if I'm just being pretentious about the whole thing. I think when it all comes down, Emmi and Leo's relationship is almost 100% about communication. They email all the time. No phone. No "let's grab coffee." No running into each other at the grocery, church or mall. Just email. And though some relationships can be online or through letters and phone calls, we often omit things. Heck, we often omit things when we are sitting across from the person we are talking with! In these books, Glauttauer doesn't let his characters get away with that. There is a lot of "if you don't mind me saying, I think you are going about this the wrong way" and "what were you thinking? That probably wasn't the best choice, was it?". They call each other out on attitudes, choices, and just life in general. That alone makes this book different, at least in my book it makes it different. 

I have been doing this "thing" where I'll read book one in a series but promise myself that I don't have to finish the series if I don't want to. This was the first book I broke that resolve for. Granted, there are only two books, but I had to find out what happened. For that reason alone, I would recommend these books. Also, reading Leo's emails in David's voice? A total win. 

03 February 2013

Januray: Success!

You wouldn't know it from all of the non-posting I've been doing, but I am reading a TON this month! 
I just finished my 9th book (This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz) this morning! 

(And I think yes, I'll count it towards January's books!)

This next week is going to be pretty busy for me, so even though I probably won't be reading as much, I probably won't have time to post either. 

I am re-reading The Mortal Instrument Series by Cassandra Clare in preparation for the movie that is coming out this August! Check out the trailer: 
Crazy, right?! 
I think I'll have a better opinion of this when I finally see the movie. Not sure if I'm sold yet. Promise to let you know when I finally decide! 

This month I've read some old books and some new books. I'll try to get reviews up before too long. Let me leave you with the list for January: 

The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe
Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour bookstore by Robin Sloan
Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead
Possession by A. S. Byatt
Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman
City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
Love Virtually by Daniel Glattauer
This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

Hope your reading challenge for 2013 is going as well as mine is! 

P.S. Everything on that list gets a thumbs up from me...except maybe Seating Arrangements. Skip that one. I hope I remember why when I write the review! 
(Just kidding. I'm sure I will...)