Sunday, February 1, 2015

Downton Denial

You are back here yet again. You might actually have been really bad and bought the DVD last week and glutted yourself on Downton Abbey and now you have no more. Or you are being good and watching each episode as they air, waiting till March 1st when you truly will have no more Downton and are hoping you'll find some way to cauterize the wound. I am here to help. I have been there. I have railed against Jullian Fellowes as he messes with us and poor Anna and Bates once more. I have done dances of joy because Anthony is ending up where I want him, in Mary's rear view mirror. Oh, and the Russians, can't get enough of the surliness and their secrets!

You don't want this roller coaster ride to stop, but it will, and all too soon. And this is where I waltz in, hopefully in a beautiful dress worthy of Lady Mary, but more likely in PJ's covered in cat hair. I am here to help you cope with the bereft feeling that will overtake you in the weeks to come. While Downton Abbey is unique in it's own way, it's not so unique that you can't find books to fill the void. Once again for the month of February I will have a plethora of Downtonesque reading suggestions to help you through the loss to come. It's the least I can do for my fellow sufferers of Downton Denial.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Book Review 2014 #1 - Anne Bronte's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
Published by: Oxford University Press
Publication Date: 1848
Format: Hardcover, 486 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Wildfell Hall has a new resident. A mysterious widow and her young son who want nothing to do with the outside world. The outside world disagrees. The nosey neighbors must know everything they can about the mysterious Mrs. Graham. Young Gilbert Markham wants to know everything but for a very different reason, he is inexorably drawn to the young widow and cannot understand why she remains aloof and detached, craving solitude over companionship and love. But soon Helen Graham realizes that her feelings for Gilbert mean that she must disclose her past so that he can move on and realize their love is doomed, and not just because her husband isn't dead.

Mrs. Helen Graham is really Mrs. Helen Huntington, the wife of a cruel man who has more vices then she could enumerate. She has fled her husband because he was trying to imprint their your son with his own dubious morals.  Helen could have suffered anything if it was just herself that was the target of Huntongton's malice, she stubbornly married him after all, but their son is another matter. After years of feeling trapped and hunted in her own home, can she remake her life, or will the old one haunt her?

Sometimes I am a very contrary person, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is a case in point. Instead of reading the book before watching the miniseries I decided to watch the miniseries first which then put me off the book. For some reason I view the steadfast rule of reading the book first not applying to the Brontes. I had seen so many adaptations of their books prior to ever picking one up that they are grandfathered into my weird reading habits with this clause. Yet I still question how an adaptation with Toby Stephens and James Purefoy, not to mention Rupert Graves, Pam Ferris, and Paloma Baeza, could be so bad. It was dull and lifeless and I remember barely being able to finish it.

The miniseries turned me off the book and because of this the book has languished for years waiting for the time when I would pick it up and love it. I seriously can not think of any reasonable excuse why it took me this long to read it. I was under so many misconceptions about this book that I should have just trusted to my gut which tells me that Anne Bronte is awesome. I am serious when I say that I think Anne might just be my favorite Bronte. This isn't just me routing for the underdog, though she is the least embraced of the sisters, this is totally to do with how awesome her books are.

There's a part of me that knows Anne's desire for "truth" in this novel comes from a desire to counter the pro bad boy image her sisters had created in their works. But there's a deeper part of me that wonders if she's not just messing with Charlotte and Emily a little. Who, given the chance, wouldn't try to mess with their siblings a little? Her sisters did everything to make this bad boy redeemable by love trope and then in comes Anne and blasts them out of the water. Huntington is a bad boy to equal Heathcliff and Rochester, but love is unable to sway him. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is an opus to the irredeemable. I can just picture the sisters sitting around their fireplace on a cold night in Haworth talking about their dream men and Anne just looking askance at them and plotting how to prove them wrong, preferably in three volumes, she was, after all, a silent plotter. I don't think anyone has ever summed this up better then Kate Beaton in her "Hark, a Vagrant" comic, "Dude Watchin' with The Brontes" so I won't attempt to and move onto other things.

So, other things! What I find amazing in this book, and in fact all the work by the Brontes, is how they were able to capture an entire world from outside their cloistered lives and put it on the page. It just goes to show that sometimes writing what you know isn't the only answer, but writing what you feel is. Over a hundred and fifty years later this book pulses with life. It was criticized at the time for being too repulsive and scandalous, but that is why it resonates till this day. It is the truth of human nature and fallibility that Anne sought out to capture and did. Infidelity, adultery, drugs, drink, games of chance, everything not written about in literature of it's day that still causes so much heartbreak.

The degraded life that Helen lives made me connect to her because, not only did I pity her, I worried that she wouldn't make it out of this situation, ironic because having watched the miniseries I knew the outcome, but still I worried. But as to the debauchery, one problem I have always had and mentioned repeatedly in literature set during this time is the overuse of the Hellfire Club. It seems if you are debauched during the Regency or early Victorian eras you therefore have to belong to some incarnation of said Hellfire Club. But here I make an exception. Usually the Hellfire Club is just a trope used by modern writers, as in those still currently writing. Think of the spunk it took for a little ex governess to allude to the Hellfire Club in a book written in 1848! You Anne Bronte are the exception that proves the rule! When you wrote those few lines alluding to fire and brimstone it was not yet hackneyed, it was controversial. I wish I could tell you how much you mean to me and literature, this poorly written review will have to suffice.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Book Review 2014 #2 - Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
Published by: Virago Press
Publication Date: 1938
Format: Paperback, 448 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me. There was a padlock and chain upon the gate... Then, like all dreamers, I was possessed of a sudden with supernatural powers and passed like a spirit through the barrier before me. The drive wound away in front of me, twisting and turning as it had always done."

As she looks back on the twists and turns that brought her to Manderley, the second Mrs. de Winter can't help but wonder how her life ended up as it did. She had resigned herself to an existence as a paid companion trailing behind whomever had hired her, the reprehensible Mrs. Van Hoppper being her patron at the time. That all changed when Maxim de Winter entered her life in his fast car. He was in the south of France fleeing the memories of his dead wife Rebecca and the one thing that blotted her out was the young girl who would become his second wife. Yet perhaps their union was foolish, or Maxim's dream to return to Manderley was unwise. Because their life is haunted by the memories of his first wife, Rebecca. The spectre that is hallowed by the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, and is a constant comparative presence for the new wife. Could Rebecca destroy their happiness from beyond the grave? Or will it need a little assistance from Mrs. Danvers?

When I was young my mother subscribed to The Franklin Library Mystery Masterpieces. Each month a new book would arrive and we'd set it in pride of place on our console bookshelf that housed our most prized possessions, this being the eighties it mainly housed records and our record player. The little nine year old that I was loved that each month another volume would come and expand the display on that orangey wood that just glowed with an inner light. Then one day The Franklin Library sent us the biggest box I had ever seen. They were discontinuing the Mystery Masterpieces and they sent us the remaining volumes all at once. At this time we probably had only ten volumes, so forty-two books showed up one day to our great astonishment and delight.

Until this past summer these books have been packed away as space was scare; all but a few choice volumes. But when I was young I loved to spend time reading the spines and looking at the pictures and wondering what the books were about and making up my own stories, especially about The Thirty-Nine Steps, which really disappointed me when I found out what it was really about. When they first arrived I was too young to read most of the titles, and when I was older I was too into movies to bother with books. That all changed. Obviously. But Rebecca, the movie, was like a gateway drug. I adored the film and then I looked on our shelf. There was Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, one of the first books we'd gotten in this series, after the obligatory Agatha Christie volume that is. This particular edition would make it's way into my library and my heart.

Rebecca is that rare book that cries out to be read and re-read over and over again. The opening line that transports you, like a dream, to Manderley. You can get lost in the happy valley among the flowers and never want to return from those magical pages. But I don't think that you truly get the book's greatness without knowing the context of Du Maurier's world, mainly her obsession with the Brontes. This is much in the vein of why people don't realize the genius of Northanger Abbey, which is a parody of the Gothic genre, not "serious" like Austen's other books! Du Maurier's first book, The Loving Spirit, takes it's name from a poem by Emily Bronte. More then twenty years after writing Rebecca her misguided biography on Branwell Bronte was published and forever secured her connection to them. Therefore the echoes of Jane Eyre that haunt Rebecca should not be thought a surprise or the least bit unintentional. Du Maurier was writing a new classic that would pay homage to and reflect Jane Eyre. A Jane Eyre for modern sensibilities, if you will.

Just look at the similarities. The naive young girl ready for love, the misanthropic hero, the crazy wife, the destructive fire. What amazes me is that if you look at just the building blocks of these books they should be eerily similar, yet they aren't. Each book is a classic in it's own right, but the ghost of Jane Eyre isn't the only ghost that Rebecca tackles, after all there is Rebecca herself. While there is that chilling line delivered by Mrs. Danvers "Do you think the dead come back and watch the living?" What we think of as ghosts can take many forms. There are no spectral apparitions here, no things that go bump in the night, but that doesn't mean Rebecca doesn't haunt Manderley.

Rebecca recurs persistently in the consciousness of the second Mrs. de Winter causing her distress and anxiety, but she is also the bosom friend of Mrs. Danvers. Mrs. Danvers, more then anyone, works to keep Rebecca alive and in doing so makes her spectre part of the foundation of Manderley itself. This is an interesting conceit on Du Maurier's part, because really, this is a ghost story without a ghost. The memory and emotion left behind is what haunts us, and if anyone could do this, it's Rebecca. As Captain Jack Harkness said on Torchwood, "Human emotion is energy. You can't always see it or hear it, but you can feel it. Ever had deja vu? Felt someone walk over your grave? Ever felt someone behind you in an empty room? Well there was. There always is."

Yet Rebecca isn't the only ghost. There's another person who haunts Manderley, she is always there, ever present, but in the shadow of Rebecca. I am of course talking about the second Mrs. de Winter. She is but mere shadow, a trace, a semblance of a person. She in fact has no name but that which Rebecca had, Mrs. de Winter. This is the most fascinating aspect of the book and many others have discused it's importance, that the heroine has no name. One result of this namlessness is that she is a ghost, a cipher, a way to tell Rebecca's story through new eyes but without complicating the matter by creating a character with backbone.

Of course this is a two edged sword, on the one hand Du Maurier is pushing the second Mrs. de Winter into the background, but on the other hand by creating a blank slate, a character who has no real "character" we are able to put ourselves more easily into her shoes. This literary trick, I mean, really, I want to stand and applaud Du Maurier. By giving use this conduit there are so many ramifications to the narrative. By being one with the second Mrs. de Winter you therefore embrace Maxim, her husband, and therefore not just identify but condone his actions. The genius of Rebecca is that Daphne Du Maurier has made you complicit in murder and you loved every second of it.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Tuesday Tomorrow

Fairiest by Marrisa Meyer
Published by: Feiwel and Friends
Publication Date: January 27th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 272 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Mirror, mirror on the wall,
Who is the fairest of them all?

Fans of the Lunar Chronicles know Queen Levana as a ruler who uses her “glamour” to gain power. But long before she crossed paths with Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress, Levana lived a very different story – a story that has never been told . . . until now.

Marissa Meyer spins yet another unforgettable tale about love and war, deceit and death. This extraordinary book includes full-color art and an excerpt from Winter, the next book in the Lunar Chronicles series."

Yes, I know this isn't Winter and the finale, but at least she's giving us something to keep us going till Winter is out later this year.

Mr. Mac and Me by Esther Freud
Published by: Bloomsbury USA
Publication Date: January 27th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"It is 1914, and Thomas Maggs, son of the local publican, lives with his parents and sister in a village on the Suffolk coast. He is the youngest child, and the only son surviving. Life is quiet-shaped by the seasons, fishing and farming, the summer visitors, and the girls who come from the Highlands every year to gut and pack the herring.

Then one day a mysterious Scotsman arrives. To Thomas he looks like a detective in his black cape and felted wool hat, puffing on his pipe like Sherlock Holmes. Mac is what the locals call him when they whisper about him. And whisper they do, for he sets off on his walks at unlikely hours and stops to examine the humblest flowers. He is seen on the beach, staring out across the waves as if he's searching for clues. But Mac isn't a detective, he's the architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and together with his artist wife, they soon become a source of fascination and wonder to Thomas.

Yet just as Thomas and Mac's friendship begins to blossom, war with Germany is declared. The summer guests flee and are replaced by regiments of soldiers, and as the brutality of war weighs increasingly heavily on this coastal community, they become more suspicious of Mac and his curious ways.

In this story of an unlikely friendship, Esther Freud paints a vivid portrait of the home front during World War I, and of a man who was one of the most brilliant and misunderstood artists of his generation."

Um, what doesn't scream me about this book?

Friday, January 23, 2015

Book Review 2014 #3 - Lauren Willig's That Summer

That Summer by Lauren Willig
ARC Provided by the Publisher
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: June 3rd, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Julia Conley has inherited a house in England. A house on Herne Hill has been left to her by an unknown great-aunt. Julia and her father left England when she was six and her mother was killed in a car crash. Since her life in New York hasn't been going that well lately as one of the many unemployed, she decides to go to England and spend a few months sorting out the house and hopefully sorting out her life. For Julia who has viewed her family as just her and her father she finds it hard to come to gripes with the fact that this was where her mother came from and she still has family here with a few cousins, who of course feel slighted with great-aunt Regina's will. The more time Julia spends in the house the more she wishes she had been given the chance to know her great-aunt.

For Regina might have held the key to a lovely Pre-Raphaelite painting in one of the rooms of the house, which has a matching painting hidden deep at the back of one of the cupboards. Why was the one painting displayed and the other hidden? Who is this artist Gavin Thorne? Going back to 1849 we learn about the painter Gavin Thorne and his muse, Imogen Grantham, who happened to be the mistress of the house on Herne Hill and married to a wealthy and significantly older collector who was occasionally visited by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood who doted on his historical relics. Yet why hide the painting? What connection does this painter and this wife have to Julia? More importantly, after 160 years can Julia find out?

Sometimes life is staggering in it's synchronicity. The very day that I received That Summer in the mail my Great-Aunt Vicki died. My family got the call that she had passed in her sleep and that the rest of the family was to descend on Madison to take care of her estate. My Great-Aunt was the last of the older generation, being preceded in death by all my Grandparents and even an Uncle. While sadly I have never been bequeathed a mysterious house, because she was the last of that generation I have gotten quite used to clearing out ancestral homes, my Grandparents farm having accumulated over a hundred years worth of ephemera, with sadly not a rare painting or a secret stash of cash in sight, but a random piano being used as a tool bench and much mouse effluvia. As I spent the following weeks sifting through the rooms of her house, picking what to keep and what to give away, I couldn't help but think of all the things I don't know about my family and where I come from. There is a strong ancestry bug that my family has, but I have not yet been bitten, and there's a part of me that keeps thinking, better now before it's too late.

The detritus is all we have left of our family's history. Random paintings around the house, Aunt so and so painted this, Cousin so and so did that one; just what if the painting was something more? What if the painting was a closely guarded secret that would unlock some mystery about yourself? The search for your own identity is caught up in the past, in where you come from. While Julia's search for what happened in her own past with her mother as well as to her ancestor's is something that might be uncommon, the search is something we can all identify with. Lauren has tapped into something deep within everyone, a longing to know where they're from in order to find out where they belong. This gives us a strong connection to the characters, we are on their journey with them and I wouldn't want it any other way.

While the time slip genre is nothing new, Lauren is able to create a more accessible story then some authors who mire their books in overly flowery details and descriptions that go on for so many pages you lose the thread of the story. This isn't to say the writing is sparse, it's exactly what it needs to be to conjure this world, no more and no less. Though there is a part of me that wishes at some time in the future Lauren would go all out and write a doorstop of a novel. Yet in Lauren's time slip she is able to capture the best of all worlds, with a little Kate Morton, a little Somewhere in Time, a nod to Du Maurier's Rebecca, a Keats Bridget Jones call out with a wink to Nancy Mitford's silly season. There are also echoes of Victorian literature, from Imogen's marriage mirroring Dorthea's in Middlemarch, to Gavin bringing a little of the John Thornton vibe from North and South. Yet these homages aren't derivative, they give us a touchstone for the time period but then become so distinctly their own story that while you remember the connections at the back of your mind they are inconsequential as the story takes on a life of it's own.

As for the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, I will admit that this subject matter is what made me swoon when I heard over a year ago about Lauren's next planned stand alone. I think that I have adequately covered my love of them in previous posts and writings, but I will say that even in the BBC production of Desperate Romantics, they have always been a band apart. Outsiders who verged on Gods in their ways of self aggrandising each other and mythologizing their lives and works. They were Romantics in every sense of the word, demanding the capital letter "R". Yet Lauren brought them down off their pedestals. Packed into the snug sitting room on Herne Hill we see a human Rossetti with his schemes and ideas and his future spiraling out before him. The ways the Brotherhood sought out collectors of antiquities to give an authenticity to their paintings adds a realism to them and their works.

These men aren't Gods, no matter how many posters in English classrooms and dorm rooms might say otherwise, they are men. They have loved and lost and with Gavin we have a true romantic hero that is swoonworthy. And like all good writing, this one aspect of the book, the Brotherhood, it doesn't overpower the story, it compliments it, it strengthens and adds to it. You will fall into this book and even if you are just a fraction of a romantic the Pre-Raphaelite's were you will find yourself falling in love with both couples in the different time periods. I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did, and if you're coming into this book from Lauren's Pink Carnation series, there are a few gems hidden in the book, but like these painters who would hide the Brotherhood's initials in their paintings, you might have to have a keen eye to spot them.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Book Review 2014 #4 - Hannah Kent's Burial Rites

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
Published by: Back Bay Books
Publication Date: August 29th, 2013
Format: Paperback, 338 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Agnes Magnúsdóttir has been convicted of killing her lover and employer, Natan Ketilsson. She has been scheduled to be executed. Agnes is sent to an isolated farm at Kornsa, near where she grew up, to await her execution. The family of four living in the croft at Kornsa must allow Agnes into their lives for the duration because of the will of the District Commissioner, Björn Blöndal. Divided by prejudices, most the family doesn't trust the murderess, but over time, slowly, they do get to know Agnes, and she is far from what they expected. With the counsel of a local Reverend, Tóti, Agnes tells her story, knowing that nothing can stop her impending death.

Books based on actual events are tricky. My main problem with them is you know what's going to happen. Agnes Magnúsdóttir was the last execution in Iceland. Therefore Agnes is going to die. No matter how much you love or hate her this will not change the fact that the end of her story is a fixed point, she can not live. As for her imagined life, in some regards I was at an advantage and in some regards I was at a disadvantage. I knew nothing about Agnes and the legend that has grown up around her seeing as I'm not familiar with Icelandic history or urban legends or even Iceland when I started this book. This gave me a clean slate. I could view her story with no preconceptions. Yet Hannah Kent was obviously out to change these preconceptions. So how could I fully understand what she was trying to do without being fully aware?

What I felt this book lacked was a coda that showed how maligned Agnes was in her time. Some historical context after the fact that would have shown us exactly what the preconceptions were that Hannah was working against in writing this book. The national museum still has the axe and the chopping block used in Agnes's execution on display. Is this because of it being the last capital punishment, or the triumph over evil, or to remind them of a wrong they did as a country? The problem of trying to find out the folklore surrounding Agnes now, the wanton witch, is that the web is populated with Hannah's story of setting things to right, or at least giving us an unbiased view. So while we won't know the truth, I'd at least like a glimpse into the mindset of the times.

Burial Rites does suffer because Hannah is a first time author. The book lacks a polish that would smooth over the rough patches and the literary tricks she pulls out of her bag. I think that literary tricks are the bane of first time writers. They go to school, learn all these concepts and narrative techniques, and then decide to use them all in their first endeavor as a writer. The key to writing a good book is to let the story tell you what it needs, not to shoehorn in things just to show you can do it. I know at least one of my fellow book club members would agree with me that Hannah's annoying preference for "Head-Hopping" is something that needed to be worked on to avoid the disjointed nature it brings to the narrative.

For those of you who don't know the term, or have never experienced this technique in writing, "Head-Hopping" is when an author switches the point-of-view character in a single scene. One second you're in Agnes's head, the next you're in Tóti's head, and on and on. While it gives you a more direct connection to the characters then omniscient narration, it can be confusing at times and feel contrived. But then again, I've never been a fan of literary tricks. Nothing has or even will annoy me more then in John Scalzi's Redshirts that his first, second, and third coda were written in first, second, and third person respectively. That's just a writer being indulgent. Seriously, ask yourself does it benefit the story? If the answer is no, it benefits my ego, then cut it.

Yet I was able to look beyond these initial flaws because underneath there was a fascinating story that transported me to another place and time. Plus, seriously, if you're feeling bad about your life, it's not as bad as it could be, and this novel is here to prove it. Though it was looking from Iceland to the greater world view of the time that staggered me. Iceland is a country above the tree line, the use of wood in buildings at this time is rare and used only for the wealthy or places of importance. The country is bleak and dark and filled with mud, lots and lots of mud. Houses are sod with sheep bladders as the membranous windows through which the little light sneaks in. Summer days are spent preparing for the long winter days to come when all you do is stay indoors and knit.

If someone was to tell you that this was 1830 you might be in shock, I know I was. At this time Jane Austen had already come and gone. Queen Victoria would be on the throne of England in only seven more years. Napoleon had already stirred up France, bugged off to Egypt, been incarcerated, escaped, and died. The Revolutionary War in America was almost fifty years prior! If we think of these times do we think of an advanced country like Iceland, a country where one in ten people have written a book, and think, mud huts filled with knitters? NO! This just blows my mind. To think of this greater world view through the eyes of this story and this time just astonishes me. Sure, I could tell you you should read Burial Rites it because it's like Icelandic Brontës, but in truth it is so much more amazing.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Tuesday Tomorrow

First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: January 20th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From the New York Times bestselling author of GARDEN SPELLS comes a story of the Waverley family, in a novel as sparkling as the first dusting of frost on new-fallen leaves...

It's October in Bascom, North Carolina, and autumn will not go quietly. As temperatures drop and leaves begin to turn, the Waverley women are made restless by the whims of their mischievous apple tree... and all the magic that swirls around it. But this year, first frost has much more in store.

Claire Waverley has started a successful new venture, Waverley’s Candies. Though her handcrafted confections—rose to recall lost love, lavender to promote happiness and lemon verbena to soothe throats and minds—are singularly effective, the business of selling them is costing her the everyday joys of her family, and her belief in her own precious gifts.

Sydney Waverley, too, is losing her balance. With each passing day she longs more for a baby— a namesake for her wonderful Henry. Yet the longer she tries, the more her desire becomes an unquenchable thirst, stealing the pleasure out of the life she already has.

Sydney’s daughter, Bay, has lost her heart to the boy she knows it belongs to…if only he could see it, too. But how can he, when he is so far outside her grasp that he appears to her as little more than a puff of smoke?

When a mysterious stranger shows up and challenges the very heart of their family, each of them must make choices they have never confronted before. And through it all, the Waverley sisters must search for a way to hold their family together through their troublesome season of change, waiting for that extraordinary event that is First Frost.

Lose yourself in Sarah Addison Allen's enchanting world and fall for her charmed characters in this captivating story that proves that a happily-ever-after is never the real ending to a story. It’s where the real story begins."

Oh, yes please!

Veronica Mars: Mr. Kiss and Tell by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham
Published by: Vintage
Publication Date: January 20th, 2015
Format: Paperback, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In the second book in the New York Times bestselling mystery series, Veronica Mars is back with a case that will expose the hidden workings of one of Neptune’s most murderous locations.

The Neptune Grand has always been the seaside town’s ritziest hotel, despite the shady dealings and high-profile scandals that seem to follow its elite guests. When a woman claims that she was brutally assaulted in one of its rooms and left for dead by a staff member, the owners know that they have a potential powder keg on their hands. They turn to Veronica to disprove—or prove—the woman's story.

The case is a complicated mix of hard facts, mysterious occurrences, and uncooperative witnesses. The hotel refuses to turn over its reservation list and the victim won’t divulge who she was meeting that night. Add in the facts that the attack happened months ago, the victim’s memory is fuzzy, and there are holes in the hotel’s surveillance system, and Veronica has a convoluted mess on her hands. As she works to fill in the missing pieces, it becomes clear that someone is lying—but who? And why?"

The books are all well and good, but can't we bring back the series?

Friday, January 16, 2015

Book Review 2014 #5 - Terry Pratchett's The Last Hero

The Last Hero: A Discworld Fable by Terry Pratchett
Published by: Gollancz
Publication Date: October 18th, 2001
Format: Hardcover, 160 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

In Discworld, more then most places, what we take as myth is more literal. In the beginning, the great hero Mazda, maybe known elsewhere as Prometheus, stole fire from the Gods. Well, Cohen the Barbarian and his Silver Horde have grown wealthy and old in the hero business themselves, but they don't like the old part, in fact, they have a beef to pick with the Gods about the whole "old" situation. So they've decided to return Mazda's ill gotten gains. With interest. The problem with most heroes though is they don't realize that sometimes their actions have consequences. The consequence of them going to the home of the Gods is that Discworld will cease to be. The Wizards bring this outcome to the attention of Lord Ventinari who quickly gets all the Disc's best minds, including Rincewind to his own dismay, to find a solution. Yet no one seems to be asking the obvious question. What if this is just another game the Gods are playing, and what if it's revenge for all those temples these so-called heroes sacked?

In Neil Gaiman's introduction to A Slip of the Keyboard he says that "Terry Pratchett isn’t jolly. He’s angry." This to me is the truest thing I've read about Pratchett. Some might place him in the jolly elf category, but to me he is in the cantankerous wizard one. When I met Terry Pratchett he reminded me of someone very close to me, my mother. Like Pratchett she is ill and old before her time. She survived two rounds of cancer in my childhood to have Parkinson's arrive early because of the chemo that saved her rapidly aging her body. Here are two people who know the truth that life isn't fair. You might have a good life, you might have a bad life, you might have an easy life, but in the end death comes for us all. The indignation of the Horde at this universal truth is both poignant and relatable.

While this book was written prior to Pratchett's diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer's he understood how the world works so it seems even more of a cruel joke that this would happen to him. One wonders if he has railed against the Gods as his heroes did. Because what would you do if you could actually accuse the Gods of being unfair? Would you gather yourself a posse and head into Mordor with a keg of explosives? The anger just sparks off the page at the unfairness of life. This will to live, this rage, fuels the book and makes it more vital and alive then any book I have read in a long time. It might be about turtles and wizards and old men who were heroes in their day who want sagas written about them, but the human truth behind all that pageantry is what makes Pratchett's books so universally wonderful, if heartbreaking at the same time.

Though Pratchett isn't one to not let the Gods have a say. Sure they might be blind and think of people as pawns in their games, but all the Gods live together and therefore have similar vested interests. It would be like Jesus hanging out with some Egyptian Goddess like Isis, with a few Roman and Greek deities on the side. All Gods, while not necessarily equal, are aware of each other and take an interest in what they each do. So to look at the "heroes" from their point of view, they see a rag tag group of people who have spent their lives looting and pillaging their temples and places of worship. They might be heroes to us mere mortals, but to the Gods, they are a nuisance, and Pratchett is will to show us this in all his irascible splendor.

But in amongst the hard truths Pratchett peppers his story with little asides, little jokes, that if you get them they're wonderful. Besides the battle of Gods and man, here he takes aim at the space program, Leonardo da Vinci and his inventions, science, but my favorite of all was the discussion of Schrödinger's cat. This is a quantum-mechanical paradox wherein a cat is placed in a box with a substance that may or may not kill the animal. The cat being in the box and unable to be observed means that the cat is both alive and dead simultaneously. It is the observation of the cat when the box is opened that determines the cat's state of being. DEATH and his manservant Albert get into an argument about this theory. Albert is trying to point out the two states of simultaneous being while DEATH just thinks it's cruel to the cat, and anyway, he's DEATH so he'd be aware the instant the cat died, and therefore it makes no sense to him. This scene is worthy of a vaudeville stage and top billed act with the subtlety and wit. Priceless.

What sets apart The Last Hero from any of Pratchett's other books is that this is an outsized format with beautiful illustrations by Paul Kidby. While I actually have many issues with the layout of the book, text lines being set too long, sepia drawings not getting the attention they deserve being set behind type, drawings badly placed within the story (ok, the graphic designer in me will stop now), the illustrations add so much. Kidby has this way of channeling Pratchett so that his drawings sync up with the images that have always been in your head. You see this picture of DEATH with one of his beloved kittens and you think, yes, that's right. Carrot Ironfoundersson has proved difficult to dream cast, like I am wont to do, but there he is rendered flesh by Kidby's pen! I hope this symbiotic relationship lasts for many years, and above all I am grateful that the US Publishers have FINALLY started to release Pratchett's books with Kidby's covers stateside. Why would you do otherwise?

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