15 Followers
37 Following
deborahmarkus7

deborahmarkus7

Currently reading

Saints in Art
Thomas Michael Hartmann, Stefano Zuffi, Rosa Giorgi
The Gorgeous Nothings: Emily Dickinson's Envelope Poems
Emily Dickinson, Susan Howe
Selected Poems
Emily Dickinson
Emily Dickinson
Cynthia Griffin Wolff
Lies My Teacher Told Me : Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong
James W. Loewen
Gone with the Wind
Margaret Mitchell

Kavanagh

Kavanagh - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow If you want to know what this fairly obscure Longfellow novel is about, but don't want to go to all the trouble of reading it, here's a summary:

Once upon a time, two teenaged girls were friends. They were maybe sort of kind of in love with each other, but then a hot guy moved to town and they learned what real love is. (Specifically, it's heterosexual. Did I mention this novel was written in 1847?) Of course only one of the girls could marry him, what with the bigamy laws and him being a clergyman and all; so the other girl considerately pined away and died to clear the playing field for the happy couple, who spent their honeymoon in Italy doing missionary work and apparently nothing else, since they stayed there three years and came home without any babies, if you get my drift.

Did I miss anything? I don't think I missed anything.

Okay, fer realz: I read this novel because it's mentioned in a book about Emily Dickinson I'm reading as research for a YA novel I'm writing. Kavanagh was important to Dickinson, in part because she read it against her father's wishes. "He buys me many books," Dickinson wrote facetiously, "but begs me not to read them, because he fears they joggle the mind."

"He did not wish his children, when little, to read anything but the Bible," her friend, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, explained more seriously in a loving tribute to Dickinson's life and work; "and when, one day, her brother brought her home Longfellow's Kavanagh, he put it secretly under the pianoforte cover, made signs to her, and they both afterwards read it."

With a backstory like that, how could I resist reading it myself? Especially since it's über short?

Another reason I had to check Kavanagh out is that it's described as depicting "what is probably the first lesbian relationship in American fiction."

And I'm supposed to not read this how, exactly?

I have to say that if I hadn't been told to watch out for a lesbian romance, I would have skated right by it. Here's the hottitude in full:

"I have just been writing to you," said Alice; "I wanted so much to see you this morning!"

"Why this morning in particular? Has anything happened?"

"Nothing, only I had such a longing to see you!"

And, seating herself in a low chair by Cecilia's side, she laid her head upon the shoulder of her friend, who, taking one of her pale, thin hands in both her own, silently kissed her forehead again and again.

... "I am so glad to see you, Cecilia!" she continued. "You are so beautiful! I love so much to sit and look at you! Ah, how I wish Heaven had made me as tall, and strong, and beautiful as you are!"

"You little flatterer! What an affectionate, lover-like friend you are! What have you been doing all the morning?"

"Looking out of the window, thinking of you, and writing you this letter, to beg you to come and see me."

"And I have been buying a carrier-pigeon, to fly between us, and carry all our letters."

"That will be delightful."

"He is to be sent home to-day; and after he gets accustomed to my room, I shall send him here, to get acquainted with yours; — a Iachimo in my Imogen's bed-chamber, to spy out its secrets."


That's it, ladies and gents. Do you need a moment alone? I think I do. TO TAKE A NAP.

Seriously, the hottest part of that alleged lesbian romance scene is the reference to Iachimo and Imogen. I don't have time to spell it all out here (which is a nice way of saying I'm too lazy); but it's from a rather creepy scene in Shakespeare's Cymbeline. Iachimo is a slimy jerk who sneaks into the sleeping Imogen's bedroom. While he's there, he steals some of her jewelry and scopes out her nekkid bosom.

Kind of a weird reference for an innocent nineteenth-century village girl to make, right?

Other than the nonexistent girl-on-girl action, this novel is a perfectly pleasant read – a sweet story about various residents of a tiny New England village, including a rather pathetic schoolteacher who's always talking about that great novel he's going to write someday. He's so busy talking about writing, he never actually sits down and does any.

Some things never change.

Anyway. As you can see from my updates and the quotable quotes I fed into the Goodreads' database, Kavanagh is often quite funny and occasionally brilliant. But it's not something you need to rush out and read unless you're obsessed with Longfellow, and no offense but that's kind of weird. Or you could read it if you're obsessed with Dickinson and feel the need to read anything she read. Which is also quite weird; but in my own defense, it's my main character who's obsessed with Dickinson. I'm just trying to get into her head. My character's, I mean.

I told my son about this and he said, "Oh, yeah – that's like what some actors do, right? What's it called?"

"You mean method acting?"

"Exactly! You're method-writing!"

See? It makes sense when he says it.

White Night

White Night - Jim Butcher THIS BOOK IS OVERDUE AT THE LIBRARY IT WAS DUE YESTERDAY BUT MAYBE IF I GET THERE BEFORE THEY OPEN AND THEY FIND IT IN THE "RETURN" BIN THEY'LL BE ALL "OH, SHE TOTALLY RETURNED THIS LAST NIGHT AND THAT COUNTS WE WON'T CHARGE HER ANYTHING" WHICH STILL MAKES ME A BAD PERSON BECAUSE SOMEBODY HAD IT ON HOLD THAT'S WHY I COULDN'T RENEW IT AND HAD TO SPEND ALL DAY YESTERDAY READING SO I COULD BRING IT BACK TODAY

(pant pant pant)

So. Um. Okay. This is a good book. Good wizard-is-a-private-detective-in-modern-day-Chicago book. You should read it.

First, though, go read eight other books. Not eight random books. I mean, you can. If you want. I'm not the boss of you, the way my local library is the boss of me. I'm just saying, you should read this book but first you should read the eight "Dresden Files" books that come before it. Jim Butcher does a decent job of summing stuff up, but the world-building is amazingly intricate and the plot is way complicated and there are all kinds of awesome characters you'll want to follow from day one.

Seriously. You do NOT want to just jump into the middle of this party. That'd be like showing up at a New Year's Eve bash at 11:45 and then drinking really fast to try to catch up to where everybody else is, which will kill you or at least make you barf since they've all been here swigging away since five o'clock.

Okay, the analogy isn't perfect. But I don't have time to MAKE it perfect, because did I mention THIS BOOK IS DUE AT THE LIBRARY AND THE LIBRARY OPENS IN (checks watch) LESS THAN TWO HOURS AND I NEED TO GET OUT OF HERE?

So read this book but first read the previous books in this series and be happy that Harry Dresden has finally stopped giving that pages-long speech he used to give once per volume like clockwork about how people don't believe in the supernatural anymore, which is TOTALLY BOGUS because have you looked around lately? People TOTALLY believe in all sorts of weird supernatural stuff.

Plus Harry's stopped being quite so much of an idiot when it comes to being all protective about women, possibly because he got his stuff stolen once too often by a female perp he let his guard down with in a way he never would have with a guy.

(checks watch again)

GOTTA GO BYE HAVE FUN READING BEST DRESDEN BOOK SO FAR BYE!

Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's "Learned"

Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's "Learned" - Lena Dunham If you read the comments on negative reviews here on Goodreads, these are some recurring themes you'll run into:

"You didn't read this whole entire book, so you're not allowed to rate or review it."

"Some reviewers are obviously just looking for an excuse to trash books."

"If you don't like a book, why go on and on about it? Put it down and get on with your life, already. Think about the things you could have done in time you spent writing this review."

"Clearly you're just a very negative person."

"I loved it. Clearly we didn't read the same book."

"Why did you read a book you don't even like?"


The fact that the last question on that list directly contradicts the first is a clue to what's going on here.

What's going on here is that some readers are treating books they love like sacred texts.

A friend of mine once got in touch with another friend he hadn't seen in a while. She was now devoutly religious, and urged him to convert to her faith. She was happier than she'd ever been, she said, and she wanted him to be happy, too. She gave him a copy of what was now her holy book. "Please, read this," she said. "Then you'll understand."

He read it. He still didn't want to convert to her religion.

"Why not?" she asked.

He attempted to engage her in conversation, to discuss issues the book in question had brought up for him. He wanted to hear her opinions, to see how she would answer his questions. She was confused and dismayed.

"That's not how you're supposed to read it," she said. "You're not supposed to pick it apart like that. You're supposed to read it with your heart."

It doesn't matter which holy book I'm talking about. Everyone who's read any of the livelier comment sections of any of the negative reviews on Goodreads knows that in terms of the attitude I just described, I could be talking about Jane Austen or Jane Eyre or the latest YA bestseller. People who love these works are sometimes not content with loving the books they love. They have to convert the heretics who are refusing to bow to the greatness that stands before them.

I read this book because I saw people being trashed for disliking it solely because of some understandably infamous passages – quotes that got around so widely that even people who can't remember Lena Dunham's name know some things she claims to have done to her younger sister.

"You're taking those quotes out of context," commenters insisted. "You can't judge this book unless you've read it."

The short answer: Fine. I read the book. I saw some very good writing. I also saw some very repulsive writing. And those infamous quotes are, to me, every bit as creepy in context as out of it.

The longer, more important answer: You didn't really mean that you thought the reviewers in question should at least read this book before commenting on it. You meant that you wanted them to read this book, experience a Saul-on-the-road-to-Damascus blinded-by-the-light conversion, fall off their high horses, and sing Lena Dunham's praises in exactly the same key you do.

I watched some clips from Girls. I'm planning to see Dunham's film Tiny Furniture, because it looks wonderfully bizarre. I understand that Lena Dunham is an extremely talented writer, actor, producer, and director.

I still don't like this book, and yes those quotes are still way creepy.

...

Those dots stand for the time it took me to get up and check how many separate copies of Pride and Prejudice I currently own.

I counted 7. I may not have caught them all.

That's too many even for someone who's researching Regency England with an eye to setting a novel there (which I am).

I have an entire set of shelves dedicated to books by and about Austen. Not a shelf: an entire bookcase.

Clearly it's time to call the authorities, if you can figure out which authorities deal with this sort of madness.

I have friends who don't enjoy Austen. I have a friend here on GR who specifically dislikes Austen, and she's a former English major who's now a university professor. Of English literature.

I love her comments and reviews, and I love her that much more for having that spot of inexplicability.

Here are three things I think are true:

1. If a book is still in print decades or even centuries after it was published, you don't have to like it. But you should try to understand why it's still around. What does it have to offer, and to whom? Why is this particular title still in print when the vast majority of books ever published die swift and silent deaths? What made this one different? If you can figure this out and still not like the book, you'll have learned something valuable about reading, writing, readers, and writers.

2. If you write something and you ask someone to please read it and tell you what they think, you shouldn't necessarily make all the changes they suggest. Maybe you shouldn't make any of those changes. But you should ask them why they want you to make the changes in question, and you should listen very carefully to their answers. You should understand completely why they're saying what they're saying. And then you should seriously consider their suggestions. Even if you end up throwing each one of those suggestions out the window, you'll have learned something valuable about reading, writing, readers, and writers.

3. If you can't understand even a little bit why people like some things you hate and hate some things you like, you should take a vow of silence (and that includes Internet silence) until you figure out how to live in a world full of people whose opinions are different from yours.

There is some good, even brilliant writing in this book. I can understand why this book is not merely infamous, but loved and admired.

I don't like this book at all, and I sympathize with every person who read the passages about Dunham's sister Grace and said "OH HELL NO."

Those people have a perfectly valid point, and provided they're clear and upfront about how much of this book they read and why it skeeved them out, they're as entitled to post a rating and a review as anyone else is.

For everyone who wondered why I tortured myself reading this book: I've had a lot of these ideas on my mind for some time now, and this particular review seemed like the ideal time to put them together.

For everyone who thinks this doesn't count as a "real" review: deal with it.

The Poet

The Poet - Ralph Waldo Emerson What this essay says, in case you don't feel like reading it:

1. Good poetry is pretty. Great poetry feels inevitable.

2. Good poetry can tell the story of an age; great poetry is for the ages, and lives on long after the poet and his culture have rotted away.

3. Great poetry makes us feel as if we've learned something new and, at the same time, as if we knew it all along.

4. Great poetry makes us feel as if we were just let out of prison.

5. Poetry is awesome, and it's for everybody. The idea that poetry can only be enjoyed by high-minded preshus snowflake-types is a load of hooey.

6. The idea that poets should be total drunkards and druggies? Also a load of hooey.

7. Poets shouldn't booze it up, but they should make their readers feel as if they just had a beer or three.

8. You can lead an exciting life or you can write great poetry, but you can't do both. At least not at the same time.

9. Great poetry is its own reward, for both the reader and the writer.

Eclipse (The Twilight Saga, Book 3)

Eclipse (The Twilight Saga, Book 3) - Stephenie Meyer The good:

1. Meyer's writing has improved. The dialogue flows better, and some of the humor is actually funny:

"Do you have a medical degree that you never told me about?"

"Just give me the chance to decide whether or not I'm going to throw a fit over taking you to the hospital."

He made a face of mock horror. "Please, not a fit!"

"If you don't let me see your hand, a fit is guaranteed."


2. Bella's emotions seem much more authentic than they have in past Twilight books:

"It's the fourth? Of June? Are you sure? It can't be! How did that happen?"

I felt like someone had kicked my legs out from under me. The weeks of stress, of worry...somehow in the middle of all my obsessing over the time, my time had disappeared. My space for sorting through it all, for making plans, had vanished. I was out of time.

And I wasn't ready.

I didn't know how to do this. How to say goodbye to Charelie and Renée...to Jacob...to being human.

I knew exactly what I wanted, but I was suddenly terrified of getting it.


She starts to think much more practically about what life will be like as a vampire, and she's (finally!) a little afraid:

I'd always known that I would be different. I hoped that I would be as strong as Edward said I would be. Strong and fast and, most of all, beautiful.

...I'd been trying not to think too much about the other things that I would be. Wild. Bloodthirsty. Maybe I would not be able to stop myself from killing people. Strangers, people who had never harmed me. ...People who'd had
lives. And I could be the monster who took that away from them.

...If I really were somehow like that...could I possibly be
me? And if all I wanted was to kill people, what would happen to the things I wanted now?

She loves Edward, but she doesn't want to marry him right away – maybe not ever, certainly not the second she graduates:

"I'm not that girl, Edward. The one who gets married right out of high school like some small-town hick who got knocked up by her boyfriend! Do you know what people would think? Do you realize what century this is? People don't just get married at eighteen! Not smart people, not responsible, mature people! I wasn't going to be that girl! That's not who I am."

I love the fact that she sees no contradiction between feeling like this about marriage and being perfectly ready to commit to an eternity of vampiredom with Edward. People are like that. Maybe not with those exact issues, but this scene rings true nonetheless.

3. Speaking of fun stuff, we learn that a vampire history book would be way more interesting than the textbooks most of us snored through in high school:

"All hell broke loose – and I mean that more literally than you can possibly imagine. We immortals have our histories, too, and this particular war will never be forgotten."

I liked the flashbacks to vampire history. I wish there had been more of that.

The bad:

1. Vampires still purr.

"You can always run later," Edward purred.

2. Edward's still totally condescending toward Bella.

And then his fingers were on mine, holding them still.
"Are we a little impatient today?" he murmured.

"Bella." He rolled his eyes. "You aren't exactly the best judge of what is or isn't dangerous."


3. Bella still adores Edward beyond anything anyone could possibly deserve. He's the whole point to her life. Without him, she's nothing. When he's out of the room she just wanders aimlessly, not knowing what to do with herself. Everything and everyone else in her life comes a very distant second to him.

On seeing them together, Bella's mother tells Bella:

"I wish you could see how you move around him. ...You orient yourself around him without even thinking about it. When he moves, even a little bit, you adjust your position at the same time. Like magnets...or gravity. You're like a...satellite, or something."

Bella's mom, who's been presented as flighty and rather air-headed, is smart enough to be concerned about this. Bella, who claims to be the practical, sensible one, sees nothing wrong with this at all.

4. Stephenie Meyer is still abusing punctuation. See ellipses in above quote, which show us that Bella's mom talks just like Captain Kirk. So, apparently, does Jacob:

"Well...I was wondering...do you...y'know, kiss him?"

"You said a few weeks....When, exactly...?"


Whoops – so does Alice, and she's my favorite character in the series:

"The timing of it was too perfect....This visitor was so careful to make no contact. Almost like he or she knew that I would see...."

Oh, and let's not forget my old favorite: ellipses with commas at the end!

"Jake...," I started to whine.

"Dad...," I moaned


And speaking of forcing punctuation into unnatural positions, dashes are shoved behind commas:

"What --," I started to ask.

Question marks are forced to make out with exclamation points:

I took another deep breath. "Don't worry?! You sliced your hand open!"

And I know this doesn't have anything to do with punctuation, but Stephenie Meyer is still having trouble with the same verb she abused in the first Twilight novel:

My heart, racing already, spluttered frantically.

(It totally didn't.)

The ugly:

1. In the name of "protecting" her, Edward doesn't tell Bella about threats to her own life. He insists that he and his family are able to save her from any harm, so there's no need for her to worry her little head about anything:

"You don't think Bella has a right to know?" Jacob challenged. "It's her life."

"Why should she be frightened when she was never in danger?"

"Better frightened than lied to."


As always, Edward doesn't seem to realize how patronizing he's being. Would he put up with someone "protecting" him by keeping him in the dark? Of course not. He'd hate it. Anyone would. But he refuses to put himself in her shoes. Instead, he grants himself unlimited power to make decisions on her behalf and for her own good.

2. Edward controls Bella, again in the name of protecting her. He acts like a textbook abuser: isolating her from her friends, making her afraid of him when she breaks the rules he's laid down for her. He sabotages her car to keep her from going to see Jacob, whom he insists is dangerous. Sure. Except Jacob spent the whole last book taking care of Bella, saving her life at least once if I recall correctly – and he was a werewolf back then, too, and in even less control of his powers than he is now.

3. Edward enlists his family to help keep Bella prisoner when he has to go hunting.

She grinned, and turned the volume down until it was just background. Then she hit the locks and the gas in the same second.

"What's going on?" I asked, starting to feel uneasy.


What's going on is that it doesn't matter what Bella already had planned for the next few days (and she does have plans); Edward's sister Alice is keeping her under lock and key until Edward gets back to take over the job.

I guess I shouldn't be so enraged. Bella shouldn't, either:

"I know you're frustrated that he's keeping you locked up like this, but don't give him too bad a time when he gets back. He loves you more than you know. It terrifies him to be away from you."

This is from Rosalie, Edward's other sister. Stalking: a game the whole family can play!

4. Edward makes Bella think she's crazy – yet again in the name of "protecting" her:

My imagination was sadly out of control. I'd taken a perfectly normal afternoon and twisted it until it looked like Edward was going out of his way to keep things from me. I needed therapy.

You do. Specifically, you need a therapist to help you get away from this guy, because he is going out of his way to keep things from you and he wants you to think you're just imagining it. This is called gaslighting, and it's not something you do to someone you care about. It's something you do to someone you want to destroy from the inside out.

5. Bella hands Edward all possible power by making it clear that however much his behavior may upset her, she won't do anything about it. She won't break up with him. She won't tell Charlie how he's treating her. She won't bring it up with Carlisle and Esme and ask them to please tell their son to stop being an abusive, manipulative jerk. She will endlessly forgive in the name of keeping the peace. (The phrase "I didn't want to fight with Edward" appears with sickening frequency, and is always followed with her deciding that sighing and giving in is the only way to avoid a fight – and of course a fight must be avoided at all costs. Why?)

6. After two and a half books of seeming like the good guy, Jacob pulls some serious jerk moves. He knows that Bella loves Edward, but he wants to convince her to give him a chance. Especially since Edward can't give her a normal life, while being with Jacob would mean she'd be able to see her mother and father and have kids of her own. Fine. What does he do to try to win Bella over? He forces a long kiss on her:

His lips forced mine open, and I could feel his hot breath in my mouth.

He doesn't care that she's skeeved out and furious afterward:

"Just let me drive you home," Jacob insisted. Unbelievably, he had the nerve to wrap his arm around my waist.

She jerks away from his touch – and then lets him drive her home. Even though she has perfectly good alternatives and is by no means stranded or in danger without Jacob's help. She just gives in.

"Fine!" I growled.

Her dad cheers Jacob on when he hears about what happened:

"Good for you, kid," Charlie congratulated him.

When she shows him how badly she hurt her hand when she attempted to punch Jacob in the face for kissing her against her will, his response is:

"Maybe you should pick on people your own size."

What a great dad!

Later on, Bella uses kissing as currency, and in the process finds out that – aw! – she's loved Jacob all along. Whee.

7. How about that "imprinting" the werewolves do. I know it's supposed to be romantic, and I do understand the appeal of the idea of a man becoming utterly, devotedly besotted with his soul mate in a single glance. I really do.

But it gets creepy when it can happen to a man who's already in a relationship with a woman he loves:

"Sam did love Leah. But when he saw Emily, that didn't matter anymore."

It gets really creepy when the Emily in question ends up returning his love because he feels so bad after mauling her. Yes. He goes werewolf and scars her for life. He feels bad. She feels bad that he feels bad. And they live happily ever after.

And it gets beyond creepy when, well:

"Try not to be judgmental, okay?"

I nodded cautiously.

"Claire is two."


And Quil, who just imprinted on her, is a grown-arse man.

"You're making judgments. I can see it on your face."

Yep!

"It's not like that; you've got it all wrong. There's nothing romantic about it at all, not for Quil, not now. ...Quil will be the best, kindest big brother any kid ever had. There isn't a toddler on the planet that will be more carefully looked after than that little girl will be."

Um...

"And then, when she's older and needs a friend, he'll be more understanding, trustworthy, and reliable than anyone else she knows."

But...ew...

"And then, when she's grown up, they'll be as happy as Emily and Sam."

Right up until she tells him she's in love with someone else, and then he mauls her like Sam mauled Emily?

"But why wouldn't she choose him, in the end? He'll be her perfect match. Like he was designed for her alone."

In the words of the immortal bard, GROSS.

Conclusion

I think Meyer's writing improves a bit with every book, and I do think she has some innovative ideas in this series. It's pretty hard to think of anything new to do with vampires or werewolves. I give her full credit for succeeding with both.

But these books just aren't my happy place. I want more plot and less romance. I spend too much time too angry at how Bella is treated by the alleged good guys. She speaks up more for herself in this book than she has in the past, but it's just not enough.

Not sure I'm up to reading the next one. We'll see.

Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives: Stories from the Trailblazers of Domestic Suspense

Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives: Stories from the Trailblazers of Domestic Suspense - Sarah Weinman This is one of the books that got me through last week. (The other is Ellen Forney's graphic novel Marbles, which I haven't had the guts to review yet because what do I say? Thank you for saving my life when you didn't even know me?)

Anyway. I happened to have this collection from the library, and I opened it up and dove in. It was such a relief to read something that wasn't work-related, or even Goodreads-related. It wasn't going to push me into wild-eyed research mode. It was just a good book and I was just there to remember what reading for pure pleasure felt like.

(insert "aaaaaahhhhhhh" emoticon, gif, or internet meme here)

I needed that so much.

I needed to put everything else aside and read a superb collection of short stories.

My family kept a tactful, quiet distance as I absorbed this book. I don't know how else to describe it. I settled at our tiny kitchen table with a mug of tea and no particular place to go and lost myself in story after story.

I remembered what it was like not to care what the clock said and not to know anything more about a book other than that it had been given to me as a gift and I was there to accept it.

I don't think I've experienced such blissful reading since I was ten years old and every day was lit by the warm glow of the Narnia books I'd received for my birthday.

But that's more a review of my state of mind and less a guide for anyone considering reading this collection. Fortunately, this book's subtitle -- Stories from the Trailblazers of Domestic Suspense -- tell you most of what you need to hear in that respect. At least if you know what "domestic suspense" is, and I admit it's not a genre I know much about. I just liked the title and the fact that there was a Shirley Jackson story, even if it was one I'd already read.

So far as I can tell, a domestic suspense story is a psychological thriller that doesn't feature a professional detective to sort things out. Civilians – mostly but not all women, at least in this collection – are on their own when it comes to figuring out what the scary hell is going on.

In a few of the stories, the protagonist (and the reader, of course) has reason to wonder if anything scary really happened at all. "The Splintered Monday" by Charlotte Armstrong, for instance, features an elderly woman whose suspicions are raised by nothing more than a few fond family members being slightly kinder than usual. This woman doesn't know what exactly she suspects. She just feels sure that something must be up.

In Joyce Harrington's "The Purple Shroud," on the other hand, reader and protagonist know exactly what's going on. A long-suffering wife is patient witness yet again to her husband's yearly infidelity at the artist's colony they visit every summer. We know what he's doing, and we know with whom. But what oh what is his wife up to?

All of the stories are well-written. Some are humorous, some ominous; a few manage to be both. One featured a touch of the supernatural that I found unnecessary and disappointing, since the mundane twist toward the end was quite disturbing enough. One hid Chekhov's gun behind an actual gun and offered a surprise ending so wonderfully gruesome I cheered out loud, thrilled to be duped.

I quoted several times in my updates from the British writer Celia Fremlin's "A Case of Maximum Need," the last story in the collection and arguably the most startling and powerful piece in the bunch. I'm shocked that Fremlin is not better known – in America, at least, her books are pretty much out of print. I ordered used copies of a few of her novels, and can't wait for them to arrive. Fremlin's brilliantly mordant wit is right up there with Muriel Spark's – why isn't she better known?

Anyway. I think this book is an outstanding collection no matter what your frame of mind – and I recommend it to anyone who likes their winter-cozy reading with a side of spooky.

El Deafo

El Deafo - Cece Bell I hate to say that this book taught me a lot about what people with hearing impairments have to deal with – not because it isn't true, but because it might make the book sound preachy. And it isn't. It's straightforward and direct and a fun, fascinating read.

The premise is simple: Cece sustains illness-induced hearing loss at a very young age, and both she and the reader must puzzle their way through a newly tricky world.

I liked two things especially about this story. First, Cece's struggles to make friends are relatable to anyone who's navigated the rough waters of public school. Whether you're currently able-bodied or not, you'll find yourself nodding and smiling, sometimes ruefully, as you read El Deafo. I especially loved seeing that I wasn't the only little kid who coped with social difficulties by developing a rich, superhero-intensive fantasy life.

Second, Cece isn't a paragon of perfection. She's a good, funny, smart kid, but she's sometimes sharp and judgmental, and she doesn't handle every situation as well as she could. She's not an innocent victim in a cruel world. She needs to give people the information they need – information she herself probably wouldn't have if she hadn't been forced into firsthand experience with her condition.

It's not intuitively obvious, for instance, that if someone's hard of hearing, turning up the volume on the TV or radio isn't much help. For Cece, it simply means that an already unintelligible sound is now unintelligible and LOUD. But that's something you have to experience or be told about to know.

It's also counterintuitive that speaking slow-ly and dis-tinct-ly can actually make things a lot harder for your hearing impaired friend. It makes lip-reading a huge pain, and your words sound really weird.

Cece doesn't speak up about these things until very late in the story. To be fair, she should have been told, by the same people who helped her figure out her hearing aid and taught her lip-reading, that she'll need to educate her friends. It's not always fun being part of someone's learning experience, but it's often necessary. Yes, some of the people around her are unkind and condescending; but plenty of them are friendly and welcoming, and often it's only Cece's insecurity that stands in the way of making more friends sooner than she does.

Oh, another thing I really liked: Although Cece develops a crush on a boy (and yay! – he's a worthy recipient of her youthful affection), the most important relationship in this story is the one between Cece and a girl who (spoiler alert) becomes her best friend. And the "WOOHOO!" ending is all thanks to Cece's hard-won ability to tell those around her who she is and what she needs.

El Deafo is sweet without being treacly, authentic without being brutal, and (for this reader) very happy-making. Definitely recommended.

Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir

Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir - Liz Prince The short review:

AWWW, YEAH!!!! WOOHOO! SRSLY! I HAZ A HAPPINESS!

Slightly more detail:

How do I love thee, Liz Prince? Let me count the ways:

Your drawing is deeply appealing – the kind of deceptively casual-looking art that clearly takes a lot of thought.

Your writing flows with seemingly effortless ease.

Your dialogue is utterly authentic.

Your story includes all kinds of wonderful detail, but never meanders.

You let me know that I wasn't the only one who grew up with that creepy "Bloody Mary in the mirror" urban legend that terrified me all through my childhood but especially during power outages.

You made me laugh hard enough to have to apologize to the neighbors with the "You're under ARREST!" "And on FIRE!" page.

And after your funny, thoughtful, glued-me-to-my-seat telling of a story I could relate to in so many ways, you made me tear up and cheer out loud on what I thought was the last page of that story, and then crack up and cheer out loud on the last page of a wonderfully unexpected epilogue.

Two "YES!" moments in two pages.

Five stars.

All my love, and please write another book soon.

Superbitch! (Superbitch, #1)

Superbitch! (Superbitch, #1) - Kennedy Cooke-Garza You guys.

YOU GUYS!

Check it out!

I was lucky enough to get a copy of this comic collection for Christmas. Specifically, I got an autographed copy in which the author, Kennedy Cooke-Garza, drew me a picture of Superbitch right next to where she inscribed a filthy joke involving nuns and bicycles.

(If your reaction to hearing that news wasn't "SO WHAT'S THE JOKE, ALREADY???", this comic is probably not for you.)

I got a lot of really good books for Christmas, but still it shouldn't have taken me this long to read this one. Because

AWESOME

is a good beginning, but doesn't go nearly far enough.

This comic is not child-friendly. It's not sensitive-soul-friendly. It's not even parrot-with-Tourette's-Syndrome-friendly, although it did try. (If you read this book, you'll get that reference. Now you have another reason to want to. Reason #1 being the aforementioned awesomeness.)

It's ridiculously over-the-top wrong, and it kills. For me, anyway.

To see if it works for you, read this comic (and if it's possible to post this as a visual here instead of just a link, someone let me know how and I'll do it):

http://superbitchcomic.com/comic/supertroll/

If that made you cry laughing, buy this book.

If not: okay, I'm trying really hard not to judge, but -- seriously? Who hurt you?

This book was a bright spot in a very rough week, and I'll always love it for that -- but there are plenty of other reasons to love it, so do please check it out.

New Moon

New Moon - Stephenie Meyer So much to say about this book! Most of which I already posted in my eleventy-thousand updates, so I'll stick with the theme suggested by a friend: what is it about Bella that casts a spell over so many readers and drives so many other readers smack-dab out of their minds?

I got a clue from one of my favorite lines from one of my favorite novels, Anne Tyler's Ladder of Years: "The very thing that attracts you to someone can end up putting you off."

That must be it, I decided: the very qualities of Bella's character that make some readers love her, or at least identify with her and root for her, must be the same things that make other readers want to club her and skin her and wear her as a hat.

Clearly, all I had to do was sift through Bella's personality and figure out which of her characteristics was having this effect.

It didn't take long, and that was my next clue.

The secret of Bella's appeal and repulsiveness is this: Bella has no discernible personality whatsoever. None.

She has no hobbies, no close friends or family, no political beliefs, no artistic tendencies, no spiritual bent, no religious curiosity, no academic interests, no ideas, no ideals.

She gets good grades by diligently applying herself and doing her homework rather than from any intellectual passion.

She is a competent cook because the alternative is living on takeout pizza and her father's never-ending eggs and bacon.

She used to live in Arizona, which she liked because the weather is hot and dry; now she lives in Forks, Washington, which she dislikes because the weather is cold and wet.

She says she's a reader, but there's no evidence for it. She doesn't bother getting a library card because the local library is too small. She plans exactly one trip to a bookstore, and doesn't mind at all that she never gets there.

That's it. That's all there is to her.

Bella is (to paraphrase Robert Musil) the woman without qualities.

She is, in other words, a perfect blank on which readers can draw any picture they choose.

Readers who want to imagine themselves into the story can put themselves in Bella's shoes without any difficulty or glaring contradictions.

This same utter blankness is what makes other readers (yours truly included) want to use the Twilight books as fuel for a line of alternative-energy vehicles we'd be willing to design and build by hand just so we could feel we'd made the world a better place in two ways.

That said, this book is an improvement on Twilight – hence the two stars to Twilight's one. Here's what New Moon has going for it:

1. Edward is gone, Daddy, gone. For most of Eclipse, the reader is blissfully free of Edward's constant chuckling, condescending remarks, sneering observations, and alleged physical perfection.

So is Bella; but unfortunately, she doesn't take this as good news. Instead, she spends her time pining for him and having even less personality than usual. When she isn't being utterly passive, she's flinging herself into dangerous situations with no thought for anyone's feelings but her own. Her monstrous self-absorption is actually rather impressive considering how little self there is for her to be absorbed in.

Still, Bella sans Edward is a huge improvement, storywise.

2. Jacob's story is pretty cool. It's really a shame we all know he's a werewolf, because Meyer does some really good storytelling here. Jacob is afraid that some former friends of his have been sucked into a cult, and terrified that he's being targeted as the next member of the creepiness club. Even his father seems to see what's happening and approve of it. Bella is worried, but tries to reassure him. The next thing she knows, he's hanging out with the very gang he'd been so afraid of – and wants nothing to do with her, though they'd been best friends just a few days before.

BWAHAHAHAHAHA.

It's actually quite compelling.

Unfortunately, Edward comes back, Bella feels validated in her steadfast refusal to get a life, and Jacob is kicked to the curb.

The end.

P.S. I've already started reading Eclipse. I'm less than 200 pages in and I can't tell you how many times I've begged to have Hitler or Stalin or Mussolini brought back to life just long enough for me to beat them to death with this book and then use it as kindling for their funeral pyre. I'm absolutely enraged at how horrifyingly stalkerish and controlling Edward is being. Any suggestions for my take on that review are most welcome, since at this point it's looking like one long scream.

The Most Dangerous Game

The Most Dangerous Game - Richard Connell "I hope the jaguar guns have come from Purdey's. We should have some good hunting up the Amazon. Great sport, hunting."

"The best sport in the world," agreed Rainsford.

"For the hunter," amended Whitney. "Not for the jaguar."


OH NOES! Could this be dramatic foreshadowing?

Uh, yeah. Totally. But still a lot of fun to read.

This is where it all began. This is hunter-becomes-the-prey-for-the-entertainment-of-the-decadent-rich almost a hundred years before The Hunger Games. This is the standard James Bond villain, complete with expensive booze and egotistical monologuing, created while Ian Fleming was still a moody teenager.

This is also "Bechdel test? What the hell is that?" But it's still a good time.

If you haven't read The Most Dangerous Game since high school (or at all), you could do a lot worse in the bedtime story department.

The Lady, or the Tiger?

The Lady, or the Tiger? - Frank R. Stockton I remember reading the phrase "the lady or the tiger" when I was barely a teenager. I think it was in a Stephen King novel or story. And I remember thinking, "Well, that's a cool saying. Now what the heck does it mean?"

It means that everybody should read this story. As stiff and florid as the prose can sometimes be, and as eye-rollingly stereotypical as the "barbarian" kingdom setting is, it's a great read with a brilliant puzzle of an ending.

Here's a sample of the writing and a basic outline of the premise:

When a subject was accused of a crime of sufficient importance to interest the king, public notice was given that on an appointed day the fate of the accused person would be decided in the king's arena....

The accused subject stepped out into the amphitheater. Directly opposite him, on the other side of the inclosed
[sic] space, were two doors, exactly alike and side by side. ...If he opened the one, there came out of it a hungry tiger, the fiercest and most cruel that could be procured, which immediately sprang upon him and tore him to pieces as a punishment for his guilt.

...But, if the accused person opened the other door, there came forth from it a lady, the most suitable to his years and station that his majesty could select among his fair subjects, and to this lady he was immediately married, as a reward of his innocence.


The storyteller is careful to point out that it doesn't matter if the accused is already married or in love. One thing the story doesn't mention is how on earth this "barbaric" kingdom deals with female criminals. Maybe they're made to choose between a door hiding Brad Pitt and one concealing Danny DeVito.

Anyway. This is a Kindle freebie:

http://www.amazon.com/Lady-Tiger-Frank-Richard-Stockton-ebook/dp/B0083ZF266/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1420693901&sr=1-1&keywords=the+lady+or+the+tiger

It's also available to read fer free on the Interwebz:

http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/LadyTige.shtml

Read it and decide for yourself what the answer to the title question must be!

The Gothic Art of Victoria Frances

The Gothic Art of Victoria Frances - Victoria Francés Gorgeously dire art calendar that I'm reluctantly retiring as 2015 sweeps through our apartment. I'll definitely keep an eye out for more of Francés' work.

Proven Guilty

Proven Guilty  - Jim Butcher 6 Super-Quick, New-Year's-Eve-And-I-Have-To-Finish-This-Year's-Reading-Challenge Reasons I Finally Gave A Harry Dresden Novel Five Flippin' Stars

1. Harry eased way the heck up on the two things that always make me roll my eyes in Dresden File novels: the obligatory "People don't believe in the supernatural these days" speech (yeah, that happened), and the "Women are different from men and I'm a way nice guy for being extra-protective of women" scene.

2. I was genuinely spooked by one scene, and these books have never given me the chills before.

3. I said, "Whoa, I did NOT see that coming" at least twice for reasons of awesome.

4. Outstanding, borderline-egregious but still hy-larious use of movie quotes.

5. Terrific character development.

6. Expert placement of numerous Chekhov's guns (painted to blend into the scenery).

Let's hope this trend keeps up, shall we?

And happy New Year!

Old Plantation Days; Being Recollections of Southern Life Before the Civil War

Old Plantation Days; Being Recollections of Southern Life Before the Civil War - N.B. De Saussure My Dear Granddaughter,

You're old enough to know the TRUTH about what it was like to live on a plantation, as opposed to all this Yankee nonsense you may have heard. It may be 1909, but that doesn't mean I've forgotten how awesome it was fifty years ago and more, back when people understood that those lazy blacks were just not going to do a lick of work unless you made them. And how else could you make someone work unless you owned them? It's just a duh!

Anyway. Once upon a time, life was awesome. We had parties all the time, and even on ordinary days, everything was wonderful and the food was fantastic. Our darkies loved us and we were totes nice to them, no matter what that stupid Frederick Douglass may have written about his life. He just doesn't understand the special bond Southerners had with their slaves. I mean, yeah, okay, he was a slave – but he didn't own any slaves, did he? So he totally doesn't get what it was really like.

Plus we gave our slaves all the sweet potatoes we thought they wanted, so he and those other former slaves can just stop whining about how awful their lives were. I mean, have they seen what it's like in Africa? Nothing but war and fighting and horribleness! That's what blacks are like when they don't have Southerners around to civilize them! It's science! And geography! And all kinds of other educational branches!

Anyway. Life was great for everybody. Then, all of a sudden, for TOTALLY NO REASON, those Yankees decided they hated us and started being really really mean.

Here's how bad the war was for my family: we didn't have any coffee. Or tea. Seriously! Those damned Yankees were HORRIBLE to us! They even stole my best friend's piano! I was able to save my harp, so things weren't as bad as they could have been, but still.

The Yankees did a lot of looting during that war, and does anybody care? No! They just keep jabbering on about slavery and civil rights and things! And I'm all, "Hello! I did mention my best friend's piano, right?" Priorities, people!

Anyway. Things have changed, my darling granddaughter, but never forget the good old days! I sure haven't!

Through the Woods

Through the Woods - Emily Carroll First off: This book is gorgeous in every way. It's small but surprisingly hefty thanks to the wonderfully heavy, glossy, richly-painted pages. You're holding a small work of art when you pick it up.

Read this at night if you can. Preferably in the winter. It's a good old-fashioned spooky read. If you're lucky enough to have a fireplace, set something ablaze and curl up as close as you can get. If that's your only source of light, all the better -- Emily Carroll's dark art will be all the eerier when viewed in flickering glances.

I read this through (not by firelight, sadly) in one shivery sitting. The writing and art are a hypnotic combination. I'm sure a video of my face as I read would be hilarious -- my eyes widening as I turn a page, and then narrowing as I squint to read the scribblings of a mad character; my mouth opening in a gasp as I read a terrifying twist on the Bluebeard story, or pursing as I suddenly realize a narrator is at least unsympathetic and possibly unreliable.

The only reason I hold back a star on this beautiful collection is that the endings of a few of the stories are too enigmatic. The first two are perfect; the third and fourth prompted a "Hmm;" the fifth and longest made me say, "Wait -- what?"

Just to make sure I wasn't guilty of Reading While Stupid, I had a smart friend take a look. (This book is a regrettably quick read.) He confessed to being baffled in the same places I was. So I do think a few of the stories should have been a little clearer.

The reason this collection still gets a solid four stars (possibly 4.5) is that even when you're not quite sure what's going on, these stories grab you and will NOT let go.

Do yourself a favor and read this book -- and grab a copy for a friend the next time you need to give a gift.