Archive for the 'Fiction' Category

Thursday, January 5th, 2006

Title: The Darkness That Comes Before
Author: R. Scott Bakker
Genre: Fiction

Why I liked this book:

This book took a minute (or, more than a few minutes) to really hook me — it’s not an easy read, and many fantasy novels are really easy reads, so that startled me. It turns out that it starts slow because there’s a huge amount of history and culture and politics and religion to introduce to the reader, and Bakker does a great job of showing and not telling. Which takes time. But with that much worldbuilding, inverted character names, a complicated structure of gods and No-gods, a brand new variety of sorcery, several huge empires and a dozen distinct cultures to master, it took this reader a long time to feel comfortable in the world.

But you know what? It was worth it. This book resembles what you’d get if JRR Tolkien, Stephen Donaldson, China Mieville, and Jacqueline Carey sat down and wrote a fantasy novel. Epic scale, a broad cast of damaged characters, a healthy dose of weird, and a plot replete with politics, intrigue, emotion, and religion. I’m hooked.

I read a lot of fantasy, and a lot of it is interesting and fun, but not very good. This is interesting and fun, and it is good, from the worldbuilding, to the characters, to the character development, to the intertwining of plots, to the very strong sense that these are real people moving through a real world. Plus, I’m totally uncertain who the ‘good’ guys are, and I think our antihero might actually be a hero, and that our adversaries might be heroes in their own rights, too.

If that sounds like your cup of tea, give Bakker’s trilogy a look. This, first, volume is out in paperback, the second is still in hardcover, and the third is set to be released soon.

Thursday, December 22nd, 2005

White Noise:
Don DeLillo:
Fiction:

Why I liked this book:Don DeLillo has been lauded as one of the most lively intellects looking at modern American culture. While many of his novels, this one included, are light on coherent plot, they are packed with entertaining and incisive glimpses of some of the screwiest aspects of our society. Critics will say his works are a composite of set pieces – and they are right, but many of these pieces are so funny, and some are close enough to the bone to be disturbing. White Noise is frequently mentioned as one of his best. If you think that an academic novel in which the central character is a professor of “Hitler Studies” who speaks no German and is beset by a persistent fear of death has interesting possibilities – put this one on your list of reads.

DeLillo books to be found in Crumb are:

White Noise. PS3554.E4425 W48 1985
Underworld. PS3554.E4425 U53 1997
Ratner’s Star. PS3554.E4425 R37 1989
The Names. PS3554.E4425 N3 1982
Mao II. PS3554.E4425 M36 1991
Libra. PS3554.E4425 L53 1988
Great Jones Street. PS3554.E4425 G7 1994
Americana. PS3554.E4425 A8 1989

Wednesday, November 9th, 2005

Title: Bee Season
Author: Myla Goldberg
Genre: Fiction

Why I liked this book: We label the people we encounter — ‘smart’, ‘pretty’, ‘shy’, ‘driven’, ‘stylish’ — it’s just something people do. And, as my mother says, “Every snap judgement you make will be wrong”, because no one is ever just one thing. Bee Season is the story in which every member of the family has a label — Miriam is the brilliant attorney, Saul is the spiritual and caregiving father, Aaron is the future rabbi, and Eliza is the disappointment — and none of them are just that one thing. When Eliza discovers an unknown talent — an intuitive genius for spelling — everything changes, and everyone’s labels disintegrate and are replaced by new identities that no one would have predicted.

The thing I liked most, and the thing I often find most rewarding in fiction, is that the choices each character makes are reasonable choices, decisions that feel right in that moment, and that are completely understandable. It’s only when those decisions intersect with the choices of others that things begin to skew. And that’s how real life goes, sometimes — what’s ‘right’ for one individual can create chaos in a wider system, like a family.

[Potsdam Public Library has a copy of Bee Season, if you’d like to check it out.]

Thursday, October 27th, 2005

Title:Gilead
Author:Marilynne Robinson
Genre:fiction

Why I liked this book:

Gilead: 1)a mountainous region NE of the Dead Sea. 2) a fictional town in Iowa.

John Ames is a third generation minister to a declining flock in this rural Iowa town. The year is 1956. Ames, knowing himself to be close to death from heart disease, sets out to compose an extended letter to his 6-year old son. He will explain his life, his family history, and most of all, the depth of his love for the people and the place he has spent his whole life. The voice is that of a thoughtful, old man who has looked doubt in the face and pondered long on what really matters. His life is a testimony to his conclusion that we must “acknowledge that there is more beauty than our eyes can bear, that precious things have been put into our hands and to do nothing to honor them is to do great harm.”

This book takes patience to read. Though not a long book, it moves slowly. I found that I enjoyed it more, the more I read. It is very like coming to know someone who is not a person to open up easily. Plot elements develop very gradually. It is worth the time it takes.

The book won both the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It is in Crumb Library at PS3568.O3125 G55 2004

Saturday, October 22nd, 2005

Title: Voice Of The Fire
Author: Alan Moore
Genre: Fiction

Why I liked this book: Alan Moore always seems to avoid the tired cliché and write from a unique perspective. In Voice of the Fire, he writes from 12 different unique perspectives. The framework of this novel consists of glimpses of one particular region of England, as seen through the eyes of these 12 diverse characters that span a timeframe from 4000 BC straight through to the present. Each part is written in a distinct “voice” that works on it’s own as a short story, but the thing that makes this a coherent novel, is the recurring patterns and symbolism that run throughout, and the raw, warts and all portraits of humanity. We might expect a work like this to begin with a “caveman”-and it does, but this isn’t your typical run of the mill, hunting, gathering and discovering fire kind of caveman. This caveman is an individual. He’s young, and wandering around on his own. When his mother dies, he’s abandoned by his companions and left to die because he’s not quite as bright as the other cavemen, and can’t contribute his share to the group. The situation is harsh, and Moore doesn’t pull any punches, but the writing style is beautiful and poetic, particularly in this first section. On the first page he’s contemplating starvation, in a world where nobody is likely to come to his rescue, but the sparse poetic writing style goes right to the heart of the matter, and gives the story an authentic feel. “In bove of I is many sky-beasts, big and grey. Slow is they move, as they is with no strong in they. May that they want for food, as I is want a-like.” It does take a little bit of work to decipher this first section, but it’s not too difficult if you take your time and sound out the words phonetically. In any case it’s well worth the effort, and the other chapters are written in more straightforward styles (with standard grammar). The main characters of each of the other sections are equally interesting and unique. One of the stories is written from the point of view of a severed head, while another one is a witch at the point of being burned at the stake. If you’re at all curious about the stories that the rest of the characters have to tell, then I recommend picking up a copy of this book. You won’t be disappointed.

Monday, October 17th, 2005

Title: The Historian
Author: Elizabeth Kostova
Genre: Fiction

Why I liked this book: This is the perfect book for a cool autumn night, with the wind blowing ourside your windows and leaves skittering across the sidewalk.

A review on Salon.com describes The Historian as a “languorous gothic travelogue”, and I can’t argue with that description. This is the most suspenseful and engaging book I’ve ever read in which essentially nothing happens, and it also made me want to visit eastern Europe like nothing else ever has. Kostova’s descriptions are simultaneously subtle and lush, and everyone I’ve talked to about this book agrees that it makes you want to see the sights she describes firsthand — Istanbul, Budapest, the mountains of France, Vlad the Impaler’s Romania.

The book is a series of first-person narratives, starting with a teenage daughter telling her story, linking into her father telling her his story, and then leading to the telling of the father’s academic mentor’s story… and since the father and his mentor are both historians by trade, their narratives lead to the discovery of more ancient narratives. All of those stories, told by academically trained but emotionally involved narrators, slowly build the (startlingly believable) premise that Vlad Ţepeş found a way to cheat death, and did indeed become the Dracula of our legends. The intertwined narratives also tell several very moving human stories, stories of families and friends, stories of relationships begun and relationships torn apart — which build just as much suspense and emotional engagement as the vampire storyline.

Kostova also intentionally builds her narratives around convincing (sometimes authoritative and sometimes fictional) historical research, visiting a multitude of fabulous and fascinating archives and libraries all over Europe (hey, I am a librarian!), all of which add to the sense that this history is real, these stories are real, and that we should all be very careful what we research…

This book may not scare you, and it probably won’t make you believe in vampires, but it left me jumping at small noises and feeling like someone was watching me — perfect for Halloween.

Friday, October 7th, 2005

Title: House of Leaves: A Novel
Author: Mark Z. Danielewski
Genre: Fiction

Why I liked this book: This book is fun, creepy, interesting and complex. It is the story of a house that’s bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. It’s about the family that moves into it, and makes a video of the house. It’s about the owner of the house who becomes obsessed with exploring it’s ever changing and growing secret rooms and hallways. It’s about a blind old man who becomes obsessed with the story and creates mountains of paperwork and appendixes. It’s about a troubled young man who becomes obsessed with the document, and adds his own footnotes and comments. The story is edited and expounded upon by each person who comes into possession of it. Each layer of editors obscures and expands the simple story as it is filtered through each of their perceptions. Each editor weaves pieces of their own lives into to the story, along with footnotes, “facts” and appendices (both useful and not). The crazy, organic, patchwork style of the writing reflects the crazy, organic, patchwork way that the house itself grows and contracts. If footnotes and tangents and turning the book upside down drive you crazy, than this book isn’t for you; but if you’re looking for something clever and different, than I recommend it highly.

Thursday, September 22nd, 2005

Title: My Jim : a novel
Author: Nancy Rawles
Genre: Fiction

Why I liked this book: Written as a slave narrative, “My Jim” is the story of former slave Sadie Watkins, who was once married to the fictional escaped slave “Jim” from Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. The narrative is written in a slave dialect that makes reading a bit challenging, but it adds greatly to the authenticity of the tale and makes Sadie’s character believable. Sadie narrates the story of her life and one true love to her granddaughter as they piece together a memory quilt. Hardship, brutality and loss are dominating themes throughout the book, but Sadie’s strenth of spirit endures and she occasionally finds slivers of happiness. This is not light reading, but gripping none the less. Central to the story are the odd treasures that Sadie clings to: her knife, her healing bowl, an old button, Jim’s hat. They link her to her spirit world, and keep her memories alive. Huck Finn makes a cameo appearance.

Wednesday, September 21st, 2005

Title: Snowed In
Author: Christina Bartolomeo
Genre: Fiction

Why I liked this book: Sometimes it takes a while to grow up, and figure out who you are. Sophie, this novel’s main character, is in her early 30’s, and thought she had her life figured out… until she realized just how unhappy her life really is. As she makes new friends, learns to cope with Maine winters, and decides to follow her instincts, Sophie learns how much she had relied on the “safety” of the decisions that she’d made in her 20’s. And she realizes that sometimes “safe” isn’t enough.

This isn’t a novel in which a lot of things happen — but it’s a novel full of engaging characters (including the city of Portland, Maine, which becomes just as much a part of the novel as the people living there), with a core story about a woman who has to learn to trust her instincts, and to take some chances in life. If you’re in the mood for a smart and quietly funny character-driven novel with a bit of happily-ever-after, this may be the book for you.

Monday, August 29th, 2005

Title: Tithe
Author: Holly Black
Genre: Children’s/YA

Why I liked this book: Tithe is the kind of YA novel that puts the “Adult” in “Young Adult”. Holly Black’s grip on the realities of teenage life – particularly the dark, gritty, growing-up-too-fast side of teenage life – is superb, and her descriptions are sharp and evocative. Equally important, I believed in her characters, fantastic as they are.

Most faerie tales are about the good faeries, about sparkles and joy and light and happy… about the Seelie Court of faeries. Black’s heroine Kaye discovers that she’s linked to the Unseelie Court. There is no joy. There is no light. The sparkles all have a twisted, menacing force behind them. The Court is a scary, scary place — but it can still make a hero out of an unlikely young girl.

This isn’t the sort of book that appeals to everyone — adult or teen — but it’s a tightly written adventure with memorable characters — and some amazingly wicked visions of faeries dancing through the plot.

This book is available at Crumb Library… coming very soon!