"Take no heed of her...She reads a lot of books."
~Jasper Fforde

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Jeeves and the Wedding Bells (Sebastian Faulks)

Before we go any further, I just want to let you all know that I have written a review for this book and posted it on Goodreads.  I'm not going to post it here, because I feel like there are some spoilers included and I don't want to give away anything.  If you DID read the book already, or really just don't mind spoilers, then here's the link.  By all means, go ahead and read a bit.  Tell me what you think.

I've been reading PG Wodehouse since I was in junior high, and my dear friend Sarah first told me about this awesome author she picked up.  And at the time, I wasn't overly excited about old Plum.  I didn't actually start reading his works seriously until, while working on a project about Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, I discovered that there was a musical about a bumbling aristocrat and his butler Jeeves.  I loved the musical, and that got me to check out the books.

That was as a freshman in high school.  I was, what, 14?  15?  Now, nearly ten years later, I have to admit that I haven't picked up a Wodehouse book since early this past summer.  Scratch that.  It's probably been longer.  And that's a real shame.  However, the appearance of The Code of the Woosters under my Christmas tree this year has sparked a desire to read the books again.

Jeeves and the Wedding Bells is not a Wodehouse novel, PG or otherwise.  It is, however, a tribute novel written by Sebastian Faulks in honor of one of the greatest humor writers of our time.  That being said, I had some general concerns before picking it up.  I mean, I've read tribute novels and adaptations for other characters, such as Sherlock Holmes, but for me, Wodehouse has always been something sort of sacred.  And I was afraid that this wouldn't live up to my expectations.

On its own, it was a fun story.  Bertie Wooster met a girl, Georgiana, while vacationing in France and fell in love.  They treated each other as brother and sister, though, and when they both returned to England, they promised to keep in touch. Well, circumstances bring them back together, and Bertie learns that his new-found love is engaged to someone else (but out of a sense of duty, not love).  Meanwhile, Bertie's childhood friend "Woody" Beeching is having some difficulties of his own.  He's engaged to Georgiana's cousin, Amelia, and unless Georgiana marries a rich man who is able to keep the family patriarch from selling the estate, Amelia will have to marry someone else, since Woody does not have the funds.  Torn between a sense of loyalty to his boyhood chum and the affairs of his own heart, Bertie has to step in and play match-maker in order to make things right for everyone.  To make matters worse, a spot of confusion and a few poorly-worded utterances by Woody has convinced his future father-in-law that Jeeves is actually an aristocrat, Lord Etringham, and Bertie is his valet, Wilberforce.  Only crazy confusion can ensue.  And what follows is a genuinely amusing book.

There were some issues, of course.  But, it wasn't that bad.  My main issue, really, was that while this is advertised as a Bertie and Jeeves book, it doesn't have the same feel.  Yes, the characters have the same names, and their personalities are pretty much the same, but there is something that just felt off.  And honestly, it wasn't until I started writing this paragraph that I figured out what it was.  The focus was not so much on how splendid Jeeves is at getting Bertie out of the messes he gets himself into, or even about how perfect this Wooster plan is before it all goes up in smoke.  It was more of a introspective look at things.  This B. Wooster sounds more mature, if that makes sense.  No squabbling, no childish rants and frustrations.  He seems more mature, more humbled, and more reserved.  Perhaps that's what happens to an aristocrat when he has to act as undercover butler for the woman he loves and her fiancee.  I don't really know.  But, it was a different sort of book than what I have grown accustomed to with Wodehouse.  Sure, it was still funny, but while I would shelve Code of the Woosters, Thank You, Jeeves, and Aunts aren't Gentlemen in the humor section of the Emmy Hart library, Jeeves and the Wedding Bells would fit better in general fiction.  It reads more like a drama.

Would I recommend it?  Yes.  Would I read it again?  Also, yes.  And would I buy a copy for my personal collection?  I only hesitate here for a moment.  Yes, I think I would.  The more I think about it, the more I enjoyed it.  However, I have to say, I don't think this is one of those books which you can tackle expecting it to read like Wodehouse.  If you do, you're going to be disappointed.  I would read it like any other book, but don't expect too much of Plum's flair.  I think if you approach the text with different expectations, you're going to enjoy it a lot more.

Sorry About That!

I've been told on multiple occasions that I apologize too much.  It's not that even something I consciously do.  Sometimes, I just feel really bad that I wasn't able to make things work out for someone the way I thought it should have, or I feel like I've inconvenienced them in some way.  Sometimes it's true.  Other times, no one really cares.

If they were inconvenienced and don't have a heart of stone, even the gruffest library patrons are usually mollified by a steady stream of timid sorry's.

Sometimes, though, they feel the need to point this out to me.  "You know," they say, "you don't have to keep apologizing!"  Or, the more embarrassing "You say sorry a lot."  And what's the proper response?  Probably "Oh, I didn't realize," or maybe I should just laugh it off.

But, instead, I just say "I'm sorry".

Sunday, January 19, 2014

A Johannes Cabal Update

Well, it's official.  I've read every available Johannes Cabal story.  I've read all three novels and all five short stories.  Yes, I could also explore the wild world of fan-fiction, but I tried that once as a college freshman and barely made it out with my life and my sanity.  Let a bunch of hormonal teenagers write stories about their favorite characters, and you will not believe the Frankenstein monsters they create.  I'll stick to the series canon, thank you very much!

Still, it's a little sad.  I was so excited to finally get my hands on these books and stories, and now I have to wait for an indefinite amount of time until the fourth book comes out in the States.  (I can't find anything about it on Goodreads, but according to a podcast I found online, Jonathan L. Howard DOES have a book on the way: The Brothers Cabal).  Don't listen to the podcast until you've read book 3 (The Fear Institute) first, however, since the excerpt being read contains a huge spoiler otherwise. 
Educational?  Yes.  Spoilers?  Also yes.  Don't do it.

I did get my hands on the audio book version of book 1 from the library, though, and used my Christmas Barnes and Nobel giftcard to buy the book itself.  My nights have been spent listening and reading along in the quiet of the house after everyone else has gone to sleep.  And so far, it's been pretty wonderful.

I find I've been reading a lot more fantasy lately.  Or, perhaps I've always read a lot of fantasy, but I'm just starting to realize it.  Either way, my days have been crammed with stories of monsters and wizards, zombies, ancient evil, and heroes.  It's been pretty great.  Though, at the same time, I've also been trying to read more non-fiction between books to sort of bring me back down to earth.  Too many good fantasy novels, one right after the other, tends to dilute their potency.  But, if you read a good memoir or a book about animals or space or a famous scientist, then the fantastical aspects of your other reading just sort of jump off the page.  Or, at least it does for me.  Which is why, following The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Neil Gaiman), I've started reading The World's Strongest Librarian (Josh Hanagarne), which is pretty good so far.  I've been reading for about two days, and I think I'm over halfway done.

Still, I'm a bit disappointed about my Johannes Cabal books.  It just feels like a sort of grim finality that I haven't experienced since high school, when I devoured Jasper Fforde's books (all three series of them) with the same voraciousness.

Oh well.  I guess all I can do is wait, right?  At least there will be more Cabal sometime.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Neil Gaiman)

My Goodreads Review: Gripping, fantastic, a real page turner. This book is just one more reason why Neil Gaiman is absolutely amazing. Reading this transported me back to when I was a child. I felt as though this was one of those books I would have read as a kid (A Wrinkle in Time certainly came to mind more than once). The nostalgia and excited, childlike emotions flooded through me, and I felt like I did 10, 15 years ago, back before I felt the need to stop believing in dragons and monsters. It was a wonderful adventure.


Part of me keeps wondering why I didn't read this earlier.  I guess with so many other books piling up in front of me, some things just get lost in the shuffle.  Yes, I know it's Neil Gaiman, but...Okay, I have no excuse.  I put it in my library bag and it got buried.  Sue me.

But, honestly, this was an excellent read.  As a kid, I was quite a lot like the narrator.  I was quiet, kept mostly to myself, and I loved books more than just about everything else.  Plus, I had a super-vivid imagination.  There are of course differences (like I would never walk outside barefoot.  Ever.  Not since I burned my feet running across the sun-baked deck at my childhood home).  We didn't live on a farm, either, but we lived in a tiny development with woods at the end of my street.  I would always dream of having adventures in those woods.  All the  witches, bogeys, and spookables in my storybooks lived in there, just as all the heroes and adventurers surely journeyed across the fields on the other side of the fence surrounding our deck.

As I mentioned in my Goodreads review, this book brought me right back to my childhood.  Having a story told by an adult, through the eyes of a child was a great idea.  It reached me as I am now, a stupid, unimaginative "grownup" who no longer understands the ways of children.  And it not only reached me, but it pulled me back into those days when I believed in dragons and elves and Skirtingboard people (a tip of the hat to Jonathan L. Howard).  And that was pretty cool.

But, it wasn't like this book was all chocolate and rainbows.  No.  It was pretty creepy.  And it was really suspenseful.  There were several scenes that jump to mind as distinctly adult.  Not explicit, mind you, but this is certainly not the sort of book I would give to a child saying "Oh, this book reminded me of being a child, so you should read it, too, kiddo!"  You know what I mean?  It's still an adult book.

I'd recommend this to anyone who likes Fantasy, or has read and liked anything by Neil Gaiman.  He continues to be one of my favorite authors.  I also recommend it to anyone who wants to get a glimpse back to the mindset of childhood (especially if they were a kid like I was.  Those of you out there know who you are).

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Night Before Grad School

I officially start classes tomorrow, and not gonna lie, I feel a bit disorganized.  I'm nervous, too, since I've basically spent the last seven or so months doing what I want to do when work is over, and now, I'll have to learn to budget my time a bit better in order to fit in classwork, essays, and other assignments.  At the same time, though, I'm looking forward to having that back in my life.  I've missed classes.  A lot.  So, that's going to be pretty cool.  Iunno.  I guess I'm just pretty ambivalent about the whole thing.

I'll let y'all know how things go.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Johannes Cabal (A January Kickstarter)

Way back in April of 2012, I never would have thought that a necromancer of some little infamy would manage to worm his way into my heart with his sour personality and misanthropic tendencies.  Honestly, I wasn't even sure that I would actually pick up the book in the first place.  I mean, I enjoy a good old fashion Faustian tale, but I wasn't sure if I really wanted to spend my precious free-time reading about a man who sells his soul to Satan, and then must collect 100 souls for the devil in order to win his own soul back.  But, after picking up the book a few times over the course of a month, flipping through the pages, reading the dust jacket, agonizing about the moral implications, I checked it out.  And on a quiet college weekend, when all my friends had gone home, I read it over my bacon and eggs, and was completely hooked within two or three pages.

I've written about Johannes Cabal the Necromancer before, so if you're interested in reading that review, you can find it here.

In the time since I read Necromancer, I've practically devoured the rest of the series (Johannes Cabal the Detective and The Fear Institute, as well as short stories Johannes Cabal and the Blustery Day, Exeunt Demon King, The House of Gears, and The Death of Me).  I only have one story left: The Ereshkigal Working, and I've managed to locate the anthology it's included in, and it's coming in from the library.  **As a side note, if you're interested in reading any of the stories, I've included a link to House of Gears and The Death of Me, which can be read online for free.  The other stories, with the exception of The Ereshkigal Working can be purchased for the Kindle at Amazon.com.**

There's so much I can say about this series, but I think I'll keep it somewhat short.  Quite simply, these books are a lot of fun.  After selling his soul in the first book, Johannes also becomes involved in political upheaval, is nearly eaten by a meteorological monster, gets chased by mobs and ghouls, and tries to discover the entity that is responsible for all fear.

Jonathan L. Howard has a beautiful writing style that is quick, precise, and sharp as a knife.  His analogies and figures of speech are fresh and completely original.  When I'm reading a Johannes Cabal story, I'm always pleasantly surprised by the tasty little details.  For example, anyone can be seasick.  But, only a Jonathan L. Howard character would throw up as though he meant to do it.  Anyone can have a KEEP OUT sign on the front lawn, but only Johannes Cabal would have a sign which says that Trespassers would not be prosecuted, but eaten.  By the things in the garden.  Whaaaa?
 Honestly, the best part of the stories are the characters.  Johannes is a character that honestly no one should like.  He's callous, selfish, and manipulative.  Besides, he's a misanthropic necromancer, robbing graves and (at least in the first book) stealing souls.  If I had met this man in person, there's certainly no way I'd want to be friends with him.  He's kind of a jerk.

But, Howard paints a character as miserable as Johannes as someone deeply flawed, but with a rich character.  After having read as many stories as I have, there has been a delightful story and character arc.  This is not simply a passive villain, but a character who feels lifelike and full of depth.  After book one, I wouldn't have wanted to be this guy's friend, but after reading a few more stories, I think that if I had Johannes word that the front garden wouldn't eat me, I would be willing to share a cup of tea at his house.   (A similar storyline is pursued in Exeunt Demon King).

What I like is that Johannes, in any other story, told by any other character, would have been a delightful villain.  Just take Leonie Barrow, his "nemesis" in the first two books.  If this was her story, then there would be nothing redeemable about Cabal.  But, this isn't her story.  It's Cabal's.  And that's his saving grace.  Instead of a pure villain, the reader is treated to a deep, three-dimensional anti-hero; a man who continues to surpass everything we have come to believe about him based on the facts at hand.  He's so incredibly human.  He's powerful, but he's also vulnerable.  He's mechanical, but he has a heart.  He's one of the greatest characters I've encountered in literature in a long, long while.

But, I certainly wouldn't say that Cabal is soft.  He's incredibly dangerous.  And sarcastic.  And unpredictable.  And he would be completely ineffective without a wonderful supporting cast.  In a sense, he's a gun (a Webley .577 to be exact) without bullets.  On his own, he may be intimidating, but he's certainly ineffectual.  Most of these supporting cast members are just funny little critters Cabal encounters; sprites, ghosts, demons, etc.  But, some are deserving of actual names and character arcs themselves.  Horst Cabal is a personal favorite of mine (the man on the left in the group photo).  He's Johannes's older brother, and a great foil to the character.  While Johannes tends to scare off small children by looking at them, Horst is incredibly charismatic.  He's sweet, and charming and funny.  Of course, this makes for some excellent tension.  And of course, Leonie Barrow is another wonderful foil for Cabal.  (She's the girl in the group picture, between Horst and Johannes.)  Every misanthropic necromancer needs a girl who is a breath of fresh air, but too independent to fall into the pit of LOVE INTEREST.  I'm not saying she's one of the those scary feminist characters who hate all men, but she's strong and independent and a wonderfully written female character.

I'm going to stop here, before I start writing in too many spoilers or write my back into a corner.  Besides, this post could get really long really fast. 

 I'm sorry for ranting, but I've just read a novel and four short stories in less than a month, all circling around this one series.  And I've been loving it.  I actually checked book 1 out again at the library, thinking I could give the series another go from the beginning.  Alternately, I could pick up that Christmas gift card my cousin Abby gave me for Barnes and Noble.  With $25 dollars, I could at least by one, maybe 1.5 of the books if I got them in paperback.

I was telling The Brother that there hasn't been a series I've gotten into so wholeheartedly in a long time.  Jonathan L. Howard knows how to scratch me right where I itch (as both a writer and a reader).  I actually intend to email him once I get my hands on the last short story.  If all goes well, I'll tell you guys about that in what I hope will only be a few weeks.

Anyways, for now I'm going to let you go, but I'd be happy to clarify any confusion and answer any of your questions about the series.  Happy Reading!

January Book Update: Beasties and Bogeys (Non-Fiction)

It's not even halfway through January, and I'm already plowing through my reading.  Not all of it has been recorded under my reading challenge on Goodreads (or on the widget), but that's just because not all of the entries were BOOKS (I read a few short stories on the Kindle App on my computer), and I only wanted to include books on my reading challenge goal record.

I think if I had to pick an over-arching topic for the materials I read this far into the new year, I would go with Beasties and Bogeys because most of the materials I delved into involved monsters of some variety or another.  And if you wouldn't actually consider a lion, tiger, or spider to be a monster, then at the very least, you could say that they can be considered beasties.

I'm going to divide this up into two parts.  The first (this post) is going to focus on the non-fiction books: Deadly Kingdom: The Book of Dangerous Animals (Gordon Grice) and The Science of Monsters: The Origins of the Creatures We Love to Fear (Matt Kaplan).  All of the fiction I've read so far has all been part of one series: Johannes Cabal (Jonathan L. Howard), and that being the case, I think they deserve their own post.

I have always been fascinated by monsters.  As a kid, I loved the thrills I got from reading scary stories or watching Scooby-Doo.  I liked to be scared.  In junior high, my class and I were introduced to the thrilling world of Greek mythology, and my passion for monster stories skyrocketed.  Years later, I'm no longer that kid sneaking books out to recess so I don't have to socialize, devouring shelves and shelves of books from the public library.  Now, I'm a well-adjusted library employee who brings books on break to avoid socializing, and who devours shelves and shelves of books from my place of employment.  And that's how I found The Science of Monsters

It just sounded like the coolest book.  I mean, it's all about the concept of monsters, and how they come into our mythologies and popular culture.  In a little over 200 pages, Matt Kaplan tries to explain everything from Medusa to the Minotaur to Dragons to Terminator and HAL 9000.  It was a pretty cool concept for a book.  But, I wasn't completely thrilled.

In theory, I should have been ecstatic.  In theory this book was perfect for someone with my interests.  But, at the same time, I found Kaplan's theories a bit dry and forced.  Sure, I can believe that Medusa has snakes for hair because the ancients were afraid of snakes.  If you wanted to freak me out with a scary story, make the villain a giant spider.  (I about pissed myself during the second Hobbit movie).  But, at the same time, I found some of his theories a bit hard to swallow.  For example, the Chimera.

This creepy critter has the head of a lion, the body of a goat, and the tail of a snake.  Oh, and it also breathes fire.
Chimera: Lions and goats and snakes, oh my!
I did a project on this back in high school.  Now, I'm by no means saying that I'm an expert.  Not at all.  But, I think that there is more to a myth than just the literal.  Kaplan suggests that ancient people found a "chimera" skeleton after a goat got caught in a tar pit.  The goat was attacked by a lion, which also got trapped in the tar.  A large snake also got tangled up in all of this, and by the time they sunk, died, and fossilized, the end result was a skeleton that looked like a lion/goat/snake hybrid (Kaplan also says the Griffin might have been "created" in a similar way).  The way I see it, though, the monster could represent more abstract concepts, such as violence, deception, and lust.  But, my frustration was not because I disagreed with his theories.  I just found them to be overly-complicated and forced.

Moving on from the supernatural, I turned to the all-too-natural.  This brought me to Deadly Kingdom by Gordon Grice.  Now, instead of learning about the origins of all the monsters I would read about as a child, I got to learn about all the terrible things in the world, that, if given half a chance, would kill, maim, or eat me.

I don't think about death very often, but when I'm reading a book that details story after story about people being killed by [INSERT ANIMAL HERE], I can't help but think of how I don't want to go camping, or swimming, or even visiting the zoo (who knows if a chimpanzee might escape?)  But, the worst part was the section about spiders, which I decided to read right before bed.  Know what's a great feeling?  Reading that most encounters with venomous spiders occur between the sheets WHILE I'M IN BED is nothing more than a moment of abject horror.  I slept that night convinced I could feel creepy crawlies all over my skin.

It was almost a little depressing by the end.  As a kid, who read every Calvin and Hobbes comic book I could get my hands on, I thought it would be the greatest thing ever to have a pet tiger.  It would be my best friend, and walk with me to school, and I would read books to it, and no one would pick on me, because they would be scared of my tiger friend.

Realistically, though, I should also have been scared of the tiger, because it probably wouldn't have let me live long enough to walk me to school, or read it a book.  Instead of a best friend, I would have turned out to be a convenient snack with glasses.

I enjoyed this book a lot less than the first one.  I think this was mostly because the book consisted of pages and pages of the most horrible stories.  For example, in 2003, a grizzly bear ate a camper.  This also happened in 1987, and the first recorded instance of this happened back in 1694.  And then, Grice goes on to tell all the gruesome details of what is eaten off, or what turns black and falls off after a snake/spider/scorpion encounter.

So, while the first book was a bit dry, the second was just horrifying.  I would have crawled under my bed, but I'm sure that there are spiders under there, so that would not have been a good idea.
They're coming to get you, Barbara
So far, my non-fiction reading hasn't been exactly stellar.  It's been fine, but I'm not exactly jumping-up-and-down excited about it.  But, luckily, my fiction selections have been a bit more exciting.  That post should be coming very soon.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Work Woes

The other day, we were all evacuated from the building at work, because leaking pipes got water in our light fixtures.  We stood around in the freezing cold for about ten minutes before our supervisors gave us the a-okay to leave (it was supposed to be under 0* that night).  And since it was the ONE DAY I didn't drive myself (the roads were terrible, and my folks offered to give me a lift to work), I had to accept a ride home from my handsome co-worker.

Because of the water-damage, we were closed today, which meant I didn't have that 8am meeting like I thought I would (which was awesome!).  And then, Facebook and our website announced that we were going to be closed tomorrow.  And then I got a call and an email from two of my bosses saying that YES, we are indeed open tomorrow.  Shit.  I was really looking forward to a day off.

Also, I'm not sure how my schedule is going to work out, since I was supposed to leave early on Thursday (we get an hour off for attending the morning meeting), and there was no meeting because we were closed.  So, the question is: are we going to be closed, or not?  And if we're open, do I still get my hour off?

Can't I just stay home?  Can't I just wear my pajamas all day?  Can't I just go back to bed?

Monday, January 6, 2014

Who's That Actor (How the Hell Should I Know?)

Whenever I'm watching TV with my folks, and my dad says "Hey!  Know who that is?"  I always start to panic (just the tiniest bit).  I feel like I can never figure out who the person is.  The latest one?  Gavin MacLeod, from classic TV shows Mary Tyler Moore and The Love Boat.  We were watching Hogan's Heroes, and I could not figure out for the life of me who the snide German general was.

(Mary Tyler Moore)
(The Love Boat)
(Hogan's Heroes)
Maybe the similarities are obvious to all of you.  But it wasn't for me.  Oh well.   I guess this is always going to be something of an issue for me.