Book review: The Pharos Gate by Nick Bantock

While this is technically Nick Bantock’s seventh entry in the Griffin & Sabine series, the story told within the beautiful pages of “The Pharos Gate” is in fact a much-desired epilogue to “The Golden Mean“, the third book. Here we finally see the last, most difficult steps Griffin Moss and Sabine Strohem took to reach each other at the Pharos Gate in Alexandria. Set upon by forces determined to prevent their union, these two nevertheless become one in the most metaphysical sense. While we knew this had come to pass from the events of the second trilogy, nothing compares to experiencing their fusion first or, more accurately, secondhand.

Once again, Bantock’s physical novel itself is a work of art, in the styles of Griffin and Sabine both — two distinct yet harmonizing modalities. The sheer tactile joy of removing printed sheets filled with Griffin’s words and seeing once more Sabine’s distinctive brown script is enough to pull the reader right back into their story. While I am not sure this volume would stand cleanly on its own, it makes a treasured addition to an already fascinating tale. If you are unfamiliar with Griffin & Sabine, I recommend starting and the beginning and staying the course throughout their journey.

I received an advanced readers’ copy of this book for the purpose of review from LibraryThing.

2015 in books

book street cat named bobI read 43 books this year, which is a bit more than last year (but still a ways off my all-time 2012 high of 54).

On the whole, most were decent, some were bad, and not very many stood out as exceptional. The best book I read was James Bowen’s “A Street Cat Named Bob“; Emily St. John Mandel’s “Station Eleven” was a close second.

So with no further ado, 2015’s list, with comments where warranted and links where recommended:

 

The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly : Matt McCarthy
At the Water’s Edge : Sara Gruen (Not very good. I gave it a bad review and the author’s Twitter account retweeted it. Odd.)
I Am Number Four : Pittacus Lore
The Girl On the Train : Paula Hawkins (I think everyone read this last year. I thought it was just okay)
Stolen Innocence : Elissa Wall
The Look of Love : Sarah Jio
Station Eleven : Emily St. John Mandel (It reminded me of The Stand meets The Walking Dead, but with no zombies. I loved the circular lack of resolution.)
A Street Cat Named Bob: How One Man and His Cat Found Hope On the Streets : James Bowen (This story hits every part of my little Grinchy heart that treasures the way animals and humans can share a bond like no other. The true tale of how James saved Bob, but Bob saved James even more.)
Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances : Neil Gaiman (This was a big disappointment for me. If it wasn’t for the Shadow story, it would have been a total loss.)
As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride : Cary Elwes and Joe Layden (All sorts of fun stories from the set, including ones about the unforgettable Andre the Giant and the passing of gas.)
Wreckage : Emily Bleeker
The Art Forger : Barbara A. Shapiro
The Beautiful Bureaucrat : Helen Phillips
Hidden : Catherine McKenzie
The Memory Box : Eva Lesko Natiello
Reconstructing Amelia : Kimberly McCreight (Tom, I think you recommended this one to me. It was pretty interesting, and I didn’t figure out what had really happened until the end.)
Red Queen : Victoria Aveyard
The Bridesmaids: True Tales of Love, Envy, Loyalty… and Terrible Dresses : Eimear Lynch
The Winter Witch : Paula Brackston
The World According to Bob: The Further Adventures of One Man and His Street-Wise Cat : James Bowen (See above. I love reading about Bob. There’s a movie in the works!)
The Buried Giant : Kazuo Ishiguro
The Complete Walt Disney World Fun Finds & Hidden Mickeys : Julie & Mike Neal
Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip – Confessions of a Cynical Waiter : Steve Dublanica
Armada : Ernest Cline (Not bad. Just not as good as Ready Player One. But then again, what is?)
Six Months Later : Natalie D. Richards
It Ended Badly: 13 of the Worst Breakups in History : Jennifer Wright
The Good Girl : Mary Kubica
In the Unlikely Event : Judy Blume (This was a great bit of fiction. Pick it up to take with you on vacation, though maybe not via plane.)
We Were Liars : E. Lockhart
The Orchid House : Lucinda Riley
Spending the Holidays With People I Want to Punch In The Throat : Jen Mann (Disappointingly, she doesn’t *really* want to punch any of the people in this book in the throat, so it might as well have been titled “Spending the Holidays With My Family”.)
The Martian : Andy Weir (Read the book. Didn’t bother with the movie.)
The Lowland : Jhumpa Lahiri (Love this author and have read every single thing she’s written. This did not disappoint.)
Helen of Sparta : Amalia Carosella (Sort of the “Mists of Avalon” take on the Trojan War.)
Oh Myyy! – There Goes the Internet : George Takei
The Rest of Us Just Live Here : Patrick Ness (Fun for anyone who’s ever watched Buffy.)
A Discovery of Witches : Deborah Harkness (Okay, so these books are basically The Outlander meets Twilight. I’m not claiming they’re fine literature or anything. But page-tuners. The first one was 800 or 900 pages long and I read it in a week.)
Shadow of Night : Deborah Harkness
The Sandman Overture : Neil Gaiman
First Frost : Sarah Addison Allen
Eleanor : Jason Gurley (advanced reader copy — watch for this one when it comes out in 2016)
Shoeless Joe : W.P. Kinsella
The Good Neighbor : Carol Ann Morris

 

Coloring books

catcolorHave you ever sat down to color with your son, daughter, nephew, niece, some other young person, and when they’ve wandered off ten minutes later, you’re so engrossed in your artistic creation you barely notice? An hour goes by and you’re still coloring away? It’s happened to me more times than I can count. Kids’ coloring books are a lot of fun, but now there are more challenging options for adults, too.

Coloring books for grown-ups are popping up on Amazon’s bestseller lists these days — some popular titles are Enchanted Forest and Secret Garden. These books and others like them feature complex, detail-heavy drawings that can take days to fill in, with endless opportunities for creative choices. I very much recommend Creative Cats — I happily spent days coloring in my first selection, proudly shown here. The paper quality is excellent and pages tear out for easy use.

I was kind of obsessed with my crayons, as a kid. I treated them more like toys than tools. I had a Crayola Caddy and would rearrange the various hues according to all kinds of complicated schemes. I was convinced they had personalities — gender, moods, backstories. Yellow Green and Green Yellow, that’s an obvious conflict right there. Burnt Sienna and Raw Umber were having a clandestine romance. And the primaries, simple Red, Blue Yellow, White, Black, these were the ruling classes of the caddy, settling inter-color disputes and passing down judgement on caddy proximity. My crayons re-enacted their own episodes of Game of Thrones on a daily basis, though with less bloodshed and much rarer beheadings. (There was a sharpener, though.)

crayonsSadly, the Crayola Caddy of the 80s is no longer made, but I recently received the Ultimate Crayon Collection as a birthday present, and the possibilities are endless once more.

If you haven’t colored in a long time, give it a try. It’s a great way to relax, to focus, to take your mind off anything but the fierce rivalry between Red Orange and Orange Red, and the fate of Crayola society as we know it.








Book review: At the Water’s Edge, by Sara Gruen

atthewatersAlthough I was not a huge fan of Sara Gruen’s previous bestseller, Water for Elephants, I decided to give this novel a try — the setting of Scotland was far more interesting to me, and I’m a fan of most historical fiction, though not usually WWII. And who can resist a trio of friends searching for the Loch Ness monster?

I should have been unsurprised, though, the have the same milquetoast response to At the Water’s Edge as I did to Gruen’s earlier work. It wasn’t bad, not in any sense. The story was compelling and I wanted to know how it ended… especially mid-book or so, when it seemed like nothing had happened for some time, I really wanted to know how it ended… but the characters just missed the mark. Gruen’s talent seems to be for fantastical settings and detailed world-building, but when it comes to the people inhabiting her written sphere, there’s something to be desired.

Everyone is interesting and creatively imagined, but not at all fully fleshed out. Maddie is the one we get the best feel for, as the narrator. Ellis and Hank were two-dimensional and barely differentiated from each other. The people Maddie and her companions encounter at the inn, in Scotland, had no real character development, — even including Angus, whose role becomes rather important. He was delivered here as little more than a dark-haired Jamie Fraser, and with a dark past that frankly paled in comparison to that of Diana Gabaldon’s hero. There a bit of a derivative feel in other places, too. Certain plot points felt a bit too much like an early season of “Downton Abbey”, albeit with a different war as the backdrop.

The end — where we leave our heroine, and where everyone ends up — was satisfying, so that improved my experience of reading it. Certainly some readers will enjoy the book as a whole more than I did. It would make a good read for a plane trip, or at the beach on vacation, but I can’t recommend it any higher than that.

At the Water’s Edge will be available in hardcover, large print and Kindle format on March 31, 2015. I received an Advance Reader Copy courtesy of Random House for the purposes of review.

Review: This is Where I Leave You

This-Is-Where-I-Leave-YouSometimes I see a preview for a new movie and there’s that little tagline, “based on the novel”, that catches my attention. If it looks at all good, I’ll get my hands on the book as soon as I can, because we all know the book is always better than the movie, and I want to read it unsullied. That’s what I did with “This is Where I Leave You” by Jonathan Tropper, and while I’m glad I did, I might have wished I hadn’t just this once. I wonder now if I wouldn’t have liked better seeing the movie first, seeing what parts of the story the script writer and the director choose to distill from the whole, as they always do, without knowing the rest — and then finding the book, and filling in those spaces, learning more about the rich, frustrating, complicated and messy ins and outs of the Foxmans, kind of the way I would have if I’d just met them that week, then heard all the stories the books spells out later. If anything could have brought them more alive than Tropper already has, that might have done it.

But it’s a great book. I liked it a lot, and read it quickly — I was never bored and wanted to find out what would happen next. The characters, particularly the Foxman siblings, all leaped off the page — Judd, who just walked in on his wife sleeping with his boss; Paul, the eldest and most self-righteous brother; Wendy, the older sister with three kids; Phillip, the younger brother who’s a little different than everyone else, on the surface, but not really underneath; their mother, the psychologist who wrote the book on child rearing and looks like a million bucks; and, most of all, their father, who just died, and the reason why they’re all together again, sitting shiva for seven days. When I tell you that there’s a fistfight before the first day is out, you can imagine what the other six are like.

If I had any criticism to make, and it isn’t a real one, it would be that there’s just so *much* going on in this little book, it’s hard to keep up. The siblings each have their own complex story, the parents, the parents’ friends, the wives and the husbands and the girlfriends and the neighbor’s kid, everyone has a complicated backstory, and that’s realistic and it makes it all so much more interesting to read, but whew, by the end you’re feeling like you moved in with the Foxmans for the past week, and in a way, at the end of shiva, you’re just as eager to get the hell away from them as they are from each other. On the last page, I was happy to know this is where I would leave Judd Foxman and his screwed up life. It was nice dipping in to watch it for awhile, but being able to walk away from his mess (the way we can’t walk away from our own lives, and our own messes) was the best part.

Harry Potter is back! JK Rowling writes Rita Skeeter report

Harry-Potter-1JK Rowling has released a new little snippet of Harry Potter prose on her Pottermore web site.. Exciting news, but bear in mind it doesn’t reveal much more than what is in the Epilogue of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. And since it’s written as a gossip column from Rita Skeeter, there’s no saying how much of it is accurate… 😉

Visit Pottermore to read the story — “New on Pottermore: Rita Skeeter is in Patagonia with her Quick-Quotes Quill and reporting in today’s Daily Prophet!

via Harry Potter is back! JK Rowling writes Rita Skeeter report for her website pottermore.com | Books | Entertainment | Daily Express.

Book review: “This is Where I Leave You” by Jonathan Tropper

thisisReview of: This is Where I Leave You
by Jonathan Tropper

Sometimes I see a preview for a new movie and there’s that little tagline, “based on the novel”, and it catches my attention. If the movie looks at all good, I’ll get my hands on the book as soon as I can, because we all know the book is always better than the movie, and I want to read the story first, unsullied. That’s what I did with “This is Where I Leave You”, and while I’m glad I did, I might have wished I hadn’t just this once. I wonder now if I wouldn’t have liked better seeing the movie first, seeing what parts of the story the script writer and the director choose to distill from the whole, as they always do, without my knowing the rest — and then finding the book, and filling in those spaces, learning more about the rich, frustrating, complicated and messy ins and outs of the Foxman family, kind of the way I would have if I’d just met them that week, then heard all the stories the books spells out later. If anything could have brought them more alive than Tropper already has, that might have done it.

But it’s a great book. I liked it a lot, and read it quickly — I was never bored and wanted to find out what would happen next. The characters, particularly the Foxman siblings, all leaped off the page — Judd, who just walked in on his wife sleeping with his boss; Paul, the eldest and most self-righteous brother; Wendy, the older sister with three kids; Phillip, the younger brother who’s a little different than everyone else, on the surface, but not really underneath. And then there’s their mother, Hillary, the psychologist who wrote the book on child rearing and looks like a million bucks; and, most of all, their father, who just died, and is the reason why they’re all together again, sitting shiva for seven days. When I tell you that there’s a fistfight before the first day is out, you can imagine what the other six are like.

If I had any criticism to make, and it isn’t a real one, it would be that there’s just so *much* going on in this little book, it’s hard to keep up. The siblings each have their own complex backstory, and the parents, the parents’ friends, the wives and the husbands and the girlfriends and the neighbor’s kid, they all do, too. And that’s realistic and it makes it all so much more interesting to read, but whew, by the end you’re feeling like you moved in with the Foxmans for the past week, and in a way, at the end of shiva, you’re just as eager to get the hell away from them as they are from each other. On the last page, I was happy to know this is where I would leave Judd Foxman and his screwed up life. It was nice dipping in to watch it for awhile, but being able to walk away from his mess (the way we can’t walk away from our own lives, and our own messes) was the best part.

Free e-book: “Archaeology, Anthropology, and Interstellar Communication” | NASA

NASA is giving away a free e-book on extraterrestrial communication:

“Archaeology, Anthropology, and Interstellar Communication” by Douglas Vakoch. Addressing a field that has been dominated by astronomers, physicists, engineers, and computer scientists, the contributors to this collection raise questions that may have been overlooked by physical scientists about the ease of establishing meaningful communication with an extraterrestrial intelligence. These scholars are grappling with some of the enormous challenges that will face humanity if an information-rich signal emanating from another world is detected.

“Archaeology, Anthropology, and Interstellar Communication” | NASA.

via "Archaeology, Anthropology, and Interstellar Communication" | NASA.

Harry Potter ebooks will be distributed by Google Books

Google Books to distribute Harry Potter e-books

Google will handle distribution and purchases of the e-book versions of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, which is due out this fall. Rowling has decided to shun the publishing industry by self-publishing the e-book version of the Potter series, and selling the books directly to customers, through the Pottermore website. To achieve this goal, the Harry Potter series will be distributed through Google Books, starting this fall. Digital audiobooks formats will also be available.

More Potter? J.K. Rowling not ruling out another book someday

jk rowlingSince the publication of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the last book in J.K. Rowling wildly popular series, the talented author has been rather firm in her statement that this was, indeed, the last “Potter” book. Surprisingly, Ms. Rowling may be softening on that point. From The Washington Post:

Though she said she doesn’t plan to write any offshoots of the Potter series, she didn’t rule it out “maybe 10 years from now,” depending on how she feels. But she told one child she does want to write more books.

“Yes, I do, and I am,” Rowling said. “I’m quite sure in the not-too-distant future I will bring out another book.”

Hmmm. Well, I’m definitely interested in anything else she’s planning on writing. And curious about a new book/series. But strangely, I’m not sure how I’d feel about more Potter, and I’m a die-hard HP fan. It’s just, isn’t the story done? Is there more to tell, really? Do I actually want to read “Harry Potter and the Hip Replacement of Doom” or, even worse, “Potter: the Next Generation”? The only thing I think I’d want to see her publish in the Potterverse would, I think, be a prequel.

What do you think? Is there a place for more Potter, or should the story rest in peace?