Andrea Blythe (blythe025) wrote,
Andrea Blythe
blythe025

Books Read in August

1. Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse, edited by John Joseph Adams
2. Blindness, by Jose Saramago
3. Behemoth, by Scott Westerfeld
4. Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson
5. Boy Meets Boy (audio book), by David Levithan
6. 101 Best Scenes Ever Written: A Romp Through Literature for Writers and Readers, by Barnaby Conrad
7. The Door to Lost Pages, by Claude Lalumiere
8. You're Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop: Scalzi on Writing, by John Scalzi
9. Castle in the Air (audio book), by Diana Wynne Jones
10. Ceremony for the Choking Ghost (poetry), by Karen Finneyfrock


REVIEWS:

1. Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse, edited by John Joseph Adams
Just as the title implies, this anthology compiles apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic stories by authors such as Stephen King, Octavia E. Butler, Gene Wolf, Orson Scott Card, and others (most of the authors have published apocalyptic novels of some sort). While all the stories deal with the same subject matter, the form of apocalypse varies vastly, as does the tone, which can range from terrifying to despondent to hopeful.

Because the collection features well-established authors, the quality of writing is consistent throughout. Though certain stories did not appeal to me for one reason or another, this had to do with my taste preferences rather than the skill of the author, and in general, I enjoyed reading it.


2. Blindness, by Jose Saramago
Discussed elsewhere.


3. Behemoth, by Scott Westerfeld
Behemoth is book two of the Leviathan series (I'm not sure if it's a trilogy or ongoing), set in an alternate history in which WWI is between Darwinists (who use bio technology to manufacture a variety of useful beastiess) and the Clankers (who use steam powered contraptions). Definitely read these books in order, as they are a part of an ongoing story, one book starting off right where the last ends.

Book two has our two heroes -- Alec, the wayward prince of Austria-Hungary, and Deryn, a young woman who disguised herself as a boy to be a soldier -- getting wrapped up in a revolution in Istanbul in the Ottoman Empire. Not only does the book return to all the wonderful characters from Leviathan, but many more are introduced.

Westerfeld bases all of his events on historical facts, which he has artfully distorted to make the story come alive. His twist on history is detailed and well-crafted, and the political interplay between countries, rulers, and even between the captain of the Leviathan and Alec's friend Count Vogler is believable. The story continues to be great and I look forward to the third book, Goliath, which is coming out this October.


4. Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson
From the book cover: "Melinda Sordino busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops. Now her old friends won’t talk to her, and people she doesn’t even know hate her from a distance. The safest place to be is alone, inside her own head. But even that’s not safe. Because there’s something she’s trying not to think about, something about the night of the party that, if she let it in, would blow her carefully constructed disguise to smithereens. And then she would have to speak the truth."

Speak is a deeply moving account of depression and rape that clearly reveals how lost teenagers. There is no one Melinda feels she can turn to, no one she can speak to. The adults who should be there to support her are often trapped in their own heads and by how they perceive teenage life to be. Her fellow teens are no help either.

But despite her despair, Melinda manages to draw upon hidden reserves of strength within herself to dig her way out. Melinda is a powerful character. She has a clear, vivid voice and is a distint individual. And yet, she represents a universal experience.

This is a powerful story, one that even now as I write this, wants to draw tears from my eyes.

The tenth anniversary addition includes a poem compiled from the emails and letters the author received thanking her for her book and sharing how it helped them get through their own accounts of depression and rape. The poem itself moved me to tears because it so clearly represents the voices of hundreds of teenagers who have been silenced.


5. Boy Meets Boy (audio book), by David Levithan
When Paul meets Noah, he falls for him almost instantly. However, Paul's life gets complicated when an ex-boyfriend reenters his life and friendships fall awry. Suddenly Paul isn't sure what he wants. What follows as Paul begins to figure it all out is a sweet, charming, and funny romantic comedy that made me smile just about the whole way through.

Boy Meets Boy presents a near utopia in that the town is openly friendly to everyone, no matter the nationality or whether gay, lesbian, trans, or straight. One of my favorite characters, Infinite Darlene, a beautiful male-trans-female with flair, is both the quarterback and the prom queens. Prejudice is rare and when it does appear it does so weakly and without much malice, and is often instigated by people new to the town. This is my idea of an ideal society. One in which lifestyle doesn't determine one's worth, but behavior.

It doesn't eliminate sorrow or unhappiness, because human beings still screw up in love, act stupidly to the people they care about most, and in general make mistakes. So there's plenty of room for drama and growth and the joy of personal triumph.

Altogether a lovely book.

I also want to add the audio book from from Full Cast Audio is fantastic. Each character is acted out by a different actor and music is integrated between scenes to help set the mood. Full Cast Audio does a fantastic job and even has an interview at the end with three of the actors, who discuss and compare their own experience of high school life with gay-friendly high school in the book.


6. 101 Best Scenes Ever Written: A Romp Through Literature for Writers and Readers, by Barnaby Conrad
Conrad selects favorite scenes from literature, theater, and film, groups them into categories, and analyzes them in order to help writers and readers understand why they are great. Its mainly presented to writers as a way to show how great scenes manage the trick of making you fall in love with a story, so that they can learn to do it themselves.

As with any list that declaims "Best" in its title, there are always scenes that are left out. However, I found the scenes selected to be worth reading, so I didn't doubt their value. He sticks mostly to canonical titles and well known works, which means that there is a prevalence of works by dead white men, few women, and almost no minorities. This does not take a way from the scenes presented, as these are certainly great scenes; it just reflects on the author's preferences and biases. Any such list is going to be limited, of course, but something from The Color Purple, Their Eyes Were Watching God, just about anything by Toni Morrison, or other such works with fabulous writing could have been considered.

In terms of advice, the author lays down "rules" with a mildly patronizing tone. Many of the rules I don't agree with and Conrad makes no reference to when authors break "rules" for better effect.

Worth a read, I suppose, but I recommend borrowing it from a library as opposed to buying it.


7. The Door to Lost Pages, by Claude Lalumiere
Lost Pages is a bookstore unlike any other. Inside are books that can be found no where else, histories from alternate Earths and alternate worlds, encyclopedias of the impossible, and tomes presenting varied versions of reality. These books are written in a multitude of languages, some forgotten, some not even human.

Many people find their way to Lost Pages, such as Aydee a young girl who abandoned her neglectful parents and Lucas who came to run the story after seeking sought solace in the strange tales found its books. It is Lucas who invites Aydee into the world of Lost Pages and gives her refuge. Though that doesn't even scratch the surface of the story, which is also wrapped up in a primal battle between ancient and terrifying gods. Aydee remains central to the novelette, though others find their way to Lost Pages; some are saved, some not.

The collection of stories that make up The Door to Lost Pages are creepy, weird, mystical, erotic, horrifying, moving. It's really a wonderful and strange book, one so visceral in its oddities that it would not appeal to everyone. I, however, loved it.


8. You're Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop: Scalzi on Writing, by John Scalzi
You're Not Fooling Anyone assembles various writing-related posts from Scalzi's blog, Whatever. His entries mostly relate his experiences in the publishing industry and present advice based on same. Scalzi doesn't much go for inspiring young artists with the idea of art for art's sake. Rather being of a more practical nature, he presents information about practical aspects of writing, namely money and how he's managed to survive as a working writer. He also writes about writers behaving badly and presents some science fiction related information (because that's the kind of fiction he writes).

As someone who had been making his living as a freelance writer for many years, Scalzi's advice and commentary is well placed, though even he admits that "your millage may vary." Not all the advice in this book will work for every writer. Scalzi doesn't expect it to; it just happened to work for him, so he expects someone else out there might also find it useful.

I don't know that I took any new information away from this book, as I've been reading about writing, working on writing, and submitting my writing for a while now. Though for those still just exploring the borders of publishing land, I'm sure there's plenty to learn.

If nothing else, Scalzi's is a great writer and his dry, sarcastic sense of humor is quite entertaining.


9. Castle in the Air (audio book), by Diana Wynne Jones
Abdullah, a young carpet seller, lives in his small stall in the bazaar of Zhanzib. A disappointment to his deceased father, he daydreams himself another life, in which he is really a lost prince from a distant land destined to marry a princess. He is content with his simple life and these daydreams, when a stranger sells him a flying carpet.

In his sleep, the carpet carried Abdullah off to the gardens of a beautiful woman. He falls in love with the girl, but she is carried off in the night by a giant djinn, thus beginning the carpet seller's adventures. He is a kind and clever adventurer, who uses his wits and exceedingly polite manners, rather than physical strength, to escape a number of scrapes.

Castle in the Air is an amusing fairy tale full of the kind of interesting characters on Diana Wynne Jones could write, including a charming criminal, an grumpy yet lovable cook, good and bad djinns, a wicked genie, evil family relations, wizards, witches, shape shifting cats, and a multitude of intelligent and strong minded princesses. I especially like the princesses, who are not idling away in their tower, but actively making plans to enact their own escape. It's an excellent companion to Howl's Moving Castle.


10. Ceremony for the Choking Ghost (poetry), by Karen Finneyfrock
Apparently Karen Finneyfrock fell into a deep poetic depression following the death of her sister and found herself unable to write poetry. When, three years later, she was finally able to come back to writing, these are the poems she wrote.

Ceremony for the Choking Ghost plays out like a poetic carnival. The people, images, and metaphors parade through this book in delightful arrays of artifice and splendor. And yet, despite the glitter and sparkle and beauty, there is too, something deeply sad and unsettling, something seedy beneath the surface. After the thrills of reading this book, I am only disappointed that her first collection, Welcome to the Butterfly House, is out of print, so I will not be able to immediately read more of her work.
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