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Joyful Girl

Andrea Blythe's blog about writing, reading, and everything else


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Books Completed in June
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1. Pilgrim of the Sky, by Natania Barron
2. The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession (audio book), by Susan Orlean
3. Preacher: Gone to Texas, written by Garth Enis, illustrated by Steve Dillon
4. Preacher: Until the End of the World, written by Garth Enis, illustrated by Steve Dillon
5. Dr. Suess's ABC An Amazing Alphabet Book!, by Dr. Suess
6. The Fountains of Paradise, by Arthur C. Clarke
7. Searching for a Pulse: poems, by Nazifa Islam
8. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (audio book), by Hunter S. Thompson
9. Baba Yaga's Daughter and Other Stories of the Old Races, by C.E. Murphy

REVIEWS:

1. Pilgrim of the Sky, by Natania Barron
This book was an ARC provided by the LibraryThing ER program.

Maddie Angler is trying to leave her old life behind in an attempt to get over the death of her fiancee, Alvin Roth. But when she learns that Alvin might be alive, she finds herself on an inter-world journey to find him and will discover secrets about the Eight Worlds and herself that she would never have imagined.

I wasn't drawn to this story at first, but as the story progressed past the first chapter, things began to get very interesting and by the middle it was easy, fun reading. The characters have a range of likability, and it's hard to tell who Maddie should trust, but as she grows in confidence, she learns through trial and error who to rely on. I enjoyed seeing how Maddie learned about the other worlds and the grandeur that world presents, as well as seeing the twists and turns in the storyline, which had a few entertaining surprises.


. The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession (audio book), by Susan Orlean
The Orchid Thief is kind of a strange book. On the one hand, it's about John Laroche, a plant dealer and outcast, who was arrested in 1994 with a group three Seminole Indians for stealing rare orchids from a southern Florida swamp. This is where Susan Orlean began with the story after seeing a tiny blurb in a small, local newspaper. The book grows far beyond that source material, however, and sort of meanders through the orchid world, revealing the beauty of the plants and the obsession people have about collecting them.

But Laroche's is only one part of the story. Over the course of the book, Orlean looks at the biology of the orchids (noting that there are over 100,000 species), goes in the history of orchid hunting and the mania of collectors when the plants were first discovered, meets various collectors at functions and explores their history as collectors, points out orchid grower rivalries, shares the history of the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve and describes it in lovingly detail, goes into the history of the Seminole Indians in the area and their local heroes, among other little tidbits of facts and history and science, all while weaving in her own experiences in Florida and her obsession with discovering why people are so obsessed with these flowers with Laroche cropping up every once in a while like an odd, lanky swamp bird. Thus, the book is an unusual mixture of crime story, character sketch, historical account, biology lesson, and travel memoir, one that is far from objective and deeply fascinating to read.

For those who may not be aware, The Orchid Thief is the basis for the 2002 movie Adaptation, staring Nicolas cage. And reading it now, I can certainly see why Charlie Kaufman had such trouble adapting the book into a movie. There is no way to do a straight adaptation, as the kind of meandering quality wouldn't work on the screen and the ending in the book (while a perfect declaration of the incomplete quality of everyday life just going on) wouldn't work for a movie format. In a sense, Kaufman's adaptation of the book is perfect, because just as Susan Orlean took a story meant to be about Laroche and his adventures and controversies and she interjected herself into the story, making it as much about her own experience as about Laroche, Kaufman took her book and made a movie script that was just as much about himself (or an idea of himself) as it was about the story — which is kind of a cool parallel.


3. Preacher: Gone to Texas, written by Garth Enis, illustrated by Steve Dillon
Volume One introduces Reverend Jesse Custer (a small town minister who has merged with a half demon, half angel being called Genesis), Tulip (Jesse's gun toting ex-girlfriend), and Cassidy (a drunken Irish vampire). After a disaster in Texas, the three find themselves on the run from both the redneck police and a ruthless immortal called the Saint of Killers.

I was a bit torn on this one, because while I liked the concept and ideas and the plot, most of the character were unlikeable (lots of Texans spouting vile racism and sexism) and extreme brutality (some of which didn't seem to serve a purpose other than shocking the reader). Even the main characters I had a hard time liking and only began to find interest in what happened to them toward the end. The art I liked fine (and it suits the tone of the story well), but the structure at the beginning rang artificial. I think that if I didn't happen to already have Volume Two sitting in front of me, I might not have bothered with continuing.


4. Preacher: Until the End of the World, written by Garth Enis, illustrated by Steve Dillon
The first half of Volume Two of the Preacher series has Jesse return home at the behest of his grandmother, and it's not a happy go lucky return either. No, no, this is a violence laced reunion of the sort one should expect from these books. The second half has the introduction of a new enemy in the form of a secret society with its own corrupt agenda.

I enjoyed Volume Two so much more than Volume One. It's still full of an assortment of vile characters, but I was able to get a feel for Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy finally, which allowed me to care about what happened to them. The structure is cleaner and the art still fits nicely. A much more solid book, in my opinion and it has me wanting to pick up Volume Three just so I can find out what happens next.


5. Dr. Suess's ABC An Amazing Alphabet Book!, by Dr. Suess
My Review: Suess's classic drawing style makes for a fun alphabet book, which is not so much focused on rhyme, but is till playful. For the most part he focuses on real world words, which help with learning, but adds in some nonsense characters, always a

My Niece's Review: She's a little fuss bucket today, because she's teething. But the book helped to calm her down and kept her interest while we were reading it.

She was also a lot more interactive with this one than she has been with other books. She gurgled and mimicked the sounds as I spoke them and pointed at the images, tracing the pictures and babbling, as well as helping me turn pages. So, I'm pretty sure she liked it.


6. The Fountains of Paradise, by Arthur C. Clarke
This novel tells the story of engineer Vannevar Morgan's quest to build a space elevator on Earth. Along the way he is confronted with a variety of challenges, including coming up against a group of monks whose temple exists on the mountain he needs to make the elevator work.

I don't have many thoughts on this one. I wasn't particularly excited by the as I was reading, but it was very readable. The story isn't so much about the people as its about the science and human-kind's accomplishment; while I didn't particularly care much about any of the characters, this didn't annoy me as it usually does, because it fits. There was no major threat to the main plot, just some smaller challenges, but there's no doubt that success will be achieved by the end. So, a decently told story, but nothing I'd rave about.


7. Searching for a Pulse: poems, by Nazifa Islam
This was an ARC provided by the publishers via the Early Reviewer program.

This chapbook contains a series of interconnected poems about Rosemary, a women trapped in a state of suicidal depression. As the story unfolds with each poem, you learn about the people in her life who try to help her, but can't keep up with the brunt force of her sorrow.

Most of these poems are presented in smooth, plain language with moments of poetic beauty that caught my attention and resonated well. The words are full of raw edges and hurt, and I could feel for Rosemary's sorrow and her friend's inability to connect with her.

Ultimately, though the message and story is bleak with little hope or redemption. So, it's not for everyone.


8. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (audio book), by Hunter S. Thompson
Duke, a doctor of journalism, and his attorney Dr. Gonzo journey to Vegas in search of the American Dream, though they are there on the pretense of covering a dirt bike race. Their manic search involves a drug soaked frenzy (I swear they do every drug on the market), along with all the inherent madness and muttering and bizarre hallucinations.

I don't know that there's much of a plot here, just a slender thread of cause and effect that leads to ever more freaky and strange events, most of which involve terrifying tourists and the local population. They only manage to save themselves by spinning wild and highly fictionalized tales of epic proportions.

Sometimes when reading books filled with unsympathetic, drug addled, and amoral characters, I find myself going cold, left with only a sense of being disturbed. However, this book was delightfully depraved, and perhaps this was possible due to the undercurrent of humor that kept things light and fun. Also, Duke and Dr. Gonzo's manic chaotic rambling has a strange kind of hopeful edge that makes you want them to lock onto something, learn something, maybe even find the American Dream they're looking for. (There's also the autobiographical aspects – and I have no idea how much is true and how much is fictionalization – which leaves me stunned, because I can't believe anyone could do these things or even half of this amount of drugs and live.) On the whole, thoroughly enjoyable.


9. Baba Yaga's Daughter and Other Stories of the Old Races, by C.E. Murphy
Janxx and Eliseo Daisani are two of the most interesting Old Race characters in Murphy's Negotiator series. One a dragon and one a vampire, they are not good guys, being cagey tricksters and criminals caught in a centuries long rivalry. But this rivalry has evolved into friendship, an intimacy that binds them together, so that even as they compete against one another, they can't really live without each other. Each of them is as likely to do they right thing for wicked reasons as they are to do evil deeds for good reasons. Ultimately, they are just a lot of fun.

This collection of stories brings Janxx and Eliseo to the forefront by weaving together a series of stories in chronological order, and filling in some of the bast stories from the trilogy. Many of them are told from the point of view of other characters, mostly women who either serve as the focus of their rivalry, most especially Baba Yaga's Daughter, who is also a key part of these stories. Though the women tend to be the "prize" that both Eliseo and Janxx hope to win, it should not be thought that these women are merely objects to be obtained. They have their own stories and their own strengths and don't fall for Janxx and Eliseo's games.

The writing is consistently good, though as with most short story collections, there were some I liked more than others. Most of them I thoroughly enjoyed. "The Knight's Tale," about how Rebecca Knight met Eliseo Daisani and was presented with an offer that could change her life, was by far my favorite. There was a bitter sweet tone to it that I adored, and the ending was lovely.

As to whether you need to read the Negotiator trilogy before reading these stories, I'd say it was kind of a toss up. I think reading the trilogy first might add to one's enjoyment, but the collection progresses to reveal a nearly complete story, almost a novel in its own right. So, I think you could read this collection and still enjoy it.
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