Jun 26, 2011

Children of Dune, by Frank Herbert

The second book in the Dune series, "Children of Dune" is a much more cerebral work than the first book. The action is mostly within the realm of political drama, or within the minds of Paul and his sister Alia. The Jihad has already occurred, Paul's visions of a terrible, ravaging war have come to pass; now we are in the aftermath. Paul questions how he might get himself out of the cycle of prescience, and comes to the conclusion that only one of the many possible outcomes is the least horrible.

I liked this book, though not nearly as much as the first. Paul, despite his protests to the contrary, knows he is as a god and uses his power as such. Alia is torn between the age-old nature of the Reverend Mother's wisdom she was born with and the blossoming 16 year-old body she has. Both of these characters, despite Herbert's efforts, seem to me one-dimensional. The most interesting characters are the secondary ones. Hayt, the ghola of Duncan Idaho, is immensely fascinating. The Fremen who helped Paul lead his Jihad display two common reactions to sudden ethnic power: nostalgia for the old ways and heady enjoyment of the new. Irulan, Mohaim, Scytale, Edric: these schemers brought together by necessity fight the needs of the group in order to obtain their own goals.

What I found contrived was the attraction between Alia and Hayt. It's not so much the relationship itself that bothers me as the way Herbert wrote it. It reminds me of how he described the attraction and love between Paul and Chani in "Dune." While Herbert did a great job of writing about older love, like Paul and Chani's throughout "Children of Dune," he is not nearly as good at describing the initial stages of it. The clumsiness of the prose when this subject is brought up took me out of the visualization of the novel. I don't believe I will read more of the Dune books, though I might finish the ones that were written by Herbert himself.

The Gargoyle, by Andrew Davidson

This is one hell of a novel. It starts out a bit rough, what with the narrator describing such excruciating details as how his skin reacted to the gasoline-fueled fire that raged as a result of a horrific car crash, or his drug- and sex-addled upbringing that lead him to a lucrative career in the porn industry, or the process of debridement, the shaving off of scabby, dead skin from burned flesh. All of this is a little nausea inducing, but what comes out of the fire is just spectacular.

Enduring months and months of treatment in a hospital's burn ward, the nameless narrator is suddenly visited by a woman from the psych ward. Her name is Marianne Engel, she says, and the two of them have been in love for 700 years; that last of her hearts is meant for him. This incredibly bizarre and somewhat unsettling first meeting leads to a friendship and mutual dependence that is described a little bit reluctantly by the narrator, who pushes though with the story because he feels he must. As the narrator's body recovers, Marianne's mental illness worsens, and her fantastic gargoyle carving sessions start to drain away her life force. Through all this, however, she continues to tell him the story of their love, in addition to four other love stories from around the world and across the centuries.

Davidson's writing is fantastic. Even though the more difficult sections, his prose pulls you though and ensnares you. I found myself crying as the book ended. It's an amazing story, and an amazing novel, especially as it is his first published book. I hope Davidson retains the unique character of his writing and continues to inspire.

Jun 13, 2011

Parisian Chic, by Ines de la Fressange

What a fun book! This is departure from my usual book fair, though, unbeknownst to most, I actually read fashion and style magazines quite a bit. First of all, the presentation of the book is really cool. Tons of pictures, cute little drawings, easily digestable bits of information, and there's a section for notes at the back, just where I looked for it!

The book itself is meant as a guide to living one's life as a Parisian woman does, though its many hints and suggestions seem like just plain common sense. The pervading idea is that a real Parisian wants to look good, put together, and have great things, but never, EVER, wants to spend a lot doing it. She is much more likely to brag about a fantastic supermarket find than an expensive label item. With this is in mind, de la Fressange suggests tons of Paris stores (nearly all with online inventories) and ways to get the basics down so you can mix and match - clothing, make up, furniture, entertaining - it works for everything! Plus there's great sections on things to do in Paris when you're visiting, either on your own or with children. This is definitely a book I'll be referencing again and again.

Short Fiction, by W.B. Yeats

I'd never read anything by William Butler Yeats before (I'm not much for poetry), but I enjoyed these stories by Yeats. Most of them follow a pretty standard theme: the characters and locations are straight out of Irish folklore, and the Shee - the fairy folk - play a very prominent role. Often, there is palpable tension between the material world and the magical/spiritual world. Entities in one world fall in love with someone from the other, or have it out for someone from the other, or simply make appearances into their lives.

Yeats' writing is quite good, but easily placed within his time period (late 19th century). I actually more enjoyed the pieces that were least magic-filled, which is different for me. I would be interested to read any more of his work that involved, as his father called it, "real people."

Jun 1, 2011

The Ring of Solomon, by Jonathon Stroud

I love, love, love these books! Stroud once again presents a characteristically British, snarky novel about the most beloved djinn, Bartimaeus. The character is the same as in the Bartimaeus Trilogy, but everything else is different. The story takes place in the Middle East during King Solomon's reign in Israel. The human protagonist is Asmira, a young hereditary guard of the queen of Sheba who is tasked with assassinating the arrogant, demanding Solomon and stealing his incredible Ring of power with which he holds all of the nearby nations under his sway.

The highlights of the book are, of course, Bartimaeus and his "demon" friends; they are sarcastic, rude, intelligent creatures, and Stroud has them engaging in the most delightful conversations. The description of "long, lean, dark limbs" tends to repeat itself a bit much, but other than that, Stroud's writing is just as entertaining and engaging as ever. I look forward to more Bartimaeus books, and also hope that Stroud delves into another character or genre, so we can see how broad his talent is.