Monday, March 30, 2015

Bryant & May and the Bleeding Heart (Mystery Novel)

After reading Bryant & May and the Bleeding Heart, I have once again put the Bryant and May Series by Christopher Fowler on the top of my list of favorite book series. The Bleeding Heart has the right blend of silliness and seriousness. It has a good mystery that had me holding my breath in places. It has good heart. And, of course, it contains arcane facts about London that Fowler is so good at uncovering.

The Invisible Code, the last book in the series, ended with a bit of foreboding. Bryant had found a new nemesis, Mr. Merry, a necromancer. In Bryant & May and the Bleeding Heart, Mr. Merry menaces the somewhat fragile Bryant. But, first things first, the Peculiar Crimes Unit is under new jurisdiction, reporting to the City of London. They now report to Orion Banks, who unfortunately speaks little conversational English. She is, on the other hand, fluent in marketing and business jargon. (Fowler almost had me rolling on the floor laughing.) The Peculiar Crimes Unit must solve two mysteries: a man reportedly rising from the dead and the disappearance of the ravens from the Tower of London. In addition, Janice Longbright has finally risked her heart in love, with Jack Renfield. Janice’s attempt to befriend his teenage daughter results in unexpected consequences.

Bryant & May and the Bleeding Heart has what I refer to as “good heart.” We finally find out Bryant’s backstory, why he became a police officer. We see Bryant in all his vulnerability and all his strength. While Longbright’s story is a secondary plotline, it is well developed, giving her the attention that she deserves and making us feel for her. Fowler develops the character of one of the victims so well that we feel his lost after his murder. With the addition of Banks, Fowler asks the question, “What role can the Peculiar Crimes Unit possibly play in a world where cyber and white collar crime are now the fares of the day?” The question made me look at my own place is this rapidly evolving world.

Bryant and May and the Bleeding Heart is a little—just a little— lighter on the occult and on Bryant’s usual shenanigans than in some of the earlier books in the series. In their place is some stronger character development. The novel was just the right blend for me, keeping me as a loyal fan of the series.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Blood of Angels (Science Fiction Novel)

The Blood of Angels is one of the most thought-provoking and controversial books that I have read in a long, long time. The novel was written by the Finnish author Johanna Sinisalo and translated into English by Lola Rogers. This short novel takes on such issues as Colony Collapse Catastrophe (Disorder), the meat industry, capitalism, and the funeral industry. The Blood of Angels contains numerous descriptions that made me feel vaguely nauseous. Parts of the plotline are incredibly sad. Yet, I actually enjoyed the book. It was well written. The main character and his son are characters whom I am glad that I met. I enjoyed learning about bees.

The main character in The Blood of Angels, the narrator, is the owner of a funeral home. But, his passion is raising bees. His grown son is a blogger, who is involved in a controversial animal rights group. The novel weaves between the blog posts and the narration. Bit by bit we learn that something tragic has happened to the son. In addition, the father thinks that he has found a portal into another world, one where the bees are healthy. Does the portal really exist or is it the result of grief and too much alcohol?

The Blood of Angels haunted me for days. How can you unread a book? It still makes me question my own values and behavior. Yes, I definitely recommend the book. But, in some people it will stir up thoughts that they have comfortably ignored.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Here (Graphic Novel)

Here by Richard McGuire is an amazing and masterful book. McGuire is able to convey ideas and feelings that he would not otherwise be able to communicate by pictures or words alone. The novel is poetic, almost musical, having a rhythm to it. After I finished the book, I felt the stillness I associate with listening to the last notes of a symphony. Even now, weeks later, when I think about the book I am mesmerized.

Here explores the idea of space and time. It takes place in a single location over billions of years, going from the distant past to the distant future. Most of the book takes place in one room of one house between 1907 and 2015. Most of the two page layouts contain scenes from multiple years juxtaposed. Storylines interweave. Ideas and experiences repeat yet contain their own unique qualities. The book contains numerous vignettes and stories, yet the overall experience is greater than the sum of its parts.

Here felt familiar, making me nod and think, “Yes, this is my story. Yes, I remember that.” In addition, I actually am one of those people who goes past a spot and remembers its history and wonders about its future. I am so grateful to know that I am not alone in that. I am so grateful for having experienced Here.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

How to Avoid Making Art (Creativity Book)

Oh My!.... Oh MY!.... OH MY! ....How to Avoid Making Art (or Anything Else You Enjoy) was written by Julia Cameron – like the Julia Cameron of The Artist Way fame– and illustrated by her sister Elizabeth Cameron. Do not let the deceptively cute pictures fool you; this is a book that will have you taking a hard look at your procrastination issues. Page after page I saw myself. I laughed. I wanted to scream. I buried my face in a nearby pillow and wanted to hide. This is a book that I need by my reading/sometimes writing chair, so that I will catch myself in the act of avoiding making art.

A quick personal story: in early winter I took a fiction writing class through a MOOC. The first assignment was to start keeping a journal. How hard could that be? I’ve kept journals in the past. I absolutely couldn’t do it and ended up not finishing the course. Recently, I discovered that I had taken out a book from the Library on book making so that I could hand-make a book to use to write a journal. That was the moment I knew I had avoidance issues.

How to Avoid Making Art has been in  print over ten years, so I assume there must be at least some people as wacky as I am out there. Let's all keep on reading the book and making art.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

At the Bottom of Everything (Novel)

I love when Our Lady of Serendipity finds me a good book. While I waited for a few books that I had reserved to come into the library, I looked for a short, recently published novel to tide me over. What I found was At the Bottom of Everything by Ben Dolnick, an author whose books I hadn’t read before. I loved the voice of the first-person narrator: the humor, the inner conflict, the perspective on life. Some of the details felt intimate. I liked how e-mails were used to bring in other voices to the novel. I enjoyed the storyline, which took me from the familiar world of childhood to a life that had taken a tragic turn and from the American suburbs to a cave in India.

Briefly, Adam befriends the socially awkward but intelligent Thomas. “I liked being the kid who cracked Thomas Pell; it was like having learned to communicate with an owl.” They become best friends. While Adam evolves into a typical teenage boy, Thomas remains unsure and awkward. In order to test their limits, the boys decide to engage in some minor hijinks involving Thomas’s dad’s car. Unfortunately one of their outings goes tragically wrong and indirectly results in the death of a young woman. No one finds out about their role in the accident. The boys end their friendship shortly after that and grew apart. “Thomas and I, who’d seen each other naked at the aquatic center, who’d woken up a hundred times on side-by-side mattresses, who shared a secret more serious than any married couple…now we were awkward together.” Ten years later, Adam is trying to find his way in the world with varying success. Meanwhile Thomas drops out of college after having a breakdown. While Adam has been able to put the accident behind him, Thomas is consumed by the guilt. When Thomas disappears in India, his parents turn to Adam to find him. How far will Adam go to find the man who was once his best friend?

At the Bottom of Everything was a special treat for me because it does a nice job of developing characters. I would like to read Dolnick’s earlier books to see more of his character development.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Etta and Otto and Russell and James (Novel)

Etta Gloria Kinnick of Deerdale farm. 83 years old in August.
Otto Vogel. Husband. Soldier/Farmer. (Living)
Russell Palmer. Friend, Farmer/Explorer. (Living)
As Etta walks across Canada in order to see the ocean, she carries a note in her pocket to remind herself of who she is and who she has loved.

Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper is a beautiful little story. If the novel were a painting, I would say that in just a few strokes it shows the essence of the subject. In just a few words, with simple language, with just a few key scenes, Hooper describes the essence of the friendships, loves, loses, and war experiences of the characters.

The plotlines of Etta and Otto and Russell and James cover two major time periods: the 1930s/early 1940s and the present day. In the early time period, we learn about the families of  Etta, Otto, and Russell. As a young boy, Russell makes himself part of the large Vogel household and becomes Otto's friend. When their teacher becomes sick, Etta takes over and forms a friendship with the boys, who are the same age as she is. When Otto goes to war, Etta and Otto exchange letters and fall in love. When the school closes because of lack of pupils, Etta takes factory work and waits for Otto to return. In the meantime, Russell becomes a farmer, acquiring some of the untended farms. In the present day, Etta leaves Otto a note saying that she is going to go in search of the water, which Otto realizes is over three thousand kilometers away. As Etta waited for Otto, he now waits for her. In time he begins to make paper mach—ź animals that he plans to give her when she comes back. Both Etta and Otto becomes celebrities of sorts: Etta for her trip, Otto for her art. As for James, one really needs to read the book to quite understand.

Etta and Otto and Russell and James is a book that you need to feel with your heart as much as read with your head. After I finished reading the novel, scenes kept on flashing into my consciousness. I saw dozens of scenes, each so perfect and filled with meaning, with heart. I feel blessed to have read the book.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

War for the Oaks (Urban Fantasy Novel)

Fairies. Friendship. The Magic of Rock and Roll.

I found War for the Oaks by Emma Bull on a list of Science Fiction and Fantasy books to cheer one up. Even though the book is almost three decades old, it still warmed my heart. Who couldn’t love a book where one of the romantic characters is a fairy that turns into a dog? Yes, the novel has a bit of sex, but the scenes are sweet and touching. While it has some sad parts, friendship triumphs in the end. Yup, I felt better after reading it.

War for the Oaks is set in, what at the time the novel was written, modern-day Minneapolis. Eddi is going through young-adult angst because she is breaking up with both her band and her boyfriend. Walking home alone at night, she is accosted by two good fairies, who have recruited her to be their human representative in a little squabble between the fairies of darkness and the fairies of light. It turns out that having a human on the battlefield will allow the normally immortal fairies to actually die. But, the battle is awhile off, so in the meantime Eddi needs a protector from the fairies of darkness and a new band so that she can pay the bills. Eddi learns a lot about fairies and about herself.

At first I was put off by the writing style of War for the Oaks. The author seemed to be trying too hard. But, from the very beginning, I loved the characters. The phouka, Eddi’s fairy dog/human protector, is funny, lovable, and vulnerable. Carla, Eddi’s friend and a member of the band, is the friend that we all wish we had. Willy, an upper-class fairy, is sexy, sometimes obnoxious, and sympathetic. And, the list goes on. This is definitely a triumph of friendship novel.