Discord’s Apple

Finally, after driving all night, Evie arrived.

Ah, wonderful, beautiful, (contemporary) fantasy as it should be. From the To Read list, and worthy of its spot.

Evie’s father is ill, terminally. This means she has to prepare for inheriting knowledge and subjects she never knew about, and which have a lot of pull on the less-than-human creatures in this world. But what and why and can her father please just cooperate instead of ignore everything?

Coming apocalypse(s), mythology and comic books are mixed into a story that’s coloured half in gray tones, half in the most vibrant colours in existence. It’s attractive and enticing, with a woman you easily root for at its centre.

Discord’s Apple, Carrie Vaughn, Tor 2010

 

Luther

57 min. 16 afleveringen

Luther is Idris Elba, maar om het weg te zetten als niet meer dan een stervehikel zou een belediging voor de show en een gemis voor de kijker zijn.Heeft de eerder genoemde Paul Rudd misschien alle charme, Idris Elba is een magneet in wat hij ook doet, hoe lelijk of aggressief ook.

Luther_TV_Series_BBCWant, zoals vele hoofdpersonen-van-politieseries voor hem, detective John Luther is geen lieverdje. geen gezellig type, op trouwe collega Ripley na geen mensenman. Dat komt deels vast door de zaken die hij moet oplossen, gruwelijke situaties waardoor je bijna Londen niet meer in zou durven.

Wat Luther geen zaak-van-de-week serie maakt, zijn Elba en zijn collega’s. In welke plotlijn ook, of ze nu voor of tegen hem zijn, de serie is een bastion van acteerwerk.Voeg daar het karakter van zeer vreemde vogel Alice Morgan aan toe en de show is meer karakterstudie dan politie-en-verlos.

Ondanks de kleine hoeveelheid afleveringen raad ik ‘binge watching‘ toch af. Je wilt je nog wel af en toe ergens veilig voelen.

Luther, BBC 2010

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

I was still bleeding… my hands shaking.

I’ve always been interested/amused by vampire stories, probably stemming from a large amount of Buffy episodes as a (pre-)teen. I have vampire standards though. I’m open to variations on their lore but stubborn about some of the “rules“.

I added this book to my To Read list because adding fiction to (past) reality can work out really well, why not learn more about Abraham Lincoln, and vampires. I’m not sure how Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter scored on any of these parts. I would have to do research to check facts versus fiction, and besides one creative turn, the vampires aren’t all that.

That’s the entire book though: not all that. It’s not awful, boring, lame, but it’s not fun, exciting or enticing either. It’s the kind of book you read when you want to read and this is the only one around. At least I can finally cross it off my To Read list.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Seth Grahame-Smith, Grand Central Publishing 2010

Skippy dies

Skippy and Ruprecht are having a doughnut-eating race when Skippy turns purple and falls off his chair.

You could say that this is the school/teenager version of Everything I Never Told You: someone dies, the reader learns about all the lives connected to and entwined with the death character.
But that would ignore a large number of differences, so let’s just keep the second part of the sentence. Skippy’s dying isn’t a large part of Skippy Dies, really.

The reader moves around Seabrook College, following some of the students and staff. Male teenagers of every age, with the familiar (male) teenage problems.
But there’s never just one dimension when there’s humans involved, and Paul Murray slowly peels away all the layers. Illnesses, abuse, shame, and is the reader supposed to change their judgment of character because of them or not? What does that say about our view of the world?
Of course there’s coolness, girls and futures to worry about as well. The characters are frustratingly human, rooting for them sometimes only possible because of how the story moves them.

I finished the book with a final sprint of the last 200 pages and am still a bit subdued. Skippy Dies isn’t a 600 page sob story about the decline of the (educational) world, but it definitely does remind you of all the sides of a person we never/barely see, yet shouldn’t forget about.

Skippy Dies, Paul Murray, Faber and Faber 2010

Villa Pacifica

Ute was not just well travelled, she was professionally well travelled.

Isabel Allende like indeed. Or Gabriel Garcia Marques, or any other author that bases magic realism in South America. Villa Pacifica is a sticky, sweaty, uncomfortable small story that builds up like a tropical storm.

Ute writes and edits travel guides. Her husband is with her this time, and they find a hidden away park, a community, a paradise. It’s luxurious and private in surroundings that are empty and poor, and it’s a retreat in every sense of the word. Ute’s husband – Jerry – immediately takes to it, becomes inspired by it and its people, but it takes a heavy toll on Ute. When the storm finally arrives (is it a real storm?), things fall apart messily and violently.

This wasn’t a story I could read in one go. From the start, it starts to itch and build up under your skin, everyone’s discomfort so very potent and present. It’s the feverish feeling of The Heart of Darkness combined with your growing disbelief that will keep you turning pages. It’s a winter read because you’re going to need the cold to cool off and get back to reality again, but don’t read it near dark: the jungle may still get too close then.

Villa Pacifica, Kapka Kassabova, Penguin Books 2010

Under Heaven

Amid the ten thousand noises and the jade-and-gold and the whirling dust of Xinan, he had often stayed awake all night among friends, drinking spiced wine in the North District with the courtesans.

By now I should add another category of books I put back several times before trying them. This was one of them. It was a bit of a mistake to give it a try. This wasn’t really a novel with a plot, it was like a panorama: a beautiful world created, but that’s it. If you want a story, scrap some characters together and bring them from A to B.

What I think was going on is that main character Shen Tai gets a large gift from the emperor which puts a prize on his head. A trip to the royal city follows, with assassinations and politics. There’s a smaller, more interesting plot line around his sister whom has (falsely) been married off as a princess. It gives a better look of the mythology used in this created world with Asian influences, without going for the Mystic Asian trope.

I know I show plenty of appreciation of world building, but I also need a story line in that world, else I’m looking at a painting. With over 500 pages, I’m sure this isn’t a painting. Maybe next ‘okay let’s try this one’ will be more fulfilling.

Under Heaven, Guy Gavriel Kay, HarperVoyager 2010

Kraken

An everyday doomsayer in sandwich-board abruptly walked away from what over the last several days had been his pitch, by the gates of a museum.

A second chance for this author, by me. I read something by him before, but felt like he was better at creating worlds, than keeping a plot together. But as I am a huge fan of a good case of world-building, I couldn’t resist giving it another try. This author has loads of awards and fans, maybe it was for a reason.

Again, China Miéville creates a flabbergasting, mind-blowing world. He starts off with a speed that you can keep up with, but further into the book there are more and more details stacked on, making you page back to pick up the plot again, instead of enjoying the story. This isn’t necessarily bad, just demands a bit more attention from the reader.

Main character Billy works in a museum. From the museum is a dead giant squid stolen. Besides him being the unlikely hero of different religions living in London, there are also a few apocalypses coming up and some gruesome bad guys that work hard to trigger and/or prevent those from happening.

It’s an epic, and demands time and attention. It’s up to you to chose to give it.

 

Kraken, China Miéville, Pan Books 2010

Dresden Files

Ik lette nooit zo op de fasen van de maan.

Ik heb niets voor niets een hekel aan hard rijden.

In grote porties lijken de Dresden Files wel heel erg op elkaar. Zoals ik al eerder beschreef, de boeken zijn pulp. Dat valt alleen maar meer op wanneer je ze achter elkaar leest. Natuurlijk, er zijn verschillende monsters. Jim Butcher zorgt voor lekkere dialogen en gruwelijke situaties. Maar hoofdrolspeler Harry Dresden heeft net iets te vaak net iets te laat door wat er aan de hand is. Loopt net iets te vaak in de handen van de vijanden, geeft net iets te vaak een dikke knipoog naar de lezer. Dan wordt het duidelijk dat de auteur erg strak volgens een ABC-tje van schrijven werkt en is de pret er een (klein) beetje vanaf. Vermakelijk blijven ze dus, maar niet in ‘marathon’ vorm.

Wolvenjacht, Jim Butcher, De Vliegende Hollander 2009

Doodsnood, Jim Butcher, De Vliegende Hollander 2010

The Concert Ticket

Who’s last in line?

Exotisch. Verwarrend emotioneel en een donker sprookje. Het dagelijks leven als avontuur. The Concert Ticket gaf mij een bijzondere ervaring.

Op een dag is er een lange rij voor een kiosk in mid-twentieth century Rusland. Eerst is onduidelijk waarvoor men in de rij staat, maar nieuwsgierigheid is mensen eigen en meer mensen sluiten aan. Het wordt iets sociaals, een bubbel binnen het dagelijks leven. Dagen gaan voorbij en de mensen blijven terug komen voor de rij, zonder te weten precies waarom.  Na een tijd blijkt dat het om concerttickets gaat, van een gebande Rus die nog één keer in zijn eigen land wil spelen. Het gezin dat de lezer volgt heeft allemaal een eigen reden waarvoor ze een ticket móeten hebben. Redenen die het gezin uit elkaar laat vallen.

Vader Sergei denkt dat het hem terug kan brengen naar zijn jeugd en liefde voor muziek. Zijn vrouw wil een ticket voor haar moeder, de tienerzoon ziet het als een kans om het land te ontsnappen. Als bekend wordt dat er maar één ticket per adres verkocht zal worden, moet er samengewerkt worden. In plaats van dit ze dichterbij elkaar te brengen, drijven alle drie op hun eigen eilandje.

Olga Grushin geeft elk personage een leven als een donker bospad met links en rechts bedreigingen (en niet alleen externe). Het kale, harde leven van Rusland toont in kleine details, draagt bij aan het donkere, verloren gevoel van deze drijvers. Maanden gaan voorbij en de rij zelf wordt het doel, de tickets een onbereikbaar walhalla. Sommige mensen leren, anderen niet. Zo is het leven.

The Concert Ticket is feeëriek, zwaar en fragiel tegelijkertijd. Een aanrader.

The Concert Ticket, Olga Grushin, Viking 2010

Citrus County

Toby took his tacos outside and crouched on a curb.

“This book makes you laugh even as it breaks you heart”, one blurb on the back says. I disagree. There was no laughter, only frustration and discomfort. I was already put off by the text on the back, but the title and cover still pulled me in. Sometimes that turns out right, sometimes it turns out like this: you struggle to get to the ending of the book.

There are three main characters: the teenagers Toby and Shelby, and their teacher: Mister Hibma. With the teenagers it’s a bit easier to accept their “No-one Understands Me, I Am Alone In This World” perspective, but mister Hibma gets very little sympathy points for the same attitude. Of course, there is no age limit to feeling lost and without direction, but it’s all so ..whiny.

Toby has no family besides his uncle. Shelby tries to break through his shell, so he kidnaps her little sister to make her feel as vulnerable to the world as he does. Shelby tries to get her aunt in Iceland to invite her, so she can leave Citrus County behind. Hibma doesn’t want to be a teacher, doesn’t want to star in his own life and thinks that killing a colleague might give him the feeling of being someone, fitting somewhere.

I at the same time wanted to save these characters and run away from them. They can’t get away from the swampy, choking atmosphere of Citrus County and its people and it’s effecting all of them. Maybe this book should be viewed as stories on how you really not want your life to be(come).

Citrus County, John Brandon, McSweeney’s Rectangulars 2010