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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Book Round-Up

War for the Oaks by Emma Bull: This was one of the first books written in the sub-genre "urban fantasy," a style that incorporates fairies and magic in an urban setting (specifically amongst artists and other "alternative" people; fairies seem to have no interest in corporate types). War for the Oaks is highly regarded, so it's no surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed it. What distinguished it the most from other novels for me, however, was the description of music. The protagonist, Eddi, is a rocker who manages to put together an amazing band while dealing with the fact that she is a kind of totem for a major battle between the Seelie and Unseelie Courts. Bull herself was in two moderately successful bands so she knows music, and it shows in the way she describes how it feels to make music, and how that music brings out Eddi's latent magic.

Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard: For some people when they read, they "hear" the characters' voices in their head, each distinctive in its own way as if it were an actual person speaking. That's never been me; while I "hear" the words I am reading in my mind, the voice (or whatever it is) always sounds the same no matter what I am reading. Until I read Lunch in Paris, that is. It was written by a good friend of mine from high school, and while we lost touch in college, we recently found each other online and I learned that she had just written a book. Reading her words on paper brought her back to me -- her voice, her mannerisms, her love of rhubarb -- it all came back in a flood, leaving me with the odd sensation that I was listening to her catch me up on her life.

The book itself is subtitled "a Love Story, with Recipes," and while it does depict her Parisian romance to the man that would become her husband, I actually found it to be less about their relationship and more about her relationship with France as an ex-pat. Elizabeth is candid about both the wonderful and not-at-all-wonderful aspects of living in a different culture, and her writing is witty and insightful. I enjoyed the memoir and I'm glad to find out what she has been up to.

The Mathematical Traveler by Calvin C. Clawson: This book was not really about number theory as I had hoped, but it was an excellent overview of the different "kinds" of numbers, including some I had forgotten about (oh yeah, transcendentals!). Although Clawson's prose is occasionally a little clumsy, he does a very good job of explaining complex ideas in simple terms.

The Dark: New Ghost Stories, ed. by Ellen Datlow: This seemed an appropriate choice for the weekend before Halloween, and I am always a fan of the collections Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling put together. This collection I bought for the Kelly Link story (I obsessively collect all her fiction), and hers was as expected -- creepy, fragmented, pop-cultury, post-modern. Some were traditional ghost stories ("The Ghost of the Clock" by Tanith Lee), some were modern horror stories ("An Amicable Divorce" by Daniel Abraham, which had an underlying current of misogyny I hope was unintentional), some had an old-fashioned feel ("Seven Sisters" by Jack Cady and "The Gallows Necklace" by Sharyn McCrumb). "Dancing Men," about a modern Golem, stood out because it reminded me of Beloved of all things -- the ghosts that slavery and the Holocaust leave. I enjoyed the stories well enough, but reading them all together I realized why I prefer mystery to horror. Horror thrives on the unknown, on not quite understanding what is going on. Mysteries, on the other hand, are to be solved, and I love solving puzzles, putting things together, knowing as much as possible. Take "An Amicable Divorce" -- the ending, and the events that precipitated the story, are deliberately left ambiguous, but I wanted to know more. In "Dancing Men" the life of one of the characters between the relevant instances of horror is glossed over, but it was the implications of that life that I was interested in. That's why I find horror to be unsatisfying (even the brilliant and creepy House of Leaves, which I adored, left me hungry for answers).

Scary Godmother Comic Book Stories by Jill Thompson: Spooky-cute comics, created because Thompson wanted spooky but not scary stories she could read to her niece. This collection consists of all the comic issues, but not the books/graphic novels (I think). Thompson's writing is heavy on the puns and gentle satire, and her illustrations are wacky and cute (she is famous for her chibi interpretations of Neil Gaiman's Sandman characters), albeit a bit cluttered, especially when in black and white. My favorite was "Ghouls Out for Summer" (see what I mean about the puns?) which featured a great flashback to the Scary Godmother's youth, when she was an cute little girl who was too weird to be a fairy godmother and too nice to be a witch.

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