The Thirteenth Tale

The Thirteenth Tale
The Thirteenth Tale
Unfortunately, I don’t have time to write a synopsis of The Thirteenth Tale – (I’ve been meaning to since I finished this fun, enjoyable book three weeks ago!) so I’ll have to cheat and give you Amazon’s instead:

Settle down to enjoy a rousing good ghost story with Diane Setterfield’s debut novel, The Thirteenth Tale. Setterfield has rejuvenated the genre with this closely plotted, clever foray into a world of secrets, confused identities, lies, and half-truths. She never cheats by pulling a rabbit out of a hat; this atmospheric story hangs together perfectly.

There are two heroines here: Vida Winter, a famous author, whose life story is coming to an end, and Margaret Lea, a young, unworldly, bookish girl who is a bookseller in her father’s shop. Vida has been confounding her biographers and fans for years by giving everybody a different version of her life, each time swearing it’s the truth. Because of a biography that Margaret has written about brothers, Vida chooses Margaret to tell her story, all of it, for the first time. At their initial meeting, the conversation begins:

“You have given nineteen different versions of your life story to journalists in the last two years alone.”

She [Vida] shrugged. “It’s my profession. I’m a storyteller.”

“I am a biographer, I work with facts.”

The game is afoot and Margaret must spend some time sorting out whether or not Vida is actually ready to tell the whole truth. There is more here of Margaret discovering than of Vida cooperating wholeheartedly, but that is part of Vida’s plan.

I give the book a thumbs up; it was a quite good homage to victorian gothic tales or those of the Brontë sisters. The book has a promotional website that’s also quite fun to peruse as well.

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David Sedaris Exaggerates!

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The New Republic comes out with a world-rocking revelation: David Sedaris embellishes his humorous non-fiction memoirs.
Um, no shit, Sherlock. You needed to write an article to tell us this? He’s a humor writer. I sort of figured out he was gilding the lily on my own, thanks. As if any one person has that much funny shit just happen to them randomly. Think about it – is your life that funny? Is anyone’s? Of course he punches it up to make it more funny. It’s not a big deal. He’s not a frackin’ presidential biographer for crap’s sake. I hope that he keeps doing it – he makes me laugh my ass off.
Hell, I didn’t even think it was that big a deal when James Frey exaggerated, except that there were people who looked at his book as some sort of self-help inspirational piece. But even then, I hardly think that was Frey’s fault.

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The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters

Glass Books of the Dream Eaters
Glass Books of the Dream Eaters

A strange Victorian Steampunk novel that I enjoyed, despite its length and rather confusing cast of villains. Celeste Temple is a young English woman raised in the West Indies and residing in London awaiting a future wedding to her fiancé, Roger Bascombe. When he sends her a curt note breaking their engagement, she decides to find out why – following him to a mysterious party in an English country manor. After infiltrating the gathering, Miss Temple witnesses a bizarre set of “scientific” experiments and narrowly escapes capture after killing one of her homicidal pursuers.

The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters
by Gordon Dahlquist

Her escape to London is short-lived, as the alchemical experimenters begin searching the city for her. She is soon joined by some unlikely allies – military doctor Abelard Svenson looks after his addle-pated foreign prince who is caught up with the sinister cabal pursing Miss Temple, and Cardinal Chang, a paid assassin who’s true love has been indoctrinated into the strange cult.

The trio soon find themselves in grave danger as they investigate the strange blue glass books produced by the villains, and try to unravel their sinister plot of world domination.

The book runs 700+ pages, and the cast of villains is huge, and difficult to follow. Some of them seem little more than cardboard cutouts, especially many of the minions and hangers-on to the cabal. Unfortunately, there’s quite a bit of exposition near the end, also, as the villains are forced to explain their dastardly plot – but it’s handled rather well and doesn’t seem overly heavy handed.

But there is a mysterious house with bizarre secret passageways and hidden rooms, and the final battle takes place on a zeppelin, so there’s plenty of fun involved.

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The Big Over Easy: A Nursery Crime

The Big Over Easy
The Big Over Easy
A new series by the author of the bestselling “Tuesday Next” novels. A thoroughly enjoyable read; I polished it off in a weekend. Fforde’s novels are funny and full of literary cleverness. Jack Spratt is a like-able and entertaining protagonist and I look forward to reading the entire series.

The Big Over Easy: A Nursery Crime
by Jasper Fforde

From the Publisher’s Weekly review: “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, and, well, you know the rest. But was Humpty’s fall an accident, or was it murder? It’s up to giant killer Jack Spratt of the Nursery Crime Division to get to the bottom of it. Humpty was quite a ladies’ man, but a few people thought him a bad egg. Jack has a number of suspects, a new partner to break in and gloryhound/antagonist Detective Inspector Chimes to deal with.”

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Georgette Heyer Novels and other Regency Historic Reading

Georgette Heyer Regency novels are some of my favorite guilty pleasures. I stumbled across Heyer when in junior high – which must have been about 1981 or so – and I was initially fascinated by the fact that several of her books had female characters that disguised themselves as men. At the time there were no gay teen novels like there are now, and cross-dressing female characters were one of my first identifications with my sexual orientation, so I scoured the library for books about tomboys and other gender-role breaking females.

But I kept reading Heyer long after I had read those particular books, because she wrote strong, amusing characters and entertaining plots that paid detailed attention to rules of polite society in upper-class England during the Regency period. I hadn’t yet discovered Jane Austen, but when I did, I recognized the world she lived in, because Heyer was obviously inspired by Austen’s novels, although Heyer’s work is quite a bit more comical.

Georgette Heyer, along with Jane Austen, inspired the whole sub-genre of Regency Romance, but her novels shouldn’t be confused with cheap paperbacks; Heyer did a tremendous amount of research on the Regency period of English history. Most of her novels were written in the 1920s through the 1970s – but their popularity has kept them in print fairly regularly since then, and many have been reprinted recently by modern romance publishers.

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Water for Elephants

Water for Elephants
Water for Elephants
21-year-old Jacob Jankowski is studying veterinary medicine in 1931, in the depths of the Great Depression, when his parents are killed in an auto accident. Jacob discovers they had mortgaged their lives to fund his schooling, and he is now penniless. Reeling from grief, he walks away from his final exams and drops out of school. While casting about for a job, he stumbles into a position as a vet for a third-rate traveling circus, and the wild adventure of his life begins. He soon falls in love with Marlena, the beautiful animal stunt rider, and at the same time must protect the animals in his care from the sadistic cruelty of Marlena’s circus boss husband.

My mom gave Water For Elephants to me for Christmas, so it was one of the first things I wanted to read this year. I loved it – Gruen’s writing is smooth and fluid, and her detailed research on circus life during the Depression immerses you in the scene, and Jacob’s fascinating life carries you along.

It’s on the New York Times bestseller list, and it’s not surprising why; it’s a great read.

Water for Elephants
by Sara Gruen

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What I Read in 2006 (49 Titles)

2006 was the 10th year I’ve kept track of what I’ve read, and eventually a decade retrospective is in order, but not tonight.

This year’s tally of books is roughly what it was last year – 49 titles. With a several of them being silly easy things, of course, because we were quite busy and I haven’t had the time to read that I used to. This year I managed to write a bit about most books and my impressions, which is cool, because I’ve looked at my past lists sometimes drawn a complete blank at the title and wondered what the heck it was about.

The list is pretty far from what I planned to read at the beginning of the year; that project got abandoned pretty quickly after I blew my new year’s resolution not to buy new books and when I started checking recently published stuff out from the library.

In all, it’s a decent selection of books, but I wish there were a few less throw-away titles on the list. I’m not going to make any grand plans for 2007 reading – I’m still planning to read Proust (I have the first four volumes) which is quite an undertaking, but I don’t want to kill myself in the process. Trying to force myself to read specific books was too difficult. I read to relieve stress, and I found myself resenting the books I assigned myself after awhile, which sort of defeats the purpose.

I’ve already started my very first book of 2007 – I spent the whole day riveted to my friend Garrett’s murder mystery novel, which he printed out and gave to Stephanie earlier this year to read. We only have the first 14 chapters, though, and there are 22, so I’m going nuts because I’m halfway through and I’m dying to know what happens next. I’m going to have so much fun reviewing Garrett’s book.

See the complete tally after the jump.


A Feast For Crows

Stranger In a Strange Land

Stakeout on Millennium Drive

The House on the Point: A Tribute to Franklin W. Dixon and The Hardy Boys

The Watchmen (Absolute Edition)

Al Capone Does My Shirts

The Nanny Diaries

The Time Traveler’s Wife

I, Robot

The Final Solution: A Story of Detection

Black Swan Green

Cloud Atlas

The Whole World Over

Deception Point

Don’t I know you?

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists

Geography Club

The Great Gatsby By F. Scott Fitzgerald

Pit of Vipers (Nancy Drew Girl Detective) #18 by Carolyn Keene

Company: A Novel by Max Barry

Hornswoggled (An Alafair Tucker Mystery) by Donis Casey

The Book of Fate by Brad Meltzer

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl

Nancy Drew #4: The Girl Who Wasn’t There (Nancy Drew: Girl Detective) by Stefan Petrucha

Rough Magicke by John William Houghton


Heavy Words Lightly Thrown: The Reason Behind the Rhyme

Best Lesbian Erotica 2006

Scaling Down

Don’t Make Me Think : A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability

A Theory of Fun for Game Design

The World of Kong: A Natural History of Skull Island

Going for the Bronze: Still Bitter, More Baggage

Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

The Seven Daughters of Eve

What’s the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America

Our Town: A Heartland Lynching, a Haunted Town, and the Hidden History of White America

No Place to Hide: Behind the Scenes of Our Emerging Surveillance Society

On Bullshit

How Nancy Jackson Married Kate Wilson and Other Tales of Rebellious Girls and Daring Young Women by Mark Twain and John R. Cooley

Emotions Revealed: Recognizing Faces and Feelings to Improve Communication and Emotional Life by Paul Ekman

Sneaky Uses for Everyday Things: How to Turn a Penny into a Radio, Make a Flood Alarm with an Aspirin, Change by Cy Tymony

Garden Accents: Simple-To-Build Projects to Enhance Your Yard or Garden (How-to Gardening)

Indianapolis Hoosiers’ circle city by Geib, George W.

Hoosier Century: 100 Years of Photography from the Indianapolis Star and News by Indianapolis Star

Indianapolis: a circle city history by Tenuth, Jeffrey

Greater Indianapolis: the history, the industries, the institutions, and the people of a city of homes by Dunn, Jacob Piatt, 1855-1924

Adventures from the Technology Underground: Catapults, Pulsejets, Rail Guns, Flamethrowers, Tesla Coils, Air Cannons, and the Garage Warriors Who Love Them by William Gurstelle

The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout

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Book Review – Rough Magicke

Rough Magicke
Rough Magicke
Author John Houghton sets his novel Rough Magicke in northwest Indiana, in the fictional county of Annandale originally created by classic Hoosier author Meredith Nicholson in the novel The House of a Thousand Candles – the locale corresponds pretty closely to the city of Culver, Indiana, a town nestled in around Lake Maxinkuckee, south of Valparaiso and South Bend.

Our protagonist is Father Jonathan Mears — the chaplain of the fictional Annandale Military Academy (modeled after real-life Culver Academy), an establishment he graduated from himself years before, along with his brother Dan. The Mears family are generations-old residents of Annandale, though their old family homestead burned down a few decades ago.

When Father Mears stumbles across a witches’ coven conducted by some of the students of his academy, his own family’s long dormant history of witchcraft and his own supernatural talents come to the surface. Because he’s a devout Anglican, he devotes his use of these magic talents to his religion, essentially acting as a “good witch” and servant of God. Joining forces with his brother, neice and a distant cousin who also have supernatural talents, Father Mears combats sinister magical forces at work against his family, his beloved Academy and against the community. He also faces some who have difficulty understanding his unique fusion of witchcraft and Christianity.

Father Mears is a funny, cheerful and self-confident guy who carries the story along with some twists and surprises, and Annadale Military Academy and it’s denizens have quite a life of their own as well, although the young male students seem to have a few more snappy comebacks and witty remarks than I’ve ever seen in real-life teenagers. One character that’s left too much in the shadows is the brother Daniel Mears, who seems only roughly sketched out considering his role in some of the plot.

Houghton makes great use of the Indiana landscape through the story; natives of northwest Indiana will feel at home driving around the countryside, and alumni of Culver Academy probably get quite a kick out of the large role their alma mater plays in the book.

In all Rough Magicke is a pleasant, nicely-spun set of tales – the novel has three well-rounded parts which could stand on their own, although to his credit Houghton didn’t follow the lead of other fantasy authors in creating a drawn-out trilogy when he could pack all the surprises into one book. On the other hand – be aware it is quite a long book, at that.

Rough Magicke
by John William Houghton

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Book Review: Special Topics in Calamity Physics

Special Topics in Calamity Physics
by Marisha Pessl
This is my favorite of the year, and will probably make the list of of my favorite books ever. I’m not sure I can do it justice in reviewing it, but I hope I can do a bit better than Publishers Weekly, whom I’m going to quote entirely just to get the plot synopsis out of the way:

Pessl’s stunning debut is an elaborate construction modeled after the syllabus of a college literature course — 36 chapters are named after everything from Othello to Paradise Lost to The Big Sleep — that culminates with a final exam. It comes as no surprise, then, that teen narrator Blue Van Meer, the daughter of an itinerant academic, has an impressive vocabulary and a knack for esoteric citation that makes Salinger’s Seymour Glass look like a dunce. Following the mysterious death of her butterfly-obsessed mother, Blue and her father, Gareth, embark, in another nod to Nabokov, on a tour of picturesque college towns, never staying anyplace longer than a semester. This doesn’t bode well for Blue’s social life, but when the Van Meers settle in Stockton, N.C., for the entirety of Blue’s senior year, she befriends—sort of—a group of eccentric geniuses (referred to by their classmates as the Bluebloods) and their ringleader, film studies teacher Hannah Schneider. As Blue becomes enmeshed with Hannah and the Bluebloods, the novel becomes a murder mystery so intricately plotted that, after absorbing the late-chapter revelations, readers will be tempted to start again at the beginning in order to watch the tiny clues fall into place. Like its intriguing main characters, this novel is many things at once—it’s a campy, knowing take on the themes that made The Secret History and Prep such massive bestsellers, a wry sendup of most of the Western canon and, most importantly, a sincere and uniquely twisted look at love, coming of age and identity.

I’m surprised that PW could write such a lengthy paragraph about the novel that didn’t do more than show glimpses of the main character, Blue Van Meer, who is the heart and soul of the book. It is tempting to focus on Pessl’s structure and literary allusions — but the cleverness of those devices is secondary to her skill at constructing the character of Blue, who is almost prescient in her intelligence and at the same time as naive as any teenager, without a trace of contradiction between the two. In fact, the “knack for esoteric citation” is Blue’s wry comic punctation throughout the narrative, and does as much for character development as it does for illuminating the plot.
And then there’s Blue’s father, Gareth, who plays almost as large a role in the book as Blue. We see him completely through his daughter’s eyes, and this is clearly a girl who loves and is completely influenced by her father, although she’s not blind to his foibles and follies, and not shy about asserting her own agenda, even though he’s used to getting his way. Gareth Van Meer is a scholar and an intellectual elitist, and though he’s obviously highly intelligent, he’s not quite as smart as he thinks he is, which is charming with a bit of schadenfreudey-whimsy thrown in.
The murder mystery itself is neatly wrapped up at the end of the novel — but there are enough threads to weave a sequel into the story, and I certainly hope that happens; I hope we haven’t heard the last of Blue Van Meer.

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The Book of Fate

The Book of Fate
by Brad Meltzer

23 year-old Presidential Aide Wes Holloway gets shot in the face during an attempted presidental assasination, and President Manning’s best friend Ron Boyle gets killed. Eight years later — after the President has left office and is touring the speaking circuit with Wes still in tow — Wes spots Ron Boyle, very much alive, backstage in the president’s green room at a Malaysian engagement. And suddenly Wes has a chance to find out what really happened on the day that bullets destroyed his face and wrecked his nerve. Delving deep in the records from the Presidential Library, Wes finds a mystery to unravel involving the intelligence community that protects them and a 200-year-old plot involving the Freemasons, and discovers his lost backbone at the same time.
The Book of Fate is a thick tome that shows off a knowledge of inside-the-beltway and behind-the-scenes politics, but the pacing is rather slow, and there are times when I didn’t have a clear picture of some of the characters. The main character Wes is a bit of a wilting lily, which can be frustrating at times. And the deference and subservience that’s directed at the office of the president — I’m sorry, but I never bought into that on the West Wing, either. Here it rings really false, considering that the President doesn’t appear to be a man of character from the start. The Masonic connection is a not-very-convincing red herring and a bit of an annoyance; it seems like a desperate attempt to cash in on the Da Vinci Code zeitgeist.
Despite all my criticism above, I didn’t feel like the book offended or bored me and I certainly breezed through it pretty quickly. The book is recently published and is making it’s way up the bestseller charts, with good reviews. There are waiting lists at the local library here, so I hurried through it so I could return it in a decent amount of time. But it isn’t a book I’d make part of my permanent collection.
On the other hand, I read some raving reviews of:
Special Topics in Calamity Physics
by Marisha Pessl
So I checked this out from the library, and I’m two chapters in. Let me add to the exclamations: Wow. Unless the book complete screws itself in the remainder, this book will definitely get purchased for my permanent collection. I’m looking forward to writing a real review of this.

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