Month: February 2014

2014 Book #11: Song of Susannah

susannahSoooo remember how I got really mad after reading The Waste Lands because Stephen King ended it with “the most cliffhangery cliffhanger ever?” Song of Susannah is almost as bad, but I’m even more infuriated because of what comes after the ending: a “coda,” or fake diary entries by Stephen King himself. Seriously.

I’m going to go ahead and declare a general spoiler alert because as I said before, it’s hard to get this far into a series without ruining the whole thing for someone who hasn’t. So there you go.

Song of Susannah starts exactly where Wolves of the Calla left off: the ka-tet has just won the battle with the Wolves only to discover that Susannah has wheeled off to the cave and vanished through the door. They use some Manni-magic to get through to her and to Calvin Tower in Maine, except the wrong people end up at the wrong places, or so they think. So Eddie and Roland end up dealing with Tower while Callahan, Jake, and Oy chase after Susannah/Mia, who is about to give birth to the Spawn of Satan, or something like that. Along the way, Roland and Eddie meet Stephen King himself, and they have a palaver while my eyes rolled back into my head so far I almost couldn’t keep reading. Seriously, Stephen King, this stuff is stupid. And then, of course, there’s the baby being born. We get to see all sorts of evil beings and even a roasting baby. After some Dark Towery shenanegans, Susannah/Mia end up giving birth. THE END. Screams of agony. YEP, THAT’S IT. The only difference between this time and the Blaine the Mono ridiculousness is that I don’t care as much.

Which is exactly what I said after I finished Wolves of the Calla, and we see how long that lasted. Three weeks, maybe? Which also means that I’ll be finishing this seven-book series very, very soon.

Oh, and that wasn’t quite the end. There’s still the matter of the Coda. As Susannah/Mia push out this demon spawn, the story itself cuts out, and we get Stephen King’s self-indulgent craptacular crapfest in which he is driven to write the rest of the series after The Gunslinger. Also: you know the car that hit him several years ago? Well, in the book, it killed him. Yep. Fun times. In the book, he also makes himself out to be something like one of the Beams, and I’m sure his death will lead to all sorts of problems. Fun times.

As stupid as these novels are, I can’t seem to tear myself away. They’re fun! And now, I’m too far in to stop. I should have known what was coming with the idiocy of The Drawing of the Three. Sure, the lobstrosities are some of my Very Favorite Fictional Creatures Ever, but they’re dumb, and the stupid doors on the beach are even worse. There. I’ve said my fill.

In sum, I like this book because I can’t help myself. It really is terrible.

Just as I finished reading Song of Susannah, our new refrigerator was delivered! The refrigerator itself is fantastic and beautiful and glorious, but the delivery was so bad that it gets its own post. I’m a little surprised that it didn’t kill me.

Here’s an especially ridiculous cat because cats always make things better:


2014 Book #10: Death in Venice

deathinveniceAfter giving up on Un Lun Dun, I wanted to read a book that I knew was good. I read Death in Venice when I was in college for a class called something like Myth and the Modern Novel. I really, really enjoyed it, and I remember it as one of my favorite assigned books. Except now, fourteen or fifteen years later, I don’t like it half as much as I did then. I was distracted by the admiration bordering on pedophilia, and I simply didn’t enjoy it. I’m not sure why my opinion has changed so much since then.

Somehow, over the years, I’d conflated Death in Venice and Daisy Miller. Or I thought Death in Venice was Daisy Miller, though that’s certainly not the case. It’s about an author who works very hard and adheres to a strict schedule, achieving hard work through skilled effort. He decides to take a vacation to Venice, where he indulges in the scenery and the city – and in watching a young boy he compares to a god. Apollonian versus Dionysian, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Maybe I would have liked this book more if echoes of college classes hadn’t bouncing around in my head. Or maybe I just don’t like books like that anymore. If it hadn’t been so short, I’m not sure I would have finished it because it isn’t very interesting. What’s funny is that I’m almost disappointed with myself for disliking it this time around when I know that it’s well-written and that I’m supposed to like it. But alas.

So. During the couple of days while I read Death in Venice, Things Happened! First, we ordered a fancy new refrigerator, which is scheduled for delivery tomorrow!

Ladies and gentlemen! We have found our new refrigerator!

We also got a new front door! Progress!


We still have to put on another coat of red and repaint the trim (and straighten the handle. UGH), but I’m soooo happy with the results so far!


2014 Book #9: The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories

ladiesofgraceadieuAn official challenge does so much for my determination! This is at least the third time I’ve tried to get into Susanna Clarke‘s post-Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell short story collection, The Ladies of Grace Adieu. I’m not sure why, as I loved that novel so much, and these stories revisit that world.

I think my problem was with the titular story itself: I just couldn’t get into it. It’s my least favorite in this whole collection. “The Ladies of Grace Adieu” is about ladies who practice their own sort of magic and meet Jonathan Strange. That’s about all I remember. Maybe reading it in a laundromat didn’t help. Next is “On Lickerish Hill,” possibly my favorite. It’s basically a Rumpelstiltskin story, in which a girl’s mother tells her future husband that she can spin five spools of flax a day. He marries the girl, but he says he’ll kill her if she doesn’t do that every day of the twelfth month of her marriage. She makes a deal with a fairy and can only avoid being whisked away by guessing his name. Then there’s “Mrs. Mabb,” which is fantastic. The same Mab of Romeo and Juliet lives in Faerie and causes all kinds of trouble for the protagonist. “The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse” is great, too. The setting is near the wall in Neil Gaiman’s Stardust (I love that book!). A duke’s horse ends up on the Faerie side of the wall, and the Duke goes in after him, meeting a woman weaving his fate into a tapestry. It’s brilliant. “Mr. Simonelli or the Fairy Widower” is about a rector who meets an evil fairy and tries to save five sisters from marrying him. “Tom Brightwind or How the Fairy Bridge Was Built at Thoresby” is about a man who befriends a fairy and the mischief that happens when they wander into a small town. A bridge is built. Yes, indeed. “Antikes and Frets” is about Mary, Queen of Scots’s, hatred of Queen Elizabeth and her attempts at killing the latter. Short but glorious! The last story, “John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner,” returns directly to Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell with a tale about John Uskglass getting tricked by a poor working man.

These stories are fantastic. It’s unfortunate that I just couldn’t get into the first one and was held back from reading the rest of them for that reason. They make me wonder about Susanna Clarke’s future novels: it seems like her brain is permanently trapped in Faerie, and I’m not sure that she can write a different novel that doesn’t turn into some sort of sequel or prequel. I almost hope she doesn’t prove me wrong because I would love to revisit her version of Faerie in an entirely new, gigantic novel.

While I was in Dallas, Palmer and I went to IKEA to get a new bookcase to replace some old, saggy ones and a kitchen cart for some extra room since we now have a laundry room(!). Somehow, Palmer fit everything into his car and then into my car.


When I got home, I had a friend come over to get the boxes into the house, and I put the shelf together. I’m rather proud of myself because it definitely qualifies as a two-person job.

I love my library so hard.

2014 Fail Pile #1: Un Lun Dun

unlundunI haven’t posted about a Fail Pile book in a long time for a couple of reasons: (1) The number of books I start and don’t finish is very low and (2) I usually don’t have anything to say about them. Except I do this time.

Usually, I’ll stop reading a book because I get bored with it – which is what happened sometime last year with Ken Kesey‘s Sometimes a Great Notion. By all accounts, that’s a great book, but it’s really long, and I just couldn’t get through it. The same thing happened with The Casual Vacancy, which isn’t bad, but, well, boredom. I just stopped reading and didn’t want to talk about them. But then I come to Un Lun Dun. I’ve started to trust Goodreads recommendations because they’re usually fantastic. Some of the best books I’ve read in a long time have shown up on that list. Un Lun Dun has been there a while, and it’s been compared to some of my favorite stories: The Wizard of OzAlice in Wonderland, and The Phantom Tollbooth. And it is exactly what you’d expect from a combination of those three books, except that it isn’t very good.

China Miéville has been on my list for a while. Several people (and probably Goodreads) have recommended The City and the City, comparing it to Neil Gaiman‘s Neverwhere, which I loved. One day a couple of years ago, I grabbed a copy and sat down in one of the (now gone) chairs at Barnes and Noble. I read the first few pages and stopped when I got to the word “Inspector” because I hate mysteries, and I knew what was coming. (That’s another bias I know I need to address, but that’s for another time.) I hadn’t tried reading Miéville since.

But Un Lun Dun is supposed to be good! And it is, as I said, a combination of three of my favorite stories. It’s like a 12-year-old’s version of Neverwhere (even the name harkens a similar London underworld: Un Lun Dun is UnLondon. There’s also a Parisn’t, and so on. Ugh). All things I like, you say. Except there’s almost zero character development. Every single one of them is flat, which means that I don’t care what happens to anyone. The premise turns me off, too: the protagonist is fighting smog. Meh. I made it to page 120 of 400, or so, and gave up. That far in, and I still don’t know whether I like any of them because instead of spending a little time letting the reader getting to know who he’s supposed to follow through this book, Miéville jumps right into the action. Several years ago, when I first read Harry Potter, I wondered why J.K. Rowling spent so much time with Harry before whisking him away to Hogwarts – and this is why. It’s the same with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. We have to get to know and like Charlie in his boring, sad life before we understand his experiences at Wonka’s. In Un Lun Dun, we’re presented a 12- or 13-year-old who we know is blonde and tall for her age, but that’s about it. She doesn’t appear to be especially stupid or mean, but that’s not enough to catch my interest. So I quit. The end.

That was a much longer explanation than I’d planned…

2014 Book #8: Andrew’s Brain

andrewsbrainJudging from the reviews I skimmed through even before I read (okay, listened to) Andrew’s BrainI expected to be disappointed. In that case, why did I read it? I really like E.L. Doctorow. I’d only read two of his novels, World’s Fair, which I loved, and Loon Lake, which was also pretty good. Ragtime is his best known, and it’s been on my to-read list for years, now.

So here’s what happened: Palmer has spent the last two weeks working in Dallas, and I drove over to spend the weekend with him. I wanted a short audiobook as I don’t drive much, and I wouldn’t listen to it on my five-minute trips to and from work. Andrew’s Brain, clocking in at under four hours and immediately available on Overdrive, was perfect.

Andrew’s Brain is about an aging, depressed scientist either in therapy or being interviewed in some undisclosed location which is possibly government-related. Doctorow isn’t clear about much, and the novel feels like a bit of a labyrinth: we get bits and pieces in various places, and we have to put together the pictures for ourselves. Which would be fine if it was more interesting. Here’s the general story (I’ll add a spoiler alert here in case you want to play along with Doctorow): Andrew gets married to a woman named Martha and has a daughter who he accidentally kills. They get a divorce, and he starts teaching cognitive science at a small university, where he falls in love with a student. The feelings are mutual, and he and the student begin a years-long relationship (but never marry) and have a child. Then this woman, the love of his life, dies, supposedly in 9/11. Most of this time we’re wondering how reliable a narrator Andrew is. My answer? Not very. Anyway, he’s heartbroken and drops their child off with Martha, who ends up adopting her with her Very Large Husband, as Doctorow calls him. After all this business, Andrew explains that he got a new job as a substitute science teacher, and after a visit from the president (who appears to be Dubya), he becomes the Cognitive Science Advisor (a position that doesn’t really exist) because the president had been his roommate in college and doesn’t want all of his mildly embarrassing secrets to be exposed. Yeah, that’s about it.

If I hadn’t been a captive audience – in my car and bored – I probably wouldn’t have finished Andrew’s Brain. The last third, or so, involving the president, is just silly and out of place. It’s like Doctorow wrote a novella, and then his editor told him it needed to be longer, so he came up with the most far-fetched story he could. Like ninjas in Nanowrimo. Meh.

Ragtime must be better. Andrew’s Brain made me question whether I want to bother reading it, but World’s Fair was very good. (And I just realized that I listed Ragtime in my 2014 TBR Pile Challenge, which means I’ll at least give it a try.) Part of my dislike might also be related to my having listened to this novel rather than reading it. With one exception, Sissy Spacek reading To Kill a Mockingbird, I haven’t had good luck with audiobooks. Am I going to give the novel a second chance? Probably not, though I’m not ruling it out, especially if I like Ragtime. We’ll see how it goes.

The highlight of my trip to Dallas was a trip to the Fort Worth Zoo. Palmer and I had a great time…

A lovely day for a (bundled up) trip to the zoo!

…Which he so kindly chronicled in two very silly Youtube videos:

Good times were had by all.

2014 Book #7: The Goldfinch

goldfinchI didn’t know what to expect when I finally picked up The Goldfinch –  except a good novel. Every review I’ve read has been good. It’s been on my list for several months, ever since it was published, but it was languishing on my tl;dr list: it’s almost 800 pages long. That said, I’ve enjoyed long novels more than short ones lately,  and after alternating between lengths, I decided that It Was Time.

And oh, man. The beginning of The Goldfinch is amazing. Theo, a 13-year-old kid whose father has run off loses his mom in an art museum bombing in New York. The scene blew my mind: he was in trouble at school, and before a parent-teacher meeting, he and his mom were wandering through a new exhibit. His mom went to another gallery to see a painting, and boom! the world came crashing down around them. Donna Tartt‘s pacing through this scene is unbelievable. I was immediately hooked, convinced I would need therapy after this book. After the explosion, Theo crawls out of the rubble after being given a ring by a dying old man. He also grabs a small painting off the wall because the man had been pointing at it. It’s the titular Goldfinch. Theo makes it home, expecting his mom to arrive at any minute. She never does, and he eventually learns that she was killed in the explosion. He stays with an old friend in the city and things are going well when his dad shows up and takes him to Los Vegas. There, Theo meets Boris and gets into drugs, alcohol, and petty theft. He ends up back in New York after a few years, haunted by the explosion and his various addictions. Things Continue to Happen.

The Goldfinch is a big novel with a big plot, and it took me a long time to read. I loved it until about the 60% mark, when Theo is back in New York, eight years later, and is into some shady dealing. I was bored for a while, and once things picked up and got all gangstery, I lost interest and just wanted to finish. In the space of 100 pages, or so, this novel went from Exactly My Kind of Book to Not My Kind of Book at All. I was so disappointed. I’m not a fan of drugs and violence or of thrillers, in general.

That’s not to say that this isn’t a good book. Until I hit that point, I was convinced that it would be one of my favorite books ever. The drugs and violence just turned me off. It’s really well-written and worth the huge chunk of time it takes to read, but I’ll file it under Meh because it just isn’t my thing.

While I was reading this mammoth book, Palmer and I celebrated our second anniversary by going to Superior’s Steakhouse and Eating All the Things. We had a great time.

Aaaaand Palmer got the kittehs a kitteh massager because Shakespeare likes to rub his face on everything. I sprinkled a little catnip on it.

I finished The Goldfinch in a hotel in Dallas, where I’d gone to spend the weekend with Palmer. On the way there and back, I listened to E.L. Doctorow read his new novel, Andrew’s Brain, which I’ll talk about next.

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