Book Review: ADA, by Vladimir Nabokov

I tried, I really did. I loved Lolita: I had some steadfast determination to finish the book and when I finished it, I ultimately loved the novel itself, if not the content.I admired very much Nabokov's skill in handling such a disturbing subject. Nabokov's prose is beautiful and lovely to read, even when he writes of the most awful things.

Somehow, though, I did not have the determination to make it through ADA--and so I gave up. The budding relationship between Ada and Van made me uncomfortable in a way I just didn't feel like dealing with, and so I put the book down, marked where I left it, in case I muster up some determination to finish the book later. The writing is still beautiful, and ADA is apparently one of Nabokov's finest novels, published near the very end of his life--but it just wasn't what I wanted to read right now. So I shrugged and plunged happily back into The Chronicles of Narnia instead.



Book Review: HADJI MURAD, by Leo Tolstoy

They say that Tolstoy is the greatest of all novelists.

I don't know about that, but I definately concede that he is a great novelist (I just don't feel qualified to say greatest--possibly I'll have to read War & Peace before I can judge). There's something to the way he fleshes out his characters, gradually and thoroughly, that makes his books brilliant and dense.

HADJI MURAD is about an event in a war, in 1851, between Russia and the Caucasus. It's a short novel, published after Tolstoy's death, and it opens with one of the most lovely scenes I've read in a long time. A short book, worth mulling over.


Just needed to get this off my chest:

What a pretty place I live in. Honestly.


Where have all the book worms gone?

I know that I've been slacking a bit on the blog entries--this is not news--but rest assured that I've been diligently reviewing every single book that I read (with the odd exceptions of Isabel Allende's Eva Luna and Pauline Melville's The Ventriquist's Tale, both of which were good but both somehow missed getting reviewed) on my book review site. If you're not familiar with my book site, well, it's obviously linked (look up), and it's full of goofy reviews that include personal anecdotes and more often than not say little to nothing about the book itself: I'm awful fond of meditating on my own personal experience of the book without including so much as a decent summary. However, I do like to offer a list of links to other book review blogs, so that you can read summaries to your heart's content without the reviewer getting in the way with her dumb stories.

I've found some good ones in the past year: namely Wannabe Inkling, which is chockfull of good books and very thorough, very literary reviews (with excellent summaries). Also I've found some wonderful ones that focus primarily on Victorian literature (my English major heart went all aflutter when I read that one), or that, like The Restricted Section, subtitle themselves "what we read while we wait for the final Harry Potter" and sign themselves either "Flourish" or "Blotts" (my Potter-nerd heart gets all fluttery over this one).

Periodically, I go through this list of links to make sure they're still active.

Suddenly, with this testing of links, I found that only Wannabe Inkling, The Restricted Section and Reading Corner were still active: all the others had abandoned ship while my back was turned and left me and my two comrades to review all the books under the sun unaided and without company. Alas! thoguht I. I must sojourn into foreign lands and seek out new blogs and new reviews!

And, oh, what complete dismay I suffered when a Google search for "book review, blog" turned up nothing (well, there was a site or two dedicated to reviews of murder mysteries, but I, in all snootiness, admit that I'd hoped for books a little more, well, challenging). This, on a day when my friend Paul, from whence many excellent recommendations come (he works, after all, in my favorite bookstore: you can thank him for J.D. Salinger, Wallace Stegner, Ian McEwan and more), announced, with his nose rather high in the air, that he was getting rid of all his books and giving up reading.

I sighed, rather melodramatically, from somewhere deep down in my soul.

What is this world coming to when a girl has to track down her book reviews, hunting bow in hand? I know it's a pretty specialized interest, but honestly, it wasn't this difficult a few months ago--I found all kinds of stuff. But those sites are no longer active.

I heave another dramatic sigh, and take off to review Tolstoy, unaided and alone.


Mrs. Crunch sings at the top of her lungs

Hello. My name is Thea, and my husband plays World of Warcraft.

(Now is when you all chime in and say, "Hi, Thea," in that cheesy AA-parody voice.)

But seriously, he does, and we have this little evening ritual: he gets home first and cleans up after last night's dinner. When I get home, I cook dinner. We eat, and then I take off to the bedroom and my guitar, where I play my little heart out for an hour or so (on a good night), and he camps out at the computer with WoW, where he chats with his fellow guild-members via microphone.

It's a nice habit, with this one odd glitch: his guild-members can hear me playing every time he talks into his microphone. Most of them, apparently, are used to it, and sometimes they'll even ask Mitch to leave his mic on so that I can, apparently, serenade them as they march into battle.

I always find out about this later, and am usually mortified, but flattered.

Occasionally, though, somebody new will join the guild and inevitably they will ask, "Um, who is that singing?"

Pause for a bit of backstory. Mitch's primary character is named Supercrunch, after a particularly tasty burrito served at a "Mexican" restaurant where Mitch worked while I was in college (all of his characters are named after food, I don't know why).

So, the new guys asks, "Who is that singing?" and before Mitch gets a chance to answer, one of the other guys interjects, "That's Mrs. Crunch."

I take it as a compliment.

Book Review: THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP, by John Irving

John Irving, you break my heart. You do, and not in that "Your first novel was so good but the rest of them are trash" sort of way, because you truly do get better and better with each book. Evidence of this is the fact that my favorite (still) of your books is one of the most recent. But, oh, how you make me cry! Like a little baby, because you lull me into the gentle rise and fall of the events in your characters' lives and then suddenly everything falls to tragic little bits and I am, literally, sobbing.

No author makes me cry quite like John Irving does: right on cue and messily, snot and all.

Of course I mean this as a compliment, and GARP is at peak John Irving form when it comes to making me cry like a baby. You ought to know by now that I'm not big on summaries, since I like to go into a book knowing as little as possible about it, so ha ha! I tell you nothing, but "cried like a baby" and "really darn good."

I will add the teeniest bit of criticism, though. Having now, officially, read six Irving novels, I have to admit that I'm growing weary of the repeated themes. In my review of The Hotel New Hampshire, I cited this as an asset, but I think I'm beginning to feel a bit like Irving is dipping from the same pots again and again. The books are still great, but I just feel a little let down when I see pieces of my favorite plots tossed around from book to book, and especially now that themes from my favorite, A Widow for One Year, have made some rather breathtaking appearances in THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP.

With that in mind, The Cider House Rules stands out as one of Irving's most wholly original books, and it is now tied with A Widow from One Year as my favorite Irving novel, moving up from a close second place. But don't let my teeny bit of criticism delude you into thinking that John Irving is second rate, because he isn't. He is fantastic. So go read one of his books, right now.

I must add that, in the newer versions of GARP, a Reader's Guide is included at the end, complete with an essay by Irving about the book. The essay on GARP is well worth reading. He writes of letting his twelve-year-old son read GARP for the first time in a way that made my little heart squirm. It is a lovely essay; don't pass it by.



Event Review: Jolie Holland at the Nightlight Lounge

Yes, it's true: the marvellous Jolie Holland actually made her way to Bellingham while touring to promote her new album, Springtime Can Kill You.

And yes, I was there.

For those of you not familiar with Miss Holland's music, I'm afraid I'm not a whole lot of help--you see, she's difficult to describe. The closest I've come is a weak comparison to Billie Holiday, with an old timey acoustic finger-pickin' guitar for accompaniment; her melodies are eerie, unpredictable and gorgeous, and while the songs and the guitar are one thing, her voice is something completely other. Over the course of the last two months, with the purchase of both her debut, Catalpa, and her sophomore album, Escondida, I've fallen completely in love with Holland's complicated, bewitching sound.

Imagine my joy when I found out she'd be playing in Bellingham.

Sean Hayes, a fellow I'd never heard of (but had somehow become convinced was from England--he was not from England. I didn't catch where he was from, but it was not England), opened, and he was intriguing enough that Mitch and I bought a copy of Big Black Hole & The Little Star--we have not been disappointed so far. On his last few songs, Jolie Holland came on stage and harmonized with him, which made for an enchanting duet or two, and a sufficient lead-in for Holland's set.

And her set was good, definately. Her voice was every bit as chilling as it ought to be live, but truly she wasn't the most gracious of performers: she sound-checked her way right through the first song, and talked down to the audience, and denied us a much-requested encore. I was not impressed, really, and that made me sad.

However, the music was amazing, and not to be sniffed at: Jolie Holland has the best whistle I've ever heard, and her versatility as she switched from piano to guitar to tambourine to box fiddle (often in the same song) was awesome to watch. When she played "Mad Tom of Bedlam", I got the shivers, and the shivers didn't stop til after she finished "Old Fashioned Morphine." All in all, it was an excellent show, but it missed one key ingredient: Holland didn't seem to be enjoying herself much. That also made me sad.


Book Review: EMMA, by Jane Austen

Oh, what a guilty pleasure Jane Austen is. Romantic stories generally bore me to pieces, unless they're the subplot of some bigger story, but Jane Austen has a way of winning me over with one deft stroke in Pride & Prejudice. I rolled my eyes a million times as I read that one, enjoying the dialogue but heaving great, bored sighs at the tedious evolution of the characters' engagements--until the last ten pages, when I realized how Austen had hooked me completely. I realized how much, despite my protests, I really wanted everything to work out.

Well, you got me, I conceded to Miss Austen, who rather quickly won my respect.

I went into EMMA admitting sheepishly that of course I'd be up to my ears in romantic entanglements, and that probably I'd care about all the drama and poufy dresses. I did care, and somewhat less reluctantly than I might have pre-Pride & Prejudice. But partly what made the whole story ten times better to me was the knowledge that the movie Clueless was based on the story of EMMA.

What, you say? It's true.

When I began to get annoyed with the characters' shallow, pretentious behavior (Miss Emma herself irritated me plenty at times: apparently Austen was quoted as saying, in regards to Emma, that "I am going to make a heroine whom no one but myself will like." I liked her alright about eighty percent of the time, though she's no Elizabeth Bennett), all I had to do was imagine them in high school and suddenly, it made a little more sense. Or it was a bit more amusing.

But of course I loved it, and my heart went all fluttery as things began to resolve. EMMA is a good book, and surprisingly, a tough one to put down.



Book Review: BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, by Annie Proulx

In true Thea form, I've been putting off watching the movie Brokeback Mountain until I've had a chance to read the story. Once it was brought to my attention that the story was by one of my favorite authors (Annie Proulx) and the movie screenplay by another (Larry McMurtry), and that the movie starred one of my favorite actors (Jake Gyllenhaal), I was sold. And I was very curious to see what all the fuss was about.

BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN is a short story, but it is so intense and so weighty that it does not sacrifice impact for the sake of brevity, not in the least. In fact, I was so emotionally involved with the characters (who were, let's face it, quite emotionally involved with each other) by the end of thirty pages that I could've sworn I'd been reading for much, much longer. Proulx is just that brilliant.

And her writing? Whew. Beautiful. Just right. Does justice to a tough topic. Simultaneously tender and aggressive.

And one of the things I love most about Annie Proulx? Well. I get a bit tetchy when a book is obviously written by a woman--in the extreme, think fluff novels where the main character is savvy and sassy in her slingback heels, juggling careers and boyfriends and so on--or obviously written by a man (with the exception of the marvellous Dashiell Hammett--I do really like him, gunslingers, trashy dames, and all). The books that I love best are generally written by authors who can write a complete and convincing character of the opposite sex and do them justice: think Flaubert, and his notorious Madame Bovary. Or Zadie Smith and her old war buddies in White Teeth. I weary sometimes of seeing women authors write primarily about women, or men write primarily of men (I love Barbara Kingsolver, but she is a bit guilty of this; with a few exceptions, so is Ian McEwan. Atonement is just such an exception).

And so I am delighted when I encounter a woman author who writes convincingly of not just men, but of cowhands, of solitary widowers hitting midlife in a bad way; of generations upon generations of homesteaders, bartenders, immigrants and tradesmen. Also, she writes some fascinating women. She's just good, and in her hands, the story of Jack Twist and Ennis del Mar is given wonderful, if rough, treatment.

Now I have no excuse. I really must see the movie.



Book Review: THE ABHORSEN TRILOGY, by Garth Nix


I think it's official: SABRIEL clocks in as my Most Re-read Book Ever. This, folks, was the fifth reread, and I have actually read this book twice in a single weekend. That makes it the only book that I've finished, sighed, and turned back to page one to start again.

Wow. I know.

It's that good.

I will concede that the book starts out a bit awkwardly--the writing isn't quite as good as it is in Nix's later books, and the first scene is a little confusing, because Nix mercilessly throws us into this whole other world where Death is a location and there's that whole weird bit about the Charter, but seriously. Once the book gets going, there's no stopping it, and it's hopeless to attempt to disconnect yourself from the story because it absolutely takes over your soul.

But I'm raving.

Nix's Old Kingdom is brilliant, and as complete as you could hope for in a fantasy book. Sabriel, our heroine, is an engaging character, humble and brave in the best way. The story is funny, while also being gravely serious and dark. I won't breathe a word about certain Harry Potter comparisons, and you better not either. But do us both a favor and go out with your $6.99 in hand, and buy a copy.

You'll be hooked. And then you'll have to finish the whole trilogy.


While Sabriel is a complete story that stands alone and serves as a sort of prequel for the last two books, LIRAEL is the first half of a story that is continued in the third and final book in the trilogy, Abhorsen. LIRAEL is set fourteen years after Sabriel, and gives readers the delightful opportunity of seeing some beloved characters serve as far more experienced Kings and Abhorsens than they did in the last book. Also, these beloved characters have children, who are--alas--a bit disappointing.

That is perhaps my only criticism of the second book: self-pity runs rampant in LIRAEL, whether it's Lirael bemoaning her misfit status, or Prince Sameth whining about his awful inheritance, it gets bit old and quickly. Thank goodness for characters like Mogget and the Disreputable Dog, who are always around to give a smarting shut-down, or quick nip to the leg, and keep those pitiful characters in line.

Actually, thank goodness for Mogget, period. He is the best character in a cast of brilliant characters, as far as I'm concerned. Also, the Great Library of the Clayr is one of my favorite places in the entire world, imagined or not.

Which is not to say, at all, that I don't like Sam and Lirael. I really, really do, and I think that Nix works this whole "woe is me" bit in deliberately and he does it well, but it just gets old, that's all. But the book is still awesome.

And holy crap, I can't wait to read Abhorsen again, because even though I've read Sabriel five times, and LIRAEL (now) three times, I've only read Abhorsen once, so it's basically new to me. Plus there's a new book of stories out called Across the Wall that apparently hooks right onto the end of Abhorsen and hangs out in the Old Kingdom for a while.

Heck yes.

I must add that I had the good fortune of hearing Garth Nix read LIRAEL in his funny Australian accent when he came to Village Books, promoting LIRAEL. It was awesome. He signed my book. It says "To Thea, With best Wishes." Sweet.


Yes. Oh, yes. I have reached the end of the trilogy, my friends, and I am not in the least disappointed. In fact, I think I liked the whole thing better the second time--and the ending? Well. Nix has this marvellous way of wrecking everybody's desperate plans, of giving them scraps to cling to and then whisking them away, mercilessly, so that he gives new meaning to the notion of saving the day at the last second. He draws it out to the last, the very, very, hopelessly last, second.

And I loved it, every bit.



Minding my own business

So, I'm standing in the Express Lane at Haggen, minding my own business, right? I've got my little box of contact solution (that's right: got contacts on Friday, holy crap, I can see), and I'm reading the headlines of People and National Enquirer when I notice that this little kid is drifting out of my check-out line and into the next one. His dad, standing in front of me, trying in vain to remember his Haggen card number, does not seem to notice. Then he does notice, and he doesn't seem much to care.

"Nathan," he calls distractedly, "...or was it 85? Hey, Nathan, over here, buddy!"

The kid is maybe two.

When he does finally make his way back to our line, he's got a big peppermint York patty in his hand, which he tries to hide behind his back as soon as his dad looks his way--but it's shiny and silver, and about the size of his little head, so his dad spots it and says, "Okay, I saw that," and shakes his head, No.

Which is when Nathan (who, I'm figuring out now, has this system down pat), deliberately, and with this cherubic look on his face, rips the wrapper right open and takes the patty out.

I'm sure fireworks will start flying, but no. The dad just says, "Well, guess it's ours now," and hands the now empty wrapper to the cashier for her to scan, along with $.69.

About now is when I notice a tiny, forlorn little black puppy sitting in the baby seat of their shopping cart. I notice it because it starts up this piercing series of yips--everybody else in the store notices as well, and so all eyes, for three lines either way, are trained on our aisle as the kid (Dad's back is turned again, still busy with the cashier) offers the puppy some York patty.

Aw, shucks, I think, as the dog slobbers all over it, and takes a big bite. And then Oh... as the kid puts the now-defiled patty back in his mouth.

At this point, the lady behind me--"proper" is, I think, a good word to describe her flawlessly styled white hair and pursed lips--hisses, "Chocolate poisons dogs."

"What?" I ask, not certain she's addressing me and, if she is, not sure why she's telling me this at all.

"I said," she reiterates, "Chocolate poisons dogs."

Coming from a family where the dogs beg for whipped cream and Reese's peanut butter cups and live, generally, long happy lives, I am less concerned about the puppy at this point that I am about devious Nathan and his slobbery candy.

"Oh," I say.

She continues huffily, "It's hard, sometimes, to mind your own business."

"Hmm," I say, "sure is."

I can see myself figuring prominently in some narrative later today about the callousness of kids these days, as she regales some poor relative with the tragic tale of how unfeeling, how self-absorbed and oblivious my generation must be, for me to stand by and let that poor puppy be force-fed poison. As though it was my duty, being next in line, to throw myself in front of the dog and cry, "No! Not the puppy!"

Nevermind the kid. I like to give parents the benefit of the doubt in most cases, since I don't have kids, so what do I know? And the scenes in check-out lines are so often dramatic, and taken out of context. But...hmm. Seems like a kid needs a little bit of attention every now and then, doesn't he?

Sometimes it is hard to mind one's own business.

(One from the vaults: here's an old school post for you, also about strange women in the check-out line)


Book Review: THE PORTABLE DOROTHY PARKER, by Dorothy Parker

After reading a collection of Parker's stories, I fell in love with Parker's writing. Her tone is smart and satirical, a stinging image of New York's high society in the '30s and '40s, that treats her characters with just enough humor to make them seem ridiculous without leaving them completely unlikeable.

THE PORTABLE DOROTHY PARKER is an anthology of all her collected stories, poems, book/play reviews and articles. I have to admit that I attempted the poetry, found it a bit melodramatic (though the funny ones are very funny), and skipped right ahead to the next batch of stories, but the play reviews were fun, though not quite as significant as they might have be en had I heard of any of the plays being reviewed. I felt pretty much the same about the book reviews, though I read more of them as an educational venture (a girl's gotta do her homework, right?), and very much enjoyed her review of Hammett's The Glass Key, partly because I had, in fact, heard of that book.

Parker definately stands as one of my favorite short story writers, and plowing through a large volume of short story after short story without ever losing interest is a powerful testament to that, I'd say. This is a great book for summer and for vacations.


The things you find on a Thursday night

After an early and marvellous evening at the Temple Bar (somebody, quick: how many references do I make, on this whole whopping blog, to the Temple Bar? Answer: roughly a bazillion), Morgan and I set off into the sunset, on a mission for entertainment. This brought us to the Wild Buffalo, where one of Morgan's co-workers was apparently performing with his band.

What sort of music do they play? I asked.

She didn't know.

What was really happening, we learned--after paying our cover, getting our hands attractively stamped with a black-light reactive "B", and finding ourselves inside the Wild Buffalo as we'd never seen it decorated before--was a circus. An honest-to-goodness circus. To which her friend's band was providing the soundtrack.

There were balloons and streamers everywhere, and servers in odd costumes--face-paint, corsets, black boots and ruffles. Clowns, wigged jugglers, people in stilts and gold lame and/or cheetah print pants--to say the least, we were outnumbered, because it was not just a circus, but a costume ball as well.

But it was wonderful. The opening band was a bit rough, and far too loud, and an act involving a clown-themed striptease was a bit disturbing, but the band, Captain Seahorse, was excellent, and every act (except for the creepy, stripping clown) was funny, engaging and a bit amazing. What fun, to stumble upon a small, independent circus, particularly when it was so good and so brilliant.