Friday, March 27, 2015

Book Review: Blameless (The Parasol Protectorate #3) by Gail Carriger

Blameless (Parasol Protectorate, #3) 

Blameless (The Parasol Protectorate #3)
by Gail Carriger


Goodreads Link:
Read from March 16 to 27, 2015 

I think I am in love with Gail Carriger
Definitely an excess of soul!
Blameless was the sixth book that I have read by Ms. Carriger, and as always, I found it absolutely divine! There are only two author's of whom I've read more: J.K. Rowling at seven books and Charles Dickens at eight, and they are both some prestigious company! When I read Ms. Carriger's books, I am always grinning, even going as far as to chuckle aloud, which rarely happens with many other books I read. Ms. Carriger's books just make me happy.

There are many books that feel burdensome, like you are shackled to them while marathoning to the end. Those are books that I dread opening: I force myself to finish them because I know that the author put all of his/her passion into writing it, so I finish them out of respect for the author, but it's never fun. This NEVER happens while I read a book by Ms. Carriger. In fact it's the complete opposite.

Her books call to me their siren songs, and I have to resist their magnetic pull in order to still appear responsible, but honestly I can't wait to get back to them. I fiend for them desperately. And when I finish reading them, I always have a big grin on my face and a swell of joy in my heart. I love reading the world she creates, which I like to believe is so true to Victorian life, yet just ever-so-slightly hyperbolized by the addition of supernatural elements. Sometimes, her world seems so vividly plausible that I actually have to wonder, "what if this really was the way Victoria or Elizabeth ruled, and history books just left out the supernatural elements?" And while many of the adventures are wildly outlandish, I want to believe so fervently that this was exactly how it must have been in those times because it's just so darn fun to imagine! I love her, ahem, the books!

And there are still so many more left to read!!!!! I am three-quarters through the Finishing School series, and three-fifths through the Parasol Protectorate series, and I still have the novella about Alexia's father, and the Prudence series to go! And Ms. Carriger was even polling her fans for other characters who are spin-off-worthy, so I hope for more to come. And I will obsessively happily consume them ALL! I even read, and loved, her short story Fairy Debt, which was cupcaketastically fabulous - you must find the e-book version (it's only 10 pages long, so a VERY QUICK read, but still full of Ms. Carriger's whimsical perfection).

So while this review is not specifically about Blameless, which is, by the way, gloriously cram-packed with adventurous French and Italian rendezvous involving Ladybugs, Vampires, and Templars (oh my!), I cannot recommend this series enough! Honestly, if you are not reading Gail Carriger, you are severely deprived of the most amazing witty banter I have ever read. Her writing is superb!

And Lord Maccon.....purrrrrrrrr! He is downright delectable!

That's it! Stop whatever you are doing right now, and go out and get yourself a copy of one of her series. Now! No, really! Stop reading this instantly, and go read this series instead - you won't regret it!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Book Review: The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen

The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen 

The Great God Pan 
by Arthur Machen


Goodreads Link:

Recommended to Stacy by: Dr. Bartlett, professor of English at UC, Irvine
Recommended for: Victorian readers
Read from March 11 to 16, 2015 — I own a copy, read count: 2

In September 2008, Steven King sat down to interview himself (strange?). During this interview he got on the topic of of how one of his own short stories was a riff on Arthur Machen's novella, The Great God Pan. King claimed that The Great God Pan was "one of the best horror stories ever written. Maybe the best in the English language. Mine isn’t anywhere near that good..."

I first learned of Arthur Machen's The Great God Pan when working towards my Master's degree in English Literature. I took a class on the fin de siecle (the 1890s), and The Great God Pan was on the reading list. I remember reading it and discussing it, but we had to read so much so fast, that I didn't feel that I really absorbed much at that time. For that reason, and since King praised it so highly, I thought I would re-read it. I remember that my professor said she had chosen it because it was such a controversial text for its time (1894), but I couldn't remember why she said it was so controversial. When I Googled it, Wikipedia described that "On publication it was widely denounced by the press as degenerate and horrific because of its decadent style and sexual content, although it has since garnered a reputation as a classic of horror. Machen’s story was only one of many at the time to focus on Pan as a useful symbol for the power of nature and paganism." So needless to say, I had high expectations. However, I was disappointed.

It's always challenging to read a Victorian text in modern times: our sensibilities are so drastically altered now, and what people found scandalous back then seems commonplace and innocent today. That was what I felt about The Great God Pan. I was expecting Horror (capital H) in the modern sense - a grotesque scary she-monster who was corrupting the lives of others. And while the book does follow the path of Helen Vaughn (a.k.a. Mrs. Herbert, Mrs. Beaumont, Ms. Raymond, etc.), it never actually reveals what she does to corrupt these people. The closest we come to a revelation is when Machen mentions that Helen took Rachel into the forest and something "bad" took place. But we never learn what actually happened in the forest, nor do we learn what Helen did to the boy she scared, or any of her husbands or male friends who later killed themselves from being corrupted by her.

All of the fear directed at Helen is based on rumor and assumption, and this is what bothered me the most. Here is a woman, whose reputation precedes her everywhere she goes, and yet, no one ever gives solid evidence as to what she's done wrong. In fact most people who have met her become completely enamored with her, and it is only after she has left them (e.g. Mr. Herbert) when they begin to slander her as "corrupting them body and soul". There was a strong undertone of sexual nature to the events, yet sex is never directly stated as the reason for this slander against Helen. But lets, for the sake of analysis, assume that what she is doing with these people is sexual. In that case, this becomes yet another example of a male author crafting a text in which sexual women are demonized, in this case literally referred to as a bestial demon who is so impure as to dissolve upon her deathbed. I think the men were corrupted because they were so desperate to get back all the ecstasy that they had with Helen. It is my belief that she blew their minds so profoundly that they all went to extreme, and in some cases deadly, measures to feel the euphoria that they felt with her. But this again is mere assumption because the book purposely cuts off any character who can accurately explain what he/she actually did with Helen.

In the end, I was left unsatisfied and frustrated. Machen had done such a suburb job of building up my curiosity to the brink, yet he never reveals the truth of the situation. I remember ending the book saying, "This can't be all of it! Where's the revelation?"

Maybe if I were a Victorian reader who was so extremely deprived of revelation, this might have been enough. But as a modern reader who lives in a saturated world of full-exposure, where everything is always revealed, sometimes even too much so, this book was a let-down. Two stars for the suspense, but no more than that for the lack of resolution.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Book Review: Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear

Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear
Recommended to Stacy by: Gail Carriger's Book Club - February 
Recommended for: Not sure - maybe you'll like it more than I did
Read from February 12 to March 08, 2015 — I own a copy

Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear is a difficult book for me to review. If I took a deconstructionist perspective, then it would get a higher rating because there were things about the book that I enjoyed; however, I did not enjoy reading the book as a whole: it was downright burdensome, which is never enjoyable.

Things I enjoyed:
  • I loved the theory of this book. The idea of reading about a brothel in a Seattle-like city fascinated me.
  • The feminist intention; I can't really say it had a feminist "message", per se, but the intention to empower women, including prostitutes, was really intriguing.
  • The diversity: Chinese, Indian, Native American, African American, transvestite, women, etc. It really had a well-rounded, diverse cast of characters, and I was grateful for that.

Things I disliked:
  • The dialect. Karen tells the story in first-person POV, and she has a very unique voice. But Elizabeth Bear wavered at times when it came to the voice. Sometimes it was ridiculously strong, southern twang blaring. Then she would switch to a more eloquent voice. The shift was so clear that even the voice in my head changed, which had never happened before with the same character.
  • The pacing. This book was a pacing nightmare! I struggled through it. I even considered DNFing it, but I just couldn't bring myself to do that. I know that authors work so hard on their craft; I can't bring myself to just quit on their effort half way through. Out of respect for authorship and writing, in general, I had to finish it. But I dreaded it ever time. The action would be rolling along (and it really does have some great action), but then Bear would stop mid-sequence to flashback to something, or give some sort of metacognitive insight. This was probably most apparent in the bar fight scene (this isn't really a spoiler, so no fear). In this scene a man is about to hit Karen with a bar stool. He has hoisted the stool above his head and is about to bring it down upon her, when out of the blue, Bear side-steps the action to flashback to Karen's dad and a horse, or some randomness. The movie in my mind was going bonkers: one minute I would be imagining one scene, and just as I would be anticipating the next action, wham-o, tangential side-story barges in and messes everything up. And this happened a number of times. And it was ABSOLUTELY INFURIATING!!! The pacing was such an out-of-control roller coaster ride: all I wanted to do was get off and run far, far away. But I had to at least finish it. Honestly, I really did not want to pick up the book anymore - I resented it after a while.
  • The convenient plot twists. I'm sorry: I know writing is hard work, and that making a plotline function is maddening, but one can't just make stuff conveniently appear for the character, or make the character endure totally impossible situations. And both of these things happened in this book many, MANY times!!! Sorry, but if your character gets burned, beaten, and bruised, she can't just run out there and fight another battle. Oh, and did I mention that she was a 16-year old, orphaned, prostitute! I had such a hard time imagining her as 16 years old. I kept seeing mid-20s, but nope; she is supposed to be 16! And yet, she can endure crazy abuse, come up with insane solutions, and almost single-handedly save Rapid City from complete decimation. And while she definitely struggled, things happened that seemed WAY too convenient: characters would magically appear or disappear just when she needed them. And, characters would break their normal personality so that she could survive and keep the story going. If the bad guy has Karen and knows that she is trying to get in his way, he'd dispose of her. Why would he want her to live? He is heartless and cruel; he has killed people before. Why would he all the sudden want to keep her alive? Totally not going to happen.
  • The would of, could of, should of...ARRRGGGGG - a grammarian's nightmare. Yes, I know this is a totally nit-picky qualm (1st world problem, for sure). I mean, most people don't even realize that "would of" is incorrect, but it is, and Bear uses it incessantly, and it DROVE ME INSANE!!! I don't even see the point of it, really. Using the -of form didn't even match Karen's voice. If anything, Karen should have sad "woulda, shoulda, coulda" instead of "would OF", etc. I get that she wouldn't have said "would have" because that is entirely too proper (even though she is actually an avid reader of dime novels, and a housemate of a uber-proper, grammar-correcting bar maid). But why "would of"? It doesn't even read correctly - "woulda" would have been so much better.

So I am torn with this book. The idea of it was brilliant, but the execution of it was off. And maybe it was just me: maybe other people will really love it, for it does have a few redeeming qualities. But for me it was torture. It took me almost a month to read this 350-page book. I can read more pages than that in less than a week, but this book took me forever! I never felt like reading it, and I even avoided it at times. That is not how I want to read a book. I want to love it, devour it, hug it close.

Read it if it sounds interesting to you, and let me know what you thought. Maybe I'm the weird one who just didn't get it. Maybe you will enjoy it more than I did.