I adore the times spent with my fellow members of the Paige Turner Book Club...but I have a literary appetite that simply cannot be sated with just one book a month. This blog is a place for me to talk about more of my reading adventures. Reviews, summaries, highlights, warnings, praises and quotes. Because after all, it can be a jungle...er...savannah...out there.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Well-Built City Trilogy

The Physiognomy, The Memoranda, and The Beyond by Jeffrey Ford

I picked “The Physiognomy” up off a display at the library. The cover intrigued me, and I saw that it won the World Fantasy Award in 1998. I figured it would be a good read.

At the end of the day: This series just wasn’t my cup of tea. I found it hard to follow in places. I thought large portions of it dragged. And some of the character transitions were a bit strange. Also, there were some nonsequitor plot points (particularly in the third book) that never resolved or went anywhere. That bothered me. I think all three books could have been edited a bit and combined into one story. But that’s just me.

Motivation: I wanted to read this book because it explored the idea of memory: how memories are stored, how they impact reality, how our mind works, etc. Also the main character, Cley, is a Physiognomist. (Didn’t see that one coming, did you? *wink*) Some friends and I had talked recently about the field of Physiognomy, and I was interested to see how Jeffrey Ford integrated this field into his story.

Of the three books, I think I enjoyed the second one the best. (Followed by the middle portion of the third book.) It’s in this part of the story that Ford really dives deeply into memory. Cley actually journey through the villain’s memory by way of an assisted mind meld. Very Star Trek. He’s looking for a solution to a pressing problem. And to find it he has to navigate and decipher the symbols and landscape in Drachton Below’s mind. Like Cley, I found myself getting attached to personalities and symbols within Below’s memory labyrinth…almost forgetting that they were not separate from Below himself. Then I remembered and found myself annoyed that Cley couldn’t do the same. Anytime an author can draw you in to be invested in the decisions made by his characters…it’s a good thing. (There are probably exceptions, but you know what I mean…I hope.) It was very unique.

I also liked the middle portion of the third book because it was when the main character had the surest idea of who he was and what he was doing. In the first book, he’s little more than a chess piece of Below. Then he starts breaking away, and forming his own thoughts, asking his own questions, and forming his own goals. That process takes from the middle of book 1 to the end of book 2. Cley really hits his personal stride in book 3. I enjoyed reading about him when he was full of purpose. (Course, then he gets a little fuzzy again. Or maybe I just didn’t fully understand the resolution of the series. In any case…the last part of book 3 let me down).

Physiognomy plays its most dominate role in the first book. Cley ends up mutilating one woman’s face in order to save her from her “evil” nature. It’s guilt over this act that wake him up as a character and start him on his journey. The rest of the series is really Cley’s quest to find forgiveness from that woman. As such, Physiognomy pops up now and again. Mostly to highlight that you can’t judge a person by their measurements. Much as you can’t judge a book by its cover.

The most intriguing character in the series is Misrix. A demon from the Beyond who is “adopted” by the evil Drachton Below, aides Cley on his journey, and later befriends a child from the city Wenau. There were some good moments in there about profiling, stereotypes, etc. My favorite character was a moody but trusty dog named Wood. Maybe because he made the most sense.

One reviewer observed that Ford writes about ideas instead of events. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t quite find my rhythm. It is a fascinating journey, especially in the 2nd and 3rd books. But it was one I felt I had to trudge through. Ford doesn’t fall back on stereotypes. He sticks with his own brand of crazy. I can respect that. But while parts of the series were nifty, there was something missing for me. Reading this series felt like watching an episode of Star Trek that featured Q.

In reviewing the third book, Publisher’s Weekly says, “Ford's graphic imagination is as powerful as ever, but the quest itself is vague and undefined, while the story ultimately fails to grip.” I think I agree.

Has anyone else read this series? Feel free to write and tell me what you thought!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Fellowship of the Ring

Sometimes, one just needs to come home to a book. And that’s just what this series feels like to me: home. There’s just something about the characters, the world, the story, the adventure, the humor that pull me in each time. How can you not love a book in which the author writes in the forward:

“Some who have read the book, or at any rate have reviewed it, have found it boring, absurd, or contemptible; and I have no cause to complain, since I have similar opinions of their works, or of the kinds of writing that they evidently prefer. But even from the points of view of many who have enjoyed my story there is much that fails to please. It is perhaps not possible in a long tale to please everybody at all points, or to displease everybody at the same points; for I find from the letters that I have received that the passages or chapters that are to some a blemish are all by others specially approved. The most critical reader of all, myself, now finds many defects, minor and major, but being fortunately under no obligation either to review the book or to write it again, he will pass over these in silence, except for one that has been noted by others: the book is too short.”
It’s been a while since I’ve picked up these stories. I’ve been distracted by book clubs, reading challenges, and school demands. But as I strolled through these pages over the past week, I was reminded why time spent in Middle Earth is never wasted.

It was fun to remember all the bits that are different in the books than in the movies. For example, one of Gandalf’s most quoted lines – “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us” – isn’t spoken in the depths of Moria. He makes this statement in Frodo’s living room at Bag End at the very beginning of the journey. Also, while Sam is recruited much as he is in the movie, Merry and Pippen aren’t random tag-alongs. They help Frodo prepare to leave the Shire, and then insist that they come along with him (kind of like the scene in Rivendale). They were always in it together.

Also, in the book Aragorn is never unsure about who he is or where he’s going. In the movie, the members of the fellowship gaze in awe at the statues of the Argonoth. It was nice to remember that in the book, everyone is pretty much intimidated by them...except for Aragorn.
“Frodo turned and saw Strider, and yet not Strider; for the weatherworn Ranger was no longer there. In the stern sat Aragorn son of Arathorn, proud and erect, guiding the boat with skilful strokes; his hood was cast back, and his dark hair was blowing in the wind, a light was in his eyes: a king returning from exile to his own land. ‘Fear not!’ he said. ‘Long have I desired to look upon the likenesses of Isildur and Anarion, my sires of old. Under their shadow Elessar, the Elfstone son of Arathorn of the House of Valandil Isildur’s son, heir of Elendil, has nought to dread!’”
And for some reason, I absolutely adore the moment when Galadriel gives the Evenstar to Aragorn when the Fellowship is leaving Lothlorian. To me, it bears that much more weight that Arwen’s choice wasn’t a secret, but a precious gift given not just by her, but by her family as well.

I love Tom Bombadil too. (It’s hard not to.) I understand why he’s hard to incorporate into radio dramas and movies…which makes him that much more of a treat to read in the book.

And I love how the book doesn’t wrap up nicely. It stops in the middle of the confrontation at Amon Hen. Sam and Frodo crossing the river. Boromir sent to look for Merry and Pippin who are looking for Frodo. Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli scouring the mountain for the ring-bearer too. It’s a lot of chaos, which makes me want to pick up Two Towers and keep right on reading. (Sounds like a great idea!)

My favorite quote this time through? [Frodo to Pippin] “Short cuts make delays, but inns make longer ones. At all costs we must keep you away from the Golden Perch. We want to get to Bucklebury before dark. What do you say Sam?’ ‘I will go along with you, Mr. Frodo,’ said Sam (in spite of private misigivng and a deep regret for the best beer in the Eastfarthing).”

(Probably extra hilarious just for me because I’ve been told I’m a blend of Pippin and Sam.)

Do you have books that feel like “home” to you? Or books that you enjoy reading more than once? Because not every book is a book like that. Some you can read once and move on. Others, like this one, become part of your literary landscape for a lifetime.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Haunting Lighthouses

by special guest Pam Ripling

I do. I not only love lighthouses, collect them, and visit them, I haunt them as well. I guess you could place multiple meanings on “haunting” – I could be a spirit, looking for my lost love, my drowned sea captain, my missing child. But since I am not yet dead, that’s not the likely meaning.

It could be that I lurk in the world of lighthouses, traveling here and there to “haunt” their staircases, roam their keepers’ quarters, snapping my camera and taking notes. Living people do have their favorite “haunts,” as it were. Lighthouses surely are some of mine.

But actually, my form of haunting lighthouses has to do with creating tales of the supernatural and placing them there. (Aha! So that’s where she’s going!)

It’s common knowledge among lighthouse enthusiasts that these ancient, lonely beacons are often thought to be inhabited by spirits. The very nature of their purpose brings with it danger, isolation and hardship. Tragedy exists in the history of nearly every light station, histories fraught with violent storms, pirates, and madness. What better fodder for a good ghost story?

My latest novel, POINT SURRENDER, takes place in a fictional California lighthouse that’s been abandoned for many years. Its last keeper has been dead for more than 25 years, and left behind a journal found by those who are now restoring the ancient, decaying tower. The journal tells a sad tale, and hints at why the keeper died there—but not a word about his missing family. Is the ghost that appears from time to time the keeper, or someone else?

Of course there’s romance and mystery—a hero and heroine, both with emotional baggage—and a cast of supporting characters that complicate their journey. The lighthouse itself is the best character, brooding, sad, filled with remorse. For hasn’t the lighthouse seen it all unfold?

My upcoming release, CAPE SEDUCTION, is set in an off-shore lighthouse perched on a deadly reef near the extreme northern California coast. The story takes us back to 1948, when a popular Hollywood starlet goes missing after the filming of a blockbuster movie set in the land-locked beacon. In 2008, the lighthouse begins to cause trouble for its present day owners, and the spirit of a young woman makes her presence known to many. Look for CAPE SEDUCTION this winter from Echelon Press.

It doesn’t hurt to research those U.S. lighthouses “known” to be haunted. The house at Heceta Head Lighthouse in Oregon (shown on the cover of POINT SURRENDER) is said to be haunted by a young keeper’s wife. “Rue” seems to be mourning for a lost child, perhaps seeking her unmarked gravesite on the grounds of the keeper’s house.

I’ve been asked: do they scare me? Thinking about them, writing about them, walking among them? No. There is no record of any lighthouse ghost inflicting harm upon any guest. Do I believe in them? I think I would be some kind of fraud if I didn’t; I am, after all, a writer of paranormal lighthouse fiction!

Pam Ripling, who also writes as Anne Carter, is the author of paranormal romantic mystery, POINT SURRENDER, from Echelon Press, Amazon, and for your Kindle, iPhone or other e-formats, Fictionwise. Visit Anne at BeaconStreetBooks.com.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

60 books...one year.

Ok. So I've already met and exceeded this goal. If you really want to know the extent of the damage, I've read 66 books. 21,421 pages. 76% of them for the first time. (Yes, I have a spreadsheet. Yes, there is conditional formating. and Yes, it rocks!) Some of those books were good, some of them I want to add to my very-special-only-inspiring-and-thought-provoking-stuff-goes-here shelf, and others I could have done without.

But you would have no idea...because I realized that I haven't been very good about posting my reviews and thoughts about those books. Shame on me. I'll blame it on a busy July.

Here's my promise. I'll be catching up. A post or two a week. And to reward you for your patience....I also promise something special for you next Tuesday.

Are you excited? I am!

Some Teasers:
  • The Simarillion = Yoda's diary + lots of "therefore"s.
  • The Physiogamist. Part of a trilogy that should have been one book. Maybe the only trilogy that I would recommend people read just the middle book.
  • Jesus Did it Anyway. Paradoxical Commandments = great stuff.
  • Marley and Me. Read it. Listened to it. Watched the movie....and cried during each one.
  • The Island in the Center of the Word. That Heather Johnson knows what she's talking about! (I picked this up after she reviewed it on her blog.)
  • Pedagogy of the Oppressed. School reading. Bleck. But I find myself thinking about one or two lines...so maybe not a waste.
  • Thirteenth Tale. Reminded me of Jane Eyre.
  • Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World....oh wait...I haven't started that one yet. (Bonus points if you get my very bad joke)

Stay tuned!