Sunday, April 20, 2008

Book 20: The Monsters of Templeton

TITLE: The Monsters of Templeton
AUTHOR: Lauren Groff
STARTED: April 8, 2008
FINISHED: April 14, 2008
PAGES: 364
GENRE: Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: The day I returned to Templeton in disgrace, the fifty-foot corpse of a monster surfaced in Lake Glimmerglass.

SUMMARY: [From] One dark summer dawn, at the exact moment that an enormous monster dies in Lake Glimmerglass, twenty-eight-year-old Willie (nee Wilhemina) Upton returns to her hometown of Templeton, NY in disgrace. She expects to be able to hide in the place that has been home to her family for generations, but Willie then learns that the story her mom, Vi, had always told her about her father has all been a lie. He wasn't the one-night stand Vi had led her to imagine, but someone else entirely. Someone from this very town.

As Willie digs for the truth about her lineage, voices from the town's past — both sinister and disturbing — rise up around her to tell their sides of the story. In the end, dark secrets come to light, past and present blur, old mysteries are finally put to rest, and the surprising truth about more than one monster is revealed.

THOUGHTS: It is impossible for me to be objective about this book. I LOVED it, but that probably has something to do with the fact that I grew up in Templeton... or at least Cooperstown, Groff's inspiration for Templeton. Therefore, not only did I recognize the locations and quarks of the book's settings, but I also recognized several of the characters (my old neighbor!). So, I was going to love this book no matter what. Groff stated in numerous interviews that her goal in writing this book was to write a love letter to Cooperstown. She succeeded marvelously. I don't often miss my hometown, but this book made me yearn to go back for a visit.

The core of this book is its setting. Cooperstown is not just a location, it is a character. It has flaws and emotions, like any other protagonist. Groff has somehow managed to strip the small town aura from Cooperstown while recreating it at the same time. The Monsters of Templeton is pure essence. It reads in emotions and details. Groff's writing is utterly addictive. The prose has an old-style feeling to it. There is a fresh crispness and lyrical texture to the words Groff choses. The way she structures the book, in vignettes, highlights her experience with the short story genre. Each chapter takes on a different tone but, somehow, the whole story flows together with one voice.

The story Groff crafts in Monsters seems almost secondary to her writing and setting. The characters are there, and the story is more than entertaining, but these facets pale in comparison to the structure and location of her book. I've never experience a book like this, where I loved the writing more than I liked the plot and the main characters. Despite this, Groff is a talented writer. Her characters have multiple layers of emotion and clearly have history behind them. I would not be opposed to a reading a book by Groff that tells the whole story of one of her secondary characters.

Oddly enough, the character I liked the least was Willie... the protagonist. She's selfish and whiny. Groff writes her in such a way, however, that all the other characters call Willie on her flaws. In fact, Monsters would not work as a narrative if Willie was not written in this way.

The main negative comment I have on Groff's work is that she is so intensely into her characters that she tries to cram in too much material. Groff clearly loves the world she has (re)created. So much so that it is apparent that she would loathe leaving anything out. Despite this, I early anticipate Groff's next work.

RATING: 9/10 [Excellent.]

Friday, April 18, 2008

Book 16-19: Runaways

TITLE: Runaways: Pride & Joy, Runaways: Teenage Wasteland, Runaways: Missing: The Good Die Young, and Runaways: True Believers
AUTHOR: Brian K. Vaughan
STARTED: April 6, 2008
FINISHED: April 6, 2008
PAGES: 144, 144, 144, and 144 [Total: 576]
GENRE: Graphic Novel

FIRST SENTENCE: For Pride & Joy: Daredevil, what's the sit-rep?
For Teenage Wasteland: Where is my child?!
For Missing: The Good Die Young: Lame!
For True Believers: Okay, if you could be any super hero... who'd you be?

SUMMARY: [From] Meet Alex, Karolina, Gert, Chase, Molly and Nico - six young friends whose lives are about to take an unexpected dramatic turn. Discovering their parents are all secretly super-villains, together the teens run away from home and vow to turn the tables on their evil legacy!

THOUGHTS: I wish my parents were evil super villains. Okay... I don't, but it sure is an awesome premise for a graphic novel series. I think Brian K. Vaughan is becoming my graphic novel god. I can't wait to see where this series goes and what philosophical and societal questions Vaughan gets me to think about.

RATING: 6/10 [Good]

As long as it's not happening in my stacks

Entertainment Weekly creates a lot of Top Whatever Number lists. Some are good, some are bad, but they're all entertaining. This week, one of their lists was "18 Sexy Trips to the Library Stacks."


Monday, April 07, 2008

Book 15: I Capture the Castle

TITLE: I Capture the Castle
AUTHOR: Dodie Smith
STARTED: March 26, 2008
FINISHED: April 3, 2008
PAGES: 343
GENRE: Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.

SUMMARY: [From] I Capture the Castle tells the story of seventeen-year-old Cassandra and her family, who live in not-so-genteel poverty in a ramshackle old English castle. Here she strives, over six turbulent months, to hone her writing skills. She fills three notebooks with sharply funny yet poignant entries. Her journals candidly chronicle the great changes that take place within the castle's walls, and her own first descent into love. By the time she pens her final entry, she has "captured the castle"--and the heart of the reader--in one of literature's most enchanting entertainments.

THOUGHTS: This is one of those books where I can't help but think I missed the bigger point. The last three pages completely threw me for a loop and had me questioning my entire understanding of the narrative. In some ways, those last few pages made it seem that this book was too smart for me. Most of the novel I thought I was getting it... it was just those last few pages that made me question if I missed the greater metaphor.

Smith's story, for me, was nothing to write home about. The book seems to be Cassandra's coming of age told against the background of her sister's own maturation... or lack thereof. Cassandra comes across as neither flighty nor overly self-important. She seems real; like one of the girls I used to hang out with in high school. Rose, Cassandra's sister, is that girl you love to hate. She's beautiful and the world just seems to work out for her. The men in Cassandra's life (her father, Stephen, the Cottons) flit in and out of the story - much like the men in many a woman's life. These character interactions create a rather realistic story given the circumstances. I don't know any "landed poor" but I could imagine this family existing. And, while the ending left me ultimately unfulfilled (but I thought Cassandra would end up with...), the book was sustaining enough to keep me reading until the very end.

The diary structure of the book was a nice way to tell Cassandra's story. Like all journeys, Cassandra comes across as more analytical on paper than she would in real life. In some ways, the text seemed to be flowing from Cassandra's pen as I read. The words felt free and without outside agenda. The narrative, while certainly keeping a structured tone, still had the "roaming" quality of a personal diary.

The philosophical side of this book, for me, did not seem to rear its head until the last chapter. Since I did not sense this being Smith's intention throughout the rest of the story it felt tacked on. Then again, in retrospect, if I'm understanding correctly the metaphor Smith is creating, philosophy would not arise until the end.

Now if only I could understand how Cassandra captured the castle. My mind is stuck in chess mode.

My book club will be discussing this work tomorrow. I'm hopefully that the "Did I miss something?' feeling will lessen after our meeting. Also, I get bread pudding for the first time.

RATING: 5/10 [Meh.]

Book 14: April in Paris

TITLE: April in Paris
AUTHOR: Michael Wallner
STARTED: March 22, 2008
FINISHED: March 25, 2008
PAGES: 248
GENRE: Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: I learned about the transfer before noon.

SUMMARY: [From] n 1943, Michel Roth is a young soldier working in the German army’s back offices in occupied Paris. But his fluency in French gets Roth a new task when the Gestapo find themselves in need of a translator for the confessions of interrogated French resisters.

After work Roth chooses another path – he slips out of his hotel carrying a bag of civilian clothes and steals into an alley where he changes personas, becoming Monsieur Antoine, a young Frenchman. He strolls the streets of Paris, where one day he meets Chantal, daughter of an antiquarian bookseller. They fall in love, and when Chantal warns him away from the notorious cafĂ© Turachevsky, favoured nightspot for German officers and the French women who entertain them, Michel believes it is out of jealousy. Too late he discovers that she is a member of the Resistance, and his naivetĂ© leaves Michel on the other side of the SS interrogation machine.

What follows is a tale of desperate cat and mouse through Paris, and into the devastated French countryside at the end of the war, when neighbours are quick to betray neighbours, and even to take revenge into their own hands.

THOUGHTS: This book was clearly written by a screenplay writer. The images are incredibly vivid and easy to imagine. Character development, on the otherhand, seems to drop by the wayside. This book paints a beautiful picture of WWII era Paris. The streets come alive with the sights and sounds of the era. I had no trouble imagining the environment or the actions of the characters. The plot left me wanting. It felt too simplistic for what the dust jacket lays out. I was expecting my suspense and more intrigue. I got stock characters and one-dimensional drama. Not a bad book, but definitely far from a great one. Also, for a book that places so much stock in the connection between the two leads, the romance was incredibly lacking.

RATING: 5/10 [Meh.]

Thursday, April 03, 2008

We've all seen it

If you work at a library. Heck, if you've been to a library... or anywhere for that matter... I think you'll appreciate the post I just put up on my Wrath of the Whatever blog.

And people wonder why I keep a bottle of hand sanitizer in my office.

Edible Writing

If anyone watches Ace of Cakes, you know how impressive the creations of Charm City are. Even I, however, was absolutely stunned by this particular work.

I claim a slice of the enchanted ceiling!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Book 13: The Spymaster's Lady

TITLE: The Spymaster's Lady
AUTHOR: Joanna Bourne
STARTED: March 18, 2008
FINISHED: March 22, 2008
PAGES: 373
GENRE: Romance

FIRST SENTENCE: She was willing to die, of course, but she had not planned to do it so soon, or in such a prolonged and uncomfortable fashion, or at the hands of her own countrymen.

SUMMARY: [From] She's never met a man she couldn't deceive...until now.

She's braved battlefields. She's stolen dispatches from under the noses of heads of state. She's played the worldly courtesan, the naive virgin, the refined British lady, even a Gypsy boy. But Annique Villiers, the elusive spy known as the Fox Cub, has finally met the one man she can't outwit.

THOUGHTS: I believed everything in this book but... wait for it... the love story. You would think that is a crucial part of enjoying a romance novel. Yet, despite my scoffs at the love narrative, I still enjoyed this book.

Bourne takes risks with her characters and writing style that made this book an interesting read. I would tell you what those plot risks are, but that would ruin the book for those who have not picked up this book. Writing wise, Bourne writes the dialog as it would occur in life. There are variants in cadence, vocabulary, and tone depending on the characters' background and language. It was so nice to finally read a book where the environment sounded natural. I completely believed the setting and the non-romantic motivations of the book.

Too bad the romance did not live up to the rest of the book. I just had a hard time believing that Annique who had gone through so much hardship could act like a simpering teenager in love. Sure, you could argue that love turns us all into flirty-eyed fools, but that just didn't cut for me. She starts out fighting and then just rolled over. And, on the part of our hero, I think he was more in lust/infatuated than in love.

Still, this book was a rather splendid read and I look forward to what Bourne creates for her sophomore novel.

RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]