Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

Good OmensHee. Teehee. Hehehehehe.

This book, it is delightful. I was hooked from the prologue, which begins with “It was a nice day,” ends with, “It was going to be a dark and stormy night,” and has many humorous sentences in between. By a few pages later, I was texting the friend who had recommended it to me, saying, “I am on page 12 of Good Omens and I may already be in love with it.”

And love it I do. It reminded me very much of the only other Terry Pratchett I’ve read (which was also amazing), but it still felt fairly Gaiman-y to me even though I can’t for the life of me think of a purely funny thing that I’ve read of Gaiman’s. Maybe it’s the pacing of the story that does it? I don’t know. It’s not important.

What’s important is that this book is a, uh, let’s say a divine comedy of errors? Because the two main protagonist-types are Crowley and Aziraphale, the former the apocryphal serpent of Eden and the latter Eden’s angel guardian. One fights for the evil side, one for the good, but both of them spend a lot of time hanging out on Earth, so when the evil side gives humans eleven years to enjoy their universe Aziraphale and Crowley find themselves working together to see if they can’t maybe postpone that end of the world thing a little while.

Their plan is to keep an eye on the Antichrist and get him to make appropriate world-saving decisions, but of course it turns out that they’re keeping an eye on the wrong kid and with just a few days left in the world they have to go find the right one. Others are looking for the child, too, including the Four “Apocalyptic Horsepersons” and an occultist following the predictions left by her always-correct-even-if-you-don’t-know-it-until-later ancestor.

Although there is this plotline — Save the Antichrist, Save the World — most of the story dances around it, focusing instead on how the different characters interact with each other, what the meanings of “good” and “evil” really are, and how our human world came to be so immensely screwed up. And as I may have mentioned, it’s really all about the writing, and passages like the following:

“God does not play dice with the universe; He plays an ineffable game of His own devising, which might be compared, from the perspective of any of the other players, to being involved in an obscure and complex version of poker in a pitch-dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a Dealer who won’t tell you the rules, and who smiles all the time.”

The ending goes on a bit long, and it takes rather a lot of contrivance to get there (but how else would you?), but I was still quite satisfied and mostly I plan to remember those delightful parts anyway.

Although I read about half of it in print, I did end up listening to the whole thing on a quick road trip, and I can say that the audiobook narrator is a perfect fit for the book. Martin Jarvis has a lot of fun making up voices for the large number of characters and imbues them with the incredulity required to live in this very strange universe. If you need a good listen, check this out.

Recommendation: For lovers of Gaiman, Pratchett, Fforde, and other fine masters of British humor, or really just anyone who needs a laugh.

Rating: 9/10

To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis

To say nothing of the dog! This book kind of broke my brain, on account of it’s about time travel and there is nothing simple about time travel and to make it worse Connie Willis invents a time travel science and when you actually try to explain time travel you are going to make brains explode.

But what I love about this book, and part of why I’m going to go find some more Connie Willis books and read them ASAP, is that the time travel totally breaks the brains of the people doing the time travelling. In multiple ways! First, they don’t really understand it any better than I do, and second… oh, second.

“It’s no wonder they call you man’s best friend. Faithful and loyal and true, you share in our sorrows and rejoice with us in our triumphs, the truest friend we ever have known, a better friend than we deserve. You have thrown in your lot with us, through thick and thin, on battlefield and hearthrug, refusing to leave your master even when death and destruction lie all around. Ah, noble dog, you are the furry mirror in which we see our better selves reflected, man as he could be, unstained by war or ambition, unspoilt by—”

And then the protagonist gets time travelled, but the point of it is that this whole soliloquy is part of the “maudlin sentimentality” that comes with time-lag, which encompasses many amusing (to the reader) symptoms and is a result of too much time travel. Willis writes these passages with obvious delight, and I can’t help but love them.

The plot of the book is… simple… Ned Henry, our protagonist, is charged with finding this weird statue thing called the bishop’s bird stump, which is apparently very ugly but which is required by a beast of a woman, Lady Schrapnell, to complete the rebuilding in 20… something… sometime in the mid-21st century… of a cathedral that burned down in 1940. Anyway, the vagaries of time travel mean that Henry and others can’t get anywhere near the cathedral at the right time, and so they can’t find this thing, but Lady Schrapnell is very persuasive and keeps sending Henry back in time until he gets totally time-lagged. The only cure is rest, which he can’t get in the present time with Lady Schrapnell all a-crazy, and so he gets sent to the late 1800s instead to help return a cat that got mistakenly time-travelled when it should perhaps have been drowned. Then things start to get crazy.

I enjoyed the heck out of this book, which also features 1930s mystery novels, jumble sales, séances, crazy university professors, and many allusions to the book Three Men in a Boat which I must go read immediately, because it’s got to be pretty awesome if it inspired this.

Recommendation: For those who enjoy being totally confused and bewildered.

Rating: 9/10
(TBR Challenge)

The Secret History, by Donna Tartt

I’ve had this book finished for a while, but I’ve been having trouble figuring out what to say about it. My friend Monica recommended it to me several times over the last year because of my love for The Likeness, which Tana French has said is partly based on The Secret History. I can definitely see the basis there, but I think I was expecting too much The Likeness and just couldn’t get behind Tartt’s story.

Tartt starts with the end, with our hero Richard Papen remembering the time he helped to kill one of his college friends, whose name is — well, was — Bunny. Lovely, yes? Papen then zooms himself back in time to tell us all about how he ended up at a small rich-kid college in Vermont, where he stumbled into a very strange learning situation, with basically one professor and five classmates studying ancient Greek. He recalls breaking slowly into the tight-knit group of five, learning all of their idiosyncrasies, and then of course helping in the murder of one of them.

The Secret History necessarily focuses hugely on the interpersonal dramas between Richard and the group and all permutations of members in the group, which is a bit slow, but it makes up the pace a bit when Bunny’s death is being investigated and the suspense kicks up. But then, and this is what really killed the book for me, that intensity dies down and we’re back to the interpersonal shenanigans. These shenanigans are certainly interesting, and I was curious to know what would happen, but after a while I just felt like I didn’t really care anymore if it meant I had to trudge through so many more pages.

I’m still not sure if I liked this book, though I can certainly say I’m glad it exists if it sparked Tana French’s writing! I think perhaps this will be another of those books that grows on me with time.

Recommendation: For the interpersonal melodrama crowd, and also anyone who gets a kick out of boarding-school-style novels.

Rating: 7/10
(A to Z Challenge, Chunkster Challenge)

One for the Money, by Janet Evanovich

The other day at the library, I asked a woman if I could help her find anything. She was standing in front of the “new mysteries” section, and she said that she’d read all of these already and asked if I could help her find a good action or adventure mystery. I was like… um…

Because I haven’t read an adventure-y mystery in a really long time! Most of my fare is either classics or literary-style mysteries, neither of which would probably have appeased this woman. And in fact, I realized that of all the mystery authors who get multiple shelves with multiple copies of each book? I’ve read exactly zero. I decided I ought to rectify this, so I grabbed a copy of One for the Money and went to town.

Well. I suddenly remember why I like the classics and the literaries. Stephanie Plum is not a detective; she’s an unemployed lingerie-buyer who conveniently has a bail bondsman cousin who, with a little blackmailing, is willing to let her “shag” (you would not believe how happy I was to discover the 1994 definition of that word!) a bail jumper for a cool ten grand. And this jumper is none other than some guy who diddled her in kindergarten and then again in high school. And he’s a cop. Who killed someone. And Plum is totes going to get him. Somehow.

I will grant that it was interesting watching Plum be a complete idiot (V.I. Warshawski she is NOT) about… everything related to nabbing a bail jumper, and also to watch the strange cat and mouse game that she and the guy were playing. But the whole story just required this drastic suspension of disbelief that I just could not manage. Many things were incredibly convenient, many people were conveniently very stupid and/or bad at their jobs, and Plum seemed pretty much devoid of common sense and yet still managed to get her man.

It makes the brain hurt.

Please, suggest to me another popular mystery author, and perhaps a title of his/hers that won’t make me want to cry over the inanity?

Rating: 5/10
(A to Z Challenge, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
[your link here]

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

High Fidelity, by Nick Hornby

Nick Hornby is one of those authors whose work I see everywhere but never get around to reading. But rather than letting him languish in a TBR pile somewhere, as I end up doing to most such authors, I decided to actually possibly read one of his books. I recruited my Mary friend to tell me all about his books and which one(s) I should read (verdict: all of them) and ended up starting at the beginning with this, his first novel.

And I didn’t really know what to expect… I knew only that Hornby had sort of a thing for music, and that Mary really liked him. But when I opened the book to find a list staring at me? I love lists. Lists and I are very good friends. Rob and I could probably not be friends because of our differing tastes in music, but if we could be, I would like to be friends with Rob. And his lists.

Of course, there’s more to the story — that first list is about Rob’s top five most memorable split-ups, and he’s writing it as part of a letter of sorts to the woman who’s just broken up with him after several(?) years of dating. And he’s generally mopey about the split, and trying to figure out how to move on, and the reader soon finds out that Rob’s not exactly a completely innocent party in this whole thing, and also he’s stuck in a career rut after the fallout from one of those top five relationships, and it’s sort of a mid-life coming of age novel.

I liked it for the most part; the ending gets a little sappy and less than realistic but mostly manages to save itself from becoming, what, syrup? And I definitely cringed a bit when [spoiler alert, if you can have one 15 years after the fact?] Rob and Laura decide to stay together out of what seems to be sheer laziness, but it’s definitely an in-character decision so I suppose I must respect it, even if I don’t like it.

Recommendation: I would recommend this to pretty much anyone; I don’t think it really occupies any sort of reading niche. I imagine you might enjoy it or understand it better if you knew anything about the music and movies and whatnot that Rob likes, but it’s clearly not required.

Rating: 8/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
books i done read

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging, by Louise Rennison

This is a book that I remember my Laura reading, oh, ages ago, and which I wasn’t interested in at the time for whatever reason. But then more recently I kept seeing the book in strange places, popping up seemingly everywhere, and I was like, hmm. Maybe I’ll read that sometime. And then I was at the Jacksonville Public Library giant booksale of giantness and there was the book, waiting for me, priced at an alluring 50 cents, and I knew it was fate.

This was my first book for the read-a-thon, and I absolutely loved it. Georgia Nicolson is not someone I would be friends with, because I would be sick of her in a day, but I can definitely spend a couple of hours reading her wonderfully ridiculous diary. Which often has entries just minutes apart.

And it’s even pretty much a love story, what with it being centered almost entirely around Georgia’s attempts to woo a “Sex God” at the grand old age of fourteen, even though she has to take some kissing lessons first. No, really. And that’s what makes this love story business not terrible — it’s so over the top with the kissing lessons and the coincidences and the wacky adventures that mostly I just care to know how Georgia’s going to react to what happens, not necessarily the what that happens.

Also, it’s British, to the point of having a glossary in the back, and now I am going to try to include the phrase “nuddy pants” in my everyday conversation. Though I am going to have to have some funny conversations for that to come up.

Recommendation: Perfect for that time when you just need some brain candy in the form of rapid-fire amusing phrases. Also probably more amusing to people looking back on the “wonderful” age of fourteen, as we know how much everything that happened then doesn’t really matter now!

Rating: 9/10

See also:
Book Nut

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

The Chalk Circle Man, by Fred Vargas

I have… absolutely no idea where I heard about this book, but I heard about it somewhere and was like, “zomg I must read this!” So I put it on hold at the library, and many moons later it finally came in, and I read it. I know, you’re like, “No way.” Way.

Right. Back on topic. No idea why I read this book, and no real expectations going in, which was probably a good thing, as it is French and therefore super-weird. Just a couple pages in, there is the greatest dialogue of the whole book, which I cannot transcribe for you because I had to return the book to the library pretty much ten seconds after I finished reading it, but which involves Shakespeare-level puns on blindness. The dialogue goes downhill from there, but it is still amusing.

It is a mystery, and the mystery is that there is some guy drawing chalk circles around Paris. Terrifying, yes? He’s been drawing them around random bits of garbage, but a detective called Adamsberg who is sort of like Sherlock Holmes but French and a little daft thinks that soon enough there will be a dead body in one of them, so he has his officers go out and photograph garbage for a while. Then, of course, there is a dead body, and the hunt is on!

There are a lot of potential killers, and I thought Vargas did a really good job of leading me around — I thought I knew whodunnit, then I was like, crap, no I don’t, and then I was like NO WAY that is ridiculous and also awesome. There is really no character development to speak of, but I still enjoyed all of the characters that she created in their one-dimensional wonder. I guess this is part of a series of Adamsberg mysteries, so I might have to check the rest of them out someday.

Rating: 7/10
(Orbis Terrarum Challenge: France, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
Back to Books

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

I Hadn’t Meant to Tell You This, by Jacqueline Woodson

Marie is a black girl living in southeast Ohio in a type of town people don’t often talk about – one where the rich people (relatively speaking) are black and the poor people are white. A new white girl moves to town and Marie thinks she’ll be one of the many who show up at school for a while and then leave before getting to know anyone, but Lena is different. The two unlikely friends forge a bond that lasts as long as it can, until Lena’s secret drives them apart.

Woodson makes an interesting comparison between Lena, whose too-loving father drives her away, and Marie’s mother, who walked out on Marie and her father to get some “air.” These two characters affect Marie’s life in drastically different ways, but both make her appreciate what she has left.

This is a very short book, and the pacing of the story suffers for it – I felt like too many things happened too quickly and I had a hard time figuring out how much time had passed between scenes. There is also little in the way of plot, which may deter readers who like a more action-packed story. However, Woodson’s treatment of sexual abuse and parental neglect in general is very realistic and simple, which I appreciated.

Rating: 6/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
Maw Books Blog
My Friend Amy

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

The Giver, by Lois Lowry

I first read this book in eighth grade, and I recall absolutely adoring it. My favorite part was when we discussed it in class, and there were three different interpretations of the ending! I’m pretty sure this was the first book I’d ever read, or at least the first one I had discussed, where there were so many ways to think about it.

The weird thing about this book, which I have read many times since that first, is that every time I re-read it I like it less as a story, but I love it more as a book and as a commentary on society. I attended a library book club meeting about this book, and for all of those adults that seemed to be the consensus: a very interesting book, but not really well-liked. I think it helps to be 13 when you read it first, because all of the plot devices that become overplayed in another ten years of reading are brand new.

If you haven’t read it (if, say, you were in eighth grade before the mid-90s!), this is a pretty simplistic book about a dystopian future world. In this world, the focus is sameness: all babies born in the same year are considered exactly the same age and each age level wears the same clothing and hair styles and follows the same rules. The exceptions to sameness are in the form of aptitudes and interests, with children performing volunteer work at different jobs and eventually being assigned to a job that seems to fit them, whether that’s Nurturer (taking care of babies), Recreation Director, Laborer, or Birthmother (making babies, but probably not the fun way). However, at this year’s job-assigning ceremony, Jonas gets picked for a job that is very different from those: Receiver of Memories. As we read about Jonas’s job, the delightful, organized world he lives in starts to fall apart, as dystopias are wont to do.

I really like that this story is low-key — there’s a brief period of hurriedness, but the plot generally moves along slowly. It’s much more like The Long Tomorrow than, say, The Hunger Games. Good times.

Rating: 8/10 (inflated for sentimental value, probably)
(Flashback Challenge)

See also:
[your link here]

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

Déjà Dead, by Kathy Reichs

So once upon a time, like maybe a couple of months ago, I became hooked on the television show Bones. I’ve gotten through three seasons of it and am working on the fourth, and it’s all Mary’s fault. That punk. But anyway, Bones is based on this series of books by Kathy Reichs, of which Déjà Dead is the first, so I figured hey, why not read the books and see if they’re as entertaining as the show?

And… they… are? Sort of? It’s hard to say, because basically when they say that the show is “based on” these books, they mean “well, we liked the name Temperance Brennan, and we liked the idea of a forensic anthropologist what solves crimes and stuff.” Reichs’s Brennan is older, has a kid, has a divorce behind her, works in her own private office in a not-very-posh building in Montréal, isn’t big on cultural anthropology but does have a basic knowledge of and respect for psychology… I could go on, but I won’t, because that’s really not what this review is about. But, you know, I could have used a warning going in, so now you have one. 🙂

So anyway, the book. It’s your standard mystery/crime-procedural fare, beginning with the finding of a body. Brennan comes in on this investigations because she’s the bone expert, but she quickly sees a connection between this body and another one she’s recently seen, even if an antagonistic detective refuses to even consider the possibility. Because of the latter part, Brennan goes out and does some stupid stuff, as all wannabe detectives do, and soon finds herself in deeper trouble than she maybe thought she’d be getting into. It gets very suspenseful, and although I took more than a few days to get halfway through the book, the last half of the book was devoured while I should have been writing a paper. These things happen.

I liked the Montréal setting, and Reichs’s little French lessons, and I was definitely interested in all of the scientific happenings even if they got a little technical. And speaking of technical, I don’t really need to know every single detail of every single thing Tempe does or sees or experiences in other ways, so I hope that tapers off after a few novels. All in all I’d say that this book, at least, is the same sort of brain candy as the television show but with a darker tone — don’t go reading this into the middle of the night or you might spook yourself!

Rating: 7/10
(A to Z Challenge, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
[your link here]

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.