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review 2016-09-11 02:56
1Q84 Review
1Q84 - Jay Rubin,Philip Gabriel,Haruki Murakami

Well, shit, it's over. Took me three months to read this one, and after that last page, I want to start all over again. I got to know Aomame and Tengo in every way possible, and I will miss them like old friends.

1Q84 is the third longest book I've read, as far as page count is concerned. It is also one of the only books over a thousand pages that I've read which was not written by Stephen King. I plan on fixing that over the next year by reading Gone with the Wind and Alan Moore's newest, Jerusalem, and any other 1,000-page motherfuckers I can find. Not too interested in fantasy novels, but I might throw The Wise Man's Fear, by Patrick Rothfuss, in there too. We'll see how the mood strikes me.

What should you know about 1Q84? Well, it's a slow burn. It's definitely not a page-turner. It's literary fiction, so don't expect action and fight scenes and too much in the way of straight-line plot progression. It's magical realism, so expect to find some weird shit going down that people are overall okay with. Two moons in the sky? Why the fuck not. Exploding dogs? Okay then. Whatever you say.

Will you like it? See, that's the question I cannot answer with any certainty. If most of you in my friends list asked me if you should read this book, I'd likely say no. It's long and can be boring if you do not become invested in the characters like I did. I say that because you will learn every little detail about Aomame and Tengo, and you might not always be interested in their pasts.

I, however, loved every minute of this book. After two duds from Murakami (The Elephant Vanishes and Wind/Pinball... I guess that's technically three duds...), 1Q84 was a welcome return to the style I fell in love with after reading After Dark and Norwegian Wood. However, you should definitely read a shorter Murakami book before reading this one. I can't imagine anyone starting here. It would be like skipping the jungle gyms on the school playground and rushing straight for Mt. Everest.

This epic novel is broken up into three books. I believe that the original Japanese text was released in three completely different volumes. I never saw a clear ending point after book one, two, and three, so had I read these separately, I don't think I would have liked them as much. I did find it fascinating that I could tell the difference between the first two books and the final book. Something felt... off, is the best way I can explain it. Then I read the copyright page at the back and I find that the first two books were translated by Jay Rubin, whereas the third book was translated by Philip Gabriel. To me, there is an obvious difference between these two translators, but, if asked, I could not put a finger on what made the experience different. Odd.

Murakami nails the opening and closing of the novel. At the beginning, you can feel the shift from 1984 into what Aomame comes to call 1Q84. The last time I felt so certain that I was in a different place was while watchingDisney's Alice and Wonderland as a child. The cool part is that there isn't much difference between 1984 and 1Q84, only this feeling that 1984 is the real world, and in 1Q84, anything goes.

In summation: This review will likely grow as I digest more of this stunning novel, but for now, this is what you're getting. Air chrysalises and Little People and Sakigake and Buzzcut and Ponytail and Ushikawa and Aomame and Tengo are all part of my life now. I will never forget any part of 1Q84and I will definitely reread it on occasion. One of the best novels I've had the pleasure to experience.

Final Judgment: Magic.

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text 2015-05-31 18:44
Congratulations to the Winners of the FOG WARNING Giveaway!

Let's have a round of virtual applause for Passionate about Books, dellen38, and Bark's Book Nonsense! These three individuals all won a copy of Fog Warning, written by Edward Lorn (that's moi) and narrated by Kevin R. Tracy (that's not moi). 

 

Congratulations, ladies and gentleman, I hope you enjoy it. :)

 

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text 2015-05-29 23:42
Book Porn #9 UBS Haul!

The Fam and I dropped by our local used bookstore today, and I grabbed the following. I would have taken pictures of the wife and kids' hauls but they're busy reading them. :) 

 

I'm really looking forward to reading the three on the bottom. 

 

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review 2014-06-18 01:21
Kindred. We are all kin.
Kindred - Octavia E. Butler

Octavia Butler amazes me. She writes science fiction that is full of complicated ideas about race and sexuality that are completely readable. I’ll innocently start reading, thinking only to get a solid start on the book, and suddenly discover I’m halfway through the story. That isn’t to imply she’s a light-weight, however; her works are emotionally and ethically dense, the subject of numerous high school and college essays. A recent read of Dawn (review) inspired a number of recommendations for Butler and a buddy read of her book Kindred

 

The quick summary: Dana is a young woman in Los Angeles moving into a new apartment with her husband when she is suddenly pulled into the past. She saves Rufus, a young red-headed white boy, from drowning, finds herself on the wrong end of a shotgun, and is suddenly returned to home, only to discover mere seconds have passed for her husband. Kevin, also a writer, wants to challenge her story–except that he saw her vanish and reappear three yards away from where she was.  As they struggle to understand the where and why, it isn’t long before she is pulled away again–this time to save Rufus from burning his house down. She remains longer this time, discovering she is now in Maryland in the year is 1815, at the plantation home of Rufus’ father, Tom Wylein, and slavery is still a very active practice. The story continues through several more time changes as Dana attempts to understand the reasons for being pulled back in time, her connection to Rufus and her strategies for staying alive as a black woman in 1815.

 

It sounds rather deceptively simple, but has such emotional and ethical complexity that it is a powerful read. The genesis of the story occurred when Butler was attending Pasadena City College during a time when the Black Power Movement was very popular. She heard a young black man blaming older black people for “holding us back for so long” because of their servility/acquiescence to dominant white culture.  She realized that he lacked historical context for his peoples’ lives and didn’t understand their survival strategies. Kindred was a way to revisit that history and see how a ‘modern’ person could cope with their knowledge and experiences. While she originally envisioned Dana as a male character, she realized that there was no way a man would not be perceived as threatening in that situation, and she couldn’t write realistically without him getting killed, “that sexism, in a sense, worked in her favor” (Callaloo, “An Interview with Octavia E. Butler,” C.Rowell, Winter 1997).

 

While it is technically science fiction, Kindred is more like a mix of historical fiction and modern fiction, similar to Connie Willis’ Time Traveler (To Say Nothing of the Dog review) series. Butler adeptly avoids a common genre trap, and doesn’t bother explaining the mechanism for time travel. Another successfully avoided trope was disbelief of the protagonist, a technique I appreciated. Many authors allow character to get lost in the  self-doubt of an “am I crazy?” reaction, but this focuses on the essence of the experience and identity issues caused by the struggle to survive in 1815. Dealing with a slave plantation means the narrative is strongly focused on race. Interestingly, however, Butler allows the reader to develop a ‘racial-neutral’ character feel for Dana for the first few chapters; it is only when Rufus refers to Dana as a ‘nigger’ that the reader realizes Dana is black. Later, Dana relates how she and Kevin met, leading the reader to the realization that Kevin is white, and the challenges they face as an interracial couple are enormous from one century to the next.

 

Yet, through all of this, Butler avoids the didactic tone that might alienate a reader. She she explores differences in thinking by recounting Dana and Kevin sharing perceptions, and by developing supporting characters that also have their own point of view on adapting. Unable to demonize Rufus, Dana is pulled both by human empathy and by a more unknown connection and actually can’t write him off if she is to survive–in both 1815 and 1976. The relationships between all the characters were quite complicated, and I appreciated how much it added to the story. I generally shy away from historical fiction and was still absorbed. Butler managed to surprise me a couple of times with the plotting, and her characterization is absolutely human; I suggest reading her on that basis alone. Highly recommended.

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review 2014-06-11 06:24
Lovely
The Girls at the Kingfisher Club: A Novel - Genevieve Valentine

Retelling something as familiar as a fairy tale can be a risky proposition. In some cases, magic can come out of the details as an author elaborates on a classic. For instance, I happen to love Robin McKinley’s book Beauty, a take on the old tale “Beauty and the Beast.” On the other hand, when she re-told the story again twenty years later in Rose Daughter, I didn’t care for it at all. So I brought few expectations to my reading of The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, a retelling of the fairy tale “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” To my delight, I found a creative, emotionally complex story that takes the  original in an empowering direction.

 

In most versions of the fairytale “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” (a German version is titled “The Worn-Out Shoes“), the story focuses on a challenge to discover why a king’s twelve daughters wake up in the morning with holes in their shoes (one version here). The king is baffled and frustrated, and offers a reward to anyone who can solve the mystery–but if not, then off with his head. Many have been died after falling asleep during their watch. Before accepting the challenge, a soldier meets an old woman who gives him a magic cloak and warns him not to drink anything from the princesses. After the soldier pretends to fall asleep, the princesses dress, go through a secret passage to an underground lake, row across and through a forest of metallic trees, and spend the night dancing with princes at a ball. As they return, the invisible soldier breaks off a piece of a tree, first silver, then gold. On the last night, he steals a goblet from the ball as proof. When the king demands an accounting, the soldier provides the proof and is rewarded by marrying one of the princesses.

 

Clearly, the origin story is a complex bit of fairy tale, with princesses that are complicit in the deception, a father who is outside it but cruel with his consequences, and a ordinary man using magical gifts to catch the princesses in their dishonesty. Girls versus their father, a common man versus princes, and duplicity all around.

 

Valentine takes these elements and heads into a very interesting direction. Twelve girls are growing up in a wealthy but isolated household in early Prohibition New York. Rarely permitted outside, or even invited to the downstairs levels of the house to visit their mother, they are ruled by their father in an extremely circumscribed life. Jo, the oldest, has met her mother only a handful of times, and the youngest haven’t met her mother at all. It falls to Jo as the oldest to negotiate on behalf of the sisters with her father. Told in third person limited, largely from Jo’s point of view, Jo ponders her nickname “The General,” arising from the unenviable position as enforcer/mitagator of her father, but yet attempting to protect them against his rage. Unfortunately, her efforts are often underappreciated.

 

A ripple of relief ran through the room. It was too loud, too happy; it was a gloss over an unspoken thrum of mutiny so sharp that Jo felt like someone had snapped a rubber band against her wrist.

 

Early on, Jo and the second oldest, Lou, would sneak out to the movies where the girls would learn new dances. Natural talents, dancing became a way to escape their limited lives. As each successive sister was delivered upstairs, she was eventually taught to dance by her sisters. In an act of desperation, Jo suggests sneaking out to go dancing–she knows if she doesn’t let the girls blow off steam in some fashion, they might simply run away and be lost forever.  The night out dancing is a success, giving the girls hope, a reason to exist and a source of joy and discussion to fill their days. They danced through their nights, unattainable to the men at the clubs:

 

The girls were wild for dancing, and nothing else. No hearts beat underneath those thin, bright dresses. They laughed like glass.

 

Trouble begins on two fronts when their father decides to actively intrude in their lives. As he schemes to marry the girls off, he gets wind of stories about a bevy of girls dancing at local speakeasies. An ad in the newspaper strikes fear in Jo as soon as she learns of his plans.

 

The girls could hope that these husbands, wherever her father planned to find them, would be kinder and more liberal men than he was. But the sort of man who wanted a girl who’d never been out in the world was the sort whose wife would stay at home in bed and try to produce heirs until she died from it.

 

The last section follows the girls as they discover life outside their father’s house. I rather enjoyed that Valentine took her story a step beyond the simple “they escaped and they all lived happily ever after,” and looked at the challenges of making a life, and how different the idea of success could be for each sister.

 

She was still trying to discover how people related to each other, and how you met the world when you weren’t trying to hide something from someone. It was a lesson slow in coming.

 

As in all fairy tales, characters exist largely as archetypes. With twelve sisters, it’s hard to achieve a great deal of individuality with each, but Valentine succeeds with a few, particularly Jo, Lou (the second oldest), and Doris (the sensible one). I thought Jo’s emotional dilemma was well done. The father is perfect; elegant, controlling, and all implied threat.

 

The setting of New York during Prohibition was nicely done. I’ve read a number of books that were quite enamored of the 1920s, but focused on the setting at the expense of character. Valentine achieves a nice balance between the magic of the clubs and plotting. My chief complaint was a writing style that felt awkward. Additional thoughts and commentary were often given in parenthesis, and the purpose/voice weren’t always clear. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the way Valentine’s tone and word choice was able to capture the emotional magic of a fairy tale but incorporate it into a real-world setting.

 

Overall, I’d call it a delightful improvement on the original tale. I’d highly recommend it to fans of fairy-tales, sister bonds, coming of age stories and gentle romance.

 

Thanks to NetGalley and Atria books for providing me an advance ereader copy.  Quotes are taken from a galley copy and are subject to change in the published edition. Still, I think it gives a flavor of the magical writing.

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