Nov. 6th, 2014 08:10 pm
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I found a Web site from which to get a copy of a favorite book, In the Time of the Bells by Maria Gripe, in the original Swedish!
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Greer Gilman, master of purple involuted mock-Jacobean epics, muses about one of my favorite themes. The girls who have adventures in labyrinths fare differently compared to the boys. [Also she has a bone to pick with Tehanu's crabbed domesticity in Ursula Le Guin's novel of the same name. So do I, Gilman. So do I.]

I like her observation that the girls [Ariadne, Alice, Eilonwy from -- yack! -- the endlessly irritating Book of Three, Arha/Tehanu, Sarah] find their ways out; they know where they're going. Meanwhile, the boys [Theseus, the White Knight {?}, Taran, Sparrowhawk/Ged, Jareth] don't; they get lost and bonk around aimlessly. They're "clueless," Gilman says, which is to say without a clue...or without a clew, Ariadne's map-like ball of thread that knows the way through the passages. ["Clue" as a hint of a guide derives from "clew" qua thread. I love etymology!]

So why do we only hear of the boys getting out and through the maze? Why don't we ever hear of the girls who get to know their labyrinths and walk through the darkness, unafraid of Minotaurs?

Beats me. For some reason, Inanna's descent to the otherworld ain't considered as compelling. Why not???


Goin' to read Moonwise again, even though it drives me up the wall.

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...Lloyd Alexander tells only one story: inexperienced and obtuse male hero + trickster-like storyteller/bardic character + unaccountably crabby female love interest + unfunny comic relief non-human animal-like character + irritating verbal tics for practically everyone + epic quests + secret royal heritage + Destiny = profit. I'm reading [or trying to read] The Book of Three right now, and it's driving me up the wall. All the characters come across as grating and annoying, with the exception of Gwydion, who's sensible and low-key and who just seems to belong to a different, less slapstick story.

Of Alexander's extensive YA oeuvre, I remember most fondly the Vesper Holly series.  Impossibly smart and improbably gifted, teenage orphan and heiress Vesper bounces from adventure to adventure in 1875 in various fictional countries, death and daring at her heels. She's a charismatic and indefatigable Mary Sue, but the stories work, in large part because they are told by Brinnie, her comparatively useless guardian. As an old straight white dude, he gets on my nerves to no end, but his combination of befuddlement, admiration and ultimately love for Vesper allows the reader a more accessible peg upon which to hang their sympathies. I really enjoyed these books growing up, and now I'd like to seek them out again...

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Bared to You by Sylvia Day [Crossfire #1] shares a lot in common with the [unfortunately] more popular Shades of Grey by E.L. James. As in the 50 Shades trilogy, the Crossfire trilogy follows the first-person adventures of an administrative-assistant-level young woman, Eva in Bared to You, and her rollercoaster relationship with a young rich man, Gideon in Bared to You, who owns the company for which she works. They have sex and fight a lot, sometimes simultaneously. Their relationship involves some bdsm, submission for the protagonist, domination for the love interest. A series of assumptions, piss-offs, misunderstandings, apologies, jealousies, running-aways and reconciliations passes for plot. And don't forget the sex. At the end, the reader is exhausted, but there are still two books to go!

But that's where the similarities end. Crossfire exceeds 50 Shades in quality at every level.
Read more... )
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I just finished reading my Tartarus edition of Sarban's Doll Maker a few moments ago. I enjoyed it as much this time around as I did when I read it the first time. This reading actually increased my appreciation for the story because I realized that the author takes protagonist Clare's travails seriously.

As I've noted before, The Doll Maker has a simple, trite plot, in which an Innocent Girl falls in with a Devious Older Dude and becomes Swept Away with Infatuation, which leads her to do some Truly Stupid Shit, which she must save herself from in an Act of Maturity. Lonely and naive, Clare welcomes attention from Niall the power-hungry doll maker. He grooms her to become his latest puppet, while she interprets his caressing focus on her as love, which she, in turn, believes that she feels for him. Sarban demonstrates so clearly the deleterious nature of Niall's predatory interest that I started yelling at Clare, "Don't hang out with the creepy man!!" [She didn't listen.]

Despite Clare's obvious cluelessness, she does not come across as painfully stupid. This is because Sarban does not use a third-person omniscient viewpoint, which would permit him the Godlike distance from which to judge Clare. Instead, he employs a third-person limited perspective, which looks in from outside, but perceives only what Clare perceives. This viewpoint, free from sententious authorial asides on Clare's foolishness, treats Clare's infatuation, peril and self-rescue with exactly as much gravity as she herself experiences it. I really appreciate that because it's very very rare to find a naive young woman taken seriously as a protagonist, especially by a male author.

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I got my Tartarus Press hardcover edition of The Doll Maker and Other Tales of the Uncanny [original review of The Doll Maker here] by Sarban today! There's my poor little paperback on the left and my new Tartarus version [ordered at the middle of the month] on the right. Incidentally, it is the not the original 200-copy 1999 Tartarus reissue, but a 2002 reprint, without the limited edition afterword.

Oooooh, booooooooks! )

My Tartarus edition is really of high quality. It comes with a ribbon bookmark sewn into the spine -- that's how you can tell it's classy! :p

No seriously... When i first learned about The Doll Maker and wished to read it, I bought the cheapest copy I could find: the paperback edition on the left. At its completion, I loved the story so much that I sought a more durable edition, which I found in The Sarban Omnibus. Said omnibus, however, proved to be a cesspool of poor layout, larded with distracting typos. Choosing accuracy over sturdiness, I pitched the omnibus and retained the paperback, fearing to worsen its debilitated state by actually using it for its intended purpose.

I therefore rejoiced upon learning of the Tartarus edition. Its thick, stiff paper and clear lithography remind me of expensive invitations. As I was assured by US dealers of Tartarus books, the press makes books that are not only gorgeous, but scrupulously edited as well.  That is, the text of The Doll Maker reproduces the original, without any of the mistakes that so enraged me about the omnibus. I haven't compared my paperback and my hardcover line by line to verify accuracy, but I have glimpsed within the Tartarus edition's pages and seen a welcoming, old-fashioned font, surrounded by generous margins. This book was obviously made by people who care about the outsides and insides of books.

I had a great experience with Tartarus Press. I saw on several Web sites that The Doll Maker etc. was out of print and commanding the usual exorbitant secondary market rates. After going on the Tartarus site and seeing The Doll Maker etc. advertised as in print and available [for $50.00 shipped!!], I E-mailed them for clarification. Ray Russell [owner?] wrote back, confirming the book's availability and price. I ordered the book, then asked him if it came with a slip cover and, if not, how I should protect the dust jacket. [I know about clear Mylar covers, but was wondering if he had special recommendations.] He recommended Mylar and even put some on my copy when he mailed it out! Wonderful service! Having conversations with owners or artists about our shared interests always makes me enjoy whatever I'm buying or bartering more, as I feel that we are not just conducting business, but also enjoying a common passion.

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Mary Downing Hahn's Look for Me by Moonlight tells the story of 16-year-old Cynda. She spends the winter at her remarried father's isolated Maine inn, where she feels left out of his new family. She ignores the overtures of friendship from a fellow loner her age, Will, in favor of the only person that she feels understands her: the elegant, cultured Vincent, who is at least twice her age [well, actually more like 31.25 times her age, but he looks 30].

Vincent plays on Cynda's crush and enthralls her so that he may drink her blood. She finds herself powerless to resist his commands and even to tell her family how he is sapping her will to live. The climax occurs when Vincent manipulates Cynda's 5-year-old half-brother Todd into becoming his next victim. Wrenching herself from her enchantment, Cynda enlists Will's help and, with some supernatural aid from the ghosts of previous 16-year-olds that Vincent has drained, eradicates the vampire.

I fucking love this book! As a novel for kids from 9 to 13, it's written simply, but evocatively, with the usual mastery of creepy atmosphere demonstrated by Hahn in most of her stories. At the same time, even though it's a YA book, Hahn directly engages with the combination of sex and death that makes seduction by vampire so peculiarly potent. I mean, everyone in the entire book [including Cynda] worries about Vincent taking advantage of Cynda and even raping her, though, thanks to Vincent's machinations, Cynda's parents end up believing that Will represents a sexual threat to her. After reading so much YA paranormal romance bullshit [oh hey there, Twilight saga!] that doesn't seriously address the power differential between the mortal female protagonist and the vampire male love interest, I am so glad to read a well-written exposition of the temptation and also the supreme, cold ickiness of finding out that your fantasy is made of ice that wishes only to penetrate you and kill you to the core.

Look for Me by Moonlight reminds me strongly of Sarban's Doll Maker, another nearly allegorical, simply written, evocative novel in which a young woman dances with, goes under and then, finally, resists and pulls free from, an older man who sexually dominates her and prefigures death. As Cynda almost becomes Vincent's icy object, so Clare in the Doll Maker almost becomes Niall's doll, but they both end up overcoming those men who would occupy them. Interestingly, both of them use the ambivalent, cleansing power of fire to effect their final transformation from thrall to independent agent. [Kill it! Kill it with fire!!]

Look for Me by Moonlight also reminds me of Labyrinth. I mean, heck, it's about a 16-year-old girl [Sarah] who feels displaced from her family due to her mother's absence and her father's remarriage. She resents her half-brother [Toby] and spends much of her time living in fantasies [that damn play] where she is convinced that an older dude [Jareth] cares for her. Ultimately, though, she realizes that the older dude means death, so she must rescue her half-brother and herself from his clutches. Of course, Look for Me by Moonlight lacks the added layer that Labyrinth has of occurring entirely within the protagonist's mind. Therefore Cynda needs to neutralize Vincent, while Sarah, in my interpretation, should be doing something more complex than that with Jareth. In any event, I will never tire of reading feminist tales of girls kicking oppressive patriarchal ass and coming into their own power based on warmth, love and connection.

Jareth is such a pedophilic vampire. I mean the one in the movie.

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In A Discovery of Witches, magically gifted but power-blocked witch Diana finds a medieval manuscript that witches, daemons and vampires want, falls in love with a 1500-year-old vampire and struggles to prevent war between various groups of supernaturals, all while trying to master her own magic. Grace notes about the joys of old books and libraries, as well as a learned, persistent treatment of alchemy, make this one more interesting than the average, but it still is a heavily predictable and somewhat silly beginner for a trilogy. I'm still curious to read the sequels, though.
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A kidnapper steals Susan's young daughter and delivers an ultimatum. Susan must follow a prescribed route through eastern Mass. in order to get her daughter back. But history lies uneasily in these small New England towns; in fact, as Susan makes each stop along the way, history rears out of its grave to shamble after her. As she races to protect her child, Susan discovers the truth, not only about the darkest moment of her own childhood, but also about a centuries-old, supernatural evil that's been haunting the region.

Schrieber pushes Chasing the Dead along with quickly paced prose full of nervous beating hearts and splattering viscera. His simple story trades in archetypes -- Mother on the Defensive vs. Sadistic Monster -- without complexity of character. Not a problem, though, because Schrieber is too busy grossing you out and pulling you along to the next chapter. The perfect mindless suspense novel, strengthened by the fact that Schrieber portrays a convincing eastern Mass. setting.

My one complaint is the gratuitous use of "voodoo" as the ultimate source of the centuries-old, supernatural evil. Instead of Haitian voodoo, the evil character could have been transformed by anything labeled "sinister magic."  Since the evil character started off as a white, English-speaking colonist, he could have made a deal with the Devil or some local New England witches, which would have made much more sense, considering his background and beliefs. Why toss in an unneeded exploitation of "voodoo?" Bullshit like this just reinforces the popular American misconception that Voudou/Voudun is some morally suspect practice involving zombie creation, rather than a legitimate religion.

[Filed under "vampires" for the use of unkillable, soul-sucking evil.]
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Summary: Brainy philosophy major student and her biochem boyfriend take different perspectives on the vampire haunting their lives. Is he a dream, a virus, a reality? One character is destroyed; both are transformed, and both learn more about the murky, shape-shifting nature of self and consciousness. Clarion writing, believable characters [especially Anne], unexpected plot twists that reflect great insight into workings of the human mind, a knowledgable representation of the geography of the human imagination -- all these elements add up to a cerebral masterpiece of psychological horror.

Okay, I exaggerate. 

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I'm currently reading Blood Colony, the last book in Tananarive Due's African Immortals trilogy. Details about some pretty awesome vampire novels inside. )
Verdict: With a sympathetic cast [including assertive and realistic women, woooo hoooo!], the pacing of a suspense series and a compelling moral exploration that most fantasy trilogies can't hold a candle to, the African Immortals trilogy provides an intelligent and delicious revision of vampire lore. 
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Summary: Creepy, luxuriously described dark fantasy about lonely, intelligent Clare and her seduction by titular doll maker. Convincing, sympathetic main character, smooth prose, kinky subtext and great insight into the weird, ambivalent relationships people have with their dolls -- all these things make The Doll Maker a neglected gem.
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Despite its silly title and remote, slow-moving beginning, The Vampire Tapestry by Suzy Charnas turns into a powerful meditation on humanity [well, that's how I interpret it]. Through several interconnected stories, Tapestry follows Edward Weyland, one of the most realistic vampires ever designed. A long-lived, emotionally remote predator who resembles his human prey due to extensive mimicking capabilities, Weyland approaches his existence without sentiment, moral qualm or engagement with the human world. He masquerades as a brilliant university professor involved in dream research, but a rare hunting mistake leads him to injury at the hands of a would-be vampire hunter. The rest of the stories follow Weyland imprisoned and harassed by New Age weirdos, in therapy (!) with a woman who falls in lust with him, viewing opera that touches him emotionally [much to his alarm] and otherwise forming a close bond with his prey. 
modernwizard: (Default) that Mahy explicitly identifies witchcraft as a feminine power, then makes Laura's partner, Sorry, a male witch. I'm not thrilled with the idea that certain powers are inherently masculine or feminine, but I definitely like the idea of a male character trying to reconcile himself to the fact that his power is not gendered in the same way that he is expected to be. In an interview about The Changeover, Mahy comments:

...[T]he spite of everything retained something of his original feminine quality... something he fights against by assuming a degree of sexual aggressivenes. Behind him stand the figures of his mother and grandmother and he has inherited qualities from them that give him an ambivalent nature. 

As Laura goes through her changeover, growing up into her sexual, protective, assertive power, Sorry simmers down from the aforementioned prickliness. He realizes that his front as a bullying, sexually aggressive asshole is a defensive overlay that occludes his actual strengths. In the actual chapters when Laura does her changeover, he coaches her and accompanies her, much like a midwife. This is where he shines: as a guardian, a comforter, a restorer, a carer. He ends up accepting his witchcraft and his role as a nurturer, rather than a predator. This is how he makes sense of his supposedly feminine powers.

Clearly I need my own copy of this book, preferably the hardcover edition with the beautiful cover.
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You thought Peeps were just marshmallow chicks, right? Well, clearly you haven't read Scott Westerfield's YA novel, Peeps, in which the titular designation refers to those people who are "parasite positive." In Westerfield's world, peeps are human beings infected with voracious parasites that compel their hosts to transmit said parasite through blood contact. With hopped-up, superhuman senses, long lifespan, bloodthirsty instincts, perpetual horniness and aversions to sunlight, peeps are most commonly referred to as -- you guessed it -- vampires.
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In The Changeover by Margaret Mahy, as in Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, a young schoolgirl meets an older, wiser, handsome young man. She, with her sharp-tongued asperity, and he, with his awkward remoteness, both lack social graces. Both distant from the usual flurry of teenage life, they are attracted to each other. The girl discovers that the boy is magical and that he lives with a family that are just as supernatural as he is. Increasingly intimate with the boy, the girl struggles with her attraction not only to him, but to the magical power that he and his family represent. Will she choose normal life or an isolating life of power beyond her wildest imagination?
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I zipped through Innocence by Jane Mendelsohn, a metaphor-drugged story about Beckett, a young teen girl who grieves the death of her mother. When her father marries the school nurse and Beckett gets her horribly painful period, she suspects sinister and blood-related hunger lurking beneath the surface of her new stepmother. Eventually Beckett determines that her new stepmom is out for blood and that she, Beckett, is the Last Girl of the horror films, who must either confront the monster or become its culminating victim.

As you can see by the reviews on Amazon, this book is either a work of transcendent genius or a piece of unreadable, pretentious fluff, depending on the perspective of the reader. I personally liked it.
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After reading Stephenie Meyer's Twilight, I needed to wash my brain out with a vampire novel of higher quality. Since I've practically memorized Carmilla and Dracula at this point, I chose instead a modern classic: The Silver Kiss by Annette Curtis Klause. It tells the story of petulant, artistic and sensitive Zoe, 17, who feels as if her world is imploding because her mom is dying of cancer. She meets Simon, a sympathetic badass vampire bent on vengeance against his brother for killing their mom. Simon helps Zoe deal with her mom's demise, and she helps him achieve revenge.

Good things about The Silver Kiss: Klause writes in a fast-paced style, but with frequent flashes of poetry in her use of unexpected adjectives. From the title onward, she creates a fascinating atmosphere of magic and melancholy.  Her portrayal of the grieving Zoe's mood swings is accurate and compassionate, anchoring the book in a drama that readers can easily identify with. Unlike Meyer, who can't write an appealing, active character to save her life, Klause shows both Zoe and Simon as broken-hearted characters who think way too much and thus have a common bond that explains their attraction. Finally, Klause's use of vampires as a metaphor for the grieving process illuminates both Zoe's stories and vampire myths in general, offering a believable reason that such deadly humanoid parasites could be sympathetic.

Bad things about The Silver Kiss: Zoe does not read as a 17-year-old to me. Even making allowances for her grief and general strain, I find it hard to believe that her constant whininess and snappishness would come from someone over 15. Klause should have made her 15; I don't think the story would have suffered. Relatedly, I sympathize with Zoe because I've experienced death and know how it can punch one in the gut, but still...while sympathetic, Zoe is a hard character to like and follow along with. Simon is a bit better, although Klause tries too hard [e.g., in the scene where he beats up drunken doofuses and steals one of their leather jackets] to make him edgy. These lapses are forgivable, though, when compared to the main problem of the book: the ending. I accept Simon's suicide/sacrifice, but I reject Zoe's sudden confidence and lack of fear about dying. All along, Klause depicts grief as a tangle, and it's never unknotted so simply and completely. Even if Klause had written that Zoe "wasn't SO scared any more" instead of "wasn't scared any more," that would have been better.

Nevertheless, The Silver Kiss is a vivid, nuanced novel about vampires.

New Moon, the sequel to Twilight, is, however, not. It's just more of the same sluggish melodrama that we saw in Twilight. A coworker who borrowed Twilight from me summed up my feelings toward this series well when she said, "I finished Twilight. I stayed up late reading it." Thoughtful pause. "I didn't like it very much."

Next up: Blood-Sucking Fiends: A Love Story by Christopher Moore.
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Following up on my previous comments about the Divine Screw, I have an example of the reinvention of this theme in Tanith Lee's sprawling series Tales of the Flat Eath [good plot summaries and overview here]. In one of the major, multi-book storylines, the male divine, Azhrarn, the Lord of Wickedness and most powerful of all the demons who are de facto rules of earth, gets his freak on with Dunizel, human priestess. Their daughter, Sovaz/Soveh/Ahzriaz, goes through a whole book, Delirium's Mistress, searching for herself. She goes from Sleeping Beauty to death-dealing vigilante to despotic goddess queen to prisoner under the sea to wise innocent child to dueler with angels to mortal sage. She ends up, satisfyingly enough, bargaining with Death for a mortal life, which she receives.

Despite Lee's active, overdetermining essentialism about sex roles [men=active, women=passive], the three players in her Divine Screw transcend the narrative limitations to become rich characters.

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I was reading When The Chenoo Howls by Joseph and James Bruchac, an awesome collection of monster stories from Native American traditions, when I came to the realization that most cultures distinguish between the smart vampiric or cannibalistic creatures and the dumb ones.



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