Thursday, September 12, 2013

Love & Haight, by Susan Carlton. Henry Holt & Company, 2012

Chloe is seventeen and pregnant- even though she used protection the one and only time she had sex. It’s 1971 and Roe v Wade is still two years in the future, and abortion is only legal in California and New York. Chloe lives in Arizona. Lucky for her, she has an aunt who lives in San Francisco and a friend willing to take a road trip with her over winter break. So Chloe and MJ find themselves in ‘Frisco with no real idea where aunt Kiki lives, unable to get hold of her by phone, and it’s getting late. That pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the trip- nothing goes easily or as planned. Abortion may be legal, but there are still hoops to jump through to obtain one, especially for someone under 18. Add to this Chloe’s occasional doubts about her proposed action, her feelings about her previous relationship with MJ’s brother, and the fact that Kiki is a stoner performance artist and you’ve got it.

The book is very short, and I think because of this the characters aren’t developed very well. MJ seems to serve as chauffer and conscience; Kiki is the cool adult; Chloe’s mother is the feminist. MJ’s brother, Teddy, is the good guy Chloe should have waited for- the perfect, understanding guy. Even Chloe’s portrayal seems rather surface, which is odd, given that the book is from her POV. But the author does get the feel of the time and place well. The characters all fit that time and place, even if they aren’t deep. I knew people like Kiki and Chloe’s mother! It’s a very quick read, and while not great, it’s not bad, either, and would serve as a good book for a young teen to introduce them to the issue of abortion.

I do have to say that it was alarming to find an era I lived through listed as ‘historical fiction’! 


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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Amphigorey Too, by Edward Gorey. Perigee, 1975

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Edward Gorey had a style all his own; black and white line drawings that seem simple but sometimes have an immense amount of detail in them- wallpaper, draperies, carpets all meticulously drawn in. The pieces all seem to be set in the Edwardian era and are frequently grim and bleak. But there is also a humor to them all; very dark humor mostly. ‘Amphigory Too’ is a collection of twenty of Gorey’s works, including ‘The Beastly Baby’, ‘The Gilded Bat’ and ‘The Osbick Bird’. ‘The Gilded Bat’ is one of his best know pieces, the story of a poor girl who becomes a prima ballerina but who’s life still remains basically dreary. ‘The Osbick Bird’ I found rather sweet, being about the lifelong friendship between man and extremely large bird. As for ‘The Beastly Baby’, well, I sympathized with the parents in that one. Like any anthology it’s a mixed bag, but most of the stories included are winners. 


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Saturday, September 7, 2013

Rivers of London, by Ben Aaronovitch. Orion House, 2011

‘’Rivers of London’ is the first in an urban fantasy series that so far has four books in it, and I look forward to reading those other three. Constable Peter Grant is coming to the end of his probationary period as a new police officer and faced with the prospect of being put on a desk job when a witness to a murder turns out to be a ghost. But that’s not the strangest part; it turns out that the London PD has a special unit for supernatural crimes and goings on. It is staffed by one person, Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale- and, now, by Constable Grant. Peter is our narrator, and he quickly proved to be someone I’d like to spend time with, listening to him tell stories in a pub.

Up to now, Grant has not believed in anything supernatural. Suddenly he is thrown into a world he’s not noticed before; ghosts, learning magic, spirits of the rivers, a housekeeper who isn’t quite human. He accepts it all with amazing easiness, though. I suppose that’s part of living in a huge city; you get used to running into unusual people and things. When it becomes obvious that the supernatural killer the ghost witnessed is a serial killer things get more complicated. To add to learning magic and solving the crime, Peter must act as liaison between Father Thames and Mother Thames, who are feuding.

I loved how the gods and goddesses of the rivers – the genii locorum - are still in place, even with modern London laid over the ancient landscape. To me, that was even more appealing than the vengeance story that started over a hundred years ago. While the characters aren’t terribly deep- there isn’t much fleshing them out- they are likable and I’m hoping to get to know them better in later volumes. The book is funny and exciting. It would make a great series on the BBC. 

The American edition was renamed "Midnight Riot' for some reason. 

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MaddAddam, by Margaret Atwood. Doubleday, 2013

 ‘MaddAddam’ is the final volume in the near future dystopian trilogy that started with ‘Oryx and Crake’ and continued with ‘The Year of the Flood’. While the events in the first two novels about the end of the world as we know it took place at the same time, albeit with different casts of characters, ‘MaddAddam’ moves us forward in time and unites the two sets of characters. Jimmy, once Crake’s best friend, now deathly ill with an infection, is in the care of the remnants of God’s Gardeners, an ecological/religious group, who also find themselves the caretakers of the Craker’s, those innocent, leaf eating people who Crake created as replacements for the fatally flawed human race. The group is also imperiled by two of the Painballers- former prisoners who earned their freedom in gladiator style fights that burned out their ability to feel empathy and left them with a huge appetite for torture- who are lurking in the forest that surround their home and garden.  An even bigger peril they face is the fact that food and other supplies are rapidly running out; it’s getting harder and harder to find anything useful in the remnants of the city, and they have no ideas how to survive in Stone Age conditions.

While the plot that moves the book along is how the group deals with the Painballers, it really doesn’t take up much of the text. The majority of the story is Zeb’s history: how he and his brother (who became MaddAddam) grew up tortured by their father, the head of the Church of PetrOleum; and the close calls he had after running away. This history serves to tell us about how the world right before the apocalypse was functioning.

It’s a horrific world that God’s Gardeners and the rest inhabit, but t he real horror is that humans already possess the technology to make all the creatures in this book, including the deadly diseases that wipe out humanity and the Painballers with their inability to care about anyone other than themselves. We are already on the course of megacorporations taking over our lives and government. Ice caps are already melting and permafrost thawing. The gap between rich and poor widens.

‘MaddAddam’ is brilliantly written and serves as a warning about the path we’re headed down. But it’s not preachy; it’s a damn good adventure story. My only complaint was with the character of Toby; in ‘Year of the Flood’ she is an incredibly strong person, focused and capable. In ‘MaddAddam’, we witness her relationship with Zeb turning her into an insecure, jealous woman, tortured by doubts about Zeb’s feelings for her and whether he is having sex with other women- especially one who is putting on a display of her sexual readiness for all the males of the camp. This bothered me a lot to see Toby reduced to this state, but later I wondered: was she written like this to compare her to the Crakers, who have no sexual jealousy? Or to show that in a situation where the world has ended and must be rebuilt, the fertile woman is reduced to her ability to repopulate the world? Or perhaps just that no matter what happens in the larger world, human beings will be human beings. I don’t know, but I found it very irritating.

The best part of the book is the way that big parts of it are told by Toby to the Crakers in their nightly story time. You only hear Toby’s voice; what the Crakers are saying and doing is implied by her answers. I found their naivety funny and felt sympathy for Toby’s frustration with their incessant questions. One of the most surprising things in the book is who became the allies of the God’s Gardeners in the end.

While it wasn’t the most satisfying conclusion, it’s still a very good book. It’s a standalone novel and has a ‘the story so far’ section in the front, but I recommend reading the first two volumes before this one. 

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