I am a fail book blogger

I realized yesterday that I hadn’t read any of my other books for the RIP IV Challenge, and they all came due today, and I had to renew them by an unnecessarily complicated process because the library is also being fail lately.  Anyway so I grabbed Let The Right One In (why is it called Let Me In on my copy?) to read it and I came to a realization.

I am just tired of vampires.  I have had enough.  There are vampires everywhere and it is too many vampires, and I need a break from them.  But there is no break to be had because everywhere I go there are MORE VAMPIRES.

Er, I am going to see New Moon though.  Although Edward will not be squatting on a tree branch looking like an albino chimpanzee, like he did in the film of Twilight, a major plot point in New Moon is how to stop him from committing suicide by public sparkling.  It’s a race against time to stop the people of Rome from seeing his perfectly sculpted chest in all its ice-cold rock-hard sparkly glory.  Plus I’m sort of excited about seeing Dakota Fanning be all evil, because I like her, and I strongly support her transition into adult actress, and I hope that she manages to pull it off like Natalie Portman, who went to college and speaks languages and supports microfinance.  Rather than crashing and burning and being on drugs like many child stars.

But apart from that (they’re not real vampires if they sparkle) I am done.  I cannot look at another vampire book or film.  Let the Right One In was strange and creepy and may have been fascinating, but it didn’t matter because as soon as Eli glomped onto her victim and began biting his throat, I was all, I HAVE HAD IT.  I CANNOT READ ABOUT VAMPIRES ANYMORE.  I tried to keep reading but after a while I noticed that I was thinking, This is how the soldiers in World war I must have felt slogging through all the mud in the trenches and stuff, and although the soldiers in World War I probably would not appreciate this comparison, it was enough to make me realize that I didn’t want to finish the book.  (Though that could also be attributable the pedophile, and the awful schoolchildren, and the slaughtery murders – I am willing to entertain the notion that this book is just too dark for me.)

World, look, I get it.  Vampires are all strong and broody, and they are a metaphor for how sex = death, and you love them more than your mama right now.  But don’t you see that you can’t have all vampires all the time?  Please get sick of vampires soon and let go on a proper break from them and eventually come back from my break and enjoy Angel again!  If the library hadn’t suddenly abandoned its hold system, I would cancel my hold on True Blood because actually, I am not in the mood for HBO (“Because We Can”) and their shenanigans, or for fakey Louisiana accents, or especially for any more damn vampires.

So no review is forthcoming for Let the Right One In.  I am going to read Alias Grace and The Seance instead.  I hate not finishing books, especially when I suspect it’s my fault, not the book’s fault.  But I can’t finish it.  I just can’t.

My plan for this autumn: Fewer vampires and more wholesome sunny football games.  GLORIOUS.  WE WILL WIN EVERYTHING.

Is this just me?  Is anyone else tired of the vampires everywhere you turn?  Also, if you do not live in America, is this vampire-mania the same in other places?  Is Europe obsessed with vampires too?  I will be very sad if so because that means I cannot escape by going on vacation to London.

Baltimore, or, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire, Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden

I read about Baltimore on Jenclair’s blog untold ages ago, and I put it on my list, but I didn’t leave myself a little note explaining what it was about.  This is something I do now, but I didn’t always, and so when I would be at the library looking at my list of books, I never checked out Baltimore because I had forgotten anything I ever read about its plot.  Fortunately I was incredibly bored recently and took the time to go back through my book list, look up the reviews, and leave myself teeny little plot synopses.

Baltimore is set in and around the first World War – soldier Henry Baltimore, the only survivor of a Hessian massacre, sees strange dark creatures feeding on his dead soldiers, and he wounds one of them.  This small act unleashes a plague of vampirism upon the world, so devastating that even the War pales into insignificance in comparison.  Some time later, three friends of Baltimore are summoned by Baltimore to meet him at a particular inn on a particular day.  They each tell their stories of Henry Baltimore, and of the dark, supernatural things they have encountered in their own lives.  The story goes on, circling closer and closer to the final confrontation between Henry Baltimore and the vampire he wounded, the vampire that started the plague.

If you like Victorian fairy tales, you’ll like this book.  At the end, Mike Mignola acknowledges his debt to those stories, and I realized that’s what this book exactly reminded me of – that slightly unreal, thoroughly creepy way of writing, with lavish, lingering descriptions of the evil the protagonists are encountering.  It reminded me of things like Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales, and Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market”, and of course Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  I loved the illustrations.  They were small, simple, black-and-white drawings, very understated, often just little pieces of pictures (a chimney of the house, a close-up on one cross in the cemetery), and they provided a beautiful contrast to the lush prose.

If I could have made a change, it would have been to take out the excerpts from Baltimore’s diary that describe how he saved a small Romanian town from vampires.  I recently read Trish’s book review of a book called Serena, in which she talked about the creation of negative space around a character; and I thought that this book did that to great effect with Baltimore’s character.  Baltimore’s story starts off the book, but then the reader doesn’t hear from him directly for quite a while; instead, the three characters talk about their encounters with Baltimore, which provides a lot of insight into what he’s been through since the vampire-wounding incident.  I think it would have been great to continue it until the climactic scene (which, I have to say, is a little disappointing), only then giving us Baltimore’s point of view again.  The Romanian vampires incident would have been fine if Baltimore hadn’t been narrating it himself, but as it was, it messed up a literary device that was working nicely.

A creepy, atmospheric book.  Other reviews (if I missed yours, let me know):

Jenclair at A Garden Carried in the Pocket
Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings
Little Willow

Those Who Hunt the Night, Barbara Hambly

When I am reading other people’s blogs and deciding which books I want to put on my list to read later on, I have started the habit of writing down what it is about their description of the book that attracted me.  That way, when I am on the library computer examining this book blog to see what I want to read next, I can choose what sort of book I am in the mood to read.  And what I wrote for this one was “a guilt-ridden ex-priest vampire in Victorian London!” which is totally not the point at all.  I read it about it on Jeane’s blog, and she made it sound lovely – I know I have said unfriendly things about a number of vampire books, but truly and honestly, I love, love, love a good vampire story.

This book is set in Edwardian London, almost just as good as Victorian.  (Or possibly by this time Edward was dead – I once memorized a little pome of all the British monarchs, and I feel like part of it went “Edward the Seventh next and then / George the Fifth in 1910”.)  An ex-spy-turned-Oxford-professor called James Asher (he won’t be ex for long, if you ask me, with World War I looming closer) comes home one night to find his wife unconscious and a vampire sitting in his bedroom with a proposition.  Someone has been killing the vampires of London.  If Asher agrees to help find the killer, the vampires won’t kill him and his wife.  After a brief argument about how this situation differs from being a spy for Britain (and I don’t think the vampire’s points are valid), Asher agrees to do this.  There is a guilt-ridden ex-priest vampire, but he’s not the main feature.

I was actually in the middle (well, at the start) of reading two other books, Jump at the Sun and The Meaning of Night, but I realized that I’d had this one for a while and it was going to be due soon, so I ditched those and read this instead.  I’m so pleased that I did.  I’d been putting it off because of the cover on the library copy, because yes, I do judge books by their cover, and I just cannot make myself believe that there is anybody in the world who doesn’t.  For instance, I would read any book in the world if Dave McKean had done the cover for it.

This book was very enjoyable.  It’s a slightly different take on vampires to what a lot of people go with, and had a lot of theorizing about vampirism as a disease transmitted through the blood, which was interesting.  As it’s a mystery, I wasn’t entirely pleased with the outcome.  It’s the old thing about putting the gun on page one if someone uses it on page thirteen – it’s not that I didn’t get any clues about who the real killer was, but when I read the end I was like “That’s the killer?  Who even is that?”  Not enough clues.  Or not even clues – the real killer (is this spoilers?) doesn’t get enough screen time before the big reveal.

Still, I liked the book.  I may read the second one.  I may read others of her books.  Those Who Hunt the Night was exactly what I was in the mood for.  Thanks, Jeane!

P.S. Having brought up English monarchs, I just have to brag for a second here.  I do indeed know all the British monarchs in order from William the Conqueror.  I learned them before I went to England because I didn’t want to be The Dumb American Girl.  And sometimes when everyone in our flat went out, and I would get back very drunk, I would lie in bed repeating them to myself as an assurance that I wasn’t that drunk.  I still remember them all.  I have modified the accepted order of monarchs to include the Empress Matilda, Louis of France, and Lady Jane Grey – all proclaimed but never crowned.  It’s not really fair for them to be left out.  Edwards Five and Eight weren’t crowned either, and they never get left out.  Probably because they are dudes.  And not embarrassing reminders of how one of the English kings was so rotten they had to ask a French king to please come and rule them instead.

The Society of S, Susan Hubbard

One time a few years ago, I had strep throat, and my parents were out of town so instead of going to the real doctor, I went to the Student Health Center on my campus.  They didn’t want to see me, but when they said they couldn’t see me because I wasn’t enrolled for the next semester (I was going to England), I started to cry, and I cried and I cried and I cried and they agreed to see me after all.  And – perhaps in revenge – they gave me an antibiotic that gave me shocking mood swings.  I cried every time somebody said “no” or “not”.  It was weird.  Like “Don’t worry about it” would make me sob helplessly.  And then eventually I went to the real doctor, and they gave me a new antibiotic, and this one made food taste bad.  No matter what I ate, it was nasty.  Except edamame, which isn’t very nourishing if that’s all you’re eating; and I lost like fifteen pounds in a week.

I only bring this up because I haven’t liked any of the new books I’ve read lately.  And I’m beginning to wonder whether I have some kind of sickness of the brain that makes it impossible for me to enjoy books.  I haven’t yet found the book equivalent of edamame.  I don’t know what to do.

The Society of S is all about a thirteen-year-old called Ariella who lives alone with her father, and she gradually discovers that she’s a vampire.   Her friend dies, and she figures out what she is, and she goes to find her mother, and then her mother and father meet up again, and they talk about feelings.

The blah parade continues.  The book was a quick read, but even so the action dragged.  Everything interesting seemed to happen offscreen, and the writing was so, so, so self-conscious, always making excuses for itself.  The characters weren’t fully fleshed out, so they weren’t interesting and their relationships weren’t and nothing was.  Even when things that had been mysterious (sort of) got revealed, they were boring.

Blah.  Blah.  Blah.  None of my books are any fun anymore.  Maybe I will never read a good book again.  Maybe books are mad at me!  Maybe it’s because I’ve been watching Doctor Who so much lately, and I’ve made books angry by raving on and on about Doctor Who to everyone!  And books got jealous!  And now books are having their revenge!  What if Martin Millar releases his sequel to Lonely Werewolf Girl soon, and, and, and I’ve become such a soulless TV-watching slug that I won’t be able to enjoy it?  What if Eloise Jarvis McGraw wrote a book that was much like Greensleeves only better, and it’s in a set of papers that are meant to be released in a few years, and when that happens, I DO NOT EVEN CARE?

…I’m typing this while watching the first Doctor Who episode ever to contain Cybermen.  I wonder if that makes this complaint less than sincere?

The Stress of Her Regard, Tim Powers

Sheesh, what is wrong with me?  This is the second book in the past week I haven’t been able to finish.  And honestly, not finishing books is pretty rare with me.  I swear!  If I make it past the first few pages, I tend to plow through to the end, because I want to know what happens, and because I am a completist.  To give you a comparison, I read like four of Anne Rice’s vampire books, which I never liked in the first place, before realizing I’d rather gouge my eyes out than read any more of them.  I don’t care if she is from Louisiana!  And I don’t care if Faulkner is either!  I like Tony Kushner and THAT IS ENOUGH FOR ME.

Anyway, I just really want to tell The Stress of Her Regard that it’s probably not you; it’s probably me.  I really think it might just be me.  I may not have given you a fair chance.  I was comparing you with Lonely Werewolf Girl, which I was reading at the same time I was reading you, and no new book could stand up against Lonely Werewolf Girl.  I was reading you and thinking of another book.  It was unfair to you.  You deserved better.

I read about The Stress of Her Regard on Nymeth’s blog, and I thought there could be no problem with it whatsoever at all.  It had Romantic poets, aaaaaaand vampires!  All the Romantic poets are being pestered by pestery vampires!  I don’t care enough about the Romantic poets to get cranky about their being portrayed “wrong”, which is something that would bother me if the characters were, like, Oscar Wilde and his lot.  And vampires!   And Nymeth said the mythology was a trifle complex, but I was all, Whatever, I will be able to follow it.  But damn, seriously, it was mighty complex.  And I was reading it like ten pages at a time, while brushing my teeth, and then a chapter or two before I went to sleep.  And sometimes I would skip a few nights and read Lonely Werewolf Girl instead.  So I think that screwed me up in terms of keeping track of who was doing what, and why.

All this to say that by the time I got to the bit where Shelley disguised his dead infant as a marionette, I was kinda ready to quit reading it anyway.  The bit where he disguised his dead infant as a marionette was mighty disturbing and creepy, and it gave me a nightmare.  So even though I think I was unfair to this book, I will probably not try reading it again because it will remind me of my terrifying puppet nightmare.

(I really did like the part where Crawford put his ring on the statue’s finger and then when he came back for it the statue’s hand had closed over the ring.  That was cool.)

I will just leave you with this thought, which is the only thing I can ever think of when I read about Byron or Shelley or Keats and consequently prevents me from taking them one bit seriously, ever:

Byron and Shelley and Keats
Were a trio of lyrical treats
The forehead of Shelley was cluttered with curls,
And Keats never was a descendant of earls,
And Byron walked out with a number of girls,
But it didn’t impair the poetical feats
Of Byron and Shelley,
Of Byron and Shelley,
Of Byron and Shelley and Keats.

Dear darling Dorothy Parker.  (Though Black Adder‘s portrayal of the Romantic poets has just put the nail in the coffin.  I can never, ever, ever, ever take those men seriously.  Ever.  Never ever never.  But I often like Coleridge.)

The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman

The reason for the brevity of those last two reviews is that I am really mostly just excited about The Graveyard Book, which came out today.  At last!  The Graveyard Book!  I have been yearning and yearning and yearning for it, and at last it came out, and I read it all outside on a blanket in my side yard, and it was nice and shady and breezy, and I felt very, very, very happy!

I went to Bongs & Noodles today to get The Graveyard Book, and they had not yet even opened up the box with the display that The Graveyard Book was going to be on.  The salesperson had to get a pair of scissors and open the box up just for me.  (I offered her my keys, which would have been more effective actually, but she insisted on using the scissors.)  It was very exciting.  I love it when Neil Gaiman writes a new book.  He should write a new book every day, and then I would be happy every day, and I wouldn’t have enough time to read all of them, so that when he died way off in the future I would still have dozens of new books by Neil Gaiman to read.

That would be nice.

The Graveyard Book is all about a boy whose family is killed when he is very wee, but he escapes and toddles away into a graveyard, and the graveyard decides to adopt him.  The ghosts all look after him and teach him useful lessons like Fading and Dreamwalking, and he has got a guardian called Silas, who consumes only one food, and it is not bananas.  He grows up gradually, and they call him Bod (with a D), short for Nobody.  The man Jack, who killed his family, remains interested in killing him, so Silas and the rest of the ghosts do their utmost best to keep him safe until he is a grown-up.  He becomes clever and resourceful, and he doesn’t like people who are wicked.

How I loved The Graveyard Book!  It was such a dear book!  There are all these ghosts you don’t get to know nearly well enough, and every chapter is a little story, and Bod gets into all kinds of trouble and learns valuable lessons and sometimes makes a friend.  I only wished there were more of it.  More Silas and more of the poet ghost, who was extravagant and helpful.  I am not usually overcome with sadness when a book ends, but I was extremely sad when I got to the end of The Graveyard Book.  I suppose because it was rather episodic, I expected it to go on and on and on, and then instead of that it ended, and I felt really sad because I was sure there were more bits that could have happened in the middle before it got to the end.  I was insupportable.  I had to lie on my back and stare at the humongous sky for a while before I was able to overcome my grief and start reading it all over.

Read it!  Neil Gaiman is wonderful!  I am glad he is still so young and can continue to write for many years still!

City of Bones, Cassandra Clare; or, I apparently think Oscar Wilde had the werewolf gene

Recommended by: Darla at Books and other thoughts

Many spoilers to follow, but you can probably guess them while you’re reading anyway.

City of Bones is all about a girl called Clary who witnesses a most unpleasant murder and gets drawn into the wild and wacky world of demon-slaying.  Turns out her mother used to be a demon-slaying badass chick, but left that life to pursue normalcy as a single mum.  Clary has a steamy crush on one of the demon-hunters, Jace, and they have banter and sexual tension; there’s a wicked guy called Valentine (it was hardcore with the three-syllable names in this book, incidentally: Jocelyn, Clarissa, Jonathan Christopher, Isabelle, Valentine, Lucian.  Damn.  Apparently in the world of demon-slaying you must have a three-syllable name or be doomed to blandness.) who wants to murder children and rid the world of even the niceish half-demon hybrids like werewolves and vampires; and the quiet, sensitive (two-syllable name) guy is gay.

I don’t know if this was the most predictable book of all time, or if I was seriously clever while reading it.  I think it was a fairly predictable book and I was a teeny bit clever while reading it.  Because I guessed every single plot point in this whole entire book.  And with a sense of dismay and resignation at the inevitability of it all.  It was like this one time I was taking a practice GRE English Subject test for fun (don’t judge), and there was a section where you had to say what book each passage came from, right?  I looked down at one passage and saw the word “swain”, and I immediately felt very resigned and thought, “Oh, Lycidas.”  I don’t know why (though I was quite right) I should have known this, particularly from the word swain, since I read Lycidas once two years ago and thought it was tiresome.

Well, City of Bones was much like that.  Like when nobody said anything about Jace’s real name?  I was all, Oh, he’s her brother.  J.C.  Cute, and could not one bit support their romance because I was too busy being squiffed out by how dismayed they were going to feel upon discovering they were siblings.  And when Hodge told her about his curse, being confined to the Institute?  I knew straight away he was a vile betrayer.  And when I got to the bit at the end where it’s revealed that Valentine is Jace’s and Clary’s father, I sort of thought, Well, yeah, we’ve known that all along.  But then I glanced back through the book and realized that no, we hadn’t.

Never mind all that.  Here is the strange bit.  Clary has a substitute father-figure called Luke, and she’s eavesdropping on a conversation Luke’s having with the bad guys, and they call him Lucian.  I immediately thought, Oh, okay, he’s a werewolf then.  Which, you know, as a deductive process – that doesn’t make any sense.  They’d hardly mentioned werewolves at all up to that point, there hadn’t been any clever hints about the full moon, yet indeed it proved that he was a werewolf.  I did a mental census in my head of Lucians I can think of, and here are the results:

Lucian the Greek satirist.  I don’t know anything about him except he did satire and was from Assyria or Akkadia or something else with an A.  I never took Greek, so if he wrote about werewolves, I don’t know about it.

Lucien the librarian from The Sandman.  Nothing there.  Man doesn’t look a bit like a wolf.

Lucian Holland, son of Merlin Holland, son of Vyvyan (yes, really – that’s what happens when Oscar Wilde gets to name you; the other kid was named Cyril) Holland, younger son of Oscar Wilde.  This one seems the most likely for associations, to be honest, since I forgot the librarian’s name was Lucien until I was buying books online yesterday evening, and since I have never read the Greek satirist.  Evidently my brain believes that Oscar Wilde’s great-grandson is a werewolf.  Who knew?

City of Bones wasn’t terrible.  It wasn’t well-written, and the story wasn’t very original, but it was interesting enough for me to either get the next two out of the library any time I happen to see them there, or to read their Wikipedia entries to find out what happens.  Possibly both.  And it was funny in bits, but not that funny.  So oh well.

As a sidenote, I was enchanted when Clary made reference to a button she had that said Still Not King – I remember those!  Turns out it’s the same woman – she wrote the Very Secret Diaries and now City of Bones.  Thinking about the Very Secret Diaries snaps me right back to high school, when all those movies were just coming out, and how tim found that thing about Legolas Greenleaf, he da man, and made it into a haiku:

When you ask “Who da
man?” I say wit’ conviction,
“Legolas da man.”

And how we all went to see Fellowship in a massive group and my friend cried and cried and cried and cried after Boromir’s death, and I felt concerned that her wracking sobs were preventing her from enjoying the touching Frodo-Sam scene, so I whispered a number of consoling things about what a jerk Boromir was anyway and how we would assuredly see him in flashbacks, before she managed to convey to me through her tears that she was weeping hysterically for joy at Frodo and Sam’s beautiful friendship.  And how Nezabeth and I watched this one bit of the Fellowship extras DVD every time we felt depressed about our Logic homework, this one bit where Viggo Mortensen told a story about his boat and the body double for Frodo.

Mm.  Nostalgia.