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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Death Comes to Pemberly by P.D. James

Death Comes to Pemberley Death Comes to Pemberly by P.D. James. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. ISBN: 9780307959850.
This is one of the best, if not THE best of the Pride and Prejudice sequels I have read, and I've tried quite a few of them. Most are disappointing, if not downright unreadable; this one not so much. I especially enjoyed the way Ms. James was able to capture the flavor of the language of the original, particularly in her introductory chapter. She gives over the formal language to more informal prose in telling the story, and this is only as it should be.

If there was anything disappointing at all about the book, it was merely that there had to be a death, and that it had to be a mystery, as opposed to a "pure" sequel, whatever that might be. And that the primary protagonists, Elizabeth and Darcy, have essentially no role in solving the mystery. The events of the plot play themselves out naturally, and the mystery is solved at the last instant, more or less by accident, or by a twist of fate, so to speak.

Still, this was a completely entertaining read, true enough to the original for even the most fastidious of Austen fans, yet providing a fresh and original tale that will be enjoyed by anyone who has wanted to read more about the lives of these two perennial literary favorites, Darcy and Elizabeth, their families and friends.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Darcy and Fitzwilliam: A tale of a gentleman and an officerDarcy and Fitzwilliam: A tale of a gentleman and an officer by Karen V. Wasylowski

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I couldn't make myself finish this book. I read about 1/3 of it, and just couldn't take any more. I'm a sucker for novels inspired by Pride and Prejudice, and I'm willing to try almost any of them I come across, but I'm almost always disappointed. In this case, the author makes zero attempt to recreate the classic Regency style of the original. The tone does not match at all. She has Darcy and his cousin, Fitzwilliam, using foul language to each other (out of the hearing of the ladies, of course, I'll grant you that) and Fitzwilliam routinely calls Darcy "Brat;" it seems to be his pet name for Darcy. None of this rings true to the original. I just can't imagine the characters in Jane Austin's book talking this way to each other.

And even more disappointing is the plot. What kind of a plot do I want for a sequel? I don't know, but I haven't found it yet. It has to be some version of ". . . and they lived happily ever after" but still have something in it to keep one's interest. This one definitely isn't happily ever after! Instead, we learn that Darcy had a brief sexual fling with Caroline Bingley long before he ever met Elizabeth, and now he makes the horrible mistake of confessing this to Elizabeth after their marriage, which naturally causes her to become insanely jealous.

But as if that weren't enough, Darcy is tricked into spending a night alone with Caroline at the Bingley residence, where she attempts to seduce him, and we just know that all of this is going to create havoc in Elizabeth and Darcy's relationship. I'm sure all will be well that ends well eventually, but I just couldn't put myself through any more of this soap opera plot. This is NOT what I want from a P & P sequel. Definitely NOT recommended.

View all my reviews

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Elegant Enigmas by Karen Wilkin

Elegant Enigmas: the art of Edward Gorey by Karen Wilkin. San Francisco: Pomegranate, 2009.

This is a book for avowed Edward Gorey fans. If you're not one of those, or worse yet, if you've never heard of the guy, don't read THIS book, go read some of Edward Gorey's own books.

This book is essentially the exhibition catalog for an exhibition of original drawings by Gorey which was apparently held at the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. For the Gorey aficionado, it provides a rare glimpse of some of his preliminary sketches, and other previously unreleased materials, such as some wonderful illustrated envelopes Gorey created and mailed to his mother while attending Harvard.

There are also bits and pieces from many of his books, but not enough to give more than the flavor. These are rewarding for those already familiar with most of the books, but the newbie won't get but a taste.

Highly recommended for all Gorey fans.

Devil's Trill by Gerald Elias

Devil's Trill by Gerald Elias. New York: Minotaur Books, 2009. ISBN: 978-0-312-54181-1

A great mystery with classical music as its primary focus and background milieu. Reading books with a musical backdrop is one of my favorite reading pleasures, so this book was great fun!

The only downer is the crusty misanthropic nature of the primary character, an over the hill, nearly blind, chain-smoking violin teacher, who (at first glance) seems to hate teaching, hate his life, hate his pupils, pretty much everything. But eventually you warm up to him, since he does have the proverbial heart of gold, sort of, maybe.

Definitely recommended for anyone who, like me, likes musically oriented fiction.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

Changes to this blog

Hello to anyone reading this blog:

This has been my "books I've read" blog for the past six years. Starting in August, 2003, I began writing blog entries, brief (and sometimes NOT so brief) reviews of EVERY book I read. Which is and has been a pretty major undertaking, since I'm an inveterate bookworm, always reading, often reading half a dozen books at any given time. I almost never go anywhere--even to the grocery story--without a book in hand.

So, it has always been a challenge to keep up with my reading here on the blog. Taking the time to not just say something quick or facile about each book, but to try and say something that I had thought through, and that might be helpful to someone else considering whether or not to read that book. I'm not sure I even managed to accomplish that goal on a regular basis, but that was my intent.

In the past year or so it has gotten even harder, and frankly, I just plain haven't been able to keep up. There are too many other things vying for my time. I've been struggling just to get the library books I've read blogged before they charge me for the book, since I've had it out so long. Luckily my library has never charged fines, but coming this fall, they're going to start, so there's another reason. Plus, any books that I actually own, or that friends or relatives have loaned me, and that I've read, simply pile up on the floor in front of my desk, waiting to be blogged--waiting, waiting, and still waiting. I don't think I've gotten any of those blogged for well over a year now.

Consequently, I've made the difficult (for me, at least) decision to abandon the notion of blogging every book I read, at least for now. Instead, I plan to blog a book once in a while, books that made a particular impression on me, or that I think are especially worthy of my taking the time to write about for one reason or another, or maybe just because I think I have something in mind that I'd like to say about the book, and all I have to do is sit down and hammer it out.

In the meantime, I'll be keeping track of my reading over on Goodreads.com. You can follow my recent (and some not so recent) reading here: http://www.goodreads.com/tillabooks. Why do I keep using "Tillabooks" as the name for my online book sites? Because I started the Tillabooks book blog while I was living in Tillamook, Oregon, working for the library there, and I just liked the word "Tillabooks" which I thought up one day.

So hop on over to my Goodreads page to see what I've been reading lately, and also to see a list of all the stuff I've read over the past year or two that hasn't made it onto the blog here yet. Anything I've finished lately will have a "read" date attached to it. The rest is all older stuff.

And once in a while, I still hope to post a review here as well. We'll see how that goes!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Longitude by Dava Sobel

Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dava Sobel. New York: Walker, 1995. ISBN: 978-0802713124

This is one of those nonfiction popular scientific books that have become so ubiquitous in recent years. It's been on my “to read” list ever since it first came out, but the old “so many books, so little time” paradox has kept it unread by me until now. It's a relatively easy read. Even in the large print edition that I happened to pick up from a display at my local library it is under 200 pages.

The title really tells much of the story. The problem of ships at sea knowing just where they are was one of the major scientific conundrums for centuries. A very real problem, it lead to the loss of many ships, lives, fortunes, and even wars and kingdoms. The solution? A clock that could keep accurate time at sea. Although a parallel solution was also under development and came to fruition at about the same time, involving extremely complicated calculations, based on plotting of the path of the moon against the stars.

The conflict comes from the fact that astronomers were in charge of awarding the huge prize that the British government had promised to whoever could solve the problem. And naturally, they tended to favor the astronomical solution as more “scientific” than a mere clock.

It's a fascinating story, and Dava Sobel is a thorough if not always scintillating storyteller. Definitely recommended.

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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Getting Things Done by David Allen

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen. New York: Penguin Books, 2001. ISBN: 978-0-14-200028-1

This is one of the best self-help books I've read, which probably isn't saying much, since I don't generally read in that category very much. But David Allen does have what sounds like a pretty good plan for organizing your life, and freeing up your brain for creative and thoughtful approaches to pretty much everything you need to tackle.

At the root of his method is the notion that you need a system to capture everything, and I mean EVERYTHING that you're involved in. Get it all down (on paper, or on your computer), and then put it through a process that organizes it into manageable categories, and forces you to make decisions about how to handle it. Once you're confident that your system is in place, and that it really does capture EVERYTHING in such a way that nothing will ever fall through the cracks again, supposedly your mind will be freed from the routine anxieties and stress that plague you now, and make it difficult for you to concentrate and do your work and live your life. I can't describe in one paragraph what Allen takes entire chapters to describe, so if this sounds like something you'd be interested in, you'd best read the book for yourself.

If I have any complaint at all about the book, it's that the author's system relies much too heavily on paper, writing things down on pieces of paper, setting up a filing system for organizing your paper, and just plain using too much paper. Handling paper is one of my least favorite things in all the world. The inability to make filing decisions is a big part of my personal organization problem.

I'd be much happier with a system that allowed me to go entirely electronic. I want to just scan all my pieces of paper, and use an advanced OCR and indexing system to convert everything into machine-readable format that I can keyword search. In the modern age of computer searching, everything is (or could well be) miscellaneous, to coin a phrase. I wish some computer-savvy individual would work with Allen to co-write a completely computerized version of his plan.

Oh well, short of that, this IS a good plan. The problem? I'd need about a month of uninterrupted time to put it into practice. And where am I going to get that month? Still, I do recommend this book to anyone who is looking to get better organized, and reduce stress over unfulfilled obligations or intentions.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Language of Bees by Laurie R. King

The Language of Bees by Laurie R. King. New York: Bantam Books, 2009. ISBN: 978-0-553-80454-6

Hooray! Another Laurie King Sherlock Holmes/Mary Russell novel! This was some of the best and most entertaining reading I’ve done all year. And in what has to be (I think) a first for this series, we get a “to be continued” at the end of the book, when we realize that the villain has escaped alive, and will undoubtedly return for a second round.

In this truly original take on the Sherlock Holmes oeuvre, we learn that Holmes has a son, now grown, hidden from his knowledge all these years by Irene Adler, the boy's mother, and the one woman that Holmes truly admired back in the original canonic tales by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. She also appears to be the only woman and one of the few adults, period, that proved herself to be Holmes’ intellectual equal as well, besting him in the battle of wits between them, and successfully keeping his parentage a secret from him.

Of course, we are supposed to believe that Holmes was particularly vulnerable in this particular area, misogynist that he was. That is the one (and only, in my view) serious flaw in Laurie King’s hypothesis, that Holmes would not merely treat as an equal, but actually marry a young woman 20 years his junior, which is the primary premise of the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series of novels. King makes it believable enough when it happens, and I don’t find that it stretches my innate sense of disbelief when I’m actually reading her stories, only when I sit back at a distance (like now) does it seem rather unlikely.

But back to the story: Holmes’ son is naturally more than a little bitter towards his father. When he finally decides to let Holmes into his life, it is on a fairly limited basis, and only on his own terms.

But very quickly Homes and Russell become involved initially in the disappearance of their new daughter-in-law, and eventually of the son and granddaughter as well. They are apparently (or not so apparently, at least so far as Scotland Yard is concerned) caught up in a somewhat bizarre religion which involves blood sacrifices in or on various of the mystically sacred spaces around Great Britain, ancient collections of standing stones and the like.

All told, it leads to a dramatic finale, with Russell flying in horrific weather to the far north of Britain, risking her life and that of her pilot, to try and reach a specific location where she suspects another ritual death may be planned, perhaps even the death of Holmes' young granddaughter.

Some people have complained that since changing publishers, King has been pressured to up her page counts, and that as a consequence, her recent books have been too long, even plodding, at times. To that I can only say, pshaw! Who cares? To me, the longer, the better. I'm still a rabid fan, devouring every page with pleasure. Just give me more! Highly recommended.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Dragon Harper by Anne and Todd McCaffrey

Dragon Harper by Anne McCaffrey and Todd Mccaffrey. New York: Del Rey, 2007. ISBN: 978-0-345-48031-6

This is the newest (but one) of the new Dragons of Pern novels, written in collaboration between the progenitor of the series, renowned science fiction and fantasy author Anne McCaffrey, and her son, Todd. Diehard fans of the series will definitely want to read it.

Counting myself among their number, I have done so. While I have no regrets about that, I do have to say that Todd doesn’t have quite the deft touch of his mother when it comes to characterization, plot development, and the like.

His story lines are compelling enough. This one being an example: a flu pandemic sweeps throughPern and kills one in three or so of the general population, hitting the young and active the hardest. The dragon riders are only able to provide limited assistance, due to the imminent arrival of threadfall (well, only a decade or so out), so that they cannot afford to lost a third or so of their numbers, which would leave Pern unprotected.

So there is plenty of drama and angst in the story line. But when reading one of Anne’s books, every aspect of the story as it develops seems almost fore-ordained, completely logical, as though it couldn’t possibly happen any other way. You don’t get that feeling in Todd’s writing. At times things that are happening seem a bit confused, and even arbitrary.

Likewise with character development. With Anne’s characters, you invariably relate to them, and identify with them almost immediately. With Todd, it takes longer. You do eventually get there, but it takes time.

There is also one major plot flaw (in my view). Why is our hero, young Kindan, immune to the flu? Why is he the only major character who never catches it? There is no rationale provided for this so far as I could tell, other than pure chance. That hardly seems fair, when almost everyone else we care about succumbs.

Even so, I probably shouldn’t complain. If I didn’t have the master storyteller, Anne McCaffrey, to compare with, I’d probably be perfectly happy with Todd’s writing. Fans of Pern will definitely find this worth the reading.

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Last Theorem by Arthur C. Clarke and Frederik Pohl

The Last Theorem by Arthur C. Clarke and Frederik Pohl. New York: Ballantine Books/DelRey, 2008. ISBN: 978-0-345-47021-8

This is one of the most congenial SciFi novels I've read in a long time. Meaning it's just a pleasant read (for the most part, anyway, with only a couple of minor exceptions, such as the period where poor Ranjit, our hero, is mistakenly locked up and “interrogated” as a suspected terrorist), entertaining, and intriguing all at once. Not to mention that it's the first, last, and only collaboration between these two science fiction greats, grandmasters both. This alone makes it essential reading for all serious science fiction buffs, such as myself.

Much, even most of the story takes place on the island of Sri Lanka, Arthur C. Clarke's chosen home for many decades. Unfortunately, he had passed on by the time this book made it into print.

Our primary protagonist is a brilliant young mathematician, who lives an eventful, but satisfying life. Among his accomplishments is finally solving Fermat's Last Theorem, one of the perennially classic mathematical challenges. In fact, he actually comes up with with the proof while in prison, suffering from those currently infamous “enhanced” interrogation techniques.

That wouldn't be enough on its own for a good SciFi story, though. What makes the novel more interesting is the fact that we (the human race, that is) have inadvertently and unknowingly come to the attention of the galactic civilization, such as it is, and they have decided that we are likely to be dangerous, and should be quickly snuffed out. There are interesting scientific developments going on here on earth, as well, such as the construction of the first “space elevator,” an actual cable stretching into earth orbit territory, which makes it possible to lift large masses of material into space much less expensively than with rockets.

How these various elements come together into a satisfyingly happy ending keeps you guessing all along the way. Definitely recommended essential reading for SciFi aficionados.

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