P. Pufferfish: On the road to becoming a John Le Carré fan?

Really quick note: I reorganized the Reviews page so that my meager number of reviews are now grouped by decade of publication. I’m hoping it’ll help me see gaps in my reading (not that I have much desire to read as many old books as new ones). Anyways, jumping right in.

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Today’s featured book: A Murder of Quality, by John Le Carré.

Format I consumed it in: Print, from the library where I work. They actually didn’t have AMoQ on its own– I had to check out the edition that came in the same volume with CFtD. 

The premise: Smiley, now retired, receives a request from an old war-time colleague, Ms. Brimley, who is working as the editor of a newspaper: a long-time reader/subscriber to the newspaper, Stella Rode, has written to tell her that she’s afraid her husband is going to kill her. Considering that their correspondence mostly consists of bland advice and recipes, this is a bit alarming. Smiley agrees to investigate, but before he can even get started, lo and behold! They receive news that Mrs. Rode has been brutally murdered! Smiley immediately heads off to Carne, the location of an expensive boarding school where Stella’s husband, Mr. Rode, teaches; coincidentally, it’s also the place where Smiley’s ex-wife, Lady Ann, grew up.

The staff of the school are stuck-up and desperately trying to hold onto the old ways, despite evidence that this isn’t working. The inhabitants of the town, including the police chief, don’t mix with the staff, but are still closed off and conservative in that small-town way. Everybody is nasty and suspicious, but nobody seems to have a really good, solid motive, which does it make it a bit tricky to figure out who the murderer is.

My thoughts: I am glad I didn’t give up on the Smiley series after the first one, because Le Carré’s writing really improves in the span of just one year/one book– the pacing is better, the big reveal is done in a much more logical/satisfying way, and although he still uses the typical giant-explanatory-paragraphs-to-show-how-a-crime-was-perpetrated method, I wasn’t bothered by it because he got his timing right. George Smiley himself is also much more likable in here.

That said, this wasn’t a particularly original or refreshing mystery novel or anything like that. It was a bit formulaic, but I’m reading it in 2017 after a shit-ton of other similar novels have been published/adapted into TV series and movies. AMoQ reads like an Agatha Christie novel, which was a bit surprising to me, because Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (the movie/my introduction to Le Carré) is completely different.

Rating: 3.5/5. I liked it, but I didn’t REALLY like it. I gave an extra star for the ending, though– it threw me off a bit and I’m still thinking about it, trying to decide if I liked it or not.

 

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“Spring 2018 can’t come fast enough!” said P. Pufferfish.

I have no interest in another year speeding by and me aging up faster than I’m ready to, BUT! Last night (or rather, this morning), I finished a book that I absolutely LOVED and just saw that the sequel will be available around May of next year. I cannot WAIT! I want it NOW!

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What is today’s featured book?: Amberlough, by Lara Elena Donnelly, who, by the way, is not much older than I am, I think. She was featured in this episode of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy, which is where I first heard about her and her book, so she has to be very young.

Format I consumed it in: E-book. I didn’t wait for it to go on sale or anything, despite my annoyance about e-books sometimes costing the same as/more than print books– that’s right, I paid full price for this book, and it was worth every penny!

The premise: Here are the players:

Cyril: 35, cunning, manipulative, bears a remarkable resemblance to a famous fictional movie star, comes from a long line of famous diplomats. Suffering from trauma from a previous mission gone wrong. Occupation: Spy. Although he’s described as 5’7″ and blonde, I kept picturing Richard Madden the way he looked in Sirens as Cyril, except with dark blonde/reddish hair. That image really grew on me, and now I can’t imagine anyone else as Cyril.

Aristide: 41 (42?), incredibly alluring, calculating, confident, flirtatious– a self-made man of many talents. Occupation: Master of Ceremonies/performer and notorious head of a smuggling ring.

Cordelia: Age unknown, stunning, sharp as a tack, loyal to a fault, resilient, brave, resourceful. Occupation: Showgirl.

The story is set in an almost alternate-universe version of Europe towards the end of the Jazz Age (it feels like the transition from the 20s to the 30s). The cities and states are all fictional, all part of a fictional country surrounded by other fictional countries, but they’re very familiar and clearly resemble real European cities during that time period.

I’ve read several reviews that call this book “timely”, and I have to 100% agree– the main conflict here is the government takeover by the new Ospie party and its leaders, who are mostly represented by conservative businesspeople who detest show biz and “out of the norm” relationships and everything else that’s fun in life. They also have a thing against immigrants and many of them seem to be racist to some extent. Everyone knows the election results were tampered with, opposing party politicians are forced to resign or are arrested after being framed for various crimes, the entertainment district is repeatedly raided, businesses are shut down, strict travel restrictions are implemented, riots are breaking out….. basically, throughout the novel, we are witnessing the transition of a state from flawed and slightly corrupt to completely fascist and corrupt, and get to see how our protagonists deal with these changes.

All three main characters are people who are used to operating from the shadows and more or less do illegal things on a daily basis. They are not pure, warm, friendly characters– they have all experienced life and are somewhat self-serving and suspicious of everyone. Their lives and work also overlap a lot: Cyril is in a romantic relationship, more or less, with Aristide, and many of his poor decisions are made to keep both himself and Aristide alive. Aristide has his own problems and network of friends/acquaintances/employees/colleagues/contacts, etc. to worry about, but I would say his actions are influenced by his feelings for Cyril as well. Cordelia is Aristide’s co-star and the only one of the three who actually tries not to throw her associates under the bus to save herself whenever a problem arises. Without further spoilers (in this section, at least), we move on to

My thoughts: This book was a fantastic read for me. I loved all three protagonists, especially Cordelia, who is just so spunky and is such a dynamic character. She starts out as just a showgirl who’s running deals on the side, but becomes a super important player by the end of the book. I enjoyed reading all the interactions between the characters– Lara Elena Donnelly does a good job balancing dialogue, inner thoughts, and action. I just complained in a previous review about a book having too much telling and not enough showing. Not so here! I was especially impressed by how she doesn’t spend paragraphs on world-building. We pick it up from things the characters say and do; we figure it out from brief descriptions that come up during action scenes and from government documents and propaganda posters and banners plastered around the city, almost as if we were walking through the place ourselves and not just having it described to us by a friend who’s recently traveled there.

That said, I have to mention that I may be a bit biased when it comes to the main relationship in this book, because I’m a huge fan of slash in books/media, especially if it’s canon. There were several detailed sex scenes. As a rule, I do not like detailed sex scenes in books because I feel like they’re interrupting the action. However! I didn’t mind these scenes, probably because of the aforementioned reason. If Cyril had been female instead and I had to read the same scenes….. yeah, I think I would have grumbled a little. I will say, though, regardless of gender, I adore Cyril and Aristide’s relationship. Aristide is a morally ambiguous character, and in the first half of the book, I thought Cyril was one, too, but by the end, I realized he’s an immoral little shit. He cares about his sister and Cordelia, but only in a passing sort of way (meaning he spares them a thought occasionally during his scheming). Aristide is probably the only person he wouldn’t betray to save his own hide, and you can really see it. It’s kind of beautiful.

[SPOILERS] I thought this book was a stand-alone, so I was super worried one or more of the three of them would be killed off. The whole thing also ends in a massive cliffhanger, but in a way that if Lara Elena Donnelly did decide “Nah, I don’t want to write any more”, you could PRETEND things will magically resolve themselves and it wouldn’t be too unsatisfying. I HATE ambiguous endings (I’m looking at you, German movies!), so I was relieved to learn that this will be a trilogy and I’ll get a legit resolution… probably by 2019.

Rating: 4.5/5.

P. Pufferfish’s first attempt at reading John Le Carré

Last week, I got around to watching Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy after… 3 or so years? It was a decent movie, but I had some trouble telling if some of the flashback scenes were part of one large flashback or were actually different flashbacks that all happened to be around the same time each year (you’ll know exactly what I mean if you’ve seen it). Anyways… callforthedeadcover

Today’s featured book: Call For The Dead, by John Le Carré, who, by the way, is one of the most fascinating authors ever. Check out his Wiki page.

Format I consumed it in: Print, on loan from another library in the system where I work. They have one of the older editions with nothing but the title and author’s name on the cover.

The premise: George Smiley (Gary Oldman, in the movie), still recovering from his divorce (separation?) from his wife, Lady Ann, is asked to do a routine interview of a Foreign Office executive who the department has received an anonymous tip about. After the interview, the executive, Sam Fennan, appears to commit suicide, leaving behind a typed/signed letter stating that his reputation is in ruins after the interview and all the suspicion towards him. His wife, Elsa, confirms that he had been feeling down since the interview. However, while questioning her, Smiley borrows her telephone and accidentally picks up a reminder call that Elsa claims is for her; the telephone company informs Smiley that the call had been placed by Sam Fennan the night before his death, which would mean that he didn’t expect to die the next day. Smiley is suspicious and proceeds to investigate further.

My thoughts: I’ve heard John Le Carré’s name all my life and am aware of all the books that he’s published since 1961, when Call For the Dead came out. This book really feels like a first novel. Thankfully, it’s very short (128 pages, in the edition I have; I think there’s another edition that’s 160 pages). Some of Le Carré’s point-of-view shifts were a bit jarring, and there was SO MUCH DIALOGUE. I am a big fan of dialogue-heavy books, but there were paragraphs and paragraphs of exposition. I found myself wishing for a flashback when I normally find flashbacks (especially in a mystery novel setting) sort of cheesy and overused. Too much telling, not enough showing– this book is a prime example of that age-old writing workshop rule!

George, Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch in the TTSP movie), and Elsa Fennan were all interesting enough as characters, but they weren’t great characters. I have no doubt that if I keep reading until I get to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (which is actually the fifth book in the Smiley series), Smiley and Peter will really start to grow on me, but for now, I’m not that invested yet. I do want to know more about Smiley’s odd relationship with his ex-wife(?) Ann, though; she seems like an unusual woman, especially for that time period. Smiley’s descriptions of the man she left him for, though, are a bit racially insensitive. I get that he’s frustrated, and the comparison he uses is “understandable”, considering the time period in which this was written, but still uncomfortable to read.

I did not like [SPOILER] the whole Dieter Frey-being-behind-the-whole-thing path the book took. It felt very contrived, and it didn’t help that the introduction/presentation was done poorly. Peter’s investigation reveals that Elsa has been sending correspondence to an address belonging to a specific German firm. Smiley then treats us to a paragraphs-long story about his time in Germany (where he first met Dieter Frey, who was still a university student at the time) seemingly out of nowhere so we can get to know our villain more intimately. Then, at the end, Le Carré proceeds to explain Frey’s overall motivation in such a hand-wavy way. HEH?

Perhaps I would have enjoyed this book more if I had more knowledge of the politics/history of this time period. As it is, I know virtually nothing about popular university politics and opinions in this particular time period in England and Germany’s history (so many people were in the Communist party! Whaaaaat?) and Great Britain’s involvement in the Cold War in general. Same with all the directions and street names the characters shout out during chase scenes– I can imagine that if I were a resident, I would go I know exactly which alleyway they’re running down! or something along that vein, but when Le Carré says “in the style of Fulham” or whatever, I have no clue what that means.

Rating: 2.5/5. I didn’t really like it, but I didn’t dislike it. I think it was a decent book, but I feel as if I’m watching the first one or two episodes of a show and am not that into it yet.

P. Pufferfish learns more about a favorite writer and his extraordinary wife

Today, I am not going to talk about a sci-fi/fantasy/adventure novel! *GASP* I never said this blog would be exclusively about sci-fi/fantasy/adventure, but it may as well be, since that’s 90% of what I read (with the occasional mystery thrown in). However, once a month, I attempt to read something I normally wouldn’t (and would never have chosen myself), and the easiest way to do that was by joining a book club where the next youngest person is almost double my age and all the choices are more “literary”; most of the time, we read books about famous men’s wives– not really my thing, but I’ve liked some of the book choices. Since I’ll be at work a lot this upcoming week and will also be going out of town to meet up with some college friends over the weekend, I decided (mostly out of guilt) to read my book club book first instead of the bajillion other books on the list that I actually wanted to read. And soooooo…

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This is not the cover that was featured on Overdrive, but oh well.

The featured book: Under the Wide and Starry Sky, by Nancy Horan.

Format I consumed it in: E-book, borrowed from work.

The premise: This is the story of Robert Louis Stevenson’s wife, Fanny Van de Grift, an American woman from Indiana who was still married when the two of them met at an artist’s commune in the French countryside. The book opens with Fanny moving to Belgium with her 3 children, teenaged Belle and 2 little boys, to get away from her useless alcoholic husband, Sam. After the youngest son gets really sick, they move to France, where Fanny meets RLS, “Louis”, and a bunch of his artist/writer friends, at the aforementioned commune. Louis immediately falls in love, and the rest of the book follows the two of them throughout their courtship, their marriage in California, and their many, many moves to different places throughout Europe due to Louis’s poor health. As usual, I won’t spoil anything in this section (not that there can be many spoilers to begin with, since this is real history), but their lives/the numerous, sometimes strange journeys they end up taking read like an adventure novel the likes of which Stevenson himself would have been enjoyed writing.

My thoughts [SPOILERS ABOUND]: Fanny and Louis, who are more than 10 years apart in age, clash often (their relationship sometimes feels more like that of a mother and son or a big sister and her baby brother), but there’s no denying that they work. I couldn’t help thinking about how Fanny was so American, and Louis so Scottish, and wondering if that was one of the reasons they clicked– if Louis were English instead, would it have been different? They were both fiery, free, unyielding, wild, eccentric personalities who were prone to “bouts of melancholy”, as I’ll call them, and capable of feeling inexpressible joy. Louis, with his endless optimism, was especially endearing.

When I started this book, I was reading just to get through it rather than out of any true enjoyment (romance of any kind is really not my thing), but even though I was reading begrudgingly, I couldn’t deny that their banter even at their first meeting was pretty good; they really had chemistry with each other. That said, Louis, like all other great men of genius, is obsessed with his work and is selfish in that he doesn’t consider Fanny’s feelings much in the pursuit of inspiration. One of my favorite things about this book is getting to “watch” Robert Louis Stevenson work. I’ve always considered myself a huge fan of RLS, but in reality, I was just a fan of his works; I knew next to nothing about the man. Despite this being a work of fiction and not a biography, I now feel as if I had the privilege of knowing him in real life. I didn’t start liking UtWaSK until the part where Louis tells Lloyd the story he’s made up on the spot about Long John Silver. I loved reading about his inspiration/writing process for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

By the end, though, I found myself speeding through the book to find out what happens to both of them, not just Louis. Like I said, I’ve read several other books about famous men’s wives, and most of the time, the men really overshadowed their wives, even when the wives were the sole POV/narrator throughout the entire thing. I have no doubt that in life, RLS greatly (and perhaps unfairly) overshadowed Fanny (in fact, UtWaSK discusses this in-depth), but she is such a force of her own that I ended up really sympathizing with her and wishing that she hadn’t been so victimized by systemic gender bias/oppression. The part where she talks about how she was trying super hard to get her housework done so that she could write, but more work kept materializing and by the time she was finished, she was so tired she couldn’t write anymore made me sad.

I was a bit uncomfortable reading about Louis playing the role of ” the good white man”/white savior and being treated as a sort of lord by the natives of Samoa, but I had to remind myself that this stuff probably actually happened (I have yet to confirm) and in reality, Louis really WAS one of the few good white guys who understood the negative impact of colonization and how it was going to lead to permanent erasure of this oral culture/history. But he and Fanny were only there as a result of colonization. But he actually cared about the Samoan natives and they accepted him in return. In the Stevensons’ case, the whole having Samoan servants and friends who eventually become like family thing is kind of complicated to judge in terms of ethics.

Rating: 4/5 stars. I ended up liking this way more than I thought I would and appreciate RLS’s books more now that I know about his life and Fanny’s contributions to these stories.

P. Pufferfish: finally able to move on to other books

I’ve purchased 15 new books (almost all Kindle Daily Deal books, by the way!) since finals week of my last quarter. I also just checked out Under the Wide and Starry Sky to read for book club, but forgot to set my Overdrive check-out length to 3 weeks instead of 2, so now I only have until the 23rd to finish it. I bought 2 new books on Prime Day, including Amberlough, which I’ve been eyeing since I first heard about it months ago; I was planning to read that next, but I feel guilty about not starting UtWaSK when I actually have a deadline for that. I also got an email this morning from the library where I work informing me that the book I put on hold, Call For the Dead, is now available. YIKES, WHERE TO GO NEXT? They’re all such different books! Anyways, first things first.

Today’s featured book: Stone of Farewell, by Tad Williams (Book #2 of the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy).

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This is the awful 80s cover I had to look at for (seemingly) weeks.

Format I read it in: Print paperback, unfortunately, from the library where I work. The cover was starting to fall off when I checked it out and had fallen off halfway when I finished, so I spent 5 minutes mending it before putting it back in the stack.

The premise: I’m assuming that if you’re here reading this, you’ve already read The Dragonbone Chair (a.k.a. Book #1 of MSaT), so I’ll just jump straight into this one. The story picks up right from where Book 1 ended, which is with Simon slaying the dragon on the mountain and Naglimund’s fall/Josua’s escape. The first 1/4 of the book is pretty fast-paced, with Simon waking up in Binabik’s hometown and finding out that Binabik and Sludig have been sentenced to death. He and Jiriki are stuck trying to convince the Hunter and Huntress (the leaders of the trolls) to let Binabik and Sludig go so they can continue their quest to get Thorn to Josua, wherever he is, which is just outside of Naglimund, fleeing across the Thrithings land towards the dark forest, Aldheorte, with the 7 survivors of castle’s fall, who conveniently happen to all be important, named characters. Meanwhile, Duke Isgrimnur is miserably traveling through all these port towns, trying to locate Miriamele and Cadrach, who are staying out of sight and traveling under disguise to Nabban. Back at the Hayholt, Guthwulf, who, if you’ve forgotten, was Elias’s best friend and the Hand of the King, is starting to rethink his allegiance to a ruler who he believes to have gone mad.

A few new, essential characters are introduced and some characters who only made very quick appearances in TDC are given more “screen time” in SoF. Williams also utilizes many, many more POV characters (a la ASoIaF, if you’re more familiar with that) in SoF than he did in TDC, where Simon’s POV is the main one.

My thoughts [SPOILERS ABOUND!]: In my opinion, SoF does the opposite of TDC, by putting most of the action in the first 1/3 of the book and then giving us lots of lag time throughout afterwards. Perhaps some will find this more appealing, because by the point it starts lagging, you’ll have already been sucked into the story; that wasn’t the case with me– I much prefer to dawdle and not pay as much attention in the first 150 or so pages and then speed through the remaining hundreds. I ended up reading the first 250 pages pretty fast, and then moaning and groaning and crawling my way through most of the rest. There were some characters’ points of view, such as Josua’s, Rachel’s, Dinivan’s, and Binabik’s, that were always interesting, and then there were others’, such as Simon’s (surprisingly enough) and Tiamik’s, that were so drawn-out and awful that I went and read/finished Carry On before I went back to this book. Miriamele’s POV was just plain frustrating.

One improvement I did note: Josua has become much more likeable as a character, despite not really changing much. Maybe it’s ’cause he’s constantly on the move and being forced to take action and make decisions nonstop, but his character finally stopped screaming “tortured noble hero” and became someone more human that I would want to rally behind. I think Deornoth helps with that a lot– he tries so hard to build Josua up as a savior, but Josua is determined to think practically and in the present.

Despite my approval of what Williams has done with Josua, I have many complaints about characterization in this novel. Williams does a TERRIBLE job writing his female characters. I mentioned in my review of TDC that he set up several characters, notably Miriamele and Maegwin, for success, but I was concerned he would fuck that up and– guess what? He done fucked it up! I wouldn’t even mind as much if he had written these characters as weak and useless to begin with. Simon spends a lot of time complaining, crying, and waiting to be rescued, but he’s done that from the beginning, so I expected that from him and saw it as pretty consistent characterization. Maegwin, on the other hand, has always been more reserved, sharp, and “no-nonsense”, as Eolair observes of her in one scene. It makes no sense to me that upon meeting the Dwarrows in their underground city, she would zone out and let Eolair take the reins while she obsessed over her feelings for him and how she couldn’t focus to help her people while around him. I understand the disappointment and sense of failure that she felt upon discovering that the people in the underground city are Dwarrows and not the Sithi, and I get that she’s grieving over her relatives’ death and the loss of her home, but there is no way that a woman who ran her father’s castle while he was gone and calmly commanded reluctant, inexperienced noblewomen to fortify it against attack would fail to make the connection between the important information the Dwarrows were dispensing and the possible path they could take to ensure it got to Josua. I refuse to believe that she would (spitefully) “accidentally” send Eolair on the right path and just behave like a little girl when her people needed her most.

The same goes for Miriamele. She is daring and sometimes reckless when it comes to making plans, but in her everyday life and on the road, she is resourceful and very cautious. So of course Williams has her lose all her sense of reasoning as soon as she lays eyes on Aspitis, who is so handsome and blonde and “gentlemanly” that she completely misses how sleazy and suspicious he is. Sure, she’s an innocent, sheltered teenage girl, but it’s just not believable that she would dismiss Aspitis’s rapey behavior and let him [SPOILER] push her into having sex with him; it’s so inconsistent with her previous characterization.

Vorzheva remains useless, but I didn’t have much hope for her to begin with. Two of the new female characters that are introduced are there just to be love interests/make life easier for the male characters they’re associated with. I think the only female characters who didn’t disappoint me in SoF are Rachel and Duchess Gudrun, who are pretty bad-ass older women, but I suspect the reason Williams didn’t try to soften their characters somehow is because they’re both mother figures and already feminine enough.

The most unbearably annoying and boring character, though, is Tiamik. His scenes are long and never-ending, his decisions and thought process are eyerollingly awful, and I don’t get why Williams didn’t just wait until Book 3 to give him a bigger role to play instead of tormenting us by having us read about him doing nothing in Book 2.

Rating: 3.5/5. I had to remove one whole star for the injustice done to the female characters and another half a star for pacing. UGH. I hope To Green Angel Tower is better than this!

P. Pufferfish rereads Carry On instead of finishing Stone of Farewell

Well, shit. I think I’ve lost the ability to read books that aren’t in e-book format. It’s taking me forever to get through Stone of Farewell, which isn’t even a difficult read! It’s a bit dense, and there are lots and lots of strange names, but The Dragonbone Chair was the same way (in fact, it was much slower than SoF, and I sped through that. I’ve been a bit busy at work, so most of the reading I’ve done has been in little snatches (meaning during breaks, on the toilet, and lying in the dark on my phone right before falling asleep). Of course, since the copy of SoF that I have is an old library copy, I decided to read a different book on my phone that would be easier to carry around. I was going to read Clockwork Prince, which I’ve been meaning to read for forever, but all the library’s e-book copies were checked out, so I had to go on the holds list. You know what wasn’t on the holds list?

The featured book: Carry On, by Rainbow Rowell, which I’ve already read, but felt like reading again.

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What happened to the old cover? Also, I mentally cast Taron Egerton and Xavier Samuel as Simon and Baz while reading this.

Format I read it in: E-book, the BEST format.

The premise: Simon Snow, a.k.a. The Chosen One, is the terribly magically-inept adopted son of The Mage, the headmaster of a magical boarding school called Watford, which, until recent years, was extremely elitist and would only admit magicians with more powerful magical abilities, which meant that the majority of the students were from old, wealthy families… until the Mage came along and pushed through a bunch of reforms that opened up admissions to all students, so long as they possessed at least an ounce of magic.

As the novel opens, Simon is heading back to Watford for his eighth and final school year. A mysterious threat called the Insidious Humdrum, an entity that sucks up magic from the places in which it appears, is terrorizing the magical population of England. The old magical families are on the edge of open revolt against the Mage, who they see as having crossed a line/on a mission to rid them of all their power and influence. Simon’s roommate, Tyrannus Basilton “Baz” Grimm-Pitch, the heir to the most powerful magical family in England, has gone missing, and Simon suspects he is off scheming against the Mage (and by default Simon himself) somewhere. He attempts to enlist the help of his best friend, the talented and whip-smart Penelope “Penny” Bunce, to find Baz, but she dismisses his concerns as imaginary, a result of his years-long fixation with Baz, and insists that they should focus on researching the bigger problem, the Insidious Humdrum, instead. Meanwhile, Simon’s long-term but lukewarm relationship with his girlfriend Agatha Wellbelove, the most beautiful girl at Watford, is starting to disintegrate.

My thoughts: Before I picked up this book, I had it described to me as “Harry Potter, with extra emphasis on Harry and Draco”, or “Harry Potter fanfiction”. Carry On was probably partly inspired by Harry Potter, but calling it Harry Potter fanfiction or a parody of Harry Potter isn’t doing it justice. Rainbow Rowell, like J.K. Rowling, utilizes many Chosen One tropes and sets up her characters in the traditional roles they would play in a Chosen One-type story, but then, unlike J.K., she goes and turns all those tropes on their heads. The characters start to rebel against their storybook destinies, and the funny thing is that the other characters try to put them back on-course, with varying degrees of success.

One example is Agatha, who gets sick and tired of playing the “supportive love interest” role and tries to spend more time with Baz, whom she sees as a bad boy villain type/a way to break away from the “good girl” identity she’s been stuck with. Baz, who [SPOILERS] is actually a pretty shitty villain (because he’s not really a villain), rejects her advances because 1) he sees them as a bored good girl’s attempt to experiment/flirt with danger and 2) another reason which I shall not mention to save you from a huge spoiler. The only character who sticks to the Hermione/extremely capable female sidekick role is Penny, who I will assume is different from your typical main characters in a Chosen One-type story because she’s a non-stereotypical character of color (half Indian, half white); she and Simon actually have a brief exchange about her ethnic background and his assumptions upon meeting her.

I loved the set-up of this book. The first 7 books in the series (which don’t exist) are referenced as if we the readers actually read all 7 books and know what the characters are talking about. We haven’t, but we do know what they’re talking about because most of us are familiar with Chosen One tropes and Harry Potter. It’s similar to how Galaxy Quest gets to spend just 15 or so minutes setting up its story because most viewers are at least somewhat familiar with Star Trek and will get what it’s parodying. But then it goes off and starts to tell its own wonderful, original, immensely entertaining story. Carry On is the same way; it pokes fun at its “source material” by subtly pointing out things that are illogical (such as the magical world’s avoidance of technology) and fixing some of them, and at the same time, it gets us to care about its characters and their story, independent of the “source material”. 1/3 of the way through, I was no longer thinking of/comparing Simon, Penny, Agatha, and Baz to Harry, Hermione, Ginny, Draco, etc. and just wanted to know more about Simon and Baz’s pasts and what would happen to them by the end of the book.

Rating: 5/5. I wish[MASSIVE SPOILER] that Simon got to learn his parents’ identities the way we do, but he never does. However, it makes sense why he wouldn’t, so I can’t take off stars for it. I really hope Rainbow Rowell considers a sequel in the future.

The 4th of July With P. Pufferfish

As an American working in an American library, I have the 4th of July off, so what nice, productive things have I been doing? So far, I’ve eaten a gigantic breakfast (I usually don’t eat breakfast, so this is atypical); listened to several episodes of the Breaking the Glass Slipper podcast, which is an amazing podcast, by the way (it’s run by 3 ladies who are sci-fi/fantasy/horror fans/writers discussing these genres through a feminist lens), so check it out if you haven’t yet; randomly watched half an episode of this super-dramatic Indian soap opera with my mom, who is obsessed with it; aaaaaaand I’ve sort of worked on this blog.

Feels weird to say that, ’cause for me, blogging usually just means creating a repository for the shit that’s constantly floating around in my head and then dumping said shit in there. It’s messy and unstructured and it’s never really pretty. However, now that I’m done with school and my days are more free than they’ve ever been in recent memory (I’ve spent my entire life in school, pretty much), I find my natural library student instincts taking over and wanting to impose some method of organization on my posts. Let’s see how long this lasts.

All that aside, today I’m going to be talking about this book I finished a couple days ago that’s the first in a set of 6 that I just purchased. The other 5 are sitting in my living room, staring me in the face every time I eat dinner or watch TV.

cavernofthebloodzombiescoverThe featured bookCavern of the Blood Zombies, by Xu Lei (Book #1 of The Graverobbers’ Chronicles)

Format I read it in: PRINT, because the Kindle version was ridiculously overpriced. By the way, can I just say that I am having so much trouble reading books in print now that I’ve 95% converted to digital? I don’t care what all you die-hard print fans say, it is MUCH easier to curl up with my Kindle than with a print book!

The premise: The narrator (whose name I can’t recall to save my life) is a rare book dealer (the back of the book says he’s a bookseller, but the glimpse we get into his life makes him seem more like the antique book dealers I’ve met) who’s descended from a long line of graverobbers, and when I say graverobbers, I’m not talking about small-scale graverobbers who are paid by ancient medical students to steal cadavers– I am talking legit tomb plunderers who are well-versed in history, tomb architecture, trap-breaking, etc. Anyways, at the beginning of the story, he comes across what looks like a map to a tomb that very likely contains a huge payload. So he hits up his uncle, “Uncle Three” (or Third Uncle, I’m assuming), an experienced tomb raider with a small, pre-assembled team consisting of the cowardly Big Kui, devil-may-care Panzi, and a mysterious newcomer that the narrator nicknames “Pokerface” who seems to know way, way more about supernatural forces than is healthy/normal even for a high-level graverobber. The five of them set out to the rural village near where the tomb sits and that is when ALL THIS SHIT HAPPENS. [SPOILERS] They get sold out by their cave guides, they run into corpse-eating bugs and zombies, they find out that the tomb they’re attempting to rob belongs to an ancient general who reputedly commanded armies of the living and the dead, etc. etc.

My thoughts: I thought this book was a bit campy, kind of like a B-grade adventure/horror film, and it had very serialized feel to it, but hey, it was originally uploaded in parts online, so it all makes sense! Did I enjoy it less because of this? Nope! I sped through it (it is by no means a dense book) and was very entertained throughout. I enjoyed the level of attention paid to details such as shovel styles, differences in tomb construction based on time period, types of traps laid, etc. The banter between the characters wasn’t exactly laugh-out-loud funny (although I did laugh out loud once or twice), but it was amusing and I welcomed it after the darker reading material I’ve been consuming lately.

I did wish they included footnotes/annotation, since this is a translated work, and some things do get lost in translation between eastern/western languages and cultures, no matter how good the translator is. Quick little explanatory notes, like the kind employed by anime fansubbers, would have been perfectly fine, and would’ve really added to the quality of the book. There are lots of fat jokes and the narrator makes a comment about how disgusting it would be to kiss a man in one scene; I realize this is (unfortunately) a normal thing, culturally, and wasn’t bothered by it, but I know some people who would be put off by something like this, so please note!

Overall, would I recommend this? To a particular crowd, yes. If you’re a fan of humorous horror-adventure graphic novels (or some combination thereof) you can spare a couple hours to at least read through this one book to see if you like it or not. I myself will definitely be reading the remaining 5.

Rating: 3.5/5.

And now, I return to the fireworks that have been going off all day and endless patriotic music that won’t stop playing on the radio. Until next time. Cheers.