Sunday, May 16, 2010

Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck

I'm searching my memory for a book more pleasurable to read than Travels with Charley and I'm coming up empty. Traveling the country with Steinbeck and Charley, the poodle, is pure joy.

Steinbeck is a gifted writer, somehow making every sentence quotable and something to linger over. I found myself going back and re-reading just to get the feel of the words again. Steinbeck sets out on a journey of America, in the 1960s, in order to get a feel of the people and how America has changed. Since he is a prolific writer of America, he feels he needs to reacquaint himself with it. Because you can't faithfully write about that which you don't know.

Steinbeck gets a custom truck with a camper attached to live in on his travels. He takes along Charley, his distinguished French poodle, for company. Their travels take them to Maine, through the midwest, the Dakotas, California, Texas, Deep South and back again. He talked to as many people as he could, without identifying himself, and tried to answer his own question of "What are Americans like today?" Try as he might, I don't think he found himself a sufficient answer.

We get to experience everything along with John and Charley. The giant Redwoods, the Badlands, Charley vs the bears of Yellowstone, and desegregation in New Orleans (and we get to be nauseous along with him at the violence and hatred).

Travels with Charley is worth lingering over, taking your time and being present every word along the way.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book is a young adult/children's fantasy novel, made up of short stories that bring together the life of Nobody Owens. I say YA because I'm guessing this might bother some littler kids, but what do I know? Maybe kids are more cynical now.

Nobody was just a baby when his entire family was murdered. He escaped into a graveyard where the inhabitants shooed away the killer and adopted Nobody as their own. His new parents became Mr & Mrs Owens and his guardian is Silas. The Owens' are ghosts, having been dead several hundred years. Silas is neither dead nor alive and is able to leave the graveyard to acquire food and clothes for Nobody. (Gaiman later confirmed that Silas is a vampire -something I wondered throughout the book).

Nobody grows up in the graveyard, mostly avoiding live people, except for one little girl named Scarlett. But she moves away and once again, Nobody has just the dead to keep him company.

The book goes through many of Nobody's adventures, including going to school with live kids. He also discovers that the killer of his family is still hunting him and things get really hairy for Nobody.

Another excellent Gaiman book!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Changes by Jim Butcher

The latest in the Harry Dresden series, this one knocked characters and readers alike on their collective asses.

There will be spoilers here: beware.

The first sentence of the first chapter sets the tone for the entire book. Not only that, it sets the entire focus.

"I answered the phone, and Susan Rodriguez said, "They've taken our daughter.""

Yup, Harry is a father. Has been for about 8 years, since his last encounter with Susan, before she turned into a half-vampire from the Red Court. Susan failed to let Harry know this because, rightly, she recognized that neither her nor Harry's lifestyle was safe for a child. Susan had handed the child, Maggie (named after Harry's mom), over to a couple who already had kids. Still, it was pretty harsh for Susan to never mention this to Harry, and he takes it pretty badly. A wizard is powerful, a wizard carrying that much rage is downright scary.

Susan shows up on Harry's doorstep, with Martin in tow, to set into motion a plan to get Maggie back. Susan and Martin have been fighting their vampire curses and fighting the Red Court, almost like terrorists. Even though Maggie had been kept a secret, word got out to the wrong people. Namely, Arianna of the Red Court. The plan is to carry out a bloodcurse using Maggie to kill off everyone in her bloodline. Harry, Susan, and possibly Thomas and another surprise relative.

Harry and Susan have one hell of an adventure just trying to get to the Yucatan to save Maggie. They end up fighting in goblin territory for their lives, Harry meets up with some retired gods, the White Council is in a serious state of unrest, and Harry makes a possibly life ending deal.

The battles are extraordinarily written and well done. The characters just keep growing and getting better, and that makes it all the more sad when some of the well knowns have to perish in this novel.

The ending....not so happy with. It's a cliffhanger times 100 and we're left like this til April 2011. Not fair, Mr. Butcher. Not fair.