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Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Study in Ashes by Emma Jane Holloway

I thought this was going to be a trilogy, but A Study in Ashes leaves the door open for more.  I suspect the focus will be different, perhaps on the repercussions concerning Tobias Roth and Alice.

A Study in Silk introduced Evelina Cooper, niece of Sherlock Holmes and practitioner of magic.  Reviewed here.

A Study in Darkness is certainly a darker book and continues the adventures of Evelina, Nick, Imogen, and Tobias.  Reviewed here.

A Study in Ashes finally resolves The Baskerville Affair.

What I liked:  the interesting take on Holmes' The Hound of the Baskervilles; the school teacher's character development; the introduction of the sinister Moriarty.

On the other hand, I had some serious reservations with this last book.

As this series continued, it did get darker and more sinister, but the darkness was not necessarily an improvement as it was too unremitting--too much about the evil characters and not enough about the good ones.  The light touch in A Study in Silk was a pleasure that worked with the good vs evil theme and shouldn't have been abandoned so completely.  

--The Magnus arc was unnecessary and so rushed that it served more as distraction than resolution within the major story line.

--The steampunk elements overcame the narrative in the very lengthy section about the war. 

--In my opinion, the Imogen plot shouldn't have happened.  She deserved a larger role based on the first novel, but not this role.

The end was followed by another section that felt like the end...and so on.

I really enjoyed the first book, but felt let down by this one.

NetGalley/Random House/Del Rey Spectra

Steampunk/Paranormal.  Dec. 31, 2013.  Print version:  352 pages.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Another fairy tale pastiche, Cinder is the Cinderella story cast in the distant future.  The quirky spin on this YA novel:  Cinder is a cyborg.

There is a selfish, avaricious stepmother, one good and one egotistical stepsister, an evil queen, and a handsome prince. 

Of course, Cinder and the prince are immediately attracted to one another.  This is a retelling of a fairy tale, after all.  It is easy to understand on Cinder's part-- I mean, what teenage girl would not fall into fandom with a handsome prince who seems down t0 earth and unassuming.  Not that Cinder doesn't try to deny her insta-liking; of course, she does.  She is fully aware that if poor and socially unsuitable isn't enough to put off any male (much less the PRINCE), the cyborg factor would be a game changer.

The cyborg device makes for an interesting twist to the familiar tale, an ill-fitting prosthetic leg instead of a glass slipper.  However, several things bothered me, and some areas felt either repetitious or unnecessary. The plague aspect didn't work for me; it felt unreal and glossed over, used as a convenient plot device, but never generating the fear and panic such a deadly plague would create.

A lot of potential, but everything felt very surface, which is, indeed, a characteristic of fairy tales.  

Cinder is the first novel in The Lunar Chronicles.  Young readers who want a fast read and enjoy a fairy tale romance will enjoy this novel.  In fact, it seems to have been extremely popular and most reviews are very positive.  It isn't that I disliked it, but it didn't have the "je nais se quoi" that Megan Whalen Turner, Jane Yolen, Robin McKinley, and Donna Jo Napoli have in their books.

YA/SciFi.  2012.  

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

In the Stacks, in the Que, on the Wishlist

Yes, I WOULD like to live here!

By Peter and Donna Thomas via One Lucky Day.

Busy days, and I've fallen behind in my reviewing.  I have twelve books scheduled for review closer to their release dates, but I keep putting off the incomplete drafts--consisting mostly of title and author and MAYBE a paragraph or two.

I'm in good shape with reading material, 'though.  

In the stack by my reading chair are the physical books:  

Stella Bain by Anita Shreve
Social:  Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect by Matthew D. Lieberman
The Vanishing by Wendy Web

E-book que

 Deadline by John Dunning
Red Chrysanthemum by Henry F. Mazel
 The Sleep Room by F. R. Tallis
Where Monsters Dwell by Jorgen Brekke
Aurora: Pegasus by Amanda Bridgeman
The Two Mrs. Abbots by D. E. Stevenson.

Currently, I'm reading Lake of Tears by Mary Logue.

Recently finished:  

The Mile Marker Murders by C. W. Saari
Time of Attack by Marc Cameron
Cinder by Marissa Meyer

New on my wishlist:  Rochelle Jewel Shapiro's Kaylee's Ghost, recommended by Ruchama Feurerman.  You can read her review here.

Time to see if I can complete a review on one of my recently finished books.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Check It Out...

A few days ago, I reviewed The Emperor's Blades, an excellent high fantasy novel, the first in a trilogy.

Tor and Goodreads are having a give away of 9 copies.

If you are interested, you can enter here.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Great Quotes

via pinterest

via pinterest

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Stone Boy by Sophie Loubiere

The Stone Boy  is a strange and fascinating novel about mental illness and parent/child relations that leaves the reader with shifting perceptions about truth.

I thought I knew what it was about and updated my opinions several times with new information, but truly, I never had a clear perception and had to work through each new situation.  

The book is difficult to review because to appreciate it fully, it has to develop for each reader.  I want people to read this book, but I also want them to be able to navigate the plot in the circuitous way the author presents it.  Recognizing and puzzling over each bit of information, changing your mind, getting little bits of back story, making suppositions, experiencing a sense of dread...

The beginning is a bit slow and did not particularly engage me, but I am so glad I stuck with it because I became completely immersed in the novel.  I will not soon be forgetting The Stone Boy.

Sophie Loubiere won the Lion Noir Prize and the Ville de Mauves-sur-Loire Prize for The Stone Boy.   Norah Mahoney did a great job with the first English translation.

Highly recommended.  

(After a period of books that were not so good, many of which I did not finish, I'm having an unprecedented run of luck with my ARC choices!)

NetGalley/Grand Central Publishing

Psychological.  Oct. 2013.  Print version:  304 pages.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

These Broken Stars by Meagan Spooner and Amie Kaufman

These Broken Stars   is a successful YA collaboration for Spooner and Kaufman.

A "massive great big" (phrase from a British guide on a tour many years ago that I have appropriated) spaceliner is suddenly pulled from hyperspace, the evacuation to the emergency pods is chaos.

Tarver Merendsen sees Lilac LaRoux fall and rescues her.  In turn, Lilac leads Tarver to one of the crew pods and with surprising skill manages to strip wires and persuade the pod to detach.  Others, some 50,000, were not so lucky. (See, it really was a "massive great big" spaceliner!)

The relationship between the two is rocky.  Although initially attracted to each other, Lilac is the daughter of the wealthiest man in the universe; Tarver, a decorated war hero, but in no way suitable.  Lilac knows what her father is capable of doing to unsuitable suitors and cruelly dismisses and humiliates Tarver.  What a difference a day makes.

Then, of course, they find themselves alone together in the pod, and the only survivors when the pod crashes onto an unknown and deserted planet.

The story becomes a survival story as the two travel toward the crash of the massive spaceliner.  They must learn to depend on each other if they want to reach the crash site where they hope for eventual rescue.

I have to admit that I was originally put off a bit by the lovely, but oh, so romantic, cover, but quickly found myself immersed in Tarver and Lilac's struggles.

The story alternates between Tarver's voice and take on the situation and Lilac's.  It works very well, in spite of the fact that it is more story-telling than dialogue.  At the end of Tarver's chapters, there is a short bit of an interrogation, so we know that Tarver survives, but the interrogation raises other questions.

Only two nitpicks:  First, I think the characters should have been older; they seemed way too young for the experience and skill each had.  Second, a vagueness about some situations near the end left me unclear about the nature of the situation, and the authors tied things up a little quickly.

Nevertheless, a fast-paced, entertaining novel with well-developed characters.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.


YA/Science Fiction.  Dec. 10,  2013.  Print version:  384 pages.                 

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Invisible Code by Christopher Fowler

The Invisible Code  is both funny and serious.  Aging detectives Arthur Bryant and John May are part of the Peculiar Crimes Unit.  Well, there you go.  

Christopher Fowler describes Bryant and May as Golden Age detectives in a modern world.  Much of the modern world puzzles them, including technology, but they press on.

What qualifications are required for a crime to be designated peculiar?  The Peculiar Crimes Unit (fictional) was established during WWII to handle cases that might cause public scandal or public unrest.  These two qualifications allow for a lot of leeway, and when a young woman dies in a church for no discernible reason, Arthur Bryant wants the case. 

Denied that case, Bryant and May are summoned to the office of the man who wants to disband their unit.  Both are surprised and wary, especially when Oskar Kasavian asks for their help in discovering the cause of the strange behavior his much-younger wife has begun to display.

The beginning has lots of funny, witty remarks, but the situation soon turns more serious, and Bryant (with his false teeth clicking), May (the smooth talker), and their team find themselves investigating more than one murder, uncovering secrets, and  hindered by those in power.  

Favorite characters:  Arthur and his friend Maggie Armitage, the white witch (although her role is very small).

This is my first of the Bryant and May series, but I really liked the characters.  Has anyone else read this series?

NetGalley/Random House Publishing/Bantam Dell

Mystery.  Dec. 17, 2013.  Print version:  368 pages.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sunday Thoughts

Believe me, I appreciate NetGalley.  Getting books for free is a wonderful gift for readers, and I'm well aware of that.  While there are cycles when the books don't really appeal to me after I begin reading, there are cycles when I have an excess of good books and hate deciding which to start next.

Sometimes I discover new-to-me authors that I enjoy and can order other books they've written with more confidence.  This is especially nice if the author is prolific--lots of good reading in the offing.  

Sometimes a debut novel introduces an author that just nails it from that first effort, and I know I'll be following that author, waiting for his or her next effort.  But this can be frustrating if it is a series, because I hate waiting for the next installment.

Another frustration occurs when I have to schedule a book review up to six months or more away.   If I really like the book, I want to talk about it NOW.  And this has just happened with two books:

The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley is an excellent fantasy novel.  Great characters, well-written, and engrossing, but it won't be published until next May. 

 I will have to schedule the review for April.

Just received an email from Brian Staveley and the book will be released Jan. 14, rather than in May.  :)

Bred in the Bone by Christoper Brookmyre is part of a series (so I can go back and pick up two earlier books and/or some of his other novels).  A complex police procedural set in Glasgow, Bred in the Bone kept me completely involved.  Another May release. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Braque Connection by Estelle Ryan

The Braque Connection 

I very much enjoyed the two previous books in this series.  This latest in the series is  less satisfying.  Not terrible, by any means, and I still enjoy the characters, but beginning to feel forced.

Has Ryan painted herself into a corner with the artist titles?  :)  OK, OK.  Forgive the pun.  Nevertheless, the mysteries have become self-confined by connections to great artists and leave the reader considering new titles like  The Rembrandt Connection, The El Greco Connection, The Van Gogh Connection and wondering how many murder mysteries an insurance agency can encounter.  

(Spoiler) -- At least we can eliminate one villain from the scene.  Kubenov disappears from the picture.  These are not deliberate puns; it seems that artistic terms apply easily to different genres.  Kubenov as the villain had certainly run his course; however, an accomplice survives and disappears.

I understand that with Genevieve's ability to decipher and interpret patterns, the use of complicated patterns are part of the charm of the novels.  The complicated pattern of the under paintings, however, stretches my view of plausibility.  

Will I read the next in the series?  Certainly.  I still like the characters and can hope for a bit of expansion in the format.

Mystery.  Sept. 2013.  Print length:  376 pages.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Traveling with the Dead by Barbara Hambly

Traveling with the Dead , the second novel in this series, picks up in 1908.  James Asher, ostensibly the mild-mannered Oxford don, but in reality a former spy, happens to glimpse an old enemy, Ignace Karolyi with vampire Charles Farren, Earl of Ernchester.  This meeting can promise no good to the Empire, especially with all of the troubles that are already boiling over in Eastern Europe. 

James follows the pair to Paris, hoping to discover what reason an enemy spy and a dangerous vampire could have for teaming up.  And there is someone else on their trail.  From Paris, the journey leads to Vienna, and finally, to Constantinople.  

Lydia, worried about James, eventually seeks the aid of Don Simon Ysidro and takes off on the trail of her husband, but she is not the first to be following James.  Danger and death always accompany a vampire, and added to that are the machinations of the world of spy craft.

As in the previous novel, the writing is excellent and the characters well-drawn.  Hambly is able to create fascinating characters and a convincing atmosphere of the years that presage WWI as she casually drops in some of the events and conflicts that are building in Europe:  German Nationalism, unrest in Slavic countries, the call for social reform.

I am grateful to NetGalley for introducing me to this series with Hambly's latest James Asher novel The Kindred of Darkness, due to be released in March.  It was this ARC that instigated my interest in the series, and I will be scheduling that review for some time in February.

Now that I've read Those Who Hunt the Night and Traveling with the Dead, I'll certainly be seeking the next in the series soon.

James Asher, Vampire Novels

Those Who Hunt the Night (Locus Award winner for Best Horror Novel in 1989)

Traveling with the Dead (Locus Award nominee 1996, winner of the Lord Ruthven Award 1996)

Blood Maidens (2010)

Magistrates of Hell (2012)

The Kindred of Darkeness (March 1, 2014)

(Only two left for me to read in this series, so maybe I will give it a short rest, then, maybe I'll try one of Hambly's other series.)

Mystery/Paranormal/Vampire.  Orig. publ. 1995; republ. by Open Road 2011.  361 pages.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Willful Princess and the Piebald Prince by Robin Hobb

I'm a fan of Robin Hobb, especially of the trilogies associated with the Farseers in some way:  The Liveship Traders, The Farseer Trilogy, and The Tawny Man Trilogy.   When I saw the novella The Willful Princess and the Piebald Prince was a prequel to The Farseer Trilogy, I was eager to read it.  

The truth, however, is that I am not a great fan of novellas.  I prefer the layered depths of a novel to the efficiently concise narrative required of a novella.

If the purpose was to reveal the prejudice against Witted individuals, the novella served its purpose.  On the other hand, it did not engage my sympathies on an emotional level.  All characters were treated rather like in a fairy tale, with that surface depiction that allows the author to concentrate on the cautionary message:  the world is full of peril.  Power struggles, jealousy, torture, and betrayals, both intentional and unintentional, abound. 

Sometimes we assume a "fairy tale ending" is a happy one, but that certainly isn't true of older versions of fairy tales.  The endings are often unfair, tragic, full of sorrow.  Although some fairy tales reward the triumph of goodness, courage, and persistence,  others (in their original forms) lack a happy ending.

In that sense, The Willful Princess and the Piebald Prince  reveals that sometimes evil triumphs, not only through the persistence of the villain, but through the flaws in the "hero."  Really, there is no hero in this novella, but a character with whom we can sympathize.

The Willful Princess and the Piebald Prince does serve to explain why the Witted were hated and hunted, but it does not provide the depth, adventure, and excitement I usually love in Hobb's work.  I am very fond of fairy tales, their history, purpose, and analysis, but prefer Hobb's long, involved novels with characters that live and breathe and tackle the impossible with occasional success to a fairy tale version.

Fantasy/Fairy Tale.  2013.  85 pages.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Night Is Forever by Heather Graham

The Night Is Forever is set in Tennessee on a horse farm that functions as a therapy center.  When Olivia Gordon discovers Marcus Denby, owner and founder of the therapy center, dead in a ravine, she is grief-stricken; when Marcus actually appears to Olivia and tells her that he was murdered, the shock causes her to faint.

Olivia, one of the therapists at the center, refuses to accept the verdict that Marcus fell of the wagon and took the drugs that killed him, but is can only assert her belief that after 30 years, Marcus would not have fallen back into addiction.  She can hardly explain that his ghost told her that he was murdered.

Olivia contacts her cousin Malachi--a member of the Krewe, a special FBI unit that deals with ghosts and the supernatural--and asks for his help.  

Special Agent Dustin Blake is sent in to investigate.

Lots of ghosts, puzzling murders, plenty of possible suspects, and a little romance.

The Night Is Forever provided a light and entertaining mystery.  It is part of a series about the FBI unit, The Krewe of Hunters, but I did not realize that, and the book functions perfectly well as a stand-alone.  


Paranormal/Mystery.  Sept. 2013.  Print length:  363 pages.

Monday, November 11, 2013

A New-to-me Series

The Kindred of Darkness by Barbara Hambly is an ARC I received from NetGalley.  It won't be released until March 2014, but I liked it enough to read and review the first in the series.

Those Who Hunt the Night (James Asher, Book 1)  was the Locus Award winner for the Best Horror Novel of 1989.  Open Road Media republished it in 2011. 

 The series is named for James Asher, apparently a mild-mannered professor of Linguistics and Folk Lore at Oxford, but in reality a former spy in Her Majesty's secret service, acquainted with violence and subterfuge, a necessary skill set for the novel.  

Although the series is named for James, his wife Lydia often holds the spotlight.  An heiress, Lydia caused a family uproar when she insisted on attending Oxford and most scandously, on becoming a doctor, then risked being disinherited by marrying James, who lacked the appropriate social standing.  (After James married Lydia without the promise of the money, Lydia's father dis-disinherited her, but the entire family still disapproved.)

The vampires that Hambly imagines are neither sympathetic nor sexy; they are skilled predators who, despite their quickness and strength, are strangely vulnerable if their true identities are revealed.  The sex appeal of the vampire is only a hunting mechanism, a means of luring prey.  They survive not only by blood, but by the psychic element of swallowed to speak.  No nice vampires choosing to drink cautiously, because blood alone in not enough.

When London vampires are murdered, Don Simon Ysidro (a vampire since 1588) approaches James and, with the threat to Lydia, forces James to aid in the search for the killer.  

With Lydia as James' hostage to fate, Don Simon and James pursue through the killer through the London of 1907.  

Don Simon is a fascinating character:  Old World, cultivated, intelligent, and snobbish, but he retains a little of the character of his former self, and he works well with James.  Without Don Simon's knowledge, James has enlisted Lydia's help with research while trying to keep anyone from being aware of their contact.

Although I wasn't as pleased with the revelation of the source of the evil stalking the vampires (and that evil took more human lives than vampire lives), the novel provides hours of good reading and three compelling protagonists.

I read Hambly's Renfield:  Slave of Dracula for the 2007 R.I.P. Challenge, and I liked the way Hambly expanded on Bram Stoker's Dracula.

I liked The Kindred of Darkness enough to begin reading the series, and I liked Those Who Hunt the Night enough to continue with the next in the series.

Mystery/Supernatural.  Orig. publ.  1989; republ.  2011.  350 pages.

Friday, November 08, 2013

The Murder Tree by Alan Veale

The Murder Tree was inspired by a historic murder in Glasgow .  Veale employs the concept of both genealogical research and some psychic experiences that affect descendants of the victim/murderer.

The theory works well, but the rather convoluted and supernatural way that Chrissy Fersen is drawn into genealogical research failed to allow me to enter the story thoroughly.  You know the feeling of reading and following a narrative from a great distance, processing, but unable to truly make connection?  

The David Abram influence resulted in my being unable to jump into the story with both feet, even though it takes a while for his influence on events to be revealed.

Although the concept of researching the family tree only to find that an ancestor was either a murderer or a victim is intriguing, the lack of character development and the inability to suspend disbelief kept me from becoming genuinely involved in this novel.

NetGalley/Troubador Publishing.

Supernatural.  Oct. 2013.  Print version:  238 pages.

Path Unchosen: Daughter of Ravenswood by Kim Cleary

Path Unchosen  is a new take on the zombie genre.  The zombie plague is more or less over, survivors continue their lives in small towns and villages, cities abandoned, luxuries like electricity are a thing of the past...but life goes on in a mix of 19th and 20th century culture.

The world-building in the novel acknowledges these new conditions in an off-hand way, but fails to truly develop the conditions of this evolving situation.  In some ways, life isn't very different and the social infrastructure is in tact (which given the implied devastation seems pretty remarkable).  

Judy, the protagonist, has spent most of her life in an orphanage. The orphans leave when they are eighteen, sent to jobs that have been found for them, but Judy's birthday has come and gone weeks ago.

Her best friend Rose is about to embark on her new life, but she informs Judy that she has overheard a conversation between Father Andrew and the nuns indicating that they plan to keep Judy at the orphanage because she is different.

Judy and Rose plan Judy's escape, but Judy also wants to discover the records that would reveal who she was and how she came to the orphanage.  What she finds is little more than a vague clue, but her discovery leads to her abandonment in a graveyard where a strange man tells her that she called him.  He leads her to Ravenswood, tells her that his name is Purah, and that he will undertake her tutelage in magic.

A debut novel with interesting possibilities.  However, the beginning section at the orphanage is too slow; the rest of the novel moves too quickly from one thing to another.  The characters scarcely leave the page and events are treated in a surface manner.

Hopefully, the follow-up novel will take pare down some of extraneous stuff and develop the characters and situations more fully.  And eliminate the love triangle.

NetGalley/Raven's Lair Publ.

Supernatural.  Oct. 22, 2013.  Print length: 261 pages.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Runner by Patrick Lee

Runner  (note the endorsement by Lee Child on the cover) sounds like an exciting thriller.

And it starts out that way.  Sam Dryden has been unable to get his life in order after the death of his wife and child.  In recent months, he has felt compelled to take midnight runs.

When he takes his run on the night in question, a terrified girl runs into him.  Sam decides to help her escape her pursuers.  Even for an ex-Delta, this escape proves difficult because the men who want to capture and kill twelve-year-old Rachel have unusual means and technology.

As events transpire, Sam discovers that Rachel is a mind-reader and knowledge that frightens some powerful individuals.  In his need to protect Rachel, Sam begins to  feel alive and purposeful again.  The attachment of man and child grows, and Sam is willing to risk his life to save hers.

Aside from the technology and manpower launched in the search for Sam and Rachel (which is beyond anything available today...I hope), things grow a bit too fantastical to prevent me from nitpicking and disengaging from the plot.

If the author had kept things a little more contained, I would have liked it better.  This is the third book I've read recently with MKUltra (CIA mind control project) elements; only this one adds genetic modifications to the list of ways to manipulate and control individuals.

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press/Minotaur Books

Suspense/Action.  Publication date says Feb. 2014, but I see plenty of reviews already.  
Print version:  352 pages.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Hacked by Geri Hosler

Hacked   draws on the phone hacking scandal involving Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation and in the 2011 London riots.        
The novel is the first in a proposed series featuring Liz Paxton, head of a London Murder Squad, Hacked   follows Liz in her attempts to find the murderer of a reporter who had been in the middle of the phone hacking scandal.  

His illegally acquired information had led even the reporter, accustomed to being in possession of dangerous information implicating the rich and powerful in crime or scandal, to be fearful of his life.

Characters:  the redoubtable Liz, her best friend Lou; a newspaper powerhouse; a war hero; a scary psychopath;  a villainous Russion Oligarch (is villainous redundant in regard to Russian Oligarchs?), and some incompetent or corrupt officials.

I'm afraid I had reservations about the friendship of Liz and Lou--police and press, you know.  It also bothers me when people fall in love withing a 2-3 day time span.  Lust, maybe, but really deep-seated emotions?  I find that trope questionable, annoying, and over-used.

All in all, fast-paced, but not tremendously satisfying.


Mystery/Crime.  2013.  Print length:  256 pages.

Monday, November 04, 2013

The Princess in the Opal Mask by Jenny Lundquist

The Princess in the Opal Mask is a YA novel that draws on Cinderella, The Prince and the Pauper, and The Man in the Iron Mask to relate a new fairy tale.  

Princess Wilha has been forced to wear a mask her entire life.  No one is allowed to view her face, and the rumors and myths that have grown up around the princess insure that she will be a fearful mystery to both those inside and those outside of the castle.  In spite of her luxurious life, Wilha has no friend or confidante, her mother is dead, and her father uninterested.

Elara, an orphan in a rebellious Cinderella role, has learned to counter the abuse heaped on her by her "adoptive" family with deceit, sarcasm, and occasional disobedience.  She has a strong sense of self and independence in many ways, but she knows that she must continue to survive in her difficult situation for a while longer.

Told in alternating narratives, we hear from Princess Wilha and from Elara.  When circumstances determine that the two should meet and carry out a political deception, both young women begin discovering things about their pasts.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and because it is a two book series, I eagerly await the conclusion promised by the second book.

ARC from Running Press Publicity.

YA/Fantasy.  Oct. 22, 2013.  Print length:  354 pages.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Article from the Guardian

Reading and the Reader by Philip Davis – review

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Philip Davis elegantly argues that reading is an existential act and that serious literature reaches neural pathways that other texts cannot
This is the first volume of a series on "The Literary Agenda" in which authors, philosophers and even neuroscientists will reassert the importance of literature in the digital age. In this eloquent book, Philip Davis does just that, exploring the power of literary texts and of reading as a creative, even existential, act. Although he is keen to avoid reducing literature to a sub-genre of self-help guides, he sees reading as a potentially transformative process, "a means of opening and reopening, innerly shifting and deepening, mental pathways". Citing the evidence of brain imaging, he argues that literary language, such as new metaphors, can have physical effects. Serious literature reaches those neural pathways that other texts cannot; it awakens a sense of ontological reality, a heightened state of being in the world and "opens out the inside place in human beings". Close reading of texts, from Dickens to Russell Hoban, is at the core of Davis's book. But this is not some dry work of academic lit crit. Rather, it is a heartfelt celebration of the value of reading.
I love that Davis sees reading as "a potentially transformative process."  In light of the article, I regret that my reading is no longer that of "serious literature."   Oh, I sneak in a more serious book now and then, but mostly I read for escape:  mystery, science fiction, fantasy, etc.

When I was young (elementary school), my father insisted that if I continued to bring home Nancy Drew from the library,  I'd also have to find something more worth while.  Not knowing any better, I wandered the nonfiction aisles in the adult section and became interested in archaeology and history.  I still remember books of Greek, Roman, Egyptian history, architecture, culture.  Since I already loved the hundreds of National Geographics my father seemed a logical transition.

Then I started reading my mother's books; she loved historical novels.  What a perfect way to enjoy history, and then research for the fact and fiction in the books.

By high school, I was reading books recommended for college reading posted by my English teachers.  Of course, I read the typical required reading, but also from the lists they posted about important books.  (Not that I've ever abandoned my love for escape reading.)

  A useless degree in English Literature, meant I had to get another in education, then an MA in English Literature.  Lots more reading of classics and criticism.

Teaching meant more reading and rereading of classics and more enjoying lit crit works.

Now...mostly forgettable books and mostly for entertainment; although nonfiction still appeals, especially about WWII, I read for pleasure and adventure most of the time.