Stuff and Nonsense: July 2013



Top 10 Tuesday: Beginnings & Endings

As this week's Top 10 Tuesday is all about beginnings and endings, I decided to list some of my favorite opening and ending lines. I know the ending lines might not make a lot of sense to people who haven't read the novels, but that just means you need to read them!

Favorite beginning lines:

"The angel Gabriel went to the oracle on Mount Sinai, looking for a wife. He did not go gladly, even hopefully, as befitted a man eager to find his lifelong companion. In fact, he had put off this journey as long as he could, but his deadline was rapidly approaching."
Archangel by Sharon Shinn

"There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it."
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis

"If you were to give a gold medal to the least delightful person on Earth, you would have to give that medal to a person named Carmelita Spats, and if you didn't give it to her, Carmelita Spats was the kind of person who would snatch it away from you."
The Austere Academy by Lemony Snicket

"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat; it was a hobbit hole, and that means comfort."
The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

"It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen."
1984 by George Orwell

"We came on the wind of the carnival. A warm wind for February, laden with the hot greasy scents of frying pancakes and sausages and powdery-sweet waffles cooked on the hot plate right there by the roadside, with the confetti sleeting down collars and cuffs and rolling in the gutters like an idiot antidote to winter."
Chocolat by Joanne Harris

Favorite ending lines:

"The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."
Animal Farm by George Orwell

"All of a sudden I couldn't see; my mother slid into a fish shape, the table melted into a pool. It had been so long. I'd forgotten what tears felt like. The first drop touched the skin under my eye as the sky opened and sent down the rain."
Hood by Emma Donoghue

"When your laboratory explodes, lacing your body with a super-charged elixir, what do you do? You don't just lie there. You crawl out of the rubble, hideously scarred, and swear vengeance on the world. You keep going. You keep trying to take over the world."
Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman

"But, in spite of these deficiencies, the wishes, the hopes, the confidence, the predictions of the small band of true friends who witnessed the ceremony, were fully answered in the perfect happiness of the union."
Emma by Jane Austen


A Hidden Magic by Vivian Van Velde

Jennifer, an impoverished and altogether ordinary princess, enters through a magic gate into an enchanted forest at the instigation of a handsome-but-self-centered prince. The self-centered prince then proceeds to makes some unfortunate decisions and ends up bespelled by a magic mirror. Jennifer, finding herself more-or-less obligated to rescue the prince, heads deeper into the forest in search of a way to save him.

A Hidden Magic is a lighthearted fantasy adventure that successfully spoofs many standard fairy tale tropes. The protagonist is well drawn and, while the story's outcome might be clear from the beginning, the novel is still a jolly romp. Comedic encounter follows comedic encounter, the dialogue is generally quite witty, and everything wraps up very nicely and neatly. If you have an hour or so to spare, A Hidden Magic is well worth the time.

(And it is beautifully illustrated by my favorite children's book illustrator, Trina Schart Hyman ... which is, admittedly, my whole reason for picking up the book!)

A Hidden Magic by Vivian Van Velde (Harcourt, 1985)


Top 10 Tuesday: What Keeps Me From Picking Up A Book

Back in April, we listed the top ten words/topics that instantly induced us to pick up a book. Therefore, it seems only fitting we should now cover the top ten words/topics that won't make us pick up a book. Those words or phrases that make us shudder a little or purse our lips in a moue of distaste before moving on. There are words on my list that, once upon a time, would have inspired me to pick up a book, but I'm older now and my tastes have shifted.
  1. Christian/Inspirational
  2. Cozy/Heart-warming
  3. Erotic
  4. Heart-wrenching
  5. Must-read
  6. Paranormal
  7. Read-a-like
  8. Thriller
  9. True crime
  10. Anything with even the faintest whiff of sensationalized or “glamorized” sexual violence -- I am tired of sexy sex crimes
Which is not to say I don't read books that turn out to be heart-warming or erotic or have paranormal elements ... I'm just excessively wary of books deliberately marketed to me as such.


The Different Girl by Gordon Dahlquist

"But why? What does this mean? Veronika – why do you say love?"
"Because." I felt like I was on the dock, so alone. I felt like I was on my face in the sand, struggling. "Isn't that the right word?”
"Word for what, honey? Why do you say it now?"
I shook my head. I didn't know. Irene smiled and sighed at the same time.
"I love you, too, Veronika. Don't you forget it."
I felt her lips on my forehead, soft and warm, and then the click.

Four identical girls -- Veronika, Caroline, Isobel and Eleanor -- live on a remote island with two adult caretakers. Every day is more or less the same as the day before ... until a different girl, May, washes ashore. She looks different, speaks differently, and comprehends things the island girls can't even begin to.

I really enjoyed The Different Girl -- indeed, much more than I expected. I liked that the island girls were the novel's baseline for normal and that the build up to the big reveal was slow and teasing. The girls just go along, doing their regular day-to-day stuff, then Veronika matter-of-factly says something like "We never used Irene's clips, because we needed our hair like it was, hanging down and wiped clean to catch the sun" and you go hmmm. And as you start to put those casual, teasing hints together you realize the girls and the island you've built in your head are all wrong and you have a very different book on your hands.

I have to give Dahlquist many kudos for standing what could have been a predictable, standard teen quasi-dystopian story on its head. Another author might have told the story through May's eyes, revealing the girls' differences immediately and there would be no suspense. No wonder. It would all have been about what May was running from and drama/action/drama ... but this is better.

The Different Girl is a quiet, thought-y sort of novel that raises big questions -- What is it to be a girl? What is it to be alive? What is family? -- that it doesn't really answer. Part of it is because Veronika isn't equipped to answer those questions and part of it is simply because they don't need to be explicitly answered in order to tell the girls' story. Despite the concreteness of Veronika's narration there's a lot of inference in The Different Girl and hints of things beyond the scope of the island and, while I loved the vague, incompleteness of it all, I can see where a different kind of reader would find it very frustrating.

So, yes, I thought The Different Girl was great and would like to see more of Veronika, Caroline, Isobel and Eleanor. Will you like it? I don't know. If you liked Lou Arrendale's voice in Moon's The Speed of Dark or Hughes' The Keeper of the Isis Light, then you'll probably like The Different Girl.

(Random fun trivia: the cover glows in the dark!)

The Different Girl by Gordon Dahlquist (Dutton, 2013)


My Pretties, Let Me Show You Them

I was under the impression I'd posted about my new pretties before, but it's clear I haven't. It's also clear I've been deluding myself about not buying many books this year. For it is abundantly clear that I purchased many books in the first half of 2013. Ridiculous numbers of books. But not, alas, incalculable. Between Amazon and The Book Depository, I know exactly how many books I've bought since January 1.

Eighteen. Three books a month seems pretty reasonable, right? Except there was nothing reasonable about it. I went on a terrible book-buying bender and bought sixteen books in one go.

Moar Pretties!

I blame it all on Jane Eyre. I went looking for a replacement copy of my old, tattered, water-stained Jane Eyre and Amazon did not have what I wanted so I went to The Book Depository ... where I found many pretty Penguin editions of other works not currently available through Amazon. So, understandably, I ran a little mad and bought sixteen beautiful editions of a bunch of novels I don't really need to own.

My pretties!

But we don't buy books because we "need" them, right? I mean, if I "need" a book, I go to the library and borrow it. If I want a book, I buy it. (This philosophy goes a fair way toward explaining why I will never be money-rich, but my walls will be well insulated).

Do my pretties all look remarkably similar? That is because they are all part of the Penguin English Library, a collection of "100 of the best novels in the English language" wrapped in beautifully-designed covers by Coralie Bickford-Smith. Bickford-Smith also does the covers for the Penguin Cloth Bound Classics I so love.


Improv Challenge: Peaches & Herbs

July's Improv Challenge ingredients are peaches and herbs. I decided to go simple and make a peach salsa cruda to go over peachy grilled chicken. I used basil, instead of cilantro, in the salsa because I happen to have a big pot of basil on my porch and it needed a good trim before it bolted.

Peachy Chicken w/ Peach Salsa

While peaches aren't actually in season here yet, the "Eastern" peaches I bought at the grocery store were really quite fine. Beautifully fragrant with just a little give and dripping with juices when I cut them open. The sweetness of the peaches paired with the slightly acidity of the tomatoes and the basil, red onions, and white balsamic tasted fresh and bright. Like summer!
Peach Salsa Cruda

2 peaches, pitted and chopped (peel if you don't like fuzz)
1 large tomato, seeded and chopped
1 oz red onion, finely chopped
1 oz basil, rolled and sliced thinly
2 Tbsp white balsamic
salt and pepper, if desired

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Let sit 20 minutes or so before serving to allow the flavors to marry. If not serving immediately, cover and refrigerate. Allow to come to room temperature before serving.

Peach "Salsa"

To boost the "peachiness" of the dish, I marinated the chicken overnight in a peach marinade. I'd found a few recipes online for peach marinades/barbecue sauces but they all used peach preserves or jam. I didn't have any jam, but I did have canned diced peaches and orange marmalade so I pureed those with a bunch other ingredients I had on hand (including more basil).
Peachy Grilled Chicken

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts (about one pound)
6 oz drained canned diced peaches
¼ cup white balsamic vinegar
1 heaping Tbsp orange marmalade
1 heaping Tbsp Dijon mustard
½ tsp salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
⅛ ounce fresh basil
¼ cup olive oil

Pound two boneless skinless chicken breasts (about one pound) until they are of a uniform thickness. Place in a wide shallow dish and set aside.

Add remaining ingredients to your food processor or blender and process until smooth. Pour over chicken, turn chicken to coat, cover, and let sit in fridge overnight. When ready to eat, grill chicken however it is you like to grill chicken.

I briefly considered serving the chicken and salsa over peach tea-infused rice, but decided that might be taking things too far! Instead, I served them on their own and though they were pretty darn fabulous. Sweet, savory, a little tart and so very fragrant. Yum.

Peachy Chicken w/ Peach Salsa


Top 10 Tuesday: Authors Who Deserve Recognition

For this week's Top Ten Tuesday, we're compiling lists of the top ten authors we think deserve more recognition. This was a hard one for me, if only because it's so subjective. The authors I think deserve more recognition might be well known or over-represented to you. E.g. you all might be "Julia Strachey! I'm sick of her! When will people stop talking about her!" when I think no-one reads Cheerful Weather for the Wedding any more.
  1. Barbara Comyns, author of Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead. The Observer says "there is no one to beat her when it comes to the uncanny."
  2. C.J. Cherryh, author of a ridiculous number of science fiction and fantasy novels. She's been one of my favorite writers since I was a teen (her Downbelow Station and Paladin got me through sophomore year) and she's won the Hugo Award four times, for Pete's sake, but no-one I know reads her.
  3. Elizabeth Gaskell, author of Cranford, yes, but also North and South, Ruth, Mary Barton, and many other works worth reading. Dickens contemporary, but less sentimental and more sympathetic to the ladies.
  4. Julia Strachey, author of the beautifully bittersweet Cheerful Weather for the Wedding. She wrote other books, but they're sadly out-of-print and hard to find in libraries.
  5. Kaoru Mori, author of the manga series Emma and A Bride's Story. Her storytelling and illustrations are quite wonderful.
  6. Maud Hart Lovelace, probably best known for her Betsy-Tacy series. There was a nice article in the new York Times, "A New Edition of Betsy-Tacy Greets Fans, Old and New," a few years back which explains why the Betsy-Tacy books are still worth reading.
  7. Nancy Mitford, author of a passel of novels including Pigeon Pie and Christmas Pudding. She's the eldest of the infamous Mitford sisters and I'd avoided reading her for years because I thought she was a fascist/Nazi supporter like her sisters Diana and Unity. Turns out I was wrong.
  8. Sylvia Townsend Warner, author of Lolly Willowes, One Thing Leading to Another & Other Stories, etc. The Guardian recognizes she's been neglected, but maybe not so much, anymore.
That's only eight, but it's the best my tired and befogged brain can do right now. What neglected authors do you recommend?

Really, I think everyone should go read all the Persephone Classics -- beautiful reprints of works by currently overlooked mid-twentieth century female writers. (I guess that would be a good Top Ten Tuesday topic? Neglected novels that deserve more recognition? Ohhh, I think we did that last year).


Eating the Alphabet: K is for Kale

July's Eating the Alphabet letters are K and/or L. I was leaning toward "L is for lemongrass" when I saw a recipe for kale salad on Whole Foods' website where an avocado was mashed into kale to form a dressing!

It sounded interesting, but I never have avocados on hand. I do, however, quite often have Whole Foods or Wholly guacamole on hand. I wondered why couldn't I mash my kale with guacamole? And then I thought, since I was using guacamole, maybe I'd like to toss in some black beans? Roasted corn? Chopped tomato? A little lime juice? Blackened chicken strips? And, lo, "Southwestern-Style Kale Salad" was born.

Making Kale Salad

Southwestern-Style Kale Salad
Serves 2

Double handful of chopped kale
½ cup drained and rinsed black beans
½ cup thawed frozen roasted corn
6 chopped grape tomatoes
Guacamole, as desired
Lime juice, as desired
1 cup diced cooked chicken

Combine first four ingredients in a large bowl and toss until the kale is evenly coated with the guacamole.

Making Kale Salad

Squeeze a bit of lime juice over it, if desired, and toss again (lime juice is a great "brightener" and, if you are not serving the salad right away, will also help keep the guacamole from discoloring). Portion out into two bowls. Top with chicken. Eat!

Making Kale Salad
How did it taste? Quite fabulous, really, and I felt totes smug eating it since it was packed full of good-for-me ingredients.


Spicy Slow Cooker Peach-Mango Chicken

Spicy Slow Cooker Peach-Mango Chicken

I created this dish while trying to think up ways to use peaches and herbs together in July's Improv Challenge. It's not peach season here yet, but I had canned peaches in the pantry so that's what I used. I used dried cilantro as my herb, but also added in a lot of spices for a bolder flavor.

Honestly, I'm not sure what flavor-signature I was trying for -- Moroccan? Caribbean? Weirdtasteville? -- but it works. The flavors came together quite well and the dish is all savory and sweet at the same time. (There's no way, however, The Husband would ever try the smallest forkful as he is a firm advocate of the separation of fruit and meat).
Spicy Slow Cooker Peach-Mango Chicken

1½ pounds well-trimmed boneless skinless organic chicken thighs
8 oz canned diced peaches packed in fruit juice, drained
8 oz frozen diced organic mango, partially thawed
13.4 box organic black beans, drained and rinsed
1 oz red onion, finely chopped
4 oz orange marmalade
[Bonne Maman]
1 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
1 tbsp sriracha
½ tsp dried ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 Tbsp dried cilantro

Arrange thighs in bottom of slow cooker insert. Add diced peaches, mango, beans, and red onion.

Stir together marmalade, soy sauce, sriracha, ginger, cumin, cinnamon, allspice, and cilantro. Pour over chicken and fruit. Cook at LOW for five hours.

Spicy Slow Cooker Peach-Mango Chicken

Serve over rice with pot juices. (If you like, feel free to thicken the pot juices with a little cornstarch slurry).
I did not add any additional liquid like broth or wine to this dish as I knew the canned peaches, partially frozen mango, and chicken thighs would produce lots of liquid.

If I were to make this again, and it seems like something my taste buds would love in January, I would definitely track down some good peach or mango preserves to use instead of the marmalade. The marmalade was good, but a bit too strongly orange.

Strange Sisters: The Art of Lesbian Pulp Fiction, 1949-1969

After reading Ann Bannon’s Odd Girl Out, I wanted to know more about lesbian pulp fiction and ended up borrowing Strange Sisters: The Art of Lesbian Pulp Fiction, 1949-1969 through my library system.

The book presents 200 lesbian pulp paperback covers arranged into ten sections, including "Bi, Bi, Love," "Cleavage," "Sleaze," and (my favorite) "Cliterature." Obviously, the covers are generally quite trashy – sexy underwear, dishevelment, cleavage, longing looks. Delicious eye candy, really, and hard to take seriously … except I can’t help but presume they were read with some desperation by lesbians looking for hints of themselves.

And that makes me sad. But don’t let my sadness deter you from hunting down a copy! The book is overwhelmingly fun and entertaining. Not a book club book, obviously, but a great display book or conversation piece. To balance out the fluff, there’s a foreword by Ann Bannon (Odd Girl Out, etc.) in which she talks about how little the covers had to do with the works they contained or even the reality of the day.  For the publishers, of course, it was about moving inventory and making money. They simply weren’t interested in the reality of lesbianism or marketing to the ladies. But, obviously, lesbians managed to find them and buy them, anyway.
Because, despite all the care devoted to developing cover art that would activate male gonads, women learned to recognize what was a nascent literature of their own by reading the covers ironically. If there was a solitary woman on the cover, provocatively dressed, and the title conveyed her rejection by society or her self-loathing, it was a lesbian book … And if a lone male, whether looking embarrassed, hostile, or sexually deprived, appeared with two women, you had probably struck gold.

Perhaps even better than the frequently over-the-top covers are the blurbs:

"There are no men in a women’s prison, but there is plenty of sex. Laura found this out the hard way, as the Lesbian wolves began to stalk her." (Degraded Women)

"Every parent should read this shocking novel of adolescent girls who first tolerated vice – then embraced it – then could not live without it . . . !" (Private School)

". . . boldly probes the problem of the frigid woman, forced by her own desperation into unnatural paths!" (Warped Desire)

"A bold new look at an old transgression . . . portraying the frightening spread of lesbianism among the white women of modern-day America . . . !" (By Love Depraved)

"Marriage didn’t mean a thing to woman who bedded her friend’s husbands and feasted on lonely wives." (Deviate Wife)

*fans self*

There's also a small bibliography and list of resources in the back for those who are interested in collecting lesbian pulp or simply knowing more about it. Alas, the book was published in 1999, so ymmv with the online resources.

I wish someone would sell movie-poster-sized reprints of these covers as I would love to hang a few in my home! Until then, there’s hours to be frittered away at, an excellent archive of lesbian paperback artwork.

Strange Sisters: The Art of Lesbian Pulp Fiction, 1949-1969 by Jaye Zimet (Penguin, 1999)


The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd

As the screams dragged on, haunting my every breath, my mind started to wander to darker and darker places. Wondering what would cause an animal to scream like that. Imagining the beast spread out, shackled down, dotted lines traced on its skin in black ink. And why? What purpose did Father have for such wanton cruelty?
Juliet Moreau's father was once the most celebrated physiologist in England and Juliet had every expectation of a bright, shining future. Then her father's terrible experiments were discovered and Moreau fled England, leaving his wife and daughter to the grudging charity of family and the disdain of a society that could not drop them fast enough. Needless to say, Juliet's life became one of hardship and drudgery. She had no hope for the future … until she stumbled upon evidence her father might still be alive.

In the company of Montgomery, a family servant/childhood friend, Juliet sets sail to the remote tropical island where her father continues his work.

*cue ominous music*

I'm quite sure I would have liked The Madman's Daughter better if I had never read The Island of Doctor Moreau. It took me much of the first third to accept that Moreau had married and fathered a daughter. Also, I had difficulty accepting that his assistant, Montgomery, should not only be (conveniently) about the same age as Juliet, but also be her childhood friend. And then, when Edward the Castaway was thrown into the mix as the Mysterious Love Interest, I almost closed the book forever. What kept me going? Dr. Moreau. He's excellently wrought -- the kind of character I love to hate -- and it was worth plowing through the rest of the novel just to experience the slim bits of the novel he occupies.

That said, the novel is 420 pages long and too much of it felt given over to Juliet's "do I love Montgomery? No, I love Edward! No, I love Montgomery!" angst. It's first love. It makes one obsessive. I understand. But it shouldn't make one dumber than a post. That Juliet didn't twig on to her own secret or Edward's secret ... oh, I was so annoyed. I can see why Juliet might not guess her own secret -- children want to think the best of their parents and the world they brought them into and that's true even when your dad is a vilified vivisectionist. But not to have guessed Edward's secret? Juliet might not have read any Dickens and can therefore be forgiven for not seeing through "Chesney Wold." But once she knew the significance of her father's Shakespeare collection, shouldn't "Edward Prince" have seemed significant?

But, on the other hand, Edward is Victorian Wolverine and that's totes awesome!

Seriously, Shepherd did a really good job fleshing out and humanizing Moreau's monsters. It was impossible not to be in sympathy with them and, in several cases, I found I preferred them to the humans on the island. Alice, Jaguar, Caesar, Balthazar! If only the novel had been more about them. And, yes, maybe Edward/Wolverine? Although I don't think we can have more Edward and the other beast-people without having to think more on the science that made them ... and that doesn't bear thinking on. (Which isn't Shepherd's fault as the science didn't work in The Island of Dr. Moreau, either).

The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd (HarperCollins, 2013)


Wordless Wednesday: Raspberries

Raspberries, yay!
Raspberries in my garden! Hope I can eat them faster than the birds can.


Top 10 Tuesday: Movie Adaptations

This week for Top Ten Tuesday, we're talking about the best and worse movie adaptations -- a topic bound to stir up strong emotions among the book bloggin' kind.

  1. The Black Cauldron: I loved the The Chronicles of Prydain and couldn't wait to see this film, but it was TERRIBLE … no resemblance whatsoever between the novel and the film. Well ... Gurgi was pretty well done, actually. "Oh, poor miserable Gurgi deserves fierce smackings and whackings on his poor, tender head. Always left with no munchings and crunchings."
  2. The Hobbit (2012-2014): probably great if you like the LOR films, but nothing like the novel *mumbles exceptionally rude things about Peter Jackson*
  3. The Moonstone (1972): simply execrable adaptation and should be avoided like the plague
  4. War of the Worlds (every version): just stop, already (this goes for many H.G. Wells adaptations)
I wanted to put Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere in the "worst" category; because the BBC series was so execrable, but it turns out the BBC series came first. Yes, film before novel! Anyway, the novelization is well worth reading.

  1. Chi's Sweet Home: actually Japanese anime, but true to the manga and equally adorabs
  2. Pride and Prejudice (1995 & 2005): both are delightful!
  3. Vanity Fair (2004): I admit I never made it all the way through the novel, although the film always makes me want to as it's so beautifully filmed and Reese Witherspoon is excellent as Becky Sharp.
  4. Bridget Jones's Diary: I love the novel and the film equally well, which is a rare thing.
  5. Remains of the Day: A beautiful, carefully-crafted adaptation!


The Time Machine: An Invention by H.G. Wells

I think that at that time none of us quite believed in the Time Machine. The fact is, the Time Traveller was one of those men who are too clever to be believed: you never felt that you saw all round him; you always suspected some subtle reserve, some ingenuity in ambush, behind his lucid frankness. Had Filby shown the model and explained the matter in the Time Traveller's words, we should have shown him far less scepticism. For we should have perceived his motives; a pork butcher could understand Filby.

I don't really know what to say about The Time Machine. As with the other Wells novels, it's a work I'd never read before, but popular culture and an immersion in science fiction have rendered familiar. The pale, elfin, and utterly ignorant Eloi, the monstrous Morlocks, the dying earth, the cannibalism ... familiar tropes, all.

Does Wells do it ... well? Of course. Did I enjoy reading it? Yes. Why? Because, to me, it's as if Wells decided to take the Pre-Raphealites' pastoral fantasy and turn it on its head (or, perhaps, take it to its natural conclusion). The Eloi, with their pale consumptive beauty, sound like something out of a Pre-Raphealite painting and the superficially idyllic (almost Utopian) England they inhabit certainly seems like the pre-Raphealite return-to-nature romanticism taken to an extreme.

But then there are the Morlocks, our cannibalistic snakes in the garden. Cleverer and more monstrous than the Eloi, I can't see a place for them in any pre-Raphaelite fantasy! So there goes that interpretation!

How about: there may be something in the way Wells approaches evolution in The Time Machine? There's no romanticism to it -- Man does not become angelic, but more bestial. We may have wrought wondrous strange cities, but whose backs were they built upon? No matter, anyway, as they all lie in ruin now and the world has become nothing more than a lovely playground for tender prey. (And, further on, it's a dismal shore where furry hopping herbivores are devoured by centipede-things). It's is clear Man survives through continued evolution, but there is no "humanity" (as the narrator knew it) left in it. Evolution, Wells seems to be saying, is bound to terminate in something ghastly.

But was The Time Machine meant to be a jab at evolutionary theory? Or are we to see it as a societal wake-up call? After all, the Eloi are clearly the descendants of the upper classes -- sheltered gentility and frivolous idleness brought to its “natural” conclusion, just as the Morlocks are clearly descendants of the working classes who have, over the millennia, become dark, warped, brutish things. Cleverer than the Eloi, one wants to presume, but I must question how much they understand the machines they operate and the work they do. (Did Victorian factory hands understand the work of the factory beyond their small part? Did Victorian gentlefolk have much curiosity for unpleasantness beyond their immediate sphere?)

And the sphinx! And the time machine hidden inside a monument! And the museum! What was all that supposed to mean?

Tl;dr ... a zillion times better than any of the movie versions, anyway.

The Time Machine: An Invention by H.G. Wells (Penguin English Library, 2012)


The Anvil of the World by Kage Baker

I'd avoided reading anything by Kage Baker because I only knew her for her Company novels of which there are many and these days my attention span is much too short to cope with long series. Even trilogies are frequently too much. But the cover art for The Anvil of the World really drew my eye and the first paragraph sucked me in and, faster than you can say "joyous couplings," I'd read the entire novel.

TROON, the golden city, sat within high walls on a plain a thousand miles wide. The plain was golden with barley.

The granaries of Troon were immense, towering over the city like giants, taller even than its endlessly revolving windmills. Dust sifted down into its streets and filled its air in the Month of the Red Moon and in every other month, for that matter, but most especially in that month, when the harvest was brought in from the plain in long lines of creaking carts, raising more dust, which lay like a fine powder of gold on every dome and spire and harvester's hut.

All the people of Troon suffered from chronic emphysema.

Priding itself as it did, however, on being the world's breadbasket, Troon put up with the emphysema. Wheezing was considered refined, and the social event of the year was the Festival of Respiratory Masks.

The Anvil of the World was truly delightful, one of the funniest fantasy novels I have read in a while. It seems improbable that a fantasy which deals so heavily with racial intolerance, religion, and ecological destruction should be charming and yet it is. If you enjoy Terry Pratchett's Discworld or Terry Brooks' Magic Kingdom novels, I think you'll enjoy The Anvil of the World. The characters, from the protagonist down to the smallest bit character, are fully-fleshed beings who seem quite real and who live in an improbable world which, thanks to Baker's skillful writing, seems perfectly possible and, indeed, functional.

I admit the novel felt a little uneven to me -- the story breaks quite cleanly into three parts so if you'd told me I was reading the omnibus edition of a trilogy, I'd have believed you. But it's apparently all one long work and thus, to me, a bit choppy. The Smith of the first third is not the Smith of the second or third. I'm all for character development, but sometimes Last Smith felt like a completely different character from First Smith. It's probable, however, that if I hadn't gulped the novel down all in one big chunk, I would not have noticed the differences between Smiths or the story breaks so much.

Regardless, I greatly enjoyed reading The Anvil of the World and wish there was more of it. There's a prequel, I know, and another work set in the same universe, but that's not the same. I don't feel I need to know what happened before or parallel, but what happened after. I need more of Lord Ermenwyr and "Nursie." And what of Mother and Mr. Silverpoint? Ohhh, Mother!

The woman had clear, clear eyes, and their gaze hit him like a beam of light. She was the most beautiful woman he had even seen in his life, but somehow that face went unnoticed by his flesh. She was spare and perfect as a steel engraving, and as ageless. She was simple as water, implacable as the white comber rolling, miraculous as rain in the desert.

The Anvil of the World by Kage Baker


Wordless Wednesday: Lavender

Blooming Lavender
I usually have a brown thumb for lavender, but it's actually doing well this year.


Top 10 Tuesday: Intimidating Books

This week, for Top 10 Tuesday, we're talking about our top ten most intimidating books -- books that are simply too big, or too popular, or too different.

While I've read many literary chunksters, these ten just stop me cold. And it's not even these ten, specifically. Pretty much anything by these authors is going to make me run as fast as I can in the opposite direction.

Maybe if they had more approachable cover art? If they were all available as, say, Penguin Threads or Penguin Ink? That would definitely be a help.
  1. American Pastoral by Philip Roth
  2. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  3. The Divine Comedy by Dante Aligheri
  4. Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco
  5. Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon (I actually read V at college. It was … strange).
  6. The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
  7. Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
  8. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
  9. Ulysses by James Joyce
  10. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (I did enjoy Anna Karenina, though)