Speed Round #2

Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling
2012, 503 pages

Oh the book that I couldn’t read. I wanted to like it, to read it, but I couldn’t. It was impossible. I think that one of my problems is that it’s published in the same font as Harry Potter, which I like. But this creates unreasonable expectations, especially since it is NOTHING like Harry Potter.

Plot: Barry Fairweather, a member of the town council, suddenly dies. This creates a casual vacancy on the board, one that must be filled. It appears that the book then continues on with the lives of people who live in said town and their plots to get their own person on the council. I assume that’s the whole book because I quit around page 50.

Rating: .5 out of 5 bedazzles

Gangster Squad by Paul Lieberman
2012, 560 pages

Such promise, wasted. Apparently the movie was bad too, so there you go. Could be the book’s fault. The book tells the story of how the special Gangster Squad of the Los Angeles police department was created to try and eradicate the gangsters in LA during the first half of the twentieth century.

Cops apparently had no rules and could do whatever they wanted to get their guy, beating their suspects, bugging whatever they want. The gangsters were sneaky, killing anybody that got in their way.

I like reading about gangsters, they’re interesting and had crazy lives. (Bryan Burrough’s book Public Enemies is a good one, way easier to read and it reads like a novel.) This book, however, was so bad. It wasn’t edited very well–no good when you end up playing “Spot the Typos.” It also jumped between people and backwards and forwards in time so much that you couldn’t keep track of what was happening to whom and when.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5 bedazzles


Un Lun Dun

Un Lun Dun by China Mieville
2007, 429 pages

My friend, the Pooka, reviewed this book and it sounded good. After my experience with Neverwhere, it seemed like an alternative London would not be so awesome, but it turns out that it is.

To begin with, honestly I was afraid it was a Harry Potter rip-off. A girl who is very important to some people but doesn’t know why, animals staring at her, people coming up to her and saying how great it is to meet her….that’s essentially Harry Potter. Luckily that was about it. Things quickly veered off into another direction.

The plot is this: Two girls, Zanna and Deeba, end up in UnLondon after the weird Harry Potter part because Zanna is the Schwazzy (choisi, chosen) to help them fight the evil Smog. As in Neverwhere, the super nasty smog that occurred during the 19th century, that was so thick that people called it pea soup, ended up in UnLondon, the alternative London. In UnLondon, it developed a brain because of all the chemicals.

Important side note, lots of ideas and information get traded between London and UnLondon. UnLondon developed an I first and the London Eye copied the plans, except in UnLondon it’s an actual water wheel, and not just a big tourist site. Similarly, all of the obsolete stuff in London moves over to UnLondon and gets used there. Houses are built out of old appliances, old money that was rejected ended up as the currency of UnLondon, etc.

The evidence of the greatness:

The guards are binjas. Sentient trash cans who are ninjas. I pretty much want one.

So animals in UnLondon are different from those in regular London. Giraffes are deadly, and apparently the ones in zoos are “hippy refugees” to hide their deadliness. Many animals go back and forth between London and UnLondon, but not the cats. “There are no cats in UnLondon, for example, because they’re not magic and mysterious at all, they’re idiots.”
Significantly scary.

Also, there are the similar cities of Parisn’t, No York, Helsunki, Lost Angeles, Sans Francisco, Hong Gone and Romeless.

Here’s my point, all of the wordplay is awesome. And there is lots of it. Mostly, you should read it.

Rating: 4.75 out of 5 bedazzles

A Short History of Nearly Everything

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
2004, 560 pages (although 90 of them are notes and citations, so really it is only about 479)

Sometimes, I want to learn things. I decided that that would be a good idea, and Bill Bryson is the go-to author for learning things in an amusing way that doesn’t bore me to tears.

The highlights:

1. “The average distance between stars out there is 20 million million miles…it is possible that alien beings travel billions of miles to amuse themselves by planting crop circles in Wiltshire or frightening the daylights out of some poor guy in a pickup truck on a lonely road in Arizona (they must have teenagers, after all), but it does seem unlikely.”

2. Originally museums “were designed primarily for the use and edification of the elite, and even then it was difficult to gain access. In the early days of the British Museum, prospective visitors had to make a written application and undergo a brief interview to determine if they were fit to be admitted at all. Then they had to return a second time to pick up a ticket…and finally come back a third time to view the museum’s treasures.” Good grief, can you imagine?

3. “In the early 1800s there arose in England a fashion for inhaling nitrous oxide, or laughing gas…For the next half century it would be the drug of choice for young people…Theaters put on ‘laughing gas evenings’ where volunteers could refresh themselves with a robust inhalation and then entertain the audience with their comical staggerings.” It took a long time before people realized that this could actually be an anesthetic.

4. So atoms are super durable and last forever-ish. “We are each so atomically numerous and so vigorously recycled at death that…up to a billion [atoms] for each of us…probably once belonged to Shakespeare. A billion more each came from Buddha and Genghis Khan…(The personages have to be historical, apparently, as it takes the atoms some decades to become so thoroughly redistributed; however much you may wish it, you are not yet one with Elvis Presley.)”

5. Anything, anywhere, at any point could kill us. Bacteria, flying rocks from outer space, Yellowstone suddenly blowing up, you name it, it would appear that our days are numbered. Also, we should probably stop killing everything in our path (animals, plants, etc.) as they are probably important.

I learned many things. Some are interesting, and some are not. I have given you most of the super interesting ones, although, did you know that glass is constantly being affected by gravity? Really old glass is thicker at the bottom than the top. Also, Marie Curie’s stuff (cookbooks) can’t be touched because they are still so radioactive, over 100 years later. This is why I should totally be on Jeopardy. Random knowledge sticks in my head.

Anywho, it was long, and I am now going to read many young adult books because there was too much information happening.

Rating: 2.8 out of 5 bedazzles (it was just so long!)

Anansi Boys

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
2005, 334 pages

So according to the stats 20 people “view” my blog. So maybe you just click on it and then click right out. But at least a quarter of you, ie, 5 people, mentioned something about my not enjoying Neverwhere. On the upside, this one way way better.

Anansi Boys tells the story of Fat Charlie Nancy (not actually fat, and I can’t help but think that Nancy and Anansi sound similar) and his brother Spider. In the beginning of the book, Fat Charlie’s dad dies, but Charlie didn’t know that his dad was Anansi, the spider god. So he finds some stuff out and learns that if he talks to a spider he can contact his brother. So he does. And he finds that his brother, while he has some godlike qualities, is a giant pain in the ass. Charlie is not happy.

He talks to some people with magical ritual powers that he knows (perhaps voodoo?) to help him get rid of his brother and then realizes that he has to fix it. So, mystery, gods, old folk tales and some murder are the things that are happening here. And I love it.

I like all of the Anansi stories, because folklore is one of those things that I just love. And there are lots of little stories throughout the book, which was lovely. For example, there is this in the beginning of the book:

“Olden days, all the animals wanted to have stories named after them, back in the days when the songs that sung the world were still being sung, back when they were still singing the sky and the rainbow and the ocean. It was in those days when animals were people as well as animals that Anansi the spider tricked all of them, especially Tiger, because he wanted all the stories named after him.

Stories are like spiders, with all they long legs, and stories are like spiderwebs, which man gets himself all tangled up in but which look so pretty when you see them under a leaf in the morning dew, and in the elegant way that they connect to one another each to each.”

Secondly, there’s a character, Charlie’s boss, who talks almost exclusively in cliches. A conversation had between Charlie and his boss goes like this:
“‘Fair words and fine promises. Rome was not built in a day…’
‘Right,’ said Fat Charlie. ‘So, um. No rest for the wicked.’
‘Another day, another dollar,’ said Grahame Coats, with a wag of his finger.
‘Nose to the grindstone?’ suggested Fat Charlie.
‘Shoulder to the wheel,’ said Grahame Coats.”

I think that exchange was when I first decided that I loved the book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 bedazzles

On a separate note, Neverwhere is now a radio series on the BBC. Neverwhere. On the upside, James McAvoy is in it, and his voice is just so lovely. So automatic bedazzles for that. And the super creepy dudes have super creepy voices too. So that’s an ew….but whatevs.

Quick Pick #3

Summerset Abbey: A Bloom in Winter by T.J. Brown
2013, 304 pages

So, this is the second one in the Summerset Abbey series. Here is that review. If you remember, I got all excited because finally something was like Downton Abbey but not nearly as depressing. Good things happened!

Well, not for long. Essentially this one begins right after the previous book finished, and everyone is dealing with their choices and the fact that no one seems completely happy with what’s happening personally. It wasn’t awful, but naturally no one was living happily ever after (I suppose that’s required for there to be a book 3?).

I have come to the conclusion that one of two things is happening here. Either no one between the years of 1910 and 1920 or so was EVER happy, or authors just think that it is a better story if things keep happening that are not awesome. Either way, not great.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 bedazzles

The Very Picture of You

The Very Picture of You by Isabel Wolff
2011, 310 pages

The first book that Wolff wrote I really enjoyed. It was called A Vintage Affair and was about a British woman who owns a vintage dress shop. So, an alternate life for me 🙂 The woman wanted to know the stories behind all of the clothes that she collected, and there was a mystery surrounding a particular child’s coat. It’s a good story, you should probably read it.

This story, on the other hand, is about a painter in London. She paints portraits of many different people, some of them famous. There are about a thousand plot points in this book, and I cannot decide whether or not I’m okay with it. They all seem to tie in to the portraits that Ella is painting. There’s one woman who wants to leave her husband, one woman who tells a mystery about a painting that she has in her apartment that both she and Ella love. Ella is painting her sister’s fiance, and is falling in love with him. AND then there is the fact that her father left when she was four and she doesn’t understand why and her mother doesn’t seem to be giving her a straight answer…

So there are all these things happening and they have to get resolved somehow! And they do. It was a pretty good story. For all the different things, it worked out just fine. It’s cute, and worth a read if you like British chick lit. Which, naturally, I do.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 bedazzles (But definitely read A Vintage Affair, because I liked it more.)


Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
2001, 370 pages

This book is creepy, just creepy. And kind of icky too. So there’s that.

Apparently there exists London Above and London Below. London Above is where we all live, and London Below is where the people “who fall in the cracks” live, sort of like many homeless people. You cannot live in both. Richard is just going along, doing his life thing in London Above, when Door, an injured girl from London Below, appears in front of him. Richard decides to help her, and this automatically makes him a part of London Below.

Interestingly, when you belong in London Below, no one from London Above can see you. So Richard decides to go off and find Door and try to figure out a way to get back to his life in London Above.

All of the creepy belongs to London Below. Apparently there are pockets of old time in London Below, which is cool. For example, Richard ends up having to walk through a yellow fog from like the 1850s. The main plot is that Door’s family has been killed and she wants to know why. Her family has a special skill set, they can open any doors, even doors that are not there. Richard wants to get to London Above. They go on a sort of quest, and have to deal with super creepy assassins.

The assassins are funny and creepy all at the same time. Mr. Vandemar and Mr. Croup. Apparently the internet thinks that they look like this:

Mr. Vandemar eats bugs, and bites the heads of mice and just eww. I don’t like it.

The majority of the book takes place in London Below and is interesting. But the creepiness made it not so much my thing.

Rating: 3 out of 5 bedazzles

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
2012, 288 pages

Oh my love for this book! How can I possibly convey the awesomeness that this is? Although, some of it may be directly tied to the fact that a. I work in a bookstore and b. I love books as much as the characters do. This particular quote, I believe, should convince you that the book is written for only those awesome people who love books. “Neel takes a sharp breath and I know exactly what it means. It means: I have waited my whole life to walk through a secret passage built into a bookshelf.” Yep, I have had that dream. And I have discussed that dream in the past few days with a friend.

But the book is also funny, with many lines that make me smile, and occasionally laugh. Here is one that I feel sums up my life. “Kat invites me to a house party. Unfortunately, I can’t go. I can never go to any parties, because my shift at the store starts at precisely party o’clock.” I really like the idea of party o’clock, and hope to turn that into an actual hour now.

Here’s the plot. Clay worked as a web designer for a bagel shop. The recession hit and he lost that job. He decides he needs anything, and so decides to work for the bookstore. He has the graveyard shift, from 10 at night to 6 in the morning. The front of the bookstore has used books, and not many customers, but the back is full of very tall shelves with books that are written in a code that he cannot crack. Clay decides to try to make sense of this mystery, and so enlists the help of his friend Kat who works at Google. Apparently there is a secret club, the Unbroken Spine, who read all these coded books to try and find answers to the mysteries of life. While trying to discover it, he gets his little posse together to go on a quest, much like people do in those computer games, with the trifecta of rogue, wizard and warrior.

What I find interesting about this book is how it goes back and forth between the computer age and the book age. Who’s winning? Is technology better than books? Will it eventually get rid of books? And then there is the comment made about trying to decode the mystery books using Google people and resources. “Books: boring. Codes: awesome. These are the people who are running the internet.”

So, all of that means that this is a book for bookworms, and people who like technology stuff, and people who think that secret passages behind bookcases are the greatest idea ever. And then there is the last sentence: “A clerk and a ladder and warm golden light, and then: the right book exactly, at exactly the right time.”

I almost want to start reading it again right now because it’s so lovely! But I will wait for a little while.

Rating: 5 out of 5 bedazzles