Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year 2009!

New Year's Eve 2008.  It's frigid in NYC, with snow flurries and a biting wind coming down from the north, and tonight, with the wind-chill factor, it's supposed to get down to -10 to 0 by midnight.  I'm getting ready to greet the new year with a nasty cold and am not looking forward to going out tonight.  But, here I am in NYC, with reservations at a restaurant near Times Square for dinner with my daughter, her boyfriend, and another couple, so have no choice but to go out. Thank goodness for Emergen-C!  And my Ugg boots, down-filled puffy coat, and long johns.  

Last book of the year was The Wildcats of Exeter, a medieval mystery set in around 1088, featuring Ralph Delchard, head of the Royal Commission investigating land disputes for the King's Domesday Book.  It's the 8th book in the series, and I've enjoyed all of them pretty much equally.  A light, easy read.

First book of 2009?  Probably The Secret History by Procopius, about Julian and Theodora and their court, or perhaps The Good Fairies of New York by Martin Millar.  Not sure yet.  I went to The Strand in the East Village the other day and picked up five books ~ the three I just mentioned, plus The Gettysburg Gospel and The Ruby Tear by Suzy McKee Charnas.  I love that place, even with the crowds and the sauna-like heat of the interior and the difficult to maneuver shelving "system."    

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmastime in Manhattan

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and are now getting geared up to welcome in the new year.  I am filled with hope that 2009 will be an improvement on 2008.   Frankly, it had better be, because things cannot get worse or even stay the same without terrible consequences.   

My prayers are with President-Elect Obama, as he readies himself to take the helm, that he is able to steer us through the treacherous waters in which we find ourselves, that he stay strong, that he stay safe.   So far, I am encouraged, though I know it will take more than one man to effect a sea change.  (How's that for keeping to sailing metaphors?)  

I think it particularly fitting, on many different levels, that he has chosen to take the oath on the same Bible used by President Lincoln.

I spent Christmas Day on a flight to New York City to visit my daughter.  The plane was surprisingly full considering it was a major holiday.  Not one seat was unoccupied!  But that is, on second thought, understandable, since there is no other place like Manhattan at the holidays.   During the flight, I listened to Salvation in Death, the newest Eve Dallas mystery by J.D. Robb on my iPod and dozed on and off.  Not that Salvation in Death is boring, just that I was really tired from being up late on Christmas Eve and getting up early on Christmas morning to pack.  

Today is a quiet day ~ my flight did not arrive at JFK until midnight, and, by the time my daughter and her boyfriend picked me up and we got to her place, opened Christmas presents, and visited for awhile, it was around 3 a.m., so I'm feeling wiped out, but there are plans afoot to go ice skating in Central Park a little later in the afternoon, and I think they are going to try to get me on skates.  That should be interesting, to say the least ~ I haven't been on ice skates for over 20 years.

Sunday we're going to Lincoln Center to see The Nutcracker ballet, in which the daughter of a friend of mine is dancing.  At some point, I'd like to go to Rockefeller Center and gawk at the decorations (and the other gawkers), as well as to the Metropolitan Museum, and the Natural History Museum, and the Empire State Building.  (I've been to NYC at least a half dozen times but never made it to the top!)  I want to look at the Christmas displays in the department store windows and go to see a Broadway show.  Oh, yes, and visit the Strand bookstore, where I plan to buy A Pirate of Exquisite Mind for my daughter, who finds pirates fascinating.  I'll try to restrain myself, though I'll probably walk out of their with an armful of books which I will have to find room for in my already overstuffed suitcase to get them home.  I'm also planning to visit Ground Zero where I've gone as if on pilgrimage each time I've been to NYC since 9/11.   

I also hope to get some reading done during the quiet times when my daughter is at work.  In that regard, I've already read half of Patrick Suskind's Perfume, a particularly compelling novel about a murderer in pre-Revolutionary France with a fascinating insight into how perfumes were made.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Joys of Holiday Gift Giving

I love Christmas, and I love giving gifts to people I care about. I just don't like it that the two things intersect. I'd much rather be out shopping for some summer tops for myself in, say, June, coming across something that would be perfect for my daughter, and getting it to give to her right then. Or, maybe in April, shopping for a new CD player/radio/alarm clock and seeing something that makes me say, "Oh, Jake (my godson) would love this!" and picking it up to give him next time I see him. To force myself to actually set out to do Christmas shopping in all the crowds, when everything I buy has to be exactly right for the recipient, and when there's only a certain amount of time to find those perfect gifts is just asking for trouble.

So it is with a great deal of satisfaction that I can report I have actually finished my Christmas shopping for this year! Yay me! A few gifts were things I picked up throughout the year, but most of the presents I'm giving to the kids on my list are ~ wait for it ~ books. Yep, this year, almost everyone is getting books.

I found some great ones, too ~ a big popup book called Narnia for a 3-year old girl, Swing, a "Scanimation" picture book for a couple of boys 3 and 5 (it's so fascinating I almost bought one for myself), Artemis Fowl (the first in the series) for a 12-year old boy, and Beedle the Bard for my godson who is 8. I wasn't sure what to get a 17 year old girl of my acquaintance, though I was leaning toward The Book Thief, so I got her a gift certificate to Borders.

The best part of buying books as gifts is that, if I'm careful with them, I can read them before I give them away (except the pop-up which is wrapped in plastic to keep it safe). I have already spent a lot of time looking at Swing because it is, as I said before, fascinating. The pictures actually move, and they look so real! If you think this might interest someone you know, check it out on the Borders website, where the creator discusses it and how he does it.

Anyway, if you're hung up with your holiday gift-buying and aren't sure what to get one or more of the people on your list, my advice is "think books."

Oh, did I mention that I picked up a couple of books for myself while I was there? Depending on how you look at it, that is either a perk or a problem. I personally look at it as a very good thing, though my credit card bill next month is going to be painful to look at. :)

Happy Chanukkah / Merry Christmas / Joyful Kwanzaa / Blessed Yule! And may the coming year bring bountiful blessings of happiness, health, and prosperity to you all.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

FOOL, a Bawdy Tale indeed!

I was thrilled to be chosen to receive an Advance Reader's Edition of Fool by Christopher Moore, the guy who wrote one of my all-time, top-of-the-list, desert-island favorite novels, Lamb, and I was excitedly looking forward to reading his latest comic offering. When it finally arrived, I tore open the envelope to find the book wrapped in a warning label that stated, in really large text: "This is a bawdy tale. Herein you will find gratuitous shagging, murder, spanking, maiming, treason, and heretofore unexplored heights of vulgarity and profanity, as well as nontraditional grammar, split infinitives, and the odd wank [whatever that is]. If that sort of thing bothers you, then gentle reader pass by, for we endeavor only to entertain, not to offend. That said, if that's the sort of thing you think you might enjoy, then you have happened upon the perfect story."

I shrugged off the warning about it being bawdy but found myself feeling a bit anxious that the nontraditional grammar and split infinitives might put me off the story, but then I reminded myself that one thing that Chris Moore can do well is write, so I shrugged that off too.

I peeled off the wrap-around label and checked out the back of the book. There was that warning label again. Also a Cast of Characters, which included King Lear, Cordelia, and all the rest of the characters from the Bard's play, as well as a couple of fools (Pocket and his apprentice Drool) and a Ghost ("there's always a bloody ghost"). Aha! I exclaimed. It's a retelling of Shakespeare's tragedy. Brilliant.

I began reading immediately, but after I was half through the second chapter (they are not long chapters), I put the book down on the bedside table, somewhat in shock, and turned out the light. Apparently, I am not so inured to ~ what did the warning label call it? vulgarity and profanity ~ as I thought, and I wasn't sure I wanted to continue reading it.

A couple of days passed, and I thought of the book a few times a day, and glanced at it when I got into bed, but I picked up something else to read both nights. But something about the story and the characters and, let's face it, the utterly outrageous naughtiness of it, called to me, so on the third night I picked it up again and read a little more. And it wasn't quite so crude, or maybe I just got used to the language and the images conveyed. So I read a few more chapters before it again got to be too much, though there were a few giggles this time amongst the wide-eyed gasps. And I began to appreciate the dialogue a lot more (that's another thing I've always felt that Chris does really well, is dialogue). Like this bit:

"...The castle's awash in intrigue, subterfuge, and villainy - they'll be
wanting comic relief between the flattery and murders."

"Intrigue and villainy?" Drool displayed a gape-toothed grin.

Imagine soldiers dumping hogsheads of spittle through the crenellations atop the
castle wall - thus is Drool's grin, as earnest in expression as it is damp in
execution - a slurry of good cheer. He loves intrigue and villainy, as
they play to his most special ability.

"Will there be hiding?"

"There will most certainly be hiding," said I, as I shouldered an escaped
testicle into his cod. [Note: you have to read it. I am not going to

"And listening?"

"Listening of cavernous proportions - we shall hang on every word as God on
Pope's prayers."

"And fuckery? Will there be fuckery, Pocket?"

"Heinous fuckery most foul, lad. Heinous fuckery most foul."

"Aye, that's the dog's bollocks, then!" said Drool, slapping his
thigh. "Did you hear, Mary? Heinous fuckery afoot. Ain't that
the dog's bollocks?"

Obviously, of course, I broke through previously well-hidden vestiges of prudery ~ a leftover of my Catholic-school upbringing, no doubt ~ and dove into the clever hilarity and surreal wickedness with relish. And glad I am that I didn't let prudishness stop me from reading Fool, which turned out to be much more than crude vernacular & slapstick. Oh, it was certainly vernacular enough, and I did enjoy a few good out-loud laughs and a lot of chuckles, but, like Lamb, it was much more than that. It might have started out almost too crazily, with too much crudity, too many odd characters and improbable scenes, but it soon settled into a rhythm, and the insanity abated into just zaniness, the crudity into merely colorful language, and the characters became familiar ~ weird but familiar ~ and then new characters, some of them from other of Shakespeare's plays, joined the party, and the fool began to change and grow and started to really matter to me. And the ending was ~ well, I really liked the ending.

So, I'm planning to read the whole novel again, because I think I may have missed some really good bits in the first few chapters while I was being prudish. And also just because I want to enjoy it all over again.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

I'm Back ~ with a Great Giveaway (and a Review)

It's good to be back from my NaNoWriMo-induced hiatus from reading and blogging and socializing. During November, I managed to write 51,200 or so words of a novel that is not and never will be finished because I loathe it so much (another story). I had a great time during NaNo November, but I really missed blogging and socializing. Most of all, I missed reading. I mean, I usually read 8 to 10 books a month, and I kept it down to only 2 books last month.

As a reward for my fortitude (at least that's what I like to tell myself), Hachette Books sent me a copy of Gods Behaving Badly, a debut novel by Marie Phillips (click here to listen to a podcast interview). Gods Behaving Badly is about Greek gods and a couple of mortals with whom they cross paths. According to Kerry Fried in Newsday, it is "[t]he most amusing and instructive collision between gods and mortals since A Midsummer Night's Dream." High praise indeed, but is it true? Personally, I love the title, but the jury (of one ~ me) isn't in yet, though I can say that I've read the first chapter and it already had me laughing out loud.

The blurb on the back of the book gives a brief description of the novel:
Being a Greek god is not all it once was. Yes, the twelve gods of Olympus are
alive and well in the twenty-first century, but they are crammed together in a London townhouse-and none too happy about it. And they've had to get day jobs: Artemis as a dog-walker, Apollo as a TV psychic, Aphrodite as a phone sex operator, Dionysus as a DJ.

Even more disturbingly, their powers are waning, and even turning mortals into trees--a favorite pastime of Apollo's--is sapping their vital reserves of strength.

Soon, what begins as a minor squabble between Aphrodite and Apollo escalates into an epic battle of wills. Two perplexed humans, Alice and Neil, who are caught in the crossfire, must fear not only for their own lives, but for the survival of humankind. Nothing less than a true act of heroism is needed-but can these two decidedly ordinary people replicate the feats of the mythical heroes and save the world?

So, after the month I've had, I need a few laughs. I'm going to bed now to snuggle beneath the comforter and read more of Gods Behaving Badly.

But, first: The Giveaway! Leave a comment to this post and you will be entered to win a copy of Gods Behaving Badly. Put a link to the contest on your blog, and your name will be entered twice. For each five comments, one copy will be given away, up to five copies. So leave a comment, tell your friends, post a link on your blog. The contest will run through 12:00 p.m. (PDT) December 24, so if you win, it will be a nice early late Christmas present! (Sorry, contest open to residents of the U.S. and Canada only.)

I'll be back in a couple of days with my review.

And here it is, finally, my review: I thought it was a wonderful read, light and amusing without being fluffy, serious without being depressing. Imagine if you will the mighty Greek gods of Olympus ~ Zeus, Hera, Athena, Artemis, Mars, Persephone, Apollo, Hermes, and Pluto (not the Disney dog) ~ living all together (except for Persephone and Pluto who live in Hades) in a rundown tenement in London. And imagine these formerly powerful and amoral gods and goddesses trying to fit into modern times. Dysfunctional doesn't come near to what things are really like for them, especially now that their powers are in decline. I mean, think of it: Aphrodite as a phone sex operator, Artemis as a dog walker, Eros as a born-again Christian convert who doesn't believe in Christ but really really wants to.

The story begins when Artemis discovers that her brother Apollo has turned Kate, a mortal female who had apparently resisted his lovemaking, into a tree. She and their aunt, Aphrodite, force Apollo to swear on the River Styx that he will refrain from harming any more mortals unnecessarily for a decade or until they get their power back, whichever comes first. Things get interesting when Artemis hires Alice, a mousy, almost unbelievably ordinary mortal woman, to clean house for them. Unfortunately, Apollo has fallen madly in love with Alice (aided by an arrow shot by a certain god of love who will remain nameless), but Alice is too much in love with Neal, a painfully shy guy who is too afraid of rejection to ask her out on a date though he pretty much adores her too.

As happened all too often in mythology when the gods played with human emotions and lives, the games take a deadly turn of events, and Neal has to make a choice to turn his back on Alice or become the most unlikely hero that ever was.