Sunday, March 11, 2012

Vacation Reading

  • Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher - Debut novel intended for teens about a high school girl who commits suicide, and records a series of tapes explaining why. Clay Jensen comes home from school two weeks after Hannah Baker's death to find a shoebox of cassette tapes, sides numbered 1 to 13. He listens with increasing discomfort, building to horror, as he understands the tapes are for those who played a role in Hannah's decision to kill herself--one side for each guilty party. He listens through one long night, as the story snowballs much like a thriller, her narration intertwined with Clay's reactions. Ingenious format and a very real story--the kind of book that stays with you for a while.
  • Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell - After giving up in disgust on being a British policeman in Burma, Eric Blair came back to England in the late 1920s; finding no ready employment, he went to Paris as an English tutor--such work became harder and harder to come by, until he ended up as a plongeur or dishwasher in a fancier Parisian hotel, working 18+ hour days for little better than slave wages. He finally threw in the towel and returned to London, where he he shuffled round the home counties as a bum. This book describes this lifestyle, and the lives of people he met, in harrowing detail; he also explains how the laws intended to help the chronically unemployed only make their lot worse and keep them from becoming productive members of their society.
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  • Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones - This unconventional tale by a popular New Zealand author centers around life on a small Pacific island which is engulfed in a revolution led by guerrillas. When the war breaks out, all the whites leave the island, including the teachers--all the whites except for Mr Watts, who is married to a local. The story is narrated by Matilda, who becomes enthralled by Charles Dickens's Great Expectations which Mr. Watts reads to the children chapter by chapter after he takes over at the school. Government soldiers and guerrillas who come down from the hills alternately threaten and burn the village, the violence escalating with each incident--all in a search for the non-existent Mister Pip, a character from Dickens. Fittingly sad ending and an interesting read. (Movie version starring Hugh laurie coming out this year.)
  • Merrick by Anne Rice - Surely the greatest Gothic storyteller of our time, Rice here combines characters from her two best-selling brands, the Vampires and the Mayfair Witches. The narrator is David Talbot, former head of the Talamasca turned vampire, who had mentored Merrick as a young girl; he calls upon her now to bring Claudia back from the dead in order to make Louis happy (if you don't know who these people are, don't read this book--go and start with Interview with the Vampire). The main episode of the story is a return trip to the jungles of South America to retrieve powerful talismans that Merrick believes will be helpful in restoring Claudia--this is actually not true, as Merrick has other purposes in mind, purposes which may soon lead the Talamasca Elders to wage war on the vampires ...
  • Bubbles Betrothed by Sarah Strohmeyer - This fifth novel in the Bubbles series is a stand-alone story about beautician-turned-reporter Bubbles Yablonsky who is trying to find out who killed Lehigh, PA's popular high school principal with a secret life. At first, everyone thinkks the killer was a deranged homeless woman called Popeye, but when she is murdered moments she is to testify, her innocence becomes apparent. Meanwhile, Bubbles suddenly finders herself engaged to world-class reposrter Steve Stiletto, while her ex-husband, ambulance-chaser Dan the Man claims someone is trying to kill him. The plot thickens when someone drops in her car a series of explicit photographs taken by a security camera showing the dead principal in flagrante in the local podiatrist's office with another man. Fast-paced, well-written and fun, Bubbles is a winner--and the Agatha Awards agree, giving her the Best First Novel prize in 2001.
  • The Two Faces of Tomorrow by James P Hogan - Hogan was known for his "hard" science fiction, and this early novel certainly fits that characterization. Published in 1979, and read thirty-odd years later, it reveals one of the main difficulties with hard science fiction: the non-existent and/or emerging technologies of the time are described and explained in a way that is quite tedious to the modern reader. Still, the basic ideas that the story wrestles with--the role and power of technology to change, control or even destroy humanity--are with us today. Worried that the "Titan" system that runs a lot of things on earth could get out of hand, government powers design an experient aboard an orbiting space station in which a supercomputer will be given the desire for survival, and then human colonists will attempt to shut it down. Codenamed Janus (two faces, get it?) the head scientist and our protagonist is Ray Dyer, who meanwhile falls in love with Laura Fenning, an attractive but irritating journalist who is to document the experiment for later public consumption--if they survive to tell the tale ...


Chris said...

I'd like to borrow that 1979 SF book. Sounds interesting. It's printed on something called paper?

Lalique said...

happy easter friend
nice to be here again