25 July 2011

The House of Tomorrow

Peter Bognanni (and every time I type this I want to type "Peter Bogdanovich") is a graduate of the Iowa Writer's Workshop.  His first novel The House of Tomorrow is set in Eastern Iowa - all the towns are easily recognizable even though he changes the place names.  The main character is a teenage boy, Sebastian, who has been raised by his grandmother.  She is a follower (read: devotee/acolyte/worshipper/disciple) of futurist and architect R. Buckminster Fuller and has homeschooled Sebastian following Bucky's philosophies of synergetics, efficiency, and sustainability - they live in a geodesic dome. 

I'm down for that.

Sebastian's life is turned up-side down when his grandmother has a stroke while a family - the Whitcombs - is touring the dome.  The mother takes Sebastian in during his grandmother's hospitalization, rather than turn him over to Child Services, and it is through Jared Whitcomb that Sebastian learns about being a teenager: smoking, girls, and punk rock (or at least Jared's version of punk rock). 

The characters in this book are very interesting.  Nana has an almost fanatical desire to isolate Sebastian so he can fulfill his potential.  Jared is a post-heart transplant teenager who has been sheltered nearly as much as Sebastian but tenaciously clings to his rebellious side.  Janice Whitcomb has reacted to her son's illness and survival and husband's abandonment by turning to God.  Meredith Whitcomb has donned a textbook teenage-tough-girl skin, hiding her hurt feelings and fears under a blase exterior.  Sebastian is a really bright kid, excelling in subjects like math and science, yet has almost no functional social skills.  When Jared decides that he and Sebastian should form a punk band (The Rash) to win the church talent show (as readers we know how THAT will go over, but Sebastian doesn't have a clue what talents are expected at a church function), Sebastian's worldview expands at an exponential rate.

This is definitely a coming-of-age novel but one of the mind, really, rather than the body.  Many ideas and paths are laid before Sebastian once he sees what lies outside of the dome.  Was his Nana right to keep him so sheltered?  Is she in her right mind when she checks out of the hospital and decides to paint the exterior of the dome in a representation of the globe (Bucky's "Spaceship Earth")?  Should Sebastian return to the dome and the life his grandmother set out for him in Bucky's image?  Is the fuck-the-establishment of punk rock the way to go?  What about school?  College?  What about girls?  Meredith is definitely an exotic species - the first girl Sebastian has ever interacted with - and he becomes a bit obsessed with her.

Definitely read this with an open mind as to philosophy.  I was ready too early to dismiss Nana's isolation of Sebastian (I feel very strongly that so much social deprivation does odd things to kids, they need some interaction with other kids, to run around and play, etc) but the very-generous sprinkling of Bucky's philosophy goes quite a long way toward explaining why she acted they way she did.

The House of Tomorrow is  B&N Discover New Writers pick as the winner of the Los Angeles Times 2010 Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction

18 July 2011

A Dance with Dragons

OMG, it's here!  I have read it!  It was amazing!  I need more!!!!  (Ugh, I need some sleep, too.)

Having read through book four of George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, I could finally understand why people were getting really twitchy about his fifth book.  Why we'd get yet another person coming into the store looking for A Dance With Dragons and then heaving a tremendous sigh of disappointment when we said there wasn't a publication date available.

I get it now, I really do.

And that is why I read 1100+ pages in six days.  I'm probably going to spoil some things so you're forewarned.

We catch back up with Jon and the "rock and another rock and a hard place" situation of being Lord Commander of the Night's Watch when Stannis is trying to get him to reneg on his vows by offering him Winterfell, dead things walk in the night and try to kill people, and the sudden influx of Wildings causing a dire need for more food, shelter, and discipline, as well as distrust from half his Sworn Brothers.  Roose Bolton and his really, REALLY sadistic son also cause problems.  Tyrion has been smuggled out of King's Landing by Varys and sent to Illyrio (whom we haven't really seen since A Game of Thrones).  From there he is sent on a journey toward Daenerys and Mereen in the company of "Griff" and "Young Griff"... but gets waylaid and captured in a brothel (of all places) by Jorah Mormont.  He also meets another dwarf, Penny, whose brother was killed by men eager to claim Cersei's promised lordship, and she provides a new perspective on being a dwarf for Tyrion.  Daenerys has got herself into royally (pun intended) hot water by establishing herself at Mereen to keep the slave trade from reopening there and a guerilla war by the Sons of the Harpy forces her to make some really dense choices.  Her dragons are also causing serious trouble because, guess what, they have grown a great deal and seem to have started eating people (children at least).  At the end of the North and Essos chapters we start catching up with other characters, chiefly Jaime, Cersei, and Arya (Cersei's punishment...never, EVER could have guessed that, ever).

GRRM gives us great perspective chapters from old/new characters like Ser Barristan Selmy (yay!), Ser John Connington, Quentyn Martell, Asha Greyjoy and Melisandre (wtf! - need more from her/her history).  And THEN we get perspective chapters from Reek, aka the wreck-that-used-to-be-Theon-that-douche-who-double-crossed-Robb, AND DAVOS!!!  Can I just tell you how happy I was that Davos is still around?  Granted, his storyline just got wierder because he has to go find Rickon and Osha, whom we haven't seen since they parted company with Bran, Hodor, Jojen, and Meera, but he's not dead and he's one of my favorite POV characters.

Speaking of Bran, he's got really boring chapters.  As does Victarion Greyjoy.  We all have our favorite characters/characters we love to hate and I found myself starting to skim the POVs that I didn't care much for.  Although...GRRM did toss up something odd in one of Bran's chapters that I had to go back and re-read:  Bran can "jump" into the heart-tree at Winterfell and see its whole history and there was a brief flash of Eddard Stark praying something about Jon's mom....  And that was it!  I was like, wait, what???  Tell us more!!  People have some seriously crazy ideas about Jon being Lyanna and Rhaegar's kid (I'm fence-y, given that Jon would need to be at least a year older than Robb and it's acknowledged that he's younger because Eddard knocked up Catelyn before he went off to war) - when is someone going to let Jon know where he comes from??  All those chapters from characters I don't care so much about...they are important, just don't know why as yet.

However, two important characters didn't make an appearance at all in A Dance with Dragons:  Sam, now forging his chain in the Citadel, and Sansa, hiding in the Vale with Petyr.  Sam just has a great voice and I want to see how Maesters are trained.  Sansa, however, is a character I didn't like in A Game of Thrones but have come to be very invested in her outcome.  Her situation is just as dangerous as Arya's: she's masquerading as Petyr's illegitimate daughter, accused by Cersei of helping Tyrion poison Joffrey (it was really Petyr/Margery's kooky grandma), but GRRM makes it clear that Petyr thinks Sansa is as beautiful as her mom.  And Petyr still has a thing for Catelyn, as evidenced by how easily he pitched Lysa out the moon door in A Storm of Swords.

So...now I wait like everyone else.  What would I like to see in Book 6 (please GRRM, write fast!)?  Since we're giving out POV chapters to a wider range of characters I'd like to see ones from Jeyne Poole (poor girl), Jorah Mormont (dudes, he is OVERDUE for a chapter), Osha, Petyr (how does that sneaky little mind work), and Varys (how does HIS sneaky little mind work).  I'd love a chapter from Kevan's POV, but he got taken out by Varys's "birds" in the Epilogue.  ADDITIONALLY, I would really, REALLY like to see Daenerys take everyone (the dragons, Ser Barristan, Jorah, Tyrion, Penny, her Unsullied, etc) and get the heck out of Mereen, perhaps by way of Old Valyria - the Doom of Valyria keeps being mentioned, as well as how no one goes there anymore, and that seems important.

And then I'd like to see Arya let loose on Westeros.  She is now officially the scariest child-character in fiction.

(Apologies for the fangirl review)

14 July 2011

There Is No Year

I kept hearing about Blake Butler's new novel - innovative, haunting, artistic, poetic.  When HarperCollins offered a copy of the novel in their summer blogger email I decided to take the plunge.

There is No Year is a novel that defies description.  At minimum, it is the story of a family that moves into a new house.  They find a motionless, emotionless "copy family" - mother, father, child - and a room filled with hair.  The house is mysterious, mazelike, eerie.  Butler's writing worms its way into your imagination.

There is no obvious narrative structure making the book an interlinked series of prose poem-like chapters.  I was reminded a bit of Coraline, a bit of House of Leaves, a bit of the Winchester Mystery House, a bit of the movie Orphanage, and a bit of Donald Barthelme, particularly The Dead Father.  I couldn't just sit down and read this book cover to cover.  I read a chapter/poem or two, puttered around the house a bit, then sit down and read a few more.  I would love to hear Butler read this aloud because the beauty of this book is how the words evoke a situation where nothing is "right" - while the house is not menacing, it certainly is not welcoming.

*Dear FTC: I received a copy of this book from the publisher.

03 July 2011

Reasons I have not updated the blog...

1.  Not entirely sure, it suddenly became less appealing than previous.  I think this is called "burn-out".

2.  I read all four extant books in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire in a little under ten days.  That's about 3,000 pages.  I may have fried my brain.  I think I am in love.

3.  I obsessed about the Game of Thrones TV show because I don't get HBO not does my cable provider participate in HBO Go.  (Note to HBO: I would PAY MONEY for online subscriptions to episodes, you can do it through HBO.com or iTunes, your choice - and then I would buy the DVD set ASAP;  PS: what's the release date for that bad boy of a Season 1?)

4.  I've been working a lot.  Work=teh suck.

5.  I was trying to read The Bone People by Keri Hulme for "Literature by Women" - it pushed the wrong buttons in me.  Normally, books with major issues like child abuse don't freak me out too much but something in this one hit me at the wrong time.  It is well-written and that probably is what's making the subject freak me the frak right out.

6.  I've been working on some deadlines for Alpha Chi Sigma....still got one coming actually.

and in the biggest surprise of all...

7.  I've been writing a book.  Un-freaking-believable.  I haven't written anything since high school (I do not recommend peer-review writing groups when one kid reads at a college level and the rest are somewhere back in junior high) and before Memorial Day I just sat down, opened a journal, and started writing out a plot I've had in my head for years.  I've got most of a first re-write done then I think I might be able to let it rest for a bit.  (And no, I'm not sharing, yet.  It's currently contained in three journals of nasty long-hand scribbling because I can't think at the computer, oddly enough.)  And then I have to read a book about dialogue because my lead-ins and lead-outs are getting repetitive.

So I've got some reviews in the hopper and they need a bit of polishing - don't be surprised if some reviews appear backdated.  If I accepted a book for review (*cough* HarperCollins *cough*), I'll get to it as soon as I can (good thing I stopped responding to my email, no new review copies piling up).  If I haven't yet responded to an email (*cough* My Friend Amy *cough*), I'll get to that soon, too.

Back to writing and plotting to rejoin the land of the interwebs.