29 November 2013

The Sandman: The Dream Hunters/Endless Nights

Summary from Goodreads:
The product of Gaiman's immersion in Japanese art, culture, and history, Sandman: Dream Hunters is a classic Japanese tale (adapted from "The Fox, the Monk, and the Mikado of All Night's Dreaming") that he has subtly morphed into his Sandman universe.

Like most fables, the story begins with a wager between two jealous animals, a fox and a badger: which of them can drive a young monk from his solitary temple? The winner will make the temple into a new fox or badger home. But as the fox adopts the form of a woman to woo the monk from his hermitage, she falls in love with him. Meanwhile, in far away Kyoto, the wealthy Master of Yin-Yang, the onmyoji, is plagued by his fears and seeks tranquility in his command of sorcery. He learns of the monk and his inner peace; he dispatches demons to plague the monk in his dreams and eventually kill him to bring his peace to the onmyoji. The fox overhears the demons on their way to the monk and begins her struggle to save the man whom at first she so envied.

Had the introduction not spoiled it for me, I am sure I would have pegged The Dream Hunters story as having a Japanese origin.  It's such a nice addition to the Sandman series and lends credence to the idea that Dream/Morpheus doesn't not exist solely as a single concept but is viewed in different shapes and forms by different cultures.  Lovely.  Apparently the edition I read has new art, so I want to track down the original to see that version of illustration.

Summary from Goodreads:
Featuring the popular characters from the award-winning Sandman series by best selling author Neil Gaiman, The Sandman: Endless Nights reveals the legend of the Endless, a family of magical and mythical beings who exist and interact in the real world. Born at the beginning of time, Destiny, Death, Dream, Desire, Despair, Delirium, and Destruction are seven brothers and sisters who each lord over their respective realms.

This highly imaginative book, the first graphic novel to be listed on the New York Times best-seller list, boasts diverse styles of breathtaking art, these seven peculiar and powerful siblings each reveal more about their true being as they star in their own tales of curiosity and wonder. 

Endless Nights is more like volume six of the Sandman series - Fables and Reflections - in that it pulls together a series of short stories.  It does a lot to fill in some of the gaps about Dream's other siblings.  I'm very glad that Despair's chapter only had fifteen portraits - they were so sad, kudos to the artist.

27 November 2013

Anything That Moves by Dana Goodyear

Summary from Goodreads:
New Yorker writer Dana Goodyear combines the style of Mary Roach with the on-the-ground food savvy of Anthony Bourdain in a rollicking narrative look at the shocking extremes of the contemporary American food world.

A new American cuisine is forming. Animals never before considered or long since forgotten are emerging as delicacies. Parts that used to be for scrap are centerpieces. Ash and hay are fashionable ingredients, and you pay handsomely to breathe flavored air. Going out to a nice dinner now often precipitates a confrontation with a fundamental question: Is that food?

Dana Goodyear’s anticipated debut, Anything That Moves, is simultaneously a humorous adventure, a behind-the-scenes look at, and an attempt to understand the implications of the way we eat. This is a universe populated by insect-eaters and blood drinkers, avant-garde chefs who make food out of roadside leaves and wood, and others who serve endangered species and Schedule I drugs—a cast of characters, in other words, who flirt with danger, taboo, and disgust in pursuit of the sublime. Behind them is an intricate network of scavengers, dealers, and pitchmen responsible for introducing the rare and exotic into the marketplace. This is the fringe of the modern American meal, but to judge from history, it will not be long before it reaches the family table. Anything That Moves is a highly entertaining, revelatory look into the raucous, strange, fascinatingly complex world of contemporary American food culture, and the places where the extreme is bleeding into the mainstream.

I heard about Anything That Moves from Rebecca (of Book Riot and Bookrageous) and I thought this would be an interesting read as the holiday season heated up.  I like to eat good food and enjoy a good meal, so I consider myself a "foodie", but I won't eat just anything.  I was a very picky eater as a child and I'm still a picky eater as an adult (there's a whole category of foods, led by onions, that hate me therefore I hate them back).  However, there is a different aspect of foodie culture that will put just about anything in their mouths ala Anthony Bourdain and Jonathan Gold.  And I mean anything.  But some of these food(-ish) items, while strange to Western/US tables, are standards of cultures particularly in South Asian and Pacific Rim countries.  (A particular food that keeps coming up is "balut" - if Filipino food is not your thing, do not Google this until you put your cast-iron stomach on first.)

Dana Goodyear grew up hunting with her father and so has a willing, adventurous streak to her diet.  She readily jumped into the foodie lifestyle - her style is reminiscent of Mary Roach without the funny footnotes - and brought a very balanced view to the fringes of food culture.  She followed food critic Jonathan Gold who sort-of pioneered the "eating as sport" idea; Ottolenghi and the food culture of Las Vegas; the Rawsome incident/movement; the molecular gastronomy and haute cuisine movements; and dinners that don't occur at "restaurants" (think word-of-mouth private parties) and that serve not only expected food items but also, in one instance, an entire dinner centered around the idea of marijuana as an ingredient (it is a plant, effects of THC aside).  In what was my favorite chapter, she covered the ethics of eating endangered animals in the US where in other countries those animals are still very much on the menu; she also tangentially touches on the issues of using horse meat in the US where horses are often seen as pets rather than livestock as in other parts of the world (this reminded me of how often in historical novels I see the term "cattle" applied to a team of horses).  Goodyear discovered she was pregnant during her research for the book so she also touched briefly on how her own views on eating had to change and whether she should or should not eat certain items because of the baby.

A very quick read but also very informative.  If you're like me, you might want a bottle of Tums during your reading (I did actually feel like I was developing indigestion during one chapter).  If, on the other hand, you're more in the Bourdain camp you will want make a bucket list from all the places and food items that appear in Goodyear's book.

Dear FTC: I borrowed a copy of this book from my store.

26 November 2013

No Good Duke Goes Unpunished (The Rules of Scoundrels #3)

Summary from Goodreads:

A rogue ruined . . .

He is the Killer Duke, accused of murdering Mara Lowe on the eve of her wedding. With no memory of that fateful night, Temple has reigned over the darkest of London’s corners for twelve years, wealthy and powerful, but beyond redemption. Until one night, Mara resurfaces, offering the one thing he’s dreamed of . . . absolution.

A lady returned . . .

Mara planned never to return to the world from which she’d run, but when her brother falls deep into debt at Temple’s exclusive casino, she has no choice but to offer Temple a trade that ends in her returning to society and proving to the world what only she knows . . . that he is no killer.

A scandal revealed . . .

It’s a fine trade, until Temple realizes that the lady—and her past—are more than they seem. It will take every bit of his strength to resist the pull of this mysterious, maddening woman who seems willing to risk everything for honor . . . and to keep from putting himself on the line for love.

There are few things a male of the peerage can do to be permanently ostracized from Good Society - being accused of murdering your father's teenaged bride is one of them. Even though Mara Lowe's body was never found William Harrow, heir to the Duke of Lamont, is assumed to have killed her. After all, he woke up covered in blood and claimed he had no memory of what happened. Thus began his downfall in the ton's eyes. He joined up with Bourne and then became the third partner in The Fallen Angel gaming hell. Temple is the muscle. Any man who can beat Temple in the boxing ring - and none of that proper gentleman's fighting, this is bare-knuckles - will have his debt wiped from the books of The Fallen Angel. Temple has never lost.

One evening, or morning, given the Angel's working hours, Temple meets a woman outside his home. A woman he knows. From his past.

Mara Lowe.

She tries to explain. To ask Temple to help her. Her idiot brother Christopher Lowe, who knew she was alive, has gambled away not only the remains of the family fortune but the money Mara entrusted to him. Money meant to help the boys in her orphanage. He has lost it all to tables at The Fallen Angel. In exchange for Temple's help Mara will tell him what happened that night twelve years ago.

Temple is, rightfully, pissed. He is dangerously angry and beyond wanting an explanation. He wants retribution. He wants all twelve of those years back. He forces Mara into an impossible bargain: he will help her regain her lost finances only if she agrees to reveal herself to the ton and prove that Temple is no murderer. That Mara masterminded the entire plot and ruined his life. And in doing so, she will permanently ruin her own. Retribution.

No Good Duke Goes Unpunished is a different type of installment in Sarah MacLean's Rules of Scoundrels series. Temple and Bourne, though both characters that have been betrayed, each have a different tone to their anger. Bourne's is cold and calculating, with a hint of guilt at his own folly in assisting his downfall. Temple's anger is black, personal, and lethal. He wants to hurt Mara, to make her feel as alone and rejected as he has for years. As such, this book pulls no punches. The little boys Mara is protecting are not just orphans - they are the ton's unwanted by-blows, an unwelcome reminder that a ton male can do (almost) no wrong. When Temple is seriously injured, Chase has Mara imprisoned in The Fallen Angel while Temple's life hangs in the balance. The ton feels almost like a slavering wolf, licking its chops and savoring the taste of a broken reputation. And Mara's past comes to light. Her reason for taking such a drastic step in faking her own death. It is another reminder that women throughout history have little to no power over the disposition of their own bodies. A woman passed from her father's control to her husband's. In Mara's case, from an abusive father to an aristocratic husband who had notoriously chewed his way through wives, obtaining younger and younger spouses in the manner of Bluebeard. By saving herself, Mara accidentally condemned Temple.

In among this darkness, MacLean lets in a little bit of light. Temple gives the little boys at the orphanage lessons in being well-bred gentlemen (standing when a lady enters the room, etc). We meet Violet (not telling who that is). Pippa and Penny both appear. And there is the wonderful heat MacLean kindles between her damaged hero and heroine. Mara isn't an easy character to like. She isn't supposed to be. But the reader has to admire a character with that much backbone and fortitude, to swallow her pride and reveal herself to the person whom she wronged most in the world. Temple and Mara were attracted to each other twelve years ago and the attraction is still there. It's a bit deeper, though, for having been banged up and marred. And, oh, so hot.

Now, there is a little surprise at the very end of the book. Don't spoil it and look, no matter the temptation, no matter how much you've heard that it is amazing. Because it is. And you'll be mad at yourself if you peek. So don't peek. Paperclip the last 10 pages or so to the back cover and read No Good Duke Goes Unpunished from front to back. Then you can read the surprise.

18 November 2013

The Age of Ice

Summary from Goodreads:
An epic debut novel about a lovelorn eighteenth-century Russian noble, cursed with longevity and an immunity to cold, whose quest for the truth behind his condition spans two thrilling centuries and a stunning array of historical events.

St. Petersburg, Russia, 1740. The Empress Anna Ioanovna has issued her latest eccentric order: construct a palace out of ice blocks. Inside its walls her slaves build a wedding chamber, a canopy bed on a dais, heavy drapes cascading to the floor—all made of ice. Sealed inside are two jesters, one a disgraced nobleman, the other a humpback, a performer by birthright. On the Empress’s command—for her entertainment—these two are to be married, the relationship consummated inside this frozen prison. In the morning guards enter to find them half-dead. Nine months later, two boys are born.

Surrounded by servants and animals, Prince Alexander Velitsyn and his twin brother Andrei have an idyllic childhood on the family’s large country estate. But as they approach manhood stark differences coalesce. Andrei is daring and ambitious; Alexander is tentative and adrift. One frigid winter night on the road between St. Petersburg and Moscow, as he flees his army post, Alexander comes to a horrifying revelation: his body is immune from cold.

J. M. Sidorova's boldly original and genre-bending novel takes readers from the grisly fields of the Napoleonic Wars to the blazing heat of Afghanistan, from the outer reaches of Siberia to the cacophonous streets of nineteenth-century Paris. The adventures of its protagonist, Prince Alexander Velitsyn—on a life-long quest for the truth behind his strange physiology—will span three continents and two centuries, and will bring him into contact with an incredible range of real historical figures, from Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, to the licentious Russian Empress Elizaveta, and to English explorer Joseph Billings.

Romantic, thrilling, and rigorously historical, The Age of Ice is one of the most inventive debut novels of the year.

The premise of this novel is so captivating - two children, born of a frozen, loveless wedding ceremony, are endowed with the ability to adapt to cold temperatures.  One, Alexei, is able to pass as "normal"; the other, the narrator Alexander, becomes freezing cold with the onset of any emotion - anger, desire, sadness - becoming so cold while kissing his betrothed that she develops hypothermia and pneumonia. Alexander thus begins his journey to understand why he is the way he is.

The first 100 pages or so of The Age of Ice move quickly and build Alexander's character through his interactions with others.  However, just as Alexander joins the expedition to explore Siberia - the perfect place for a man who suffers no effects from cold to explore his oddities - the book grinds to a halt.  The plot just stagnates as Alexander and the expedition just seem to wander aimlessly.  Alexander even attempts to kill himself by freezing himself in ice.  At least I think that was what he meant to do...it was confusing.  The rest of the book is a tangle of returning to the society of Russian nobility, marrying his dead brother's wife, the Napoleonic wars, and a period of time in the land wars of Afghanistan/Pakistan/India/Great Britain in Central Asia (which then prompted a period of sniggering via Vizzini).  Had I not specifically requested this book for review, it is unlikely I would have finished it.

The author is a cell biologist and so built up a fantastic premise with, what I felt, very little resolution.  The conceit that Alexander, aside from his extreme cold tolerance and ability to control ice, does not age and cannot die felt forced; he only seemed to attempt to freeze himself to death - why not attempt a more violent means of ending one's life?  The later sections where Alexander seems to jump through time to get him to 2007 just add bulk without bringing him understanding.  I'd like to see what the author does in the future - perhaps a collection of short stories where she can play around with some of these odd concepts without having the burden of creating a book-length narrative.

Dear FTC: I received a DRC of this novel from the publisher via Edelweiss.

11 November 2013

Parnassus on Wheels

Summary from Goodreads:
I imagined him in his beloved Brooklyn, strolling in Prospect Park and preaching to chance comers about his gospel of good books.

"When you sell a man a book," says Roger Mifflin, the sprite-like book peddler at the center of this classic novella, "you don't sell him just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue—you sell him a whole new life." In this beguiling but little-known prequel to Christopher Morley's beloved Haunted Bookshop, the "whole new life" that the traveling bookman delivers to Helen McGill, the narrator of Parnassus on Wheels, provides the romantic comedy that drives this charming love letter to a life in books.

I recently purchased a subscription to Melville House's Art of the Novella series and one of the first books I received was Christopher Morley's The Haunted Bookshop.  I was going to read it right away but then I read the flap copy and it mentioned Parnassus on Wheels...oops!  Maybe I should read that first.

Well, I didn't have one on hand (obviously) but I had also just started subscribing to Oyster, a subscription-style lending library for ebooks.  It has a beautiful iOS app UI and a huge selection of backlist from HarperCollins, HMH MacMillan, and, you guessed it, Melville House.  A quick search brought up Parnassus on Wheels, with its accompanying information tidbits, so I settled in for a quick read.

Parnassus on Wheels is narrated by Helen McGill.  She keeps house for her brother Andrew on their family's farm and, well, she's beginning to get a tiny bit dissatisfied.  One day Roger Mifflin, having heard that Andrew is an author, shows up to sell him the "Parnassus on Wheels" - a horse-drawn caravan-cum-travelling-bookstore - because he wants to retire.  Helen seizes the opportunity and buys the Parnassus herself, determined to have a little adventure before she ages from middle-age to old-age.  Off she goes, after a bit of coaching by Roger, and certainly does have an adventure!  In the end, Helen and Roger fall in love - which is made all the better because, to mis-paraphrase Jane Austen, neither would have ever expected to play the part of romantic hero or heroine.

Throughout, Roger keeps expounding on his love of books and why books and reading are essential to a happy, well-rounded life.  His enthusiasm is infectious.  Parnassus on Wheels is a lovely little book for booklovers of all stripes.  Highly recommended for an evening with a blanket, some tea, and a cat or dog.

Dear FTC: I read this book on my Oyster app.