The Dog Stars by Peter Heller begins after a super-flu has wiped out nearly all of the world’s population. The novel follows Hig and his dog Jasper, who have taken refuge in a small airport hanger in the mountains, and Bangley, an army-type survivalist who has set up camp with enough weapons and ammunition to stave off bands of wanderers. Hig and Jasper fly the perimeter of camp in a 1956 Cessna, providing Heller with the perfect vessel for describing a world that is both lonely and scenic. When Hig receives a strange transmission over the plane’s radio, it triggers the possibility of hope, ultimately sending Hig on a flight past the point of no return.
I could not put this book down. It’s restrained, beautiful, heartfelt, and simply fantastic. It speaks to the human condition on a number of levels, examining survival, hope, love, and friendship with a deftness that is expertly applied. The prose of the book is terse, but fluid, and mimics the world Hig finds himself in: one that is starkly populated but beautifully wild. Outdoorsmen will find a great deal to appreciate in this book, as Heller’s background as a journalist for Outside magazine and National Geographic weaves in a true sense of adventure.
The beauty of Dog Stars resonates in a number of ways, but none more profoundly than the extreme care in which it was written and in the fantastic journey it offers readers.
Highly recommended! Perfect for fall.
Born in Ireland in 1828, Fitz-James O’Brien moved to the United States in 1852 after running through most of his inherited fortune. Once in the USA, he made a living writing for a variety of publications, like the New Yorker and Harper’s. He also wrote short fiction, and Hesperus Press Limited recently rereleased a collection of his work.
The Diamond Lens and Other Stories contains three creepy gems: the eponymously named Diamond Lens, featuring a scientist’s obsession with a microcosmic world, originally published in 1858; The Wondersmith, a revenge story with soulless mannequins and interesting romantic message, first published 1859; and last of all What Was It, an invisible monster story that predates The Invisible Man and other stories with similar concepts, as it was published in 1859.
If you like Edgar Allen Poe, and macabre stories, this is a collection for you. Early science fiction and fantasy is fascinating both for the sheer creativity but also the worldview it gives to the time period it was published.
On a side note, O’Brien joined the New York National Guard in 1961, after the Civil War broke out. He was wounded in action in February 1962, and died from his wounds later that year.
Title: The Diamond Lens and Other Stories
Author: Fitz-James O’Brien
Read: September 2012
I picked up In Service to the Horse by Susan Nesser because I read about it on a horse blog. There you have it. My confession. I am a horse girl. However, I’m posting it here for several reasons. The first being that I tend to drift away from nonfiction. I can’t say why, and the reason isn’t rooted in any particulars, I just simply love fiction. So, when I find a truly great nonfiction read, it’s as eye-opening as it is enjoyable, and I feel myself growing as a reader… just a little bit. The second reason I decided to review this book is because it’s a fantastic glimpse into the lives of horsemen regardless of your opinions toward horses. This review also felt aptly timed. The London Olympics are just around the corner and equestrian sports are the only Olympic games where men and women compete on an equal playing field. There’s your fun fact for the day, kids. Additionally, we’ve been on the heels of some pretty interesting Triple Crown potentials in the last few years, and horsemen and sportsmen alike will agree that horse racing is one of the most timeless icons of American sport.
In Service to the Horse follows both an eventing team and a highly regarded breeding stable in Kentucky. It shines an incredible light on the lives of the grooms and horse owners as it takes place behind the scenes. I am convinced, sadly, that I will never have enough gumption or love for getting up at 4am to become a professional horseman, but the bond and love these grooms have for the horses they care for is, to put it simply, staggering. If light and fluffy isn’t for you, there is an incredible look at the history of horses and how paramount their presence was to the existence of ancient cultures. I’ll go on to say that if thrills are your game, the bravery involved within professional eventing sets an incredible standard to be met, and it’s described within this text in a beautiful way. My palms grew sweaty more than once. And lastly, if you’re in the market for a good conspiracy, show jumping and horse racing are among the top players. The book outlines one of the largest horse conspiracies of our time, an event that was well documented in Ken Englade’s true-crime book, Hot Blood, an issue that rocked the horse world and has since been cemented in history. Do you want to know why there hasn’t been a Triple Crown winner in 25 years? Well, Susan Nesser takes a pretty good crack at explaining why. What I’m saying is, people, there is something for everyone in this book.
Sadly, this book isn’t currently in print, another reason I wanted to give it a shout out. It’s only available in hardback on Amazon and I’d love to see it garner some support. This read will teach you things about an industry you will never otherwise know. I found the writing wonderfully well rounded and heart felt. If John Krakauer wrote a horse book, it would look a helluva lot like this one.
If you have an inkling for horse books, I implore you to pick this one up. It will not disappoint.
The Family Fang, by Kevin Wilson, follows the Fang family through their quirky history. It begins with Annie and Buster (Children A and B) as adults struggling to find their place in the world. Annie, an actress who was once nominated for an Oscar, faces a celebrity scandal, and Buster, a novelist, is coping with a series of low-paying freelance jobs and the fact that his books have a rather narrow audience. Early in the novel Buster is disfigured by a potato gun incident and has no choice (or money) but to return home to heal. Annie attempts to solve her problems by running away, also returning home to help her brother, and hoping that in the interim, Hollywood will forget her recent transgressions.
With the family back together Annie and Buster attempt to understand their upbringing, when their parents used them as pawns in performance art pieces, which brought the family notoriety, but also did a solid job of messing up any chance Annie and Buster had at a normal childhood. Chapters in the book oscillate between Annie and Buster as adults and vignettes of their childhood, each portrait being a different performance piece they were forced to take place in. Now, with the children home, Annie and Buster’s parents, Caleb and Camille Fang, realize that their progeny have no desire to pursue the family “art” they were once so dedicated to. What ensues is (SPOILER ALERT!!!!) the mysterious disappearance of Caleb and Camille, where Annie and Buster are left wondering if they should accept their parents’ deaths, or if their absence is another ‘performance’ in the name of art.
The premise behind this novel is wonderfully creative and it’s an enjoyable read throughout. The format of the varying chapters begins to tire, perhaps because Caleb and Camille’s devotion toward art is difficult to understand and thus their varying performances become tiresome as well. At times the book lacks depth and its themes tend to run a little shallow, but overall it’s a great book to keep on your bedside table and is a perfect summertime read. For fans of Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tennenbaums, it’s a wonderful supplement to his eccentric style and loveable, yet flawed families.
Reviewed by: Kim
Author: Kevin Wilson
Read: March 2012
Following last week’s review of Anderby Wold, here’s the next in our Winifred Holtby series: The Land of Green Ginger.
Joanna dreams of the world beyond Yorkshire, the mystique of faraway places, and is in love with the idea of adventure. At eighteen she meets Teddy Leigh, and he sweeps her off her feet and into a quick marriage before heading to the trenches of World War I.
Teddy returns from the war, but the world isn’t as the magical fairyland Joanna hoped for. Teddy suffers from tuberculosis, and she has to care for him in addition to their two daughters and struggling farm. She’s overwhelmed by her responsibilities, but she can still dream of the world she wants to see.
When Joanna is asked to take in a lodger it seems like the perfect solution to their financial woes. The lodger, a Hungarian named Paul, has seen the world, and is a healthy man. But Yorkshire in the aftermath of World War I isn’t welcoming to foreign labor, and the neighbors are suspicious of Joanna’s feelings. Will her family survive?
The Land of Green Ginger brings insight into Britain just after World War I while also illuminating the lives of women. Like South Riding and Ander by Wold, the sense of time and place is amazing.
The tuberculosis aspect of the novel is fascinating; it wasn’t until the 1940s that scientists were able to create an antibiotic to cure the disease. (Researchers are still batting TB, as the newer multiple drug-resistant tuberculosis, usually referred to as MDR-TB, has a strong foothold in parts of the world.) During the time period of the novel, patients with TB would go into sanitariums and be exposed to lots of fresh air and proper nutrition. If their immune system could fight the bacterial infection, they might go into remission with the infection dormant, but present. Teddy’s fight and fear of being stuck in a sanitarium is understandable, even if his relationship with his wife is troubling.
Next up: Poor Caroline, the third and final installment in our Holtby Series.
Title: The Land of Green Ginger
Author: Winifred Holtby
Read: March 2012
Source: ARC from Publisher
Anne Lamott’s Hard Laughter follows narrator Jessica as she deals with her father’s diagnosis with cancer. The novel encompasses, quite beautifully, Jessica’s tumultuous personal life, her struggles to become a writer, and an apartment and psyche that are in various states of disarray.
This book was given to me by a friend who thought I’d like it and my only complaint was that I thought the voice was too wise for a twenty-something narrator. My friend smiled and said, “But Anne Lamott wrote it when she was in her twenties.” I will forever bow down to Anne Lamott. The prose is fantastic and funny and wise beyond its years. It does an impeccable job of examining how a family deals with the tragedy of cancer and the millions of small victories and losses throughout. Everything about this novel felt real, probably because it’s largely based off her own father’s struggle with cancer. It made me wonder about that ever-elusive line between fiction and nonfiction and left me desperately wondering how much–or how little–of herself Lamott left on the page.
There are writers who are special because of the way they see the world and others who are excellent in how they depict it. Anne Lamott is a true talent of both. Enjoy!
Reviewed by: Kim
Title: Hard Laughter
Read: April 2012
Some books just feel timeless. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is one of those books. It could have been written during World War II (the same time period it’s set), although it was published in 2011. The language has a classic, poetic feel and the story is timeless.
Twelve-year old September is bored with her life in Omaha. Her mother works long hours for the war effort, and her father is abroad, serving his country. The Green Wind offers to take September on an adventure, and they head to Fairyland. Luckily September has the tools to save Fairyland.
September is a strong character, and the friends she makes add to the story. She faces real problems and has to find courage within herself. This is a great novel for children and young-at-heart readers who enjoy fairy tales, fantasy, and whimsical writing.
Title: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Source: Purchased an e-version
Read: March 2012
Public broadcasting currently shows Midsummer Murders, the long-running British detective show. Based on the books by Caroline Graham, the series is set in the fictional, and rather deadly, county of Midsomer.
The second episode of Midsomer Murders (and the first I saw) was based on the novel Written in Blood. It features DCI Barnaby and quirky cast of potential suspects.
The Midsomer Worthy’s Writer’s Circle invites a yearly speaker, and they usually can’t get anyone famous or successful to attend. So when best-selling author Max Jennings agrees to speak, they’re mostly excited. The circle’s secretary, Gerald Hadleigh, is furious, as he never wanted to invite Jennings in the first place.
When Hadleigh is found dead the morning after Jennings speaks to the writers, Barnaby is called in to investigate. Almost everyone in the group has something to to hide, whether embarrassing or sinister. He has to sift through everyone’s secrets and the past to find the murderer.
The TV version ups the ante a bit, adding in an additional murder. Most of the major subplots are brought to the small screen, although the book goes into most of them in more depth. The show is satisfying, using two one-hour episodes to dig into the lives of the potential suspects. Not surprisingly, the novel goes deeper into the lives of the characters, and the subplot with Sue is especially rewarding in the book.
Both the books and TV show are fun, perfect for fans of mysteries set in the English countryside. Barnaby is a likable character both on-screen and in the books. His family is important in both mediums, although his wife and daughter are less entwined in the mysteries in the novels. His sergeant, Troy, is nicer on-screen, which works well for the viewing public.
In addition to Written in Blood, I read several other novels in the Inspector Barnaby series: The Killings At Badger’s Drift, Faithful Until Death, A Place of Safety, and A Ghost in the Machine. All are solidly written and would make good reads for fans of cozy mysteries.
Title: Written in Blood
Author: Caroline Graham
Source: Public Library
Read: March 2012
Timeless starts up about two years after the end of Heartless. Alexia and her husband are still living in Lord Akeldama’s second-best closet to allow them to participate in their daughter, Prudence’s, upbringing with her adoptive vampire father. Life is normal for everyone, well, as normal as living with a toddler able to steal the magic of others temporary turn into, for example, a toddler vampire or tiny werewolf, can be.
But trouble is brewing, and Alexia is summoned to Alexandria. Why does the most powerful vampire in the world want to see Lady Maccon? And will the Egyptians know how to properly prepare tea?
Timeless brings the Parasol Protectorate series to a satisfying close while leaving enough room in the writing-sandbox for the new YA series involving Prudence. Major plot threads, like Alexia’s father, are resolved. Prudence is a delightful addition to the story, bringing humor to the story. Some of the supporting characters, like Biffy and Floote the Butler, play bigger roles to good effect.
Author: Gail Carriger.
Source: Purchased (E-book)
Read: February 2012