Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Fairy Tale Fortnight!

So I am a part of Fairy Tale Fortnight  

Basically, it is a book blogging extravaganza all about fairy tales! Awesome, right? So click on the link above and go see the schedule and check it out! :)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

First Among Rev - er ... Sequals ... right.

This is my review of the absurdist fiction book, fifth in the Thursday Next Series:

First Among Sequels
by Jasper Fforde

I am a huge Fforde fan but this book, released in 2007, took me a while to get to.
Like the books "Sunshine" (Robin McKinley) and "99 Coffins" (Scott Wellington), my former biker turned book enthusiast Indigo employee, Cookie, pointed me to the Thursday next series. I picked up The Eyre Affair and read it through in a night, squealing about it to the boyfriend so much that he grabbed it from me and read the whole thing too (Trust, he never reads, this is huge).

So when I got to the fifth book, Boyfriend had already passed me and bought it and I had to wait for him to finish it ... and he's a slow reader.

I finally got it at the beginning of law school, and promptly lost it. Then my Mom found it a couple of months ago in one of my book bags, and it sat on my TBR pile at my apartment until yesterday when I picked it up and read it through until 5 this morning. Needless to say, I enjoyed it.

And now I will tell you why:

It is fourteen years since Thursday Next pegged out at the 1988 SuperHoop, and the Special Operations Network has been disbanded. Using Swindon’s Acme Carpets as a front, Thursday and her colleagues Bowden, Stig and Spike continue their same professions, only illegally.
Of course, this front is itself a front for Thursday’s continued work at Jurisfiction, the Policing agency within BookWorld, and she is soon grappling with a recalcitrant new apprentice, an inter-genre war or two, and the inexplicable departure of comedy from the once-hilarious Thomas Hardy books.
As the Council of Genres decree that making books interactive will boost flagging readership levels, and Goliath attempts to perfect a trans-fictional tourist coach, Thursday finds herself in the onerous position of having to side with the enemy to destroy a greater evil that threatens the very fabric of the reading experience.
With Aornis Hades once again on the prowl, an idle sixteen-year-old son who would rather sleep in than save the world from the end of time, a government with a dangerously high stupidity surplus and the Swindon 'Stiltonistas' trying to muscle in on her cheese-smuggling business, Thursday must once again travel to the very outer limits of acceptable narrative possibilities to triumph against increasing odds.
 First off - if you haven't read the other books in the series ... well ... that's okay, actually - they seem to all wrap around and somehow make sense anyway ... thank the Chrono guard for that ... or can we now ...?

The Thursday Next series is the height of absurdist fiction - it's hilarious, at times heavy handed, and generally a hilariously good time.

This one is set YEARS after the original 4 books, and Thursday's life is pretty ordinairy - married, kids, job ... or is it? She is is still hopping over to the book world all the time, still fixing all of fiction's huge problems, and still trying to balance this with being thee working wife and mother she is. Along the way there is more bald Dodo, no wooly mammoths in this one though, and a great cast of rememberable characters ... if in fact you do get to remember them at all ...

The hook of this series is the fact that Fforde grounds it in enough British realism as possible before diving headlong into the insanity that is his book world: and honestly, who wouldn't love the chance to go into the classic, throw pianos about and generally act out the book?

Fforde does get a little heavy handed with this one - you can see the frustration leap off the page every time he talks about how people don't read anymore, but it is done in such a funny way that you can't help but to agree with him (honestly - reality series set in Pride and Prejudice - you will laugh. Or cry. Especially when you discover Mrs. Bennet has been locked in the cupboard).

Fforde knows how to keep his readers engaged too - his website is full of fun tidbits and extras, and the covers are superb (at least the ones we get in Canada are - in this case, the American covers suck). He keeps readers engaged, even though it takes a while for the next book to come out.

I may not agree with all his politics, but I do like his books! And this is no exception!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Playing with Fire ...

Review of Steig Larsson's "The Girl Who Played with Fire"

I have had this book kicking around for about a year now, and I picked it up a couple of weeks ago - and just slammed through it. Larsson really did know how to compel a reader - only ... he ended it on a cliffhanger. Yes, he did.


Okay, since I have not read the third, and I don't want to ruin the first or second for anyone, this will be more of a review in brief, then a full out review - when I read the last one, though - no promises!

Here's the synopsis:
Mikael Blomkvist, crusading journalist and publisher of the magazine "Millennium, " has decided to run a story that will expose an extensive sex trafficking operation between Eastern Europe and Sweden, implicating well-known and highly placed members of Swedish society, business, and government. But he has no idea just how explosive the story will be until, on the eve of publication, the two investigating reporters are murdered. And even more shocking for Blomkvist: the fingerprints found on the murder weapon belong to Lisbeth Salander--the troubled, wise-beyond-her-years genius hacker who came to his aid in "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, " and who now becomes the focus and fierce heart of "The Girl Who Played with Fire." As Blomkvist, alone in his belief in Salander's innocence, plunges into an investigation of the slayings, Salander herself is drawn into a murderous hunt in which she is the prey, and which compels her to revisit her dark past in an effort to settle with it once and for all

Okay, so if you recall from my review of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" - Larsson was obsessed with gender relations in Sweden. Gladly, the continued in Book 2. We open up with Salander running around the world, her mind in numbers, but back in Sweden Blomkvist and Millennium are getting ready to bust open a can of worms over the illegal sex trade of Eastern European teenaged girls into Sweden.

What's particularly interesting is the way that Salander is portrayed by the media - a phenomena that is remarked upon by many of characters in the book. The newspaper latch on to the more sensational parts of her life - her relationship with lesbian women, her involvement with a band called "Evil Fingers" and her isolated childhood in and out of psychiatric hospitals where she received "treatment" for something that the newspapers never specify. The character Faste - a misogynist police officer on Salander's case, brings all this to a head within his own words and personality. He fixates on all these stories until it ruins him, harping on and on (very hatefully, mind) about the lesbian sex, the "satanic lesbian rock cult" and more. The characters Modig and Bublanksi are the ones that temper that - seeing things rationally and both losing their tempers with Faste at different points in the novel.

Modig herself is an inetresting character - she's a cop, a wife and a mother, and she is stuck in the middle of this male-dominated profession where she is constantly being hazed by people like Faste, regardless of the fact that she is good at her job and has good skills and insight into the case.

Again, Salander is at the center of this gender dispute - described several times by Blomkvist as "The woman who hate men who hate women" (a nod to the original novel's original Swedish title). And to that end, the novel is gritty in that same way - the disrespect of women is carried out enthusiastically, making your skin crawl and your jaw clench as you get enraged at the men who are hurting women. You want to throttle a few characters yourself, but you keep reading, following Salander as she uncovers the secrets in her own past, the things she was kept from until the killer climax of a cliffhanger ending.

To be honest, this issue is dear to my heart - the gender discrimination women experience - even in such a wonderfully liberating place as Sweden, is a disgusting reality, and yet very rarely acknowledged with any kind of seriousuness. Books like this are often very shocking and distrubing because they bring that terirbleness to the center of the storym forcing us to confront it, again and again, and seek some sort of resolution. And the beauty of the Millennium series is that there never really is an adequate resolution.

The other theme that runs through this book was downplayed in the original to an extent: the role of the media in modern life - particularly where it concerns the police, and investigations. There are plenty of pot shots taken at the media and scrubbing for information basically on its sensationalist value as opposed to being truthful and/or helpful. On the other hand, Blomkvist represents the good journalist, the one we think of as a good guy - the one that seeks truth above all else, regardless of the price.

On the other hand, it is also critical of police manipulating and/or hiding information from the public, squirreling away information "for the benefit of the nation". Larsson is critical of this, citing again and again the police folders on Salander and her opponents as being the root to the reasons for the problems in the book.

All in all - it was a great book, and I can't believe I do not have the third within my grasp right now, where I can peruse it wildly through the night because of that blasted Cliffhanger! On the plus side, I have the movie - so guess what my study break will be devoted to? That's right!

Until next time!