28 June 2013

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

After several years in the list of books I wanted to read, I finally made it around to Aimee Bender's The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake.  It was not at all what I expected it to be.

The blurb/synopsis is simple enough: "On the eve of her ninth birthday, unassuming Rose Edelstein bites into her mother's homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she has a magical gift: she can taste her mother’s emotions in the slice. To her horror, she finds that her cheerful mother tastes of despair. Soon, she’s privy to the secret knowledge that most families keep hidden: her father’s detachment, her mother’s transgression, her brother’s increasing retreat from the world. But there are some family secrets that even her cursed taste buds can’t discern."

Yet within that simple premise is the seed of a novel that is anything but simple.  The characters are all so delightfully complex, the story so full melancholy, that somehow, despite the fantastical premise, it seemed to be one of the most real novels I have read in a long time.

One of the aspects I most enjoyed about Lemon Cake was the way the characters grew with it; we get to watch Rose grow up into a young woman, and her family ages along with her.  We see their relationships change and develop; we see Rose learn to cope with her ability.  And yet, the story is never sugar-coated: there is love and loss and heartbreak, just as there is in every family.  The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is stronger for it.

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Books: Reading John Grisham's The Last Juror as research into thrillers, though so far I've yet to reach the thriller part...maybe this one is just a legal drama.  I kind of pulled it off the library shelf at random.

Bottles: Got a beautiful bottle of Joseph Phelps Insignia 2009, but I won't be drinking it for a while yet...it looks great, though.

Writing: I have been remiss in writing, focusing on other pursuits, but I hope to get back to it soon.

Guitar: Looking at songs by Imagine Dragons, including "Radioactive" and "Amsterdam."  They are super-fun.

16 June 2013

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

Atlas Shrugged.  And so did I, after about 100 pages.

It's very strange; I found Rand's writing to be fairly good, and the characters were well-written.  Here's the thing, though: I hated all of them.  Like, literally, I could not identify with any of the characters.  Even ones I thought I might be able to identify with would later go on to merely anger me.

That's not to say I hated the philosophy Rand espoused, at least as much as I was able to absorb before I had to give up the book.  That said, I did find it rather stark; perhaps what bothered me most was that the characters being set up as protagonists, as best as I can tell, were also crippled by severe antisocial tendencies, perhaps to the point of being sociopathic or psychopathic.

Only one other time did I have to give up a book as being thoroughly unenjoyable to me, and that was Gravity's Rainbow last year.  Much like Atlas Shrugged, I had hoped to finish it, as it's considered an important work; that said, my time is important, too, and there are other important works I could no doubt be reading and enjoying with my time, rather than slogging through the book out of a sense of obligation.

I suppose I might come back to it in the future; perhaps time will make it more palatable to me.  We'll see, I guess.

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Books: Gave up on Atlas Shrugged and moving on to The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, which is already proving quite enjoyable.  Still waiting for The Wilderness Warrior to be available again so I can finish the last bit of it.

Bottles: Had some Cava last night, but nothing too much for a while.  Waiting for more wine club selections right now.

Writing: Working on letters and slowly slogging away at some sketches for SnD.  Need to read some John Grisham, too.  I'll probably take some with me to Florida when I go for a week.

Guitar: Still looking at "Marooned."

06 June 2013

Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff


On the cover of Stormdancer is the following blurb:

“What’s that?  You say you’ve got a Japanese steampunk novel with mythic creatures, civil unrest, and a strong female protagonist?  I’m afraid I missed everything you said after ‘Japanese steampunk.’  That’s all I really needed to hear.”  -- Patrick Rothfuss, #1 New York Times bestselling author

So yeah...they probably couldn’t have picked a better blurb.  That summed things up quite nicely.

Stormdancer was a fun read, though it took me a little while to get into it: though the book had a glossary at the back to help you with the unfamiliar Japanese terms, I didn’t actually discover that until after I had already finished the book.  There was no table of contents to hint that there was anything lurking back there, either.  That’s more of an editorial quibble, I suppose.  But it would have helped.

Regardless, the characters and world of Stormdancer were richly realized, and, aside from the occasional vocabulary hiccups, quite immersive.  It was at once strange and familiar, unique and yet perfectly informed by what’s come before.  It kind of made me think of what would happen if Steamboy, Akira, and Eragon were all put into a blender together, and then went through a gender change.

Kristoff also explored a moral area that western readers are perhaps less familiar with: the Code of Bushido plays a large part in the story, and the morality that goes along with it is at the heart of the story.  What are oaths to a liar worth?  Can honor be found in serving a dishonorable lord?  These are questions that permeate Stormdancer.

I thought the approach to romance in the novel was interesting as well.  There was no puppy love, and not really any love triangle either: the protagonist knew what she wanted and went after it, and there were some surprisingly adult decisions made along the way, both by the character and by the author.  It was a refreshing choice, when so many novels with female protagonists dwell so much on the “which one will she choose?” sort of love triangle.

I thoroughly enjoyed Stormdancer and look forward to its sequel.  Now...time to finally finish The Wilderness Warrior.

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Books: Waiting for The Wilderness Warrior to return, so starting on Atlas Shrugged.

Bottles: Had a glass of La Vieille Ferme's red wine with dinner last night because I cooked with it...didn't make any tasting notes.

Writing: Been too busy moving to write any!

Guitar: Been too busy moving for guitar!  But now that I'm finally moved in, going back to "Marooned."