Heartwood 5:2 – The Green Child

JacketHerbert Read’s three-part novel, The Green Child, starts out with a bang. In the first paragraph, a South American dictator’s assassination is revealed to have been faked as he, our protagonist Olivero, is on his way now by ship to Europe.

You know, it really might be best to start reading this book without knowing anything more (I’d save the book’s Introduction as well until after you’re done). But if you’re going to disregard this advice, I’ll let you know that this book explores such wide-ranging things as the structure of society and political systems (especially of a Utopian sort), the value of surrendering to wherever your personal destiny will lead you, and the possibility of alternative worlds with their own integrally complex cultural beliefs and practices.

The three sections of the book are distinctly different. The first part of the novel, concerns Olivero’s return home, after thirty years away, only to discover the stream where he once spent so much time is now flowing in the opposite direction. His moonlit investigation into this conundrum is quickly compounded and sidetracked (in ways you will simply have to discover for yourself) before the chapter ends in a most dramatic fashion.

The middle section deals with the protagonist’s stumbling into the role of benevolent autocrat for a small community in inland Argentina. My only quibble with the book is just how smoothly things go for Olivero once he gets to Argentina, but it’s fascinating and fun to watch as he and a few others work to overturn the existing government and institute the ideals of revolutionary Europe which have come down to us from Voltaire, Rousseau, and Volney.

The third part of the book picks up – in a through-the-looking-glass way – where the first left off and shows Read as an effective world-builder. This section places Olivero and the green girl in reversed roles from what we found in the first chapter, only this time the individual’s attempt to adjust and assimilate into an utterly foreign culture is brought to full maturity in a calmly beautiful conclusion.

But stop, I’ve already said too much. Step away from whatever screen you’re reading this on and go treat yourself to a most unusual and thought-provoking reading experience. The Green Child awaits.

Heartwood | About Heartwood

Terry Pratchett Remembered

There are plenty of opportunities to read about his life, so I thought I’d share how Terry (as I called him in my head) affected me.

I was raised on Monty Python. Their brand of humor is somewhat unusual, and when they more or less ceased to function as a group there was a hole in my humor reserves. I’m not sure exactly when I discovered Mr. Pratchett (as he required me to call him), late 80s or early 90s, but I do remember the moment of discovery.

WitchesIt was a day like any other day, except that it was unique, and I was making my weekly pilgrimage to the Everett swap meet. There amongst some books I spied Witches Abroad. The cover art was silly and the book’s description was, well, extremely silly, and I was immediately taken by this post-modern fairy tale and the amazing character of Mistress Granny Weatherwax.

Discworld, where many of his books take place, is sort of a sideways version of Earth, mostly focused on a semi-pre-industrial quasi-Europe. The planet’s inhabitants face the same problems that we do, and Pratchett, amongst non-stop wet-your-pants hilarity, offers precious daubs of wisdom. Describing this fantasy world in brief is just not possible, but it is a place I think of fondly, much as one might of Oz or Hogwarts or… well, nowhere else I can think of.

MonstrousIt would be impossible to choose a favorite, but Monstrous Regiment is a Discworld novel that stuck with me. The general premise is that there’s a war, a girl’s brother goes off and does not return so she impersonates a man and enlists (wait, this is sounding familiar…), her regiment of misfits becomes notorious, and, well, read the book! But amidst all the belly laughs and borrowing from Shakespeare, Pratchett makes deep and insightful points about war. And this sums up his best books: gut-wrenchingly funny and poignantly wise.

I will miss anticipating the latest Discworld novel, but I revel in the knowledge that there are over forty of them to read and read and read again. And so I leave you with the final tweet from Sir Terry Pratchett’s Twitter feed, released after his death.

[Death speaks]: “AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER,” it stated. Terry took Death’s arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night. The End.

Terry Pratchett

 

 

Favorite 65X Series: Plot-Your-Own Stories Edition

Don’t even ask. I know what you’re wondering. “Carol, what the heck is a 65X? And why should I care?” In cataloger-speak, that’s how we code subject headings and genre terms. Generally, 650s are subject headings and 655s are genres. Relax, though. You’re not getting a lesson in cataloging, though I’d be happy to talk your ear off about MARC, RDA, and FRBR.

Wait, come back! I said I wouldn’t be talking about those things, and I intend to prove it. Welcome to a new series I’m trying out here on the blog, where I will explore some of my most favorite headings. Today we’re going to shine a spotlight on the subject heading Plot-your-own stories.

If you grew up in the 80s like I did, you may remember a wonderful series created by the late, great R.A. Montgomery called Choose Your Own Adventure. For me, I remember spending time in the stacks at the Bethalto Public Library exploring life as a ninja, a millionaire, and even an astronaut. I discovered those books when I was twelve and immediately decided that this was the element that my beloved Nancy Drew books were missing: the ability to influence the outcome of the story by making a series of seemingly small decisions.

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I still have a few tattered copies of this awesome series, and yes, I do pull them out occasionally to see if I still remember the correct series of decisions that allow me to keep the $1 million I found after playing baseball in my neighborhood instead of being killed for it. Spoiler alert: I do not remember this perfect sequence, but I do have fun figuring it out all over again. In fact, when I was writing this post I pulled out all my old Choose Your Own Adventure books and discovered my husband’s stash of GI Joe-themed Plot-your-own stories books as well. Even when we were kids we apparently thought alike!

Girl Walks Into a BarRecently I ran across A Girl Walks Into a Bar by Helena S. Paige. It looked like a standard contemporary romance novel with a fun cover. Then I sat down to read it and discovered two fun facts about this book:

  • It’s less a romance and more an erotica.
  • It’s a Plot-your-own stories book, aka Choose Your Own Adventure style.

Does anything get better than that? If you’re me, the answer is definitely, “No. No, it does not get better than that!”

The book begins with you walking into a bar and immediately getting a message from your best friend, standing you up on your girls’ night out. Since you’re already dressed up, why not stay at the bar and see what happens? Not only are there dozens of choices throughout the story, there are several choices of guys to initially approach. With each decision your night changes quite drastically. Don’t like the ending? Then start over and choose again. And again. And again! My favorite part of romances are when the heroine and hero meet for the first time. With books like this you can read a variety of “meet cutes” without having to put down the book and pick up another.

Sure, it’s a frivolous read, but I like to read for enjoyment and, to me, there’s nothing more relaxing than making a life-changing decision simply by turning the page.

Science Fiction – No Longer Just For Nerds

I’m in a rut, in a rut, in a rut rut rut root, rutabaga!

Ah, blessed escape.

As much as I enjoy pulp mysteries, I feel that 2015 needs to be a year of expanded reading interests. Books written in 2015, non-fiction, plots or genres I don’t typically pursue – these will be my (alleged) focus for the year. But for the moment I am returning to my sordid past. You see, I am a recovering science fiction nerd.

For years, the only books I read were sci-fi. I have a couple of theories as to the why of this, but one definite appeal of the genre is that literally anything can happen. Not so in most fiction. Your average book about a lawyer suing the greedy corporations that are destroying her home in Alaska is not going to feature the Loch Ness Monster as a key witness (although that would be way cool and probably improve the story). There are laws of reality that most stories need to obey. Sci-fi, however, creates its own laws.

chalkerThe Well of Lost Souls series, written by Jack L. Chalker, is one of my favorite examples of what science fiction can be. Chalker was not an outstanding writer, but he was incredibly imaginative. For this series he created the Well World, a planet which serves as a testing ground for potential species, sort of a cosmic petri dish. Each species has its own hexagonal region (1,560 regions total) that serves the needs of its inhabitants – temperature, atmosphere and so on. As the main characters travel the planet they pass through many regions and the reader is introduced to a stunning array of unique creatures and environments. No other book or series I’ve encountered is packed full of such diversity.

dhalgrenDhalgren by Samuel R. Delany
Dhalgren is on my soon-to-be-read list. As far as I can recall, I’ve never read anything by Delany, but he is one of the names uttered with a hint of reverence in the sci-fi field. This book’s description is mesmerizing, and I’ve read several reviews that refer to it as one of the most important science fiction novels. How can one resist this summary?

In Bellona, dead centre of the US, something has happened. The population has fled; madmen and criminals wander the streets. Strange portents appear in the cloud-covered sky. Into this disaster zone comes a young poet, lover and adventurer, known only as the Kid.

He had me at “centre”.

man in the high castleThe Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
Philip K. Dick is probably best known for writing Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, the novel that Blade Runner is based upon. While this movie might be complex, his books are beyond difficult to describe. Perhaps visualize a mix of reality and fantasy and hallucinogenic drugs, and then throw this psyonic kaleidoscope into a hyperbole tornado, replete with fevered visions and tapioca (the tapioca is for me; I like it), swirling at the speed of sound through an uncertainty transmogrifier. Dick’s books are challenging, even bizarre, but extremely rewarding. The Man in the High Castle features an alternate history wherein the Allies lost WWII. Germany controls most of the United States, but Japan runs the west coast. These two superpowers, though allies in war, do not trust each other, so espionage, intrigue and budding conflict become part of everyday life. While this description sounds fairly straightforward, the story is anything but. Ultimately, it’s a tale of day-to-day life in a United States that never existed and an examination of the eternal what’s-it-all-about. From a local interest standpoint, Amazon recently created a pilot for a series based on the book, and most of the filming was done in Seattle, Monroe and Roslyn (home of Northern Exposure).

City of Truthcity of truth by James Morrow
You can read about this classic in a previous blog. I’m finally getting around to reading it, and it’s even better than expected!

Like any genre, sci-fi can be trite, repetitive and boring. But its cream is amongst the best literature flung from a pen. So stroll the Science Fiction aisles at EPL and prepare to BLOW YOUR MIND (mind-blowing clean up gear not included).

Spot-Lit for March 2015

Spot-Lit

Get the jump on these highly anticipated new releases coming out in March.
Click the book cover montage below to read more or to place titles on hold.

Gallery View

 Notable New Fiction 2015 (to date)  |  All On-Order Fiction

For Better or For Worse

Once upon a time there was love and passion. When passion’s embers were banked and didn’t burn so intensely there was still love. And familiarity. 27 years of marriage witnessed both tenderness and dismay, the dismay being a wet towel left on the bathroom floor, the tenderness in caring for someone who ate bad shrimp. A good marriage is fluent in short hand and silences. A good marriage is being able to unbutton your jeans after pizza and beer. A good marriage is listening to an untalented spouse sing in the shower every morning and not flushing the toilet on them. A good marriage is gentle support: please don’t eat that candy all the time. I want to make sure you’re around for years to come. Even when you find out I’ve killed 12 women.

fulldarkA Good Marriage is from Stephen King’s novella collection Full Dark, No Stars. I’m writing about it because 1) I forgot I read it five years ago and 2) it’s the only novel from Full Dark, No Stars that I remember, mostly because I read it again last week.

Stephen King said that A Good Marriage is loosely based on serial killer Dennis Rader, the BTK (Bind, Torture, Kill) killer who slaughtered ten people and then quit killing for years. King wrote the novel after hearing about Rader’s wife of 34 years getting harassed by people who believed she knew what her husband was doing.

Bobby and Darcy Anderson have been married 27 years and have two grown children: Donnie, who’s getting his first business up and running and is becoming a success and Petra who is planning her wedding. Bobby is an accountant and a numismatist (I had to look up the word because it sounds like something a drunk person would try to say while concentrating very hard. It means someone who collects currency like old and rare coins). Bobby’s been obsessed with finding a rare Wheat Penny, the Holy Grail of coins.

Darcy finds one online and wants to buy it for him but he says no because he wants to find the rare penny randomly, mixed in with his change after eating at a restaurant or buying a cup of coffee. He wants fate to bring the penny to him. Bobby’s passion is Darcy’s passion. Darcy runs a small business out of their home selling memorabilia and coins. Like most coin enthusiasts, they’re continuously on the hunt for something rare, a coin that seems to be mostly myth and urban legend. But Bobby’s on an entirely different hunt. And has been for years.

Bobby often travels to smaller New England towns to fix the accounts of other businesses and to go to coin dealers and auctions. One evening when Darcy is home alone watching TV she tries to change the channel. The batteries in the remote are dead and of course there aren’t any in the junk drawer or anywhere else in the house. They’re all the way out in the garage. The garage is Bobby’s domain and the man is ultra OCD which is good for Darcy since she’s a little scattered. She finds the batteries in a neatly labeled drawer. When she goes to reach for them her knee hits a box and knocks it over.

Sitting on top of the box are stacks of mail-order catalogs. While flipping through them, she finds a magazine about bondage. At first she thinks it’s just one of those magazines that men are curious about, something along the line of Playboy but when she opens the magazine she sees it’s more than “exploration and curiosity”, it’s downright torture. Why would her Bobby have such a magazine around?

She tries to put it out of her mind and bends down to slide back the box she knocked over. She hears another sound. Getting down on her hands and knees she peers into the wall where there is a small hiding spot. A loose board has fallen over and she can see a small box inside. A little voice in Darcy’s head is telling her to leave it alone, put the piece of wood back, grab her batteries and go back into the house but instead she takes the box out and finds a driver’s license, library card and blood donor card all belonging to a woman who had been killed by the serial killer called Beadie.

Her entire being is reeling against the idea that the man she’s spent the last 27 years with, the man she thought she knew inside out, is a serial killer. She makes sure she puts everything back in the right way and goes back into the house. Darcy gets on the Internet and begins researching Beadie and his kills. With every article she reads, she gets sicker and sicker.

What would a good wife do? If it got out that her husband was Beadie there would be reporters camped out on their lawn, Donnie’s business would tank from the bad publicity and Petra, who idolizes her father, would be beyond heartbreak.  She can’t do that to her children. People would think she knew about it all along but kept her mouth shut. But 12 women have been mutilated and killed. It’s a good marriage. Can it still be a good marriage if she knows her husband is a serial killer but looks the other way?

Could you look the other way?

Jackaby or Waiting for Sequels

Well, shoot. You deserve an explanation for what you are about to read. I want you to know, dear reader, that I did not plan this. When I wrote my last post about how I wanted to approach my reading this year and featured some book titles that were of particular interest, I did not intend on reading one immediately afterward. So please do not hold me to this pace, as there is a very tempting cookbook I just spotted that is begging for the blogging treatment.

jackabyYou see, shortly after the last post was published, I found myself with some free time and a shiny new copy of Jackaby by William Ritter. R.F. Jackaby is a paranormal investigator living in New England in 1892. He’s quite smart and extremely observant, though his insight isn’t always appreciated by the local constabulary. While he goes through life helping those who need it and solving mysteries of a supernatural nature, he isn’t able to keep an assistant very long. In fact, the person who stays with him the longest is Douglas, though the reason he stays is because of an unfortunate magical accident that left him transformed into a duck. While this may sound like something out of Discword, I promise you it’s very different.

Soon Jackaby finds himself with yet another new assistant. Abigail Rook is still a teenager but is already a world adventurer, constantly traveling to new and exciting locales, though ending up on Jackaby’s doorstep was a potentially dangerous combination of a lot of bad luck and calculated risk. She’s out of money and needs both a job and a safe place to live. Jackaby solves both problems, as long as she doesn’t mind living with Douglas the duck and Jenny, a ghost who lives in the den.

This book focuses on how Abigail assists Jackaby in his investigation into a serial killer who they believe is inhuman. But what really grabbed my attention is the process Abigail goes through as she starts to realize that everything she thought she knew is wrong, and that there is a lot of crazy you-know-what going on right under her nose. The magical world is very real, and as Abigail learns more she also teaches Jackaby the benefits of real detective work: taking notes, interviewing witnesses, and generally staying out of the way of the police.

Jackaby himself is an odd combination of personality traits. He’s charming and witty like Doctor Who, but he’s also socially unaware like Benedict Cumberbatch’s take on Sherlock Holmes. Though I catch flack from my friends for not being a Whovian, I am fully versed in BC’s Sherlockian nonsense and I am desperate for new Sherlock episodes.

But even more than that, Jackaby helped delay my years-long craving for the sequel to Libba Bray’s The Diviners. I’ve read that the long-awaited sequel will be out this summer, but that’s a story I’ve heard in years past. However, those who loved The Diviners like I did will appreciate not just the supernatural aspect of Jackaby but also how fast-paced the story was.

IMG_20150203_183711I read Jackaby in two days, and got my husband to read it shortly afterward. Now we’re both craving the sequel. Which, I guess in the scheme of things, is a problem you want to have. I’m having a difficult time turning the book back in to the library, as I reported recently on Instagram and it became one of my most loved images. I can’t blame ‘em. Jackaby goes with every outfit and reading taste. So what are you waiting for?