Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Pride & Prejudice & Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

I tried. Really I did. I can employ suspension of disbelief and allow someone to take one of my favorite authors and bastardize her classic into a modern humorous zombie book. Really, I can.

But I still couldn't get all the way through Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Now my husband is giving it a go.

I had to at least reflect on why I didn't like it. After all, Graham-Smith is not disparaging Austen or her work. He is just updating and enhancing it. Giving it a tongue-in-cheek humorous twist. I can imagine it was really fun to write. How does one take Regency-era dialogue and add in zombies. That didn't bother me. My frustration was with the subtle changes that he made to Austen's work. The appeal of Austen is that she is so terribly nuanced. The turn of the head and the aside remark are what make her books amazing. The subtlety of the relationship between Elizabeth Bennett and Darcy - even if you know exactly what the outcome will be - is what keeps you reading. In his rendition Graham-Smith took away all of those nuances. He made the plot too in-your-face.

It is a funny book. I appreciate Graham-Smith's effort. But this Austen fan just couldn't get past the destruction of a classic (which says more about me than it does about the book).

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Bombay Ice by Leslie Forbes

India has always intrigued me. I would love to visit India. But the sad reality is that I would love to visit India in the mid-1860s. If only it was possible to see the world described by M. M. Kaye. Leslie Forbes' Bombay Ice was one of the first books I have ever read about current-day India. I have read books about Indians who leave India for Britain or the United States. But, unless my memory is favoring me, (which is entirely possible) I can't think of anything else that I have read which describes the current political and social situation in India - particularly in Bombay.

Which brings up a common question in my reading world. How accurate was this book? I would like for someone who lives in Bombay to read this book and tell me what they think. From the dust jacket it doesn't look as though Leslie Forbes has any personal experience with India so what led her to write this unusual novel? And more importantly, is her portrayal of Bombay true for everyone? true for a small minority? heavily exaggerated? The world she creates is depressing and dark. Do people really live like that on a daily basis in Bombay, India?

I will admit, the focus on Bollywood captured my attention. I have seen a few movies and remember a friend from college who had grown up on Bollywood so it is a world I would love to know more about. I liked how Forbes detailed the links between Hollywood and Bollywood, the focus on recreating Western classics, the continued interest in long-dead actors.

When all is said and done, I don't necessarily think I liked this book very well. It was a bit dark for my taste. I read more than my fair share of murder mystery, but I tend to lean toward the cozy side of things. Some of the imagery in this book was gag-worthy. The underworld that Forbes described thrives on gore in a way that I would rather not read about. But the excessive blood and guts was actually less bothersome than the distracting over-symbolism.

All books have some kind of symbolism, I suppose. Whether consciously written or created by literary criticists (or is it criticizers?) down the road I figure symbolism is just a part of literature. However picking two really detailed themes - meteorology and Shakespeare's The Tempest and returning to their connections to the novel ad nauseum got tiring. I finally hit a point that when monsoons, history of Chaos Theory or quotes about Prospero I began to skim. And I am not usually a skimmer. Had Forbes chosen one theme or another, I think I would have been okay. But choosing both together meant a lot of stream of consciousness style meandering while the main character considered her own belly button.

For die-hard mystery fans, a good mystery. For those interested in contemporary India, also worth a read. But for anyone just somewhat curious about the genre or the place this book will not hold your attention. I felt reading was slog-worthy which is relatively unusual for me.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Eggs in Purgatory by Laura Childs

I have read and enjoyed all of Laura Childs Tea Shop mystery books and her entire Scrapbooking Mystery series. Both are light, fun, enjoyable cozy mysteries.

(Ya know, every once in a while I have to stop and wonder that the books I describe as light and fun and enjoyable revolve around murder and violence.... But if you read cozies you know what I mean. Someone is dead, but there's not a lot of incest, or abuse, or difficult medical decisions involving the death of a family member. They're all about 'innocent' murders :-) Okay, ignore that aside. I just felt that it needed to stated.)

Anyway, my mom sent me the newest book in Childs' most recent series: the Cackleberry Club mysteries. Eggs in Purgatory is an interesting twist on the recent phenomenon of themed murder mystery series. Many books revolve around a central focus - knitting, cooking, dog shoes, bear collecting... you get the idea. The Cackleberry Club seems to combine a half a dozen different themes into one coherent story. The three main characters - middle-aged tough but lovable women - run a restaurant/bookstore/yarn shop. The restaurant serves tea and scones along with down home eggs and grits. They purchase locally produced products from the neighboring farm community. They have book and knitting groups and are planning a cake decorating contest.

Confused? Overwhelmed? Yeah, that's kind of how I felt. The jumbling together of every contemporary popular theme seemed a bit forced to me.

Nonetheless, I liked the characters. They were a bit grittier than the typical Miss Marple style sleuth. They had real problems and didn't hesitate to wield frying pans at ex-husbands and swear at obnoxious customers.

Oh wait. The point of the book is to solve a mystery in the middle of all of this cooking and book sorting. Yes, there's a mystery. Personally when the murderer stepped forward my first response was "who's that?" I appreciate leading the reader on different plausible paths to divert from the real killer but I was so completely diverted that the actual murderer hadn't made enough an impression on me to even be remembered.

All in all, diverting. But not one of Childs' best books.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

It feels like a long time since I last posted about a book that I read. Which is not because I haven't been posting. Nor is it because I haven't been reading. The book I was working on was just a really slow read for some reason. Enjoyable, but not the light fiction I had envisioned when I first picked it up.

I read about The 19th Wife in, of all places, the monthly Costco magazine. The subject matter - part mystery, part religious history - struck a chord and I went on a hunt to find the book. My mom found it first and read the copy before I could get to it. She enjoyed it, I think, but significantly less than I did. For her, she was tired of the subject matter. For me, the subject matter was completely unfamiliar and therefore fascinating.

So, what is the subject matter? Polygamy and the Mormon Church. The story follows two timelines: the mid-1800s during Brigham Young's lifetime and today. In both timelines there is a 19th wife, a woman who is one of a number of sister wives. The historical story revolves around a real individual who married Brigham Young then later divorced him and brought polygamy to the attention of the American public and the American government. The present day story revolves around a member of the Firsts (the polygamous cult in the Southwestern US who made national news two years ago) accused of killing her husband.

I was deeply fascinated because the book made me realize I know absolutely nothing about the Latter Day Saints, really. I am curious how a practicing Mormon would respond to Ebershoff's book. He does not paint historical Mormonism in an uplifting light but he does portray current day Mormons much nicer (that seems like a very blanket, blah term but it seems apropos). He spends a significant amount of time attempting to explain the schism between the Mormons and the Firsts and acknowledging that the two groups are far from the same. Yet, because of the history he tells there is an obvious shared timeline.

I also found the organization of the story unusual. The contemporary timeline reads like a traditional novel. But thrown in between are chapters that read more like historical sources that a scholar would use to do research - including a very apt Wikipeda entry. On the one hand, it slows the book down because there is a continual jump in character and style of writing between the past, the present, the scholarly, and the novelistic. On the other, it gives a weightiness to the story because it is very obviously based in fact.

Ebershoff does admit that his historical sections are fictional recreations based on fact as opposed to historical "Truths". As I said earlier, this book made me want to read more. I would love to take his story and weigh it against other scholarly sources to see how they compare. And, I would love to get an 'insider's' impression of what Ebershoff has depicted of the history of Mormonism.