Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Forgotten Books are Dangerous

Author: Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Book: The Shadow of the Wind
Language: Translated from Spanish
Publisher: Penguin, 2005

My family is full of readers, and this past Christmas, my mother-in-law insisted I read a book she'd brought on her trip from Canada to Australia, which had been given to her by her sister in America. So this is a well-travelled book, with two satisfied readers already - and it's been on the New York Times bestseller list.

If you like gothic romance, Barcelona, dark family secrets, power struggles, bookshops and books about books, this is for you. It is overpowering and at times over the top, but its whole is masterful.

Even through the translation, Zafon's words are gorgeous. A poor translation - or a poor synopsis - would have made this novel read like a Dan Brown thriller, but instead the story builds in suspense and is full to bursting of gothic-novel-worthy settings, plot twists, violence and heartache. Above all, though, this is a "love letter to literature" (Entertainment Weekly) and to the booksellers and readers who seek out precious volumes and keep them on their shelves and in their hearts.

The novel follows Daniel Sempere, an antiquarian book dealer's son, from childhood to tortured adulthood. His father entrusts him with a great secret - the location of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books - and charges him to choose a single volume and keep it safe for the remainder of his life.

"This place was already ancient when my father brought me here for the first time, many years ago. Perhaps as old as the city itself. Nobody knows for certain how long it has existed, or who created it. I will tell you what my father told me, though. When a library disappears, or a bookshop closes down, when a book is consigned to oblivion, those of us who know this place, its guardians, make sure that it gets here. In this place, books no longer remembered by anyone, books that are lost in time, live forever, waiting for the day they will reach a new reader's hands." p. 6

When Daniel discovers that his copy of The Shadow of the Wind is the last in existence, he is mystified, and devotes his life to finding out more about its author and its publication history. But it is no accident that the author's entire canon has been destroyed, and soon Daniel is too close to the truth...

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Alexia Tarabotti Novels

Author : Gail Carriger
Series : The Parasol Protectorate
Publisher : Orbit, 2009-2010

The steampunk-esque cover for Soulless had been taunting me from the shelf for weeks, but it had the potential to be one of those books that couldn't live up to its cover blurb. So I hesitated. When one of Sydney's best sci-fi/fantasy bookstores gave it a very favourable review, I couldn't resist anymore.

Gail Carriger packs a lot into the first novel of the Parasol Protectorate. Vampires, werewolves, the concept of "Soulless" - I won't give that away - and high tea. The series continues to build on Alexia Tarabotti's forays into the unforgiving social world of Victorian England, tempered by Carriger's stylish and humorous writing.

I had concerns that steampunk + supernatural + Victorian comedy of manners = too much goodness, and it does - but in the best possible way. Carriger's impetus for this peculiar bundle is a character-driven plot, in which England could not have maintained its autonomy without the help of supernatural forces. Vampires, you see, are masters of society and its manners. Werewolves are master tacticians. Together, the two are an unbeatable combination, and the royal family has wisely used this combination to build an indomitable England.

The books might be laden with new ideas but they are by no means heavy, and they made me laugh out loud on several occasions. Aside from Alexia, our witty but soulless heroine, there is a string of memorable and engaging characters. From werewolves in waistcoats and flamboyantly gay vampires, to a woman who is far too fond of ridiculous headgear, Alexia's acquaintances populate the pages with quirky charm. Changeless and Blameless are excellent as well, and the story speeds along with dashes of fiery romance, mischievous deeds, secret labs and dirigible flights.

This is worldbuilding at its best, and I can't wait until July 2011 for book four, Heartless.

A word of warning : don't read blurbs for books 2-5 on Gail Carriger's official website until you've read the novel previous. As River Song would say, "Spoilers!"

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Top 5 Books of 2010

There were so many good reads in 2010, I had to cheat and include an entire series as one entry in my Top 5 list. This list is not based on bookstore bestsellers or new releases, but what I read and enjoyed most last year. Have you read any of these? What did you think?

1. Soulless; Changeless; Blameless; Gail Carriger (Orbit/Hachette, 2009-2010)
2. The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon (Penguin, 2005, translated from Spanish)
3. The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbary (Gallic Books, 2008, translated from French)
4. Sarah's Key, Tatiana de Rosnay (John Murray, 2008)
5. The Heir, Grace Burrowes (Amazon Kindle, 2010)

Reviews coming later...

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

How Sporty I Am...Not

I feel very unAustralian tonight. "20 to 1" is on, and tonight it's sports anthems. Immediately I thought of two songs - Chariots of Fire, and We are the Champions. Imagine my shock when Queen came in at number 20! Poor Freddie Mercury. And the slo-mo anthem of the century didn't even break the top 10.

Do you know who ranked at #6? Ricky Martin. Yes. The gyrating god of music himself, with The Cup of Life. Apparently it's a soccer anthem. I suppose I'm the wrong kind of sports fan - the dance sport kind. I know Ricky Martin and I know Arrow's Hot Hot Hot - another top 20 that was quite far down the list, 15 or so - because I know them with choreographed Latin line dances.

We're up to the top 3, and Jody's betting on Eye of the Tiger from Rocky. We shall see! Naturally, since we're down under, Down Under, Men At Work comes in at #3.

Something I thought was just a chant is #2 - Alan Morris and Allan Johnston came up with a jingle that reached no. 1 on the charts in 1978 - C'mon Aussie C'mon. I swear there are verses to go with it.

And, yes! In the blue corner... dah-dah-daaaaaah, dah-dah-dahhhhhh.... it's Rocky! Not Eye of the Tiger, though, that's from Rocky 3. It's the theme from the first Rocky, which is apparently titled Gonna Fly Now.


Design by: Blogger XML Skins | Distributed by: Blogger Templates | Sponsored by Application Monitoring